The Hawthorne Legacy (2021)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9780241480748
Publication: September 7, 2021
Series: The Inheritance Games #2

**Proceed with caution. There may be spoilers for The Inheritance Games.**

At the end of The Inheritance Games and even at the beginning of The Hawthorne Legacy, I kept wondering how there were supposed to be news clues. Tobias is dead, so who created this next round? The new game managed to surprise me and was cleverly incorporated. Tobias Hawthorne was very clever when he put the games together. As Xander tells Avery in the first book, “even if you thought that you’d manipulated our grandfather into this, I guarantee that he’d be the one manipulating you.” 

The experience of the first book provides the framework for this second one resulting in a mystery and search for clues that no longer feel as novel. Of course, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going on the adventures; I still wanted to find the answers to this game. I was hoping this one would allow Xander a chance to shine and even provide greater insight into Alisa and Nash. Unfortunately, I didn’t get either.

I was disappointed because Xander kept getting left behind. Are there any Ouran High School Host Club fans out there? Xander reminds me a lot of Honey-senpai. He’s smart and often underestimated because of his generally cheery nature, but he’s actually a force to be reckoned with if given the opportunity. As with the first book, he’s not given a chance even though he tries hard to be part of the game. Don’t worry, Xander, I completely adore you!

As much as I like the sort of triangle between Libby, Nash, and Alisa, I really like Alisa for some reason–please don’t break my heart Alisa–and want better closure between her and Nash relationship. I don’t know if I will get it. I’m dying to know what happened, and there have been hints throughout both books. Can’t Alisa and Nash work things out even though they annoy the hell out of each other? There’s so much Barnes is purposely not saying that it is frustrating.

With regard to the main triangle, Avery had me smacking my head on my desk because she still has mixed feelings. It doesn’t help that Max, her best friend, doesn’t see a problem and encourages some things too. Despite Avery learning information about the boys from the first book, she doesn’t learn from it. I was not very happy about it. Again, I get it. She’s still young, and anyone can make mistakes or fight their feelings, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The themes remain the same, emphasizing the importance of family and how money can corrupt, but the stakes are a lot higher for nearly everyone involved. The Hawthorne Legacy was nearly as engaging and fast-paced as The Inheritance Games, although the games themselves lose their luster just a bit. I was somewhat conflicted at some of the events and revelations at the end. It wasn’t seamlessly concluded and even felt a bit from left field compared to the ending in The Inheritance Games. 

If you enjoyed the first book, the second book is a must-read, especially if you want to know more about Avery and are looking for some closure. But, there is a third book, so I’m not sure how much closure may mean here…dun Dun DUN!!!! (heh…)

The Inheritance Games (2020)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368052405
Publication: September 1, 2020
Series: The Inheritance Games #1

After her mother dies, Avery is left under the care of her half-sister. She discovers her financial struggles are solved when she unexpectedly becomes the heir to billions of dollars despite not knowing the man who left it to her. With a disinherited family that calls foul on her new position, the biggest questions become what is the link between Avery and the Hawthornes and what game has Tobias Hawthorne forced them into.

The book is fast-paced and kept me engaged the entire time. I couldn’t stop reading it. While the main plot is about trying to solve the clues left behind by Tobias Hawthorne, multiple subplots helped to make the book interesting, including the dangers that come with being the heir to billions and navigating a new school and relationships. The book invokes the importance of family as well as the influence of money on behavior. Both themes are prominent throughout the book and manifests itself in different ways, but especially through Avery’s relationships with her sister and the Hawthorne boys.

I was immediately intrigued by Avery with her willingness to help those around her, despite her current means, and her personality. Avery is smart, loves puzzles, and wants to be a statisician. I liked her as soon as I read that–I’m a nerd who also loves data and stats. Avery has to learn to adjust to her new life including a new school, having a security detail, and living with the Hawthornes. While her integration into this new world isn’t without its problems, she tries to remain grounded. She doesn’t give up and tries not to let the money corrupt her. One of the curious pieces of this entire puzzle is that her mind works scarily similarly to that of the Hawthorne boys, especially Jameson and Grayson, even though she has no idea of her connection to Tobias or the entire Hawthorne family. Barnes skillfully injects clues here and there to make the reader question what they think they know.

Aside from Avery, everything is a mystery, and I enjoyed unraveling the clues alongside her. The estate immediately reminded me of the Winchester House in San Jose, CA with the many mysteries and secrets within the Hawthorne House. Of course, the Hawthorne boys are also one of the biggest mysteries in the book. I couldn’t tell whether they were genuine about helping her or if they wanted to depose of Avery in a roundabout way. When Avery’s paranoia began to set in, I thought it was smartly written because even I started to question everyone around her, especially the boys. I did have a soft spot for Xander, the youngest of the boys, and kept hoping he had nothing to do with the danger lurking in every corner.

There is a budding romance, or should I say romances, although it’s not the main focus. As someone who abhors love triangles, I feel it is my duty to report that a love triangle is brewing. Avery’s indecisiveness contributes to it and I hated that. I get it, she’s still just in high school and trying to navigate a nearly nonexistent social life with the mystery of the inheritance so I’m sorry…but also not sorry. It had to be said. I didn’t like her confusing actions.

After finishing it, I completely understand the hype around the book when it first came out. Individuals who like a good mystery and scavenger hunt will enjoy The Inheritance Games. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which I had somewhat expected, so with The Hawthorne Legacy already on hand….Let the games continue!

The Forest of Stolen Girls (2021)

by Jane Hur
ASN/ISBN: 9781250229588
Publication: April 20, 2021

I was excited to read Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls. Some of my favorite dramas are set during the Joseon era so I was looking forward to reading a novel set during this period as well.

After learning about 13 girls all missing from the same village, Detective Min heads back to his old home to try to solve the case, but he also goes missing. Our protagonist is his 18-year-old daughter Hwani Min who refuses to believe her father is dead with only a scrap of his clothes found as confirmation of his death and not his body. She heads to Jeju Island to search for him.

Set during a time when women had limited agency, it was somewhat surprising that Hwani was given so much leeway throughout Jeju to search for him, but I liked the focus on strong women, especially Hwani. Hwani is a determined individual, quite stubborn actually. It’s also very clear from the beginning that she’s her father’s daughter. Throughout the book, Hwani is constantly looking over the evidence and list of suspects, trying to figure out what her father would do. She often refers to him as Joseon’s greatest detective and has lived her life trying to make him proud. Her belief in her father and her conviction that he is alive is so strong that I hoped as much as she does that he would be found alive.

While Hwani is the main protagonist, her younger sister Maewol plays a central role in the story. Their relationship is complicated because their vastly different relationships with their father. Hwani idolizes her father, whereas Maewol’s feelings are much more complicated–she is the daughter left behind. Maewol has different memories of their father, making it difficult for Hwani to reconcile what she knows and feels about her father with Maewol’s account of him. Hwani’s memory loss of a significant event further exacerbates the problem so there is a lot of tension whenever the sisters interact with each other. The focus on their relationship highlights how the story is more than just about searching for their father and solving the disappearance of girls from Nowon Village; it’s about grief and family.

The plot was interesting and well thought out. There are several red herrings throughout the book, just enough to make the reader question who the culprit might be. I read it the first time, eager to get to the ending, then I read it a second time to piece together the clues and to fully enjoy Hur’s writing prowess. It’s not just the plot, but the writing that makes this such a good read. One of my favorites is the first line of the novel, providing a hint of the beauty of Hur’s writing in the pages to come: “The screen of mist was thick around the red pinewood vessel, as though secrets hid beyond of a land I was not permitted to see.” The book is filled with vivid descriptions that make the setting and the story come alive. I would recommend this to those who appreciate a good mystery novel. Individuals who liked Firekeeper’s Daughter (2021) and are looking for another well-written mystery may enjoy this novel as well.