The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. (taken from Amazon)

The Hawthorne Legacy is a sequel to The Inheritance Games ( you can find my review of that book here) and there are some unavoidable spoilers to book one below. You have been warned!

Ah, where to start with this book? After finding The Inheritance Games to be a rollicking good treasure hunt complete with riddles and double-crossing, The Hawthorne Legacy was left with some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me.

While the spirit of the series was alive and kicking, a good chunk of the book seemed a little disorganized. After solving the riddles and thwarting the plots in book one, Avery is left trying to navigate the newfound “responsibilities” that come with her fortune, while at the same time trying to find Tobias Hawthorne. He seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving very little in the way of how to find him. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery involving Avery’s mom, and then Avery’s dad shows up…see what I mean about it being a little disorganized? Some of the threads end up tying together while others seem to fade into the background without there ever really being a resolution.

The mystery was not particularly compelling to me, simply because the reveals were often found in letters etc, as opposed to being cleverly puzzled out. The reader wasn’t given all the clues needed to solve the puzzles along with the characters, which was a bummer for me. I love getting the solution and having a “Why didn’t I see that?” moment. I didn’t really get the chance for that here.

That’s not to say The Hawthorne Legacy didn’t have its fun moments. It most definitely did. Avery’s best friend became a larger part of the storyline, which I loved. Her spunk and individuality were a breath of lighthearted fresh air and her interactions with Xander in particular were a lot of fun. She also gave us a window into the thoughts of the other characters, as she would demand details that wouldn’t otherwise have been given. She pushed the story along when it seemed to start to falter.

The relationship complications became more of an issue, which is most definitely not my jam. The love triangle might actually appeal to a lot of readers because it was done in a pretty classy way, considering. It’s just not my thing.

So, what did I think of the mystery? I felt that, while it was creative and led to lots of tense moments, the way it was done changed this book from a mysterious puzzler to a thriller. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it was unexpected. The Inheritance Games had a bit of a Knives Out vibe in my opinion. The Hawthorne Legacy went in a much different direction.

While it ended up not quite being my thing, the book is still well written and the characters are still interesting enigmas. Avery’s best friend Max stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments with the other characters too. We are shown more of the relationship dynamic between the brothers, particularly between Jameson and Grayson, which I thought was fantastic. Even though they are extremely competitive and often work at cross purposes, it was clear they care about each other.

The Inheritance Games is a blast to read and I still recommend it. The Hawthorne Legacy was a bit of a letdown, but I might be in the minority in my final takeaway. I suggest you give it a go yourself and tell me why my opinion is wrong.

Have you read it? What did you think?

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent. (taken from Amazon)

If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.

The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.

The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?

The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If We Were Villains.

There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.

It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.

I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.

If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.