Thursday, February 2, 2023

Book & Audio Review: The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado

The Cipher

Isabella Maldonado
Narrator: Roxanne Hernandez
Series: Nina Guerrera (Book 1)
Publication: Thomas & Mercer (November 1, 2020); Brilliance Audio (November 1, 2020)
Length: 332 p.; 10 hours and 24 minutes

Description: To a cunning serial killer, she was the one that got away. Until now

FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera escaped a serial killer’s trap at sixteen. Years later, when she’s jumped in a Virginia park, a video of the attack goes viral. Legions of new fans are not the only ones impressed with her fighting skills. The man who abducted her eleven years ago is watching. Determined to reclaim his lost prize, he commits a grisly murder designed to pull her into the investigation…but his games are just beginning. And he’s using the internet to invite the public to play along.

His coded riddles may have made him a depraved social media superstar—an enigmatic cyber-ghost dubbed “the Cipher”—but to Nina he’s a monster who preys on the vulnerable. Partnered with the FBI’s preeminent mind hunter, Dr. Jeffrey Wade, who is haunted by his own past, Nina tracks the predator across the country. Clue by clue, victim by victim, Nina races to stop a deadly killer while the world watches.

My Thoughts: Nina Guerrera grew up in foster care after being found in a trash bin as an infant. She was kidnapped by a depraved man when she was sixteen and raped and branded by him. However, she managed to get away. To get out of the system, she has herself declared an emancipated minor and changes her last name from Esperanza to Guerrera - from hope to warrior.

Eleven years later, she's employed by the FBI and comes to her rapist's attention again when she fights off a new attacker while jogging in the park and has the fight show up on social media. That alerts her attacker to her whereabouts, and he begins a campaign of riddles and social media posts to attract her attention. He also commits a series of grisly murders which have the FBI traveling around the country trying to solve his clues and stop him from his killing streak.

On Nina's team is one of the best mindhunters the Bureau has available. He and Nina have had a run-in in the past when he tried to convince the Bureau not to hire her because of the past trauma in her life. Now they need to find a way to work together if they are to find this killer and stop him.

This was an action-packed and fast-paced story. I loved getting to know Nina and learn about her life. Roxanne Hernandez did an excellent job with the voices and with the pacing of the story too.

Favorite Quote:
"After years of seeking, I thought I would never have Hope again. But today, everything changed. She calls herself a Warrior now. But to me, she will always be...the One That Got Away."
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

ARC Review: Every Missing Girl by Leanne Kale Sparks

Every Missing Girl

Leanne Kale Sparks
Publication: Crooked Lane Books (February 7, 2023)

Description: The stunning landscape of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are among our greatest natural treasures. But there are deadly secrets lurking in the craggy heights, and FBI Special Agent Kendall Beck and Denver Homicide Detective Adam Taylor team up to investigate a kidnapping. When Taylor’s niece, Frankie, suddenly vanishes at a local hockey rink, it’s clear that there’s a predator on the loose—and now, the case has turned personal.

One discovery after another leads Beck and Taylor closer to the truth, as they close in on the devastating truth about the fates of the missing girls—and the many who came before them. Will they be able to find Frankie before it’s too late? In this thrilling story, Leanne Kale Sparks weaves the threads of this harrowing drama and builds the intensity to a fever pitch.

My Thoughts: The story starts with a shooting in a convenience store in a bad part of Denver. The clerk draws a gun when a guy comes in and wants the cash in the till. He has a gun too. Shots are exchanged. Even an innocent bystander in the store gets a chance to take some shots before leaving with a young girl who came in with the robber. The robber and the clerk both die and Detective Adam Taylor leads the investigation.

The first thing they learn is that the young girl had been kidnapped and was set to be trafficked. She provides clues about who lured her out of her home. It looks that Taylor and his team have found a pretty complex trafficking operation. FBI Agent Kendell Beck gets involved because she works crime against children. 

But when Adam's niece Frankie disappears from the hockey arena where she's playing while Adam, Kendall, and Frankie's parents are watching, the trafficking case gets close to home and really personal for both Adam and Kendall. 

The story was a tension-filled hunt to find the missing Frankie before she disappears into the trafficking network. But with tensions between her mom and dad, kidnap by traffickers might be a second option to her running away. Family secrets are outed but still waste a lot of time that could be used searching for Frankie. 

Along the way other crimes are discovered including drug dealing by Frankie's hockey coach which also might have given him some reason to want to do harm to Frankie.

This was a great story with lots of twists and turns. Fans of thrillers can't help but enjoy this one. I especially liked Kendall's sarcastic nature.

Favorite Quote:
Adam settled on a bottle of Smart Water - he could use all the help he could get - and a bag of corn nuts. He only ever bought them when he was at a convenience store. Never thought about them otherwise. There was just something about the molar-cracking treats he couldn't pass up. 
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

State of the Stack #137 (February 1, 2023)

 This is my monthly post which details progress made on review books. I want to thank the authors and publishers who have contributed their books. 

Read This Month 

Dates indicate the date the review was/will be posted. Links go to my review.
  1. Lie to Her by Melinda Leigh (January 11)
  2. The Devil You Know by P. J. Tracy (January 12)
  3. Against the Currant by Olivia Matthews (January 18)
  4. A Fashionable Fatality by Alyssa Maxwell (January 19)
  5. The Second You're Single by Cara Tanamachi (January 25)
  6. Promise Boys by Nick Bishop (January 26)
  7. Three Can Keep a Secret by M. E. Hilliard (January 31)
  8. Wined and Died in New Orleans by Ellen Byron (January 31)
  9. Murder at an Irish Castle by Ellie Brannigan (February 1)
  10. Every Missing Girl by Leanne Kale Sparks (February 2)
  11. Of Manners and Murder by Anastasia Hastings (February 4)
  12. When the House Burns by Priscilla Paton (February 8)
  13. Dark All Day by Brenden Carlson (February 9)
  14. Primer and Punishment by Diane Kelly (February 14)
  15. Murder Served Neat by Michelle Hillen Klump (February 15)
  16. Murder at Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong (February 16)
  17. Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose (February 23)
  1. Ruby Spencer's Whisky Year by Rochelle Bilow (February 14, 2023)
Read Previously, Posted This Month 

Dates indicate when the review was posted.
  1. The Last Resort by Michael Kaufman (January 3)
  2. The Game Is a Footnote by Vicki Delany (January 4)
  3. River of Fallen Angels by Laura Joh Rowland (January 5)
  4. A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett (January 10)
New This Month 

Date indicates when the book will be released.
  1. The Bride Wore White by Amanda Quick (May 2)
  2. A Killer's Game by Isabella Maldonado (May 23)
  3. Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg (June 20)
  4. A Fatal Illusion by Anna Lee Huber (June 20)
  5. Charlotte Illes Is Not a Detective by Katie Siegel (June 27)
  6. The Lady from Burma by Allison Montclair (July 25)
All TBR Review Books


ARC Review: Murder at an Irish Castle by Ellie Brannigan

Murder at an Irish Castle

Ellie Brannigan
Series: An Irish Castle Mystery (Book 1)
Publication: Crooked Lane Books (February 7, 2023)

Description: Rodeo Drive bridalwear designer Rayne McGrath expected her thirtieth birthday to start with a power lunch and end with champagne, lobster, and a diamond engagement ring from her fiancĂ©. Instead, flat-broke and busted, she’s on a plane to Ireland where she discovers that she’s inherited a run-down family castle. Uncle Nevin’s will contains a few caveats—for example, if Rayne doesn’t turn McGrath Castle around within a year, the entire village will be financially destroyed.

With the fate of the town in her hands, and rumors that Rayne’s uncle’s death wasn’t actually an accident, she can’t possibly go back to her old life in L.A. As the devastating truth about her uncle dawns on Rayne, it’s not just her reputation that’s on the line, it’s her life.

Featuring a sharp and endearing protagonist, a colorful and quirky locale, and replete with twists and turns befitting an old Irish village, the first in Brannigan’s mystery series transports us to a milieu as romantic as it is deadly.

My Thoughts: Rayne McGrath had a really awful 30th birthday. She was expecting a ring from her fiancé and news that he had secured a loan to let them move her designer wedding gown business to Rodeo Drive in LA. Instead, she found that he had taken everything she owned including wedding dresses and their joint bank account and disappeared. Then she learns that her Uncle Nevin in Ireland has passed away and she's required to come there for the reading of the will.

Rayne borrows the money from her mother who is an actress who stars in a long-running sit com. When she arrives in Ireland, she's picked up at the airport by a cousin she didn't know she had. Ciara is Uncle Nevin's illegitimate daughter. And after visiting the lawyer, she learns that she has inherited the castle but with conditions.

Rayne has to stay in Ireland for a year and turn the castle into a money-making operation or the castle will be sold and everyone who lives there will be displaced. Ciara is supposed to manage the estate in order to get her share at the end of the year. Rayne is torn. Her business is in LA and needs her. But she doesn't want to be responsible for putting so many people out of work.

Adding to this stress is that Ciara is convinced that the accident the ended Uncle Nevin's life wasn't an accident at all but was instead murder. Unfortunately, the suspect pool includes all of the people at the castle none of whom Rayne wants to believe is guilty of murder.

The story was engaging. I liked watching LA girl Rayne adapt to the much more rural and laid back atmosphere in Ireland. I liked the way she managed to build a relationship with Ciara. I also liked that she used her business skills and career to find a way to save the castle.

Fans of cozy mysteries will enjoy this story.

Favorite Quote:
Rayne felt ridiculous for not seeing it sooner. It hadn't been Amos's idea either. "Snickerdoodle."


She peeked up at him. "My mom isn't allowed to swear on set, so we used different ways to curse."
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

ARC Review: Wined and Dined in New Orleans by Ellen Byron

Wined and Dined in New Orleans

Ellen Byron
Series: A Vintage Cookbook Mystery (Book 2)
Publication: Berkley (February 7, 2023)

Description: The second in a fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.

It’s hurricane season in New Orleans and vintage cookbook fan Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her weather-related fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum.

Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about the discovery of this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale.

When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, the NOPD zeroes in on Eugenia Charbonnet Felice as the prime suspect, figuring that as head of the Charbonnet family, she has the most to gain. Ricki is determined to uncover the real culprit, but she can’t help noticing that Eugenia is acting strangely. Ricki wonders what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.

In the second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee.

My Thoughts: Transplanted California girl Ricki James-Diaz is trying to calm her fear of hurricanes, run her vintage ccokbook and kitchenware shop, and overcome her fear of social media. When a cache of very valuable wines is discovered in Bon Vee, Ricki posts the find to social media which manages to unearth Charbonnets from all over who all want a piece of the prize.

When one of the most obnoxious is found killed with an antique meat mallet from Ricki's shop, Ricki is on the case to prove that none of her friends at Bon Vee had anything to do with it despite all of them having run-ins with the victim in which they threatened to kill him. 

Bon Vee and the Charbonnet's restaurant have been facing hard times because of Covid and various weather disasters, the wine find would be a real lifesaver. Ricki needs to sort through quite a variety of suspects to find the guilty party.

Meanwhile, Ricki is still on the hunt for her birth parents and learns that she is a Charbonnet, great-granddaughter of the famous Miss Vee. But the generations in between are still a mystery. 

This was an engaging story with interesting characters. I enjoyed the strong bonds of family and friendship growing among the cast of characters.

Favorite Quote:
Knowing full well Virgil would never have approved the switch, Ricki locked eyes with her nemesis. She might suffer from bouts of insecurity, indecision, and intimidation -- the "ins that should be outs" as her mother called them -- but never when it came to animals.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

ARC Review: Three Can Keep a Secret by M. E. Hilliard

Three Can Keep a Secret

M. E. Hilliard
Series: A Greer Hogan Mystery (Book 3)
Publication: Crooked Lane Books (February 7, 2023)

Description: The library is no safe haven in this taut, tense mystery perfect for fans of Louise Penny and Elly Griffith’s Dr. Ruth Galloway series.

Greer Hogan is a librarian turned sleuth, an avid reader of crime fiction who possesses an uncanny knack for deduction—and now, she’s drawn into another murder case as late autumn slowly turns to winter in the idyllic village of Raven Hill. When Anita Hunzeker, chair of the library board of trustees, is run off the road and killed, no one seems all that sorry. Anita was widely disliked, and the townsfolk would just as soon be rid of her. But when a local professor turns up dead as well, his connection to Anita and to other local residents leaves the suspect pool covering the entire county.

Greer starts poking around, and the more she digs, the more it seems like everyone she knows is trying to hide something. When she unearths a clue in the old manor cemetery, she finally discovers the shocking truth—a cache of dark secrets stretching back decades that could rock the town to its core. Everyone who’s come close to the truth has ended up dead—and if Greer doesn’t tread lightly, she could be the next librarian to get archived for good.

Drawing nostalgic inspiration from classic girl detective mysteries, Hilliard deftly captures notes of Agatha Christie and  Dorothy L. Sayers in this third installment of the Greer Hogan mysteries.

My Thoughts: Librarian Greer Hogan is back with another mystery to solve when the head of the Library Board is run off the road and killed. No one can be found who liked Anita Hunzeker, often referred to behind her back as "Attila the Hunzeker," but Greer wouldn't have thought that any of the dislike was strong enough for someone to murder her.

As she looks into Anita's death, she finds another mystery. This one concerns the family that set up a trust which includes the library where Greer works. Anita had been advocating for a new library building which also included the local historical society and was willing to go to lengths including blackmailing people to support her side in the on-going argument.

Greer also looks into the trust, or tries to, since there have been long-standing rumors of a lost will or codicil that would affect it. Fellow librarian Millicent, in her 80s and determined not to retire, has a role in this one. She disliked Anita and her plans for the future and she knew the family that set up the trust and was keeping some secrets about it. 

I enjoyed this story which had interesting characters and a nicely twisty plot. 

Favorite Quote:
Cynthia really was a terrible liar. So was Sloane Harris, for that matter. I marveled that they'd gotten this far in life so completely lacking in the ability to dissemble, though I was grateful that they gave away so much without knowing it. It made a girl detective's job much easier.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Monday, January 30, 2023

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 30. 2023)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

It’s Monday!  What Are You Reading is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week.  It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I will be combining my YA and adult reading and purchases on this one weekly roundup.

Want to See What I Added to My Stack? links to Stacking the Shelves hosted by Marlene at Reading Reality.

Other Than Reading...

This was another quiet winter week. It snowed lightly on a number of days and then the temperature plunged. We've had single digits above and below zero this week for daytime highs and with windchills as low as -20F after dark. I have mostly stayed in with one quick trip to the grocery store.

Since it is nearing the end of January, I set up my March calendar. I have plans for what I want to read but haven't set up any of the posts yet. I did put a couple of the books I discovered on my TBR pile that have been hanging around since 2008 and before on the calendar. 

2008 is a magic number for me. That is when I added my whole book collection - every book I could find in my house - to LibraryThing. I still use LibraryThing to keep track of the books I own. Since it shows the date I added a book to the collection, it is easy for me to know when I got a book. It lets me tag books too. Each unread book gets a TBR tag which I remove after I've read the book. I also put books in collections and save reviews and comments. Collections like "New This Week," "Currently Reading," "Review-Pending," and "Read Last Week" really make writing this post easy. My unlimited subscription was the best $25 I've ever spent!

This week I'll be writing my State of the Stack post for February 1. I would really like to finish all my February review books before I write it. I just have one book to go - Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose - at 464 pages. It's doable if I start reading it as soon as I finish Dark in Death.

Read Last Week

If you can't wait until the review shows up on my blog, reviews are posted to LibraryThing and Goodreads as soon as I write them (usually right after I finish reading a book.)
  • Primer and Punishment by Diane Kelly (Review; February 21) -- 5th in the House Flipper series. Nice cozy mystery. My review will be posted on February 14.
  • Murder Served Neat by Michelle Hillen Klump (Review: February 21) -- Second in an interesting cozy series. Engaging characters. My review will be posted on February 15.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle & Audiobook; Mine since October 26, 2021) -- Great worldbuilding and an interesting group of characters in this space Opera. My review will be posted on February 11.
  • Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop (Mine; Audiobook) -- First reread of this favorite series in 2023.
  • Murder at Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong (Review; February 21) -- Beginning of a spinoff series. Great characters and an engaging mystery. My review will be posted on February 16.
  • Twisted Twenty-Six by Janet Evonovich (Mine since April 13, 2021) -- The twenty-sixth in the Stephanie Plum series was a fun humorous mystery. My review will be posted on February 18.
  • Silent Evidence by Rachel Grant (Kindle &Audiobook; mine since October 29, 2021) -- Fast paced and spicy romantic suspense. Stands alone despite being the 8th or 9th in the Evidence series. My review will be posted on February 16.
  • Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop (Mine; Audiobook) -- First reread of this series in 2023.
  • Hawken's Heart by Suzanne Brockmann (mine since at least 2008) -- This romantic suspense title (written in 1998) is a big part of the reason I love reading that genre. Great characters. My review will be posted February 22.
  • The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon (Mine since December 17, 2022) -- When the second in this series landed on my Review stack, I decided I needed to read the first. It was an excellent twisty mystery with intriguing characters. My review will be posted on February 21.
  • Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey (Kindle & Audiobook added 9/28/2021)
  • Dark in Death by J. D. Robb (Mine) - reread in anticipation of the newest In Death being released February 7. 
Next Week
Reviews Posted
Want to See What I Added to My Stack Last Week?

  • Hex Life edited by Kelley Armstrong (Kindle Daily Deal, $1.99)
  • Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen (Free with Amazon Prime)
  • Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh (Kindle & Audiobook) -- I bought the paperback in 1997 and have never read it. Now it is on my calendar for March.
  • High Stakes by Dick Francis (BookBub, $1.99) - Kindle version of a paperback in my collection
  • Cold Evidence by Rachel Grant (Kindle Free & Audiobook $1.99)
Grace Draven is fighting cancer and will be starting chemo in February. One way that was suggested to help her was to buy her books. I chose these. She also has a GoFundMe
What was your week like?