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Ratings and Book Reviews (2 2 star ratings
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    If you enjoy puzzles, you'll like this book

    I love a good mystery and this newest book from Dianne Smithwick-Braden had my detective skills going at full speed. The book starts off cryptically wondering who these characters are and why they are concerned about an event from the past and someone named Erik O'Neal. We don't really know who they are since they use codenames, but you do know it is someone with clout.  As the book progresses, several potential suspects are revealed but until the end, I had no idea which character was the bad guy and I don't think there were enough clues to give it away too soon.  There is one clue in the beginning but I am not sure I picked up on it until I reread the first chapter.  Now, I am wondering if I missed another clue that would have told me who the killer was before being revealed? Jade is the sleuth that ends up figuring everything out, but not without some help and not before she ends up in some situations where she could have ended up like her Uncle Erik.  I was amazed at how clueless Jade was during the first half of the book.  Perhaps she was caught up in school, work, and a new love interest.  But thankfully she wises up sooner rather than later, but she is pretty much on her own not knowing who to trust.  Once Jade realized what was going on, things changed quickly in her actions and manner. I enjoyed the National Treasure tie-in to this story, as well as, the puzzles that Jade has to solve to figure out who killed Erik and why.   Then there is Teddy, the dog she and her uncle raised from a puppy.  He is no small dog and he is very protective of Jade and Erik.  Teddy's personality shines through and quickly became one of my favorite characters.  I also enjoyed that the chapters told you the day and time, sort of like a diary or journal.  This was helpful especially if there was a jump in time, I knew it was hours later or the next day and it helped me stay on track with the time. This is a book that will have you looking over your shoulder, wondering if someone is following you or if there is someone right around the corner that has plans that you don't wish to participate in with them.   There were a couple of funny lines that stood out to me and I want to share those with you.  There are many more, but these two really made me laugh.  The second one is out of context so it may not seem funny, but imagine the characters dodging bullets. "Does your dog often drag you across campus?" "Are you all right?" Hudson shouted.  "What took you so long?" Jade shouted back. "Well, you know, did laundry, got a haircut." We really enjoyed this book and I'm not sure if it will be a series or not, but if it is I will be anxiously awaiting the next book.  We give this 5 paws up.
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    Puzzling Mystery

    Coded for Murder is a master-class in classic slow-burn. From the outset, we know who the bad guys are and have a pretty good feeling for the good guys. Or do we? Our story opens with the big bad’s discussing the possibility they’ll be discovered after getting away with a twenty-year-old murder. The author gives the impression they have gotten away with far worse since then. Enter main characters Jade O’Neal and Uncle Erik, family to the guy our big-bads knocked off years ago. Uncle Erik is on the verge of a break-through and desperate to keep his niece, and the rest of their surviving family, safe. In a time when it’s easier to let it go rather than do the right thing, Erik and Jade choose to stand for justice…and revenge. Coded for Murder is dialogue-heavy with very little prose, forcing the reader to rely on the characters to tell the story. Long stretches are spent with regular conversations on what to eat for dinner, where to go for the next date, walking the dog, etc. While this may seem tedious, don’t be fooled. Clues to the overall puzzle are peppered throughout, allowing you to form conclusions long before the main cast. Smithwick-Braden’s style is unique from most others I’ve recently read, but she uses her dialogue to great effect. My only real complaint was the sometimes abrupt shift between character perspectives. In place of scene breaks, Smithwick-Braden uses times and dates to show the passing of one part of the story to the next. I like this method, because it gives a sense of impending doom, so the reader is racing against the clock alongside Erik and Jade. On that note, the first half of the book is bogged down by unnecessary scenes. This could easily be revised to tighten and strengthen the narrative. For the most part, the cast of Coded for Murder is purposely average, even boring people. I found Jade to be the least interesting character until she’s dragged into the very conspiracy Uncle Erik’s been trying to protect her from all her life. Before she is tested, Jade is just another college girl trying to juggle school, work, and her love life. She loves history, and the guy who’s into her seems a little overly eager, a sure sign of trouble in any thriller. Jade doesn’t seem to notice much around her, with her mind always on the next task. But after the last reliable person in her life is taken from her, Jade’s character begins to shine. She may be a little brilliant, in fact, and it’s both interesting and engaging to watch Jade come into her own. Over the course of the story, Jade O’Neal grows into someone the reader can root for because she is just like us: average, maybe a little boring, until life throws a curveball we couldn’t fathom facing. Grounded in realism with believable stakes, Coded for Murder will spin you into a sensational web of hidden truths and lies. **I was provided with a copy of Coded for Murder by the publisher and this is my voluntary and honest review.**
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