A Different Dawn (Nina Guerrera book 2)

By Isabella Maldonado

Thomas & Mercer

Pub date: 10-AUG-2021

Isabella Maldonado

AMBER LOVE 07-SEP-2021 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’ve also curated lists of books and other things I like on Amazon so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.

Publisher’s summary:

For nearly thirty years a serial killer has been hiding in plain sight. So has the key to an FBI agent’s dark past.

A family is murdered as they sleep. FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera and her new team are tasked with determining whether there is any link between this attack and another triple homicide from four years earlier and more than two thousand miles away. In the process, they’ll discover a serial killer so cunning that his grisly trail of death spanning nearly three decades has gone undetected. Each crime scene reminds Nina of the ghostly Latin folktale of La Llorona, which terrified her when she was an abandoned and vulnerable child. Now it’s back to haunt her.

Nina has known evil, but these macabre reenactments are as disturbing as they are baffling. Now she must uncover the meaning behind the rituals as the evidence leads her in an unexpected direction — far closer to home than anyone could have imagined. As the team narrows in on a suspect, the present collides with Nina’s past in a twist of fate that forces her to make the ultimate sacrifice.


I read the first Nina Guerrera book, The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado and immediately jumped into A Different Dawn when I finished it. They are two very different stories about the protagonist and her lifelong traumas. In The Cipher, I’ll be honest — it’s an entire book of sexual violence against women plus physical and emotional abuse of Nina’s childhood in foster homes. A Different Dawn is not about the physical aspects of personal safety and agency that she lost. It’s all about Nina never knowing her biological family, her real birth date, or even the name her parents gave her.


I know Jennifer Lopez is set to play Nina Guerrera, but Stephanie Beatriz would also rock it. Lopez is 52 and Nina is supposed to be 27 in The Cipher. Enough was in 2002 and the closest thing to Nina’s petite, short-haired, judo expert style.

Rosa Diaz

The serial killer in A Different Dawn has his own motivations for hating his family – as dark and truly twisted as you would expect from a crime thriller. He spent 28 years attacking innocent families who met a certain standard and makeup for his needs, but only on Leap Days. To track down a serial killer who criss-crosses the country and had only been coming to light every four years, Nina’s boss at the FBI keeps the team from The Cipher together as a pilot program showing how an expert in cybercrime, two psychological profilers, and maverick Nina can work together efficiently and forge unique bonds which have time to grow through the chapters.

Nina is always the unknown. Despite everyone in the world learning about the most traumatic parts of her past in The Cipher, she’s still a lone wolf at the beginning of A Different Dawn. Her arc is tear-jerking without a doubt. My personal recommendation is to read the books out of order if you want to jump right into having an emotional tether to Nina. In book one, she’s so closed off and distant to everyone which is an integral part of her journey. However if graphic sexual violence is not something you want to read, skip The Cipher.

Rosa Diaz

This book’s monumental twist comes from how Nina is actually linked to this new case of theirs on the Leap Day murders. She and her team couldn’t possibly imagine there was a connection until one specific detail about the first victims comes to out. Once Nina’s team learns of the connection, they have to decided who else can know and when making interactions between Nina and people she likes strained and tense.

Stakes get raised a couple of times as the brilliant yet evil unsub (unknown subject / suspect) has to evolve his patterns making adjustments for new technology and for this team on his tail. The suspect also put a tenacious and unethical reporter to use creating another antagonist or maybe what readers would think of as a henchman/ minion. Snead the television journalist is surely someone agents (and fiction readers) would want to punch in the face.

rosa diazAuthor Maldonado puts a lot of her experience as a graduate from the FBI National Academy and her position as a local police captain in Fairfax County, Virginia into her hero Nina Guerrera. Something Maldonado had to learn as a writer (I saw a webinar with her) was explain law enforcement jargon. She does it well including with the profilers, sometimes referred to as mindhunters. She makes it clear that there is so much paperwork and approvals needed before the team can bust into a building like on TV shows Criminal Minds or White Collar. She admits that she does need to fudge those timelines for the purpose of the narrative in books which is understandable. These aren’t How To books. Maldonado seems to have some assumptions about the availability of vital statistics records which are technically public but they are not as easy to find as going to a state’s website and searching everyone’s private information. This is combatted with the ease of how much people share online which is something Agent Breck from cybercrimes lays out.


I enjoyed A Different Dawn because of the emotional binds about family much more than The Cipher, but both are fantastically well-written with a leading character and sidekicks that grow on you.

five star rating

Rating: 5 stars

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