Dante’s Circle by Dorien Grey


Dante’s Circle by Dorien Grey
An Elliott Smith Mystery, #4
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (132 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dante Benevetti is the darling of the music world…and why not? He’s handsome, talented—and arrogant as only a man convinced of his own brilliance can be. As far as he’s concerned, the rest of the world exists for his benefit.

So, when he hears Dante is dead, a victim of murder, Elliott isn’t really surprised. Nor is he surprised when Dante comes for a post-mortem visit, demanding Elliott find out who killed him. Was it the well-known lyricist who was the only one in the house at the time? The talented young musician whose work Dante plagiarized? Or some unknown the great pianist had mortally offended?

Being famous is never a guarantee that everyone will like you.

One of the things I appreciate the most about this series is how much attention Mr. Grey always pays to his characters. No one is ever one hundred percent virtuous or villainous in this universe. The good guys have their fair share of faults, and even the most devious potential murderers have admirable character traits, too. This pattern continued in this tale. In fact, it was stronger than it’s ever been before, and that made it impossible for me to wander away from these characters until I knew how everything had been resolved and if Elliott would figure out who killed Dante.

I had some trouble keeping track of all of the secondary characters. While I wasn’t as confused by all of the new faces as I was in the third instalment in this series, I still would have liked to see a bit more time spent explaining how they all knew each other. This would have been especially helpful for the characters who only showed up a handful of times in the entire plot. With that being said, this is a minor criticism of a book that I otherwise enjoyed a lot.

The mystery of Dante’s death kept me guessing until the very end. There were enough clues to pique my interests, but they were also shared so sparingly that it wasn’t easy to figure out how they all fit together. I liked the fact that I needed to think so much about who may have killed this musician and what motive they might have had.

This is the fourth story in this series. While the storyline itself could be read as a standalone work, I’d recommend reading them in order to anyone who is interested in seeing how the main characters have evolved over time.

Dante’s Circle should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a thought-provoking mystery.

Caesar’s Fall by Dorien Grey


Caesar’s Fall by Dorien Grey
An Elliott Smith Mystery, #3
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (181 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

GOOD LUCK CAN BE DANGEROUS

With a new building to restore and his relationship with Steve growing more serious, the last thing Elliott wants are someone else’s problems. Still, when lottery millionaire Bruno Caesar moves into his building, Elliott can’t just ignore the man’s need for help.

Bruno’s life comes to an abrupt end when he falls from his balcony. It might be nothing more than a tragic accident, except for one thing—Bruno was terrified of heights, and never went onto his balcony.

Bruno can’t rest until the puzzle of his sudden death is solved, and Elliott, Steve, and John are once again searching for answers to a puzzle. Did Bruno fall, or did he have help?

Not every mystery begins with a murder in the first scene. Sometimes a slow burn is best.

It’s been a pleasure to watch Elliot’s character development in this series so far. Ever since the first scene in His Name Is John, Elliott has proven time and time again that he is capable of changing and growing in all kinds of interesting ways as a result of his experiences. The more I get to know him, the more I like his calm and empathetic personality. He’s exactly the sort of person I’d want to have around if I was trying to solve a crime that no one else could figure out.

I did have some problems keeping track of all of the characters. While some of them were people the audience had met earlier, there were a lot of new folks introduced in this mystery. I especially had trouble remembering important details about characters that only showed up occasionally who weren’t described with a lot of detail. Knowing more about what they looked and acted like would have helped me to remember who was who.

The mystery was really well done. I especially appreciated how much time the author spent building up to the murder before Bruno died. It was nice to settle into the story completely before jumping into figuring out who killed him and why they did it. I also enjoyed keeping track of the clues that were shared and trying to solve the case before Elliott did. Mr. Grey gave the audience the perfect number of hints before the big reveal at the end.

This is the third instalment in a series. While the main plot can be read perfectly well as a standalone work, I would recommend starting at the beginning in order to fully understand the subplots. The explanations for them left out some details that would be helpful for readers who want to know all of the backstory.

Caesar’s Fall should be read by anyone who enjoys paranormal mysteries.

The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis


The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Edgy. Controversial. Thoughtful. Brilliant.

There are a lot of adjectives that have been used over the decades to describe the writings of Victor J. Banis. From his start in gay fiction, to forays into other genres such as mystery and horror, Banis’ unique voice has brought to life a myriad of characters and creatures, excitement and entertainment, as well as the trials and tribulations of love between both gay and straight couples. Gathered here are stories spanning more than five decades of Banis’ incredible career, including “Broken Record,” his first story to ever be published.

No matter how strong they may be, first impressions aren’t always correct.

In “New Kid in Town,” the main character had slowly come to regret her marriage to a kind, wealthy man who was much older than she was. She spoke of her spouse in such glowing terms that I was surprised by how tired she seemed to be of their relationship. The more I read, the more curious I became about what could be making her so unhappy. It was as much fun to discover the twist ending to this one as it was to try to figure out what was going on in advance.

While I deeply enjoyed the majority of the tales in this collection, there were a couple that I thought could use more development. “The Journey (a parable)” was one of them. There was one character, and he or she was never given a name, backstory, or any identifying features. I was intrigued by the idea of a narrator speaking directly to the audience about what they think human intellect can and can’t do for people who are on a literal or metaphorical journey, but I would have liked to see more time spent transforming this monologue into something that also included a traditional sort of plot at some point.

The protagonist in “The Canals of Mars” was a man whose face had been badly scarred in a lab accident. After his boyfriend left him, he had the chance to find love again with an old friend. As their love began to blossom, they both began to experience things that defied explanation. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how many different ways it could be interpreted. Mr. Banis is quite good at tying multiple genres together in ways that I don’t typically see them combined, and this was one of the best examples of that talent of his that I’ve seen so far.

I’d recommend The Immortals and Other Tales to anyone who is looking for some truly creative mysteries.

Aaron’s Wait by Dorien Grey


Aaron’s Wait by Dorien Grey
An Elliot Smith Mystery, #2
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (165 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Elliott Smith’s latest restoration project is a beautiful old six-unit apartment building.

Unfortunately for Elliott, he discovers that Aaron Stiles, one of the tenants, has been dead for four years and doesn’t know it. His partner, Bill Somers, left for work one morning and never returned. Devastated to think that Bill might have left him. Aaron suffered a heart attack and died.

But he is still waiting for Bill to come home, and unless Elliott can convince him otherwise, he’s not going anywhere until that happens-or until Elliott can figure out which of the people most interested in seeing Bill dead killed him.

Even death couldn’t end Bill and Aaron’s love for each other. Now Elliot is the only person who can help them figure out why Bill died in the first place.

Elliott was a smart and interesting main character. It was fascinating to see how he had changed since I first met him, especially when it came to his theories about why he keeps running into ghosts. The more time I spend with him in this series, the more I like him. He had his share of flaws like everyone does, but his core personality was unmistakably kind and good. I can’t wait to see what happens to him next.

With that being said, the mystery was incredibly easy to solve this time around. I figured it out very early on in the storyline because of how many clues the author shared with the audience about what was going on. While I enjoyed the plot itself, it would have been nice to need to put more effort into finding out what really happened to Bill. It was a little disappointing to have my first guess about his fate be the correct one.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was seeing how Elliott’s friendship developed with John, the ghost he first met in “His Name Is John.” These characters couldn’t be more different in so many different ways, and yet they’ve learned to rely on each other for all kinds of help now that Elliott has grown accustomed to John occasionally entering his mind for a conversation. It has been a lot of fun to see these two become buddies.

This is the second book in a series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

I’d recommend Aaron’s Wait to anyone who likes a little paranormal activity in their mysteries.

His Name Is John by Dorien Grey


His Name Is John (An Elliott Smith Mystery) by Dorien Grey
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (194 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Elliott Smith wakes up in the hospital with a head injury…and an invisible companion. At first, he’s convinced “John” is just a figment of a damaged brain, but when Elliott is fully recovered John is still around—and desperate to find out who he is. Reluctantly, Elliott agrees to help, and discovers Chicago PD has a John Doe on their hands with six bullets in him—who died in the ER at the same time Elliott was there.

As Elliott digs deeper into the mystery of John, he stumbles on a body hidden behind a wall for 80 years, meets a sexy artist who could become more than just a one-night stand, and uncovers a deadly secret that has haunted a nun for two decades.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to listen to the voice in your head no matter how strange it may be.

The pacing was perfect for the subject matter. This is the sort of thing that’s meant to be savoured slowly, and I had plenty of opportunities to do exactly that. There was always plenty of time to adjust to a new clue before the next one was shared with the audience. I relished having so many chances to figure out what was really going on as I was reading.

This is a very minor criticism, but it would have been nice to have a few more clues about when this story took place. The dialogue felt completely casual and contemporary, but there were other scenes that reminded me of the 1970s and 1980s due to the fact the characters almost never used modern technology like cell phones or computers. As much as I enjoyed it, I’m still not entirely sure that I picked the right time period for it.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how it handled the paranormal elements of the plot. Was John a real ghost, an odd, lingering effect of Elliott’s head injury, or something else entirely? This question made it impossible for me for me to stop reading, especially once Elliott came up with a fairly decent answer to it and was able to turn his attention to figuring out who John Doe was and why he died.

Speaking of the mystery, it sure kept me on my toes. I wasn’t able to figure out all of it before Elliott did, and that isn’t something that normally happens when I read this genre. The fact that Mr. Grey was able to keep me guessing until the very end is one of the many reasons why I enjoy his work so much.

If you’re in the mood for a smart, slow-burning mystery, look no further than His Name Is John. I can’t recommend this tale highly enough!

The Wedding by Edith Layton


The Wedding by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (207 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Her father’s ill-fated ventures land Dulcie Dawn Blessing in London’s notorious debtor’s prison. In a desperate scheme to win her freedom, she consents to marry a stranger…for a day. Down on his luck but ever a gentleman, Crispin West agrees to oblige a lady in need, even if it means playing the groom in a mock wedding. But flustered by the unexpected loveliness of his “bride,” Crispin signs the marriage certificate with his true name, Viscount West of Darnley Hall.

Then Crispin’s fortunes are miraculously recovered, allowing him to proceed with his plan to marry Society’s darling, Lady Charlotte Barrington. But the very night he is to ask for her hand, Dulcie appears at his doorstep. Their marriage certificate, legally binding with Crispin’s signature, has disappeared and may have already fallen into the hands of rogues intent on mischief—or worse.

I enjoy reading historical romances and I found The Wedding to be an enjoyable relaxing read.

The writing style was good. The plot wasn’t original but it was still entertaining. The cast of characters were well developed and easy to follow and I didn’t get stressed because there were no sudden plot twists or urgent need to turn the pages. The story itself was enough to keep reading.

Crispin, the hero, was what every girl dreams of when they dream of falling in love; handsome, intelligent, and self-reliant.

Dulcie wasn’t my ideal heroine. She was too vulnerable, weak and cried way too many times. For those reasons I found her to be difficult to relate to and therefore I had a hard time liking her. However, I did respect Dulcie because she displayed a great sense of integrity. Near the end of the book she did finally demonstrate some back bone which helped redeem her in my eyes.

I’m very particular about all my plot threads being tied up with a pretty bow and there was one thread that I felt was left loose – Dulcie’s father. There is some speculation as to what happened to him, where he might be and why. I point to a section in the book synopsis, “Dulcie partakes in a desperate scheme to win her freedom” which refers to the mystery surrounding her father. Explaining why is a spoiler so I can’t say anything, but rest assured, Dulcie loves her father and felt it necessary to partake in that scheme. The story ends without a conclusion about her father and there was no reunion after the main conflict was resolved and it was safe to return. I know if it was my father, I’d want to find out what happened to him, especially after all that Dulcie did for him. I’m not entirely sure he even deserved her loyalty. He was never a candidate for a “father of the year “award. It’s a minor flaw but because of that and Dulcie’s proclivity to cry too much, I gave the book a 3 rating.

The relationship between Crispin and Dulcie made for a sensual romance. He found her to be refreshing and beautiful and she found him to be a gentleman. They couldn’t resist their attraction to one another despite being from two separate worlds.

Besides wanting to see how Dulcie and Crispin reached their happily ever after, the side characters such as Wrede, Willie and Charlotte just to name a few, were a large part of what kept me turning the pages until the end.

I really enjoyed the moral of the story which was how you can have all the riches in the world but without love you have nothing. I do recommend this book to those who have some unscheduled free time and are lazing around yet are in need of something romantic to read or just something to cure their boredom.This novel is a decent fix. I think a reader will be entertained for a few hours and be glad they read the book just like me. The ending was bliss.

From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit by Sandra Murphy


From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit by Sandra Murphy
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (60 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

To the moon and back, here are ten tales with a twist. The unlikely characters have one thing in common–they’re ready and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. As the old saying goes, you have to watch out for the quiet ones.

From a quirky inventor, humored by his neighbors, to two old men out to dinner, to a more-than-meets the eye beverage maker, the stories will take you into the minds of the overlooked and unseen. Ignore them at your own risk.

Sometimes good things come in small packages.

“The Chicken Pot Pie Fiasco” followed a family throughout the day as they cooked and otherwise prepared for Thanksgiving dinner. Chicken pot pie was their traditional main course for it, but this year they had trouble finding the right ingredients for it. I can’t say much else about the plot without giving away spoilers, but this was a funny and heartwarming tale that made me grin. Figuring out the mystery element of the plot was almost as much fun as seeing what happened once the pie was ready and everyone gathered around the table to eat it.

While I liked every story, there were a few that had too many characters in them. “From Hay to Eternity” was one of them. It was about guy named Darren who was giving a Halloween hay ride to a teenage girl named Tiffany as well as some other visitors to the farm. There were so many other characters included in the plot that I had trouble keeping track of all of them. It would have been nice to focus on Darren and Tiffany instead, especially once I realized what was really going on during the hayride and why Darren kept mentioning the conflicts that some of his family members were having about what they wanted to do with the farm in the future.

Bert and Sol went out for a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant in “The Perfect Bite.” Not only were the descriptions of their food mouthwatering, they made me even more curious to find out what the twist was in this tale. The hints were deliciously subtle. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about these characters and their dining experience. This was my favorite tale from the entire collection because of how much it made me look forward to finding out what was really going on here.

If you’re in the market for short, snappy mysteries that are full of unexpected plot twists, look no further than From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit.

The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories by Marilyn Todd


The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories by Marilyn Todd
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (123 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes, wishing someone dead is not enough.
Sometimes, you need to make it happen.
Always, there’s someone there to make you pay.

From one of the best mystery short story writers of her generation comes this sparkling collection of ten chillers and thrillers, where justice takes many forms. Whether you’re a witch (“A Taste for Burning”), a soldier in the trenches (“Michelle”) or a demure churchgoer (“The Wickedest Town in the West”), you will always know that justice is served.

Sometimes justice arrives right on time.

One of my favorite parts of “Room for Improvement” was how casually Mr .Cuthbertson requested help with speeding up the process of his divorce. This isn’t something I’d generally expect to happen in a mystery, so I was incredibly curious to find out why he wanted a divorce, why he was so nonchalant about it, and what he expected the main character to do to help. The more I learned about their unusual plan, the more I wanted to know.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this collection that I really wanted to give it a much higher rating than it received. The only thing holding it back was that almost every single tale in it had so many characters that I had trouble remembering who everyone was or how they knew each other. “Open and Shut Case” was one of the biggest examples of this. The main character, the Great Rivorsky, is a magician who had travelled for years perfecting his illusions and other tricks. When one of his companions died, he was immediately placed at the top of the suspect list. I was mesmerized by the premise of this story, but the plot included so many different people that I couldn’t keep them all straight. This made what was an otherwise interesting read hard to follow.

In “A Taste for Burning,” a community blamed all of their their troubles on a newcomer named Alizon and then burned her at the stake. Figuring out why she was chosen as the scapegoat and who might have been the instigator of that was fascinating. No sooner would I come up with a new theory about what really happened then the plot would twist again and make me reconsider nearly all of my assumptions. I also liked the fact that Alizon’s death was described in such precise detail. While some of the details made me wince, it was important to face exactly what happened to her in order to understand why the people who murdered her worked so hard to cover up their terrible acts later on.

I’d recommend The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories to anyone who is in the mood for some clever mysteries.

Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer


Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eccentric Symmetries, 20 fantasy short stories spanning the forty-year career of author Nancy Springer, showcases tales ranging from the quirky to the transcendent. Including mythic tales of long ago and far away such as award-winner “The Boy Who Plaited Manes,” this collection also contains wry, sometimes humorous contemporary fantasy stories such as “Rumple What?” and “Snow Spawn,” plus mystic magical realism in which cabbage roses grow down from the ceiling (“Mariposa”) and hard-edged future fantasy stories such as “We Don’t Know Why,” a tale of failing “angels.” Like our lives, the stories in Eccentric Symmetries are mostly off-kilter, even laughable, but sometimes achieve a luminous moment of perfect balance, an epiphany. In this carefully selected collection, every fantasy reader should find something to love.

Magic can be found everywhere you could possible imagine.

In “Who’s Gonna Rock Us Home?” Jephed Shue was dreading the idea of being assigned to work for the government for his entire adult life so much that he ran away from home. I was fascinated by the idea of a society choosing occupations for every young person and couldn’t wait to see what his life would be like after he refused to accept his assignment. The more I read about Jephed’s adventures, the more I wanted to know. He has such a stubborn personality that I was never sure how he would respond to the next challenge that crossed his path.

While I enjoyed how all of them began, some of these tales ended so abruptly that I didn’t feel satisfied by how everything was wrapped up. “Gilly the Goose Girl” was a good example of it. The storyline followed a princess named Gillianna who decided to switch places with her maid in order to avoid being married to someone she’d never met before. I was fascinated by this impulsive decision, but it would have been nice to see more time spent on wrapping up the ending. The final scene explained what happened to her, but it didn’t go into hardly any detail about it. I would have preferred to see those events play out in real time instead of condensed into a single paragraph.

One of my favorite stories in this collection was “You Are Such a One.” The main character in it was a middle-aged woman who found her life boring and repetitive. One day she discovered her dream house while out on a drive and struck up a friendship with the caretaker of that place. He told her something that she never would have guessed in a million years. What I liked the most about the plot was how careful it was when it came to which clues it gave the audience about what was happening. Telling too much about it would have spoiled the ending, so I was happy that the narrator was so cautious about that. I surprisingly didn’t figure out the twist ahead of time, although it made perfect sense once everything was revealed.

Eccentric Symmetries should be read by anyone who is in the mood for fairy tales that are set in all kinds of unusual places.

Death on the Trek by Kaye George


Death on the Trek by Kaye George
A People of the Wind Mystery, #2
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review ed by Astilbe

The Neanderthal tribe of Enga Dancing Flower must trek south to flee the approaching glacier, but the distance is long and the food is scarce. When a venerable elder drowns crossing a flooded river, Enga suspects that it was not an accident, and that a murderer travels with them.

Someone in this tribe is extremely dangerous.

The character development was fabulous. I especially liked seeing how Enga Dancing Flower had changed since I first met her. She’s grown in all kinds of ways since then, and her new status as a fully-grown adult showed in how she reacted to the newest crime that threatened her people. It was interesting to watch her figure out that something was terribly wrong once again. She didn’t have a lot of time to catch the murderer, so I was really glad that she reacted as quickly and maturely as she did as soon as she noticed the threat.

With that being said, there were a few times when I was a little surprised by how openly the main character went about trying to figure out who the murderer was. She knew that her list of suspects was small, so talking about the clues she’d uncovered with so many different people didn’t strike me as the smartest idea. Normally she was much more aware of danger than that. This was a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise really loved, though.

It was fascinating to read a mystery set in a time when there was no such thing as a detective, judge, trial, or prison sentence. Enga Dancing Flower has to figure out what happened to the murdered member of her tribe with only very limited experience solving this kind of crime. This meant that some of her techniques for finding new clues and trying to figure out what happened weren’t at all what I’d normally expect to find in this genre, but that didn’t make them any less effective. It was refreshing to watch this character put such a creative spin on on the process.

This is the second book in the People of the Wind series. While the plot itself technically can be understood if you haven’t read Death in the Time of Ice, I strongly recommend reading this series in order because of how complex all of the family and other relationships are in Enga Dancing Flower’s tribe. The narrator only goes over them again briefly here, so there was a lot of background information that I was happy to have remembered so clearly from the first tale. Already being familiar with that stuff made it much easier for me get absorbed in what was a pretty compelling mystery.

Death on the Trek was a fabulous read. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Anyone who enjoys prehistoric fiction or complex murder mysteries should definitely give it a try.