The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos by Edited by J. Alan Hartman

The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos by Edited by J. Alan Hartman
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (137 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Just when you thought it was safe to head to the table for Thanksgiving feasting, the Killer Wore Cranberry series is back with a fifth course of pure chaos!

The Killer Wore Cranberry has been acclaimed worldwide for its wicked combination of humor and Thanksgiving-themed mysteries, and this year’s installment is sure to carry on everyone’s new, favorite holiday tradition.

This year’s contributions come from 14 of today’s best and brightest short mystery authors that could be seated at one dinner table: Barbara Metzger, Arthur Carey, Earl Staggs, KM Rockwood, Herschel Cozine, Kelley Lortz, Bobbi A. Chukran, Lesley A. Diehl, Albert Tucher, Maryann Miller, Liz Milliron, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Betsy Bitner and DG Critchley. And, back by popular demand, Lisa Wagner provides delicious recipes, proving that murder and mystery work best on a full stomach.

So have a seat, pick up your fork and knife (on second thought, maybe not the knife) and get ready to have so many laughs it’s criminal!

Sometimes there are far more dangerous things to worry about on Thanksgiving than accidentally choking on a turkey bone.

In “The Capo-Clipped Capon Caper,” Sam Spad was hired by the secret service to find out who stole the White House’s Thanksgiving turkey. The only thing better than discovering the funny and creative premise for this tale was finding out that it exceeded every expectation I had for it. Not only was the mystery incredibly entertaining, the characters were well-developed and the ending made me grin. I never would have guessed that any detective would have to work so hard to figure out who’d want to prevent the president from eating turkey.

I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, but a couple of them would have been better if they’d focused on a smaller number of characters. “No Starch in the Turkey, Please” was one example of this. It was about a woman named Emily who decided to reconnect with her estranged family for the holidays after receiving a strangely formal letter from her mother about her father’s declining health. She soon began to wonder if something sinister was happening to her family. The premise itself was fantastic, but there were so many characters running around in the plot that I had trouble keeping up with what everyone was doing.

“Turkey Underfoot” was told from the perspective of a cat named Misty. Her humans were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a grouchy, elderly relative who kept narrowly escaping attempts on his life during the course of the day. Not only was Misty a funny narrator, her understanding of how human society works and why her owners were trying to kill their relative was so different from how a person would interpret those scenes that I couldn’t wait to find out how it would all end. This was such a fun twist on the typical murder mystery that I’d recommend skipping ahead to read it first before diving into the rest of this anthology.

The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos should be read by anyone who is in the mood for some truly creative Thanksgiving mysteries.

Mount III : The Adventures Continue by Arlen Blumhagen

Mount III: The Adventures Continue by Arlen Blumhagen
Publisher: Untreed Reads Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (141 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Mount, our favorite mountain man, is back for a third installment of action and adventure! It’s 1844 and Mount has returned to his secluded cabin nestled in the Rocky Mountains, bringing with him his new bride, Sandra, and stepson, Andy. The new family is happy beyond words, and just starting to build a wonderful future. Suddenly their lives are shattered, and that happy future in jeopardy, when Sandra is kidnapped by a ruthless band of outlaws, led by the notorious assassin, Li Zhang. The resulting adventure is packed full of excitement, danger and surprises, and of course, plenty of Mount’s special brand of humor.

“I don’t know what the hell my folks was drinkin’ the day they decided it was a good idea to name me Thaddeus Beauregard, but like I said, folks just call me Mount.”

When I read the line above I was sold on this book. I love a character with a sense of humor. If you are a fan of William Johnstone and his Mountain Man series you will love this book. Don’t misunderstand…this is not a copycat by any means but it has that wonderful old-fashioned pot likker kind of feel to it. I loved it but then I am a fan of the hunter-trapper, fair is fair, come sit by my fire and lean on your saddle, kind of novel.

This book is written in the narration or story-telling mode. Mount tells the story of life in the Rockies and the dangers of travel and of every day life. The dialect is very authentic of the times and of the man but not difficult to read or understand. There can be no question that Blumhagen is good at developing characters as well as creating great scene description. This is not a long book and I sure would have loved more to read. Not that I felt the story was unfinished, I just wanted more to read because it’s good.

This is the third book in the Mount series. It is well worth the time to read it and I’m going to try out books 1 & 2.

Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd

Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Not all detectives are heroes.
And when the dead can’t defend themselves, help comes from the most unlikely sources.

It might be from P.I.s with offices in unusually high places (“Heaven Knows”). It might come from shapeshifters in love (“Stakes & Adders”). Hell, it could even come from…you’ve guessed it, Hell. (“667, Evil and Then Some”). But whether you’re cruising a narrow boat down an English canal (“The Way It Is”) or taking a break on an idyllic French lakeside (“Dead & Breakfast”), justice is like the endings in these stories. You never see it coming.

Listening to what a character doesn’t say is sometimes just as important to listening to what they do say.

In “Something Rather Fishy,” Stevie and her accomplice, Patti, ran multiple scams on unsuspecting strangers in order to steal their money or sell them products that were nothing at all like what was advertised. What I enjoyed the most about their scams was how much thought was put into them. Stevie put a lot of time into figuring out how to get people to do what she wanted without them realizing what was happening. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, and that was a good thing. It fit the tone perfectly while still being a pleasant surprise.

There were some tales in this collection that I thought could have used more clues about what was really going on in them. For example, “The Great Rivorsky” showed what happened when a magician’s attempt to accomplish that famous trick involving sawing a woman in half didn’t go as he had planned. As amused as I was by the main character’s narration, I needed more details about what was going on to figure out why his assistant was so badly injured and who might have been responsible for it.

A small, sleepy town isn’t typically where anyone would expect to find three murders over the course of a short period of time, but that’s exactly what happened in “The Longboat Cove Murders.” The muted reactions of the townsfolk to the first few murders shocked me. They also made me curious to find out what happened and why no one was panicking about the suddenly high death rate in their community.

I’d recommend Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories to anyone who is in the mood for mysteries that require their audience to pay close attention to detail in order to solve them.

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


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.