Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for January 2023

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some December books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, paranormal mystery, fantasy romance, science fiction romance, science fiction thriller, space opera, military science fiction, near future science fiction, YA science fiction, dystopian fiction, solarpunk, hopepunk, steampunk, Greco-Roman mythology, vampires, dwarves, elves, ghosts, space marines, space pirates, space prisons, blood matches, crime-busting witches, vengeful goddesses and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Nexus of Chaos by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. ChaneyNexus of Chaos by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. Chaney:

When humanity joins the cause, the war with the Naxli begins to tilt in the favor of the allied races.

The Naxli have other ideas, though, and they launch a full-out blitz against the upstart humans. If they succeed, humanity’s very existence is at stake.

Gunnery Sergeant Reverent Pelletier and the First Human Expeditionary Brigade not only have to survived the onslaught but figure out a way to end the war, once and for all.

Join Rev, Tomiko, Randigold, and the rest as they fight not only the Naxli, but a growing distrust of the IBHU Marines and other hyperaugments.

Tested by Lindsay BurokerTested by Lindsay Buroker:

Matti would prefer never to see her vindictive dwarven aunt ever again. All she wants is to find her missing parents.

But her aunt is extorting the elven assassin, Sarrlevi. That would be problematic on its own, but he’s become Matti’s biggest ally and the man—the elf—she’s falling in love with.

To save her family, Matti must find a way to help Sarrlevi before he strikes the most devastating blow of all.

 

Horse Lattitudes by Rachel FordHorse Lattitudes by Rachel Ford:

Sometimes, silence is just the quiet before the storm.

When the Black Flag crew is assigned to transport a young Union ambassador on his first diplomatic mission, they’re promised a few weeks of quiet downtime. Easy money.

What they find is a diplomatic quagmire. On one side is an untrusting, desperate, and dying world willing to do anything to anyone in order to secure their own survival. On the other is their thriving neighbor: equally desperate, but for entirely different reasons.

And dead in the water, the Black Flag readies to weather the coming storm – weather it, or be swept away in its fury.

The Ashlands by Chris FoxThe Ashlands by Chris Fox:

A Desert of Living Death

Four centuries ago the Stewards rained ash on the heartland of an empire for a year and a day, murdering the Elentian Empire and orphaning the Hasran Imperium where I was born.

The stories say the ash drains magic and that any who venture into the Ashlands will need to contend with the armies of unliving swimming beneath the ash. Unliving as old as the Mad Imperator Jhordil himself.

My final tomb lays somewhere out in that terrible ocean of soot. Before I can help Li or settle the Hasran civil war I need to find it. I need to understand who and what I am if I am ever to fight my aunt or the demon princes she no doubt controls.

I will sail into those uncharted lands, and I will prevail. I have to. The cycle depends on it.

Tethered by Elayna R. GalleaTethered by Elayna R. Gallea:

What could be worse than an arranged marriage to a vampire prince?

When Luna is sold into marriage to the Prince of Darkness on her twenty-first birthday, she thinks she knows what to expect. Arranged marriages happen all the time, right? Wrong. No one could have prepared her for the reality of being married to the vampire prince.

Ever since the day he was Made, Sebastian has been living according to Queen Marguerite’s rules. After all, he’s only alive because of her. When she orders him to marry and Bind himself to Luna, a human hailing a neighboring kingdom, he has no choice. He agrees to the marriage but never expects to feel anything for her.

When their Binding Ceremony goes awry, and they are magically Tethered, everything is thrown into upheaval. Unable to leave each other’s presence, they must learn to live with each other. Or die.

Oracle of Life by Katherine D. GrahamOracle of Life by Katherine D. Graham:

Six fallen lords. Three vengeful goddesses. And one mortal, damned to prophesy for them all.

An Exiled Oracle

Nariah, the Heiress of Ellonai, is dead. An exiled, desert-dwelling Doomsayer is all that remains within the shell of the powerful princess she once was.

A Heretic

She isn’t sure which of her visions her people hate more: the one where the three benevolent goddesses they serve have decided to destroy the world, or the vision of six lords falling from the skies to save them.

The World’s Only Hope

Stumbling across the very lords she’s been seeing in her visions for years, only Nariah’s accursed gift of Sight can aid the lords in their rebellion against the goddesses, and determine the fate of her world before it’s turned to ash.

But does she even want to save those who’ve wronged her?

Storm of Magic by Kyra HallandStorm of Magic by Kyra Halland:

After losing everything else, they found each other.

Now Leshi and Esavas are ready to begin their new life together in Yevoruta, the city of the mages. But the battles of the past raised more questions than they answered, questions that themselves must be answered if Esavas and Leshi are to lay the ghosts of the past to rest and find peace in their new life.

But beneath the mannered, elegant surface of mage society lies treachery, and the search for those answers could cost Leshi and Esavas everything as they face the difficult – and heart-wrenching – challenge of stopping the evil that threatens to consume the life of their beloved Islands.

Storm of Magic is the epic conclusion of Mage of Storm and Sea.

New Ghosts, Old Tricks by Lily Harper HartNew Ghosts, Old Tricks by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow-Monroe has everything she’s ever wanted. She has a husband she loves, a best friend who is only irritating fifty percent of the time, and a daughter who refuses to be “normal.” So, basically, she has it all.

Then the unthinkable happens. During an afternoon picnic with her husband and daughter, Harper’s yard is flooded with ghosts … right as five bodies float by on the river. Harper’s daughter Poe is finally in the thick of things because she’s the only one who can communicate with the ghostly newcomers.

Worried, Harper calls in her friends Rowan, Maddie, and Ivy. Together, the foursome is going to figure out what’s haunting Poe … one way or another.
There’s not much to be found regarding the victims. They were adventurers, making a name for themselves finding treasure at the bottoms of oceans and lakes. They were hired by a local billionaire, but nobody can figure out why and the man in question is being cagey.

Harper always knew her daughter would turn out gifted. The reality is different from the fantasy, however. Poe’s magic is already strong, and when she gets a little encouragement from her friends, things begin to spiral.

It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation for this battle, and only the strong will survive.

Hierarchy of Blood by Jennifer HaskinHierarchy of Blood by Jennifer Haskin:

The winner will be crowned Ambassador’s Bride. The losers will meet certain death.

When you’re living inside a dwarf planet in the cold abyss of space, life is only easy if you’re rich. 17-year-old Marishel Vance works as a seamstress – but when she’s selected to compete in a brutal contest for the Ambassador’s hand in marriage, she’s quickly catapulted into a life-threatening struggle.

Marishel hates the idea of fighting for some stuck-up rich guy – no matter how handsome he is. But after her attempts to escape are thwarted, she becomes desperate to find a way to end the Blood Match and save the lives of the girls she’s training with. The key could lie in Ambassador Quin himself … but as she tries to win his friendship, her growing feelings for him only complicate the matter.

As the Blood Match looms closer, Marishel spirals deeper into a world of intrigue, danger, punishment, and secrets. Trusting the wrong people means game over. If Marishel wants to save herself – and the other fifty-nine girls sentenced to death – she’ll have to break every rule in the book to do it…

Half Empty Half Full by John HundleyHalf Empty Half Full by John Hundley:

An interstellar war is brewing. A monster guards the key to power. Can a reluctant hero overcome an ancient evil to forestall a galactic apocalypse?

Clifford Crane hates having been labeled a hero. Centuries of experience has taught the legendary shifter that standing in the limelight only illuminates the target on his back. Desperate to stay safe and under the radar, he is demoralized to find the SS Huey on a mission that puts him in the crosshairs of the powerful corporation whose plans to build an army of cyborgs he just thwarted. THE Corporation wants revenge, and it has the resources and firepower to exact it.

Branded a terrorist, and his ship a pirate vessel, Crane plots a secret route through an armed blockade to the planet Kier, where the discovery of a rare metal could shift the galactic balance of power. With all previous attempts at mining meronium ending in the gruesome deaths of every miner involved, and the locals revealing to him the nature of what guards the mines, Crane confronts the dread realization that he alone must face the monster.

Can Clifford Crane and the SS Huey run the gauntlet of battle cruisers, overcome the ancient evil that guards the mines, and tip the galactic balance of power in their favor? Or will they find themselves caught in the middle of an apocalyptic interstellar war?

A Shadow Melody by Brian KaufmanA Shadow Melody by Brian Kaufman:

In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Browning each researched devices to contact the dead through scientific means. Only one of them succeeded.

Harry Browning is a prodigy with an extraordinary understanding of the natural sciences. Orphaned as a child, he becomes a beloved professor, a war hero… and a shell shock victim.

At war’s end, he returns to his college hometown in Ohio and dedicates himself to research. Alone and isolated, he hires Elizabeth Rose, a young housekeeper with secrets. Together, they will seek to answer the one question that all humanity shares—what becomes of us after we pass beyond the veil?

They may not like the answer.

The Last Resort by Michael KaufmanThe Last Resort by Michael Kaufman:

It’s March 2034, six months after D.C. police detective Jen Lu and Chandler, her sentient bio-computer and wannabe tough guy implanted in her brain, cracked the mystery of Eden. The climate crisis is hitting harder than ever: a mega-hurricane has devastated the eco-system and waves of refugees pour into Washington, D.C.

Environmental lawyer and media darling Patty Garcia dies in a bizarre accident on a golf course. Of the seven billion people on the planet, only Jen thinks she was murdered. After all, Garcia just won a court case for massive climate change reparations to be paid out by oil, gas, and coal companies. Jen is warned off, but she and Chandler start digging. Signs point to Garcia’s abusive ex, a former oil giant, but soon Jen turns up more suspects who have an even greater motive for committing murder

Soon Jen is in the crosshairs of those who will ensure the truth never comes to light, no matter the cost. She has to move quickly before she becomes next on the killer’s list.

Frostbite by Casey LeaFrostbite by Casey Lea:

Amber Grace has spent countless lives preparing for battle, but her time has finally run out. She’s mortal now and can only hope that her enemy is close. That when the monster comes to devour them all, she’ll still be alive and able to offer herself instead.

All Amber has to do is keep herself safe, but one thing the Universe never guarantees is safety. Forced from hiding and trapped on the Rim with the criminal scum of every interstellar species, Amber finds herself truly living in a way she hasn’t for millennia. Suddenly her choices are more than equations and the potential of billions killed must be balanced against protecting the people close to her.

When the ice takes your friends and then comes for you, what do you do?

Beach Blanket Wendigo by Amanda M. LeeBeach Blanket Wendigo by Amanda M. Lee:

Moonstone Bay is in an uproar. The DDA is on the run, but they’re not going down without a fight. While all that’s going on, Hadley Hunter is practicing her magic. She managed to join with her elemental friends for a huge wins—and feels that’s important for the DDA fight—but she needs practice.

Nothing is perfect, however.

When a tourist is found dead on the beach one night after hearing a series of eerie howls, Hadley and her boyfriend Galen Blackwood think they have a new mystery to solve. The problem is, all signs point to a wendigo … which shouldn’t be possible on Moonstone Bay.

Things become even more convoluted when the victim’s movements on the night of her death lead them to a local. He denies killing her, but something is clearly amiss.

There’s a wendigo, a rogue DDA faction, and a plane door that just won’t stay closed.

Hadley has a lot on her plate. Nothing is going to stop her from doing what needs to be done, however. She’s ready to fight … even if that fight might kill her.

Hadley’s friends are determined to help, but as usual, she’s at the center of things. Moonstone Bay is caught in a shift of unbelievable proportions, but only one faction can come out on top.

There’s a battle coming, and when the truth comes out, everybody will be rocked.

Buckle up, because this ride is going to be bumpy.

The Bloodstained Shade by Cass MorrisThe Bloodstained Shade by Cass Morris:

In the third book of the Aven Cycle, a trio of sisters and an ambitious senator use charm, wit, and magic to protect their city from ruin.

Latona of the Vitelliae, mage of Spirit and Fire, lies still as death. Her fate rests in the hands of her allies, who must redeem her soul from the churning void where Corinna, leader of a banished Discordian cult, has trapped it.

Protected by a cabal of corrupt priests and politicians, Corinna plans her most daring assault yet: a ritual striking at the ancient heart of Aven, with the power to swallow the city in a maw of chaos and strife. Her success would be Aven’s doom, and the greatest violence would fall upon the most vulnerable.

Before Sempronius Tarren can join Aven’s defense-and his beloved Latona-at home, he must end the war abroad, outwitting the blood-soaked machinations of his Iberian opponents. His own magical talents remain hidden, but dire circumstances tempt him to succumb to ambition and use forbidden tactics to hasten the way to victory.

To defeat Corinna, Aven’s devoted protectors will need to perform extraordinary magic, rally support from unexpected quarters, and face the shadows on their own souls.

Nautilus Rising by Ernesto R. SanchezNautilus Rising by Ernesto R. Sanchez:

Far from Earth, PhD candidate Arixa Nez must solve a disturbing conspiracy while the largest spaceship in history is about to embark on its maiden voyage. The Nautilus, the greatest spaceship ever created in human history, is finally complete. Its mission is to travel through a mysterious wormhole found decades earlier. Before long, Arixa becomes the unlikely person able to prevent the greatest terrorist act in the solar system.

Can Arixa stop the conspiracy before time runs out?

Nautilus Rising is the prequel novella to the Far Side Chronicles.

Far From Home by John WalkerFar From Home by John Walker:

Seth thought he had his life all planned out. After retiring from the Marines, he sought a career in the private sector. Moving up the corporate ladder proved harder than he thought, and when he suddenly loses his job, he wonders if he might be wasting his life.

Until a car accident changes it forever. Finding himself marooned on an alien prison planet, he must team up with a rebel in order to survive. But the environment isn’t the only hazard to overcome with bloodthirsty genetic anomalies and dangerous inmates on the prowl. It seems the only way to survive is to escape the planet, if he can find the necessary allies and equipment to achieve the impossible.

For no one’s escaped Lakon Prison before. But then, they never tried to cage a Marine.

Wolfpack by Rem WigmoreWolfpack by Rem Wigmore

Orfeus the hunter is searching for redemption in the wake of destruction…

Orfeus has always loved grand gestures. And what could be grander than risking her life to gain entry to the fabled Cloud Forest to find one of humanity’s greatest losses and make a gift of it to her beloved? But the cost proves higher than she could have ever imagined and now she is on the run, navigating a whole new world of danger with few allies and even fewer friends. Arcon, the Cloud Forest’s mechanized guardian, is determined to track her down, even if it means destroying everything in their way. Even if it means convincing Jean, a traumatized young trans man escaping a cult, to host them in order to complete their mission. Can Orfeus figure out a way out of the mess that she’s created and work with the Order of the Vengeful Wild and their allies to fix what she’s broken before their world is pushed once more to the brink?

The Tale of the Border Knight by A.R. WithamThe Tale of the Border Knight by A.R. Witham:

They say the Noble Seven came from the Waste.

They say the knights arrived from the desert gleaming in silver mail, shimmering bright as the sun, a refraction of every color under God’s sky. They were honor, righteousness, and courage made flesh. Some claim they came from beyond, angels sent to stand against damons. Some say.

If you want to know the truth, I will tell you.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for January 2023


Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some December books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, animal mysteries, holiday mysteries, historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, spy thrillers, technothrillers, science fiction thrillers, romantic suspense, police officers, FBI agents, lawyers, private investigators, amateur sleuths, bodyguards, spies, cold cases, missing children, murdered twins, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting dogs, murder and mayhem in London, Washington DC, Washington state, Florida, North Carolina and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Murder With Means by Blythe BakerMurder With Means by Blythe Baker:

Sylvia is still struggling with the terrible secret she has learned about Miles, when she is dealt a fresh blow. During a visit to an art museum, she unknowingly becomes the last person to speak with a murder victim alive.

Forced to set aside her misgivings, Sylvia must trust Miles enough to lean on his help once again. Together, can the pair catch an elusive killer before the trail goes cold?

 

Scavenger Hunt by Jack BoudreauxScavenger Hunt by Chad Boudreaux:

Blake Hudson just wants to serve his country well as a lawyer for the United States Justice Department—but when an unknown threat begins plotting his downfall, he must find who is setting him up before it costs him his life.

Scavenger Hunt is a suspense novel chronicling the plight of Blake Hudson, a Justice Department lawyer assigned to a clandestine counterterrorist group created to bypass onerous legal requirements. After the group mysteriously disbands, Hudson becomes the scapegoat and is transformed from hunter to hunted. As he searches for answers and attempts to piece the puzzle together, people are following him, trying to kill him.

Written for fans of fast-paced thrillers, dry humor, political gamesmanship, and Clue-like twists and turns, Scavenger Hunt carves out a distinct niche best described as a hybrid of the Robert Ludlum classics and works by Brad Meltzer. Blake Hudson’s story addresses issues that have shaped recent elections and continue to frustrate interest groups and government leaders, while featuring the inner workings of the U.S. Department of Justice Building—arguably the most important and misunderstood agency in the federal government. Author Chad Boudreaux’s unique voice and page-turning storytelling packs a plot-driven punch that readers won’t be able to put down.

A Tender Little Murder by Beth ByersA Tender Little Murder by Beth Byers:

Vi and Jack are journeying on a second honeymoon. Sand, sea, long, lingering nights along with slow, sleepy mornings seem to be just what life demands.

They set out, driven by whimsy. Soon they join a small boat tour of the islands along with other travelers. At first, they’re surrounded by loving families, but as the journey progresses, they uncover that all is not what it seems. And with that, someone is found down. But why?

 

A Nags Head Murder by Joe C. EllisA Nags Head Murder by Joe C. Ellis:

Private Detective Angie Stallone opens her fledgling agency in the quaint town of Buxton, North Carolina on the Outer Banks. Struggling to establish a credible business, she teams up with local bookstore owner, Mee Mee Roberts, to solve a cold case from the 1960’s. Their investigation leads them to a remote island in the middle of the Currituck Sound. The evidence they dig up opens a door to membership in a strange cult that meets in one of the old beach houses along Nags Head’s Historic Cottage Row. The recent death of a cult member raises new questions. Was it murder? Is the cold case connected to the recent death? If so, who’s next?

New Ghosts, Old Tricks by Lily Harper HartNew Ghosts, Old Tricks by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow-Monroe has everything she’s ever wanted. She has a husband she loves, a best friend who is only irritating fifty percent of the time, and a daughter who refuses to be “normal.” So, basically, she has it all.

Then the unthinkable happens. During an afternoon picnic with her husband and daughter, Harper’s yard is flooded with ghosts … right as five bodies float by on the river. Harper’s daughter Poe is finally in the thick of things because she’s the only one who can communicate with the ghostly newcomers.

Worried, Harper calls in her friends Rowan, Maddie, and Ivy. Together, the foursome is going to figure out what’s haunting Poe … one way or another.
There’s not much to be found regarding the victims. They were adventurers, making a name for themselves finding treasure at the bottoms of oceans and lakes. They were hired by a local billionaire, but nobody can figure out why and the man in question is being cagey.

Harper always knew her daughter would turn out gifted. The reality is different from the fantasy, however. Poe’s magic is already strong, and when she gets a little encouragement from her friends, things begin to spiral.

It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation for this battle, and only the strong will survive.

Vow of Justice by Robin JamesVow of Justice by Robin James:

A small-town sheriff is found murdered in a Dollar Kart parking lot. A relentless prosecutor vows to bring his killer to justice.

Sheriff Bill Clancy humbly served the citizens of Maumee County for three decades. He wanted nothing more than to finish his term and retire to the woods he called home. When he’s found shot to death behind the wheel of his own car, every cop in the county is out for blood.

The weight of justice falls squarely on Prosecutor Mara Brent’s shoulders when an arrest is quickly made. With an election just a few months away, all eyes are on her. There’s no room for error.

The man accused is a nobody. A drifter without a dime to his name. There’s a mountain of physical evidence tying him to the crime, but no obvious motive. Even without one, the case seems open and shut. But when a high-powered defense attorney with ties to Mara’s past comes forward to defend the killer, she suspects a conspiracy.

Is the accused just a patsy? Was Sheriff Clancy’s assassination part of a larger scheme that could ruin Mara’s career? Or was Clancy hiding an even bigger secret that could shake the foundation of the police department he vowed to serve?

And just when Mara thinks victory is in sight, a courtroom bombshell threatens to spiral the town into chaos.

The Last Resort by Michael KaufmanThe Last Resort by Michael Kaufman:

It’s March 2034, six months after D.C. police detective Jen Lu and Chandler, her sentient bio-computer and wannabe tough guy implanted in her brain, cracked the mystery of Eden. The climate crisis is hitting harder than ever: a mega-hurricane has devastated the eco-system and waves of refugees pour into Washington, D.C.

Environmental lawyer and media darling Patty Garcia dies in a bizarre accident on a golf course. Of the seven billion people on the planet, only Jen thinks she was murdered. After all, Garcia just won a court case for massive climate change reparations to be paid out by oil, gas, and coal companies. Jen is warned off, but she and Chandler start digging. Signs point to Garcia’s abusive ex, a former oil giant, but soon Jen turns up more suspects who have an even greater motive for committing murder

Soon Jen is in the crosshairs of those who will ensure the truth never comes to light, no matter the cost. She has to move quickly before she becomes next on the killer’s list.

Beach Blanket Wendigo by Amanda M. LeeBeach Blanket Wendigo by Amanda M. Lee:

Moonstone Bay is in an uproar. The DDA is on the run, but they’re not going down without a fight. While all that’s going on, Hadley Hunter is practicing her magic. She managed to join with her elemental friends for a huge wins—and feels that’s important for the DDA fight—but she needs practice.

Nothing is perfect, however.

When a tourist is found dead on the beach one night after hearing a series of eerie howls, Hadley and her boyfriend Galen Blackwood think they have a new mystery to solve. The problem is, all signs point to a wendigo … which shouldn’t be possible on Moonstone Bay.

Things become even more convoluted when the victim’s movements on the night of her death lead them to a local. He denies killing her, but something is clearly amiss.

There’s a wendigo, a rogue DDA faction, and a plane door that just won’t stay closed.

Hadley has a lot on her plate. Nothing is going to stop her from doing what needs to be done, however. She’s ready to fight … even if that fight might kill her.

Hadley’s friends are determined to help, but as usual, she’s at the center of things. Moonstone Bay is caught in a shift of unbelievable proportions, but only one faction can come out on top.

There’s a battle coming, and when the truth comes out, everybody will be rocked.

Buckle up, because this ride is going to be bumpy.

Two Shakes of a Hangman's Noose by Rimmy LondonTwo Shakes of a Hangman’s Noose by Rimmy London:

A silly ghost story? Or did someone get away with murder…

Megan Henny takes a day trip to a lighthouse just off the rugged Washington coast. Along with her trusty Great Dane, Fred, she comes across a haunting legend. Thirty years ago, a woman startlingly similar to herself, disappeared from the charming coastal town of Seacrest. With no clues to follow except a noose hanging from the branches of a nearby tree, did someone get away with murder? Or could something darker be haunting the coastline?

Together with Fred, Megan digs into the past. But what she finds are chilling memories that mix truth with ghost stories. Late one night, she discovers a noose in the forest behind her house and fears she could be next. Will Megan and Fred realize just where the danger is coming from, or will it catch them unaware?

The Girl and the Winter Bones by A.J. RiversThe Girl and the Winter Bones by A.J. Rivers:

In the morning Ellie walked to school. All was seemingly predictable.

Until one day, the unexpected occurred and little Ellie was never seen again…

When an unexpected storm hits, forcing a young couple on a road trip to seek shelter within an abandoned school in the woods. They witness strange phenomena and stumble upon corpses. Soon FBI agent Emma Griffin finds herself in the middle of a case that forces her to investigate the past to sort out the mystery behind the twisted occurrences in the present. With a trail of missing girls, strange oddities, and red herrings.
Emma and all involved find much more than they bargained for.

It’s no longer about surviving a night of haunting and evading a storm.
It’s about escaping the things that should have remained forever frozen in time…

You Better Run by Willow RoseYou Better Run by Willow Rose:

When 19-year-old Meg Briggs wakes up after having a crazy party with her friends, she finds a girl in the pool.

Dead.

Who is this girl?

How did she end up in the pool?

Was she even at the party?

Even more strange is when they pull her out of the water, Meg realizes the girl looks very familiar. As a matter of fact, she looks just like her.

Like an identical twin.

But Meg has no twin, at least none that she knows of, and no one at the party knows this girl or can say where she is from.

What is Meg’s mom hiding from her?

FBI profiler Eva Rae Thomas is caught in distress at home with her children and between the two men in her life when she is asked to help out on the case.

Who killed Meg’s identical twin and why? And where did she come from?

As Eva Rae Thomas digs deeper into the story, she can barely believe the revealed secrets, secrets so cruel that someone is ready to go to great lengths to keep them hidden.

Murder at Yuletide by Lee StraussMurder at Yuletide by Lee Strauss:

Have Yourself a Merry Little Murder

Clive Pippins, Lady Ginger Gold’s beloved, elderly butler is apparently Christmas shopping when a body is found. To the shock of everyone in Ginger’s household, the victim is the spinster cousin Pippins worked for during the years surrounding the Great War.

As Ginger investigates things begin to look grim for her dear butler. What had the man been up to during the war years, and had he been complicit in a crime?

What secret was Pips holding onto?

And worse, would he be the next victim before he had a chance to divulge it?

The only gift Ginger wants for the Christmas of 1927 is for the killer to be found before it’s time to ring in the new year!

Once a Killer by Margaret WatsonOnce a Killer by Margaret Watson:

Bree Gordon looks nothing like a bodyguard. But the short, slender woman knows how to keep her principal safe. And one of her most potent weapons is her appearance. People see her and dismiss her. Their mistake.

Jameson Ford is a technical whiz who’s working on a program that’ll be a game changer. The military wants it. So does the CIA, along with some unsavory players. Someone close to him wants it, as well – one of the engineers in his lab.

When he reluctantly hires a bodyguard, he’s shocked when Bree shows up. But it doesn’t take long for him to appreciate her abilities. Will the attraction flaring between them be their salvation? Or will it be their downfall?

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Semiprozine Spotlight: Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy

The Semiprozine Spotlight project never quite took off the way the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlights and Non-fiction Spotlights did, probably because semiprozine editors are very busy people. Still, I am continuing the project as interviews come in. For more about the Semiprozine Spotlight project, go here.

Today I am pleased to feature Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy, who have published three of my flash stories to date with another one upcoming. So I’m happy to welcome Wyngraf editor Nathaniel Webb to my blog today:

A note for Hugo nominators, Wyngraf is not yet eligible for the Best Semiprozine Hugo, because they’re on their third issue and the Hugo rules require a minimum of four. However, Wyngraf will be Hugo eligible as of 2024.

Wyngraf issue 1Tell us about your magazine.

Wyngraf is a magazine of cozy fantasy short fiction—as far as I know, the first of its kind. Cozy fantasy focuses on low-stakes stories, often with themes of home and community. They can be simple slice-of-life tales or feature some conflict, but they’re never about toppling kingdoms or preventing the world from ending and they’re rarely solved with violence. They’re often set at home, though when they go off wandering we call that “backpack fantasy” and still count it. Our stories always give readers worlds they’d love to live in and endings that leave them feeling warm and, well, cozy!

Who are the people behind your magazine?

Right now it’s pretty much me, editor-in-chief Nathaniel Webb, and the incredible authors and artists whose work I’ve bought for each issue. Recently the amazing Angelica Fiori, who had stories in our first two issues, helped me read the massive slush pile for our third submissions round. I would have drowned without her!

Why did you decide to start your magazine?

Because it didn’t exist!

In early 2021 I was recovering from a major surgery—plus there was that whole global pandemic thing—and I found myself hungry for cozy fantasy reads. (I’ve always said my favorite part of Lord of the Rings is the “Concerning Hobbits” section at the beginning.) There were lots of posts seeking fantasy books with a cozy feel on forums like Reddit, but there was no community hub. You couldn’t even find two people who agreed on a definition of the genre.

So I read what I could find, but I kept thinking it ought to be easier to hunt these books down. I kept expecting someone to start a website or something. I kept expecting a dedicated magazine to pop up. But by the start of 2022, nothing had…

Meanwhile, at the end of 2021, I self-published a mystery novel called A Conventional Murder. I had published with small presses before, but this was my first time trying self-pub, and I discovered I really enjoyed the technical aspects of it: ordering the art, doing the layout and cover design, all that stuff. So there was kind of this perfect storm where I felt like there was a need in the market for cozy fantasy, and I suddenly had the skills to do something about it—and in the bargain, help promote fellow authors and publish stories that might not fit at other fantasy magazines.

What format do you use for your magazine (print zine, PDF zine, e-mail zine, online zine, podcast, etc…) and why did you choose this format?

We publish the magazine in two formats, ebook and print-on-demand paperback. I always knew we’d do a physical version. Paper books are how I like to read, and I find it really satisfying to hold something in my hand that I helped create. Those are sold on Amazon, through their PoD service.

But at the same time, a lot of people prefer ereaders these days, so of course we have that option as well. Our ebooks are on Amazon, of course, but also DriveThruFiction, where you get both the ebook and a PDF for the same price. We’re also continuing to experiment with publications outside the core semiannual magazine. Last year we ran flash fiction every week. This year we’re publishing an ebook special with two cozy fantasy romance stories for Valentine’s Day, and we’ve got a couple other secret projects in the works…

Science fiction, fantasy and horror were born in the pulps and short fiction has long been the beating heart of the genre. However, the focus of attention is increasingly moving towards novels and series. So why do you think SFF short fiction is important and worthy of attention?

Short SFF is essential because it allows for experimentation. Cozy fantasy is still in this nebulous state where it hasn’t quite been pinned down yet; the tropes are still being defined and nothing has totally reified. One of the my favorite things about putting out an issue of Wyngraf is that every story is somebody’s favorite, because everyone’s looking for something a little different from us.

Short fiction is where the genre sausage gets made. Sometimes I almost feel like Farnsworth Wright picking stories for Weird Tales, or Moorcock at New Worlds (on a much, much smaller scale, of course!)—in my tiny way, I get to help define what “cozy fantasy” means going forward. I have an essay about this, “Windows and Walls,” coming out in Wyngraf #3. It’s a thrilling place to be, and you don’t get that so much in the novel space, where every book is a huge investment so they have to be conservative (and doubly so for series). This was even more true when we were running flash fiction on our website. I bought a story, “Billable Hours for the Disputed Rights of the Chosen One” by L Chan, six hundred words long, written in the form of an expense report. You can’t write a novel like that—but readers loved it. It was our most popular flash piece, hands down.

I must admit, though, that in between me announcing Wyngraf and the first issue coming out, Travis Baldree released a cozy fantasy novel called Legends & Lattes that became a monster breakout hit and wound up on the New York Times bestseller list. So that certainly didn’t hurt. Thanks, Travis!

Wnygraf Magazine Issue 2One big problem for SFF magazines is monetarization. Readers are happy to consume short fiction, but they’re often unwilling to pay for it. What are your strategies for financing your magazine and paying your writers and staff?

Wyngraf is the story of what a person can achieve when they have no idea how clueless they are… I financed the first issue out of pocket, hoping it would eventually sell enough copies to break even and having no clue how unlikely that might be. Luckily for my pocket, my optimism about how a cozy fantasy magazine would sell was justified and we’ve not only broken even but turned a small profit.

A few things make this possible. One, I’m doing this as a hobby, not a living, so I don’t pay myself and breakeven is a success. Two, I do everything myself except the cover art and the stories. (Okay, I wrote a story for the first issue—sixty-five-hundred words I didn’t have to pay for!)

The third thing that makes the finances work is that right now, we pay our authors nothing near a professional rate. Increasing author pay is my number one goal for the magazine. We paid one cent per word for our first two issues, and increased it to a cent and a half for issue three. Still a pittance, but we’re moving in the right direction… I also strive for total financial transparency. There are a couple blog posts on our website where I lay out all our financials—literally everything—so you can judge for yourself.

But at its heart, the model is dead simple. I buy stories and some cover art, I put the issue together, I put it online, and I hope really hard that enough people buy copies that I can make another issue! So far so good…

The format of fiction magazines has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Print magazines still exist, but are no longer as dominant. Online and PDF zines are now the dominant form of short fiction delivery and fiction podcasts are becoming ever more popular. So where do you think magazines will go next?

I have no idea! I’m poorly equipped to answer this question because, despite being a software developer halfway through a computer science master’s degree, I’m a luddite at heart. I like paper books and magazines. I want everything to be a mass-market paperback.

I tend to believe there will always be a place for print, especially given the ease of self-publishing and print-on-demand nowadays. I certainly couldn’t have created a print magazine ten years ago. I do think print does offer some legitimate advantages as a technology—I’m skeptical, for instance, that purely website- and PDF-based delivery will ever monopolize the market, because enough people hate reading on phone and computer screens. Just look at Kindle Vella’s failure to launch: it’s called Kindle Vella, but you can’t read it on your Kindle, you have to go to the website or use the phone app.

I do think audio will continue to grow. It’s not my thing simply because I find it hard to pay attention to, but lots of people love it. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the SFF space experiments with really high production values, or a serialized narrative modeled after true crime podcasts, or other ways to hook listeners that aren’t just narrators reading stories. The form guiding the content, as it were. Are people already doing this?

Are there any other great magazines, podcasts, editors, stories, etc… you’d like to recommend?

Yes! Not long after we launched, the editors of Augur announced Tales & Feathers, an online magazine of cozy slice-of-life fantasy. They ran a successful Kickstarter and have been putting out a story every month for over half a year now. The best part: they pay a professional rate!

It’s a fantastic magazine, but it’s interesting—and this ties back into the idea that cozy fantasy hasn’t been pinned down yet—Tales & Feathers has a very different voice from Wyngraf, generally much closer to literary SFF than we are. I’ve actually turned down excellent stories for being too, I don’t know, arty or abstract or something. That’s just not what Wyngraf is about. I kind of feel like T&F‘s kid brother even though we technically launched before them. Though I have to say this: they’ve got some big names, like Premee Mohamed, but I was thrilled when they published a wonderful writer named Ziggy Schutz who sold us a flash story for our website. We ran Ziggy first!

You can read Tales & Feathers for free at www.augurmag.com/tales-and-feathers-magazine. It’s really good!

Where can people find you?

Our website is www.wyngraf.com, where you can learn about the magazine and our side projects, read dozens of flash stories for free, and sign up for our mailing list (which gets you even more free stories). Our ebooks are sold on Amazon and DriveThruFiction, and our paperbacks are on Amazon. And we’re on Twitter at @wyngraf, for however long Twitter lasts…

Thanks so much for inviting me over and letting me ramble!

Thank you, Nat, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Cozy up with a warm blanket and a hot beverage of your choice and check out Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy, cause it’s a great magazine.

***

Do you run a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Wun-Dar and His Wonderful Dinosaur”

It’s time for another Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server. You can check out all the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Stories here.

But first a bit of backstory: At the dawn of the Internet, reports about a rare brown-haired variant of the original He-Man action figure began to emerge. The figure was sometimes bare-chested, sometimes dressed in a black version of the Zodac armour and came with different red-brown weapons and was never found on a blister card. The origins of the figure were a mystery, though some people remembered getting him from a Mattel mail-in promotion in the early 1980s. For a while, it was thought that this was a tie-in promotion with the US bread company Wonder Bread, though eventually it turned out that the mysterious brown-haired He-Man figure actually originated with a “Buy three and get one free” promotion Mattel ran in the early 1980s. The promotion was quickly discontinued after a mother complained that the figure was underwhelming, which is why he is so rare. That mother would probably be stunned, if she knew what original brown-haired He-Man figures go for these days. There are several videos about the history of this figure by former Mattel employee Scott Neidlich, who solved the mystery of the brown-haired He-Man, here.

Even though the link to a Wonder Bread promotion turned out to be false, the brown-haired He-Man became known as a “Wonder Bread He-Man”. And when a new version of the mystery figure was made in the Masters of the Universe Classics line, the character was named Wun-Dar after the brand of bread. Wun-Dar was recast as a former champion of Grayskull and wielder of the Sword of Power, took on a life of his own and even showed up in Masters of the Universe: Revelation as one of the heroes hanging out in Preternia, which is Eternia’s version of Valhalla. Earlier this year, Mattel also made a Wun-Dar figure in the Masters of the Universe Origins line. It was sold as an online exclusive and sold out in minutes, but I was lucky enough to snag one.

And no, I could not resist posing him with a loaf of bread, because Wun-Dar is now forever associated with bread, even though he originally had nothing whatsoever to do with bread. Eventually, I will also get out the old Fimo and make him some action figure sized bread as an accessory.

Wun-Dar with bread“This is most excellent bread. Wun-Dar, foremost bread expert on Eternia, approves.”

Wun-Dar is a great figure, but he was missing something, namely a mount. Now in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Wun-Dar is shown riding a dinosaur. So of course I had to get him a dinosaur.

The big Schleich dinosaurs work really well Masters of the Universe Origins figures and so I decided to get my Wun-Dar a Schleich Giganotosaurus, because the colours fit his colour scheme really well. The dinosaur arrived just before Christmas, so here is Wun-Dar with his new ride:

Wun-Dar is riding his GiganotosaurusSo let’s see what happens when we introduce Wun-Dar and his mount to the rest of the gang.

At since Wun-Dar lived approximately a century before Prince Adam, he and his new dinosaur pal return to the land of the living through the same portal that brought Adam, Teela and friends back from Preternia in Masters of the Universe: Revelation.

In Revelation, the Preternian heroes didn’t quite know what to make of Adam, who chose to hang around in the afterlife in his regular skinny body rather than his bulked up He-Man form, so they nicknamed Adam “Fleaman”, because he’s skinny and slight.

***

In the Eternian wilderness:

Wun-Dar rides his Giganotosaurus“Well, Giga, Eternia has sure changed a lot, since we last dwelled in the land of the living. Still, if I’m not mistaken, Eternos should be that way. And that’s where we’ll find our old pal Fleaman and the current king and of course, the most important things, wine and wenches.”

ROAR!

“And of course a good chunk of meat for you, Giga.”

ROAR!

***

Later, in the throne room of Eternos Palace:

Wun-Dar and Giga arriven in the throne room of Eternos Palace.“Hello, Your Majesty. Wun-Dar is here and ready to serve.”

ROAR!

“What on Eternia? Who are you and what is that… that thing doing in my throne room? Guards, guards! Intruder alert!”

Two Palace Guards block Wun-Dar's way.“Halt, stranger! State your business!”

“Relax. Like I said, I’m Wun-Dar. You know, legendary hero, champion of Grayskull and wielder – well, former wielder of the Sword of Power? And this is Giga, my trusty mount. I came through a portal from Preternia because… well, even paradise gets boring eventually, I guess. And besides, Fleaman – I mean, Adam – said that you guys needed help with someone named Skeleton? Is that right? Stupid name, at any rate.”

“It’s Skeletor, young man. And what exactly do you and this… this thing want here in my throne room?”

“Giga and I want to help fight this Skeletor. Also, I hope to sample some of the local wine and wenches.”

“And what makes you think that I’ll just hire anybody who barges into my throne room, young man? There are proper channels and procedures for this sort of thing.”

“Well, if you don’t need a warrior, I also make really great bread. I used to be a baker boy in Tunderia, before I ventured forth to see Eternia and fight evil in all its forms. And sample wine and wenches, of course.”

He-Man, Teela and She-Ra arrive in the throne room.“Another alarm. What now? Skeletor, the Horde, the Snake People or… Wun-Dar?! What in Eternia are you doing here?”

“Fleaman – ahem, Adam – is that really you? Cause you sure fill out nicely, when you call down the power.”

“Adam, do you know this person?”

“Uhm, we met in Preternia, while I was dead. It’s a long story.”

He-Man talks to Wun-Dar, while King Randor, Teela, She-Ra and two guards look on.“Captain, what should we do?”

“Stand down, Corporal. For now.”

“Wun-Dar, man, what are you doing here? I thought you loved it in Preternia.”

“Well, I did. But you were right. Just going on pretend hunts all the time does get boring after a while. I missed the action, the fighting, the wine and the wenches, if you know what I mean. The only wenches in Preternia were Sharella and Kuduk and neither of them were ever interested.”

“But how did you get here, you and Giga?”

“Same way you did, through that portal in Grayskull Tower. After all, you said we were welcome to follow you at any time.”

He-Man and Wun-Dar shake hands, while King Randor, Teela and She-Ra look on.“Well yes, I guess I did invite you all to come. Anyway, it’s great to see you back in the land of the living, old friend. And Giga, of course.”

“Good to see you again, too, Fleaman… I mean Adam. I’m as surprised as anybody, but I kind of missed you.”

ROAR!

“Adam, would you mind introducing me to your ‘friend’?”

“Actually, I’d love to know who that is, too, brother. Cause he’s rather handsome.”

“Meanwhile, I’d love to know how that guy got past my guards.”

He-Man introduces Wun-Dar to King Randor.“Of course. Father, this is Wun-Dar of Tunderia. He’s a former champion of Grayskull and wielder of the Power Sword. We met in Preternia.”

“So I gather.

“Wun-Dar, this is my father, King Randor of Eternia.”

“Pleased to meet you, Sire. Wait a moment, your father is the king? So that means you’re a prince?”

“Uhm, yes…”

“Why did you never say anything, man?”

“I guess it never really came up. And besides, we were dead. It’s not as if titles and all that really mattered.”

“All this time and I never had any idea that you were royalty. Like Grayskull and He-Ro, come to think of it. Damn, was I the only commoner ever to wield the Power Sword? But first things first. Cause I spy wenches, so why don’t you introduce me to those lovely ladies?”

He-Man introduces Teela to Wun-Dar.“Wun-Dar, you’ll remember Teela from Preternia.”

“Oh yes, that wench you were moaning over all the bloody time.”

Giggle.

“Ahem, actually…”

“Well, I definitely remember you, Wun-Dar. After all, Adam and I knocked you and your beast out of the hunt.”

“As if I could forget. Still, you certainly clean up nicely, Teela. I almost didn’t recognise you with the different hair and outfit. It’s so much more becoming than that mannish cut you wore in Preternia.”

“Ahem, Wun-Dar, did I mention that Teela is the Captain of the Royal Guard as well as my girlfriend.”

“Oh, so you finally got your cherry popped, your wine uncorked, your toast buttered. Congratulations, Fleaman.”

Giggle.

“I’m sorry. There really is no excuse for him.”

“If you’re not going to punch him, Adam, I will. Champion of Grayskull or not.”

“Former champion.”

He-Man introduces Wun-Dar to She-Ra.“But who is this lovely lady? I’m certain I’ve never met you before, because how could I forget such beauty?”

“I’m She-Ra, He-Man’s twin sister and wielder of the Sword of Protection. It’s always a pleasure to meet friends of my brother.”

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, beautiful.”

“Ahem, Wun-Dar, did you miss the fact that she’s my sister?”

“Oh come on, Fleaman, it’s not fair hogging all the wenches for yourself.”

ROAR!

Wun-Dar introduces Teela and She-Ra to Giga.“That’s a very interesting beast you have there, Wun-Dar.”

“Thank you, my lady. Her name is Giga, short for Giganotosaurus. She has big teeth, but she only uses them on the enemies of Eternia.”

“Well hello, Giga. It’s lovely to meet you, too.”

ROAR!

“Some of these creatures would make pretty good patrol mounts for my guards. You didn’t bring back any more of those critters by any chance, did you?”

“I’m afraid not, my fair Captain. The fields of Preternia are full of roaming dinosaurs, but the trip is one way only.”

ROAR!

She-Ra strokes Giga, who has just pooped on the floor.“You’re a good girl, Giga. Maybe I should introduce to my friend Sorrowful, the dragon, since he’s always very lonely.”

ROAR!

“Enough! That… that thing has just pooped onto the floor of my throne room.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. Come on, Giga, don’t embarrass me. We’re among royalty here.”

“Get that creature out of my throne room NOW! And someone clean up the mess.”

Wun-Dar rides off on Giga, while King Randor, He-Man, She-Ra, Teela and two guards look on.“Uhm, Wun-Dar, maybe you should take Giga to the royal stables. And please, make sure she remembers that the horses are not for eating.”

“Okay, will do, Fleaman. Your Majesty, fair ladies, I’ll be seeing you around.”

ROAR!

“Corporal Daegar, remove that mess from the throne room floor.”

“With all due respect, Captain, I don’t think that cleaning up dinosaur poo was part of my job description.”

“It is now, Corporal. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Well, he’s certainly a bit rough around the edges, but I like him.”

“You’re welcome to him, She-Ra. After all, I have nabbed myself the greatest and noblest champion of them all.”

“You certainly have… interesting friends, son.”

“Sorry about that, Dad. When I invited the other heroes of Preternia to follow me, I’d hoped for King Grayskull or maybe He-Ro, not him. Though he is brave and will be a great help in the fight against the Evil Forces of Skeletor and the Horde and the Snake People. And he really does bake great bread.”

“So you’ve truly met King Grayskull, son? What is he like? Just as impressive as the legends say?”

“Grayskull wasn’t at all like I imagine him. I mean, since he’s my ancestor, I always imagined him to look like me – blonde hair, pale skin, blue eyes. But he doesn’t look like me at all. Instead, he has dark skin and dark hair. Oh yes, and he’s huge, even when he’s not powered up. And yes, he is as impressive as the legends say.”

***

The bit about King Grayskull is a reference to the fact that some fans were upset that the character of King Grayskull, heroic ancestor of He-Man and She-Ra, was portrayed as white and blonde in the 2002 cartoon and as a black man with dreadlocks in Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Of course, there are several centuries, perhaps even millennia between Prince Adam and King Grayskull, so Adam having a black ancestor is not at all unbelievable.

King Grayskull also appeared briefly in the Netflix CGI He-Man series, where he is a bald white man with a black beard. He’s also evil due to resorting to dark havoc magic to defeat the Snake People and was about to destroy all of Eternia and the entire universe, before the Sorceress stopped him. Oddly enough, that seems to bother absolutely nobody.

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story, because there will be more.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Frozen Citadel

The Frozen Citadel by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertWelcome to the January 2023 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

January is – at least in theory – a cold and wintery month, so let’s have a cold and wintery story. This one is called The Frozen Citadel and is part of the Kurval sword and sorcery series.

So follow Kurval and Tsabo, as they brave the icy dangers of…

The Frozen Citadel

“Before he became King of Azakoria in the Year of the Forked Serpent, Kurval spent many a year wandering the lands of the Eastern continent, plying his trade as a sellsword. It was during this period of his life that fought the fearsome serpent Khalikidai and saved Kingdom of Simola from the enemies that live in the frozen where the sun never rises in winter and never sets in summer…”

From the Chronicles of Azakoria by Ragur, Count Falgune

I. Across the Icy Wastes

“Why…” Kurval wondered, as the frozen snow crackled under his boots and an icy wind blew daggers into his face, “…must civilisation always be so bloody cold?”

In the Year of the Twisted Rope, Kurval had left his homeland of Temirzhan behind and journeyed across the sea to seek his fortune in the more civilised lands of the East, half a fugitive and half chasing the glorious destiny that the Dark Gods that dwell on the Plains of Shadow had prophesied him, namely that one day he would be king in a land across the sea.

By now, he’d spent several years in the lands across the sea and still no royal destiny had manifested itself and no crown had landed at his feet and Kurval was beginning to suspect that it never would.

Still, he was here now and could never go home again, so he had to make the best of his life on the Eastern continent. And that meant making money the only way he knew how, by selling his sword and his brawn to whoever was willing to pay for his services.

Right now, King Ansio of Simola was willing to pay twenty pieces of gold to any man willing to take service at the Citadel of Harjula in the frozen north of the kingdom and defend Simola against its enemies from the ice. Of course, nobody seemed to know just what those enemies from the ice were, but twenty gold pieces was a good sum and so Kurval and his friend and fellow sellsword Tsabo had followed the call and embarked on the long and cold journey to Harjula.

They made a strange pair, these two swords for hire. They were both tall, muscular men, but that’s where the similarities ended.

Kurval had born on the steppes of Temirzhan across the great sea. His skin was bronze, his eyes grey like the cold hard steel of his sword. He was clad in a mail hauberk and padded leather trousers, woollen gloves and fur-lined boots, a fur-lined helmet and a thick vest of sheepskin. He wore his long black hair, now frosted with ice, tied back with a leather thong. Behind Kurval trotted his faithful black stallion Shadowmane, neighing in displeasure at the cold.

His companion Tsabo was a son of the Southern Isles with skin dark as ebony and a shaven head smooth like a polished ivory ball. He, too, was clad in leather and mail, topped with a plumed helmet and a cape of leopard fur. On his back, he carried a mighty battle axe.

The two men had met on one of the many battlefields on the Eastern continent, both outcasts, both bearing the mark of the slave whip on their backs and both considered barbarians by the people whose battles they fought. So they’d quickly become fast friends, travelling the land together in search of employment. And now that quest had brought them to the frozen north of Simola.

“I should’ve stayed in the Southern Isles,” Tsabo grumbled, his breath coming in freezing puffs, “At least it was warm there.”

“You couldn’t have stayed in the Southern Isles,” Kurval countered, his own breath forming clouds of white mist that swirled around him and obscured his vision, “After all, they were going to throw you into a pit of lions as punishment for your indiscretion with a virginal priestess of the goddess Tokoloho.”

“Wrong,” Tsabo roared above the whistling wind, “All wrong. It was a pit of leopards and that priestess was not a virgin.” Tsabo grinned, his teeth stark white in his dark face, “And she was worth every danger and banishment.”

“Still, you can’t go back,” Kurval pointed out, “Any more than I can.”

Kurval’s own exile was due to a far less bawdy episode than Tsabo’s adventure with the non-virginal priestess. He had defied the king he’d sworn to serve and refused the order to execute the condemned witch Aelisia. He’d fought the Dark Gods that dwell on the Plains of Shadow and then he’d managed to get the king he served killed at the hands of those selfsame Dark Gods.

In his homeland of Temirzhan, Kurval was a traitor and an outlaw, his very name accursed. Exile was all that was left to him. And like Tsabo, Kurval privately believed that saving Aelisia and ridding Temirzhan of its tyrannical king had been worth it. Even if it meant trudging through the ice and the snow to sell his services to some foreign king for twenty pieces of gold.

“If the map that soldier gave us at Fort Kusela is correct, we should have almost reached Harjula,” Tsabo remarked. He shielded his face against the wind and the snow and looked into the distance. “Do you see anything?”

Kurval also shielded his eyes and peered at the horizon. “No. But with this blasted snow, it’s impossible to see further than a spear’s throw anyway.”

“At Fort Kusela, they said that Harjula is a day’s walk across the ice. But the sun is already low and there’s still no sign of the citadel.”

“We’ll have to reach it soon or we’ll freeze to death out here,” Kurval said darkly, leaning into the icy wind.

“So let’s trudge onwards then,” Tsabo said, “After all, it’s too late to turn back.”

II. The Walls of Harjula

The wan northern sun was steadily sinking, casting the frozen land in a fiery hue and promising a deadly night on the ice, when Kurval’s keen eyes at last did spot something on the horizon.

At first, it looked like a massive wall of ice rising from the frozen wasteland. But as Kurval and Tsabo came closer, they noticed a giant gate flanked by lanterns that glowed an eerie red through the swirling snow. Arrow slits were set into that massive wall, which was topped by crenelations. So this had to be the Citadel of Harjula then.

“Wow, this place is huge,” Tsabo whistled, his normally booming voice barely audible over the icy wind, “I wonder what that wall is supposed to keep out.”

“Or keep in,” Kurval said darkly.

The fortress was built on a natural hill. A series of iced over steps, flanked by rocks jutting randomly out of the ice, led up to the massive gate.

At the bottom of the steps, Kurval and Tsabo halted.

“We’d best hail them,” Kurval said, “Lest we get an arrow in the chest for our troubles.”

Tsabo nodded and cupped his hands to his mouth.

“Ahoy, you there guarding the citadel,” he cried, his booming voice echoing across the icy wasteland, “We’re two mercenaries, come to take service, so open up the gate and let us in.”

They waited, but the gate did not open and the citadel remained silent. Only the lanterns next to the gate flickered red in the gloom like twin drops of blood.

Kurval and Tsabo exchanged a glance. “Mayhaps they have not heard you,” Kurval said.

He raised his voice. “Hola, you there at the citadel. We’re two mercenaries, come to join you in your duty and strengthen your numbers. We’re also really bloody cold, so let us in.”

They waited, but once again the gate did not open, the citadel remained silent.

Kurval and Tsabo exchanged another glance.

“What’s wrong with them?” Kurval grumbled, “Surely, they must have heard or seen us, unless they’re asleep at their posts.”

“Or dead,” Tsabo said darkly, “They may have been overrun by enemies and slaughtered.”

“Then why is there no evidence of any fighting? If they’d been attacked and overrun, surely there would be damage to the walls and bodies and arrows lying around. But there’s nothing. Nothing except those dead silent walls.”

Tsabo had no answer to that. “What exactly are those enemies that the citadel is protecting the kingdom from anyway?” he asked instead, “At Fort Kusela, they only vaguely spoke of creatures that live in the ice. But are those creatures even human?”

It was an interesting question. For come to think of it, the commander of Fort Kusela had been remarkably vague about what awaited them at Harjula. Only that there was always a need for skilled fighters at the citadel to defend the newly expanded borders of the kingdom of Harjula against its enemies that lurked far up in the frozen north, where the sun never sets in summer and never rises in winter. But just what those enemies might be, the commander either didn’t know or wouldn’t say.

“There’s no evidence of an attack by non-human creatures either,” Kurval pointed out, “In fact, there’s no evidence for any kind of battle at all.”

“Maybe a plague wiped them all out,” Tsabo pointed out, “Or black magic.”

“It’s possible,” Kurval replied, “Anything’s possible at this point.”

Tsabo looked up at the citadel with its forbidding walls. “So what do we do now?” he wanted to know.

“Move in closer and see if we can find a way in,” Kurval said.

“And what if there is a plague? Or black magic or something else?”

Kurval shrugged. “Well, it’s not as if we have much of a choice,” he said, “Either we find a way into that citadel or we freeze to death out here.”

III. The Silent Watcher

Cautiously, Kurval and Tsabo ascended the steps that led up to the citadel, half expecting to be cut down by arrows. However, nothing happened. The walls of the citadel stood dead and silent in the fading light.

The sun had sunk beneath the horizon by now. Night was falling fast and the temperatures were falling along with it. Where it had merely been unpleasantly cold before, the frost now became dangerous even to the two hardened mercenaries.

They were closer to the citadel now, close enough that the massive grey walls blocked out the darkening sky, casting the stairs into even deeper shadows. The gloom was relieved only by the two lanterns that flanked the main gate, flickering in a warm red like the pulsing of a beating heart, as if in defiance of the cold white land all around.

“The lights are still on, so someone must be home,” Tsabo said, his normally booming voice dropping to a whisper.

“Those are behemoth oil lamps,” Kurval replied, his own voice dropping to a whisper as well, almost as if he were reluctant to draw attention to himself, “They can burn for days without refuelling.”

“But someone must have lit and refuelled them, so someone must have been home and alive not too long ago,” Tsabo remarked.

They both looked up at the arrow slits set into the massive wall high above their heads, but no light was visible there. They remained black and dead, like the eyeholes of a skull.

At last they were standing in front of the massive arched gate, a gate more than twice as tall as either of them. Tsabo experimentally knocked his fist against the gate. Promptly, a hollow clang echoed across the frozen wasteland.

“Amazing,” Tsabo exclaimed, “The gate seems to be made from solid steel. And what foundry can even cast such a thing?”

“More importantly, how do we get in?” Kurval said, while examining the gate, “Cause if we don’t find shelter soon, we’ll freeze to death out here.”

Tsabo banged his massive fist against the gate again. And this time, it swung open with a mournful wail, revealing a darkened entranceway.

“Now that’s not ominous at all,” Tsabo remarked.

“Still better than freezing,” Kurval grunted.

As one, the two mercenaries drew their weapons and ventured into the citadel.

Beyond the wall, the gate opened onto a snow-covered courtyard. The courtyard was deserted and the snow hadn’t been cleared away in days. Yet the oil lanterns still flickered, so they had been refuelled at some point.

Kurval motioned to Tsabo to cover him and looked up at the massive wall. Staircases led up to a firing ledge that ran along the arrow slits they’d seen from the outside and then further up to the crenelated top of the wall. But neither the arrow slits nor the top of the wall were manned.

“Where is everybody?” Kurval wondered, “A citadel this size should have three hundred men, maybe more. Yet the walls and the gates are not manned. None of this makes any sense.”

“Maybe they really are all dead,” Tsabo remarked.

“But if they’re all dead, overrun by enemies or fallen to some plague, then why are there no bodies?” Kurval pointed out.

“Well, if there are answers, we’ll find them at the keep,” Tsabo said, “That’s probably where they keep the food and the wine, too. Cause I’m damned hungry.”

Tsabo wasn’t the only one who was hungry. Kurval’s faithful stallion Shadowmane neighed in protest, so Kurval left him at a trough full of snow damp hay.

He patted the stallion’s black mane. “Sorry, old friend. I’ll get you something better, once we’ve been inside.”

“Won’t he wander off?” Tsabo asked.

Kurval shook his head. “If he does, he’ll come back. He always does.”

Weapons drawn, the two men ventured onwards, up the steps that led towards the keep, their way lit by the eerily flickering lanterns.

Halfway to the keep, Kurval abruptly spun around, sword raised high above his head.

“What is it?” Tsabo asked, raising his axe.

“Nothing. I just thought I spotted a movement behind us from the corner of my eye. Must’ve been a trick of the light.”

No wonder, too. The flickering lanterns and the swirling snowflakes in combination caused all sorts of strange light effects, much like the magical lanterns of the showmen plying their trade at the markets in more temperate climes.

“Might be,” Tsabo said, “But I have this bristling feeling at the back of my neck that someone or something is watching us.”

“Me, too,” Kurval admitted, “So let’s get to the keep. We’re too exposed out here.”

The gate of the keep was made from solid steel as well, flanked by two massive columns. A statue was standing beside one of those columns, silently keeping watch.

But as Kurval and Tsabo approached, they realised that the statue was no statue at all. It was a man, a soldier armed with a sword and a halberd, wearing a Simolan harness and a plumed helmet. He was completely encased in ice, an expression of nameless horror frozen on his face.

“Is he dead?” Tsabo wanted to know.

Kurval reached out to touch the figure. “I don’t know. But he is frozen solid.”

The two mercenaries exchanged a glance.

“What the hell happened here?”

With a mocking groan, the gate swung open, beckoning them to enter.

IV. The Hall of the Frozen

The inside of the keep was dark. The torches had long gone out, though embers were still glowing red in a few scattered braziers and a lone oil lantern was still flickering, casting grotesque shadows and monstrous silhouettes onto the walls.

Kurval and Tsabo each grabbed a torch and used the failing flame of lantern to light it. The torches flared to life, finally casting some light upon the darkened keep.

They were in a great hall, the ceiling beams lost in gloom. Once, this had been a comfortable place. Furs covered the flagstone floor, while banners and shields decorated the walls and galleries. Braziers were set up at regular intervals and at the far end of the hall, there was a large fireplace carved from solid black granite flecked with silver sparkles.

Tsabo grabbed some firewood from a stack, threw it into a brazier and lit it with his torch. The flames licked on the wood, casting a hellish light upon a terrifying scene.

For many figures stood scattered around the great hall, either alone or in small groups. At first, Kurval hoped they were statues, but upon closer examination they turned out to be humans encased in solid blocks of ice.

Most of the frozen were soldiers of various ranks. Many of them had their weapons drawn, ready for combat. They faced the gate, as if ready to defend it, poised for an attack that nonetheless overcame them before they had the chance to strike.

There were a few women and children, too, clad in the traditional embroidered fur and felt garb of Simola’s frozen north. They huddled in the corners or hid underneath tables, expressions of pure terror frozen on their lifeless faces.

“They did not freeze to death,” Kurval said, his voice echoing through the empty hall, “If they had, they wouldn’t be standing upright.”

“Besides, they have plenty of firewood,” Tsabo remarked, casting some of it into another brazier to provide light and warmth, “But it’s no plague either, cause I’ve never seen a plague that does this.”

Kurval examined a frozen warrior in the harness of a mercenary captain. His sword was raised, as if he was about to strike at someone or something. His mouth was open, emitting a silent scream. Whatever had struck this man, he’d barely had a heartbeat’s time of warning, if that.

“Sorcery,” Kurval grunted, “Black magic. I can’t imagine anything else that could do such a thing.”

“So what do we do now?” Tsabo asked, his dark eyes darting warily through the silent hall, “Cause by the Seven Eyes of Reotlotla, there’s no way that I’m spending the night in here with a regiment of frozen men and hell knows what did this to them. I’d rather take my chances out on the ice.”

Kurval nodded. “I agree. Let’s grab provisions and firewood and some of those furs and build a rough shelter against the outer wall. A good fire should keep us from freezing to death and once the morning dawns, we’ll return to Fort Kusela to bring word of what happened here.”

The two men were about to split up to seek what they needed to survive a night outside the walls, when Tsabo suddenly stiffened.

“Something’s moving in here,” he whispered, his great battle axe raised.

Kurval nodded and raised his sword. “I hear it, too. A hissing, slithering sound.”

With instincts born from dozens of battles, the two mercenaries stood back to back, weapons raised, poised for whatever attack might come.

V. The Fangs of the Serpent

Kurval saw it first. A strange, slithering movement, almost too quick for the eye to follow. Scales, shimmering silver in the flickering light. Abruptly, a nightmarish head came towards him, with a forked tongue, fangs the size of daggers and inhuman eyes blazing like twin sapphires.

The creature hissed at him and its breath was like the icy north wind. Kurval jumped aside and only his quick reflexes saved him from the monstrous fangs.

“Fuck,” he exclaimed and stabbed at the mighty head. But the creature was too swift for him and darted out of range, before his sword could pierce its throat.

Tsabo wheeled around and began hacking at the slithering body. But it was to no avail, for even his battle axe could not pierce those frosty scales. And so he only succeeded in annoying the creature, which promptly whirled around, its fanged jaw shooting towards Tsabo.

Tsabo was fast and so he managed to dodge the serpent’s first strike and the second as well. But then his luck ran out. He tripped over a piece of firewood, stumbled and dropped his axe, which fell blade first into a brazier.

“Here,” Kurval roared to distract the thing from his friend, “Come here, you ugly monster!”

But it was too late. The sapphire eyes of the serpent fixated on its victim. The mighty head darted forwards, the dagger-sharp fangs struck.

Tsabo screamed, but his scream was abruptly cut short, when his body was encased in a block of solid ice at the very spot where he’d fallen.

Kurval let out a cry of pure fury and began stabbing and hacking at the serpent like a berserker. But once more, it was to no avail, for the creature’s scaled hide was too tough to pierce.

The monstrous head darted towards him, but Kurval narrowly avoid its strike, ducking behind an overturned table.

The more rational part of his mind told him to make a run for it and get the hell out of the citadel. Even if death awaited him out on the ice, it couldn’t be worse than this nightmare creature he was facing.

But the part of his mind that was flooded with battle rage was stronger. Whatever this thing was, it had frozen Tsabo and every other living person in this citadel. And for that, Kurval would kill it or die trying.

However, the serpent was fast. The ice was its element, the cold was not affecting it and it did not tire. Kurval, on the other hand, was getting slower, his muscles stiff from the cold. Sooner or later, the blasted thing would get lucky and Kurval would be reduced to yet another block of ice.

From the corner of his eye, he spotted a red glow. The brazier, into which Tsabo’s battle axe had fallen. The heat of the fire had caused the blade to glow red hot.

Fire. That was it. Cold steel could not defeat the ice serpent, but maybe fire could.

Surreptitiously, Kurval moved closer to the brazier, taunting the serpent and manoeuvring it into position. Once he was next to the brazier, he grabbed the axe, burning his hand on the handle in the process. He raised the axe and brought it down onto the serpent, cleaving the monster in two.

The serpent hissed and twitched and Kurval had to jump backward, dropping the axe, to avoid its death throes. But then at last, the creature was dead, its body crumbling harmlessly into snow and melting away.

All around the great hall, moans and cries could be heard. Puddles formed on the floor, as the ice melted and the frozen victims of the serpent came back to life.

Confused soldiers raised their weapons, looking for an enemy to strike. A woman screamed and clutched a child to her chest. The sentry who’d guarded the door came dashing in, crying, “Alarm! We’re under attack,” unaware that his warning came much too late.

None of the soldiers challenged Kurval, as he pushed his way through the milling crowd, until he found Tsabo lying dazed on the floor. Kurval held out his hand and hauled his friend to his feet.

“Thanks, old friend,” Tsabo said, once he got his second wind back, “That thing got me good. If not for you, I’d have spent eternity as an icicle.”

“And if not for your axe, I’d have joined you,” Kurval replied.

The two men embraced.

VI. Harjula Unfrozen

Sometime later, after they’d rested and eaten, Kurval’s burnt hand had been bandaged and faithful Shadowmane had finally been given some fresh hay, Kurval and Tsabo were ushered into the private quarters of Colonel Venamo, Commander of the Citadel of Harjula.

The Colonel was seated behind a desk of plain wood. His skin was pale, like all the people of Simola. His tawny hair was shot with silver, his eyes were a piercing blue.

Venamo set down his stylus and looked up, as the two mercenaries entered.

“I understand that we have the two of you to thank for our release,” he said without much preamble, “And I don’t even know who you are.”

“I’m Kurval of Temirzhan.”

“And I’m Tsabo of Moratuva.”

“We’re mercenaries, come to take service at the citadel.”

“Good men are always welcome,” Venamo said, “Even more so, if they did us as a great a service as you two did. But do sit down.” He gestured at two wooden chairs.

Kurval and Tsabo exchanged a glance and sat.

Venamo, meanwhile, pulled a wicker-wrapped glass bottle from a shelf. “This is a rare fine brandy, a gift from my predecessor, when I took this post,” he said, “I’ve never touched it and kept it for a special occasion.”

He uncorked the bottle and distributed its contents between three tin cups.

“But I guess being saved from the icy embrace of the serpent Khalikidai counts as a special occasion.”

Venamo raised his cup.

“Is that the creature’s name?” Kurval asked and took a sip. The brandy was fine and mellow, like a pool of liquid fire that warmed his frozen innards.

Venamo nodded. “Aye. It used to hunt out on the ice, occasionally attacking our patrols, but the walls kept it out.”

“So how did it get into the citadel then?” Tsabo wanted to know.

Venamo’s face darkened. “Sorcery. The serpent Khalikidai is no natural beast. It was conjured up from the ice by the sorcerer Sibelius, who lives even further north, in the perpetual darkness that the rays of the sun never touch. He is old and powerful and no friend of Simola, but so far he’s left us alone…”

Venamo took a gulp of brandy, a harsh gleam in his eyes.

“…until King Ansio, may he sleep well in his soft bed in his warm palace, decided to expand our borders northwards, into the frozen wastes that are the realm of Sibelius and the creatures that serve him. Sibelius did not take this well. And as the northernmost outpost of Simola, we are the ones who bear the brunt of his wrath.”

Venamo drained his cup in a single draft.

“The serpent Khalikidai is one of Sibelius’ creatures and the most fearsome of them all, but as long as it remained outside the walls of Harjula, it could not harm us. But then Sibelius sent another of his creatures, an ice nymph in the form of a beautiful woman, to bewitch our sentries into opening the gates. This is how the serpent got inside and could take us out one by one.”

Venamo fixed his ice-blue eyes on Kurval and Tsabo.

“But tell me, how were you able to kill the fiend? Cause steel cannot harm it. We found that out the hard way.”

Kurval shrugged and downed the brandy in a single gulp.

“Simple. Fire can melt even the toughest ice monster.”

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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A handy guide to all SFF-related posts and works of 2022

I never felt particularly comfortable with eligibility posts, but I posted such an overview for the first time in 2016, when someone added my name to the Hugo Nominations Wiki. Eventually, it paid off, because I was a Hugo finalist for Best Fan Writer in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and won in 2022.

So if you’re interested in what I write, here is an overview of all SFF related blogposts of 2022, in chronological order, as well as a list of all the SFF and other fiction I published.

Because I did so many Fanzine/Fancast/Non-Fiction Spotlight interviews this year, I separated the Spotlights from the other blogposts. I also separated the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Toy Photo Stories from the rest of the blogposts.

That said, I have a shiny rocket and there are many highly deserving fan writers who have never even been nominated, let alone won. Therefore, I’d like to ask folks to nominate some of those other great folks next year instead of me. Once nominations open, I’ll post a list of IMO underappreciated fan writers, so let’s spread the shiny rocket love around.

If you want to nominate me or a project I’ve been involved with in a category other than fan writer or if you’d like to nominate me for an award other than the Hugo, I’d be happy to accept a nomination elsewhere.

At this blog:

The Complete Fanzine/Fancast/Semiprozine/Non-Fiction Spotlights:

The Complete Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Toy Photo Stories:

At Galactic Journey:

Elsewhere:

Podcast appearances:

Fiction (SFF):

*published under the name Richard Blakemore

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The 2022 Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award

While I have been awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents for 42 years now, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award is a new prize that I only introduced in 2020 as a companion piece to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award.

As for why I felt the need to introduce a companion award, depictions of parenthood in popular culture are currently undergoing a paradigm shift with more positive portrayals of supportive and loving parents and fewer utterly terrible parents. Personally, I believe that this shift is a very good thing, because the reason that I started the Darth Vader Parenthood Award in the first place is because I was annoyed by all the terrible parents in pop culture. For while most real world parents may not be perfect, at least they do their best. Maybe, the conditions that gave rise to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award will eventually cease to exist and we can permanently retire the award.

Warning: Spoilers for lots of things behind the cut! Continue reading

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The 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents

It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.

Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Eventually, I decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner, the 2019 winner, the 2020 winner and the 2021 winner were announced right here on this blog.

Warning: Spoilers for several things behind the cut! Continue reading

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Magic under the Mistletoe 2022 – A Round-up of the Best Indie Holiday Speculative Fiction

Magic under the Mistletoe banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite holiday science fiction, fantasy and horror by indie authors.

These holiday stories cover the broad spectrum of speculative fiction. We have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, cozy fantasy, paranormal romance, paranormal mysteries, science fiction, space opera, time travel, post-apocalyptic fiction, Steampunk, LitRPG, plenty of dragons, vampires, werewolves, were-cougars, were-reindeer, elves, Krampuses, nutcrackers, telepathic detectives, crime-fighting witches, Puritan witch hunters, magical cats, holiday body swaps, orphans in danger, fated mates, troubled marriages, musketeers in space, alien invasions, Christmas in space and after the apocalypse, robots, sentient starships playing Santa and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set around the holidays.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

A Dark Root Christmas by April AasheimA Dark Root Christmas: Merry’s Gift by April Aasheim

When ten-year-old Merry Maddock makes a holiday wish on a shooting star, she has no idea how her life will change.
Suddenly, she’s become the parent to a strange baby owl, and the caretaker of what appears to be an enchanted tree.
But will her wish for a family Christmas be granted? Or will her mother’s desire for a year without a holiday win out?
Magick, mystery, and family take center stage in this charming witchy novella featuring the Maddock girls when they are young.
This 20k word novella is a prequel story to the popular Daughters of Dark Root series and can be read as a stand alone novel.

A Very Mercy Christmas by M.Z. AndrewsA Very Mercy Christmas: A Witch Squad Holiday Special by M.Z. Andrews:

It’s Christmas time at the Paranormal Institute for Witches. Excited to go home for the holidays and be reunited with their families, Mercy, Jax, Holly, Sweets, and Alba say their goodbyes. However, when an unpredicted snowstorm ravages Aspen Falls, the girls must scramble to figure out their next move. Tempers flare as blame is placed and feelings are hurt. By the looks of it, Christmas will surely be ruined.

But when a surprise visitor arrives, the girls are forced to find out what friendship really means and decide whether or not it’s worth saving. Visited by some blasts from the past, the girls are given glimpses into each other’s pasts and find out what life would have been like if they’d never met and formed the Witch Squad on the first day of classes.

A Very Mercy Christmas is the 5th book in the Witch Squad Cozy Mystery series – there is no mystery to solve, instead sit back and enjoy a Christmas story about what went down over the Witch Squad’s first winter break and get a glimpse into the lives of each of the girls before they met.

The Journey of Joseph Winter by John AnthonyThe Journey of Joseph Winter: A Christmas Fairy Tale by John Anthony:

A heartwarming Christmas story in the tradition of the holiday classics It’s a Wonderful Life and A Miracle on 34th Street.

Take a personal journey to discover the true magic of Christmas.

Joseph Winter is a good and gentle man, but he carries with him the pain and regret of a childhood mistake.

When a package mysteriously arrives on his doorstep, he is invited on a path to redemption.

Traveling far from his cozy little home in St. Paul, Minnesota, into the snowy landscapes of the Arctic, his touching Christmas journey takes him in search of the one man who may be able to help him find peace—Santa Claus.

An inspirational family Christmas tale in the style of the classic Christmas stories shared by families every holiday season, The Journey of Joseph Winter: A Christmas Fairy Tale is the inspiring story of a man in search of Santa Claus, his childhood, and ultimately—himself.

A Tale of Christmas Past by Katelyn A. BrownA Tale of Christmas Past by Katelyn A. Brown

A woman from the future, trapped in the past…

Avery Lawson expects to spend another holiday alone, with only memories of her parents and her abandoned faith for company. One chilly day, she reads an old journal that once belonged to a pioneer named Kathleen. Avery is captivated by the story, but she never imagined how much her own life would be turned upside down after reading it. In a strange twist of fate, she finds herself transported to a Kansas homestead in the year 1880, with no conceivable way to get home to the future.

Widower Jacob Cole is in desperate need of a housekeeper and nanny for his three young children. When the mysterious Miss Lawson shows up at his farm, his instincts tell him to trust her, despite the bizarre circumstances surrounding her arrival. She quickly becomes an important part of his world. Could she be just what his hurting family needs?

But being from the future, Avery has a dreadful secret. With Christmas fast approaching, can she stop another terrible tragedy from befalling the family? Will she ever make it home to the future? Or–with the Cole children and Jacob steadily breaking down the walls around her heart–does she even want to anymore?

Christmas on Iago Prime by Cora BuhlertChristmas on Iago Prime by Cora Buhlert

Eight-year-old Libby has come with her parents to spend a year at the newly established colony on the planet Iago Prime. Libby’s parents believe that this is a great opportunity for all of them, but Libby is unhappy on Iago Prime. There are no other children on Iago Prime and Libby can’t go anywhere, because she doesn’t even have a space suit. Worst of all, they will spend Christmas on Iago Prime, where there aren’t even any Christmas trees.

However, Libby’s parents, with a little help from Santa Claus himself, conspire to give Libby an unforgettable Christmas on Iago Prime.

This is a science fictional Christmas story of 6600 words or approx. 22 print pages.

Christmas after the End of the World by Cora BuhlertChristmas after the End of the World by Cora Buhlert

It’s Christmas… five months after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted, blacked out the sun and covered most of the western US in ash.

Thirteen-year-old Natalie, her younger brother Liam, baby Olivia and family dog Bud are among the few still holding out in the evacuation zone.

Day to day survival is hard enough, but Natalie is determined to give Liam and Olivia an unforgettable Christmas… after the end of the world.

And who knows, maybe they’ll even get a true Christmas miracle…

This is a post-apocalyptic holiday novelette of 10000 words or approx. 35 print pages.

The Solstice Horror by Cora BuhlertThe Solstice Horror by Cora Buhlert

Massachusetts in the Year of the Lord 1695: Apprentice witchfinder Matthew Goodson, and condemned witch Grace Pankhurst have been on the run from Matthew’s former masters for months now.

Shortly before Christmas, Matthew and Grace find shelter with the Whitelaw family in the town of Cold Hollow. But the witchfinders are on their trail, so Matthew and Grace have to flee again on the day of the winter solstice.

Many dangers lurk in the dense woods of Massachusetts Bay Colony. But which is the greater threat, the witchfinders or the thing from beyond that dwells in the woods and hunts on the darkest nights of the year?

This is a historical holiday horror novelette of 11100 words or approximately 40 print pages by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.

The Bakery on Gloomland Street by Cora BuhlertThe Bakery on Gloomland Street by Cora Buhlert:

A legendary monster threatens Christmas…

It’s Christmas time in the permanently fog-shrouded seaside town of Hallowind Cove, which is also known as the “Harbour of the Weird”.

Rachel Hammersmith is new to Hallowind Cove and has recently taken over the bakery on Gloomland Street, after Marie Percht, the previous owner, retired.

However, Marie Percht didn’t tell Rachel everything, when she retired. She didn’t mention the fog, for starters, and she also didn’t mention that her bakery plays a vital role during the Christmas season and not just as a provider of holiday cookies either.

For the Krampus, a yuletide monster from alpine folklore, is coming to Hallowind Cove. And the only thing that can keep him from wrecking the town and ruining Christmas are pastries baked according to a secret recipe. Unfortunately, Rachel has no idea what the recipe is.

However, with the help of fellow newcomer Paul MacQuarie, Rachel will bake up a storm to pacify Krampus and save Christmas.

Revolt at the North Pole by Cora BuhlertRevolt at the North Pole by Cora Buhlert:

Rebellion is brewing at Santa’s compound at the North Pole. The elves and the reindeer both are overworked, underpaid and angry, so they unite to take down Santa. However, there’s still Santa’s most fearsome enforcer, the horned, clawed and fanged holiday monster known only as Krampus…

This is a short holiday horror story of 3900 words or approx. 14 print pages by Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.

 

Invasion of the Robot Santas by Cora BuhlertInvasion of the Robot Santas by Cora Buhlert

No one ever expected the robot apocalypse to begin in the little town of Brighthaven. And no one ever expected it to involve murderous robot turkeys and their even more terrifying brethren, robot Santas that fire laserbeams from their eyes.

However, Brighthaven’s finest are ready to tackle any robotic holiday menace that might come their way.

Two interlinked holiday stories of approx. 6000 words by Hugo winner Cora Buhlert

The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree by Cora BuhlertThe Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree: A Not Really SF Short Story by Cora Buhlert

Bertha and Alfred, married for twenty years, enjoy a truly science fictional life in the twenty-first century. But in spite of all the technological marvels surrounding them, an argument about how to decorate the Christmas tree escalates and threatens their marriage.

This parodistic piece is a mundane short story of 2900 words or approximately 12 print pages, written in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Frosted Croakies by Sam CheeverFrosted Croakies by Sam Cheever:

’Tis the season for great folly…walawalawalawalala…ribbit.

It’s Christmas time at Croakies. The tree is up. The stockings are hung. And Christmas tunes are turning the atmosphere jolly. After a tumultuous Samhain, I’ve found my chi again and I’m starting to enjoy the season of love and giving.

Yeah. You probably know how this is going to end.

When Sebille suggests I open the bookstore up to a small holiday party, I foolishly agree. How was I supposed to know that the hobgoblin would decide it would be fun to hide everybody’s stuff? Or that we’d be hit with a freak winter storm that confined everybody inside for the duration. Or that a “You’re me but who am I?” spell would be released inside the shop, switching everybody’s identities and creating general chaos and hysteria?

I could probably deal with all that if it weren’t for the fact that my friend, Lea…the one person who could possibly reverse the spell…was ensconced in SB the parrot, with no opposable thumbs for spelling.

And me? Of course, I’m sitting fat and squishy inside Mr. Slimy. Thank goodness Rustin isn’t currently in residence, or it would be really crowded in here.

Who spelled my party? What do a pair of Santa’s elves have to do with it? And why have old enemies suddenly become new friends? I apparently have a little holiday mystery to solve inside Croakies, and I have no idea how I’m going to solve it with everybody mixed up and some of us human.

Have I told you I hate this season?

Ribbit!

The NutMacKer Sweet by Kate DanleyThe NutMacKer Sweet by Kate Danley:

The holidays are the sweetest time of year, but not for Maggie and Killian who must return the Nutcracker prince to his proper place when someone tries to make sure the show does not go on.

Come along on this Maggie MacKay Holiday Short Story Special.

 

 

A Merry Maggie Messmas by Kate DanleyA Merry Maggie Messmas by Kate Danley:

Everyone wonders how Santa is able to do his job, but when one of his helpers goes rogue and starts spreading TOO MUCH holiday cheer, it will be down to Maggie and Killian to hop on that sleigh and bring the world a silent night.

A part of the Maggie MacKay: Holiday Special short story series. This stands independently from the main Magical Tracker series and can be read at any time and in any order. It’s just an excuse to hang out with some of your favorite characters.

WARNING: This short story contains cussing, brawling, and unfestive behavior.

Merry Chris Witch by C.K. DawnMerry Chris Witch by C.K. Dawn:

Magic is real and dreams do come true. Be careful what you WITCH for.

Chris Heron is a witch who loathes the holiday season. What’s even worse is getting expelled from private coven school on Halloween and having to attend public magic school, where Santa’s son is visiting and has all the girls in a frenzy. Fairies, mermaids, elves, even the trolls are swooning over Kris Kringle Jr. All except for one girl, and she’s a North Pole mystery that has Chris intrigued. Will he be able to put his prejudices aside in time to see the true magic all around him?

I Wtich You a Merry Christmas by Snow EdenI Witch You a Merry Christmas by Snow Eden:

A heart-warming story about Christmas, elves, Santa Claus…and a really mad witch.

There are many things Cinnamon Mercy Claus is struggling with this holiday season: the memories of long forgotten holidays when the Christmas season was about family; that she’s just found out her grandfather is Santa Claus; and that her grandmother is a witch—who is bent on destroying Christmas for them all.

This is a 30,000-word novella with a dose of Hallmark warmth and crazy witch mayhem!

It is a ‘clean’ read with no cursing. Situations should be appropriate for all ages.

Winter Solstice Murders by C. FarrenWinter Solstice Murders by C. Farren:

Investigating your own death can be murder.

Bea Goldfrapp runs her own magical greetings card business in the small town of Magpie Cove, Maine. She lives with her demon familiar, Widdershins, a cat that can change its breed on a daily basis, and a talking magpie that’s lived for a thousand years. She likes her life and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Then someone poisons her tea and she dies.

Luckily for Bea her father is a powerful sorcerer, and he brings her back to life, losing his own soul in the process. Bea is understandably miffed that someone wanted to kill her, and decides to find out who did it. This only brings more complications to her life, mainly because she never realised she had so many enemies. Can she find out who killed her before the killer strikes again?

Crimson Yuletide by Rachel FordCrimson Yuletide by Rachel Ford:

Autumn gone off to sleep
And winter her secrets no more keep
Rises he from the deep
Flesh to flay and flesh to eat

Twelve days of Christmas. Twelve days of terror and death.

An ancient evil prowls the quiet streets of Wixcombe. An old man is murdered in the town square. Children disappear in the night. Villagers report sightings of Krampus, the Christmas demon.

For siblings Nan and William Fitzgerald, the season began with a promise of new loves and Christmas magic. But they find themselves in the eye of the storm when their godfather becomes the prime suspect in the killings.

To protect both the women they love and their village, the siblings must discover Krampus’ true identity. But they might not like the answers they find…

DLC by Rachel FordDLC by Rachel Ford:

A fully immersive virtual reality system. A beta testing opportunity that’s the stuff of dreams – or a nightmare that may never end.

Jack Owens is stuck in Marshfield Studio’s newest virtual reality RPG. To escape, he needs to win the game. He knows that. He’s got his team of heroes back, and he’s finally comfortable with the world. He’s ready.

Except someone at Marshfield Studios forgot to cancel the holiday downloadable content test. Jack goes to sleep in a medieval fantasy world, and wakes up in some kind of bizarre winter wonderland where his quest – and his way home – plays second fiddle to holiday festivals, winter pets, and seasonal quests.

But Jack better not let his extended stay or the holiday doldrums distract him too much. Because there’s far worse waiting for him in this magical nightmare than a lump of coal in his stocking…

Christmas Hunger by Piper FoxChristmas Hunger by Piper Fox:

After three days of hosting his vampiric brothers and their mates, Magnus is at his wit’s end. A sworn viking bachelor, he needs a break from the happy couples.

The moment the doorbell rings, he takes the chance to get away from it all. Only to come face to face with a beautiful delivery woman who stirs his blood in a way that only a fated mate could.

Donna knows her vision is true the second she meets Magnus’ gaze. Knowing he could send her away before they really get to know each other, she’s careful to hide her true intentions. She wants Magnus to get to know the real her, not just her witchly title.

Magnus has no interest in being tied down to any woman, fated mate be damned. But her sexy confidence and alluring smiles might just have Magnus’ resolve faltering. The moment he has her in his arms, the pull is too strong. He knows giving into his need, even just for the evening, could lead to more than the vampire is willing to give.

Once her true identity is revealed, Magnus must decide whether the sassy, sexy Donna is worth sacrificing his independent bachelor lifestyle for the love of a witch.

Starlight Web by Yasmine GalenornStarlight Web by Yasmine Galenorn:

Moonshadow Bay…where magic lurks in the moonlight, and danger hides in the shadows.

One month before January Jaxson turns 41, her husband ditches her for a trophy wife. Adding insult to injury, he steals the business she helped build, and kicks her out during the holidays. So when her best friend Ari suggests she move back to Moonshadow Bay—a quirky, magical town near Bellingham WA—January decides to take the plunge.

Born into a family of witches, January accepts a job at Conjure Ink, a paranormal investigations website. The job’s right up her alley but she doubts that everything reported to Conjure Ink really exists. That is, until she’s sent out on her first case.

An abandoned asylum once housed a murderer, who killed an entire family one Yuletide Eve. It’s rumored that every December he returns to haunt the woodland around the asylum, seeking to add new members to his supernatural family. January’s sure it’s an urban legend, but when new victims show up with no logical explanation for their deaths, Conjure Ink sends her in to investigate. Suddenly January finds herself in over her head, staring directly into the shadowed world of the Veil.

Now, January must not only navigate the new life she’s trying to build, but the paranormal beasties she’s sent out to explore, as well as a hot new neighbor, who seems to be hiding a shadowed past of his own.

Carrie Hatchett's Christmas by J.J. GreenCarrie Hatchett’s Christmas by J.J. Green:

It’s Christmas! The alien invasion has begun.

Carrie Hatchett’s hoping for a quiet Christmas. She’s got five times as much food as she needs, and she’s made a catnip surprise and a dogfood cake for her pets.

But there’s no rest for Carrie.

An ancient race seems intent on invading Earth. As a Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer, Carrie’s duty-bound to respond to the threat.

The aliens have been spotted at Santa’s Grotto and in a pantomime. Will Carrie find them in time and send them packing before they ruin everyone’s Christmas?

Carrie Hatchett’s Christmas is a standalone novelette in the comedy sci-fi romp Carrie Hatchett, Space Adventurer.

Follow Carrie on her adventures today.

Bringing Christmas to the Dragons by Rinelle GreyBringing Christmas to the Dragons by Rinelle Grey:

She may not be a dragon, but it was her humanity they needed right now.

With time running out before his clan’s prince is discovered by mining or killed by enemy dragons, dragon shifter Jayrian needs to convince the elders to accept help from the humans. He hopes that the clever librarian, Gretchen, might be able to help him with that. He didn’t count on falling for her—that wasn’t part of his plan at all.

Gretchen longs for adventure outside of the books she reads in her job as a small town librarian. But not the kind that involves her moving to the big city to take the promotion her Aunt Mary offers. The cute guy who’s been hanging around the library seems far more exciting—there’s just something about him that draws her—so on impulse, she invites him to her family’s Christmas celebration. When a dragon lands on the front of her car on the way there, she wonders if she’s gotten more than she bargained for.

Together they must find a way to save his prince and clan, without sacrificing who they are, or their budding relationship.

Angels and Amulets by Nicole GrotepasAngels and Amulets by Nicole Grotepas:

If there’s a way to spoil something, the villains of the 6 Moons will find it.

There’s no rest for the weary. Just when Holly Drake takes a break from searching for more information about her father, a Christmas-related heirloom vanishes. Sure, it’s Christmas on the 6-Moons, but Holly can’t relax. Neither can her team.

Fate forces them to give up their cozy fires, mulled drinks, and holiday feasts to race across the harsh volcanic terrain of the planet Kota to win back the prize before it’s destroyed. If they can’t save the heirloom, the already strained diplomatic relations between humans and the Centau will snap.
If they don’t save Christmas, who will?

Angels and Amulets is a Christmas novella set in the 6 Moons universe.

Meet Douglas Fir by Kyndra HatchMeet Douglas Fir by Kyndra Hatch:

People put objects on trees? As a holiday tradition? The singing tree creature is a threat that needs to be eradicated.

Being human isn’t easy with robotic alien residents misunderstanding the simple stuff. Alex can’t imagine his family life without Bazin and Miaxa, though. Time to show them Christmas holiday traditions, preferably without space aliens blowing things up.

 

 

How Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. LeeHow Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. Lee:

Fourteen years ago, Christmas hit Walkerville with a bang. Or, rather, a big ball of fire.
When a local group home for orphaned children goes up in smoke right before the holidays, Tillie Winchester volunteers her family to take in some kids – even though her arch nemesis Margaret Little is dead-set against it. Of course, that’s part of the appeal for Tillie so she’s considering it a win.

Three boys – all of them with a little attitude – have no idea what to expect from the Winchester household. No matter what, Tillie is sure they’re about to get more than they bargained for. In short order, they’re welcomed into the family at the same time the town is on edge due to a second fire.

Tillie is determined to prove the boys are innocent while also finding them a forever home … even if she has to take on a local judge and declare all out war to do it.

So, hang your stockings by the fire and sit back for another Christmas with the Winchesters. You’ll never be the same again.

Note: This is a 28,000-word novella set in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest world. It’s set back in the past so it can be read in any order.

Fur-miliar Felines by Harper LinFur-miliar Felines by Harper Lin:

Three witches and their magical cats solve paranormal murder cases in the mystical town of Wonder Falls.

It’s Christmastime, but something strange and sinister is in the air. Treacle, Cath’s courageous black cat, can’t see what it is, but he feels a dangerous presence out there in the snow-blanketed streets.

Aunt Astrid also feels dark ripples in the dimensions. The Greenstone witches suspect this creature is somehow tied to the disappearance of two high school students. Soon, one of them turns up dead, half-eaten.

The holiday spirit is in full effect in Wonder Falls, but so is a puzzling and gruesome murder mystery.

A Mind Reader's Christmas by Al MacyA Mind Reader’s Christmas by Al Macy:

Eric Beckman, a mind-reading private investigator, is spending Christmas in snowy Vermont with his wife and daughter. He needs a break from solving cases, but the townspeople convince him to look into the village mystery: Every holiday season, someone switches the baby Jesus with one of the other figures in the town’s Nativity scene.

With the help of his ten-year-old daughter, also a mind reader, he soon learns that some of the residents of the small town are not who–or even what–they seem to be. There’s something supernatural going on in Newburn, Vermont.

His investigation causes an escalation of strange happenings, and soon, swapped manger figures are the least of the town’s worries. If Beckman can’t adjust his view of the world–force himself to believe in things he never thought possible–the Christmas vacation could turn out to be his family’s last.

A Mind Reader’s Christmas may be read as a standalone book or as Book Four in the Eric Beckman series.

The Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona MarpleThe Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona Marple:

What if Father Christmas is on the naughty list?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Mystic Springs, but all is not still or calm with the department store Santa.

The amateur dramatics club is full of big egos and legends-in-their-own-heads, so their spats aren’t unusual. But when the theatre owner is shot dead during the Christmas play, it’s Santa who pulls the trigger.

With the arrival of an unwelcome ex, a petition to end Discrimination Against Spirits, and a second attack by St Nick, the chances of a quiet Christmas seem to be quickly disappearing.

Has Santa really gone bad? Or is there more to it?

Town medium Connie and her dead sister Sage are both avoiding their own festive conundrums. A mistletoe murder is just the distraction they need.

In Time for Christmas by Monique MartinIn Time for Christmas by Monique Martin:

At a time when interest in the Christmas holiday was waning, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and inspired the world.

But now, history is changing, and the book is never written. When the Council for Temporal Studies asks time travelers Simon and Elizabeth Cross to “save Christmas,” they think he’s joking.

But it’s anything but a laughing matter. Simon and Elizabeth must go back to 1843 London and convince Dickens to write his endearing story, or the Christmas holiday we all know and love will cease to be–forever.

Christmas in New York by Monique MartinChristmas in New York by Monique Martin:

Time-Traveling adventurers Simon and Elizabeth Cross return in an all-new Christmas novella!

Along with their young daughter, Charlotte, the Crosses travel back to 1937 New York City to visit an old friend, Charlie Blue. But Charlie’s in trouble — holiday-sized trouble — and their plans for a pleasant little Christmas vacation soon fly out the window.

Christmas in New York is the fast-paced and heartwarming tale of the true meaning of Christmas — and the importance of the people we share it with.

A Curse for Christmas by P.A. MasonA Curse for Christmas by P.A. Mason:

Christmas back home in Arkansas sounded like a chance to put my feet up for a few weeks. Little did I know that a magical calamity would threaten the big day.

You know the real kicker? It was Mom—a renowned magical healer—who came down with a mystery malaise on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t remember a time where she had anything worse than a sniffle. To see her bedridden scared me to my core.

To examine the facts and solve the case, I had to think fast before Mom’s condition got any worse. With a new werewolf beau in her life, half the town of Tumbling Springs were whispering behind Mom’s back, the loudest of them a hex witch with a nasty view of weres. On the other hand, a new business rival in the next town over had Mom’s healing services on the rocks. The question was—did either witch have enough motive to do something as awful as all that to Mom?

If you enjoy paranormal cozy mysteries with a seasonal Christmas flair, this holiday special is for you.

Nutcracker of Crystalfall by Kay L. MoodyNutcracker of Crystalfall by Kay L. Moody:

The annual Christmas party was going just fine… until the trolls showed up.

Clara is a young woman who is wickedly good at puzzles, but she also has a secret her parents have shamed her into hiding. The weight of that secret has ruined nearly every happy moment in her life.

At least this year’s Christmas party gets more interesting once a mysterious stranger shows up. He teaches Clara how to crack nuts, wears a soldier’s uniform she’s never seen, and flashes a smile she’ll never forget.

But then a cruel party guest destroys the only gift that matters to Clara. Even worse, trolls appear and try to kill the handsome stranger she only just met. The fight rages into the night. Soon, Clara has to make a choice.

She could finally escape her unloving parents and the dreadful life they have planned for her. It would only take a promise to join an even greater conflict in the magical and dangerous realm of Faerie—a land she previously didn’t know existed.

If she stays home, her happiness will end forever. If she goes to Faerie, a great adventure awaits her…but it might kill her too.

A Little Mistletoe and Magic by Marianne MoreaA Little Mistletoe and Magic by Marianne Morea:

Done with grieving the loss of her family, Jenny Mitchell is looking for a fresh start. Life as she knew it is over, but what waits for her in the town of Whisper Falls is more than just quaint charm and an Inn no one wanted. Her near death experience awakens senses she didn’t know she possessed. Senses that both scare and fascinate her, especially when they bring her face to face with a sexy, supernatural truth that spells more than just second chance romance. Sparks fly under the mistletoe, and there’s no escaping the magic of the season, or the cougar shifter destined to help her through the darkness and mend her broken heart, in this modern twist on a holiday classic.

Christmas in Silver Birch Valley by Lorri MoultonChristmas in Silver Birch Valley by Lorri Moulton:

A small town has held on to their traditions and celebrates Christmas as if it were 100 years ago…which reporter Jake Logan finds surprisingly charming, but wonders if it’s too good to be true.

Jake has traveled the world but never really felt at home, until he spends time in a town that has its own unique way of celebrating the holidays. The longer he stays, the more he comes to like the town, the people, and one charming B&B owner in particular.

Lorna Sullivan has never met anyone like Jake, but she knows tourists don’t stay once the holidays are over. The more time she spends with Jake, the easier it is to wonder if this could be different…but there are secrets in every town and this one could destroy their chance at happiness.

Not His Christmas by Annie NicholasNot His Christmas by Annie Nicholas:

It’s Eoin and Angie’s first Christmas together and he wants to make it special. But his dragoness is lacking holiday spirit and doesn’t want anything to do with celebrating. Does Angie think Eoin is the type of dragon who could ignore her unhappiness? Clipping on his jingle bells and grabbing the mistletoe, Eoin is on a mission.

 

 

 

Snowed in with the Alien Dragon by Sonia NovaSnowed in with the Alien Dragon by Sonia Nova

A Christmas without warmth…
Rachel hates her life in Alaska. She hates the weather, but even more, she hates her job which requires her to stay in the sodden state even for the holidays! Instead of going to visit her family in sunny California, she will be spending the holidays alone in the cold north. But when she encounters an unconscious, golden alien on the way home from work – amidst a massive snowstorm to top it all off – it looks like the holidays might not end up as boring as she’d thought after all!

A dragon paralyzed by cold…
Captain Erro of Traag never thought to go down in a battle. Even less did he think to find his mate on the surface of the planet he crashes on! Trapped in the planet’s frozen wasteland, Erro can hardly function in the cold climate. He’s a dragon, for heaven’s sake! He needs some heat! And yet, despite the icy weather seeping into his bones, every time the strangely beautiful alien female smiles at him, his inner flame burns stronger than ever. She is his mate, there is no question about that.

Now, if only he could understand what the hell she was saying…

Snowed in with the Alien Dragon is a standalone sci-fi romance novella with a scorching hot dragon, a HEA and no cliffhangers. Intended for mature audiences only.

When Birdie Babysat Spider by Kristen PainterWhen Birdie Babysat Spider: A Jayne Frost Short Story by Kristen Painter:

Welcome to Nocturne Falls, the town that celebrates Halloween 365 days a year.

Jayne Frost is a lot of things. Winter elf, Jack Frost’s daughter, Santa Claus’s niece, heir to the Winter Throne and now…private investigator. Sort of.

But none of that matters at the moment, because Jayne is headed back to the North Pole to visit her family, and leaving everyone’s favorite werewolf, Birdie Caruthers, to watch her cat, Spider.

With the heartfelt promise that all will be well, Birdie follows Jayne’s instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop Spider from getting into trouble.

It takes the help of a gentlemen friend (and a few others), for Birdie to make things right again. But not before her love life takes a very interesting turn…

Flight Before Christmas by Christine PopeFlight Before Christmas by Christine Pope:

They’ll have to fly faster than reindeer to rescue Santa…and save Christmas.

Other than the pleasure of etching delicate tendrils of ice on windows, there’s not much Kai Ulfsen enjoys about life under Jack Frost’s rule. But when he’s roped into serving on a strike team to kidnap Santa and destroy Christmas, Kai’s had enough. Frost must be stopped.

Human witches, the only other beings on Earth with magical powers, are his only hope. He never expected his search would lead him a woman with sky-blue eyes and hair like a river of gold.

Stella Monroe is five minutes away from closing up her tea shop for the holiday when a vision of Nordic male perfection fills the doorway. And, even more surreal, this beautiful man with silver hair, aquamarine eyes, and…pointed ears?…needs her help.

Granted, she flies the fastest broom at the Witch Olympics, but is her magic equal to a task like this? But maybe with a little luck — and a bag of pixie dust — Kai and Stella can beat the clock, beat Frost at his own game, and save the happiest holiday of the year.

Jingle Spells by Christine PopeJingle Spells by Christine Pope:

Sweet baby Jesus, someone’s stolen a lot of Christmas dough!

All is calm and bright as Globe, Arizona’s holiday celebrations approach. Selena Marx should have known it wouldn’t stay that way. The painted snowflakes on her shop window are barely dry when her best friend, Josie Woodrow, bursts in with news that the baby Jesus is missing from the crèche in front of St. Ignatius.

Selena has enough on her mind without having to use her psychic powers to suss out the culprit. Her boyfriend Calvin Standingbear’s parents are still on the snow-covered fence about accepting her, which throws a dimmer on the town’s highly anticipated Festival of Lights. And when Calvin springs a surprise on the solstice, Selena realizes she has some work to do to reconcile the two men in her life: Calvin, and her cursed cat, Archie.

The last thing she needs is a spontaneous vision that indicates the baby Jesus theft was more than just a prank. And if someone doesn’t spill the beans soon, someone’s getting away with…well, not murder (this time), but a whole lot of dough — and we’re not talking cookies.

The Krampus Hunters by J.P. ReedmanThe Krampus Hunters by J.P. Reedman:

Krampus, haunter of the dark winter’s nights before Yule, comes bearing a switch to beat ‘bad children’…

Young Snoefrith, daughter of the Erl-King, leaves her homeland on a quest to find her lost mother…and a life. As she travels in wild, unfamiliar lands, she is accosted by Old Nickor, a red-robed goblin who flies the wintry skies in a sleigh pulled by coal-black deer, and his bestial companion, Krampus. Nickor sets Krampus upon Snowfrith, seeking to capture her to sell to the Kobold King who dwells under the mountains.
Rescued by Red Roo, a feisty girl who is the best archer in the Wandron tribe, Snoefrith believes she is now safe.
But Krampus is determined to capture his prey and please his master, Nickor. Under cover of darkness, he destroys the Wandron’s caravans and sends Snoefrith and Red Roo fleeing into the forest and beyond.
Soon they learn that they cannot flee forever.
The hunted must become the hunters….

KRAMPUS HUNTERS

A short fantasy novelette for all ages, 15,000 words.

Joyeux by Tansy Rayner RobertsJoyeux: A Musketeer Space Novella by Tansy Rayner Roberts

There’s mistletoe growing out of the walls, it’s snowing inside the space station, and a sex scandal is brewing that could bring down the monarchy. Must be Joyeux!

Joyeux on Paris Satellite is a seven day festival of drunken bets, poor decision-making, religious contemplation and tinsel. But mostly, poor decision-making. Athos and Porthos aren’t going to sleep together. Aramis is breaking up with her girlfriend because it’s that or marry her. Athos is not ready to deal with the ghost of his ex-husband. Oh, and no one wants Prince Alek to break his marriage contract by hooking up with a sexy Ambassador…

It’s down to the Musketeers and the Red Guard to save the space station and the solar system from disaster. So… that’s not going to end well.

This novella is a festive prequel to Musketeer Space, a genderflipped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Created for Christmas by Joynell SchultzCreated for Christmas by Joynell Schultz:

Need the perfect man? No problem—simply create him!

Ivy wanted nothing more for Christmas than to have someone to come home to…to have a companion to chat about her day with, and someone to show off at her family holiday celebrations.

This Christmas, she’s not going to be alone! Ivy decides to create her perfect companion at Dream Droids, the premier robotics company specializing in sentient humanoids. Ivy spends weeks with Dr. Pierce, creating her dream man, from his appearance, personality, and even his knowledge of her life.

There’s just a few problems: when a special gift she purchased for her father goes missing, and Dr. Pierce agrees to help her find it, she finds herself falling for him. After getting her heart stomped on by her ex-fiancé, there’s no way she can open it up again…besides, she just created the perfect man.

Jingle Stars by Jenny SchwartzJingle Starr by Jenny Schwartz:

When a starship decides to play Santa Claus…

Ahab is a mLa’an artificial intelligence embedded in the starship, Orion.

The campaign for AIs to be recognized as full citizens of Galaxy Proper is within reach of its extraordinary goal. The only thing that could stop it now is if an AI did something foolish…like take a space station hostage to save eight orphaned children.

***
And this is the letter to Santa that starts it all:

Dear Santa

I don’t know if yourreindeers work in space. But if you have room in your sleigh after you finishdelivering presents to the lucky kids with parents and homes, can you come and getme and my friends? Please?

We’ve been good. Well,we haven’t been really bad. We’re on Station Elphame, in the junkyard, and Zoeis sick. She’s bad sick. I think she’d be better on a planet. We don’t needpresents. We just need a way out of here. Ollie tried to sneak onto atrampship…he died.

Please, Santa, I don’twant any more of my friends to die.

Aiden.

Elves and Deer by Hollis ShilohElves and Deer by Hollis Shiloh:

Greer is a reindeer shifter working at a magical shipping hub up North. He has little use for or understanding of elves—such delicate, short-lived creatures—but he tries to do his best by the ones in his life. And it seems like more and more are coming into his life, confusing and frustrating him, needing help, needing rescued.

Since Greer is always busy, it’s easy to overlook the things he doesn’t want to acknowledge—until a terrible danger gives him unwanted time to think…and to realize there’s just one elf who means more to him than he’s ever wanted to admit.

A Christmas tale
38,000 words
Heat level: very low

All I Want For Christmas is Wicked by Lotta SmithAll I Want for Christmas is Wicked by Lotta Smith:

Trees decorated, stockings full of presents, and another case to crack!

The Rowling family is gearing up for another Merry Christmas, and Mandy has her hands full with holiday prep, but how can she get into the spirit of the season when the victim in her latest case isn’t a ghost?

Twenty years ago, during a Christmas Eve blackout, Kevin Holt, the husband of a rich heiress, lost his memory in a fall down the stairs of their mansion. Now he’s discovered evidence that someone might have been trying to kill him, and all he wants for Christmas is to find out who. Since the resident ghost of the Holt house didn’t witness the attack, Rick and Mandy will have to rely on old fashioned sleuthing (and a little help from Mandy’s paranormal pal Jackie) to find out which of the four suspects is the culprit.

Meanwhile Rick has been saddled with novice investigator Cameron Gibson (call him Ace!) the son of one of USCAB’s wealthiest clients. Ace is trying to catch the creep stalking a New York City fashion model, but despite wanting Mandy to mentor him, one ghostly encounter has him seriously spooked.

A run in with a biker ghost and dancers in danger complicate the case, but the big question on Mandy’s mind is why does little Sophie want a bear trap for Christmas? Find out in this wickedly merry holiday installment of the Paranormal in Manhattan Mystery Series.

Blood and Mistletoe by E.J. StevensBlood and Mistletoe by E.J. Stevens:

Holidays are worse than a full moon for making people crazy. In Harborsmouth, where many of the residents are undead vampires or monstrous fae, the combination may prove deadly.

Ivy Granger, psychic private investigator, returns to the streets of Harborsmouth in this addition to the bestselling urban fantasy series.

Holidays are Hell, a point driven home when a certain demon attorney returns with information regarding a series of bloody murders. Five Harborsmouth residents have been killed and every victim has one thing in common–they are fae. Whoever is killing faeries must be stopped, but they only leave one clue behind–a piece of mistletoe floating in a pool of the victim’s blood.

The holidays just got interesting. Too bad this case may drive Ivy mad before the New Year. Heck, she’ll be lucky to survive Christmas.

Cloaked in Christmas by T.F. WalshCloaked in Christmas by T.F. Walsh:

After fleeing her abusive ex, wulfkin Cacey Varg and her daughter settle happily with a new pack in Finland. As Christmas approaches, Cacey learns her ex has found them and is on his way to take their daughter back. But a massive snowstorm prevents her from packing up and leaving town – and instead delivers a sexy stranger to her doorstep. Can she trust that he isn’t one of her ex’s henchmen?

Second-in-command to Europe’s most powerful wulfkin, hunter Vincent Lyall’s spur-of-the-moment decision to check on his ailing mother soon finds him marooned at a cabin in the woods by the blizzard of the century. Trapped with this spirited vixen, resisting temptation is easier said than done . . . But she refuses to believe he is who he says he is.

Is love powerful enough to win when two sexy wolf shifters, an unwelcome past, and animalistic urges wreak havoc on the holiday season?
Sensuality Level: Sensual

A Most Apocalyptic Christmas by Phil WilliamsA Most Apocalyptic Christmas by Phil Williams:

On the night before Christmas, mercenary Scullion’s ride home is ambushed halfway between the last surviving cities in America. Concerned only with getting drunk for the holiday, his attempts to abandon his fellow passengers to bandits lead him on a collision course with a barbaric community who have utterly distorted the seasonal spirit. This is one madcap night he cannot survive alone, challenging his perceptions of the meaning of Christmas.

A Most Apocalyptic Christmas is a near-future dystopian novella, set in a war-ravaged land where chaotic city states are all that are left of once powerful countries. Born fighters like the thug Scullion are the predominant survivors in this desolate world devoid of resources, comforts and hope.

This is a Faergrowe Free State novella, set in the same world of the screenplay The Faergrowe Principle.

Elixirs and Elves by Astoria WrightElixirs and Elves by Astoria Wright:

The elves of Mount Vale are throwing a Christmas Party, and they’ve invited everyone! While the human residents of Moss Hill are excited to attend, many of the sidhe find the invitation beneath them. It’s no secret that they dislike mingling with non-faeries, but are they so hostile toward humans that one of them would commit murder? Carissa has never gotten along with the sidhe guard, but Varick of Vale has helped her on occasion. So, when he asks for her help after suspicion falls on him, it’s up to her to prove his innocence – if, that is, he isn’t guilty after all.

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Murder under the Mistletoe 2022 – A Round-up of the Best Indie Holiday Mysteries and Crime Fiction

Murder under the Mistletoe banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite holiday mysteries by indie authors.

The holiday mysteries cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have plenty of cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, culinary mysteries, animal mysteries, paranormal mysteries, historical mysteries, Victorian mysteries, jazz age mysteries, WWII mysteries, romantic suspense, police procedurals, crime thrillers, pulp thrillers, men’s adventure, private eyes, masked crime fighters, telepathic detectives, thieving Santas, crime-fighting witches, crime-fighting bakers, crime-fighting watchmakers, crime-fighting wedding planners, crime-fighting dogs, crime-fighting frogs, magical cats, holiday body swaps, murder in circusses and aboard cruise ships, in ski resorts and cupcake shops, in small towns and the big city, missing children, missing presents, orphans in danger and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set around the holidays.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

A Very Mercy Christmas by M.Z. AndrewsA Very Mercy Christmas: A Witch Squad Holiday Special by M.Z. Andrews:

It’s Christmas time at the Paranormal Institute for Witches. Excited to go home for the holidays and be reunited with their families, Mercy, Jax, Holly, Sweets, and Alba say their goodbyes. However, when an unpredicted snowstorm ravages Aspen Falls, the girls must scramble to figure out their next move. Tempers flare as blame is placed and feelings are hurt. By the looks of it, Christmas will surely be ruined.

But when a surprise visitor arrives, the girls are forced to find out what friendship really means and decide whether or not it’s worth saving. Visited by some blasts from the past, the girls are given glimpses into each other’s pasts and find out what life would have been like if they’d never met and formed the Witch Squad on the first day of classes.

A Very Mercy Christmas is the 5th book in the Witch Squad Cozy Mystery series – there is no mystery to solve, instead sit back and enjoy a Christmas story about what went down over the Witch Squad’s first winter break and get a glimpse into the lives of each of the girls before they met.

Murder at the Mayfair Hotel by C.J. ArcherMurder at the Mayfair Hotel by C.J. Archer:

It was the most fashionable place to stay in London, until murder made a reservation.

December 1899. After the death of her beloved grandmother, Cleopatra Fox moves into the luxury hotel owned by her estranged uncle in the hopes of putting hardship and loneliness behind her. But the poisoning of a guest on Christmas Eve throws her new life, and the hotel, into chaos.

Cleo quickly realizes no one can be trusted, not Scotland Yard and especially not the hotel’s charming assistant manager. With the New Year’s Eve ball approaching fast and the hotel’s reputation hanging by a thread, Cleo must find the killer before the ball, and the hotel itself, are ruined. But catching a murderer proves just as difficult as navigating the hotel’s hierarchy and the peculiarities of her family.

Can Cleo find the killer before the new century begins? Or will someone get away with murder?

The Season for Slaying by Hillary AvisThe Season for Slaying by Hillary Avis:

All is quiet at the Pines and Needles Christmas Tree Farm. Too quiet.

It’s Christmas Eve, and Darla Cooper is merrily preparing for a family holiday when she witnesses a shocking murder in the woods.

Luckily, her son is a police detective. The problem? He doesn’t believe her—and the body is missing.

Darla must prove that a murder occurred, but she has no body, no witnesses, and no evidence except her own memory—which, to be honest, isn’t that great these days. Plus, she didn’t have her glasses on.

Join Darla as she hunts down a killer…just in time for Christmas.

The Season for Slaying is a short holiday cozy mystery story full of suspense, snowflakes, and sleighbells.

The Reluctant Witness by S.L. BeaumontThe Reluctant Witness by S.L. Beaumont:

In the weeks leading to Christmas, Liam McArvey, lead singer of The Fury, falls for enigmatic Bella, a waitress at his local café. However, little does he know that she is hiding a dangerous secret. After a photograph of the couple, taken outside a London recording studio, surfaces on the internet, Bella panics and prepares to move on.

But Liam enlists his friend, and sometimes sleuth, Stephanie Cooper, to help Bella unravel events in her past. Together, they uncover a crime within a crime, and Bella must decide where her loyalties lie.

The Reluctant Witness introduces new characters into the Carlswick world along with some old favorites and can be read as a standalone.

Fatal Festive Donuts by Cindy BellFatal Festive Donuts by Cindy Bell:

Christmastime at the holiday market means mistletoe, colorful lights and…a dead body.

It is almost Christmas and Joyce and Brenda are excited to get a coveted spot at the local holiday market. Business is thriving and they are looking forward to celebrating the holidays.

But Christmas becomes the last thing on their minds when a dead body is found on ‘Donuts on the Move’. Not only is their truck shut down, but they become the prime suspects. With the evidence stacking up against them and a detective who thinks they’re guilty, they decide to take things into their own hands and find the murderer.

Joyce and Brenda’s investigations lead them straight towards danger. Will they find the killer before they land up in handcuffs or even become victims themselves?

Recipe Included: Baked Gingerbread Donuts with Ginger Glaze

A Merry Murder at St. Bernard Cabins by Cindy BellA Merry Murder at St. Bernard Cabins by Cindy Bell:

A pet-loving sleuth. A perplexing murder. Will the murder be solved before the clues are buried forever?

Nikki Green is taking a break from walking and pet-sitting her loyal companions. She is going to a ski resort for the holidays for some quiet time with her family. To her delight her solo journey turns into a group excursion. However, the trip doesn’t go according to plan when Nikki lands up in the middle of a snowstorm.

Then things go from bad to worse when someone is murdered, and her brother is the prime suspect. With the roads impassable, and two inexperienced officers on the case, Nikki decides to take matters into her own hands and clear her brother’s name. She plows through a mountain of clues to reveal the truth before the snow melts and the murderer disappears forever.

It’s a slippery slope of suspects and danger as she goes hurtling towards the truth.

A Bullet for Father Christmas by Cora BuhlertA Bullet for Father Christmas by Cora Buhlert:

When two men dressed up as Father Christmas rob a London jewellery store and one of them ends up dead on the floor, shot by his own accomplice, it’s certainly one of the more unusual cases for Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team. But as Helen begins to investigate, it turns out that the case is even more bizarre than she suspected.

This is a mystery novelette of 9300 words or approx. 30 print pages.

 

Santa's Sticky Fingers by Cora BuhlertSanta’s Sticky Fingers by Cora Buhlert:

Normally, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd doesn’t deal with petty crime and pickpockets. But when the Christmas market in Kingston upon Thames is hit by a wave of thefts, Helen and her team are called in to help out.

Harry, a homeless man who always hangs around the market, seems to be the most obvious suspect. But there is also the mysterious man in the black leather jacket some witnesses claim to have seen. Or maybe, the thief can be found much closer to home…

Can Helen and her team crack the case in time for Christmas?

This is a holiday novelette of 7800 words or approx. 26 print pages in the Helen Shepherd Mysteries series, but may be read as a standalone.

St. Nicholas of Hell's KitchenSt. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen by Cora Buhlert:

Christmas time in 1930s New York. After escaping through the chimney of an orphanage in Hell’s Kitchen, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer is mistaken for Santa Claus by one of the children and learns that the orphanage is under siege by both a gang of brutal racketeers and an unscrupulous landlord.

Richard vows to help the children and their guardians. However, it turns out that the attacks on the orphanage are only part of a much larger plot, when Richard’s quest for justice leads him into the upper echelons of Manhattan’s high society.

Soon, the Silencer finds himself face to face with one of the most powerful men in the city, while Richard and Constance struggle to save the orphanage and give the children of Hell’s Kitchen an unforgettable Christmas.

This is a novella of 30000 words or approximately 100 pages in the Silencer series, but may be read as a standalone.

A Jolly Little Murder by Beth ByersA Jolly Little Murder by Beth Byers:

December 1925

Violet Wakefield is determined to dive into the holiday and enjoy every occasion. She’s going to see the live nativity, listen to Handel’s Messiah, and attend the Nutcracker ballet. She’ll cover her house in all the holly and lights. In fact, Vi wants nothing more than to put up the largest Christmas tree she can locate and stuff it with gifts. ??She little expects, however, to stumble across a crime in action. When she gets pulled into the madness, her biggest concern isn’t the crime, it’s keeping Jack from committing a holiday homicide.

Silver Bells and Murder by Beth ByersSilver Bells and Murder by Beth Byers:

December 1926

Violet and Jack take the train to Scotland with their friends for the holidays only to arrive and realize that the village has been exposed to scarlet fever. Given the delicate babies in their family, they determine to insulate themselves at the lodge they’d taken.

Nearly desperate for some peace and holiday cheer, they intend nothing but lolling by the fire, diving into cupfuls of eggnog, and feasting.

Only, once again, they discover a body. The worst of it is that they were alone at the lodge when the crime was committed. Is it possible that one of them is the killer? Join Vi and friends as they determine their loyalties and hunt a murderer.

A Frosty Little Murder by Beth ByersA Frosty Little Murder by Beth Byers:

Vi and friends are ready to dive into anything but London. The days have turned dreary, and these days they’re proactive about avoiding the blues. So, they pack their bags and head to the country where they’re hoping to find clear skies and cheery days.

They aren’t surprised, however, when a storm rolls in. They’re even excited when they’re invited to a local contest for the best snow sculpture. They find their way to the meadow, and they play in the snow. They drink an excess of cocoa. Except during the celebration, a body is found. A body with something they recognize. Maybe it was an accident? Evidence seems to suggest otherwise and–once again–the murderous hand of fate has struck.

Murder and Mistletoe by Beth ByersMurder and Mistletoe by Beth Byers:

Holiday, Murder, Mayhem…what else could be expected when Vi and friends gather for Christmas?

The friends have gathered for a major holiday in the country. They’ve brought in those they love. Excessive gifts have been purchased and feasts have been planned.

Once again, a body is discovered. This time under the mistletoe. Will Vi, Jack, and the rest discover the murderer before St. Nick arrives? Or will the holidays be ruined?

 

Merry Masquerade in Savannah by Hope CallaghanMerry Masquerade in Savannah by Hope Callaghan

Carlita, Mercedes, and Tony are gearing up to celebrate their first Thanksgiving at their new home in historic Savannah, Georgia. Along with the excitement of the upcoming holiday season, there’s a lingering sadness because part of their family won’t be there to celebrate.

When Carlita’s friend, Victoria “Tori” Montgomery, invites the Garlucci family to her “Merry Masquerade” party at Montgomery Hall, Carlita is thrilled to have something to take her mind off the approaching holiday.

Despite a recent theft and an assault on her butler, Tori moves forward with her party plans, a grand affair and a gathering of Savannah’s elite. The Merry Masquerade turns out to be everything it was billed to be and more, when one of Tori’s employees is found murdered inside the pool house.

Is the murder linked to the recent break-in and the butler’s attack at Montgomery Hall? Could the killer be living under Tori’s roof? Or was it a masked party guest trying to make it look like an inside job?

Join the Garlucci women as they help one of Savannah’s most prominent residents track down a killer!

Reindeer and Robberies by Hope CallaghanReindeers and Robberies by Hope Callaghan:

The Christmas Season is in full swing on board the cruise ship, Siren of the Seas thanks to Andy Walker, the ship’s cruise director who is all in on his new holiday theme, “The Reindeer Games.”

Millie and her co-worker, Danielle, are tasked with taking charge of the holiday theme and everything is running smoothly until one of the reindeer comes up missing. But the missing reindeer is the least of the security staff’s worries after a string of thefts are reported.

Millie jumps in with an investigation of her own that soon turns south when a stalker surfaces, determined to make her life miserable or worse yet.

Despite escalating incidents from the deranged stalker, Millie sorts the clues and discovers a possible link between the mysterious thefts and her stalker that hits close to home.

Can Millie survive the holiday season…or even more terrifying…make it out alive?

Frosted Croakies by Sam CheeverFrosted Croakies by Sam Cheever:

’Tis the season for great folly…walawalawalawalala…ribbit.

It’s Christmas time at Croakies. The tree is up. The stockings are hung. And Christmas tunes are turning the atmosphere jolly. After a tumultuous Samhain, I’ve found my chi again and I’m starting to enjoy the season of love and giving.

Yeah. You probably know how this is going to end.

When Sebille suggests I open the bookstore up to a small holiday party, I foolishly agree. How was I supposed to know that the hobgoblin would decide it would be fun to hide everybody’s stuff? Or that we’d be hit with a freak winter storm that confined everybody inside for the duration. Or that a “You’re me but who am I?” spell would be released inside the shop, switching everybody’s identities and creating general chaos and hysteria?

I could probably deal with all that if it weren’t for the fact that my friend, Lea…the one person who could possibly reverse the spell…was ensconced in SB the parrot, with no opposable thumbs for spelling.

And me? Of course, I’m sitting fat and squishy inside Mr. Slimy. Thank goodness Rustin isn’t currently in residence, or it would be really crowded in here.

Who spelled my party? What do a pair of Santa’s elves have to do with it? And why have old enemies suddenly become new friends? I apparently have a little holiday mystery to solve inside Croakies, and I have no idea how I’m going to solve it with everybody mixed up and some of us human.

Have I told you I hate this season?

Ribbit!

Never Mess with Mistletoe by Edie ClaireNever Mess with Mistletoe by Edie Claire:

Frances Koslow was ecstatic to have her humble abode chosen as stop #3 on the Holiday House Tour. Then everyone drank the cider.

When Leigh’s parents’ house becomes a last-minute substitution on the regional garden club’s famous Holiday House Tour, Frances Koslow is thrilled. But the tour is tomorrow, there’s work to be done, and Frances’s dwindling and aging “Floribunda” chapter is in dire need of reinforcements. Worried about her mother’s blood pressure, particularly as sisterly tensions rise over Leigh’s Aunt Lydie’s upcoming Christmas Eve wedding, Leigh steps in to make sure the tour runs smoothly.

But perhaps Leigh isn’t the ideal choice for the task. Not when a fortune cookie has just portended the return of her infamous “bad karma.” Not when everyone knows the real reason the Floribundas have declined is because every remaining member is a whackadoodle. And not when someone’s idea of Christmas spirit is to add a little something extra to the sweet cider punch.

One dead Floribunda later, Leigh struggles to keep her family calm in the midst of swirling suspicions, flying accusations, and dubious warnings of biological warfare. But when someone threatens to silence her own all-too-curious daughter, mother-rage kicks in. Nobody is ruining Leigh’s family’s Merry Christmas. Not even her family.

The Christmas Key by Philippa Nefri ClarkThe Christmas Key by Philippa Nefri Clark

A hot summer Christmas Day is just around the corner in the Australian seaside town of River’s End. Beachside BBQs and sumptuous dinners are on the menu.

But Martha Blake is like a dog with a bone, determined to solve the last of the cottage mysteries. She and great-niece Christie begin a secret investigation.

Meanwhile, Thomas is busy with his own clues and enlists the help of his reluctant grandson, Martin.

At Palmerston House, loving new couple Elizabeth and Angus face their greatest obstacle, throwing their happy future into doubt.

With everyone working at cross-purposes, who will find themselves in the middle, cast decades back into memories of a terrible mistake?

Is love enough this time, as the beloved residents of River’s End deal with the fallout of the old mystery? Who, or what, will bring them all together in time for Christmas?

The Christmas Key is a heartwarming novella rounding off the Christie Ryan Romantic Mystery series with the last of the secrets revealed, and delightful Christmas magic to touch the favourite residents of River’s End. Read as a standalone, or start the series with The Stationmaster’s Cottage.

Merry Buried Christmas by Lyndsey ColeMerry Buried Christmas by Lyndsey Cole:

Murder always ruins the best baked plans . . .

Annie Hunter has a lot on her plate just before Christmas, but it’s not all sugar and spice and everything nice! With an open house at her aunt’s new Blackbird Bed and Breakfast, all Annie hopes for is a drama-free day.

Of course, events never go as planned.

On top of preparing a whirlwind of food, holiday decorating, and keeping to a tight schedule, a surprise visitor is also on the menu. When that visitor turns up dead, Annie must search for the killer to keep everything from crumbling like a stale Christmas cookie.

Annie’s plan to flush out the murderer includes one tasty bribe, a pinch of needling, and a heaping tablespoon of accusation. When she is threatened, it’s time to put it all on the back burner.

But the killer has other ideas.

While the snowflakes fly, Annie finds herself caught between a cookie and a crazy person. This time, it looks like she bit off more than she can chew.

***Merry Buried Christmas is volume 12 in the Black Cat Cafe Cozy Mystery Series. Lyndsey’s books can be read and enjoyed in any order.

The Cop Who Stole Christmas by Christie CraigThe Cop Who Stole Christmas by Christie Craig:

It’ll take a tall, hot Texan and a little holiday spirit to mend a broken heart and catch a Christmas killer . . .

Savanna Edwards is feeling downright Scrooge-like. Who can blame her? A truly unjolly Santa—suit, beard and all—just repossessed her car because of her ex’s shady business dealings. She’d like to murder the no-good lying cheat, but somebody already did that for her—and left him right in the middle of her kitchen, wrapped up with a bow.

Detective Mark Donaldson has a rule against getting involved with his neighbors. He can look—and he’s studied every sweet curve of Savanna from across the street—but he can’t touch. So when she lands on his doorstep in need of help, he finds himself torn between being naughty or nice, and fights every urge to unwrap her like a shiny new Christmas present.

Trouble is, even Mark can’t resist a little holiday magic . . . and there’s definitely something magical happening between him and the girl next door.

Jingle Bells and Deadly Smells by Amber CreweJingle Bells and Deadly Smells by Amber Crewe:

“Each of the Sandy Bay mysteries are great! I think they just keep getting better.”

Christmas is that season…that season of pleasant surprises…delicious smells…and family and friends to share the holidays with.

This Christmas, Sandy Bay’s lovable bakery owner, Meghan Truman, gets a whole lot more than she bargained for…plus a dead body at the door of her favorite restaurant. Some people would rather sweep this murder under the carpet but something smells awfully fishy about the events surrounding it.

Will Meghan join Detective Irvin to find the murderer or will this event serve to etch unpleasant memories of this most wonderful time of the year?

Twelve Days by Mark DawsonTwelve Days by Mark Dawson:

John Milton hasn’t seen Elijah Warriner for three years. The last time they met, Milton’s efforts to keep the boy safe didn’t go exactly to plan. Now Elijah is a promising boxer, preparing for the bout that will take him to the big time. Milton decides that he will spend the week before Christmas in London so that he can watch the fight.

But Elijah’s burgeoning fame has brought him to the attention of old acquaintances with long memories and grudges to bear. They have noticed Elijah, too, and decide that now is the time to settle old scores.

Can Milton keep the young man and his mother safe, or will Elijah’s old running mates get to him first?

Swamp Santa by Jana DeLeonSwamp Santa by Jana DeLeon:

It’s Christmas in Sinful and Fortune is set to participate in all the local hoopla. A Christmas gala, caroling, and a sleigh ride are on the agenda. Murder is not. But when someone bumps off Santa, Fortune is aware a killer is lurking among the holiday cheer. But with no client and no reason to interfere with a police investigation, it looks as if Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie will have to sit this one out.Big and Little Hebert might be criminals, but they prefer no competition in their territory, especially someone brazen enough to kill a man at the Christmas gala. When they hire Fortune to investigate the man’s death, she gets her Christmas wish and Swamp Team 3 sets out to solve their final case of the year.

Trepalli's Christmas by Marcelle DubéTrepalli’s Christmas by Marcelle Dubé:

It’s Christmas eve day and Constable Marco Trepalli of the Mendenhall Police Department can’t wait to be off shift. He’s planning a big surprise for his girlfriend, Amanda. Something special. Something romantic.

Then a kid doesn’t return home after sledding and Trepalli forgets all about his plans in the mad scramble to mobilize search parties and interview the kid’s friends. And as hour after hour slips by with no sign of the boy, Trepalli braces himself for what could turn into the worst Christmas ever… for him and the kid’s family.

Claus for Celebration by Laura DurhamClaus for Celebration by Laura Durham:

Wedding disasters are one thing. A missing Santa (who is presumed dead) is quite another.

This is no normal holiday season for DC’s top wedding planners. Not only is the weather too warm for their winter wonderland wedding, but their neighborhood’s singing Santa, Kris Kringle Jingle, is missing. On top of that, Annabelle’s engagement party is looming, and someone seems to be sabotaging their wedding plans. Can the Wedding Belles and their colorful crew find Santa, save the wedding, and stop the person who’s trying to make their lives a holly, jolly catastrophe?

Claus for Celebration is the 15th standalone book in the hilarious Annabelle Archer Wedding Planner Mystery series. If you like larger-than-life characters, madcap capers, and an insider’s look at glamorous society weddings, then you’ll love Laura Durham’s award-winning cozy mystery series.

Buy now to cozy up to this funny, festive holiday mystery today!

Winter Downs by Jan EdwardsWinter Downs by Jan Edwards:

Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?

In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.

 

Suspect Santa by Mike FaricySuspect Santa by Mike Faricy:

Private Investigator Dev Haskell gets a call from Tubby Gustafson. There’s a car waiting for Dev just outside his office. If he doesn’t want to take the ride, he’ll have to drive himself to the Emergency room. Dev decides whatever he was involved in can wait and is driven to Tubby’s mansion.

Turns out Tubby wants any and all information on east coat mobster Alex Chillcot who’s rumored to be moving into town. The more Dev uncovers, the worse Chillcot looks. Almost immediately the bodies begin to pile up.

In case that isn’t bad enough, Dev’s latest squeeze, Layla, works every year as a sexy elf at Santa’s Workshop. There’s only one problem, Santa turns out to be an obnoxious drunk who frightens children and tells them he won’t come to their house. Dev gets more involved than he planned.

Better get your copy now and see if Dev can save Christmas…

Winter Solstice Murders by C. FarrenWinter Solstice Murders by C. Farren:

Investigating your own death can be murder.

Bea Goldfrapp runs her own magical greetings card business in the small town of Magpie Cove, Maine. She lives with her demon familiar, Widdershins, a cat that can change its breed on a daily basis, and a talking magpie that’s lived for a thousand years. She likes her life and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Then someone poisons her tea and she dies.

Luckily for Bea her father is a powerful sorcerer, and he brings her back to life, losing his own soul in the process. Bea is understandably miffed that someone wanted to kill her, and decides to find out who did it. This only brings more complications to her life, mainly because she never realised she had so many enemies. Can she find out who killed her before the killer strikes again?

Murder and the Mermaid by L.B. HathawayMurder and the Mermaid by L.B. Hathaway:

Sometimes the truth is as slippery and hard to grasp as a mermaid…

December, 1925

A dark, smog-filled London doesn’t seem very Christmassy, or exciting, but then Posie Parker, London’s premier female Private Detective receives an urgent call from one of her oldest friends; Rufus, Earl of Cardigeon.

Summoned to ‘The Mermaid’, an ancient hotel in Rye, on the Sussex Coast, in the heart of smuggling country, Posie, together with her husband, Richard, finds her friend in a real state.

Rufus has been promised answers about his missing wife, Dolly, but instead there’s simply a bizarre string of events: a priceless car mysteriously driven off a cliff; a missing Frenchman, and telegrams from men who simply don’t exist. While Richard Lovelace, Chief Commissioner of New Scotland Yard tries to work out if Rufus himself is the target of a complicated plot, Posie has her own investigations to make.

The local tragedy of a missing dancer has been dealt with by local police as an open-and-shut case. But Posie soon discovers it is anything but. And she suspects foul play.

And as the snow falls, and Christmas lights go up, secrets are revealed, and Posie becomes involved in perhaps her most personal case so far. She becomes aware that danger lurks at ‘The Mermaid’, and not just for Rufus.

A murderer is on the loose.

Spirit of the Season by Cynthia E. HurstSpirit of the Season by Cynthia E. Hurst:

In a season of peace and goodwill, it was shocking for residents of the Cotswold town to learn a stranger had been murdered in their midst. It was even more shocking that he died on the doorstep of the town’s police inspector’s home as he was entertaining guests on Christmas Eve. It appeared Daniel Keegan’s only failing had been to fall in love with the wrong person, something that sends a chilling message to two of the inspector’s guests. Newlyweds Jacob Silver and Sarah Simm are used to criticism, but does Keegan’s death mean their own lives may be in danger?

‘Spirit of the Season’ is the eighth book in the Silver and Simm Victorian Mysteries series.

Potluck by Cynthia E. HurstPotluck by Cynthia E. Hurst:

The R&P Labs staff members are planning their Christmas potluck lunch when a stranger arrives on the doorstep with an announcement that threatens to turn several lives upside down. ’Tis the season to be wary, and in this short story, the five scientific sleuths have to do some rapid research to discover whether one of them will be getting a very unusual Christmas present.

 

 

Zukie's Gift by Cynthia E. HurstZukie’s Gift by Cynthia E. Hurst:

All sorts of things were donated for St Augustine’s Christmas bazaar — books, second-hand clothes, cookies, murder weapons …

Zukie’s Gift is a short story and part of the Zukie Merlino Mysteries series.

 

 

 

Big Top Treachery by CeeCee JamesBig Top Treachery by CeeCee James:

Christmas at the Circus!

What if the holly berry meant more than a cozy Christmas tradition? When Trixie, billed by the Concello circus as the world’s smallest Lady Godiva, finds a large ruby on the circus grounds, she thinks she’s one of the luckiest people on earth. Until she learns the stone’s past is stained as holly-red as the jewel itself. ??

When the police get involved, suspicion is cast not just on Trixie, but on her other friends at the circus. ??The pressure is on with Trixie getting threats from an anonymous source. When the calliope player is murdered, Trixie knows the threats she has been receiving aren’t just to scare her… she’ll be the next to die if she can’t find out the truth about the stone and unmask the murderer?

Eggnog, Extortion and Evergreens by Tonya KappesEggnog, Extortion and Evergreens by Tonya Kappes:

Welcome to Normal, Kentucky~ where nothing is normal. A Campers and Criminal Mystery Series is another brainchild of USA Today Bestselling Author Tonya Kappes. If you love her quirky southern characters and small town charm with a mystery to solve, you’re going to love her new cozy mystery series!

Mae West is busy this Christmas season. She’s running around Normal getting the town ready for the first Winter Festival, which she hopes will become an annual event for the tourist town.

The freshly fallen snow sure does make the Daniel Boone National Park beautiful and ready for Santa’s arrival, but it also makes the curvy roads through the forest very slick. Unfortunately, Mae finds out just how slick the roads are after her car slides off the road and hits a tree, putting Mae into a deep coma.

Mae is one of the lucky patients who does wake up and happy to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.

One of the patients in the emergency room with Mae didn’t die that night of natural causes, and Hank Sharp has himself a new homicide case on his hands.

Mae starts having memories about the fire that took her family and a memory of a murder plot that she thinks happened when she was in her coma. Only, she’s having a hard time distinguishing between the two memories and the clues seem to have blurred lines. There’s one thing she does know for sure, both incidents come with clues that neither were accidents.

Once again, Mae West with the help of the Laundry Club Ladies put on their ameatur sleuth cap to help solve the mystery of the murders before the killer sends her Christmas gift she can’t return.

How Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. LeeHow Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. Lee:

Fourteen years ago, Christmas hit Walkerville with a bang. Or, rather, a big ball of fire.
When a local group home for orphaned children goes up in smoke right before the holidays, Tillie Winchester volunteers her family to take in some kids – even though her arch nemesis Margaret Little is dead-set against it. Of course, that’s part of the appeal for Tillie so she’s considering it a win.

Three boys – all of them with a little attitude – have no idea what to expect from the Winchester household. No matter what, Tillie is sure they’re about to get more than they bargained for. In short order, they’re welcomed into the family at the same time the town is on edge due to a second fire.

Tillie is determined to prove the boys are innocent while also finding them a forever home … even if she has to take on a local judge and declare all out war to do it.

So, hang your stockings by the fire and sit back for another Christmas with the Winchesters. You’ll never be the same again.

Note: This is a 28,000-word novella set in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest world. It’s set back in the past so it can be read in any order.

Cremas, Christmas Cookies and Crroks by Harper LinCremas, Christmas Cookies and Crooks by Harper Lin:

It’s almost Christmastime in Cape Bay, and another murder has everyone in town talking. A despised new drama teacher at the local high school is killed in the school’s parking lot. The police arrest a beloved teacher, Mrs. Crowsdale, but everyone else thinks she is too nice to murder anyone. Mike, however, says they have solid evidence that proves she did it.

Sammy is particularly devastated. Mrs. Crowsdale was her favorite teacher and still her hero. Sammy begs Fran to find the real culprit. Fran isn’t so sure. Mike would be angry with her for butting in on another case. And what if more danger befalls her? After all, there are some pretty dangerous people in town…

Includes 3 special recipes!

Fur-miliar Felines by Harper LinFur-miliar Felines by Harper Lin:

Three witches and their magical cats solve paranormal murder cases in the mystical town of Wonder Falls.

It’s Christmastime, but something strange and sinister is in the air. Treacle, Cath’s courageous black cat, can’t see what it is, but he feels a dangerous presence out there in the snow-blanketed streets.

Aunt Astrid also feels dark ripples in the dimensions. The Greenstone witches suspect this creature is somehow tied to the disappearance of two high school students. Soon, one of them turns up dead, half-eaten.

The holiday spirit is in full effect in Wonder Falls, but so is a puzzling and gruesome murder mystery.

Pilfered Promises by M. Louisa LockePilfered Promises by M. Louisa Locke:

Holiday cover edition: It is November, 1880, and the future looks promising for Annie and Nate Dawson. Nate’s law practice is taking off. Annie has made the transition from pretend clairvoyant to a successful financial consultant. And they are looking forward to spending their first Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays together.

For Robert Livingston, the owner San Francisco’s newest grand emporium, the holidays don’t look so promising. Not if he can’t figure out how to stop whoever is stealing from his department store, the Silver Strike Bazaar. However, when he hires the Dawsons to investigate, they discover that behind the doors of his “Palace of Plenty,” nothing is quite what it seems.

Pilfered Promises, a sweet cozy historical mystery, is the fifth novel in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series featuring Annie and Nate Dawson and their friends and family in the O’Farrell Street boarding house and it comes right before the newest novella, Kathleen Catches a Killer

Kathleen Catches a Killer by M. Louisa LockeKathleen Catches a Killer by M. Louisa Locke:

It’s the very end of December, 1880, and the servant Kathleen Hennessey expects to spend a quiet week taking care of the O’Farrell Street boarding house while her employers, Annie and Nate Dawson, are off spending the Christmas holidays with Nate’s family. However, when she agrees to help out one of her friends, Kathleen discovers that a simple case of a servant being dismissed without notice has turned into a complicated puzzle that she is determined to solve.

While featuring minor characters from Locke’s Victorian San Francisco mystery series, Kathleen Catches a Killer contains all the light romance, humor, and suspense of the longer works. Chronologically, this novella comes right after the events in Pilfered Promises, but it can be read as a stand-alone and an excellent introduction to this mystery series about the gas-lit world of the late 19th century.

'Tis the Season by Jean Louise and Michael Yaworsky‘Tis the Season: Two short holiday stories by Jean Louise and Michael Yaworsky:

Heartwarming stories of comfort and joy….

In Stealing Christmas, two modern-day Robin Hoods use a little fa-la-la-la-larceny to bring cheer to those who could use it most.

Tipping Point is the story of a single act of generosity that sets a series of acts into motion, touching a surprising number of people with the holiday spirit.

 

Murder on Holiday Lane by London LovettMurder on Holiday Lane by London Lovett:

It’s a warm and sunny Christmas season in Los Angeles. Things are slow at the Starfire Detective Agency, but Poppy is sure things will pick up after the holidays. When a pretty young starlet who works part-time as an elf at Santa’s Workshop on Holiday Lane is murdered, Poppy’s close friend, the up and coming director, Wyatt Blaze, becomes a prime suspect. Wyatt needs Poppy’s help to find the real killer. Gossip travels fast in Tinseltown and an arrest, even a false arrest, will destroy Wyatt’s career for good.

Now Poppy must start from the very beginning to find out just who had it out for the elf. Is it possible Santa himself is behind the diabolical deed?

Iced Inn by Karen MacInerneyIced Inn by Karen MacInerney:

It’s Christmastime at the Gray Whale Inn. The inn’s kitchen smells like ginger and spice, the ground is frosted with snow, and wedding bells are about to ring out for innkeeper Natalie’s favorite niece, Gwen. It’s a joyous time… until the families of the bride and groom descend on the island, bringing nasty tempers and a wicked winter storm with them. Add a baffling rash of thefts, a dash of romantic intrigue, and an unexpected power shutdown, and Natalie’s plans for a magical season are looking more like a recipe for disaster. Can Natalie find the missing gifts before the big holiday? And will the happy couple make it to the altar… or will the wedding go up in flames?

A Mind Reader's Christmas by Al MacyA Mind Reader’s Christmas by Al Macy:

Eric Beckman, a mind-reading private investigator, is spending Christmas in snowy Vermont with his wife and daughter. He needs a break from solving cases, but the townspeople convince him to look into the village mystery: Every holiday season, someone switches the baby Jesus with one of the other figures in the town’s Nativity scene.

With the help of his ten-year-old daughter, also a mind reader, he soon learns that some of the residents of the small town are not who–or even what–they seem to be. There’s something supernatural going on in Newburn, Vermont.

His investigation causes an escalation of strange happenings, and soon, swapped manger figures are the least of the town’s worries. If Beckman can’t adjust his view of the world–force himself to believe in things he never thought possible–the Christmas vacation could turn out to be his family’s last.

A Mind Reader’s Christmas may be read as a standalone book or as Book Four in the Eric Beckman series.

The Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona MarpleThe Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona Marple:

What if Father Christmas is on the naughty list?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Mystic Springs, but all is not still or calm with the department store Santa.

The amateur dramatics club is full of big egos and legends-in-their-own-heads, so their spats aren’t unusual. But when the theatre owner is shot dead during the Christmas play, it’s Santa who pulls the trigger.

With the arrival of an unwelcome ex, a petition to end Discrimination Against Spirits, and a second attack by St Nick, the chances of a quiet Christmas seem to be quickly disappearing.

Has Santa really gone bad? Or is there more to it?

Town medium Connie and her dead sister Sage are both avoiding their own festive conundrums. A mistletoe murder is just the distraction they need.

A Curse for Christmas by P.A. MasonA Curse for Christmas by P.A. Mason:

Christmas back home in Arkansas sounded like a chance to put my feet up for a few weeks. Little did I know that a magical calamity would threaten the big day.

You know the real kicker? It was Mom—a renowned magical healer—who came down with a mystery malaise on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t remember a time where she had anything worse than a sniffle. To see her bedridden scared me to my core.

To examine the facts and solve the case, I had to think fast before Mom’s condition got any worse. With a new werewolf beau in her life, half the town of Tumbling Springs were whispering behind Mom’s back, the loudest of them a hex witch with a nasty view of weres. On the other hand, a new business rival in the next town over had Mom’s healing services on the rocks. The question was—did either witch have enough motive to do something as awful as all that to Mom?

If you enjoy paranormal cozy mysteries with a seasonal Christmas flair, this holiday special is for you.

Jingle Spells by Christine PopeJingle Spells by Christine Pope:

Sweet baby Jesus, someone’s stolen a lot of Christmas dough!

All is calm and bright as Globe, Arizona’s holiday celebrations approach. Selena Marx should have known it wouldn’t stay that way. The painted snowflakes on her shop window are barely dry when her best friend, Josie Woodrow, bursts in with news that the baby Jesus is missing from the crèche in front of St. Ignatius.

Selena has enough on her mind without having to use her psychic powers to suss out the culprit. Her boyfriend Calvin Standingbear’s parents are still on the snow-covered fence about accepting her, which throws a dimmer on the town’s highly anticipated Festival of Lights. And when Calvin springs a surprise on the solstice, Selena realizes she has some work to do to reconcile the two men in her life: Calvin, and her cursed cat, Archie.

The last thing she needs is a spontaneous vision that indicates the baby Jesus theft was more than just a prank. And if someone doesn’t spill the beans soon, someone’s getting away with…well, not murder (this time), but a whole lot of dough — and we’re not talking cookies.

Frostycake Murder by Summer PrescottFrostycake Murder by Summer Prescott:

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM MISSY AND CHAS!!!

Life is full of surprises in the sleepy beachside town of Calgon, Florida, and the holiday season proves to be no exception. Echo faces a new reality that could change her life forever, Missy and Chas wrestle with the pain of facing their own limitations and uncertainties, while Spencer finds himself in a sticky situation relationally.

In the midst of all of the personal turmoil, a gruesome murder is discovered, and Chas once again has to take charge and hope that he finds the ruthless killer, before tragedy strikes a bit closer to home.

Murder on a Midnight Clear by Sara RosettMurder on a Midnight Clear by Sara Rosett:

A snowbound country mansion, a missing butler, and a Christmas case…

Olive and Jasper have never been closer—except in one area. Jasper is still reticent about his frequent disappearances from polite society. With the holidays approaching and no paying client on the books, Olive decides to shadow Jasper when he’s unexpectedly called away. Her search brings her to Holly Hill Lodge where an eclectic group has gathered to celebrate an old-fashioned English Christmas.

The guest list includes a celebrated lawn tennis champion, a fussy scientist studying snowflakes, a persuasive luggage salesman, a famous lady explorer, and the family’s eccentric aunt who has a fondness for the newfangled drinks called cocktails.

When the butler goes missing, Olive and Jasper must work together to solve the Christmas crime—as well as the secret Jasper hides.

North Pole Unlimited by Elle RushNorth Pole Unlimited: Decker and Joy by Elle Rush:
Jaded P.I. Decker Harkness must track down a missing prototype if he wants a shot at a corporate security contract. Sexy cat-lady Joy McCall has her own investigation running after someone breaks into her animal shelter. When they cross paths during a triple kitten-napping, they’ll have to work together to close their cases. Will everyone make it home to celebrate a merry Christmas together?

Only Santa knows.

 

All I Want For Christmas is Wicked by Lotta SmithAll I Want for Christmas is Wicked by Lotta Smith:

Trees decorated, stockings full of presents, and another case to crack!

The Rowling family is gearing up for another Merry Christmas, and Mandy has her hands full with holiday prep, but how can she get into the spirit of the season when the victim in her latest case isn’t a ghost?

Twenty years ago, during a Christmas Eve blackout, Kevin Holt, the husband of a rich heiress, lost his memory in a fall down the stairs of their mansion. Now he’s discovered evidence that someone might have been trying to kill him, and all he wants for Christmas is to find out who. Since the resident ghost of the Holt house didn’t witness the attack, Rick and Mandy will have to rely on old fashioned sleuthing (and a little help from Mandy’s paranormal pal Jackie) to find out which of the four suspects is the culprit.

Meanwhile Rick has been saddled with novice investigator Cameron Gibson (call him Ace!) the son of one of USCAB’s wealthiest clients. Ace is trying to catch the creep stalking a New York City fashion model, but despite wanting Mandy to mentor him, one ghostly encounter has him seriously spooked.

A run in with a biker ghost and dancers in danger complicate the case, but the big question on Mandy’s mind is why does little Sophie want a bear trap for Christmas? Find out in this wickedly merry holiday installment of the Paranormal in Manhattan Mystery Series.

Christmas in Nuala by Harriet SteelChristmas in Nuala by Harriet Steel:

In the sixth instalment of this popular and charming series set in the 1930s amidst the rolling green hills of colonial Ceylon, the little town of Nuala is full of Christmas good cheer, until murder overshadows the festivities.

The mystery he needs to solve baffles Inspector de Silva. It’s just as well he has his wife, Jane, to support him in his race to unmask the villain and save an endangered romance.

If you love entertaining and absorbing mysteries, spiced with colourful characters and a dash of humour, don’t miss The Inspector de Silva Mysteries. Christmas in Nuala makes a great short read for the busy holiday season. Treat yourself to a copy today.

Blood and Mistletoe by E.J. StevensBlood and Mistletoe by E.J. Stevens:

Holidays are worse than a full moon for making people crazy. In Harborsmouth, where many of the residents are undead vampires or monstrous fae, the combination may prove deadly.

Ivy Granger, psychic private investigator, returns to the streets of Harborsmouth in this addition to the bestselling urban fantasy series.

Holidays are Hell, a point driven home when a certain demon attorney returns with information regarding a series of bloody murders. Five Harborsmouth residents have been killed and every victim has one thing in common–they are fae. Whoever is killing faeries must be stopped, but they only leave one clue behind–a piece of mistletoe floating in a pool of the victim’s blood.

The holidays just got interesting. Too bad this case may drive Ivy mad before the New Year. Heck, she’ll be lucky to survive Christmas.

Gusty Lovers and Cadavers by Anne R. TanGusty Lovers and Cadavers by Anne R. Tan:

Gusty winds…and a trail of destruction.

Graduate student Raina Sun is in for a season of mayhem and murder. When she volunteered to take the new foreign exchange student shopping on the last weekend before Christmas, she ended up in a riot for the last hot toy of the season and an abandoned baby. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a Good Samaritan.

But calling the mysterious phone number in the diaper bag leads to more questions than answers. A strange man claims to be the child’s father, and his alleged mother turns up dead. The local police are more interested in keeping the town’s good name out of international news than considering if there’s foul play. And to make matters worse, she has less than a week to find his birth parents before the FBI takes over the case.

Raina summons her sleuthing skills to protect this baby and soon discovers everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. With her pimp-cane-toting grandma, she must track down a hidden killer before she becomes the next victim. There’s no place for an amateur when it comes to murder…

Don’t miss out on Raina’s new adventure–get your copy of “Gusty Lovers and Cadavers” today!

Pineapple Gingerbread Men by Amy VansantPineapple Gingerbread Men by Amy Vansant:

Sheriff Frank asks newly-minted private detective Charlotte to help him crack the case, but she has no idea those darn gingerbread men will start showing up everywhere. What did Santa do that made them so angry? And what’s the secret in his colorful Christmas-themed bureau?

Charlotte is forced to split her time between searching for Santa’s killer and helping Declan’s crazy ex-Stephanie stop a corrupt district attorney in exchange for a book that could help solve more crimes in the future. She never thought she’d help calculating Stephanie with anything…but as this story comes to it’s shocking ending, you’ll find it could be Stephanie who’s finally bitten off more cookie than she can chew…

Tangled Destiny by Jenny WheelerTangled Destiny by Jenny Wheeler:

A promising proposal. A life-changing secret. Will she live out a lie or follow her heart?

New York, 1847. Elanora dreams of marrying her childhood sweetheart Eustace. The proposal on her 21st birthday is everything she hoped for, until her fiancé’s father dispatches him to the West Indies. After the promise of a white Christmas with the man she loves evaporates, she stumbles upon a secret that could tear Eustace’s family apart…

After a sudden death further sends Elanora reeling, she’s as vulnerable as ever until a gifted photographer comes to her rescue. With the tragic love triangle forming before her eyes and the secret burning within her, she has an impossible Christmas choice. Will Elanora obey the powerful men who want to control her or will she trigger generations of consequences by exposing the truth?

Tangled Destiny is a prequel novella to the Of Gold & Blood historical mystery series.

Run-A-Way for Christmas by Victoria L.K. WilliamsRun-A-Way for Christmas by Victoria L.K. Williams:

Christmas is all about children, but usually not all the children at once.

Megan and her faithful beagle Barney meet a gang of runaway children at the beach. Soon the investigative duo learn of exploitation, injury, and murder and with the help of FBI consultant Aiden and his dog, Gypsy, begin to investigate.

Megan’s family and friends rally round and share the joy of Christmas with the children who need it most, while Megan finds that Christmas is truly a time of love.

'Tis the Season to Be Murdered by Valerie Wolzien‘Tis the Season to Be Murdered by Valerie Wolzien:

The appetizers were to die for.

Exhausted after shopping for teenagers, struggling with cappuccino machines, and eating way too many cookies, Susan Henshaw is glad she hired “The Holly and Ms. Ivy” to cater her annual New Year’s bash.

But when half the team, the blond and buffed Z Holly, chef extraordinaire and notorious ladies’ man, is found strangled in a van full of helium balloons, Susan starts hunting for a killer—and a way to save her party.

Though kept in the dark by the police, Susan crashes the holiday parties of the area Hancock, nibbling her way through epicurean delights and sordid tales of sin. Will she discover if really,’Tis the Season to Be Murdered?

Elixirs and Elves by Astoria WrightElixirs and Elves by Astoria Wright:

The elves of Mount Vale are throwing a Christmas Party, and they’ve invited everyone! While the human residents of Moss Hill are excited to attend, many of the sidhe find the invitation beneath them. It’s no secret that they dislike mingling with non-faeries, but are they so hostile toward humans that one of them would commit murder? Carissa has never gotten along with the sidhe guard, but Varick of Vale has helped her on occasion. So, when he asks for her help after suspicion falls on him, it’s up to her to prove his innocence – if, that is, he isn’t guilty after all.

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