iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy by David A. Hill Jr.


iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy by David A. Hill Jr.
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal, Horror
Length: Full Length (269 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

It’s like Uber, but for slaying monsters!

Lana is a monster hunter. She kills vampires, werewolves, demons and all the other terrifying creatures of the night. She doesn’t do it because she’s the chosen one. She doesn’t do it because it’s her duty. She does it because working one job just doesn’t cut it for a millenial in Southern California.

She takes contracts using iHunt, an app which freelance monster hunters use to find profitable prey. It’s like Supernatural meets Uber, Buffy meets Airbnb, and sadly, Blade meets Fiverr.

Lana’s story is about making ends meet, about economic anxiety, and about what a person’s willing to do to pay the bills. It’s a equal parts horror, dark humor, slice of life, and social commentary on the gig economy.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of books for Long and Short Reviews over the last five years. This is the by far the best one I’ve ever reviewed for them.

The character development was amazing. Lana was an incredibly complex woman whose personality could never be condensed to a few short sentences. Everything I learned about her was doled out gradually between and during her various iHunt assignments, That only made me more curious to find out more about her. I especially loved how much time Mr. Hill spent exploring her many reasons for signing up to be a monster hunter. Every single one of them taught me more about her as a person while they were also pushing the plot forward in all kinds of exciting ways.

Speaking of the plot, the pacing of it was so beautifully relentless that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page. The blurb gave an excellent introduction to this universe, but there were many new conflicts and characters introduced later on in the storyline that were somehow even more fascinating than the original idea of freelancers being hired to kill monsters.

One of the many reasons why I gave this story the highest rating possible is how much attention it paid to real-world issues. The characters dealt with all kinds of frustrating situations when they weren’t actively fighting monsters: dealing with deeply prejudiced people, running out of money well before payday, experiencing truly terrible customer service, and so much more. Some of these scenes made me laugh, while others made me wince. All of them developed this world so thoroughly that I honestly forgot I was reading a piece of fiction. It was like listening to a friend talk about her terrible or wonderful day instead.

The romance was handled perfectly. Not only did the characters involved in it have an unbelievable amount of chemistry, they also genuinely liked each other as human beings. Their strong friendship made me eager to see if they could turn their platonic feelings into romantic ones. This part of the plot was also a refreshing break from the often intense fight scenes.

iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy was phenomenal in every single way. If you can only spare the time to read read one more novel this year, make it this one!

Ascension: The Chosen by E. H. James


Ascension: The Chosen by E. H. James
The Demon Series Part 5
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jesse returns from India, ten years later, in his arms a Katemara. But he is not returning to the world he left. Demons are possessing humans on a regular basis. Committing crimes and leaving the humans to suffer the consequences, the demons are amassing huge sums of money.

Left to wonder what the demons could be plotting, Jesse knows they are after more than just mischief, pain, and pleasure. But when Cole confesses to one of Starke’s murders, believing himself responsible for not having stopped Starke, Jesse and the gang have more than just demons to worry about. And when overwhelmed by demons bent on killing them, they must run.

Will Jesse take his rightful place as the chosen one, or will the demon occupation prevent the ascension?

In the battle between demons and humankind, only one group can be victorious.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was how many clever twists it had. I was surprised by a few of them, especially towards the end when the main character finally had the time to start putting things together. It was rewarding to see how he did this and what his response was once he realized that everything wasn’t necessarily the way he thought it was.

There was a little bit of an information dump at the end. While I enjoyed seeing how everything was connected to each other, it would have been nice to have some of these revelations earlier on in the plot so that I could concentrate on what was currently happening with the characters. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a book I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

The dialogue was fantastic. Every character had such an unique voice that I was immediately able to tell who was speaking. I also appreciated seeing how relaxed their conversations were. They passed on all of the information that the audience needed, and they did it in such a casual way that I felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations.

This is the fifth story in this series. I would strongly suggest reading the first four instalments before moving onto this one because of how little time Jesse had to explain what was going on. Already being familiar with the characters and their mission will make it easier to understand what’s happening in the plot.

Ascension: The Chosen was a wild ride. If you’re in the mood to see what a war with demons could look like, look no further.

The Picture of Leon Brittan by Daniel Raven


The Picture of Leon Brittan by Daniel Raven
Publisher: Wormdoom Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (98 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

‘The story I’m about to tell is true in every detail and you must try to believe it, no matter how hard that may seem, because it proves that my impotence was never anything to do with me not loving you, or not thinking you were gorgeous, or being a closet bender. It was to do with primal forces of inhuman evil.’

That’s how I put it to my ex-girlfriend. I’m not quite sure how to put it to you – let’s face it, you’re capricious – but that doesn’t alter the fact that you MUST read this book. Not only does it relate the full story of how I met and fell in love with the most extraordinary woman who ever lived, it also offers a genuinely plausible explanation for all the wickedness in this world AND exposes a monumentally revolting cosmic conspiracy that implicates the whole human race, as well as several others you’ve never even heard of.

But I wouldn’t want to alienate you, so please try also to keep in mind that it’s basically just a lovely light romantic comedy for much of the time, with lots of droll observations about university life in the 1990s blah blah rites of passage blah blah end of innocence blah blah beautifully evoked. It only really starts to go all H.P. Lovecraft about halfway through, and even then you’ll need your sense of humour as much as your strong stomach (it IS strong, isn’t it? Oh do please say that it’s strong!). Moreover, I can promise – in fact positively guarantee – that you will never, ever be able to forget it.

Sometimes falling in love is the scariest thing that can happen to a person.

This story was full of creativity. I loved the fact that it was written as a letter to the main character’s ex-girlfriend. The horror elements took quite a while to show up, but they sure did scare me once they were introduced. I also enjoyed seeing how the author combined so many different genres together. Horror and romance aren’t genres I’d ever think to mix together, but Mr. Raven’s take on both of them was so unique that they flowed together quite nicely.

There were some pacing problems due to how many extra details the main character included about what his life was like in the 1990s. As curious as I was to find out what was so frightening about falling in love with a college classmate, my interest did waver as the plot stretched out. It was sometimes hard to stay as interested in the conclusion as I would have liked to due to how long it took to get any kind of hint about what was going on.

Despite never learning the main character’s name, I felt like I got to know him very well. I was pleased with how much the author was able to show the audience about this character’s personality. He was a smart and gentle soul who never would have guessed what he was going to discover when he went off to college. While I don’t know of any sequels about him that are on their way, I’d sure like to know more about him if Mr. Raven ever decides to expand this universe.

The Picture of Leon Brittan made me shudder. I’d recommend it to anyone who would like to read something truly horrifying.

Possession: The Rise of Edward Starke by E.H. James


Possession: The Rise of Edward Starke by E.H. James
The Demon Series Part 4
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (69 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Thirteen years after the party at Starke house, Jesse Miller is now in New York, interviewing for a job.

Only this isn’t just any job interview. This interview is with Cole Pearson. The man everyone wants to work for. The man, who, in five short years, has taken the business world by storm and amassed not only billions, but the attention of everyone, who wants to be someone. Fumbling his way through a disastrous interview, Jesse believes the day can’t get any worse. That is, until Cole Pearson turns to Jesse, and he sees not Cole Pearson, but Edward Starke. Aware Starke has possessed Cole Pearson, Jesse gathers a menagerie of men to take him down.

Can a ghost, a reporter, an ex-priest, and a childhood friend come together to end Starke once and for all, or will the possession of Cole Pearson only be the beginning?

How do you fight someone who has already died?

The world building in this universe was well done. I especially liked the way the author tied the most frightening scenes in the previous instalments into what happened this time around. They were only more chilling now that I had even more information about what Edward Starke was truly capable of. This definitely isn’t something that should be read late at night. The places these characters live and the creatures they meet are far too creepy for that.

There were pacing issues. So much time was spent in the first several scenes setting up the conflict and explaining what had happened to these characters in previous instalments that the ending felt rushed to me. There simply wasn’t enough time in the last couple of scenes to cover everything that had been foreshadowed earlier on.

Jesse has changed a lot since I first met him in Beyond The Red Door. He was always a likeable guy, but I found myself feeling drawn even closer to him now that he was an adult and had a stronger sense of just how dangerous it is to mess around with demons. His cautious approach to such things made me respect him, and his determination to make things right is going to keep my attention focused on this universe until I know how everything ends.

This is the fourth story in this series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

Possession: The Rise of Edward Starke should be read by anyone who is in the mood to get scared.

Florida Gothic by Mitzi Szereto


Florida Gothic by Mitzi Szereto
Publisher: Strange Brew Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (74 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Stuck in a twilight world between life and death…

A hit-and-run driver leaves Ernesto Martinez to die by a Miami canal. Then an alligator comes along to finish the job.

Being dead gives Ernesto plenty of time to think. He thinks about his wife, taken from him too soon by illness. He thinks about his daughter, the victim of a drunk driver. He thinks about his death as he watches his body slowly decompose.

Most of all, he thinks about injustice.

The meth head ex-con living in the Everglades. The judge enjoying retirement on the Gulf Coast. The son of a Colombian drug kingpin partying in South Beach. These men care nothing for the pain they’ve caused. But they’ll soon know what it is to feel pain.

Set against the sweltering bug-infested backdrop of South Florida, Florida Gothic weaves a darkly unnerving and visceral tale of sex, drugs, crime and vengeance.

Justice can be delayed, but eventually it will be satisfied.

This was one of the goriest tales I’ve read in a long time. Ernesto’s death was a gruesome one, and that was only the beginning of blood and gore that showed up everywhere he went as he figured out how to spend his time now that he was no longer living. With that being said, all of these scenes had an important purpose and I’m glad they were described with such grisly detail. These horror elements were a huge part of what made this book as interesting as it was.

There were too many narrators in this story. I found it confusing to switch among all of them so often, especially since their connections to Ernesto weren’t always made clear to the audience right away. I would have preferred to get to know one or two of them well instead of learning a little bit about so many different characters.

Ernesto was a complicated guy. My feelings about him wavered a lot depending on where I was in the plot and what kind of trouble he was currently getting into. Sometimes I liked him, and at other times my opinion of him was nuanced and hard to fit into something as simple as approving or disapproving of him. He wasn’t the kind of character who was at all easy to pigeonhole, and that made me curious to learn more about him. Once I finished the final scene, though, I was glad that he was written in such a complex way and that the author trusted me to come up with my own opinions about him.

Florida Gothic should be read by anyone who has ever had a revenge fantasy.

Beyond The Red Door: The Soul Seeker by E. H. James


Beyond The Red Door: The Soul Seeker by E. H. James
The Demon Series Part 2
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Fifty years to the day Max Jensen walked into the Starke house, Jesse Miller is throwing a party.

Jesse wants to go down in high school history as the kid to remember. Only problem is, he may just get his wish. If he thought throwing a party in the long abandoned house of a serial killer would do it, then he would be right. But what happens that night at the old Starke house isn’t something you want to remember…not if you ever want to sleep again. Performing a mock ceremony to raise Starke from the dead proves to be a mistake of monumental proportion. And by the time Jesse realizes he is in over his head, he must now worry about keeping that same head on his shoulders.

What would you do if the only way out was to go Beyond the Red Door…into the very mouth of hell?

Sometimes houses are abandoned for a very good reason.

The author did a wonderful job at slowly building the tension. I was creeped out long before anything actually happened because of how much time was spent building up the backstory and explaining why it was such a horrible idea to have a party at the abandoned Starke house.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to why Jesse thought it was a good idea to summon a demon in the first place. He seemed to be a smart and cautious guy in other areas of his life, so I was confused by his obsession with this topic and how casually he approached it. Had there been a little more information about this, I would have easily given this book a much higher rating as I enjoyed everything else about it.

The twist ending caught me by surprise. It wasn’t anything like the first part of this series, but it fit the tone of the whole thing very nicely. I especially liked the fact that there were a few parts of it that reminded me a lot of what happened in The Red Door. While it isn’t necessary to read this series in order, including references to previous events like that was a nice touch for those of us who have read book one already.

If you’re in the mood for something that’s a little gory and very frightening, Beyond The Red Door: The Soul Seeker is a good choice.

Hell Holes: What Lurks Beneath by Donald Firesmith


Hell Holes: What Lurks Beneath by Donald Firesmith
Publisher: Magical Wand Imprint
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

It’s August in Alaska, and geology professor Jack Oswald prepares for the new school year. But when hundreds of huge holes mysteriously appear overnight in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle, Jack receives an unexpected phone call. An oil company exec hires Jack to investigate, and he picks his climatologist wife and two of their graduate students as his team. Uncharacteristically, Jack also lets Aileen O’Shannon, a bewitchingly beautiful young photojournalist, talk him into coming along as their photographer. When they arrive in the remote oil town of Deadhorse, the exec and a biologist to protect them from wild animals join the team. Their task: to assess the risk of more holes opening under the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the wells and pipelines that feed it. But they discover a far worse danger lurks below. When it emerges, it threatens to shatter Jack’s unshakable faith in science. And destroy us all…

There are some things that science still can’t explain.

One of my favorite parts of this story was how intelligently the characters behaved in a crisis. Every single one of them kept their cool and made rational decisions regardless of how surprised and horrified they were by what was going on around them. They worked together as a team, too, to figure out what to do next. These aren’t things that happen all that regularly in this genre, so it makes me pretty happy when I do see them.

The pacing was the only thing holding this book back from a much higher rating. Roughly the first 50 pages were spent introducing everyone and setting up the scene. It took even longer for the characters to finally realize that something was seriously wrong on their expedition. As beautiful as the writing itself was, I found myself growing restless as I waited for the horror, paranormal, and science fictions elements of the plot to reveal themselves.

Mr. Firesmith has an eye for detail. His descriptions of the tundra were deliciously spooky even before the characters or the audience had any idea what was happening in that remote corner of the world. I also liked seeing how much attention he paid to what his characters looked like and how their personalities would affect how they reacted to something frightening happening. That made it easy for me to grow attached to them before the plot picked up speed.

Hell Holes: What Lurks Beneath should be read by anyone who enjoys slow-burning horror.

Equus by Rhonda Parrish (editor)


Equus by Rhonda Parrish (editor)
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (331 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s always something magical about horses, isn’t there? Whether winged or at home in the water, mechanical or mythological, the equines that gallop through these pages span the fantasy spectrum. In one story a woman knits her way up to the stars and in another Loki’s descendant grapples with bizarre transformations while fighting for their life. A woman races on a unique horse to save herself from servitude, while a man rides a chariot through the stars to reclaim his self-worth. From steampunk-inspired stories and tales that brush up against horror to straight-up fantasy, one theme connects them all: freedom.

Featuring nineteen fantastic stories of equines both real and imagined by J.G. Formato, Diana Hurlburt, Tamsin Showbrook, M.L.D Curelas, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, VF LeSann, Dan Koboldt, J.J. Roth, Susan MacGregor, Pat Flewwelling, Angela Rega, Michael Leonberger, Sandra Wickham, Stephanie A. Cain, Cat McDonald, Andrew Bourelle, Chadwick Ginther, K.T. Ivanrest, and Jane Yolen.

What it means to be a horse, unicorn, or other horse-like creature is about to be redefined.

In “A Complete Mare,” a girl named Vez discovered that she was part Norse deity after that part of her bloodline activated and her body began to change. What I liked the most about her transformation was her reaction to it. There was so much time spent developing Vez’s personality that her reaction to her previously unknown lineage made perfect sense. I wouldn’t have expected her to behave in any other way.

While I enjoyed all of the tales in this anthology, some of them could have used some more development. For example, the main character in “Different” travelled a long distance and spent a great deal of money to ask a unicorn to heal her disabled daughter. The unicorn’s response wasn’t anything like she had expected it to be. While I loved the premise, I couldn’t help but to wonder why the main character hadn’t spent more time researching how unicorn healings work. It’s one of the first things I would have done in that situation, so it struck me as odd that someone would go through all of that effort without figuring out in advance what to expect from such a journey.

One of my favorite stories was “Rue the Day.” Gaylene, the main character, was a unicorn trainer who regularly rode into battle with her unicorns. When something threatened to end her career forever, she had to decide how to respond to it. While I figured out what was going on in Gaylene’s life pretty quickly, but that only made me more curious to see how her dilemma would be resolved. This could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel. With that being said, I was satisfied with how it ended.

Equus should be read by anyone who loves everything equestrian.

Darkness Upon the Deep by Hristo Goshev

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Darkness Upon the Deep by Hristo Goshev
Publisher: Aurora Wolf Literary Journal
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Nikolai is gone. I still can’t come to terms with this, even though the honorary list of names on the hangar wall is a constant reminder of the stark reality. My dearest friend, my loyal brother in arms, the most skilled pilot and the noblest person I’ve ever known—dead, sacrificed upon the altar of this unfathomable abyss in which we’ve now been drifting for more than two solar days.

Sometimes the scariest thing in the universe is being surrounded by nothing at all.

Imagine slowing down from warp speed only to discover that your battleship has wandered into a place where no stars or planets can be found, physics as we know it is completely meaningless, and your ship seems to be the only thing that exists there at all. I was hooked on this tale as soon as I realized that all of the assumptions I’d normally make about how the universe works were meaningless in this place. This is the kind of storytelling that first got me interested in the science fiction genre in general, so I couldn’t wait to find out where the characters had ended up and if they’d ever figure out how to get back to our plane of reality.

The opening scene was a little confusing for me because the narrator jumped straight into the action without explaining who anyone was or what was going on. While I did figure it all out quickly, it would have been nice to at least know the main character’s name a little sooner. With that being said, this is a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise loved.

This was some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read in a long time. It definitely isn’t easy to find the terrifying side of a place that doesn’t seem to have any corporeal monsters, but that didn’t make me any less frightened for the characters. The author did an amazing job of both describing what that place felt like and showing why it was so dangerous for the people who accidentally ended up there.

Darkness Upon the Deep was a wild ride. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who loves hard science fiction.

The Bat by Leslie W P Garland


The Bat by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With “fake news” hitting the headlines, I thought it would be nice to look at “truth” and muse on questions such as “what actually is true?” and “what is Truth?” using a fantasy story as a foil for same.

In this coming-of-age story Thomas recounts the events of a term at school when his class returned to a new beautiful class teacher, a donation of stuffed animals and birds by an eccentric benefactor which he and his friends subsequently discovered weren’t quite as dead as they looked, an exorcism in which a bell-jar which had contained a bat shattered, and then things, which up until then had been strange, turned to being sinister and frightening.

In an attempt to understand what was going on, Thomas found himself reading up on Black Magic, Satanism, the early Christian Church, and the worship of evil, but instead of assisting his understanding this made him more confused than ever. Even a conversation with his local priest failed to resolve the problems he found himself wrestling with. What was true? What was the Truth? And of course, where was the bat?

An adult fantasy story for those who like to think about what they are reading.

The difference between good and evil isn’t always as easy to figure out as one might think.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Mr. Garland’s work is that it requires some effort from the reader in order to be understood. He’s the sort of writer who will give his audience a few important clues and then expect them to come to their own conclusions about what happened based on how they chose to interpret those clues. This was the perfect kind of storyline for this writing style because of how slippery people’s memories can be. Two people can remember the same moment in time in completely different ways depending on what their minds were paying attention to back then.

The character development was handled beautifully, too. At times I forgot that the narrator was remembering things that happened to him and his community decades ago because of how caught up I was in what young Thomas was experiencing and how much those events affected the way he saw the world. While I don’t know if the author would ever be interested in write a sequel about this specific character in this series, I’d sure like to read it if he does.

There was nothing gory about the horror in this tale, but that didn’t make any less frightening. I appreciated the way the fear sneaked up on me as I was reading. It wasn’t something I noticed at first, but I was pretty scared by the final scene. There is definitely something to be said for being scared by the threat of something terrible happening almost as much as I was by what actually occurred. Anticipation was one of the narrator’s biggest weapons, and he used it well.

The final reason why I gave this book a perfect score is that it wrestled with so many intriguing questions about faith, morality, grief, and what it means to be a good person without spoon-feeding any answers to the audience. I deeply enjoy philosophical discussions about these kinds of topics, and Mr. Garland gave me a lot of food for thought. I will be thinking about the various points his characters made for a long time.

This is part of the “The Red Grouse” series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

The Bat chilled me to my core. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves though-provoking and intelligent stories.