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.

Rako’s Treasure by J.J. Lore


Rako’s Treasure by J.J. Lore
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (39 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Banished from his planet, Rako wanders the edges of known space looking for salvage, longing to find his mate. When he spots a weak signal from an ancient crash, he isn’t sure if the scavenge is worth the time and fuel. But in the smuggler’s hold on board, he finds a stasis pod with a beautiful woman inside and loses his heart.

Alyce was kidnapped by villains over a century ago, so when she’s awakened by a formidable male of a race she’s never seen before, it takes some adjustment.

Doing the right thing, Rako takes Alyce to an inhabited station, where she can begin to rebuild her interrupted life. But when descendants of the beings who originally captured her attack, Rako’s protective instincts emerge, along with the extreme body morphing of his kind. He wins the fight, but misplaces Alyce in the process. Will he be able to find her before he’s exiled back into the cold of space?

Anything can happen in the far reaches of space.

The author spent a lot of time describing small details and showing the audience exactly what was happening. I noticed this for the first time in the very first paragraph when Rako first stepped foot onto a desolate planet whose very air was toxic to him, and that attention to detail only grew stronger from there. This was something that I appreciated in both the erotic and non-erotic scenes because of how easy it made it for me to visualize everything that was going on.

I would have liked to see the characters have more time to get to know each other before they had sex. They jumped into bed together so quickly that they weren’t able to develop much chemistry at all together before taking their relationship to the next level. This made it difficult for me to root for them to end up together because they knew so little about each other.

Rako had a foot fetish that was talked about a few different times in this tale. While it wasn’t included in the actual sex scene, it was briefly brought up again in a sexual manner later on in the plot. It wasn’t something I was expecting to find when I first started reading, but I thought this was an interesting way to explore his sexuality and flesh out his personality nicely.

Rako’s Treasure was a quick read that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to jump straight into the action.

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.

Aaron’s Wait by Dorien Grey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resurrection: The Legacy of Starke House by E.H. James


Resurrection: The Legacy of Starke House by E.H. James
The Demon Series Part 3
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Cole Pearson finds a great deal on a house, he can’t believe his luck. A new job, a new town, a new home…life couldn’t be better. His wife, Devyn, however, thinks it’s too good to be true.

No sooner than they move in, than objects begin to move from where they were placed, and Devyn quickly realizes the reason the price was so reasonable. Getting a dog to keep Devyn company, while he is out of the house, seems the answer to Devyn’s problem, or so Cole believes. Only the dog, like Devyn, doesn’t want to go in the house, and Devyn wants to leave.

But the house, as Cole is about to discover, is the least of their problems. And what lies ahead…in the dark…in the basement…is something Cole never expected.

Old homes are full of memories. Not them are happy ones.

Cole and Devyn were both smart and observant characters. I was impressed with how quickly they figured out that the house they’d just purchased was haunted. Seeing them put the pieces together so soon only made me more curious to find out how they’d react to the fact that they weren’t the only ones who called that place home. They had excellent reasons to explain why they would keep living there. I couldn’t wait to see if those reasons would be overshadowed by all of the terrifying stuff that happened every time they turned their back.

The dialogue was a little clunky at times. For example, the characters sometimes spoke if they were describing their thoughts to someone else instead of having a free-flowing conversation with each other. It was something I especially noticed in the beginning when they were first realizing that their home was haunted. The things they said sounded more like what they’d think in the spur of the moment than what they’d say to a spouse. There was a lot of panic in their words, but there weren’t many other emotions at all. This was a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise liked quite a bit, but it did pull me out of the plot when it happened.

This is the third story in this series. I loved seeing how the first two parts of this series were referenced in this one. Everything has been tied together beautifully so far while still leaving plenty of room for new readers to jump in at any point without getting confused about what is going on. Resurrection found the perfect balance between continuing the legend of the Starke house and exploring Cole and Devyn’s experiences in their new home. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, but it makes me even more eager to read parts four and five in the near future!

Resurrection: The Legacy of Starke House made me shudder. If getting scared is your idea of a great time, definitely give this tale a try.

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.

His Name Is John by Dorien Grey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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