This is an anthology of four long novellas that have nothing in common excepting themes of the supernatural. They are varied in content and scope, some being more paranormal romance and some being more horror. Because they are all standalones, I’m going to talk about each of them on their own.
The Mill by Jamie Fessenden is a classic ghost story, with a dash of romance.
The Hawley Textile Mill has stood empty for twenty years. It is well-known that 97 women died in a fire back in 1907, and it is rumored that there is a lot of ghost activity in the building. Mrs. Hawley, last of the Hawley dynasty, wants the building cleansed so the property can be converted into a park. She hires Frank Carter and his team of paranormal investigators (think Ghost Hunters) to examine the building. Frank’s brother, Louis, sees a full-fledged apparition, but is injured. While a comatose Louis lies in the ICU, it becomes clear that he’s channeling some of the souls lost in the big fire. Mrs. Hawley convinces her personal psychic and medium, Toby Reese, to assist in setting the ghosts free. In order to save Louis, Toby and Frank must cooperate and determine the reason why these souls have lingered in the desolate mill.
This was an excellent ghost story with a pair of leads, Frank and Toby, that I enjoyed. Frank is a scientific thinker and he’s unsure about Toby’s skills. Toby’s sure that Frank will never take him seriously, and he’s wrong about that. The men don’t know if they can trust the other, but they have a combined goal to help Louis and clear the mill. It soon becomes clear that there was funny-business that occurred the day of the big fire, and Louis and Toby are mouthpieces to that. In the meantime, Frank and Toby build a rapport that feels organic. Their first sexual encounter was rather funny, and hastily aborted. I liked that there was humor to lighten this story. They are a cute couple, Frank charmingly awkward and Toby forward and friendly. The ghost story is both appropriately paced and appropriately horrifying, and kept me turning the pages so I could find out how Louis was going to escape his coma. Expect a ghoulish séance, two happy endings and some yummy sexytimes.
Dei Ex Machina by Kim Fielding is a love story that spans the centuries, when the ghost of a young slave touches the soul of a grieving man.
Mason Gould is landscape engineer on a trip to Croatia with friends and relations to help him grieve the loss of his husband, Carl, who was gunned down in a mass shooting on his college campus. Mason is still emotionally wrecked, and on a whim goes to see a medium in order to make his final goodbyes—those he hadn’t made when Carl left for work on that fateful day. This will only work if Carl’s sprit has lingered, as in if unfinished business has kept his spirit on this plane—which isn’t the case. Instead, the medium channels the soul of Sabbio, a slave who died in the building of the historic palace Mason and his party have visited. Sabbio doesn’t leave when the reading ends, however. He follows Mason to his hotel and engages him in his dreams. It’s the first peace that Mason has encountered, and he thrives on it. He is enchanted by these glimpses into Sabbio’s life, and even gets hints about how to bring him through the ether.
I really liked how this book brought in the ancient religions, and how the relationship between Mason and Sabbio was very sweet and special. How they soothed each other emotionally. I loved the secondary characters of Viktor and his medium mother; they were so open and compassionate. It was also such a pleasant twist that Mason’s steadfastness brought Sabbio’s grieving spirit peace. The struggle that Sabbio’s spirit endured was really well-crafted, and I liked this glimpse beyond the veil. The historical and contemporary details witnessed by both Sabbio and Mason were deftly interwoven, and I really got a sense for both places within the same city. This was a sentimental story that had a pretty somber tone until near the very end. I really enjoyed it.
Among the Dead by Eli Easton absolutely bent my noodle. I’m a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan and well…
Neil Gaven suffered a traumatic brain injury a couple of years ago, and now he sees dead people. He’s turned a bit antisocial since then, working from home all the time and venturing out infrequently. On one of his monthly trips to the office he encounters the ghost of a beautiful man in a bowler hat—who is the first to try to communicate with him. He does some investigation and learns the man’s identity—what it was when he was alive so long ago. This bowler hat man wants Neil to help a homeless young man in a bad park of the city park—Trist, who also sees dead people. It’s scary to Neil, but he can’t resist once he learns that Trist is like him in more ways than one. The twist ending absolutely made my day with this one, and I fully enjoyed the mind blow.
Unfinished Business by B.G. Thomas was a bit A Christmas Carol meets Ghost.
Mike Ellsworth is a deeply closeted man who’s always been faithful to his college sweetheart wife, Lori, until a year ago when he met Joel Kauffman on a business trip. Their attraction was instant and upsetting. Mike didn’t want to be a cheater, and he’d resisted his attraction to men for so long—twenty years!—but Joel was everything Mike had longed for. They spent a lot of time together in that week, and Mike made efforts to return to Joel whenever he could. He was en route to their latest rendezvous when he wrecked his rental car and his spirit is not at rest. Mike’s yanked into scene after terrifying scene, seeing the difficulties in his marriage in a fresh light, and knowing what he feels for Joel is the love of his lifetime. He regrets not saying so when he had the chance.
I had mixed feelings over this one, honestly. I’m usually turned off by cheater tales, but I did sympathize with Mike. He’s a complex man who relishes his companionship and beneficial relationship with his wife, even if his love for her is mostly platonic, and hungers for the passion he and Joel share. For their parts, Lori and Joel are great characters. I loved the cop, Daphne Brookhart, who can hear Mike’s rants and becomes his unwilling mouthpiece. She was so Whoopi Goldberg from Ghost, for me. The secondary story of Mike communing with other ghosts in his realm was excellent. He’s able to put some spirits to rest, and fix his mistakes with both Joel and Lori. The end was everything I hoped for, considering that I’m a sappy romantic that wants the HEA more than a chocolate lava cake. This is a non-sexytimes read, for the most part, and the bittersweet regret of Mike is infused throughout, which made this one really somber, until the end which was rather celebratory and drove home theme of the redemptive power of true love.
On the whole, this anthology is really engaging and has a lot to be enjoyed. Some horror, some suspense, some sexytimes and some redemption. I would recommend to anyone who likes spooky stories and plots that deal with ghosts in all their forms.