Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction & Horror, edited by Mark Matthews

Narrator: Rick Gregory

Publisher: Wicked Run Press (2017)

Length: 8 hours 29 minutes

Editor’s Page

This anthology focuses on addiction, mostly drug and alcohol addiction. They range from science fiction to horror to the paranormal. The editor opens with a short foreword about addiction and his hopes that this anthology will provide some insight into the struggle of addicts and hopefully bring about some compassion for those suffering from addiction. Even if this anthology doesn’t do that for you, it’s still quite entertaining, insightful, riveting, sometimes disgusting, usually disturbing, and chock full of examples of bad decisions made.

A Wicked Thirst by Kealan Patrick Burke

Melinda and this guy, our unnamed narrator of this story, meet at a bar. They go back to her place and have sex, sort of. Then he wakes up out in the street being drowned in a rainwater puddle. A specter of Steven Carver, his former AA sponsor, reminds him of his failures. The timeline jumps around a little as our alcohol-sodden character tries to muddle through the night. What’s real, what’s not? What’s in the present and what’s in the past? This tale did a great job of showing the inner confusion of someone deep in the clutches of alcoholism. There’s this scene where this guy is burying his daughter’s dead cat and he cries, not for the cat, not for his daughter, but for himself and stuff that happened during his own childhood. This scene really brought home how this character has so much stuff that’s left unresolved in his life. 5/5

The One in the Middle by Jessica McHugh

Set in a future 2080s Patterson Park in Baltimore, the new drug of choice is Atlas. Heavy users like to inject it directly into their genitals, giving them a long-lasting incredible high. Perry Samson is still obsessed with his ex-wife Serina. He watches her from afar and thinks of her when he masturbates. He needs another high but his junkie friend Loshi thinks it’s high time Perry be the one to score and share. The author shows us the keen edge of depravity in this story. The Atlas junkies are willing to sell their flesh for a hit and some cash. Meanwhile, the rich who can afford the delicacy of well prepared human meat enjoy it in swanky restaurants. It reminded me of high school and college students who would sell plasma to go buy some pot. This was my favorite story in the bunch easily. I love the future SF setting (there’s TVs spread throughout the park showing The Wire reruns with all the hopeful scenes cut out) and yet we still have this drug culture, one in which there’s those who suffer and those who profit from it. 6/5

Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews

Terra Snyder is in Narcotics Anonymous, living with her parents and trying to get her life back together. Then her former boyfriend Brett unexpectedly shows up. He’s in the Work Release Program while in prison. Against her better judgement, she goes with him to Russell’s place where they used to buy their drugs and hangout. The author shows us step by step how easy it is for someone to be roped back into the users lifestyle. The point of view bounces back and forth from Terra to her dad Gregory throughout the story. Gregory, Heather, and their daughter Terra (somewhat reluctantly) have been working on this urban farm in the middle of Detroit. Heather is one of those always upbeat, optimistic types who would never give up on her kid. Gregory, while not a perpetual optimist, would do anything to keep his daughter safe. This tale really showed how the blame game turns into an excuse to either shuck responsibility for past bad deeds or to commit more bad deeds. 5/5

First, Just Bite a Finger by Johann Thorsson

This bit of flash fiction dealt with a different kind of addiction, but I feel the spirit of it (exploring a new-to-you high) could be applied to any new addiction. Julia, 39, went to a party, buzz wearing off, so she’s looking to try something new. This guy Toussaint bites off the tip of his pinky finger. Julia thinks it’s a trick. However, as the week goes on Julia notices bits missing from her friends. This little horror flick ended a bit too soon for me. I felt there was more for Julia to tell us. 4/5

Last Call by John FD Taff

Ted is in AA but he keeps falling off the wagon, going from group to group. His sponsor Sam reluctantly sends him to a liquor store with a special card, telling him to ask for the last bottle he will ever need. The store owner gives him a little lecture about choosing life or death. The unlabeled bottle is referred to as a shortcut, which I thought was a great way to show later on that there is no shortcut when it comes to dealing with addiction. The story leaps forward 5 years here, 10 years there, etc., showing how Ted’s life has changed and yet how this shortcut bottle is still tucked away, hiding in his closet. The ending is left dangling and I would have liked a line or two to close it out. It would have made the story more poignant or hopeful depending on how things ended. 4/5

Torment of the Fallen by Glen Krisch

Maggie is headed from Phoenix to Aurora, IL to hunt down her long-lost father, Desmond Gabriel. She can see demons and her online paranormal activities, where she goes by Jenny Halloween, have finally given her a hint as to where her father is. Her father, a homeless man, was mentioned on a paranormal chat site, Torment of the Fallen. She meets a short man that goes by Cheddar near the supposedly haunted house where her father sometimes crashes. I enjoyed this story because it had that urban fantasy feel to it where demons were being investigated and a lost person would be found, hopefully. If this story wasn’t in an anthology that focused on addiction, I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on those elements of the story. I hope we see more of Jenny Halloween in the future. 5/5

Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will by Max Booth III

Jeremy, 26, is bleeding from his urethra. Perhaps the hepatitis is getting to him though he asks his lover Eliza if she bit him. He hasn’t told her about his hepatitis yet. At work, it gets worse so he goes to a clinic where he runs into Nick, a former junkie friend. He has one confrontation after another and things get worse and worse for him. Let me just whisper it to you – spiders. Yep. This was easily the most creeptastic and scary story of the anthology! I don’t even have a penis or hepatitis and it made me shudder. 5/5

Returns by Jack Ketchum

In this short tale, Jill Hunt’s husband’s spirit returns from the dead. She’s been drinking since he was run over by a cab. He thinks he’s returned to help Jill get past his death and not succumb to alcoholism. She can see and hear him but she thinks it’s all in her head. This little story was rather sad as it involved a pet and this failed relationship. I felt that things were left a bit unresolved as I wanted to know what ultimately happened to Jill or her husband’s spirit. 4/5

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory did a pretty good job with this anthology. There was a lot of ground to cover, that’s for sure! His female voices were pretty good. Melinda and Terra sounded like women. For the most part, he had distinct characters though in the story Garden of Fiends he occasionally sounded a bit mechanical and the characters weren’t distinct (I had to follow closely the dialogue between Brett and Terra to keep straight who said what). In the entire book, I only caught a single mispronounced word – conflagration. It just happens to be one of my favorite words and that’s why the butchering of it stood out. The pacing and volume were all well done. Over all, a well-done narration.

What I Liked: The variety of substances abused; the different genres; the various tones; spiders!; genital drugs!; great cover art; pretty good narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing, it was an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining anthology.

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Drink, Drank, Drunk by Bill Stokes

StokesDrinkDrankDrunkNarrator: Johnny Mack

Publisher: Stokes Creative LLC (2017)

Length: 1 hour 19 minutes

Author’s Page

Originally written nearly 40 years ago, this journalistic report of Wisconsin drinking and alcoholism still is relevant today. Bill Stokes strikes a sound balance between harsh facts and humanizing a variety of alcoholics.

From teens to the working man to the house wife to the lonely pastor to the well-liked young man – anyone can go from light drinker to an alcoholic. Stokes includes more examples, but you get the picture with the few I’ve mentioned here. In a few sentences, he paints a vivid picture of each, making it easy to picture people I know in real life in the same position. I like that this work points out that many kids learn from their parents about using alcohol appropriately, or not.

This non-fiction essay includes a brief discussions of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and other ‘cures’. He brings up questions about the cycle of ‘curing alcoholics’ only to have them back in the system a few months or years later. The author is frank with the reader and includes his own experience with drinking heavily and how he has changed his life and why.

While there are plenty statistics, they are no longer accurate today. However, they are still starkly frightening. It does make me wonder what the current statistics are with the higher population. This work is definitely dated with references to women entering the work force and “that’s why they need to relax like the working men.” I don’t know how accurate that is but I would like to see something backing it up… or not.

Stokes does point at the alcohol industry and their lobbying of Wisconsin laws concerning who can drink, advertising, etc. quite often throughout the piece. Again, I would like to see how accurate that is for today’s alcohol lobbying and the industry.

I originally read this as an ebook which, unfortunately, had several typos. I believe these typos were introduced when the Word or PDF version was translated into the Kindle version. For example, several times an ‘I’ will be an exclamation mark or such. Anyway, I found the audiobook version much more enjoyable because I don’t get hung up on the typos.

Narration: Johnny Mack did a decent job on this one. Sometimes he has an odd pause and sometimes he doesn’t pause as we move from one section or chapter to another. Other than that, he gave a good performance. He never sounded bored with the subject matter.

What I Liked: Fun cover art; a serious subject; even tho it’s decades old, it’s still relevant today; author humanized the issue; audiobook is better than the ebook.

What I Disliked: References to women are sometimes dated; some odd pauses, or lack of them, in the narration.

Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism by Martha Grimes & Ken Grimes

GrimesDoubleDoubleWhy I Read It: I’ve known many alcoholics, lived with a few, and thought this mother-son memoir would be interesting.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you are looking for some fresh insights on alcoholism, this is a great book.

Narrators: Kate Reading & Holter Graham

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 6 hours 21 minutes

Martha Grimes may be best known for her mystery books. She is also an alcoholic. Her son, Ken Grimes, grew up in a single parent home and toyed with drugs and alcohol from a young age, burning out in his 20s. In this memoir, both Martha and Ken share their impressions of alcoholism, how society treated it growing up, and their own personal battles and reasons for staying sober.

This book was so approachable. Much of it read like a conversation over tea and biscuits with Martha and Ken Grimes. Growing up in an alcoholic household, so many things in this book rang true for me. While this is a nonfiction, I have no problem saying that I connected with both of the authors. I especially appreciated each talking about how society’s treatment of alcoholics has changed over the decades. While both entered into treatment, each chose different paths. One is an atheist and one is not. One went with Alcoholics Anonymous and one with a private clinic. While one toyed with drugs, the other did not.

On a more poignant level, the authors talk about Ken growing up with an alcoholic parent and never being sure of when or how Martha’s mood would swing. Additionally, Martha talks of her summers working at the family hotel and alcoholic mood swings of the manager – friendly and funny to furious in zero seconds flat. Their discussions of the constant vigilance, if not out right battle, against falling back into the bottle showed how strong a person needs to be to kick any addiction. They also have a great discussion about whether or not alcoholism should be considered a medical disease. It is not a question I had pondered before this book and has given me something to chew on.

Narration: Kate Reading and Holter Graham were perfect choices for the voices of Martha Grimes and Ken Grimes. They provided a clear narration of what was at times a difficult subject. I especially liked the sections that were conversations back and forth between Martha and Ken.

What I Liked: Even the tough parts were told straight forward; different view points on alcoholism and treatment; the generational differences were portrayed and shed some light older alcoholics I have known.

What I Disliked: The book might have benefited a bit from further explanation of the different stages of alcoholism and recovery, but this is a very minor comment and I won’t be knocking the book down a notch or two for it.

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