The After by David Hernandez

Narrator: Rick Gregory

Publisher: David Hernandez (2017)

Length: 1 hour 36 minutes

Author’s Page

Peter has an obsession with solving this ancient question – what happens after death? From his childhood when he loses his beloved pet, he has been driven to find the answer. Now he just might have found the key to unlocking this secret.

Dude, bro, dude, bro…. These two words were over used in this work.

The basic premise is an interesting one. Of course most of us would like an answer as to what happens after death. Peter has become a hazard to those around him with his quest to find the answer. Using his software engineering skills, he created a gizmo that can capture a few seconds of info on the after life. He needs more data, more subjects, and that becomes a slippery slope. From animal experiments to questionable uses for the elderly, Peter blows past these limits that most of humanity would hold to. The mechanics of how the gizmo worked were left very vague and I would have liked that tightened up a bit. I don’t need schematics but I need more than ‘Hey, look I invented this thing last night in the basement and I bet it’ll answer this big, huge question all of humanity has!’

Besides the over use of drunken college slang between Peter and his best friend Brian, the story is written in a screen play format which came across as a bit clunky in the audiobook format. Perhaps this works better visually as a text edition. For me, it made the story feel a bit disjointed. One scene didn’t flow smoothly into the next.

Peter’s girlfriend, Vanessa, is a bit clingy and seems to be just filler. I wasn’t impressed with her character and I think she may have been the only female character… There may have been some other incidental female, but if so, I don’t recall her. As usual, I would have liked a better gender balance and if you can’t do that, than make your single lady count.

Peter’s experiments eventually do come back to bite him and I liked that part of the book. It had a little bit of a karmic feel to it: you get what you put out there and Peter’s getting it.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory did a pretty good job. My one quibble is that his voice from Vanessa sometimes came off as cartoony and really whiny. He did have a great voice for Peter, being able to take that voice from sounding like kid Peter, to teen Peter, to adult Peter. He did really well with the over use of Dude and Bro, never sounding like he was rolling his eyes each time he had to utter these terms one more time.

What I Liked: Basic premise held promise; Peter’s obsession and how he breaks one limit after another; the karmic ending.

What I Disliked: One scene didn’t flow easily into another; the gizmo was so vague; the dialogue was repetitive; Vanessa was just filler.

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.

What Others Think:

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The Head by Brian Barr

Narrator: Rick Gregory

Publisher: Brian Barr (2017)

Length: 48 minutes

Author’s Page

What would you do if you found a lone human head in the yard? You’d probably do something practical, like dial 911 or bury it. What if that head started talking to you and begged not to be left alone? Yep. That’s the situation our heroine Elizabeth finds herself in.

This tale is equal parts horror, suspension, love story, and humor. First, it’s a decapitated head named Bill complaining about a headache. Ha! Poor Bill doesn’t have many memories but he does enjoy Elizabeth’s company. As time goes by, Elizabeth comes to care for Bill as well despite Bill’s off-putting odor.

Things move along as Bill insists they go in search of his body. More memories come back and Elizabeth is drawn into a twisted paranormal situation. Let’s just say that Bill comes from a messed up family.

It was fun and I wasn’t expecting so much humor nor the love story. Also, on a personal note, my husband’s name is Bill and I couldn’t help but picture his head as The Head in this tale. That just added to the enjoyment of this story, not that I want to decapitate the man. Just if he ever ends up in that situation, I’d like to think I would love him all the same. For such a short story, it was full of entertaining surprises.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory did a great job as Bill the detached head. He fluctuated between serious and caring, pleading and decisive, with ease. His character voices were distinct though I felt that Elizabeth could sound a bit more feminine without sounding slightly cartoony.

What I Liked: Surprising twists!; Ha! A love story!; bits of horror but not gratuitously so; humor mixed in as well.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it was an unexpectedly funny love story.

What Others Think:

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Don’t Call Me Victim by Carrie Crist

Narrator: Rick Gregory

Publisher: Carrie Crist (2017)

Length: 39 minutes

Author’s Page

The police have arrested Paul on suspicion of kidnapping and harming Terri. However, they can’t find Terri. Interrogating Paul only brings up more questions. He’s convinced that Terri is really his ex-girlfriend Missy, who he is still obsessed with. Who did what to whom? The police may never get the full story.

This was a clever little bit of fiction in which the reader is never quite sure who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Also in regards to Paul, his version of the facts may be a bit skewed. At first, I was totally on Terri’s side, believing Paul to be a bit unhinged. However, later my sympathies shifted a bit. I still thought Paul was a bit unhinged but Terri obviously wasn’t being totally forthcoming.

If you need just a short break from your humdrum life, this is a great short piece of psychological thriller. There’s a few bloody scenes but it’s not a gorefest at all. I decided in the end that while I didn’t want to be best buds with any of the characters, I did find them quite interesting. There’s definitely something more going on than what first meets the eye.

The Narration: Rick Gregory did a really great job playing an unhinged Paul. He portrayed the various emotions quite well and sounded engaged in the story all the way through. His female character voices could use a touch more femininity.

What I Liked: Story always had me guessing; there is more going on than we first suspect; my sympathies shifted from character to character as I learned more.

What I Disliked: Nothing. It was a very interesting short story.