Posts Tagged ‘Garden of Fiends’

I’m a bit late with my 2017 list as the first month of 2018 is just about over (seriously, where did this year go?), but I still wanted to take a minute and share some of my favorite reads from this year. There is always a staggering amount of great horror books released every year, but this year felt like it was a really high mark for horror fiction. I’m already anticipating a ton of 2018 releases, so I have a feeling I will be saying the same thing next year!

This list is by no means exhaustive of all the books out there, some I was unfortunately unable to get to in time to include on this list. However, of the works I did get to read, these were among my favorites. There are a lot of books on here that appeared on numerous other lists, but I think you may find a few new selections and I hope that you will check them out and find something you enjoy. I also wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m so glad to be a part of the horror community. I have met so many great people through running The Horror Bookshelf that I talk to fairly regularly and other than talking about the books I love, it makes all the time that goes into writing posts totally worth it. I hope to meet more fellow bloggers and writers and to be more engaged in 2018. Now that I got all of my rambling out of the way, allow me to introduce you to my Favorite Reads of 2017!

Novels

1. Josh Malerman – Black Mad Wheel

Leading off my list of favorite reads for the year is Malerman’s stellar Black Mad Wheel. I have been a fan of Malerman’s ever since discovering his debut Bird Box, which was highly original and one of my favorite novels of the past few years. Black Mad Wheel follows Detroit-based rock band The Danes as they attempt to track down the source of a mysterious and extremely dangerous sound emanating from an African desert. Malerman’s characterization is top-notch and his experience as a musician is what makes The Danes come alive. Throw in a mystery that compels you to journey deeper into the desert with the Danes and you have a compulsively readable novel that shows why Malerman is quickly becoming a favorite among horror fans.

2. Jonathan Janz  – Exorcist Falls

Exorcist Falls is the sequel to Janz’s novella Exorcist Road, which was originally released through Samhain Horror and appears in print again in this Sinister Grin edition. Exorcist Falls kicks off with the original novella, which is great for people like me that missed Exorcist Road the first time around or those who wish to re-read it to experience the story as a whole. Exorcist Falls draws inspiration from the towering classics that started America’s fascination with possession stories William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Legion and starts with a quote from The Exorcist. I could go on for hours about how much I loved Exorcist Falls (and almost did in my review), but I will sum it up by saying Janz conjures up some truly diabolical evil in this novel and it features some of the most bone chilling scenes I have read in a possession story. This is right up there with Children of the Dark for my favorite Janz novel.

3. Ronald MalfiBone White

Ronald Malfi consistently puts out great novels and if you are a regular follower of The Horror Bookshelf, it should come as no surprise to see Malfi’s name near the top of my list. Last year The Night Parade was my top book of the year and really struck a chord in me especially as a new father. Bone White is a novel that stuck with me, but for far more sinister reasons. Bone White follows Paul Gallo as he ventures into the Alaskan wilderness to a town called Dread’s Hand in hopes of finding out the truth of what happened to his twin brother who went missing over a year ago. What he finds is a town that is superstitious and wary of outsiders, but that is only the start of a strange and dangerous journey that will alter Gallo’s life forever. Malfi steadily builds tension and fear throughout the course of Bone White which seeps into your bones and makes for a thrilling read. The remote Alaskan setting is perfect for story and Malfi utilizes that sense of isolation masterfully, so by the time you discover the crosses in the woods, you are creeped out beyond words. I recommend this novel at any time of the year, but this is a perfect read if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and find yourself snowed in. Bone White is a stunning novel athat has me looking forward to Malfi’s next work.

4. Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – Those Who Follow

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – who go by the nickname The Sisters of Slaughter- burst onto the scene last year with Mayan Blue, their Stoker nominated debut that took readers on a bloody trip into the Mayan underworld. Mayan Blue was a blast to read and ended up in my top 10 last year and I mentioned in my review that I couldn’t wait to see what they came up with next. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long as they released their sophomore novel Those Who Follow over the summer. I just squeezed this one in prior to starting this list and I am so glad I did. As much as I loved Mayan Blue, the Sisters of Slaughter have taken their writing to another level with Those Who Follow. This novel is dark and brutal, featuring a villain that relishes the torment and horror he inflicts on his victims. If you like your horror a little more on the extreme side, definitely add this one to your collection.

5. Paul KaneBefore

Before is one of three stellar novels released this year from Grey Matter Press. This was my first time reading Kane’s work and I was totally enthralled by the sprawling world he created in Before. I don’t want to delve too much into the novel as I have a more in-depth review in the works, but Before follows college professor Alex Webber who attempts to decipher the visions that plague him and avoid crossing paths with a being known as The Infinity. This is an engrossing novel that will appeal not only horror fans, but fans of other genres as well. Before is impressive in scope and the characters are excellent. I love the contrast of a seemingly average man going up against a force that wields a staggering power. Excellent novel and I can’t wait to dive into Kane’s other works, particularly Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell!

6. J. Danielle DornThe Devil’s Call

The Devil’s Call is the debut novel from J Danielle Dorn, who I was surprised to learn was a local author. The novel comes from Inkshares, who is a publisher definitely on the rise as they have released this one and A God in the Shed from J-F. Dubeau (which I haven’t read yet, but is sitting in my TBR pile). The Devil’s Call is an interesting mash-up of the horror and Western genres set in 1859. Li Lian Callahan witnesses the brutal murder of her husband Dr. Matthew Callahan while carrying their first child. Little does this band of men know, they are dealing with a powerful witch that travels from Nebraska to Louisiana to the Badlands in order to bring her husband’s killers to justice by any means possible. I went into this one fairly blind and was blown away by Dorn’s gift for storytelling. Normally I’m not a huge fan of Western’s, but there was something magical about this one that kept me riveted right from the beginning. Dorn’s decision to have the narrative reflect Li Lian writing to her unborn daughter was a risky one, but she pulls it off flawlessly. Li Lian is probably my favorite character from this year along with Trixie from Chad Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird, which appears later on this list. Outstanding characterization and a fresh twist on the revenge tale, Dorn is writer worth following and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

7. Hunter SheaWe Are Always Watching

Hunter Shea is another longtime favorite of The Horror Bookshelf and 2017 was a great year for Shea fans which saw the release of 2 novels and 4 novellas. We Are Always Watching is loosely based on a true story and follows West Ridley as he and his family move from New York to their grandfather’s rundown farm. Almost as soon as they move in, weird this begin happening around the farmhouse but the threats become all too real as Wes wakes up one day to see the words “WE SEE YOU” scrawled into his ceiling. As the danger beings to pile up, West must sift through long-held secrets and find a way to expose the mysterious Guardians once and for all. The paranoia Shea conjures up by having these events plague the family’s home is what makes this novel so good. A bit more “quiet” horror than readers are used to from Hunter, but it is refreshing and ranks pretty high up on my list of favorite Hunter Shea novels.

8. Ania AhlbornThe Devil Crept In

What makes The Devil Crept In such an engaging read is the originality of the premise. Throughout the novel, Ahlborn makes readers question just what exactly is happening in the woods of Deer Valley. There are hints scattered throughout this seemingly sleepy small town that something isn’t right, but you can’t quite place your finger on it. That nagging sense of mystery is part of the fun of this novel. Out of all the crazy ideas that ran through my head – cobbled together from years of reading horror novels and watching horror films – the truth behind what happened to Jude never crossed my mind. The Devil Crept In is another stellar offering from a gifted storyteller. An original premise, vivid characters and a great sense of atmosphere (not to mention some truly unnerving scenes) all mesh together to create a thrilling reading experience. If you haven’t read any of Ahlborn’s work yet, I highly recommend grabbing at least one of her books. I have a feeling once you read one, you’ll be hooked, just like I was!

9. J.D. BarkerThe Fourth Monkey

The Fourth Monkey is more of a psychological thriller, but it mines the same dark depths of the human psyche for inspiration that Forsaken did, making it a must read for fans of both genres. The Fourth Monkey is being described as Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs and that is a pretty accurate comparison. This is a chilling thriller that is compulsively readable and offers up plenty of twists and turns, hinting at a very interesting future for characters in this book. While I hope for a continuation of Forsaken, I am loving Barker’s journey into the thriller genre and can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

10. Karen RungeSeeing Double

Seeing Double is Karen Runge’s debut novel, coming from one of the best horror publishers around Grey Matter Press. This was one of the novels I was really looking forward to this year as I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then fully cementing myself as a life-long fan when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, this collection is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories and there were a few that utilized interesting formatting (layouts? structure?) that only added more power to her words. Needless to say when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double, I could barely contain my excitement.

Seeing Double is a character driven piece and Runge expertly breathes life into these characters, which is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story. Stories that depend on this sort of psychological tension and issues live and die on the strength of the author’s abilities to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative in Seeing Double, a novel that is sure to establish Runge as a force in the genre.

11. Chad StroupSecrets of the Weird

Chad Stroup’s Secrets of The Weird is a novel that has drawn comparisons to Clive Barker’s darker fantasy work, but honestly, defies easy description. Secrets of the Weird doesn’t exactly follow a linear approach in terms of the narrative of the story, but it works extremely well and enhances the story and allows for a vivid and personal look into the life of the main character Trixie. It alternates between the present (which if I remember correctly, is like 1991 or 1992 in the novel) and Trixie’s Diary entries from the late ’80s. Not only does the timeline remain fluid throughout much of the story, the point of view often switches between Trixie, members of the Civilized Cannibals, the Angelghoul and a few others. Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird is a wildly imaginative novel that is a must read for any dark fiction fan that is looking for something a little different. There is no denying Stroup is a talented new voice and his outstanding character development and willingness to experiment within the horror and fantasy genres have definitely made me a fan. I look forward to following Stroup’s future work and highly recommend grabbing a copy of this brilliant debut novel.

12. Glenn RolfeBecoming

I’ve been a huge fan of Glenn Rolfe’s work ever since I discovered his chilling debut The Haunted Halls. From there I devoured all of his books from Samhain. Becoming is an absolute blast, drawing from 80s horror movies, particularly creature features. Rolfe’s adrenaline-fueled style leads to an action packed story from start to finish. After the collapse of Samhain, I was worried it would be awhile before getting anything new from Rolfe. I was happy to be proven wrong. Rolfe has a few things in the works (a collection called Land of Bones and a novella called Follow Me Down) coming this year. If you haven’t read any of his books before, now is a perfect time to get started.

13. Russell JamesCavern of the Damned

James’ Cavern of the Damned is a fun read that delivers both adventure and horror in spades. The characters go up against giant, deadly prehistoric creatures all while trapped in a cave with virtually no weapons. Once I started this book, there was no putting it down until I reached the last page. I had a very minor issue with one of the subplots, but aside from that, Cavern of the Damned was a blast to to read. I could be wrong, but I think recently I saw that James said there was a sequel in the works. I hope that there are many more books to come in this series, I think he could do some really cool things with the idea developed in Cavern of the Damned.

14. Brian Fatah SteeleThere is a Darkness in Every Room

Steele’s novel is one that i think was severely underrated this year. Anyone who knows me or follows this blog knows about my borderline unhealthy obsession about UFOs and aliens and that is initially what drew me to Steele’s book. While Steele mixes in enough of “traditional” alien elements, he also injects a special blend of evil and madness that creates a unique and oftentimes bleak cosmic horror piece. Steele is a talented writer and luckily he announced an upcoming project through Bloodshot Books, so it shouldn’t be long until readers can get their hands on more of his stuff.

15. Catherine CavendishWrath of the Ancients

This was my first novel from Catherine Cavendish and I’m kicking myself for not checking out her work earlier. Cavendish offers up an atmospheric gothic horror tale that effortlessly blends together history and the supernatural to create an unsettling horror story that will appeal to almost any horror fan. While leaning a bit more toward quiet horror territory, there are plenty of hair-raising scenes draw from the steadily growing dread Cavendish creates over the course of Wrath of the Ancients. I’m definitely a fan and can’t wait to dive into some of her other works. This one is listed as Nemesis of the Gods #1, so I’m hoping there is more to come from this line even if they are only loosely connected.

Novella

1. Kealan Patrick Burke Blanky

Blanky focuses on Steve Brannigan, who is struggling to keep his life together after the tragic death of his infant daughter. He is estranged from his wife after the grief they both felt in the aftermath placed a strain on their marriage that drove them apart. Burke holds nothing back and starts Blanky with Steve giving a heartbreaking account of what it’s like to lose a child. Then Burke throws readers right into the story with one simple line, “That was the beginning of the end of my world. This is the rest of it.” Blanky is a devastating novella that utilizes emotion, atmosphere and outstanding characterization to create a truly haunting story. I remember when I read the synopsis, I knew this story was going to hit me hard. I’m a new parent and I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario than the one Steve and Lex face in Blanky. Burke did not disappoint as Blanky messed with my emotions and kept me glued to the pages, reading it in a single sitting and feeling like I took a sucker punch to the gut. If you’re looking to start discovering Burke’s work, this is a good place to start.

2. Ania AhlbornI Call Upon Thee

I’ve already gone over my love of Ania Ahlborn’s work more times than I can count, so I will jump right into I Call Upon Thee. This novella from Ahlborn follows Maggie as she returns to her childhood following a family tragedy. Maggie had a normal childhood for the most part until an innocent act as a child invited an evil from the local cemetery into her life that has refused to ever leave since. Maggie realizes she must confront her past in an attempt to vanquish the evil that has been responsible for so much heartache and tragedy, but it will not be an easy fight. When I originally read this, I was struck by its resemblance to my favorite Ahlborn novel The Bird Eater. It is its own unique story, but carries some of the same emotional undertones as that novel and that is probably why this one is probably the “1B” to The Bird Eater’s “1A” status. While Ahlborn conjures up some of her scariest scenes in I Call Upon Thee, it is the familial relationships that serve as the heart of this novel. A lean, mean story that proves why Ahlborn is one of my favorite storytellers.

3. Hunter SheaSavage Jungle

Hunter Shea has created numerous excellent horror novels that vary in topic, but there is no denying he is the king of cryptid novels. His stories that focus on infamous cryptids are always some of my most anticipated reads because they are high-octane reads that never lost their intensity from start to finish. It’s also evident that Shea shares my passion and interest in cryptid lore and he pours every bit of his extensive knowledge into these tales and then ratchets up the terror as high as possible. Savage Jungle has all of those hallmark traits and just when I thought this story couldn’t get any more insane (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible), Shea annihilates my expectations. For those who loved following the McQueen twins on their quest for revenge in Loch Ness Revenge, they will love this follow-up that finds them once again teaming up with their friend Henrik on his own personal vendetta. This time they trio venture into the depths of the Sumatran jungle in search of the Orang Pendek, but what they encounter is beyond their wildest dreams. There are other dangerous things waiting for them in the jungle and it takes every ounce of will power and weaponry to have a shot at escaping in one piece. This was another stellar entry into Shea’s body of work and a perfect example of why I will read anything he puts out, no questions asked.

Honorable Mention: Hunter SheaFury of the Orcas

I didn’t want to rank this one because it’s dedicated to me, but I’ll be damned if I don’t mention it in some capacity. Shea’s latest novella offering takes a look at what would happen if Orca whales suddenly went on the warpath and needless to say, the results aren’t pretty. This story is vintage Hunter Shea, full of absolute mayhem and tense scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat. If you haven’t already, snag a copy of this one from Severed Press. You can thank me later.

Anthologies/Collections

1. Josh MalermanGoblin

Goblin is a set of six novellas that all take place in the strange town of Goblin, where it is seemingly always raining and you definitely don’t want to cross paths with the ominous police force that seems to be made up of men who are a little…off. I don’t want to get too much into the novellas that make up Goblin as I am working on a pretty extensive review, but I was amazed at the way Malerman was able to give each one its own style and tone. Despite each novella being its own contained story, they all fit together neatly to form one cohesive whole. Goblin is a town that is filled with a dark history and bizarre events that will unsettle most horror fans, but despite the oddness and danger that is seemingly lurking below the surface, you won’t want to leave Malerman’s creation. There is no denying Malerman creativity and with this collection it really allows him to stretch his talents and the end result is six fantastic novellas and a town that will cement itself right alongside King’s Castle Rock and Derry.

2. Ed Erdelac – Angler in Darkness

I first heard about this collection of novellas from Shane Keene of Shotgun Logic and his recommendations are always golden, so I decided to check out this collection from Ed Erdelac. Angler in Darkness is his first collection of short fiction that spans over a decade and let me just say….why the hell aren’t more people talking about his work?! Erdelac’s prose is simply outstanding and he displays that in every single one of Angler in Darkness’ 18 stories. There is not a single lull in this collection and one of the things I love about Erdelac’s work is that he mixes in history and isn’t afraid to take on different eras for his settings. He also mines folklore and legends from other cultures, so each story is a breath of fresh air as he avoids most of the topics horror fans are already familiar with. Seriously, if you haven’t read anything by Erdelac yet, you need this collection. I will definitely be going back and checking out his novels, I have Andersonville waiting on my Kindle and am excited to check it out.

3. Garden of Fiends

A brilliant and original concept, Garden of Fiends captures the struggles of addiction and the horrors they inflict on those affected by it. Yes, it is dark and visceral, but with moments of hope throughout that make this a memorable collection of stories. Matthews’ has put together something truly special with Garden of Fiends and this is a must-read anthology for any horror fan. Featuring stories from Kealan Patrick Burke, Jessica McHugh, Max Booth III, Johann Thorsson, John F.D. Taff, Glen Krisch, Mark Matthews and Jack Ketchum.

4. Todd KeislingUgly Little Things

One of my earliest reviews for The Horror Bookshelf was Keisling’s Ugly Little Things – Volume One and I remember being completely absorbed by the wonderfully weird stories contained within that made me think of The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. This release contains some of those stories as well as some of the newer ones I had missed. It has almost been 3 years since I first read these stories and upon my second read through, they still pack the same punch as when I initially devoured these stories. It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but the one that sticks with me the most is “Saving Granny From The Devil”. It’s a visceral and emotionally engaging story, the perfect blend of the sort of horrible things we go through in real life and the supernatural. It is a semi-autobiographical tale and the honesty Keisling shows here is probably why this one continues to stick with me years later. Then to top things off, it contains the brilliant novella The Final Reconciliation, which I read for the first time this year. This story follows the tribulations faced by The Yellow Kings after they meet up with the mysterious Camilla, who promises to deliver The Yellow Kings the success they are looking for. However, her help doesn’t come without strings attached. The Final Reconciliation made it to the preliminary ballot stage of this year’s Stoker Awards and if there is any justice, it will be on the final ballot as well. An essential addition to your library and my anticipation to read his upcoming work, Devil’s Creek, is off the charts.

5. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – BREATHE. BREATHE. 

A tireless champion of horror fiction, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi breaks into the genre with her debut collection BREATHE. BREATHE. Her dark and vivid poetry and short stories will be sure to delight fans of dark fiction. What impressed me the most about Al-Mehairi’s work is the emotional power behind not just the poetry, but the stories as well. “Dandelion Yellow” is a heart-wrenching story that will haunt you long after you finish reading it. I had read it twice, once in the limited chapbook and then later in the extended ebook version, and each time it hit me like a ton of bricks. Another one of my favorites was “Destination: Valhalla Lane Loveless, Ohio”. This one had a really cool format that takes you into the households of a few couples on Valhalla Lane. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to read it, but these little stories within the story all tie together and I thought the structure was an excellent choice and an intriguing plot. The story stands strong as is, but I would love to see this concept fleshed out into a longer piece. This is a strong debut effort and I can’t wait to see what other stories Al-Mehairi has up her sleeve!

Special Mention

Grady Hendrix with Will ErricksonPaperbacks from Hell

This book gets its own section because it was the only horror based nonfiction book I read this year (which I want to change that for 2018), but also because it is just that damn good. My review of Paperbacks from Hell is the entry right below this one if you’re interested in learning more about it, but the short version is that this is a book that needs to be on every horror fiction fan’s bookshelf. It’s an incredible book and I hope that there is another volume or similar project in the works, but that’s mainly because I’m greedy and need more!

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BOOK INFO

Length: 210 Pages

Publisher: Wicked Run Books

Release Date: April 12, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Garden of Fiends opens with a pretty eye-opening introduction from Mark Matthews’, who put together this collection that details the horrors of addictions. There are numerous lines in this introduction that could some up this collection, but the one that stands out to me the most deals with the definition of horror itself. “Horror is just the volume of life turned up so high the reality breaks through the confines of normal everyday limits and explodes in a bloody mess.” That is a powerful and apt description of both what horror means and the stories that make up Garden of Fiends. What makes this introduction and collection as a whole stand apart – aside from the stellar writing found in the stories contained within – is that Matthews’ has seen these horrors first hand. Not only as someone who has battled addiction, but also through his work as a substance abuse therapist. He sees these horrors every day, up close and personal. I remember when I first heard about this project, which was when Matthews’ sent out the submission call. Just based on the premise alone, I was excited to read Garden of Fiends. A horror anthology that focuses on tales of addiction? I was hooked. Part of the reason was that it was a topic I could relate to. I may not have had to battle addiction directly, but it is something that has affected my family and something I have lived with for a large portion of my life. So did Garden of Fiends live up to the hype? You bet.

The first story is Kealan Patrick Burke’s “A Wicked Thirst”, a tale of a man who needs alcohol as a social lubricant, but quickly finds it consumes his life. Burke doesn’t waste any time hooking the reader as his story opens with a scene of the narrator drowning in a puddle with the only thought running through his mind is, “I am going to die“. The story quickly flashes back to a time when the narrator is on a date, before he ends up battling a nemesis that is determined to witness his demise. His addiction has robbed him of his smile, but he seems to accept it and the situation he finds himself in. Burke nails the extent of this man’s addiction through anecdotes and internal monologues that reveal the reason for his addiction and the ways it has impacted his life. While the mystery of who is attacking the narrator is creepy and ramps up the tension, this story shines due to the detail Burke gives to the narrator’s addiction and the things that it had cost him. This story details the loneliness and the depths addiction will bring you. Structurally, I liked how Burke alternates between scenes of the narrator recalling his date and fighting back against the person intent on breaking him until the story lines merge.

Jessica McHugh’s “The One in the Middle” is a tale that follows the life of Perry, a man who is addicted to atlys, a drug that is similar to heroin. Perry lives in an abandoned high school with other atlys users and is left only with the memories of a lost lover and the desire to score atlys, whatever the cost. This story differs a little from the others in that it takes place in a futuristic society, but the core of the story is the same and the horrors are all too real. Throughout “The One in the Middle”, readers experience the lengths people who have addictions will go to in order to try to satisfy the need that has taken over their bodies. I won’t get into it too much, but let’s just say most of the residents of the city who can’t afford atlys on their own resort to a practice known as “potsticking” to get their fix. It is something that will make your stomach churn, but is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the desperation people with addiction go through. McHugh’s contribution works well as a standalone story, but is taken from a novel called  The Green Kangaroos. After reading this story and being impressed by the rich characterization and extensive world-building, I need to grab a copy of that novel!

Max Booth III’s “Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will” follows a recovering heroin addict named Jeremy. He seems to have his life back on track, but quickly finds himself in a situation that fractures his mind and puts his sobriety in jeopardy. The less I say about this story the better because it really is one you need to read to believe and any type of summary I attempt to come up with will spoil the experience. I will say that it is likely to be a divisive story in this collection that readers will either love or hate, I don’t think there will be too much middle ground on this one. I love that Booth holds nothing back in this story and I am not ashamed to say this story made me cringe more than once. There are scenes in this story that seem like hallucinogenic nightmares and though they will make you squirm, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the page. This is the first time I have read Booth’s work but considering the dark, twisted images that will be seared into my brain for a long, long time, I have a feeling it won’t be my last!

While many of the stories in Garden of Fiends are longer, Johann Thorsson offers up a chilling flash fiction piece called “First, Bite Just a Finger”. It follows a woman named Julia, who is invited to a peculiar party where she ties something for the first time that quickly consumes her every thought. Not only does this flash fiction piece accurately portray what addiction is and the hold it takes on those who have faced it, the core of the story also represents what addiction can do to a person both physically and mentally.

“Last Call” by John F.D. Taff is the only story I was familiar with prior to reading Garden of Fiends and is one that stuck with me because it raises questions that I could relate to personally. This story follows a man named Ted, who is an alcoholic that has been through many AA groups, but can’t seem to shake the addiction that has taken over his life. However, at one particular meeting, right when Ted thinks he may have to move on yet again, his sponsor offers him a way out. It is a last-ditch effort from someone who truly cares about Ted, but he offers him up a warning – this is your last chance. This is an entertaining story with a twist that I truly didn’t see coming until it was too late. Even when you figure out where Taff is leading you, the ending still leaves a lasting emotional impact. Taff is one of my favorite writers and I never fail to be impressed with his mastery of the short story format.

“Torment of the Fallen” by Glen Krisch is an entertaining and chilling story that follows Maggie, a girl who has been on the run for most of her life due to her unique gift. She has no real connections in the real world, but finds solace in the persona she has created online. It is through her online network that she finds information about her estranged father, tied to a story about paranormal phenomena. She leaves in search of answers, but what she uncovers is something she never could have prepared to face. I loved this story and my only real complaint is that I wish there was more!

Mark Matthews’ “Garden of Fiends” is an intriguing story that follows the life of Tara Snyder and her family. Matthews story has a gritty, realistic feel and not only offers the perspective of Tara and her struggles with addiction, but the perspective of her father who would do anything to save her. I loved this story and it really brings home the pain that addiction causes to anyone unlucky enough to be snared in its path. I also enjoyed the surprise Matthews’ had in store for those who were already fans of his work. I remember the first time I read Matthews’ work and I knew I was going to be a fan for life. He adds a level of realism to his work that amplifies the horrors that he unleashes because you feel like they could happen to you, even if aspects of the story defy explanation. If you have yet to experience Matthews’ brand of fiction, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lily’s Tale: The Milk-Blood Trilogy. You won’t be disappointed.

The collection wraps up with Jack Ketchum’s “Returns”. The narrator witnesses his wife Jill as her life begins spiraling out of control due to her drinking and she begins neglecting every aspect of their life, including caring for their cat Zoey. Unfortunately for him, he is powerless to stop her despite his best efforts. “Returns” may be a little short, but it’s a powerful story that is sure to tug on your heartstrings.

Addiction has impacted the lives of so many people, and I think this collection will really resonate with readers. I loved the variety of stories and there is something for every horror fan whether your tastes run more toward the extreme or the subtle end of the spectrum. A brilliant and original concept, Garden of Fiends captures the struggles of addiction and the horrors they inflict on those affected by it. Yes, it is dark and visceral, but with moments of hope throughout that make this a memorable collection of stories. Matthews’ has put together something truly special with Garden of Fiends, and there is no doubt in my mind that this will end up as one of my favorite collections of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Wicked Run Press /Mark Matthews Official Website

Purchase Garden of Fiends: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!