Posts Tagged ‘Wicked Run Press’

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!

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FinalKDPintroAll Smoke Rises4 - Digital

Length: 113 Pages

Publisher: Wicked Run Press

Release Date: February 8, 2016

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review

All Smoke Rises opens with a stunning prologue that puts readers in the shoes of a doctor at the Sharepoint Psychiatric Hospital. You still feel the crushing weight of the mental illnesses of your patients – surrounded daily by the sounds of orderlies chasing patients through the halls – even after 17 years on the job. You walk out into the hallway after hearing yet another struggle and the latest rowdy patient, who is covered in blood, looks directly into your eyes and says, “You. You let him go. You did it. Now you must read and learn what happened”. It is a proclamation that would make most people freeze in terror, but it is a situation you have witnessed thousands of times before. The man checked himself in and no one has a clue who he is because there is no ID or cellphone on him, all he had on him was a bag crammed full of papers.

You drive home reflecting on your day-to-day life, consumed by the stress of the job and doing whatever you can to keep both the darkness and loneliness at bay. It seems like the same routine you have followed your whole career until the night the man from Sharepoint breaks into your home. Fearing for your life, you are stunned when the man makes a simple request following a string of strange ramblings – he slaps down a large pile of papers and demands you read what he wrote and see the truth. This is when you learn about Lilly’s tragic story and how she transformed into what she is now. Right before a tragic scene, he demands you read the pages until the end because you must. This opening is meant to grab your attention instantly and it works to chilling effect.

It is with that insistent urge to read the pages of this mysterious man’s story that kick off the story of All Smoke Rises. Readers of Milk-Blood will remember the tragic story of Oscar and All Smoke Rises opens with his mom, Crystal. She is at the parole office to visit with Agent Hastings, an officer that has quite the reputation among all of those who are assigned to her. Crystal knows that Hastings would love nothing more than to see her behind bars again, but she is determined to never go back again. Crystal was sentenced to five years in prison for child endangerment following the death of her young son Oscar and though she is out, she is haunted by the guilt of that fateful night. She still lives with Avanti and helps him with his business despite the fact that getting caught would ruin her life forever. She still finds herself staring at her former home, the site of Oscar’s death and haunted by the memories of his loss.

Matthews offers an unflinching look at the darkness that lurks on streets like Brentwood and we finally learn the fates of both Jarvis and Lilly following the events of Milk-Blood. Jarvis is still hanging around, though he is even more terrifying than when readers last saw him. There are vicious attacks on drug users that frequent the area, never to be heard from again. Those attacks are the work of Jarvis, who kills drug users to get Lilly the blood she needs to survive. Lilly is a shell of her former self, but she holds a power that was not present in her former life. When Lilly is in the throes of her withdraw, she endures horrific pain, but that is only the beginning of her frightening new reality. Lilly hears the voices of those who have long since passed on from the hardened street of Brentwood, voices that never stop and implore her to do all kinds of things. She is able to hear them, but unable to communicate back.

However, Jarvis knows how to pull Lilly back from the brink, an act that fills her with remorse, but one that is necessary. The one thing that helps keep her going is the thought of her Uncle Nelson, who still lives on that same street, feeling no remorse for his decision that led Lilly down a path of pain and death. Lilly is consistently straddling the line between life and death and when she slips closer to death, she is plagued by disturbing visions. Jarvis still commits acts of extreme violence and is prone to outbursts, but providing for Lilly keeps him from going completely off the rails. It doesn’t take long for Crystal to cross paths with Lilly and they form a fateful bond that will transform both of their lives forever.

Once I started All Smoke Rises, I knew I was in for a treat and I actually read it in one sitting. The reason for my feverish reading was that I loved Milk-Blood. I couldn’t wait to see what happened to these characters and how they attempted to move on after the violent and crushing aftermath of the first novel. The more I read, I felt compelled to finish the story. The prologue was effective because it makes you believe that you are a part of the story and you feel like you need to finish what has been started. Matthews is a talented writer and his ability to capture your emotions with his dark prose is commendable.

Mark Matthews offered up one of the most original concepts in recent memory with the books in the Milk-Blood world and All Smoke Rises is even better than the first. There are a lot of things to love about this novella – the originality and the ability to take real-world horror and blend it with the supernatural to chilling effect. While Milk-Blood focused more on real life horrors with only dashes of the supernatural, All Smoke Rises ramps up the supernatural element and it is completely terrifying. While the concept of Lilly and Jarvis’ affliction is his own creation, I thought it was cool that Matthews takes familiar horror ideas and warps them into something new. While Lilly’s need for blood to survive instantly makes me think of vampires, she is a truly unique character that you will definitely want to read about. Mark Matthews captures the darkness that lurks in the very neighborhoods we inhabit and sheds a light on a very serious problem and the events that cause them.

I loved the way Matthews handled the structure of Milk-Blood and he does some interesting things with All Smoke Rises as well. Matthews puts the reader right into the action by utilizing a 2nd person point of view in the opening portion of the novella. The reader is not merely a spectator but a key character in the sadness and darkness that permeates every page. I also liked that Matthews chose to switch viewpoints throughout the story, it is a great move that allows the reader to see certain scenes from many different perspectives.

While All Smoke Rises is a sequel to the events of Milk-Blood, it works well as a standalone story. Matthews recaps the events of Milk-Blood in an interesting way and although you don’t need to read it to know whats going on, I recommend it. Although a lot of the moments in All Smoke Rises are full of sadness and desperation, there is also a glimmer of hope. I highly recommend all horror fans picking up a copy of All Smoke Rises, it is a frightening and emotional story that will stick with you long after you finish it.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Mark Matthews’ Official Website

Purchase All Smoke Rises from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

milkblood

I am excited to help spread the word that Mark Matthews’ stellar novel Milk-Blood has been optioned for film by Monkey Knuckle Films! I am extremely happy for Mark on his huge accomplishment, he is one hell of a writer and I highly recommend picking up his books. The option also includes the rights to The Damage Done, a prequel story that introduces readers to the mentally ill heroin addict Jarvis. I remember when I read Milk-Blood last year and I was impressed with the originality and rawness of the story. Matthews’ strong characterization and descriptions of Brentwood – a dangerous part of Detroit that is filled with abandoned, burned-out homes and drug dealers – seem like they will translate extremely well to the big screen. Here is the announcement:

MILK-BLOOD, a novel by Mark Matthews, has been optioned for a full length feature film by Monkey Knuckle Films. The option includes rights to the short story, The Damage Done, a companion piece to the novel.

MILK-BLOOD is true reality horror with supernatural elements that only serve to make it more believable,” explains executive producer Michael Bradford. “The story will certainly hold an audience.”

MILK-BLOOD is the story of a ten-year-old girl named Lilly, born with a heart defect, who lives on a Detroit street where poverty, urban despair, addiction, and both the living and the dead threaten her outside her doorstep. The author has tapped into this experience as a social worker to create what one review site calls, “an urban legend in the making.”

Monkey Knuckle Films is a newly created LLC, but the founders have a long history of horror, and have worked with actors such as Sid Haig from The Devil’s Rejects, and much of the cast of The Evil Dead. They are currently in post-production for the horror film, “Elder Island“, set for release in 2016. MILK-BLOOD was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Best Kindle Book Awards and is available in paperback, Kindle, or audiobook on Amazon.

I praised the novel in my review and the balance of real-life horror and supernatural made this one of the most original horror novels I have read in years. I didn’t formally publish a “Best of” list last year, but if I did, Milk-Blood would have easily been near the top. I promise that I am not just saying that because Mark was kind enough to put my blurb on the cover, which has to rank as one of the coolest achievements in The Horror Bookshelf’s history. If you want to get a head start on the story, pick up a copy of The Damage Done, which is currently being offered as a free download on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed!

Mark’s announcement also comes with a few other surprises for fans of his work. He revealed that a sequel to MILK-BLOOD is scheduled for release in early 2016. Here is what he had to say: “The sequel is some twisted material,” says Matthews, “but with a purpose. Horror without heart doesn’t appeal to me, and I don’t think to many readers.” In addition to the big news, Mark is offering up a free download of Milk-Blood to the first ten people to email him at  WickedRunPress@gmail.com . No word yet on distribution for the film, but I will definitely be watching when the film is released! Be sure to stop by Mark’s blog for more information about his writing and check out some of his other great books on his Amazon page.

 

milkblood

Publisher: Wicked Run Press

Release Date: July 9, 2014

Length: 157 Pages

Submitted by the author for review

Synopsis: Lilly is ten years old, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can’t stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.

For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly’s true father, and both want their daughter back.

Milk-Blood is the newest horror novel from author Mark Matthews and focuses on Lily, a young girl who lost her mother and was born with a heart defect that made her stand out from the other kids. Lily lives on a street called Brentwood, a dangerous part of Detroit that is filled with abandoned, burned-out homes and drug dealers. Anyone that has ever lived in or near a big city knows what these sections of towns are like. The news often reports the real-life horror stories of murders, theft and every other crime imaginable and for a lot of us, that is the extent of our exposure. However, with Milk-Blood, Matthews places the reader right in the middle of one of these neighborhoods and offers a vivid look at the daily struggles of Lily and her family.

Lily’s father, Zach, is dependent on the grandmother’s food stamps in order to keep the family functioning. Often times throughout the novel, characters are constantly stating that they just need to make it until the first of the month and everything will be fine, for a few weeks at least. These characters are fighting for their survival on a daily basis and it requires a delicate balancing act.

After reading Matthews’ previous novel, On The Lips of Children, I remember praising the way he brought the characters to life and his strong characterization definitely carries over into Milk-Blood. Zach is an interesting character due in part to his ambiguous sense of morality. He has done a lot of horrible things, but it’s hard to paint him as an entirely bad person. His dark past has cost people their lives and yet he raises Lily – a child that is not his own – the best he can and cares for his elderly mother, fighting to do whatever it takes to keep them safe. His attempts at doing the right thing does not offset the horrors he has inflicted, but it does make him a unique and interesting character.

I also loved the way Matthews’ portrays Lily’s home-life by utilizing a brief interaction with a school counselor to really hammer home the struggles Lily faces on a daily basis. The counselor begins to ask Lily questions about her home-life, but then becomes distracted and in this brief moment we get an idea of who Lily is and how she was raised. Lily uses this interruption to formulate a response and reminds herself not to mention how they use the stove to heat the home when the heat is shut off or how her dad hits walls when he is angry.

The real-life horrors depicted in Milk-Blood are enough to scare you, but when Matthews introduces the mentally ill heroin addict Jervis and adds in a dash of the supernatural, the story becomes downright terrifying. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the last three chapters of Milk-Blood are guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat!

A few weeks ago I called Milk-Blood one of my “most anticipated summer reads” and now that I’ve read it, it far surpassed the hype I had built up in my mind. Milk-Blood is an incredibly powerful story and is one of the most original horror novels I have read in years. I highly recommend picking up a copy when it is released early next month, you won’t be disappointed!

Rating: 5/5

Links

Mark Matthews’ Official Website

Mark Matthews’ Amazon Page

Purchase Milk-Blood on Amazon