Nat Cassidy’s Mary: An Awakening of Terror – After losing her job in New York, a chance call brings Mary back to her hometown to take care of her sick aunt Nadine. However, this is not a welcome change of pace as Mary has been suffering in silence from ghastly visions of her own body decaying and the town brings up painful memories from the past. It does not help that Mary soon finds herself surrounded by the ghosts of murdered women, thrusting her back into her past to discover why they are plaguing her and the mystery behind the mangled apparitions that are inexplicably drawn to her.
What makes Nat Cassidy’s Mary such an enticing read is the author’s ability to balance shocking material through a strong character.
The following book review contains mild spoilers for Mary’s character..
Certainly, the book has elements of body and supernatural horror with Mary having visions of her body decaying while haunted by the ghosts of past victims, yet these subjects become disturbing because of who Mary is as a person and not because of the sensational imagery Cassidy is so skilled at crafting. Instead, Mary’s life of extreme introversion, always trying to make herself as small as possible, transforms these visions into a personal reflection of suffering.
The result is a very approachable form of horror storytelling, where it is easy to get wrapped up in the mystery of Mary’s background and her internal struggles. These elements are equal to indulgences in macabre material in evoking a sense of dread from the reader. This broadens the appeal to not just the hardcore horror readership.
To touch on the more horror-heavy elements, Cassidy brilliantly taps into the paranoia of his character, and the description of bodily decay or mangled ghosts manages to both play on Mary’s own insecurities while being very graphic in detail. This is a case where psychological horror would fit the bill better in describing the horror elements, despite it being very focused on elements that may seem more apt in horror that is hyperfocused on the degradation of the body and mind.
This is further echoed in the relationships of those around Mary, as the visions, arguably, play a secondary role in her own internal strife. Monologue plays an integral role in the story, and Mary’s interactions with the townsfolk and her overbearing aunt, Nadine, create a sense of tragedy in the character that rivals the intensity of terror.
This approach also does lead to the one negative in the work. Mary is a difficult character to empathize with at times as her immensely introverted nature gives the character a slightly nihilistic edge (at points).
As the story progresses and more is revealed about her past these ruminations begin to make sense, yet Mary is a hard character to connect with on a personal level–even as an introvert myself. This may vary by reader, and as the book reaches its conclusion after a few meticulously constructed twists this becomes an afterthought.
Furthermore, Mary is a complex character, and even if there is a lack of connection on a level that evokes empathy/sympathy she is a fascinating persona that reflects the immense talent of Cassidy in bringing Mary to the pages.
This release certainly takes some intense twists in the story, and while I would love to explore how the elements of horror transform to even switch from the early genre of supernatural horror into something deeply sinister, the narrative is best left to be discovered by the reader. Regardless, the book will certainly draw in readers of both horror and mystery with how it develops–that experience is definitely best left as unspoiled as possible.
Coming away from “Mary: An Awakening of Terror“ the only critique I could muster was how Mary does not always feel like an empathetic character. Though, whether this was the point is moot when looking at the exceptional skill Cassidy has to weave a mystery with heavy macabre tones that keep the pages turning. A deeply disturbing read that works for both fans of horror and mystery, “Mary“ is a unique exercise in terror where social interactions hold as much weight as a bloodied apparition–a must-read!
Dissonant Harmonies Book Review: For Dissonant Harmonies, Bev Vincent and Brian Keene come together for a unique concept on their novella published by Cemetery Dance. It is, in fact, two novellas – one written by each author to a playlist selected by the other.
Both authors having discovered that they enjoy writing to music, the idea was born that they would choose a playlist for the author to write to.
The rules were that they could only write each perspective story while listening to the playlist chosen for them by the other author.
Dissonant Harmonies Cool title, but what does it mean?
Consonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are agreeable or easy to listen to and make pleasing sounds. Dissonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are relatively harsh and grating. These are often difficult sounds to listen to, and so the ear will seek out the resolution in the chords that follow. [Discovering music through listening – OpenLearn – Open University]
For those of us not well versed in music, I found a YouTube video that explained the effect. I wish I had looked this up before reading the book, since the effect is certainly unsettling, and definitely worthy of being featured in some creeptacular horror film.
Bev Vincent’s novella, chosen for him by Brain Keene, is titled The Dead of Winter, and the playlist for it includes a wide array of artists such as Ice-T, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Queen, Moby, Johnny Cash, and Alice in Chains.
Is there a better sound track for a horror novel called The Dead of Winter than When it’s Cold I’d like to Die by Moby?
The Dead of Winter takes place in Bayport, Rhode Island during (you guessed it) the dead of winter. The tale follows two estranged brothers that come together when Frank, a newly made police officer, hears of some troubling disappearances occurring in his hometown – and flies up from Texas to look into it further. His brother, Joey, finds himself helping in Frank’s unauthorized investigation, as the small town is pummeled by a particularly brutal winter storm.
When the two brothers discover tunnels dispersed throughout the town in the homes of the victims that only Joey can see, their search for answers continues in earnest – aided by the town sheriff. It seems something supernatural and evil is brewing, and Joey could be its next victim.
Brian Keene’s novella, The Motel at the End of the World, features a playlist chosen for him by Bev Vincent. Featuring some classic 70s and 80s such as Supertramp, Goldfrapp, The Alan Parson’s Project, Elton John, The Electric Light Orchestra, and Pink Floyd – to name a few, there are definitely a lot of angry male vibes in this soundtrack which pair well with the narrator.
The Motel at the End of the World is a monologue that tackles the phenomenon known as “The Mandela Effect.”
The narrator makes several compelling arguments that will have the reader Googling each case in point. Starting with The Berenstain Bears (not The Berenstein Bears…. apparently) and moving on to name other commonly misremembered quotes and events whether from The Bible, or Star Wars, or even Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.
The result of all of these very valid examples of The Mandela Effect is certain to leave the reader feeling extremely unsettled, and questioning everything they ever knew. Just when Keene has you questioning your own sanity, this novella takes a diabolical turn. What if The Mandela Effect is actually the result of something much larger at play?
What if it’s the result of some sort of alternate reality? Like in an apocalyptic scenario taking place in a motel room with the reader left in the dark; this is a terrifying tale that is certain to stick with you long after reading.
Both novellas are equally compelling and terrifying, The Dead of Winter delivers an excellent small town supernatural horror yarn, while The Hotel at the End of the World has a significant Black Mirror feel to it and is a fantastically bite-sized supernatural thriller. These novellas gets 5 stars from this author, and this book is definitely one that I will be picking up for a re-read!
If you would enjoy hearing more about the musical aspect of this novella, head on over to An Empty Bliss Magazine, to hear our thoughts on the playlist for Dissonant Harmonies.
After a car crash, Ogi awakens to find himself barely alive, caught in a vegetative state unable to communicate or move. After learning from the doctors that his wife did not survive the crash his sole surviving family member, his mother-in-law, begins to take care of his every need. However, when she discovers her daughter’s notes that point to past transgressions of Ogi. The mother-in-law begins odd obsessive behavior which aims to push Ogi to the brink of insanity — left to slowly rot with minimal care.
Being judged for one’s own actions can be a horrifying experience in itself, let alone adding in the nightmare of being trapped in a broken body unable to defend oneself against the onslaught. Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a horror/thriller existing in this realm of perverse uncomfortableness, having a caregiver slowly transform into a menacing force with full control over the life of another.
The book has been compared to books like Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery.
And one can push even so far as to say it challenged the depressing body horror of titles like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.
While the book does capitalize on the unease and horrors that come with captivity, both in one’s own body and by an exterior force, The Hole is unlikely to reach the same level of accolades heaped upon the previously mentioned titles. However, that does not mean the book is without merit or that it pales in comparison of a familiar formula.
*Slight spoilers ahead
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole, undeniably, excels at capturing the waking nightmare of slow, meticulous abuse at the hands of another. Ogi’s internal struggles, a mix of reflecting on the past and trying to rationalize the current scenario he is in, paints a really tragic portrait. This is also heightened by the character’s humanity, as a man who is aware of the mistakes he made and is still trying to do well. As his mother-in-law learns of his marital problems the reader is aware of the narrative, as she understands it, is very one-sided.
Furthermore, Ogi is aware that his actions were wrong but also that his wife was not without blame. This is approached in a very mature practical manner, as Ogi explores the harsh reality that sometimes people just drift apart. Notably, the image he had of his wife when they first fell in love faded as they changed, him finding her dull and uninspiring is not so much born out of cruelty but two people drifting apart. Ultimately, The highlight of the novel has to be Hye-Young Pyun’s exploration of Ogi as a character through internal dialogue, painting the portrait of a man who does not deserve punishment, yet can also be seen as deserved from a third party.
However, where The Hole begins to slightly falter is in the development of other characters and dialogue, the change from self-reflection to being present in the room with others never holds the same profundity of Ogi stuck in dark ruminations. The mother-in-law, though intimidating feels more like the embodiment of justice over being a character unto herself.
There are also moments of narrative convenience, and even the set-up of the mother-in-law finding the notes of her daughter seems a bit contrived, in the sense she meticulously collected and recorded any argument, action, or negative word that she felt reflected her husband poorly. His status among peers and not having any family of his own also feels shoehorned in to capture that sense of isolation in an immediate fashion. It does make the situation grave and more tragic, yet Ogi can feel very one-dimensional at points due to the ambiguity of the situation and his lack of personal life beyond his wife.
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a deeply engaging read, that will draw fans of thrillers in with its frightening scenario and dread-inducing prose in exploring internal dialogue. It does feel a bit rough around the edges and some of the scenarios feel contrived and underdeveloped, but the overall experience is one of extreme discomfort that is certain to make the right reader squirm in all the right ways.
Gwendy’s Final Task Soars! A Spoiler Free Book Review examines the latest in the Gwendy trilogy, Gwendy’s Final Task, coauthored by bestselling authors Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.
Spectacular and moving … there’s just no one like Gwendy.
This is a SPOILER-FREE** Preview Book Review of Gwendy’s Final Task by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. We may re-examine this book at TFF in more detail, with SPOILERS, in a couple months’ time – it is that good of a read! But you may want to read the first two books in the Gwendy Series before tackling this book.
There are three major players in this book: Gwendy, those forces opposed to her, and the button box itself.
The button box is a keystone for power: good and evil can be performed by it, in large doses or small.
Gwendy is a good person, at heart, and so she understands this and has been one of its better caretakers, it seems, but that does not make the choice of using or not using the button box any easier.
Still the gravity of this escapes her, because the thought that extremely powerful entities will stop at nothing to claim the button box does not cross her mind until that is told to her flat out.
For fans of previous works of Stephen King and his many worlds, and also previous works of Richard Chizmar, Gwendy’s Final Task is a rare animal-shaped chocolate treat that you cannot resist.
The story passes through Castle Rock and another infamous town – and still horrifying – from Stephen King’s works, on and up to the space station.
When we last saw Gwendy, in Gwendy’s Magic Feather, she was 37, a Congresswoman, and had been sent the button box for the second time, as crises developed all around her.
She was only supposed to have the button box one time, at least that is what Farris said in Gwendy’s Button Box.
Now Senator Gwendy Peterson is older again and her third time with the button box will take her from Castle Rock and planet earth up into to outer space.
This is both remarkable in the achieving and very necessary for the plot.
The world building by King and Chizmar is paramount to this modern fairy tale enveloping the reader.
The very experience of anticipating the takeoff and having the tablets and instructions needed to manage one’s own controls from their seat draws the reader in.
The responses of the crew (and its computer), the dialogue and banter, from serious-to-jovial, and the setting all pave the way to a ratcheting thriller taking place in the near future and, at times, in zero gravity.
Gwendy is one of the “celebrity” guests on the way to the space station.
And as the story goes back and forth from Gwendy’s brilliant but troubled mind out in space to her memories and the happenings on earth, you cannot help but feel the anxiety that Gwendy feels, again and again.
She has a mission. And it only gets more difficult by the day, the hour, the minute.
The circumstances are dire, and Gwendy’s grip leaves dents in your heart.
The Richard Farris we have all come to know, he is on the cover, and I will confirm he is back, and I will say he has a significant part to play, as he did in the first two books in the Gwendy Series.
We learn a great deal more of Farris and of Gwendy too, and of what the button box can do. These three entities have all been revealed more and more throughout the trilogy when things are at their worst.
So the suspense meter is high, the horrors of earth and space run rampant, and the ending to Gwendy’s Final Task will leave you floored.
This ending moves the reader in a truly profound way.
The Dark Tower Ties To Gwendy’s Final Task
The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King’s magnum opus that begins with The Gunslinger – looms largely on all of the covers of every edition of Gwendy’s Final Task, so you assumed right: there is a connection.
And it is definitively one of the more closely tied books to the Dark Tower amongst the bevy of Stephen King’s works.
I will just say this to the authors: thank you.
A last word on Gwendy and collaborative character building:
I can think of only two characters, each born of two authors pairing up to create a character’s brains, courage, and soul that makes for some of the strongest and compelling people in the world of fiction.
Peter Straub and Stephen King’s Jack Sawyer is one of these, and Richard Chizmar and Stephen King’s creation of Gwendy Peterson is the other.
Richard Chizmar’s Gwendy’s Magic Feather forwards an odyssey undertaken by Gwendy who was just twelve when she was made caretaker of a device that impacted her world and ours: it was the rewarding, dangerous and beguiling Button Box.
Gwendy’s Magic Feather is the second book in the Gwendy Series.
Gwendy’s Magic Feather surprises and chills, like a Maine snowdrift.
There is a great crime element in this book, a touch of macabre in both well-lit scenes and ones in the frozen darkness, and a lot of brooding suspense led by the intrinsic character of Gwendy.
The first book in the series is Gwendy’s Button Box, co-authored by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, and if you have NOT read Gwendy’s Button Box, STOP HERE and go read that novella now! Not later. I do not care what format, reading is reading with it be via hologram, audiobook, or good old-fashioned paper, made from trees, that smells nice.
Here is a SPOILER WARNING** for the Preceding Book, Gwendy’s Button Box.
If you have read Gwendy’s Button Box, but it was not one of your favorite books, or it did not really move you, I highly recommend a second read if you like the character of Gwendy.
The second book in the series Gwendy’s Magic Feather brings new wonders and dangers to Gwendy, now 37, whose world is a whirlwind when the Button Box returns.
There are disturbing disappearances going on in Castle Rock, and melee in the world at large, and the character of Gwendy feels ever more intensely as she attempts to ward off the temptation of the Button Box.
The suspense simmers to a boil through her keen eyes.
Let us go back Back to Gwendy’s Button Box for a minute, as it is vital to understanding the 37-year-old Gwendy that appears in Chizmar’s novel.
Gwendy speaks with a stranger, a man with a felt hat, at age 12 who asks her to guard a precious object.
Put particular emphasis on these things: Gwendy lured beyond recall and the Button Box (and Farris, possibly) in the end caused the Jonestown massacre.
Now examine the character of a person who, despite being told her caretaking of the Button Box has rewards, is savvy enough to believe that there is a cost too and so she does not abuse the power she inherits.
Think of the temptation for a young person, who is being bullied and has high aspirations (that the 1891 Morgan silver dollars help with) to not use the compelling buttons that call to her.
She still makes mistakes and others, as well as herself, suffer for them; she is human and this realness permeates the reader.
Gwendy has such strong feelings of empathy, despite a dim world, and so she grows up and is a strong woman that can tackle anything.
All of the4se qualities help to shape the Gwendy we meet in the second book of the series.
Gwendy’s Magic Feather is a modern fairy tale fit for the Brothers Grimm updated to slice like a twentieth century switchblade!
So what does happen when an older Gwendy is returned the Button Box amidst far greater perils?
Spoiler Warning for Gwendy’s Magic Feather**
To start off the book, we meet an older Gwendy in Washington D.C.
Gwendy’s sharp intuition and skill makes her a successful writer and then, in a sudden fit of obligation to her country and her home state of Maine – and the encouragement of others begging her to run – she miraculously unseats a deplorable Congressman in her district.
Sadly more lecherous old Congressmen and a dangerously enraged President makes life as a US Representative challenging.
The world created in the Gwendy-verse feels too real at times, bringing its own amount of horror with that realness.
We can see the Washington meetings. We can smell the unknown plots lurking in some of the politicians’ shadows.
Congresswoman Gwendy Peterson is a beacon of kindness and candor in Congress where these traits light up amidst the ever-growing shadowy spaces besieging Washington.
The extraordinary journey that began as a “palaver” with a mysterious man named Richard Farris in a sharp suit and felt hat at the top of Castle Rock’s Suicide Stairs 25 years earlier has become a memory, floating but distant.
The once kind and witty Gwendy of age 12 – the first time she held the Button Box – is still a kind and witty person, because that is her charm, even as she is beset by dangers to her home town, the Capitol, the world, and her family.
And so, for the first time in 15 years, the Button Box reappears to Gwendy . . . sans Farris.
Where is he?
The vivid memories come back strongly and a thought torments Gwendy: what role has the Button Box played in the outcomes of her life, of her successes and failures? Were they just paths she carved on her own?
Much of this is a “who knows?” inner monologue that goes on throughout the book.
We feel for Gwendy as guilt clouds her mind and her strong demureness is rattled by the uncertainty of what she has done in her life – did she act because she wanted to or what things did she do that may have just as a result of holding the talisman, the Button Box.
She does not lose her sense of self, even as she doubts her past, present, and future deeds, which is admirable.
But you feel for her self-doubt that is ever-torturing until the very end of the book.
Where is the man who said she would never see the Button Box again? Where was the bearer of the blessing and/or curse? Where was Richard Farris?
All the while, Gwendy’s husband is away across the world in a dangerous city bordering on implosion; that stress looms large.
What can the Button Box do to help?
Gwendy’s mother collapses with a certain terminal diagnosis of cancer.
What can the Button Box do?
Two girls have just gone missing in Castle Rock, and Gwendy arrives on the scene.
What can the Button Box do?
The Button Box is its own character that crashes on the story and never lets up.
Gwendy’s mother was recently seen as cancer-free, and her parents brought out a long-lost treasure: Gwendy’s magic feather.
Once conned as a little girl, with all of the money she had saved for months to buy a “magic feather” from a young boy preying on tourists. The feather did not appear to have any magical properties once it was attained.
Then her mom collapses.
Dying in the hospital, Gwendy slips her mom chocolates from the Button Box.
There is a miraculous recovery the next day, but her mom also has the magic feather in her hand.
It must have been the feather her parents think.
Amidst the search in the town, Gwendy acts and thinks more like one of the sheriffs than she does a Congresswoman and she dislikes the mark of any celebrity labels.
Before the Button Box had with the pull of a lever delivered delicious chocolates that improved all of the senses and gifted, for a time some of the things the holder of the Box desired; for Gwendy, she initially wanted to lose weight and as she got older she kept the box dispatching mint condition 1891 Morgan silver dollars so she could afford to go to an Ivy League college.
But the Button Box has a price behind each gift, and the lure of the buttons grows stronger and overriding with each use.
Still, when Gwendy gets a kind of shine to her and she can read into the memories of someone she touches, the psychopath behind the missing girls is spotted, as is a crushed felt hat amidst the darkness in the Maine snow.
Castle Rock is an infamous place in Stephen King’s works, and Richard even inserts a statue where a great fire once ran rampant in the infamous town.
But this is also the Gwendy-verse, and Chizmar expands it brilliantly.
Only in the end does Richard Farris come back to claim the Button Box again.
But he does finally assure Gwendy that she is special, a caretaker, but she has also made her life’s accomplishments on her own.
The possibly evil giver of power, in Farris, seems to have a soul in there.
END of SPOILER WARNING*
If you look at this book as a casual, fun page-turner you will like it, but there is so much more to Gwendy if you try to observe her.
Gwendy is like no character I know of and her stories are a great example of contemporary speculative fiction that delves its own niche far into the realms of fiction.
There are thousands of years of stories based around good and not-so-good people being given choices with consequences and rewards that weigh on the conscience, the humanity.
But this one has a flair, a moral, and a character like no other.
Richard Chizmar brilliantly grows Gwendy’s story arc. And come the end the reader is left wanting to follow along with her as her odyssey continues.
The Cemetery Dance edition has a beautiful texture to the boards with gold foil stamping and awesome cover art by Ben Baldwin and interior art by Vincent Sammy.
The SST edition is illustrated, oversized, is signed by Richard Chizmar and all contributors, including the wraparound cover and interior artist Vincent Sammy, the author of the afterword Bev Vincent, and the Castle Rock mapmaker, artist Glenn Chadbourne; this is another stunner!
The quality of both editions, from the paper, to the boards, to the dust jackets make both of them worth having side by side.
The next book Gwendy’s Final Task, possibly the comclusion to the Gwendy Series, is co-authored by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, and comes out on February 15th, 2022.
Earthling Halloween: Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi is the fine press pick for the holiday this year, as a horrific The Exorcist meets Lord of The Flies story occurs at the St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys in rural Pennsylvania.
There is a fun unnerving other worldliness to the historical setting for this circa 1900 horror tale.
And the prose by author Philip Fracassi is tight, vivid, and compelling.
On All Hallow’s Eve TFF covers the riveting Earthling Publications ARC read leading up to the spooky season with the following Spoiler-free Preview Review** of Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi.
The main character Peter Barlow was orphaned by murder and the terrible trauma led him on the path to become a priest.
One night the 30 boys and their sacred caregivers are beset by a group of men bearing a maimed man full of occult symbols carved into his flesh.
The storm foreshadows the evil that his death will unleash on the remote orphanage.
If you are a fan of The Exorcist or Lord of The Flies then Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi will likely give you delightful shivers and more than a few nightmares.
There are still a few signed and limited edition books available exclusively at Earthling here, from a lettered edition of 15 copies hand made using the finest materials signed by all contributors, including artist Glenn Chadbourne and Andy Davidson, to the numbered edition of 500 copies signed by the author of the book and the introduction.
Philip Fracassi’s tales of suspense and dark fiction have long been hailed as triumphs, but this his debut novel is his most ambitious achievement to date.
Praise for BOYS IN THE VALLEY and the works of Philip Fracassi:
“BOYS IN THE VALLEY is a beautiful novel that should be — will likely be — remembered as one of the best of the young decade. A harrowing and unforgettable debut novel.”
“With rich, multilayered characters and a setting as hopeless as it is dreary, Fracassi has masterfully orchestrated a tale that is both harrowing and profound.”
“While I was riveted to the pages, I didn’t realize how invested I was until I could breathe again after I turned that final page.”
—Where the Reader Grows
“Paul Miller has added another haunting addition to his much-beloved Halloween Series. Fracassi has written an odyssey through possession and madness that is tough to read. This is my first meeting with Fracassi and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
—The Baryon Review
“A gothic, gory Lord of the Flies tale. The horror here is as much as warning on the dangers of human corruption as a testament to hope in the face of nigh-insurmountable darkness. Horror readers will be hooked.”
“I sped through this gripping and excellently paced novel over three evenings as events quickly spiraled from bad to worse. I suggest you move fast as the 500 hardbacks being released by Earthling are dwindling, and I imagine will all be snagged via pre-orders.”
—Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Boys in the Valley is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and terrifying.”
“A superior storyteller.”
—This Is Horror
“The next big horror writer to blow your mind.”
“Especially skillful at creating and sustaining suspense.”
—The New York Times