Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories, and I had the opportunity to review the latest book written by Mark Aronovitz and published by Cemetery Dance compiled during the COVID-19 lockdown of short stories that could be easily described as the adult equivalent of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.
The following book review of Dancing with the Tombstones from Cemetery Dance is Spoiler-free**
This novel features seventeen short stories, with publication dates that vary from 2009-2020. Ten of these short stories have been published previously in various other anthologies, but it features seven new terrifying tales.
Mark Aronovitz tells us in the afterword that he put this book together in response to the pandemic, during the lonely days of quarantine.
His hope to bring some comfort and distraction during this trying time was a huge success and could have easily been titled Chicken Soup for the Spooky Soul.
Straight up – no nonsense horror.
Aronovitz delivers exactly what he promises, and this was a delightfully terrifying read, his short stories requiring no lengthy plot or conception of reality, just straight up – no nonsense horror.
This anthology is certainly one worth adding to your library, with tales that would be ideal to tell around a campfire on a chilly night and each packs a hefty punch that is genuinely terrifying when the blow strikes home.
Dancing with the Tombstones is split into four sections titled “GIRLS,” PSYCHOS,” “TOOLS & TECH,” and “MARTYRS & SACRIFICIAL LAMBS,” with each of his short stories falling into one of these categories.
Each short story is bite-sized and perfect to pick up and return to again over and over, and the fantastical element of short horror makes for a refreshing read. The short length allows these tales to grow more and more gruesome and disturbing. And every tale holds a more disturbing thought that is expanded upon to a truly terrifying conclusion.
My personal favorite in this anthology was “Puddles,” where Dora Watawitz’s obsessive cleaning routine turns into a waking nightmare when she starts to hallucinate the filth entering her home.
Mark Aronovitz delivers some truly real and a relatable material and to light brings disturbing thoughts such as “When DID I ever clean the toilet brush?” or, “How often do I ever really clean the bottom of my feet?”
These unsettling notions escalate into insanity (or perhaps a supernatural version of Doris’s personal hell) and all the cleaning, scrubbing, and bleaching just can never remove the filth plastered all over the walls of her mind.
Indeed, in a book where hell is described as an eternity consigned to an old Nissan Sentra in “The Echo,” there is something for everyone in this book.
Mark Aronovitz’s writing quality is stellar, and this is certainly a book to be enjoyed again and again.
Mark Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks, The Sculptor, The Witch of the Wood, and Phantom Effect. He has published two other collections, Seven Deadly Pleasures, and The Voice in Our Heads. He has published over fifty short stories in total and is definitely an author worth following!
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.
Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets via Centipede Press Wows, and I mean Wows with a great limited edition of a fantastic book!
Philip K. Dick is an inspiration of mine, and I have only perused a healthy percentage of his prolific body of work…so far.
There is no writing, no fiction, like that of PKD. Nothing comes close.
For this very special article, we kick off the new year with a TFF book review of the 1957 Philip K. Dick classic The Cosmic Puppets and then my first fine press review of the Centipede Press treatment, which they have given to PKD in a gorgeous boxed set trilogy that also contains Dr. Futurity, and Vulcan’s Hammer.
The following TFF Book Review of The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick is *Spoiler Free
I was surprised upon reading Michael Swanwick’s introduction to this edition that this book is considered Dick’s only fantasy novel.
But I hate labeling genres, and I do not know it, but I suspect he would have as well.
What is immediately intriguing at the outset is the utter realness of the protagonist Ted Barton, as his emotions, confusion and painful revelations shake the reader to their core.
You feel what he feels, and as the precarious situation gets stranger and grander in scope than one would think possible, the suspension of disbelief is there and we hungrily eat up the world that has been built.
It is through this vessel that crafting such a marvelous world is possible.
That world is Ted’s hometown, which he returns to after many years to find its history is not as he has remembered.
And there are unexpected gods, unforeseen characters of diabolical, selfish, and devious minds, and also their foils who are dying lights amidst the darkening battleground for something far vaster than Ted could have ever guessed.
It is here that Philip K. Dick’s voracious appetite for reading Carl Jung, Plato, and any philosopher of note’s text that he could get his hands on shines through masterfully in myriad nuanced subtleties.
Some of the symbolism may seem more obvious, but it is but done in new and unique ways, whether in the grandiose cosmic chess matches, the battles of nature – in all manner of creatures’ strife; nature versus nature – and even in the creation of life through clay it is all remarkable.
The pacing, the stomach gripping suspense, and the quickly unfolding mystery that seizes the weird, and Ted with it, fiercely make this a book that once started cannot be put down.
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick As Part Of The Centipede Press Signed Limited Edition Boxed Set Is Spectacular!
The box itself has navy and black cloth and emits quality.
And despite a very modest price-point, not one, but three great PKD novels are encompassed in beauty and a sense of dedication that truly pays respect and homage to the great author’s work.
I am still blown away by the production.
The Centipede Press edition of The Cosmic Puppets is limited to 300 copies signed by all of the contributors, including by Michael Swanwick, Peter Strain, and Chris Moore, with an Estate-approved facsimile signature by Philip K. Dick.
The book itself features an amazing theme bound to the dustjacket art by Peter Strain, which features a boy whose melted head contains a chessboard, honeycombs, and a flurry of bees, while beneath him rests the town upside down, in distress, and it wraps around to the spine and the back as the pieces are held by a hand pulling their strings!
And beneath the jacket is the finest black cloth, with two color foil stamping, and an asteroid-like design bearing Philip K. Dick’s signature on the front, as well as little specks of tiny meteors possibly.
A Centipede staple, there is a history presented in the book’s cover art, from its first novel form in Ace’s two-novel 35 cent paperback to many others, throughout the brilliant introduction.
The fonts, the gorgeous archival artwork by Chris Moore, and the entire design is truly a work of art.
And with that my dear friends, Eager Readers, and comrades, I can give you something to look forward to: there are two other novels in this boxed set that are begging for me to review.
Happy New Year! [I have been told I will have to put money into the jar if I say that after today]
Suntup epitomizes Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo with fine press editions and artwork that emanate the true anti-war classic novel from 1939.
The Following Preview Review of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and the Suntup Editions limiteds is *Spoiler Free
It is the vital works of fiction that continue to make worldwide waves again and again.
Trumbo’s anti-romantic-war novel is one of the great ones.
The protagonist Joe Bonham wakes in a hospital bed to slowly discover that an enemy artillery shell has taken his arms and legs and left a mangled hole where his eyes, nose, teeth, and tongue used to be.
The premise told from a first-person narrative: he cannot hear or speak, or leave his prison.
The famed filmmaker’s book was published in 1939 and was heavily influenced by the fallout of what Trumbo called the last “romantic war” in World War I.
The meaning I take from that sentiment is that it was a war that could very much have been avoided and various war machines and romantic ideals in politics continued to make larger and larger waves until the Great War was unleashed.
And there were many wars he felt similarly about (World War II was not one of them).
And so this harrowing work truly claws at one’s humanity and brings into focus many uncomfortable realities of the world.
Because of this, it has been very impactful since its publication, its winning the National Book Award and Trumbo’s subsequent adaptation into a film in 1971.
Decades afterward, this film would be used by Metallica in their most successful and popular song titled “One” and its music video, and that would act as a relaunching of Johnny Got His Gun that was again thrust into popular culture to harp on the horrors of war.
Suntup Editions took on this monumental title, which will be shipping in the near future and there are still Artist Editions available for purchase.
The numbered and lettered editions are sold out.
But all of the books feature stunning artwork by Ūla Šveikauskaitė that really captures the soul brought forth in Johnny Got His Gun.
The AE edition is the only one of the three featuring a dust jacket and is signed by the artist.
The image of the skulls and the cover image with the raised peace sign are striking!
This is a book and fine press editions that will forever resonate with you!
The details of Suntup Editions ARTIST EDITION:
6” x 9” trim size.
Limited to 750 copies.
Full cloth, smyth-sewn binding.
Two-hits foil stamping.
Introduction by Dalton Trumbo from 1959, with addendum written in 1970.
Foreword by Cindy Sheehan.
Afterword by E.L. Doctorow.
Six full-color illustrations by Ūla Šveikauskaitė.
Dust jacket featuring artwork by Ūla Šveikauskaitė (the only edition featuring the dust jacket).
Signed by the artist.
Printed offset on archival Cougar Natural.
Housed in a metal mesh paper slipcase with an acrylic coating.
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