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!
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.
Hello everyone! Eager Readers, the TFF Fellowship, and lovers of reading and fiction in general, I am forever grateful to have you here, and I want to put down as much of the fun for the upcoming quarter and year as possible.
Drive For 500:
I am jumping to the next contest, and with nearly 900 Twitter followers and so very close to 500 Facebook followers, and I asking each and every one of you to reach out and invite anyone you know who loves reading or would want a good introduction to reading fiction, with spoilers or spoiler-free.
I think TFF is a great place to start to revolutionize the love of reading and collecting books.
And so, when we reach 500 Facebook followers I will start up the next EPIC contest!
The Epic Giveaway Contest will consist of many treasured editions, including Signed and Limited (S/L), small press, and even what I suspect is a first print, first edition of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Annotated – it is a gargantuan book sealed!
There are a ton of mainstream authors here with both paperbacks and first edition hardcovers, classics and contemporary, so no matter what you want to read and/or collect I hope to have you covered.
There will also be new swag from others and from me! More on this below.
I have been blessed 1. To have a nose for finding good books, 2. To have family members hunting books down for me and 3. to have a few great friends in the book community who have been so generous to donate many a precious book.
Much as I do not enjoy the mailing process, I greatly enjoy speaking with and sending out prizes to those that win them.
I will wait to achieve 500 followers in FB to start up the Epic Contest and post its prizes in detail, but I am sure the Rune Works woodshop will be involved with some woodworking and gift certificates for those on the livestream.
Regardless of whether or not we get 500 followers by then, I will still have some kind of contest and giveaway in my first TFF livestream of the year on Thursday, January 27th, 2022 at 12pm ET.
But I would like it to be EPIC. 20 or 30 followers more and TFF reaches a major milestone.
Now I have live conversations and interviews that will be taking place in Q1.
This week, I have the privilege to interview bestselling author Richard Chizmar on Facebook Live January 19th, 2022 At 7:30pm ET @TFF’s Facebook.com/theforgottenfiction.
His two newest books include his NY Times Bestselling Chasing the Boogeyman, and Gwendy’s Final Task co-authored with Stephen King.
I chatted on The Jeff Word show with Jeff Terry on his Facebook Livestream last week, and that was a blast!
Jeff is a voracious reader, reviewer, book unboxer, and I encourage anyone that wants to hear us talking about our favorite books, life and books we do not care for, haha, to tune in to see the video here.
I have also queued up but am waiting to solidify a date with renowned artist Mark Molnar, whose work most recently adorns one of the finest fine editions ever made in Centipede Press’ DUNE by Frank Herbert.
He was very kind to license to me an unused piece for the book (with Jerad and CP’s approval) for the Rune Works Woodshop to create a Dune case (coming in Q2 2022) for the book with the art engraved.
Check out Mark’s art for Dune and on his site here!
I am catching up on all remaining cases, in the order they came in over the next few weeks.
I have projects I have had in the hopper for years now coming close too!
A friend of mine is building me a webstore for TFF merch and swag that may be ready this week.
Drive For 500 aside, there will be many a giveaway contest in Q1 and a ton of interesting projects announced. Stay tuned!
Upcoming reviews include: Gwendy’s Magic Feather, Dune, Gwendy’s Final Task, Ghoul and the Cape, The Clearing and many more!
The Q1 Announcement Schedule for 2022:
Thursday Jan. 27th is a Livestream @ 12pm ET: the next contest and prizes are announced.
Thursday Feb. 4th is a Livestream @ 12pm ET and the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
Thursday Feb. 24th is a Livestream @ 12pm ET: the next contest and prizes are announced.
Thursday March 3rd is a Livestream @ 12pm ET and the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
Thursday March 24th is a Livestream @ 12pm ET: the next contest and prizes are announced.
Thursday April 7th is a Livestream @ 12pm ET and the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
Bird Box by Josh Malerman shatters minds with SST brilliance, as the author’s 2014 debut novel rattles all senses with the riveting tale like no other, so too, does SST Publications craft a signed limited numbered edition that is reminiscent of the book’s world, sharp and wonderfully haunting.
Civilization falls to chaos, as those who see something, some creature, go insanely violent on themselves and/or others: welcome to Bird Box.
There are few tales so poignant that you root for the characters so strongly you feel their utter incessant terror so strongly.
The following book review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman will contain *SPOILERS up until the fine press edition of the S/L book from SST is reviewed in detail.
Is Malorie insane?
Clearly the world she resides in has gone insane.
The mother of two debates taking a dangerous winter trip on a river toward a possible sanctuary.
They will be in a rowboat for twenty miles.
The boy and the girl are four, and they will have to risk going outside and traversing the river up to a section of rapids blindfolded the entire way.
The mother’s words are rough with the two children, stern, and candid: they must not take off their ‘folds’ no matter what happens.
Outside, unknown creatures cause madness upon sight of them.
You see it and you lose it and go mortally violent; unless, of course, you are already mad yourself, and then you will welcome the embrace of the savior or cleanser or xenocidal force that has been unleashed on earth.
I had a feeling early into the novel that I had no idea what the creatures were and I might end the book without knowing what they were.
That idea is a tricky writer to reader relationship, to say the least (more on this later).
Aspects of the creatures accumulate: they could be small or enormous, they could be frequently stalking all humans, or sporadically invading city streets, row by row, they could be trying to touch, or scare blindfolded people into looking at them.
The unnerving loss of sight and the unknown haunting menace gives far more weight to the thrilling Bird Box than many of the great suspense novels out there.
The story flashes back and forth, from when Malorie first finds out she was pregnant and the subsequent unraveling of society and back to the dangerous river voyage.
As the world collapses, she escapes to a house that is a sanctuary, of sorts.
It has a well, electricity from a hydroelectric dam and a lot of stores for the half a dozen or so trying to live out the horror in a home with all the windows covered; for safety, no one sees the sky anymore.
The dynamics of the semi-democratic household full of realistic characters with great personalities and their own unnerving anxieties – that decide when or when not to take in someone like Malorie, a showing pregnant woman that will be two mouths to feed before long – are enthralling.
Malorie’s love for another grows, as the housemates struggle to adapt and get along and progress.
Can the landline, not powered by electricity but by a weak electrical signal in a phone cord, let them reach others who have survived with their sanity intact.
For a long time, I thought the birds would be the monsters in the book.
But it is the finding of a cardboard box full of birds at an abandoned home that brings a real-time alarm, a chirping warning system, for when the creatures get close that is essential to surviving.
Only Malorie and her children survive the house, and the birds, and together they march on to a place that someone on the phone says is a real sanctuary for any who can make it up the river to them.
The place is protected and full of good people.
And so Malorie waits until she deems the kids can understand enough to take the trip in the rowboat and she risks it all.
Getting to her destination by route of that damn river is so nerve shredding!
Sure, there are creatures, but there are also animals living in the wooded region that you forget about in the apocalyptic times, like wolves that attack and badly injure Malorie.
She even passes out and wakes to find her kids have learned to each row a paddle, in tandem.
Nothing was more creepy or intense than actually getting to the sanctuary and seeing through Malorie’s eyes as she risks it and takes off the fold and assesses whether or not the place is a trap or a real safe zone for her and the kids.
Your stomach will tighten and spasm with fear, as the worst seems inevitable.
But that is Malorie’s view, of fear, and not the reality, and when she realizes they are all safe it is one of the most beautiful moments in literature – I got choked up.
She had never named the boy or girl, her kids, and the entire novel they are called ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ so that Malorie upon getting them to safety names them, finally, for the girl’s mother who died in the house giving birth at the same time Malorie birthed her son, and she names him after her love that she met in the house.
And after all of the non-stop page turning full of realism, blood, tension, terror, and time that goes by in the grim world, the reader does not get to find out what the creature is.
And it works brilliantly.
*SPOILERS END here.
The SST Publications limited edition of Bird Box by Josh Malerman is marvelous and the fine press production is reviewed here.
The book is signed by the author, Malerman, and artist Ben Baldwin and has a limitation of 400 copies.
And this book is stunning to behold.
The SST Bird Box cover art and dust jacket is one of the wildest designs I have ever seen!
The child is wearing the blindfold and hearing the world shown: their trip on the river, the flying birds, the forest and the rickety speaker setup – the lone semblance of society – and of course blue tone for the cold and the water, and lots of darkness wherein the mysterious creature could be anywhere.
And that is just the dust jacket art. The design wraps around and even goes all the way to the folded in parts at the boards – it looks amazing and would make a great poster.
The six illustrations by Baldwin are remarkable and visceral, and my favorite, by far, is of the screams as the poor home owner goes mad, tied to his chair; it gives me the shivers.
SST’s Bird Box edition is a perfect emanation of Josh Malerman’s story within.
The clothbound book is sturdy and a gorgeous light blue with blue foil stamping.
This is one for the ages.
As my first voyage into SST Publications, I could not be more impressed with the UK fine press publisher.
Chasing the Boogeyman: Richard Chizmar births a new genre, and though many great authors have and continue to work off of and dwell in the horror-crime-thriller realm, this novel is wonderfully different.
Rumor has it that the Richard’s small town serial killer may be something other than human.
But that just adds to the menace, and the reality is such that this tale is presented as true crime dialed up with the thrilling and macabre level of fantastic horror works.
And, as the story goes, the author, Richard, was there to witness it, and it is much more visceral and frightful, as you feel the terror that the character of Richard Chizmar feels in the chase for the Boogeyman.
I hate genres and labels, especially with regards to writing, as some of the great writers frequently publish speculative fiction that delves into so many other lanes (for example: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or Stephen King’s Duma Key).
But what is innovative and fascinating about Chizmar’s Chasing the Boogeyman is that the author himself is at the center of the seemingly-real summer of carnage and his horror is his story, and the reader gets a “first-hand” account.
The following Preview Book Review of Chasing the Boogeyman is Spoiler Free** and only speaks to the overall premise of the book and its opening.
Richard returns home from college and starts to chronicle the mayhem that envelops the small Maryland town as he stays at his parent’s house.
The Boogeyman looms as jet and creepy as any ghost or monster and that dark presence weighs heavily over Richard’s encounters, marking him and his fears for much of his future life.
This convergence of spine-electrifying-suspense with the true crime tale – from the dead-pan cops and intervening FBI, to the tormented small town – makes for something fresh and unique in Chasing the Boogeyman.
Where you can see echoes of Thomas Harris’ journalism days make fine ripples in his fiction, so too can you see Richard Chizmar’s horror writing make stomach-twisting waves in Chasing the Boogeyman.
“Chasing the Boogeyman: Richard Chizmar Births A Hybrid Genre” was written by R.J. Huneke.
About the Author Of Chasing the Boogeyman
Richard Chizmar is the coauthor (with Stephen King) of the New York Times bestselling novella, Gwendy’s Button Box. Recent books include The Girl on the Porch; The Long Way Home, his fourth short story collection; and Widow’s Point, a chilling tale about a haunted lighthouse written with his son, Billy Chizmar, which was recently made into a feature film. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. He has won two World Fantasy awards, four International Horror Guild awards, and the HWA’s Board of Trustee’s award. Chizmar’s work has been translated into more than fifteen languages throughout the world, and he has appeared at numerous conferences as a writing instructor, guest speaker, panelist, and guest of honor. Follow him on Twitter @RichardChizmar or visit his website at: RichardChizmar.com.