Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Horror Collection THE DEAD BOXES ARCHIVE by @john_f_leonard

Today’s team review is from Sue. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Sue has been reading The Dead Boxes Archive by John Leonard

56211306. sy475

The seven stories included in this anthology of the macabre are:

  1. Call Drops
  2. Doggem
  3. A Plague of Pages
  4. Night Service
  5. Burntbridge Boys
  6. Linger
  7. The Screaming Mike Hawkins Story

These are clever and interesting stories filled with wit and intelligence. I enjoyed the mentions of the Wombles and the New Musical Express and references to other popular culture peppered throughout the stories, including songs by Snow Patrol & Nelly Furtado. These references acted as a kind of light relief amidst the delectably disgusting and relentlessly repulsive images that kept getting put in my head by John F. Leonard’s ghastly descriptions of fearful, revolting episodes and horrific circumstances. Episodes and circumstances  brought about by a character’s possession of one of the Dead Boxes of the title.

Themes within these stories include murder, infidelity, poisoning, and plenty of twisted madness. The stories are populated by unpalatable people made fearsome and horrific by the events of their lives. For example, in Doggem, childhood rejection of uncaring parents and personal greed leads to murderous, poisoning tendencies. Infidelity and double crossing by spouses and business partners lead to murder in Call Drops and A Plague of Pages.

The Dead Boxes Archive is a book full of victims. Victims of spousal infidelity, parental hatred, financial double crossing, suicide, being on the wrong bus or at the wrong football stadium at the wrong time. In most cases these victims of life and society turn the tables and make murder victims of their oppressors. We could ask if these murder victims therefore bring their fates upon themselves –  but no one deserves such horrific fates as those dreamed up in these gruesome stories.

Many of these despicable characters have in common their lack of respect for human life:

“On the whole, humankind were a pretty motley crew. Loathsome, grubby creatures who invariably descended to the lowest level and wallowed in the filth they found there.”

I particularly enjoyed the tongue in cheek wit from a writer of horror:

“Some things didn’t bear contemplating, there was already enough horror in the world without inventing more.”

I also enjoyed spotting the connections between the stories. The geographical locations of Bledbrooke and the eerie wooded ‘beauty spot’ of Cenet Chase are mentioned multiple times throughout the collection. The Salton Marsh antique shop was mentioned in Call Drops and then echoed in A Plague of Pages.

Noel Bayley the private detective is run over and killed in Call Drops and later referred to in A Plague of Pages to name just a few.

My favourite story in the collection was Night Service in which a hapless young man and his new girlfriend take the night bus back to her place but the journey quickly becomes even more terrifying than the night bus journeys I remember taking from Trafalgar Square in the early 90s.

All in all I enjoyed my foray into the world of the Dead Boxes. Heaven forbid any of us should do anything to cross someone in possession of one of these accursed items – or get on the wrong bus, for that matter!

4 stars.

Book description

The Dead Boxes Archive is a chilling collection of short horror stories and horror novellas. Together for the first time in one volume, seven tales from the critically acclaimed Dead Boxes series.

Dead Boxes are scary things. Wonderful and dreadful secrets hiding themselves in plain view.
On the surface, they often appear to be ordinary, everyday objects. Items which are easily overlooked at first glance. Perhaps that’s just as well because the Dead Boxes are as far from ordinary and everyday as you can get. They hold miracle and mystery, horror and salvation, answers to questions best not asked and directions to places better left unfound.

This collection offers an insight into some of these delightfully eerie articles. A stunning omnibus of old school inspired horror, the brooding and ominous variety. Not to say that there isn’t a little gore and gruesome in the mix. But one of the beauties of horror is that it comes in many forms. Blood and guts don’t need to be stars of the show for a story to be dark and disturbing. Something that will stay with you long after the reading is done.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

56211306. sy475

Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #Horror Novella THE BLEDBROOKE WORKS by John F. Leonard

Today’s book review comes from challenge reader VT Dorchester, he blogs here

VT has been reading The Bledbrooke Works by John F. Leonard

45017475. sy475

The Bledbrooke Works: A Cosmic Horror Story by John F Leonard

This short novella follows Donald Hobdike, Manager of Works in a small town with secrets, and Michael Bassey, the young offender assigned to him as part of community service, as they venture into the old sewers below town. There is a blockage somewhere, causing somewhat disgusting problems in town, and they need to resolve whatever the problem below ground may be. The viewpoint alternates between the human characters, and a strange Other-Thing, possibly of extra-terrestrial origin, which is a bit menacing.

I picked this book to review during Rosie’s Review-A-Book-Challenge because I was intrigued by the promised setting. I think it’s hard to go very wrong setting a horror story inside confined, mysterious-to-most, English and Victorian sewage works.

And I did enjoy the atmosphere and suspense of this book. It’s spooky without being all-out terrifying, maintaining a nice balance between enjoyable suspense and foreboding, and providing some character development, and holds back from veering into too much gross-out horror or intensity.  I don’t like my horror stories too intense.

However, I did unfortunately ultimately find myself somewhat disappointed in this story. The short-sentenced, snapped off style of writing took me a little aback, and I never quite got used to it, although it does help keep the pace moving. Most readers should have little trouble reading this novella in an hour and a half or so. There is some use of obscenities, and a little bit of violence, although it is not particularly graphic, and there are far far fewer poop jokes then there could have been. (I’m not complaining about that at all.) There is also some allusion to domestic and sexual abuse.

The two human characters are each fun, with cranktankerous Hobdike getting a few particularly amusing comments to share with us. There is a twist ending, which did take me by surprise. The ending is also rather dark. I prefer stories that end with more of a sense of hope, even in horror stories. This is of course a question of personal taste, but the bleakness at the end of the story was a disappointment to me.

Regular horror readers will likely enjoy the somewhat unusual setting and moodiness of the story, and I recommend it to horror fans looking for a quick read.

I want to thank both Rosie and the author for arranging a free copy for me to review. I give this novella 3 stars out of 5.

Book description

Ever notice how some places don’t feel right? No rhyme or reason, they’re just unsettling, without you being able to pinpoint the cause. The vaguely suspicious demeanour of the locals. The pewtered quality of light. The old and indefinably alien smell that blows on the breeze… difficult to say for sure, but there’s definitely something.

Bledbrooke is one of those places. It’s always been different to other towns. Quaint and quiet, a little backwater with a somehow dark charm all of its own. Once you get used to it, you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

It’s not all sweetness and light though. There are problems. A new one has just appeared. The drains on Cinderlake Drive are bubbling unsavoury water onto the street. Even worse, the toilets are blocked and spitting nastiness at some affluent backsides. The town council reckon it’s a fatberg – one of those awful accumulations of wet wipes, grease and other unmentionables.

There’s only one man to call… Donald Hobdike, world-weary and well past his prime, this sort of issue inevitably ends up on his chipped desk. When it comes to the sewers in Bledbrooke, he’s seen it all and more besides. Knows them better than he knows the back of his wrinkled hand.

Or so he thinks.

Maybe the labyrinthine warren beneath Bledbrooke still has some surprises in store for him…

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

45017475. sy475

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Horror Novella NIGHT SERVICE by @john_f_leonard

Today’s team review is from Georgia, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Georgia has been reading Night Service by John F. Leonard

50612238. sy475

Some places don’t appear on any maps. Newgate Wood is one of them.

Luke and Jessica are travelling home after a date and make the wrong choice. They should have taken a taxi, instead they hop aboard the night bus. Big mistake. Surrounded by a cast of colourful characters they soon notice that the bus doesn’t stop again, in fact it only travels faster and faster into a night they no longer recognise.

What waits for them at the end is the hellish nightmare of Newgate Wood.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Leonard’s books that I have read, and this is no exception. This is another short one, but it needs to be. The story races along leaving you breathless, but I loved the building terror for poor Luke, the atmospheric descriptions and this author’s writing.

Highly recommended for all who enjoy a darker read.

Book description

It’s been a great night, but it’s getting late. You need to make tracks and cash isn’t king.

No worries… all aboard the Night Service. It could be the last bus you ever catch.

Every journey is a journey into the unknown, but this trip is an eye-opener, unlike anything that Luke and Jessica have ever experienced. They’re going to learn a few important lessons. Being young and in love doesn’t grant immunity from the everyday awful… or the less ordinary evil that lurks in the shadows.

There’s no inoculation from the horror of the world – it’s real and it’s waiting to touch you.

50612238. sy475


Rosie’s #Bookreview #Team #RBRT #Horror novella HUMAN FLESH by Nick Clausen

Today’s team review is from Judith, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Judith has been reading Human Flesh by Nick Clausen

46255968. sy475

Human Flesh is the third book by Nick Clausen I’ve reviewed this year – clearly, I enjoy his work.

Human Flesh is a narrative formed from fictitious evidence from a murder case. The suspect, Otha’s grandfather, is a man who behaves strangely whenever winter descends. This is somewhat understandable; winter reminds him of losing his wife. Yet, Otha’s grandfather adamantly refuses to admit how she died – almost as if he has something to hide.

As I’ve been reading more of Nick Clausen’s books, I’ve found I really enjoy the many ideas he has for horror stories. Human Flesh is no exception. The story is inspired by legends of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic creature or spirit which lurks in Northern America. I really enjoyed following this mysterious murder case, and I was drawn to keep reading. It’s definitely a creepy little story.

However, when I say little, I do mean little.

Human Flesh is very short. On the one hand, this could tie nicely to the fact the book is meant to be a collection of police evidence and, consequently, a small amount of evidence could reflect the mystery behind the story and how much is still unknown. On the other hand, practically speaking, when I read it, I was disappointed the story ended so soon.

I did like Clausen’s choice to present the narrative as a collection of evidence from the past though, adding some realism because it treats the Wendigo and the mysterious deaths as real crimes. Furthermore, it leaves the reader in the dark, as we have no idea who has survived the ordeal and who has not until the end of the book. However, I do have some constructive feedback about this choice of narrative style too.

Firstly, as Human Flesh largely consists of informal evidence such as blog posts and text messages, the story was also informal. As a result, I thought that in places, the story lacked detailed or literary narration and description. I partly understand this, as the bulk of the narrative is from a teenager’s perspective, which is bound to be more informal. Yet, it also felt a shame that some opportunities for fantastically scary or Gothic language and descriptions were missed.

Secondly, I’m not convinced an e-book was the best format for Human Flesh; at present, it is only available to buy as an e-book. I appreciate it can be harder to publish physical copies of a book but, in this instance, I think a physical book would have lent itself to the format. For example, the pages could have been designed and printed to look like an email browser, a police report, or a text message exchange. It would have looked like a more convincing scrapbook or folder of collected written evidence. In an e-book, however, it is very obvious that you’re not actually reading a text message, for example. I know this is a nit-picky comment to make, and I know the story itself is fictitious – but when the narrative partly relies on convincing you, the reader, of the realism of the situation, I found that this format pulled me out of the story a little.

These comments may sound a little critical, but I only mean them in a constructive way. I still genuinely enjoyed Human Flesh and, in general, I particularly like Clausen’s creative and interesting horror story ideas, even if I do wish these stories were longer!

For anyone looking for a small and succinct yet chilling read, I would recommend Human Flesh.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 Stars 

Book description

They never caught it

During the winter of 2017, a series of strange occurrences took place in a small town of northern Maine. A rational explanation for what happened has still not been presented. Now, for the first time, all the available written evidence is being released to the public from what is commonly know as the Freyston case.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

46255968. sy475

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Horror novella HUMAN FLESH by @NickClausen9

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Human Flesh by Nick Clausen

46255968. sy475

I am a fan of horror, had read great reviews of one of Clausen’s collections of short stories, and I liked the sound of this one (and the cover is pretty impressive as well).

This is a short horror novella that works at many levels. Its topic is fairly well known (especially to lovers of the genre, and as a psychiatrist I’m also aware of its diagnostic implications, although I won’t elaborate on that), but despite its short length, the author manages to capture the atmosphere of the story, the cold, the darkness, the weirdness and the horror (more psychological than graphic, although it has its moments) in the few pages available, using also a pretty interesting way of telling the story. As mentioned in the description, rather than a standard narration, we have what appears to be a compilation of documents pertaining to a mysterious case, and this will appeal as well to lovers of crime stories and police procedural novels (although if they are sticklers for details, they might be bothered by the supernatural aspects and by some bits and pieces of information that don’t seem to quite fit in, but…). This peculiar way of narrating the story forces readers to do some of the work and fill in the blanks, and that is always a good strategy when it comes to horror (our imagination can come up with pretty scary things, as we all know). It also gives readers a variety of perspectives and some background that would have been trickier to include in a story of this length otherwise. Does it make it more difficult to identify with any of the characters? I didn’t find that to be the case. The story (or the evidence) starts mildly enough. An accident means that a family cannot go skiing as usual for their winter holidays, and the father decides to send his two children (and older girl, Otha, and a younger boy, Hugh) to stay with their grandfather, Fred, in Maine.  Things start getting weird from the beginning, and Otha (who has a successful blog, and whose entries create the backbone of the story, making her the main narrator and the most sympathetic and easier to identify with for readers) is not the only one who worries about her grandfather, as some of the neighbours have also been wondering about the old man’s behaviour. The secret behind their grandmother’s death becomes an important part of the story and there are eerie moments aplenty to come.

The novella manages to combine well not only some legends and traditional Native-American stories with more modern concepts like PTSD, survivor’s guilt, but also the underlying current of grief that has come to dominate the life of the children’s grandfather. It also emphasises how much we have come to rely on technology and creature comforts that give us a false sense of security and cannot protect us again extreme natural conditions and disasters. Because of the age of the main protagonist, there is also a YA feel to the story with elements of the coming-of-age genre —even a possible love interest— and I’ve seen it listed under such category, but those aspects don’t overwhelm the rest of the story, and I don’t think they would reduce the enjoyment of readers who usually avoid that genre.

Is it scary? Well, that is always a personal call. As I said, there are some chilling scenes, but the novella is not too graphic (it relies heavily on what the characters might or might not have seen or heard, and also on our own capacity for autosuggestion and suspension of disbelief). There is something about the topic, which combines a strong moral taboo with plenty of true stories going back hundreds of years, which makes it a very likely scenario and something anybody reading it cannot help what reflect upon. We might all reassure ourselves that we wouldn’t do something like that, no matter how dire the conditions, but how confident are we? For me, that is the scariest part of the story.

In sum, this is a well-written and fairly scary story, with the emphasis on atmosphere and psychological horror rather than on blood and gore (but there is some, I’m warning you), successfully combined with an interesting way of narrating a familiar story. As a straight mystery not all details tie in perfectly, but it’s a good introduction to a new voice (in English) in the horror genre. I’m sure it won’t be the last of Clausen’s stories I’ll read.

Book description

They never caught it

During the winter of 2017, a series of strange occurrences took place in a small town of northern Maine. A rational explanation for what happened has still not been presented. Now, for the first time, all the available written evidence is being released to the public from what is commonly know as the Freyston case.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

46255968. sy475

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Horror #Novella CONGEAL by @john_f_leonard

Today’s team review is from Robbie, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Robbie has been reading Congeal by John F. Leonard.

46638843. sy475

Human civilization is a fragile thing and author John Leonard does a superb job of depicting this frailty and the ease with which society can fray and disintegrate when faced with calamity which knocks out the power and other communication sources. A primeval ooze, that becomes know as the clag, is sighted in a lake in a small rural town. It moves swiftly and silently, popping up in cities and towns all of the world within days. The clag comes from the very centre of the earth and uses man’s own interventions against him such as the sewers and the manholes. It sweeps in vast, rippling sheets of mud-like substances across entire suburbs and towns leaving nothing in its wake. The few survivors are left stunned and helpless to try and regroup and survive in virtually impossible circumstances.

Amelia has recently found the love of her life, William, and they live a happy and relaxed life in the country with their dog. Amelia has just discovered she is pregnant and their joy will be complete, but before she can even tell William the news, the clag strikes and her life is torn to shreds. Amelia flees her home and the terrible memories associated with it and happens to come across a small group of survivors led by a man called Pete.

This book is a true horror book. In fact, it is the ultimate in horror as the main characters alternatives gradually disappear as different survival theories fail, one after the other.

For me, the most interesting aspects of this book where the characterizations of the various survivors in the group that initially revolve around Pete, a man who has a plan and a determination to survive. As the circumstances of the group become more hopeless and the group shrinks, their shaky unity starts to fracture and conflict starts to divide them. There would seem to be a lot of truth in the old saying “divide and conquer.” It reminded me a bit of Lord of the Flies by William Golding when the tentative leadership and attempt at a society breaks apart with tragic consequences.

Book description

It starts with reports on the news of an inland lake turning semi-solid.
Surely, a media joke, some lame April Fool’s prank?
The before and after pictures are vaguely ludicrous and oddly disturbing, the contrast stark and strange.
First, darkly rippling water that hints at hidden depths. Slightly spooky and perfectly normal. Next, a putrid blotch of clotted sludge which bears little resemblance to anything aquatic.

It isn’t a joke.
And pretty soon, that greasy, sickening substance isn’t confined to an inland lake.
It’s spreading. Flowing over fields and filling streets.
Each morning brings a new revelation. Countryside denuded of life and towns empty and echoing.
The night is when it changes, becomes something that consumes. Something infinitely worse than a congealed impossibility.

CONGEAL is a short tale of apocalyptic horror. How the world ends may not be how you expect. Nuclear Armageddon or a zombie apocalypse could get beaten to the punch.
Our apocalypse may come from below.
An ancient, cosmic entity bubbling up to the surface in search of food.
It’s also the story of one individual and her fight to stay afloat in a sea of despair.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

46638843. sy475

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #horror novella A Plague Of Pages by @john_f_leonard #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Georgia, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Georgia has been reading A Plague Of Pages by John F Leonard


If anyone follows my reviews they will have noticed I am something of a fan of Leonard’s work by now. This can prove problematic when you then read something not quite on a par with the previous work by that author, which could have been the case here as A Plague of Pages is considerably longer than the previous short stories. However fortunately A Plague of Pages does not disappoint. In fact, quite the opposite, given the longer format Leonard has greater opportunity to hook the reader in with his excellent writing and to develop the storyline into something that keeps those pages turning.

The story starts with the police attending a rather bizarre death in a library and I enjoyed the relationship, or rather the lack thereof, between Detective Sergeant Adi Shadwell and the decidedly charmless constable, Ricky Douglas.

We then go back a little in time to meet Anthony Eames who has been brought low, from being married and having a successful estate agency, by those who should have been there to support him. He has turned his back on all that and in a bid to start over has decided to write instead. He chooses to do this with a pen left to him by his father. It is only when the consequences of doing so start to be revealed that the true horror of what he has unleashed comes home to him. Or does it? Maybe he is just having a breakdown? There is only one way to find out. Write something where he can check the outcome.

I won’t say anything further for fear of spoiling this excellent read for someone else, suffice to say there is plenty to frighten you and Anthony has to revisit his family history to uncover the provenance of the pen while protecting it from those who view it with green-eyed envy.

Not for the squeamish perhaps but otherwise it’s an excellent story I’d recommend to all.

Book description

Ah, the perils of writing …it can bring out the worst in you.
Anthony’s world has fallen apart. The good times have gone, the things he treasures have been torn away. Life in tatters, he needs to press the reset button and begin again. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
He’s going to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.
Trouble is, some dreams turn into nightmares.

AmazonUS | AmazonUS