Thoughts On Shorts. We have been helping students at University College Cork @UCC #CorkReviews @tspoetry @john_f_leonard

Here on Rosie Amber’s book blog, I like to encourage reading and reviewing, so when review team member Jenni approached me about a short story project for her first year English students at University College Cork, I was eager to help.

Jenni’s students were asked to put together a mock-up of a new short story literary magazine, and then “pitch” their magazine to a panel of judges. One of the sections that they could include was a review of a collection of short stories.

Three authors kindly offered their short story collections to the students to help with this project. The books were:

The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Dead Boxes Archive by John F Leonard

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

Over the next three days I will post the reviews.

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Sara Barkat’s whirlwind of magnetic short stories in her latest collection The Shivering Ground & Other Stories introduces the reader to tales of past and future, unearthly events, and abnormalities. Written in a short-story format, Barkat intertwines alienated aspects of a futuristic world with reality, awakening feelings of hope and hopelessness, gloom, and purity. The independent short stories pose questions of what can or could be done, the majority poised at the edge of the end of the world.

Each short story is set apart, different from the other, they all meet in the centre of complex human relationships and emotions. The tales are not as straightforward, and one would often be met with confusion and questions at the end. Often the stories are quite melancholic, mind-bending, and nostalgic, which associates nicely with the surreal feel of the collection. Barkat builds unique worlds and situations in which the characters find themselves in. Aspects which seem fictitious to us in today’s world, such as hearts kept safe in a mannequin or aliens evading earth, are brought to life in this collection. Though disturbing, Barkat inserts human emotions into her tales and links the two worlds together. The contrasting settings mix with varying narratives unite the reader with the characters of the stories, whether it be by putting them in the shoes of the character, or shoes of their own.

Brianna is one of the eleven stories of the collection: it follows a sleeping maiden and her prince, Peter. However, Brianna is entrapped by roses and its thorns, and no prince has been able to cross the enchantments that protect her. There is a sense of danger and gloom that surrounds the sleeping maiden, and yet the prince of our story refuses to wander away from his supposed love. He gives her a kiss on the lips, and she wakes. The same sense of gloom continues as the now awaken maiden desperately apologises to the prince, assuring him that he would soon regret that he had woken her up in the first place. His parents try dragging him away from Brianna, claiming that it is not safe to be around her. Just like the other stories in the collection, Barkat encourages the reader the think of the possible messages and morals of the tale. Brianna can be compared to The Sleeping Beauty in some sense, but with a darker perspective. One may also compare it to hopeless relationships, where one person is overtaken by depression, and yet the love interest is convinced that they can take the person out of the pitch-black pit, unaware of the dangers that it might bring to them.

If you wish to analyse these short stories on your own, I encourage you to do so! This is only one example of Sara Barkat’s new short story collection, The Shivering Ground & Other Stories, and there is plenty more that she has to offer! (4/5 stars)

Written by: Nika K

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Words dissemble

Words be quick

Words resemble walking sticks

Plant them they will grow

Watch them waver so

I’ll always be a word man

Better than a bird man

–              Jim Morrison, “Curses, Invocations”

Per his end of collection “Author’s Note” Leonard “believe[s] a story, even a short one, deserves some sort of prelude. Something to ease the reader into what will hopefully be a memorable and enjoyable experience.” Taking my lead from him, this review (short as it is) gets a snippet of Morrison, a personal favourite when it comes to poetry and performance, and a soul that might just be twisted enough to mesh with Leonard’s personal brand of irony and horror. Of course, the above-mentioned author’s note is itself just the prelude to one final entry into The Dead Boxes Archive, one last story about deals struck, promises made, and promises kept in the most perverse ways possible.

                I have a feeling Morrison might have appreciated that too, but let’s not make this a complete digression into dead rockers and the hauntings they left behind.

                John Leonard’s The Dead Boxes Archive is a series of loosely connected stories, most centring on a “dead box”, objects of eldritch power that give and takes with a set of unbalanced scales. Whether the box is stadium shaped, a township that sits just off kilter from our dimension, or a pen that is indeed mightier than the sword, Leonard’s boxes haunt both the owners who hold them and the readers who watch this unfold. Each story is a realm unto itself, but those looking for connective tissue beyond the general theme of cursed objects acting like cursed objects, will find a deeper plot echoing across the background of Leonard’s tormented landscape. Are the end times nigh? Haunted cults and beings from another realm afoot? Or merely a presence from the past lingering well into the here and now? Bate your breath and batten down the hatches, a phone with no guts is ringing and a pen with no ink is writing this story— The Dead Boxes Archive awaits you.

5/5 (Reviewed by JDB)

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 https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Sue has been reading The Dead Boxes Archive by John Leonard

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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

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of Mild #Horror THE DEAD BOXES ARCHIVE by @john_f_leonard

The Dead Boxes Archive: Dark Tales of Horror and the DiabolicalThe Dead Boxes Archive: Dark Tales of Horror and the Diabolical by John F. Leonard

4 stars

The Dead Boxes Archive Volume One is a collection of seven dark stories. I would describe the genre as mild horror

Call Drops  – a retired mobile phone enthusiast buys an unusual phone at a car boot sale, which is more a toy or collector’s piece than a second hand phone. But then it rings, and the voice at the other end has a chilling message.

Doggem – about a soft toy used as a teaching tool to encourage children to write a diary of events. But this fluffy friend is no ordinary mute toy, and the things that he witnesses are quite macabre.

A Plague Of Pages – this is the story of a deadly pen, which in the hands of one author creates some grisly events.

Night Service – a gruesome tale about one trip on the last bus out of town.

Burntbridge Boys – is set in an old football ground and involves a washed-up manager who is offered one last team to coach.

Linger – was a chilling tale about the inheritance of a house, one filled with very strange artwork.

The Screaming Mike Hawkins – is the tale of a musician. Leonard uses lyrics from some of Mike’s work as introductions to several of the stories mentioned above, so it felt right to have it included here.

I don’t generally read horror, as I need to sleep at night, but something mildly morbid, like these tales, is just fine. I would describe them as creepy more than gory. Leonard writes with a succinct style which is full of vivid description. I liked this collection, and am happy to recommend it.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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

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