The Box Under The Bed: A Book Review

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A “horror” anthology (and I do use that designation lightly) containing the following stories: ***WARNING*** SPOILERS MAY BE CONTAINED IN THE FOLLOWING

Prologue, The Box Under the Bed part one

Summary:

Two sisters, Tanya and Eileen, have the unwelcomed task of cleaning up their grandparents’ old house and ready it for sale. In the midst of her work, Tanya discovers some odd treasures under Grandpa’s bed.

What I liked:

A stylistic opening to an anthology. What could all those trinkets mean? Nice atmospheric setting. Creepy in just the right way.

What I didn’t Like:

Nothing to dislike here. It’s short and to the point. A nice way to open a suspenseful anthology.

Passion – Jenifer Ruff

Summary:

Young Brooke and family check into a beach resort for a little vacation. Brooke feels an urge for fun she hadn’t had in a long time and goes looking to satisfy that hunger.

What I liked:

It is a well written, fast paced horror story. The author paints an eerie tale that will stay with the reader long after the story is done.

What I didn’t Like:

I’m more of a creep than gore kinda guy. This has more gore than creep. Not on my list of faves, but that’s through no fault of the writer. Just preference.

The Clearer – Allison Maruska

Summary:

When Sasha’s friend Jayla agrees to seek help for her depression, Sasha agrees to watch her house and dog. What she discovers there goes against everything she holds as true. Ghosts converge on the house, and she’s the one they want.

What I liked:

Not at all what I expected, especially in a “horror” anthology, but I was pleasantly surprised. A unique take on the afterlife that actually made me smile.

What I didn’t Like:

Perhaps a bit predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the story. I would have liked a bit more atmosphere and description as well. There is some, but I think it could have used more.

The Death of Mrs. Billen – Dan Alatorre

Summary:

An excerpt from “An Angel On Her Shoulder by Dan Alatorre”. Doug Kenner sits at a train crossing and images flash before him. A woman and her baby, walking toward the train. Is it memory, or a connection to the things we can’t see with our eyes? Dark things.

What I liked:

It’s a good selection to add as part of the anthology. I’ve reviewed the book before on my blog. This still stands out to me as one of the creepier scenes of the book. Fits in with the tone of this story collection. In fact, alone, I think it fits better here than it did in the actual book.

What I didn’t Like:

Nothing to dislike about this story on its own. It works as a creepy, campfire story by itself.

Windows of the Soul – Lucy Brazier

Summary:

A Deputy Head Porter welcomes esteemed anthropologist, and alumnus, Dr. McGee to Old College. In unpacking his things, Dr. McGee unveils an old wooden doll he’s discovered in his research. A doll that he claims has a sketchy history. The Deputy Head Porter soon discovers there is more to the doll that its sketchy history.

What I liked:

Funny in ways that horror stories like this aren’t usually funny. The reactions of the main character come across to me more realistic than most horror story/movie characters. And the ending? Priceless.

And, I’m a cat person. This is just one more reason why everyone should be one. Just sayin’.

What I didn’t Like:

I would have like more in names than just Deputy Head Porter and Head Porter. Again, a bit predictable in the tale, save for the ending. We need more endings like this. (That should be part of the What I Liked section, but it flowed with my thought here).

Cassie – J. A. Allen

Summary:

The Red Death, a global plague, has wiped out most of the world’s population. One enclave of survivors eke out an existence on an island, cutoff from the rest of the world. When a broken ship arrives off the coast, protocol demands it be destroyed immediately. But when survivor Jackson spots a woman on board alone, he risks breaking protocol to find out more about her. Thing is, he might risk a lot more.

What I liked:

This story really intrigued me with the thought of how much we are willing to risk just to feel like we’re not alone. The things not said paint a bigger picture of the worldwide devastation than any info dump/backstory could have done.

What I didn’t Like:

Too short. Out of all the stories, so far, this is one that I wish would have had a bit more to it. There wasn’t enough tension. There is some, definitely, but not enough.

The Next One – Allison Maruska

Summary:

A dead body, an unnamed narrator, an unidentified killer. Who are any of them? Who will be next?

What I liked:

This is flash fiction to the extreme. I like flash fiction. The unanswered questions it leaves lingering in your mind. It kickstarts the imagination, and who knows where it will go.

What I didn’t Like:

This is a bit disorienting. But, there’s not a lot here to grasp for dislike or like. It serves its purpose, as flash fiction does.

Lovingly He Held Her Head Underwater – Juliet Nubel

Summary:

A man murdering his wife? For infidelity? Is everything as it seems?

What I liked:

The surprise ending. This one was definitely not predictable, especially in a horror anthology. Disturbing from the beginning, the end changes the entire tone. It raises questions that have no easy answers.

What I didn’t Like:

The writing could use some tightening, but otherwise this is a good story.

LabStor – T.A. Henry

Summary:

Divorce Lawyer Scott joins his wife at a University science party. While she chats away with grad students and faculty, he has a chance encounter with a beautiful woman. They flirt and she invites him to her office. Is this the fling he’d been hoping for, or something more sinister?

What I liked:

I do apologize, but I didn’t enjoy this one. Was it well written? Yes, I’ll give it that. A bit repetitious (how many time can a woman’s skirt shift open?), but otherwise professional. I do have to say that I liked the lack of gore and the focus on tension.

What I didn’t Like:

Again, predictability. You know what’s going to happen the from the first moment Scott lays eyes on Alison. While the author tried to use tension in the story, unfortunately it was spent on sexual tension instead of fright/fear. The big reveal played logically, but not emotionally.

Cobalt Point – Anne Marie Ardrus

Summary:

A young woman inherits an old mansion from a woman she didn’t know. Only, she’s not the only one.

What I liked:

The characters are interesting, and relatable. There is a lot of mystery here, and it’s a great scene from a larger work.

What I didn’t Like:

It’s not a horror story. At least, though it’s an excerpt, there’s nothing horror/scary about it. I liked it, but it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the anthology.

Mind Games – Heather Hackett

Summary:

A young woman’s hero turns out to be the villain bent on breaking her will and self-reliance.

What I liked:

The look into a woman’s emotional state in an abusive relationship is core to this story…

What I didn’t Like:

That said, there isn’t enough emotional pull in this. Not enough connection to the protagonist. The events described are horrific (though not a horror story), but there isn’t much investment demanded from the reader. Which, is horrible to even write that given the subject matter.

Interlock – Barbara Anne Helberg

Summary:

The journal of a killer? An investigation into the actions of an investigator? Crazed love gone awry? Interlock is a story about all of this. I think.

What I liked:

Unique. This story is definitely unique. It leaves you guessing what exactly is going on, even after you’ve finished reading it. I like stories that leave me with questions.

What I didn’t Like:

But, there were too many questions for me. Note: This is probably purely preference and not an indictment on the author’s skill. However, I was, and am, totally confused on what happened here and who it happened to. I think I know, but I can’t be sure. I understand the desired twist, but there are crucial elements missing for it to be a fully effective twist.

Hunter – Allison Maruska

Summary:

A young boy dreams that he is his dead older brother…who died before he was born.

What I liked:

An intriguing bit of flash fiction. Not scary, not horror, but definitely a supernatural vibe.

What I didn’t Like:

Again, too quick. Not enough to grab hold of here. Flash fiction is, by definition, quick, but it delivers a punch that satisfies. While I can’t fault the author in this story, not sure if it delivered the emotional shock/punch that such a story intended. Again, a preference rather than writing skill issue.

The Stainless Steel Coffin – Scott Skipper

Summary:

Some customer demands can be more than a nightmare. Said to be a “true story”.

What I liked:

The author’s writing style flows nicely and the story clips along at a good pace. This is dark humor, and it is funny in many parts. Nothing in the story goes beyond the plausible, even if it does reach some borderline absurdity.

What I didn’t Like:

Have to say it, but it grates me to no end when God or Jesus’s name is used as profanity. I know I’m old-fashioned that way, but it does. It can mark down a story for me quite a bit.

Repercussions – Joanne R. Larner

Summary:

One man’s betrayal is the devastation of an entire nation. A historical fiction look at the rise of Henry Tudor and the fall of King Richard.

What I liked:

I admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve studied any British history – and I’ve forgotten the little that is taught. This look into the ugly exchange of kings is interesting, though I will investigate what is true and what is a fiction author’s design. Still, it intrigued me.

What I didn’t Like:

Not much to dislike here. The pacing was a bit off at time, though. The switch in narration at times (slipped from 3rd person deep POV to a bit outside narrator a couple of times) needs some tightening. Other than those minor things, it read well. Again, not a horror tale really, though horrific in consequence.

Jack and Mary – Christine Valentor

Summary:

A tale of Jack the Ripper and Mary Kelly, told from their POVs.

What I liked:

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care for this one. The writing kept to first POV without any discernable problems.

What I didn’t Like:

The gore was too much for me. That’s a preference. The pacing, especially from Jack’s POV, dragged. There was too much telling, up until we reach Mary Kelly. The pacing picked up there. But again, the whole of the story gave too much detail into the gore. This is a horror story, true.

Genetic Aberrations – Adele Marie Park

Summary:

A young woman inherits her grandmother’s home. Did she inherit much more than just a house?

What I liked:

***Spoiler Alert*** I like the hopeful end of this, the connection between the woman and the house was a nice touch.

What I didn’t Like:

The strength of the writing was not there. There wasn’t enough tension, not enough emotion. The possibility for a deeper, rawer story exists, but is never delivered.

The Right Place – Curtis Bausse

Summary:

8 year old Susan sees things differently than most. People. Places. Including what might be the right place for her.

What I liked:

This was unique. Unlike anything I’ve read in a long, long time. The descriptions and atmosphere were pretty spot on.

What I didn’t Like:

The ending. Sorry, but no, I didn’t like it. Preference, yes, but still…come on…

Fireflies – Allison Maruska

Summary:

A night of pretend firefly catching becomes a spiritual awakening for a woman and her daughter.

What I liked:

Where do I start? Everything about this story is what a short story should be – the emotion, the pacing, the hints and pay-offs.

What I didn’t like:

Another story that doesn’t seem to fit a horror anthology, but it is such a good story that it doesn’t matter.

Betrayal – Annette Robinson

Summary:

A British journalist charged with finding out all she can about the German war machine in World War II falls in love with a French spy. Did she find the love of her life, or something more?

What I Liked:

It’s an intriguing tale – along the lines of old war movies about crazy mixed up lovers on the wrong sides of a war bigger than the both of them.

What I didn’t Like:

Too much time spent on tantalizing the reader. Thankfully, nothing graphic, but if some equal effort was spent on the tension and emotional torment, it would have been a better story. Also, this is another story that makes me scratch my head and wonder why it’s part of a horror anthology.

The Fateful Voyage of Patrick O’Brien – Frank Parker

Summary:

A gentleman shares a carriage ride with an old mariner who regales him with a tale of the sea to freeze the blood of any living person.

What I liked:

This has the markers of a classic scare story, one to tell around the campfire. Plausible horror without excessive gore. A tale-within-a-tale that is deeply descriptive and engaging.

What I didn’t Like:

***Spoiler Alert*** The POV needs some work. Not sure how the old man telling the story would get into the head of young Patrick to give him the life and agency that the character has, giving that the character doesn’t survive to tell the story from his POV to the old man. The events of the disaster at sea, sure, others could have told, but not with the same view as Patrick.

Destination Reached – Eric Daniel Clarke

Summary:

What happens when a man gives in to his desires? What price is he required to pay?

What I liked:

The poetic styling of this tale is unique and intriguing. It draws the reader in.

What I didn’t Like:

It’s hard to say. While I appreciate the lack of gore and graphic sex, the sexual charge of the story is still heavy. Perhaps that’s the point, though. The fate of those that live by that strong of a desire, to let temptation control you, can be life-destroying.

Diamond’s Promise – Allison Maruska

Summary:

A young girl takes driving lessons from her brother, and she’ll never forget them.

What I liked:

Another gem from Allison here – and, no, I didn’t mean the pun. A tale full of heart. Regret, pain, and hope all rolled together. Like life.

What I didn’t Like:

Not a dislike, but like other tales (notably from Allison), this isn’t a horror story. I like it a lot better than those that fit the horror story motif, but not sure if it should be in a horror anthology.

The Last Time She Saw Her Brother – Maribel C. Pagan

Summary:

A young woman recalls the one time she saw her brother when she was a toddler. Now, he remains hidden away in a room next to hers. What secrets lay hidden there, and what will she discover if the room opens?

What I liked:

Interesting that this follows immediately after Maruska’s Diamond’s Promise. Another tale of a young girl missing her brother. It’s short and sweet and full of emotion.

What I didn’t Like:

***Spoiler Alert*** Plausibility. Would a family keep such a secret from their daughter this long? Could they? While the tale is well-told, I can’t bring myself to buy-in on the premise. Also, not a horror story, but that isn’t a mark against it.

The Blind Tattooist – Allison Maruska

Summary:

Brit is dragged to a tattoo parlor by her friend. Reluctant as she is, the experience will change her life.

What I liked:

There is a theme with Allison’s tales. Shorter than most of the other stories in the anthology, they have a stronger punch. They are not horror, but spiritual in a way. They use the supernatural to make lasting emotional imprints on the reader. No exception with this one, either.

What I didn’t Like:

I feel like a broken record, but this is not horror. I prefer it, though.

Three Seconds of Grace – Anne Marie Andrus

Summary:

A young woman, long abused and disillusioned by the city of New Orleans, seeks to escape. A new life, freedom, anything but the nightmare she’d lived for so long. Will that freedom come from an unexpected place?

What I liked:

An excerpt from a larger book, this works as a short story – to a point. It’s well written and pulls the reader into the mind of the protagonist. The utter hopelessness she feels, the urgent need for something new, better. A release. Freedom. The reader can feel all of it.

What I didn’t Like:

I say this works as a short story, to a point. The point where it all falls apart is that there are too many questions left unanswered – and not in the normal way a flash fiction piece or short story conjures up questions. Too many plot holes that are probably filled with the longer book. That’s probably a preference problem, though.

Hair Razor – Carrie Ann Alexis

Summary:

Two hairstylists open up their very first salon after. They buy an older salon, abandoned after the death of the former owner. The place is perfect for everything they want, but the agent warns them the place might be haunted. Could there be more to this little salon than they had hoped?

What I liked:

It’s an engaging story. To walk with the main characters from when they buy the salon, through renovations, their grand opening, and beyond makes for a great story. The supernatural flair, mischievous more than malevolent, adds a nice touch. Not really a horror story, but the tension (albeit small) does keep the reader wondering at what will happen.

What I didn’t Like:

For a good portion of the story, the character of Michael seems stereotypical. The effeminate male hairstylist. While it doesn’t move away from this depiction, the story does finally add some depth to him. And heart. However, Nita could use a good dose of character development, too.

Mondays Are Who You Really Are – Lucy Brazier

Summary:

Benjamin Mountain, Legend, is adored by everyone. He showers his greatness on all he meets, except his wife. She only wishes everyone could see him the way she does, before he puts on his legend façade. One day, she gets her wish. Only, is this what she really wants?

What I liked:

A funny little tale that claims to have no moral to it, though there might be one lurking in there somewhere. The end does throw a nice little wrench in an otherwise predictable tale.

What I didn’t Like:

The POV dances around so much in this tale that it left me dizzy. Narrator to Eunice to Benjamin and around and around. Still, it was enjoyable enough to overlook this.

Epilogue, The Box Under the Bed part two

Summary:

The two sisters from the beginning of the anthology, Tanya and Eileen, take grandpa’s box of treasures and discover a collection of his stories. Each item in the box correlates to a story he wrote. They lose hours and themselves in the stories, closing the anthology with another tale that is more heart than horror.

What I liked:

It gave a good ending to the collection of stories. Short, to the point, and satisfying.

What I didn’t Like:

Nothing to dislike here.

Conclusion:

Honestly, this feels like it should have been called the Allison Maruska and Friends Anthology. A fifth of them were written by her, though that might actually be a strength for the whole book. There are a few diamonds in the rough in this collection, usually those that don’t actually fit the normal definition of a horror story. Overall, this anthology would better fit under a simple Supernatural heading than horror. There were some good creep factors, but some stories decided on gore rather than scare. Were there bad stories, yes. Not enough for me to tell others not to read it, though. The diamonds, the strong stories, are well worth the cost of the book alone.

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17 thoughts on “The Box Under The Bed: A Book Review

  1. Thank you for a fair and honest review. I take on board your point about my story – which, by the way, is based on real events. I believe Jack London also used the same events as the basis for a shot story. I’ve yet to read that version. May be I should have left out the ‘top and tail’ of the man on the train. Anyway, your feedback is very helpful and I’m grateful. I know writers who pay good money for such valuable critiques.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Your review of “The Box Under the Bed” is really helpful, Russell, and to be valued for the time you took to give opinions on each individual story. For my story — “Interlock” — I could have added a sentence that would have resulted in less questions, but I didn’t because I thought it would reveal too much, and in the end, I wanted the reader to have the chance to paint the ending. Maybe I could have added half that sentence! But if you think you know what happened, you probably do! In any event, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! They’re much appreciated!

    Liked by 3 people

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