Tag Archives: Horror

Horrorstör

When I tell somebody why they have to read Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör, I like to mention that it’s a novel that comes in the form of a retail furniture catalog, complete with illustrations of specific products that are featured in each chapter. But when I urge somebody to read this, I try to emphasize that, much like other aesthetically unique novels such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the novel itself is quite good.

Horrorstör tells the story of an Ikea-like home goods store called Orsk. An introverted young woman named Amy is one of a number of employees unhappily slaving away. An unsympathetic and tunnel-visioned manager named Basil is raising the pressure even higher because the store is about to be audited—and in direct conflict with that, something strange is happening in the store: furniture is being inexplicably damaged and soiled in the night. To try to stop the menace at work, Basil recruits Amy and another employee, the ever-cheerful veteran Ruth Anne, to spend the night in the store and keep an eye out for the vandals. That night, they do discover unwelcome company—in the form of two other employees, Matt and Trinity, who are convinced the store is haunted, and want to film the pilot of a reality TV series about their adventure—and that’s when things really begin to get strange.

What made the book work, like any good, classic tale, was a combination of organic characterization and solid storytelling. Amy is a likeable and sympathetic character, but with plenty of flaws and quirks that made me want to pull her aside and talk to her. Basil, meanwhile, is everything you’d expect from a manager whose sole concern is business, and who only cares about how his employees are feeling if it would affect his store. Along with the overly-nice Ruth Anne, Basil is the source of many an eye-roll; yet as the long, dark night unfolds, both of them show a number of unexpected turns of hearts and minds. And while Matt and Trinity could have been (and at first, very much are) stereotypes straight out of the Nerd Herd in the TV show Chuck, the events of Horrorstör affect them every bit as much as everyone else.

But what happens during this long night in Orsk, you may ask? Naturally, I can’t tell you, but I’ll say this much: everything about the store comes into play, from the various furnishings to the very layout of the store. The novel is as much a dark satire of retail stores everywhere as it is an adventure in its own right. And yes, it’s a creepy read; make no mistake about it—this book is most definitely a horror novel, with some truly unsettling moments, and a few images that won’t easily be forgotten.

I myself have worked nine years in retail, and I can honestly say that anybody whom has unhappily served in retail will get even more of a kick out of this fun, wild read. I don’t know how well it would read as an e-book, but as I flipped through this catalog, I found myself laughing out loud, then very quickly falling silent, eyes widening, as the eerie events unfold in the home goods store from hell.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Troop

The Troop, by Nick Cutter, created quite a buzz upon its release late last spring. I paid it little mind and it wasn’t until the annual Boden family beach vacation that I picked up the hardcover and read the blurbs and breakdown, I decided to wait a bit as I have a fairly unwieldy TBR pile. A month ago we got the trade paperback in at the grocery store where I work. This impressed me and I looked at it with every pass I made by the tiny shitty book section. Eventually, I grabbed a copy.

There is a blurb on the back that essentially calls it a mix of Lord of the Flies and 28 Days Later. I love both of those works so I was all whoo-hoo! and anxiously dug in over the weekend. It is a nice, quick, pulpy read. Reminded me a lot of earlier King and some of those ooey-gooey 80s works from the pulp paperback rack at Hills. I loved it.

The story begins with Scoutmaster Tim taking his troop of five boys on their yearly campout on a remote island off the coast of Canada. During the first night, a stranger stumbles into their midst. A man disturbingly gaunt and pale yet voraciously hungry. He sets things on a rapid and downward spiral that will leave you dizzy. Without a chance to catch your breath, the pacing hastens, the sick man gets sicker, and Tim tries to help but endangers himself and the boys in the process.

The viral threat the man has ushered into camp soon becomes a catalyst for some real struggle as the boys find themselves sans supervision and left on their own to survive—the elements, the monstrously unsettling contagion, and themselves. We see their true colors shine through, and they aren’t all bright and pretty.

I’d really love to give more details, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that I enjoyed The Troop a great deal. I found it invigoratingly fun and entertaining. Is it perfect? Not at all. The structure with the interview excerpts and science-y stuff messed with the flow for me (the science itself is a bit wonky), and the military conspiracy angle is as hokey as can be, but it’s just a book, so I rolled with it. Where it really shines is in its gross-out moments where the contagion shows itself and when we see the boys begin to show themselves. It is brutal in places and tragically sad in others.

The Troop is available from Simon & Schuster Books , which means damn near everywhere.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bone Whispers

I reviewed Tim Waggoner’s Skull Cathedral a few years ago—quite favorably, if memory serves—so when I saw that he had a collection coming out, I was looking forward to it. When I saw the chance to snap up a copy of said collection from the Post Mortem Press table at AnthoCon, I did it.

Bone Whispers is a collection of eighteen stories. Now, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t warn the uninitiated that a Tim Waggoner story is NOT like any others. He deals out vicious, wriggling slivers of off-kilter horror, slathered in strange and stitched with surrealism. This is my favorite type of story, truth be told.

We open with “Thou Art God,” wherein a man makes the difficult discovery that he is God and much to his chagrin, that doesn’t equate to unabashed love and adoration from his fellow man. “Bone Whispers” takes us on a painful journey of sad nostalgia and coming to terms with tragedy…and a giant supernatural groundhog. “Some Dark Hope” give us a pathetic loner who finds a way to use his particular life “skills” to make some money in a very special house of ill repute.

Visit an orchard where the living dead sprout like trees in “Harvest Time.” “Surface Tension” delivers a very odd story of a man afraid of puddles, with good reason. “Best Friends Forever” shows us how powerful denial and guilt are when working together. “No More Shadows” is a bizarre exercise in paranoia and loyalty. “Unwoven” is a trippy little shard of existential humor…shaded darkly.

Marking the book’s equator is “Skull Cathedral,” a nightmarish kaleidoscope of surreal brutality. “Do No Harm” is a sort-of zombie apocalypse story without any zombies, but the vibe is eerily similar. “Country Roads,” which happens to be my favorite in this book, tells the tale of a sad man looking for validation in the echoes of his youth. Outstanding! “Darker Than Winter” gives us a tale of snowman murder and terror in the bold tradition of the old horror comics from the 50s.

“Swimming Lesson” corrals the weirdness into a public pool, while “Conversations Kill” finds a man confronting his woman issues in a very unhealthy way. “Long Way Home” is an apocalyptic tale of survival and resentment masked as guilt that, with it’s crazy monsters, plays like a Del Toro film. “Sleepless Eyes” is a crazy little scene in the most horrific roadside dive you’ve ever visited. “The Faces That We Meet” is a story that allows a dark glimpse into the secret habits and lives of those we know and think we know well.

The collection closes with “The Great Ocean of Truth,” a gonzo tale that channels the authors inner Kafka and brews it in a Norman Rockwell coffee mug to be poured down your throat while still scalding hot.

Bone Whispers is an astounding testament to the talents of Tim Waggoner. I have (and I hope to remedy this soon) only read his short fiction and I have loved all of it. Ranking among Brady Allen and Bentley Little in the halls of Weird Fiction Manor. toothy and terrifying and delightfully devilish. Good stuff that will leave stains and scars.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Road

Here is an awesome sci-fi premise: Humans find at the edge of the solar system the entrance to a vast network of dimensional portals leading to other worlds all across the universe. No one knows who built it, or how it works—only that is does work.

With that tantalizing grand sci-fi mystery as a premise we begin Star Road, by Matthew Costello and the late Rick Hautala, a high-speed space action thriller that tips a hat, head, and most of the shoulders to Joss Whedon.

(Another name worth mentioning is Mad Max. But while the influence of Road Warrior and Firefly are superficially evident, I felt that the execution of Star Road owed more to A.E. van Vogt, for better or worse.)

This is first and foremost an action road-trip with plenty shoot-em-up “car” chases. Read if you want creepy alien mech constructs swarming over your spaceship while you’re in a firefight with a battle-cruiser, read if you want blast-em-up car chases on rickety jet ramps built over primordial oceans where sea monsters just might take a bite out of your ship if you get too close.

There’s a distinct horror flair that occasionally overshadowed the rational “why?” required by science fiction. Anyone remember that scene in Galaxy Quest when they have to pass through the timed mashers and fire to get to the Omega 13? That’s in here. But if car chases in space are your thing, look no further. (And for all you romance readers holding your breath, sorry, there’s next to zero romance. Go back to your dinosaur-on-human erotica.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Star Road doesn’t have the massive cast of a true space opera, but there are plenty of characters coming in and out of the scenes. You have your requisite crew mish-mash: a war-weary gunner, a cool-handed captain, the scientist, a religious Seeker, a salty space-miner, a spunky adrenaline-junkie, and the government guy-with-secrets. Add to that a seemingly omniscient/omnipresent Super-Duper Space Federation, and a gaggle of space pirates called the Reavers—I mean, the Runners—and you can see why this was a fun if somewhat recycled read.

While we are down in the thick of things with the main group of characters, we’re told to care deeply about the larger struggle between Empire and Rebellion, as well as the internecine strife within the Rebel group. But the larger struggle never felt wholly tangible or meaningful.

Costello and Hautala write from multiple vantage points to connect us to the secret motives and thoughts of each character as they rush towards the final showdown on a distant planet. However, this relentless head-hopping ends up wearying me, and I end up not feeling close enough to any character to really understand or care for their motives. Speaking of motives, sometimes there just weren’t any. I caught myself facepalming with a “What are they thinking?” or “Why would they do that?” a few times.

(By the way: Hard sci-fi readers beware. They actually drive on the star road. In space. No, I don’t know why there is gravity. I think Asimov just twitched in his grave.)

But Star Road is about action and high-speed chases and creepy alien corpses being resurrected so heroes with blasters can fry them into bacon bits (rather than, say, about emotional resonance and astonishing truth about the human condition). I just wish that that awesome sci-fi premise we started off with resolved into a mind-blowing sci-fi answer.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Violet Eyes

Billy and his friends are on vacation on a little island in the Florida Keys when they are attacked by a huge swarm of flies that bite. They run through the jungle and find a small hut where they take refuge. In the middle of the night, Billy’s girlfriend Casey realizes she can’t hold it until morning, and goes outside to go to the bathroom.

This time, hundreds of spiders attack Casey, tearing her apart with her teeth. Later, only Billy manages to escape.

Rachel has escaped her abusive husband Anders, and now lives in a small town in the Everglades with her son Eric. As they try to build a new life together, Rachel has no idea that the town she chose is about to be overrun by a plague that has never been seen before. Rachel and Eric becomes friends with Billy who, although nice, acts strangely at times. Tormented by terrible headaches he can’t explain, he gradually withdraws, until Rachel realizes it’s been quite some time since they had seen him. In the meantime, the townspeople are being bitten by an infestation of flies, sickening some and killing others.

Then the spiders come. Hatching from the larvae left by the flies, the spiders encase animals, people—even houses in their webs. Rachel and her new boyfriend Terry decide it’s time to get out of town, but run into trouble when her ex-husband Anders shows up. Soon after, all hell breaks loose, and time is running out to get out of town before the government shows up and annihilates the town along with the insects.

I love “bug horror,” and this is one of the best I’ve read. Fun, creepy, and gross, Violet Eyes, written by Bram Stoker award-winning author John Everson, made me squirm many times while reading. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack & Jill

I was quite excited to have been offered a chance to review Kealan Patrick Burke’s forthcoming novella, Jack & Jill. I’ll admit up front that this was my first read of Mr. Burke’s; but I’m happy to say that this will certainly not be my last.

The odds are good that you know the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill. This novella is a darksome meditation on that, with a contemporary glimpse into how such a metaphor could play out in a familial setting.

From the outset, it is clear that the narrator, Gillian, has gone through some tough times in her life, and they are taking their toll on her home life. She spends so much time sleeping that she’s less and less involved with her family; her husband Chris is growing weary of how tired and unfocused she’s been acting, her 9-year-old son Sam is often left neglected, and her teenage daughter Jenny ungraciously rebels by keeping herself isolated from everyone.

Meanwhile, it is in these times of sleep that Gillian dreams—and in these dreams, she is visited by her dead brother John—and by an unforgettably creepy image of her father, wearing a plastic bag around his decomposing head and with rusty coat hanger hooks for hands.

On the surface, Jack and Jill is a moody tale of a woman haunted by her past, with some particularly vivid and hallucinatory dream sequences, but it’s also about the horrors that can stem from too much introspective reflection and miscommunication. As an occasional “intronaut,” myself, I could easily identify with Gillian’s pneumatic outlook on the world around her, and how easily the imagination can play with perception. Mr. Burke perfectly captures this mindset in his portrait of Gillian, and with it created an edgy, dark, and melancholic tale.

There was something else particularly noteworthy about Mr. Burke’s narrative. A writer friend once told me to stay away from opening a tale with a dream sequence, because it’s a clichéd hook; I would argue, having read this, that it should be avoided unless you know how to do it just right—which he clearly did.

Jack & Jill isn’t all familial drama, however; make no mistake about it—this is a horror novella, period. The dream sequences were literally nightmarish, and done with such frightful detail that there were times where I actually exclaimed aloud at what I, the detached voyeur, was helplessly witnessing. It’s also worth mentioning that there was one sequence toward the middle that, while I won’t spoil it, I’ll just say has got to be one of the most disturbing scenes to take place in a bathroom (this side of the Overlook Hotel or the Bates Motel). This novella was creepy, through and through.

I wound up finishing Jack & Jill with my cheeks puffed out and my breath escaping slowly. I’d had no idea where it was headed, much less with any idea of how I wanted it to end; because of this that, I was a little mixed about its ultimate destination, but I was more than a little satisfied with the journey there.  Jack & Jill was a harrowing read, riddled with emotion and elegantly told with dark beauty.

Jack & Jill will be published in e-book form this December. It was previously a print-to-order limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lee Thompson’s work. He writes fast, he writes hard, and he comes up with beautifully tragic stories that are both engaging and soul-crushing.

Gossamer: A Tale of Love and Tragedy is no different. From the very beginning, we’re tossed into an uncomfortably unflinching look at love and loss. Dorothy is a little girl forced to watch her father denounce her mother as a witch. As the sentence is passed, Dorothy hardens her heart and promises revenge.

The main story has to do when Dorothy has lived several lifetimes. She resides in the small town of Gossamer, guardian of an area filled with people that she grows to care for. Then her loneliness puts the residents of Gossamer in danger, and everything changes.

Lee has a clean, easy prose that still manages to be beautiful. He’s especially gifted at writing women, which is rare to see from a male writer. His portrayal of Dorothy and her aunt are both strong and chilling. Later in the book, we are introduced to two more strong mother/daughter characters, and the ineffectual boyfriend. It’s interesting to see the spine and determination in these women, and how far Lee is willing to push them until they either push back or break completely.

This book is full of witches and vampires. It’s full of magical carousals. It’s also full of betrayal, love reciprocated and not, and cowardice. Lee takes the unlovely parts of real life and sets it in a setting so deliciously bizarre that you think you’re simply reading a story, when in fact you’re listening to a man sitting across from you and telling you all about pain.

Gossamer goes down easy and leaves a bitter aftertaste. It’s dark and lovely. I’d recommend it.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dominoes—Now Available!

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce that Dominoes, by John Boden, is now available!

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes is available in paperback format (no digital version for this release) from our webstore or Amazon.com (for other regions, see your specific Amazon website) for $6.99.

Posted in New Releases, Shock Totem News, Staff News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hungry 3: At the End of the World

Sheriff Penny Miller is back! This time she and her zombie-fighting gang have made their way to an isolated town in the mountains, hoping to hunker down in a ski lodge and regroup. But nothing is ever easy during the zombie apocalypse, and their situation is made worse when the lodge owner steals their ride and all of their money, leaving them stranded.

Although they are not as exposed as they were before, they still aren’t safe from the zombies making their way slowly up the mountain. Penny and her friends must find a way to protect and fortify themselves, as well as convince skeptics that danger is heading for the town.

The previous books in the series—The Hungry and The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God—were fun and exciting, and The Hungry 3: At the End of the World is no exception. The entire series is great, and unusual in that a woman is the badass leader of a survival group. She’s not weak, but she does show her emotions in protecting and caring for her “family.” Penny is not someone to piss off.

Authors Booth and Shannon have once again drawn me in to their world, and kept me reading far into the night. I know that The Hungry 4 is in the works, and I can’t wait.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Announcing Dominoes…

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce Dominoes, by John Boden.

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes will be released in paperback format this coming October.

Posted in New Releases, Shock Totem News, Staff News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment