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Curious Toys

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The year is 1915 and Pin, the fifteen year-old daughter of an amusement park fortune teller, disguises herself as a boy to run with the teenage boys who thrive in the dregs of Chicago's street scene. Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy its attractions, Riverview Park is also host to a brutal serial killer, a perfumed pedophile who The year is 1915 and Pin, the fifteen year-old daughter of an amusement park fortune teller, disguises herself as a boy to run with the teenage boys who thrive in the dregs of Chicago's street scene. Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy its attractions, Riverview Park is also host to a brutal serial killer, a perfumed pedophile who uses the secrecy of a dark amusement park ride to conduct his crimes. When Pin sees a man enter the Hell Gate ride with a young girl, and leave without her, she knows that something deadly is afoot. The crime will lead her to the iconic outsider artist Henry Darger, a brilliant but seemingly mad man obsessed with his illustrated novel about a group of young girls who triumph over adult oppressors. Together, the two navigate the seedy underbelly of a changing city to uncover a murderer few even know to look for.


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The year is 1915 and Pin, the fifteen year-old daughter of an amusement park fortune teller, disguises herself as a boy to run with the teenage boys who thrive in the dregs of Chicago's street scene. Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy its attractions, Riverview Park is also host to a brutal serial killer, a perfumed pedophile who The year is 1915 and Pin, the fifteen year-old daughter of an amusement park fortune teller, disguises herself as a boy to run with the teenage boys who thrive in the dregs of Chicago's street scene. Unbeknownst to the well-heeled city-dwellers and visitors who come to enjoy its attractions, Riverview Park is also host to a brutal serial killer, a perfumed pedophile who uses the secrecy of a dark amusement park ride to conduct his crimes. When Pin sees a man enter the Hell Gate ride with a young girl, and leave without her, she knows that something deadly is afoot. The crime will lead her to the iconic outsider artist Henry Darger, a brilliant but seemingly mad man obsessed with his illustrated novel about a group of young girls who triumph over adult oppressors. Together, the two navigate the seedy underbelly of a changing city to uncover a murderer few even know to look for.

23 review for Curious Toys

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Giveaway win! An intrepid young woman who dresses like a boy, stalks a murderer through a turn of the century Chicago amusement park. Curious Toys is my first Elizabeth Hand novel but it will not be my last. I would have finished this weeks ago had I not fallen into a deep reading slump. I didn't want to pick this book up until I was in the proper mood to enjoy it. Curious Toys mixes fictional characters with real life people. One real "character's" reveal will make you want to read this book all Giveaway win! An intrepid young woman who dresses like a boy, stalks a murderer through a turn of the century Chicago amusement park. Curious Toys is my first Elizabeth Hand novel but it will not be my last. I would have finished this weeks ago had I not fallen into a deep reading slump. I didn't want to pick this book up until I was in the proper mood to enjoy it. Curious Toys mixes fictional characters with real life people. One real "character's" reveal will make you want to read this book all over again. Curious Toys is creepy and fun. Elizabeth Hand created a wonderfully imaginative world. It was atmospheric, unsettling and dark. I recommend Curious Toys to lovers of Historical Fiction and readers who like books that are weird in the best possible way.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    5 Stars. 5 BIG Stars! Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand. Release day: October 15th, 2019 With this atmospheric historical thriller, Elizabeth Hand conquers another genre and makes it her own. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, modern mystery… and now she proves to be a master at the historical. The story is set in 1915 Chicago, taking place mostly at an amusement park (Riverview) and the Essanay movie studio and centers around Pin Maffuci (formerly Vivian Onofrio) a 14 year old girl disguised as a boy 5 Stars. 5 BIG Stars! Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand. Release day: October 15th, 2019 With this atmospheric historical thriller, Elizabeth Hand conquers another genre and makes it her own. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, modern mystery… and now she proves to be a master at the historical. The story is set in 1915 Chicago, taking place mostly at an amusement park (Riverview) and the Essanay movie studio and centers around Pin Maffuci (formerly Vivian Onofrio) a 14 year old girl disguised as a boy because of the safety concerns of her mother after her sister disappeared earlier, Henry Darger a (real life) artist/writer of questionable mental stability, and a pedophile serial killer who is killing young girls and stealing their clothes (for a purpose I won't divulge here). Along with Darger, Hand also incorporates other real life characters throughout the novel like, Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Berry, Gloria Swanson, etc. A lot of writers of historical mysteries don't quite get the feel of the time period they're writing, but here Hand knocks it out of the park. Every time I read a blurb that compares a book to The Alienist, I think – yeah OK – but Curious Toys more than deserves that comparison. The period detail is masterfully rendered. With beautiful linear prose, a great plot meted out with perfect pacing racing to an exciting climax, and a one chapter wrap up that takes place 62 years later, Elizabeth Hand has produced another winner. This could be Elizabeth Hand's breakout book. For years she's received accolades and awards and she really deserves a wider readership. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and get to know this brilliant writer, you won't be sorry. The only drawback of this novel is that it looks to be a stand alone and I would love more Pin.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ABookwormWithWine

    / 5 Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand was a very peculiar book, both in content and writing style. I've never read anything like it and I'm not sure if that helped or hindered me liking it in this case. Curious Toys is full of short, punchy chapters which I really liked. There were quite a few different viewpoints which I didn't quite understand the point of, and I think there could have been fewer to build more suspicion and mystery. However, I definitely didn't see the end coming and it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5 Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand was a very peculiar book, both in content and writing style. I've never read anything like it and I'm not sure if that helped or hindered me liking it in this case. Curious Toys is full of short, punchy chapters which I really liked. There were quite a few different viewpoints which I didn't quite understand the point of, and I think there could have been fewer to build more suspicion and mystery. However, I definitely didn't see the end coming and it completely surprised me! This is a great whodunnit with a fun historical aspect that made things interesting. I spent much of this book Googling different things to learn more about them (and to see if certain things were actually real!). I loved Pin, she was headstrong, smart and spunky which was pretty impressive for her age. Plus being able to pull off dressing like a boy and having people believe her! But due to the writing style I don't think I was really able to connect to any of the characters all that much including her. Lots of dark themes in Curious Toys, and some of it was quite disturbing. This book is definitely dark! Final Thought: This was my first time reading a book by this author and I can't honestly say if I want to read another. I think I would give it a chance though to see if I could hopefully connect to her next book better. The synopsis sounded awesome, but Curious Toys didn't hold my attention very well until I was over halfway done. It's not going to be for everyone, but I definitely recommend checking it out for yourself!

  4. 4 out of 5

    jo

    Elizabeth Hand describes herself and her writing as "punk" and I must confess I don't have a handle on the concept of punk fiction or punk literature. What, after having read five of her books in a row, I am beginning to get a handle on is what Elizabeth Hand does. When I read the Cass Neary books, which are absolutely fantastic, I thought of Hand as someone who takes her writing to the very limits of the socially acceptable in terms of, to use a really broad word, desire, or maybe goes a bit Elizabeth Hand describes herself and her writing as "punk" and I must confess I don't have a handle on the concept of punk fiction or punk literature. What, after having read five of her books in a row, I am beginning to get a handle on is what Elizabeth Hand does. When I read the Cass Neary books, which are absolutely fantastic, I thought of Hand as someone who takes her writing to the very limits of the socially acceptable in terms of, to use a really broad word, desire, or maybe goes a bit beyond, and tells us what she sees. In the Cass Neary series Hand portrays with sympathy and empathy people who would typically belong on the evil side of horror literature. It's not that she finds them good; she is just not repelled by them and, therefore, gives the reader a sense of what I can only call relief. What I am saying is that what her fiction does -- and if this is punk so be it -- is tell all of us who don't feel normal that we have good company. I think maybe this is the primary function of horror fiction, to yank the abnormal from the domain of the unthinkable, and of course the Cass Neary novels are horror, too. But in these books the horrific is not just not-unthinkable, it is to some extend forgiven, and this is, well, relieving. Curious Toys is a thriller that dips into horror, but only slightly. You can still see however, Hand's magic in it. It is set in an amusement park in 1915, so you already know that there aren't a lot of straight and narrow types. The characters that populate this book are making a living in spite of poverty, disappointment, bad luck, and a bit of lunacy. The protagonist is a fourteen year old girl who passes as a boy and this of course brings in a whole lot of queerness -- another Hand mainstay. It's all a bit dodgy and maybe a little sordid, but like in her other novels Hand has the dexterity of making it all fun and somehow luminous. I honestly do not know how she does it. After finishing this book in the wee hours I started another mystery that I had slated as "next" and even though this mystery has received wide acclaim I immediately felt the lack of Hand's taut writing, but most of all of the way she brings what is strange to a place in which we all recognize ourselves as kin, also a bit strange, and really OK.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    From the decadent, dystopian science fiction of her debut novel, Winterlong; to the immersive magic of her art world fantasies like Mortal Love; to the harsh, earthy, crystalline landscapes of her Cass Neary suspense novels; Elizabeth Hand’s ouevre is as dark, sensuous and edgy as anything out there. I keep a copy of Hand’s short story collection, Errantry, beside my desk to give me something to aim for with my own fiction. It’s a bar so high that not many writers reach it more than a few times From the decadent, dystopian science fiction of her debut novel, Winterlong; to the immersive magic of her art world fantasies like Mortal Love; to the harsh, earthy, crystalline landscapes of her Cass Neary suspense novels; Elizabeth Hand’s ouevre is as dark, sensuous and edgy as anything out there. I keep a copy of Hand’s short story collection, Errantry, beside my desk to give me something to aim for with my own fiction. It’s a bar so high that not many writers reach it more than a few times in their lifetimes, but Elizabeth Hand has pretty much resided there throughout her 20+ book career-to-date. So when I received an advance reading copy of her upcoming book, Curious Toys through a Goodreads draw, I was over the moon. After reading it obsessively over the next few days, and raving about it to friends, family and co-workers, I have finished it, thought about it, and am ready to declare it one of her best. In this convincing evocation of early 20th century Chicago, 14 year old Pin, a girl who lives her life as a boy, resides in a shack with her mother, who works as an amusement park fortune teller. A peripheral member of a gang of boys that works out of the amusement park, Pin delivers dope for Max, the carnival’s half-man, half-woman, on a route that includes Essanay Movie Studio, where Charlie Chaplin and Wallace Beery are among the stars. When Pin uncovers a murder of a young girl on one of the attractions, the wrong person gets charged, and there is only one other witness to help Pin set things right – an exceeding strange, child obsessed young man named Henry Darger (yes, the outsider artist, not all that long after his release from the notorious Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children) who is eager to become Pin’s partner in solving the crime. But Darger’s behaviour has Pin wondering whether he is really a witness – or is actually implicated in the crimes. As more murders follow, the tension grows – and Pin is in the centre of everything – not just the child murders themselves, but the mutual attraction between her and a young actress named Glory; the strained relationship with her mother, complicated by her budding relationship with ex-cop/amusement park guard Francis “Fatty” Bacon; and the erratic, pedophilia tinged behaviour of Darger. Although set in 1914, Curious Toys is very much a novel of our time. Sexual ambiguity is an important and effective motif that runs from beginning to end of the book, heightening the resonance and poignancy of everything that occurs. Evocative, multilayered, exciting, and accessible to fans of mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction and anyone looking for a great read, Curious Toys could be a break-out 30 years in the making. At the very least, Liz Hand should win another bucketful of awards – maybe even a Lambda this time.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I REALLY want to read this Bc what will I do without historical fiction murder investigations when i am finished with capturing the devil (stalking Jack the Ripper #4)?! Only issue is... it quite literally gave away the killer in said book in this blurb... I think. Unless... well why would they do THAT ?! Defeats the purpose. So confused. Slightly annoyed. Lol

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    I abandoned the story at page 303 out of 365. Even at the denouement it was like trudging through a flood of molasses to make it through a page and I finally just asked myself why I was bothering to force my way through a book just because it seemed like something I should enjoy. Never would have imagined that a story involving serial killers and turn-of-the-century amusement parks could be so dull. A ridiculously large and not well-developed cast of characters is inexpertly juggled in a story I abandoned the story at page 303 out of 365. Even at the denouement it was like trudging through a flood of molasses to make it through a page and I finally just asked myself why I was bothering to force my way through a book just because it seemed like something I should enjoy. Never would have imagined that a story involving serial killers and turn-of-the-century amusement parks could be so dull. A ridiculously large and not well-developed cast of characters is inexpertly juggled in a story that probably wants to be epic, but is just scattershot and limp. Yearns to be a sort of 'Ragtime' meets 'Devil in the White City.' Forgets to be any good.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I would be remiss in not beginning this review with a very, very emphatic trigger warning for child murder and pedophilia. If these are trigger issues for you, you’ll need to stay away from this one. That said, I would also point out that if you’re on the fence about these things, this book is not nearly as dark or disturbing as such a trigger warning might imply. The attacks do take place on page and are in some cases described, though not graphically so. For what it’s worth, I’m definitely I would be remiss in not beginning this review with a very, very emphatic trigger warning for child murder and pedophilia. If these are trigger issues for you, you’ll need to stay away from this one. That said, I would also point out that if you’re on the fence about these things, this book is not nearly as dark or disturbing as such a trigger warning might imply. The attacks do take place on page and are in some cases described, though not graphically so. For what it’s worth, I’m definitely someone who is on the fence with this sort of trigger, and this book didn’t upset me at all. The story features a delightful main character in Pin, a young woman who works odd jobs (some aboveboard, some not) at a carnival in Chicago while dressed as a boy, which both keeps her safe and makes her feel more personally comfortable than if she were presenting herself to the world as female. Despite its dark themes, the book is sweeter than one would expect, largely because of the host of interesting friendships Pin strikes up as she navigates her own confusing and oft dangerous world and attempts to catch a murderer. And though the book is more character study and historical fiction than actual mystery, Hand acquits herself well as an author who can respectably handle the themes of all three. I do have a slight gripe with the portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in this book. While history tells us he was far from a candidate for any sort of Good Citizen of the Year award, there is a HUGE difference between someone like Chaplin (who had icky though not necessarily criminal tastes in women) and an actual pedophile who would molest very young girls (which is what is implied about him in this book). Because we have no factual evidence to support this, it feels irresponsible to portray Chaplin in this way, even if he was a creep. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Hixson

    Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand is an interesting Historical Fiction mixed with a mystery. The story takes place in 1915 Fair grounds in Chicago about twenty years after the World's Fire fire and the serial killer H.H. Holmes, with it's own serial killer to deal with. The history is a big part I was constantly reminded of the nonfiction work The Devil in the White City which covered the 1893 Chicago's World's Fair. The history and the rides at the time were really neat, The book only covers one Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand is an interesting Historical Fiction mixed with a mystery. The story takes place in 1915 Fair grounds in Chicago about twenty years after the World's Fire fire and the serial killer H.H. Holmes, with it's own serial killer to deal with. The history is a big part I was constantly reminded of the nonfiction work The Devil in the White City which covered the 1893 Chicago's World's Fair. The history and the rides at the time were really neat, The book only covers one in detail Hellsgate ride I could almost imagine it. The book is LGTBG friendly with it's lead character Pin who is a girl who lives as a boy and struggles with her feelings about girls and one girl in particular Glory. I have not read a great amount of LGTBQ books but I found this one really nailed the questioning of ones self. A special thanks to Netgalley and Mulholland Books for giving me a copy, Curious Toys was published on October 15 2019. The Plot: Pin is a 14 year old girl who lives as a boy, it started for safety but she likes it and prefers it, her mother is a fortune teller at the fair. The both live on a shack on the fair grounds. Two years's ago Pin's sister was lost, she had a form of down syndrome, and has never been found. Pin runs drugs for Max, a he/she act where one side is a man and the other a woman. Pin is always curious and noticing things adults don't she is sensitive to young girls and strangers. She watches a young girl in a yellow dress get into a ride with a man and never get out, the man she doesn't get a good look but is sure what she's seen. She sneaks into ride and discovers a body. Pin is the only one who cares as the body brings even more people to check out the ride and the fair, Pin is willing to risk her life but she might have to risk something more important to her identity. What I Liked: Pin as a character was fascinating, wish we spent more time with her, and her crisis. I liked the little twist with Glory and who she turned out to be. I liked the Charlie Chaplin bit especially the bit about the cops questioning him being ashamed at the way they are portrayed in his movies. I liked the climax it was pretty exciting. The killer was good the reader was left to fill in a lot of their reasons for the crimes. I did like the flashback of the killer, even at the time reading it you didn't know who's flashback it was. I did like the Fatty Bacon cop character and the date scene he had. I love, loved, the part about Pin wanting to expose the killer put to do it in a way she could keep her identity as being a boy, I found that really powerful. I liked the language and found it fitting of the time period. This was one of the coolest covers with all the images about the book is has, it was one of the reasons I selected to request this novel form netgalley. What I Disliked: The character of Henry Darger I didn't care for a hospital janitor that isn't all there, slightly crazy, that looks out for young girls and has a club protecting them. His character was not needed and it kept the reader away from Pin. I would have liked his character a little more if his slight bio was at the beginning instead of at the end. I didn't like that the story jumped around having 7 different character's narratives. Pin, the killer and maybe one more character was all you needed, though I did like being in Charlie Chaplin's head briefly it didn't serve a narrative purpose and could been in the newspaper. I figured out who the killer was early, I saw where the novel was pulling me and saw through the misdirection. There was not that many possible suspects, so I found it easy to make the leap. I wanted better descriptions of all the people and things it keeps talking about boater hats, which I had to look up to know what they looked look then see it in the words on the page. Recommendation: I would mildly recommend this to a reader searching for a LGTBQ character in the early 1900's and the questioning of one's self and identity was really good. If you like historical fiction of the early 1900's, I love Charlie Chaplin and found that part fascinating, as the description of the Hellsgate amusement park ride. I rated this novel 3 out of 3 stars. I found there were some really great moment and some not so great moments that it balanced out.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    4.5, rounded up. How one feels about this story would depend a great deal, I would think, on how much one knows of, and appreciates, the life and work of real life outsider artist Henry Darger. I first became aware of, and admittedly obsessed with him, upon hearing Natalie Merchant's gorgeous 2001 song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zt2x.... I subsequently bought several volumes on his art (some of which are now OOP and selling for four figures!) Anyway, when I heard about this 4.5, rounded up. How one feels about this story would depend a great deal, I would think, on how much one knows of, and appreciates, the life and work of real life outsider artist Henry Darger. I first became aware of, and admittedly obsessed with him, upon hearing Natalie Merchant's gorgeous 2001 song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zt2x.... I subsequently bought several volumes on his art (some of which are now OOP and selling for four figures!) Anyway, when I heard about this mystery/thriller which features Darger in a major role, I was in. In one sense, this is really just a (really well done) genre thriller/mystery, but the care Hand exhibits in getting all the details just right elevates it in my estimation. And the fact that the real Darger was briefly considered to be a pedophiliac murderer of young girls, based upon the more disturbing elements of his art, just adds an extra fillip to the proceedings. Even if one isn't all that interested in Darger, there is enough here for fans of turn of the century historical fiction or the early days of cinema (other real life characters include Charlie Chaplin, Louella Parsons, Ben(nie) Hecht, 'Wally' Beery ... and another famous silent film star who is only revealed in the final pages ... so I won't spoil it!) to warrant a gander. However, to get the most out of this, it would be prudent to at least read through Darger's Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_D...), and also take a look at one or both of the documentaries about him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjCS_... and Jessica Yu's award-winning one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRlvD.... PS ... is it just me, or is this one of the ugliest cover designs imaginable?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Areve

    Curious Toys brings you back into the progressive era of 1900s with a great atmosphere of carnivals, serial killer and a heart-skipping adventure of a kid. The book was fun to read, the author gives the readers a fantastic and crafted narration. She instilled an almost real feeling that I’m taking part of the adventure with the characters and visualizing the setting of Chicago in the 1900s with elements of the past which is an edge from other historical mystery writers. The mystery in the book Curious Toys brings you back into the progressive era of 1900s with a great atmosphere of carnivals, serial killer and a heart-skipping adventure of a kid. ✔️The book was fun to read, the author gives the readers a fantastic and crafted narration. She instilled an almost real feeling that I’m taking part of the adventure with the characters and visualizing the setting of Chicago in the 1900s with elements of the past which is an edge from other historical mystery writers. ✔️The mystery in the book had caught me dumb-founded. [ My term for someone who didn’t find out who the serial killer is in the end ] The book will help you with given clues, old police procedurals and serial killer backgrounds but I bet you won’t be able to stop turning the pages until you make sure of your guess and finding that it is twisted all along. ✔️A quick mystery & adventure novel which will satisfy your fascination with serial killers and crime fiction. All five stars for this. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5/5 stars Big thanks to @mulhollandbooks for giving this to me in exchange for an honest review. ❤️🙌🏻

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Hutchinson

    Meh. I've been fascinated with the story of Henry Darger for a long time, so I was curious how this story would incorporate his history. The answer is "not well." It was gimmicky bordering on exploitative. Henry Darger as a character could have been removed from this book without causing any problems to the plot. Additionally, the character Pin, who was the most interesting, was underdeveloped. Francis Bacon was also seriously underdeveloped. The mystery was rushed and uninteresting. All in all, Meh. I've been fascinated with the story of Henry Darger for a long time, so I was curious how this story would incorporate his history. The answer is "not well." It was gimmicky bordering on exploitative. Henry Darger as a character could have been removed from this book without causing any problems to the plot. Additionally, the character Pin, who was the most interesting, was underdeveloped. Francis Bacon was also seriously underdeveloped. The mystery was rushed and uninteresting. All in all, this book felt disjointed, and I struggled to finish it. I also had problems with the way gender was addressed. I understand the author was working from a historical perspective, but it still wasn't great.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jess Tunstall

    I was lucky enough to win an advanced reader copy of this book from the goodreads giveaways. Truthfully, it did take a little to get into but once I got past the first 50 pages it started getting MUCH better. After that, the further into it I got, the better the story got! I was confused at the length of the chapters at first (short chapters) but came to realize that every chapter was related to different characters. It’s a great story with crime, mystery, suspense and history (although I was lucky enough to win an advanced reader copy of this book from the goodreads giveaways. Truthfully, it did take a little to get into but once I got past the first 50 pages it started getting MUCH better. After that, the further into it I got, the better the story got! I was confused at the length of the chapters at first (short chapters) but came to realize that every chapter was related to different characters. It’s a great story with crime, mystery, suspense and history (although fictional of course). It certainly kept me guessing and my predictions were all incorrect (lol). The author does well to take you back to 1915, fictional as it may be, there are a few mentions of nonfictional characters that really helps bring the reader into the era of the story. There are a few typos throughout the book, though this could be because it’s the advanced reader version. I will definitely recommend this book to the members of my book club. Thanks to the author for putting this on the giveaway page!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    With Curious Toys, Elizabeth Hand delivers a novel that is unlike her other work in some distinct ways, but that nevertheless showcases her remarkable talents as a writer. Everyone in Curious Toys has a secret. Everyone is presenting a intentional face to the world. In some of these characters, the face reflects their aspirations and deepest hopes. In others, it is a mask to hide something much darker within. Whether by choice or necessity, with good intentions of bad, the secrets interwoven with With Curious Toys, Elizabeth Hand delivers a novel that is unlike her other work in some distinct ways, but that nevertheless showcases her remarkable talents as a writer. Everyone in Curious Toys has a secret. Everyone is presenting a intentional face to the world. In some of these characters, the face reflects their aspirations and deepest hopes. In others, it is a mask to hide something much darker within. Whether by choice or necessity, with good intentions of bad, the secrets interwoven with secrets are as much a part of the texture of story and character in this novel as the literal details of the world and the people who fill it. At many times, it is a deeply uncomfortable world to experience. A central examination of the book is the viewing of girls as curious toys. This takes place in the scene-setting of the novel. The interactions of young boys and girls are set along side the behaviors of young men and women. These in turn are set alongside the behaviors of older men--in relation to both girls and women. These interactions range from "normal" to uncomfortable to predatory. Certainly not every relationship placed on the page is a harmful one, but Hand's paining of this world casts a light on questions of consent and autonomy, as girls are desired and obsessed over by those around them. And obsession with girls is a recurring element in the novel. For some, this is predatory in nature. But for the novel's two leads, it exists in other ways. The protagonist, Pin, exists in the world as neither fully a boy or a girl as she tries to determine her own future. Henry, meanwhile, in all his complexity, obsesses over understanding and protecting girls from the darker forces of the larger world. These false faces and deeper obsessions provide much of the substance and complexity which shape and drive the narrative. These pieces mix with questions about gender roles and expectations, social norms, and self-determination to form a novel that raises a lot of questions--but that does not attempt to reduce them down to simple answers. Along with these themes, Hand has created a richly-textured portrait of 1915 Chicago. The research that went into this novel is clear, but the facts never get in the way of story. This Chicago is not a pleasant place in many ways. It is dirty and flawed, segregated and shaped by crime and prejudice. But in the midst of all this, Hand deftly finds moments of rest and beauty, sincerity and humanity which counterbalance the grit and grime of a struggling world. All of this speaks to Hand's skill as a writer and allows the novel to stand apart as a true accomplishment--but theme and setting alone do not make a story. At the center of all Hand is accomplishing here, lie a core cast of characters and a chilling mystery. The novel unfolds on a broad scale--with Pin at its center, but following many of the players involved in the developing narrative. Some of them are sympathetic, some are distasteful, but Hand brings us alongside them and into their heads in a way that grounds the narrative, brings the characters to life, and creates understanding of the hopes and fears, loves and failings which define them. And to top it all off, Curious Toys is a murder mystery, and this as well is plotted and delivered with immense skill. Tensions are high from page one, and as murder follows murder and the stakes raise ever higher, the ability of Pin and the others to navigate this dark and twisting world become increasingly important. Hand's plotting drives the novel along with inescapable force, and she delivers twists and shocks at just the right moment for maximum impact--all leading to a bold conclusion which serves to wrap up the novel with great effect while lingering in the mind after the events of the narrative are over. Curious Toys is a masterful novel from an immensely talented author. Hand's passion and commitment to the story are clear throughout, and she has achieved a great deal on every level of this narrative. Reader beware, the world of Curious Toys is a dark one, and it is not easily walked away from, but it is ultimately a story of sincere humanity. It is a story that believes in good things amidst all the complexity and grime of a world full of secrets and prejudices. And with Hand's careful touch, the narrative never loses sight of the fact that evil can be fought, and people can walk out the other side--changed, but granted fresh understanding and on the way to better days.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    This historical thriller was fabulous, drawing on the life and work of a historical figure I wasn't aware of, mentally ill artist Henry Darger who drew and painted little white girls (a la Dorothy Gale in the Baum books) engaged in epic battle against forces of evil. Her protagonist is a boy named Pin, who was born a girl but never felt comfortable in that gender identity. His mother gives him permission to pass as a boy when they flee their old life, living in the slums of Chicago dominated by This historical thriller was fabulous, drawing on the life and work of a historical figure I wasn't aware of, mentally ill artist Henry Darger who drew and painted little white girls (a la Dorothy Gale in the Baum books) engaged in epic battle against forces of evil. Her protagonist is a boy named Pin, who was born a girl but never felt comfortable in that gender identity. His mother gives him permission to pass as a boy when they flee their old life, living in the slums of Chicago dominated by the Black Hand, the Sicilian mafia. They come to live at an amusement park, where Pin serves as a drug runner for one of the freak show performers. This creates a traffic (I suppose that word is appropriate!) between the production studios and the amusement park, and Hand emphasizes how much both contexts are dominated by a pedophilic imagination that sexualizes young girls (very young girls). One thing that made the book so disturbing is that Hand implies that pedophilia, though labeled as a form of social deviancy, is actually central to American popular culture and also behind-closed-doors power dynamics (think Jeffrey Epstein). Many characters--historical figures like Charlie Chaplin and Henry Darger and fictional figures like Lionel the screenwriter and Max the circus performer--express pedophilic desires when the narration enters their point of view. Hand frames the exploitation of young girls as omnipresent rather than errant, and she implies that the policing of gender roles and the institutionalization of patriarchy helps to create that dynamic. (Isn't it cool that she pulls that off, all the while spinning out an atmospheric historical mystery?) Hand winds up the "curious toy" of her plot until Pin must confront girlhood in all its vulnerability and also its institutional powerlessness. (Side note: the title actually refers to dolls and the creepiness of their affectless passivity, the pliancy that predatory men desire from girls.) But Pin is not powerless, and Hand has created a memorable character in this "small and sharp"protagonist.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Tucker

    Fantastic creepy mystery set in historical 1915 Chicago. You'll meet Henri Darger and Charlie Chaplin, learn about Harriet Quimby, and get caught up in the escapades of teenager Pin. I loved Hand's Cass Neary novels and it was great to see the photography themes spill over into this book, changed to 1915 technology and methods. Highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Curious Toys was what I thought Devil in the White City would be. I loved how we got to see the perpetrator's point of view without knowing specifically who it was because it added to the suspense. Pin's gender (Hand didn't ever label where Pin fell on the LGBTQ+ spectrum) storyline was a wonderful addition. The ending was perfect, and I plan on reading more books written by Hand.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Smith

    The premise was interesting, and thus, I had great hopes when I started reading. Alas, about a third of the way in I thought I might not finish, but, since a friend whose opinion I respect and trust said some encouraging things, I did make my way through. My issue was that I never felt any real connection with or concern about any of the characters. Pin, the young girl who pretends to be a boy to stay safe in a dangerous world, was clearly meant to spur the reader's empathy. For me, she seemed an The premise was interesting, and thus, I had great hopes when I started reading. Alas, about a third of the way in I thought I might not finish, but, since a friend whose opinion I respect and trust said some encouraging things, I did make my way through. My issue was that I never felt any real connection with or concern about any of the characters. Pin, the young girl who pretends to be a boy to stay safe in a dangerous world, was clearly meant to spur the reader's empathy. For me, she seemed an idea rather than a flesh and blood character. And, as I said, the idea was promising, but, its execution left me cold.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cathie

    Enjoyed this - Chicago 1915 setting. Slightly annoyed in keeping up with the cast of characters.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vickie

    Books that detail the kidnapping and murder of young girls can be gruesome and heartbreaking. While my heart ached for Pin, the main character, I was not put off by this telling of a criminal who stalks and kills girls. In Curious Toys, the story is about more than murder. Pin is a 14-year-old girl who prefers to live as a boy—a decision supported by her mother since boys are safer than girls inside a 1915 Chicago amusement park. After witnessing the disappearance of one girl (and later Books that detail the kidnapping and murder of young girls can be gruesome and heartbreaking. While my heart ached for Pin, the main character, I was not put off by this telling of a criminal who stalks and kills girls. In Curious Toys, the story is about more than murder. Pin is a 14-year-old girl who prefers to live as a boy—a decision supported by her mother since boys are safer than girls inside a 1915 Chicago amusement park. After witnessing the disappearance of one girl (and later discovering her body), Pin is caught up in the investigation of the murders being committed; her efforts bring her into contact with the other key characters in the story—a park guard; the park’s She/Male performer; Pin’s actress-friend Glorie; and the strange Henry Darger who could be Pin’s ally or the criminal. The author weaves together fictional and non-fictional characters, a weaving that adds authenticity to the setting and time. As I read, I felt like I was meeting actual persons in an actual place. While the book is largely about the crimes being committed in the park—and the efforts to find the killer—it is also a story of Pin’s search for her own identity. Set against the masses of people who see only the cheerful façade of the park and not its unflattering truths, Pin must also learn to see beyond the illusions she has created in her life. I received the ARC in a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you to the publisher, Mulholland Books, for this opportunity to read such a wonderful story!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I was excited to receive a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway, because I was very intrigued by the description. A mystery set in a 1915 Chicago amusement park with a female protagonist who dresses as a boy is right up my alley. Overall, I felt like it met my expectations. Things I liked: - Pin, the protagonist. She was tough, clever and a person who was definitely ahead of her time. - The inclusion of real life historical figures Henry Darger (whom I had never heard of before), Charlie I was excited to receive a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway, because I was very intrigued by the description. A mystery set in a 1915 Chicago amusement park with a female protagonist who dresses as a boy is right up my alley. Overall, I felt like it met my expectations. Things I liked: - Pin, the protagonist. She was tough, clever and a person who was definitely ahead of her time. - The inclusion of real life historical figures Henry Darger (whom I had never heard of before), Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson. - The atmospheric nature of having an amusement park at the turn of the century as the setting for most of the story. Hand does a great job helping readers visualize this place, from things like cotton candy and rigged games to the seedier attractions at these venues. Parts of it are gritty, and that was just the reality of life back then. - The way the novel played on the dual sides of a person's identity, how nobody may be actually what they seem. Hand did this with many of the characters in this book, exploring gender and sexuality as well as psychosis/sanity. Things I didn't like: - The mystery could have had a bit more to it. I suppose we do learn about the killer's background and why he does what he does, but it's a bit nebulous. The cops in the book also do a bit of profiling, which was proooobably advanced for police techniques back then. It held my attention, kept me reading, and I was satisfied with the ending. I'd recommend it to people who like mysteries, particularly historical mysteries, and books with child protagonists.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Mystery & Thriller

    Few may remember it now, but in the early 20th century, Chicago was a hub for the burgeoning motion picture industry. Stars, screenwriters and sundry hangers-on converged on Essanay Studios on the city’s north side, where new movies were churned out weekly. During their downtime, they may have hopped the streetcar to Riverview Park, where they could enjoy all manner of entertainments, from taking a wild ride on the Velvet Coaster to gawking at the babies in the Infant Incubators. This is the Few may remember it now, but in the early 20th century, Chicago was a hub for the burgeoning motion picture industry. Stars, screenwriters and sundry hangers-on converged on Essanay Studios on the city’s north side, where new movies were churned out weekly. During their downtime, they may have hopped the streetcar to Riverview Park, where they could enjoy all manner of entertainments, from taking a wild ride on the Velvet Coaster to gawking at the babies in the Infant Incubators. This is the world that plucky 14-year-old Pin Maffucci, the hero of Elizabeth Hand’s CURIOUS TOYS, inhabits. Born a girl, she’s been living as a boy since her fortune-teller mother Gina took up residence at Riverview. Her disguise allows Pin to move about freely between the park and studio, hustling for the nickels and dimes that she can spend on an ice cream cone or a visit to the Comique to see the latest moving picture. Pin’s costume also keeps her safe, since “no one blinked to see a white boy…sauntering along the Golden Mile, or ducking in and out of theaters,” a particular concern since Pin’s younger sister vanished under mysterious circumstances at some point before the novel begins. But for Pin, her boy’s clothes mean something more --- they allow her to be more fully herself. “For as long as she could recall, this was all she wanted,” she thinks. “When she remembered her dreams, she recalled being neither girl nor boy, only flying, nothing between her skin and the wind.” Pin feels at home in the raucous world of the park, where her friends include Clyde, an African-American magician, and Max, the female impersonator (or “She-Male,” in the parlance of the times) for whom she works as a drug runner. But when she discovers the body of a murdered girl inside the Hell Gate ride, her world is upended. She forms an unlikely friendship with Henry Darger, an oddball janitor and the self-proclaimed president of the Gemini Child Protective Society. Together, they attempt to discover the killer’s identity. Hand’s vividly imagined mystery immerses readers in the gritty world of 1915 Chicago, where Victorian conventions are giving way to a more modern world. Riverview is a place where the forbidden flourishes, from the couples canoodling in the theater balconies to the stalls selling pornographic French postcards. For the richly drawn cast of outsiders and misfits in CURIOUS TOYS, it’s a place where they can live as they choose. Some, like Pin, are wholly fictional, while others, like outsider artist Darger, are real people. Hand cleverly imagines Darger’s friendship with Pin as an inspiration for his idiosyncratic epic fantasy, THE STORY OF THE VIVIAN GIRLS. A few chapters are told from Charlie Chaplin’s point of view. The actor --- then at the cusp of what would become worldwide fame --- is half-heartedly presented as a suspect, due to his flirtatious behavior with a teenage extra at Essanay who later turns up dead. But his presence is mostly an unnecessary distraction and seems like an opportunity for the author to demonstrate the extent of her meticulous research. A more interesting drawn-from-life character is a young Gloria Swanson, a teenage actress on the verge of stardom and an object of fascination to Pin. Newspaperman Ben Hecht and actor Wallace Beery also make appearances, and the text is peppered with references to serial killer H.H. Holmes and the Eastland disaster. Hand’s characters are fascinating, and the mystery at the novel’s core is both compelling and creepy, especially when she presents some of the murders from the killer’s point of view. (The “curious toys” of the title refers to both the murderer’s life-size doll that he dresses in his victims’ clothing and the way society treats girls in general.) Pin is a young person coming into herself, who knows how she feels but lacks the vocabulary to articulate her desires. And she’s constantly bumping up against the limitations that society places on women and girls. Tellingly, both she and future star Swanson share a fascination with pioneering aviatrix Harriet Quimby, who broke with convention as the first female pilot in America. Hand fully exploits the narrative possibilities of her setting, immersing readers in the colorful, vibrant world of Riverview. As a result, CURIOUS TOYS never lacks for atmosphere, though the story sometimes sags under the author’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach. Amusement parks have always married a sense of fun with a sense of danger, and that’s certainly the case in Hand’s Chicago, where peril --- and possibility --- lurks around every corner. Reviewed by Megan Elliott

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tammy V

    I picked this up from the library based on a review and the fact I remember reading Hand's "Waking the Moon" many years ago and very much enjoying it. I was not disappointed. This is a straight-forward mystery story that will keep you engaged until the end. A good beach or snow-bound cottage read. The summary has been done elsewhere so I'll give you my thought. The book does an excellent job of showing (not telling) poverty -the real grittiness of it even though that is not the subject matter. It I picked this up from the library based on a review and the fact I remember reading Hand's "Waking the Moon" many years ago and very much enjoying it. I was not disappointed. This is a straight-forward mystery story that will keep you engaged until the end. A good beach or snow-bound cottage read. The summary has been done elsewhere so I'll give you my thought. The book does an excellent job of showing (not telling) poverty -the real grittiness of it even though that is not the subject matter. It is shown in context. Set in 1915 it is also a tour de force in *showing* women's lack of rights - even in just describing the people waiting in carnival rides I get the feel of men as predator and women (even consensually) as prey. It is a darkness that slides through the whole story. To me that is excellent writing. There is also a lot of history written into the story but not being old enough to remember these kinds of fairs that wasn't as intriguing for me. I am going to assume it was well researched before using it as context. At any rate, there's a lot going on besides the straight-forward who done it story itself. I didn't realize Hand has so many books to her claim since I last read her. I will be working through her list. excerpts: {The pharmacist] examined the shelves behind him, frowning. "I know we had Sydenham's but I believe I sold the last of it. No, none left. I do have this..."He turned and held up a bottle of Dr. James Soothing Cordial. "Purer than that other stuff - it's made with heroin."***Bernie grinned again, then grew serious. "Look, unless someone comes forward and reports a child missing in Dreamland the day of the fire, we can only speculate about what they found at Coney Island. Girls get killed all the time. It's the way of the world, Francis. Nothing we can do about it.***She squinted at the boys snatching hats from shrieking girls who were obviously delighted to be picked on. No sign of any kids she knew, though she recognized the beefy man who stood a few yards from the arcade, watching the goings-on with a detached expression like he was pretending he was somewhere else. Sergeant Morgenstern, one of the Riverview cops, though he wore a natty brown suit and derby rather than his uniform. She skirted him, annoyed. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but she still didn't want to be recognized...***All of a sudden she understood everything. She was a fourteen-year-old girl in a hospital room - a prisoner, surrounded by men, policemen and doctors, none of whom would ever believe anything she told them about what had happened, even it was the truth. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Dec 19, 2019 Lisa Mcbroom rated it it was amazing Shelves: best-of-2019, hooray-for-hollywood Set in Chicago in 1915, 14 year old Pin's sister disappears on the Chicago Streets. Pin's mother concerned about her safety dresses her ;like a boy. Pin is confused about her gender and welcomes the change. Her mother and Pin join a carnival and soon Pin is embroiled in mysterious killings around the carnival. There is an array of suspects including the actor Charlie Chaplin, real life outsider artist Henry Darger and various members of the carnival community. One thing I found fascinating was Set in Chicago in 1915, 14 year old Pin's sister disappears on the Chicago Streets. Pin's mother concerned about her safety dresses her ;like a boy. Pin is confused about her gender and welcomes the change. Her mother and Pin join a carnival and soon Pin is embroiled in mysterious killings around the carnival. There is an array of suspects including the actor Charlie Chaplin, real life outsider artist Henry Darger and various members of the carnival community. One thing I found fascinating was the protagionist was fluid. Another twist is Pin's attraction to the mysterious Glory and who she turns out to be. For movie lovers, lovers of the Edwardian time period, Fans of the book Devil in the White City (in which Hand alluded to HH Holmes) and The Alienist this is a most riveting read! flag 1 like · Like  · see review Sep 28, 2019 Damien Angelica Walters rated it it was amazing Dark, mysterious, and thrilling! Pin, a 14 year old girl who lives as a boy, begins investigating the deaths of young girls at an amusement park where her mother works as a fortune teller. The novel has an ecletic cast of fictional and historical characters and the details of 1915 Chicago are vivid and interesting.Full disclosure: I won a copy on Goodreads but that didn't influence my feelings about the book. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jan 10, 2020 Bill Pappy Ferrara rated it it was amazing When I picked up Curious Toys I knew nothing about the book only that the cover fascinated me and that I would read anything by Elizabeth Hand. It is a truly great book set in an amusement park In 1910 in Chicago.The hero is Pin a 14 year old girl who's mother dresses as a boy to protect her after her younger sister is abducted and killed. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Dec 07, 2019 Just_ann_now rated it liked it Shelves: from-the-fcpl, 2019 Wow. I was really of two minds for the whole first half of the book. The subject matter is very creepy and disturbing, and the multiple POV (some unidentified!) was very confusing. But then everything started to click into place and I reached the point where I really did not want to put it down. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jan 09, 2020 Christine Desrochers-Broderick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book was so well written!!! I loved Pin so much!!!! When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about the story! The only thing that made me give 4, instead of 5 stars was the ending. Hated it. I needed more! The last two chapters were 2 stars for me. :( flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jan 04, 2020 Marisa Tremblay rated it liked it This is a solid 3.5 stars for me and an engaging historical mystery. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Dec 26, 2019 Llyr Heller-Humphreys rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition Excellent historical mystery with heartfelt characters and great pov alternating chapters. flag 1 like · Like  · see review « previous 1 2 3 4 5 next »

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