Book Review: The Toy Thief by D.W. Gillespie

The Toy Thief by D.W. Gillespie

The Blurb:

As a girl, Jack lives with her father and brother after her mother passed away during childbirth. Her father is a well-meaning construction worker who treats her more like a roommate, while her brother, Andy, is an introverted loner prone to violent outbursts, a virtual mirror to his sister who is outspoken to an extreme. The story opens on a sleepover with nine year old Jack and her close friend. While putting on a pretend show, the two girls leave a video camera running, and when Jack replays the tape the next day, she sees her friend’s toy being snatched off the end table and out the back door by a swift, nearly unseen hand. Excited and bewildered, she tries to show the tape to her thirteen year old brother, Andy who is still furious about the spat he and Jack got into the night before. Without another word, he smashes the tape of the intruder. That night, determined to catch the creature she now calls The Toy Thief, Jack sets up a series of traps, all of which fail miserably. Once she awakens in the middle of the night, she finds her friend’s toy has returned, brought back by The Toy Thief, an impossibly tall and rat-like creature with glassy eyes. Just then, Andy steps out of his room, and as The Thief flees in a panic, Andy realizes his sister is telling the truth. The two of them are able to surmise that The Thief most likely travels through a tangled section of woods called The Trails, and they go out in search of it. After returning unsuccessful, Jack awakes the next morning to find Andy missing from his bedroom. As her father informs the police, Jack knows it’s up to her to find him. Jack must venture into the dark place WHERE TOYS GO to get him back. But even if she finds him, will he ever be the same? FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

This was a fantastic horror offering! Gillespie combines those universal childhood fears of the disappearance of something beloved and the thing under the bed to give us a story that resonates viscerally with the reader.

In terms of story and plot, The Toy Thief reminds me strongly of an early Stephen King short story (Some of his best work, in my opinion) given guts and sinew pulled over the bones to form a full-length story.

Maintaining the creep factor is incredibly hard over a few hundred pages. And while there are a few spots where the story lags, in general the pacing is strong and consistent. Gillespie is also a dab hand at creating fantastic mental imagery with his writing. The weirdness and wrongness of the toy thief shine through, as does the quiet disfunction of Jack’s family.

This is a well-written, well-plotted, and original horror story. Fans of the genre will enjoy this new entry!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Hanna is nearly perfect, at least according to her daddy. So what if she still isn’t speaking at age seven? She’s clearly very intelligent, and more than capable of communicating in her own way. Those schools she’s been expelled from? They just didn’t understand her. Suzette, Hanna’s mother suspects something is wrong. Her precocious child is displaying worrying tendencies towards manipulation and violence. While her husband remains blind to Hanna’s problems, Suzette begins to suspect she may be the target of Hanna’s wrath.

Let me say at the start that my interpretation of the book may be a bit different from most. I am emphatically childfree, don’t really care for children in any case, and tend to regard most of them as tiny little psychopaths until they reach their midtwenties. Am I justified in this point of view? Probably not. But that’s the mindset I’m coming from when reading this book.

And it was nightmarish. The book is great, don’t get me wrong. It is tightly written, and the alternating points of view between Suzette and Hanna let us truly get to know the central characters. I had to take a break from the book about 100 pages in because it was keeping me up at night. The utter despair and hopelessness of Suzette’s situation is wrenching. She is trying (though imperfectly) to do right by her daughter, though years of abnormal and worrying behavior from Hanna have made her a bit ambivalent about motherhood. Compound this with her husband’s need to see only the perfect, upper-middle class family he desires, and Suzette is entirely alone to deal with her daughter. This I find terrifying: when dealing with mental and behavioral abnormalities in childhood, it is generally left to the mother to wonder where she went wrong, and what she could have done differently. And in all cases, motherhood is a condition with no escape. Someone may regret bringing a child into the world, but there are few socially acceptable ways to divorce oneself from parenthood, especially when being “a good mother” is considered the epitome of female (and especially middle class) success.

Well, enough ranting. I did, obviously, pick the book back up (and finished the remainder in one sitting). In the interests of keeping this review spoiler-free, I’m going to say little about the latter part of the book, but I will say that I was surprised by the direction the story took.

In sum, this book is a nuanced look at motherhood and psychopathy, at the loneliness of being a stay at home mother, and the frustration of being an atypical child. This book intimately describes the horror of finding out that, rather than the sweet, beautiful child you may have dreamed about, you have given birth to a monster, and are now tethered to its side.

I’d be curious to see what more maternally-minded people thought of his book? We’re their sympathies (like mine) fully with Suzette? Or do they see something redeeming in Hanna? Do they feel the horror as “that could have been me”? Or does the horror lie in “Suzette should have done x,y,z”? I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment or two!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

Nolan Moore is, for better or for worse, that “ALIENS” guy. A former Hollywood screenwriter and renaissance man, he now hosts a popular web series The Anomaly Files, where he seeks out evidence in support of theories not supported my mainstream science. For their latest episode (and a make-or-break moment for the show) Nolan and the Anomaly Files crew head to the Grand Canyon, where a Smithsonian expedition in 1909 is rumored to have discovered a hidden cave filled with wonderful and terrible things. When, with a bit of luck they do discover the cave, they find that what it contains is far more dangerous and horrifying than they could ever have guessed.

This was a fantastic book, the story somewhere between science fiction and horror. The giants of this particular genre– Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child deliver stories that are out here, couldn’t possibly be true…but while reading, some small part of our lizard brain whispers “maybe.” The Anomaly treads along that fine line, with occasional lateral movements into Lovecraftian territory.

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is its self-awareness. Nolan makes a living trying to prove the conspiracy theorists right, but isn’t truly a believer himself. When confronted by a situation that represents both his life’s ambition and most primal nightmare, he has no roadmap for how to react to the situation.

If you like your genetics with a side of dinosaurs, or your rainforests with a touch of retroviral monsters, then dive into a story that gives us archaeology sandwiched between survival horror and an unknowable, unsympathetic force.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – November

It’s gray and dreary here in November, the perfect time to find a package on your doorstep that promises oodles of goodies. Let’s dig in, shall we?

The books this month are two new releases. 

The first is The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith, which sounds like a delightfully trippy tale of madness. Here’s the Goodreads description:

The forest is alive.

While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand.

Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations–a murderous monster named Average Joe–gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain.
As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness.

This promises to be an interesting read.

Next up is a collection of short stories by Ronald Malfi titled We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone.  From the Goodreads description: 

A new mother is pursued by mysterious men in black. A misguided youth learns the dark secrets of the world from an elderly neighbor on Halloween night. A housewarming party where the guests never leave. A caretaker tends to his rusted relic of a god deep in the desert… 

In his debut short story collection, Bram Stoker Award finalist Ronald Malfi mines the depths and depravities of the human condition, exploring the dark underside of religion, marriage, love, fear, regret, and hunger in a world that spins just slightly askew on its axis. Rich in atmosphere and character, Malfi’s debut collection is not to be missed.

I have been assured that I do NOT want to read this book at night!

And now, onto the goodies, those delightful little extras that are always so on the mark. This month continues Nocturnal Reader’s winning streak.

Per usual  the box included a bookmark and a pin. This month’s pin is a sliding bucket of blood ready to dump all over poor Carrie. 

This month’s art print features Butterball the Cenobite from Clive Harper’s Hellraiser series.

A Nocturnal Reader’s-themed pennant added some gray-scale whimsy to the box (and is now proudly gracing the wall in my reading room).

The remaining goodies were perfect for the colder, rainy (and possibly snowy) November days ahead

Included this month was this fantastic Shirley Jackson pillow case, which promptly swallowed one of my more abused throw pillows.

There was also apple strudel flavored coffee from The Coffee Shop of Horrors (LOVE their coffee), perfect for a cold morning

And this incredibly cozy Nights Watch hat (from GoT) that actually fits over my oversized head (yay!)

So a wonderful collection of stuffs his month. I have to say (as I have many times before) that the Nocturnal Reader’s Box has been one of the most consistently wonderful subscription boxes I’ve encountered. Visit them at their website to subscribe!

Book Box Unboxing/Review: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box June – All Hail the King

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I’ve probably said it before, but I look forward to this book box all month. I was super excited for June (which the sadistic folks who run the box have been teasing us with for two months) – the theme for this month is “All Hail the King” and the box is full of Stephen King themed goodies!

First off the books. there are always two books for each box. This month’s new release is Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.

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What makes this even cooler is that the cover is an exclusive variant only made for this box! I feel like this is such a wonderful idea, and I’m so happy that they were able to make it happen! Any how, the Goodreads description of the story says:

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!

So . . . . squeeeeeee!

The previously released book is Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

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Here’s the Goodreads description:

When a graduate student with a passion for jazz arrived in New York to discover that a legendary saxophonist he had assumed long dead is not only still alive but playing in an East Village club, he spends night after night in awe-struck attendance.And when the legend grants him an interview on Halloween, he jumps at the opportunity. What unfolds is an endless night filled with an extraordinary story told by a dying master: a story centered upon the Halloween night of his eleventh year, a white woman screaming in a shanty town, a killer and an unidentified man fleeing with a strange bundle in his arms.

I enjoy Straub’s books, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one!

And of course, in addition to the books, there’s a whole bunch of goodies in the box as well. As always, we get an art print

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And some fantastic looking tea (I may be slightly ridiculously fond of tea)

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There’s also a host of King-related pins, stickers, and patches (and a bookmark, of course!)

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And yes, the pin does feature King’s autograph, you jealous yet?

And fresh from my read of It, I absolutely loved the magnet that came in the box

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Oh, and have you noticed the lovely back ground for all these pictures? That would be a Gunslinger-themed bandanna you’ve been subconsciously admiring

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So as always, I’m fantastically happy with this month’s box, and now I’m waiting on tenterhooks for July’s box (the theme is “Feast”, yipee!)

If you haven’t yet, you should take yourself to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website and check them out!

Book Box Review/Unboxing: Nocturnal Reader’s Box (March): Lost in the Woods

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I’m loving this subscription box so far! This is my second month with The Nocturnal Reader’s Box, and I couldn’t be happier! This month’s theme was “Lost in the Woods,” and the box was crammed full of great spooky/woodsy stuff!

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The books featured this month are In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn, two books that I’ve really been looking forward to reading.

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From the Goodreads description for In a Dark, Dark Wood:

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room….

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

And for The Devil Crept In:

An unforgettable horror novel from bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn—hailed as a writer of “some of the most promising horror I’ve encountered in years” (New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire)—in which a small-town boy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his cousin and uncovers a terrifying secret kept hidden for years.

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

How can you not be excited by that?!

In addition to the two books, there were a bunch of fun goodies to complete the woodsy theme:

Included in the box was a “Campfire Story Champion” hat, a wooden bookmark, some looseleaf tea and tea ball (yay!), a para-cord bracelet with a compass and knife, a Sasquatch air freshener (smells like pine, not Sasquatch, thankfully!), a pin, and a spooky poster.I am amazed by all the stuff they can fit into one box!

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In all, I’m very happy with the variety and quality of this subscription box. The book selections have been wonderful, and their monthly themes are just so much fun! They’ve already announced the theme for April: Trapped! If you want to sign up for this box (and I highly recommend that you do), visit The Nocturnal Reader’s Box to sign up. I hear that April’s boxes are going quickly, so sooner is definitely better than later!

Book Box Review/Unboxing: Powell’s Indiespensable #63: Moonglow by Michael Chabon

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So first off, yay! I love getting that simple white box in the mail! It certainly helps that this book has been on my TBR for a bit!

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Opening up the box on a cool late-fall afternoon, I actually did a little dance when hot chocolate packets were the first things to meet my eye.

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I mean, come on, just look at those! (I also happen to be drinking the “Original” dark chocolate while I’m writing this review! Delicious!)

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The bonus book for this go-round is Night of Fire: A Novel by Colin Thubron, which releases on January 17th, 2017. I hadn’t heard of the book before receiving it, but having read the blurb, I’m excited to give it a read (my poor, poor, TBR).

And then we get to the meat of the box: Moonglow by Michael Chabon. And, this being an Indiespensable book, it’s signed and comes in its own slipcase! Like I said earlier, I’d been looking forward to reading this book, and I was so excited when it came up as part of the Indiespensable program!

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So if you aren’t signed up for Powell’s subscription box yet, you should really get on it! Books ship every 6-8 weeks, and thus far (after about a year into the subscription) I have yet to be disappointed in their picks! You can checkout the next offer here. At the time of this writing, there were still a few slots open, but these tend to go very, very fast (I had to stalk the website for a month or two before I was able to sign up).