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Curious Toys

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  1,424 ratings  ·  276 reviews
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 use
Hardcover, 375 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Mulholland Books
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Laura-Lee Rahn It came! It came! I found it at my doorstep yesterday. It's been so many months and I know you sent out a second copy some time ago, when the first on…moreIt came! It came! I found it at my doorstep yesterday. It's been so many months and I know you sent out a second copy some time ago, when the first one never arrived, so I assumed I would never get it. It's the first book I've ever won. Not just a Goodreads but ever.
Thank you for your perseverance. The waiting has made me even more excited about receiving it.
Sincerely, Laura-Lee(less)

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Average rating 3.63  · 
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 ·  1,424 ratings  ·  276 reviews

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David Putnam
Apr 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Really wanted to love this book. The writing craft is great. Loved-loved the details of the time period and could've read the book just for reliving that age. I am a proponent of the "Fictive Dream," and it's just not here. I enjoyed the main character Pin, a little girl masquerading as a boy, in a violent world; excellent premise. There were too many points of view that got in the way of the story telling. The conflict in the story wasn't set until page 80, a little to long especially with all ...more
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
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent! Super creepy with fantastic historical detail of 1915 Chicago and a wonderful protagonist, Pin, a girl masquerading as a boy. I liked how Elizabeth Hand brought real-life people (Charlie Chaplin, Henry Darger) into this terrific story of serial killings, police corruption, greed, movie-making, carnies and poverty.
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 som
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Charlie Smith
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
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
⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 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 com
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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: 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/thrille
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, particularly the setting: 1915 Chicago Amusement park. I thought Elizabeth Hand captured the time-era beautifully. You could almost hear the carnival music and smell the popcorn. It had an eerie and creepy feeling about it, yet also possessed that sense of wonder and amusement. The characters were all well developed, quirks and all. The combination of "Real" characters (such as Charlie Chaplin) added to the validity of the story and the Boardwalk/Amusement setting was ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: amusement-parks
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 t ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
3.75 stars

All the elements that I like - some characters based on real live people, takes place in the early 1900's, a little bit of a mystery, and set in an amusement park.

The protagonist is Pin, a young girl, who dresses as a boy (not a spoiler) and roams the midway while her mother tells fortunes. After a crime is committed in one of the attractions, it becomes known that there is a killer on the loose. Pin gets fully entangled in the investigation trying to track down the infamous child kil
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 be ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 i
Oct 13, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
2.5 stars

Too long, too diffuse, and lacking drive. The historical elements of this (the amusement park, the hospital, the streets of Chicago) are pretty interesting and well-drawn (Hand has clearly done her research) but the biographical portraits are cringeworthy and the dialogue was some of the worst I've read in a while. No character feels fleshed out and most seem more like caricatures than the "gaffed" fun-house freaks that people the Riverview amusement park where much of the story takes p
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This book had a really good description of the setting, which is an amusement park in 1915 Chicago. I actually learned about quite a few things from that era while reading this book, which is a bonus for me. Otherwise, this is a typical murder mystery novel, but it features a lot of characters from that era - Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and Henry Darger figure prominently throughout.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Okay I bought this book based on title and the fact I'd read, and liked one of Ms. Hands' previous books. But the title caught me and I said HAVE TO HAVE IT.

So glad I did! A mystery, a murder, a time I'm familiar with, but have seldom read about in a fiction book. The early 20th century, circa 1914, and the locale, also unique, Riverside Amusement Park, Chicago. And what a world it is. Ms. Hand knows it all, has researched the era, the place, the news events, the customs and slang, all of it, wi
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 i ...more
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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 bo
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,
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it

My feelings about this book are full of ambivalence and contradiction. Set in 1915 during the heady heydays of the great American amusement parks, I liked the plot, the pace and the many threads of historical references woven into the story but I could never quite bring myself to love it. I wanted to love it but I just couldn’t! Something inexplicable and intangible about the delivery of the tale created an insurmountable chasm between like and love.

The summer of 1915 is hot and steamy
Jan 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Truthfully, I wanted to love this atmospheric novel more than I did. It was filled with promise - set at Riverview Park in my hometown Chicago, 1920's carnival atmosphere, incredibly strong young female heroine, a criminal mystery - all components that should have made it un-put-down-able for me. But it never clicked. I admire the attention to detail Hand shows in recreating the historic period accurately but it lacks immediacy. I never felt my heart in my throat despite the gruesome crimes and ...more
Andy Greskoviak
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a fun, creepy story! Curious Toys is one part mystery, one part history lesson. As a native Chicagoan, I found this fascinating portrait of early 1900s Chicago to be insanely informative, while simultaneously creepy and enthralling. There were 3 separate times where I’d thought I’d guessed the ending and I was wrong all 3 times. You win, Elizabeth Hand. I’m a big fan now.
Jess Tunstall
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-hand-to-read
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 fictiona ...more
Andrew Tucker
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Enjoyed this - Chicago 1915 setting. Slightly annoyed in keeping up with the cast of characters.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 27, 2020 added it
DNF with only 60 pages to go...
Cook Memorial Public Library
A 2020 staff favorite recommended by Carol. Check our catalog: ...more
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A New York Times notable and multiple award– winning author, Elizabeth Hand has written seven novels, including the cult classic Waking the Moon, and short-story collections. She is a longtime contributor to numerous publications, including the Washington Post Book World and the Village Voice Literary Supplement. She and her two children divide their time between the coast of Maine and North Londo ...more

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“They looked like her, or she looked like them. Something in between, something she didn’t know the name of but recognized. A lightness filled her, the way it had when her mother had cut her hair and she’d first put on boys’ clothes. She opened her mouth and let the lightness escape, almost surprised not to see a bubble or a balloon floating away from her, like in the pictures in front of her. How could one feel like this and not be flying? Like the Aerostat or a balloon; like Harriet before she” 1 likes
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