Odd Playthings – An Anthology of Horror About Toys Edited By Patrick Winters

Review by staff writer and book blogger Renata Pavrey

Title – Odd Playthings

Author(s) – Multiple

Editor – Patrick Winters

Genre – Horror, anthology

Publisher – Black Ink Fiction

A unique collection of horror stories that pays homage to the playfulness and innocence of childhood hobbies, while instilling fear in adult readers and collectors. Odd Playthings is a tribute to toys of all kinds – stuffed animals, action figures, wooden handicrafts and terracotta figurines. From toys believed to be prophets, to curses carried through generations, toys that will protect their owners at any cost, to ones that go out of their way to destroy, quirky puzzles boxes and haunted bobble dolls, dolls that solve murder mysteries and dolls that commit murder – the reader is transported into a land of endearing childhood activities, with a horrific twist that makes us ponder on what would happen if our beloved toys turned rogue. Odd Playthings turns back time with sixteen stories from twelve writers who offer a glimpse into the joys of our past, transformed into horrifying scenarios.

A challenge for the editor is not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to his offbeat theme but also finding writers who share his love for toys and present an eerie array of tales for the reader. Carnival prizes, alien toys, wood and clay toy makers, footballs that curse their players, superheroes fighting plastic dinosaurs, serial killers who collect toys and toys who are serial killers – we read about a range of odd playthings from different cultures and customs around the world. The stories are so different from each other and yet come together beautifully in this distinctive collection from a variety of international writers.

“Toys became tools to tell stories, toys made it possible to go places I never could, and means to reach the furthest ends of my imagination,” writes Dave Wheeler in the foreword that introduces us to this splendid assortment of terror tales. Some of my favorite stories were Strange Customs by Patrick Winters (about a serial killer’s toy collection), To Fight Another Day by Dawn DeBraal (about action figures whose action wreaks havoc), Giuseppe the Toy Maker by Lynne Phillips (an ode to the old-world charm of handcrafted wooden toys), Giselle by Lynne Phillips (a doll sets out to avenge its murdered owner), and Star Man the Invincible by Scott McGregor (about a toy from outer space). But I loved every story from this anthology – it’s so well curated.

Some quotes:

-You should always kill with care the things you once loved. To do any less insults their memory.

-A child is usually the one to see what isn’t there, to see through the lies of the world and view the truth of their surroundings.

-The shoelace tip-tapped like a metronome as the leg swung.

The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers, and adults. The cute and creepy cover with splotches of paint aptly describes what to expect within the pages of this anthology. There’s sci-fi, crime, historical fiction, horrors of the real world and paranormal – something for every reader to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Patrick Winters for accomplishing this task.

My rating – 5/5

13 BOOKS ABOUT HAUNTED HOUSES by Renata Pavrey

By book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey

What is it about hauntings that seem to beckon rather than repel? Buildings possessed by the dead who either want to drive away the living or make them one among themselves. Lodgings that come with a gamut of warnings and rumors that refuse to die, only to have an occupant promptly settle in and find oneself in trouble. Whom does a haunted house belong to – the owner who buys the property, or the ghost that refuses to let go? Horror fiction is replete with books about haunted places – homes, buildings, stores, hospitals. Then there are stories that blur the lines between thriller and horror – the things people are capable of that ghosts would never do, hauntings of the mind that far surpass a spirit’s capabilities. Here are thirteen books that take the haunted house trope and give it a life of its own, from the classic to the contemporary.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

A gothic novella that was first published in a series format. The 19th-century classic raises the question of supernatural entities versus imagination, where the reader and protagonist both try to discern what’s real.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Is a house haunted because of its invisible inhabitants, or does believing it’s haunted make it so, or is it people doing the haunting while the ghosts suffer in silence? Blending terror and horror, another gothic story that blurs what’s inside one’s head versus what’s outside, and what one chooses to believe.

The Shining – Stephen King

Ghosts don’t always possess homes; sometimes they linger in hotels too. An isolated location with just three characters for the most part. Where would you go if there was nowhere to go to? Claustrophobia, solitude, loneliness. How would you know if it’s the hotel taking control, or your mind giving it up?

You Should Have Left – Daniel Kehlmann

Originally written in German and translated into English by Ross Benjamin, the novella follows seven days in the life of a screenplay writer in a rented Airbnb, which refuses to let go of its newest resident.

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill

Sometimes supernatural influences are not happy with single houses; they need to possess entire buildings. An atmospheric novel that blends thriller with horror.

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

A Japanese translation that mixes detective fiction with horror writing. If secluded haunted houses were bad enough, what happens when a building stands right next to a graveyard? Psychological horror can be more terrifying than out-and-out gore.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Ghosts were once people, too. They might have known us. Maybe they loved us, or disliked us tremendously. How do you deal with malevolent spirits of people you knew and loved, but they don’t feel the same? Morrison’s seminal work explores the mother-daughter relationship, and the psychological effects of slavery.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Hauntings need not always be physical entities. Memories can be powerful shapeshifters; taking over one’s mind and body with greater strength than any external force. Another hybrid novel that blends thriller with psychological horror.

The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse

A former sanatorium, redeveloped into a luxury hotel. Will the ghosts of the past stay buried down, or will the evils of the present beckon them to the surface? A spine-tingling gothic mystery, just like its cold, isolated landscape.

Home Before Dark – Riley Sager

Another novel that shifts between thriller and horror, making the reader question its supernatural occurrences. When the author of a haunted house book is faced with a haunted house, is it just another story?

Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix

Horror need not always be dark, as reflected in this horror-comedy set in an IKEA store. When furniture comes to life, is there more to the products you sit and sleep on?

Seeing – Patrick Winters

How do haunted houses gain their reputation? A tightly-packed novella about a formerly luxurious mansion that has now gained a reputation of being haunted. Atmospheric and eerie writing that subtly creeps up on the reader, rather than in-your-face jump scares.

The Elementals – Michael McDowell

How do ghosts decide whom and what to possess? In a locality of three houses, two are without hauntings, while the third is filled with horror. If you live in either one of the three, would the spirits make your acquaintance?

Where would your next book take you? Step into a room, apartment, palace or hospital, and share space with its ghostly inhabitants as you dive into a story.

Book Review: MAELSTROMS – COLLECTED DARK FICTION ABOUT THE SEA

A review by Renata Pavrey

I love anthologies for the bite-sized stories they provide to read on the go, and also for introducing the reader to a range of writers and writing styles within a compact collection. Maelstroms from Shacklebound Books piqued my interest for its genre and theme of dark fantasy and horror set around the sea. Edited by Eric Fomley, the compilation features an assortment of short stories by twenty-three writers, each one wonderful in its own way.

From mermaids to pirates, haunted castles and dangerous storms, sea creatures and suspicious amphibians, witches and queens, Maelstroms presents a plethora of tales about watery graves. I particularly liked how the authors dissected the narrow theme and explored the depths of their dark imaginations. Each story is so different from the next one, even though they’re all about the same topic. Kudos to editor Eric Fomley for his spectacular selection for this collection.

Some authors like Dorian Sinnott, Taylor Rae, and Dawn Vogel I was already familiar with from their work in other books. The anthology introduced me to new, stellar writers like Ai Jiang, Dennis Mombauer, Addison Smith, and Jenna Hanchey. A few stories that stood out for me were Dangers of the Deep, A Bad Day at Sea, Until There Were None, The Island of Masks, No King Will Come for You, The Ocean’s Choice, Grow, and The Kingfishers Come at Dawn, although I loved all of them – Maelstroms is a very well written and put together collection.

Some quotes:

~There was nothing to row to. Only the sea, filled with the crimes of his past.

~The sky, the very sea, was red. Not the red of blooming sunlight, but the crimson red of blood.

~They said her hair had become stained with blood and that is why it was red. Dead Red Delahaye.

~What tossed us into the sea’s dark waters was not the strong winds that carried us forth, nor the storms that brewed and rocked the ship, but the men who found that we were too many mouths to feed.

~The word slides into the hall like frozen glass.

~…the shadows were so profound that just his weighted leg revealed which side was down.

~…the agony of drowning and the peace of death.

~In the end, her most important lesson was the one the students taught.

~Scattered among the sand are a multitude of stones…, worn affectionately from embraces of the ocean.

~I feed on iron and bone and tears.

~Frost clung to her eyelashes and nipped at her cheeks, tasting her. The winter was hungry.

My rating – 5/5