Choose Your Own Nightmare (1995-1997)
Hill, Laban Carrick
Schmidt, William (Bill)
It isn't an especially good start to the holiday season when you and your friend Evan spot the monstrous new toy store that has somehow sprung up where your town's historic Camperdown Maple used to be. The big, homey old tree is still technically there, but most of its body has been replaced with the toy store, and you're ambivalent about the massive change. A huge toy store packed with the newest and best entertainments is great, of course, but what about when it destroys an ancient natural landmark the people of your town have always loved? Your friend Evan embraces the new store immediately, but you have the choice to do the same or dig in your heels and see what problems you can cause for the store's ownership, and it is from here the main story branches out in The Toy Shop of Terror.
Going inside and having fun with the store's layout is an appealing prospect, there's no doubt about that; until, that is, you talk to the odd, elf-like employees and actually explore the store's wares. Not every item the store carries appears safe, and even the amusements set up in-store to appeal to kids who'd like to ride a long, high slide down several floors (at least) or get lost in a crazy funhouse atmosphere don't come without their perils. You might be best advised to grab Evan and run while you can, because if the toy store sets down roots and is allowed to sell its toys all over the area in the months leading up to Christmas, the end could be a deadly one for many. What is the larger menace behind this fly-by-night toy emporium?
If you decide to fight the introduction of the toy store to your town--and considering the extremely garish setup, surely there are ordinances and property value laws being violated to some degree--you'll first have to prove the store exists to the powers that be, and even that isn't guaranteed to be a smooth or easy road. If the town business overseers won't take an active part in investigating the mysterious shop, maybe your mother will. Watch out, though, for potentially lethal effects of your encounters with whoever is ultimately behind the store being here. Powerful individuals seem to be in support of the showy new toy store, powerful enough to suck in Evan and lots of other kids like him if they aren't constantly aware of the game the store is playing with them. If a night spent accidentally locked inside the shop or a few hours stocking shelves and performing small errands in exchange for a cool new toy you want seem harmless enough, then you might find this toy store to be your final resting place. Unless, that is, you're still lucky enough to escape the demented building and the grasp of its evil denizens before it's too late....
Laban Carrick Hill is a good writer, as evidenced by other gamebooks he has authored (including one of my favorites in the Choose Your Own Nightmare series, Welcome to Horror Hospital). Flashes of that ability can be seen in The Toy Shop of Terror, such as the adventures with the winding, high-speed chutes you can ride, with or without Evan. Walking the chaotic floor of the toy shop also makes for a few engaging scenes. I would have liked to see the idea behind the story explained more fully, with something to tie it together so there's at least some measure of closure and understanding about why the store is here and who runs it, but while The Toy Shop of Terror doesn't provide this closure at virtually any level, and the divergent storylines aren't internally consistent, I did like this book and would definitely read it again. For a few moments of pleasant diversion around Christmas, The Toy Shop of Terror is a good choice, and though it isn't likely to ever be a holiday standby, I think readers will get some fun out of it.
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