Book Review: These Toxic Things

May Contain Spoilers

I recently read These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall. I want to start off by saying this is not my usual genre. It’s billed as a thriller. I typically read fantasy of all types and some historical fiction. Every once in a while, I’ll delve into the world of mysteries (think Agatha Christie type) or gothic paranormal books. A “thriller” is not something I would gravitate toward. 

So you may wonder why I read this one. It was part of Amazon’s First Reads for Prime Readers, and the only one that was intriguing to me on the day I read the email. I, like many of my friends, choose books based on my current mood. Nothing else stood out, and I thought it would be good to branch out of my comfort zone. 

Please take all of this into consideration when reading my review. I do not have a lot of previous experience to go on. 

First, the plot grabbed me from the start. The idea of a digital scrapbooking service made me wonder what items of mine I would choose. And the fact that Mickie is curious enough to dig deeper while being threatened indicated a strong female character, which I enjoy. 

As I read, I thought Mickie was a little too early-adult melodramatic. Boyfriend troubles, possible career changes, and some tense moments with her parents made the main character seem shallow. I pushed on. 

It didn’t take long for the real action to begin. Mickie went to her client’s store but before she could start work, Nadia was dead. Since Nadia paid in full for the digital scrapbook, Mickie was sure someone from Nadia’s life would want it and continued working on it. That’s when the threats started. 

As Mickie digs deeper into Nadia’s past, what she believes about her own past unravels as family secrets are revealed. Slowly, the reader builds their own theory about how Nadia really died and what Mickie’s parents are hiding. 

There’s also still the spectacle of Mickie’s romantic relationships, which were very superficial and could be left out of the book without really affecting the plot. Make her boss just a boss, not a lover. Make Nadia’s son just her son and Mickie’s friend, not a fling. If the relationships were deeper or more meaningful, they would have more sway over the plot. As you can tell, I despise fluff and nonsense in novels.

Interspersed throughout the book are mini-chapters from the stalker’s point of view. The way Hall wrote these insights reveals nothing about the stalker. Their sex, appearance, and reason for stalking are all slowly unveiled as Mickie performs amateur sleuth work. Interestingly, the stalker is not obvious, which makes the book worthwhile.

Honestly, I was not paying too much attention to some of the details in the story as someone who regularly reads thrillers might. There are sections about Nadia’s treasures that include details of the victims and hints of who the murderer is. I’m sure my oversight would exasperate thriller enthusiasts. But I was trying to figure out who really killed Nadia and who the stalker was, and didn’t see the memory box information as relevant. 

When the climax of the book revealed the killer and the stalker, I was pleased to be wrong on both counts. Mysteries that are too easy for me to figure out are not any fun to read, and I quickly get bored with the story. This book kept me interested until the final showdown.

I rolled my eyes at the nod to the beginning of the pandemic lockdown at the end of the book. We’re living it; we don’t need to be reminded that it happened. Any book that references the current pandemic is immediately put on my “do not read” list. Enough with that, already.

There is some lack of character development for the minor characters. I didn’t really care when Anna went missing, although I was pleased she wasn’t another murder victim. The emotional connection between reader and character is missing. The story definitely moved forward based on the reader’s curiosity of “who done it” instead of “what happens to Mickie.” I definitely prefer novels that have deeper and more vibrant characters.

Will I pick up another book by Ms. Hall? Unlikely. But I also don’t regret reading this one.


Featured Image by Luiz-Jorge-Artista on Pixabay.

Books Are Here To Stay

The following is an actual conversation with my son.

“Wow, Regal Cinemas is closed until further notice,” my husband announced as he scrolled through his Facebook feed. 

“Why?” Our almost sixteen-year-old son, Tim, asked.

“Because people aren’t going to the movies due to COVID,” my husband answered. 

“Movies aren’t being made due to COVID,” I said. “It’s impossible to make a movie and social distance at the same time.”

“That sucks,” Tim muttered. 

“What if the movies we have now are the only movies we will ever have?” I mused. 

“No, don’t say that!” 

My son was horrified, but it got me thinking. 


Movies are a recent invention. The first one was created in 1878 when a racehorse owner wanted to know if all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while galloping. The film, titled The Horse In Motion, is only 3 seconds in length, but it paved the way for motion pictures. Over time, technology increased in all areas and the results are the movies we know and love today. 

Books, however, have been around for several millennia. It is common knowledge that the ancient Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to record their history. Other nations adopted this method and improved upon it, and around 600 AD, people began adding illustrations to parchment pages. These pages were then sewn together and placed inside a leather binding to protect them. 

The first printing press was invented in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg and, like everything else, technology advancements improved it. We now have practically unlimited access to any book we want through digital means; however, the printed book is still going strong. The publishing industry has shifted to favor e-books since they cost less to produce. There is some speculation that printed books will become obsolete, but printed books aren’t disappearing.

Humans have told stories to each other since they first began to talk. Stories were used to tell the location of a good hunting area and pass down the tribe’s history. This is also how myths and legends originated. Books were not originally used for entertainment, but to disseminate information and history. Once again, time proved to be the changing factor, and now we read books for entertainment as well as to gain knowledge. 

What does all of this have to do with the movies? It’s simple: Books can be created while social distancing is observed. Writers are, for the most part, solitary creatures. We like to get together to give and receive feedback about our work, but the actual writing is done solo. Editing, proofreading, and cover creation can all happen via email. Publishing, especially e-publishing, can be done without close contact with other humans. 

I feel that this is hopeful for humanity. Creativity, imagination, and innovation are still prevalent forces in our world. History has shown us that, no matter what is thrown at us, we are resilient. Even if, in the unlikely event, that the internet disappears, books will still be created.

So much has been taken from us this year, and there have been numerous changes. I think, for good or ill, most of these changes are here to stay. I am optimistic that movies will return, but if they don’t, that’s okay. We have books.