The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers has as its setting Papa Jack’s Emporium, a strange and magical toyshop that opens with the first frost of winter, and closes again when snowdrops appear.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that I wanted to read The Toymakers when one of my favourite places to visit in London is Hamleys. Famous the world over and with seven floors of toys and games at its Regent Street store, I hoped to find in the Emporium some of the magic and creativity that can be found there.

I wasn’t disappointed. There are such wonders and marvels among the toys being created by Jekabs (aka Papa Jack) and sons, Kaspar and Emil. As Kaspar says: “… our papa’s training us – to never lose that perspective. To make a toy, you’ve got to burrow into that little part of you that never stopped being a boy… hidden down there, are all the ideas you would have had, if only you’d never grown up.”

But children do grow up. And while Jekabs may have become Papa Jack and a toymaker to escape from past horrors in his own life, the Emporium can’t keep the adult world at bay indefinitely. It provides a place of refuge and work for young runaway Cathy Wray, yet her arrival and plight both indicate that the Emporium is not immune from the outside world. It creeps inside and disturbs the equilibrium even here. 

Once their playground, Jekabs’ sons have grown up in the Emporium, one brother’s games and memories incomplete without the other. Now, though, things are altogether more strained, with the age gap more keenly felt alongside an emerging skills gap. The older brother’s toy making performs “the feat of magic… Kaspar’s night light had cast those enchantments… There was a time only their father was capable of such things.” Emil tries to hold on to “where the true joy of the Emporium existed – in the ordinary magic of children at play” but it’s not easy for him. Especially once he decides where to focus his attentions.

The story of The Toymakers begins in 1906 with Cathy’s arrival at the Emporium and it is one that will take us all the way through the lives of the Emporium’s characters up to 1953. It’s a story of the magic in play and how powerful the imagination is when being creative, and allowed to roam free. But there’s always a darker side to all good fairytales and The Toymakers is no exception; Robert Dinsdale shows us what happens when we lose that childlike wonder as we grow up or when we lose sight of the magic and possibilities, either by allowing ourselves to become blinded or preoccupied with uglier concerns or through undergoing a traumatic experience. Dark and magical, The Toymakers totally captured my imagination.
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Received a free copy from NetGalley

This book was not my cup of tea, the plot sounded promising enough  and caught my attention but i felt the book didn't deliver
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It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC.

I read this in one sitting it was so beautiful!  Reminiscent of the Night Circus in its' imagination, I love, love, loved this book.  Wonderfully crafted and magical, a perfect read at Christmas or any time of the year.  A genuine work of art.
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From the outset of this story, Dinsdale sucks you into a magical world of beautiful prose, magical experiences and immersive characters. 

The story follows Cathy, who is hired to assist a family run toy shop in London. They make their own toys which appear to be magical. Cathy is immersed in this fantastical world and their shared love of toys sucks the reader into the novel. It evokes the feeling of childhood wonder and imagination that everyone reading would remember feeling themselves. 

The intertwining plots of the two brothers was heartbreaking to read about, and I enjoyed how the outside war was reflected within the shop itself. The contrast between the horrible nature of war and the effects it has on people is in stark contrast to the magic and wonder of the toys in the toy shop itself. 

The prose that Dinsdale uses is excellent, very stylistic and a joy to read. 

Definitely, a book that has inspired me to check out the magical realism genre in more detail
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The book starts with such a wondrous and magical description of the shop. Full of mysterious aisles and surprises, it makes you feel as if you are actually there, watching the happenings. 
The Emporium is a shop full of magical toys, paper trees that grow as soon as you open the box, marching soldiers that fight the long war, and patchwork animals that run around and act as pets. 
Cathy finds herself drawn there when she finds an advertisement in the paper and sees it as a sign, specially for her. Young and pregnant, she decides to run away from her parents so she doesn't have to give up her baby. The Emporium becomes her home and the strange owners almost like a family to her, but then she finds out that it is only open through winter, until the first snowdrops appear.
I really enjoyed the story, the descriptions and all the characters. Not all are as they seem, and first impressions can be misleading, but you learn about them all through Cathy's feelings and changing impressions.
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It’s a shame I did not read it earlier... it is so emotional and the story is so catching.. 

Definitely one of my number one book this year.
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Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.

The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.

Cathy soon becomes an essential part of the emporium, safe, happy and loved. But war is looming and the repercussions of a sibling rivalry put that happiness and safety at risk.

This is such a beautiful book. The writing is truly lovely, absolutely magical in places and it really is the perfect book to sink into on a winter’s afternoon. The magic is presented in such a way that it seems totally believable, and the dark threads of war, violence, jealousy and cruelty are wound through so skilfully, that this is much more than a fantasy.

Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

Perfect for Christmas, and one of my books of the year.
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Boris Vian's Froth on the Daydream mashed with Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong. I loved the Boris Vian like parts and been so very bored with the Faulks's like bits. All in all not a bad read, but guess I was expecting more.
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I really struggled with this. It took me a long time to read and I kept leaving it in favour of other books. It felt like the author wasn't quite sure what he wanted: kids book or descent into darkness? The contrast between the beautiful magic and the wickedness never quite worked. I was disappointed.
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The Toymaker is a captivating, rich, and an emotional read. It evoked such magical feelings and created a sense of amazement. Think The Night Circus. Yes, the story isn't original but this is a must read.
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The Toymakers is not a book I would normally pick to read as I am not a fan of fantasy/magic type books.  The reason I chose to read this is simply down to recommendations by some of the admin of a book club I am part of, and after finishing the book it is certainly something I recommend as well.  I didn't find it a fantasy/magic novel in the strictest sense, more of a historical novel with the added bit of magic.  The plot covers the first half of the twentieth century and follows Cathy Wray, who runs away from home and the trouble she is in, after seeing an advertisement for staff at The Emporium in London.  The narrative follows Cathy's life at the Emporium and her relationship with Papa Jack and his two sons Kaspar and Emil.

The Toymakers really captured my imagination and I fell into its magic.  The Toy Emporium is a magical place really brought to life by Robert Dinsdale.  I really believed in rocking horses galloping along, toy soldiers fighting battles and trees that sprouted from paper with birds in their branches.  This may all seem very fairytale like, and childish, but as in all good fairytales there is darkness lurking in its pages that spirals out of control. There is love, betrayal, filial rivalry, jealousy, relationships, and power that combine to make this such an engaging and compelling read. All the characters are flawed and have a dark side that they are running from, some in the past, and some from events the happen during the book.  Cathy has had a wonderful childhood, lovely parents, a close relationship with her sister, but one simple mistake changes her life and she makes the decision to runaway rather than face the alternative.  Her arrival at The Emporium is a catalyst for all the other events that follow.  Papa Jack is a big bear of a man, from Russia originally, and has suffered and seen some horrific things as part of the wars and revolution. For him, making toys is something he uses as a distraction from the horror he has faced and to move forward with his life; I saw him of Santa Claus figure bringing joy to adults and children alike. His sons Kaspar and Emil have always had a rivalry of who can make the best toy for the coming Christmas, but sibling rivalry can become a kind of war, like they they play with their toy soldiers; the symbol of their continual conflict and mirroring the War in Europe going on outside The Emporium. I was drawn to both of the brothers characters for different reasons; Kasper being more creative and acting the older brother, thinking he knows best, whilst Emil, the younger brother always feeling less important and trying to live up to his successful older brother I didn't want to take sides. It is these complex and changeable relationships that draw you in and keep you turning the pages.

The Toymakers is both heartbreaking and beautiful, dark and yet magical. I was enchanted by this book, the characters, their relationships and their story really drew me in.  The Emporium is a place we could all do with visiting, as lets face it, we all need a bit of magic in our lives.  The paperback is due out on September 20, and I know it's a bit early, but this would make a wonderful Christmas gift to a fellow booklover; a magical read that will capture your heart and imagination.
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Everyone loves a bit of magic and sparkle and combined with memories of childhood visits to toy shops at Christmas, the Toymakers evokes a vivid immersive experience. It made me long for my own patchwork clockwork dog. Beautifully described, this book oozes the whole gamut of love, joy, sorrow, loss and triumph over adversity. Well written and very enjoyable.
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I utterly adored the descriptions of the Emporium as well as the wonderful toys held within. It would be a perfect read for christmas time as it had quite a few moments of childhood wonderment you feel during that time of the year. Christmas feels like it is just around the corner (even though it is a few months away) and the descriptions of toys, childhood excitement for presents, whimsical decorations, the magic of Christmas and the thrill of playing with new toys during the Christmas period were rich and constant throughout this book which made it a very heartwarming, nostalgic and cosy read at times.

However, it is simultaneously a very heart warming, magical read as well as a very wistful and heartbreaking book with moments of sadness and melancholy. I never read emotional books and this one did get to me at times, especially after the half way mark of the book. I definitely prefer the more light hearted, magical elements of the book rather than the heartbreaking realities of life, uncomfortable emotions of jealousy, guilt and self doubt as well as the mental health aspects of the book but they are very important to read about and for the story. I'd definitely recommend it for it's utterly magical, Christmas themed setting and wonderful writing so if that sounds like something you'd enjoy then check out this read!
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Six stars at least!
What an amazing book.  It was almost like a series of books in one - just when you thought it was going to end, it carried on, moving into a new part of the story.  Never ending, like watching King Lear when you think 'it must be almost over now', but then it keeps going, however in The Toymakers it almost becomes a different story, and is absolutely brilliant.  Unlike King Lear, I was so sad when my copy of The Toymakers eventually came to the end, but I was so glad that the last of the twists was so clever, and so wonderful.
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This is an amazing world full of colour, magic and imagination. I laughed, I cried. This book made me feel emotions of such intensity that I can genuinely say I saw every detail through the eyes of my inner child and I never want to leave.

Thank you so much NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book. I apologise for my incredibly late review.
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Loved this so much! An utterly magical read - I didn't want to put it down! Transported me to another time and I couldn't get enough of it! Recommended to family and friends, and eagerly awaiting Robert's next book!
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This is a really difficult book for me to rate. There was a lot that I liked, but there are some things that I found so tedious and boring. For me, this straddles the line between a 2 and 3 star read. Those are the only options because half stars don’t exist! And that’s real tough because that’s the difference between recommended and not recommended. But taking the whole story into account, I finally settled on 3 stars - recommended.

I thought some characters were really strong and enjoyable, whilst others felt trivial or needed more developing for me to be invested in them. The world building and magic is fantastic. I love the emporium and all that comes along with it. Papa Jack may just be my favourite character of all time, even though we don’t see a huge amount of him. 

Unfortunately the plot felt weak and disjointed. I didn’t really like how we just skipped many years at a time. It left the story feeling rushed in parts. 

Overall, I enjoyed many aspects of this, but felt it lost its way at about the 40% mark. And although I enjoyed many aspects of the ending, it did feel like it came out of nowhere. This has some really strong world-building, and some strong characters, but unfortunately struggled to find it’s story. Therefore, the plot points felt forced. It was like the author had a few good characters, an excellent world, but wasn’t quite sure what story should be told with them. Still, and enjoyable read.

Anyway, I’m off to make a horse out of sticks and grass. Until next time, Peace and Love!
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I was slightly disappointed with the actual story which just seemed to move at a slower pace than I expected.
The imagination in the story is magical though with anything possible.
Magical, but not magic enough for me.
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I finished reading this book at the end of May, but due to other blogging commitments, I have been unable to find the time to write my review. Usually, leaving a review for so long can make it difficult to remember the impression the book made on you at the time. However, there are a few stand out points that make this book quite unforgettable.

I cannot put into words how well Robert Dinsdale captures the spirit, imagination and the magic of being a child. I may be twenty-three years old, but there were times I wished I was transported to the age of childhood innocence. It may sound daft – hey, you’re an adult! Magic isn’t real! That is where you are wrong.

In stark contrast to the joy and wonder of youth and fun of the Toy Emporium, sixteen-year-old Cathy is due to become a mother. Shunned by her parents for the impropriety of being with child out of wedlock, she flees to the Emporium to start afresh. There, she raises her child and the two of them become part of the Emporium family.

As Emil and Kaspar wage their boyhood wars, the true horrors of real war come to haunt many families. Boys are sent to the trenches. Those that come back are not the same as the boys who left to fight for Queen and country.

I was fascinated at how Papa Jack came to be a toymaker. His back-story is rich and inspiring in equal measure. The life of the Toymaker has not been easy, and it is from the darkest shadows that the brightest light shines. Beauty, love, awe, and inspiration go hand in hand with the horror and brutality, trials and hardship of the world – this inseparable combination captures the essence of life.
In Summary…

I don’t think I can successfully put into words just how much I loved this book! Each character is unique and has their part to play. It is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and fantasy – lovers of either genre would enjoy reading The Toymakers for themselves. As an avid reader of BOTH genres… perhaps then you can see why I enjoyed the book so much! I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in these genres. I don’t think you will regret it.
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A very original, magical and dark story!! And a gorgeous cover!! I started off reading this completely lost in a magical world in Papa Jacks' Emporium full of the most wonderful toys - toy soldiers that fight their own battles, instant trees and animals who appear that they are alive - but behind the toys is a family fighting their own battles, and a girl who is running away.

Cathy is a young girl who is pregnant and has brought shame on her family so they are ready to send her away, but she takes matters into her own hands and boards the train from Leigh On Sea to London where she goes for a job interview at the Emporium - it has a way of taking in waifs and strays so she is the perfect employee for them. You just have to not stop remembering what it is like to be a child and see the magic in everything. She loves her new life there and is taken to the heart of the family very quickly.

Brothers Emil and Kaspar both work for their father at the Emporium and are always trying to outdo one another with creating the most wonderful new toy. But Kaspar soon has to go off to War while Emil stays behind to help run the business and life soon takes a darker twist for them all.

I loved the magical elements to this story and wasn't really prepared for the darker sides to the story which did feel a little out of place at times as they were quite serious issues. Seeing someone dealing with PTSD - as we now know it - was a little heartbreaking to read and the effect it had on those around him.

But the characters were all well put together in their development and it was interesting to see they dynamic between them all, especially towards the end. 

I did enjoy reading this overall but would have loved more of the magical elements for more of an escapist read!
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