The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

This is a magical book and a wonderful but heartbreaking read.
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I loved this book. Hours passed as I was reading without me realising, and even when it reached the small hours of the morning, I could not stop. I wish I could put my finger on what makes this book so brilliant. The writing is gorgeous, vivid, and visual. It seems redundant to say the characters are well developed. They weren't characters to me. They were real people, with all the hopes and dreams, fears and foibles of real people. I shared in their pain, their uncertainties, their unexpected joys.
The book succeeds because its foundation is a study of human life, and watching four generations of a family succeed and fail. It's also a book about nostalgia, sentimental but never mawkish. It's about how toys can make us feel like children again, and the trials of one family trying to bring some joy into a troubled world. But it's also about magic. The ordinary magic of love and hope, and the extraordinary magic of what might happen if, just if, a toy were to one day come to life.
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An utterly beautiful, magical book. It really captures you and takes you on a brilliant journey.
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Ah: Christmas. As I type this it is October and we are rapidly moving in time towards that seasonal time of year that seems to be more than a religious celebration, that is celebrated by many who do not even have a religious belief*. The idea of giving gifts and receiving presents at a time of seasonal adversity seems to be universally regarded as a good thing. Connie Willis has said, in her book Miracle and Other Christmas Stories that “I love Christmas. All of it—decorating the tree and singing in the choir and baking cookies and wrapping presents.”

Much of our values of Christmas were created when we were at our most impressionable, when as a youngster we would stay awake waiting for Santa to visit. This was reinforced by the Dickensian celebrations of Christmas as a time of redemption, of cold snowy winters but also good food, good company and shiny gifts. Fairy tales of elves and snow, magical creatures and enchanting choirs have been written to rival such as those written by The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen and make entertainment in such times that emphasise the goodness of Christmas. 

The Toymakers taps into these feelings and creates a feel-good story, heavy on the Dickensian tone but one with less “mawkish sappiness” (as Connie calls it) than you might expect. There’s a darker side too, with a frisson of creepy thrills that make the story more than a story meant just to delight and entertain you. It will remind you of good times, of the particular joy of a childhood Christmas and yet also remind you that the festive season may also be a difficult one for some. I am sure will become a regular read at this time of year.

This is a magical novel. Through the rich nuanced characterisation, we discover a wonderfully imaginative magical world, as much Harry Potter as it is Hans Christian Andersen. Each year, through Papa Jack and his two sons, the shy Emil & the boisterous Kaspar, the Emporium tries to outdo the last year, spending the time from the appearance of the first snowdrops of Spring to the first fall of snow in Winter designing more and more outlandish toys for the next Christmas, to make each more memorable than the last. There are unicorns, loyal wind-up patchwork dogs, exploding paper trees and cloud castles, all within the vast caverns of the Emporium’s shelves. 

To this we have touches of Dickensian sentimentality through the arrival of unmarried mother Cathy Wray. In typical Dickensian fashion Cathy, a pregnant runaway, takes on a job at the Emporium in 1907 and never leaves. She becomes the object of both Kaspar and Emil’s affections, which has consequences for all concerned.  

The story is mainly centred around the two boys and their father, although the plot expands as other characters are added. Set initially before the First World War, we see a world in transition. In 1907 the world pictured is mainly one of simple pleasures and joy, where the world within the Emporium especially is bright and shiny, a place away from the harsh realities of the real world. With the arrival of Cathy Wray we see this world of wonder lose its innocence. This continues as the characters grow up, with the boys still rivals but yet at the same time, ones that love each other. World War 1 has consequences for them all, as it did many of the relatively innocent men who marched jollily off to war to be ‘home by Christmas’ and came back changed. 
As time goes on and the tale reaches London in the 1920’s and beyond, things change and the Emporium and the people grow as well. There are good times and bad, with the ongoing rivalry between Emil and Kaspar partly to blame. The ending is bitter-sweet, rather like much of Dickens’ work. 

In summary, The Toymakers is an assured magic-realism novel that will create a feel-good aura around even the most cynical of readers. It captures the excitement and the sheer joy of the Christmas season, with characters you will grow to love and situations where you will be kept up reading because you want to know what happens next. 

For anyone who enjoys the change in the seasons, the preparation for and the celebration of Christmas, who wants to live in a story that has imagination, whimsy and characters that you care about in an alluring world of miracles and wonder, The Toymakers is a sheer, sparkly, shiny triumph. I loved it.
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This book did not play out in the way that I thought it was going to.  It started out with this wonderful childlike feeling of magic and whimsy and as the years in the book progressed I felt this creeping responsibility of adult hood sinking in, yet there was always the possibility of magic.

The Toy Makers was beautiful and sad at the same time, it was filled with some of the most beautiful quotes I have come across in a long time, was superbly written and a joy and an honour to read.  

It did take me a long time to read this book but it wasn't the kind of book that you could or even wanted to rush through, it was so engrossing and consuming you felt like you became part of the Emporium.
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Premessa: per decidere se The Toy Makers mi fosse piaciuto (e decidere che sì, mi era piaciuto, e parecchio pure) ho dovuto riflettere un paio di giorni.
Cosa inusuale, per una che di solito stabilisce se un romanzo è nelle sue corde alle prime trenta pagine ( e difficilmente sbaglia - è rarissimo che qualcosa che non mi è piaciuto alla prima si risollevi).
In buona parte credo che sia dovuto allo scarto tra le aspettative iniziali e il prodotto effettivo.

Insomma: mi capita fra le mani un romanzo ambientato fra il 1907 e il 1953, in un negozio di giocattoli a Londra.
Giocattoli meravigliosi, con più di un tocco di magia, e un negozio altrettanto magico: apre con la prima brina e chiude allo spuntare dei bucaneve.
Ogni anno, da vent'anni, generazioni di bambini affollano i suoi labirintici interni, scoprendo castelli di nubi, animali di pezza che volano davvero, scatole più grandi all'interno che all'esterno, soldatini che combattono battaglie complesse e sempre nuove.
E in questo negozio arriva Cathy, quindici anni e incinta, in fuga da una famiglia che vorrebbe farla rinunciare al bambino che porta in grembo; per decoro, decenza, vergogna.
Cosa ci può essere di più coccoloso di un romanzo ambientato in un negozio magico di giocattoli magici?
Ben poco, pensa una, ricordando con piacere The night circus.

E legge, incauta e impreparata.

Perché arrivano violenze sugli ebrei, e i campi di lavoro in Russia, e i traumi della prima guerra mondiale; i difficili rapporti fra fratelli; invidia e gelosia che infiltrano come veleno le generazioni; dolore e lontananza e tradimento; la degradante perdita della magia; e una sorprendente riflessione sul libero arbitrio.

Il tutto sullo sfondo di un mondo a parte, toccato solo dai maggiori eventi di due decenni, fino alla sua disgregazione, quando la realtà diventa troppo per la magia.

Ecco, questo è quello che mi sono trovata, stranita, per le mani: un'opera complessa e intelligente, che ribalta le aspettative del lettore, scavando a fondo e offrendo una molteplicità di piani di lettura.

Notevole, davvero.

Ringrazio l'editore per avermi concesso la copia necessaria alla stesura di questa recensione. ^^
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Imagine stepping into a narrow alley somewhere in London in 1917 and entering into what looks like a tiny toyshop only to find it expands into a much larger space once you are through the doors. This is what Cathy Wray does when she goes there in search of a job as a sales assistant. Little does she know where things shall lead. She meets Papa and his two sons Emil and Kaspar who all share an extraordinary skill in making toys that defy imagination. Entranced by the shop, the toys and the family Cathy soon is absorbed into this peculiar, isolated world. The book spans a period of 50 years during which love, death, war and above all, the amazing toys ensure any reader shall find turning the pages simply irresistible. Yes, the story is pure escapism but the harshness of the real world is never far away.  By reading "The Toymakers"  you shall get back your childhood for a few hours - enjoy the magic!
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Why settle for normal toys when you can have ones which defy logic, with a pinch of mystical magic.  Bring your toys to life by buying them at the emporium. 
This book is the behind the scenes of how such magic and heartache goes into making such unique toys. If only there was one near here.  Stunning read which captivates you and takes you on a life long journey. Highly recommended
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The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…


I am going to give this one a 3/5 stars rating, even though it doesn’t entirely work. Some parts I really loved, and some parts I really didn’t, so I’m just rounding it up. So, let’s start with the parts I enjoyed, shall we?

First of all, this book was giving me serious The Night Circus vibes from the very beginning. It’s fantasy ingrained in reality in a properly executed and often fascinating manner. I’m absolutely serious when I say that I only kept reading just to see what toy they were going to make next. I also kept imagining the Emporium as a combination of Olivander’s with Honeydukes and Weasley Wizard Wheezes and it reminded me a lot of my childhood and one of my favourite book series, even if that wasn’t the author’s intentions.

While I was reading the book I grew really fond of Dinsdale’s writing as well; I could see myself reading this book during Christmas time and the fact that it read pretty much like a fairytale didn’t hurt either. His pace and time jumps, as well as the time frame of the book reminded me of another favourite of mine; Thornbirds by Collen McCullough. But, as far as virtues go, I’m afraid this is it.

Even though it’s a fairly short book (around 300 pages if I remember correctly), I felt like it lasted forever. I liked the writing, but I felt it was dragging on and on and on. I was constantly under the impression that the author had no idea where he wanted to go with the story; a lot of things happened, but they seemed to get the storyline nowhere in particular. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something that, on this occasion, exhausted me.

Another thing that irked was that I really didn’t care for the characters. I mean, I sort of liked Cathy – even though I am certain I will soon forget of her existence – but I don’t even have an opinion on anyone else. Do I like them? Do I hate them? Honestly, I don’t even know. They were either underdeveloped or completely common and forgettable, and I honestly couldn’t give a damn what happened to them.

So, where exactly do I stand with this book? It’s just an okay book, one that you could perhaps love if you find yourself caring or rooting for the characters – something I, unfortunately, didn’t.

**An ARC was provided in exchange of an honest review**
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