The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

I was a bit wary about another book with magic in it, but persevered and found that it was not overly intrusive and that the book was well written and dealt with some difficult ideas well.

However I think it went downhill from about 1917 and became very unbelievable and depressing as the "magic" went too far. Difficult to say more without spoilers.

It was briefly revived towards the end, but I just thought that it could have been handled differently and better and earned more stars.
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Cathy runs away from home after finding out she is pregnant. She goes to London to hide away until her child is born. She finds Papa Jack's emporium in an advert and goes there to find a place to stay and a job to make money.
Papa Jack gives her a job and she soon settles into a new way of life finding comfort talking to her unborn baby. She notices Papa Jack's two sons, Emil and his older brother Kaspar. They are also toy makers in the shop.
Kaspar and Cathy start to grow closer together after they are caught up in the magic of the emporium. Once it comes to the time when no more toys needs to be made Cathy worries about where she will have her baby. She is saved by Kaspar and she moves into the magic Wendy house. Over time each of the brothers visit her and she gets closer to both of them. Kaspar is the one at the birth of her daughter, Martha.
Kaspar and Cathy get married and they continue to make toys for the emporium. Kaspar and Emil have always had a rivalry when it comes to making toys and when they play with their magical toy soldiers. The first world war starts and Emil tries to sign up but they wont take him. Kaspar goes and is sent away to war. Emil is bitter with resentment.
When Kaspar returns their lives don't return to normal. They continue to run the shop and try to make it even more successful. Life gets harder for them all but the magic of the toys and how they all come to life helps to keep the dream going.
This was such a magical book where all types of toys came to life and childhood imagination is real. Mary Poppins style bags and wind up dogs and soldiers bring the enchanting story to life.
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I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest and independent review.

I absolutely loved this book! The language was so descriptive, imaginative and magical that I felt the moment the doors of the Emporium opened, at the first frost, I was really there walking up the aisles. So many times throughout the book, I wished the Emporium was real so I could pay a visit.

As well as being heartwarming, I found parts of the story heartbreaking and emotional. The journey covers the war years and a lead character, Kasper, goes to war which affects him, and in turn his family, for years after.

I would describe this book as a bit like 'Toy Story' for grown-ups! I highly recommend it and I'm looking forward to checking out more of his books!
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This book was well written and descriptive. The storyline was unique and it is something I wouldn't normally read.
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The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale (review copy from Del Rey) tries to deliver a magical and whimsical tale along the lines of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, but fails to deliver any of the depth of emotion or insight.

The Toymakers is the story of a magical toy shop in Edwardian Mayfair, run by Papa Jack, his two sons Kasper and Emil, and their community of shop workers.  Papa Jack's toys are legendary for their inventiveness and magic, and the shop's pre-Christmas opening each year is a famed spectacle.  A young woman called Cathy Wray finds refuge there after she runs away from her family, pregnant by a local boy and desperate not to find herself in a home for the mothers of illegitimate children.  Cathy is our window into Papa Jack's Emporium, as it struggles to survive the challenges of the Great War, and a toxic rivalry between Kasper and Emil. 

The premise is a great one, and there is definitely a lot of magic in Papa Jack's Emporium and the family's creations. Where the book is strongest is in its exploration of the traumatising effects of war in a period where understanding and empathy about mental health problems was very immature and gendered expectations of men made it very difficult to explore those issues.  One of the underlying messages of the book is that the experience of trauma can sometimes be necessary to enable one to tap the deepest wells of creativity.  The magic of childhood and its toys is made all the more precious when contrasted against the darknesses of war, poverty and trauma.

But I was left fundamentally unsatisfied and disappointed.  At its heart this is the story of the rivalry between two Great Men.  Cathy, despite being the viewpoint character, is relegated to the role of helpmeet and observer.  Loving and loyal, her role is to endure, and she lacks any agency of her own.  It is strongly implied that she is the victim of rape, having been pressured into sex by her childhood playmate, but she shows little sign of any lasting trauma and the crisis pregnancy seems little more than a narrative device to force Cathy to move to the Emporium and stay once the winter season is complete.  The other female characters are equally thinly drawn.  Without greater depth this book will never reach the subtle and delicate heights of something like The Night Circus.

Not only am I tired of reading books about Great Men, but there is a missed opportunity to tell a really interesting story.  I want to know more about  Cathy and the other women working to hold the Emporium together while her husband and the other men go to war, and dealing with a psychologically damaged husband returning home afterwards.  The Cathy dealing with a crisis pregnancy and coming to terms with sexual assault and the rejection of her family.  A Cathy who feels trapped by her circumstances.  We do Cathy and women like her a disservice by relegating them to passive victims and bystanders in men's stories.

Goodreads rating: 2*
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This is a great read. It is hard to define but contains the magic of Christmas with the reality of relationships and war. If that wasn't enough there is an element of horror.
It would be a good book for bookclubs. So much to discuss from both male and female perspectives.
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A magical tale of a toymaker and his two sons.  Little by little their background is revealed as each boy struggles with the need to invent the ultimate toy. The story is intertwined within the incredible Emporium where things are not always as they seem!   Ragdogs that behave like the real, soldiers and trees that act and grow magically!  In a strange world anything seems believable!!  The emotions and struggles of the two brothers cover several years, including those of the First World War, and inject reality into this fairytale. How are these toys so real?  Now that would be telling,
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The Emporium: a toyshop where fantasy becomes reality. A safe haven where adults set aside the horrors of the the world outside and play happily alongside their children.

At the centre of the story we have an unlikely love triangle between two brothers and Cathy, the pregnant young girl who has run away from home and finds a new life at The Emporium. 

The story neatly contrasts the fantastical and insular world of The Emporium against the horrors of a world deeply entrenched in WW1. There are a number of themes running through the book such as the loss of childhood and the futility of war and we are left asking, must all good things come to an end?

Whilst I enjoyed the start of the story I felt it dragged in the middle. The final section, whilst providing some kind of closure to the story, seemed tagged on. As the magic faded and the story became slightly depressing in places I found my interest in the characters fading. 

The story feels very cinematic in places but flat in others. The story would probably make a great film adaptation with some of the detail taken out. An interesting read but not as magical as I’d hoped.
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A case of book-reader mismatch. I don't particularly enjoy intensely descriptive stories so I ended up deciding on giving up on this one.

(Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy!)
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"Do you remember when you believed in magic?"

Set inside a magical toy shop, in the heart of 1940's London, where paper trees grow in front of your eyes, patchwork dogs act like breathing ones, and doll houses are bigger than most city compartments live Kaspar and Emil. Two brothers who travelled, with their estranged father Papa Jack, to this foreign city to make their home and perfect their craft. The toy shop has grown and every year, at first frost, the lost, the afraid, and the still-believers flock to the entrance to make this their home and their place of work, for the winter. But when the first flower of Spring thrusts its small head through the ice-hardened soil they must return to the normality that still reigns, outside of the toy emporium's doors.

This was a seamless blend of the realistic and the magical. This was very much a portrait of pre-war London, but there was also the utter enchantment that comes with the suspension of belief that occurs when whimsical wonders are placed alongside the every day. This truly does revert the reader back to their childhood self, where any dream is possible and questions are allayed in favour of the blind belief in magic.

However, this initial charming whimsy was soon overtaken by an undercurrent of fear. The beginning of WWII chronicles a change in this novel, that leads to both a severe return to the reality of the emporium's situation, as well as making this a startling bleak political insight. Prejudice is rife and the discourse returns countless times to the ideology of both cultural identity and gender stereotypes.

My utter captivation with this novel stemmed from its juxtaposition of ability to charm my imagination whilst also providing many sources of discourse for my mind to ponder over. It was the amalgamation of stark reality and the childhood suspension of belief that makes this such an enjoyable read but, ultimately, it was my delighted rapture with the emporium that ensures I will never forget my experience of reading it.
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The Toymakers is a rare and magical piece of literature, one which I feel blessed for having discovered and read. Though I had been approved to review the title on Netgalley, I decided I ought to purchase the beautiful hardcover edition as no doubt this will be a novel read several times, particularly in the run up to Christmas, during which time much of the story is set.

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!
The novel begins with Kathy's story: she is a 16 year old girl, who - having fallen pregnant - is faced with the decision to give up her child or run away to start a new life in London. She discovers a newspaper ad asking "Are you lost? Are you afraid...?" It promises the opportunity to board and work in London's most talked about toy store, propriety of Papa John: a former Russian who has brought his talents to entertain and seduce a plethora of eager children and their families.

The toy store quickly becomes Kathy's safe haven, a place of wonder and security among friends who become more like family.

From the mysterious Wendy house, whose external appearance belies the true internal size, to the "castle in the sky", around which fluffy white clouds gather, and the toyboxes which contain worlds, the magic of this book is wrapped in realism, spinning a tale of historical events which precedes the first World War and continues for many years following. Throughout, toy soldiers provide both metaphor and expression of war-ravaged soldiers in battle. It is both haunting and heart-breaking, well-suited to older and adult readers who retain the awe of a child's discovery and wonder.

I heartily recommend The Toymakers, particularly the exquisite hardback edition (a beautifully designed cover which would make a wonderful gift), and encourage everyone to read it who would enjoy a magical, literary escape.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
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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!" 

Imagine a world where everything has a mind of its own, where toys can walk, talk, grow and even fight, a place where magic is a matter of perspective and belief. Welcome to The Emporium, a toy store in London that opens every year only during winters. A store loved by all and a place with its own share of secrets and wonders.

The story revolves around Papa Jack, Emil, and Kasper- the family who own The Emporium. In this beautiful, magical place enters Cathy. Cathy has run away from her family because her family wasn’t ready to accept her child. As Cathy starts working, she managed to draw a lot of attention, especially from the brothers- Emil and Kasper. As the story progresses, we see a silent war between the brothers. A war that is both for the inheritance of the Emporium and the attention of Cathy. As the story continues, we are given a glimpse of the real world, the wars being fought and how it affects the body and the soul. The story spans between 1907 and 1953- the times when two great world wars have been fought, countless lives lost, families destroyed. The plot darkens further and talks about how The Emporium and it’s occupants are affected, how scared they are and the consequences they had to face as a result of the war.
The book is touching in a multitude of ways. There’s innocent love that Kasper and Emil have for Cathy, the love for one’s child, and the love for one’s legacy. This story is all about that fact that the great war hasn’t left anyone untouched.

The writing is highly imaginative. The world that has been created is enchanting and its so easy to forget the world and drift into the other world the author has created. The characters are vulnerable, hence making them extremely relatable. The situations, no matter how dark, was written flawlessly. The book requires a bit of patience because there are places where I felt lost.

It’s a mixture of Magical Realism and Historical Fiction and the only way to get through this book is to let the story flow through and let it cast its magic. This book is everything life is- full of possibilities yet in jeopardy.
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Thanks to NetGalley and EburyPublishing for the ebook ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Toymakers is about Cathy. Cathy is a pregnant 15 year old and her mum wants her to go to a home for young mother's and babies and give her baby away. Cathy finds a leaflet for Papa Jack's Emporium, looking for employees who are lost and need to find their way. Unfortunately Papa Jack's Emporium is only open from winter's first frost until spring's first snowdrop blossoms. 
Papa Jack, Kaspar and Emil build magical toys that will take adults back to their childhood - from growing paper trees to a real life patchwork dog called Sirius, from toy soldiers to toy boxes that hold much more than you would imagine.

Using goodreads rating system, I've gone for 4 stars because I really enjoyed this book but didn't love it. It was magical.. but maybe not magical enough. The ending made me very happy though.
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Reading this book was like stepping into a magical dream- albeit one from the early 1900s. With patchwork dogs, magical cloud castles, living toy soldiers and more, Robert Dinsdale creates a beautiful, ethereal world, leavened by the drama that takes place between his characters. The end result? Something rather special- and something that I devoured all at once.
The worldbuilding that Dinsdale conjures is something pretty special. Taking the role of the showmaster, he introduces us to the world of Papa Jack’s Emporium, the magical toystore in London’s Iron Duke Mews that only opens at the first frost, and closes when the first snowdrops appear in spring. Into this world comes Cathy Wray, a pregnant Whitby girl running away from her family’s wrath, who finds herself plunged into a magical world- and into the long-running rivalry between Emil and Kaspar, the two brothers whose father runs the emporium.
The toystore itself is a thing of wonder. I adored the descriptions- Dinsdale has a gift for making everything seem magical, whimsical and making you feel like you’re right in the heart of the action, watching everything unfold along with Cathy. The inventions that he comes up with are amazing, and even though they’re of course strictly imagined along 1900s-era toy lines, they still captivate: anybody for a patchwork dog, paper trees that explode from their boxes, and a Wendy house that’s bigger on the inside? I could have read a blow-by-blow account of life in the Emporium and I’d still have been happy.
The characters are considerably more complex. Dinsdale does a great job bringing the characters we meet at the start of the book- Kaspar, Cathy and Emil- to life, and Kaspar and Cathy’s burgeoning romance is sweetly and sensitively written (and made me really root for them!). Though the book does tend to drag at times, the excitement of life in the Emporium makes up for that- as well as Dinsdale’s detailed exploration of the brotherhood rivalry between Emil and Kaspar, whose battles get more and more bitter the longer the story goes on. And as the First World War looms, the story suddenly takes a plunge for the darker, setting the magic of the toys- and the ability they have to heal the worst, the most damaged, of men- against the grim reality of the trenches: the end result is both sad and striking.
However, it’s here where the book- for me- falls down a little. Characters make decisions that, for me, aren’t consistent with their characters; the Emporium starts to suffer, and the final act of the book- and the final reveal- was just so jaw-dropping that I had to step back a little bit and calm down. I think it might be down to opinion, but Dinsdale veering into the realm of self-determining, conscious toys and Emil’s lurch into pantomime villain territory was a little much for me, and spoiled the amazing start to the book.
Despite that, though, The Toymakers remains a thing of wonder: exciting, enchanting, extremely whimsical and moving. An exploration of the power- and magic- of toys, it’ll keep you up, and get you wishing you could revisit your childhood again.
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A toy shop that only opens at the first frost, and closes with the first snowdrop. A family that possibly escaped from Germany,and how they set up the toy shop, Magic toys that come to life because of the thought that goes into them, A toy shop whose workers come back in time to open up. Newspaper adverts to attract new staff who needed themshop. The problems of family life caused by soldiers returning from the Great War, and the decline in magic toys. This took me a while to get into, but then I couldn’t put it down.
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Cathy Wray is pregnant and about to have her child adopted, she lives with her parents on the Essex coast and whilst war wages in France, Cathy feels alone.  Then she sees an advertisement for a job at 'The Emporium' and she ups sticks to London to give her baby some sort of future.  The Emporium is a place of magic, where toys are so much more - where toy soldiers stage real battles, where cloth dogs are as real as live ones and where magical trees spring up from nothing.  Run by the elusive Papa Jack and his two sone, Cathy is embraced by The Emporium and becomes part of its fabric.  However in the modernising world is there a place for magic?

I loved the first part of the book where Cathy arrives at the Emporium and the reader is introduced to a magical world.  I also felt some of the themes, war, sibling rivalry, modernisation etc were handled well.  However I also felt that the book seemed to fall apart in the middle and I lost track of what I was reading and the initial joy faded.  The ending, whilst schmaltzy, was actually in keeping and felt right.
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I really wanted to enjoy this book. I'm a huge fan of the Night Circus, and the similarity to that drew me towards this book, but I just felt like The Toymaker was a tired re-visit of certain tropes I've grown out of. The first chapter, with Cathy knocked-up, and being sent away - I just want better for my women in 2018. I kept reading though, as this was somewhat period-typical canon, and that situation rapidly changes, but then a love triangle followed, that I wasn't emotionally invested in. I did enjoy the descriptive prose of the toyshop and the inventions, which felt magical, and I connected more with Kaspar than I did with Cathy. I think many people will find something to love about this book, but I just couldn't engage with it. Not for me at this time, sadly.
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The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
 This is an utterly captivating novel, set in the 1900’s.  Cathy finding herself in trouble, and although happy with her family at home, she doesn’t want to give up her unborn child. Sneaking away, Cathy finds herself a job at a Toy emporium in the city.  
I would describe this novel as a fairy tale for grownups, brilliantly realised, fantastical , yet rooted in reality it is a feat of imagination with a feeling of wonder.  Multi-layered and delightful, it reminds us how we felt as children. Although sad things happen, and it is  heart rending in places, Papa Jack tells them “Terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child’. 
We find ourselves in an emotional and magical place, that weaves around you and you fall in love with Papa Jack, who has survived terrible things in his life, the brothers Kaspar and Emil, and their petty jealousies and love for Cathy.
A truly spellbinding story of hope and longing, that is a beautifully written, enchanting and imaginative, I highly recommend it.
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This is an incredible book, telling the tale of a toy emporium in London run by the Goodman family. Started by Papa Jack and continued by his two sons, who couldn’t be more different - Kaspar and Emil - the emporium is a magical place.
And this is an insanely magical read. It’s a brilliantly woven fairytale-like read, full of incredible characters, beautiful storytelling and magic on every page. The emporium is incredibly realised and vividly described -  it feels like you’re actually in the toy shop surrounded by the magic of the toy makers. 
And just when you’re getting to grips with the magic of the toy shop, the whole story twists and turns thanks to the first word war and we’re taken on a stressful ride of PTSD, death, misunderstandings, horror and misunderstandings - I didn’t expect this twist but it made for such an incredible read. 
I was hooked within a couple of chapters and raced through it in two days. Definitely a must read!
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The Toymakers is a book that I felt certain I would love, there was something about it that simply called out to me.  Perhaps it was a childish whim, perhaps it just appeals to the romantic side of my nature that is called forth by nostalgia, but, if you remember a time where a cardboard box was a castle, the underneath of a kitchen table a fortress and a sheet thrown between two washing lines a tent in the wilds then I dare say this will appeal to you too.  This is a book that simply shouts out to the child in everyone. It’s packed with imagination.

It starts at a time where the country has seen much war and perhaps in such times dreams become hope and toy shops become little miracles of possibility.

The year is 1917,  We meet with Cathy Wray who has brought shame to her family by becoming pregnant out of wedlock.  There are two solutions, Cathy can be taken to an institution that will deliver her baby and take it for adoption, or she can take herself out of that possible situation by running away.  Cathy chooses to run away from her home and finds herself in London where she becomes fortunate enough to find a job, room and board at Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

I’m not going to go into the plot any further because not only do I think that this book is best explored by the reader without any fore knowledge but also this book is so much more than the plot itself.

The writing here is beautiful.  The Imagination is captivating.  And, I think my biggest disappointment is that I just wanted to spend all my time in the Emporium itself – it’s magical, wonderful and breathtaking.  I felt like a child in a sweetie shop reading this.  It simply took me back.  I defy anyone to read this book and not feel the childish wonder that is evoked.  The emporium is incredible of itself, wonders that seem to defy expectation, Wendy Houses that are like a tardis once stepped inside, paper trees that seem to grow from tiny little boxes, toy boxes with more space within than physics can explain. Isn’t this just what your imagination was like as a child when anything and everything was possible?  The moon was a balloon that you could capture, your bedsheets became a rabbits’ warren and shadows could menace you with hidden faces.

The characters are also something out of a fairytale.  We have Papa Jack.  He’s like a big old grizzly bear.  Everyone is afraid of him whilst at the same time knowing that he’s softer than a wet tissue.  He has a history full of sorrow but at the same time he seems to be full of impossible magic.  He has two sons, Kaspar and Emil, they love their father, they love the shop and they love each other but at the same time they are inextricably set in a battle, not just of the toy soldiers that they pitch against each other year after year, but for the admiration of the father that they both adore.

Herein lies the crux of the matter.  Both boys are in a competition of sorts and one that eventually blinds them to the love they have for each other.  They compete over who makes the best toys, who will run the store, who wins their ongoing battle of the soldiers, who gets the girl, and who has the most magic.  And, unfortunately, things eventually turn very real and a little bit ugly.

The characters are a mixed bunch.   Cathy, although very much at the forefront of things almost feels secondary.  The competition between the two boys is very much the underlying force of the story and does in fact lead to something of a love triangle. The thing is, you have sympathy for one of the boys but at the same time it’s always clear who is the favourite of the piece.  Not just of Cathy or Papa Jack but of the reader and it’s a little bit sad because you really don’t want to choose between the two but at the same time it feels simply inevitable and also a little bit obvious.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a book that, whilst I should have seen the way it was going, I really didn’t.  It’s a book that moves with the times and with it comes almost the death of a dream.  But, my niggle here comes in the actions of one of the characters.  For me it doesn’t ring true and the ending also takes something that is a beautiful dream and tries too much to turn it into something more.  For me, the ending chapters simply didn’t work and whilst it didn’t spoil the book for me it changed the feeling somewhat.  Otherwise, a stunning book.

Overall I loved this, it’s beautifully told and is perhaps one of the most evocative stories I’ve ever read.  I was a little bit underwhelmed with the ending but at the same time, on reflection, I can appreciate how difficult it was to maintain this fantasy and I can see why the author went down this route – I suppose I just wanted the dream to continue.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.
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