The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

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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http://www.speculativeherald.com/2018/03/02/review-the-toymakers-by-robert-dinsdale/
https://lynns-books.com/2018/03/04/the-toymakers-by-robert-dinsdale/
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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It has been a long time since I had a book that I both wanted to read and didn’t want to finish. With echoes of The Night Circus, The Toymakers reminds you of the magic of childhood, the wonder you can find in the ordinary and the need for sanctuary in ones life. With beautifully constructed relationships and imagery you can’t help but be invited into Papa Jacks emporium and the lives of those who create the magic.
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No matter how many books I devour every year, it is incredible to see that there are still books out there that are able to amaze me with beautiful, emotional writing, magical settings, and touching events.

This was my first book by Robert Dinsdale and it definitely won’t be the last one! I am still battling with my inner self whether I should add this book to my 2018 favorites list or not. If I would have a “2018 most memorable reads” shelf, it would automatically earn its place there.

Full of delicate quotes, important subjects and magical moments, «The Toymakers» pulls you right into the wonders of instant trees, Wendy houses, hidden passages and tin soldiers battling their Long War. 

Early 20s century, we follow Cathy Wray as she runs away from home and to the Emporium, London’s most magical place, a toy shop opened every year from the first frost. «Running was easy, she decided; but every runaway had to arrive, and arriving seemed the most difficult thing of all.» 

Kaspar’s and Emil’s characters, masterfully written, brought something whimsical into the story. While Kaspar, the eldest and more successful when it comes to creating new magical toys, was often deep in his self-centered world, Emil - envious of his older brother, showed his softer and more compassionate side. But even in closed up from the rest of the world Emporium, things could not remain the same. Not when the War was so near. 

Robert Dinsdale carefully crafted the paths of our characters. Sometimes reading a book on Kindle, I don’t realise how long or short the novel is, and I had to check the page count on GoodReads, as we follow the main characters from the early teenage years until grey hairs, and not one time did I feel like the story was lacking something, even though the whole plot was delivered in mere 320 pages. 

Besides the intricate relationships and bewildering deeds, a big chunk of the plot was dedicated to soldiers, tin soldiers from the Emporium toy shop, but just as alive as any other soldiers defending their countries during long, savage war. 

I loved the enchanting illusion that came to life every time I picked up this book. And I loved how Robert Dinsdale incorporated many raw, cruel topics in the story. However, for me, the tin soldiers and their adventures were taken too far, and slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the book.
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I loved this book so much when I was reading it. But it's one of those that ends up leaving you a bit sad. It was a beautiful book though. Full of amazing things. I love books with this kind of magical surrealism. I love books that take an aspect of life and add something amazing to it. The emporium is a place that you will fall in love with. You'll want to visit and buy toys from it. Until it all goes wrong of course. 

The whole thing with the toy soldiers, for me, was the perfect metaphor for the conflict of the pre-WW1 mentality that war is glorious and the post- WW1 disillusionment that most of the soldiers suffered. It was really interesting to see these two mentalities go up against each other, as they must have done constantly with soldiers who had been to war and people who hadn't. To see this argument be played out over a bunch of toy soldiers was a really cool was to do it. 

I think this is a book that will stay with me for quite a while. I loved the characters so much and elements like the toy soldiers and the paper trees and Sirius the patchwork dog are all things that I'll remember fondly for some time.
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If you want to lose yourself in the wonderful world of Papa Jack's Toy Emporium for a few hours of literary magic then immerse yourself in The Toymakers. It is a magical, extraordinary, uniquely written tale of family, war, jealousy and forgiveness spanning several years.
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Utterly enchanting.  This is a tale of heartache, love and childhood dreams.   I was swept away into a world of magic and fantasy.  Every feeling is found in the pages of this story,.  There were echoes of favourite fairy tales, both light and dark; worlds within worlds and even a deeper than deep carpet bag.  i truly loved it and was charmed by the emotions from start to its beautiful ending in true  happy ever after style.  A tale for all.  I was only sorry to turn the last page.
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If I’m being honest, for a while I balked at the prospect of reading The Toymakers. I had just finished Weave a Circle Round and I’m 22 - I didn’t know if I could make it through another book targeted towards children.
But oh boy, I was mistaken.
Don’t be fooled as I was by the toy solider on the book’s cover, inside of these pages is not a story that a parent might read to their child to lull them to sleep. Instead, The Toymakers is aimed at the adults who have long since left childhood behind, mirroring the nature of those in the book who return to Papa Jack’s Emporium in an attempt of remembering the simple, wistful magic of their youth. "Do you remember when you believed in magic?” the blurb asks, and if it’s magic that you are after, this book gives you it in spades - it’s practically spilling from each and every word. 
The Toymakers is evocative, set in a time period that nearly predates everyone alive today and yet manages to make them feel nostalgic for a world that they never experienced. There’s a sense of anticipation, like children in the early hours of Christmas morning who are waiting for the sun to rise and Santa to arrive, and the feeling is so strong that it makes me question why this book wasn’t released in the lead up to Christmas. Those snowy, dark November and December days would have been a perfect atmosphere to do the ambience of this book justice, and I will definitely be tucking it away to read on a frosty evening next Winter.
Throughout The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale seamlessly juxtaposes this nearly-inexplicable feeling of warmth and wonder and home, with the brutal realities of wartime London - it is a stark combination that heightens each, making the wonders more wonderful and the horrors all that more horrifying. 
I laughed, I wept, I smiled.
The Toymakers is not a book that I am going to be able to stop thinking about anytime soon.
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I must admit it took me a while to get into this novel. It’s a story that brought magic and wonder, but unfortunately, also flaws. Some of the concepts discussed in the novel was brilliant and I wanted to see more of that. I wanted to know more about this world. Were there other toy emporiums? Or was the Toy Emporium the only one of its kind? Despite it being set just before the First World War, I did not get a good sense of place. Perhaps, this was deliberate, so that the reader got the same sense of being cut off from the rest of the world like the characters.

About after being one third of a way through, I found it a hard book to get into. From the start, Dinsdale created this world of the emporium which I relished. But the storyline began to focus heavily on the two brothers Kasper and Emil. Kasper, I grew to like, however my sympathy for Emil turned to irritation, as he did not seem to develop or even age in the book. I believe that Papa Jack could have been developed more. He seemed to exist purely as a mystical entity rather than a living and breathing character. As tensions rose, I would have liked to have seen some action or emotions expressed, rather than him just being there.

Cathy seemed to be lost in the plot. Despite her being the main character, her importance ceased to exist halfway through the novel. Only towards the end did she seem to take any action. I think this was partly due to the perspective the story was told from. It would have been interesting to see the story told from first person perspective from Cathy, or at least change first person perspective between Cathy, Kasper and Emil.

I was worried that the time period it was set in would have made it predictable. Thankfully, this was not the case. Overall, I was not left disappointed by the book, and at times, I was emotionally invested in the plot. I’m not sure if it’s a happy read? The vast majority of the time, my heart was aching for the characters and the emporium. It was almost like a seasonal read, as it was set over Christmas. But I could not help feel that this is book for those recovering after Christmas, who desire for that child-like magic of toy soldiers and patchwork dogs to last that bit longer.

The story was not perfect, but I came to love it anyway, simply for the imagination of the Toy Emporium.
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This book was provided free of charge by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

The Toy Makers is at its heart a love story. Not necessarily a love story between two hearts but between children and their toys. Reminiscent of The Night Circus it tells the story of two boys competing to own their father’s toy emporium by trying to out toy each other as you were.



The story begins at the end of the 19th Century with Cathy Wray finding herself at the emporiums doors without any hope in the world. She doesn’t realise that a magical world lies behind its doors and will take her on an adventure that will span well into the next century, will lead to heart sickness and repair, magic and mischief and of course a little bit of thriller.

I devoured the book within a week. I actually didn’t want it to end. It was lovely how the author actually addresses the reader as if they are telling a story. It takes on a lot of themes that are prevalent today including war, poverty and the child within everyone of us.

I don’t think I can carry on any further without gushing and gushing about it until your sick to death. Definitely worth a read.

The book will be published on the 7th Feb and will be available and all good book stores, so I suggest you go out and get a copy!
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What a totally magical book & one that will be with me for a long time.

It is early in the 1900's. Cathy runs away from home, scared and pregnant. She doesn't want to give u her baby. She finds herself in London on the first day of winter frost- the day Papa Jack's Toy Emporium opens. There she finds employment, shetler and magic.The toys sold here are no ordinary ones. From magical trees. things that seem larger on the inside than the outside to patchwork seemingly living dogs, it is a place of wonder.

Papa Jack had fled persecution and the Emporium has become a sanctuary for him and his two sons, the amiable Emil & the somewhat darker Kaspar. it becomes a sanctuary for Cathy too, someplace she can be safe & have her baby. Even though the emporium closes with the blooming of the first snowdrop Cathy remains helped by the brothers.

When war comes Emil is exempt due to health issues but Kaspar- now married to Cathy- has to go away to fight. When he returns the brothers cannot agree and Cathy struggles to keep things together.

This book is beautifully written and deserves to be put alongside the 'The Night Circus' Both are brilliant five star reads. Thanks to Netgalley & the publishers for taking me to the world of Papa Jack's Emporium- I didn't want to leave!
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Family jealousies rear their heads in a magical toyshop. Something different and appealing.
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a heritage setting, with heritage toys. a Beautiful tale of mystery and excitement. Open the doors to the Emporium and delve into the many secrets and fantastic tale of Cathy. Who runs from a troubled past, into a secret world. Well worth a read.
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It took me a little while to settle into this book but I'm glad I stuck at it. The writing style was unusual but it worked. An enjoyable book, I like magical realism stories and this one certainly delivered.
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A magical toyshop, a family who can make the ordinary become extraordinary and a runaway girl looking for a new place to call home.

This book - there is no other word for it but magical. Think The Night Circus meets the childish wonder and imagination of Toy Story, and you’ve got it - all set in pre-First World War London.

The descriptions in this book and how the emporium became alive in the pages, from the patchwork dogs to the toy soldiers, the Wendy House and the cloud castle. It was wonderful to read. I also loved how this story was able to combine real magic, ordinary magic but not also not disguise the horror of the real world such as jealousy and rivals between brothers, and what war can do to a man and his mind.

I loved the relationship between Cathy and Kaspar, it was just so lovely - how it began, and how real it became, how Kaspar loved Martha so much from the moment she was born into his arms. There were moments when I was afraid he was too in the clouds and maybe didn’t feel for Cathy the way she felt for him, and the way Emil felt for her but the moment when the came together was lovely.

I do feel sad about parts of this book, more so because what happened - it was such a long time. A long. long time and I mourn for the time wasted, the time they should have had together. 

The Emporium is definitely one of those bookish places I would love to become real, and visit. And I adored how vibrant and real it was in the pages - much like the books Papa Jack and Kaspar created themselves.

I 100% recommend this book, it’s just lovely!
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There are not enough stars with which to grade this book. 5 Stars seems so inadequate. On reading the last few words of this book I looked up expecting to find the world changed and was surprised to find it was not. Time will not exist when you are reading this book. The Toymakers will take you back to that magical time of toys and fill you with wonder, it will break your heart and only repair a little piece of it. I loved everything about this book from the gorgeous cover to the way it made me feel and left me breathless at the end (I may have even give a little gasp out loud). This book will stay with me for a long time, pity the next one I read, it has a lot to live up to. My heart will ache for some time, but I am so glad I experienced this book. Simply beautiful.
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The Toymakers sounds initially like such a good book. Magical realism! The world of the toy shop! Set in the first half of the twentieth century! Romance! Excitement! What's not to like?

What a disappointment I was in for! My feelings about this book started off great, then descended gradually towards apathy and boredom as it dragged on...and on...and on...yawn. I started off thinking that the novel could be given a five star review but soon changed my mind. Such a shame.

The Toymakers is the story of Cathy, a pregnant teenager. She runs away from home to avoid having her child taken off her for adoption and ends up working at Papa Jack's Emporium, a magical toy shop in London. She befriends the owner's sons (Kaspar and Emil Godman) who give her a place to stay and raise her child. However, the First World War strikes and leaves Cathy literally holding the baby. The war changes the Godman family forever, and a rift between the brothers begins a slow decline of their lives together.

At first, The Toymakers is utterly enchanting. The world of the toy shop, the special magic that makes Emporium toys just a little bit more real, the ideas that the family have for creating the most fantastic playthings are all completely spellbinding. The world of the Emporium is beautifully crafted and the magical realism reminded me of The Night Circus or The Paper Magician. There's a floating castle, paper trees that shoot out of boxes, wind up animals that behave like real pets...I loved the sense of excitement and inventiveness.

However, as time passes and the war begins I began to loose interest in the story. There's a slow decline in the profits of the Emporium but there's very little action except for a slow burning resentment between the two brothers. It's almost as if the author himself began to get bored, as the years begin to turn faster and faster. The lack of interesting plot began to depress me, as none of the characters are happy and things start to fall apart.

I initially liked the gumption of Cathy - the desire to see the world, her resolve to keep her baby and her work ethic all made me warm to her. However, as the book progressed she seemed to get dragged down (along with the rest of the plot) and she became a bit wooden. I hated - HATED - the stupid half love triangle depicted between her and the two Godman brothers, especially when Emil effectively claims Cathy and she doesn't protest. Neither of them appear to be particularly enamoured with her and Cathy seems to grow out of any feelings she had for either Kaspar or Emil (until the rubbish ending). It seems like a competition between the boys as to who can win Cathy and I thought the book would have been much better without the odd tension.

I really liked little Martha (Cathy's daughter) and I thought a lot more could have been done with her character. It's such a shame that she jumped from being a child to a 27 year old woman in the space of one sentence. I would have liked to know more about her life and it could have provided some light relief through the depressing middle section.

The ending to the book is beautifully depicted (although ridiculous and annoying) but I'm afraid that even the breathtaking scenes at the very end couldn't salvage the storyline. I've never read a book that manages to be so good and so bad at the same time.

Overall, I loved certain parts of this book and thought that the inventiveness and creativity was great. I loved the world of the Emporium, the language used and the sense of wonder that was portrayed. Sadly, I felt that the book lost its way and it really dragged towards the end.
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Following the story of Cathy Wray, and the Godman brothers, this book is full of whimsy and intrigue. When Cathy runs away from home, determined not to give her child up and instead make a life for them both, she unintentionally ends up at Papa Jack's Emporium in London. As time moves on we see the Emporium through the stages of pre-war, wartime and post-war, and with each twist and turn, each new event, things become more complicated.

Do you remember when you believed in magic?



First and foremost, I would like to apologise for how late this review actually is. The last week has been such a whirlwind of catastrophe, reading this book took a step back, and therefore it's a little late...



I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley, and was initially drawn in by the plot line. A magical emporium, where toys come to life, and the premise of a wartime setting had me drawn in hook, line, and sinker. Add to that the gorgeous cover, and there was no way I was letting this get away from me.

Set over a prolonged period of time, we generally follow Cathy as she gives birth, falls in love, and has to give her husband up to the war, only for him to return scarred from his experience at Flanders. Taken in by the Emporium and the family that run it, Cathy escapes the fate her family had laid out for her, and finds herself part of a world more magical than anyone can imagine.

Papa Jack, familiar with a war of his own, makes toys that remind people what it means to be a child. Fleeing from Russia, he took his sons and moved to London, bringing with him the magic of childhood, and building a successful business, the Emporium, that opens with first frost, and closes with the blooming of the first snowdrop.

The plot was rich and enticing, filled with magic and turmoil. Family drama, disputes, war, and memories of childhood fuel this story, enriching it and making it unable to put down. You feel for each of the characters, you become invested in their stories, hoping that they can face whatever life brings. Dinsdale tackles some difficult topics, particularly with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and does so well. War was not what people thought it was, they were promised they'd be home by Christmas, and as we all know, it became a 4 year fight.

We see PTSD from several perspectives throughout this book; the soldier returned home, the soldier who never saw the war, the soldier reminded of his last battle, the wife with a husband broken on the inside, and a daughter who wants nothing more than her father back. So when war comes to the Emporium, people are forced to choose a side, and the side that wins is not necessarily the one expected.

The characters throughout were strong, Cathy leading the way, with the Godman brothers, Martha, and Papa Jack all playing key roles. I loved Cathy, she was a strong woman, central to the family, who followed her own heart and never felt like an annoyance. Her story was one of turmoil, torn between two brothers and a family ravaged by war. But my favourite character, by quite a margin, was probably Papa Jack. Jakob Godman was the pinnacle of the family, estranged from his children when they were young, a prisoner of war, and the founder of their family business, his creativity and character was what made him so loveable and true.

He wanted to save his family from war, save Cathy from heart break, but remain true to what he believed, and he only added strength to an already strong story.

I only had some minor problems with the plot, often confused by the ages of characters, and the ultimate outcome. As time progressed, Cathy seemed to age more than her daughter, with her daughter having 3 relatively young children in, what I considered to be, her late 30s to mid 40s. And as much as this is plausible, the scientist in me told me that those children would have been harder to conceive. The ending was also problematic for me, with questions arising, but I won't spoil that for you, because if anything, it's a happy ending.

The world Dinsdale created was beautiful, and flawed, it reminded me of the magic of the Night Circus, I could almost imagine Celia and Marco walking through the isles of the Emporium, wondering how they'd got the magic into the toys. This is 100% worth a read, and should definitely be on your radar if you love fantasy or historical fiction.
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