The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

I know this book has lots of great reviews however I didn't particularly enjoy it.  I found it very sad and depressing.  A clever tale but not for me.
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Can I just say that I love this cover! Gorgeous. 

This is another NetGalley read from me and I am so glad I read it. I finished this last night at midnight as I had to know what happened, and I'll tell you now that the ending will break your heart.

To start with though, this story feels very confused. Spanning over 50 years of time the story follows Catherine Wray, a pregnant sixteen-year-old at the start of the novel through to a grown woman, who runs away to a magical toy shop in London only to stay forever. At one moment it feels like your classical historical fiction then it is a magical realism novel, then it is a fantasy and then it flits between the three genres in a matter of pages. 

It's complicated, and it took until about 30% of the way through to have me gripped. But there is no denying there is magic in the pages. If you like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern then this is very much of the same ilk.

To explain the story would be to give a lot away so instead know that is about a brother's feud, the effects of World War One on people as well as lifestyle, childhood and childhood innocence and most importantly family. 

Well worth a read, I think this will be on a lot of favourites list this year.

4.5 stars from me.
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I absolutely loved this book! It was so magical, and so melancholic, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s been a while since something I’ve read has made me so emotional.
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Characters: 10/10
All of the characters in this book are exceedingly well written. I understood their motivations, hopes, desires and greatest fears. They felt real to me. Not just someone who could exist only in a book but real, tangible people. I loved the interplay between the characters as well. The book perfectly encapsulates the natural changes in relationships with time, but not in such a way that overly focuses on it. I think it shows a beautiful example of love and loss through life. Cathy is a fantastic main character. She’s clever and independent and I felt I could really empathise with her throughout. Kaspar was fantastic too. His progression throughout the book really shows the effect that things like war can have on a person. Emil was just as fantastically developed – at first reminding me somewhat of my younger brother. And although I may not have agreed with all of his actions throughout the book, I felt as though I understood them. The rest of the characters were all fantastic as well – All in all, an outstanding cast!

Plot: 8.5/10
It’s difficult to define the plot of this book, even by genre. Is it a book about family, finding love in an unexpected place? Is it about war and the damage it causes? Is it about magic, true magic that defies imagination? Is it about philosophy, what is right and wrong? Honestly, the answer is that this book is about all these things and probably more. It’s a medley of genres; a bunch of different stories connected in the overarching tale of one girl’s life. It’s an interesting read and you’re never sure what’s going to happen next. However, I did feel that it perhaps laboured too long in certain parts. For instance, I felt it took too long to get into the real magic of the toy shop. A long while was spent on the more menial day to day tasks of Cathy. It also wasn’t super exciting. There were a lot of interesting features but not many parts that really got my heart racing – which is something I generally expect once or twice from a plot (though really this is just personal preference).

Writing: 9/10
I would describe the writing in this book as ‘modern-Dickens’ as for the most part it feels very Dickensian in style. However, it follows a more modern style of dialogue which I definitely appreciated, as although I think using an older style of writing can create a nice effect for descriptive sections, it can often make speech seem stilted or unnatural. However, in this case this was tactfully avoided whilst retaining some of the Dickens-like, antiquated charm. The one thing that let it down for me was the lack of humour anywhere in the writing; it was always very serious. I understand it’s not the sort of story you’d expect much humour in, but I would have preferred a bit more levity once in a while.

Enjoyment: 9/10
I really liked this book and I enjoyed reading it. It made me think about things, use my imagination and generally engage my brain a bit more. It’s not a hard read, just an interesting one. I would definitely recommend this book, especially to read around the Christmas period as I think it would put you nicely in the Christmas spirit.

Overall: 9.125/10
An extremely interesting read that will take you on a unique journey. The characters are amazing and the setting is magical. It’s different to anything I’ve read before and I would definitely recommend it.
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Every now and again a book comes along that takes you by the hand and pulls you down into the pages, refusing to release you from it’s spell until the very last page. The Toymakers is one such book and I was captivated from the very first page. Dinsdale’s beautiful descriptions and style of writing made me feel as though I was right there in Papa Jack’s Emporium, and, as Papa Jack’s toys work their own special magic, I felt a sense of anticipation reminiscent of my own childhood Christmases. From the second I was introduced to the Emporium, the book lit up a childlike wonder in me, just as Papa Jack’s toys in the adults that loved them as much as the children that they were bought for. The real world fell away, and I was lost in a world of imagination.
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I have yet to read a book with such a clarity of imagination as this. Amazing tale that should be made into a film - better than Harry Potter
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This book is magic. It hooked me since the first pages and kept me interested and charmed till the last page. It is one of those book that make you feel sad when you turn the last page because you want more and you don't want to leave that fantastic world.
The best fantasy book I read in the last years.
Strongly recommended.
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Cathy Wray is nearly sixteen, and hiding a shameful secret when she reads a circled advertisement in a local newspaper. Seeing it as a means to escape, she finds herself in a  back street of London about to enter a magical world of make believe. Never before has she seen such wonders as when she first enters Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

The aisles were alive. She took a step, stumbled when her foot caught a locomotive of some steam train chugging past. She was turning to miss it when wooden horses cantered past in jagged rhythms, their Cossack riders reaching out as if to threaten the train gliding by.

And this is where I, as the reader had to suspend disbelief and immerse myself into an alternative world of children’s make believe and innocence or so I thought.

As we begin to discover, it is not all make believe and innocence in the Emporium.  Kasper, the elder brother, is the toy maker with the imagination and flair, Emil the younger brother is less flamboyant and it is his jealousy that slowly eats away at the magic. War deepens the rift between the brothers and has an impact on those around them with devastating results.

Dinsdale does not hold back from describing the horrors of war and it was particularly poignant to read of the mental trauma that many suffered, after returning home and the lack of understanding of family members.

The characters are wonderfully multi-layered and as events unfold so do the differing sides of their characteristics. Cathy is strong and resilient. Papa Jack is quiet, yet with an immense presence, he is the glue that holds them together. Kasper is outgoing, and exuberant to begin with before events take their toll. Emil is Kasper’s opposite, lacks confidence and self-esteem, forever in Kasper’s shadow, gnawed away by jealousy.

The magic that we discover at the beginning slowly ebbs away as adults lose sight of their inner child, and the world becomes more real. The magical toys are never far away, playing their part, bringing people together, forcing others apart. I did find that I had to push reality to one side for the second part of the story but this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story. In some ways it added that extra dimension and uniqueness that is often lacking in todays novels.

The story itself covers quite a long time frame, embracing both the first and second world wars, and it was interesting to see the differing reactions and development of the characters. You never quite knew where the story would take you next, and all I wanted was a happy ending and for the magic to return.

To find out of it if there is happy ending and if indeed the magic does return  I would urge you to avail yourself of a copy of this unique and mesmerising novel. It will sweep you away back to your childhood, it will tug at your heartstrings and totally enthral all who read it.
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Very interesting book, magical in places, but perhaps overlong and doesn't sustain the magic throughout. Some nice characterization, but the magic dog is probably the only one I will remember. The Magical Emporium itself is beautifully imagined and worth the price of the book.
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This review will be published at the link below and on Goodreads on 18 Feb 2018.

In brief 

The Toymakers is a magical, tragic, and nostalgic story, set amid extraordinary toy store Papa Jack's Emporium across the first half of the twentieth century. Runaway Cathy finds herself in the middle of The Long War between Papa Jack's sons Kaspar and Emil, but when war is truly declared, their battles with toy soldiers take on a whole new meaning and life. Beautifully written and full of both wonderful fantasy and heartbreaking realism, The Toymakers is a debut not to be missed.

I received an advanced ebook copy from Penguin Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

In depth

Plot: We follow Cathy Wray as she finds herself pregnant at sixteen and runs away to London to keep her baby. Fortuitously, she answers an unusual advert for winter floor staff at the Emporium, and in doing so finds a home. As Cathy lets down her guard, the sons of the Emporium, care-free Kaspar and studious Emil, both take a fancy to her, and so begins a new chapter in their life-long competition, The Long War. The stakes increase as war breaks out in 1914, and nothing at the Emporium is ever the same again. Dinsdale's imagination is impressive - the wonders found in the Emporium can't avoid comparisons to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes - but early on we learn there's a darkness to the Emporium's origin story. Indeed, the story does take some surprisingly dark turns, but these stop the tale from being saccharine and keep the novel firmly in the realm of adult historical fiction (albeit with a solid dose of fantasy). 

Characters: Cathy is my kind of heroine - plagued by doubt but determined to do the right thing, she forges a path for her and her baby against the odds. She certainly makes many mistakes, but we watch her learn from them as she ages. Kaspar is one of those characters who seems too good to be true first off - flirty, attractive and gifted with the ability to design truly magical toys - it took me a long time to be able to trust him, but when I did, I became fully invested in his story arc (but I can't say more without spoilers, sorry!). On the other hand, Emil's reticence and intensity endeared him to me from the get go, leading to later devestation. While the world of the Emporium is small, the characters within it are large and lively, although the secondary characters are relatively flat and clearly manipulated for the purposes of the plot (except, perhaps, Papa Jack himself). 

Themes: The Toymakers is very much about the wonders and magic of childhood and innocence, and the way this world can fade, but never be lost to us forever. The human cost of war is explored sensitively, as is the competitive love between siblings. Finally, this novel is a celebration of the power of imagination, and its endless ability to make magic.

Writing: This is an easy book to read; the writing beautifully evokes both winter in London and the extraordinary landscape of the Emporium. It is heavy on the descriptive side, but when the prose flows like this, I found that didn't really bother me. The dialogue was well-crafted, and the narration of Cathy's fears and insecurities brings the reader in to her circumstances and self. Dinsdale does go a bit hard on certain motifs (repeating the same phrases about running away, particularly in the back half of the novel), but otherwise this was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Recommended if you liked: The Night Circus
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This book will always remind me of winter. It's not just that so much of it is set in the wintry time between First Frost and the budding of the snowdrop, the magical time when the doors of the Emporium - Papa Jack's Emporium, the most magical toyshop in all London - are open.

Nor is it because I read it on a weekend break in snowy Reykjavik.

No, it's more that Dinsdale has somehow captured the essence of winter in the frozen lives, the frozen hearts - for much of the novel - of his characters. So much so, that as the book continues one aches for the spring, the thaw, the warm sun.

It doesn't begin like that of course.

The story proper opens with a young woman, Cathy, who has fallen pregnant. In the judgemental atmosphere of 1906, she must be made to suffer, and she is to give the child up ("They brought her down to Dovercourt to sell her child"). Running away to London she heads for - where else? The Emporium, where she takes a job as a shop assistant.

Dinsdale is at its best conjuring - I use the word advisedly! - the atmosphere of the Emporium in all its pomp. Of course, a bustling, thronged toyshop in the Christmas season lends itself to being portrayed as a hive of wonders, so perhaps he's going with the grain, but even so, we get a glimpse of something almost magical in the glimpse of the brightly lit shop, hidden away at the end of Iron Duke Mews, so much so that it's easy to believe stepping inside takes you a little way out of this world.

Yet this glimpse - seen in the prologue, and again in the opening of the novel proper - has to sustain us, and Dinsdale's protagonists, through a long, hard winter, one that we suspect they may not all survive. Life is precarious, and the Emporium, despite appearances, is not a haven from the outside world. Cathy has run away and has, in her pregnancy, a secret that could destroy her hard-won security. Kaspar and Emil, the two Godson boys who work with Papa Jack, are rivals in all sorts of ways. Jack is himself a refugee from hard times in the East - his life history explored in one particularly moving sequence where he dramatises what happened to him through a magical, immersive wind-up toy.

And looming over all there is, of course, the backward shadow of the future - looming war which will consume the shop hands and the comfortable life of the Emporium, bring division and pain, and break hearts.

It is, then, in many respects a very dark story that Dinsdale tells. Like Jack, he portrays his themes through the medium of toys - mainly, the evolving lives of the wooden, clockworks soldiers made by Emil, with perhaps a hint of Papa Jack's magic, models which learn, and teach, lessons about freedom, restraint and endurance. But there's also the windup patchwork dog, Sirius who, in the manner of dogs, is fiercely loyal yet may bring you to tears.

It is, then, a magical story in so many ways - in theme but also in form. Like the Emporium itself, Dinsdale presents something that is bigger on the inside (I wondered whether the echo of Doctor Who was conscious, and I'm still not sure, but it is very appropriate). Like one of Papa Jack's miraculous paper models, it unfolds to show love, persistence, rivalry, despair and how the passing of the years dilutes and refines these. Far from a Peter Pan or a Wind in the Willows, fine books which nonetheless present an idealised summer preserved for ever, The Toymakers focusses on the winter, and as the seasons turn things do change. Children do grow up and some of them can turn out very bad. But at the core of the book is Papa Jack's belief in the power of a memory of childhood (emphatically not its indefinite prolongation, nor taking refuge in it) which can be redemptive in even the darkest moments.

Often a hard book to read, but nevertheless uplifting, even joyous at times and imbued with a deep optimism.

A gorgeous book. You want to read this, you really do.
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Wow - Prepare for me to gush about this utter gem of a book because gush I must!

The Toymakers is a magical, compelling and mesmerising read that totally absorbed me and has changed the way I'll look at toys forever. 

The writing is flawlessly beautiful and engaging and the characters are so well drawn that I feel I've left friends behind. The author vividly portrays the most magnificent awe inspiring scenes, totally capturing the wonders of childhood and the excitement of Christmas. This is brilliantly contrasted and interwoven with a story line of magical creations, complex relationships, love, rivalry and war and the impacts of PTSD - heartwarming, nostalgic, evocative and suspense fully dark in places.

Anyone who was ever a child needs to read this book! 

An unreserved 5 stars and huge thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK for the ARC of this truly special book. It's one of the few that I'm sure I'll be reading over and over again!
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I was so sure I was going to love this book because I love anything to do with Christmas and this book is full of Christmas vibes... but unfortunately I was left disappointed.

I felt that I was waiting and waiting for something massive to happen.... but it didn't.

It pains to me to say this as I'm a book worm, but I feel that this would be better as a film!
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A captivating read from start to finish. A truly magical tale that will appeal to the child we all hold within us.
Enter the world of Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium and nothing is what we expect. From toys that seem to be alive to toys that defy our expectations everything to be found within this store is a wonder.
We learn about the story of Papa Jack’s when young Cathy Wray runs away from home upon learning she is pregnant. Like so many other lost souls, the doors of the Emporium open to her. And so begins a relationship with the extraordinary that sees her through to old age.
We pass through some awful years, watching how the effects of war tarnish the innocence that Jakebs Goldman and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, try to keep alive. Throughout, the presence of the magical Emporium is a constant.
While I was captivated by the delights and wonders presented to us in the opening part of the book, it came into its own when we began to explore the concerns of adulthood and the impact family rivalry can have (even years on).
I must thank NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and now need to preorder my own copy to pass onto others who need that little bit of magic on their lives.
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Do you believe in magic?

No, I don't mean the 'saw you in half' or making a dove appear, type of magic. I mean the magic of childhood. The magic of walking into a toy shop and feeling your jaw drop as your eyes focused on the rows and rows of beautiful, colourful and enchanting toys which you just HAD to have. THAT magic.

So, I'll ask you again. Do you believe in magic?

Unfortunately it did take me a while to get into this throws of the storyline. Maybe it was because I wasn't in a good mood when I started it, I don't know. I just found it to be a bit on the slow side. To be honest, I will blame myself for that because if you're in a bad mood at the start of a new book, you're hardly going to be able to enjoy the true essence behind the story.

Once I switched off from the outside world and found my inner child, the magic behind the Emporium started to shine through. I was able to appreciate the story and how the toys came to life. I was able to appreciate why Cathy was there and the hold brothers, Kaspar and Emil had over her. Personally, I felt that the love triangle didn't need to be there as I really do think that the storyline would have held its own with his focus being on Papa Jack's Toy Emporium. But that's just me, obviously. 

Robert Dinsdale certainly is such an enigmatic writer, with his passion shining through like a beacon. Over thinking this storyline is a no go. You need to let go of your own thoughts before even starting this book so that you can appreciate what the author was trying to do. 'The Toymakers' isn't the sort of book which you can just pick up and fly through like other books - you need to take your time reading it, appreciating the magic, appreciating Papa Jack's story, otherwise what is the point?

I did enjoy reading 'The Toymakers', but I feel that I would benefit from reading the book for a second time as I don't think I appreciated the book enough from my own point of view. Plus, I have a valid excuse to lose myself in the magic of toys again, what's not to like? The historic feel in this novel, seeing as it is set in the 1900's, really caught my eye and made me travel back in time to where everything began. Personally, the magic and the history is what made this book for me.

It's clear that this author knows his craft and how to deliver it - I was blown away by the magical concept and being able to feel like a child again. That in itself is priceless.

Beautiful, enchanting and utterly addictive - what's not to like?
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'"Do you really open at first frost and close when the snowdrops flower?"
 "Every year", said Papa Jack.  "A toyshop's trade is in the dark winter months...It's only then the magic can truly be conjured"'  -------  R. Dinsdale.

Robert Dinsdale casts a spell and pulls you into a spectacular and imaginative world of mystique, enchantment and magic, all set in the vintage toy emporium of your childhood dreams.  This is all your Christmas's rolled into one.....but beware as it's not all glitter and sparkle and beyond what the eye sees there is a dark and haunting element to this novel too.

This book can be comparable to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Many thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC for which I have given my voluntary and unbiased review.
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THE TOYMAKERS by Robert Hinsdale is a beautiful story that will appeal to all of us who can remember the magic of toys and the special place they can hold in your heart.

When Cathy Wray finds herself on the doorstep of the unusual Papa Jack's Toy Emporium she is afraid of the huge changes that are taking place in her life and hopes to find a job and a place to stay.  But as soon as she walks through its magical doors, Cathy realises that there is so much more to the Emporium than meets the eye ...

THE TOYMAKERS by Robert Dinsdale really must be read to be understood but I will try my best to convey the magic that lies within these pages. From the stunning description of the toys and shop itself to the quirky characters that inhabit it, this story will transport you to another time and place and make you feel every emotion, and see every enchanting scene unfold before your very eyes. But not everything smells of roses as anger and jealousy find its place among the happiness, and with the shadow of the War serving as a comparison, THE TOYMAKERS has a rich depth to its narrative that works well. 

I loved this story and I highly recommend THE TOYMAKERS by Robert Dinsdale to everyone who loves a magical story with heart.
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Such an evocative book,    You enter the Emporium at first by following a customer through the store and see it through the customers eyes. 

Cathy runs away from home and answers an advert that is asking for staff to come to Papa Jacks Emporium.  The most amazing, wondrous toyshop in London which opens with the first frost. A place where if you're lost, you can be found.   

Such a great book.  Nothing that I type will convey the feelings that I have for this book.  The highs and lows that I experienced while reading it.  
This is one of those rare books that will actually stay with me for a long time to come.  I know that I"m going to bore friends and family for months to come by insisting that they read it. 

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in return for an honest and un-biased review.
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When Cathy Wray runs from her family, after seeing an advert in the newspaper for helpers at Papa Jack's emporium, she is scared but cautiously optimistic for the future.

The advert that entices her would be intriguing to most:
Help Wanted: Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we...

The emporium is a magical toy store which opens with the first frost of winter and closes with the flowering of the first snowdrops. At the heart of the emporium is owner Jekabs Godman (Papa Jack).

Papa Jack along with his sons, Emil and Kaspar make wonderful toys, with more than just a touch of magic; toy soliders that seem to have their own personality and can seemingly fight battles on their own, Patchwork dogs and other animals that seem to be alive, and toy boxes that are bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Cathy has never worked in any sort of shop at all, much less a wonderful shop with a fascinating and brilliant reputation as London’s ‘premier merchant of toys and childhood paraphernalia’. Papa Jack takes a chance on Cathy when she turns up unwittingly one opening night, their busiest of the year.

She expects only to stay for one ‘season’ but the magic of the store captures Cathy’s heart at a time when she is at her most desperate. Her life is turned upside down by the emporium but that’s really all I can say without giving anymore away.

The Toymakers is a magical novel that will truly capture your imagination and really does has something for everyone.
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Brilliant, magical and evocative tale, dealing with coming of age, love, loss, friendships, rivalries and family against the backdrop of a magical toy shop. The leading characters are artfully drawn, but it is the shop and Papa Jack that are the real stars of this book, providing the backdrop and thematic linking of everything else. Truly gorgeous and lives long in the memory
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