The Toymakers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

Running away was not like it was in the stories.

People did not try and stop you. They did not give chase.

The thing people didn’t understand was that you had to decide what you were running away from.

Most of the time it wasn’t mothers or fathers or monsters or villains; most of the time you were running away from that little voice inside your head, the one telling you to stay where you are, that everything will turn out all right.

There are a hundred different clocks in the Emporium.

Some keep time with the comings and goings of London seasons. Others tick out of sync, counting down the hours of that faraway coastline the Godman brothers once called home. Still more keep erratic and uncontrollable times: one counts each third second backwards, the better to extend the time between chores; another elongates the evening, all the better to keep bedtime at bay.

These are the times that children keep, and which adults are forbidden from remembering.

Only a child could understand how one day might last an eternity, while another pass in the flicker of an eye.

Yes, Papa Jack’s Emporium is a place out of step with the world outside. Come here day or night and you will find a place marching to the beat of its own drum.

Listen and you might hear it, even now …


So happy to say that this not only lived up to all my expectations but exceeded them – a little slice of magic in magical realism done perfectly! I plan to reread this around Christmas as, despite the story taking place over decades, this would be a perfect festive read.

Cathy grabbed my heart from the first page, where she flees from an uncertain future to the city where anything could happen. The Emporium is like another character in the story, changing with the seasons, but a constant presence supporting the people who pass through its doors and find true magic. The tension between love and competitiveness between Kaspar and Emil is portrayed so perfectly and realistically, though I found Emil less sympathetic a character as the book continued with one decision he made later on seeming almost completely out of character for who he was in the first half of the book!)

A magical book, highly recommended – please read it!


There is a moment, before the end, when a man knows he cannot be saved. I have watched some go to it in a state of quiet awe, but that is not the story of most. Most men feel the encroaching dark and rage against it – but a man can no more fight that battle than light can battle shade.

In these hospital beds they hold themselves until they can hold themselves no longer; after that, they are men no more. They are like boys with a fever, wanting only to curl up beside Mama, with old blankets on their laps, and be sung to and told stories.

What better way for a man to go out than the way he came in? With the milk of mother’s love.

It was my papa who taught me how a toy must speak to a grown man, how it must fill him with the simplicity, again, of being a child.

Children come to the Emporium for adventure, but adults to be reminded that adventure was once possible, that once the world was as filled with magic as the imagination will allow.

What I liked: The magic, so much magic! I am often disappointed by magical realism books if the balance is (in my opinion) tilted too far towards the reality and not the magic. Yet, this book, got it just right with the realities of war and hardship being balanced perfectly with the sense of awe and wonder inspired by the Emporium

Even better if: I did struggle a bit with Emil ‘s decision near the end and the fact that he never came clean about it. While I could see him doing something like that in anger or on a whim, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that he never admitted what he had done in the face of all the sadness it caused.

How you could use it in your classroom: Despite this being marketed as an adult novel, there is nothing in this book which makes it unsuitable for a younger audience. I would recommend it for secondary pupils who have some knowledge of World War I and II as this book straddles the years of history with ease, yet touches on the trauma and turmoil caused by war.
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I have no idea how to begin my review, I have thought about this all day, how do you capture all the beauty caught between the pages of The Toymakers within a few paragraphs? How can I write about the wonderment, enchantment and Magic without revealing any spoilers? Easily, I will tell you how the book made me feel. I read The Toymakers purely after reading another blogger’s review, there was no talk of the story which made me want to read it all the more. I wanted to be enlightened.

As discussed in my latest #Bookchat post I mentioned my love of magic themed books, those that spin a fairytale around my consciousness and drag me deep into the world created by the pen of talented minds and, after reading a few in my 38 years, sadly there are very few that hit the mark. The Toymakers, however, will reside in memory palace for the rest of my days.

This is a book of such a tale that you feel you have lived a thousand years by the final sentence.

Emotionally drained was an understatement for I sat in public spaces with tear filled eyes and a constant large lump obstructing my throat as I tried to keep myself contained reminding myself I was only reading a story after all, this wasn’t my reality and didn’t affect me. Not that my reasoning with myself did any good you must understand I was far too involved with the characters and invested too much time for them not to be flickering on the edge of my thoughts when I was going about my daily (real) life.

The Toymakers was a deeply layered novel, stitched together by time and the complexity of characters, a tale of other worlds, harrowing times, hardship and despair but foremost strong unconditional love, rich deep detail and emotive writing to hold your attention, cover you in goosebumps and a really thought provoking read. This was a story of a journey a new world adventure.

I often found myself speed reading, I was impatient for the next step of the journey

I want you to read this book because you want to feel the magic, experience the elation and join the journey yourself.

I don’t want to tell you about the characters, I want you to discover them yourself

If you are chasing a heart warming story you will find it here, not without the darker times, which adds so much depth the the tale. If you want an investment into complex characters, expressive language, and remnisient writing pushing the boundaries of your imagination then this should be the next book on your pile. (just ensure you have a handy pack of tissues with you at all times)

You have to want to believe, to enjoy The Toymakers, it is a beautiful nostalgic read that rekindles childhood pastimes and play.

This story shares the solidarity behind joining forces and making the best of what you have and even when you feel wrung out and don’t want to read another word I beg of you to continue because the story is not final until the very last full stop.

I resurfaced into my reality emotionally drained yet satisfied, I had been on such a journey and had the pleasure of Robert Dinsdales company, I salute such a talented author and anticipate more of his work.

The imagination of Robert Dinsdale is outstanding and should be celebrated. Enjoy your journey into the Emporium.
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I loved this book. As a child I loved stories about magic, stories that transported me to another world, but The Toymakers is not a children’s story. It is an extraordinary, magical and wonderful book that captivated me, a book set mainly in 1917 whilst the First World War was taking its toll of humanity, leaving despair and tragedy in its wake. It’s a blend of historical fiction and magic realism.This is a story of love, and family relationships, as well as of the devastating effects of rivalry and war.

Papa Jack’s Emporium in London is a toyshop extraordinaire. It opens with the first frost of winter each year and closes when the first snowdrop blooms. And the toys it sells aren’t ordinary toys – they seem alive, from patchwork dogs, to flying pegasi, Russian dolls that climb out of one another, runnerless rocking horses, whales that devour ships, fire-breathing dragons and many others to the toy soldiers that wage war on each other.

The story begins in 1906 and ends in 1953, following the lives of Papa Jack Godman, his sons, Kaspar and Emil and Cathy Wray, who aged 15 and pregnant had run away from home. Cathy finds sanctuary at the Emporium, and Papa Jack tells her how he came to live in London and founded the Emporium, how he had found in making toys a kind of magic, a way of reaching a man’s soul.

At first Cathy lived in the Wendy House, which like the Tardis is larger on the inside than the outside, with Sirius the patchwork dog. It was where her daughter, Martha was born. Kasper and Emil are caught up in a battle for control of the Emporium, and they both fall in love with Cathy, but it is Kasper that she marries. The years pass, the First World War breaks out, Kasper joins up, but Emil’s application is refused, so he stays at home, developing his toy soldiers. I was struck by the irony and pathos of a world at war mirrored in the battles fought by Emil’s toys soldiers. And things come a head when Kasper returns a damaged man and retreats into his mind. What happens next changes their lives for ever.

The Toymakers is a wonderful book, one that will stay with me, not just about the horrors of war and rivalry, but above all about the power of love, the magic of childhood and the effect of toys – when you are young you play with toys to feel grown up, imagining what it will be like to be an adult. But when you are an adult what you want from toys is to feel that you are young again. They remind you that the world was once as filled with magic as your imagination will allow.

Many thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.
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Best described as a sort of Narnia for adults, The Toymakers is the story of the owners of Papa Jack's Emporium, a magical toy store in central London that opens each year with the first frost and closes when the first snowdrop flowers.

I have always loved books about magic and quirky toy stores, so I jumped at the chance to read this one.

Dinsdale's interwoven philosophies on the role of toys and childhood in mediating violent and traumatic situations were refreshing and enlightening. I loved his distinction between the 'everyday' magic of enjoying a peaceful and satisfying life, and the actual magic woven into Papa Jack's and Kaspar's creations.

I highlighted more than a dozen 'favourite quotes' in The Toymakers, but this one would have to be my favourite passage:

"There are a hundred different clocks in the Emporium. Some keep time with the comings and goings of London seasons. Others tick out of sync, counting down the hours of that faraway coastline the Godman brothers once called home. Still more keep erratic and uncontrollable times: one counts each third second backwards, the better to extend the time between chores; another elongates the evening, all the better to keep bedtime at bay. These are the times that children keep, and which adults are forbidden from remembering."

The Toymakers is a perfectly imperfect novel that is strangely put together in places but the gems in it are so amazing that I didn't regret reading it at all. I did find it hard to take off my editing cap in some places - it's long, and it felt long. But then, I felt that way about the latter Harry Potter books and they don't seem to have suffered any for it!

The story line for the toy soldiers in the second half was a little perplexing but - in the same way I think we all forgave the writers of Buffy for Season 4 - it didn't change my opinion of the book overall.
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What a book! Never in all my reading years have I been so enthralled by a story - I think, somewhere over the last couple of days I returned to my very best memories of childhood. Robert Dinsdale is not just an author, a writer ... he is also something of a magician!

Everyone has an imagination; it's what give authors the desire to write and urges the readers on to read and what makes both feel a bit lost without a book on the go. But this author's imagination gets under your skin and conjures up scenes of such magnificence that you begin to live, breathe and dream this novel. There is a solid storyline too - one which keeps your mind concentrated on the characters and what's about to happen next, but never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted the ending. I somehow feel richer and more mature for having read The Toymakers - I feel this is a once in a lifetime read and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to immerse myself so completely in such a masterpiece.

I expect most would classify this one as fantasy - and yet, I neither read nor enjoy fantasy and I certainly don't ever award it five stars! However, there is a reality about this book which makes the magic all the more understandable and I hope this feeling never leaves me.

My sincere thanks to Ebury Publishing, part of Penguin Random House UK for approving my copy via NetGalley. This is my honest, original and unbiased review.
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The Toymakers opens in 1906 with Cathy, a pregnant sixteen-year-old who runs away from home in order to avoid being forced to give up her baby. She sees an advert for a sales person for Papa Jack’s Emporium, a toy shop with a legendary status, and buys a one-way ticket to London. It wasn’t quite magical realism because the fantastical elements in the toy shop were not presented as the mundane, it was clear other shops don’t offer flying patchwork reindeer or Tardis-like wendy houses, for instance, but they did start to feel more like everyday occurrences once Cathy officially moves in. This meant that it had strong magical realism vibes, even if the writing can’t technically be classed as such. I’ll be the first to admit that the first 100 pages were so bizarre that I struggled to feel any emotional attachment to the characters, but after the outbreak of the First World War, the story really comes into its own. The way Dinsdale contrasts the blatant magic of the toys, and accompanying innocence of childhood, with the grim reality of war and violence was haunting.

Papa Jack, of Papa Jack’s Emporium, has two mini-mes in the form of his sons, Kasper and Emil. Their shared interest in toy-making, and in Cathy, is pretty much where their similarities end. Kasper is the older, more charming and successful one, whereas Emil constantly feels as if he’s living in his brother’s shadow. It would have been so easy to turn these brothers into a continuation of the whole brother-rivalry trope that is everywhere in literature recently, but thankfully they developed quite nuanced personalities as the story went on. When Kasper comes back from the Front a shadow of his former self, we see a whole new, more disturbing side to both of the brothers. 

Once Kasper returns from the war suffering from PTSD and deeply disillusioned with everything, Emil not only discovers that his famous toy soldiers are refusing to fight each other but that they have developed a sort of autonomy of their own and rebelled against their toy owner masters. They escape from their packaging and run free in the skirting boards of the Emporium. Of course, this sounds ridiculous, but one has to see this less in the literal sense and more in the wider context of the First World War and the effect the conflict had on real-life soldiers. How we wish soldiers across both sides of the War could have just refused to fight and ignored their masters as the toys did. Obviously, that would never have been possible for them, there are no convenient skirting boards for them to escape into, but it’s a wonderful image. More than anything, the actions of these toy soldiers really emphasised the futility of the war, and the fact that there really were no winners here, just some countries who were marginally less decimated than others. 

I understand that this story won’t be for everything, and the writing does take getting used to but if you’re not drawn in right away, I would still recommend persevering. The story goes on to become a lot more moving and poignant than the initial 100 or so pages, with its juvenile descriptions and magical toys, leads you to believe.
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I struggled with this. It took me about two months to read and I never felt compelled to pick it up. This is not a bad book by any means and I am still struggling to pinpoint what did not work for me. So stick with me as I am trying to figure out my thoughts.

I adored the first chapter and was absolutely convinced I would love the book to pieces. It brilliantly introduces Cathy, knocked-up and desperate, who flees her parents' home to find work in Papa Jack's Emporium. Her sense of desperation is wonderfully juxtaposed with the wonder of her new work place and here the immersive and inventive descriptions worked really well. When the Empirium closes for spring and summer, she decides to stay and hide as she has nowhere else to go. This is a trope I struggle with in books: lying and hiding makes me anxious.

What developes next is a love triangle between Cathy and Papa Jack's two sons: Kasper and Emil. I have no patience for love triangles; especially not for those between brothers. While it makes sense in the way the two have always been in direct competition (mostly for their father's approval), it's just not something I enjoy in books.

In general, I thought the characters were the definite weak point of this book. While Cathy is nicely developed and I couldn't not root for her and her courage, I found the brothers caricature-like and Papa Jack a non-entity. Perhaps this book would have worked better for me had it been written in a first person perspective. This way I would have been able to spend more time with Cathy and less time with the waring brothers. I found Emil and Nina to be very abrasive characters whose motivations did not always quite work for me.

I also figured something out just now: the book was overly descriptive. It feels like the majority of words were used to describe the Emporium in incredible detail; there must be hundreds of inventions described. And while I enjoyed this at the beginning, when the reader followed Cathy's awe, it did not quite work for me later in the book when darker themes started to emerged. Then I felt the whimsy of the description detracted from the story.
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From the opening line I was hooked (lets be honest I was hooked from the moment I read the blurb) and transported to a world where Christmas is still a magical time and children can loose themselves in the wonders of a toy store.

Having read and loved The Night Circus I can confirm that this book has that same kind of feel at least to start with. The descriptions of the Emporium and the magic weaved by the toymakers made me wish I lived in a world where such a store was possible.

While the public face of the store is one of magic in private sibling rivalry and jealousy threatens to rip the family and the store apart.

For those who think this is a simple children's story of magic and magic toys be warned the story gets very dark and while the inside of the Emporium may be magical to start it with it doesn't protect those inside from the horrors of the real world.

While Papa Jack manages to survive in pre war Russia living by the simple maxim of remembering everyone was once a child and played with toys it is harder to keep this in mind when faced with the horrors of WW1. The novel tackles the first World War and how so many of the young men who went to fight never returned home while those who did return came back changed. In fact it is heart breaking in the way the effects the war has on families is described.

This book covers several important issues including the right of soldiers to choose which wars to fight, the treatment of immigrants, the importance of understanding and communication and what makes something truly alive.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to those who enjoyed The Night Circus and those who want to believe in magic toy shops and the power of toys to save a soul.
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Sadly, this book was simply not for me. I liked the beginning, so much and was immediately drawn into Cathy's story and her arrival at the emporium, but then the story just took a turn, that did not chime with me. It got very dark, very strange and in many ways, it felt like a book of different parts.
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Wow. The toymakers certainly wasn't just an easy read, but it certainly was worthwhile!

The Toymakers follows Cathy, who is still a teenager in the beginning of the novel, on her journey through time. Pregnant at 16, her parents want her to give her child away and plans are being made, but Catherine decides to leave and find a life of her own that will allow her to keep the child. Alone and lost, she winds up in Papa Jack's Emporium: a toy shop in London that is a bit more magical than is usual.

The novel follows her all throughout her life, from the journey to the Emporium, through missing people that have gone off to war and looking for a new life again at a later age, this time a not-so-deliberate choice.

The Toymakers revolves around Cathy, although it explores other characters in her world as well. The story is sometimes interrupted by an omniscient narrator who refers to the reader in the 2nd person, 'you', maiming the experience that you're reading the story as it was clearly written down by some of the characters, or perhaps that it's a Wendy House you're looking in.

Although it's a narrative about toys and magic, philosophizing here and there, it certainly doesn't shew the heavy topics either. Starting off with the topic of teen pregnancy, it moves on to themes of war, PTSD, the not-so-great way in which some relationships have the tendency to evolve and more. This made sure me and my emotions were taken on quite a rollercoaster ride throughout the story, making me throw the book aside when it made me too sad, only to have me come crawling back again.

The Toymakers is magical realism at its finest, historical fiction in the most enchanting way and a love story non-cliché.
If you're looking for a novel that's not just the same story you've heard a million times before, this one will surely surprise you along the way ;)
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In a word - spellbinding!

I sat down at breakfast to read for half an hour - but couldn't stop reading until I finished the book!

This author is a master storyteller. The prose is beautifully descriptive, the emotions finely writtten, the story wonderfully crafted.

The book made me smile and cry, and stirred up long-forgotten memories of childhood magic. It's bittersweet - not all sweetness and light - but the story needs that to balance the magic.

I loved this book. I will read it again - which for me is a rare thing.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an ARC in return for my honest review.
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I loved The Toymakers. This was a truly magical and emotional tale.

I was sad to leave Papa Jack’s Emporium. It was a safe place so full of wonder, love, friendship, hope and the magic of toys. The whole place came to life in front of my eyes. I was surrounded by toys the whole time I was reading this book. It was such a delight.

However, this book is not all fun and games. While one brother obsesses over his toy soldiers in the Emporium, another is made to face a much darker world outside those walls. Even in this place of wonder, there is anger, jealousy and secrets. This story seeped deep into my soul. It was emotional, heart breaking and thought provoking.

I’ve always treated toys as if they’re alive. I talk to them, even at the age of forty. I’m the kind of person who strokes a cuddly toy in a shop and says hello to it or compliments its appearance. I fear this book may have just encouraged that behaviour even more, so now I’m going to come across crazier than I already do. I loved the idea that when we are young, toys make us feel grown up, as we use them for role-play, but when we are grown up, toys make us feel young again. Toys are wonderful and so important in all our lives, whether we’re young or old.

Such a wonderfully magical and emotional story that made me feel proud of my quirky imagination and strong desire to go on believing. A little bit of belief can go a long way!
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I really enjoyed this book, I spent most of the time wondering if there was real magic involved or just fantastic mechanics.  I did feel a mixture of both. The time period lent so much to the realism of the book and stopped it becoming whimsical.  It's a book that I will re-read in a few years.
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"Do you remember when you believed in magic?"

If this tagline makes your heart warm, then read this book, it really won't disappoint you.

You know when a book makes you warm and happy, and it goes straight into your heart and you know it's never going to leave you, and every time you remember it it just makes you want to pick it all up and read it again. You want to be in the book, live it? Well, that very rarely happens to me, but this book does. I didn't want it to end. I didn't want to go back to real life.

The story is set in 1917, with Cathy, a teenager who finds herself pregnant and being forced to go along with her parents plans to deal with her 'shame'. She decides to take matters into her own hands though when she spots a job article in a paper looking for staff and asking "are you lost, are you afraid, are you a child at heart?" -  well Cathy really is, and runs away to Papa Jack's Emporium.

We then enter an absolutely magical, beautiful world - one of toy soldiers, paper trees, runnerless rocking horses, and oh the dog - who could every forget about the dog? The emporium opens every year on the day of the first frost and closes again when the first snowdrop is found. In the time between Papa Jack and his sons Kasper and Emil create the magical toys.....

I wanted this story just to stay happy and wonderful and heartwarming but it doesn't. There is after all a war on, and not just between Kasper and Emil's toy soldiers, this tale gets very dark, and we are torn apart with love and loyalty for each character.

I'm not going any further into the story, but it's beautiful - it's heartbreaking, it's magical and just amazing. Robert Dinsdale writes so beautifully - I just can't put into words how wonderful this book is - it will live with me forever, and if this is the last book I ever read then I can't think of a better book to end on.
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First off, I was entranced by the cover, I mean LOOK AT IT!
Who would not want to pick this up?
I imagine walking along a typical dickensian christmas time, with all the snow falling and the carols floating in the breeze, then you come along a shop like this and peer into the window and dream....

However I like to see that picture in my head, this story actually takes place in 1917 nearing the end of the first World War and where a runaway Cathy takes refuge in the shop/ emporium.
The shop is owned by Papa Jack and his two sons, Emil and Kasper and these are no ordinary toymakers......

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

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, this one is truly magical...

This book is  full of beautiful writing, well rounded charecters, love and heartache and I really recommend that you read this, it is a different type of story and one I am glad to have been party too.

I have definatly put this on my wish list and wil look forward to seeing it on my shelves, not just my digital one!

Thank you to the Publishers and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity in being able to read this.

As always, thank you for dropping by and have a booktastic day!
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Not all magical realism is the same, and this is a great example of the genre.
Welcome to The Emporium where you walk into a toy shop, but are transported to a world of wonder where toys seem to have lives of their own and magic is around every corner.
Papa Jack runs The Emporium with his two sons and in 1917 we follow Cathy Wray as she discovers and starts to work at The Emporium. It opens every year at the first frost and closes when the first snowdrop blooms. During the warmer months, Papa Jack and his sons Emil and Kaspar make new toys and new magic for the next season while everyone waits for the doors to open again in winter.

This story spans from 1917 right through to the 1950s, and, I'll admit it, at times towards the end I was pretty angry at the author for what he did to these lovely characters. But as I got to the end I understood and accepted and was left with a huge mixture of emotions.
And isn't that the best kind of book?
One that transports you into a new place and time and has you CARING about the characters like old friends.

I'm now going to seek out previous books by Dinsdale because I think he is a very talented author with a unique voice.

Recommended to anyone who loves some magical realism in their historical fiction and is ready for a rollercoaster ride along with the characters.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book contains everything and seems destined ed to become a future classic and loved by Bookclub’s far and wide.

War, love, family, loyalty and magic are just some of the themes that are the focus in this book. It’s unique, innovative and completely immersive - the language used is so beautiful it immediately drew me in and I found myself fully immersed in The Emporium and the world of the Toymakers.

I think I need to reread this to properly take in every detail as it’s so rich in description!

If you’re a fan of historical fiction or magical realism this is a must read. Perfect for fans of The Night Circus, The Hazel Wood and Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
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Although the book starts with a 'later' scene, we quickly go back and take a continuous narrative, to follow the fortunes of Cathy and the people who come into her life. In reality, she came into theirs, since we spend little time in the dismal reaches of pre-war Leigh-on-Sea (a town on the Thames estuary to the east of London).  She runs away to London, having seen an advertisement for staff for Papa Jack's Emporium.  That, she thinks, is a safe place for a girl who needs a safe place to run to.  Her reminder to herself, about *running away from the voice inside your head, the one telling you to stay where you are*, is a brilliant insight into why people leave home with nothing.

I think everyone will be astounded at the sheer opulence of the description of this magical emporium. The author's imagination knows no bounds.  How he thinks up all the toys that Papa Jack and his two sons create, I have no idea. Jo Rowling would be jealous. The range and depth of detail surrounding these magical artefacts are almost enough in themselves. I kept thinking, someone will love turning this into a film.

Papa Jack tells how he came to be a toy maker, and his sons try their best to emulate him.  Both have talent, but one has the gift, or maybe its the belief.  Occasionally the reader gains an insight into exactly what it takes to make the most innovative magical toys, only for the secret to slip away again as the reality of the brothers' competitive zeal, and eventually jealousy, divides them.  World War 1 does not help, but it divides them physically, and emotionally - it makes little difference to the reality of their relationship.  And it the relationships that I found made this book so magical, whether between family members, lovers, dedicated staff, or the toys whose relationship was so much more like companion animals than mere playthings.

The developments from there on are beautifully logical, allowing the 'magical realism' tag to earn its place. Self-awareness and group psychology all have their role to play in the social science fiction element of this book.  The toy makers' story becomes secondary to that of the toys, but only for a while, since Cathy's story continues throughout.

There was some imbalance of the pacing of the book.  There is a long flat patch before reaching the denouement, which perhaps could have been edited.  But this is a first class book with a touch of brilliance about the ideas.  Yet it is also another potential award-winner that pays no attention to the 'rules' on how to write best-sellers.  Description rules this book, as it did most of my best of 2017, and some of it does so for the sheer joy of it.


Awe-inspiring tale of two brothers and a woman who sees their rivalry. With toys, magic and mystery of a different kind. Epic in its conception, beautifully delivered. Add to your 2018 reading pile.
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Without doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long long time, Magical, moving, endearing, elating. A book I just didnt want to end. 5 out of 5, no question.
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*I received a free review copy of this novel via NetGalley.  The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

This book is an intense read, rather than a quick or easy one.

The reader is plunged deep into a world of magical realism in the form of the wondrous Emporium and its amazing toy displays, but as we follow Cathy into the Godman family’s domain we find that the cloud castles and flying reindeer are covering a darker path of war and betrayal; both historical and personal.

It feels like there are multiple books contained under one cover, from the fairytale opening night at first frost, through the realities of the trenches and shell-shock, to a slow creeping deterioration, which could be seen to reflect a personal journey from the wonders of childhood, through harsh adult reality, to the slow, sad, nostalgic slide into old age.

The layers of symbolism, laced together with the magical realism, are reminiscent of both The Night Circus and The Miniaturist, both of which this book has been compared to, and the books do all share the same eerily dreamlike style and atmosphere.

I found that my engagement with the characters was at an intellectual level, rather than an emotional one, so whilst I empathised with their struggles and hopes, I was not personally invested in the outcomes, and was happy to simply ride the story through to the end as an interested observer.  I believe that this is a function of the detached, almost formal, voice of the author, even when inside his characters’ point of view.

Definitely recommended to fans of Erin Morgenstern and Jessie Burton, who like their stories to be exquisitely crafted, historically based, fantastical fancies with a deeper moral-philosophical underpinning.

These simple toy soldiers, these lifelike recreations on which the Emporium has built its Empire, these playthings that have sat upon the shelves for as long as the store has existed, who have provided generations of boys with untold delights, have, for the very first time, lain down their arms.
‘They have surrendered,’ she whispers….

– Robert Dinsdale, The Toymakers

(Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog)
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