The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers Cover

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, only one is truly magical.

My Review of The Toymakers

The ToymakersThe Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was not what I was expecting from the blurb. I was thinking it would be a light-hearted and magical Christmas read but it turned out to have a lot more depth to it and be a whole lot darker than I thought.

It starts out as a magical Christmassy story. Cathy is pregnant and running away from her family who want her to give up her baby. She sees an advert in the paper for The Emporium, a toy shop that opens only during winter, and instinctively feels that it’s the answer to all her problems. When she arrives she finds that the shop is full of magic and wonder and finds a place to raise her baby in safety.

The two brothers Kasper and Emil are at war with each other. They have been playing what they call the Long War since they were little, battling against each other with toy soldiers. They are also competing over who can create the best toys, the most magical, the ones that sell the best.

Emil takes the contest very seriously because as the younger brother he has always felt inferior to the confident and gifted Kasper. The toy soldiers he makes are the only way he can live up to the abilities of his father and his brother.

When Cathy arrives at the Emporium Kasper and Emil also fight for her attention, even when the arrival of her baby force the two boys to begin to grow up. The intrusion of the first World War causes a further rift between the brothers.

The author has created some interesting characters but they mostly feel flat and two dimensional. The female characters especially have no personality, we have The Martyr in Cathy who spends her life working for the happiness of the people she loves, and The Harpy in Nina, who berates Emil constantly. Both exist only to cause conflict in the men. Cathy is the supporter who cares for Kasper after the war and Nina pushes Emil to the edge so he has to take desperate measures.

The magical feel of the book starts to fade as the family deal with the effects of war and what’s left behind is quite dark and depressing. Cathy is the main character in the book but she doesn’t have the personality to carry the story or shine a light through the dark places.

A heartbreaking read but it aims higher than it reaches and the characters are too flat to hold interest.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Toymakers
Robert Dinsdale
Fiction
February 8th 2018
Kindle
320

Christmas books for people that don’t like Christmas

Christmas Books

I actually do like Christmas, but I don’t like the overly sentimental, desperate to make you feel something rubbish that comes along with it.

The six books here are either set at Christmas, or have a wintery, dark feel to them. All of them offer something a bit different to the normal mass produced Christmas stories.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow

by Peter Høeg, Tiina Nunnally (Translator)

There’s a lot of snow in this book, and it’s actually set over Christmas, though you wouldn’t know it because the main character Smilla is not interested in Christmas at all. It’s bleak and completely unsentimental, but the story about a six-year-old boy who falls off a roof is gripping.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow on GoodReads

The Last Wish

by Andrzej Sapkowski

Another one that’s not set at Christmas, because it’s set in another world entirely. A fantasy about a witcher, a man with magic powers who hunts monsters for money. This has been made into a video game and I can see why because it’s faced paced and fun to read. The perfect antidote to Christmas mush, I’ve just bought the next book in the series to read.

The Last Wish on GoodReads

The Sittaford Mystery

by Agatha Christie

There’s nothing better than a good Agatha Christie to read in the winter. This has all the usual elements, an impossible murder, a country house, a truck full of red herrings, and throws in a seance and a winter with a heavy snowfall. Christmas is there too, but blink and you’ll miss it.

The Sittaford Mystery on GoodReads

The Taxidermist’s Daughter

by Kate Mosse

Set in the Autumn and not at Winter, but it has dark stormy weather and an isolated house. The creepy Victorian atmosphere makes this perfect for reading at this time of year.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter on GoodReads

The Snow Child

by Eowyn Ivey

I don’t’ normally recommend books I haven’t read, but the description alone made me want to add this to this list. Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow.

The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

A story “about the ability of books to feed the soul.” this is on the list because a small part of the book happens over Christmas. It’s set in Germany during World War II and it is narrated by Death. Worth reading just for how unusual that is, but the tale of a young girl who is living with a poor foster family and can’t resist stealing books for herself is both beautiful and heartbreaking. I can’t promise you won’t cry at this one, but it’s not cheap sentiment added just to get a reaction.

The Book Thief on GoodReads