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

Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel (A Memoir) by Jessica Bell

I never meant to be a rebel - cover

Jessica Bell never meant to be a rebel. But growing up with two gothic rockers as parents seemed to make it inevitable.

In 1980s Australia, Erika Bach and Demetri Vlass founded Ape the Cry and Hard Candy, two of Melbourne’s iconic indie bands. They encouraged Jessica with unreserved love to pick up the guitar and write her own songs. But Erika’s back problem became a nightmare of pill popping, alcohol abuse, and anxiety attacks. Demetri retreated into silence for fear of triggering Erika’s drug-induced psychosis. And Jessica turned inwards, to her own reflection.

But her mirror self was a fiend, not a friend. All it took was one secret drink at fifteen, and Jessica dove headlong into depression and self-destruction to escape the madness at home.

Experimenting with bisexuality in a high school rife with bullies? Not a problem; she had alcohol. Losing her virginity to rape? Not a problem; she had alcohol. Trying to supplement absent love with unprotected one-night stands? Not a problem; she had alcohol …

Until one day alcohol nearly drove Jessica off a cliff.

Jessica had to look at herself honestly and frankly. Why did she keep running from reality, and more importantly … herself?

My Review of Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel

Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel (A Memoir)Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel by Jessica Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m going to start by saying I don’t normally read biographies, but the description for this made me want to give it a go. Jessica Bell has lived a rock n’ roll lifestyle, her parents were in a gothic rock band in the 80’s and early 90’s, she grew up around musicians and started bands herself. Well, this sounded far more interesting than the usual celebrity self-absorbed childhood stories!

I found it difficult to get into, picking it up and putting it down a few times before I really got going with it. Jessica’s early years are interesting but described with a bit too much introspection for my liking.

It’s when Jessica is a teenager in the 90’s that I started to really connect with this. I’m a 90’s teenager myself so it was a little bit like going back in time, with the bands that she talks about, and the feeling of being an outcast at her high school. I also started to see why the events from her younger self are important, and how they had effected her personality and the way she deals with things.

Jessica is unflinchingly honest as she unpicks the decisions that she made that lead her on a self-destructive path, and also kinda hard on herself too. She has done a lot with her life, as I was reading about her in the 90’s I thought we were of the same generation, I guessed Jessica was a few years older than me. Actually, she’s a bit younger but far more mature than I was at the same age. I think Jessica as a teenager was probably more mature than I am even now!

By the end of the book, I was 100% sucked in and racing through the pages as Jessica starts to find a way to forgive herself for the things she has done, and accept herself as she is, flaws and all. Jessica Bells’s voice is unique and compelling, and her life story (so far) is interesting and well told.

Recommended if you like biographies, you like rock n’ roll stories, or you were (or still are) a 90’s riot girl.

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

Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel (A Memoir)
Jessica Bell
Fiction
Kindle
288

Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

Broken Branches Blurb

“Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.”

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

My Review of Broken Branches

Broken BranchesBroken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Broken Branches has a real feeling of unease with a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and a spooky tree overshadowing it, though this could have been played on a bit more. The atmosphere was there at the start of the book, and there were some odd bumps and noises in the house, but it didn’t really build up until near the end. From the description, I was hoping for something a bit creepier.

The story is interesting and the twist at the end is shocking. The pacing is just right and the build up to the end of the story is done brilliantly. I was hooked, and couldn’t put it down.

Some parts of the story are left almost unexplained though. I wanted a bit more info about the family history. Ian’s research didn’t seem to go anywhere. And why did his father and brother not want anything to do with him?

I liked the jumps into the past where we saw Ian grow up on the farm and the way his family fell apart, but I don’t fully understand why it happened.

Overall, I enjoyed it, it’s well written and easy to read. It’s quite short too and I became so engrossed in it that I finished it in about a day. I would read more by this author.

I also love the cover! It sets the tone for the story perfectly.

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

Broken Branches
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction