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The Toymakers

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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...

320 pages, ebook

First published February 8, 2018

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About the author

Robert Dinsdale

10 books256 followers
Robert Dinsdale was born in North Yorkshire and currently lives in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.


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5 stars
3,377 (38%)
4 stars
2,900 (33%)
3 stars
1,771 (20%)
2 stars
536 (6%)
1 star
144 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,475 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,599 reviews24.7k followers
January 24, 2018
Robert Dinsdale has written a richly detailed and imaginative historical story of the place toys have in the hearts of both children and adults through Papa Jack's Emporium located on Iron Duke Mews in London. It begins in the early part of the 20th century with a pregnant 16 year old Cathy running away from home to work at the Emporium which offers accommodation. A traumatised Papa Jack Godman began to comprehend the role that toys have for a child and the importance of accessing that childhood innocence and wonder after he spent so many years imprisoned in Siberia. He brings his sons, Kaspar and Emil to London, establishing himself as a master toymaker at the Emporium which operates on different laws on time and space, opening on the first day of frost, through Christmas and closing on the flowering of the first snowdrop. The rest of the year is spent coming up with and making new toys for the coming year. Kaspar and Emil are now toymakers too, their relationship riven with sibling rivalries. This is a dark story of love, family drama, war, loss and magic destined to enthrall.

Both brothers are smitten with Cathy, but she has eyes only for the gifted Kaspar, driven by intense wonder in his toymaking, and the insecure, jealous Emil, pressed down by his never ending worries, never stands a chance. Living in the dream Wendy House with the patchwork dog, Sirius, Cathy gives birth to her daughter, Martha and goes on to marry Kaspar. The Emporium continues to flourish, a place seemingly apart from the rest of the world, until it is rudely reminded that it is a part of a troubled humanity after so many people take against the Godmans with the imminent threat of the Great War. Kasper goes to war, coming back a devastatingly broken man who has mentally retreated back to the safety of childhood, aided by his music box, and beyond the reach of his family. Emil is now married to Nina and has twin sons, he has sustained the shop through the war years with the toy soldiers he developed to fight The Long War, but cannot understand why his efforts remain unappreciated. A long drawn out war of attrition breaks out between Kaspar and Emil, emanating from their different perspectives and philosophy which has long term implications for the families, the toys and the Emporium. Kaspar leaves and disappears, lost to Cathy and Martha, to all intents and purposes, his beloved daughter.

This glorious novel is related from the perspective of Cathy through the years until she ends up living with Martha and her grandchildren. Dinsdale has a surprise for the reader at the end as it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. This is the kind of novel that will linger long in the psyche after the last page is read. It burrows its way into that part of us that is nourished by our intimate and close connections to toys, its links to childhood innocence, magic and joy, which become a beacon of light in times of desperate need. This is particularly true for those whose lives and minds become infested and broken by the horrors and darkness that lurks within humanity. An unforgettable and sublime book that I recommend highly. Many thanks to Random House Ebury for an ARC.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
695 reviews1,073 followers
January 7, 2021
2021 isn’t going well with my books so far.
This book started good and then went downhill 😞☹️

In the beginning I loved this book. We follow young, pregnant Cathy Wray who runs away from home to avoid giving her baby up for adoption.
She finds solace in the magical Papa Jacks Emporium, a toy store like no other.
The descriptions were so vivid and that imaginative I loved all the different toys the brother Kaspar and Emil made.

Just over half way I started to get a bit fed up. I didn’t like the competitive drama between the brothers, especially when they became adults and had their own families. It just seemed petty.

I didn’t like the love triangle between Cathy and the two brothers. And how the author seemed intent on making Emil look like the villain.

It all just got a bit too silly by the end. 🤷‍♀️


Update 26/11/2020

This is in my December pile and I can’t wait! ❄️


I'm taking this off of my currently reading for the moment. Not because I'm not enjoying it (tbh I've only actually read the prologue) but because I've got way too many books on my currently reading (particularly library books) I will come back to this as soon as I've got those down a bit :)
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,393 followers
June 30, 2019
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."
—Albert Einstein

Small-town teen, Cathy Wray,
finds herself in the family way.
(I'm a poet, yet didn't know it).
She is also desperate to escape her parents, who want her pregnancy kept secret and the baby given up for adoption.
But then a serendipitous moment occurs; a highlighted ad in a newspaper’s situations vacant column: a position at a toymakers’ store, Papa John's Emporium, in London.
As if guided by a deity, Cathy hightails it to the capital with a swollen belly and a runaway's dream of motherhood. She discovers the joint to be every bit as magical as she'd hoped; a place where saluting tin soldiers rub shoulders with eager Russian dolls, and where a pyramid of ballerinas stand en pointe, hoping to be bought.
The emporium is out of step with the outside world and the toys therein burst wonderfully to life in the imagination of customers, and readers, alike. To make the toys work, their creators, Emil and Kaspar, retain a child's perspective and I was lapping it up - a cynical adult once more flying the magic carpet of his childhood, or Robert Loggia dancing on a giant piano keyboard with Tom Hanks.

The book was subtly magical and so beautifully written.

In fact, up until the 40% mark, I was already declaring it to be my best read, thus far, in 2018.

Sadly though, like a toy bear that has lost much of its stuffing, the story began to sag in the middle.
The character development required fresh batteries and the slow pace of the story would have benefitted from a new winding mechanism.
This began as an epic tale of sibling rivalry; two brothers competing for their father’s affections in a Legends of the Fall/Twelfth Night kind-of-way but, by the end, it had morphed into a Willy Wonka/Chitty Chitty Bang Bang piece of nonsense!
Such a shame, as it was initially so-o good, and promised much.

It’s only Dinsdale's exquisite prose that has stopped me from slinging this novel into three-star jail!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,052 followers
January 7, 2020
A magical story about a magical toy emporium. Some reviewers liken it to The Night Circus. They are right!

I must admit to moments during the book when things were a bit too sweet, a bit too perfect, but then along came World War 1 and everything changed. The last chapters of the book are actually quite dark and the ending is amazing. I was stunned at the eventual outcome.

The author writes well and has an excellent imagination. I felt sorry for the toy soldiers and how I wished I could have seen the Emporium in its heyday! I have real childhood memories of visiting a major store in London and seeing Santa in a magnificent grotto with elves and fairies and lot of snow. I guess I translated that into this beautiful book!

Well worth reading if you are a child at heart and if you like a little magic in your books:)
Profile Image for Umut.
355 reviews164 followers
July 9, 2018
2.5 stars. Another book that doesn’t give itself away with the blurb. I don’t know you, but I get really annoyed when books turn out to be really different than what they promise in the blurb. Until about 40% mark, we were following Cathy in 1900s London. She was an interesting main character, who found herself working in a toy shop. There’s also a magical realism aspect to this book. But, something happens (which I don’t want to give away), and after that, the book took a completely different direction and tone. It became a really dark, depressing story. Honestly, it took e by surprise, and I can’t get over it. I feel cheated! I need to be fair to the author. I liked his writing. It was beautiful, complex and detailed. But, I wish he did better at character development, and keeping the structure. It went all over the place, and I didn’t know what I was reading at some point. For those reasons, I gave it 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,051 followers
February 15, 2018
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 (espcially in the first half of the story) 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 also 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.

I received an arc of this courtesy of NetGalley and Random House/Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

You can find my review and other thoughts on my blog.
Profile Image for Jules.
1,048 reviews185 followers
February 8, 2018
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!

My review is also available on my blog here:
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,032 reviews1,423 followers
March 20, 2018
"Do you remember when you believed in magic?"

Set inside a magical toy shop, in the heart of 1940's London, where paper trees grow in front of your eyes, patchwork dogs act like breathing ones, and doll houses are bigger than most city compartments live Kaspar and Emil. Two brothers who travelled, with their estranged father Papa Jack, to this foreign city to make their home and perfect their craft. The toy shop has grown and every year, at first frost, the lost, the afraid, and the still-believers flock to the entrance to make this their home and their place of work, for the winter. But when the first flower of Spring thrusts its small head through the ice-hardened soil they must return to the normality that still reigns, outside of the toy emporium's doors.

This was a seamless blend of the realistic and the magical. This was very much a portrait of pre-war London, but there was also the utter enchantment that comes with the suspension of belief that occurs when whimsical wonders are placed alongside the every day. This truly does revert the reader back to their childhood self, where any dream is possible and questions are allayed in favour of the blind belief in magic.

However, this initial charming whimsy was soon overtaken by an undercurrent of fear. The beginning of WWII chronicles a change in this novel, that leads to both a severe return to the reality of the emporium's situation, as well as making this a startling bleak political insight. Prejudice is rife and the discourse returns countless times to the ideology of both cultural identity and gender stereotypes.

My utter captivation with this novel stemmed from its juxtaposition of ability to charm my imagination whilst also providing many sources of discourse for my mind to ponder over. It was the amalgamation of stark reality and the childhood suspension of belief that makes this such an enjoyable read but, ultimately, it was my delighted rapture with the emporium that ensures I will never forget my experience of reading it.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Robert Dinsdale and the publisher, Ebury, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Emma.
974 reviews974 followers
January 4, 2018
3.5 stars

There's so much to like in this book- the Emporium is truly a magical place, somewhere a patchwork dog can run, and play, and love. It brings to mind every Christmas film you've ever seen, Santa's factory brought once more to life within the pages of the book. Such a place might seem inimical to disaster but conflict arrives in the form of a young girl, pregnant and in search of a place to survive. Cathy is the instant and everlasting focus of two brothers, Emil and Kaspar, whose kinship was already strained by jealousy, competition, and the problem of inheritance. Here, the changing relationship between the two brothers, reflected through war and play, is fascinatingly developed through the use of toy soldiers and the Long War of sibling rivalry.

Yet for all that, the last part of the book is wrong, just plain wrong. It doesn't fit, not with the development of the characters or the plot of the rest of the book. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the shine of the novel tarnished, and ultimately disappointing.

Still, the memory of the beautiful parts remain and it's hard to argue the talent of an author who can create Sirius the patchwork dog. This might not have finished the way I wanted it to, but Dinsdale has a skill of creation that I will look for again.

ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for Pauline.
745 reviews
November 17, 2017
Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale is a story of Cathy a teenage runaway who takes a job in Papa Jack's Emporium. A place where magical toys are made and sold by toymaker Jekabs and his two sons.
I enjoyed the imagination and the description of the toys that were created. I really liked the character of Cathy. I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK for my e-copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,080 reviews360 followers
May 11, 2018
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A magical, wintery tale about a lost young woman and the toy shop that rescues her. Cathy is a pregnant runaway taken in by the family of Papa Jon’s Emporium - a toy shop that sells the unimaginable. With a story that spans 50 years, we see Cathy and Papa Jon’s children, Kasper and Emil, go through sibling rivalries, jealousy and two world wars all set against the backdrop of this wonderful shop.

The writing style is hauntingly poetic, lyrical and gorgeous at first. It’s written like a historical fairy tale, with a hint of magical realism. It’s whimsical without being too light hearted, and treads the line well of telling a realistic historical tale without it being overly bittersweet or unbelievable.

It’s a very character driven story, and because we follow the main characters over a long period of time, we see them develop and grow gradually as we experience some of the best and worst moments of their lives with them. It’s subtle and well done, as I grew very attached to some of them (Cathy in particular), and some of the emotional and psychological traumas are laid bare in a very raw and emotional way. In particular, I found the PTSD experienced by soldiers after the war harrowing and well written. I also liked the tension created between Kasper and Emil during the beginning of the book and thought their rivalry kept the first half of the book reasonably well paced and interesting. Cathy, however, was my favourite character. I found her resilient and her warmth for her family shines through. She’s almost like the matriarch that keeps everyone together.

The Emporium itself also feels like a character in its own right. It’s a place for Cathy to feel at home, and raise a family, but also a place filled with warmth and childlike imagination that’s at once colourful and joyful. It has a personality all of its own, and the descriptions made me feel instantly transported to this magical place.

I will say that this gradual character development over a long period of time did mean that at times the story slows significantly, with little advancement of the storyline (particularly in the middle). Because of this I struggled at times to cope with the slow pace. This isn’t really a book you can pick up and put down at will. It requires a certain amount of investment and concentration that was difficult to maintain during these slow moments.

The tone certainly turns darker as it progresses, as we find the characters dealing with the aftermath of war and it looses a lot of its earlier charm. I found I unfortunately lost a lot of interest in the story by this point as I found it jarred so much with the promising and optimistic beginning. The characters are exposed to so much, and I found it really depressing. I wanted the whimsy and warm family atmosphere of the start. There’s also little to no magical realism, which seems to fizzle out after a promising start.

This is a decent historical drama that is ambitious in scope and character development, but I just didn’t feel like the second half worked well with the first.

Also, extra credit for coming from my part of the U.K. I’m all for supporting local authors.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,642 followers
November 11, 2018
This book is about a magical toy shop that opens every year on the first day of frost. On this opening day, eager children run to the shop with lights in their eyes to find magical toys such as paper tree houses and moving toy soldiers.
Cathy is the novel’s protagonist, and when we first meet her she is pregnant and stumbles across a ‘help needed’ add from Papa Jack’s Emporium, the magical toy shop. Cathy has nowhere else to go and decides to go for the job which means the beginning of a whole adventure for her.
This book is enchanting in its way of describing winter, magic, and the joy for toys children have. I read it in the beginning of November and found it even more magical for that reason, and while it took me a bit of getting used to this new world and the writing style, I was oftentimes surprised by where the plot was going all the way till the end. Also, let’s not forget that this book comes with one of the most beautiful and magical covers I’ve ever seen.
“The Toy Soldiers” is a great book for escapism because it takes you back in time to a whole new and wonderful world that you will fell delight in coming back to every time you open the book.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,744 reviews1,617 followers
February 8, 2018
The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. Across the city, when children wake to see the ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice cracking underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open. In the heart of Mayfair, 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 his famous and magical toys. Into the family comes a young Cathy Wray - who's homeless and vunerable. The Emporium takes her in, and Cathy discovers that the Emporium is the only toy shop that is truly magical.

This story is based around Papa Jack's sons, Kasper and Emils battle for control of the Emporium. Set between 1917 and the 1950's , it covers two World Wars. The authors style of writing does take a few chapters to get used to, but stick with it as this story is truly magical. I was whisked back to my childhood with this truly magical read that's tinged with sadness.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing and the author Robert Dinsdale for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lotte.
546 reviews1,105 followers
March 27, 2018
3.5/5. An imaginative and magical story about a toymaker, his sons and a runaway finding refuge in their legendary toy store, Papa Jack’s Emporium. The detailed descriptions of the store and its inhabitants various incredible inventions reminded me of the beautiful writing in The Night Circus and made for a really fun reading experience.
It was a rather slow read for me though and especially around the middle the story dragged quite a bit. Moreover, while I think there were some very interesting observations on how war effects people and specifically, the child in all of us, the ending was overly sentimental and quite cliché in my opinion, which soured my overall reading experience. However, I’d still recommend it and if you’re looking for a thoroughly magical read to cuddle up with on a cold day and get lost in for a while, this is a great choice!
May 15, 2022
Well, this turned out to be a totally underwhelming read, to say the least, and it really makes me ask why I do this to myself. For some reason or another I just cannot bring myself to abruptly stop reading a book and move on. But what I am getting quite good at, however, is throwing books like this off high buildings.

First off; this book has had many positive comparisons to The Night Circus. Take it from me, this book does not even remotely feel like that book. Save yourselves while you're still able to.

Sure, the premise sounded intriguing enough from this end, but the reality is, the story was a detached mess, consisting of half-baked characters that I couldn't bring myself to like, a silly love triangle involving two brothers (Please, anything but that), and a so-called magical world that quickly turned into something more sinister and somehow, very unrealistic and somewhat pointless.

At one point in the book Robert Dinsdale appears to become so carried away and enthralled in his own writing that he basically writes a catalogue, telling the reader of all the magical creatures within the emporium, but then we never actually learn anything else about these creatures. Instead, we continue with the skeletal characters involved in the peculiar love triangle.

When I pick up fiction books, they have to make me 'feel' something, and preferably something that will make me feel invested in the story, therefore giving me the strength to push through to the end. Unfortunately, this book offered me none of those things, but looking on the bright side, I know my next book will be better.
Profile Image for Karen ⊰✿.
1,389 reviews
February 3, 2018
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 roller-coaster 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.

Profile Image for warhawke.
1,297 reviews1,953 followers
February 11, 2019
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Type: Standalone
POV: Third Person

Cathy Wray was so young but already in desperate need of a start over. She stumbled upon an advertisement that took her to Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium - a magical place for kids and adults alike. There, she met brothers Emil and Kaspar Goodman who showed her that life would never again be anything but ordinary.

“Why, they’ll come here and play with your toys one winter, then come to vandalise the next. Well, we ought to be showing them, we’ll stand up to be counted –and not because we’re English, because we’ve no need to be. Because we’re people.’

When I decided to read this book, I expected to get the joy and the magic of childhood. That aspect was certainly delivered but it turned out to be so much more. It also knocked me with the dark and depressing reality of adulthood.

Running was easy, she decided; but every runaway had to arrive, and arriving seemed the most difficult thing of all

Cathy, Kaspar and Emil had an interesting dynamic. Each of them had wildly different personalities and motivations, yet I could understand where they came from no matter how skewed it might be. With a story that spanned decades, I felt invested with every new turn they made.

I am making toys, Cathy. Toys for the ones who go to sleep at night and will not wake in the morning. Toys for those men I hear crying for their mamas. And might I confess? Cathy, they are the most beautiful toys I have ever built.

I loved how even though the story involved magic, it was actually minimal compared to the human factor. This book taught us that sometimes you just need to see things in a different perspective to find the magic within ourselves and our loved ones.

The Toymakers is a gripping tale of rivalry and loyalty. It would appeal to readers looking for a dose of everyday magic.

For more reviews/reveals/giveaways visit:

Profile Image for Lucy Banks.
Author 12 books289 followers
November 17, 2017
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Richly written, full of magic - a lovely book.

Others have compared this book to The Night Circus, and for good reason; as it has similarly rich, lyrical language, and deeply evocative descriptions.

The novel follows Cathy, a pregnant young runaway, who finds herself at Papa Jack's Emporium in London. This is no ordinary toy shop, as hints of magic rule every aisle; from soldiers able to do battle of their own volition, to wind-up patchwork animals that behave much like the real thing.

Papa Jack has two sons; the affable Emil and the dashing, daring Kaspar. Both are key parts of the story's narrative (for reasons I won't go into, for fear of spoiling the surprise!).

The book took me a while to finish, but actually, that wasn't a problem at all, because I was immersed in the lovely writing, which took me right onto the floors of the magical Emporium. It's not only richly depicted, but gloriously imaginative, and the characters themselves are easy to get attached to.

An absolutely wonderful read, especially this close to Christmas. Go and read... now!
Profile Image for Jersy.
754 reviews61 followers
March 11, 2018
I was starting to read this book thinking it would be a heartwarming feelgood story full of magic. That was slightly wrong, it was more of a typical historical novel set in war time, with the addition of some small fantasy elements. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though.

The characters are immensely interesting. Even if there not always likable, there flaws and mistakes were presented in a way that the reader could understand where they were coming from. It also made them more believable as characters. Papa Jacks backstory, as well as the rivalry of the brothers, were fascinating.

The plot itself, I feel though, was lacking. It offered nothing I had not read a lot of times already.
I liked the setting of this book, but unwanted pregnancy and man returning from the war injured and/or mentally broken is nothing new when you like to read classics and historical fiction. And I just feel it has been done better before. That does not, however, mean that it has been done poorly here.

The inclusion of magical elements, even if it was one of the main reasons I bought this book, was not done that well. In the first half, or even more, of the book I liked the little hints that were given. It was not made totally certain that it was magic and not just technological craftmanship, but when it became more apparent, which I would normally not have minded, I felt that an otherwise good message was ruined. A new message could have been made from this, but it never was and instead went into an obsurd direction.

I did not like the ending. A lot of opportunity was wasted by not picking up any of the advises that Papa Jack has given Cathy or Kaspar. The big revelation at the end kind of felt forced and did not satisfy me.

I still feel if you start this with the right expectations and are in the mood for basically anti-war historical historical fiction that drifts into fairy tale later on, you can have a good time reading it. It definitely made me want to read classic literature again, which is an achievement of its own.
Profile Image for Helen.
159 reviews68 followers
May 12, 2021
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 gave the story 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 contrasted 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 everyone, 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 much more moving and poignant than the initial 100 or so pages, with its juvenile descriptions and magical toys, leads you to believe.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy to review .
Profile Image for Helen .
462 reviews10 followers
February 11, 2018
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 suspensefully 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!
Profile Image for Katerina.
399 reviews48 followers
February 4, 2020
If there was a minus star rating I would gladly give it! This book is completely ridiculous! I'm sorry I'm usually not fond of writing such harsh words about an author's work but I hated this book!
The idea was good but the execution so poorly!
When I started reading I expected a world full of magic but instead I came across tragedy and ridiculous situations!
The only characters I liked were Kaspar, Martha, Papa Jack and a patchwork dog but they weren't enough for me to care about reading further than a chapter and that after I finished reading some other book!
I hated Kaspar's brother Emil! I wished someone would kill him! Such an immature, full of complexes, jealous, sick, evil character responsible for all the tragedies in his own life but also in the lives of others! He was one of the reasons I couldn't stand reading this story!
As for what he did to his brother it was totally on character for him but come on! I hate when the author uses cheap tricks! Cathy received so many letters from Kaspar while he was at war but she didn't recognize the writing in his supposed goodbye letter as someone's else? Also how can any amount of food last for 30 years? As for the last paragraph it was so ridiculous I was beyond glad to close the book!
I wouldn't recommend it to nobody! Make yourself a favour and don't read this book! I only did because a friend told me I couldn't and I'm just bloody stubborn!
Profile Image for Aoife.
1,288 reviews546 followers
February 19, 2018
4.5 stars

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers/author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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!
Profile Image for Cynnamon.
547 reviews99 followers
May 20, 2022
English version below


Wenn man sich am Klappentext orientiert, erwartet man eine Art Weihnachtsmärchen in historischem Setting, eine Erwartung, die sich nicht erfüllen wird.

Ein 16-jähriges Mädchen wird Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts schwanger und soll auf Wunsch ihrer Eltern in ein Heim für ledige Mütter abgeschoben werden, um dort das Kind zur Welt zu bringen, das man ihr umgehend wegnehmen würde.
Das Mädchen, Cathy, läuft daraufhin von zu Hause weg und landet in London in einem ungewöhnlichen Spielzeugladen.

Vom angekündigten magischen Realismus findet sich tatsächlich jede Menge, aber so ab der Mitte des Buches hält das Grauen der wirklichen Welt Einzug, gegen das auch eine magische Spielzeugwelt nicht mehr ankommt.

Nachdem mir die erste Hälfte des Buches doch etwas zu süßlich war, hat sich in der zweiten Hälfte der Charakter der Geschichte massiv geändert. Die zweite Hälfte war zwar inhaltlich gehaltvoller (wenn auch nicht schöner), aber dennoch fiel es mir schwer, den handelnden Personen nahe zu kommen. Letztlich blieb bei mir ein Gefühl der Distanz zurück, obwohl sich mein Eindruck im Laufe des Romans start verbessert hat.

Unterm Strich ist das für mich ein 3,5 Sterne-Buch, das ich auf 3 Sterne abrunde.


If you look at the blurb, you expect a kind of Christmas fairy tale in a historical setting, an expectation which will not be met.

A 16-year-old girl becomes pregnant at the beginning of the 20th century and, at the request of her parents, is to be deported to a home for unmarried mothers in order to give birth to the child there, which would immediately be taken away from her.
The girl, Cathy, then runs away from home and ends up in London in an unusual toy shop.

There is actually a lot of the announced magical realism, but from the middle of the book the horror of the real world sets in, against which even a magical toy world can no longer compete.

After the first half of the book was a bit too sweet for me, the character of the story changed massively in the second half. The second half was richer in content (though not nicer), but I still found it difficult to get close to the characters. In the end, I was left with a feeling of distance, although my impression improved as the novel progressed.

All in all, this is a 3.5 star book for me, which I'll round down to 3 stars.
Profile Image for Nigel.
815 reviews92 followers
June 17, 2018
I really loved the first half of this book. Magical, lyrical, poetic and had me completely engaged with it. Papa Jack is an excellent background character and the Emporium and Cathy's story are wonderful.

Then it changes - I'll not give anything away. While Cathy and Papa Jack are excellent Kasper and particularly his brother, never seemed to quite fulfil the early promise. Equally the second half felt overly drawn out to me. I still think it's a very good read but... I read Little Exiles by this author when it came out and I do think he is a very good writer indeed. I'll certainly read more of his work when I can.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews449 followers
December 27, 2018
3.5 stars
This book is such a good choice for curling up with on a weekend before Christmas! I loved the atmosphere Dinsdale created around Papa Jack’s Emporium, walking the line between imagination and magic, perfectly capturing the childhood sense of wonder of walking into a toyshop (or bookstore). However, I think it could have been at least 150 pages shorter, the ending seemed to drag on forever. But I thought the topics of PTSD and war were quite well-handled, and the characters were enjoyable!
Profile Image for Kelly Furniss.
869 reviews
May 31, 2018
The first thing that attracted me to this book was the stunning cover and then also reading that the magical element was likened to 'The Night Circus' which is a book I really enjoyed.
I also kept thinking of the film Toy Story and upon now reviewing this book to call it a likeness miss mash of these and War would be a fair summary.
The tale starts with Cathy who at 16 and pregnant answers a newspaper add to work in Papa Jack's Emporium, she sees it as her chance to escape from entering the home for young mothers.
But the Emporium is more than just a shop it's a place where children dreams come true and adults are transported back to a time of ease and innocence.
Dinsdale allows you to marvel at the wonderfully magical sounding toys then suddenly we are brought tragically to the raging War that is going on and how it effects the employees.
So whilst we have magical realism we experience a dark shift with the tale but it still leaves you completely spellbound.
I adored this book, the pure escapism of it all in to another World it's a book that leaves you smiling and thinking about it long after you have put it down and those don't come around often!.
A full five stars from me.
My thanks go to the publishers, author and Netgalley in providing a arc in return for a honest review.

Profile Image for Yvette Adams.
575 reviews11 followers
December 10, 2018
This was magical. 😍 I loved it from the first chapter... the first line even. So it's my first five star book of the year. I would dearly love this to be made into a movie. Lots of CGI required! It was coincidentally a lovely book to read at christmas.
Profile Image for Hadas Tsury.
194 reviews
March 29, 2020
I can't even begin to describe how amazing this book is! Read it! You won't regret it!
Profile Image for Jack Stark.
Author 6 books32 followers
August 13, 2018
You can read a much more in depth review of this on my blog, Random Melon Reads.

This is a really difficult book for me to rate. There was a lot that I liked, but there are some things that I found so tedious and boring. For me, this straddles the line between a 2 and 3 star read. Those are the only options because half stars don’t exist! And that’s real tough because that’s the difference between recommended and not recommended. But taking the whole story into account, I finally settled on 3 stars - recommended.

I thought some characters were really strong and enjoyable, whilst others felt trivial or needed more developing for me to be invested in them. The world building and magic is fantastic. I love the emporium and all that comes along with it. Papa Jack may just be my favourite character of all time, even though we don’t see a huge amount of him.

Unfortunately the plot felt weak and disjointed. I didn’t really like how we just skipped many years at a time. It left the story feeling rushed in parts.

Overall, I enjoyed many aspects of this, but felt it lost its way at about the 40% mark. And although I enjoyed many aspects of the ending, it did feel like it came out of nowhere. This has some really strong world-building, and some strong characters, but unfortunately struggled to find it’s story. Therefore, the plot points felt forced. It was like the author had a few good characters, an excellent world, but wasn’t quite sure what story should be told with them. Still, and enjoyable read.

Anyway, I’m off to make a horse out of sticks and grass. Until next time, Peace and Love!

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