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The Magical Delights of Childhood

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The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

// Book Review //

In the simplest of words, I loved this book! I tied it with a red bow to present it as a gift of wonder and magic if you choose to read it. Now I will attempt to tell you why I gush over this book without revealing the plot as I want you to explore and experience the beauty and heartache as it unfolds on the page.

Robert Dinsdale writes as if he is painting a masterpiece and lighting a scene with exquisite, atmospheric and delightful prose. It’s as if the reader can see, touch, taste and smell the details surrounding them. Those who walk into The Emporium (including us as readers) are treated to a magical display of wonder and enchantment. Throughout this story, Dinsdale weaves themes of family bonds, sibling rivalries, pressure to conform to societal expectations, sacrifice, the wonder and innocence of childhood, giving, hope, grief and love. The horrendous impact of war to both the soldiers engaged and the loved ones left at home is poignantly addressed in real terms. The magical elements in The Toymakers are reminiscent of The Night Circus yet both stories, in my humble opinion, are unique, well-crafted adventures

Although this book is not a Christmas story, the holiday season is the perfect time of year to pick it up! If you choose to read it, let me know what you think. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Do you like stories that have elements that are unreal but still have a relevant application to “real” life or do you prefer stories that are grounded in the real world? I would love to hear your thoughts


A Handful of My Favorite Quotes:

“Help wanted:
Are you lost?
Are you afraid?
Are you a child at heart?
So are we.”
- The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

”His letters grew long, he was writing in the thick of night, and the passion with which he wrote was evident in the way his pen pressed against the page.” - The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

“A secret has been revealed, and finally I understand the true meaning of toys, something my papa learnt long before me. When you are young, what you want out of toys is to feel grown-up. You play with toys and cast yourself as an adult, and imagine life the way it’s going to be. Yet, when you are grown, that changes now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm nor hurt you, in a pocket of time built out of memory and love. You want things in miniature, where they can better be understood: battles, and houses, picnic baskets and sailing boats too.” - The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

“‘Oh Papa,’ said Martha, ‘he lived a life...’” - The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

“Once upon a time, all of us, no matter what we've grown up to do or who we've grown up to be, were little boys and girls, happy with nothing more than bouncing a ball against a wall.”- The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale 


Robert Dinsdale on the magic powers of toys

The article below, written by Robert Dinsdale, is quoted from and can be found at this link: https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2018/robert-dinsdale-magic-of-toys/

“There is a thing you understand when you see children playing: kindness is instinctive; malice is not.

I don’t think enough of us know this. I certainly didn’t. We live in a world which constantly – and sometimes, it seems, gleefully – bombards us with the terrible things human beings do to each other, and the repercussions of these were once the places to which my writing took me: damaged people, getting on with life as best they can; soldiers returned from war to find the war wasn’t out there at all, that it was in them all along; the human heart in constant battle with itself.

Then, in 2013, my daughter was born – and everything, fiction included, changed.

You learn a lot by becoming a parent for the first time. There’s the pragmatic – how do you hold a child? how do you feed one? how do you have a shower or go to the toilet or eat a meal when there’s a child attached to you twenty-four hours a day? – but there’s the indefinable other stuff too. The stuff that seems too clichéd to put in print. That unconditional love exists. That parental love has a different register to any you’ve experienced before. But among all these revelations, the one that affected me most, and which lies at the heart of my new novel The Toymakers, was this: kindness is instinctive – and, though some of us will lose that instinct in our lives, once upon a time it was central to us all.

Among the many and varied moments that changed the way I think, not only about fiction but about the big starry mysteries of life itself, one in particular sticks in mind. In 2015, my daughter not yet 18 months old, I pottered with her in a suburban toyshop, looking for a gift for a friend, and becoming increasingly dismayed at the shelves filled with cheap, ugly trinkets. Who, I thought, would really want those mass-produced pigs perched on their bedroom shelves? Who could bear to hold a teddy that looked so… malignant? Then I looked down. My daughter had picked a flimsy plastic figurine from the shelf and was turning it in her hands – and I believed I had never seen a look of such happiness on another human being’s face. What I had dismissed as tawdry and knock-off, she understood was magic itself. Moments later, a harassed mother stopped beside me in the aisle to look over some other toy. My daughter reached out and deposited the figurine in the lap of the boy in the neighbouring buggy. His face was alight, the same as my daughter’s. The magic had been passed on.

And so was born The Toymakers: a novel dredged up from the bottom of a long forgotten toybox; a novel about a family of extraordinary toymakers who could capture this feeling and crystallise it, fashioning it into magical toys of their own; and a novel in which, slowly but surely, the magic we all experience in childhood begins to pale as the hard, bitter business of growing up takes hold.

When I was in the middle of writing The Toymakers, lost down some narrative back-alley with toy soldiers marching me even further into the dark, I caught up with an old friend for a long overdue drink. His mother had passed away some time before, and now his father had followed after, and it had fallen to my friend to empty the old family home, to take itineraries of their lives and itemise his own. Every object was a memory in that old house: the crockery on which they once ate their family dinners, still sitting in the cupboards where it had always been; the familiar stains in the carpet, or loose fabric on the sofas on which they all used to sit. But, for my friend, nothing was more powerful than climbing the ladder into his family attic and unearthing the boxes where the books and toys of his childhood were safely stowed away in boxes, perfectly preserved. And it’s this bittersweet feeling of remembering that lies at the heart of the magic of Papa Jack’s Emporium. For my friend, rolling the dice from a moth-eaten board-game, uncovering the head of the rocking horse that once sat in the corner of his room, slotting back together the joints of a decrepit toy race track, felt like holy things. They washed away the more recent memories of death and divorce that had been his family life. They restored the love he had felt back then – but more powerful yet, they restored the love he had himself given. To discover that there was once a time when he could love an inanimate object so fiercely that it still echoed in him, an adult man, thirty years later, had moved my friend beyond measure. To know we still have the ability for simple, un-thought-through love is the most powerful thing.

And perhaps that’s the nature of the longing I myself feel when, on my own rare trips into the childhood attic, I catch sight of the dinosaurs, the patchwork dog on wheels, the dolls and cars and building bricks in whose company I spent so much of my earliest years. Like the plastic figurine my daughter had clung onto that day, these things are worth nothing to the world. But the love we pour into them, the time and imagination we invest turning them into real, life things, makes them worth everything to us.

We all grow up. We all grow old. Every day we spend living is a day further away from the childhoods in which we had that pure, unfiltered, un-nuanced ability to love. Every day there are new experiences to crowd out the old, new stories being written in our histories, new memories obscuring the earliest we made. But our toys are childhood crystallised. To me they are more powerful than old photographs, more powerful than old flavours and scents. They have the power to transport us back to the strange, half-formed creatures we used to be, in an age before life taught us to beware, to be suspicious, to build hard, protective shells around ourselves in order to survive. To hold a toy from your childhood is to remember what that was like. As Papa Jack tells his sons in The Toymakers: everyone was once a child, no matter what they’ve done or who they’ve grown up to be. And in a reactionary world, where daily we fling bile at each other online, where too many of us hate our neighbours because of the colour of their skin, the gods they worship, or the place they were born, this seems to me the most important lesson of all.”


Book Details:

Title: The Toymakers

Author: Robert Dinsdale

Publisher: Penguin Random House UK

Format: Hardbound

ISBN: 978-1785036347

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I Don't Want It To End

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Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

// Book Review //

“When we have to do a thing...we can do it.” - L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

I took my time and savored every word in Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery’s eighth and final book in the Anne of Green Gables series. I truly did not want it to end. To the few critics who believe Montgomery’s writing is merely fluffy prose and pretty landscapes, I urge you to read Rilla of Ingleside. This is my first (but not last) reading of this book and I can honestly say that it challenges my prior favorites (Anne of Green Gables -Book One and Anne’s House of Dreams -Book Four) for top billing!

Montgomery, once again, expertly weaves the following relevant and meaningful themes throughout the storyline: family, happiness, innocence, heartbreak, death, grief, the perils and destruction of war, perseverance, heroism, bravery, sacrifice, patriotism, selflessness, giving, comraderie and one of my favorites - the faithful love of a dog. My only regret regarding Rilla of Ingleside is that Montgomery did not include the text of Walter’s piper poem!

One of My Favorite Scenes:

*Caution* - Spoiler Alert!

From Chapter 35…

“One spring day, when the daffodils were blowing on the Ingleside lawn, and the banks of the brook in Rainbow Valley were sweet with white and purple violets, the little, lazy afternoon accommodation train pulled into the Glen station. It was very seldom that passengers for the Glen came by that train, so nobody was there to meet it except the new station agent and a small black-and-yellow dog, who for four and a half years had met every train that had steamed into Glen St. Mary. Thousands of trains had Dog Monday met and never had the boy he waited and watched for returned. Yet still Dog Monday watched on with eyes that never quite lost hope. Perhaps his dog-heart failed him at times; he was growing old and rheumatic; when he walked back to his kennel after each train had gone his gait was very sober now­he never trotted but went slowly with a drooping head and a depressed tail that had quite lost its old saucy uplift. 

One passenger stepped off the train­a tall fellow in a faded lieutenant's uniform, who walked with a barely perceptible limp. He had a bronzed face and there were some grey hairs in the ruddy curls that clustered around his forehead. The new station agent looked at him anxiously. He was used to seeing the khaki-clad figures come off the train, some met by a tumultuous crowd, others, who had sent no word of their coming, stepping off quietly like this one. But there was a certain distinction of bearing and features in this soldier that caught his attention and made him wonder a little more interestedly who he was. 

A black-and-yellow streak shot past the station agent. Dog Monday stiff? Dog Monday rheumatic? Dog Monday old? Never believe it. Dog Monday was a young pup, gone clean mad with rejuvenating joy. 

He flung himself against the tall soldier, with a bark that choked in his throat from sheer rapture. He flung himself on the ground and writhed in a frenzy of welcome. He tried to climb the soldier's khaki legs and slipped down and groveled in an ecstasy that seemed as if it must tear his little body in pieces. He licked his boots and when the lieutenant had, with laughter on his lips and tears in his eyes, succeeded in gathering the little creature up in his arms Dog Monday laid his head on the khaki shoulder and licked the sunburned neck, making queer sounds between barks and sobs. 

The station agent had heard the story of Dog Monday. He knew now who the returned soldier was. Dog Monday's long vigil was ended. Jem Blythe had come home.”

A Few of My Favorite Quotes:

“Is there laughter in your face yet, Rilla? I hope so. The world will need laughter and courage more than ever in the years that will come next.” -L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

“And they shall fight against thee but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee, saith the Lord of Hosts, to deliver thee.” -L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

“There was something in her movements that made you think she never walked but always danced.” -L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

“Walter's death had inflicted on her heart a terrible wound. But it had been a clean wound and had healed slowly, as such wounds do, though the scar must remain for ever. But the torture of Jem's disappearance was another thing: there was a poison in it that kept it from healing.” -L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

“And two years ago this morning I woke wondering what delightful gift the new day would give me. These are the two years I thought would be filled with fun."
"Would you exchange them - now - for two years filled with fun "
"No " said Rilla slowly. "I wouldn't. It's strange - isn't it - They have been two terrible years - and yet I have a queer feeling of thankfulness for them - as if they had brought me something very precious in all their pain. I wouldn't want to go back and be the girl I was two years ago not even if I could. Not that I think I've made any wonderful progress - but I'm not quite the selfish frivolous little doll I was then. I suppose I had a soul then Miss Oliver - but I didn't know it. I know it now - and that is worth a great deal - worth all the suffering of the past few years.” -L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

Book Details:

Title: Rilla of Ingleside

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Illustrator: Elly MacKay

Publisher: Tundra Books

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781770497450

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Why Did I Wait So Long?

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Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

// Book Review //

Set in the countryside of Minnesota and the Badlands of North Dakota during the early 1960’s… The above is how a traditional review begins, however, Peace Like a River is not your average book. To concentrate solely on the plot summary of this book would be both unfortunate and an injustice to Enger’s lush, detailed, nuanced writing. The beauty of Enger’s writing lies both on the page and also between the lines. Why did I wait so long to read this amazing novel?

Peace Like a River has many layers to uncover - so many layers that I wanted to just reflect on the book for a while before attempting to write a paltry review. Despite the depth of Enger’s storytelling, Peace Like a River is not a hard book to read. It is a slow-burn that leaves you with complete fulfillment. The messages are waiting to be discovered and the only requirement asked of the reader is to simply be willing to see and receive the story.

This novel is filled with love and hate, kindness and cruelty, wisdom and ignorance, faith and unbelief, good and evil, joy and sadness, but most of all, love, forgiveness and hope. Enger deftly and expertly addresses themes of family, faith, sacrifice, redemption, miracles, bravery, justice, heaven, storytelling (Swede’s outlaw story-within-a-story is fabulous!), consequences, loyalty, burdens, divine provision, kindness, loss, media sensationalism and divine intervention.

There is so much I would like to say, however, I would rather you experience Peace Like a River for yourself. If you have already read this book, I am always happy to talk about it! Did you enjoy this book? What are your thoughts?

Collection of My Favorite Quotes from Peace Like a River:

“Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week--a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards.” 

“Once traveling, it's remarkable how quickly faith erodes. It starts to look like something else--ignorance, for example. Same thing happened to the Israelites. Sure it's weak, but sometimes you'd rather just have a map.” 

“Is there a single person on whom I can press belief?
No sir.
All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw.
I've been there and am going back.
Make of it what you will.” 

“We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won't even see it, though we look at it every day.” 

“Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone’s been missing too long.” 

“Yes, yes sir—routine is worry’s sly assassin.” 

“Is it hubris to believe we all live epics?” 

Interesting Leif Enger Interview Excerpts:

From a Writers & Books interview:

W&BPeace Like a River is a novel about faith, among other things. How does the faith of Reuben and his father Jeremiah, for example, parallel your own experience?

Enger: You grow up inside the faith of your family, which is Christianity in both Reuben’s and mine. For most of us there’s a time when you must decide whether that faith is true or false; you accept it as yours, as something to be nurtured and guarded, or you cut ties and go looking for truth elsewhere. You are deciding who and whose you will be in this world. I wanted Reuben, in his sickness and his loyalty to both Davy and Jeremiah, to come up against these questions—before he wanted to, probably before he was ready to. That sort of drama is rare at the age of eleven; I know I had much more time than that, and easier circumstances, but we came to the same conclusions.

W&B: Several times in the book Reuben, after a “miracle”has occurred, tells the reader, “Make of it what you will.”Is this possibly a disavowal of the truth of the family’s history from the voice of the adult Reuben who is writing the story from the future? Or is it more of what one reviewer called an example of the “verbal stoicism of the northern Great Plains”? What are you advising readers to believe?

Enger: The lovely part of being a witness is that you can’t compel belief. All you can do is say: here is what happened. In saying this the witness is only doing his job; how people respond is their own burden, their own responsibility. Whom would you say has more credibility: the man who pounds on the table insisting his story is true, or the one who, having the reputation of honesty, frees his listeners to decide for themselves?”

From an interview by Mark LaFramboise:

“Q: Magic plays such a great role in this story. Is it important that we as readers believe the veracity of these events: e.g. the tornado, Jeremiah walking off a platform into space, Reuben's journey to the beyond, to name a few, or just that Reuben believes?

A: I hope even skeptical readers will enjoy the novel, but my own suspicion is that miracles, big obvious ones as well the more comfortable variety (kittens in springtime, Puckett's homer in Game Six) are underway around us. I was raised to this belief and have as yet no proof that it is not so. Why lessen our joy by throwing out what the author of Hebrews called "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"?

Quotes from Book Page Interview by Alden Mudge in 2001

Leif Enger on Treasure Island:

“And then there is Robert Louis Stevenson. Mom read us Treasure Island every year for many years, starting before I was old enough to understand any of it. It was confusing to me, but I loved it. I loved the play of words. I loved the language. He was a strikingly contemporary writer for the time; he was ahead of his time. He's my favorite writer of all time. I just love his poems, his great adventure tales, his brand of moral fiction." 

Leif Enger on Sunny Sundown:

“Then, finally, at the very end of our conversation, Enger describes one of those unexpected moments when creative opportunity presents itself: ‘I was about 20 pages into the manuscript and was working on it early one morning when my youngest son, John, got up and came toddling in in his pajamas. He said: 'How's it going, Dad?' I said: 'It's going pretty well.' He said: 'You got any cowboys in that book yet?' And I said: 'No, not yet. But that's a fabulous idea. You think I should?' And he said: 'Yes!' I said: 'Well if you could give me a good name, I'll put a cowboy in the book.' And he said: 'Sunny Sundown.' No hesitation. Sunny Sundown. He'd been thinking about Sunny, apparently, for a while. I just happened to be at a spot where I could take off into it. By the end of the day the first few stanzas of Sunny were written and I just never looked back.’"

From an interview with Jody Ewing:

“What do you want the title to convey, and were there other alternatives?

‘I was sitting in church one morning — a Sunday morning — and we were singing this hymn called ‘It Is Well With My Soul,’ and the first stanza of the hymn goes:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It’s a beautiful old hymn that you find in lots of different hymnals, and that phrase just jumped out at me. I was just starting to think about this book at the time, and I thought, ‘what a marvelous book title that is,’ and it just seemed to personify something about the book: a peacefulness, the sadness, it’s all there. And so I wrote toward that title — that was the title I always wanted the book to bear.’”




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Heartbreak and Hope

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

// Book Review //

“But this tree in the yard - this tree that men chopped down...this tree that they built a bonfire around, trying to burn up it's stump - this tree lived! It lived! And nothing could destroy it.” -Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story of heartbreak intertwined with hope and sets the standard for the lofty title of “great American classic”. Francie Nolan has permanently seated herself at the favorites table in my bookish heart. Many would describe this book as a coming-of-age story that takes place in Brooklyn during the early 1900’s. This is an accurately simplistic statement that only scratches the surface.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn contains layers upon layers upon layers that examines and lays bare the human condition and spirit. The story reminds me of the many rings on a tree trunk which represent the growth of the tree over the years. Betty Smith covers a multitude of themes over Francie’s seventeen years including: poverty, intolerance, family relationships, alcoholism, pride, gossip, womanhood, bullying, telling the truth, escapism, imagination, sisterhood, land ownership, democracy, pregnancy, hypocrisy, sexual assault, personal defense, social pressure, socioeconomic division, union support, family bonds, trust, misconception, ignorance, dignity, self-respect, faith, hard work, grief, remembrance and repentance. My favorite themes cover the importance of education and the role of writing to document, create and escape.

There were many poignant moments throughout the story. Two of my favorites include Francie’s gift of flowers from Johnny at her graduation and the incredible “story-within-a-story” where Francie’s teacher tells her to burn her writing because it is ugly and no one would want to read it. This is an alarming and unbelievable statement when we consider that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a semi-autobiographical novel reflecting the author's life experiences as a young girl growing up in Brooklyn. Could you imagine an English teacher telling Betty Smith that she should burn her manuscript of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it is ugly and therefore no one will want to read it?! This book is ugly and beautiful wrapped in struggle, hard work and the will to survive which in turn makes me want to read it!

Betty Smith best summarizes both her life’s philosophy along with the underlying theme in this book when she wrote in a magazine article, “I came to a clear conclusion, and it is a universal one: To live, to struggle, to be in love with life - in love with all life holds, joyful or sorrowful - is fulfillment. The fullness of life is open to all of us.” Those are beautiful words to ponder and apply to each of our lives!

I also thought it was interesting that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was shipped for free to US military personnel serving in World War 2 and quickly became one of the most popular books released as an Armed Services Edition. The Wall Street Journal printed part of a letter written to Betty Smith by a Marine. The Marine wrote, “I can't explain the emotional reaction that took place in this dead heart of mine...A surge of confidence has swept through me, and I feel that maybe a fellow has a fighting chance in this world after all." I agree.

I listened to the majority of this book on audio. When I picked up my paperback in the evening before bed, I found myself wanting to return to the audio with my headphones. This story is superbly narrated by Kate Burton. I thoroughly enjoyed her Brooklyn dialects along with the Irish, German and Jewish accents. She is talented beyond measure and I highly recommend her recording.

This book will stay with me for years to come!

There are so many quotes that I love from this book. I have included a handful below:

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere - be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” 

“Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.” 

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” 

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It's growing out of sour earth. And it's strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” 

Author: Betty Smith

Narrator: Kate Burton

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 978-00607362

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The Emily Collection

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The Emily Collection by L.M. Montgomery

Thank you to Tundra Books for the complimentary review copies.

This beautiful collection of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series is published by Tundra Books. The series contains three books: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. These gorgeous paperback books featuring the artwork of the talented Elly MacKay will brighten your bookshelves!

Check back each month for a review and photos of each individual book in this series! In the meantime, if you would like to add these beauties to your collection, I have included the book details below…

Publisher: Tundra Books

Illustrator: Elly MacKay

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1770497474 (Emily of New Moon)

ISBN: 978-1770497498 (Emily Climbs)

ISBN: 978-1770497511 (Emily’s Quest)

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