Category Archives: Literary Reads 2018

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale Title: The Toymakers
Author: Robert Dinsdale
Publisher: Del Rey, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1785038129
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

It might feel that you have read something like this before and some might also say that this book is like “The Night Circus” but don’t be fooled by that. “The Toymakers” is really perhaps nothing like what you might have read before (apologies for using the word might a lot). I remember constantly turning the pages and staying way through the night to finish this one and yet reading it with caution, should it finish too soon.


“The Toymakers” could also become a drag in some places but then it also picks up pace very quickly and stuns you. I doubt you can go back and reread it (given the genre and the fact that some of the mystery that is in the book ends eventually) but when you are reading it, you will for sure cherish the experience.

The book is set in a toy shop, taking place in 1917 and traversing some years in the past and in the future. The book ends in the 1950s. Cathy, a young girl, pregnant and single, runs away from home in Leigh-on-Sea to London and comes across a rather odd advertisement in the paper. Cathy becomes winter help in Papa Jack’s Emporium – a toy shop which is most extraordinary and also eerie at times.

I will not tell you more about the book. There are secrets, there are wars, scars from those wars, loss, of parents and children, brothers and sisters and how one finds solace in what one does. Might I also add that the magical element of the book will surely take you by surprise.

Dinsdale’s writing is smooth at times and at others, he just oscillates between the past and the present and I loved the book for it. The language is immensely poetic, the experience immersive and your imagination will be tested on almost every page. A novel not to be missed out on.


The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette Title: The Job of the Wasp
Author: Colin Winnette
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593766801
Genre: Coming of Age, Gothic, Ghosts
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

An unnamed narrator shows up at a mysterious facility for orphaned boys. The world is strange, eerie and everything seems to be sinister, even the Headmaster. He hears whispers at night. His classmates are volatile and always angry and for some reason, the Headmaster is sending him cryptic messages to confess. But confess about what? What is going on? And then beware, because the corpses start showing up.

This is the plot, to put it loosely of “The Job of the Wasp”. I have just given you the gist. There is so much more to this book that perhaps cannot be put into words. This is such a dark book that for most of the time I found myself jumping in my skin as I was reading it late into the night. I have always found myself strangely attracted to ghost stories, even though I can’t sleep a wink after reading them.

“The Job of the Wasp” will make you paranoid even if you aren’t that person. There are layers of what’s happening and why and though you think you have it all figured, the book takes a sharp turn and leaves you breathless. The writing is in the atmosphere – from the facility to its surroundings to the dark characters, Winnette’s skills just show us the chaos of the world and what goes on in people’s hearts.

The book is so many things – surreal, entertaining, witty, and so bizarre, that it not only takes you by surprise but also leaves you gobsmacked and wanting more and more. I wish I could put the brilliance of this novel in more words, however, all I can say is that you have to get up, go to the nearest bookstore, and pick this up. Don’t drop it till you are done reading it.

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Self-Portrait with Boy Title: Self-Portrait with Boy
Author: Rachel Lyon
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501169588
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

2018 is already turning out to be an exciting year for books. I say this because all the books I’ve read so far, the ones published this year, have been superb reads. And “Self-Portrait with Boy” is the latest addition to that list.

Lu Rile is a young photographer struggling to make ends meet. She has an aging father. She has no permanent house. And then one fine day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy (Max) falling past her window to his death. This picture turns out to be perfect – the best that she has done. This picture could change her life for the better. At the same time, the boy was her neighbor’s son and soon enough Lu forms a bond with Kate like no other. The question then is: Will Lu use the picture to advance her career or not? For that, you would just have to read the book.

I loved the premise of “Self-Portrait with Boy”. It is intense, profound and heartbreaking. While it is one of those conundrum plots, it is also about empathy, loneliness in the city and the relationship we share with death and redemption. You know at one point, the plot may also not seem original to most, but what does stand out for sure is Lyon’s writing.

Lyon is no-holds-barred with this novel. She is all guns blazing. I love the setting of the book – the ​early 90s in Brooklyn. The world is on the ​ significant brink of change and amidst all of that, anything can happen and it does. Lu and Kate aren’t easy characters to deal with. The other residents of the building are beautifully etched.

There are so many questions that need to be answered while reading the book and there comes a point when you are strangely okay as a reader at those not being answered. It has a lot to do with Lyon not finding the need to those being addressed and making you comfortable as a reader, while turning the pages. Part-mystery, most parts literary, “Self-Portrait with Boy” is a book with so much empathy and loneliness of the human heart, that you will find yourself weeping and stunned by the prose.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911215721
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1785 and merchant Jonah Hancock has to cope with the tragic news that one of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a mermaid. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? I was sold at this premise. But wait a minute. There is more to this story which is more fascinating to me. The side story of Angelica Neal that quickly comes to fore. Neal is London’s most beautiful courtesan who wants to marry rich and secure a future for herself. And who better than Mr. Hancock who has a mermaid to be put on display and make easy money? And all of this is possible through Mrs. Chappell’s brothel (there is more to what meets the eye really) and given she has a soft spot (or so it seems) for Angelica.

Phew! That is not it by the way. There is a lot more going on in the book and let me tell you, that despite its size (500 pages), this is one racy romp of a read. There is a lot of decadence in this book (which I love by the way), there is misery, power, envy and fantasy. If not for the mermaid angle, I would classify this book purely as historic fiction, but let the two merge and work its magic on the reader. Also, might I add the magic of London (and its claustrophobia, its stench, lecherous men and grotesque women) is brought out beautifully by Gowar.

Angelica Neal’s character is so strong that she overpowers everyone else (in some bits and parts) and in a very good way because you’d want her to appear more as the book progresses. There is also a surprise in the form of Polly but I won’t ruin it for you by talking about her. You might want to discover her yourself.

“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is set in a vivid and uproarious time. It is the kind of book that must be read again and more than anything for its female characters that stand out and well-deservedly at that. Mrs. Chappell, Angelica and Polly (there is also Mr. Hancock’s niece who makes a brief appearance) are the heroes of this book in all honesty. This is the kind of book that will keep you up all night and you wouldn’t want it any other way. “The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is all rolled into one – a comfort read (yes, at most times) and a thriller, literary fiction with the much-needed historic setting.