Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: The Toymaker by Kay Springsteen (3 stars, traditional)




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Thoughts After Reading:
December has arrived, the ideal month to read a sweet romance story that explores the happiness of the Christmas season… which is precisely the type of book I hoped to find in Kay Springsteen’s The Toymaker. In some ways the novel lived up to my expectations: it contained a cute relationship, with characters that were both good-hearted in their own way and a plot that was mostly free of drama. But the conflict that eventually did occur was over-blown, I was never quite sure how I felt about the characters, and – worst of all – I never truly bought into the romance. The emotions experienced by the protagonists showed all of the signs of being the heady feelings of first love, rather than an authentic and everlasting connection.


The hero is passionate about a hobby that is very unusual for a duke – he carves toys out of wood for children. There is a backstory that gradually explains how he developed this passion, involving an old man who mentored him as a troubled child. The hero seems to be a nice enough bloke, someone who would risk his life to stop a runaway carriage and has a spirit of giving that was seldom found with the aristocracy. He is dazzled by the heroine’s beauty upon first meeting, an intense attraction that only grows as the book progresses. In some ways, the heroine appears to be a contraction. She too has a very generous spirit. But she is also a very excitable person, which can come off as sweetly enthusiastic at times and ungratefully angry at others. I did not get a very clear understanding of her; perhaps she simply had trouble expressing herself. I suppose it was a realistic portrayal, given her young age and social status as a duke’s daughter, but it made it hard for her to seem very likable. The heroine is drawn to the hero almost immediately, and the conflict that holds them apart is one that has been well-used and was not particularly enjoyable. Through a series of events, the hero is introduced to the heroine as a common gentleman rather than a duke. He struggles through the majority of the book to tell her the truth, especially when he thinks she has an irrational dislike of his true character (the Duke of Greenbriar). This, of course, gets more difficult the longer he lives the lie. And naturally, the heroine feels angry and betrayed about being lied to for so long once the truth comes out unintentionally. And finally, the hero basically says “sorry,” the heroine is upset but still desperately wishes for a proposal, her wish is granted, and everyone goes home happy. All very cliché and not particularly satisfying.

Kay Springsteen’s The Toymaker is a book that had some aspects of a great novel: the uniqueness of the characters in a Regency backdrop, a well developed backstory, and a rather happy ending. Unfortunately, it’s the protagonists, plot, and relationship that have the largest impact on how I enjoy a historical romance novel… and I found all of these elements seriously lacking. It’s a book I cannot recommend.

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