Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: The Little Shop of Found Things, by Paula Brackston

The Little Shop of Found Things
(The Little Shop of Found Things, Book 1)
Paula Brackston
Hardcover, 320 pages
St. Martin's Press
October 2, 2018
Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Synopsis: A new series about a young woman whose connection to antiques takes her on a magical adventure; reminiscent of Outlander.

New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter Paula Brackston returns to her trademark blend of magic and romance to launch a new series guaranteed to enchant her audience even more.

Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. So when she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine, she has to know more.

It’s while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century. And shortly after, she's confronted by a ghost who reveals that this is where the antique has its origins. The ghost tasks Xanthe with putting right the injustice in its story to save an innocent girl’s life, or else it’ll cost her Flora’s.

While Xanthe fights to save this girl amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave.

With its rich historical detail, strong mother-daughter relationship, and picturesque English village, The Little Shop of Found Things is poised to be a strong start to this new series.

I received a paperback ARC from the author, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are 
my own.

Time travel has long been a fascination of mine, so this novel got my interest right away, especially when I read the plot synopsis on Goodreads. The reference to the Outlander series was a huge plus! Brackston's novel is unique in its own right, however, and bears no similarity to the books written by Diana Gabaldon.

There are so many things to rave about regarding The Little Shop of Found Things! First off, the writing. It's luscious. It's elegant. It carries the reader along, until reality drops away, and one is totally immersed in the story's highly fascinating events.

This is how Brackston skillfully captured this reader's interest:

"It is a commonly held belief that the most likely place to find a ghost is beneath a shadowy moon, among the ruins of a castle, or perhaps in an abandoned house where the living have fled, leaving only spirits to drift from room to room. To believe so is to acknowledge but half a truth, for there is a connection with those passed over to be found much nearer home."

By the time I had finished reading the paragraph quoted above, I was in love with the book! This one paragraph has all the elements to entice the reader of paranormal fiction -- the deft touches of visual description to set the scene, the incipient hint of mystery, the writer's uncanny ability to make everything seem so very real, right from the start.

I happily dove in, and was rewarded by a sweeping tale that not only included a ghost, but time travel, as well as an urgent errand to save an innocent young woman's life. Oh, and did I mention romance? Because this, too, is included -- a romance that is sweet, enchanting, and yet, includes a very unusual meeting of minds.

The characters are undoubtedly memorable. Xanthe, the female protagonist, is courageous, noble, and resourceful, as she strives to find a way to restore justice. Her love for her mother is another admirable trait. In fact, her overriding concern throughout the novel is that her mother's life hangs in the balance if she does not succeed in her mission.

Flora, Xanthe's mother, is no less admirable. Afflicted with a debilitating form of arthritis, she nevertheless strikes out on a new life along with her daughter. She is fiercely independent, and determined to succeed in the antique business she and Xanthe decide to set up, in the town of Marlborough. 

Then there's Samuel. An interesting and very endearing man indeed! He's immediately drawn to Xanthe, sensing something different about her. Far from being put off by her obviously independent spirit, so at odds with the times, he admires and reveres her. This is probably because he's not quite a man of the times himself. His sensitive, artistic nature makes him more likely to appreciate Xanthe's unconventional personality.

As for the "villain" of the tale, Margaret Merton was a very believable menace that Xanthe unfortunately had to deal with. I must say, however, that this character perhaps had no real  wish to do any harm. It was desperation that drove her to act in the manner that she did. Still, it was her actions that drove the plot, giving it an added element of suspense that grew with each page turned. 

I think of Mistress Lovewell (what an ironic name, that) as the real villain of this story. It was her actions that cast the innocent young woman into a dismal prison, there to await a possible death by hanging. However, Mistress Lovewell, too, had her reasons for proceeding in what a modern person would consider a cruel, unjust manner. Still, this character was indeed totally without compassion. Her disdain for her servants was disgusting, while her obstinate, rigid mentality made me detest her on every page I encountered her. Furthermore, I was very surprised to see that her husband was the exact opposite of her. How, I frequently asked myself as I read, could the man have possibly married such a woman? And stayed married to her?

The story switches back and forth between the 17th and 21st centuries, and the reader really feels Xanthe's bewilderment and disorientation whenever this happens. 

The contrast between the two centuries, even though the locale was the same, is also very well described. The reader feels the clash between modern life and the life of that long ago time. Roads that, in the current century, are paved and well maintained, were no more than dirt tracks in the 17th century. The English criminal justice system back then was quite different from the way it is now. Indeed, it was rather primitive, as well as totally without compassion. The classes were very well described, with those in the higher echelons oblivious to the suffering of the poorer classes. Religion was also a matter of life and death; no one could openly admit to being a Catholic without suffering reprisal. Brackston throws in an interesting analysis of 17th-century English politics, especially in regards to the persecution of Catholics, as England had already embraced Protestantism. 

Also important are the psychological aspects of the characters. Xanthe undergoes a tremendous amount of stress throughout the story. Margaret Merton is constantly in her thoughts. Merton herself also undergoes stress, as she pressures Xanthe to successfully complete her mission. Samuel, too, is under some stress, as he falls in love with a woman whom he suspects could very well be burned at the stake as a witch, due to her sudden, inexplicable disappearances.

The drama, the intrigue, the romance, everything is masterfully tied together and resolved by this highly original author, whose other works I now want to read! And, of course, I want to see how this series (I was so happy find out that there will be more books) is going to pan out! 

There's a mild cliffhanger at the end of the book, but I know it will be satisfactorily dealt with in the sequel, as well as in later novels in the series. All I can say is that Brackston obviously believes, as any romantic does, that true love will win out in the end. 

I recommend this wonderfully written novel to all those who, like me, relish a well-told tale, especially one with fantastical elements, as well as the sheer delight of staying up into the wee hours in order to find out how it all ends up! This novel has it all -- it is mesmerizing, addictive, and totally fascinating! Also, it will make romance novel fans yearn for true love in the shifting sands of time. Kudos to Paula Brackston!   


Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly.

When not hunched over her keyboard in her tiny office under the stairs, Paula is dragged outside by her children to play Swedish tennis on the vertiginous slopes which surround them. She also enjoys being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in the vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. Most of the inspiration for her writing comes from stomping about on the mountains being serenaded by skylarks and buzzards.

In 2007 Paula was short listed in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book Nutters (writing as PJ Davy) was short listed for the Mind Book Award, and she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.


  1. Fantastic review Maria.

    When I see and think about old objects, I think about all the people in the past who owned them or interacted with them. I wonder about thier stories. I wish such things could talk.

    I am glad that the characters experience some disorientation as they flip back and forth between centuries. All too often time travel stories seem to ignore what would be incredibly jarring differences. As you point out, so many things were radically different.

    The book sounds very good in a lot of ways.

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!! <3 <3

      The whole premise for this plot is a fascinating one! I had never really stopped to think about who might have owned a certain object. I think this might be one of the reasons many people are drawn to antiques. They are probably not only attracted to the object itself, but also to speculation as to who the previous owners might have been. It would indeed be great if these objects could actually talk, as you say!

      There are people who do have the gift of psychometry, which is precisely the ability to get information from inanimate objects -- who their owners were, where they came from, etc. Of course, skeptics don't believe in this at all, but paranormal researchers have investigated this ability, and it's supposedly a real one. I really don't know. It does make for a GREAT story, though!

      Yeah, I agree -- this book depicts time travel very realistically. Xanthe does feel some disorientation during her trips back and forth to the 17th century, and the differences between that century and ours are indeed quite shocking. This was one of the reasons the story sounds so believable!

      I highly recommend this book to you, Brian! I think you'd enjoy it!!

      Hope you have a nice weekend!! Thanks for the interesting comment!! <3 :)

  2. I think I would really love this book. I also love the reference to Outlander but I'm glad it bears no similarity to the books. I would suck to read the same sort of books concerning time travel. Will add this to my wishlist!

    1. Hi, Steph!

      Oh, I'm SURE you would!! You love history, so this is DEFINITELY right up your alley!! :) :)

      Although I haven't read the Outlander series, I basically know what the first book is about, and no, Brackston's novel is not similar at all.

      I LOVE books that include time travel as part of the plot!

      So glad that I've contributed to your wish list!! Thanks for the nice comment!! HUGS!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

  3. Goodness, you DID enjoy this! Perhaps my library has a copy. I think you might enjoy Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, an Australian time travel novel - YA fiction - in which a girl is thrown back in time (a piece of lace is her connection) to 19th century Sydney, to meet the ancestors of her neighbours, fall in love and play a part in saving one of the family. A lovely, sweet story!

    1. Hi, Sue!

      Oh, this book is SO good!! I think you'd very much enjoy it, too!!

      I'll be sure to check out "Playing Beatie Bow" on Goodreads. Thanks for the recommendation, as well as the comment!! <3 :)

  4. A fantastic review. This book sounds so good adding it to my TBR

    1. Hi, there!

      Thank you for the compliment!! :)

      This book is DEFINITELY good!! So glad you're adding it to your TBR!!

      Thanks for commenting!! <3 :)

  5. I love this review - thank you for sharing this one, Maria! I have really enjoyed Paula Brackston's The Witches Daughter and like her writing, so this one is definitely a book I'd love to read, too. Especially after reading your review! I hope you've been having a great week, too:))

    1. Hi, Sarah!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!You're very welcome, too!! :)

      After reading this book, I can't wait for the next one in the series!! And I also want to read Brackston's other novels, as I LOVE her writing!!

      I hope you're having a GREAT weekend!! This is a holiday weekend here in the States, as Monday is Labor Day. So I have a four-day weekend, because I only work Monday to Thursday!! YAAAAAAY!!! :) :)

      Thanks for the lovely comment!! HUGS!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

  6. I think this is a book I would really enjoy as well. The elements of magic and time travel. The historical aspect. The mystery and romance. The cliffhanger at the end, however mild, does give me pause, but as long as it's not a big glaring one like in a book I read this past summer, I should probably be okay. Great review, Maria!

    1. Hi, Wendy!

      Oh, I'm totally SURE you would enjoy this book! Everything you've mentioned is what makes this novel so riveting, and these are the very same elements that captivated me.

      As for the cliffhanger, believe me, it's not too bad. I know know it will be resolved in future sequels! The author makes it look as if it won't, but trust me, it will be.

      So I DEFINITELY recommend this book to you. I also recommend the rest of her novels, even though I haven't read them yet. Lol. But I've seen the Goodreads ratings and reviews. Brackston is a solidly bestselling author!

      Thanks for the compliment, as well as the WONDERFUL comment!! HUGS TO YOU AND MOUSE!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)


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