Book Review – The Little Shop of Found Things
Written By: Paula Brackston
Final Overall Rating: 5.6
First of all, this review is purely derived from my own personal opinion. If you disagree, let me know in the comments; I am always up for a good discussion or to answer questions.
(Spoilers Below – Read at your own peril!)
Recommend Yes or No:
Yes, but only if you enjoy time travel-based story arcs, and plan to read the whole series, as The Little Shop of Found Things is not a stand-alone novel. You need to read the second book to really get into the heart of the story. Currently, there are two books in the series with the third book scheduled to be released this December (2020).
Writing Style: 6/10
The Little Shop of Found Things is written in third person and told in past tense. Though Brackston’s writing style isn’t bad, I felt there were several areas of her writing style that could have been improved upon. Firstly, I noticed that Brackston did a lot of telling and not showing. As an example, on page 7, Brackston writes, “That night Xanthe slept poorly, sensitive to the unfamiliar sounds of her new home…” She could have improved on sentences like this by writing something like, “That night Xanthe tossed and turned fitfully in her bed, sensitive to the unfamiliar sounds of her new home…” By showing how Xanthe “slept poorly” rather than telling readers that Xanthe “slept poorly” readers learn more about Xanthe and can glean a more lifelike reading experience. If you would like another example, you can check out page 29 where Brackston is explaining to the readers that Xanthe is special. It felt like she was beating a dead horse. Secondly, I noticed in several of Brackston’s passages that she lacked specificity in her details. This resulted in wordy sentences that did not truly reveal any new or poignant knowledge. As an example, on page 8, Brackston writes, “Below, small birds were stirring in the walled garden, which consisted of a long swathe of unmowed lawn and a tangle of brambles, overgrown shrubs and flowers.” When trying to set a scene I have discovered that it is best to employ one of two tactics. You are either very brief and let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks, or you are very specific. That sentence could have read something like this, “Below, finches were stirring in the walled garden, which consisted of a long swathe of unmowed lawn and a tangle of blackberry brambles, overgrown shrubs and white morning glory. In my opinion, specific detail is preferred to vague detail, because if you choose to provide the reader with detail then I want to know exactly what you, or your character, are envisioning. If Brackston did not want to use detail then I feel like she could have said something along the lines of, “Below the walled garden teemed with the overgrown life of flora and fauna.”
Now to move on to what Brackston did well. Brackston’s dialogue between characters in the modern world was very engaging and authentic. In particular, I enjoyed the dialogue between Flora and Xanthe and Harley and Xanthe. Their conversations made me smile, and it did not feel forced. I also thought that Brackston’s transitions between scenes was impeccable. There were no awkward pauses and each new scene felt smooth. And finally, I really enjoyed Brackston’s opening chapter – she introduces an idea rather than the cast or a scene. I love it when, rather than introduce a character, a book proposes a primary theme or idea, because this certain cinematic drama inspires a broad grasp of the novel before the reader has even finished the first page.
The reason I give the story a five out of ten is because I felt that there were some essential story telling elements missing. For starters, I didn’t feel like the antagonist, the ghost Margaret, was a compelling antagonist – she was simply desperate. I personally don’t believe Margaret would not have actually harmed Flora, which would have caused the identical suffering (life without a mother) her daughter, Alice, was forced to endure. I think Margaret was more sympathetic and compassionate than the people who murdered her. In short, Margaret was a desperate and sad mother, but not a murderer. I think Margaret could have convinced Xanthe to travel back in time and save Alice by appealing to Xanthe’s compassion and curiosity rather than stooping to coercion. It also would have been more meaningful had Xanthe rescued Alice out of her own free will. Overall, I felt like the real antagonist of this novel was the pains of the early 17th century.
Next was this novel’s love interest. Readers do not meet Samuel Appleby until the end of chapter 13 (the literal center of the novel). Not meeting an essential character until half-way through the book is a major problem me, especially when it is a love interest. Xanthe falls hard for Samuel and visa versa, but honestly, I did not feel there was enough time nor opportunity for Xanthe and Samuel to fall hopelessly in love. A love interest should always be introduced earlier than half-way through a novel. Also, I dislike how this book’s cover blurb sets up Xanthe and Samuel’s romance to be this passionate love affair that is so bright it might keep Xanthe from returning to her own time. This felt like a lie, as there was never a choice, because Brackston made it painfully clear that Xanthe was NEVER going to choose Samuel over her Mom, Flora. And I say painfully, because I personally loved Samuel’s character and even though I knew their love was not meant to cross centuries, that did not stop me from rooting for Samuel and Xanthe to find a way to make it work. I was really hoping Samuel would join her in the future, but of course that was too much to ask.
And finally, Spinners are a group of people who are, in essence, the centerpiece of this series. As such, the Spinners should have been introduced a little bit more in this first book in order to set the stage for all of the sequels. Also, I felt like book two’s antagonist should have had a more ominous and highlighted introduction.
Despite my nitpickings I did enjoy this read – especially the latter half. I loved the various items Brackston chose to use in this book. I loved the historical references. And I loved the explained fantasy elements – normally we chalk fantasy up to being unrealistic, but Brackston tries to make her fantasy elements more tangible and believable by trying to explain the working mechanisms of it all.
Character Development: 6/10
In short, I felt Brackston’s character development was good but not great. I think that they could have become great had she used a show and not tell method. Also, Xanthe was my least favorite character in the novel. She seemed a little vanilla in comparison to Brackston’s other spicy characters. I think Xanthe could have been improved upon by adding some dynamicity to her character as the story progressed. She still kind of felt like the same person at the end of the novel as she was at the start of the novel – which honestly was a little frustrating.
I will say, however, that I loved Flora (Xanthe’s sassy mother), Harvey (the tough but heartfelt pub owner) and Samuel (Xanthe’s ever sincere and kind love interest). They were genuine characters that kind of carried the novel.
Fun Facts about Brackston:
- Brackston currently lives in Wales (Paula Brackston).
- Before developing her career as an author Brackston attempted “working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd” (Paula Brackston).
- Much of her inspiration is derived from her mountain adventures (Paula Brackston).
Favorite Quote from The Little Shop of Found Things: “Every soul that once trod this brutal earth leaves their imprint upon the things that mattered to them. The things that they held, the things that once echoed to the beat of their hearts” (1).
Even if you have to cross the centuries, it is never too late to be kind to those in need.
It is not things that makes a person important, but rather the person that makes things special.
Brackston, Paula. The Little Shop of Found Things. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. Print
Paula Brackston. “About.” http://www.paulabrackston.com/books/. Web.