Tag Archives: Magic

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

It took no time to be swept up in the magic in The Luster of Lost Things, Sophie Chen Keller’s new novel set in a tiny bakery in New York City. Tantalized by Keller’s mouthwatering descriptions of flaky croissants fresh from the oven, sweet vanilla wafers with sea-salted caramel filling, and double butterscotch pops, I was practically swooning with desire for one of the sugary concoctions created by Lucy at her bakery,The Lavenders.

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Lucy, a talented pastry chef, pours her energies into running The Lavenders while faced with the sadness of being a single mom. Her pilot husband disappeared when his plane crashed in the ocean while she is pregnant with their only child. Now she is devoted to making a life for herself and her son.

One cold wintry night, she invites a homeless woman into the warmth and comfort of her bakery, and in return the woman gives her a book of drawings that Lucy displays in the shop. This book, known as the Book, becomes pivotal to the story.

Twelve year-old Walter Lavender Jr. might remind you of the boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. He is bright and good-hearted with a communications disorder that renders his speech difficult. Taunted in the school yard, his refuge is the bakery where he pitches in before and after school, and every day places a lighted candle in the shop’s window, hoping it will bring his father home.

Plaintively, he wonders,

“Couldn’t Walter Lavender Sr. try a little bit harder to come back or send a sign? I am the one doing all the looking even though he is the one who is supposed to be here, to teach me the things I do not know.”

Walter Jr. has a super power of sorts: he can help people find lost things. He finds a missing cockatiel, a bassoon, and even a lost dog that ends up becoming his own, Milton.

But when the beloved Book goes missing and business in the bakery flounders, he sets out to find it and realign the stars. This takes him on an astounding search through New York City, in the dingy tunnels of the subway system, in Chinatown, across Central Park and so many other landmarks. In his quest, he learns about what it means to lose and find something precious, and also what it means to be him.

Oh, does Sophie Chen Keller have a way with words. Describing the end of a school day, she writes,

“… when the afternoon bell rings, the cherry red doors fling open and the kids pour out like spilled birdseed.”

Walter Jr. says,

“… I step behind the counter and search for the squeaking mice, nudging away a ring of passion fruit marshmallows engaged in a sumo match. I wait, looking into the display case as a jelly frog studded with chopped dates and hazelnuts hops across the second level.”

And when Lucy and Walter Jr. bake together:

“I tilt my bowl over the mixer and we alternate adding our wet and dry ingredients so the bubbles of air in the batter don’t pop and the cake emerges tender and fluffy from the oven. Lucy pours out the batter and it cascades across the first baking pan in a butter-silk curtain.

‘Masterful,’ she pronounces.”


Yes, it is.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Luster of Lost Things. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.


I received a copy of The Luster of Lost Things from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Christmas lights are still twinkling in my neighborhood as I’m sure they are in yours. Today, New Year’s Eve, the merriment of the holiday season is still upon us. And until next Monday when it is back to reality, we can enjoy what is left of this special time of year.

Understandably, the holidays are not merry for everyone. But if the whimsy of sugar plum fairy dust and the ho ho hos of jolly St. Nick can still cast a magical spell on you, I suggest that now is the time pick up a copy of the fanciful new book from Menna van Praag, “The Dress Shop of Dreams.”

The Dress Shop of Dreams

This romantic fairy tale, embellished with sparkly sequins and a ruffle of bewitching fun, whisks us into the lives of characters who are either falling in love, searching for love, or thwarted by it.

The Dress Shop of Dreams

The story takes place in Oxfordshire, England and is about a young woman named Cora Sparks, a serious and emotionless scientist intent on completing the scientific work begun by her parents 20 years earlier. Her parents never got to finish the work themselves; tragically, they died in a mysterious fire in their home from which Cora narrowly escaped. Cora’s grandmother, Etta, has been the parent figure in her life since then.

Etta is the owner of a charming little dress shop on a side street in Cambridge, in which mysteriously wonderful things seems to happen. Filled with colorful fabrics of delicate silks, ornate lace and rich velvets, the store bespeaks enchantment in these racks of dazzlingly beautiful dresses.

When a woman enters the shop and tries on one of these gossamer gowns, she is instantly transformed. She looks in the mirror and as if by magic, the imperfections are gone. She is delighted with her appearance. When Etta unobtrusively sews into the garment a few tiny stitches of her red thread, it is akin to waving a magic wand: the article of clothing will unleash the wearer’s most fervent desire.

This is what Etta intends to do for her beloved granddaughter, Cora.

At the time that Cora’s parents died, Etta had carefully put a spell on her granddaughter to protect her from the crushing sadness of losing them. By doing so, she also hampered the girl’s ability to experience emotions and feel love. Now that enough time has passed, Etta thinks, Cora is ready for romance. And she knows just who Cora’s intended should be: Cora’s childhood friend, Walt, who has been in love with her forever, unbeknownst to her.

When Etta removes the spell, Cora’s emotions are reawakened. At the same time, she experiences a surge of interest in the fire that took her parents’ lives. What was ruled an accident seems more like a murder, and she is determined to find out.

Doggedly pursuing a trail long left cold, Cora searches for answers about her past and ultimately finds what she needs to move on with her life.

Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street which I reviewed and enjoyed, pulls the threads of her characters’ lives together in this confection as sweet as a Christmas cookie, with a bit of mystery, a bit of romance and a bit of fun, with a nod to the magic of fashion that women of any age can appreciate.

And to start this New Year right, I am pleased to give one of my lucky readers a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams.” Please leave a comment (US addresses only, sorry) and a winner will be randomly selected.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams” from Random House for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

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