After I read the first book in Paula Brackston’s recent series, Found Things, I was super excited to read the next book. Called Secrets of the Chocolate House, I finished it in the midst of our current global pandemic crisis. Naturally, I wished for escapist reading. Unfortunately, it didn’t captivate me as much as the first.
However, I now want to drink all the hot chocolate and spike it with any appropriate alcohol I have handy while in quarantine.
In the Found Things series, Xanthe Westlake and her mother Flora own a sweet little antique shop in the Wiltshire district of England. Wiltshire includes Stonehenge, and lovely towns like Marlborough, where the Westlakes live. It’s also home to Salisbury Cathedral, which inspired Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge Cathedral in Pillars of the Earth. Brackston uses real life places like the nearby White Horse carving in her narrative, and all the locations add layers of atmosphere. Given that I’m currently confined to my home, I enjoy the armchair travel.
Brackston also injects magical elements into her story, as she often does. In Found Things, Xanthe connects to certain antiques, and in return, they help her time travel. As you’d guess from the title, Xanthe finds a seventeenth century copper chocolate pot, typically used to make and serve drinking chocolate in a chocolate house. Whenever she gets near it, she sees images of her back-in-time love interest, Samuel Appleby, in a precarious situation.
Of course, Xanthe takes her antique chocolate pot, and promptly transports to Samuel’s time. While there she gets tangled up in politics, intrigue, and even dispenses some medical care.
I wished for much more from Found Things #2. All the chocolate in the world doesn’t overcome a lackluster plot and dithering heroine. Xanthe mode is “love him, can’t live with him, what about this other guy in my own time.” She also pops back in time with virtually no plan beyond what outfit to wear. This attitude shows her youth and inexperience, and that frustrates me.
On the other hand, who acts completely logical when they’re whisked through the centuries? Still, I wanted Brackston to immerse me in the adventure, but it wasn’t gripping enough. The chemistry between Xanthe and either century’s romantic prospects fizzled. On the other hand, my new favorite character is the fantasy-curious pub owner who gives Xanthe practical advice and helps cover for her when she travels.
Brackston portrays Flora, Xanthe’s mother, as a fairly helpless, 50-something woman with arthritis. Given how much disability she lives with, I wish Brackston would be clear that this is more than osteoarthritis. I’m guessing it’s more along the lines of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which sometimes begins harming joint tissue in childhood. Nevertheless, Flora and Xanthe love and care for each other. And it’s a charming aspect of the story.
If you’re trying to escape life in our current world, the Found Things series may work for you. I recommend it with reservations about its depth of intensity.
Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.