ARC Reviews, Book Reviews, Fantasy

Book Review: The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller


When I was given the opportunity to read & review The Luster of Lost Things, I jumped at the opportunity.  For one, it has been promoted for lovers of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove which I read and adored last year.  You can read my review here →Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  Secondly, there is something sweet and magical about the cover…


TheLusterofLostThingsAuthor: Sophie Chen Keller

Genre: Contemporary • Magic Realism

Version: Paperback (336 pages)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (August 8, 2017)

Source: Publisher


Read an excerpt

Book Description

In this story for readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Man Called Ove, when all seems lost, he finds what matters most.
Walter Lavender Jr. is a master of finding. A wearer of high-tops. A maker of croissants. A son keeping vigil, twelve years counting.
But he wouldn’t be able to tell you. Silenced by his motor speech disorder, Walter’s life gets lonely. Fortunately, he has The Lavenders—his mother’s enchanted dessert shop, where marzipan dragons breathe actual fire. He also has a knack for tracking down any missing thing—except for his lost father.
So when the Book at the root of the bakery’s magic vanishes, Walter, accompanied by his overweight golden retriever, journeys through New York City to find it—along the way encountering an unforgettable cast of lost souls.
Steeped in nostalgic wonder, The Luster of Lost Things explores the depths of our capacity for kindness and our ability to heal. A lyrical meditation on why we become lost and how we are found, from the bright, broken heart of a boy who knows where to look for everyone but himself.



The Luster of Lost Things falls into the magic realism category.  Magic realism can be a very difficult genre to do in my opinion.  When done right, magic realism gives us a touch of magic, while still staying grounded in reality.   Far too often I have read a magic realism book that crosses the line from enchanting, to just plain weird.  ((I’m looking at you Little Nothing))  It really is a fine line.  I feel Keller did a good job on this front.  There was just the right amount of magic to give this book a dreamy quality without overdoing it.  Who wouldn’t be allured by an enchanted bakery where the desserts & pasties move, dance, and breathe fire?  Actually, this book reminded me a bit of the movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium in regards to some of the magic realism elements.  I also loved Walter’s special ability for finding lost things.  I could actually use Walter’s specific gift as I often lose things (my phone, keys, wallet… basically anything not attached to my body).  The ability to see the “luster of lost things” would definitely come in handy.  Overall, I found the magic realism elements very charming & creative.


Let’s talk about our main character, Walter.  Walter goes through so much personal growth throughout the course of this book.  It truly was a pleasure to watch him go from a boy who secluded himself from the outside world, to a young man with a new thirst for life.  Can I just give a huge shout out to Keller for including a main character with a motor speech disorder?  Walter is portrayed as a child with childhood apraxia of speech, which is a neurological disorder where the brain has trouble coordinating the muscle movements required for speech.  I can tell Keller conducted a lot of research into motor speech disorder for Walter’s character, which I always respect.  You can really tell Keller wanted to represent a motor speech disorder in an accurate & sensitive manner.  I could feel the frustration that Walter feels when he is unable to physically say what he wants to communicate.  I would think it would feel like being trapped inside your own head.  It really made me realize how I take my own ease of speech for granted.  Books with main characters who have any type of disorder/disability are SO important.  They give those of us not affected a valuable perspective into what it is like to have some type of disorder/disability.  As a parent with a child who has a disorder (my son has a visual processing disorder, which basically means his brain does not process visual stimuli, text in particular, the way it should), I really appreciate Keller writing a book with a main character like Walter. 

There are some wonderful themes included within the pages of this book: overcoming adversity, coming of age, helping others, overcoming fear, compassion, stepping outside of comfort zones, family & friendship.  The Luster of Lost Things, at its core, it is an exploration of human nature.  It is a coming of age story where the main character discovers their inner strength through a journey that brings them into contact with many different types of people.  With each new person that Walter comes into contact with, he learns something new about the world & himself.  This book is definitely more of a slower paced character driven novel.


I only had a few slight complaints about this book.  While I felt Keller did a good job with the creative magic realism elements, I did also feel they were a bit unclear/confusing at times.  For example, was the bakery alive to all of its employees & customers, or was it only Walter who saw the desserts come to life?   I wanted more clarification with some of these elements.  Also, many reviewers felt like the book starts off with a bang and loses steam while Walter is on his journey to find the book, however I actually felt the opposite: I had a hard time getting into the book & magic realism elements at first, but things turned around quickly once Walter begins his quest.  Nothing major that hindered my overall enjoyment of this book.

There was something very endearing about The Luster of Lost Things.   I feel like this book will appeal to many types of readers.  I particularly recommend it to fans of magic realism, food lovers (Keller’s descriptions of the baking process & the decadent desserts will leave your stomach growling), dog lovers (Walter’s side kick happens to be a golden retriever named Milton, who has a bit of a sweet tooth), and NYC lovers (Walter’s journey takes him all around NYC).   If you are looking for a sweet feel-good book with a touch of magic, then give The Luster of Lost Things a go!Divider2


5-Star Rating System

*Big thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


About the AuthorSophieChenKeller

I am the author of The Luster of Lost Things. My short fiction has previously appeared in publications such as Glimmer Train and Pedestal Magazine. Born in China and raised in Ohio and California, I graduated from Harvard College with a degree in Economics and worked in brand consulting and fashion before leaving to pursue my dream of writing. I currently live in New York City with my husband and a not-so-secret cabinet of sweets.
My love for fiction stems from the countless childhood hours my mom spent reading bedtime stories out loud, from dog-eared library copies of E.B. White and Roald Dahl, to help me learn English. So while my parents are mathematicians, I grew up writing short stories.
My first short story publication came when I was 15, in Glimmer Train, after I placed second in their Short Story Award for New Writers. I’ve known since then that I wanted to be a writer, and the first book I wanted to write would be a grown-up version of the books I loved so much as a kid, about a world like ours – populated by good people and children who see more deeply and clearly than any of us – but steeped in magic, something golden, and probably a little weirdness.
I’m rather fond of desserts at any time of the day, especially if they’re of the interesting, unusual variety, like cereal milk ice cream or red velvet pudding or spekuloos waffles (thanks, Shirley!). Growing up, my family had a golden retriever named Thor, after the Norse god of thunder and lightning, although he was afraid of both thunder and lightning.

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23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller”

    1. Thank you so much! It was a very sweet little book, and I am so happy I was given the opportunity to read & review it. It was a breath of fresh air.

      Ahhhhh that makes sense. I knew the book was the source of the magic of the bakery, but I never could tell if the customers could see the enchanted treats… I don’t remember anyone ever commenting on them or in awe, so I wasn’t sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. When I’ve read magical realism (Allende, for example) I really liked it, or in films. But I haven’t read much in the genre. This sounds great, I didn’t read Ove but watched the film!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the comparison to Ove stems from the fact that they are both very much character driven stories with eccentric characters. I haven’t seen the film version for Ove yet… I’m not sure I can handle watching a movie in subtitles lol


  2. I can only take small touches of magical realism. Exit West worked for me because there was just a single element used to move the story. I think this one might have a little too much for me. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must confess that while I really enjoyed your review, the synopsis the publisher created was very confusing to me! I hope I’m not the only one… I could tell if Walter was young or old or if there really was a dragon or what.


    1. I really only skimmed the synopsis before picking this one up, but after this comment I went back and actually read it through. I could see where there would be some confusion, especially regarding his age. As far as the dragons are concerned the synopsis says “his mother’s enchanted dessert shop, where marzipan dragons breathe actual fire…” I had heard of a marzipan before and I knew it was some type of sweet.



    *calms down*

    This is a wonderful review, Amanda! I appreciate how thoughtful and considerate you are with the complicated aspects of this novel. There seems to be quite a bit here which could tip someone to love or hate this story, and you did a great job appealing to all sides. I also appreciate how you call out Keller’s well-researched representation of apraxia! Do you know if Keller has any personal experiences with this disorder? Probably not herself, but perhaps people in her life…

    I understand how you might be frustrated with the lack of clarity about how the magical aspects work. However, that’s one of my favorite things with magical realism. I love not knowing if the magic is in a character’s head or not. The idea of “wait… maybe this isn’t real?” is one I love grappling with while I read.

    I will be immediately getting a copy of this book! Thanks for making certain it showed up on my radar!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jackie 🙂 I could not find any info on if the author had any type of personal experience with apraxia or not. I did look at her website and an interview and she did not mention that she did, so I am assuming not? She did mention that she consulted doctors & those with motor speech disorders to make sure she got her representation right.

      I never really thought of magic realism like that – being up for interpretation by the reader. I haven’t read a ton of MR, so I guess I am still kind of new to the genre, but what you said makes total sense! The not knowing for sure is part of the fun.

      I hope you do pick this one up Jackie! It is a very sweet little book 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha– thanks for doing all that research! I checked out a few things and found similar information. I assume when a book isn’t openly touted Own Voices the author isn’t… but it feels nice to be mistaken sometimes. 🙂

        Magical realism is my favorite genre. There is something about it which makes me feel so hopeful! I think that’s why I like the unknown element. I will certainly be picking this book up sometime soon!


  5. Your review is stunning! I had added this at Kim’s recommendation and could not be more excited. I love how full of magic and diverse this seems. I was hooked by the blurb alone and now am sure that this will be a charming read. I love when MR is done right 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Definitely agree about magical realism being a tricky genre to do right, especially since it’s hard to get the balance right. But this one sounds really But this sounds so lovely and I really like the sound of the way it handled sensitive topics. Definitely want to check this one out- excellent review!!


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