Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner @sl_penner @parkrowbooks

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Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Mystery, Historical

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple Books // Amazon
Google Play // Indiebound // Bookshop.org
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The Lost Apothecary
Sarah Penner
Park Row Books, March 2021
ISBN 978-0-7783-1101-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

Just imagine if a woman could go to her local pharmacist and ask for a “special” medication to give to a particular man in her life, a man who has done her wrong in some way. Then take it a step further and imagine that this woman lives in a time when there were very few protections for women who were controlled in every meaningful way by a husband, a father, a suitor, a banker, a lawyer, essentially any male figure. Such is the the premise of this wonderfully creative story and it’s made even better by having the perspective of a modern-day woman as well as those from the 18th century.

This is a tale of three women—Nella, the apothecary in 1791, the young maid, Eliza, and Caroline, a modern woman who is at an important crossroads in her life—and all three come to vivid life in the author’s talented hands. Most intriguing to me was delving into how Nella turned to the dark side of what had been a respected profession and the visibly damaging effect her actions had on her physically as well as psychologically with each succeeding client.

Mystery fans will find much to chew on here and one suspenseful thread after another certainly kept me engaged till deep in the night. Well done, Ms. Penner!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2021.

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An Excerpt from The Lost Apothecary

Nella

February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying flame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books.

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About the Author

Credit Laura Foote

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.sarahpenner.com/

Facebook: @SarahPennerAuthor

Instagram: @sarah_penner_author

Twitter: @sl_penner

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**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher
via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Waiting On Wednesday (154) #DCIBanks @WmMorrowBooks

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Not Dark Yet
A DCI Banks Novel #27
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, March 2021
Mystery, Police Procedural

From the publisher—

When property developer Connor Clive Blaydon is found dead, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his Yorkshire team dive into the investigation. As luck would have it, someone had installed a cache of spy-cams all around his luxurious home. The team hope that they’ll find answers—and the culprit—among the video recordings.

Instead of discovering Connor’s murderer, however, the grainy and blurred footage reveals another crime: a brutal rape. If they can discover the woman’s identity, it could lead to more than justice for the victim; it could change everything the police think they know about Connor and why anyone would want him dead.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising between Banks and his friend, Zelda. A super recognizer—able to recognize faces significantly better than most people—Zelda is determined to bring the men who abused her to justice. But stirring up the murky waters of the past will put her in far greater danger than ever before, and Banks worries that he won’t be able to stop her from plunging too deep before it’s too late.

Why am I waiting so eagerly? I confess, I haven’t read all 26 of the novels preceding this one but I have enjoyed quite a few of them and I do mean “enjoyed”. In fact, Stephen King believes this is the best mystery series going these days and he may be right. The Inspector is a man of many talents including a sharp mind and a broad understanding of the world around him, leading him to be a most effective investigator, and I fully expect to find myself in the midst of a tense and compelling mystery.

Book Review: A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin @Beathhigh @orionbooks @littlebrown

A Song for the Dark Times
An Inspector Rebus Novel #23
Ian Rankin
Orion Books, October 2020 (UK)
ISBN 978-1-4091-7697-8
Little, Brown and Company, October 2020 (US)
Hardcover

Retired Detective John Rebus has just moved one floor down into the ground floor flat in Edinburgh where he’s lived for a number of years.  He has COPD and stairs had become a problem. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, his friend and once his partner in solving crimes, has been helping him move.

Leaving Rebus to unpack,  Siobhan returns to the Leith Police Station to rejoin the Major Incident Team currently working on the murder of a young, rich, Saudi named Salman bin Mahmoud, who was stabbed to death in what might be a hate crime.

Meantime Rebus gets a call from his daughter Samantha, now living in Tongue, 250miles to the north, with her partner Keith and daughter Carrie. Keith has gone missing and Samantha is at her wit’s end. Rebus immediately abandons his unpacking and hops in his car, heading to Tongue.  Sam and Rebus aren’t exactly close due to the fact that during her early years Rebus spent more time cracking cases and catching killers than spending time with his wife and daughter.  Now he sees this as an opportunity to get closer to his daughter and granddaughter.

On his arrival Rebus is met by Detective Sergeant Creasey who is in charge of the missing person case, and who is quick to let Rebus know he won’t tolerate interference.  When Samantha tells her father she’d had a fight with Keith before he disappeared adding that they’d recently been going through a rough patch, Rebus is prepared to do everything he can to track down Keith.  But Sam is fearful her father will only make matters worse.  And when Keith’s body is found, Samantha becomes the prime suspect.

Determined to prove his daughter’s innocence Rebus talks to a group of the locals Keith had become involved with on discovering that a POW camp was once located in the area. Keith had been interviewing several members who had been prisoners at the time and who had opted to stay around once the war was over.

When Rebus gets a call from Siobhan he asks how her murder case is proceeding and learns there might be a connection between the death of the Saudi man and Lord Strathy aka Ramsey Meiklejohn a landowner in Tongue.  Intrigued, Rebus turns his attention to the landowner paying a visit to his stately home.  Lord Strathy isn’t in residence, but when Rebus tries to question the housekeeper,  he’s quickly shown the door, leaving him to wonder if he’s found a fresh trail to follow in search of Keith’s killer.

All is not what it seems in the town of Tongue, and Rebus has his hands full as he pokes into the past to uncover the truth.

I very much enjoyed following Rebus on his latest outing…

Check this one out.… You won’t be disappointed.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, November 2020.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue. A mini review.

I’ve not heard of this book before but, after reading
this review, I’m excited to read it. I certainly
never knew that people used to live in New York’s
public library buildings!

Hidden Staircase

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

By Fiona Davis

Rating: 5/5 Stairs

Which begins like this:

She had to tell Jack.

He wouldn’t be pleased.

As Laura Lyons returned from running errands, turning over in her head various reactions her husband might have to her news, she spotted the beggar perched once again on the first tier of the granite steps that led to her home: seven rooms buried deep inside the palatial New York Public Library. This time, the beggar woman’s appearance elicited not pity but a primal fear. It was certainly some kind of ominous sign, one that made Laura’s heart beat faster. A woman on the verge of ruin, alone and without any resources. Unloved.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

This is the first book I’ve read by Fiona Davis. After looking into some of her other books, it seems that she likes to write…

View original post 286 more words

Book Reviews: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga and All the Way Down by Eric Beetner @AravindAdiga @ScribnerBooks @ericbeetner @DownAndOutBooks

Amnesty
Aravind Adiga
Scribner, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-9821-2724-4
Hardcover

Danny, an undocumented Sri Lanken living in Australia, has gradually fashioned for himself a satisfactory life. He has acquaintances with whom he socializes and a woman friend about whom he is serious. And now he has a problem. He may have important information that will help local police solve a nasty murder. If he steps forward as his world view requires, he may be deported because he’s illegally in the country. On the other hand, he may hold the one fact that will solve the case.

The novel is not so much a murder mystery or thriller as a thoughtful if sometimes wandering essay on the life of honest hard-working illegals and the pressures and vicissitudes of that life. There is little overt drama in the story, rather a character-peopled tale in which the author adeptly channels his protagonist Danny into more and more tension as he wrestles with a decision which will, in either path, affect a great many people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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All The Way Down
Eric Beetner
Down and Out Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-64396-010-4
Trade Paperback

This enthralling crime novel starts with a bad cop called on the carpet. Dale Burnett, risen to detective grade, has allowed his need for money to gradually bend his ethics, in a city already badly out of tune with ethics and morality. He assumes the worst but is given one chance at redemption.

It turns out, the Mayor’s daughter has been captured and is being held by one of the city’s most dangerous and brutal gang leaders. Since Burnett is now known to the gang, law enforcement believes an alternative to a frontal assault is a better option. Burnett is tasked with going into gang headquarters and rescuing the young woman.

Of course, Burnett takes this limited opportunity to risk death and retrieve his good standing. What follows is a rousing and ever more dangerous series of encounters with the gang leader and his murderous minions. With the considerable assistance of the mayor’s able daughter, Burnett engages the forces of evil.

The scene is very limited, all the action takes place inside a single large former factory building, so some of the common characteristics of action novels such as weather, are missing. Nevertheless, the pace is relentless, the tension high and the outcome uncertain until the very end.

All The Way Down is a fine thriller of a novel with surprises on almost every page, sustained action and relevant character development. The mayor’s daughter is a strong, important component of the fabric of the story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Hatchling Hero by J. A. Watson and Two’s a Crowd by Flora Ahn @JollyFishPress @funaek @Scholastic

Hatchling Hero
A Sea Turtle Defender’s Journal
J.A. Watson
Jolly Fish Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-161-0
Trade Paperback

The move from Puerto Rico to North Carolina was not an easy for one twelve-year-old Clarita. It wasn’t just geography, or missing friends; there was a life-style change as well. With both Mama and Tio having such busy schedules, Clarita felt isolated and in-charge-of her younger brother, Hector.

So, while she wasn’t particularly pleased to be forced into anything, this Science Squad thing that Mama insisted on might be a good idea after all. When the team chooses to track sea turtles for their project, Clarita is excited to finally find a familiarity. With her first American school-year behind her, she is starting to think that summer with the Science Squad should be fun.

With the recently laid eggs so close to their new home, Clarita and Hector were happy to host their fellow turtle lovers. But when keeping check on the nearby nest turns to witnessing criminal activity, the Sea Turtle Defenders are going to require adult assistance.

Not only did I (a Not-Young-Adult) enjoy this story, but it was educational in a sneaky way. I’m fairly certain I had not seen the word “skeletochronology” before. Now, I know what that means. Although the tiny tome is incredibly informative, it is in no way intimidating or complicated. And, while there’s no doubting the Sea Turtle Defenders’ outstanding deeds, deliberately disobeying rules will not be overlooked.

J.A. Watson’s Hatchling Hero: A Sea Turtle Defender’s Journal will absolutely appeal to Middle-Grade readers, but I kind of want everyone to read it.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2020.

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Two’s A Crowd
Pug Pals #1
Flora Ahn
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-11845-2
Hardcover

Sunny lives the perfect pug life. When her human goes to work, she does, too. She has her yoga and Mr. Bunny to tend to. She needs nothing.

So, Sunny was far from pleased when her human came home with another pug. The human calls the spastic pup Rosy. Sunny has nothing to say to wiggly, happy, fuzz-ball following her around.

Until Rosy accidentally loses Mr. Bunny. And then Sunny loses Rosy!

In Sunny’s search for Rosy, she finds fault in her own behavior and vows to make some changes. If she can only find that perturbing puppy.

I absolutely adore this Juvenile Fiction chapter book, but you don’t have to take my word for it. I spoke to the first-grader currently reading it and she says “it’s great” and that Sunny’s yoga poses are “so funny”.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2020.

How Far Is the Past?

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to wonder if the past remembered by older folks means much to the younger generations.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Every year on Veterans Day, two dentists in my town (Lemoore, CA) give free check-ups and some procedures on veterans. I took advantage, so that’s why I found myself in the chair getting a tooth pulled. The assistant asked what I did in the military and I told her I’d been a dental tech like her. I also told her I’d been in during the Vietnam Era (when you say that, people always assume you were in-country. Except nurses, most military women stayed stateside. But, joining during any war action gave GI benefits).

The young assistant asked if it was like on TV where there were lots of dead bodies. I said no, it was more like M.A.S.H.

“Oh, I’ve heard of that program,” she said.

“I think I saw an episode once. It was sort of funny” said the dentist.

Conveniently, my mouth fell open. Which is when the dentist went to work.

I get it. The show has been off the air almost 40 years. These two weren’t even born. But still. Isn’t this piece of trivia important enough to have heard about or seen reruns? The last episode was the most watched show in TV history. It still pops up on Jeopardy and in crossword puzzles. Oh, that’s right. Only Boomers do crossword puzzles. Unless it’s an app, nobody younger than 50 bothers with them.

Sometimes my own grasp of the past amazes me. My recent crossword wanted the first lady of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald. What Gorbachev reorganized? The USSR. Summoned Jeeves (who’s Jeeves?): Rang.

It got me thinking. Why do my references span decades? Is knowing the past not important in an age where everything moves at supersonic speed? When 45 seconds seems forever when nuking something in the microwave?

       

And here comes the “Okay, Boomer” moment. Growing up, TV only had 3 stations. There weren’t many children’s programs, but that’s okay because we were in bed by 7:30. We listened to the music our parents had on the hi-fi: Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima, Dean Martin. Lawrence Welk played his accordion, Father Knew Best and we all loved Lucy. We listened to the conversations of adults because children were seen, not heard. We picked up their info.

Yes, some of us got stuck in our own era. I have friends who will only listen to the oldies station. Several years ago, a clerk at a music store dismissed me as being too old to bother with until I asked for Green Day’s “American Idiot.” An Uber driver asked if I wanted to listen to soft rock on the radio, but I requested Cold Play. I still love listening to the silky voice of Nat King Cole, but also enjoy Dave Grohl.

      

What I’m saying is, although the present is fast paced and hard to keep up with, it’s worth putting in an effort to know about Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendricks and Jim Morrison. To know the names Mae West, Joseph McCarthy and Josephine Baker. It’s important to expand horizons beyond the present.

       

 

Hawkeye and Radar O’Reilly would no doubt agree with me.