THE LAST APOTHECARY by SARAH PENNER *BLOG TOUR* @sl_penner @parkrowbooks

It’s a cold night in February of 1791 and in an unmarked back alley in London, Nella sits awaiting her customer.

Nella is an apothecary, as her mother before her was. Women came from all around for her healing potions and salves. Taking care of women. Nella is carrying on the tradition in another way. Women come to her for poisons that will release them from the men who have done them wrong.

Of course, there are a few rules. The poison must never be used to harm another woman. And the names of the victim, poison, and the killer are to be recorded in a register.

When her next customer shows up Nella is shocked it is a twelve-year-old girl named Eliza, whose employer wishes to engage Nella’s services to relieve herself of her husband. Little does Nella know that this meeting will alter both of their lives as well as the life of present-day historian Caroline, who is spending her anniversary alone after her husband has an affair.

When she finds a mysterious vial with a bear on it, her research instincts kick in and she is determined to find out everything she can about the apothecary shop, Nella and Eliza.

Women had very few options in this London. One had to put up with whatever situation one found themselves as far as philandering spouses or abusive ones. This was a great look at the lengths women would go to seek revenge.

This was disturbing and yet honest. A very good debut!

NetGalley/  March 2nd, 2021 by Park Row

Here is a sneak peek:

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 f lame 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.

 

 

 

VICTORINE a Novel by Drema Drudge

Victorine Meurent. You may not know the name, but you know her. Take a look at Manet’s Olympia or Picnic on the Grass. Victorine models for many artists. She is living in Paris, posing nude or clothed. But her secret desire is to be the painter, not the model.

In 1863, a woman artist is laughable. It is not a career that is encouraged by parents or society. But Victorine is no ordinary woman. No. She is a force of nature, steamrolling her way to her dreams. She doesn’t want someone else’s life, she wants to live her life. And she does.

She endures the horror of the occupation of Paris. She makes do with nothing. But she is always kind and loving.

Victorine is one of the most interesting women I have had the pleasure to read about. She is smart, curious, and determined. Her personality is so strong and the author portrays her so well, you can feel her emotions. This is not something I come across every day. I wanted it to last longer. I honestly don’t have words for the energy this work of art is. Victorine came to life with the language the author used. I have a feeling we shall see more!

March 17th, 2020 by Fleur-de-Lis Press

This book is a real force of nature. Once you begin to read you will be helpless to stop! So I had some questions for this author who has such a flair for the written word.

She was kind enough to answer

Thank you so much, Patricia, for having me on your blog today. I appreciate it.

So, this is your first published book?

Yes. It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream of being a published author. I’m still pinching myself and I find myself holding it in my hands and turning it over and over sometimes.

Why Victorine?

I was in a college class, The Painted Word, that was about literature featuring paintings. The professor put up a PowerPoint presentation with artwork to inspire us. When he got to Manet’s Olympia, something about the painting, the nude woman in it, arrested me. I had never seen it, but I felt like there was so much she wanted to say to me. I told her I would listen. It was only later I discovered she was Victorine Meurent, not only a model, but a talented artist as well.

What type of research did you do?

What I wanted more than anything was to go to Paris to learn more. I refused to even attempt to find out anything about her until I could see “her” in person. (My process is learning from the artwork directly first, to see what it can “say” to me. Then I do book research.)

I was in grad school at the time, and we took a trip to Paris. I couldn’t sleep the night before I went to D’Orsay, because I knew “she” would be there. When I stood before the painting of Olympia, I felt like the model still had something more to say, but I couldn’t figure out what. I started crying in frustration.

Then a tour group came by, and their leader started talking about this model in the painting whose nose had been broken by her boxer boyfriend. That was the first I had heard of that. The funny thing was, I could never find any proof of that in my research, that there was a boxer boyfriend. But I knew it belonged in the book. Willie was born. He remains one of my favorite characters in the story.

Once I was home, I dug deeply into the internet for information. I discovered there wasn’t much to know about Victorine, which disappointed me. But by using the paintings of her, by reading about the time period, I was able to put together something that approximated her story. Many of the best-known painters of the time painted her, not only Édouard Manet, but also Alfred Stephens and Toulouse-Lautrec.

When I realized she was an artist herself, but history had forgotten that fact, I knew why she had chosen me to tell her story: she wanted me to return her to art history. (Or “herstory.”) My initial research only showed one known painting of hers, rediscovered in 2004. However, as my husband and I dug deeper, (besides being my sweetie, he’s also my research assistant) we

found three other paintings of hers. This included her self-portrait, which thrilled me. Seeing how she saw herself after all of the paintings of her confirmed for me that I had heard her correctly. (And I should add, we didn’t discover this painting until right before the book went to press. I quickly made a few changes to the scene where she paints herself. I also got permission from the painting’s owner to use the painting on the back of my book, the first time her painting has ever been published. I felt absolutely validated in my journey with her, then.

What is your favorite writing genre?

I love writing literary fiction. It’s sometimes difficult to write, is sometimes difficult to read, but there’s something deep and universal about it that speaks to me. It deals with what’s most important in life. It’s a full meal with something to snack on after the fact, too. Or I think that’s its aim. Not that it’s without its faults. Sometimes it takes itself too seriously. Sometimes it goes too dark.

That being said, I read lots of different genres, because sometimes you want something lighter. While I classify Victorine as primarily literary fiction about art, it is also historical literary fiction.

And who knows what I might write in the future?

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

Gladly! While I adore writing about art, I’ve taken a break to write about another topic that thrills me. Virginia Woolf is my favorite writer, so I am incorporating some of her book To the Lighthouse in mine. My novel is about Briscoe Chambers, a grad school student working on her thesis on Woolf. She’s married to a country music singer, Michael, and she’s also his manager.

The book opens with her discovering very publicly that he has cheated on her. The problem is, he’s contractually obligated to work with the woman he cheated with. And Briscoe has invested so much of her time and energy, not to mention her heart, in him and his career that she has to decide what to do next. It’s not as easy as just walking away. Reading and writing about Woolf help her come to a decision. Add in a distinctly Southern flare (I’m originally from the South and my husband and I lived in Nashville for a stretch) and I think it’s a fun one.

Who in the literary world do you look up to?

As I mentioned, Woolf is my absolute favorite writer. Her work is layered, nuanced, and challenging but rewarding. W. Somerset Maugham’s work is amazing. Toni Morrison is in my top ten, for sure.

Sena Jeter Naslund’s writing is a current writer whose work astonishes me with its delicate beauty. (Full disclosure: she’s also a mentor and dear friend of mine.) When it comes to art in

fiction, Stephanie Storey’s writing is lovely as well. Irving Stone’s writing about art is beyond compare.

I am a classics fan, clearly, so the Brontës are favorites of mine, all of them, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, of course…I could go on and on here.

Thank you again, Patricia, for having me on your blog and for all you do for the literary community.

OLD LOVEGOOD GIRLS by GAIL GODWIN

 

Old Lovegood Girls is the story of two women and the complicated friendship they share over years and years. The type of friendship where you don’t have to talk every day, but when you do, you just pick up where you left.

Feron Hood and Merry Jellicoe are as different as night and day. But in 1958, the dean of Lovegood Junior College for Girls pairs them up as roommates. Feron, has a much darker past than Merry and yet they click. Bonding quickly as best friends. From the outside they are a perfect set.

But there are some bonds not based on sharing rooms. Secrets, professional rivalry, and with all of Merry’s money and influence, things are about to go south for her and she may lose everything.

Feron wants to write. She wants to be an author. Ten years later and she hasn’t spoken to Merry since school. They have lived different lives. And when Feron reads that Merry has been writing, that old rivalry returns, along with a need for each other and once they are back, things begin to happen and their lives will change.

This is not a typical boarding school read where there is a poor girl and a rich girl. This is a literary work that will have you thinking and asking questions about life and friendship. About the bonds women form and the complications of friendships.

This was a book I savored. Understanding the emotions and desires of both of them. Excellent Work!

May 5th, 2020 by Bloomsbury Publishing

A SIDE of MURDER by AMY PERSHING

A Side of Murder (Cape Cod Foodie Mystery #1)

A Cape Cod Foodie Mystery #1

A food writer must investigate the death of an old enemy in this witty and exciting new cozy mystery series set in beautiful Cape Cod, Massachusetts, known for seafood, sand, surf, and, now…murder.

Samantha Barnes loves food. Instead of heading off to college, she headed off the the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and left the Cape for New York City. After working hard, she is a rising star in the food arena. Unfortunately her feud with another chef, also her ex, gets put on the internet and just like that, she’s out.

Finding out she has inherited her Great-Aunt Ida’s home on the Cape, she heads there to lick her wounds and disappear for a while. Before she can do much with the old house, she’s asked to do restaurant reviews for the local paper.

Poor Samantha has not only inherited a falling down house, it comes with a dog. Well, a puppy, but a huge one. Neither of these does she want.

While she is happy to be among friends, when a horrid old lady from her teenage days turns up dead, there are so many people acting sketchy, it was hard to decide who did it! Now she’s covering a murder story being led by an old crush and he is still looking good, but he isn’t looking at her.

I loved the foodie parts. The first of a series is always uncertain, but I think this one has good bones. I look forward to more from this author.

NetGalley/  February 23rd, 2021 by Berkley Books




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Long Island Iced Tina by Maria DiRico

Long Island Iced Tina

This is the second in the Catering Hall Mystery Series. Mia Carina is back in Queens, in charge of the family catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor. The Family’s legal enterprise.

Mia’s friend, Nicole is having that baby! And the Nonnas are planning showers like mad. One is to be held at Belle View but when Nicoles stepmother throws one at the fancy Versaille. Of course Mia has to attend and she is left with a lot of questions. How can Nicole’s father afford all of this? And what do we really know about this tart Tina?

While no blood was shed between the nonnas and the new wife, she is highly upset when Nicole opens a gift with a tag from her and it turns out to be a stolen painting. Shocking, right?

And later when Mia finds Tina’s body floating in the marina and Nicole’s father is arrested, Mia is not going to let that happen. With help from the family and The Family, she may be able to find out who the killer is and what else is going on at that fancy Versailles.

I laughed through the entire book. Every character is so well thought out and adds something to the tale. I think this one is a winner!

NetGalley/ February 23rd, 2021 by Kensington Publishing Corporation

SHUCKED APART by BARBARA ROSS

Shucked Apart (A Maine Clambake Mystery Book 9)

A Maine Clambake Mystery #9

Always a pleasure to be back in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. The Snowden Family Clambake Company is gearing up for the season and Julia Snowden is busy preparing and hiring. Julia is also a bit of a crime solver on the side, so when one of the oyster farmers, Andie, comes to her for help, of course she is going to say yes.

Robbed of two buckets of oyster seed, Andie isn’t sure if someone is trying to sabotage her business or one of the summer people who don’t like seeing the cages. Before Julia can even ask a few innocent questions, Andie is dead and there are more than enough suspects to go around.

As she starts digging into the lives of the residents and her own family, she may not live to see another clambake!

This series keeps evolving and adding new characters which keeps it fresh and all of us on edge!

NetGalley/ February 23rd, 2021 by Kensington Publishing

A CALLER’S GAME by J.D.Barker

A Caller's Game

DIE HARD meets TALK RADIO in this heart-pounding, relentlessly fast-paced thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Fourth Monkey—master of suspense, J.D. Barker.

“I’m going to offer you a choice.”

J.D. Barker is truly a master of suspense and horror! Makes my black little heart all fluttery whenever I see his name on a book. This one is really scary because I can see this happening at any time.

Jordan Briggs is the female Howard Stern. Brash, in your face, controversial. A total bad-ass. She has no filter and doesn’t care in the least what she has to do to stay at the top of the ratings board. But this single- minded dedication to success has cost her. Her husband is now her ex. She hasn’t spoken to her mother in years. If not for Charlotte, her eleven -year -old daughter, she would be alone and she doesn’t seem too bothered about that.

If you get the impression she’s a pretty shallow and unpopular human being then you are correct.

Until… one day a caller asks if she would like to play a game. Angry because her boss has scheduled an interview with a rather shady senator, she decides to play along. And that sets into motion a series of events that lead to her past and the present colliding in awful ways.

Jordan has made some bad decisions in this business. Not very moral or ethical. And now she is about to pay for all of those. Consequences are always there waiting.

Is it odd to say I felt worse for the killer than Jordan? I understood his motivation although I didn’t agree with his deeds. You never know how your words and actions ripple out into the world until they find that one unstable person who is going to show you how much they matter.

Dare I say that I’ve replaced James Patterson with Barker? Well, I have.

NetGalley/ February 22nd, 2021 by Hampton Creek Press

Living on the Prairie

Well, it finally made good on the snow promise. It snowed, and snowed, and snowed some more. I personally did not care because I don’t go outside if it’s under 74. You have to draw a line. So, I watched as it piled up. It was the pretty snowman making type of snow. Dry. The good news was there was little wind which is odd for Oklahoma. It tickled my dark little heart to watch everyone lose their minds over snow. No ice. Just a few feet of snow.

We couldn’t get out so OU Boy pretty much stayed at the hotel. Until Thursday when this happened.

All the fire sprinkler lines in the ceiling busted sending tons of water down. There was at least 5 inches just in the lobby. The elevator shaft was full. Needless to say, we called the Fire Department and the Insurance guys and they came fast. Everyone on all three floors were evacuated, since we have no fire equipment working we had to close. But trying to find places for guests in the middle of the night was a pill. Most of them were here from Texas, where they had no power or heat and they never wear masks so I felt no sympathy.

Only problem was all 3 of our hotels were flooding. In the end after OU Boy stayed two days at work to oversee the remediation work,he was able to catch a nap.There were about 30 or more water main breaks so we had no power or water at home. Yesterday we were filling crab pots with clean snow just to flush the toilets. I’m one of those people who always have 6 or 7 gallons of water in case of emergency. I did share with my friend Sonya since she has been feeding me for a long time. Today we have water, power and hot water. The hotels will be closed for at least a month. So Texans, go home and take your Ted Cruz germs with you.

Tommy actually found 16 Mexicans hiding out on the third floor this morning. Scared the crap out of him.

Tommy has never been around for the morning ritual that is Sonya, who is full-on Russian, and her dad works with Putin. She is the best pastry chef I have ever met and we adore each other. So he finally was awake to see the past few days. Picture it. Front door. A gentle knock. I open the door and hand her an empty plate and she hands me back a full one. Air kisses and boom, breakfast. This week we had PAVLOVA… With pistachios she ordered 3 months ago from Turkey.

And Medvik, or Honey Cake.

For dinner tonight she brought over a Lamb Dish with fresh Thyme and a loaf of warm home-made bread.

She also told me not to cook a cake for Tommy’s birthday tomorrow as she is making him a giant Pavlova. I was not even planning on making a cake, so that’s nice.

Other than that I’ve just been reading and waiting on packages that never seem to arrive. I don’t know about you but I have been adding to cart everyday! Swimsuits, camping gear, scuba gear, floats. Yep, I’m skipping straight to summer.

Enjoy your Saturday and stay warms!!

xx P

Spread Love, Not Germs. XOXO

I just finished a week of long-hauler syndrome. Again. It seems my new normal is one week out of the month I will be feeling exactly as I did with Covid. It’s horrible. The unending fatigue. Fever. Coughing and breathing treatments. But am I complaining? Well, yes. Do you know me? But seriously I’ll take that over OU Boy’s weird after effects. Blood Clots are not on my bucket list. At least I am off the steroids now and not biting any heads off.

After cruising through December and January in shorts, February is coming in cold. It started as a small shower that froze and people lost their minds. There were 30 car pile-ups on the interstates. Dead cows on the highway and people in no way prepared for this. Today we have cold again. 19 degrees. Plus little snow flurries now and again.

I have been hibernating and dealing with Covid. Deaths of our grandmothers. Deaths of friends and the unmitagated gall of Texans refusing to wear masks in the Marriott. Marriott is very good about standing by their employees however so now you can’t get in without a mask. Can’t. Open. The. Door. One of our residents who was recovering away from his house from Covid is now back in hospital with liver failure and gall bladder surgery. This is not something to take lightly.

Coming up on the anniversary of The Eye thing. 5 years. 4 years today since the first surgery. Still have 12 stitches in there. Not too worried about them. My eye feels great and although it hurt to give up the contacts, I’d rather keep the eye.

Between reading and watching The Magicians again, we are pretty content. I made a huge crock of Irish Stew this morning and it is simmering in the oven beside a loaf of whole grain bread I made.I figured out that baking heats up the house.

So Sunday is Valentine’s Day. But not in our house. Every husband and child was born on that day so it’s not my day. We made reservations at the Tea Room for the Valentine Chocolate High Tea on Monday. We love that.

Everyone still hanging in there? I sure hope so. Stay warm and safe and be nice. Seriously.

xx P

LADIES of the HOUSE by LAUREN EDMONDSON

Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility

A very modern spin on Sense and Sensibility that I adored. Daisy, Wallis, and their mother Cricket never expected the sudden death of father and husband Senator Gregory Richardson. And they certainly never imagined it would be in such a salacious way. The media is all over this juicy headliner and Daisy just wants to disappear.

What they know is bad. What they don’t know is worse. They can’t afford their Georgetown home now and they must sell it and move into much smaller accommodations. While Cricket clings to her former life, and Wallis finds a man and is ready to move on that, Daisy is just trying to support them and protect them. Yes, the journalists are camped out on their doorstep but the worst part is the journalist writing the expose’ on her father.

Atlas has always been her best friend and to be honest she wants more. The question is can she trust him? Is this story only going to bring more pain to her family?

Those Richardson women. My grandmother would say they come from strong stock. And they do. They may have been gobsmacked in the most public and sordid way possible, but they get right out there and figure out who they are and make a new path in the world for themselves.

A very engaging book that I loved. It is so refreshing to not see simpering females in a story like this. Well Done!

NetGalley/Harlequin-Graydon Trade February 09, 2021