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.

 

 

 

The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg

The Day Lincoln Lost

I love historical fiction. However, there also must be some attempt to follow history in some fashion. There should also be a reliable timeline.

I wanted to like this but it just felt flat and uninteresting. I didn’t feel anything for the characters.

 

NetGalley Review/August 11th, 2020 by Hanover Square Press

 

 

 

 

DARK TIDES BY PHILIPPA GREGORY

Dark Tides (The Fairmile, #2)

The Fairmile #2

This is the follow up to Tidelands.

The year is 1670. Midsummer Eve. On the poor side of London’s wharf area two women work hard to survive. They have both been treated horribly by the men in their lives and they must make their own way in the world.

I really think you should read the first book before this one. I was in the dark most of the time.

London at this time was no place for a woman. Men ran the world and treated women as less than human.

When an old lover shows up no one is happy to see him. There is some backstory there I never got.

Next a brash woman from Italy who claims she has the older woman’s sons child and the son has died.

I have to say I wanted to like this, but it was so depressing and dark. I thought the grandmother and the granddaughter were the only decent characters.

We will give the next one a try however.

NetGalley/  November 24th, 2020 by Atria Books





THE CHANEL SISTERS by Judithe Little

The Chanel Sisters

A novel of survival, love, loss, triumph—and the sisters who changed fashion forever

Abandoned at a convent at a young age, Antoinette and Gabrielle Chanel are kept on a tight leash. While they are good girls all day, at night they sneak out their hidden little novellas and read about fashion and cut out styles and clothes they want.

They dream of making something of themselves. Finally of age to leave they do what they must to succeed. Society may never accept them, but they will be wearing the Chanel label forever!

This was a very interesting book. Part fact part fiction. I have recently read another book about CoCo and found this one to be more well rounded and giving us a look at all the Chanel sisters and what drove them to become a success. These were some brave and admirable ladies whose legacy continues strong today!

NetGalley/December 29th, 2020 by Graydon House



The Garden of Promises and Lies by Paula Brackston

The Garden of Promises and Lies (Found Things Book 3)

For all of you readers who loved Secrets of the Chocolate House, we are back in the Found Things Series, with Xanthe.

Things are coming together in the Little Shop of Found Things as Spring slides in. While she is still keeping her time travel secret, except for Harley, things get tricky right away.

Fairfax is back. In her own time! Watching her. She knows what he wants. The Book. Spinners. He isn’t content to be a Spinner, he wants all control. So now Xanthe must use her spinning skills to go back and stop him from harming the people she loves.

Before she goes however, she attends an auction at an old estate and that is where she finds her next thing. An antique wedding gown is singing loudly to her. The visions she is getting tell her that the gown is tied to Benedict Fairfax somehow and she now needs to find out who needs her help.

There is no question that she is going back, but there is going to have to be an explanation and that could be tough on Flora and Liam.

When Xanthe accidently takes a dog back with her and returns with both intact, she has an idea how to tell her mother. She takes her along. Not for long, just a peek at what she does. Her mother is on board but agrees with Harley that taking Liam would be a smart idea. Fairfax is strong and could harm a lot of people.

So into the blind house they go and just like that they are in Bradford-on-Avon around 1815. Liam is gobsmacked to say the least and her old friend and mentor at the Chocolate House is not impressed with what she has done. She is also acting very odd.

As the two concoct their story and meet up with the owner of the wedding dress, Fairfax ups the odds. Things are happening at a lightening fast pace and someone may not be coming back.

This is the series that my sister and I wait for. And then dissect every paragraph together. It really is that good.

And Oh! What a cliffhanger!

NetGalley/ December 15th, 2020 St. Martin’s Press

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Tsarina

This book was originally published many years ago. It is an interesting book about Catherine the first, the second wife of Peter the Great. Set in Russia in the 1700s.

This is not about Catherine the Great. This Tsarina came from the slums and lived with all of the horrible conditions in that time period. Violence, Immorality, and a lot of dirt! And dirty dealings. While this is a fictionalized account, much is true.

I love a historical fiction book that teaches me something. I learned a lot about Moscow, St. Petersburg and the not so likeable people in the court.

I would give this author another try!

NetGalley/ St. Martin’s Press, October 13th. 2020

 

 

A PRETTY DECEIT by ANNA LEE HUBER

A Pretty Deceit (Verity Kent #4)

A Verity Kent Mystery #4

The Great War has ended. Former Secret Service agent Verity Kent has her husband, Sydney back by her side.

They both are suffering the effects of the war. They made some nasty enemies and now those enemies are ready to take them on again.

When her father calls asking them to check in on his sister in Wiltshire, they leave at once. Expecting to find the large country house in shambles at their feet. But once again her aunt is exaggerating. While her cousin lost his sight in the war, he is still sharp as a tack, and no matter how hard his mother tries to keep everything from him, he knows more than he is saying.

When a young maid disappears, they fear the worst. When another man is found dead on the estate, things start to heat up. Odd sightings in the fields next to the RAF runway. Suspicious characters up to no good or ghosts?

And why in the world are there holes dug all over the field? Their friend Max meets up with them as they have word of a secret letter in code from his father that may have something to do with their old adversary Lord Ardmore. Information he doesn’t want out. And just like that they become the hunted.

This is such a good series. Verity is a powerful character and has an attitude I love. Can’t wait to see what she gets in to next!

NetGalley/ October 6, 2020 by Kensington


 


Bronte’s Mistress by Finola Austin

Bronte's Mistress

This dazzling debut novel for fans of Mrs. Poe and Longbourn explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.

This is a tale of Branwell Bronte and Lydia Robinson, the mistress of Thorp Green Hall. It is 1843 in Yorkshire and Lydia has suffered not one but two devastating losses this year. Her mother and her youngest daughter.

She doesn’t get much sympathy from her husband, who all but ignores her and the children, and to be honest, she isn’t a very sympathetic character. 

She already has one Bronte sister tutoring her teenage daughters but now has hired a tutor for her only son. And Branwell is the lucky chap. Down on his own luck, at loose ends and fighting his own demons while dealing with his own rather odd family.

He is very passionate about life, the theater, and music and regales them with tales of his sisters, but under the surface, you can just feel the rather manic energy and short temper. As the two begin an illicit relationship, he gets more and more erratic and Lydia knows she must end things to keep her own reputation intact and before those pesky sisters get involved.

 

NetGalley Review/ August 4th, 2020 by Atria Books

CROSSINGS by ALEX LANDRAGIN

Crossings

Crossings is an unforgettable and explosive genre-bending debut—a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.

Paris. About to be overrun with Nazis is not the best place for a not only German man but a Jewish one as well. As all-around is chaos and fear, a courier arrives at his bookbinding shop with a manuscript from a Baronness who would like it re-bound in the red leather she sends with it.

Inside are three stories, very unlikely tales. When the Nazis arrive the manuscript is forgotten for a bit and when he retrieves it he keeps it. Later he learns it can be read two ways. Straight through or in a very different way. The fantastical tale is hard to believe and takes us all over the world. The one commonality is Charles Baudelaire. He wrote at least the first one and a lot of this content is about him and a mysterious woman.

That is all I am saying here. This was something I have never seen a writer attempt. The word Epic comes to mind. The planning and detail this took are beyond anything I’ve seen.

Personally, I read it both ways and understood everything just fine. Although at one point I took a few notes to keep everyone straight.

Historical Fiction mixed with fact and fantasy. Well Done!

NetGalley/ St. Martin’s Press July 28,2020

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #3)

A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #3

In Dianne Freeman’s charming Victorian-era mystery series, Frances Wynn, the American-born Countess of Harleigh, finds her sister’s wedding threatened by a vow of vengeance.

This is one of my favorite Historical Fiction Cozy Mystery series! Frances Wynn, an American whose overbearing mother pushed her into a miserable marriage for a title in the British aristocracy, has been a widow for a while now. Living in London with her daughter and now her sister Lily who has fallen head over heels in love with Leo.

George and Frances are keeping their engagement secret until after Lily is wed. Unfortunately, Leo and Lily jumped the gun and are now in a position of having to move the wedding forward quickly.

George comes to the rescue by having everyone to his family estate in the country and the entire party is transported to Hampshire for some hunting, riding and you just know there will be drama when the parents of the couple arrive.

But drama begins almost as soon as they arrive. Deaths, accidents, and sketchy guests are all on the menu.

Frances isn’t about to be left out of the investigation, especially when her own George may be in danger.

There is a killer on the grounds and as they set a trap for the suspect they may find themselves caught in it!

I love these characters. They are funny and strong and get themselves into the most dangerous of predicaments.

Always a pleasure!

NetGalley/July 28th, 2020 by Kensington Books