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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

THE MOLTEN CITY by Chris Nickson

Molten City (A Tom Harper Mystery Book 8) by [Chris Nickson]

Detective Superintendent Tom Harper senses trouble ahead when the prime minister plans a visit. Can he keep law and order on the streets while also uncovering the truth behind a missing child?

Detective Superintendent Tom Harper has a bad feeling about the Prime Minister making a stop in Leeds. It’s September of 1908 and everyone is on edge. Whether it’s the Suffragettes or the massive amount of unemployed men, Tom has a feeling this is not going to turn out well.

As if that isn’t enough, someone has dropped him a letter claiming that a young boy, Andrew, was stolen from his family fourteen years prior. Looking into the case he finds very little in the file. In the middle of trying to hold off a riot over the Prime Ministers visit, he is also in the middle of a child abduction ring and some of the people involved do not intend to be captured.

Will Tom get things under control before the entire city goes up in smoke?

Very Well Done!

NetGalley/ Severn House July 7, 2020

 

 

 

Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

Paris Never Leaves You

A story with Paris, a book shop, a publishing house and set in the past and present sounds like a great idea.

Charlotte was a difficult character to know. I didn’t feel as if I knew any more of her story than what we knew at the beginning.

What was her sin? We know people who did whatever they had to do to survive the Nazi regime. They lied, they took food from the enemy, some even informed on their own people. But Charlotte wasn’t one of them. And where this war is concerned, people aren’t so forgiving of those who did what she did.

The entire thing felt disjointed and shallow. Not my cup of tea.

NetGalley/ June 2nd, 2020 by St. Martin’s Griffin

 

 

THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY by NATALIE JENNER

Chawton, England was the final home of the great Jane Austen. It’s little more than a bump in the road, but tourists come from all over the world in hopes of finding something of Jane there.

What is left is the great house, the grounds, and the cottage where Jane wrote. In the great house, Frances Knight lives with her ailing and horribly mean father. The house and her father are falling apart and Frances seems unable to anything but wait. With the cook, Josephine, and 16-year-old Evie Stone, she makes do.

Evie is scary smart. And for the past two years, she has been staying up all night to catalog the over two thousand books in the library, where she has found quite a few serious treasures and secrets!

In a series of events we end up with an odd group of people, brought together by their love of Jane Austen. An American movie star, a young widow, the village doctor, and a local laborer. There are wonderful supporting characters here as well. While this group at first has only one thing in common, their passion to preserve the legacy of Jane Austen. Ah, literature, the great equalizer of humanity!

Each of them has suffered horrible losses and unimaginable hardships and as they get to know each other in their pursuit of a common goal, they find they aren’t so different after all. And I did not see that ending coming! Well Done!

I absolutely adored this mix of fact and fiction! I can’t believe this is the author’s first published work. The characters were perfection and I will definitely read this one again!

NetGalley/ May 26th, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press

 

In the LION’S DEN by BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD

 

In the Lion's Den (House of Falconer #2)

 

The House of Falconer #2

James and his Uncle are back in the second House of Falconer book. While his uncle is busy with the newspaper, James has gone from working in the shop of Henry Malvern to being Malverns managing director.

From 1889 to 1892 we watch as James goes through the good, the bad, and the jaw-dropping with all of the poise we love him for, as his feelings toward Alexis go from disapproval to romance. But James has recently been in touch with Georgina Ward and she has a secret to share.

All at once his carefully plotted life plan is turned upside down. The question is will he be the better for it or not.

I would recommend reading book one first, so you know the backstory.  Has there ever been a bad BTB book? NO.

I hope we will see more of this character!

Well Done!

NetGalley/October 6th, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press

 

 

 

The LOST ORPHAN by Stacey Halls

The Lost Orphan

1754 London. Not the most pleasant time in history. And not a time kind to women. Poor Bess Bright works all day hawking shrimp to make barely enough to scrape by.

When she has a random encounter with a young man that leaves her pregnant, her only option is to give up her daughter. Leaving her at the Foundling Hospital is gut-wrenching for her. But Bess isn’t one of those mothers who won’t come back. She fully intends to come for her daughter as soon as she can. Leaving a token of half a whalebone heart her child’s father gave her, as an identifier.

Six years later and Bess goes back for her daughter only to be told that her daughter was picked up the day after arriving by a woman with the correct identifier. Distraught and confused she is determined to find her child.

I enjoyed the writing in this tale. The atmosphere was easily imagined and while it was horribly sad, it was also full of courage and the relationship between a mother and her child.

Well Done!

NetGalley/ April 7th, 2020 by MIRA