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.

 

 

 

SAVING RUBY KING by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King

Family. Faith. Secrets. Everything in this world comes full circle.
Ruby King lives on Chicago’s South Side. Her best friend is Layla, daughter of the Pastor. Her mother and Ruby’s are life long friends.
Everyone in the church knows that Alice’s husband beats her so it isn’t shocking when she is murdered in her own home.
The police dismiss it as just more violence in this area. But Ruby has lost her mother and now her father takes his frustrations out on her.
Her father has dirt on the pastor so he isn’t helping Ruby. Everyone has secrets. Everyone is assuming a lot. There are awful secrets and in the end, no one can save Ruby but Ruby.

It is hard to believe this is a debut novel! We hear the viewpoints of all the main characters and their heartbreaking secrets. This one of the most honest and touching books I have read.
NetGalley/June 16th, 2020 by Park Row

THE OTHER MRS. by MARY KUBICA

The Other Mrs.

She tried to run, but she can’t escape the other Mrs.

Sadie and Will have moved from Chicago to a small town in Maine. One, they need a fresh start. Someone had an affair. Two, Will’s sister has died and he has inherited a large home and a surly teenager. Plus there was an incident with their son Otto at school.

Imogene is the one who found her mother dead and she is not happy about Will and Sadie and their two boys showing up. She is scary!

Shortly after they move in a neighbor, Morgan Baines, is killed in her home. A neighbor swears he saw Morgan and Sadie fighting, but Sadie has never met Morgan.

This is one messed up family! Every single character had some serious issues! And the twists and turns almost gave me whiplash! What??? I was on the edge of my seat the entire book!

February 18th, 2020 by Park Row/NetGalley

 

 

 

 

The GIRLS with NO NAMES by SERENA BURDICK

The Girls with No Names: A Novel

The Girls with No Names pulls readers into the gilded age of New York City in the 1910s when suffragettes marched in the street, unions fought for better work conditions—and girls were confined to the House of Mercy for daring to break the rules.

Life in the early 1900s was very confining for women and girls. Even the wealthy families who live in their mansions just down the road from the mysterious House of Mercy.

Luella and Effie belong to one of those families. Their father is charming but away a lot and their mother comes off as cold and a bit distant. Effie was born with a heart defect that will eventually kill her. Her older sister Luella has always looked after her. They are good girls with very little to do.

One day playing by the forest they hear beautiful music playing and their curiosity gets the better of them. What they find is a gypsy camp. Luella, a dancer is amazed and never wants to leave, but Effie needs her. All summer they hang out with the gypsy camp and it is here Luella runs after she and Effie find out a secret their father is keeping.

Feeling betrayed and angry Luella has no intention of obeying her father or ending up like one of the girls at school being sent to the Mercy House. She just needs a plan.

And just like that, she disappears. Effie is devastated and believes her father has finally had enough of his rebellious daughter and parked her in the Mercy House.

Effie is determined to find her sister and the way she gets into the house is brazen and fearless. But once behind that door, the house is anything but merciful. This is just another workhouse for girls who won’t knuckle under to society’s rules. How will she get out of this place where no one and nothing is what it seems. Not even their names.

Effie meets a girl named Mabel and we hear her story as well. With all the lies everyone is telling it will take a miracle for her to find her way home. If she doesn’t die in the process.

Historical Fiction with a lot of facts. These places existed everywhere. Magdalene Laundries, all more of the same. If a girl has an opinion she could easily never see the light of day again.  Everyone in this book was suffering in some way. Secrets and lies told to protect reputations and instead simply end up making things so much worse.

NetGalley/January 7th, 2020 by Park Row

 

 

Lisa Ungers The Stranger Inside

The Stranger Inside

“Justice is not for this plane. Punishment, yes. Consequences, yes.”

Three 12-year-olds go into the woods. Only one comes out. And she will never be the same.

Rain, Tess, and Hank were best friends. Cutting through the woods was what they did. Until the day they weren’t alone and lives would be forever changed.

The points of view were alternated. And I thought they all had valid viewpoints. Remember Dexter? We watched as Rain lived her seemingly normal life. Having put her past trauma in a box with no key. But when another man is killed after being acquitted of his wife’s’ murder, alarm bells go off. Is there someone out there delivering a bit of karmic justice?

Finding the truth will put her in more danger, which she knows, but she can’ t stop. She has to know. And when the memories come back will she be able to handle it?

This was the best kind of thriller. You know just enough to think you have it and then Wham, you know nothing! And it made me think for a long time. What is justice? What is Karma? Do some people simply not deserve to live?

Well Done Ms. Unger, as usual!

NetGalley/ September 17th, 2019 by Park Row

 

 

 

 

 

THE LAST THING SHE REMEMBERS by J.S.MONROE

The Last Thing She Remembers

I can’t remember my name.

On Day One, we meet a young woman. From our point of view, we see someone who has suffered some type of trauma and only knows that her things are gone and she is in the village of Wiltshire, knocking on the door of her own house. She knows it is her house but she can’t fully explain how she knows this and nothing else.

The couple who owns the house is suspicious. The police are suspicious. The entire village is suspicious. And more than one person thinks they know her.

As we learn more about her and the couple who take her in at first, things begin to take an odd turn. The wife up and leaves. The husband is acting very odd. Who do they think she is?

This was a thriller, a mystery, with an ending that was both shocking and satisfying!

Well Done!

NetGalley/  May 28th 2019 by Park Row (first published 2018)