She’s back with another book. Basically, I find books on BookTok— but really Bookstagram— and I decide whether or not they are worth the hype they receive. This week is going to be a special edition because Halloween is upon us, so naturally I have to do a spooky recommendation.
I should note that the BookTok girlies have been prepping for Halloween reads since July. I mean, seriously, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson, “The League of Gentle Woman Witches” by India Holton, “The Dead Romantics” (which I loved by the way) by Ashley Poston— these have all been trending on BookTok for a while now. And so has our spooky review of the week… “The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner.
“The Lost Apothecary” is set in two different time points in England, one in 1791 and one in present day. In the present day we meet Caroline, who is traveling to England for her 10th wedding anniversary… alone. We don’t find out right away, but Caroline’s marriage has gone awry and she realizes she has spent her life doing things her husband would want instead of pursuing things that she is passionate about. It is this realization that she has been wasting her life on a future that she may now no longer want that was central to her story. She put her life on hold, stopped pursuing her career in History and did what was practical. It’s heartbreaking. But she takes this solo trip to try and find herself and put together what she wants. And in trying to find herself, she also finds Nella from a potions bottle washed up from the Thames.
Nella is an apothecary from 1791. She took over the shop from her mother and helps women escape men. She sells poisons to women who are trying to get rid of their husbands. Kinda a girlboss, if you ask me. When we meet Nella she is getting ready to give a potion to a client— Eliza. Eliza is only 12 and is coming to the shop for poison to kill her Lord. She wants to kill his Lordship after he tried to get her drunk and take advantage of her— again, she is only 12. She told her Ladyship and together they came up with the plan to reach out to Eliza. Nella gives Eliza two eggs with poison in them and instructs Eliza on how to give them to him. It works, but Eliza begins to think she is being haunted by his ghost so she goes back to Nella hoping to get help.
Nella is working on a potion for another client when Eliza calls upon her. She explains to Eliza that she does not delve in magic. Everything she does is through natural remedies and ingredients— no magic involved. Nella then runs into trouble when the client comes to pick up the potion because she reveals that she does not intend to use it on her husband, but on his female lover. Nella has a strict rule that she will do no harm to women. The whole point of her shop is that she helps women escape from men. To avoid a woman getting harmed from her poison she throws the batch into the fire. The client gets upset and threatens to expose Nella and her whole shop if she does not create another batch.
Caught between a wall and a hard place, Nella creates another batch with Eliza who longs to be her apprentice. The poison however does not reach its intended victim and somehow manages to kill the lord, her clients’ husband instead.
This is bad for multiple reasons, mainly because he is a prominent figure and his death was clearly a premeditated poisoning. The police will go easy on his wife because of her status but they try extra hard to crack down on the apothecary who prescribed the poison.
Back in modern day, Caroline’s husband has followed her to England without asking her permission and he pesters her. He’s high-key the worst and he’s barely in the story, but for the time where he is in the story I really hate him and I give Penner a lot of credit for making his character so hateable.
Throughout the story, Caroline is slowly unraveling the mystery of Nella and Eliza and becomes aware of their secrets. It is a tale of love and women. It shows women supporting women and giving them a choice when they would not typically have one. And we see Caroline finding her own strength to stick up for herself and what she wants in this life.
Great read, 10/10 would recommend it. I read it in one sitting and avoided my work which was fun but I justified it because of you, my dear readers.
Until next week, because guess what— I got a copy of “The Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo for $10!!!