Blog Tour & Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

In a continuation of the blog tour for historical titles released from Harlequin this winter, one of the titles I was excited to be invited to read was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. I previously reviewed The Girl from the Channel Islands. Other titles in this campaign include Find Me in Havana and The Last Bookshop in London. I’m seeing all four covers popping up in social media, recommended reading lists, and reading groups I’m part of so lovers of historical fiction are taking notice! Today’s focus is on The Lost Apothecary which I will say upfront exceeded my expectations.


FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

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A forgotten history.
A secret network of women.
A legacy of poison and revenge.
Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

MY THOUGHTS:
In all my explorations of historical fiction, apothecaries are not a subject I’ve spent a lot of time musing over with more than a passing thought. I opened this title worried it would either be too gruesome, touch on topics that I have a hard time reading about, or *gasp* just bore me. This is the quandary the reader faces every time they pick up a title from an author they’re unfamiliar with. Thankfully, my worries were absolutely needless in this particular instance.

My only single complaint for this title had not to do with the content, but rather, the length of the book or perhaps just the speed I read it – by the final chapter, I wanted more! It was immersive and easy to read without any confusion switching between the dual timeline. I was struck by the author’s artistry as she created a likeable villain, so to speak, while illuminating a crafty tale of women scorned (hell hath no fury, and all that…) The ignorance (of the naïve, uneducated variety) often seen on subjects we take for granted was spotlighted and necessary to the tale. While the present-day scenario happens all too often, I wasn’t entirely sure how the two stories would intertwine beyond Caroline’s curiosity. I enjoyed how Penner adeptly designed two entirely different worlds and brought them together. The Last Apothecary was a beguiling work of historical fiction that moved quickly and broke my heart.

This title doesn’t hit the market until March 2, 2021 but you can preorder a copy for yourself today! My thanks to the wonderful team at Harlequin for sharing this title with me in advance.

The Lost Apothecary : A Novel 
Sarah Penner
On Sale Date: March 2, 2021
ISBN 9780778311010, 0778311015

Book Review & Blog Tour: The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

It’s no secret that I have an affinity for WWII novels. Looking across at a small cubby on my bookshelf and of the 16 titles in the stack, almost half take place in that era. One of the greatly anticipated historical winter releases from Harlequin just so happens to take place on the Channel Islands during Nazi occupation. The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat has romance, takes place in WWII, features remarkable gutsy women, and is based on a true story?!?! Count me in!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
An extraordinary story of human triumph against impossible odds

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands–the only part of Great Britain to be occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies, and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more–this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight wIth the help of her friends and community–and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle, neighbors turn on neighbors, and Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice.

MY THOUGHTS:
I didn’t find this novel to be an epic swept away whirlwind tale with danger and daring around every corner – you know the type, I mean. However, I loved the “every day” feel of The Girl From the Channel Islands – we were flies on the wall while the characters went about life, however miserable or mundane or dangerous it was in any given scene.

It made me ponder what it would be like to lose everything and then to fall in love with the supposed enemy. I was also struck by the reminder of how unfair war was to everyone involved – not all Germans were evil, not all serving on the front were evil, the Allies were guilty of their own sins, and war is just horrible (an understatement, I know) all the way around.

The romance felt secondary to the primary story arc, but was a very elemental detail in Hedy’s decisions. I offer a content warning for a few scenes. Hedy, Kurt, Dorothea, and Anton were all just very ordinary, offering their own subtle resistances as they struggled for survival. The devastation to the island (and islanders) of Jersey was visible, the thread or hum of danger while eking out a meager existence palpable, the uncertainty and fear and hunger felt in the captivating tale. I particularly enjoyed that this gave a “fresh face” to the WWII historical romance, transporting us to a seldom explored location in this era and telling a unique aspect of the story.

I was slightly disappointed in the ending, but I don’t want to offer any spoilers so I will leave you with this. If you have questions about what happened next, or want to read more about the novel and the key players, check out this article from The Times of Israel. A quick Google search and I have more information then I will ever need! In a nutshell, this was a moving tale of simple bravery, ordinary people living with extraordinary courage, and the resiliency of humanity when balanced with compassion and friendship.

My thanks to our friends at Harlequin for sharing an Advanced Readers Copy with me! If you pick up a copy for yourself or have read the previously released version, Hedy’s War (UK edition), let me know if you agree with my take. This title releases next week (February 2nd) and will be available through all major booksellers (although I encourage you to order through your favourite local bookstore!)

THE GIRL FROM THE CHANNEL ISLANDS 
Author: Jenny Lecoat
ISBN: 9781525806414
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House Books