By Sarah Penner
Published March 2021
Present day – Caroline arrives in London for her ten-year anniversary trip – alone. Only days before, her marriage imploded and she took the opportunity to flee from her problems and regroup. On a whim, she joins a tour of people mudlarking on the Thames river and discovers a small, blue vial with a bear etched on the side. She sets out to discover the origins of the bottle and not only uncovers a 200-year-old mystery, but also unburies parts of herself she’d hidden away.
1791 – Nella runs her apothecary shop with the same dedication to helping women that her mother believed in. The only difference between them is that Nella also provides vengeance to these women, in the form of poison. But as her health fails, her luck also runs out after the death of a lord prompts a murder investigation that points to her as the killer.
I don’t think this book needs more than a short summary, since it’s been widely read. In fact, I picked it up in an attempt to catch up on Goodread’s top books for 2021, plus I can’t resist a good time-slip novel. However, this may be the last “best of” I pursue since I think it fell victim to over-hype, just like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (which I posted a few days ago.) Also like Addie LaRue, other reviews are mixed with some people loving this book and some people taking a “meh” approach. I mentioned at work that I’d just finished reading The Lost Apothecary and two of my coworkers immediately exclaimed, “I loved that book!” While not a bad book and a really good debut, I won’t be making the same exclamation about it.
First, what I liked. Both stories are as interesting and well-presented as the other. The premise is intriguing and I love a good historical mystery. Did I mention it’s well-written? It is, I don’t want to take that away from the author. But it’s not going to be my favorite for the year.
**This part contains spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, you may want to skip this paragraph.** I finished this book with too many questions but I’ll only present a few. Why would Caroline pursue an advanced degree in literature when her thesis is a historical mystery? Wasn’t her husband’s affair enough to make her leave the marriage? Was it necessary to have him poison himself on purpose? In the other timeline, Nella’s body was shutting down, whether it was from rheumatoid arthritis, TB, or karma from dispensing poison for two decades, I’m not sure. So how is she still alive decades later? Also, the outcome for both main characters felt a bit too easy.
If you skipped the above paragraph, it’s safe to read again because my last point has to do with structure, and I realize this is where I differ from the majority of readers, since I doubt many people would notice this. Every good book should follow certain plot points and beats that fall at established times in the story (unless the genre is literary, then anything goes). This one does but each timeline seemed to follow the exact same beats. What I mean is, when one story arced up, the other one arced up. They rolled along in tandem. Granted, I didn’t take the time to plot this out on a beat sheet, but that was my impression and personally, I prefer for the stories to find their own way without mirroring each other.
To wrap up, I was a bit disappointed, but my expectations started out very high. I’ll probably stick mostly with novels that look intriguing but I have no prior knowledge of – and that aren’t already being hyped up.
I rated this novel three stars. ⭐⭐⭐
Until next time, thank you for visiting.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.
If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.Rudyard Kipling