Weekend Reads: “The Lost Apothecary”

The Lost ApothecaryThe Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not even sure where to begin with this exceptional dual-timeline novel. In 1791, apothecary Nella has devoted her life to helping women, whether with their own ailments or ridding them of problems of all sorts — especially abusive or philandering husbands.

In the present day, aspiring historian Caroline has come to London to sort her thoughts about her ailing marriage. On a whim, she decides to go mudlarking … and finds a glass vial with, unbeknownst to Caroline, ties to Nella’s shop. Caroline decides to research the little vial, and learns more than she bargained for.

This is an exquisitely-researched book about women’s roles, herbal medicine (including poisons) and 18th C. social mores, as well as a look at the complexities of human nature and how little of *that* has changed over time.

That I read such a lengthy novel in just two nights is telling; I did not want to put it down. There are some serious twists and turns in the modern-day portion of the book that keep the reader wondering what could possibly happen next. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “The Last Bookshop in London”

The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War IIThe Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II by Madeline Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grace and Viv come up from Drayton to London, with plans to have a glamorous life. Viv, with a letter of reference in-hand, goes to work at Harrods. Grace, who worked in her uncle’s store, has no reference … but one of the local booksellers, Mr. Evans, agrees to take her on at Primrose Hill Books. The problem is, she’s not much of a reader. George, a handsome patron of the shop, gives her recommendations.

Soon, though, as Grace reorganizes the shop, it’s WWII … and everything changes. George is called up, and Viv volunteers for one of the women’s corps and goes away. Grace becomes a rescue volunteer, going out at night to help during the Blitz or reading aloud from the books she’s coming to love to those gathered in the Tube stations by night.

We also see the tribulations in Grace’s boarding house and neighborhood, and get to know the fancier bookstores just a few blocks away from Grace’s little shop.

The book is based on an amalgamation of the few bookstores that survived the Blitz. The characters are believable, and I came to care and worry about them. There were both smiles and tears as I read. Grace learns a lot about herself and others throughout the pages and, in true hero’s journey fashion, is irrevocably changed by the end of the book.

Madeline Martin has clearly done her homework in order write so vividly about life in London during WWII. Even those for whom the era is not a specific/especial interest are sure to enjoy this tale of a community that grows up in adversity around the little book shop. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “The Bone Code”

The Bone Code (Temperance Brennan, #20)The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of the Temperance Brennan novels, and this latest edition is a great example.

Tempe is assigned to a case with two sets of remains in a medical container, which wash up on the shore after a storm. She’s immediately reminded of a similar case in Canada, her other jurisdiction, fifteen years previously. The condition of the skeletons is similar, and so is the way they were discarded.

In the meanwhile, she’s also trying to help an older woman locate a missing twin sister … and help her friend Anne through a crisis.

Plus, Tempe’s boyfriend Andrew, now retired from the police and working as a PI, has a case that may be related … and someone has him in their sights. Literally.

As with all of the Brennan novels, this is a solid fair-play puzzle with a significant thriller element. I didn’t really see the “whodunnit” coming, but it was all laid out. Throw in a subplot about a fictional pandemic (although COVID is referenced, that’s not it) brewing in Tempe’s area, and you have a lot to work through.

It’s worth every minute I stayed up too late reading.

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Bonus Weekend Read: “Pompeii: A Captivating Guide”

Hi, everyone. From time to time, I like to give readers a peek into my research process. Here’s a book I read recently while working on Pompeii Fire.

Pompeii: A Captivating Guide to the City in Ancient Rome That Was Buried Because of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius during the Rule of the Roman EmpirePompeii: A Captivating Guide to the City in Ancient Rome That Was Buried Because of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius during the Rule of the Roman Empire by Captivating History
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little book is an excellent overview of Pompeii, ranging in subject matter from topography to daily life. It is three years old, so it lacks some of the latest discoveries. However, author Matt Clayton still did a good job of introducing the ancient city and its destruction.

Clayton cites numerous Roman historians, including Suetonius and Cassius Dio, in the text. He also includes numerous photographs to help bring the text to life.

I would call this a good starting place rather than a definitive work, but it’s still worth reading.

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Weekend Reads: “What Girls Are Good For”

What Girls Are Good For: A Novel of Nellie BlyWhat Girls Are Good For: A Novel of Nellie Bly by David Blixt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been fascinated by Nellie Bly for decades. Maybe it’s because my own (eventually realized) ambition was to be a newspaper reporter. Maybe it’s because she was such an iconoclast. In any event, the interest was there.

I heard author David Blixt speak during the Historical Novel Society conference and decided to grab his book. I’m glad I did; his narrative style in giving voice to Nellie is delightful. We get a good look at Nellie’s life as she remembers things that happened in her childhood, and as she gets her feet wet reporting on various social issues.

Blixt relied heavily on two books I’ve read (10 Days in a Madhouse and Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World) for his sourcing, but was also able to obtain newspaper clippings and other primary source documents to fill in around the edge and present a set of characters who are well-rounded and believable.

The culminating event of the book is Bly’s stay on Blackwell Island and thus the work does not address her around-the-world journey. Honestly, it doesn’t need to. It’s full and complete, engaging, well-written, and jam-packed with historical detail.

Highly recommended.

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