The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is one of the hottest debut novels of the year. The book blends history with mystery in a story about secrets, revenge and the bonds between women. The tale begins in 18th century London where a hidden apothecary shop in a back alley draws desperate women in search of help. Nella provides women cleverly-disguised potions to be used against oppressive and abusive men.
The shop rules are that the potions cannot be used to harm other women and each customer is documented in a ledger to record the deed. When a wealthy, powerful woman pushes Nella into breaking her own code, the consequences echo through the centuries.
In present-day London an aspiring historian is spending her 10th wedding anniversary alone after discovering her husband’s betrayal. On a whim she tries out mudlarking, an opportunity to sift through the mud and silt from the river Thames to see what might be hidden in the muck. She finds an old vial inscribed with a bear. This sends her on a search for more information that may finally uncover long-buried secrets.
You have the opportunity to meet Sarah Penner during a virtual author visit on Thu, May 6, at 7pm. Register for the Zoom link. Penner will talk about her book, her research and her journey. You’ll also have a chance to ask her questions. Settle into your comfiest chair with a tasty beverage and tune in by computer or phone. Joining virtual events is easy. Give us a call 785-580-4400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about how to join in the fun.
You can check out The Lost Apothecary instantly on audiobook through Hoopla with no holds. Or while you wait for your print or ebook copy, check out these stories of magic, women and history Penner recommends to keep you turning the pages.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Penner recommends any work by Alice Hoffman for its magic and strong women. Practical Magic is one of my favorites. For more than 200 years residents in their Massachusetts town have blamed the Owens women for everything that has gone wrong. As children sisters Gillian and Sally Owens were forever outsiders who were taunted, talked about and pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house, exotic concoctions and crowd of black cats.
All Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. However, their bonds will bring them back—almost as if by magic. Practical Magic is available on Hoopla with no waiting as an audiobook.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves and it is only open at night.
Behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love. This sets off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
In the depths of a 19th century winter, a little girl is abandoned on the streets of Victorian London. She grows up to become a thief, an artist’s muse and a lover. In the summer of 1862, shortly after her 18th birthday, she travels with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a bend of the Upper Thames. Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gunshot rings out. A woman is killed, another disappears and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time. More than a century later another young woman is drawn to Birchwood Manor and its secrets are finally revealed.
Told by multiple voices across time, this is an intricately layered, richly atmospheric novel about art and passion, forgiveness and loss. This story shows us sometimes the way forward is through the past.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers and some of them are quite dark.
Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again. However, as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? To whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.
Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. The return of a lost child is not without complications. No matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Dr. Faraday is the son of a maid who built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician. One postwar summer in rural Warwickshire he visits a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. This has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. The Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is in decline with crumbling masonry, gardens full of weeds, and the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at 8:40. The home’s owners — mother, son and daughter — are struggling to keep pace with a changing society. Are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.