By Sarah Penner
(301 pages, mystery, 2021)
The story starts in London in February 1791. Nella Clavinger learned from her mother to be an apothecary, how to use herbs, plants and other natural ingredients to help women with all kinds of sicknesses and ailments. But her mother dies, and when Nella is horribly betrayed by her lover she turns to also making poisons. Nella will not give out poison to harm another woman, only a man who is hurting or threatening a woman.
Twelve-year-old Eliza Fanning arrives at Nella’s shop with a mission from her mistress. Eliza is to get poison to kill the husband of her mistress. He is preying on the female household staff.
Present day: Caroline Parcewell shows up on her dream trip to London to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary alone. Right before the trip, Caroline discovers that her husband James had an affair with a coworker and Caroline is devastated. Caroline and James have been trying for a baby, but now Caroline isn’t sure that she wants to have a baby with James, or wants anything to do with him. She needs time and to be alone. On a whim, she joins a mudlarking group on the River Thames. They are looking in the mud for valuables, old rings or coins, items with some history. Caroline finds an old light blue bottle with an image of a bear on it. And this starts a journey for Caroline. With the help of the resourceful Gaynor from the British Library, Caroline discovers that this was a medicine bottle. She starts exploring historical documents, trying to find the back alley where the mysterious apothecary worked. Along the way, Caroline rediscovers her joy of researching, and finds her voice.
The mystery goes back and forth between the stories of the three women. It is interesting to see how their lives intersect as the story unfolds. Read this book for its interesting premise, its descriptions of the different plants, herbs, and potions, and for the fascinating friendships between the women.
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