The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – Book Review

At first glance, I could tell this book was right up my alley. Badass women, trips down deep back corridors of the darkened streets of historic London, and a bit of a mystery to sweeten the pot. As for the cover, I adore the blend of colors, the font, the aura of mystery. I’m intrigued by stories with dual timelines, though this can become tricky if one is more well executed than the other, so I’m generally wary. It didn’t hurt that this book is a very short read, as I’m woefully behind on my reading goal.


The Lost Apothecary follows three women. In present-day London, we find American tourist Caroline Parcewell, a distraught escapee who fled to London prompted by the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. What was supposed to be a romantic anniversary getaway became a journey to figure out where it all went wrong. However, freed from the shackles of marital obligation, Caroline finds herself making her own choices and taking daring risks for the first time in years, driven only by her own curiosity and thirst for knowledge. An impromptu bout of mudlarking, a concept I found fascinating, led her to an old vial stamped with the mark of a bear. Caroline finds herself drawn to the relic and sets off on a historical scavenger hunt to uncover the truth about her find, a truth that could lead to this unsuspecting tourist unmasking a serial killer from a century ago. Juxtaposed with Caroline’s story, we are presented with Nella, an apothecary in London in 1791, as she reaches a pinnacle moment in her life as an aid to womankind as they battle the evils put upon them by men. When a young girl named Eliza Fanning steps into her shop, Nella finds herself at a precipice that will decide not just the fate of her business, but the life or death fate that awaits her on the other side of a harrowing chain of events.


If you’re looking for a good mystery, this isn’t really the book for you. I won’t say there aren’t any twists and turns, because there’s at least one WTF moment. From the very beginning, we know the identity of the apothecary killer. It’s our job to follow Caroline on her quest. Honestly, it’s not so much a quest to find cool history and unmask a killer, though that part is quite interesting. The real backbone of this story is the journey of self discovery. When we first meet Caroline she’s not just despondent about her marriage. Upon self reflection through the lens of grief, she’s finally reached a point in which she doesn’t recognize the woman she’s become. She used to have a passion for history and literature. After many years of settling, she’s slowly chipped away at the aspects of her personality that used to define her. Upon uncovering the worst of betrayals, she’s come to consider what it was all for and whether she can reclaim a small part of that beautiful spirit that’s eroded over the passing years. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I don’t identify with Caroline. I, too, have had those moments where I wonder just exactly how I got pushed so off course of my planned trajectory. Unfortunately for me, my rescue won’t be as simple as stumbling upon a mysterious vial that washes from the bottom of the Thames.

While I did identify with part of Caroline’s story, I didn’t find hers near as compelling as that of Nella and Eliza. Part of that is more rooted in the fact that I just find historical fiction more compelling in general, especially this time period in Great Britain from the late 1700’s to mid-1800’s. That’s why I have such a love for literature from that time. It’s a nostalgia for a moment I didn’t actually live through, so I do it vicariously through literature and film. This was a period of great progress but also one in which many people dealt with great pain, especially women. Also, nothing about Caroline’s story was really that surprising, except for one detail later on which wound up being a bit anti-climactic. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that part. I don’t do spoilers, so I’m just going to allow you to be confused. If you’ve already read it, I hope you know what I’m talking about. It felt like a very contrived way to make a connection between the two timelines, and I’m not sure that was necessary. The true connection of the story was lecherous bastards and the women who have to put up with their abuse.

On a more serious note, this is a story about women who don’t know the bounds of their own strength and perseverance until they are tested. That’s the part of the story I enjoyed the most. The theme of the enduring power of women throughout history. The specifics may change, but women, in general, still deal with obstacles that test the bounds of our endurance. Thankfully for the men of the world, it’s no longer really necessary to kill them. That part is totally optional. 😉

Overall, I thought this was a pretty enjoyable but fairly standard read in the genre. There was a bit of squandered potential, but overall I did enjoy it. Though I was initially pleased to find this to be a quick read for productivity sake, I do often think a book could have been longer. This is, perhaps, one of those. Strengthen the character development and paint that beautiful portrait of the city so I can immerse myself in it. As a whole, I thought the pacing of the narrative was effective. I never got bogged down with any details. In truth, if a reader gets bored with such a short read, it was pretty shoddily executed. Not the case with this one. It’s definitely an attention grabber, though there’s nothing really that will stick with me long term. As for format, I listened to this one and was very excited to find a brand new book on Hoopla. Hooray! At a little over 10 hours, I moved through it in a couple of days. It’s narrated well by Lorna Bennett, Lauren Anthony and Lauren Irwin. However, Bennett has a much more relaxed pacing to her narration. So, depending on your reading speed (mine is usually at 1.25x), there’s a pretty drastic difference between Bennett (I preferred hers) and the other two. I kept the speed the same without toggling it back and forth, as that would have become irksome quite quickly.

Considering all factors, I give this one a 3.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pub. date: Mar 2 2021 by Harlequin Audio; ISBN: 1488210764; Runtime 10 hrs, 18 min.


About Amy @ A Librarian and Her Books

I'm a law librarian from the state of Missouri and a graduate of Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia. My real passion is in fiction, which is why I started my blog to share my thoughts with other bibliophiles. I live with my husband and two wonderful children and a collection of furry feline companions.
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13 Responses to The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – Book Review

  1. Louise says:

    Sorry to see you didn’t love this one as much as you could have. I haven’t read this one yet even though I actually preordered it and everything lol! I do think I will like it but there are just not enough hours in a day are there? I hope you enjoy your next read a bit more!

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  4. Doug Goodman says:

    It’s on my wait list at the library.

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