Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

This book was a pick for the book club that I help coordinate at work. It was chosen by one of our members and I was looking forward to reading it because it sounds exactly like my kind of book! 

The story is about a female apothecary named Nella from 1790's London who dispenses poisons to women to use on the men in their lives that have hurt them. The apothecary only helps women to hurt men, and she keeps a register that she records the names of the women and their victims, along with what she gave them to do the job. 

We go along with Nella when she meets a 12 year old girl who's been sent on an errand to retrieve one of the remedies. The two form a friendship of sorts, but sets of a series of events that threatens the shop, and everyone who's listed in the register. 

The story also follows present day Caroline as she spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone in London. She comes across an old apothecary bottle on her trip and goes down the rabbit hole researching the shop and the "apothecary murders". 

I liked the premise of the story, of course. After all, I greatly enjoy murder mysteries and everything to do with them. I also enjoyed both of the timelines. I think they meshed well together and it was interesting to see the similarities between women in the 1790's and women today. Many of the same problems still exist, especially when it comes to men!

This book was shorter than I expected and I finished it all in one sitting. I read it so quickly because I wanted more from this story. I was so drawn in by the premise and the idea of a murderous apothecary that I was expecting a much more nuanced and deep book. 

Caroline was not my favourite character by far. She's in London alone on her 10th wedding anniversary because her husband cheated. The author did a good job of creating the husband as someone we all want to hate, but didn't do enough to give us a wife we could really sympathize with. Many of the reasons Caroline's marriage came to this was down to her choices.

I also felt while Caroline was researching the apothecary that in order to keep the story going, the author just made it super easy for her to complete her research. The additional characters the author threw in that help Caroline along, didn't feel like anything other than plot devices. They felt unreal. If you are going to write me a story that can happen today with actual people, then include things that could really happen. 

I am hesitant to go into any more details on the story because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. I will say, there was a moment where I got really angry at the book but my anger was short lived in that instance, for which I am grateful. 

Had this book not beed a pick for my work's book club, I may have skimmed it instead of reading it fully because while I enjoyed parts, there were parts I could have done without. 

Recommendations: This isn't a wow book. It's okay. If you wanted to read this, please do. It's not one I would condemn into the depths of book jail but it's not one deserving of high praise either in my opinion. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

This book was a binge read if I ever saw one! I finished this one sunny afternoon, totally drawn into the story. 

This novel is inspired by Bolivian politics and history (which is a topic I know nothing about). In reading this, we are transported to another world, one with two sides of peoples who are struggling for control of their country. There's a revolution brewing and it comes down to the main character Ximena and what choices she will make. 

Having said that, there's also magic in this story. Ximena is able to spin moonlight into thread. Other characters have gifts too that come into play throughout the book. 

Of course, what would a revolution story be without a little bit of romance. I adored that part of the story. It was just enough that it kept me on the edge of my seat rooting for them to overcome all the adversity and be together. As this is a young adult novel, the romance was not explicit or inappropriate which I greatly appreciated. 

I greatly enjoyed the world building, the mythology, the use of other languages interspersed in the story and the atmosphere the author created. The descriptions of the scenery, the colours, the food. It was a whole experience.

One of the other things I greatly enjoyed was the use of other languages in the story, sometimes without an immediate explanation of what the word meant. Some of the words are simple to figure out based on context and I liked how they were added in. I may be in the minority in this though!

This book stood out in my mind because it just felt different reading it. Sure, it has the same elements that a lot of books (especially young adult fantasy) all have, but I haven't read anything quite like it before.

While writing this review I went over to Goodreads to refresh my memory of the story. I found a lot of comments regarding the history and politics that this novel was inspired by and many of the comments were not good. While I admittedly know nothing about Bolivian politics and history, I want to note that those who are more familiar with them feel that this book draws on racial stereotypes. Some have also said the author included the mythology to fetishize the exotic qualities of the people. Many have explained that author also put the so called "good" people as the colonizers and the "bad" people were the indigenous people of Bolivia. If it was written instead about Canadians or Americans and the Indigenous people, it would have been obvious to everyone the problematic nature of the story.  

While there is a realization moment, a change of perspective, and move in the right direction in this story, for many it's not enough to cover up the damage done in the rest of the book. 

As readers, we sometimes forget that stories aren't just stories. Sometimes they are pure fiction, and other times they are inspired by pain and suffering of a race of people. I think instead of asking "was this a good story?" we might want to instead ask "was this something that should have been written?". The answer won't always be "no" but the conversation that comes with that question is an important one. 

Recommendations: I won't tell you to read this, but I won't tell you not to either. While I did enjoy the story before I was aware of problems, I urge anyone interested in this book to look into it a bit more before you decide.