*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Lost Apothecary, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas, and discussion questions in that order!
The Lost Apothecary is Sarah Penner’s debut novel. A dual-timeline story split between present day and late 1700s London, it is one of my favorite novels of the year.
The split timeline along with plenty of tension made for a fun and fast read. Despite feeling like it was a quick read, the characters were well-developed and complex. And the plot was well-crafted and satisfying.
In present day, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell finds herself broken-hearted and on her ten-year anniversary trip alone. When she stumbles upon a rare bottle on the Thames, it propels her on a journey to discover the bottle’s origins and the dark purpose it once held.
In 1790s London, an apothecary who aids troubled women is unexpectedly undermined by her newest patron, a meddling twelve-year-old, and the consequences will echo through their lives and to the present day.
Due to the dual-timeline, the book is told by Caroline and the apothecary, Nella, but a third voice, that of the twelve-year-old, is also included. I really enjoyed all three narrators and was glad for the addition.
In fact, the multiple narrators, setting, theme, and period all reminded me of another recent novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The Exiles is Christina Baker Kline’s (The Orphan Train) fabulous novel about the women convicts who were shipped to Australia to serve their sentence. I wrote a full post about the book HERE. If you’re looking for a similar read after enjoying The Lost Apothecary, check it out.
Like The Exiles, I also loved the way The Lost Apothecary centered on female relationships and how women have gone to great lengths to help one another in the past and continue to do so in the present.
I’ve provided book club questions and delicious food ideas for The Lost Apothecary, so if you are looking for book club ideas and more, keep reading!
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Here’s a brief summary of The Lost Apothecary:
From the Publisher: “Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries. Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive. With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.”
For the Lost Apothecary Activity Idea:
Caroline comes to London defeated and looking for clarity. She finds something she doesn’t expect, both literally and figuratively. Encourage the group to bring an artifact or family heirloom that has led them to a discovery or ignited a new passion.
Display the items on a table alongside index cards explaining the item and what it led the owner to discover or share the stories aloud with the group if time allows!
For The Lost Apothecary Food Ideas:
For The Lost Apothecary, I really think you could get quite creative with food ideas for your book club meeting. If you aren’t feeling the “poison” eggs covered in gravy, fig liquer (sans the poision) would be hit, I’m sure.
Or, anything heavy with herbs would probably be a great choice. Maybe a crushed beetle or two? (Just kidding.)
Here are a few of the food ideas from the pages of The Lost Apothecary:
- Chapter 5 – Nella gives Eliza poisoned eggs for her master
- Chapter 7 – Eliza reminisces arriving in London – hot almond-cherry buns – and cooks eggs covered in gravy
- Chapter 15- Nella and Eliza go beetle hunting – cheese and bread
- Chapter 16 – James comes to London – pasta and Chianti
- Chapter 20 – Lady Clarence serves her husband’s mistress a fig liqueur
- Chapter 21 – Caroline meets Gaynor for coffee – raspberry croissant
- Chapter 30- Gaynor brings Caroline a turkey sandwich, Caesar salad and chocolate chip cookie at the hospital
- Chapter 32- Caroline discovers the last entry – pad Thai
- Rosemary Butter Biscuit Cookies (in Recipes at the end of the book)
While there are several foods mentioned from the present timeline, it would also be fun to do a little research and find 18th century recipes or popular foods to serve at the meeting.
And, of course, there are several recipes at the end of the book — just make sure you serve the edible ones!
Whether you choose something from this list or try your own option, I hope these food ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for The Lost Apothecary!
The Lost Apothecary Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Nella writes down the names of the women to remember their place in history. Over and over, the importance of remembering the lives of women that history will forget is reiterated. Yet, at the end of the book Caroline chooses to keep Eliza’s story to herself rather than sharing it. How did you feel about this?
- Nella uses her tinctures to help women in trouble, but she’s surprised when Lady Clarence wants help. Why do you think that is? What reasons would prevent an upper class woman from using an apothecary like Nella?
- Caroline comes to London defeated and looking for clarity. She finds something she doesn’t expect, both literally and figuratively. Have you ever found a historical artifact that led you to a discovery or ignited a new passion?
- What did you think of Nella? Was she an advocate for women or a murderer? Is there ever a time when the lines are blurred?
- How did you feel about James? Why do you think it took Caroline ten years to see his true character? Do you think they get back together?
- Caroline has a full itinerary when she arrives in London, but she decides instead to detour to an unexpected activity. Do you think vacation should be scheduled or open to whatever experiences arise? If time allows, share one of your unexpected vacation adventures that turned out to be a favorite.
- What did you think of Eliza? Did you think she was a foolish child or someone who knew what she wanted?
- What do you think happened after Nella drank Eliza’s magick potion?
- Caroline and Gaynor are both fascinated with the everyday happenings and people of history. Do you gravitate towards wanting to know more about ordinary historical lives or the “great” men and women of the past? Why?
- Discuss the structure of the book. Did you like the dual timeline? The length? Was there anything that pleasantly surprised you?
Have you read The Lost Apothecary? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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