New Release Book Review: The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair

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I finished this book just before midnight, I couldn’t make myself put it down, to be continued another day just wasn’t going to happen, this book just had to be finished. It was brilliant, it left me with tears in my eyes, both happy tears and sad tears. What a remarkable story Alli Sinclair has weaved together in The Codebreakers. The amount of research that has gone into this novel is monumental and as with another wonderful Australian historical fiction novel, The Land Girls by Victoria Purman, this is a story about women and their courage and adaptability during the most trying times. A story that needed to be told, of secrets that have been kept for far too many years. Of the women who helped win the war and save countless lives.

The characters in this novel were so fully realised that it was easy to believe they were real people, to forget that it was fiction, that the author was telling the real story of these men and women is easy to believe.

Ellie, already working for the war effort as an engineer at Qantas, is recruited by Central Bureau to help crack codes, this is a highly secret division, especially for the women who work there and I could feel the internal war that Ellie waged trying to keep her job from her friends and family, it is not a situation I ever hope to find myself in.

I loved the friendships and relationships that Ellie developed, I especially loved her childhood friend Louis, what a fabulous friend to have. I loved her landlady Mrs Handley, if there was ever a mother substitute, she is the person you would want, and her friend Florry. The friendships she made with the girls in the Central Bureau were strong ones, that were sadly severed after the war. That would have been hard, losing the only people who knew what you’d been through.

So many people lost friends, lovers, husbands, sons during this time, that the urge to collapse in dispair must’ve been strong, yet everyone soldiered on, doing what had to be done and getting by the best they could.

There is a scene maybe two thirds of the way in where I had to stop and listen to one of my favourite songs.

It fit so perfectly with the story.

This was a fantastic read, which I highly recommend, full of many emotions and uncovering a long hidden history of the women who helped in the war.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for a digital copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

New Release Book Review and Excerpt: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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This was such an interesting concept that I was immediately drawn to wanting to read The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. A dual timeline novel, 1791 and the present day, these two stories are brought together when Caroline, our present-day character who once had dreams of being a historian and who has just found out her husband has cheated on her. Travelling on her own to London, she goes mudlarking (a term I’d never heard of before) and finds a small glass vial hidden in the mud of the Thames. This, in turn, leads her to investigate where it came from and in turn uncover a 200-year-old mystery.

Interspersed with Caroline’s story is Nella’s story, an apothecary who now also trades in poison for women wronged by men. And Eliza’s story, a young 12-year-old girl sent to Nella to get some poison on behalf of her mistress. Eliza is extremely fascinated with what it is that Nella does and when the chance comes to find out more, she does everything she can learn and understand the whats and the whys.

I admit to finding Nella and Eliza’s story in 1791, more interesting for most of the book, I didn’t really get much of a feel for Caroline for the majority of the story, until maybe the last third, where I just had to know how things were going to turn out for her.

Nella and Eliza make an unlikely pair, as they are thrown together, despite Nella’s misgivings, their story becomes a tangled tail of murder, vengeance and mystery.

As Caroline delves into the mystery of the vial, she finds that she is starting to discover a part of herself that has been forgotten, through marriage and expectations, and has some big decisions to make about her future and that of her marriage. I have to say, her husband was a right piece of work and I was hoping she would be strong and make decisions based on her needs and not his wants.

I had heard of poison being used to kill off people who had wronged you or who were in the way, obviously way back in the past, before we had testing for such substances, so I found it quite fascinating and I had no idea as to the extent that this kind of thing was used.

This was a very enjoyable read, thanks to HarperCollins Publishers for providing me with a digital copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

Read below for an excerpt.

The Lost Apothecary cover - FINAL

 

Excerpt

Nella

February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying f lame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books. 

The Lost Apothecary : A Novel by Sarah Penner

On Sale Date: March 2, 2021

About the Book:

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

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, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

About the Author:

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.sarahpenner.com/

Facebook: @SarahPennerAuthor            Instagram: @sarah_penner_author      

Twitter: @sl_penner

Buy Links:

Bookshop.org      IndieBound      Amazon      Amazon AU      Barnes & Noble      Audible

Apple Books      Kobo      Google Play      Books-A-Million      Target      Libro.fm

 

 

New Release Book Review: Billings Better Bookshop and Brasserie by Fin J Ross

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This was a delightfully quirky, feel-good novel, about a young girl who is amazing in every way, and brings joy and good fortune to those around her.

It did take me a few chapters to get into this story, there were many words at the beginning I didn’t know, (something the author doesn’t apologise for, saying we should all take the opportunity to learn new words) and I found it a little hard to get a rhythm going. But once the foundations of the story were set, I got swept up in the amazingness of Fidelia Knight, a child prodigy and an orphan who already knows far more than many adults, but who is living on the streets, fending for herself.

This was such a different kind of novel and so wonderfully uplifting and serendipitous, with the message we can all achieve great things and if we have the chance we should make sure we support others on their journey.

All of the main characters were just wonderful. Meeting and helping Jasper, the manager of Billings Better Bookstore was the catalyst for everything wonderful that happened throughout the novel. Mr Billings is the financier of everything that happens throughout, giving opportunities to Fidelia, Jasper and his wife, and two orphan boys who all become family to each other. The boys are wonderful companions and I enjoyed watching them grow and achieve.

What starts off as an opportunity to help Jasper make Billings Better Bookstore greater than Coles Book Arcade, becomes something so much bigger. Fidelia changes the lives of those around her with her imagination and her love of words as well as her positive outlook on life. I really enjoyed this novel.

Thanks to Clan Destine Press for a copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

 

#20backlistin2020 The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

I’ve had this to read since March, but that’s around the time everything was going haywire in the world and my life and I didn’t get the chance to read it. Natasha Lester’s novels are always brilliant, so I knew I’d have to read it at some point. I decided the only way it was going to get read this year is if I borrowed the audiobook from the library. I’m so glad that I finally made time to get to The Paris Secret.

This was another fabulous story, following two timelines, we follow Skye, Liberty, and Nicholas during childhood, then skipping to WWII where Skye is fighting for the right as a woman to fly planes and has a chance reincounter with Nicholas who she’d lost contact with for years, breaking her heart. I really enjoyed this storyline, what the women were subjected to in flying for the Air Transport Auxilary was just incredible, that they managed to do their job despite the extreme conditions they flew in, is beyond imagining.

I really loved Nicholas and Skye’s reunion and the deep connection they had between them even though there were barriers to them being together. Secrets abound due to wartime events and all the characters will face unbelievable odds to survive, many won’t, and many of the things these brave men and women did for the cause have been forgotten or ignored, especially the women’s role in the war.

In the present timeline, we meet Kat, a fashion conservator who discovers her grandmother not only owns a house in Cornwall but that it’s wardrobes are full of priceless Dior gowns. This is the start of uncovering big secrets that have been kept hidden for 50+ years. When she is contacted by Elliot, a historical biographer, the mystery deepens and the past will be exposed.

As the story unfolded and Skye’s story is told and Kat and Elliot uncover the past, I was kept guessing who had survived the war and who Kat’s grandmother actually was. A wonderful novel, that kept me listening and reading until the end.

#20backlistin2020

 

New Release Book Review: The Charleston Scandal by Pamela Hart.

The Charleston ScandalI have several of Pamela Hart’s novels on my shelf waiting to be read and I’m looking forward to getting to them at some point.

Pamela Hart’s newest novel is set in the 1920s involving a young actress, Kit, who has come to London from Australia to follow her dream. Kit comes from a well-to-do family and through her upbringing has taken on the views of the aristocracy, where class is important and people below your class aren’t as good as you are. While I liked Kit, I didn’t love her, I could see she struggled to find who she was and where she belonged in this new world, but it took her a long time to fully realise that the class system was systemically wrong and to make a decision to follow her heart.

I did love Zeke, a young man from Canada who has, just as Kit has, come to London to be on stage, while at the same time running from his past and supporting his mother financially. Zeke was a lovely guy, who was down to earth and completely loyal to Kit and his friends. He struggled with his feelings, believing himself to be not of the right social class for Kit. I really felt for him in his struggle.

The Scandal that happens between Kit and the Prince, was so innocuous it was hard to fathom that the palace would make such a big thing of it, but I guess that’s royalty, or at least it was back then. I didn’t like the way kit was forced to pretend to be stepping out with Lord Henry, who I didn’t like much at all. Being pulled into this social scene even further only made Kit’s struggle with who she was and where she fit in harder to work out.

I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the acting and dancing scene in the 1920s, it was also fun seeing the social scene that they got to be part of, Fred and Adele Astair and Noel Coward and the friendships they forged, I’d of loved to have been a part of that scene. The way the titled people behaved was not a surprise, but I would never want to be a part of that scene.

An enjoyable read full of decisions and dilemmas. I hoped all the way through that Kit would make the right decisions and see how wonderful Zeke was.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for a digital copy of this novel in return for an honest review.