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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Aqua Tofana: A Review of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

Oh my god, I’ve found another book that’s going to be on the Best of 2023 list. We’re not even halfway through the year yet! Huge thank you goes out to my friends who told me they’d beat me up if I didn’t read this book when I asked for recommendations; love you guys!

So what book did my friends tell me I needed to read? Please welcome to the stage The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner!

Book cover of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

Also! I have a new Books&Lewks for you!

Makeup look inspired by the cover of The Lost Apothecary.

This cover is so pretty that I couldn’t not create a look inspired by The Lost Apothecary. As always, you can see these creations on Twitter and Instagram first. Follow RHRML on Twitter, @RHRMLBlog, and Instagram, @ReadingHasRuinedMyLife, for makeup, book news, memes, and to see what I’ve been reading. We have fun there.

Now, The Lost Apothecary is an instant classic in my opinion. This 2021 novel is phenomenal and I’m currently kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. And with that I must bid you all adieu. This book slaps, highly recommend you all read it. I’ll see you next week with another new review.

Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all next week, bye!

Just kidding. I haven’t even told you what this book is about yet. So let’s get into that. As always, a spoiler alert is in order; you’ve been warned. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. This novel has mentions of physical abuse, gaslighting, sexual assault and rape. Please be aware of these topics before going into this book as they cannot be avoided and are very prevalent to the plot. Synopsis time now.

Our story begins in 1791 with the mysterious Nella. Nella’s inner monologue informs readers that she is involved with some shady shit; namely that she’s a murderer. While her own hands are fairly clean of bloodshed, she is the one providing women all over London with poisons to kill the abusive men in their lives. Whilst reading I could only think of one thing.

Aqua Tofana!

Before I continue on, I must include a link to Bailey Sarian’s Murder, Mystery & Makeup Monday video about Giulia Tofana. While I can’t say anything with certainty, I’m going to assume Nella is inspired by Giulia Tofana to an extent. And even if she’s not you can learn some interesting history. Back to the synopsis now.

Nella is making a poison for her latest client. Who this woman is she does not know, but she makes the poison without hesitation. You see, Nella works in the shadows. To the majority of the outside world, her shop appears to be nothing more than an abandoned building. To those desperate enough, they know better. Nella conducts her business through notes and cloak and dagger.

Enter Eliza, a 12-year-old girl working as a lady’s maid and who is at Nella’s shop to buy poison to use on her mistress’s husband. Don’t worry, this is all on her employer’s behalf. We can’t have 12-year-olds running around poisoning people now can we? But while at the shop, Eliza becomes enthralled with Nella’s world. So much so that she wants to become Nella’s apprentice. Soon she finds herself helping the aging apothecary craft her wares and stands by Nella’s side as the older woman becomes embroiled in scandal.


Cut to 230-years later. Our third main character, Caroline, finds herself alone in London, England. She’s supposed to be on an anniversary trip with her husband, but he’s a cheating piece of crap so Caroline is all by herself. It’s isolating at first. But she soon finds the adventure of a lifetime. An amateur historian, she joins a mudlarking group and comes across a glass bottle. An apothecary bottle.

A mystery presents itself and Caroline answers. It begins as just wanting to learn about the bottle she found, and it turns into unraveling the truth behind a 230-year-old murder. All three women are connected despite the years between them. All with a story to tell.

I! Love! This! Novel! That’s it. That’s the review. Read this book if you haven’t yet. It does not disappoint. I could gush about every teeny tiny aspect and detail of this novel. I will not simply to save us all a lot of time, but this will be a glowing review.

Pixel hearts.
I love this book.

I want to start with the structure of this novel. In all honesty, I’m getting really tired of novels that jump between two timelines. I read quite a lot of these types of novels cause it’s basically two stories in one, but I always tend to favor one story over the other; especially lately. In general, I’m bored of this structure and have grown quite tired of it. The Lost Apothecary changes that. Every moment in both the past and present is fully thought out, detailed, researched, and engrossing.

Seriously, this is a book you can read in one sitting. I did not want to put it down. It reads quickly without feeling super fast paced or rushed through. It keeps readers entertained to the point of losing track of time. Yes, I lost track of time while reading this book. I was fully engrossed and stayed up till two in the morning when I was in the middle of it.

Needless to say, this story is immersive. I found myself hidden away in the apothecary shop and on the icy banks of the Thames river. I felt the pain the main characters go through. I felt the goosebumps from not only the cold weather but from the chills of impending danger as well. This story is captivating. It’s clever. It’s slightly magical with a hint of gothic glory. It is escapism at its peak.

Woman sitting in front of window.
Footage of me reading this book day and night.

At this point, I want to turn the attention back to Caroline. Her story is a standout. She’s not just piecing together what happened to the apothecary 200-years ago, she is on a journey of rediscovering herself. For over ten-years, she’s done the safe thing; the things that society expects her to do as a woman. She’s gotten married, bought a house, taken a secure but boring job she doesn’t like, put her dreams and ambitions on hold for her husband, and at the start of the novel, she’s been trying for a baby. Caroline has lost herself. It’s a story that many, if not everyone, can relate to in some way. While piecing together the events of the past may come across as the bigger, more important, more exciting story, Caroline’s personal troubles is not a story to be forgotten about.

Overall this a beautifully haunting tale that will keep you going till the very end. The Lost Apothecary is a read I didn’t want to be over, and is one I wish I could remove from my memory so I can read it again for the first time. Absolutely breathtaking.

With that, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with a super special review.

Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!


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