The Lost Apothecary

 The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I thought the premise was interesting and could have made for a good story, but there were too many things that didn't add up.

The story follows an eighteenth century apothecary, Nella, who once ran a legitimate business but now dispenses poisons to women wanting to be rid of their troublesome men. Once betrayed by her own husband, her revenge is "helping" other women in similar circumstances. She feels no compunction about killing, having only one hard and fast rule: the poison is never to be used to harm another woman. It feels like we're meant to admire the women-supporting-women theme, but all the murdering makes that a hard sell.

Twelve year old Eliza comes to Nella's door one day shopping for poison as blithely as if she were buying bread. She explains that at the request of her Mistress she is going to poison her Master and hopefully kill him. Other than being ok with murdering her employer she seems like a reasonably normal child, not the deeply disturbed one she'd have to be to accept her assignment so nonchalantly. It all seems very unlikely. 

Caroline is the present day narrator, in England alone on a trip meant be an anniversary celebration until her husband admitted to cheating on her. After finding one of Nella's old vials in the river and doing 'research' that really only amounted to a few words in Google, she locates the apothecary's shop in a back alley of London, where it has gone unnoticed by every other person who passed it for two hundred and thirty years. Again, unlikely. 

There were other things that didn't make sense. In one scene where Nella and Eliza are frantic to get away before they are caught and as the reader you're urging them to hurry, the action stops as Nella takes time to think about all the circumstances that brought her to this moment and what it all means. The reader is left hanging until she returns to the present and the hurrying starts again. And her pursuers - did they just stop and wait? There's also a Cambridge University situation that seemed improbable. There's little to convince readers that Caroline could be among the small percentage of applicants who get accepted into that elite institution. 

I know this book has gotten a lot of positive reviews, but it didn't work for me - too many loopholes. Disappointing.    

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

A wondrously wacky, bookish, sci-fi mystery that might strike you as odd at first, but if you can suspend your understanding of reality temporarily, it'll take you on quite a ride. Thursday Next (only the first of the curious character names) is a lady detective trying to identify the person causing havoc with some well-loved classic books.

In her world, it's possible to enter books - as in go through a portal and be in the time and place of the story - and that's exactly what Thursday must do to save Jane Eyre. Then the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit goes missing, from a location so secure that only a thief of very special talents could have taken it. The challenge is to retrieve it before the thief can enter the book and make some drastic change that will then affect every other copy in the world, effectively ruining the story.  

Other interesting tidbits...Thursday's aunt gets lost in a Wordsworth poem and can't get out, Thursday has a cloned pet dodo, and time travel is a thing.  

This is 374 pages of mind-boggling fun, but that's not enough so I've ordered the second and third books in the series. There are 8 in all but I have a feeling that won't seem like enough either!

Just Mercy

 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The story of  lawyer Bryan Stevenson's founding of the Equal Justice Initiative in the southern US, and of the wrongly convicted people for whom he fights. It's gut-wrenching, but it's an important book that needs to be read.                  

The main storyline concerns Walter McMillian, a black man accused of murdering a white woman and placed on death row before his trial. Let that sink in for a minute. Death row before the trial - apparently to see if fear might make him confess. When he did go to trial, the evidence proving he was nowhere near the crime scene, and therefore could not be guilty, was ignored by police, prosecutor, judge, and jury. He was found guilty and sentenced to be executed. It is sickening to think, to know, that this happened not that long ago in a country that prides itself on being the "land of the free and the home of the brave". 

Other stories tell of child convicts sent directly to adult prisons to be beaten and raped for years, and of people with mental and physical disabilities being horribly abused by the 'justice' system. It is infuriating to read about laws that were put in place to protect people being ignored or twisted by people in authority to further their own ends. 

Thankfully Stevenson also writes about his victories - achieving freedom for prisoners locked up for decades for crimes they didn't commit, and getting others moved off of death row and back among general prison populations. These positive notes breathe some hope into the horror, making it easier, but not easy, to keep reading.

A few lines that stood out to me:

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” 

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” 

“Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty and even feared is a burden borne by people of color…”  

“I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.” ...this from a lady who sits in the courtroom day after day simply to offer a comforting word or touch to anyone who might need it.

Just Mercy might keep you awake at night, but if it leaves you, all of us, wanting to do more, do something to help in our own corner of the world, then I say it is sleep well lost.