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Book club questions for The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner takes a closer look at this unique and bold historical fiction novel. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.
I really enjoyed this novel! I thought it was so interesting and a refreshing change from some of the more recent books I’ve read. I actually thought that Reese Witherspoon would have selected this one for her March book club and was kind of disappointed when she didn’t. But the book is still getting great buzz and even featured on the New York Times bestsellers list.
All three character arcs are engaging. I kept wondering why Nella would get in this line of work and I thought her motivations were clear. And I especially liked Caroline’s storyline and how this trip gave her a clear focus on what her priorities should be. A strong novel all around!
BTW, if you want to know more about the author Sarah Penner and her writing process, be sure to check out my Q&A here.
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.
The Lost Apothecary Book Club Questions
- What did you think about Nella’s choice to start offering poison to women to kill the men who have wronged them?
- Were you familiar with mudlarking prior to reading this novel? Would you ever try it out?
- The story features two timelines—one follows Nella and Eliza in eighteenth century London, while the other follows Caroline in present day London. Do you like the dual timeline format? How did it help slowly reveal the mystery?
- Caroline planned a big trip to London to celebrate her 10th anniversary. But she finds out her husband had an affair right before the trip. So she leaves behind home to take the trip herself. What would you have done if you were Caroline?
- Nella and Eliza develop an unlikely friendship. Why did the two of them have such a strong bond?
- While Nella doesn’t flinch to make poisons that will be delivered to men, she initially declines making one that is targeted for a woman. Why do you think Nella drew the line at making poisons that would kill women?
- What did you think about Eliza’s storyline?
- Caroline sidelined her own career plans when she got swept up in marriage and trying for a baby. But after her husband cheats, she begins to see that she sidelined her own goals for a more comfortable life. How did coming to London and investigating the apothecary help give her direction?
- Despite her husband James coming to London and making a bit dramatic act to win her back, Caroline realizes they need a separation. Do you think their marriage is done for good?
- Were you surprised when it turned out that Eliza lived? Do you think the author was trying to say magic was involved or was it pure luck that she survived?
- What did you think about the ending? What happens next for Caroline?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Lost Apothecary! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
Another mystery-type historical fiction story is The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict.
In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.
The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.
What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?
Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.
The Sanatorium by Sara Pearse
If you’re looking for a straight up mystery, The Sanatorium by Sara Pearse is a good choice.
Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.
An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.
Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge–there’s something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.
Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in. . .