The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner book cover

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner | A Literary Date

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is a book that will have you flying through the pages! You will stay up all night reading it. I know I did!

I’ll be honest though, The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is the literary date that almost didn’t happen. If you’ve read the book, you know mudlarking is a pivotal part of the story.

Since I didn’t think I would have time to go mudlarking while on my first trip to London, I didn’t think I could do this book and literary date justice without going mudlarking.

And spoiler, I’m sorry to report, I did not go mudlarking (not quite). However, just how mysterious this book is, this literary date unraveled in a mystical, serendipitous way while I was in London.

Because of the way this literary date organically happened, it makes me feel like I have to share it.

Before we get to the literary date though, let’s first learn about the incredible book, The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

Book Summary

In eighteenth-century London, there was a secret apothecary run by the mysterious Nella who was taught by her mother to be a healer but Nella chose a new path for herself and instead doles out poisons to women who have been harmed by the men in their lives.

One of Nella’s hard fast rules is her potions should never harm a woman. Soon Nella meets an enterprising twelve-year-old, Eliza, that becomes one of her clients and then against her better judgment, her apprentice.

Together they make a monumental mistake that sends them on a path to cover their tracks, a path that crosses centuries and introduces us to Caroline Parcewell, an aspiring historian in present-day London.

Caroline is on what was supposed to be a trip celebrating her 10th anniversary with her husband but instead, she’s running away from him after she discovers his infidelity.

While reeling from her inner turmoil, Caroline happens to find herself invited on a mudlarking excursion on the Thames River.

Here she discovers a mysterious apothecary’s vial that sets her on a mission to discover its origins and connects her with the unsolved apothecary murders in London from two centuries ago.

Book Review

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner book cover
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I definitely enjoyed the combination of historical fiction with suspense and mystery in The Lost Apothecary.

I was completely engrossed by the story and read it super fast.

I also enjoyed author Sarah Penner’s style choice of having three POVs between Caroline in present-day London and Nella with Eliza in the eighteenth century.

While following along in Caroline’s story, her captivation with the mysterious vial captivated me as well. I couldn’t wait to see it all play out and find out how Caroline would ultimately be intimately connected to Nella and Eliza.

Twelve-year-old Eliza charmed me with her fearless, nonchalant way of involving herself in these murderous deeds. In all honesty, I felt panicked for her and totally worried about her and Nella as I flew through the pages of The Lost Apothecary.

Murder good or murder bad?

As a reader, it does make you feel a bit strange rooting for a murdering duo.

Are these murders against all these terrible men justified? This is the conundrum. I don’t have the answers to that but nevertheless, I held my breath for these women as I turned the pages.

Okay, wait no, I’m supposed to say murder is bad, right? But maybe in the eighteenth century before the advancement of forensic medicine, it was okay…no, still wrong?

But in all seriousness, it is a time when women especially couldn’t escape the despicable, abusive men in their lives so they felt this was their only option to save their own lives. However, in Nella’s work, there were probably also men who did not deserve their ending. Lots to unravel with that.

Okay, moving on…

Nella’s full backstory in The Lost Apothecary is delicately layered into the story to provide insight into how she went from an apothecary healer to a man killer. I came to care for Nella and Eliza but at the same time did not want them involved in that kind of sinister life.

I did not want that life for them!

Nella is a sad woman with demons who shuts herself out from the world. She seems to have chosen a prison-like life for herself and can’t see a path to happiness. Honestly, she doesn’t even look for a path to happiness.

She’s resigned to her lot in life.

Thus, The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is a very compelling story, in my opinion, and I strongly felt the connection between the three women. Caroline and Nella have a lot in common and while Nella lives a tormented life, maybe there’s hope for Caroline. Perhaps in Caroline, is a redemption story for them all.

I thought it was beautifully written and I loved it. The tension is palpable, the twists and turns will surprise you, and you will be captivated. If you haven’t read this New York Times Bestseller yet, I highly recommend you do.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner pinterest pin

The Lost Apothecary Literary Date in London

Like I stated at the start of this, I didn’t plan on going on this literary date. If you’re not familiar with literary dates, I live in NYC and typically read books set in the city that inspire a tour of the city.

This past summer I read lots of books set in London and took a trip there to bring literary dates to London.

It was a blast!

Check out some of my other literary dates in London:

With Love from London Literary Date

Here for the Drama Literary Date

Discover a Day in the Cotswolds | You and Me, Always Literary Date

In Case You Missed It Literary Date

Despite loving The Lost Apothecary, I felt if I couldn’t go mudlarking, it wouldn’t be a complete literary date. However, since the literary date came to me in a unique way while in London, I have to share it.

*Full disclosure, I don’t give spoilers that tell you major plotlines in the story but knowing the places the characters go to could give some clues to the storyline. I also will share some small moments from the book but without giving plot details. It’s always my opinion that my literary date will make you want to read the book even more, but admittedly I am biased. 😉

What is Mudlarking?

According to Frommer’s, “Twice a day, the Thames in London swells with tidal water, rising as much as 23 feet. And as that great daily gush tumbles through the ancient channel, it tosses up centuries of junk.”

Then when it’s low tide again, there could be all sorts of treasures at the bank of the Thames River. Back in the day, people didn’t think twice about tossing out their stuff in the river, so relics from the past abound.

In The Lost Apothecary, mudlarking is what kicks off Caroline’s quest to discover where the vial she found came from and connects her to the long-forgotten apothecary murders.

How can I go mudlarking in London?

  • Research safety- don’t want to be there when the tide comes up
  • You need a permit through Port of London Authority
  • Learn all the rules and regulations of mudlarking
  • Wear rubber gloves and shoes with a good grip
  • Try a guided tour like Thames Explorer Trust

If I had done it, I definitely would have researched tour options as a first-time visitor to London.

*Please do all your own research on mudlarking, since I only have very minimal knowledge about it. Author Sarah Penner also wrote a handy guide to mudlarking in London that you can read at the end of The Lost Apothecary.

It would have been so much fun! I kind of regret not doing it.

Do it for me!

Moving on…this Lost Apothecary Literary Date will start at a spot that Caroline wanted to go to and another character did go to. Truth be told, this is not the part that mysteriously came to me but a planned London excursion that just happens to fit with the book.

The serendipitous elements of my literary date are coming…but first…

Visit the Tower of London

The Tower of London, The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Just look at that beauty. When I got out of the train station I was immediately presented with this epic site to behold. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

The enormity of it is astounding and you know that special feeling of witnessing history in the present day? It’s indescribable and took my breath away.

I learned some great tips from a Facebook London Travel Tips group before my visit to the Tower of London.

  1. Get there close to opening time. I was there at 9:30 am
  2. You will need at least four hours to explore it properly. I was there for at least five hours
  3. Go straight to the Crown Jewels so you can avoid a massively long line later in the day
  4. Definitely go on a free Yeoman Warders “Beefeaters” Tower of London tour
  5. Pick up an audio guide

However, if you want to go towards the evening hours, then I would also try to get Ceremony of the Keys tickets in addition to your regular Tower of London tickets. These tickets are hard to come by and can only be pre-booked online. Tickets are usually released on the first working day of the month.

The Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

Jewel House that holds the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London
The Jewel House

Look, no line! There is no photography allowed in the Jewel House so you won’t see any pictures here of the coronation spoons or the crowns but it’s definitely a must-see sight to behold when you visit the Tower of London.

Once inside, I got to watch a video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. You can take your time and sit to watch that or keep on moving.

To view the most precious of the Crown Jewels, you stand on a moving walkway to view them from both sides.

Long line outside the Jewel House that holds the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London
The line to get in around 11 am

And the line stretched way beyond this picture!

*Important to note: At the time of my visit, I was blissfully ignorant of the history of one of the jewels, the Koh-i-Noor diamond. What a bloody history it has, if you’d like to read about it, the article on Smithsonianmag.com is a good one.

Ultimately, it looks like the mega-coveted diamond was stolen by the British during Queen Victoria’s reign from a ten-year-old new ruler in India while his mom was imprisoned. That’s just a snippet of this diamond’s fraught history.

I encourage you to read all about it.

The history is written about on the Historic Royal Palaces website as well. It says the diamond was taken as a condition of the Treaty of Lahore.

Beefeaters Tour

Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

The Yeoman Warders nicknamed, the “Beefeaters” are the Royal bodyguards and live at the Tower of London.

During this free tour, I learned that to become a Yeoman Warder they have to have served the armed forces for at least 22 years. A few other requirements as well but one, in particular, stoked my interest, according to our Yeoman Warder guide, they also have to be charismatic.

The tour that I took part in was definitely given by a charismatic Yeoman Warder. He gave such a clever and informative tour.

I definitely recommend going on this tour. It provides a great overview before exploring the Tower of London on your own.

After I saw the Crown Jewels, I went straight to the main entrance to find the meet-up location for this tour.

However, I got to the meetup spot early so I would have had time to get an audio guide first. I did not do that and by the time I was done with the tour, that line was too long.

Don’t make my mistake.

The Ravens

A raven seen at the Tower of London

Honestly, I think I was most excited to spot a couple of ravens during my visit. Although they have cages for them, I was happy to discover them walking the grounds.

The legend is that the kingdom and Tower of London will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave.

Therefore, there will always be ravens at the Tower of London.

There is SO much to explore while visiting the Tower of London. You will walk up MANY steps as you explore the vast fortress.

I have so many pictures so check out this gallery from my day at the Tower of London:

View of the Superbloom at the Tower of London

The Superbloom was going on while I was there, so I got a great shot of it with the Tower Bridge in the background as I walked around.

Speaking of the Tower Bridge…

View of the Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

The Tower Bridge in London is right next to the Tower of London so I recommend a visit to this bridge when you go to the Tower of London. I had lunch plans at the other end of the bridge for after my visit to the Tower of London.

I was famished by the time I got there but luckily I brought snacks with me and there are also spots in the Tower of London to eat as well.

You can check out the walk over the glass floor at the Tower Bridge in my With Love from London Literary Date blog post.

If you’re curious, I ate at The Vault but there were actually lots of other spots in this area that looked very appetizing.

The Vault under the Tower Bridge

I’m a vegetarian but I must confess I cheated while in London:

Yup, I tried Fish and Chips at a pub. In retrospect, I probably should have researched the best spot for fish and chips if I was going to cheat. It was okay but I’m not a good judge.

I’m back to being a vegetarian with no problem after this experience.

But oh my god did I love my very first Pimm’s Cup that I had at this spot. It was my only Pimm’s Cup during my trip to London and I have regrets. Definitely searching for a Pimm’s Cup in NYC.

Pimm's Cup
Pimm’s Cup deliciousness

Mystery Literary Date with The Lost Apothecary

Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner pinterest pin

I was actually on my Here for the Drama Literary Date when The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner’s literary date mysteriously came to me.

I had just visited St Paul’s Cathedral and also Borough Market for my In Case You Missed It Literary Dateand had time to kill before seeing King Lear at the Globe Theatre for my Here for the Drama Literary Date.

But would I get to see King Lear? That question will be answered soon…

Killing Time at the Tate Modern

Tate Modern
Tate Modern

This museum is HUGE! I had no idea!

I also did not know where to go and just stumbled around aimlessly. And after my busy day, I was so tired. I actually found a nice seating area that overlooked some artsy happenings below.

The seating arrangement seemed semi-private, so everyone, I’m here to tell you that the Tate Modern is a great spot for a little siesta, a nap if you will.

I had a good one!

Then I forced myself up because when was I ever going to be in the Tate Modern museum again?

I sleepily walked through an exhibit and opened some drawers…

Mudlarking exhibit at the Tate Modern inspired by The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Huh?

Mudlarking exhibit at the Tate Modern inspired by The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Interesting…

What is all this?

In my sleepy stupor, I realized I was looking at an exhibit on mudlarking! I immediately perked up because the whole time I was in London, I was thinking about the literary date I wasn’t going on.

I wanted to go on The Lost Apothecary literary date and despite deciding against it, here it was magically coming to me before my eyes.

This exhibit was featured in a large cabinet and I opened all the drawers and looked up in the cabinet, my eyes go wide…

Mudlarking exhibit at the Tate Modern inspired by The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Are those apothecary vials in there? I think so!

I couldn’t believe it.  Out of all the exhibits I could have stumbled upon in this HUGE museum!? This was a special moment.

This exhibit is known as the Tate Thames Dig 1999, Mark Dion led a team of volunteers to search the shoreline of the Thames.

Dion and the team uncovered many artifacts from the river including clay pipes, animal bones, earthenware, other pottery, and glassware.

Despite stumbling into an exhibit tailor-made for Sarah Penner’s The Lost ApothecaryI smiled and went on my way.

I thought it was a sweet mini-literary date just for myself. Certainly not enough to feature in a blog post.

Time to go see King Lear!

*Side note, there’s a great grassy area outside the Tate Modern with great views of St Paul’s Cathedral. On a good day, it’s a nice spot to refuel and have a snack.

Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Excitedly, I walk up to Shakespeare’s Globe thirty minutes before opening, and the woman at the front, with trepidation, informs me that they had to cancel the show last minute. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!

One of the actors is “indisposed,” she said. Probably the polite way the Brits say “Covid.”

I turn away dejectedly, sad that my chance to see Shakespeare at the world-renowned Globe Theatre has been ripped to pieces. Like Taylor Swift, I felt like a crumpled up piece of paper.

And what am I going to do with this free night in London?

A lightbulb lit up over my head!

I thought back to my mudlarking discovery at the Tate Modern and took both of these situations as a sign that the Literary Date Universe, the LDU if you will, wanted me to go on a Lost Apothecary Literary Date.

There was especially one spot I was very curious to see. If you’ve read the book, then you can probably guess.

But first, how about we check out the Thames to see what mudlarking could have been like?

Mudlarking at the Thames River

At the banks of the Thames River

It really does look like a spot to find lots of treasures!

Here it is up close:

The southern bank of the Thames River in London

I bet the lost apothecary vial is in there!

Next time I’m in London I definitely want to try it!

Another spot that I had to see from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is another place I felt figures prominently in the storyline.

Do you remember the name of the bridge Nella crosses in The Lost Apothecary, one time on her own and again with Eliza? They needed to meticulously collect some creepy-sounding blister beetles for their latest poison.

Blackfriars Bridge

In The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Nella had many different types of poisons tailor-made for each victim. For her latest poison, she needed to collect one hundred icky gross blister beetles.

I don’t know what would be worse…murdering people or collecting live blister beetles?

I kid! Of course, it would be way worse to collect those bugs. I get squirmy just thinking about it. 😉

To find them Nella had to go at night because they’d be easier to collect when they are sleeping. She also had to cross the Thames to get to the field where they inhabited.

This was not an easy journey for our Nella since she’s frail and has her own health ailments that send her into awful coughing fits. She was so poorly that she didn’t actually walk across the bridge the first time but instead took a boat.

I wanted to see what the Blackfriars Bridge looked like and imagine the field in that area with the icky bugs.

Now the area called South Bank is filled with trendy spots to go to including eateries, theatres, museums, and beautiful sites to see along the Thames River.

Things to Do and See Around Blackfriars Bridge

  • Walk along the Thames
  • The London Eye
  • Take a City Cruise on the Thames
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Swan Bar & Restaurant
  • Tate Modern
  • Borough Market
  • The Shard
  • St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is an easy walk from Blackfriars. You could start your day at the cathedral and then walk over the bridge to cross the Thames into South Bank.

I have a couple of literary dates that featured this beautiful cathedral including my Here for the Drama Literary Date and my In Case You Missed It Literary Date where I climbed the cathedral’s dome for the incredible views.

The famous London Eye is about a 20-min walk from the bridge and that pier is one of the spots the city cruises meet at for a ride along the Thames. I hear they are best for tourists since they include commentary as opposed to the Thames Clipper Uber boats which are more for commuting.

Borough Market is a must-see and must-eat spot to delight your culinary palates. It’s one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. I walked along South Bank and went to Borough Market in my In Case You Missed It Literary Date.

Musician performing in South Bank in London, seen during my In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk literary date
South Bank by the London Eye

Time for another walk!

The streets I walked would have been the same ones, Nella, in The Lost Apothecary, took to get to the Blackfriars Bridge.

As I walked, I tried to imagine what these same streets might have looked like in the eighteenth century. Although as historic as London is, many of the buildings are still that old so it wasn’t too hard to imagine.

A street intersection in London

Have you guessed the spot I most wanted to see yet? As a London tourist, it wasn’t a spot I necessarily cared to see but as someone who loved The Lost Apothecary, I was dying to see it.

In the eighteenth century, for Nella, it was known as 3 Back Alley but in the present day in London it’s Bear Alley EC4 and it actually exists!

Does 3 Back Alley in the book The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner really exist? Yes, it does and here it is! Bear Alley, EC4

YES!! This is the spot where the lost apothecary is!!!!! AhhhhhhHHHHHH!!!!

I wanted to be bold like Caroline and walk down there to hunt for the “apothecary” but I was too chicken. I didn’t want to find out who was in that van down there.

I satisfied myself by looking at it from a safe distance and snapping a pic.

I’m sorry that I did not discover any hidden apothecaries for all of you readers. Maybe next time we go together?

If you go on The Lost Apothecary Literary Date, you may want to grab a bite in this area, and The Blackfriar Pub looked really cool.

Check it out!

The Blackfriar Pub in London
174 Victoria Street

This pub dates back to 1875 and I saw interior shots when I googled, the architecture and artistry look so unique. It would feel like stepping back in time going in there. The food sounds like delicious British fare.

Well, folks, this is it for my Lost Apothecary Literary Date. When you’re in London going on your own literary date for The Lost Apothecary, I would also suggest going to the British LibraryUnfortunately, I didn’t get to go but if you’ve read the book, then you know it figures predominantly into the storyline.

I would have also liked to have gone to a magical bookshop like Treadwell’s or Watkins Books.

Anything else I missed from The Lost Apothecary that would have made for a good literary date? Does anyone know of any good apothecaries in London?

Preferably one that does not dole out poisons. 😉

Thank you all for coming along with me on my Lost Apothecary Literary Date. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Going on this literary date was meant to be and I’m so glad it unfolded in such a mysterious and serendipitous way.

Buy the Book:  Bookshop | Amazon

Since this is a perfect book to read in a book club, I’ve added some questions you could use below.

The Lost Apothecary Book Club Questions (*Only read if you’ve read the book)

  1. Did you feel like this book encapsulates the theme “F*ck the Patriarchy” and feel like the murders of abusive men were justified?
  2. How did you feel about the dual timelines and did you feel a connection between present-day Caroline and Eighteenth century, Nella?
  3. Do you think Nella’s mom who taught her everything she knows about being an apothecary healer would be proud of her daughter?
  4. Even though Nella felt that “killing and secret-keeping” made her physically sick, it all began “to rot me from the inside out…,” why does she keep doing it?
  5. Do you feel like all three women, Caroline, Nella, and Eliza were strong women? Why or why not?
  6. Discuss the ending with the vial. Would you have done the same as Caroline? Why do you think she did that?

About Author Sarah Penner

Born and raised in Kansas, Sarah Penner lived in a small log cabin in the middle of the woods. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked in corporate America working in finance for thirteen years.

The Lost Apothecary is Sarah Penner’s debut novel and it became an instant New York Times best seller. Penner’s second book, The London Séance Society, comes out on March 21st, 2023.

To learn more about author Sarah Penner, head to her website at sarahpenner.com.

What’s Next for Literary Dates?

Me standing in front of the railing on South Bank with the London Eye in the background
Photo by Cinna

I absolutely loved visiting London over the summer and sharing all of my London literary dates with you all. My Lost Apothecary Literary Date is my last literary date set in London.

But who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll go back. I’d love to!

Until then, it will be back to NYC literary dates! And I also read a TON of books set in London that I loved that didn’t become literary dates. I will share a full book list of London books soon.

Thank you again for reading!

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3 Comments

  1. I learned so much through this post! I remember your saying that you’d share your other literary dates from London, but I wasn’t expecting this book to be in the mix. How interesting that a permit is required for mudlarking. And there are rules and regulations too! Very cool!

  2. Enjoyable date, as always. It made me fondly remember all the times I have visited England. I had never heard of a Pimms Cup though! Will have to try that next time.

    Fish and chips frankly is overrated junk food but I happily devour and enjoy it when I can.

    Oh, the book. I read it quite a while ago so I might have to borrow it again since I kinda remember the story line but I also remember really enjoying the characters and the writing style. Not to mention the moral and ethical dilemmas presented.

  3. Loved this post! I totally want to go mudlarking the next time I’m in London, too. All because of this book! It really got me into it. I follow the mudlarker on Instagram that Penner recommends — FlosFinds or something like that? Some pretty cool stuff washes up that she posts about.

    Good tips about Tower of London. I had seen it when I was 21, and I did NOT adequately remember how huge it is! So when I went again about 10 years later, I didn’t budget enough time to thoroughly explore. I think I spent three hours before I had to get going, and it wasn’t enough. So much to see! And yeah I was really surprised by the delicious eatery they have right on site. Good stuff! Healthy options. And cake. Which was nice, haha. I also just love how the Tower of London sprawls there, with the modern city all around it. The juxtaposition is mind-blowingly awesome.