Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review - The Apothecary's Curse by Barbara Barnett

Publisher: Pyr Books 
Pages: 345
Genre: Historical Fiction/Gaslamp Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

This Bram Stoker Award-nominated urban fantasy mixes alchemy and genetics as a gentleman physician and a brilliant apothecary try to prevent a pharmaceutical company from exploiting the book that made them immortal centuries ago.

In Victorian London, the fates of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune entwine when Simon gives his wife an elixir created by Gaelan from an ancient manuscript. Meant to cure her cancer, it kills her. Suicidal, Simon swallows the remainder—only to find he cannot die.

Five years later, hearing rumors of a Bedlam inmate with regenerative powers like his own, Simon is shocked to discover it’s Gaelan. The two men conceal their immortality, but the only hope of reversing their condition rests with Gaelan’s missing manuscript.

When modern-day pharmaceutical company Transdiff Genomics unearths diaries describing the torture of Bedlam inmates, the company’s scientists suspect a link between Gaelan and an unnamed inmate. Gaelan and Genomics geneticist Anne Shawe are powerfully drawn to each other, and her family connection to his manuscript leads to a stunning revelation. Will it bring ruin or redemption?

I was excited to read the The Apothecary's Curse by Barbara Barnett for a couple of reasons. One, I love all things Victorian. I am fascinated by the time period and I love books and movies that are set during that point. And two, I am a very amateur herbalist. I love that plants can become medicines and I've been trying to learn everything I can about how to use them. So this book seemed a perfect one to read.

The story is told in two different time periods, jumping back and forth frequently between the two. At first I thought that would be confusing, even with the headings at the beginnings of the chapters (because I sometimes miss those), but it isn't. The story moves pretty fluidly between modern day and Victorian era.

There are two main characters in this story. Although it begins with Simon seeming to be the principle, Gaelan ends up, to me, being the more interesting and fleshed out. He's certainly the more sympathetic of the two.

Simon has lost his wife, yes, in a horrifying and terrible way. But he manages to summon her ghost some time after she's passed during a seance and refuses to will her away so that her spirit can rest in peace. She's amiable at first, loving, like in life. But the longer she's forced to endure when she'd rather be at rest, the angrier she gets until she finally tells Simon, more or less, that if he thinks she's going to spend eternity with him after he finally manages to die he's crazy.

Gaelan quite literally has his wife and his child torn from him during a time when he seems to be the only one who can help them both. Never to see them again. Alive or in death. Despite his tragedy he manages to find love again after enduring years of unending and unimaginable torture that would break the soul and spirit of any other man. Only to have to leave her behind when he goes to America. Knowing that while she would grow old as life intends, he would not, and they both would come to resent one another.

Anne is a character introduced late in the scheme of things, but she finds her place in it all pretty quickly. She's got a good moral compass about her and she brings life back to Gaelan when he seems to have been just floating on, surviving day after day. She's fierce and determined and I think she is a wonderful addition to it all.

The whole thing ends up suspenseful in a way I had not expected. The story jumps back and forth in time in the most perfect way to set about the climax. I have not reviewed, or finished a book for that matter, in what seems like a very long time, and I think this was the perfect one to jump back in with. It's exciting and tragic and as I said before, I absolutely love all things Victorian. It's a heartbreaker, but definitely worth a read.

Barbara Barnett is author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel The Apothecary’s Curse ( Pyr Books), an imprint of Prometheus Books. She is also Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics Magazine (, an online magazine of pop culture, politics and more, for which she has also contributed nearly 1,000 essays, reviews, and interviews over the past decade. She published in-depth interviews with writers, actors and producers, including Jane Espenson, Katie Jacobs, Doris Egan, David Goodman, Jesse Spencer, Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle, Lana Parilla, David Strathairn, Russel Friend, Garrett Lerner, Elie Atie, Wesley Snipes, and many, many more.

Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. is a critically-acclaimed and quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show.

Always a pop-culture and sci-fi geek, Barbara was raised on a steady diet of TV (and TV dinners), but she always found her way to the tragic antiheroes and misunderstood champions, whether on TV, in the movies or in literature. (In other words, Spock, not Kirk; Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker!) It was inevitable that she would have to someday create one of her own.

She is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA’s HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as “The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture,” “The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes,” “The Hidden History of Science Fiction,” and “Our Passion for Disaster (Movies).” Most recently, she gave a lecture at MENSA “The Conan Doyle Conundrum,” which explored the famous author’s life-long belief in fairies.

Barbara is available for signings and other author appearances as well as radio, print and television interviews. She also loves to speak at writers and other conferences! Feel free to contact her directly! She is represented by Katharine Sands at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in New York City. You can reach Katharine at


Barnes & Noble

Book Excerpt:
My dear friend, hold fast the doctrine: when all impossibilities are eliminated, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Nothing could be so improbable that I must now and forever address you as Sir Arthur!”
Dr. Joseph Bell stood at the head of the dining table before twenty assembled guests, offering a robust toast to the guest of honor, his student and friend, the newly knighted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in London for the first time since the honor had been bestowed on him. His confidante Jean Elizabeth Leckie was at his side.
“Do tell, Sir Arthur,” Wilder said with a giggle, “is it not true that our dear Joseph is in actuality your Sherlock Holmes?”
“Indeed not, Wilder!” The author twisted his mustache a bit more at each mention of Holmes’s name.

Miss Leckie patted Conan Doyle’s arm tenderly. “My dear, your mustache shall soon be as fine as a strand of silk. Besides, you well know he is! They even smoke the same sort of pipe!” The entire table joined her in laughter, despite Conan Doyle’s protestations.
“Ah,” interrupted Joseph, coming to Conan Doyle’s rescue. “Alas, I do not share Holmes’s preference for cocaine, nor does my mind crave the constant stimulation of work. I am quite at peace come Sunday afternoons with nothing to do but read the Times.”
“I wish my consulting detective could rest in peace.” Conan Doyle scowled at  Wilder, as she inquired when a new Holmes story would be published. “Did you not read ‘The Final Problem,’ my dear Wilder? Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls! However, since no one will allow him to be at his rest”—he sighed dramatically—“I can tonight announce a new adventure for the Strand come next year. ‘The Empty House,’ it is called!” Conan Doyle laughed, yet it was darkened with an unmistakable note of vexation.
“But how should you have him come back, Sir Arthur?” Cranford inquired. “If he is indeed, as you say, dead?”
“Do let us change the subject, Cranford.” Conan Doyle lifted his glass, taking a long draught of his wine, his eyes closed.
Miss Leckie smiled. “Oh! I’ve something! Have you heard of that apothecary? Lentine is his name. In Covent Garden. The line to enter his shop goes on and on. Can you imagine?”
“And why might that be, Leckie?” Conan Doyle asked. “Why, his amazing Reanimating ftercuric Tonic, of course! To  hear his patter, the medicine ‘shall restore life, even in the event of sudden death!’ Can you imagine? An apothecary, of all ludicrous things!”
Mr. Cranford laughed. “They should hang them all, the thieving rogues. I’ve never met one I can trust, always trying to hawk the latest patent medicines.”
Gaelan Erceldoune glared at ftiss Leckie, his dark, mirthless eyes hard as basalt. Beside him, his companion, Joseph’s cousin Dr. Simon Bell, laid a calming hand on his sleeve, an urgent plea to forbear; Gaelan snapped his arm away.
With a peevish edge to his voice, Gaelan steered the topic from the dubiousness of the apothecary trade. “What if your consulting detective cannot die?”
Conan Doyle stared him down. “Whatever do you mean—cannot die?”
Simon worried a loose thread in his linen napkin, his hands knotted with tension.
“Yes,” Gaelan continued, ignoring Simon’s disquiet. “Well, after Reichenbach, Holmes is, of course, presumed dead, his body not found. Unsurprising, given the terrain, but I assume your new story finds him quite well. ftight you not suggest, therefore, that Holmes’s invulner- ability extends beyond the intellectual—that he, in fact, cannot die by any natural means, improbable though it may seem? Already, you have toyed with the notion—your Sorsa in ‘The Ring of Thoth.’ You needn’t ever be explicit of course; allow your readers to speculate and draw their own conclusions. Holmes’s devotees will be so elated that none shall even question how it is possible.”
He mimed a vaudeville marquee with his hands high above his head, commanding the attention of the entire table. “The immortal Sherlock Holmes lives on in a new series.” At once self-conscious, Gaelan thrust his deformed left hand into his trouser pocket. “He’ll live forever, by Jove, your creation shall. Perhaps long after you, sir, have gone to your grave.”
Conan Doyle’s enthusiasm seemed tepid at best. But Gaelan pressed further. “As well, do you not imagine, sir, whilst giving new life to your most popular creation, you might also draw upon your truest passion—the supernatural world? Would that not, as it were, be killing two birds with one stone?”
“Ha!” Conan Doyle pointed an accusatory finger at Gaelan. You, sir, sound too much like my publisher.”
Joseph broke in. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, let us go through to the drawing room. We might continue our conversations there in more comfort—”
But Conan Doyle was not to be stopped. “In a moment, Dr. Bell,” he said, holding up his hand to forestall the company. “I’ve a question for ftr. Erceldoune. Our dear Joseph made mention that you are an apothecary?”
Simon backed farther into his chair, cursing himself that he had disclosed even this small fact to his ever-curious cousin. He twisted his napkin, eyes pleading with Gaelan to be still.
Gaelan leaned toward Conan Doyle, a vague threat in the set of his jaw. “That I am, but why is that of concern to you or anyone here this evening? Do you mean to put me in my place as amongst the same company as Lentine, whom Miss Leckie has just now vilified—and with ample cause, I might add?”
“I mean no disrespect, nor to dishonor you amongst the fine physicians at this table. . . . I am curious, and that is all.” Conan Doyle paused a moment, as if to consider something. “I understand, sir, that many apothecaries in eras past were adept in alchemy, even magic.”
Gaelan settled back into his chair by a degree, coiled as a snake. “That, sir, may have been more the case, say centuries ago—a blurring of the lines. However, Sir Arthur, I possess no personal knowledge, for example, of any apothecary or druggist nowadays claiming to hold in his hands the secrets of life through alchemical abracadabra, if that is what you are suggesting. As for myself, I am quite well tutored in chem- istry and toxicology, and a disciple of Paracelsus. ftany of his dicta still ring true for me. Sola dosis facit venenum . . . the dose makes the poison. Paracelsus coined that in the sixteenth century—today it is an axiom of modern pharmacy. He was both an apothecary and an alchemist— and a physician. I would consider myself in esteemed company to asso- ciate myself with his understanding of alchemy. He had neither desire to make gold from lead, nor to find the elusive lapis philosophorum, but only to reveal the medicinal science it concealed by its art.”
Conan Doyle leaned forward confidentially, as if the rest of the company had vanished. “I have no desire, sir, to offend you. Forgive me if my questions seem more interrogation than polite dinner conversa- tion. I am first and foremost a journalist, but my ardent interest is per- sonal and much to do with my curiosity about the occult, as you may have guessed. I am quite sad to think about how much of the ancient arts were lost or have gone into hiding, along with their knowledge. Our ideas must be as broad as nature if they are to interpret nature, and if ideas—no matter how unusual they seem to our modern sensibili- ties—are destroyed and visionaries burnt either literally or metaphori- cally at the stake, we stand not a chance. And by the way, sir. I must aver that you are only one of a very few to have read ‘Thoth.’”
“But to your point regarding our natural fear of the . . . unusual
. . . On that, sir, at least,” Gaelan said, “we might agree.”
“Let us, then, if we may, Sir Arthur,” Joseph repeated, clearing his throat, “go through to the drawing room. ftiss Leckie, would you do us the honor of leading the way?”
“But of course,” she agreed, patting Conan Doyle’s hand affectionately. “Shall we, my dear?” She rose, and the rest of the company followed her from the room.
Gaelan and Conan Doyle found themselves in a secluded corner of the large drawing room as the other guests mingled. Simon stood nearby, gesturing with growing disquietude that they should leave, and quite soon. Gaelan turned his back on him as Conan Doyle leaned in again.
“By the by, sir, I do recognize your unusual name—Erceldoune—I have come across it on occasion in my research into the Otherworld—”
“The Otherworld.”
“Indeed. Where the fae folk rule. I’ve heard of an Erceldoune associated with legends of old, a certain Thomas Learmont de Erceldoune, a relationship with Tuatha de Danann, the—”
“Fairy folk, Sir Arthur?” Gaelan managed a laugh. “You, sir, hold me in exalted company, and I am sorry to disappoint you, however—” “It is said that this man Erceldoune had a book possessing great power, given him by Airmid herself, Celtic goddess of healing, a gift for
his act of kindness. Have you not heard the tale?”
“My family, old though it may be, Sir Arthur, boasts neither connection with the goddess Airmid nor any of her folk—the Tuatha de Danann, if indeed they ever existed. Besides, was not Airmid an Irish fairy? And I am, as are you, sir, of Scottish blood.”
Gaelan glanced around the room again, finding Simon’s anxious eyes beseeching him to end the exchange. “We’d best join the rest of the company. I see my dear friend Simon is quite unsettled, and we ought soon set off for—”
“It is a book of great healing,” Conan Doyle continued. “All the diseases of the world—and their cures—held in a singular volume, said to be written by her very hand.”

Gaelan paused, a petulant sigh escaping his lips. “I cannot say I can recall its mention, even amongst family lore.” His lips tightened into a tense line as he stood. “Now if you will excuse me, sir, I grow tired and fear it is time Dr. Simon Bell and I return to his flat.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review - The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

When Alex finds out he is Unwanted, he expects to die. That is the way of the people of Quill. Each year, all the thirteen-year-olds are labeled as Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds get more schooling and train to join the Quillitary. Necessaries keep the farms running. Unwanteds are set for elimination.

It’s hard for Alex to leave behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted, but he makes peace with his fate—until he discovers that instead of a “death farm,” what awaits him is a magical place called Artimé. There, Alex and his fellow Unwanteds are encouraged to cultivate their creative abilities and use them magically. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.

But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be divided between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artim that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate magical battle.

I read The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann back in February. Like I said in a previous review, I haven't really been up for typing up reviews, but I'm on a roll today so I figured I'd get this one in as well.

Now, I am a Girl Scout leader for a troop of Juniors and we did a Reading badge that month. One of the requirements for the badge was to bring in one of your favorite books and explain what you enjoyed about it. One of my scouts brought this in. It sounded like a fun read so she offered it to me for a week and away we went.

This particular story is kind of like a cross between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter and Divergent and The Giver... loosely, but that's all I can think of to compare it to. I loved reading it. It's one of those stories that sounds like it has every amazing thing you could have ever thought up as a child thrown in to it.

It doesn't start off well, but by that I mean there's a group of 13 year olds that have been deemed Unwanted by their society and they're being shipped off to what they believe is a death farm for elimination. To be labeled Unwanted, all you have to be is creative. The society that Alex lives in doesn't want people who sing or draw or dance. They want people who are easily manipulated... who can be turned in to soldiers for their "Quillitary". Anyone not completely void of emotion and ambition is simply seen as insufficient and is sent away.

I loved that each "unwanted" child finds strength in the things that they love doing the most. That their talent lies chiefly in the very thing that made them unacceptable to "society". It shows kids that just because they're different doesn't mean they're less. That they can be celebrated for doing the things that they're wonderful at doing. It shows that even if it doesn't feel like it, there are people who will appreciate them for things that other people might not, and that they should have the confidence to be who they are.

The Unwanteds was a fantastic read. And since it was a Middle Grade novel it was an easy one that I'd recommend for absolutely anyone. Children and adults alike.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Review - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I'm going to be honest. It's been a while since I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I haven't really had it in me to write reviews lately, but I put a new one up today and decided that maybe it's time I write one for this too. Although, I have read 4 out of the 8 novels in the series since December, so details kind of blur together.

I will start off by saying, that I completely love this series. It is 100% one of my favorite series of all time and I love it to pieces. It did take me a bit to really get interested... the first bit of the first book was a little slow for me. But as soon as Claire goes through the stones and ends up in 1743... that's all she wrote for me. I couldn't put it down.

I have a bit of Scottish (and Irish!) heritage and I am married to a man with Scottish heritage. So this series has been particularly interesting to me. The way that Diana writes and the history that's just infused in every detail is amazing. I've never seen the TV show (don't have STARZ *sad face*) but I've seen clips on youtube and was able to read the stories with faces for the characters and voices to go with them.

Every scene is so descriptive and, apart from the very beginning, kept me completely enthralled the entire 2 weeks it took me to read the entirety of book one.

Since it's been such a long time since I've read the story, I won't go in to too much detail (like I said, they blur together). But Outlander is amazing. It's descriptive (and I mean DESCRIPTIVE) and wonderful. Claire is so incredibly smart and strong and resilient. Jamie is just heartbreakingly beautiful in every possible way imaginable. Although his family is frustrating (and by family I mean Dougal and Colum) it adds to the plot and pace of the story in just the perfect way.

The chemistry between Claire and Jamie is felt immediately. And the love that grows between them is so incredibly palpable that it's hard not to become thoroughly invested in their relationship so much so that you would see Claire forsake her first husband absolutely for the devotion of her second.

If you enjoy historical romances (LOTS of romance) then definitely read this series. It's captivating and wonderful and you won't be sorry!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Starting Over at Steeple Ridge by Liz Isaacson

Tucker Jenkins has had enough of tall buildings, traffic, and business meetings to determine the next app that will change the world. He's sold his technology firm for billions and traded it for Steeple Ridge Horse Farm in rural Vermont.

Missy Marino has worked at the boarding stable and farm since she was a teen, and she's always dreamed of owning it. But her ex-husband left her with a truckload of debt, making her fantasies of owning the farm unfulfilled.

When she meets Tucker, she starts having a new kind of fantasy—one where they work with the horses together. Tucker didn't come to the country to find a new wife, but he supposes a woman could help him start over in Steeple Ridge. Will Tucker and Missy be able to navigate the shaky ground between them to find a new beginning?

Sometimes I love romance novels. They're a nice break from what I usually read. So when I saw the description for Starting Over at Steeple Ridge (and let's face it, the cover got me too) by Liz Isaacson, I didn't think I could pass it up.

Missy had to say goodbye to her friend and mentor and, she thought, any dreams of owning the farm she's ridden/worked at for two decades. A city boy has swooped in and purchased the farm, sight unseen, and now she's working for him. Tucker, the city boy, really had no idea what he was getting himself into when he bought Steeple Ridge but he's definitely out of his element in the Vermont country.


I enjoyed both main characters. But unfortunately I felt like I didn't really get to know them. Even when they were getting to know each other it seemed like it was only ever skimming the surface. Neither was too interested in telling the other about their past and we didn't really see a lot of development in them individually.

Don't get me wrong, I did like the story. But I felt like it was incredibly rushed. Their was no fleshing out of their relationship. First they didn't like each other.... then magically (and very suddenly) they did. I understand that stuff like that happens... but it didn't really make sense in the book for me. Like I said, everything seemed to only skim the surface. All the other reviews that I've read said it was a short, simple and sweet romance novel... and they're 100% correct. It was all of those things. I just wish there had been more to it.

With that being said, again, I did enjoy it. Despite what I've mentioned above. I love horses. I love the country. And I would give anything to have been in Missy's position (working on a farm... not the falling in love with a billionaire city man). The small town feel and the friendliness of the people in Missy and Tucker's life is something I've desired in my own life.

Tucker was the gentlemanly, chivalrous cowboy type even before he was a gentlemanly, chivalrous cowboy. And Missy was dedicated and passionate and I could completely understand her feelings toward the farm and her horses. The two of them made a wonderful pairing, I only wish I had seen more buildup to the relationship.

If you're looking for a clean, easy, quick read this is definitely for you. If you love the country and/or horses then this is for you, too. If you are looking for a book you can sit out on the back porch and read while you drink tea or coffee, grab this one. It's a very lighthearted and sweet read.


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