‘The Lost Apothecary’ Review and Dream Cast

Spoilers ahead.

Nature is magic.

Life can suck. We hurt ourselves and each other. We get sick, or we lose others to sickness. We lose our parents, or our children, or both. There is poverty, hunger, homelessness. It’s all so much, this world. So, it’s no wonder that we often look for a little magic. And when we don’t find it, we are disappointed. And that disappointment makes us angry, cynical, or worse.

The Lost Apothecary, written by Sarah Penner, reminds us that we do have glimmers of enchantment at our very fingertips on this place we call home, the third rock from the sun. We just need to look for it, and when found, use it wisely. And thus, nature is magic. 

This dark story ping pongs back and forth between 1791 and present day. Circa 1791, we meet Nella, a weathered and lonely apothecary who helps women poison their cheating or abusive husbands. She will help a woman, but never hurt a woman. Her poisons are only for men. And it’s all done on the down low, which has given her quite the reputation. Women leave a written message and leave it in a hidden spot on Bear Alley in London, and this mysterious apothecary, an evil tooth fairy if you will, fulfills their requests. She does this by giving the women elixirs she’s made by using different ingredients found in nature (bugs, herbs, spices, plants, etc). We learn that Nella, who I call the pharmaceutical barn witch, has had her own share of betrayal and loss, and this leads her to use her talents for evil. And she puts her concoctions either in food, or in a vial with a bear imprinted upon it. Her methods are awesome to read about, because who knew this and that, and a pinch of that, could kill you?

One day, Nella meets twelve-year-old Eliza, the youngest client she has ever had. And she’s immediately unsure of whether she can follow through with an order that involves a child. Eliza, a curious preteen who displays her innocence through fantastical beliefs, is enthralled by the lonely Nella, and a friendship emerges that changes both their lives. Eliza is an interesting character. She is more afraid of what she can’t see. But she’ll watch a man die, look around, and be like, “yo, you wanna go eat some lunch?”. Nella, ever the realist, reminds Eliza that there is no magic in this harsh world, while Eliza serves as a reminder to Nella that anything is possible.

Jump ahead to present day. We meet Caroline. A 34-year-old American woman who has just learned of her husband’s infidelity. She goes to London on what should have been their ten year anniversary trip. Instead of celebrating this milestone, her love of history is rekindled. While in London, Caroline finds a strange bottle with a bear imprinted upon it. And so begins an adventure to find the origins of the bottle, and the mysterious, nameless, apothecary she’s learned helped to murder trifling men two hundred years ago. Through Caroline’s search, she finds herself, and recognizes the importance of doing what makes her feel fulfilled as opposed to what others expect from her.

Overall, I liked the connection between 1791 and present day. The impact that men had on all three female characters can’t be overstated. Being a woman is hard, no matter the time period. Perhaps the author was making the point that men can be shit and this is what drove the characters to do what they did. I didn’t really buy it, though. Even though I despised the men, I never found myself saying ‘“good” when they were gone. Call me crazy but I’d rather they suffer? While I never have an issue with vigilante justice, I didn’t find myself pulling for the demise of these men, and thought surely we are better at revenge than this. Nella’s methods were clever, but hardly honorable. And it wasn’t lost on me that the women in 1791 used poisoned to try to get the life they wanted, while the Caroline’s husband, James, poisons himself in the present to try to get what he wanted. And in both instances, the separation of two centuries does not give anyone what they sought.

One thing that bothered me: Caroline’s cavalier behavior when she doesn’t know if she’s pregnant or not. I say this as a woman who has miscarried. While I’m probably just being sensitive, it hurt me to hear her drinking two glasses of wine, coffee, and putting off the pregnancy test when she knew it was a possibility. And bringing it up to the reader as she’s doing it. It was odd to read, especially when you see the impact such a loss had on Nella. When you feel robbed of a life that could have been, you don’t want to hear about someone else being reckless. Even if it is a work of fiction. 

Rating: 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast 🎥 🎞 :

Nella: Judy Dench

Eliza: Julia Butters

Caroline: Anna Kendrick

James: Dave Franco

‘The Minders’ Review and Dream Cast

Guard it with your life.

What do we do when hackers get so proficient they are able to breach even the most secure networks? No computer is safe, no firewall is strong enough, and storing the data in a brick and mortar is no longer a viable option? What can the government do when nothing seems to work, and lives are at risk if we don’t find a way to protect sensitive information? How would you feel if the only way to truly encrypt and hide information was by implanting a chip containing all that information into a person’s brain

The brilliant mind of John Marrs gives us such a conundrum in The Minders. You can always count on Marrs to give us a suspenseful, unique science fiction story, with “no he didn’t” twists that will make your jaw drop. To really understand how stressed the UK government has to be in order to go so far as to put a chip in someone’s brain, you have to remember we are in the futuristic tech-driven world Marrs has created for us. The place where we can find our soulmate through a DNA match (The One), and there are driverless cars (The Passengers). I think in order to truly appreciate the havoc that follows a hack in the Marrs universe, you should read his previous works. The Minders is strong as a standalone, but the desperation of the people paid to keep us safe is the key to making this plot a feasible possibility. Plus, it’s just plain fun to see the connections to the other books.

The story in a nutshell: Five seemingly normal people are selected and trained for a secret operation that involves, you know, brain surgery. All agree to get chips containing all the country’s classified information implanted into their noggins because the reward after five years of service is a better quality of life. They’ll be rewarded with money, security, and most important of all, peace of mind. They get to choose where they live, so long as its in the UK. But they have to let everything go that was in their life beforehand, and be sure not to disclose what they are holding onto to anyone they meet. What follows is the impact of having this heavy responsibility on each of the five characters, and how it drives their decision making. We also see the consequences this mission has on their relationships, their self-esteem, and their mental and physical acuity. To complicate matters, the evil hacking collective has caught onto the government’s game and starts tracking and targeting these top secret individuals.

This novel made me question if I would ever do something like this, and I think it will for you, too. Most of the characters were stuck in an unhappy rut in their previous lives. They desperately wanted a change, so they decide to be lab rats and participate in something insane that leads to a more fulfilling existence, or so they think. The character that really spoke to me was Sinead, who leaves an abusive marriage and does a complete 180 after passing the selection process. I enjoyed seeing her develop into a strong character, and I thought it was meaningful for Marrs to give her a storyline that showed how her former life as an abuse victim shapes her actions in her new one. Because pain and trauma go with us wherever we end up in life. Humans aren’t robots. We aren’t supposed to serve as hard drives for other people’s lives. We carry enough.

Warning: This is a violent one. More so than any other Marrs book I’ve read. You won’t like all the characters, or what they do to themselves and others. But that’s the point. When sensitive data involves a human carrier, destroying and/or protecting such information (depending on what side you are on) will involve physical confrontations, and a lot of blood. 

If you’ve never read John Marrs, and you like Black Mirror, what are you waiting for? Because I have news for you, Marrs is better.

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast:

Edward Karczewski: Andrew Lincoln

Flick: Elisabeth Moss

Charlie: Martin Freeman

Sinead: Nicola Coughlan 

Emilia:  Felicity Jones 

Bruno: Paul Anderson

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” review and dream cast

Forgettable, that’s what you are.

Spoilers ahead.

How ironic that a story about a woman that no one remembers is one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read. This was brilliant. I devoured this months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it. And that says a lot, because unlike an elephant, my memory is not long. What did I eat this morning? No idea.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is the story of a young French woman from a small town who, in a moment of desperation, makes a deal with a dark, demonic force in exchange for immortality. What follows is an epic tale, beginning in the year 1714, of what happens when you don’t listen to the town bruja and decide to make a deal with a handsome dark god who just so happens to look like the man of your dreams. 

Yes, Addie gets eternal life, and the chance to experience the world and all it has to offer outside of the simple town she came from, but it comes with a cruel catch. No one remembers her. The minute someone leaves the room, turns their back, or falls asleep, they will forget Addie LaRue. Even her family forgets her. And this causes a lot of problems for our dear Addie, who must struggle to survive this way for centuries because no one trusts or cares about her. She learns to adapt, but it takes pain, sacrifice, and, often times, her self-respect. 

Her demonic captor, Luc, visits her annually on the day she made the pact. And you soon realize that he (or “it”), is in love with Addie. Luc is manipulative, and even abusive at times. He uses tactics our worst boyfriend would use, such as ghosting her, or making her feel that only he can make her feel worthy. Nevertheless, Addie refuses to get out of the agreement (which she can do by giving him her soul), which angers Luc so he makes her pay in other ways. He has an underhanded but effective way of tormenting her, and is clever as hell by staying one step ahead of even you, the reader. Luc loves being the only one that remembers Addie, and his need for power and control over her plays out through the course of the book. And with that, Schwab has given us a ferocious literary villain who I can only describe as a cross between Lord Voldemort and Nurse Ratched. Oh, and the way he says “done”; gives me chills.

Between 1714 to present day, we take a ride with the immortal Addie through history and the world’s ever changing trends, fashions, and scientific discoveries. Schwab did her research, and it shows because you will feel like you are really in whatever time period and/or part of the Earth Addie is surviving through. You’re also reminded that our world has changed so much, in such a short period of time. But you’re also reminded of the constants: the second class role of women (Would Addie have been treated so poorly if she was a man? Spoiler alert: Nope), our overreliance on money, and our society’s need to always revert back to the worst in us, which we see through wars and disease. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the world through Addie’s eyes, and her incredulity at the things we take for granted. 

In present day, Addie now lives in New York City. As a New Yorker, I really felt the loneliness Addie experiences. Yes, the city is packed full of people, but you are still very much alone if you can’t make meaningful connections. And those friendships are harder to gain than you might think. I also appreciated Schwab’s mention of there always being something new to find in New York, because how very true it is. And if you’re going to live forever, you might as well be in the biggest, most culturally diverse place in the world.

In New York, Addie meets the endearing Henry Strauss. Henry is a bookstore clerk who, to her shock, actually remembers her after he catches her trying to return a book he saw her steal. Henry is the only one to remember her since the curse began, and she eventually develops a relationship with him. We learn why Henry is the only one who won’t forget her, while she’s the only one who can truly see him for who he is. And finally, Addie meets a man who is her equal. From there, Addie finds she must choose between her mortality and that of the one she loves.

I’ll leave it at that. I’ve given enough away. One thing: I noticed there are readers who dragged this novel because of the way it ends. I thought it concluded in keeping with the lesson of the story, which is that what you wish for won’t always lead to the happiness you think it will. No, Addie didn’t get everything she wanted. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that finishes her story on her terms by having the upper hand, while selflessly giving what’s most precious to her to the person she loves. For some reason, the ending reminded me of Saving Private Ryan, when a dying Tom Hanks tells a young Matt Damon to “earn it”. How powerful it is to put others before yourself.

I loved that Addie does make her mark (hint: all seven of them), even though she can never come to enjoy the impact. She’s there in our books, our art, and most importantly: in the life of Henry, who, like many of us, struggle to measure up to the expectations of others. Sometimes the people who impact us the most, are the ones that never ask, or receive, the credit.

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Casting:

Addie LaRue: Phoebe Dynevor

Luc: Henry Cavill

Henry Strauss: Logan Lerman – no question about this one. 

Bea: Elarica Johnson

Robbie: Troye Sivan

Esthere: Helena Bonham Carter

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

What an excellent work of historical fiction Kim Michele Richardson has gifted us. If you ever want to see the impact a government program can have on the lives of people who need it most,The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is one such example. FDR’s New Deal funded the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, a group of dedicated women who delivered books to patrons hit hard by The Great Depression.

This novel follows one such librarian, 19-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, who rides her ornery, but protective, mule named Junia through Troublesome Creek to deliver books to residents who are isolated, starving, and have little access to literature. Cussy’s love of books and thirst for knowledge is spread to the people to serves, and it’s exciting to read others appreciate what we often take for granted. How easy it is for us to get a book now? We don’t even have to leave the house. Imagine traveling half a day, or more, so that others can have what we now have at our fingertips. 

Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner desperate to have her married off. This has been unsuccessful because our girl Cussy is blue. Not “sad” blue. Her skin is literally blue. Her father is, too. All because of a rare genetic condition. The result is insidious discrimination and violence from those who consider her, along with anyone not white, an abomination and unworthy of companionship. The result is Cussy doing what she can to change and, like all of us, she learns the hard way to embrace what we were given.

Although the traveling work is arduous, it gives Cussy great pleasure, and a sense of purpose, especially having been shunned by society. And having the story told from her perspective gives us the insight needed to understand her generosity despite having been so relentlessly beaten and bullied by others. We meet many of her patrons who call her Bluet. Often, they are grateful for the service she provides. Others are suspicious of anything secular and not as inviting. There are some parts of the book that made me hate people, only to be followed by interactions that really speak to how wonderful the human condition is when we accept the differences of a neighbor. There were also heartbreaking scenes within the pages of Troublesome, and while it was sometimes hard to take, it made the book that much more special because this is life. And sometimes life sucks. 

Richardson is excellent at intertwining the narrative of Cussy’s travels in Kentucky with her medical condition so that you find you’ve received a history and science lesson all at once…minus the boredom.

I adored Cussy. There were times she would do something so unexpected, selfless, and kind, despite having been treated so poorly for so long, that it took my breath away. She’s a heroine, and very much a woman in the finest sense. Enduring hardship while always remembering that there are others who have it worse. Along with her journeys through rugged Kentucky terrain, we also travel along in Cussy’s quest for friendship, love, and acceptance. And what a ride it was. 

Richardson, you made this cold-hearted Yankee cry.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast (all born in Kentucky, coz why not?)

Cussy Mary Carter: Ciara Bravo 

Elijah “Pa” Carter: George Clooney 

Jackson Lovett: Josh Hutcherson

Charlie Frazier: Michael Shannon

Vester Frazier: Johnny Depp

Doc: William Mapother

Queenie: Telma Hopkins

My Dark Vanessa Review and Dream Cast

A fiery red headed teenager is victimized by an adult male she idolizes. We’ve heard it all before. We’ve seen it in the news. We’ve read Lolita. So, what sets My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, apart?

The answer: Timing. The novel goes back to the late 90s, when Vanessa meets her abuser and favorite teacher Jacob Strane, to the now; meaning after the #metoo movement changed the way we talk about sexual harassment and rape culture forever. What we have in Vanessa is someone who does not see herself as a victim, but a willing participant who consented to years of rape, manipulation, and abuse. This consent is not possible for any child, which our protagonist is unable to accept well into her adult years. The impact of this abuse has led to derailed dreams, difficultly with relationships, and drug use. How different Vanessa’s life would have been had she had the support of her parents, those teachers who knew something was off and did nothing, and yes, US? Even today, we see old footage and are outraged by the abusive treatment of women of pop 90s culture such as Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Lindsay Lohan. And Vanessa was no different. We just didn’t see it, or want to. Easier to humiliate, ignore, look the other way, right?

Adult Vanessa is made to feel even worse by other victims of Strane and journalists pushing for a story and don’t understand why she won’t come forward. And this is an important piece. Because every time someone tells a victim they are brave and strong, and they are, we must also be cognizant of the terrified, silent victim who isn’t coming forward and has been made to feel they are the very opposite of those speaking out.

My Dark Vanessa is not an easy read. Nor should it be. And we need to talk about it, however uncomfortable it may make us. Because guess what? The abuse we don’t want to talk about? It happened yesterday. And it happened again today. And it’ll happen tomorrow. The signs are everywhere. 

I saw this listed as a “romance” novel. No. Honey, this is horror. 

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Dream Casting:

Adult Vanessa: Jessica Chastain 

Jacob Strane: Jon Hamm 

Young Vanessa: Millie Bobby Brown

Henry Plough: Idris Elba

‘A Promised Land’ Review

Thanks, Obama.

I feel like no review I write could do justice to this incredible memoir. I learned so much, and feel changed having read it. 

A Promised Land, the first part of President Barack Obama’s memoir, gives us insight into what it was like to be the first black President of the United States. He starts with why he went into politics to begin with after college, due in large part to his frustration with not being able to make an impact on a larger scale for disenfranchised communities. He goes on speaking of his time as a Senator, Presidential candidate, then finally our President. And within those big professional achievements, he gifts us with moments from his childhood, his marriage to the fiercely loyal Michelle, and his greatest achievement of all: fatherhood.

You always hear that being President is a tough job, and we take that at face value. Of course, we know it must be hard because of the power it holds, but why is it really? You want to know the nitty gritty? Obama will tell you. Campaigning is tough. Some not so nice words can be exchanged, even when you are on the same team. Once you’re in office, he makes it clear that any issue that comes to the President is problematic, and could not have been resolved at a lower level of government. Everything is complicated, controversial, and/or exhausting. His dealing with foreign dignitaries was especially interesting because he knew he represented every single one of us, and that he often had to be tough and make people uncomfortable through spirited debate and diplomatic means to ensure America and our allies were heard. A tall order.

As for the politicians here at home, Obama doesn’t hold back with how the usual suspects on the other side of the aisle gave him the finger no matter how many times he extended his hand. Looking at you Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Grassley. Ya’ll basic. An interesting story Obama shares is about the time Biden was trying to make his case for a law to be passed, only for McConnell to look at him and say “you must think I care”. I point this out only because it brings me great joy to see that Biden is McConnell’s President now, and he has no choice but to listen, and care. But, I digress.

Much to the GOP’s chagrin, Obama didn’t give up despite their goal to make him a one term President. (And what kind of “goal” is that, anyway?) What resulted was leadership that repaired the economy, reduced unemployment, revived the auto industry, introduced necessary climate change regulations, gave us access to healthcare, and punished the monster who was the mastermind behind 9/11. This progress was all a struggle to implement because the previous administration had its focus on the wrong things, putting us behind in so many areas that required money and attention. Obama acknowledges that his own presidency was not perfect, and that no administration will ever be. 

Obama struggled with decisions that involved military intervention, not because he didn’t understand the intricacies of carrying out missions, but because human loss is always a probability. And I think this is was a sincere concern for him, but one he made because he was up to the task. To think, he was criticized for visiting the soldiers at Walter Reed on a weekly basis by Fox News. We would come to miss his caring nature because once he left the White House, the Presidency was taken over by a “f*ck your feelings” mentality.

Obama has this uncanny ability to keep calm during what would have put many of us over the edge. The discrimination he endured (and still does) should give everyone pause. Because even on his worst days, he still stood strong and rarely acknowledged the total bullsh*t coming out of the GOP and its favorite network, Fox News. And should he have fought more? Would it have stopped the constant barrage of misinformation that snowballs when something is not worth acknowledging? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Because no matter what the issue is, the people who want to twist the narrative will find a way to do so. The inklings of the racial discord that erupted after his term was always present, both hidden and in plain sight, and there was no stopping it when we later got a leader who seemed to enjoy dividing our nation. 

My favorite parts were when Obama spoke of the love for his mother and grandparents. And how much they shaped and impacted his life, so that yes, he developed an enduring respect for our promised land. I would be lying if I told you it doesn’t make me angry to know that his roots were ever called into question, when the reality was that he was raised by proud working Americans, who are now gone and unable defend his honor. What a gross example of taking advantage of a person’s loss.

Peppered in the pages of the memoir is the reminder that Obama is not too different from us. Yes, he was President. But he watches basketball, smokes when he is stressed out, curses when he’s pissed off, and is happiest when he is with his family (Bo and Sunny included). He never, not once, lost sight of the honor and privilege of his title. He was even embarrassed by all the nervous energy that surrounded his presence the moment in walked into a room. Obama had an appreciation for the employees in the White House, and acknowledged that many were people of color who he struggled to have clean up after him. His empathy extended to those in his administration, who worked the 16 hour days he did, but had a commute home, unlike him.

The book is over 700 pages long, and the audiobook is 29 hours. So, I can’t possibly cover everything, though I’d love to. 

My recommendation is to listen to the audiobook, because he narrates it. And there are ways he phrases things that will make you laugh at loud, and only he can do it. Always the superior orator, you will have no issue sitting back and relaxing as you learn about the highest office in the land from a modern President who would still give you the shirt off his back, even if you voted against him.

I look forward to the second part of his memoir, as that will cover the end of his term, and his life today.

The Obama Presidency took backbone, determination, sacrifice, and the audacity to believe in change. But he did it. And for that, I am grateful. So, thanks Obama. 

No, really.

Thank you.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️