Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Apothecary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet and entertaining, but not what I expected.

It's the year 1952, and 14-year-old Janie is living a happy, carefree life with her parents in Los Angeles. One day, while walking home from school, she notices a black sedan following her, which causes her parents to panic and make some sudden decisions. Suspected of being communist sympathizers, they feel like they have no choice but to pack everything up and move to London.

Starting school in London is harder than she ever imagined. Janie hates everything about her new school: her classmates, having to learn Latin, speaking differently than everyone else… until she meets Benjamin Burrows, son of the local apothecary.

Benjamin’s future is set. He’s supposed to take over his father’s business some day, but he hates the very idea of becoming an apothecary – he would much rather be a spy. It turns out, however, that Benjamin’s father is nowhere near as boring as he seems. He is the keeper of a very important book, the Pharmacopoeia, and one of the very few people who know how to use it. When the apothecary gets kidnapped, it’s up to Janie and Benjamin to keep the book safe from Russian spies and others who would do anything to get their hands on it.

The Apothecary is a middle grade adventure book, with an (unnecessary) touch of magic. I usually have very little patience for middle grade books and I’ve been avoiding them ever since I got over my obsession with Enid Blyton some 15 years ago, but The Apothecary kept me interested and left me wanting more. Janie is truly an admirable heroine and she and Benjamin make a great team. They never once disappointed me, and even when they made mistakes, they realized them pretty quickly.

The magical elements felt just a little out of place at first. When the kids turned into birds and flew off a roof, I felt like I’d just been slapped. It did get better eventually, with the arrival of some new characters, but I think that I’d have been happier with a non-paranormal spy adventure in this case.

I’ve been told that there are some great illustrations in this book, but you’ll have to read other people’s reviews to find out about those. I can only tell you that the audio is very good. I didn’t expect much from Cristin Millioti after she completely ruined Virals for me last year, but this time, she did an excellent job with all the accents.

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