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The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian- Book Review

 The cover of this one caught my attention immediately; quirky and fun. Kinda like the book it’s self. Is that a Gargoyle holding a whisk you ask? In fact it is.

Zoe, is a 300 year old herbalist, antiques dealer and retired alchemist.  In an attempt at a new start, she buys a fixer-upper in Portland, Oregon. While unpacking her things she is surprised by a French stowaway, Dorian a living, breathing, and gourmet cooking gargoyle. When 14 year old Brixton, the neighborhood trouble maker, who just knows the house is haunted, spies the gargoyle through window while snooping around, Zoe tricks him into helping her clean up the house, in exchange for not pressing charges. After all she can’t let him tell the world about their secrets.

Dorian is convinced that Zoe is the only one who can help him decode his ancient book and save him from returning to his stone state forever. Zoe is not so sure she can help, she has, after all given up on alchemy. Then one day she comes home from a  walk to see the handy-man she hired dead on her door step surrounded by an odd smell. She may have to reopen her alchemical lab, and painful past memories, to figure out what is really going on.

The unlikely murder mystery solving trio team up to investigate. They delve into the city and it’s resident tea shop patrons secrets. Soon there is another attempted murder, this time on someone they know and care about. Dorian is dying, and there’s a murder on the loose. Things start to get more serious, and they all could be in danger. The police investigator assigned to the case suspects the new girl in town, and in return Zoe thinks she might be falling for him…

It’s a mystery, so I’ll leave it at that. No spoilers here. It was a fun read, and as an herbalist it was refreshing to see the few herbal references were researched and not unrealistic, as were the historical alchemy references. Though I thought Zoe was bit too much of the stereotypical herbalist type (we’re not all like that!) What really brought it all together for me was reading the afterword. The author shares her story of the writing of this book as a tool to help her through her cancer. She also thoughtfully shares a few of the recipes from the book (and a link to her website with more!) I haven’t made any of them yet, but plan on it. They sound pretty good! I am certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series.

Did this book encourage you to explore more? Wanna read more about plant alchemy or maybe you’d like to try a few more vegan recipes? Here’s a few recommendations you might enjoy.

The Alchemists Daughter by Katharine McMahon

The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

A Druids Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants by Jon G.Hughes

Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way  by Chloe Coscarelli

Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

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A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor-Book review

 Since seeing the beautiful Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady as a young girl, and later reading Pygmalion, I have been enamored with London’s flower sellers. So when I saw this book on the “new” shelf at my library, I didn’t think twice about taking it home with me. I didn’t even read the back cover or the first page before jumping right in, and once I did I couldn’t put it down.

This is a story within a story. Tilly Harper is a young woman beginning a new life, far away from her country home, as an employee of Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Florrie and Rosie are children doing their best to survive on the streets of London selling flowers, and looking out for one another. Shortly after she arrives at the Home for Watercress and Flower Girls, Tilly finds a journal that once belonged to Florrie, written more than 30 years earlier.

As the story unfolds the great love of Florrie for her little sister Rosie is told along side Tilly’s jealousy of her own sister and the events leading up to their falling out. When Tilly reads of Rosie’s disappearance in the journal she becomes determined to discover what became of the little girl, and in the process learns more about herself than she bargained for. Though I found it a tad predictable, I didn’t think the characters could see the whole picture like I could, and they believably took longer to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

It is more than a historical drama. It is a story of love and redemption. It is a story of self realization, for more than one character. It is as beautifully told as the flowers in the story.

That alone makes for a great novel, but the part that really captured me, was the truth behind the novel. Hazel Gaynor goes above and beyond by sharing her inspiration for the book with us. She shares fascinating additional resources that she came across while researching the book, and the story of the man who inspired her character, Mr. Shaw. I love to learn new things through historical fiction, Hazel Gaynor helps take the challenge out of it. I can follow her carefully researched path to more knowledge on the subjects instead of stumbling down my own. It’s kind of a two in one fiction/non-fiction book. Because of all this, I will certainly be watching for more books from her in the future.

Curious about some of the themes in A Memory of Violets? Here’s some additional reading.

Covent Garden: The Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Markets

Indoor Paupers by ‘One of Them’: Life Inside a London Workhouse

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

Silk Flowers: The Complete Guide to the Fine Art of Silk Flower Making. From Anemones to Roses

Charles Booth’s London, a Portrait of the Poor at the Turn of the Century, from his Life and Labour of the People of London