Review: The Butterfly Garden

Hey Readers,

When I first saw The Butterfly Garden as I was scrolling through my instagram feed, I had heard absolutely nothing about it. After I did a little digging and read the plot summary I was instantly intrigued. When I first started the book, I was hooked by the first page and just could not put it down. I ended up reading the entire book in one session.

IMG_2608.jpg

The Butterfly Garden is about a man who has kidnapped young women, tattooed intricate butterflies upon their backs, and then holds them hostage in this garden that is attached to his secluded mansion. The Gardner, as the girls call him, is obsessed with capturing and preserving what he sees as his beautiful specimens. The book starts with the girls having just been rescued, with one of them Maya being interviewed by the detectives. As she is interviewed, we learn what happened to her and the other girls in the Garden and we’re left wondering what else she could be hiding.

This book is dark, twisted and graphic and definitely not for everyone. I mean, it’s about a man who kidnaps women and then turns them into butterflies, if you didn’t expect a book like that to be at least a little dark and twisted, I’m not really sure what to tell you. However you do need to suspend disbelief for this story, because most of these characters are over the top. You keep waiting for someone to do something and nobody does, and while that ends up helping you turn the pages and feel like your on the edge of your seat, it seems unrealistic just how many people do absolutely nothing about the circumstances. Granted, who knows what I would do if all of a sudden I was trapped in a garden having a butterfly tattooed on my back. But that isn’t just about what the victims don’t do, because honestly they don’t *have* to do anything. It’s the other supporting characters who keep being faced with choices that I feel continue to make choices that aren’t very realistic.

“Some people stay broken. Some pick up the pieces and put them back together with all the sharp edges showing.” Dot Hutchison; The Butterfly Garden

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t like all of the other serial killer books out there. Instead of watching the detective try and find the serial killer to save the victims, the detectives have already saved them, they’ve already found the killer and now they need to piece together all of the evidence to figure out what exactly had happened and why. This structure, and the way it flashed back from Maya’s time in the garden to present day when she is being interviewed by the FBI was one of the best parts of the book.

Dot Hutchison’s writing was visceral. The way that she described the harrowing events that these girls had gone through, and of Maya’s struggles prior to being kidnapped was gripping. There is a lot going on in this novel that is hard to get through, awful scenes of abuse and torture, and reveals that you weren’t prepared for. She describes all of these things without the shock value associated with a classic “slasher” thriller. Hutchison stays away from these kind of scares instead using her writing to genuinely upset the reader as they move towards the conclusion of the story.

The one element that really didn’t work for me however was the conclusion. I felt that the twist at the end of the book, and the wrap up of the story in general, felt rushed and overly dramatic. For a book that relied on the drama to keep readers enthralled with the story and to keep them so engrossed, the rushed drama of the end just felt messy and not completely thought through.

IMG_2598.jpg

Overall, I really enjoyed The Butterfly Garden and I plan on reading the next two books in The Collector series: The Roses of May and The Summer Children soon.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Hannah

October Monthly Wrap Up

Hey Readers,

It’s been awhile since I posted a wrap up of my monthly reading. This month wasn’t the best month for me in terms of amount of books read but I was really happy with the books that I did read. This month I read one huge book, I finished half of second even larger book, a book that was on my most anticipated release list for this year, and a spooky read (since you know – it’s Halloween).

FullSizeRender

I’m behind on my reviews (am I ever going to catch up?) but here are some quick thoughts about each of the books I read this month while I work on getting full length reviews up!

IMG_2703.JPG

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3) – Brandon Sanderson

I loved this book and this series. It took me two months to finish this behemoth of a book and every single minute I spent reading this book was 100% worth it. The character development for all of our main characters, and for Dalinar’s character especially, had me feeling my feelings. I don’t know how many times I have texted friends who have read it already in all capitals yelling about said feelings. Journey before destination.

IMG_2598.jpg

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) – Dot Hutchison

In a bout of insomnia I read this book in one night, from the first few pages I was hooked and it didn’t feel like I was awake all night (although I definitely felt it the next day). It is a dark and twisted story of a man called The Gardener who has kidnapped young women and tattooed butterflies on their backs. While I did really enjoy the story I do think that a reader does need to suspend their disbelief when reading it to get fully into the story.

IMG_2474.JPG

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

I just finished this book last night and I honestly don’t think I’ve read a more depressingly beautiful book in my entire life. I don’t know what else to say about it right now other than that this book will stick with me for a very long time.

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

Vengeful (Villains #2) – V.E. Schwab

I waited anxiously by the door for my copy of Vengeful to be delivered when it was released and I was not disappointed. V.E. Schwab could write an instruction manual and I would probably read it as if it was the most wonderful piece of writing, sure, but she did it again with Vengeful. I love all of these characters, and Mitch needs to be protected at all costs.

IMG_1882.JPG

*BONUS* The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) – Robert Jordan

I started a reread this month of The Eye of the World with one of my friends this month and though I didn’t finish it (I got sucked into A Little Life) I got about 200 pages in. I forgot how much stuff happens right off the bat in this book! I’m looking forward to rereading the first seven of these books so that I can finally finish this series.

 

– Hannah

Review: VOX

*This review does contain a spoiler towards the end, so please keep that in mind when reading!*

One thing we have to thank this administration for is the endless ideas for feminist dystopian novels. I’ve read and loved a few of them this year already; The Power by Naomi Alderman and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. And we can not forget Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaids Tale, which has been a terrifying dystopia since it was published in 1985 and when it was turned into a TV show on Hulu in 2017. Christina Dalcher doesn’t hold back in her world in which women have only 100 words to speak a day in her novel, Vox.

We follow Jean, a thriving cognitive linguist who was on the brink of discovering a cure for individuals who were left without the ability to speak after a stroke, who has now been regulated to being a stay at home wife and mother. After the election of a totalitarian leader to the presidency, and the Pure Movement sweeps the nation, there are new laws which prevent women from holding jobs, reading, writing, and speaking. Also, don’t think about non-verbal communication, there are camera’s everywhere to make sure you don’t do that either.

FullSizeRender.jpg

The exposition of Vox is where Christina Dalcher thrived. We start the novel when the president is already in charge, laws have already been made and women have already had their speech limited. Woman from babies six months and up have been fitted with bracelets that prevent them from speaking more than 100 words a day, to be electrocuted if they go over their limit. Yet, through Jean’s reflection we see how the country got to the state that it was in. We see so many groups of people: the feminists who rallied and fought, the white women like our narrator, who sat by and did nothing, the LGBTQ+ community who have been either “converted” or imprisoned, and the men who and those who don’t agree with the politics yet are still thriving. The exposition is full of reflection of the world and how America got to where it is. Not just in the novel, but also where we are as a country today. For example; while Donald Trump wasn’t written by name, the allusion between the president in the novel and himself is very clear.

However, once we get to the action it loses track of all of the ideas and speculation that was set up by the exposition and becomes a fast paced thriller. While it does grip the reader and leaves one on the edge of their seat, the real grit of the novel fails to hold up under all of the pressure of the action. When Dalcher has set up such a intense novel with her political and social climate it is a shame the novel doesn’t keep that commentary up and instead sinks into a action movie where the plausibility doesn’t hold up with convenient, lucky and unbelievable resolutions that leave a less than feminist taste in ones mouth.

I was disappointed by this novel. I had a lot of high hopes and after hearing it compared to The Handmaid’s Tale I knew that I had to have it. I wanted more of and was expecting more of the social and political commentary and less of the face paced thriller in which our feminist novel has all of the really hard work completed by men and in which the saving of the world is done by men. In a novel that is supposed to be talking about feminism and empowerment for women, I think it really lost is message when *spoiler alert* a man is the one who ultimately saves the day and rescues our damsel in distress.

FullSizeRender copy.jpg

With that said, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. I think even with the fast paced thriller and unrealistic resolutions this book has a lot of things to unpack that really should be discussed. One of those things is the idea of the white women in America who do not do anything, who sit by and let things happen and don’t get angry until we are losing our rights. Jean is the perfect example of this, at one point when her roommate Jacko, a lesbian feminist, is upset about the currently climate, Jean says “You’re getting hysterical about it.” to which Jacko responds, “Well, someone needs to be hysterical around here.” While I think there was so much that could have been done with this novel, the message is clear and is important. We need to do more, especially those of us who have privileges that others don’t, before we don’t have the ability to anymore. We need to all be speaking up so that our feminist dystopian novels can stay novels, and not continue to be our reality.

 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Hey readers,

I was lucky to receive a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens last month from Penguin Random House and Putnam Books in exchange for an honest review, and I can honestly say that this book is definitely on the short list for my top 10 books of the year. It’s that good.

IMG_0388

Delia Owens has written a beautiful first novel that is a murder mystery, coming of age story and a study of nature all in one. She tells the story of Kya Clark, a young woman raised by nature and Chase Andrews, a local man who is found murdered. Kya, known to the locals as “Marsh Girl” is immediately a suspect in the murder. Jumping back in time to 1952 when at age six, Kya’s beloved mother walks down the lane and disappears without looking back, we journey through alternating chapters between Kya’s past and present to learn how she got to where she is now.

“The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seemed away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

Delia Owen’s writing is lush and descriptive as she tells you the story of an abandoned six year old growing up in the marsh lands of North Carolina. She tells a magical tale as she reflects back through Kya’s own fascination with birds, insects, shifting tides and the light of the swamp. Through Kya’s eyes as she experiences the swamp and all it has to offer her, the swamp itself becomes a vivid character all on its own. Her thoughtful, poetic prose evokes emotion and tells a story that will make the North Carolina swamp lands and Kya Clark stick with readers for a long time after finishing the book.

I have a soft spot in my heart for strong female heroines and Delia Clark doesn’t let me down with Kya Clark. After her mother abandons her at age six, and then each of her four siblings leave her in turn, she is left to be with her drunk and abusive father all alone. She learns to dart between sunbeams and shadows to survive her fathers moods, and though for awhile they share a couple weeks of bliss for our young Kya, at age ten he slips back into alcoholism and abandons her as well. Her heart-breaking formative years, forces her to learn to survive on her own and miraculously after all this abandonment and time alone she allows herself to open up to people, not just the two young men who find themselves drawn to her, but to a couple who take her under their wing and treat Kya as much like a daughter as she will allow. Her resiliency, strength, and determination has definitely found her a spot among the list of my favorite female characters.

IMG_1303

Overall this novel had everything I want in a novel: hope and redemption, love and loss, loneliness and belonging, and strength and determination. I hope that everyone will read it and find themselves where the crawdads sing.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Seas

Okay – So I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t pick up this book originally because of its cover. But if we’re being honest, and if this is a safe space (which obviously it is because it’s mine), how could you blame me? The cover screams fairy tale and I’m nothing if I’m not a sucker for a fairy tale.

Samantha Hunt’s debut novel, which was rereleased by Tin House in July of 2018, is about an unnamed narrator, a 19 year old outcast living in a small fishing town, holding vigil for her father who walked into the ocean and never returned and in love, although unrequited, with an Iraq war vet thirteen years her senior. She also happens to believe that she is a mermaid.

Hunt tells a haunting, beautiful novel of a young woman. Her obsession with two of the significant men her life, her father and her first love. Her belief that she is a mermaid. And her inability to escape the world that she lives in. The story is one that flows from fantasy to reality in a way that makes it hard for the reader to determine what is real and what isn’t, just like how our narrator suffers from the same thing.

I wouldn’t say that it is done seamlessly however. The choppy way that it bounces back and forth, from one reality to the next, reminds me of the very thing the book is named after; the sea. The sea which is never calm and easy but choppy and constantly flowing and moving, forcing you to be able to stay a float and be sucked underneath and swept away with it. This book will sweep you away with it and it is worth every minute of it.

“If there was no rain, we would see how our poor town sits in a pit of sadness like a black hole or a wallowing cavity or an old woman.”

Her wonderfully detailed prose is poetic. Similes and metaphors are used constantly through out the book really set up the imagery and painted a picture of this little town and the key players involved in our narrators life. The metaphors are heavy handed at times, they are impossible to miss, almost beating the reader down with how many of them their are but it really serves to the sweeping and volatile nature of the story and our narrator.

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: City of Ghosts

Hey Hi Hello my friends, I know its been a long time between posts and I’m really hoping life calms down soon but if we’re going to be honest I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I’m coming to you today to talk to you about Victoria Schwab’s latest: City of Ghosts. Friends, Schwab did it again, proved exactly why she’s at the top of my list for favorite authors, and why I buy multiple versions of the same book because I can’t imagine not having ALL of the Victoria/V.E. Schwab books.

City of Ghosts is Schwab’s newest middle grade novel about a girl who almost drowned, the ghost boy who saved her, and her exciting jaunt through Edinburgh, Scotland and its many ghosts. I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened its pages, and those thoughts were swept away as I devoured this book from the first page to it’s last in one day.

“In the end, I guess mom was right.

I have one foot in winter and one in spring,

One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”

Schwab’s storytelling is what kept me rapt as I read this middle grade novel as a 28 year old woman. It maintains some of the darker elements of her other YA or Adult Fantasy novels, while also maintaining a whimsicality that worked well to keep it perfect for a young reader to follow along with 12 year old Cassidy Blake. The book was also so perfectly atmospheric, it made me feel like I was in Edinburgh with Cassidy experiencing the sights and sounds with her. It definitely would be the perfect spooky fall read if you’re looking for something “Stranger Things mixed with Ghost Hunters”-esque.

While I did really enjoy the book, I did have a couple of quibbles. The first is I thought characters could have been more fleshed out. I enjoyed Cassidy Blake, however I wish I had gotten to know a little bit more about Jacob (maybe thats to come in book 2?) or even Lara Jayne Chowdhury. I am looking forward to where she brings these characters in book 2 and will definitely be picking it up once released.

The second is that the plot seemed fairly simplistic and pretty straight forward. There weren’t many twists and turns that kept me guessing as to how the story was going to end. However, this may be a situation of not having read enough middle grade, and having too high expectations.

Over all, City of Ghosts was a delightfully spooky story with easy to devour writing, a friendship I’m a little bit jealous of (who doesn’t want to be best friends with a ghost), and lots of dead things. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun, quick fall read.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review – Next Year in Havana

I picked up Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton after Reese Witherspoon announced in as her July book pick for the Reese’s Book Club. Not only was this the first book I read for Reese’s Book Club but it was also my first read by Chanel Cleeton and I was not disappointed by either.

We follow two women, Elisa Perez living in Havana before the rebellion until her family’s exile in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol, visiting Cuba for the first time in 2017. And through Elisa and Marisol we get to experience Cuba. Cleeton’s writing is so atmospheric that if I closed my eyes, I could picture Cuba, the sights, the sounds and smells. Through these characters and their experiences we also learn about the people of Cuba as a whole – those who left Cuba with their belongings on their backs, passing along memories to their descendants and those who stayed behind with hopes of change that would not happen.

One of the things that I loved about this novel, was the way that Cleeton addressed Marisol’s view of herself as a Cuban-American. How she was concerned that she wouldn’t be welcome in Cuba, that she wasn’t “Cuban” enough. It was particularly clear in the way that Cleeton described Marisol feeling both at home while still feeling like an outsider in a country that meant so much to her and to her family.

“You speak as though politics is its own separate entity,’ he says. ‘As though it isn’t in the air around us, as though ever single part of us isn’t political. How can you dismiss something that is so fundamental to the integrity of who we are as a people, as a country? How can you dismiss something that directly affects the lives of so many?”

I didn’t know very much about Cuba before I read this book. I knew some basic information but the depth of Cuba: the politics, the way Cuban’s live, the history, etc – was all new to me. The politics of Cuba come up a lot in this book as the undercurrent of the story, it pushes it forward.  Not just the politics of the government, but also the politics of the social classes. How each social class viewed the rebellion, who agreed and who disagreed, and the the politics of why. And not just that, but how those who stayed in Cuba viewed those who left and vice versa.

One of my favorite things about the genre of historical fiction is that you can learn about history in a way that is almost hands on. With characters like those of Chanel Cleeton’s in Next Year in Havana, they help the reader view the situation through their own eyes in a way that a history book doesn’t. It allows you to experience it instead of just getting the facts. Chanel Cleeton describes this book as a “book of my heart”, stating that her family also escaped Cuba and that she credits their stories with some of the bases for this book. The fact that her family lived through these experiences only adds to that feeling.

Ultimately I loved this book, and I am really looking forward to more of Chanel Cleeton’s writing, especially to hear Beatriz’s story in When We Left Cuba in 2019.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah