If you’re after an easy-read romance with all the classic ingredients, Unrequited Alice might be the one for you.
Read my honest review here.
Purchase the novel here.
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (Thomas & Mercer)
Unlike my other reviews, this was not provided by Netgalley. I simply read it and felt it deserved some advertisement.
Genres: Thriller, Trauma, Abduction
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviours, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.…
WOW. Loved this book. Just going to put it straight out there. Original, thrilling, enthralling, horrific, un-put-downable. I can’t decide whether it’s an extremely tragic story, or an ultimately uplifting one…maybe it can be both?
This novel is not for the faint of heart. It deals with neglect, abduction, rape, torture and murder. Why, you ask, do you want to read about that? Because Hutchison also writes about hope, love, family, bravery and heroism. The Butterfly Garden is a story about courage in the face of extreme adversary, people coming together just when they feel like they want to fall apart, and the power of one’s own convictions to see justice done.
The heroine of this story is Maya. She’s sassy and doesn’t take crap from anyone, but is also loyal to a fault, fiercely protective of those who need her help, and has a streak of charm that I’d challenge any reader not to fall for. She is extremely relatable and sympathetic, but with enough hard edges that I believe every bit of her story.
Speaking of the story, I love how it plays out. The novel opens with the discovery of the garden – most writers would leave this until the end. What Hutchison does is take us through Maya’s story along with the FBI investigators, unravelling each tantalising clue to her experience through detailed questioning. There is nothing chronological about the telling, and I love that. It’s very refreshing, and definitely keeps me engaged as a reader.
Alongside Maya is a brilliant supporting cast. It would be far too easy for Hutchison to create carbon copies of Maya for all the victims of the garden – after all, some people may think that there’s only so much variety to be had in a group of 16-21 year old females. The author, however, uses hobbies, speech and personality traits to create very distinct characters who each have their own roles to play in this story.
I must also praise Hutchison for her male characters. There are a lot of horrible men in this novel, but she doesn’t make a sweeping generalisation that all men are dangerous. In fact, I believe one of the kindest people is Agent Victor Hanoverian, who questions Maya relentlessly but also with compassion and understanding.
Even the Gardener isn’t black and white. He may be a fundamentally evil person, but even he has moments of softness – she gives him a humanity other authors may not have deigned to bestow, but that’s what makes this novel so great. It is firmly grounded in reality. According to Parents.com, every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted. There are thousands upon thousands of people all over the world with stories like Maya’s, and it’s important that we hear about them. Whether fact or fiction, it is important that the world never forgets the dangers children face in this world. Stories like The Butterfly Garden prompt us to remember those who are lost and bolster the search for those who may still be found.
This novel is a triumph.
Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard (Legend Press)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Thriller, Trauma
Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her best friend dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.
However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions, too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?
As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there’s another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can’t escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.
In many ways this is a horrible book. We spend a lot of time experiencing Lisa’s flashbacks and fear, and there are very few laughs. It’s sad. Of course, what would you expect with this subject matter?
But don’t let that put you off. Were it any different, it would be awful. As it is, the novel is a triumph.
Beard has managed to portray a realistic, well-rounded victim of trauma in an accurate and respectful way. Her psychological difficulties are at the forefront of the story, but Lisa is still a real human being and she isn’t defined by that one experience. She has depth and personality, and I think I really understand her.
I think the success of this novel is partly down to its pace. Although the storyline of Dare to Remember spans approximately 2 years, it takes a long time to get there. We spend a lot of time with Lisa immediately after the event, as she struggles to come to terms with what’s happened. It is a great way to really get your claws into the mindset of the character, though the subject matter and slowness does make it a bit more difficult to stay engaged with the book for long stretches. I’m a read from 8pm to 3am sort of person, so that didn’t suit me, but you may be a 10-page at a time person, in which case it’d be perfect.
Despite taking a little longer to read the novel than I would usually, there is a great air of intrigue which kept me coming back. Lisa can’t remember what happened that night, or even who Fergus was, though there is something, as my brother would say, ‘on the tip of her brain’. Her struggle to find out what that something is definitely keeps the pages turning, and when it is revealed it’s a worthy surprise.
I’m also delighted that Beard didn’t feel the need to give Lisa a man to ‘help her through’. Well, the psychologist is a man, but that doesn’t count. She is her own knight in shining armour, and that is a truly refreshing thing to find, even in this day and age!
It’s a great read for any fans of the thriller genre, and I’d definitely recommend. Just don’t expect a laugh.
Dare to Remember is available to purchase NOW!
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Random House UK, Children’s
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Romance, Teen, Young Adult, Coming-of-Age
Molly is on the cusp of womanhood, though she doesn’t feel like it. She’s never been to a house party, never had alcohol, and never kissed a boy. That’s not to say she hasn’t wanted to; in fact, she’s had 26 unrequited crushes in her 17 years. But no matter what advice her twin sister Cassie has for her, Molly never has the courage to speak to boys. In fact, the only one she can speak to is the nerdy guy at the store where she works, but she doesn’t crush on him so that doesn’t really count, right? When Cassie begins dating Mina, Molly is pushed into a circle of friends she’d never normally hang out with, and she makes a pact with herself to let go of control and be daring. Speak to the boys. Especially Will, who might be the coolest guy Molly’s ever been friends with.
The Upside of Unrequited is a delightful look at the trials and tribulations of an almost-adult. It’s never easy to find love, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find you, in the most unexpected of places.
What strikes me most about this novel is that it made me remember. I’m 25, which I admit is not very old, but 17 still feels like a lifetime ago. Molly’s story reminded me about that time in my life, where everything was more emotional, more dramatic, more important. When I look back on my memories I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, but I expect both is in order. Becky Albertalli has managed to successfully inhabit the teenage voice without being patronising, minimising or childish. Molly was someone I could relate to, and I understood her struggles.
As well as being a great example of how to write for teenagers, about teenagers, The Upside of Unrequited also reads like a love-letter to nerds. Being a self-proclaimed nerd myself, it’s nice to see them win every once in a while. Pinterest lovers will enjoy the crafty side to Molly’s personality, whilst LOTR geeks like myself will also find nods to their particular brand of interests.
The novel centres around Molly’s quest for love, but it also has a strong vein running through it concerning sisterhood, and the problems which can arise between siblings during young adulthood. All siblings grow apart a little as they transition from teenager to adult, but with twins this experience can be even more difficult. Molly and Cassie clearly have a very close relationship, but they are also distinct characters with their own ideals and aspirations. Albertalli handles this with care and realism. I completely feel for Molly when she feels that Cassie is drifting away, but I also totally understand Cassie’s desire for more independence.
I’m very impressed with this novel. What could have been a by-the-numbers story of a teenager wanting to find love is actually a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what it is to be a teenager in today’s society. I think The Upside of Unrequited can give hope to those who feel like they’re always going to feel alone and unloved. There’s someone out there for everyone. I’ve also got to add that I love the subtle way Albertalli promotes LGBT relationships in this novel. Because it is such an important issue, I think that sometimes authors can shove it in your face a little too much. With The Upside of Unrequited, all the LGBT relationships just seem right. There are no ‘token gays’. It’s just real life.
The Upside of Unrequited is released on 11th April 2017.
Unrequited Alice by Sarah Louise Smith (Crooked Cat)
Review copy provided by Netgalley for an honest review.
Genres: Romance, Chick lit
Alice was delighted when her oldest friend, Hannah, asked her to be her maid of honour. As the hen party approaches, Alice’s head is filled with her list of duties. One is more important than them all; to fall out of love with Ed, Hannah’s gorgeous fiance.
The wedding fills Alice with a nauseating combination of joy for Hannah and heartbreak that Ed will never be hers. What she doesn’t realise is that the wedding will change not only the lives of the happy couple, but hers as well.
Whilst on the hen party in Canada, Alice meets Toby, a handsome but mysterious man with whom she feels an immediate connection. As they spend more and more time together, her feelings for Toby grow and she begins to think that her love for Ed might not last forever after all. There’s just one problem. Toby is in love with another woman.
Oh, Alice. I think we all know what it’s like to have unrequited feelings for someone else. Most people, I’m sure, have experienced a school-yard crush. It might even have felt like love at the time – everything is more intense during puberty.
It’s an awful situation for her, made worse by the fact that the man is dating her oldest friend and they’re about to get married. She has to watch their happiest day ever, all the while believing her chance at happiness is lost forever. Quite early into the novel I found Alice to be a sympathetic character. During the hen do she was clearly trying to do what was right for her best friend, but at the same time she was struggling to cope with her feelings for the groom.
Unfortunately my sympathy for Alice dissipated fairly swiftly after the hen party. I found she became quite irritating, frequently changing her mind, or claiming she would behave in one way and then do the exact opposite not two seconds later. She repeatedly says she needs to accept that herself and Toby won’t be romantically involved, but then acts like they’re dating and gets offended when he calls her his ‘friend’.
What’s more, there were many occasions where Alice had ‘revelations’ which I as the reader was already well aware of, thanks to a repetitive, detailed description of our heroine’s thoughts and feelings. WE KNOW SHE LOVES ED. I’m not sure it’s necessary to remind us in virtually every paragraph of the first few chapters. She starts developing feelings for Toby, which is very clear from her thoughts and interactions with him, but she doesn’t ‘realise’ this until much later. That just doesn’t seem realistic to me.
I’m also struggling to see Toby as a desirable male character. He’s too moody, manipulative, petulant, stubborn, and he doesn’t respect Alice or treat her well. He’ll call her beautiful but also says there’s no chance of anything happening between them, when he knows full well that she might be developing feelings for him. He wants her around but only when it’s convenient for him, and I am not happy with him at all.
I kind of think Alice can do better. She’d be a lot less irritating if the men in her life would just be straight with her and stop messing with her emotions. The novel revolves around them, and they’re not doing her any favours. I’d much prefer a story where we actually got to hear a bit about her life away from these men. She has a great job at a bookstore, and a promising interest in photography, but these areas of her life are breezed over to get back to what’s ‘important’ – finding love.
As chick lit, it’s a perfectly good novel. There is romance, tension, heartbreak and challenge, but it lacks substance and depth. Although we learn about her family and interests, it’s in a passive way which makes it seem as though there is nothing more important to her than finding a man who loves her back. Sure, it’s not a bad goal, but for a 21st century woman, I’d like to think it’s a bit two-dimensional.
Unrequited Alice is released on 16th March.