The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison – Book Review


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

RATING: 5/5

 

The Story

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.…

The Review

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.

The Butterfly Garden is out now and can be purchased here. Be sure to also look out for Roses of May, a semi-sequel due to be released later this year.

Dot Hutchison can be contacted via her website and twitter.

Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard- Book Review


Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard (Legend Press)

Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Genres: Thriller, Trauma

RATING: 4/5

 

Story

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.

Review

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!

Susanna Beard can be contacted via her website and twitter.

The One by John Marrs – Book Review


The One by John Marrs (Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing)

Review copy provided by Netgalley.

Genres: Romance, Drama, Thriller

RATING: 4/5

The Story

Scientists have finally discovered the key to a lasting romance – DNA. Geneticists have identified one gene, which each person shares with just one other individual, their Match. Five people decide to take the test in the hope of meeting their one true love. What they encounter will change their lives irrevocably, and will they get their happily ever after?

The Review

Imagine if you could scientifically identify the love of your life. Would you do it? The One is a fantastic exploration of the implications of this idea – what if your one true Match isn’t a good person? What if they are already in a relationship? What if you are in a relationship? It also challenges what our idea of love really is, and how much people are willing to sacrifice in order to have it.

The premise of this novel is a really unique idea, and its one which I think would appeal to a lot of people. Imagine being able to prove you were meant to be with someone. I think I’d take the test.

The One is written from the perspective of 5 people who sign up to Match Your DNA with the hope of finding their true love. Whilst using 5 individuals is a really clever way to explore the different effects taking the test could have, I found it detracted a little from the flow of the novel. There was great tension created, and each of the 5 storylines were very distinct, but I think it would have worked better if there were fewer characters or more than one chapter dedicated to each person at a time. At times I felt a bit detached from the characters.

I also wonder whether this structure meant some of the characters weren’t as well defined as they could have been. For instance, there is a character called Ellie who initially claims not to be materialistic, but then states how much she loves clothes.

Chapter 5:

“Ellie’s business was her priority, not the thread count of the Egyptian cotton covering her bed, how many David Hockney paintings hung from her picture rails or the number of Swarovski crystals used in her hallway chandelier.”

Chapter 30:

“As much as she admired a strong female role model like Madonna, Ellie was no Material Girl.”

Conversely, in Chapter 35:

“…he held her vintage Alexander McQueen coat open for her to slip her arms into…she knew she shouldn’t feel guilty for buying nice things…and she was a girl who loved her clothes.”

It is just a small niggle, but it’s these sorts of things which vex me slightly. Nevertheless, the cast of this book are distinct, and all of them are at times relatable (even one who many would describe as abhorrent, though maybe less relatable than others!)

Sometimes The One can feel a bit fanciful, such as they way some characters lock eyes and instantaneously know they are Matched, but I suppose if you buy into the concept of a scientific test for your soul-mate these cliches can be overlooked. Maybe that’s the body’s physiological response to meeting someone with the same DNA match as your own!

One of the things I liked best about this novel was the tension. There were some twists and turns that were a little too obvious for my liking, but some I definitely didn’t see coming – and I’m not ashamed to admit that one even had me shedding some tears! There was a particularly juicy twist right towards the end, but obviously I won’t share it with you. Let’s just say it definitely took me by surprise.

The book started off a little weak for my tastes, but it got better and better, and as I was nearing the end I couldn’t really put it down. A very engaging story, if you have the patience to see it through the first few chapters.

The One is released on paperback on 4th May 2017, but you can get it on the kindle NOW!

John Marrs can be contacted via twitter.

Final Girls by Riley Sager – Book Review


Final Girls by Riley Sager (Random House UK, Ebury Publishing, Ebury Press)

Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Drama, Mystery

 

RATING: 5/5

 

The Story

Quincy is a baking blogger living a picture-perfect life with her lawyer boyfriend in central New York. At least, that’s what an outsider would see. When Quincy was in university herself and her friends were brutally attacked at Pine Cottage, a trauma which Quincy has carried with her, along with a media label she can’t escape – she is a ‘Final Girl’. This name links her with two other survivors of violent crime, Sam and Lisa.

The famous trio have never met, but that will quickly change with Lisa’s apparent suicide and Sam’s arrival on Quincy’s doorstep.Alongside her Final Girl companions comes the past Quincy wants to forget, and some hard truths which make her question even her most steadfast beliefs.

Final Girls is a compelling mystery thriller with a intricate narrative that keeps the reader hooked until the very last page.

The Review

The first thing I thought when I picked up this book was that it was extremely well written.

This may seem obvious –  after all it is a published novel. Sadly, that is becoming less and less indicative of quality literature nowadays. When I started reading Final Girls I could tell within the first few pages that it would be an easy read. Sager’s prose has a diversity and fluidity which makes it interesting, engaging and yet not so complicated as you have to work out what she’s on about. Even better, it’s not so simple that you feel like you’re reading a book aimed at tweens.

By no means, however, does an easy-reader mean that we are faced with a simple chick-lit novel for people who aren’t interested in a good plot or character development. The story is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time.

Sager has actually managed to write a novel full of twists which I didn’t see coming. I don’t mean to bang my own drum here, but I find imaginative twists more and more difficult to come by. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, so I expect the unexpected. Or maybe quality authors who still have the ability to surprise a modern audience are just harder to come by. Whatever the reason, I’m delighted to have come across Sager. She’s one of those authors who gives you just enough information to make you think you’re clever and that you’ve worked it out, and then throws not one but ten curve-balls at you.

I will admit, I wasn’t always happy about those curve-balls. The ending of the novel is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be, because it results in Quincy losing someone who I thought was a brilliant, admirable character. I felt a little cheated, and I’m not sure that the decision really benefited the novel. That, however, is personal preference.

 

Final Girls is an intriguing, harrowing, uplifting and occasionally tragic story, which sensitively illustrates the reality for many real victims of violent crime. Sager provides a unique opportunity to delve into the psyche of the ‘victim’, not with one character but with many, and reveals just what we would expect; no two victims are the same, and they may, in fact, be something entirely unexpected.

In many ways Final Girls is a by-the-numbers mystery novel. As you proceed through the story you discover, alongside the protagonist, the gratifying and horrifying truths of life. What helps it to stand out from the crowd, however, are clearly defined characters with real motivations. They are the backbone of this novel. The reader feels for them, understands them, envies them, hates them, and has to find out how their stories end. The plot is compelling, but without this strong cast of characters I’m doubtful the story would have the same impact.

A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 29th June 2017.

I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think!

You can follow Riley Sager on Twitter.