At night the Garden was a place of shadows and moonlight, where you could more clearly hear all the illusions that went into making it what it was.
At night the Garden was a place of shadows and moonlight, where you could more clearly hear all the illusions that went into making it what it was.
The Butterfly Garden was a book I knew nothing about. I haven't been highly anticipating it for months and it only made it on to my "to read" shelf a few days ago. But it popped up in my GR feed and everything about it called to me. It exuded a dark creepiness that drew me in. It promised a story of beauty and horror. And my instincts were right - I was enthralled from page one.
Oh, where to start with this book.
It's set in the present with two FBI agents trying to uncover the truth behind the crime scene they have just discovered. What they know is that they have found "The Garden", a prison where the psychopath known as "The Gardener" has kept young women trapped for decades. He calls them "Butterflies", tattooing wings on their backs before renaming them, raping them and letting his violent son terrorize them.
Yes, they know this. We know this. But it is the witness they are interviewing - known only as Maya - who really knows what it was like behind the garden walls. The horrors that occurred. The truth behind what happens to the girls when they turn twenty-one. And maybe, just maybe, she knows something more. As she recounts her tale of life as a captive, it becomes clear that she is hiding something, and the agents begin to question what part Maya played in these crimes.
During the day there was conversation and movement, sometimes games or songs, and it masked the sound of the pipes feeding water and nutrients through the beds, of the fans that circulated the air. At night, the creature that was the Garden peeled back its synthetic skin to show the skeleton beneath.
It is a chilling, terrifying thriller, and yet it is so beautifully told. The perfect balance of ugliness and beauty.
And Maya is the perfect narrator. Mysterious, cynical, sympathetic. Full of secrets that keep us reading, but likable enough for us to be pulled along for the ride on an emotional level too. The author doesn't shy away from grotesque details, but it is so well-written, each character so well-crafted, that it never feels gratuitous or deliberately sensational.
But, perhaps the thing that makes The Butterfly Garden stand out so much from other thrillers that contain tension, mystery and psychopaths, is the relationship between the young women. The intricate friendships and different personalities. There are no throwaway characters and the author portrays each victim as an important individual in her own right.
“Honestly? I don’t think I know what that kind of love is. I’ve seen it in a few others, but for myself? Maybe I’m just not capable of it.” “I can’t decide if that’s sad or safe.” “I can’t think of any reason it can’t be both.”
The depth of the characterization is fascinating. The straight-talking, spirited Bliss who never knows when to shut her mouth. Zara the bitch who is mean to everyone and yet still claims our affection in the end. Lyonette who is the mother hen to the other girls. And aging Lorraine who is so far gone that she craves love and approval from the Gardener. All of them complex, layered and thought-provoking.
The Butterfly Garden is somehow both a horrifying thriller and the tale of the friendships and rivalries between young women. It's a strange combination that leaves the reader with a bittersweet aftertaste. I doubt I will ever forget it.
The genre is so... familiar. Perhaps its unfair to blame Age of Myth for that. Perhaps the real culpritThis is why I no longer read much epic fantasy.
The genre is so... familiar. Perhaps its unfair to blame Age of Myth for that. Perhaps the real culprit is the limitations of this genre (or the perceived limitations at least) because all epic fantasy series contain the same or similar elements, they blend into one, they all start to look the same after a while, and they all start to look like A Song of Ice and Fire.
Sullivan is a competent writer with a flowing style that doesn't suffer from the same density employed by many other fantasy writers. There is intricate world-building, developed characters and bloody battles - and yet, I don't know about you, but I've seen this all before. This world feels like a mash-up of several others, the characters remind me of other fantasy characters, and the action cannot make up for the lack of emotional stimulation.
It is too neat, too safe, too recycled. "What will happen?" is a thought that never crossed my mind. It seemed I already knew.
Age of Myth opens with Raithe killing one of the Fhrey - a strong race of creatures deemed "godlike" and believed, until now, to be immortal. He earns himself the title of "God Killer", yet another addition to the Kingslayer, Kingkiller (etc.) trope. But, of course, this changes everything. Not only is Raithe wanted by the Fhrey, but he has also uncovered a dark truth - the Gods can be killed.
The story also focuses on a seer called Suri, and Persephone, a widow destined to become the first female chieftain. This in itself calls for comparisons to Daenerys Targaryen, but it is the word "dahl" - so similar to Martin's "Khal" title - that makes one wonder if the similarities can really be coincidental.
Gods, warriors, giants, seers, goblins, clans reminiscent of Westeros' houses, wolf companions reminiscent of the Stark direwolves - I can't pinpoint anything original or standout here. Granted, originality is hard to come by in the narrow confines of genre, but that is why authors need to step it up with a sparkling writing style, memorable characters, or just some charm and narrative charisma.
Unfortunately, Age of Myth is simply forgettable in the vast sea of the fantasy genre.
The real highlights of this little children's novel about grief are the gorgeous illustrations. They are absolutely stunning and alone make this bookThe real highlights of this little children's novel about grief are the gorgeous illustrations. They are absolutely stunning and alone make this book worth taking a look at. The story, however, wasn't as strong. Not bad, but repetitive to a fault, the "point" already felt hammered home halfway through the book. Sweet little message, though....more
Okay, I just can't do it. I cannot go any further.
I am giving up around the halfway point - which is arguably very generous for a 600-page book - becaOkay, I just can't do it. I cannot go any further.
I am giving up around the halfway point - which is arguably very generous for a 600-page book - because I'm just getting more and more irritated. I picked up I Am Pilgrim after seeing it on Goodreads' 16 Underrated Books That Deserve Your Attention post, and thinking that it was about time I found myself a fast-paced thriller.
And it starts fairly well, I'll give it that. The novel is broken up into "parts", each dealing with a different part of Pilgrim's life - as an Intelligence agent, an assassin, a criminal investigator, etc. - and the first part is quite exciting. It opens with a grisly murder, seemingly sexual in nature, with the victim dissolving in acid in the bathtub. The scene is so lacking in evidence that it looks like we got a badass on our hands.
Come on... murder, sex, perfect crimes - who wouldn't be interested at this point?
The bestest, baddest super spy of them all - the so-called "Pilgrim" - seems a little generic and lacking in characterization beyond the repeated affirmations by everyone that he really is THE BEST at everything, but that's okay. This book has over six hundred pages; surely he will develop a personality in time.
He doesn't. The few times the author attempts to connect us with his protagonist are over the most obvious universal sentiments - by that I mean he is sad for the people who were tortured and starved during the Holocaust, and angry because of 9/11. Oh wow, so that makes him like... almost everyone else.
Also, it seems strange that his narrative "voice" changes significantly in each part, depending on whether he is being sad for the war victims or delivering a diatribe against the crazy Muslims. I felt like I was reading stories told from the perspective of different characters.
AND it's all tell, tell, tell. He is the best in the world. This super badass former Intelligence Officer who knows everything… or so we keep being told. In action, he acts like an idiot for the most part, makes stupid mistakes, is somehow allowed to publish a book about his time as a secret agent (wtf?), and then spends his life running from all the readers who want to hunt him down.
Every single woman he meets his beautiful beyond belief, and I lost count of how many times we had to hear descriptions of the various curves, boobs, legs and heels wandering around. I'm not even looking at this as a feminist critique - political issues aside, frankly, it's boring. And yes, I absolutely would feel the same way if someone was constantly describing all the gorgeous men with rippling muscles.
Yet, this didn't stop me from reading. Nope, it was something else. These things are, in fact, all minor criticisms compared to the raging Islamophobia. It honestly made me very uncomfortable. I know that author's are not their characters, but I swear I could feel Hayes' disdain for the Saudi culture and people dripping onto the pages.
Now, I'll admit it: I don't think Saudi practices should be beyond criticism. I don't agree with their laws limiting women's rights, and the government is guilty of many human rights abuses. BUT Pilgrim's self-righteous superiority as he marches through this Muslim country is embarrassing.
Despite its huge wealth, vast oil reserves, and love of high-tech American armaments, nothing really works in Saudi Arabia.
The driver thought I was crazy - but then his religion thinks stoning a woman to death for adultery is reasonable, so I figured we were about even.
This whole book is about a white American milking 9/11 as an excuse to defeat the crazy Muslims. It perpetuates the notion that Muslims hate America, and that Saudis are lecherous pervs who lust after white women.
And, by the way, that last quote there just bugs the hell out of me. I'm a British atheist and I have no religious affiliation, but someone needs to say it: the Christian Bible also thinks adulterers should be put to death!
"If a man commits adultery with another man's wife both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death." (Leviticus 20:10)
AND, if we're being nitpicky, the Qu'ran doesn't sentence adulterers to death, it sentences them to a flogging. The Hadiths, however, is the text that sentences adulterers to death BUT it does not distinguish between male and female adulterers.
When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female, they should receive one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in case of married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death. — Sahih Muslim, 17:4191
I read on for another couple hundred pages after the Islamophobia started because I wanted to give the book a chance to redeem itself. But it didn't. The story literally is about an amazing American agent defeating the Muslims. It's cringy.
I love it when historical fiction manages to be both informative about a time and place I knew nothing about, and emotionally crushing. Oh, okay, thatI love it when historical fiction manages to be both informative about a time and place I knew nothing about, and emotionally crushing. Oh, okay, that may be a bit dramatic - it's not that much of a depressing book. But still, Rachel's story made me cry :(...more
The difference between this and every other depressing and horrific account of World War II is the very personal focus on Louis Zamperini. The tellingThe difference between this and every other depressing and horrific account of World War II is the very personal focus on Louis Zamperini. The telling of his life from a troubled yet spirited young boy, to a famous athlete, to a soldier on the brink of death, to a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp, takes you very deep inside this dark time of history. The horrors feel closer, more real, and the pages demand to be turned.
Unlike Michelangelo, I may not have church ceilings and museum walls to hang art on, to show what I need the world to see. But I do have lockers. And
Unlike Michelangelo, I may not have church ceilings and museum walls to hang art on, to show what I need the world to see. But I do have lockers. And I have the Internet.
Draw the Line is my definition of great Contemporary YA: a serious look at hard-hitting social issues, with a warm fuzzy tingle of hope to wrap it up.
Overall, I've had a bit of a disappointing 2016 when it comes to LGBT fiction. Compared to 2015, which brought the hilarious Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the dark and sad More Happy Than Not, and the quietly powerful middle-grade trans novel - George, this year just hasn't brought anything that exciting or memorable. Well, until now, that is.
For the first approx. 100 pages (which sounds like a lot but includes many illustrations), Draw the Line was just a good book. I enjoyed Adrian Piper's voice and I loved how the author got creative, weaving story with artwork to tell a tale about a teen who lives a secret life as a comic artist. He escapes reality by drawing a gay superhero called "Graphite", evidently based on himself.
It's also funny, nerdy, and diverse in a way that feels natural and unforced. Anyone can work through a diversity checklist of token characters, but the black, white, Jewish, gay, straight, asexual, plus-size and skinny characters in this book all feel created with love and sensitivity.
But it's after the first 20%-ish when this book becomes really great.
That's when shit goes down and the issues at the centre of this book are tackled head on. When Adrian Piper intervenes to stop a hate crime against a fellow gay student, the spotlight is turned on him. My fury rose with his as he discovered how few people in his small Texas town - even the adults and teachers he should have been able to turn to - were willing to speak up in defense of a gay kid.
Everywhere he turns, people don't want to rock the boat and make the bullies angry. But what about his anger? The anger he feels at watching others commit a hate crime and simply get away with it?
Blaming some deity for your own hate seems pretty messed up to me.
So Adrian fashions his own kind of weapon: art.
His subversionary tactics have consequences, of course. And they bring to light many issues affecting those around Adrian - especially issues of masculinity and the pressure teenage boys feel to behave in a "manly" way or face the wrath of their peers.
It's a powerful book about superheroes, and the quietly subversive heroes that live among us. And yet, despite the serious issues, it is far from dark. It brings light, creativity, geeky references and gay romance to the table. Most likely, it will make you angry. But it will make you happy too.