Review: The Butterfly Garden (By Dot Hutchison)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An isolated garden. Beautiful trees and flowers. And a collection of butterflies – kidnapped women intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes and whose beauty is captured and preserved. Overseeing all of this is The Gardener. When the FBI rescues the girls, they find themselves struggling to find answers. The girls are too damaged to speak or share what they’ve been through. Only one girl stands apart – Maya. Maya begins to take FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison through her story, and the story of many others interwoven with hers. More disturbing than they could have ever imagined, the story that Maya tells them takes them into the horrors of the Garden and The Gardener’s mind. Yet, something is missing, something is being held back. Maya is hiding something. Agent Hanoverian needs to get to the truth. Because uncovering Maya’s secret, or failing to do so, will affect the fate of every girl they rescued and the man responsible for their horror.

The Bottom Line:

A disturbing book with a good storyline, but that fails to pack a real punch.

My take:

One thing is for sure – The Butterfly Garden isn’t a book that everyone will be able to digest. The way the book plays out could be enough to make people extremely uncomfortable. The events and the psyche of its characters are quite disturbing and occasionally even make your skin crawl. One good thing though, is that it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Hutchison skips over the most graphic details, choosing instead to focus on the events leading up to it, and after it, and how it made the characters involved, feel. And that’s done quite well, saving readers from the worst of it, but still showcasing enough of the fallout to evoke some empathy, sympathy, and disturbance.

The story and the premise itself are just about okay. I mean, it’s interesting enough to create a story where a man has an entire garden of women whose beauty is preserved in death. But the story has a lot of plotholes. Like, how did no one notice something wrong for so many years? Or why didn’t the captured girls fight back when they had the clear advantage of numbers? There are many other such plot-points which, I felt, should have been explored more to make the story more believable. If the end result would have been what the story said it was anyway, that would’ve been fine. But the question of What if would have been solved.

Hutchison tries to offer that solution through conversation. For instance, she does showcase how terrified the girls were of making any attempt at overthrowing their kidnapper that would be ‘almost’ successful. The result of the ‘almost’ aspect was certain death. Which is why no one ever tries anything. But showing this would have made it more rounded as a story, instead of just mentioning it in passing as Hutchison has done.

The style of the book is definitely unique. It switches between the third person – when the detectives are interviewing Maya, and the first person – when Maya relates her own story. The contrasting approaches actually made a pretty good combination, leaving you turning page after page.

Characterization was good, although a bit over the top in some cases. The detectives are very likable and I’m keen to follow their story arcs over the next few books in the series (apparently, they’re related, but can all be read standalone).

The two biggest problems with The Butterfly Garden were that (a) it didn’t actually become as creepy and psychologically troubling as it could have been (which is something people look for in the genre of psychological thriller or horror), and (b) a large part of the plot is anticlimactic.

I started this book expecting it to be one of those that burns disturbing images into your head and keeps you revisiting them for a while, especially in your nightmares. That happened to me with John Case’s Murder Artist. I couldn’t sleep for days after reading that one because it was incredibly disturbing, not from a horror perspective, but from the extent of “how far can people go”. A lot of people may have felt the same with The Butterfly Garden. But the book gave me half a sleepless night before I began to forget about it. What remained are those detectives, and I’d like to follow the series for them and the fact that Hutchison may not be the best in the psychological thriller genre, but her books do follow an interesting theme.

Should you read The Butterfly Garden? Definitely not if you get queasy easily. But, give it a shot if:

  • you like crime thrillers
  • you enjoy psychological suspense and thrillers
  • you are not easily creeped out by the atrocities and disturbing weirdness that this world is (probably) actually capable of
  • you want to read an interesting (but not excellent) thriller

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on The Butterfly Garden or recommend a good psychological thriller. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

P.S.: I’m going to take a few months off of reviewing books. I may occasionally review a short story here and there, but I’ll be back early next year in full swing to tell you which books to add to your TBR pile and which to ignore! In the meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can follow my photography adventures (and misadventures) on my Instagram handle: @rishikajhamb

Laters, Alligators!

Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (By Robert Louis Stevenson)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 137 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

When London lawyer, John Gabriel Utterson, first sees Mr. Hyde, he’s struck by a sense of foreboding. He finds the infamous man as deplorable as the rumors state. And he hopes that he never has to lay eyes on him again. But fate has other plans. Dr. Jekyll, a respected man and Utterson’s good friend, refuses to share in Utterson’s disgust of Mr. Hyde. In fact, he seems to almost care about the strange, unlikeable creature. Strange events begin to unfold in the city and Utterson is inescapably pulled into them. At the heart of them all, he finds Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll’s unrelenting support of the man being hunted by the entire city. As he is compelled to investigate further, he finds himself in the midst of a nightmare he’d believed unimaginable, and a reality that would challenge everything he’d ever believed in.

My take:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is known for being one of the earlier works on the topic of split personalities. But the book is actually way more than that.

The book has a very archaic writing style and, with it, the charm of that style. It’s actually quite easy to read as long as you read it slowly and not in any rush. The prose will not leave you feeling overwhelmed or like you’re missing out on anything; in fact, it’s written in an incredibly enjoyable manner.

As a story, it isn’t exactly what I had expected. I was probably misled by the many adaptations of the book (which I’ve not watched/read but only heard about). So I kind of expected a book that begins with a murder and proceeds to the split personality angle. The book is nothing like that and that’s a good thing.

It’s a little difficult, to be honest, to explain how amazing this book is (because that would inevitably lead to spoilers). So, I’m going to focus instead on why this book is so good. The main reason is that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is emotion in prose. The book has an eerie sense to it that stays with you as you read it. But, it also has this beautiful, profound sadness.

It touches upon topics like the duality of personality (which is very different from a split personality) really well and forces you to remain in thought long after it’s done. It talks about the contradiction that all of us are, within ourselves, and our ability to choose to be one over the other at varied times. And in a world where all of us are juggling so many different things that require us to be so many different things, the book and its emotion hit pretty hard.

Then there is the emotion you feel for the characters themselves. In a book as short as 137 pages (or even lesser, depending on the format and publisher), Stevenson manages to make readers truly associate with the people within his story. Whether they appear for one scene or carry the entire story, or whether they’re good or evil, you feel for each character. You share in their angst, their fight (often internal), and their decisions. As a result, you are left enjoying every single aspect of the book that really pulls you in from the get-go.

As a story itself, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a mixture of retellings and present events. A lot of it is also written in the form of correspondence. It’s definitely not a linear murder mystery if, like me, that’s what you’re expecting. And I wouldn’t call it a horror either. But, it is definitely disturbing in certain ways, and even more so because those angles are a little too real. All in all, it is quite exceptional in its ability to evoke emotion of varied kinds, and in the way in which it makes you look within yourself.

I’d definitely recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to:

  • all kinds of readers
  • people who haven’t really read classics (It’s a great classic that is easy to read even if you’re not a fan of classics)
  • fans of psychological thrillers, mysteries, and horrors (It’s a multi-genre book and would appeal to most genre fans)

Also, it seems that Dr. Jekyll is pronounced Jee-kal or Jee-kill and not Jek-ill (That was definitely a bit annoying to get used to).

What did you think of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Let us know in the comments below!

– Rishika

Review: Buried (By Matt Shaw)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 93 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Todd wakes up after the celebration of his 21st birthday party to find himself locked inside a box. Broken memories begin taking over his mind, blurring the line between real and imaginary. Todd needs to distinguish fact from fiction before his claustrophobia completely eradicates that line. With time running out, Todd has to face his darkest fears if he is to ever learn who put him in a box, and find a way to get out alive.

My take:

This short novella takes around an hour to read. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to try to keep the review short too. Buried is meant to be a horror, and even a psychological horror. Its main theme is the claustrophobia that Todd faces, something that the readers are expected to associate with.

What’s good about the book is that it moves really fast. You don’t really feel the need to even take a break from it and can read it in one sitting. The second good thing is that it has this surreal dreamlike execution which gives off an uneasy, creepy vibe that has a lot of potential (although that remains highly unrealized). The third good thing is the few twists that the story contains – interesting, not very expected, and quite well presented. Fourth good thing – you can associate with some (not all) characters and even feel for them.

What’s bad about the book is that it does not really fulfill its aim of being a horror or psychological horror – it’s just not disturbing enough. Second bad thing – the claustrophobia was not really easy to associate with, and that’s coming from someone who actually has a touch of the phobia. The discomfort that Shaw intended for his readers to experience just did not materialize. The third bad thing was that it wasn’t a very well written book. Tense errors were abundant and that’s a real problem when you’ve already got a book that’s leaping from scene to scene every few sentences. Lastly, the story was interesting enough but its execution was just too blasé to do justice to the genre.

Should you read Buried? Sure, if you:

  • need something to pass the time on the commute home
  • need something to read as you wait for your appointment with the doctor/dentist
  • need something to read while waiting for a flight

Do you absolutely have to read Buried? Nope. It’s one of those books that tries hard to be dark, but fails because it’s barely disturbing, making it completely passable.

A lot of people did like this book though so do let us know whether you liked/disliked it and why. Drop a comment below. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika