The Butterfly Garden

Hi Guys,

I should preface this by saying that I randomly picked out this audio book as my credit for the month on Audible and I listened to all NINE hours of it in two days! I was so entralled, I could not stop.

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison is a  modern day psychological thriller. On a large estate there is a vast greenhouse. This greenhouse is tended by a Gardener who believes that beauty if fleeting, so he fills his garden with beautiful butterflies all of whom have an expiration date. But these aren’t just butterflies, these are teenagers and young women who the Gardener has kidnapped and tattooed with wings. The Gardener kidnaps women, traps them in his greenhouse, uses them, rapes them and if they are bad or get too old he kills them and preserves their wings.

This story starts at the end, the police have just rescued upward of 20 butterflies and now they are trying to figure out what happened. Maya, a butterfly that has been in the garden for almost 3 years, has all the answers but this is her story to tell and she plans to tell it in her own way.

Warning, this book is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t overly graphic but for those sensitive to rape, it does happen a lot. That being said, it happens almost abstractly; you know it happens, you know it is happening but you are sort of on the outskirts of the scene. You don’t feel as present for it as you do in some of the things you read or watch. Just thought I should throw that out there.

As an audio book, I was skeptical at first. There is two narrators, one for the detective and one for Maya. At first the quality of the recordings felt like they were at odds but I have to say, I got so sucked into the story that after the second narration switch I thought I must have been making it up.

It’s hard to say what exactly it was that caught me about this book. It wasn’t overly suspenseful or graphic, the format wasn’t new, the characters were interesting but nothing I can pinpoint. If I had to pick something, I’d have to say the story itself just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was the craziness of turning the girls into butterflies; maybe it was the mystery of Maya; or maybe it was “watching” the whole thing unravel piece by piece. I’m not sure but it is days later and I am still thinking about The Butterfly Garden.

This book should get 5 stars, it should. But I just can’t do it. The whole thing was masterful, except the ending; the ending just didn’t feel as polished (for lack of the right word) as the rest of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was a satisfying ending but it just didn’t feel right to me. Because of that, I have to give it 4.5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

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The Best Man

Hi Guys,

I can’t for the life of me remember why this one was on my middle school tbr pile. I believe I saw it on a list and went “sure, why not.” I assumed it had something to do with a wedding, but in actuality it is so much more.

The Best Man by Richard Peck follows Archer from kindergarten through sixth grade and the two weddings that bookend this time in his life. Archer is a typical kid, learning the ropes as he goes. He has to deal with bullies, teachers who go on maternity leave, sick grandparents–many of the things kids face over a span of years.

Circling all this is Archer’s Uncle Paul. Everyone seems to tip-toe around Archer. He isn’t a very observant kid; he needs things spelled out for him, so when he finds out that his Uncle Paul is gay, he is literally the last to know. He is also the last to find out that his student teacher is gay and starts dating his uncle.

This is a book about things kids deal with everyday: school, making friends and the knowledge you gain as you grow.

This is a really hard book to explain. Seriously, my mini synopsis does little to inspire but The Best Man has some really great lessons to teach about acceptance and growing up today.

One of the things I loved about this book was how well it portrays modern childhood. Kids have cell phones, there’s YouTube and  Facebook, media frenzies, and more. This would actually be a great book for parents who are having trouble relating to the things their kids are dealing with today that they never had to.

Now, so as not to give any false allusions, nothing really ever goes wrong for Archer (there is one exception but even that ends up tidily solved). This isn’t really a book about overcoming obstacles. It is more a look into how we grow up in today’s society. But Archer and his family are charming, his friends are true and for the most part, his story is believable.

The book has a really great voice and the pace of the story keeps it moving. I would recommend this book to 4th – 5th graders. It is more targeted toward a male reader but Archer’s best friend is a strong female character, who grows up and deals with her own troubles right alongside Archer.

My initial instinct was to give this book 5 stars and I am going to stick with my gut.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Hi Guys,

Merry Christmas Eve! Instead of a bookish post today, I thought I’d treat you with one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

For as far back as I can remember, Christmas Eve always included a reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas. Snuggling in bed after a day of festive activities, my mom would read my brother and I this book and we would know that Christmas morning was on it’s way.

Over the years this tradition has changed just a bit. We still get our reading every year but now it often includes a quiz to see how much of the story my mom can remember. This is no small feat guys, that sucker is long!

Anyway, Twas the Night Before Christmas is something that always puts me in the holiday spirit. What traditions do you have?

Enjoy the season!

Be safe. Be happy. Be Jolly.

Happy Holidays!

-M-

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Hi Guys,

I always have to work during our library’s monthly book club, but occasionally I will pick up the book they are reading anyway. That’s how I found out about this quirky little audio book.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan follows Clay Jannon as he goes from San Francisco website designer to night clerk at a 24-hour bookstore with practically no patrons. Clay’s friends are all creators, website designers, computer coders and Googlers, so finding himself climbing 14 foot ladders to retrieve obscure–literally  one of a kind–manuscripts for bibliophile eccentrics wasn’t exactly how he thought he’d be spending his time.

After only a few days, Clay realizes that Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore isn’t what it seems. The customers who do come in never buy anything; they borrow and return ancient looking tomes that look like they’ve been written in code. One day Clay notices a pattern in the books his eccentric patrons borrow and finds himself stumbling upon a secret society and a mystery hundreds of years old.

Can Clay uncover an age old mystery that has stumped both academics and googlers alike?

This book was a pleasant surprise. Quaint in its discussion of books and real life woes and yet magical and mysterious in it’s quest to find the truth. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is so current in its portrayal of hi-tech, low-tech and how our lives are a merger of both. We see 20-something tech gurus and baby boomers resisting the technological boom. We see what happens when technology thrives and when it fails and how these different groups respond. If you want to look deeper, I think this book could be used as a commentary on a need for balance in today’s high-speed world.

This book, is also a look into what it means to be immortal. Immortality can be gained in many different ways. Our names, our deeds can live on, we may thrive through the blood of our children, or we can chase immortality of body and soul. Immortality means something different for each of the characters in this book and each are chasing it in their own ways.

The internal dialog in this book was fan-tastic and listening to it in audio form made it even better. Clay’s internal voice injected a bit of humor into the story and was very relate-able. I kept thinking to myself that much of what Clay thinks, would totally be my own internal reactions. I also loved his nerdy-ness… as they say, nerd is in.

This was a mystery novel for bibliophiles and techies alike. Ultimately, it was an enjoyable read with the thrill of the chase without all the drama. This one gets 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Full of Beans

Hi Guys,

There is just something about a lime green cover that attracts the eye. This cover looks modern, right? You wouldn’t expect to be picking up a historical fiction book about depression era Key West? Well, I was wrong and you would be too.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm follows Beans, one of the slickest, barefoot, marble playing hotshots of Key West. It is 1934 and the height of the Great Depression. Beans is always looking to make some change and his favorite hobby is going to the movies and watching baby super stars like Baby Laroy and Shirley Temple. Beans has grand expectations.

One day New Dealers descend on the town, determined to make Key West into a vacation hot spot. But garbage lines the streets, businesses are closed, houses are crumbling, wild dogs run rampant and no one wants to volunteer to help. Beans doesn’t believe the New Dealers for one second–adults are lying liars and Beans has plans of his own, plans with potentially major consequences.

Will the New Dealers save Key West? Will Beans find fame and will his plans succeed? Or will everything come crashing down?

Holm does it again with Full of Beans. This middle school read accomplishes so much. We get an entertaining story with moral lessons about lying and giving back. We get quite a bit of history, about a time so removed from the present that kids might not even be able to relate and yet it is done in a way that kids will believe. We also get an entertaining story with ups and downs and a read that moves along at a good pace.

This book would make an excellent 4th – 5th grade book discussion pick. Full of Beans can be used to introduce the Great Depression and one of the great success stories of Roosevelt’s New Deal. What’s great about this one is that it is a book parents would actually enjoy reading and discussing with their children. While the kids might not be familiar with the history, the Depression is a topic many adults are familiar with and could easily talk about. There are even discussion questions and further reading to get you started.

I was just so surprised with how much history was actually packed into this book. The Depression, history about Key West, famous baby actors, and the New Deal is only the focus. There is a man with leprosy and we learn that Key West was home to a whole community of lepers. We find out that Robert Frost and Hemingway were some of the first vacationers in Key West. And we even see some medicine of the time when Bean’s brother, Kermit, comes down with a serious illness.

Overall, this was a surprisingly informative read with a good story. This would be a good 4th – 5th grade read, with a rebellious eleven-year-old that lots of boys can probably relate to. I gave this one 5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Three Dark Crowns

Hi Guys,

Another audio book for you. I was hesitant to pick up Three Dark Crowns, which is one of the reasons I chose it as an audio book. The synopsis sounded interesting but I wasn’t quite ready to get wrapped up in another series.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake takes place on the island of Fennbirn, where every generation a set of triplets are born. Three queens are born to rule but only one of them will survive until their seventeenth year.

Katharine is a poisoner. Poisoner’s are dark and strict and they are the current ruling power in Fennbirn; but their queen is weak, meek and can hardly tolerate imbibing even the weakest poison.

Arsinoe is a naturalist. Naturalist’s are wild and well liked, they are hunters and growers. Arsinoe is the weakest of the three queens, she knows she is gift-less even if no one will admit it.

Mirabella is an elemental and a powerful one. She is a favorite of the priestesses and most of Fennbirn believes she will be the next queen but she has one flaw… Mirabella remembers her sisters and she loves them.

Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella were separated at six and raised by their respective houses. Now they are sixteen and in only a few months time the year of ascension will begin. The sisters will have to kill each other and the one who survives will rise to queen.

There were some things I really liked about this book. The power factions were great! I loved this idea of warring clans, each with their own magical strength. The world building here was also nicely done. I actually felt like Fennbirn was this island out of time and place, trapped within the mist.

Blake does a really great job making you route for each of the sisters in turn. One second I was team Arsinoe and the next second team Katharine. Most of the book focused on Arsinoe and Mirabella’s storylines, which made Katharine’s ending FANTASTIC! I think I have a thing for dark, twisty, vengeful females because lately they have been some my favorites.

In fact, there was only one plot line that I really didn’t like in this story and unfortunately, I think it is going to follow us into the sequels. On top of the main plot there is a lot of relationship building and each of the sisters has a love interest. But one of them makes me want to roll my eyes and feels so wishy-washy. I don’t want to ruin anything, so if you know what I am talking about and feel the same way, let me know!

Well, I now have another series I have to follow. After that ending, I just have to know what happens. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

Hi Guys!

I was immediately drawn in by the cover of this one. It is just so beautiful that I had to get my hands on it. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of one of my childhood favorites. Into the Land of Unicorns by Bruce Coville.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd takes place in the English Countryside. All the children have been evacuated from London and other larger cities and sent to estates in the country to ride out the war. Children who are sick are sent to special estates and that is where we find Emmaline.

Emmaline is special; she sees winged horses in the mirrors of Briar Hill Hospital. Emmaline keeps this world behind the mirrors secret even as the other boys and girls tease her for being strange. One day Emmaline climbs into an abandon garden on the grounds and there she finds one of the winged horses injured and stuck in her world. Charged by the Horse Lord to protect Firefox from the evil dark horse, Emmaline works to build a shield of color to protect her friend.

Can Emmaline keep Firefox safe? Can she find enough color in a world of grays and browns? And can Emmaline overcome the stillwater in her chest and ride true?

This was a lovely little book, reminiscent of The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The authors see a time in history where families are pulled apart and inject a little magic into the mix.

Emmaline is as brave as a little girl can be. We get a sense that she has dealt with real tragedy in her short life and yet she is able to find light in a dark world. She fights against the stillwater (tuberculosis) and refuses to give up.

This book deals with some pretty strong themes in a way that won’t scare or overwhelm young readers. We get yet another glimpse into WW2 and those who were left behind. There are bullies and rationing. And Emmaline loses one of her only friends at the hospital to tuberculosis. Throughout all of this, the book never loses it’s feeling of hope, that all is not lost. We are also left with a little magic as we wonder if the mirror horses are real or just in Emmaline’s head.

This would be a good book for 5-6 graders. It is also a middle school read that adults will love. With a quick pace and a hopeful tension, this is a book you won’t want to put down. Ultimately, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill took me back to some of my favorite childhood reads and that is why it gets 5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-