The Butterfly Cabinet

by Bernie McGill

12444816Vivid, mysterious and unforgettable, The Butterfly Cabinet is Bernie McGill’s engrossing portrayal of the dark history that intertwines two lives. Inspired by a true story of the death of the daughter of an aristocratic Irish family at the end of the nineteenth century, McGill powerfully tells this tale of two women whose lives will become upended by a newly told secret.

The events begin when Maddie McGlade, a former nanny now in her nineties, receives a letter from the last of her charges and realizes that the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for over seventy years: what really happened on the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old only daughter of the big house where Maddie was employed as a young woman. It is to Charlotte’s would-be niece, Anna—pregnant with her first—that Maddie will tell her story as she nears the end of her life in a lonely nursing home in Northern Ireland.

The book unfolds in chapters that alternate between Maddie’s story and the prison diaries of Charlotte’s mother, Harriet, who had been held responsible for her daughter’s death. As Maddie confesses the truth to Anna, she unravels the Ormonds’ complex family history, and also details her own life, marked by poverty, fear, sacrifice and lies. In stark contrast to Maddie is the misunderstood, haughty and yet surprisingly lyrical voice of Harriet’s prison diaries, which Maddie has kept hidden for decades. Motherhood came no more easily to Harriet than did her role as mistress of a far-flung Irish estate. Proud and uncompromising, she is passionate about riding horses and collecting butterflies to store in her prized cabinet. When her only daughter, Charlotte, dies, allegedly as the result of Harriet’s punitive actions, the community is quick to condemn her and send her to prison for the killing. Unwilling to stoop to defend herself and too absorbed in her own world of strict rules and repressed desires, she accepts the cruel destiny that is beyond her control even as, paradoxically, it sets her free.

The result of this unusual duet is a haunting novel full of frightening silences and sorrowful absences that build toward the unexpected, chilling truth.

I loved this novel! Gorgeous writing, wonderful characters, engrossing tale.  I always like a novel written in the dual times with different voices weaving a story together and Ms. McGill is a master storyteller.

First paragraph…

Maddie McGlade   8 September 1968

Anna. You’re the spit of your mother standing there – Florence, God rest her – and you have the light of her sharp wit in your eyes. Give me your hand till I see you better. There’s not much change on you, apart from what we both know. Ah, you needn’t look at me like that. Sure, why else would you be here? I know by the face of you there’s a baby on the way, even if you’re not showing. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it, the way the past has no interest for the young till it comes galloping up on the back of the future. And then they can’t get enough of it, peering after it, asking it where it’s been. I suppose that’s always been the way. I suppose we’re none of us interested in the stories of our people till we have children of our own to tell them to.

This is based on a true story. In the back of my book there is a reader’s guide for bookclub discussion and there are questions put to Ms. McGill. One is ‘What parts of the historical record did you adopt directly?’ She answered that it is hard to say what percentage is fictional and what is more closely tied to fact. The events surrounding the child’s death follow testimonies as related by witnesses at the trial and newspaper reports. Harriet’s backstory is complete invention, and Maddie is an entirely fictional character. The ‘real’ woman in this story is Annie Margaret Montagu. She was an avid horsewoman and horses were her passion. In this tale ‘Harriet’ collects butterflies and that is her passion. There is lots of interesting tidbits about collecting butterflies and Harriet compares people to different butterflies.

I found several things about the true crime online. I would suggest not looking up the true crime or persons online until after you read the book. I looked them up when I first began the book and it colored my view of it I think. I love historical fiction, but it sometimes clouds my thinking about the real vs fiction characters. They seem to vie for space in my brain!

There is a new McGill novel out now, The Watch House, and I’m dying to get my hands on it! Have you read any of her books and what did you think?


Juneau, Part Two

We had a lovely walk around downtown Juneau. Lovely old buildings! So much history here I’m sure. One of the first things we came across was a large raven on a roof top, yelling his lungs off. My first time seeing a raven! We don’t have them in the northeast. I love these birds! I’m a mystery buff remember ;).





An old Ben Franklin store!


The library, its on the top right of this elegant parking garage…


The old Alaskan Hotel built in 1913, on the register of National Historical Places.

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This is the corner of Front and Franklin. This intersection is the heart of downtown Juneau. On the site where the Triangle Building stands now, the first prospectors camped through the winter of 1880-81, establishing local government and planning the Juneau Town site. The first businesses clustered at the spot, initially called Miner’s Cove, quickly spread out along Front and Franklin Streets. Nearly all of the buildings near the corner are historic ones, built before 1915.

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The Red Dog Saloon is a big tourist draw here. We went in but there wasn’t a seat in the house so we didn’t get to eat or drink there. Full off ambiance! It was founded during the mining era and has been in operation for decades. The Alaskan Legislature has recognized it as the longest operating Juneau tourist attraction. Lots of memorabilia inside! Including a gun Wyatt Earp supposedly checked on a visit and left without. Hmm.. I find it hard to believe he would forget his gun!

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I tried to get a video of the inside but it didn’t turn out very good, but I found a nice one on AlaskaGranny’s Youtube channel…

Mendenhall Glacier next!

Juneau, Alaska: Part One

We had a really full day in Juneau, and one of the nicest weather-wise too. I’m going to break it up into 3 or 4 parts. The first thing we did was take the tram up to the top of the mountain…

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The view was unbelievable up there! There was a lovely trail to follow.


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Our first experience with bald eagles! They are flying around everywhere there! One guide on the whale watch told us In Alaska they are like pigeons in NYC.

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This is Lady Baltimore. She was found injured on Juneau’s Douglas Island in May 2006. She had been shot in her beak and the wrist of her right wing. The impact of the bullet through her beak may have been the cause of detached retina, leaving her completely blind in her left eye. With only one working eye, she doesn’t have depth perception. Because of this, she wouldn’t be able to hunt for her own food in the wild. The wing injury prevents her from achieving full flight. She was not a candidate for release back into the wild. The poacher was never caught. They have her on display at the Juneau Raptor Center to draw attention to their cause and let us see this majestic bird up close and personal. I was amazed at her size really. I wasn’t impressed with the enclosure they had her in though! She is at least 16 years old, wingspan of 6.5 ft. and her weight is 10.5 lbs. favorite food is salmon heads, yuk!

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This is me sitting on these very unusual trees in the Montane Forest at the top…

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On a sign on the trail…
Small mountain hemlocks interspersed with Sitka Spruce (the state tree). Above this point, the closed-canopy montane forest give way to the more open subalpine zone. The curvature of the trunks of these hemlocks is called snowcrook. On steep slopes, snowcrook is caused by the gradual creep of snow downhill, bending the trees as saplings and causing them to develop a down-slope curve. Here, where the slope is not so steep, snowcrook may be caused by snow blown from upslope by strong prevailing winds. These trunks also show evidence that they may have originated through layering, which is a process in which a tree’s prostrate branches root and send up new trunks. In this way, a few trees may become a forest of clones. If this is true, here, this grove of hemlocks may consist of not hundreds of individuals but only a handful that have grown here for hundreds of years.

There were several trails up here and we could have spent lots of time roaming around. We stood watching eagles and we had to get moving as we had a whale watching cruise and Mendenhall Glacier to see still!

Click on the pics to enlarge them.

The Address

by Fiona Davis
My source: Netgalley

cover111665-mediumFiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota—New York City’s most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within.

This book was wicked good! I pretty much read it in two sittings, couldn’t put it down. Murder mystery, identity mystery, two time periods, illicit love affair, oh and The Dakota apartment building as almost a character! I was fascinated learning the historical details of the building and ended up on a search to find out more online about it. If you like historical fiction then you HAVE to read this. The dramatic ending was not what I expected at all!

Thank you Penguin Group Dutton for allowing  me to read and review this awesome book for you!

Read up on Dakota here and check out the apartments that are for sale right now inside it here.

Purchase this book

Amazon US
Peguin Random House

15 Books of Summer

Back on May 30th I signed up for a challenge to read only books from your TBR shelf this summer, 20 Books of Summer, over at 746 Books. I managed to do it! Read only books that I’ve had languishing on my shelves. I did 15 Books of Summer, not sure if I could stick to it for 20! Here’s my original post.

  1. The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty
  2. The Stormy Petrol by Mary Stewart
  3. The Witch of the Low Tide by John Dickson Carr
  4. The Dark Tide by Vera Brittain
  5. The Strange Intruder by Arthur Catherall
  6. Maigret Goes Home by George Simenon
  7. Lord Mullion’s Secret by Michael Innis
  8. Thursday Afternoons by Monica Dickens
  9. Murder Anonymous by Elizabeth Ferrars
  10. Dover One by Joyce Porter
  11. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Sparks
  12. The Mystery at Orchard House by Joan Coggin
  13. The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
  14. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  15. Fear and Miss Betony by Dorothy Bowers

Which one did I enjoy the most? Hmm… probably a tie between Murder Anonymous by Elizabeth Ferrars and Strangers on a Train by Highsmith. They were all good reads, except The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty. Didn’t like that one at all.

This was fun and I’ll probably do it again next year, if Cathy does it! Now I’m reading a new book I got from Netgalley, The Address by Fiona Davis and it’s hard to put down! Can’t wait to get done so I can pick up The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill! I discovered it over at Cathy’s 746 Books and ordered it right away. It’s been sooo hard not to pick it up all summer! If you’ve never been over to visit Cathy, what are you waiting for?! You will need a new bookcase, just a warning 🙂

Thanks Cathy for hosting this fun challenge!

Fear and Miss Betony

by Dorothy Bowers (published 1941)

2825828Emma Betony was content to live out her remaining years in a home for decayed gentlewomen when she receives an urgent appeal for help from a former student. Grace Aram is running Makeways, a struggling boarding girl for girls, newly relocated in a former nursing home in dorset far from the falling German bombs.

But Grace isn’t interested in Miss Betony’s teaching skills. she needs someone she can trust to expose the culprit behind a series of troubling events, including the possible poisoning of one of the two remaining nursing patients. What Miss Betony finds is an overwhelming sense of fear on the part of the Makeways’ inhabitants.

Miss Betony follows a series of clues that eventually lead her to The Great Ambrosio, a charismatic, extremely handsome fortune teller with more than one trick up his sleeve.

First published in 1941, Fear and Miss Betony makes the final appearance of Inspector Dan Pardoe. But it is Miss Betony herself who fights through fear and solves the case. contemporary critics immediately proclaimed the book an instant classic, with two-time Edgar-winning critic James Sandoe including the book in his Readers’ Guide to Crime (1944), one of the earliest – and most astute – lists of the best books in the genre.

This is my third Dorothy Bowers book and I’ve enjoyed each one of them! There are two more I need to find. She died young, 46, and it was a great loss to mystery readers. Good clues among red herrings and dramatic wrap-up! The tension was palpable.


This one counts for Bev’s Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt Gold Era – policemen on the cover.