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The Butterfly Collector

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Member Reviews

The Butterfly Collector – Tea Cooper 


I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in order to provide an honest review. 


Tea Cooper is an Australian author who writes historical mysteries. Once upon a time, Tea was a farmer and a teacher. Now she indulges in her passion for storytelling. Some of her other known works her “The Woman in the Green Dress” and “The Cartographer’s Secret”. 


Its 1868, Clarrie is a young girl that helps by cooking and cleaning for the local pastor in little Morpeth. Clarrie is terribly in love with young Sid who works for the local newspaper. Clarrie and Sid are expecting their first child, yet they aren’t married and because of this the pastor throws young pregnant Clarrie out on her feet. But as luck would have it a kindly soul wasn’t far away. A lady by the name of Maud offered to care for Clarrie until her time came to have the child, but then she would need to find work to continue to pay Maud to care for wee Charlie so she could continue to work. And what do you know, young Clarrie with the help of Sid’s boss, was able to find work helping Theodora. Theodora, after the loss of her parents is bereft and devotes her time to finding butterflies and painting their likeness – discovering a butterfly that hasn’t been seen in Australia before. That’s when tragedy strikes, and something happens to young Charlie. 


Sydney 1922 and young Verity Binks, trying to walk in her grandfather Sid’s footsteps, gets an opportunity to write a wonderful piece about the Treadwell Foundation and the wonderful work that they do by helping disgraced young women and their babies. Yet once Verity starts researching and looking into the foundation, she finds things aren't quite as they seem. She also manages to uncover some truth about the past of the Treadwell family and her very own, including the truth about what happened to Charlie all those years ago. 


The Butterfly Collector doesn’t focus on a central character. Instead, the author begins by writing from the points of view from different characters and slowly weaves all their individual stories into one beautiful overall tapestry.  

At first this approach was quite frustrating to me because I was left wondering how they were all relevant to each other and what was the point of continually switching from one story to the next especially as they all occurred in different time periods. 

But soon it was quite clear how they were all connected together, and formed a wonderous, lovely story that was also heart breaking and unbelievably gut wrenching. This story though short, is truly a work of art. I really feel I need to read the rest of the author’s works and thus my TBR pile grows yet again!
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The Butterfly Collector is a dual timeline novel set in and around Sydney, Australia, in 1868 and 1922.

In the 1922 timeline, aspiring journalist Verity Binks has just lost her job at a Sydney newspaper so her job can be given to an unemployed returned serviceman. (A big hurrah to “traditional values” where it was acceptable – even required – to fire a single woman and a widowed mother with no other source of income, simply so their jobs could be given to men … Yes, I understand the men also needed jobs, but so did Verity.)

However, Verity’s editor does say she can still write for the newspaper, and he will pay for any stories he prints. That, combined with an unexpected invitation to the Sydney Artist’s Ball, pushes Verity into researching a story that takes her back to Morpeth, where her father was born.

The 1868 timeline starts in Morpeth, and follows botanical artist and butterfly collector Theodora Breckenridge, general maid Clarrie, and her beau Sid Binks. We quickly work out that Clarrie and Sid are Verity’s grandparents, but it takes longer to work out the link between Verity and Theodora.

Clarrie loses her job when her employer, the local vicar, finds out she’s expecting and not married (something he could have easily fixed if he’d agreed to Clarrie’s request to marry her and Sid, but why let common sense get in the way of bluster and hypocrisy?).

Sid does some research and find that Clarrie can stay with Maud, a local midwife, for her lying-in, and Maud will then look after the baby while Clarrie works. It sounds like a good arrangement, especially as Sid has heard ugly rumours about babies disappearing when placed with other women in the town.

The Butterfly Collector is a fascinating story with lots of links between present and past that get unraveled as the story progresses. It’s clever plotting, and well-written. I loved the way Tea Cooper has captured the character voices in both time periods.

The writing is unpretentious yet fresh, and the book was an engaging read. Recommended for fans of Australian historical fiction or books like Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate or The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma.

Thanks to HQ Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
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I always enjoy Tea Cooper’s books. The mystery element in this one had me scrambling to the end, and it was hard not to “cheat” and peek at the final pages to try to piece it all together! I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this fantastic Australian author.
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Téa Cooper delivers again with The Butterfly Collector, a fabulous blend of history and fiction in a novel that kept me on my toes till the end. This dual timeline novel set partly in 1922 Sydney and partly in 1868 in the Hunter Valley Town Of Morpeth is a fascinating family history as well as an exposé of the baby farming trade that was rife at the time.
The story jumps effortlessly between timelines, keeping readers on their toes and guessing. The characters are real enough to step off the page and tell their own tales. The plot kept me on my toes and guessing through. This has been a wonderful read and is a story for my keeper shelf.
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This is another intriguing piece of Australian historical fiction by Tea Cooper.
Told in parallel lines, on the the early 1920's featuring Verity Binks, a young aspiring journalist.  The other being in the 1860's, featuring Theodora Breckenridge, a young woman who becomes involved with Verity's grandparents Sid and Clarrie. 
The story circles on a mystery of a supposed foundation that supports single mothers, and also the illegal practice of 'selling' babies to affluent families.
The story has many fascinating twists and turns that are both happy and sad.  Overall quite an interesting story and very well told.
Thank you Netgalley and Harlequin Australia for the opportunity to read this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Book blurb… 
What connects a botanical illustration of a butterfly with a missing baby and an enigma fifty years in the making? A twisty historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.
1868 Morpeth Theodora Breckenridge, still in mourning after the loss of her parents and brother at sea, is more interested in working quietly on her art at the family's country estate than she is finding a husband in Sydney society, even if her elder sister Florence has other ideas. Theodora seeks to emulate prestigious nature illustrators, the Scott sisters, who lived nearby, so she cannot believe her luck when she discovers a butterfly never before sighted in Australia. With the help of Clarrie, her maid, and her beautiful illustrations, she is poised to make a natural science discovery that will put her name on the map. Then Clarrie's new-born son goes missing and everything changes.
1922 Sydney When would-be correspondent Verity Binks is sent an anonymous parcel containing a spectacular butterfly costume and an invitation to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball on the same day she loses her job at The Arrow, she is both baffled and determined to go. Her late grandfather Sid, an esteemed newspaperman, would expect no less of her. At the ball, she lands a juicy commission to write the history of the Treadwell Foundation - an institution that supports disgraced young women and their babies. But as she begins to dig, her investigation quickly leads her to an increasingly dark and complex mystery, a mystery fifty years in the making. Can she solve it? And will anyone believe her if she does?  

My thoughts… 
I am a lover of Tea Cooper’s books and she’s done it again. Fantastic conceptualisation and characters to support her sublime storytelling style. 

The way the author entwines elements of nature through her stories is what captivates me. The historical side of all of the author’s stories are very well researched and blended with fiction in a way that the reader becomes a part of the character’s journey.

Not much more to say other than to sing the praises of Tea Cooper.
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The Butterfly Collector is a historical novel by Australian author, Tea Cooper. In 1922, Verity Binks loses her job as a stenographer at The Sydney Arrow, in favour of returned servicemen. Her boss does offer to consider her freelance articles for printing. On the same day, a costume, mask and ticket to the Sydney Artists’ Ball arrive from a mystery sender. 

As the daughter of the late War Correspondent, Charles Binks, she is introduced to Mr Treadwell, whose mother began the Treadwell Foundation, for which he wants some positive publicity to attract funds. It sounds like a worthwhile organisation, providing support and care for unmarried mothers, but he seems reticent about his mother’s background, and Verity’s journalistic interest is piqued.

In Morpeth, in 1868, Clarrie loses her job as maid-of-all-work when Rev. Lodestar discovers she is pregnant. Her beau, Sid Binks has promised to take care of her, and finds a midwife who will allow Verity to leave the baby in her care and find work. Sid works at The Morpeth Want as a compositor, but lives in quarters with other “Want” men, quite unsuitable for a mother and baby. His boss, though, Redmond Kendall is an understanding man and he has an idea…

After a period of bereavement for their parents and brother, Theodora Breckenridge’s sisters are focussed on re-entering the social scene in Sydney. As a nature illustrator, she would much rather stay in Morpeth, helping ready the garden for winter and looking out for the amazing butterfly she’s spotted once only, apparently never before seen in Australia. 

Verity research involves a trip to Morpeth, where she meets the current Want editor, Arlo Kendall, and from the archives and further investigation, she manages to uncover a shocking racket involving the adoption of illegitimate babies, something she’s determined to expose. And when she discovers a personal connection, it solidifies her resolve. 

This dual timeline story is told by Clarrie, Theodora and Redmond in the mid-nineteenth Century, and by Verity and Arlo in the early twentieth Century. The depth of Cooper’s research is apparent on every page and her descriptive prose is very evocative: the sights, sounds and smells of both inner-city Sydney and the Australian bush are particularly well-rendered. There are some dramatic scenes and the element of mystery will keep the reader enthralled through to the final pages of this superb Australian historical fiction.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harlequin Australia
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A new Australian historical fiction book by Tea Cooper always gives reason to celebrate as her books guarantee great escapism. I have enjoyed all of Tea’s previous works as they have proven to be consistently engaging and masterfully crafted tales of mystery and intrigue. Much like Theodora’s paintings in the novel, Tea has beautifully captured time and place in this wonderful story. 

‘She was different, she knew she was. She'd always known. Something was out there waiting for her and one day she would grasp it between her fingers and know her search had ended.’

In her latest offering, The Butterfly Collector, Tea writes a dual timeline narrative set in New South Wales 1868 and 1922. I appreciated the close proximity of the timelines with familial links as it enriched the story with aligned connections. Rich in research, Tea details two interesting events from this period in Australia. One is the fascinating story of initial sightings of the Monarch butterfly in Australia; the other, the much darker tale of what became of many babies from unwed mothers of the period. Another theme surrounded women’s independence, especially after WW1 and insights into such things as the advent of the bicycle providing more freedom - something I had never really considered before. 

Congratulations Tea on once again proving your prose is up there with the best. From strong protagonists, to family drama and mystery, to the breathtaking vistas of the bush with the magnificent flight of the butterflies - I highly recommend the tale that is, The Butterfly Collector with its tale of strength and persistence. 

‘… each individual butterfly hovered and danced above the sea of flowers, their first taste of nectar giving them strength for the moment they'd ensure their species survival.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.
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The year is 1922 and journalist Verity Binks has lost her job to the men returning from the Great War.

A chance meeting and an unexpected invitation turn her impending unemployment into a freelance investigative search that unearths her own family history and  exposes a 70 year criminal racket.

Woven through Verity's story are the tales of Theodora Breckenridge, naturalist painter who in 1864 discovers a colony of the Wanderer butterfly, and Clarrie Binks, maid to Theodora.

All three women's stories are interwoven, and as Verity digs further into the past, she finds the dark ties that bind them, and others together.

This was not the gentle pastoral novel I was expecting from the cover - rather it is a fast-paced page turner set in small town Morpeth in the 1860s and 1920s Sydney.  The story was expertly layered, revealing more and more detail and intrigue as it progressed.

I did, however, feel the ending was a bit rushed, and I would have liked a more satisfying conclusion to both Stella's and the Treadwell storyline.

An excellent read, though.   A must for fans of historical sleuthing.

~Many thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review ~
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Thanks NetGalley, the publisher and author for having this available as an ARC.

The cover intrigued me and I don’t read blurbs, so I truly go in blind. I don’t usually read historical fiction and can see how much research had gone into this book. It’s nice to read about places I know of in Australia. 

For about 50% of the book, I was really wondering how these 3 stories were related. It’s a very descriptive read and the stage was really set for Theodora, Clarrie and Verity. I was wondering how Verity’s butterfly dress at that ball was even going to relate to Theodora and how Clarrie would come into the picture. The mystery is this book was such a build up that I wouldn’t have guessed that the story revolves around baby farming. 

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but I was intrigued for the last half of the book. I’m glad I stuck with it because I liked how it all came together. Would like to check out this author’s other work in the future.
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*4.5 Stars*

Copy kindly received via NetGalley for an honest review.

This was a really good read with some very interesting characters. Many terrible things had happened years ago, but a lot of the time, the truth will come out. There's always the good and the bad people. The ending was nice.
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I thoroughly enjoyed the dual timeline and felt engaged with the plot.  The characters were multi-dimensional and I loved linking up the timelines to real historical events.  A wonderful read for lovers of Australian historical fiction.
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I don’t normally request review books that aren’t Christian-based, but when I read the description of The Butterfly Collector, I was so intrigued that I decided to give it a chance. What a story! I was a bit baffled, in the first few chapters, about what was going on, and flipped back and forth a few times to see who the previous chapters were about, but I was soon captivated by all three main characters. Before too long I was so drawn in to this story that I even spent one night dreaming about it, after I read a couple of chapters just before going to bed!
This is one of those split-time novels that is extremely well done. Part of the story is set in 1922, and the other part in 1868. The thread that connected the two was quite a surprise to me! The first chapter introduces Verity Binks. She wants to be a reporter, but has just lost her job with the newspaper to returned servicemen. Then, she is sent an invitation to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball—along with a butterfly costume. Who could have sent it to her—and why?
The next chapter features Theodora, whose parents and brother have recently died in a steamboat accident. She and her three sisters have been left alone. The older three are desperate to get back into society—but Theodora just wants to paint butterflies! Chapter 3 switches to yet another person, which confused me for a few minutes. Clarrie was thankful for her job as housemaid for the reverend, but she had a problem. Her baby would arrive soon—and she hadn’t been able to marry Sid yet. Eventually, she helped Theodora to find an elusive butterfly that had never been seen before in Australia, but before the discovery could be reported, Clarrie’s baby went missing.
As Verity followed the trail of a story she had been put on the scent of, she found herself discovering her family’s history—and uncovering a terrible mystery some fifty years in the making. Could she find the truth—and if she did, would she be able to expose it for what it was and make a difference?
Whew! What a story. Butterflies, adoption, baby farming, and journalism, all set in Australia. The Butterfly Collector is an unusual book. As I said, I rarely read books that aren’t labeled Christian, because I don’t want to deal with off-color scenes or bad language. This one is very clean, however. There is a bit of romance—but there was no hint of it in the 1922 story until I reached about 37% of the way through the book! There is some between Sid and Clarrie, and reference to what they did earlier that created their baby—but it’s totally off page. So, I’m impressed with Tea Cooper, and will be watching for more books by her.
I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley, and these are my honest thoughts about it.
WARNING: Chapter 12: bloody and damn. Chapter 22: damn. Chapter 28: bastard and bugger; a fight in which a man tries to harm women and is himself knocked out. Chapter 31: I’ll be damned. Chapter 33: damn. Chapter 35: be damned.
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Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book for an honest review.

What a captivating story and an absolutely beautiful cover.  A dual timeline book, it tells the stories of Theodora and Verity and their unexpected connection.  A book chock full of fabulous characters, along with a few shady types. Loved Verity's spirit and sense of right and wrong and, even though he doesn't appear often, Arlo provides the voice of reason she needs.  Absolutely recommend!!
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The first thing that drew me in with this one was the stunningly magical cover but the story that Tea Cooper tells is even more noteable. The telling of two timelines which come together and make a twisty historical mystery.

1869 Clarrie leaves her newborn baby in the care of a midwife while she is working. Then the baby goes missing... Will the father Sid be able to find him?

1922 Verity is striving to be a correspondent when she loses her job and then she is sent a beautiful butterfly costume and is invited to the masquerade ball. This sets off a series of mysterious events, will Verity be able to put it altogether.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this all the way through, Tea Cooper has a talent for writing fiction but also does her research and includes some true facts. The descriptions are beautiful and I adored the characters. My favourite part of the story was the mystery and danger, the mystery of the story is what kept me engaged. Historical, mystery, romance fans will all devour this amazing novel.
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I loved this story so very much, from start to finish Tea Cooper took me on a journey back in two time lines, to follow the story of a twisty historical mystery involving gorgeous butterflies and wonderful characters that I loved, come along for the fascinating trip, you will not want to put this one down.

1869 Morpeth which is a small river town close to The Hunter Valley, Theodora Breckenridge is in morning after loss her parents and older brother in a ship wreck, but her three sisters decide it is time to make a trip to Sydney but Theodora is much happier staying at home and working on her research about butterflies and do her painting, she is very excited about discovering a butterfly that has never been seen in Australia and is determined find out much more about it. Hiring a new maid Clarrie to help at home is a bonus as they become close and Clarrie is a lot of help, but Clarrie has a baby who is being cared for by a local midwife and when he goes missing there are lots of questions that need answering. Will Sid the baby’s father find their son and uncover the truth?

1922 Sydney, Verity Binks has wanted to become a correspondent and follow in her father and grandfathers footsteps when she is sent a beautiful butterfly costume and an invitation to the Sydney Artist Masquerade Ball anonymously on the day she has just lost her job at The Sydney Arrow newspaper, this is a mystery but one that Verity is determined to get to the bottom of and arrives and meets Mr. Treadwell and is asked to write an article about the history of The Treadwell Foundation, an institute that supports and helps young girls in disgrace, or does it, what will Verity find when she digs deep a mystery that goes back more than fifty years with links to her past as well.

Tea Cooper has again researched so well and added fact and fiction together to bring her readers a brilliant story, a story that digs deep into the past and has Verity uncovering information about baby farming and Theodore finding the elusive Monarch butterfly, there is mystery, secrets and friendships all wound together to make this a compelling story that had me up late last night. I loved the characters Verity, Theodora, Clarrie and Sid and also Redmond and Arlo all were easy to get to know and made this story fabulous, my thanks MS Cooper for another keeper, this is one that I highly recommend.

My thanks to Netgalley for my copy to read and review.
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A book with two timelines which initially appear to have nothing to do with each other yet eventually twist and turn together in amazing ways.

In Morpeth in 1868 Theodora Breckenridge discovers a butterfly which may be a first sighting ever in Australia. Her sisters cannot persuade her to travel to Sydney with them as they go to seek husbands. She stays at home and with the help of Clarrie, a maid, attempts to gain proof of her sighting. However when Clarrie's baby goes missing their lives take a very dramatic turn.

In Sydney Verity Banks wishes to be a reporter but it is 1922 and she has to leave her job to make way for men returning from the war. On the lookout for stories to write to try and gain herself recognition, she stumbles across a mystery involving adopted babies which seems to have great relevance to her own family history.

This is a well written book with interesting characters and a lot of intriguing historical fact. The author weaves people's lives together in tricky ways and the reader needs to stay alert to remember who is related to whom all the time! I did wish that Verity and Arlo's relationship had been given a little more room to develop.

Highly recommended for people who enjoy this genre.
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Wow, I chose this story as I knew the author was Australian and stories set in the past always fascinate me. I'm from Melbourne so I didn't know all the areas and really enjoyed reading how folk travelled and lived all that time ago.
Took me a while to get into the story and get my head around the characters running in two different time lines. Once I had everyone in place the story really picked up and kept me glued to my kindle. There is a connection between the two timelines of a couple of generations in one family.
The main theme running between these timelines is the discovery of baby farming. Newspaper stories being cancelled as a well do to charitable family may be involved. Also the side story is the discovery of a butterfly that we all know these days, the art work and stories told although not acknowledged to make the history books.
I could go on and on about the story, but please read it for yourself. Absorb yourself into the characters' lives like I did.
I also enjoyed the author's notes at the end, explaining the truth, the facts and the fiction.
What a wonderful book, I highly recommend it.
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1868  Morpeth -Theodora Breckenridge who has developed a passion for painting nature discovers a new species of butterfly which she sets about investigating.  Sid Binks is a young typesetter working for the local paper and Clarrie is his love.  The young couple find they are to become a family and have to organize somewhere for Clarrie to give birth and then for the baby to be cared for while they are both working.  

1922   Sydney – Verity Binks has just been let go from her job at the Sydney Arrow newspaper and receives a mysterious invitation  to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball.  Here she is introduced to Mr Treadwell and asked to write an article regarding the Treadwell foundation which supplies accommodation for young ladies about to become unwed Mothers.  

The two woman are linked by a tale that begins with a discovery of a butterfly, a young couple and their baby, two newspapers, a n immoral business that spans over 50 years and one women's effort to find someone she loves.  

I was drawn to this book by the beautiful artwork on the cover as well as the title.  The story of the discovery of the Monarch Butterfly is just one layer to this book. The author has intertwined each story and time skillfully and each time the lines intersect, a new aspect of the twisty plot is revealed.  The plot is quite complex until the end and all becomes clear, but the story holds the interest until the very end.  

This is not an action story but has a pace akin to the quiet life the characters experienced in Morpeth,. There are sections where events that effect our characters become quite tense, but there is a politeness and properness to this story, befitting of the times it is set in.  

Both the main characters, Verity and Theodora are strong, driven, intelligent young women who don't conform to the expected standards of females of the day.  Theodora is much more interested in painting her butterflies than finding a husband and Verity longs to be a journalist at a time returning soldiers where given jobs that women had previously held.  Both women are searching for something and are determined to find it. 

Clarrie is a young unwed Mother.  Unlike the picture that society paints of women like her, she illustrates the love and dedication she has for her baby as well as her determination to make a good life as a family.  

The setting of the Sydney section of the story is centred around the Rocks area and is easy to envision Verity bicycling through The Cutting and through the streets lined with terrace houses.  Morpeth is not familiar to me, but located on the banks of the Hunter river, the authors descriptive prowess has made it sound  idylic.  

This was my first book by Tea Cooper and I feel that this author will appear on my bookshelves often.  Her writing is lyrical and atmospheric.  She has extensively researched her topic and cleverly woven fact and fiction to create a story that will both entertain and educate.  I can recommend this book to lovers of Australian stories and Historical Fiction.
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Morpeth, 1868. Theodora Breckenridge is still mourning the loss of her parents and brother Jamie in a tragic accident, she lives at The Landing with her three sisters Constance, Florence, and Viola. Her sisters want to travel to Sydney to find husbands and go dress shopping, Theodora would rather stay home and draw and paint. Theodora admires Harriet and Helena Scott, they once lived on nearby Ash Island and they documented the areas flora and fauna. Theodora discovers a butterfly, it’s never been seen before in Australia and it’s native to the Americas. 

The Butterfly Collector has an easy to follow dual timeline, it’s set in 1868 and 1922 in New South Wales, Australia.  

Sydney, 1922. Verity Binks loses her job at The Arrow, and her boss Mr. Bailey feels he should employ returned servicemen at the newspaper. She arrives home early and her neighbor Mrs. Carr informs her that someone has delivered a parcel. The anonymous package contains a much sort after invitation to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball, a beautiful butterfly costume and mask. While attending the ball, she meets Mr. Treadwell, and he would like her to write an article prompting his mother’s charity. The Treadwell Foundation, it supports unmarried women who find themselves in a delicate condition and their babies.

Verity begins to look into the Treadwell Foundation, she discovers that Mrs. Treadwell and her grandparents Sid and Clarrie had all lived in Morpeth and around the same time. Her grandfather Sid worked for the local newspaper called The Morpeth Want, and Verity slowly uncovers the well hidden clues and attempts to solve a fifty year old mystery.

I received a copy of The Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper from NetGalley and Harlequin Australia in exchange for an honest review. This is my favourite book by Ms. Cooper, it’s a compelling historical mystery and one with so many unexpected twists and turns. A story about secrets, family ties, adoption, cover ups and illegal baby trafficking, and a trail blazing woman’s interest in art, nature, science and the Wanderer Butterfly. Five stars from me, I highly recommend this book and a must read for fans of well written Australian historical fiction.
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