The Devil in the White City – A Review

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a macabre fascination with serial killers, especially ones from the past. I went through a phase of reading anything and everything I could about Jack the Ripper and still find the whole subject surrounding, probably the most infamous murderer of all time, fascinating.

TDITWC

So when I stumbled across the name H.H.Holmes and did some digging I was super intrigued. A charismatic doctor who moved to Chicago and built a hotel as a way to lure women to him and kill them. I managed to pick up the copy of this book fairly cheap (I got it second hand off Amazon) The book flits between the story of Daniel Burnham (a man given the task to oversee the building of the World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago) and H.H.Holmes a charming and smooth talking doctor with amazing powers of manipulation and someone who was also incredibly dangerous and sick.

As I went to Chicago last year, I actually enjoyed reading about the building of the fair and learning more about it’s history, some of the most well known things came about there (Shredded Wheat and the Ferris Wheel to name a couple) When it got to the chapters talking about the crimes Holmes executed in his strangely built hotel, it made the hairs on my arm stand on end. The ease with which he would like to neighbours and family members asking about their missing daughters (who he had murdered and disposed of) makes for some unsettling reading.

However as the book progressed, I couldn’t help but think that I would have liked to have heard more about the crimes in depth, more about Holmes’ time incarcerated as well as more about his victims. Whilst the parts of the book following Daniel Burnham and the World’s Fair appealed to the history buff in me (and the lover of Chicago) I felt that it took away from the whom the book was actually about, America’s First Serial Killer.
That being said, Erik Larson wrote it in a way that the information wasn’t too heavy and you can tell he’s really done his research and has a true passion for the subject, and that came across in his writing. I got through it fairly quickly, but I would have liked the ending to have been as detailed as the rest of the book.

Star Rating out of 5: 4.5

Happy reading.

G.
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Convenience Store Woman – A Review

I kept noticing this book on one of my regular perusals of the local bookshop and kept picking it up but was never sure. However when I saw a fellow bookworm Hannah Simpson singing its praises on her Instagram page I thought I’d give it a whirl and bought a copy.

CSW

A few pages in and I loved the style of writing of Sayaka Murata. The book centres on Keiko Furukura a 36 year old woman who, despite her friends and family protestations, has worked in a Convenience Store part time for 18 years. There are moments where the author tells a story of something odd Keiko said or did as a child that give her a dark comedic edge. As the book progressed I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable though, I neither found it “hilarious” or “irresistibly quirky” as two the reviews on the cover exclaim.

Perhaps I’m reading far too much into it, or perhaps I have misinterpreted it. I feel that Keiko could be autistic, I haven’t looked into this but I found her personality came across displaying traits of this. And for that reason it made me uncomfortable that she was being depicted as a comedy figure. Granted there are some things she says in a very blunt and matter of fact way, but it didn’t sit well with me.

On the flipside I did enjoy the way Keiko was happy in her job and felt at peace. Almost as though the store was living organism which she could read and understand and in turn it did the same for her and allowed her a place to be “normal”.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are if you’ve read this, as perhaps I’ve missed something or completely misconstrued it. All in all, a quick and easy read.

Star Rating out of 5: 3

Happy reading.

G.
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Where’s the Compassion?

It’s not often I digress from book reviews on here but last night I experienced something quite unnerving and this morning I’m disgusted by people’s reactions to it. I live in a block of flats in a so called “trendy” area in Manchester. You need a card to scan into the gated car park and to get in the building, through the doors and to use the lifts. There’s also 24 hour concierge. There’s CCTV around, it’s pretty secure!

Last night there was a young guy in his mid-20s who found his way into the car park. He was screaming and sounded in a lot of anguish and mental pain. He was lying on the floor between the cars and crying and holding his head. He punched a couple of the cars and kicked them. He was having conversations with people who weren’t there. It was distressing to see and witness. I believe he was under the influence of drugs but more than that I think he was having a mental breakdown. Eventually the police arrived and calmed him down and took him away.

I don’t know who he was, or what’s come of him, though I hope he is receiving the care and help he needs. As someone who has anxiety and depression and has been suicidal in the past, my main concern was not for the cars in the car park, but the for guys safety. It was incredibly upsetting to see someone so detached and unaware of his surroundings. As it is with most things these days, the building I live in has a facebook group where people usually ask about parking spaces or advertise cleaning services etc. Someone posted in there asking if they knew who the guy was and generally people were concerned for him and showing compassion. But as with everything there are people who made sweeping comments and judgements and had little to no compassion.

As a side note, the building I live in is surrounded by other buildings that provide the standard “swanky” white box city living most places offer now, but just behind us is a council estate. The same place where some of the apartments surrounding mine now stand, once had houses both private and council owned. In short the area is a picture postcard of gentrification personified.

One guy in this group took umbrage to those of us who was worried about the young guy and said “yeah lets have sympathy for the guy who woke everyone up and smashed up cars in the car park” now I must say here at no point did the guy smash anything, yes he punched a couple of cars and kicked them but no damage (no denting or windows smashed) happened to any of the vehicles inside the car park. I responded saying that mentally the guy was in a vulnerable and volatile state and appearing to be under the influence of drugs was confused, scared and angry. This guy’s response was “Considering the people that live just behind us. I’d wager he’s a scumbag off his face on drugs.” And in that statement he summed up what is so very wrong in most of today’s society.

I don’t know anything about this guy, but his level of ignorance absolutely dumbfounded me. For starters he’s implying that the very people who have lived in the area BEFORE these apartments were built are nothing other than scum bags who use drugs and smash up other people’s property. Yet if you look around the estate a lot of these houses are kept wonderfully, most of them with nice front gardens and you’ll often see the neighbours chatting to one another. He countered my response with how many times the local bakery and bar has been broken into and muggings that have happened. Once again implying that it is likely the people who live “just behind us” who are responsible and it just made me see red. For starters, break-ins and muggings happen every day, it’s not exclusive to the area where we live. It also seems to escape his attention that the people doing these break-ins and muggings don’t necessarily live around the corner. I had my phone pick-pocketed last year and it ended up in Rochdale, which is a good 15 miles from where I live and where it happened.

Another thing that irked me is he’s making judgements about someone in such a vulnerable state mentally and showing no compassion. But it was the fact he made the sweeping assumption that this person must have been from the estate. I take umbrage with this for multiple reasons. For starters, I grew up in a council house on a council estate; all my life I’ve had people making comments at me because of where I’m from because they have an idea in their mind of what people who live on council estates are like. I also suffer from anxiety and depression and have been suicidal in the past and close to a mental breakdown. This guy has a sense of unprecedented self-importance because he somehow thinks that because he lives in this swanky apartment that those in the surrounding area are beneath him. Actually it is those very people who were kicked out of their homes to allow gentrification to happen, so that people like him could live in a “nice” apartment in an “up and coming area” and be a yuppie. The only reason I live in these apartments is because my mum died quite suddenly, and I had two weeks to find somewhere to live. I share a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 other people and only just about get by.  I don’t forget where I come from, nor am I ignorant enough to claim that there aren’t some bad eggs who go out and vandalise for fun, but it is the sweeping statement and the wording that really rubbed me up the wrong way.

It sickens me to think that he’s more concerned with the idea of a car being damaged than he is about the safety and mental state of a human being. Now I am in no way saying its right that the guy was punching and kicking and cars, but honestly if you could have heard the pain in his screams you would know that this guy wasn’t just some guy looking to intimidate and try and rob/wreck a car. He was under the influence of drugs and was also in an extremely vulnerable state of mind. He was screaming at people who weren’t there and crying and holding his head. It was heart breaking to see and hear but it really sickens me more that people are more concerned about things than people.

This is what’s wrong with society. We live in a world where more stock and importance is put into what you have as opposed to who you are on a day to day basis and how you are with other people. There is a very definite class divide in most areas now, especially where I am currently living. The people who rent these apartments look at the people from the estate with a mix of humour and disgust, as though they’re something to be tolerated and mocked. Something that should be pushed out because they don’t belong, completely ignorant to the fact that generations of the same family have lived in the same area for decades. They look down their nose at the addicts who go to the surgery nearby and I’ve even seen them walk past homeless people hurriedly in case they talk to them.

People like this guy, want to live in a world that is “instagrammable” and only wants to see the aesthetically pleasing sides of life. He wants to live in a fancy apartment, where he expects to be treated like a king (he was one of the people who once complained in the group about the concierge not phoning him and telling him his friends had arrived) where everyone should think it’s “funny” to show no compassion to someone who is mentally ill and in a vulnerable state. In short, he wants to go through life with a belief that a person’s worth is measured by their bank account and how many likes they have on their carefully censored Instagram profile. When I was arguing back and forth with him he said I had an agenda. But my only agenda is to try and make people a little more understanding and considerate.

I really dread to think what would happen if anyone he loved or cared about found themselves in that situation. I’d dread to think what would happen in the future if he fell on hard times and had to turn to theft to feed his family (something I have witnessed in Aldi a couple of times and it kills me to see) It seems he’s ignorant to what is happening in the world around him. Families with jobs are living in working poverty and having to go to food banks to feed their children, male suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and there’s a spice epidemic happening in the city centre. Homeless people taking a drug that turns them into living zombies because it passes a day of no food or shelter and makes it seem like 10 seconds. It gets them through a day.

My “agenda” is nothing more than having concern about someone who seemed scared and in pain. Material objects can be replaced, a human being cannot. It’s not hard to grasp or fathom is it? People are more important than things.  People are sentient beings, things are not. Perhaps if people took a step back and thought for a second instead of being quick to judge or jump to conclusions, the way we live could change.  I know there’s bad in the world, and I know some people do harm on purpose, but not everyone.  I know it might seem easier sometimes to judge people, but for a second put yourself in their shoes. Everyone has a history, some people have darker and more trying ones than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be compassionate because you lack understanding. Because it is through listening and trying to understand that compassion can be born in people.

Some of the kindest and most giving people I know live in council houses on council estates. There wasn’t a year that went by when money wasn’t raised for a family who couldn’t afford anything for Christmas, or a food hamper was put together and given to a family who had less…Even when my mum died and my brother and I were struggling to raise money to pay for my mum’s funeral, the people on the estate rallied round and raised some cash to help us pay for it. Yet these very people are looked down upon because they live one street over. It disgusts me. I’d like to say this guy saw sense but he didn’t. He just laugh reacted to most of what I saying and has decided to be ignorant. They say ignorant is bliss so I hope he sleeps well at night with his lack of compassion and understanding. Me, I’d rather lose sleep worrying than be like him.

I’m going to enquire tonight to see if there’s any news on the young guy. I really hope he’s getting love and support and guidance, he seemed to be in so much anguish and suffering. We all come into the world the same way and go out the same way, you’re no better than anyone else because of your postcode. Likewise, you’re not untouchable to mental health because of where you live. It can effect anyone at any point in life. I hope the guy is ok…But above all I hope that there are more people out there who show compassion. Don’t be “that” guy, don’t be a dick!

G.
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Just Kids – A Review

I’ve had this book sat on my shelf for a year or so now. As a bookworm it’s a recurring theme where I buy books I really want to read but they sit on a shelf for longer than they should whilst life gets in the way or I read something else that I’ve been wanting to read just as long.

JKPS

I picked this off my shelf on a cold and rainy day. I felt a pull to it for some reason. It documents Patti’s childhood and upbringing and her eventual move to New York. And it’s here that she meets the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Both in their early 20’s they embrace their passion for art, photography and poetry together, finding love and inspiration in each other. There are so many names mentioned in this book that some ignorant people may feel Patti is simply name dropping, but with Patti I just got the feeling that she is simply re-counting in a very candid way some of the influential people she met during those years. People who made an impact and shaped her voice such as Janis Joplin and a small moment with Jimi Hendrix.

As both Patti and Robert grow older, they both maintain a mutual respect and love for one another. They both support, encourage and guide. This book is more about passion and determination and sheer grit it takes to become an artist than it is about their love affair and friendship. There are some very tender and human moments, Patti writes so very beautifully, it’s easy to see why she became the icon and muse she is today to many artists, poets and musicians the world over.

I loved this book so much, I went out and purchased M Train. Give it a read if you’re looking to feel inspired and want to get lost in a time period with some of the greats!

Star Rating out of 5: 4

Happy reading.

G.
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Time and Distance

Taking a rare step back from books for a moment and reflecting on the past year or so, this is going to be quite a personal post. My life has changed so much in the past few years, I was married and living in a lovely house. Things happened and my marriage broke down, I moved back home with my mum. I got into relationships with people I thought cared about me and loved me (and I honestly thought I loved them) but now I’ve had time and distance I know that I was naïve. I was blind to their tricks and manipulation and cheating because I so desperately wanted someone to just love me for me. But I didn’t love them either; I just wanted to feel that I did in order to feel something other than shitty.

Fast forward to latter end of last year and I was beginning to get my confidence back, I went to Chicago with one of my best friends and came back full of ideas, energy and the desire to start making the changes and steps in my life I had put off for so long. And then my mum passed away suddenly. It’s not even been a year since she left us and I still hurt more than people know or realise, or even show. I still have nights where I see things that happened that night so clearly in my head that it hurts to breathe and I get launched into an existential panic about changing the outcome. I still blame myself for not going downstairs 5 or 10 minutes sooner, and although my brother tells me I shouldn’t think like that, it’s something I will carry with me forever. Having to do CPR on your own mum isn’t something you forget and I never will. I’m hoping that sometime in the near future I will be in a position where I feel ready to get counselling and speak to a professional about how I feel but at the moment I feel that I would unravel and not know how to put myself back together. So I manage by way of anti-depressants, making to do lists and pre-occupying myself with hobbies.

The past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about various things. But mostly about how selfish I have been. I got into a relationship with someone I thought was “amazing” and rushed into something I wasn’t ready for, so when they ended it abruptly because they couldn’t deal with my anxiety I was shocked and upset but really I shouldn’t have been and I should have payed attention to all the red flags about their own behaviour. In hindsight they were nothing special and definitely not someone I should have wasted so much time pining over. They didn’t deserve me at all, I didn’t see or realise my own worth but I do now. I distanced myself from friends and family and existed in a little bubble and did some really stupid things, things that hurt those close to me and made them worry unnecessarily. Things I’m not proud of and for that I can only apologise.

I travelled to Amsterdam for 4 days on a solo trip and did some much needed soul searching and it was good for me. Not long after I returned I started a new job (which I absolutely love and feel so lucky to have) and got back in touch with someone who has always been in the background of my life. Someone I met 14 years ago at Monday night Ritz, when he spilt a pint on me.

That night all those years ago, I looked in his eyes and laughed and we spent the whole night sitting on the stairs (him ditching his friends, me ditching my bro and our friends) just talking to one another. We dated a little bit but the timing was bad, but we stayed in touch. Years later we once again got re-acquainted and dated again, but it wasn’t too long after my dad had passed away, I wasn’t in the best of places and neither was he. But he was someone I always kept on Facebook, always thought about. Last year I posted something on Facebook and he commented on it, and we got chatting again. I got such a thrill and warmth from talking to him. I saw he was in a relationship and eased off as I didn’t want to make his girlfriend uncomfortable but still thought about him.

Anyway, on the first day in my new job, we got talking again. We didn’t stop. He phoned me and it wasn’t uncomfortable, it just felt right. There were no awkward silences or phatic conversation. Fast forward a bit and we start dating and it was going well, like really well. And now, almost 2 months since we made it “Facebook official” I couldn’t imagine being without him. And in fact, I don’t know why we didn’t do it sooner. I honestly believe he was the one that got away but thankfully we found each other again. He’s not like anyone else. I can truly be myself with him, he doesn’t judge me, get angry at me for being upset about things or make me feel like a “head case” or call me one because I have anxiety and depression. He makes me laugh so much, he has one of the kindest hearts I’ve ever known and above all I trust him 100%. I don’t feel like I have to look over my shoulder, or worry about another girl or anything like that because he gives me no reason to. No matter whether we’re together or apart, he makes me feel like I’m the only person in the room. For some reason, he loves me for who I am my faults and all. And I can honestly say that I love him too and on some level I think I always have. Over the years whenever I’ve heard certain songs, they’ve made me think of him and I’ve smiled. And now it’s so nice to lie in his arms and listen to those songs and know that they made him think of me too.

Me and KF

Being with him makes me want to be a better person and for the first time in a long time, I actually feel like I have a future to look forward to. When my mum died I was in pieces and didn’t know how I’d get through each day. Part of me feels like she brought him to me, a little cheesy but I honestly believe it to be true. Since I’ve been with him, I’ve been taking steps to sort things out in my life. My divorce is underway, the house we shared is on the market and it’s all remained amicable, which I’m glad about. I wish no bad to my ex and hope he finds happiness one day, but we both want to get it sorted quickly so we can start our new lives.

Other little changes mean I’ve been looking at my relationships; I’ve not made time for some people where I should have done and consequently have had my head up my own arse thinking my shit is the worse. When that’s not true at all, other people have been going through stuff and I should have been there to support them or check in and I didn’t or haven’t. But that’s going to change. I am trying to make amends with people and patch up what I can. I’m trying to be kinder to others and to myself.

I’m trying to become vegetarian because I hate seeing what’s happening to the planet and I think of my beautiful niece and nephew and don’t want their generation to suffer. I’m focusing on my career and pushing for skills and experience that I hope will make me better at what I do. I’m booking onto exercise classes that I enjoy (burlesque, aerial hoop and pole fitness) and trying to worry less about my shape and how I look and more about how the classes make me feel. I’m taking up a bullet journal to help with my anxiety and have booked a holiday for February next year because I want to see the world with the person I love and make memories.

I know it’s not going to be easy and that everything won’t happen overnight but I’m trying to be better, more understanding and more loving. I don’t want negativity or bitterness or anger to be part of me or my life. I’m trying to let that go and with Kyle, I feel like that’s possible. Life is far too short and precious to waste. So here’s to a healthy life, with good memories made with amazing people and above all, a life filled with love.

G.
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The Music Box – Part 1

I’ve been wanting to get back into writing short stories again for a while. Let me know your thoughts.

The rain pelts against the office window and I can see the trees outside on the piazza swaying in the wind. I take my glasses off and rub the bridge of my nose, I was used to last minute deadlines and working odd hours, but looking at the clock in the corner of the computer screen I can see that it’s almost midnight.

I stretch my arms above my head and reach for my cup to find that the coffee inside has gone cold, a regular occurrence when I find myself getting absorbed in my research. This is, hopefully, going to be one of my first major articles for the website. It isn’t often junior writers get this opportunity but I think my editor Joanna could hear my passion for the subject matter and the rough bit of research I’d found had piqued her interest enough that she was allowing me to dig into it more and write a piece.

I look at the microform print outs scattered next to me on my desk, and pull one towards me. It shows the picture of Elizabeth Brown with her mother Anna Brown. Anna has her hand on her daughters shoulder, her face warm, the girl is smiling and holds a doll in one hand, the white dress she is wearing making her look even more angelic. I put my glasses on and read.

B&W

“Police were alerted to the house after an elderly widower who lives nearby heard “blood-curdling” screams coming from the property. Police had to break the door and soon located the screams coming from upstairs. They found Mrs Elizabeth Brown in a state of hysteria, hands covered in blood, pointing at the open door of her daughters’ bed chamber. When entering the room Officer Cook claims he heard the sound of a music box but the sight that awaited him made him feel nauseous. Eight year old Elizabeth Brown was on the floor her legs were twisted at an odd angle, clearly broken in several places and her throat had been cut, her left hand was reaching towards the music box. Police are investigating the case but as Mrs Brown, the only witness and suspect, is currently in hospital in a state of shock, they are unable to carry out any further questioning at this time.”

It’s the earliest dated reference to the music box I have managed to find, the 20th September 1885. Most people would wonder what the music box has to do with, what is very clearly, an open and closed case of a mother murdering her child. But what if I was to tell you that my research shows that this same music box has been found at the scene of numerous tragedies over the years? What if I was to tell you that my research has led me to transcripts between a psychologist and Anna Brown where she claims to be innocent of her daughter’s death? A death she claims came about because of the music box? A statement she maintained was fact till the day she was hung almost a year later.

I rub the back of my neck and reach for my cup, before making my way through the quiet office to the kitchen.  I wait for the kettle to boil and get lost in thought, about all the things I have learnt so far, and all of the things I am yet to learn, yet to expose. There’s so much to this story that needs to be told. My reverie is broken by Patrick, the night shift security guard making his rounds.

“Working late again Ms. Brown?”

I nod my head and smile at him tiredly, thinking how I will work as late as many times as I need to, till the truth is found.

Would you like to read more of this? If so comment below. Thanks for reading.

G.
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Meet the Bookworm – Ian McMillan

The next bookworm you’re about to meet is also the first male bookworm who has appeared in my “Meet the Bookworm” feature. There are books and authors on here that I’ve never heard of, which is great for me and you lovely people reading as it means more to add to your list. Please welcome Ian McMillan of Coatbridge, Scotland to More Books than Shoes.

Ian McMillanWhat age did you get into reading? I was fairly young when I got into reading. I can’t remember what age I was but I’m pretty sure it was before I started at school; so maybe about 4.

What’s the first book that really struck a chord with you and why?  As a youngster, I loved Roald Dahl, so it was probably The Witches. It was just such a dark, bittersweet and sometimes bizarre story that doesn’t skimp on the “gory” details. Dahl’s books were always quite subversive, and even at a young age I had a strange twisted sense of humour. It definitely helped shaped my future tastes. 

Do you have a favourite genre? I read many different genres so picking a favourite is difficult. It’s more about story and themes rather than genre for me. Looking at my books on the bookcase, I have lots of biographies, classics, etc, but there seems to be mostly JG Ballard, Hubert Selby Jr, Chuck Palahniuk, Camus, Kafka, Philip K Dick, Hunter S Thompson, et al, so I seem to lean more towards transgressive fiction. 

Is there a fictional character or characters that you can relate to? I seem to be drawn to characters that are struggling to make sense of the world around them, or that feel completely out of place even within themselves. Palahniuk’s protagonists I can relate to: that feeling of looking at the people around you and thinking “I don’t understand any of these folk”.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read and why? The Bank Robber Diaries by Danny King. Really badly written and full of truly detestable characters that the author obviously thinks are cool and hilarious. I used to always pride myself that I would always finish a book, no matter if it was good or bad. This book changed that. 

What’s your favourite book to screen adaptation and why? I think I’d have to say The Princess Bride. I may be influenced by nostalgia with this answer as it’s been a favourite of mine since I was a child but it is such a joyful film that totally reflects the book in every way (probably because William Goldman wrote both). Fight Club is also up there as it actually improves on the book. 

What was the last book you read? Lost Highways: An Illustrated History of Road Movies by Jack Sargeant and Stephanie Watson. The road movie is one of my favourite subgenres in film – the notion of the road as a metaphor for a personal as well as physical journey – and this book covers all the different types of road movie in relation to nationality, historical setting, political backdrop, etc.

What are you currently reading? Peckinpah: A Portrait In Montage by Garner Simmons. I love a biography and Sam Peckinpah is one of my favourite directors. As you may have noticed, I read a lot of film-related stuff.

If you could recommend just one book to everyone you ever met, which book would it be and why? Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. A dark, surreal tragedy about a family who run a circus freak show and who resort to desperate measures to keep the business going when popularity starts to wane, told from the point of view of the daughter who is a hunch-backed albino dwarf. It is both a very funny and very sad read.

And finally, if you were to write an autobiography of your own life what would you call it? No idea. Probably “Winging It”. That’s all we really seem to do in life, isn’t it? Haha.

Thanks to Ian, and all the other lovely people who have taken part so far. If you’d like to be part of the “Meet the Bookworm” feature, please comment below.

Happy reading.

G.
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