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.

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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.

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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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The Sleepwalker – A Review

The Sleepwalker is the third in the Aidan Waits series of books by Joseph Knox. You may have seen that I have posted about Joseph Knox and his incredibly captivating protagonist in previous posts, a character who has so much hidden in his past but we know very little about. He makes you want to go back for more.

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And this book is no exception.  I honestly have to say that the way the book starts, very much sets the whole tone for the rest of the book. There’s a sense of tension building throughout, a feeling that whilst reading, settles in the stomach and makes you on edge about what is to come. Aidan is once again catapulted into an investigation that is complex and has connections to some old familiar faces.  The relationship between Aidan and his new partner, Naomi Black, could have easily have fallen flat but somehow Joseph manages to introduce enough intrigue and tension that makes the dynamic between the two believable. In this book we find Aidan very much looking over his shoulder at enemies from his past, work colleagues, suspects and his new partner.

It’s hard to talk about the plot line of this book without giving away too much but it is much grittier than Knox’s previous work, and dare I say, his best one yet. Once again we see softer aspects to the otherwise mysterious Waits and the way Knox highlights the issue of the Spice epidemic in Manchester and its impact upon homeless people and those incarcerated is particularly hard to read, but incredibly important. It is the moments that take place within Strangeways and an inmate there that made me particularly emotional.  Once again Joseph has penned a masterpiece in Crime Fiction/Crime Noir.  Giving us plenty of drama, intrigue, twists and turns and also moments that will make you wince. This book is not for the faint hearted and the best thing is how he ends it. There’s no way of knowing what will come next, and that is why you should read it.

A rip roaring, page turner and one I highly recommend to those who love a good detective novel, trust me, there are things you will not see coming and they will leave you reeling.

Star Rating out of 5: 5

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have read it, so comment below. Happy reading!

G.
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Meet the Bookworm – Hannah Simpson

Welcome to a new feature I’m hoping to make a regular thing on my blog, how regular is yet to be seen as it depends on the response of willing contributors and reactions. I’ll be asking fellow bookworms 10 questions about books etc. and including a photo of them. This will hopefully, show the diversity and reach of literature and also give you some book recommendations you may have otherwise ignored.

My first wonderful contributor is Hannah Simpson, from Manchester, UK. She is an avid reader and blogger/writer (you can check out her blog here) What I love about Hannah’s answers is the sheer passion and excitement that comes through. You can really tell how much she loves getting lost in the pages of a book, so without further ado please welcome Hannah Simpson.

Hannah Simpson.jpgWhat age did you get into reading? I’m really privileged that reading has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Both my parents are avid readers and my mum is a school librarian, so I grew up surrounded by books and constantly encouraged to read.  Some of my happiest childhood memories are of being read to by my parents, or exploring our little local library.

What’s the first book that really struck a chord with you and why? My first instinct for this question was either Little Women (which we will come back to!) or Harry Potter, but since the question is the first book, we’re going back even further and I’m going to pick something totally different.  We have a stash of Christmas-specific books that we would break out every year and one that I remember being full-on obsessed with is called ‘A Letter to Father Christmas’ by Rose Impey – it’s a really sweet picture book about a girl called Charlotte who accidentally sends her mum’s shopping list to Father Christmas rather than her own wish list.  I have no idea why this book got me like it did, but it just makes me so happy when I look back on it now.

Do you have a favourite genre? I tend to read contemporary fiction and am mostly drawn towards stuff which is best classified as ‘first world white girl problems’.  Basically anything that’s a bit like Jacqueline Wilson or Judy Blume (the queens!), but for twenty-something women.

Is there a fictional character or characters that you can relate to? Jo March from Little Women was my first feminist icon and a big part of the reason I have always aspired to write for a living.  More recently, Johanna Morrigan from Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Build A Girl’ and ‘How To Be Famous’ really spoke to me.  She is a character not often represented in (particularly YA) literature – bolshy and outspoken in contrast to the quieter, more reserved female characters who often narrate coming of age stories.  Johanna is a protagonist for the loud girls, the girls who have spent their lives being told to calm down and sit down and stop being quite so ‘much’.

 What’s the worst book you’ve ever read and why? This is a really hard question because I’ve got quite good at picking books that I’m fairly certain I’ll enjoy – my Goodreads account is just a load of four and five star reviews, because I don’t tend to read things that I don’t like.  One book I was really disappointed by was ‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides, because everyone loves it and so many women hold it up as this incredible piece of work so my expectations were high.  I just didn’t enjoy it that much – I didn’t really care about any of the characters.  Maybe if I read it again now, I’d get more from it?  I probably won’t bother.

What’s your favourite book to screen adaptation and why? I’m bending the rules and doing a top 5 for this (in no particular order) because I absolutely couldn’t narrow it down to just one.  ‘Prisoner of Azkhaban’ is my favourite HP book and the film is absolutely brilliant; the 1994 ‘Little Women’ has an insanely good cast and fills me with so much joy; ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ is one of the only book-to-screen adaptations where I think the film is actually better; the recent Netflix adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series is fantastic, with loads of diversity and LGBT representation within the cast; and the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ remains some of the best TV I’ve ever seen and I loved all the nods to the books.

 What was the last book you read? The last book I finished was ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata, which is a punchy little Japanese novel about a women who has worked in the same convenience store for eighteen years.  It’s a really compelling exploration of the way society tries to force us to conform and what happens to those who don’t.  Very funny, well worth a read.

What are you currently reading? I’ve ended up with two books on the go at the moment, which I don’t normally do.  I started ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ (really fascinating and not something I would typically pick up) and then had a load of books I’d reserved from the library come through, so that’s on hold for now.  ‘Daisy Jones and The Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the one that stole me away and I can’t put it down – it’s an oral history of a fictional 70s rock band, and I’m absolutely devouring it.

If you could recommend just one book to everyone you ever met, which book would it be and why? Either ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas or ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman.  Such powerful book.  Just read them.  Please.  They should both be on the national curriculum.

And finally, if you were to write an autobiography of your own life what would you call it? I mean, ‘First World White Girl Problems’ pretty much sums it up.

If you would be happy taking part, please comment below or alternatively you can tweet me here or send me a message on Instagram here.

Happy reading!

G.
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The Importance of Reading

I’ve always been a bookworm. For as long as I can remember I have taken solace in the pages of a book to help me through breakups, heartbreak, loss, grief and stress. I also read just for enjoyment and find it really relaxing. But I know many people find it hard, some because they struggle with concentration, some because they suffer from dyslexia and feel intimidated and some people associate it with being forced to read the set curriculum at school. However reading is important and it’s something everyone should do and here’s why.

Reading has been found to enhance the connectivity in the brain and keeping the brain active can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It also requires you to use your memory muscle which can decrease the decline of your memory. Not to mention reading expands your knowledge and vocabulary, but is also improves concentration and increases empathy. In the current climate we’re living in, I think empathy is lacking and the fact that people can gain more empathy from a book and gain more understanding of people and situations that they are likely never to find themselves in, is important. We could all benefit from being a bit more understanding to our fellow man.

Reading is also important as a form of entertainment and relaxation. Where possible, I always try to read the book version of a Film/TV series before I watch it’s translation to film. There have been times where the adaptation has been done pretty decently, but often the image I build up in my head is much more complex and multifaceted than it is on the screen. It’s also incredibly personal; it’s my mind’s interpretation of what I’m reading. Which is one reason I love hearing other people’s opinions of books I’ve read, to hear how they imagined it.

My boyfriend is one of those modest people who believes he’s not very smart, but actually he is. He thinks he doesn’t read a lot, but he’s always reading. Which brings me to my next point. Just because you don’t read books on the regular, it doesn’t mean you’re not a reader. You could be reading articles or forums, but you’re still reading! So don’t let someone shame you for not reading a conventional book. You’re still keeping your brain engaged and learning more so block out the haters.

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Likewise when you are reading books don’t let someone shame you for the subject matter or genre.  I’ll admit “chick lit” (I hate that term) is not for me but I wouldn’t shame someone for reading it, I really hate this modern mentality of shaming someone’s enjoyment of something. Just because it’s not your cup of tea, doesn’t give you the right to guilt someone else for enjoying it, so enjoy that book about the history of the Regency Revolution, or that tie-in Star Trek book and ignore what anyone else says. Just do you!

But above all my favourite thing about reading is the way it can bring people together, it opens the floor to discussion, it allows you to learn other perspectives and see the world through the eyes of someone else. It is the best way to escape without going anywhere. I don’t think I will ever stop reading and I’m proud to be a bookworm.

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In fact I would like to hear from you! I am looking for 5 people who would allow me to feature them on my blog, discussing your favourite book(s) and the impact they had on you. If you’re interested and happy to be involved, then please comment below. Until then, happy reading.

G.
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An Evening with Joseph Knox

I’m fairly new to the work of Joseph Knox, my ex purchased me a copy of his debut novel ‘Sirens’ back in March (which is the nicest thing my ex ever did but I digress) The main thing that pulled me in was the fact that it was set in Manchester, my birthplace and home. Being able to perfectly visualise the surroundings made it easier to read, combine this with the fact all the chapters were named after Joy Division songs, albums or EP’s and instantly I was hooked.

Joseph wove a story full of complex characters, drama and dark imagery. At the centre of the story is Aidan Waits, perhaps one of the most intriguing characters I have come across in literature in recent years. I tore through Siren’s pretty quickly and moved onto his next book ‘The Smiling Man’ which pulled me in from the blurb on the back alone. So to have the opportunity to hear the man himself discuss his new release ‘The Sleepwalker’ wasn’t something I wanted to miss.

On a rainy evening in Manchester I sat and watched the unassuming Joseph Knox talk about his latest novel and the way he struggled with getting it out there. He spoke about how at times he felt like walking away from it. It’s commendable the dedication he shows to his craft, it took him 10 years to get ‘Sirens’ finished and published. He was working full time and only had time to write the book in the evening and weekends. Many people would have given up, he didn’t and thank goodness he didn’t!

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It was clear to see when he was talking the amount of thought and passion he puts into his work, proclaiming that he has a fear of repeating himself or churning out something with a constantly familiar story line. He refuses to do it. He talked about how with other detective books, you usually learn so much about the main protagonist within the first few chapters, but with Aidan Waits you don’t and that is part of the intrigue and my love for the character. Two books in and I still only know a few details about him, he’s a character that leaves you wondering. As Joseph said Aidan “plays his cards very close to his chest” which is an incredible skill for a writer to have, to be able to lure people in without giving away too much. It’s no mean feat, but Joseph manages it. I could be ignorant and say he does it with ease, but that would be an insult to the apparent hard work and planning he puts into his novels.

Joseph quashed the rumour that he’s a Mancunian; he was born in Staffordshire but always had a romantic relationship with Manchester, moving and working here when he was a little older. This is something that, for me, comes across in his second book ‘The Smiling Man’ the way Aidan views the city in the hot summer months through almost romantic lenses. I was born and bred in Manchester but it made me feel moved to hear the love and respect that Joseph has for this city, and the way he felt that it was the perfect setting for his crime noir books and the even more complex character of Aidan Waits.

But it is when Joseph talked about the way the City has changed in the past ten years and the spice epidemic amongst the homeless and the people in Strangeways and the way it’s impacted upon the most vulnerable of people in our society that I was truly moved. Joseph talked about how when doing research for ‘The Sleepwalker’ he came across a Government website that was faulty, he saw the amount of mothers/fathers emailing Strangeways expressing concern about their sons who are currently incarcerated seeming suicidal or becoming addicted to spice. They were reaching out asking for help or an explanation and were given none. The very people becoming addicted to the drug seen more as an unseemly thing that should be overlooked as opposed to helped. He talked about how spice is taken because for people living on the street or in prison it passes 8 hours as quick as the click of a finger. Admittedly very tempting for those people and not something others should be so quick to judge. Joseph physically teared up at this and said he was hoping that his new book could give those people an answer they deserve. It’s refreshing to hear someone in Joseph’s position using his skills to highlight and shine a light onto something so prevalent in our society and is seemingly going ignored by the powers that be.

Joseph talked about a 4th novel, but one that is not necessarily crime fiction and not part of the Aidan Waits series. Joseph said with Aidan being so complex and having a dark past, it was important for him to have a break from the character and I’m inclined to agree. I am yet to read ‘The Sleepwalker’ but the early reviews I have read have talked about how this book is his best one yet with some unbelievable moments. As much as I love Aidan Waits, I feel that Joseph has enough skill to pen something other than crime fiction, and know it would still be an equally compelling read.

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It was a fantastic evening, from a very humble, wonderful and talented author. I cannot wait to read ‘The Sleepwalker’ and cannot wait to see what else Joseph has in store with his writing career. This guy’s going places and I implore you to check out his work. You will not be disappointed.  I will be posting a review of his new book on the blog once I’ve read it.

Happy reading folks.

G.
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Breaking the Silence

As you can imagine, I’ve been adjusting to life and trying to find my feet again. I’m hoping to get back into writing again soon, as well as carrying on with the book reviews. Now I have my book bug back, I think I’ll be reading a lot more than I have been or was.

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I’m attending a book event on Thursday evening in Manchester, with the author Joseph Knox. I read his first book Sirens and tore through it. I think the fact his books are based in Manchester (my city) make it easier for me to imagine the surroundings more, I also liked the way he named the chapters of Sirens after Joy Division songs (one of my favourite bands) His style of writing is great and he makes it easy for you to fall into the story without trying too hard. I’m currently reading his second book in the series (The Smiling Man) and I’m finding it hard to put it down and figure out who the culprit is. He’s brilliant at weaving storylines within one another, often linking one with the other through the most subtle of means.

I’m really looking forward to hearing him read an excerpt from his new book ‘The Sleepwalker’ and what he has to say about his methodology when writing, his favourite character(s) and of course whether there will be any other Detective Aidan Waits books.

I’m hoping I can use reading/writing as a cathartic process and hope that at some point I may even be able to write more poetry and eventually start writing short stories again.

G.

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