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.

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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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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.

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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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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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Meet the Bookworm – Elika Jacobs

Next up in my ‘Meet the Bookworm’ feature we have Elika Jacobs from Manchester, UK. Elika is a fellow Leo, and for as long as I can remember she’s always been into horror so her answers do not surprise me. There are some books on here, that I’ve never heard of or read, so without further ado, please welcome Elika and her creepy book vibes.

Elika JacobsWhat age did you get into reading? I would say I was around eight years old when I fell in love with reading. I was obsessed with R.L Stine’s Goosebumps books growing up.

What’s the first book that really struck a chord with you and why? I think the first book that struck a chord with me, I was 14 years old (and it’s nothing profound in anyway) but it would have to be when I read the first book of the trilogy ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert. Simply because it freaked me out! My imagination went into overdrive with that book. The part that has always stayed with me was this character was left absolutely terrified in his basement in pitch black listening to these blood thirsty rats the size of small dogs, scratching and getting closer and closer to him, until he can feel them tearing at his skin and he is eaten alive in complete and utter darkness. I read that section of the book in bed turned my light off, got back into bed, I moved my leg and felt something scratch me! I jumped out of bed screaming thinking there was a fucking rat from the book in my bed. Nope just my spring sticking out of my mattress!

Do you have a favourite genre? I don’t have a favourite but similar. I love thrillers, horror, true crime etc

Is there a fictional character or characters that you can relate to?  I think I resonate with a few characters from books I have read. However, I could see a little of myself in the sisters from ‘The secret life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read and why? I don’t really remember the book that I would class as the worst one I have read. It came free with a magazine and wasn’t really up my street. I just remember not finishing it.

What’s  your favourite book to screen adaptation and why? That is a hard one as there is so many that you don’t even realise! But I would have to say ‘The secret life of bees’ I have recently re-read it and it is a phenomenal book. The director and cast did a sensational job bringing it to life.

What was the last book you read? The last book I read was a biography of the former slave who became well-known as an abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights called ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ by Sojourner Truth.

What are you currently reading? The current book I am reading is called ‘Need you dead’ by Peter James.

If you could recommend just one book to everyone you ever met, which book would it be and why? Oh, wow that is a tough one, but I should’ve known it was coming! I think I’m going to give a cop out answer and say ANY of James Herbert’s books. If you’re into your horrors, thrillers, dark fantasy, etc he is the author for you! I’ve spoken about him that much recently that I think I’m going to have to take a trip down memory lane and re-read one of his books.

And finally, if you were to write an autobiography of your own life what would you call it? Lemony Snicket stole my autobiography name (laughs) I think I would call it ‘My life! Fuck it, it is what it is’

If you would like be a contributor for the “Meet the Bookworm” feature then please get in touch.

Thanks for 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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Everything I Know About Love – A Review

I’ve had this book sat on my shelf for a good few months; it came onto my radar when I overheard some female colleagues discussing it. I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. Dolly Alderton talks us through her teenage years and her first realisation of boys/men. Instantly I found the content relatable when she discussed MSN Messenger and the way you’d sign out and then back in again to get your crushes attention. I was guilty of this, I was also guilty of having the courage of being hidden behind a computer screen to say to a guy “You’re so cute, I really fancy you!” and then having the instant panic a second after hitting send of being rejected or laughed at so covering my back with a “Omg sorry, my cousin wrote that!” which when I think about it, was the worst excuse ever.

As the book goes on we learn about Dolly’s adult life, her early 20’s, nights out where she drank until the early hours of the morning (and still went to work) and the whirlwind relationships with men. There are moments of the book that are laugh out loud funny and some that really struck a chord with me. Especially when talking about her anxiety and relationship with drink. She looks at the power of female friendship and dissects how, as women; a lot of us tend to put what we think a man wants ahead of what we actually want. It’s these moments that I found myself nodding my head in agreement and feeling so happy to see someone being so open and candid about these things.

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It’s not a book that men should avoid either, Dolly hasn’t written this as some feminist manifesto or celebration of sisterhood, but actually takes ownership that there are no bad men or bad women, just some bad timings, decisions and ways of dealing with things. As she says later on in the book, and I’m paraphrasing here, no break up happens because you did nothing wrong, on some level you were responsible for the relationship breaking down, no matter how small. So don’t lay the blame on the man. You have to take responsibility and courage to look at what you did wrong too.  She also talks about dating in your 30’s (something I had some experience with) and once again I found her words to be incredibly true. Everyone has a history, especially if they’re single in their 30’s! One line particularly jumped out at me.

“If you lose respect for someone, you won’t be able to fall back in love with them.”

This made me think of my ex and our marriage breaking down, but it also made me think of myself. For many years I had no respect for myself and consequently found it hard to love myself and see anything worthy in me. It’s taken time for me to get where I am, and I still have days where I long to be that 17 year old girl with no worries or loss or heartbreak and that unshakable confidence I had at such a young age, but I’m getting there. I’m learning to know who I am, faults and all, and respect who I am, even love who I am. This book is more about friendship and the power of the “mundane” aspects of love that often get overlooked for not being particularly awe inspiring. But they’re actually the moments that mean the most (and the ones you should cherish) they’re the moments I know I long to share with my mum since her passing. The moments that seemed insignificant at the time but actually they were perfect moments between me and her. Dolly puts it more beautifully than I ever could.

“…it also happens when you’re lying on blow-up air beds in a childhood bedroom, sitting in A&E or in the queue for a passport or in a traffic jam. Love is a quiet, reassuring, relaxing, pottering, pedantic, harmonious hum of a thing; something you can easily forget is there, even though its palms are outstretched beneath you in case you fall.”

It’s hard not to read and finish this book without taking stock of your life, thanking the world silently for all the good it gives you and enjoying the sun on your skin. It’s more than a book; it’s a hug and an awakening.

Star Rating out of 5: 5

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Comment below, happy reading beauts.

G.
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