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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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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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.

The Sleepwalker

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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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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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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