What’s Ashley Reading?: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

First line: PERSONAL – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in LaPorte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

Summary: Belle Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant, has learned some hard lessons early on. Upon her arrival in Chicago she married with the hopes of achieving the American dream. But the life she dreamed of did not come true. She was disappointed in her husband, home and lifestyle. She must make her own way in the world by any means necessary. Mysterious deaths, house fires and heated arguments the legend of the Black Widow of LaPorte begins to take hold.

My Thoughts: Before finding this book on Netgalley I had never heard of Belle Gunness. She was a female serial killer. She killed an estimated fourteen people but may be linked to many more. I was really intrigued by the premise, the story and the character of Belle. It was very disturbing to be inside her head. She rationalized everything she did. But even a book about a serial killer I found much of it to be drawn out. There was long periods of time passing and very little happening. I think that much of this could have been taken out and the story would have felt more thrilling.

After finishing I visited www.newpapers.com via the library’s learning databases. I wanted to see what the newspapers of the time were reporting about this woman. Many had the same headline or story. Then there was a resurgence of sightings and murders that some believed were connected to her. There is still lots of mystery around this century old murderer. It’s crazy how reality can be even stranger than fiction.

FYI: Very gruesome at parts.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

First line: How easy it was to disappear.

Summary: It is 1893. Chicago is hosting the World’s Fair. All eyes are on America. Told through intertwining narratives following the dreamers and architects of one of the largest expositions ever and the serial killer who used to fair to attract his victims.

My Thoughts: I was very excited to start this. I just read about the victims of Jack the Ripper so obviously it was time to read up on H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. And I had heard great things about Erik Larson’s books. However, I was a little disappointed. I loved the chapters about Holmes and his “Murder Castle” but they were too short. More time and pages were devoted to the World’s Fair. I get that it was a very important piece of American history but it was very dry. I slugged through about two thirds of the book before I decided to skip each of these chapters and just focus on Holmes.

Herman Webster Mudgett aka
H. H. Holmes

I was astounded at how long Holmes was able to go undetected while committing his crimes. He spent years avoiding notice. Even though murder is his most notorious crime he was a mastermind at other ways to deceive. Larson always pointed out his striking blue eyes and charming demeanor. It is easy to imagine him swindling his unsuspecting victims. He used his charms to avoid debt collectors, create alias and marry several women. With these skills he was a very “successful” man. He accumulated wealth and many people liked him. It is hard to imagine that someone like that could be as cold-blooded as he was.

I have to point out that even though I gave up on the fair chapters that they were very detailed and well researched. This would be a perfect book for lovers of Chicago history and architectural history. I loved looking at pictures from the fair. It looks stunning. Truly a wonder of the modern world. Even though they had many setbacks and struggles during the construction they pulled off an amazing feat.

FYI: A great young adult historical fiction set in Holmes’ Chicago is Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco. It is the 4th book in the series and I highly recommend them all!

*This is my pick for category #12 (A book by an author slated to visit Kansas in 2020) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Five

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

First line: There are two versions of the events of 1887. One is very well known, but the other is not.

Summary: Everyone has heard the story of Jack the Ripper. He haunted the streets of Whitechapel preying on women. His victims known as the canonical five are Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. His story has been researched and turned over hundreds of times but very little is actually known about the women whose lives he took. Here are their stories.

My Thoughts: I have recommended this book to anyone and everyone! I was completely engrossed in it. It is thoroughly researched and well written. It reads like fiction and is easy to get caught up in these women’s lives. I found myself hoping for better outcomes as I read even though I knew how each of their stories was a going to end.

Rubenhold brings these women and the times that they lived to the forefront. Everyone thinks that they know the victims. They were prostitutes right? Wrong. Some were but not all five. Each has a story to tell. I could not believe the detail put into their narratives. Using housing records, census, interviews and newspaper reports we get fuller picture of their lives.

Sometimes we romanticize the Victorian time period but it was anything but ideal. People were barely able to care for their families. Housing was not always safe or healthy. Disease, alcoholism and poverty were prevalent. How people survived is astounding.

If you love history, true crime or biographies than this is perfect for you. It is full of information that will keep you reading until the very end.

FYI: There is very little mentioned about Jack the Ripper. This book focuses on the women only and the time that they lived.