Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Review: 'The Midnight Assassin' by Skip Hollandsworth

✰✰✰½ Most people have heard of the horrific murders in Victorian London carried out by Jack the Ripper. Few, however, have heard of the Midnight Assassin until now. Almost three years before the Ripper murders, the American city of Austin, Texas was terrorized by a series of brutal killings. The Midnight Assassin began his reign of terror by killing servants, most of whom were African American. This lead authorities to assume that the culprit must be African American as well. Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts varied. Some described a white attacker, while others described a black attacker. Meanwhile, servant women took to barricading themselves in at night. Before the killing spree would end, around a dozen suspects had been arrested.

As the holidays approached, an uneasy calm descended upon the city. That's when the Midnight Assassin attacked once again...on Christmas Eve. This time two white women were attacked. During this era law enforcement did not fully understand the ramifications of these events as the concept of a serial killer was unknown. Then just as abruptly as the killings started, they stopped. As life got back to normal in Austin, London began experiencing a series of gruesome murders. Investigators on both sides of the Atlantic would wonder if Jack the Ripper and the Midnight Assassin were the same person.

The Bottom Line: After a slow, detailed start with lots of background information, the pace quickly picked up speed. The mystery of the Midnight Assassin remains unsolved to this very day; yet, few outside the Austin, Texas area have ever heard of these brutal crimes. Written in a journalistic style, Hollandsworth takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Fans of true crime and American history will want to pick up a copy. Also, recommended for readers who enjoyed The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This is a fascinating look at a little known event outside the Austin area, and visitors to the city can still see some of the changes the city made in the wake of these events (for example, the giant moonlight towers).

Note: This book includes vivid descriptions of the murders; thus, it is not suitable for sensitive readers.

Details: The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth. Published by Henry Holt & Company in 2016. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9767-2 NOTE: I received an Advance Reader's copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review: 'Look Me In the Eye' by John Elder Robison

✰✰✰✰ Imagine not being able to make a connection with other people even though you long to. As a young child, author John Elder Robison often played alone even though he wanted to play with other children. Robison’s peculiar behavior caused him to be viewed as an odd misfit or even worse as a social deviant. Things that came so easily to others, like smiling and conversation, were a challenge for Robison.

Misunderstood at school, Robison eventually dropped out. Luckily, he fell in with a group of musicians where his talents with electronics, sound, and special effects were appreciated, and his quirks were overlooked. While the clues to his odd behavior were always there, he went undiagnosed for four decades. Finally receiving his diagnosis of Asperger's explained a lot.

Through engaging stories that include putting his little brother in a five-foot deep hole to traveling with the rock group KISS to raising a child, Robison educates the reader about the autism spectrum.

The Bottom Line: When this book was first published there was very little out there in regards to first person accounts of what it is like to live with autism. Robison’s book brings the autism spectrum into the spotlight and educates readers about the often misunderstood disorder. Robison is a very high functioning Aspergian, who can describe what he has experienced.

While his writing style is a bit robotic and there is some repetition, this book illustrates how the author can understand and relate to machines so well. The author reminds everyone that there are some disabilities you can’t see. Highly recommended reading for schools discussing bullying and accepting differences. This is an interesting look into Asperger’s Syndrome from the point of view of someone who had an awareness of what it's like to be different.

Book Club Notes: On a scale from 1 being the lowest to 5 being the highest, the group rating averaged about 3.25 stars with a range from 2 to 4.5 stars. While this discussion was very well attended, half the group really enjoyed the book and the other half did not. Everyone was eager to share their thoughts on this book. Some participants simply did not like the author, while others did not like the pranks he pulled. A few were concerned about the language and, thus, would not recommend it to others. One person felt that Robison’s story did not represent autism in general. That being said, we did agree that the author was brave and honest in the telling of his story. Also, we agreed that this book opened a dialogue about what it means to be different. Many of us will be checking out his other books and titles by his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, as well.

For those concerned about coarse language, check out the paperback edition; the language has been cleaned up for younger readers. Even though there was a wide range of ratings, book clubs looking to discuss bullying, family dynamics, education, and autism will want to check this out. While it is true some of us had to agree to disagree, everyone had something to say about this book. Plus, best of all, we all learned something, which is one of the reasons we enjoy discussing nonfiction.

Check out the reading guide at LitLovers.

Details: Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison. Paperback published by Broadway Books in 2008. 302 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-39618-1