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Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

February 23, 2012 2 comments

A woman in silhouetteSummary:
Martha, a retired, widowed schoolteacher, thought her life was pretty much over until one night when a young intellectually disabled white woman and a deaf black man show up on her doorstop in the rain holding a newborn baby.  Soon people from a nearby mental institution show up to take them back away.  The young woman, Linny, seems terrified and asks Martha to hide the baby.  The man, Homan, escapes.  Martha goes on the lam to keep the baby girl out of the institution, and Linny and Homan fight against all odds attempting to reunite their family.

Review:
I received the audiobook version of this as a gift for one of the holiday swaps I participated in in December.  It was my first time reading the audiobook version of a modern story, as I’m a cheapskate and usually just get ones for free that are out of copyright.  It was thus an entirely different experience to be forced to slow down when reading this piece of historic fiction about a very dark secret in American history–mental institutions.  The amount of time that Linny and Homan are forced to spend simply waiting for their lives to get better.  Waiting for people to recognize their humanity.  It hit me much harder than if I had been able to read this in a couple of hours.  (Each disc is about 1 hour long, and there are 10 discs).  The wrongness of it all.  The amount of time and lives wasted simply because the able-minded and able-bodied didn’t seek to understand or to grant these people the basic human right of self-direction.

The story itself is told from multiple viewpoints–Linny, Homan, Martha, Kate (a caregiver at the institution), and later Julia (the baby daughter when she grows up).  Mostly Simon does a great job switching among the different voices, particularly representing Linny.  She does not overinflate her internal dialogue to be that of a person with an average IQ, but she still clearly represents Linny’s humanity.  I am a bit skeptical of the voice given to Homan though, mostly his tendency to give people bizarre nicknames like “roof giver.”  I know that neither
Simon nor I know a deaf person who is unable to communicate with those around him, so really it is all guess-work as to what his internal dialogue would be like.  But I can’t help but feel like it’s not quite there.  On the other hand, his confusion and frustration at people talking around him, over him, and treating him like he’s stupid just because he’s deaf is very well done.

In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why so much time was devoted to Martha and Julia when Julia was a baby.  Her story doesn’t end up being nearly as important as the Homan/Linny romance, so this focus feels a bit like a red herring.  I would definitely shorten those chapters.

The use of artwork and items of visual significance to the characters is gorgeous though.  Lighthouses are a central feature, and I don’t even like lighthouses myself, but I still found myself moved by how important the visual arts can be to people.  This is a book that, surprisingly, winds up being almost a battle cry for the arts.  For their value in helping us connect with each other and hold on to our humanity.  I think any artist or someone who is a fan of the arts would appreciate this book for that reason.

On the other hand, Simon is clearly a person of some sort of faith, with a belief in god and the tendency for things to all work out right in the end.  I’m…not that type of person.  So when characters wax eloquent about god or an overall plan or the ability of evil people to repent and turn good, well, it all feels a bit more like fantasy than historic fiction to me.  I probably would have been irritated by this less if I had had the ability to skim over those parts though.

In the end, though, I came away from this book appreciating its uniqueness and all the good qualities it had to offer.  It demonstrates through a beautiful story why it’s so important not to institutionalize the mentally ill or mentally challenged.  It shows the power of love to overcome race and disabilities.  It is the story of the power and beauty of resiliency.

Overall, I recommend this work of historic fiction to fans of historic and contemporary fiction, advocates of the mentally ill or mentally challenged, and those just simply looking for a unique love story.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Movie Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) (Series, #2)

June 14, 2010 6 comments

Arnold Schwarzenegger on a motorcycle.Summary:
The machines didn’t just send one terminator back in time; they sent two.  The second is a T1000 made of molten metal that can morph into the shape of anything it touches.  It’s out to get Sarah’s son, John, who is extra vulnerable since his mother is locked up in a mental institution.

Review:
This is a fan favorite, and people tended to be floored when they found out I hadn’t seen it yet, so I finally got around to watching it.  It is deliciously 90s, and when I found out the special effects are phenomenal for the time period.  In fact, I wouldn’t be too disappointed to see a movie made today with this level of special effects.  The T1000 looks believable, and the fight scenes are dramatic and powerful.

I enjoyed the twist and new approach to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character.  His accent is perfect for playing a robot, and this was truly great casting.

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I disliked the mental hospital part of the plot.  It presents a very false example of what mental institutions were like in the 90s and demonizes the doctors and other mental health workers.  Obviously mental health workers aren’t going to go around believing people who claim to be visited by time traveling robots, but they will and do treat them kindly.  Other scifi stories have handled similar plot lines much better, and I was disappointed to see such harsh treatment of a helping institution.

Also, the voice overs by Sarah Connor were completely unnecessary, overly dramatic, and full of cringe-inducing dialogue.  It kind of reminded me of the voice over in Blade Runner.  Blech.

These two negative elements did not take up much of the screen time, however.  That mostly consisted of John Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger both of whom were quite pleasurable to watch.  If you enjoy action movies, you will definitely enjoy this film.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Previous Movies in Series:
Terminator

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Book Review: All I Want For Christmas Is a Vampire By Kerrelyn Sparks (Series, #5)

December 29, 2009 4 comments

Summary:
Toni never meant to wind up working as a daytime security guard for vampires.  She meant to be spending her December focusing on finishing up her masters degree so she and her best friend Sabrina would be one step closer to their dream of running a high-quality orphanage.  But Sabrina was attacked and her claims that vampires orchestrated the attack has led to her uncle locking her up in a mental institution.  Toni is determined to prove to Sabrina’s uncle that vampires are real, so she has gone undercover guarding the good vampires seeking some definitive way to prove their existence.  Much as she wants to hate vampires, a certain Scottish highlander vamp named Ian has a way of making her feel very much alive.

Review:
Since I received this book as a present and there was no indication on the cover, I had no idea it’s the fifth book in the series until I was partway in and did a little bit of investigating.  So, I haven’t read any of the other books in the series.

Of course, I don’t particularly think I would want to.  The book starts out strongly.  Toni is a character who it is easy to identify with.  She’s a young adult with dreams and struggling with her self-esteem via a list of positive affirmations she says every morning.  She is fiercely loyal and intelligent.  Toni’s character does develop throughout the book, unfortunately not in a good way.  Instead of realizing her own strength, she now has a whole new set of people–vampires and shape-shifters–to feel inferior to.

The vampire world that Sparks creates is simply not appealing.  She sets up two groups of vampires–the good guys and the bad guys, or as the good vampires call them, the “Malcontents.”  The Malcontents enjoy making others feel fear and pain and want to kill off all of the good vampires.  The good vampires, no kidding, have their own priest and Mass.  Yeah, you read that right, the vampires are Catholic. WTF?!  That’s almost as bad as vampires that sparkle.

Additionally, the good vampires seem to have a thing for marrying mortals, and the leader of the good vampires has come up with a way to splice male vamps’ genetic material so that the mortal mother can give birth to a child who is half-vampire.  Naturally these children have super-human abilities, such as levitating, but they also seem to be able to miraculously heal the sick.  Reading these scenes gave me the same feeling as fingernails on chalkboard.

On the other hand, the romance portion of the plot is actually quite good.  Toni’s and Ian’s witty banter reads realistically, and their sex scenes are fun.

If you’re just after the romance element and won’t mind the world Sparks has created, you’ll enjoy the book.  All others should stick to Charlaine Harris and Nora Roberts.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift from a friend

Previous Books in Series:
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire
Vamps and the City
Be Still My Vampire Heart
The Undead Next Door

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