Tag Archives: 4 stars

Book Review – Palawan Story by Caroline Vu

Palawan Story

Yesterday marked my 1-year anniversary blogging on WordPress (yay, go me, and thank you all for reading and following along my book journey!), and today marks the first book review written in my new home in the Northwest Territories.

Today’s book is called Palawan Story, and it’s about the raw and tumultuous life of Vietnamese refugee Kim Nguyen, who escaped the aftermath of the Soviet takeover of Hue at the end of the Vietnam War to forge a new identity in the United States, and eventually, Canada. Palawan is the Filipino refugee camp where that identity is forged, and where her heart blossoms into what she will someday become. It is also about the lies we tell ourselves and one another, just to survive, whether with our very lives, or merely in society. It is a story of forgiveness. Boiled down, Palawan Story is in some ways, everyone’s story. No one is fully innocent, no one is fully guilty. We are what we choose to make of ourselves, and for Kim that sometimes means being more practical than ethical. The story of society in one turbulent nutshell.

I found this book intriguing, hard to put down, and entirely believable. It was very true to the human consciousness – willing or not, we often choose to forget the things that have harmed us, or choose to ignore the fact that our choices may hurt someone else. In some ways, Kim’s success through all she’s been through can be seen as a triumph, in some ways she reminds me of the ruthlessness humanity can lend itself to in its less than shining moments. As a protagonist, Kim is in every way human, for better or for worse, entirely relatable, and endearing despite her flaws.

For excellent realism, good research, and accurate exploration of the many differing cultures connected to the Vietnam War, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.


‘Armor of Glass’ by R.M.A. Spears

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It was immensely difficult for me to decide how to properly write this review – how to address things in it that I strongly disliked while still praising its many merits? First of all, I would like to say that the extent of Spears’ writing skill is highly impressive to me, considering how well the book was written and how much I enjoyed sitting down to read it, DESPITE the fact that I could not stand the protagonist or anything he stood for. That, to me, was a huge testament of good writing. When I read a book, I don’t just look for books that are within a certain field I am interested in, though on my own time and money, of course that’s what I gravitate to – I look for and enjoy reading books that can draw me in and make me care, despite the subject matter, and that’s just what R.M.A. Spears has done with this work.

It seems to be quite autobiographical, so respecting the lens of personal experience (not to mention the fact that Spears, like Brick, his protagonist – is a Marine veteran, and I’d hate to have someone like that holding a grudge against me!), I have decided to do what I would myself prefer: to share what I didn’t like and save what I did like for the end of my review.

There are several things I did not like about this book, namely Brick’s terrible bigoted attitude towards anyone different from himself, especially homosexuals, women, ethnic groups outside his own, religious groups, and anyone on the left-leaning side of the political spectrum. I could list quote after quote of Brick condemning all of these groups, but the most prevalent throughout is his vilification of women. Right off the bat, he refers to his current wife as ‘the next ex-Mrs. Me’ (red flag right there), and then continues as he describes his life, offhandedly mentioning the ‘rant of the women’s movement’ (23), and later that ‘We men are knuckleheads but women are crazy’ (57). After he describes a fellow train passenger in very negative terms without even knowing anything about her, a passage I read to my husband aloud, who actually nicknamed this book Douchebag’s Guide to Life, I was not surprised how several of his marriages fell apart later on, since he was not treating women like people but like objects, things he could use for his own gratification. This was the quote (which wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been compounded by so many other quotes like it regarding issues like race and sexual orientation throughout the book) : ‘All her other superficial stuff, a big purse and ten-gallon open-top luggable, full of her essential girl-crap, magnified her elevated stature, one that deserved a whole seat for her whole bitch self’ (8-9). Whoa. Keep in mind that he doesn’t actually know anything about her. A bit of cynicism towards life, and a nice helping of resentment, no?

Well, as it turns out, actually, yes, and a lot of it. We learn throughout various memories of his life that Brick has while riding the train that he was sexually assaulted as a young boy by his baseball coach, he is a Vietnam war veteran, his second wife cheats on him and when he allows himself an affair, she tears his life apart to get back at him, and that despite all his time and money spent on joining the military he just never seems to catch a break after Vietnam and spends most of his time in dead-end jobs, so to me he has pretty good reason if anyone does for holding on to some anger and resentment.

But I do have to say this: GOING THROUGH TRAUMATIC AND DISAPPOINTING EVENTS DOES NOT GIVE YOU LICENSE TO BE AN ASS (although I will agree that it teaches you how to be a better one than most people).

However, having said all of that, I highly praise Spears for his excellent writing style. It’s very descriptive and very engaging. The memories-while-on-a-train device was skilfully used, and the fresh sense of urgency and being in the present at the end of the book lent strength to the idea that though Brick had felt like only a passenger in his own life for most of it, he was finally in control and getting off at the right stop, if you will. I kept coming back to the book wanting to read more.

Hell of a protagonist (I’d probably punch him if I met him) but excellent writing.

3 stars out of 5


‘Resurrection: Sanctifying Grace’ by Elizabeth Davies (March 7th, 2015)

Re-posted from LiveJournal:

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I have arrived, at last, to the conclusion of Elizabeth Davies’ Resurrection trilogy, Sanctifying Grace. While I never did find out how it is that Grace can time-travel, and while I maintain that this trilogy should be advertised as a book in three parts instead of three books in a trilogy since none of them are able to stand alone as complete stories, I have to say that this trilogy was really good, and that the last book was my favourite.

Grace’s deteriorating health and consequent ‘demise’ had me in actual tears (usually enough to earn an extra star right there), and the double destiny of Roman & Grace (‘sanguinisto and regalato both’ as Davies puts it), was tied up excellently and with very few loose ends. I was curious why Viktor did not appear to recognize her when she first appeared outside Brecon Castle in the first book or why he never mentioned her first appearance to him while she was human, but I’m willing to chalk it up to the difference between her human and vampire forms, or that he didn’t want to tamper with destiny. Still, it was odd to me that he never would have once mentioned meeting her vampire form in the Dark Ages to Roman, even when he was feverishly trying to figure out if it would work to resurrect her somehow.

I liked that in this book, she is the one taking care of Roman instead of the sometimes ridiculous extent of her helpless female role in the other books (and when she is a helpless female in this book, it’s for the very understandable reason that she is dying of a brain tumour and merely the fact that she is female as well). After all the buildup and description of what life as Grace Llewellyn the Human With A Vampire Lover was like, I was kind of hoping for more adventures or even description as to what life as Grace the Vampire would be like, but I suppose that wouldn’t have been helpful for bringing the story to its conclusion.

As a trilogy, the first book has no ending, the second book has no beginning and no ending and the third book has no beginning, so these books seriously do depend on each other, and because they were marketed as three separate books, I found that to take away from the experience. As a whole story, this trilogy is really really good. I can tell a lot of research went into it, I loved all the characters as well as Davies’ writing style. 4 stars out of 5. Go read this! It’s good! (Warning for those who care to know: definite sex scenes – don’t read it if you don’t like that. Or better yet, read it but skip over those parts – the rest of the story is good too!)


Husband/Wife Book Reviews – ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker (March 29th, 2014)

Reposted from Livejournal:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This book, being the quintessential tome from which today’s obsession with vampires and all things related stems, was both more interesting and harder to get through than anticipated. Written in epistolary form, through letters, journal entries, newspaper excerpts and phonograph transcripts, Stoker’s technique is fascinating. I found some of the phonetic spelling of accents and density of various journal entries to be difficult to slog through, but the content itself held my interest.

I found Van Helsing’s quaint ways in the novel preferable to the badass ones of Hugh Jackman in the incredibly cheesy movie, ‘Van Helsing’. Quincey Morris’ bravado and Dr. John Seward’s psychologically clinical nature were well-represented stereotypes, and Dr. Seward’s pet patient, Renfield, is a strange creature worthy of Steve Buscemi himself. Mina and Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra, and Count Dracula himself: all of the above are excellent examples of characterization.

As for the ending, (which, if I may say so, my husband Graham disliked), I found its tragedy and passion to be appropriately pathetic enough for a book of the classic gothic horror genre. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

To end this review, I would like to share some quotes I really liked from the book:

Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker.

– Dr. Abraham Van Helsing

There are darknesses in life, and there are lights; you are one of the lights.

– Van Helsing to Mrs. Wilhelmina Harker

You must fight Death himself, though he come to you in pain or in joy; by the day, or in the night; in safety or in peril! On your living soul I charge you that you do not die – nay, nor think of death – till this great evil be past.

– Van Helsing to Mina

We are truly in the hands of God. He alone knows what may be, and I pray Him, with all the strength of my sad and humble soul, that He will watch over my beloved husband; that whatever may happen, Jonathan may know that I loved him and honoured him more than I can say, and that my latest and truest thought will be always for him.

– Mina

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