Tag Archives: United States

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.


Book Review – ‘Gothic Art Now’ compiled by Jasmine Becket-Griffith

As the name suggests, Gothic Art Now (published in 2008), brings together several genres of current Gothic art in a book full of death and decay, melancholia and madness – for those who love every minute of it. To be honest, I felt the works represented seemed somewhat limited (I felt there should have been a wider variety of artists represented – too many of them had more than three entries in the anthology, and anyone who has ever been on DeviantArt will tell you that there is no shortage of artists just as, if not even more, talented as those represented in the book, even in 2008). I also felt the heavy heavy reliance on Adobe Photoshop in nearly every single one of the pieces was a tad disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I understand Photoshop takes great skill to master and to create with, but a bit more variety in methods of creating would have been nice. Categories were divided into eight different kinds of new Gothic art: Femmes Fatales, Men in Black, Gothic Elegance, Industrial Goth, Lurking Horror, Dark Fantasy, Creepy Creations, and Grim Comics. The cover photo (‘Autumn Has Come’ by Natalia Peirandrei, done with markers and watercolours on watercolour paper), was one of my favourites, as well as the pieces showcased below. Overall, some very great thought-provoking pieces, and interesting read, and I give it a hearty 3 out of 5 stars.

Some of my Faves

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‘Semaphore’ by Steven Kenny, done in oil on linen.

I think she looks a little like breelark here with her long braid.

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‘Black Roses and Bite Marks’ by Tom Lavelle, done in pencil, digitally painted.

Like a mix of Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe if they ever became vampiresses!

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‘Stick Girl’ by Gus Fink, using mixed media.

I love the weird additions to an already slightly-creepy vintage photograph. Reminded me very much of the weird photographs in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.

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‘Marco’ by Jessica Joslin, sculpture.

Because let’s face it, organ-grinder monkeys kind of look like this anyway. And this one won’t steal your money. ;P

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‘Trick’ by Krisgoat, a digital painting.

And last but not least, the adorable Trick, who has a sweeter sister (not included in the book) named Treat – she can be found here.

So there you have it! This was a great find at Value Village, and a lot of fun to look through. Recommended library reading or used-book purchase, if you’re interested in the darker side of art. If you are looking to buy something, however, I would recommend going to your local Indigo/Chapters/Coles outlet (or for those of you in the States, something like Barnes & Noble) and finding something with a bit more variety and more of an exploration of technique, etc.

Peace out and stay creepy! >^.^<


‘The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories’ by Jimmy Olsen (December 14th, 2014)

Reposted from LiveJournal:

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Jimmy Olsen has done it again! Through his anthology, The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories (a medium more difficult to properly utilize than it seems), the reader gets an accurate glimpse into the outlook of a middle-class North American man, having lived and worked in the Caribbean, with startling clarity. Having spent some time out of my own North American country myself, I thought Olsen very skilfully captured the amalgamation of often confusing thoughts and feelings one harbours regarding one’s home country. It becomes both idealized and irrelevant when away, and the same happens to the country visited upon return ‘home’. One becomes neither a citizen of the United States or the Dominican Republic (Canada or South Korea, in my case), but somehow a visitor and citizen of both. One has become, rather, a citizen of the world. There is a global universality to the tone in these stories that is made somehow clearer by the emphasis on the commonality of human attitude no matter the city, country, or hemisphere.

I enjoyed the emphasis on how deadly the sea can be to those who are not wise enough or interested enough to learn, with the full knowledge that in winter, the prairie (where I come from and where the voice of the piece seems to hail from as well) can be just as deadly. I could see that these stories were drawn even more closely from the author’s own life than his previous book, Poison Makers, and having read that book, was fascinated at the similarity of its main character to that of Clive, the English teacher from Minnesota, who appears frequently in several short stories throughout the book. Both of them are clearly reflections of the author himself, whose writing I have come to consider some of my favourite amongst my entire library.

There were a few annoying spelling and sentence structure errors, and my main beef with the piece was its organization of stories, which I found ended up leaving the reader with a lot of heavy at the end of the anthology. Personal preference would dictate that the title piece be last, simply for its lighter ending, but the theme of respect for the forces of nature and for Death itself is indeed reinforced in ‘Wet Passage’, the final story, so it could have been intentional. Taking that into consideration, I still wasn’t convinced that the final story truly encompassed the message of the work as I would have preferred in a mixed piece like this. My favourite story of them all was ‘Denise,’ the twist at the end of that story being so unexpected, I ended up thinking about it for two days afterward. Possibly my favourite part of this book is the barefaced honesty Olsen uses in his portrayal of family and acquaintances – all of whom are most definitely not perfect. It is the fearlessness in his writing that makes this book so real and so endearing.

I hope someday to be able to write with such clarity and unassuming honesty as Olsen does, to truly capture the human spirit (or at least freely share mine with my readers), as he does. This is the third of Olsen’s works I have experienced, and he has become one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend anything written by him. I give The Hero of Blind Pig Island 4 out of 5 stars for the book itself, but 5 stars for his work in general. Mr. Olsen, you write good books!


‘Poison Makers’ by Jimmy Olsen (September 22nd, 2014)

Reposted from LiveJournal:

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I just finished reading Jimmy Olsen’s Poison Makers, a great novel set in the seventies, revolving around South and North American political conflict, and voodoo. There are ten years between Poison Makers and Olsen’s first novel,Things in Ditches. The years have been good to him. He has matured in his style and truly reached the heights of his potential in this novel. I enjoyed Things in Ditches, but Poison Makers actually taught me about a completely different way of life, a different time, and very different struggles than my own while still keeping the characters incredibly tangible and down to earth (I felt like EJ could be my next-door neighbour or someone walking the streets of my own city). Olsen manages to take voodoo (and specifically, zombies), topics that are often joked about or over-dramatized, and bring their realities to light, challenging misconceptions while still underlining the power of belief and the power of voodoo as something to respect and properly fear. After reading this book, I respect the combination of faith and drugs that is voodoo more than I ever did before, because the power of the human mind and will is something to be in awe of (and sometimes protect oneself from).

Mr. Olsen ties the zombie/voodoo drama into conflicts between the continents of North and South America, (specifically the countries of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States of America, even Cuba). This book has so many levels. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share one island (Hispaniola) and yet, as EJ (who is from the Dominican side of the island) states in the book about the people in Haiti,’Their poor are starving, ours are only hungry.’ Olsen makes a point of connecting that juxtaposition with the complications of life as a South American minority living in ’70s-era United States compared to the privileged life and condescension of the Caucasian majority. The general point is that we as people underestimate and abuse one another, for power, from bitterness, with hatred. My favourite part about this book is that Jimmy Olsen spent years living in the Dominican Republic and his opinions and observations are taken from first-hand experience, which lends a credence to this book that truly ups the ante.

All in all, even though I found the ending to be a little weaker than the rest of the book, there were a few spelling/grammar errors, and I think the cover of the book needs a different design to draw in more readers (the photograph really embodies the spirit of the book, but only after I had read it did that truly sink in, and I was a little put off by the cover at first), I give this book a 5 out of 5. Mr. Olsen, I love your books. Please keep writing more!