Book Review: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

1 Mar

inkandboneRachel Caine’s Prince of Shadows was my absolute favorite book of a few years ago, so when I saw her name I had to pick this up (or, you know, grab it off the library’s e-book loan system — getting out and about with a newborn is no easy task!).

The Library of Alexandria was never burnt. Guttenberg’s printer was never built. Books are a precious commodity, but the Great Library now controls all of the real books past and present. The ownership of books is illegal, but that hasn’t stopped smugglers like Jess’s family from making a tidy profit in transporting books to wealthy collectors. Now Jess’ father wants him to join the Library’s service to act as a contact within the facility itself. But earning a place turns out to be a lot more dangerous than expected.

I thought that this book could have been so much better. I gave it three stars. I am still eagerly awaiting the sequel, but…

This world was so incredibly interesting to me, and it just wasn’t developed and explored enough! I felt like the plot was so fast-paced that we never slowed down to really look at the world surrounding these characters. It’s set in the future without many of the technologies we have today, but also with a lot of new and different technologies that we probably will never have. The whole library hierarchy and who controlled what was interesting, but it was never really explained in-depth. I wanted to stop and look at these things more closely, and I feel like it could easily have been done if maybe the author was given just a few more pages to do it in.

Similarly, the characters were all quite interesting but there were quite a few of them and I don’t think they were explored deeply enough. There were a couple of deaths and to be honest, I just didn’t really care enough about them to… well… care. I’d like to know more about each character’s history, something that I hope will be explored more in the sequels.

But all that said, it was a very fun read and the plot kept me flipping pages. I think it’s a good thing that I wanted more, not necessarily a bad one! Can’t wait for Book 2.

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Book Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

13 Feb

the lie treeI first read Frances Hardinge years ago when I received a free ARC of Fly by Night. I remembered her name because Fly by Night was very well written and original, and so when I saw The Lie Tree in the store a few weeks ago I didn’t hesitate to buy it — authors who write original stories well are bound to do more of the same, right?

Let’s just say that The Lie Tree makes me want to go out and buy ALL of her books.

Faith Sunderly and her family have been chased from England by scandal rocking her naturalist father’s reputation. They arrive on the island of Vane laden with boxes of his papers and specimens. Erasmus Sunderly’s foul mood and secretive nature don’t make his family many friends on Vane, and when his body is found hanging in a tree Faith is determined to discover who his murderer is. Her investigations turn up more secrets than she bargained for, however, and soon it becomes clear that her father had a lot more secrets than he was letting on — secrets that could threaten Faith’s life, too. And it all started with one little lie.

First off, plot? Awesome. A tree that lives on lies, bears fruit that gives the consumer visions of truth related to the lie told. A murder mystery, fantasy, and bit of history wrapped up in one. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this before. Very original, fast-paced, interesting, and more to the point — well written! I was drooling over the words, the sentences, the similes and metaphors. Granted, a younger reader with less interest in the way things are written might not appreciate it as much, but I want to reread just to study the way words are put together again.

Faith is a great narrator. A bit irritating sometimes, but only because she’s real. She was determined to remain committed to the memory of her father — even though we saw that her father was a bit of a terrible person who had no time for his daughter, and even kicked her out of a carriage to make room for his precious plant. As a reader, I was rooting for her to forget him. But that isn’t very realistic. Most children want their parents’ approval, no matter how unlikely it is that they’ll get it. Aside from that though, Faith is smart, curious, and brave, all things that make her likable and easy to relate to.

This was an excellent, page-turning book. Highly recommended!

Book Review: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

12 Feb

the dark days clubLong time, no post! Life, re-reads (does anyone really need more reviews of Harry Potter?), and a terrible book slump got in the way last year, but I’m hoping to rekindle this blog and start posting reviews again. I’ve just finished a couple of really excellent ones and I wanted to share with fellow readers!

First up: The Dark Days Club. A mash-up of Regency England high society and demons. Lady Helen has been living in the shadow of her mother’s scandal her whole life. Little does she know that her mother was involved in something much deeper than trading intelligence with Napoleon. When she meets Lord Carlston, a man accused of killing his wife, the world as she knows it is turned upside down and she learns of her mother’s legacy: fighting demons who have infiltrated every level of society. And now Lord Carlston expects Lady Helen to take up her mother’s reins.

This was a very well written and well-researched book. Regency England unfolded perfectly on every page. I love books like that, when you can tell the author has put a lot of work into making the setting feel so real. There were times when I dashed to look something up — not because it was confusing, but because I wanted to know more! (That’s the history major coming out in me.)

The characters were witty and charming. I loved that Lady Helen was intelligent, curious, and forward-thinking — but while she was willing to throw off some of the more traditional womanly roles, she was also a product of her time and enjoyed things like dances and dresses. It made her feel real too and less like one of those heroines who is “strong” and totally ahead of her time for the mere purpose of having a strong, ahead-of-her-time heroine.

As far as plot goes, it was pretty interesting! I’m wary of “creature and hunter” type novels because they’re often a bit cliche, but I didn’t think this one was at all. It was clever, interweaving historical events and people with supernatural elements — and working out how a lady was able to have covert meetings with a man she’s been forbidden to meet! I will say there were a few points where the plot really slowed down but it didn’t stop my desire to continue flipping pages.

Overall, loved this book — it was the perfect thing to get me out of a book slump!

Australian Partner Visa (801) GRANTED!

9 Aug

Hey everyone! Long time, no post again. I am very happy to report that my second stage Australian Partner Visa (801) was granted on July 21, 2015 — just a little under 4 months post-eligibility. That means I’m now a permanent resident and I have never felt so relieved!

I am so glad that this blog has helped out so many different people. I wanted to leave a note to say that due to a busier schedule and some big life changes, I’m not going to be able to answer questions about the visa like I used to anymore. Aside from anything else, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date on the latest from Immigration. It’s now two and a half years since I first applied for the 820 and a lot of things have changed since then — I would hate to lead someone astray because I didn’t have the most recent information on hand.

That said, I highly recommend checking out http://www.australiaforum.com/ which has plenty of people who are keeping up-to-date with the latest information, plus a few migration agents who answer questions from time to time as well. It’s an invaluable resource that I used many times while collecting evidence for my visa. If you have any questions, they will certainly be able to answer them on that forum.

Good luck to everyone on their visa journeys!

Book Review: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #5) by Naomi Novik

18 Apr

victoryofeaglesIt’s looking pretty grim. Laurence is in prison, waiting to be hanged for treason. Temeraire has been confined to the breeding grounds in Wales. And–Napoleon has landed in Britain and is now settled in London. French soldiers are everywhere, stealing from honest citizens and setting fire to villages. When Temeraire hears news that Laurence is dead, he sets out to avenge his captain and save his country, but little can repair the damage that has been done, and it looks like Napoleon may be here to stay.

This was another good book in an excellently well-written and engaging series. However, I only gave it three stars because I didn’t like it quite as much as the last few. I’d say #4 was my favourite so far (though the next is set in Australia, so we’ll see if that will win me over!) so it’s tough to follow that one.

Basically, I didn’t like that Laurence and Temeraire were separated. Obviously they HAD to be, for the sake of plot, I know–but I enjoy the interaction between the two so much that this was a bit disappointing to me. When they finally got back together, things had changed (again, it wouldn’t have been realistic if they hadn’t!); not only was their position in the eyes of their countrymen lowered, but now Temeraire was a captain of his own forces, and Laurence was dealing with regret and loss of rank and capital. He was gloomy. Down in the dumps. And none too pleasant to read about.

The writing style was a bit different this time too; Temeraire and Laurence were getting different sections, and sometimes something would happen in, say, Temeraire’s section but we wouldn’t get the whole story, only to be told about it in Laurence’s section a few pages later. Some of the placement was a bit odd to me.

Nonetheless, this was a thoroughly engaging read and definitely a novel with some marked character development. I can’t wait to move on to the next book to see where Temeraire is going to take me next!

Book Review: Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik

5 Apr

BlackPowderWarBlack Powder War picks up where Throne of Jade left off–in China, in the aftermath of the death of Prince Yongxing. As Temeraire and his crew are waiting for favorable winds to carry them home, orders arrive by a curious source to head at once to Istanbul where they are to pick up three valuable dragon eggs purchased by England. After a hasty and dangerous adventure across continents, they arrive in Istanbul to find the British Ambassador is dead and the authorities are none too eager to hand over what is rightfully the property of the British. To top it all, one of the eggs is close to hatching, and the crew must act before it is too late.

I took a bit of a break from Temeraire because to be honest, I wasn’t hugely impressed with the second book. My husband insisted it gets better, though, so for lack of other reading material, I picked up book three and I’m so glad I did! I liked this one even more than the first — same brilliant writing style, same wonderfully drawn characters (plus some new faces), and an even more interesting plot is a recipe for a book that will be thoroughly devoured by anyone who loves dragons as much as I do.

What entertains me most about these books is the diverse personalities of the dragons, of course, which I think is what got me down about Throne of Jade — for most of the book we only see Temeraire, and then some stuffy Chinese dragons who aren’t nearly as interesting as their British counterparts. In Black Powder War, we get to meet some ferals for the first time, plus the introduction of a certain fiery dragon who I cannot WAIT to read more about.

Plus, this story was a lot more fast-paced. The journey from China to Istanbul is much quicker and more full of adventure than the ship journey to China from England. And once they get there, there’s all sorts of covert operations they have to get up to–sneaking into harems and all that–and then that’s not the end of it; stealing across the border, they are further delayed, and you can sense the urgency of getting these eggs home in time.

I can’t wait to delve into the next installment. If you haven’t already checked Temeraire out, I suggest you do so!

Book Review: The Arthur Trilogy #2 and #3 by Kevin Crossley-Holland

4 Apr

I hate to have to say that I’ve been slacking again–this time worse than usual! No posts in March! How can that be?

I feel like I’ve been incredibly busy with a variety of things, and none of them included blogging, but I will shortly try to catch up on what’s r215513_SCH_CrossingPlaceJKT_0.tifelevant. Like these much over-due book reviews. Because it’s been several weeks since I read them, I will merge these two into one.

At the Crossing Places is the second book in Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy, a sort of retelling of Arthurian legend from the eyes of aboy named Arthur living separate from King Arthur, but nonetheless the adventures of the knights of the Round Table seem to have parallels to his own.

In this book, Arthur de Caldicot (or is it Gortanore?) begins his life as a squire to Lord Stephen and the household prepares from them to go to war. We meet an array of interesting characters, including Winnie, to whom Arthur hopes to be betrothed. To be honest, the plot of this one was a bit more plodding than the first. I mentioned in Book 1’s review that it is very much a character-driven rather than plot-driven series, which I enjoy, but very little seemed to be happening at all in Book 2 and I wasn’t as engrossed as I was in Book 1. I tend to find that’s the way of trilogies, though–the second book is almost never as good as the first or third. Nevertheless, I wasn’t so put off that I didn’t want to continue on, and I found Book 3 a lot more interesting.KingoftheMiddleMarch

King of the Middle-March is the third book in the series, and picks up two years after the end of the second. Arthur and the other crusaders are still in limbo, trying to get ships to take them to Jerusalem. Problem after problem ensues — the crusaders are short on money, Arthur’s birth father and foster brother turn up at an inopportune time, and suddenly they’re not fighting heathens but their fellow Christians as a way of paying for the Venetian ships. Arthur witnesses battles, and they’re not at all as heroic as he thought they would be. To top it all, Lord Stephen is injured, precipitating a quick departure back to England.

All in all, Book 3 was probably the most action-packed, but Arthur still grew a lot as a person. The biggest complaint I’ve seen is that there isn’t a strong connection between Arthur and Arthur-in-the-stone. I disagree; while a clear link isn’t explicitly stated, you can easily see the similarities and Arthur clearly takes the lessons learned in the stone and applies them to his life.

Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable series that I recommend to just about anyone–wonderfully written!

Things We Included In Our Second Stage Australian Partner Visa (801) Application

4 Apr

Hey all! Long time, no visa update. 😉 If you haven’t seen this blog before, have a look on the right hand side of the screen for a brief overview of my Australian partner visa journey. For anyone new to the 820/801 visa process, essentially when you apply for the 820 (temporary residency) you are also applying for the 801 (permanent residency). Two years after the date you lodge the 820 application, you become eligible to lodge the 801 application. There are NO FURTHER FEES to pay when you apply for the 801 (aside from those you might incur from police checks). When you applied for the 820, you ALSO applied for the 801, so the fee was included in that price.

On January 16, 2015, about two months and a week before my eligibility date for my 801 visa, I received an e-mail from Immigration saying it was time to start thinking about the 801 visa. The e-mail included step-by-step instructions for applying online or via post as well as a checklist of items to include.

Among the things NOT listed below that ARE on this checklist include: an Australian national police certificate, a statutory declaration from the sponsor, and two witnessed Form 888s from people who know us and can say we are in a genuine and continuing relationship. I would recommend applying for the police check early on as it can take a while (though mine was processed in one business day and sent out!). If you’ve lived in another country for a year or more AFTER you applied for the 820, you will also need to get a police certificate from that country. This did not apply to me.

I was told by some knowledgeable people on an immigration forum that DIBP is really cracking down on the 801 visas as fraud cases continue to sneak past the 820 stage. This is unfortunate for those of us who are in legitimate relationships as it means we need to provide just as much evidence of our genuine and continuing relationship as we did for the 820.

Luckily, I feel like I have even more evidence this time around. For the last two years since I applied for the 820, I’ve kept a little storage box on a bookshelf in the lounge room. Whenever I remembered, I tossed in ticket stubs, receipts after going out to eat, plane tickets, etc. I’ve also kept online reservations for joint travel in a specific folder in my e-mail inbox. I think these are great tips for you if you’ve just applied for your 820–keep everything in one place, that way when it comes time to apply for the 801 you don’t need to go searching for things!

Anyway, I applied online. In addition to the evidence below, the online application includes a variety of information that is more or less the same as what you would have filled out for the 820: details of the applicant and sponsor, passport information, countries you’ve visited, etc. etc. etc. After you fill out this information, you submit the application and THEN attach all of the evidence. My evidence being:

Financial

  • A variety of credit card and debit card statements from joint accounts showing major expenses (joint travel, vet bills), as well as regular household expenses (rent, food, utilities).
    • A note on this one: I did the most recent statements from the past 6 months for both our savings account and credit card account, PLUS a couple of extra statements showing the major purchases. It seemed like a lot, but better more than less, am I right?
  • Copy of both our credit cards showing they are the same account (I am a secondary cardholder and my name does not show up on the credit card statement)

Social

  • Copy of Europe Trip itinerary + plane tickets (for some reason we only have our tickets going TO Europe and not coming back, but hey–they know we’re in the country!)
  • All Europe train tickets (7)
  • All Europe accommodation reservations (10)
  • Tour reservations in Europe (5)
  • Ticket stubs from castles, museums, and zoos in Europe.
  • Ticket stubs from plays seen at QPAC in Brisbane (3)
  • Ticket stubs from movies seen over the last few years. (I would recommend scanning these as soon as you get them as they fade fast!)
  • Ticket stubs from a museum event we attended together.
  • A selection of photos of us together in Europe.
  • Our Facebook Friendship page.

Nature of Our Commitment to Each Other

  • Facebook communication during time apart (3 weeks).
  • Skype communication during time apart.
  • Our Super Fund Beneficiary information, showing each other as sole beneficiaries.

Nature of Household

  • A copy of our most current lease.
  • An envelope showing both our names and address.
  • A statement about the division of household chores.
  • Vet Vaccination Certificates for both cats showing both our names as “owners”
  • Vet bill showing both our names as “owners”
  • Bank statements from joint accounts showing major household purchases such as a couch, fridge, and mattress.

I hope that this post provided you with some inspiration of evidence to include with your application. If you’re going through the Australian partner visa process, I would love to hear about your journey so far and I would be happy to answer questions you have (to the best of my ability) in the comments below. Keep in mind that I am NOT a migration agent–just someone going through the same process as you!

Below you can find links to my other visa-related posts for easy navigation:

 

Book Review: The Seeing Stone (Arthur Trilogy #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

23 Feb

Arthur and the Seeing StoneArthur de Caldicott lives in a time of change: Richard the Lion-Heart has just died, replaced by the cruel King John, and it will be the year 1200 soon–a time of new beginnings. And Merlin has just given him a seeing-stone that shows him the story of King Uther and another Arthur who is himself, but who isn’t. If only Arthur could figure out what it all means…

Not the best of summaries, admittedly, and I don’t think it conveys how much I LOVED this book. I almost didn’t read it, to be honest. Almost. It started with present tense, which all regular viewers know I HATE, and present tense popped up throughout the book as well, but it was done sensibly as a way to distinguish between the stone and real life, and as such I didn’t mind it so much.

This book is written as the diary of 13-year-old Arthur, and what I loved most was that it detailed the way of life for the people of 1199. The division between rich and poor, the cold and hunger, the way 60 people gathered in one place was an awful lot, the hard work people had to go through just to survive, the unfaltering belief in religion, the strange medical remedies, the struggle of babies to reach their first birthdays. All this from the hand of a 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with the unfairness of the world, all the while mesmerizing us with the magic of the stone and the parallels between the Arthur we know from other stories and the unique life of this Arthur.

Honestly, it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year, though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a plodding sort of plot without many action scenes (though I suspect the sequel will have more). I was just loving soaking up life in 1199!

The cast of characters was hugely entertaining too. Arthur himself is curious and quick, and grows a lot over the course of the book. Gatty is so resilient and wise beyond her years. Nain is funny; Sian is cute; Merlin is quirky. Even the animals seem to jump from the page.

As a retelling of Arthurian Legends, I can’t say I’ve read enough in that area to make a comment. I can say I enjoyed it immensely as a historical fantasy, and that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys that genre. I was so disappointed when I finished this book and couldn’t get straight into the next because I realized I bought Book 3 rather than Book 2!

Book Review: I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

22 Feb

I CorianderCoriander Hobie is the daughter of a wealthy London merchant and a beautiful woman respected for her potions that make people feel well. But from the time Coriander receives a mysterious pair of silver shoes, everything starts going wrong. Her mother dies; her father marries a horrid woman who brings in an even more terrible holy man who calls her “Ann” and beats her; her beloved Danes is sent away, and Coriander is locked in a chest. That’s when something strange happens: Coriander is taken to another world, and it’s there that she learns secrets that could change her life.

Okay, okay, so there are a lot of your typical fairy tale elements here. The evil stepmother, love at first sight, a helpful fairy guiding the MC along… but it was enjoyable all the same and I think younger readers would get a kick out of it. Beautifully written as all of Sally Gardner’s books are, with those details that take you back in time and put you right in the story.

I will say, the plot got a bit weird for me after Coriander was locked in the chest. The little love story weirded me out, particularly when Coriander went back as a 15-year-old or whatever who should still have had the mind of a 12-year-old because of the weird aging thing (in my opinion!). The plot got a little twisty and I felt like some of the various strands could have been cut out and more details added to the more important ones… but again, a younger reader going into this book with a less analytical eye will have no trouble suspending their disbelief and enjoying the story as-is.

Loved Coriander’s character and the way she ended up talking back to the crooked man. Do NOT call her Ann. 😉

Would recommend to anyone with a love of fairy tales!

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