Archive | June, 2013

Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

30 Jun

Yes, AT LAST! A new book review. I am so far behind on my book reading goal for this year it isn’t even funny. Given a few good books I’m sure I’ll be able to catch up. It’s just been a matter of finding something that I actually enjoy. Luckily, this book fit the bill.

Fifteen-year-old Neryn has been travelling with her father since the Enforcers destroyed their home, Corbie’s Wood. They live town-to-town, meal-to-meal, hoping to avoid the attention of King Keldec and his Enforcers. When her father gambles everything he has left–including Neryn herself–she is taken away by a young man named Flint, who seems only to want to help. Without her father, Neryn knows that she must reach Shadowfell–the last refuge in the country for people like her, people with canny gifts, people who can see the Good Folk. She continues on alone, and soon learns that she might be Alban’s last hope, the last great weapon–and that Flint isn’t exactly what he seems.

Well, that was kind of an awful summary. I’m getting rusty. (And there’s a kitten who just wants to PLAY PLAY PLAY right next to me, so that’s part of the problem too!)

Anyway, I struggled a bit at the beginning of this book, largely I think because I wanted something fast-paced and fun that didn’t require a lot of thought. This is a stronger, more serious fantasy, which I enjoy quite a lot. It didn’t take too long to get into it, especially when Flint was introduced. He was a character bound in mystery and that’s the kind of character I like best. You know the type–brooding, regretting their past decisions, pretty much an okay guy but unable to convince the lead female of that. Okay, okay, he reminded me of Vidanric from Crown Duel. Maybe with a bit of Numair thrown in. He might be inching on to my “Top 5 Male Character Crushes” list. I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, the plot was pretty solid, but what I wasn’t expecting until the last 150 pages or so was that it’s definitely going to have a sequel/series following it. I got my copy at Bookfest, and it’s an Advance Reader/Galley, so there isn’t a lot of information on it other than it was going to be published in 2012.  (Aha! A “three book series.”) Anyway, so I was reading like, “Oh yes, this is getting interesting–wait, just HOW is this plot going to wrap up in the next hundred pages?” Obviously, the mini-plot “Must Reach Shadowfell” was achieved, but the overarching “Down With The King, Put Flint On The Throne” (okay, I made up the last half of that–cheering for him, though!) plot was in no way close to being finished. Which is great–that means there are two more books I get to read when they’re released!

I will say that as a main character, Neryn herself didn’t do a lot for me. She got stronger as the story went on, certainly–not that she was anything like a weak, weepy thing to begin with–but approached situations with a lot of caution. Again, not that that’s a bad thing–in this world, she had to be cautious in order to survive. In her situation, I certainly wouldn’t have done anything different. I suppose what started to get to me was that her actions became predictable. When faced with situation A, she would react with action A. When faced with situation B, she would react with action B. Etc. Not a bad thing, necessarily–it shows consistency in character. I suppose I just got a bit bored with her. Our personalities didn’t quite mesh.

On the other hand, I loved so many of the other side characters. Flint, as you already know. Sage. The Brollochan. Even characters we didn’t see much until the end–Regan, Tali. Lucky me, the second book, Raven Flight, is coming out this month, so I don’t have long to wait until I can read about them again.

As for the setting, few complaints there. The magic of the Good Folk and the fear of the people under the rule of Keldec was very real. I suppose my only complaint was that I wasn’t entirely sure how everything operated politically–that is, there’s King Keldec and we learn at the end that he has advisers. He has the Enforcers who he sends out to maintain order/instill fear in the hearts of all. I was curious if he had other nobles doing his bidding by residing over towns or “counties” or something. I suppose it wasn’t entirely relevant to the plotline. Actually, a map would have helped–as an ARC, my book only had “map to be finalised” which is the frustrating part about ARCs!

At any rate, loved this book. My few complaints are nitpicky. I’m actually going to go see if Raven Flight is out now. Til next time!

Freelance Lessons Learned: sometimes you have to say no!

30 Jun

Well, this has been a month of stress I could have done without! Everything was going well. Lots of jobs coming in. Plenty of work to do. No illness on my part, people out of the house so I had my own working space during the day, the kitten’s settled into a predictable schedule which allows me to get more work done…

And yet, here I sit, on the last day of the month, scrabbling to get two more articles done and knowing I’ve neglected two other projects this past week.

No, I haven’t taken too much on in terms of freelance work. With that, I’m sitting in a pretty comfortable place between “enough that I don’t need to be looking for more” and “giving myself some room to breathe just in case.” Particularly with creative writing classes starting up later in July, I’ve been pacing myself.

What happened this month was a) every child I knew got sick (including my husband) and I was everyone’s back-up child care due to the self-employed nature of my job. Sick kids have to stay home from other child care activities, but often they don’t know they’re sick and spend their time running around like crazy people. Not exactly a lot of time to get some writing done when you’re chasing after a jail break through the backyard waving a sweater and shoes (it’s winter in Australia, you know). Man Flu is even worse.

b) “Can you go to the shops to–” “Can you go to the bank to–” It’s a big problem when facilities are only open during business hours. It’s a huge convenience when I don’t *have* to be anywhere during business hours. Except, of course, to me! I’ve been trying very hard to work 9-5, Monday-Friday, leaving the rest of my time free. These excursions don’t help that at all.

So–sometimes you have to say “no” to the people around you. It’s not that they don’t think you’re working–it just doesn’t seem as obvious when you’re at home all the time. A gentle reminder should suffice (except when a person is afflicted with Man Flu. Then you’re facing a losing battle.)

820 Visa Not-Really Update (and US Police Check drama)

25 Jun

Since posting the list of things I included in my Australian partner visa (820) and the cost of the visa, those two posts have become incredibly popular and I sincerely hope that they’ve been of some help to other people going through the visa process.

As such, I’ve been wanting to post an update for quite some time. After all, we submitted the visa application three months ago. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to tell you–but perhaps this can give those people some idea of the processing time.

We submitted our visa at the end of March 2013 without police checks or health check, which I was told on forums to submit when asked by the case officer due to both expiring after a year. If the visa processing took longer than a year, it could mean having to redo both (and pay even more!). Many people submitted everything altogether and got their visas approved within weeks–I actually recommend that, if you think you’re low-risk, but we didn’t have our stuff together. I would have been kicked out of the country on June 14 if we hadn’t gotten that application in!

However, when we submitted the application we were told to get the police checks (US and Australia) and health check done right away by the person who took our payment. Note: we haven’t yet been assigned a case officer.

I decided there was no harm in the police checks. The Australian one was $45 and the US was $18–not a lot in the long run if I have to redo them (in comparison to the $500+ health check that needs to be done). So, the day after I submitted the application I also submitted forms to get an Australian and US police check.

The Australian one arrived within a week. Weeks later, just as I was looking up a number for the FBI to call and inquire about the status of my US police check, I received a manila envelope in the mail which got me all excited. I opened it only to find that it was a return form–my fingerprints weren’t good enough quality and needed to be redone. I very nearly had a breakdown (visas will do that to you), and huffed off to the police station the next day to get my prints done and send them off. Again.

This was the week of April 21–can’t remember which day exactly. It’s been almost eight weeks, which is the processing time estimate the US gives for such things. I’m expecting it in the mail at some point next week… whether “it” is an actual police clearance certificate or yet another request for fingerprints, that remains to be seen. It’s also entirely possible that I have to call in or send in a new form. Who knows.

So, I apologize for the lack of update in this update. As it stands, I’ve been waiting for news about my Australian partner visa (820) for three months, but I don’t think it’s entirely up to the Brisbane DIAC branch–I’m blaming the FBI for this one!

Have you run into any frustrations while applying for your partner visa? Let me know in the comments below! If you would like to see how my visa journey has been going, check out the following links:

Bookfest Haul!

8 Jun

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There is a glorious thing here in Brisbane called Bookfest. It happens twice a year–January and June. A huge conference hall is filled to the brim with secondhand books. I’m talking thousands of books. Tens of thousands. The hall is split into three sections–$1, $2.50, and high quality (price as marked–generally between $4 and $8)–and within those sections, long tables are split into various genres with the books piled.high.

As people paw through, it can get hard to sort through the books yourself, particularly in the children’s section where picture books are thrown on top of children’s chapter books. It takes a while to sort through, and time seems to go faster there. We left the house before 4:00 and got home just after 7:00. I don’t know what happened.

I tend to have the most luck in the “high quality” book section, where there are typically more YA books (you know me), but the $1 section caught my attention this time around because it seemed like my childhood had flown over and rained down upon it. I’m talking Babysitter Club, Pony Pals, Sleepover Friends, Boxcar Children, Jewel Princesses–I was in nostalgic heaven. (Particularly because my mom’s informed me that she’s selling my childhood. Woe.)

Alas, I didn’t get any of those, much as I wanted to. Just didn’t make sense at this point in my life, but I was so tempted. Please tell me someone out there remembers the Jewel Princess books and the super-awesome-had-to-have-it jewel necklaces that came with them!

Anyway, I came away with nine books–four for Cal, and five for me.

Cal’s Books:
Caddoran by Roger Taylor
Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley
The Lady of Sorrows by Cecilia Dart-Thornton
The Battle of Evernight by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

My books:
The Highwayman’s Footsteps by Nicola Morgan
Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Dragonlinks by Paul Collins

I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t yet read Fire and Hemlock when Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite authors. Just wait–I’ll have reviews up soon!

New degree-related opportunity!

3 Jun

Hey everyone! Once again, sorry my blogs have been so few and far between lately. I haven’t been keeping on a good schedule at all–hoping to amend this soon. Anyway. Thought I’d do a quick update on the job-related part of my life, which is going surprisingly “is this real life” well.

As I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve posted an ad advertising freelancing services. It’s gotten me a number of semi-to-unrelated hits, from editing to doing a kid’s homework to calligraphy. A little while ago, I got a reply from a lady who is starting up a business doing creative writing classes, and she asked if I’d be interested in teaching a couple of classes one day a week.

My thought process here was this:

Um… YES.
Why am I saying yes? I have no teaching experience. I never wanted to be a teacher.
I love creative writing classes!
I know creative writing classes.
I could totally teach creative writing classes.
I should be more nervous about this.
Screw it. Um… YES!

We met up on Saturday and the opportunity still sounded fantastic at the end. What I really like about it is that it’s doing something with my degree directly. It’s something I’m passionate about, which I think is partially why I’m so not-nervous when it’s in my nature to be nervous. Unlike all those admin jobs I kept applying to pre-freelance, I actually want to do this and I mostly know what to expect going into this. Not to mention, the regular (and extremely awesome) pay also means that I don’t have to look quite so hard for freelance jobs, which cuts into my time significantly. Actually, with this, my one-day-a-week nanny position, and my recent Today I Found Out article raise, I’ll be making a full-time Australian minimum wage salary for working just 12 hours out-of-home each week. (Plus writing from home, of course.)

Back to the degree thing–people looked at me like I was crazy for doing an English degree. There were people attempting to usher me toward Business or something “sensible.” It’s an amazing feeling being able to follow my passion and having it pay off and being able to DO something with it rather than have it sit on a shelf gathering dust. I walked away on Saturday feeling completely elated and full of fresh purpose. And also kind of like I was about to get hit by a bus–because things can’t be that easy and awesome, can they?

Have you ever taught creative writing classes? What do you like to see in creative writing classes, particularly outside of a school setting? What are YOU passionate about and how has it worked out for you? I want to hear your stories!

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