Archive | July, 2013

Travel Review: North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia

24 Jul

It’s pretty criminal that I hadn’t taken the trip to North Stradbroke Island after three years of flying back and forth to Brisbane and a full year of living here. I once even stayed with Cal in Cleveland for six weeks and never made the trip over. We did have plans that first trip, back in 2009, and somehow ran out of time. In 2011 we were going to camp there for a few days with some of our friends but then the floods happened and made transport nearly impossible. At any rate, here I am, fresh from a fantastic journey to the island and wanting to go back already.

Getting to Stradbroke Island via public transport is relatively easy, even if it is a long trip from the city. My friend Emily and I (from this point forward referred to as Emily One–she’s older) hopped on a bus around 7:45 in the morning and headed over to Roma Street. At least, we thought we were going to Roma Street. Turns out I got my numbers mixed around and we jumped on a 433 rather than a 443, which meant we were being taken into the city proper rather than Roma Street or the Cultural Centre (where we could have hopped on another bus!). Oops. We figured it out pretty quickly and hopped off to run the short distance to Roma Street Station. We would have made our train, too, if it hadn’t been for the rush hour hordes swarming around us making it look–as Emily One said–like Tokyo at peak hour. We battled furiously but unfortunately missed our train by roughly thirty seconds.

We had to wait another twenty minutes for the next train, and a quick journey plan told us that 20 minutes meant missing our connecting bus by a hair, which meant missing the ferry by a hair, which meant waiting an hour in Cleveland. We were disappointed but it was a beautiful sunny day, so we knew something unlucky had to happen. Every other time I step out of the house it seems to pour buckets, so I was just happy for some sun.

Miraculously, after a relatively uneventful train ride to Cleveland Station, we didn’t miss the bus! Cleveland Station is the end of the Cleveland line so it’s impossible to miss, as was the giant sign that said “Stradbroke Ferry Free Bus” or something to that effect just outside of the ticket barrier. We wandered off in that direction to find the bus waiting for us. The very friendly driver then carted us to the ferry, where we hopped on just in time for it to pull away from the dock. You can buy tickets on the actual ferry which is such a time-saver. The ferry ticket ended up being $19 return–not bad at all! (Note: this was for walking on the passenger Fast Ferry; we did not take a vehicle.)

The Ferry ride was also relatively short. It was a bit nippy but we stood at the front outside and pretended we were on the Titanic (as you do) until we floated to the dock on Stradbroke. Once there, we waited at the bus stop for all of 30 seconds for the bus to come to take us to Point Lookout on the other side of the island where we intended to spend our day. Bus fare was around $9.50 return, and remember, you can’t use your GoCard so bring cash! At that price, you can hop on and off all you want, though we ended up mostly just walking the entire time.

The very last stop was the place to get off for the North Gorge Walk, which is one of the main attractions. I highly recommend starting there and seeing what else you’re up to after. The walk is said to take about 20 minutes, but that’s if you’re just walking through. We headed off down the clearly marked trail and made several pit stops. First, we headed off the beaten track and found ourselves on the cliff’s edge overlooking a bay. Absolutely gorgeous. The red-brown rock of the cliff face, the green of the grass on top of it, the turquoise ocean spreading out as far as we could see–my camera simply couldn’t capture the beauty.


AND THE WHALES. June-November is prime whale watching time on Stradbroke as the whales are migrating north to give birth in warmer waters before heading south again with their calves. We saw our first whales–a mom and baby–within minutes of starting down the trail, followed by a pod of dolphins. There’s something fascinating about watching these creatures frolic in the wild, seeing the big waves they churn up as they rise to the surface to get some air. These are huge, massive, gigantic, enormous, gargantuan creatures that could probably knock you out with a flip of their fins, and there they were, just a little ways out in the sea, hanging out. Perhaps it isn’t an activity for everyone, but I had such a great time sitting and watching them swim around.




We headed off from our special, deserted spot and back on to the trail. The track offers some spectacular views and it wasn’t exceptionally crowded, though that might have been because it was a Monday in the winter. We didn’t run into a ton of people, though I do think of that first, completely deserted whale-watching spot rather fondly. I was in a no-people-whatsoever-let’s-get-in-touch-with-nature kind of mood. But I had whales, sun, and a beautiful landscape already. You can’t have everything.

I’m not sure how long we walked along the trail taking pictures and stopping off to watch more whales (there was a baby one that kept flipping out of the water. So cool). We hit the end of the trail (which leaves you off around the beginning–the trail loops) around 12:45, so it was probably around two hours. The trail spits you out in front of a few shops, including a restaurant called “Fishes.” I was starving so we grabbed a menu and decided to get some takeaway to eat at a beach we saw down the hill a bit. The restaurant was largely a fish and chip joint, as you could probably gather from the name, but neither of us were very keen on fish so we got burgers and fries instead which came to $15 each for lunch. It was pretty delicious, but honestly you could easily pack a picnic and eat it anywhere for much cheaper if you’re on a budget–plenty of other people were doing it!

After getting food, we walked to Frenchmans Beach. To get there, you have to go walk down the road just a little ways–you might even see a wild kangaroo and joey like we did! Then there’s a sign pointing you down a long flight of stairs to get on the beach. With my legs a little wobbly from the walk–I really need to get off the couch more–I was dreading going back up those stairs, but the beach was totally worth it. It, too, was almost completely deserted (maybe other people didn’t want to brave the stairs either?). We headed over to a group of rocks and sat in the middle all secluded, surrounded by tide pools while we ate our lunch. A gorgeous cliff face rose behind us, the sea foamed in front of us, a crab or two dug in the sand… Bliss.


Finishing eating, we ditched out shoes and socks, rolled up our jeans, and commenced running around in the waves. The water was a bit cold but not unbearable–I definitely wouldn’t have been swimming in it, but it was fun to feel the sand beneath my feet. The beach was soft and sandy, with just a smattering of extremely pretty shells left over from high tide. And no people in sight. I doubt it’s the same story during the holidays, summertime, or on the weekend, but seriously, some time away from crowds was just what this introvert needed so I’d be willing to head back and see if it’s that spectacular all the time or what!

We spent the rest of our time on Stradbroke walking along the beaches, discovering giant grabs, a giant driftwood log, a friendly dog, and a total of three other people we saw at a distance. Apparently these beaches are good for surfing and we did see a couple surfers, though on both of the beaches we walked along (Frenchmans and Cylinder) I didn’t see any lifeguard on duty, so it would be worth checking out if the beaches are ever patrolled if you want to swim.

We decided to head back just before the darkening sky decided to open on us. I was tired and my legs ached from walking, but I had such a great time! Seeing whales was like the highlight of my year and that time spent alone (with Emily One) with nature was incredibly refreshing.

In summary: Stradbroke was a relatively cheap, easy break from Brisbane’s hustle and bustle and was well worth the trip. I’d recommend both tourists and locals take the trip there at least once. It’s certainly a place I’ll be adding to my list of “must-sees” for anyone who comes to stay with me!


Book Review: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

20 Jul

ImageMeg Lytton was sent to serve Lady Elizabeth for the duration of her Ladyship’s imprisonment at the dilapidated palace of Woodstock. Meg is relieved; it means a reprieve from the romatntic interest of the ruthless Marcus Dent. Dent doesn’t know that Meg is a witch, but Elizabeth does, and intends to use Meg’s power to find out when she’ll be able to return to court. But their exploits get them in all kinds of trouble, drawing the attention of one Alejandro de Castillo, priest-in-training, and Meg is certain she’ll have a noose around her neck before long. Playing with magic in Tudor England is a deadly game…

This book was what I needed to get me out of (yet another) book slump. Yet again, every book I’ve been picking up lately has been incredibly disappointing–even several front-runners I thought I was going to enjoy that I bought at bookfest! I recently returned from the library with a stack of hopefuls, and I was able to finish this one. What a sense of relief that was. I’m still way behind on my reading goal and am gearing myself up not to make it. There are still five months left of the year, though, so never say never I guess.

Anyway. I was in the mood for something well-written and historical with a fantasy spin, and I found it. You could tell Victoria Lamb did some research into the Tudor period, and the tone, setting, and characters were all pretty spot-on. 

Meg herself did get on my nerves a little bit when it came to Alejandro de Castillo; I felt like she took the love/hate relationship a little too far by the end of the book. Then again, Meg was a realistically drawn character–likable for the most part, but with her own bumps and burrs that make her believable, even if the reader might not agree with them.  I also liked the portrayal of Lady Elizabeth (soon to be Queen Elizabeth I if you didn’t catch on to that), who I don’t see as a younger woman very often in books. If anyone has some suggestions for fictional books staring a young Elizabeth I, let me know.

The whole thing reminded me a bit of The Queen’s Own Fool by Jane Yolen, which I quite enjoyed. That one’s about Mary, Queen of Scots, but the underlying premise is basically the same–girl serves as a lady-in-waiting, watching politics unfold from afar.

That said, the plot structure of this novel wasn’t as great as it could have been, or perhaps I was simply in the mood for something more political and more involved. There were basically two different strands that intertwined: 1) Meg is a witch and is in danger of being caught and tried and hung as a witch. 2) Lady Elizabeth is accused of treason and could be executed. The two strands sort of crossed a bit more when Meg goes to save a letter from Lady Elizabeth that could prove treasonous, while being on the run from the witch hunter. I just wish each had more of a bearing on the other. There were subtle hints, but I wanted more involvement. More politics, more witchcraft that affected politics. Again, it might have been a mood thing.

This is the first book in a series, and I think there’s potential for more politics in the next one when Elizabeth isn’t sequestered away, but is able to hang out at court. I will probably seek out the sequels at some point (only one other is out right now). I love the Tudor period!

Balance of Tone in a Historical Setting

7 Jul

Recently, I started and set aside two books in relatively quick succession. I typically attempt to slog through–there can be real gems of writing wisdom in books you might set aside, after all–but when my problem is so blatantly obvious, I just don’t see the point of torturing myself.

I won’t point fingers at these particular books or authors, but I will give a brief synopsis:

Book A: set in something like Renaissance Venice, with a distinct class system, arranged marriages, and frilly gowns, it had a great premise. The main character runs across a murdered woman and sets off attempting to find the culprit with her love interest.

Book B: set in a time when riding horses was the only mode of transportation, leeches were used to relieve fevers, highwaymen were a matter of course, pistols etc. were popular weapons of choice. Also a fairly interesting premise: highborn boy running away from home gets into some trouble, gets stopped by a wounded highway “man” who turns out to be a girl, and… that’s where I stopped reading.

Both of these books were obviously set in a historical time, and there were a lot of great details in both books that allowed me to immerse myself in the time period. Unfortunately, there was one massive fault in both: the tone of voice used by the narrator.

In Book A, dialogue and narration alike were far too modern. Without descriptions of the pretty dresses and letters from an arranged betrothed, I would have thought I was hearing conversations between a couple of high school students in 2013.

Book B had the opposite problem: it was too “historical.” With lines like “I thought not” and “I had a need for  a weapon,” the narration was stilted and distant, and, to be honest, not entirely in line with historical accounts from the intended time period. I read quite a few journals while working towards my history degree and while they weren’t anything like what I was reading in Book B. Granting realism for a moment, it was still incredibly difficult to read and opened this gulf of distance between me and the main character. I was nearly 100 pages in and felt no connection whatsoever.

When writing in a historical setting, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) your characters need to speak and act differently than your audience to give that “feel” of historical immersion and 2) your audience is not from a historical time period and still needs to be able to read your book without tripping over strangely-phrased sentences.

Largely writing historical fantasy, I struggle with the balance myself. However, there are a lot of good books to read that have struck the right sort of balance in my opinion. The first author that comes to mind is Patricia C. Wrede, who’s written a variety of books that I’ve reread on occasion just to study the way she puts words together. If you’re into YA and looking for an example of “tone done right” I highly recommend looking into either Sorcery and CeceliaA Matter of Magic, or The Thirteenth Child, all of which are fantastic examples of historical tone that is still appealing to modern readers.

Anyway… just some random thoughts on this lazy Sunday as I sit contemplating what to read next!

Do you have any recommendations for great examples of “tone done right” or even just “things done right” in writing? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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