Archive | September, 2013

Book Review: Seeking Eden by Ann Turnbull

25 Sep

In this third book in the Quaker Trilogy by Ann Turnbull, Will and Susanna move their family to Philadelphia, where they hope to haveImage a new start in life. The star of the show is their son Josiah, a boy who still has some soul-searching to do when it comes to being a Quaker. Somewhat rebellious, Josiah feels he is only ever a disappointment to his father and does what he can to irritate him. But when Jos becomes apprenticed to the wealthy merchant George Bainbrigg and falls in love with Kate, he starts to settle into his new role and thinks of a successful future and family–nothing could sway his loyalty to Baingbrigg…

At least, not until Josiah learns that he is to become involved in the slave trade. On a trip to Barbados, they take five slaves aboard their ship to sell in the Americas. Two of them are young sweethearts, Antony and Patience, and Josiah will not see them separated. To whom does Josiah owe his loyalty–to the master who could secure his future, or to the inner light, which says slavery is all wrong?

I’ll admit I didn’t like this book as much as the previous two in the series, probably because I didn’t like Josiah quite as much as I did Will and Su. That said, this was another extremely well-researched book that threw me straight into the historical time period and, in the process, taught me something I didn’t know. I had no idea that some Quakers kept slaves–it seemed like something they would be wholeheartedly against. This book explores the issue: some quakers believed it was altogether wrong, while others said “well, at least we’re buying them–we’d be better owners than others–and we can show them the inner light, as is our duty.”

The depiction of slavery is done well, which means it was well and truly heartbreaking. The entire time I was reading this I was wondering how on earth this could have a happy ending, and of course it couldn’t–so if you’re looking for a book full of sunshine and rainbows you might want to look elsewhere. That said, it probably does turn out better for the characters than it potentially could have–but still, it was heartbreaking.

Josiah was an interesting character who developed from a rebellious boy to a caring young man throughout the course of the book. Kate fell a little flat for me–I actually felt more connected to Patience, who we saw less. This was probably why I felt the romance was a bit sudden and fast between Kate and Josiah–I just couldn’t see the connection when I had no connection with Kate myself. I also felt more connected to Antony than to Patience, but that’s to be expected when he had regular sections in his perspective throughout the book.

I liked that the plot didn’t center on Josiah and Kate’s relationship so much as Antony and Patience’s, because the second relationship was so much more problematic. It gave the characters some depth in my eyes to see that they realized that. While Josiah and Kate might have been separated for some time, it was nothing like the separation that Antony and Patience were facing.

All in all, a good read. Certainly not a light one! If you liked the previous books in the series I recommend finishing it off. And, if you’re perhaps more interested in American history and slavery than you are in Quaker religion, I think this book could be read as a standalone without the need to read the previous ones. The main characters here are entirely different, and while the characters from the previous books are present, they play only a minor role.


Book Review: The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

18 Sep

ImageWhen Lucy and her parents move to Iowa, she gets wrapped up in a century-old mystery. Her father’s uncle vanished from this very house when he was fourteen years old, and his sister claimed to have seen him sailing away on a giant sea. But that’s impossible, because the house is surrounded by boring fields and dirt roads–or is it? As Lucy dives into Oscar’s old notebooks, she doesn’t believe that he simply ran away. And when she writes a simple sentence in The Book of Story Beginnings, she learns rather quickly that magical things can happen.

First, the Book of Story Beginnings turns her father into a magician. Then, her father turns himself into a bird. And a magical potion turns the pet cat into a boy–Oscar! Together, Lucy and Oscar must travel to Cat and Bird Island to rescue her father from the palace filled with birds. Along the way, they meet a king who turned his people into cats, a pirate captain and her crew of orphans, and a queen who loves birds too much. But when they finally reach their destination, will there be enough potion left to turn her father back into a man? And how on earth will they get home?

This was an incredibly fun middle grade read along the lines of the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke. Just about any book that has characters walking into stories they’ve read or written has my seal of approval, and this one was wonderfully executed. It’s certainly a fun read that will appeal more to younger readers in search of a new adventure, but the humorous tone of it all wasn’t lost on this 20-something, either. This is one of those books that I’d like to put aside to read aloud to my future children.

The characters didn’t have the kind of depth that you might find in novels in the YA section, but I didn’t feel like it took away from my reading experience. Both Lucy and Oscar were likable, considerate, and relatively mature in the decisions they had to make–such as deciding whether or not to mess with time travel–even if they didn’t always think things through (like turning someone into a bird in the midst of a pack of cats). I felt like the maturity and somewhat bumbling decision-making evened out rather nicely, making the characters believable enough, while still allowing them to relate to the target audience.

The land of Cat and Bird Island was something out of a storybook–because it was. There isn’t much depth here, either, but then the world only had a few sentences to work with before it spawned everything. The reader learns just enough to get them through the plot, so no huge developments here, but the whole book was well-written and you do have to keep in mind that it’s meant to be a fun, entertaining children’s story.

Older readers might not get as much enjoyment out of this book as younger ones, but for younger readers it’s one of the better-written books for the age group. Nothing’s too simple, but it’s not too complicated either. Like I said, definitely one I’ll be reading aloud to future children, and one I’d put in the hands of any young reader I come across.

The (Almost) Six-Month Australia Onshore Partner Visa (820) Waiting Update

17 Sep

I love WordPress for telling me the search terms people used to find this blog. I’ve been getting hits like “waiting for Australia partner visa” and “how long does it take for an Australian partner visa to process” and “waiting for my partner visa is driving me mad.”

I’m right there with you.

It’s this maddening feeling of something being left unfinished. Like you’re hanging in limbo, neither here nor there. If you’re in Australia like me, you might even be beginning to feel that itch of suffocating imprisonment–Bridging Visa A doesn’t allow for travel outside of the country. What can you do? You twiddle your thumbs and wait.

For me, I know that I can’t even get accepted yet. A) My medicals have not been completed. I was worried about the length of time people were saying things were going to take, and medicals were only good for a year and they were expensive. So I’m waiting until my as-yet-unknown case officer contacts me asking for them. B) My police checks aren’t in yet. Well, I have the Australian one in my hot little hands but the FBI one still hasn’t come through. I submitted the request at the tail end of April. Yes, I have finally given up on them. I’m going to get my fingerprints redone next Tuesday and send them off AGAIN. It’s my hope that submitting the police checks will spark a response from the Mysterious Unknown Case Officer and I’ll get my medicals completed by the end of the year.

Actually, it’s our one-year wedding anniversary at the end of November–wouldn’t it be perfect timing if everything started coming together around then? I live in hope.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep my mind off of it. Worrying, worrying, worrying is just bad for your health. Honestly, that’s probably why I’ve been leaving the new fingerprints so late–I let them slip my mind so that the constant butterflies in my stomach would just go away. It helps that I’ve been keeping busy: work, going out and about a bit more often than usual, baking, playing with the cats. My advice? Find something you like and go do it and stop worrying about the visa. Easier said than done, of course, but honestly, there’s nothing you can do until you get contacted by the case officer.

One of the other things that I’ve found that helps with the wait is finding forums online that are filled with other people waiting for news of their visa just like you. Search “Australia visa forum” and you should find something that suits you. There are quite a few different options out there.

To those of you reading this blog post, I’d love to know how long you’ve been waiting and what you do to keep calm during the wait. If you’d like, including the city where you lodged the visa and the month/year you lodged it in, as well as the type of visa you’ve applied for, to give other people reading this blog a better idea of what the can expect regarding visa waiting times. I would love to hear from you.

As for myself, you can always find my “visa status” at the top of this page and to the right. To recap, though, I applied for an 820 visa in Brisbane back in March 2013. I haven’t had any contact from Immigration save for the e-mail telling me about my Bridging Visa just after I sent in the application.

And the wait continues.

How long have you been waiting for a decision to be made on your application? How do you deal with the long wait? Let me know in the comments below! If you would like more information on my visa journey, check out the following links:

Where to Buy Salsa Verde and Tomatillos in Brisbane, Australia

14 Sep

This is completely off my usual topics, but I just can’t keep this to myself. 011

If you’re an American in Australia, you know the difficulties of attempting to find some of your favorite Mexican or Tex-Mex items and ingredients. Honestly, the scarcity of Mexican food is my only complaint about Australia–and can you really blame them? It’s not like Mexico’s just across the way. However, having read through a lot of forums and blogs, I know that being able to indulge in some old favorite foods can help alleviate home sickness. It certainly does for me.

My addiction? Salsa verde. I’ve been eating it since I could walk–they serve it at my favorite Mexican (okay, “Tex-Mex”–as much as it can be in Michigan) restaurant in my hometown, and it’s to die for. Theirs is still my favorite salsa verde, but Herdez is a close second. You can’t get salsa verde here in Australia, at least not at the major stores. Woolworth’s very briefly had some green salsa a few months ago, but it’s disappeared again–not enough demand, I suppose.

So imagine my surprise when I walked into a little shop called Pennisi Cuisine in Woolloongabba. The place is stuffed to the ceiling with tons of Mexican ingredients: canned whole tomatillos, pinto beans, black beans, different salsas, tobasco sauce,  jalepenos, and, yes, even little 7oz. cans of Herdez Salsa Verde!

Besides that, they have tons of Italian and various other cuisine as well, including a huge selection of cheese, pasta, and various meats (American-style bacon, anyone?), DILL PICKLES, and tons of different drinks (like San Pellegrino). I’m telling you, it’s a dream come true for anyone in Brisbane looking for some great international food products.

Here’s the address if you’re interested:

Pennisi Cuisine
17 Balaclava Street

The street’s a bit quiet, but you’ll know the shop when you see it. Having gone there on a Saturday, it was incredibly busy with tons of people, but checking out was fast and efficient and the workers were extremely friendly and helpful. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for green salsa and other hard-to-find Mexican items. If you were wondering where to buy the ingredients for your Mexican food fix, this is it. Needless to say, I’ll be going back for as long as I’m living here!

If you’re not from Brisbane, I recommend poking around the internet for a while to find out of there’s one of these small specialty shops in your city. It seems to be the best bet for your Mexican food needs.

If you know of any other places in Brisbane or other Australian cities that sell Mexican ingredients like tomatillos and salsa verde, please leave that information in the comments below–I’d love to hear about them, and I’m sure others would too!

Book Review: Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

10 Sep

ImageWill Scarlet is Robin Hood’s best man–his secret, his shadow in dark places. But Will Scarlet has his own secret. Only Robin and his band of merry men know that Scarlet’s really a girl, and that he can throw a knife just as well as anyone. But when the Sheriff of Nottingham hires a thief-catcher named Gisbourne to take Robin down, Scarlet knows she’s in big trouble. Sure, Gisbourne would love to wrap Robin in chains… but there’s one thing he’d like more: Scarlet herself. Slowly, Scarlet’s other secrets unwind–secrets even Robin didn’t know–and it looks as though all hope might be lost.

I couldn’t put this book down. And when I finished, I dashed to my computer to check if there was a sequel. I had five minutes of pure elation when I learned that there wasn’t just one, but two… and then I found out that the next one isn’t due out until February. And I fell into a pit of desolation from which I don’t think I’ll ever emerge (until February).

Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. But it was pretty darn good. First off, what a fresh take on Robin Hood! If you love Robin Hood legends, I think you’ll love this–it’s got all the main cast of characters, Robin and Little John and Friar Tuck, doing their steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor thing, helping people out. But the main character is a woman, and an awesome woman at that. Scarlet isn’t just your “strong” hero (I use that word a lot, but is anyone else getting sick of it? Why are women only ever “strong?”). She’s multi-faceted: independent, good with a knife, able to cuss better than any man, perfectly capable of defending herself, sensitive, conflicted, brooding, grumpy, in love. I loved Scarlet in all her moods, and loved attempting to unravel her past before she really wanted me to.

Robin was just my type of character-guy–all noble and depriving himself of what he really wants as a sort of punishment for doing nothing wrong. Honestly, only John got on my nerves a bit with his flirting. If you can call it flirting–it honestly got a bit… er… assault-y at some points, which is one of my only complaints.

You see, there was a bit of a love triangle (can you guess who was involved there?) and I just felt like it was a bit too much. I’m fine with romance being a plot point. This book just felt like it was so much more without the romance being shoved in my face so much. Perhaps if I hadn’t known from the start Robin was into Scarlet I would have been more okay with the whole situation, but as it was, I just felt like it was too much. Not that I knocked any stars off this book for it. This book was amazing.

One of the things that I loved which others might find a bit more annoying was the dialect throughout the book. Very “English street urchin.” It’s narrated by Scarlet in the first person, which means “English street urchin” is what I wanted to hear when I read the book. For me, the proper dialect in a book really makes the book. This simply wouldn’t have been the same, and certainly not as impressive, if the dialect hadn’t plopped me straight in the middle of Sherwood Forest, really situating me in the setting. It drew me in and held me. I read the book in one sitting. However, I know there are people out there who hate reading things in a dialect that might be difficult to get into at first. As a writer, I love studying books written in a different dialect because it’s something that’s much-needed in my writing that I find difficult to pull off successfully.

Anyway, back to Scarlet–the plot is fast-paced and edge-of-your-seat. Like I said, I finished it in one sitting. Soon as Scarlet pulls a ribbon out of a coffin, you start to get a glimpse into her past and can’t wait to find out more, and how in the world she got to this place in her life–part of Robin’s band of merry men.

I recommend this to any fan of Robin Hood, along with anyone who likes “sword and sorcery” type fantasy. There isn’t any sorcery–unless you count the way Robin’s able to spirit people out of prison–but there are swords, and better yet, a feisty young woman wielding knives. 

I’d love to hear what you thought of Scarlet, and if any of you are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Lady Thief, due out in February.

Request for Inspiration

3 Sep

Today I suffered from crippling boredom.

Honestly, it was kind of enjoyable. I can’t remember the last time I was properly bored. Here’s how my last few months have been: I would stress out because I wasn’t getting any freelance writing done. My stress would impact the amount of work I would actually get done (not much). The amount of work I should be doing would be a constant companion at the back of my mind, all day, every day. And every night, leading to very little sleep. Little sleep led to late mornings. Late mornings stress me out–because that’s time I should have been doing work. The stress would impact the amount of work… well, you get the idea.

When I’m stressed out, I can’t be bored. So–yay for no stress.

You see, I started September with a goal. A plan. Granted, I entered July and August with Goals and Plans too, and they kind of fell apart. But this month, I’m going to stick to it. I’m going to have a schedule. I’m now writing 20 articles per month–not impossible, right? I’m going to write two articles on Monday and Wednesday and one on Friday–that means I have Tuesdays off for now (same day the husband has off; will hopefully be starting something else on this day next month) and weekends off, while Thursdays I’m still at my nanny job.

It’s DOable!

The thing is, instead of thinking “I should get an article done” on those Tuesdays and weekends, I now have scheduled free time that… well, I’m struggling to fill.

I HAVE managed to finish a few books the last couple of days, but I just started one I haven’t been able to get into quite so much, so it wasn’t pulling me in today. Instead, I was browsing more books and thinking about the ones I’ve read, which led to a spark of inspiration for fun-writing.

Fun-writing hasn’t happened much since April, as you can probably tell from the lack of Novel Mondays around here. My April NaNo story has sort of fallen by the wayside and I’d like something new for November anyway. And I was thinking, why not branch out a bit?

I’ve been reading tons of YA historical fiction and YA historical fantasy, which I’ve always loved. I’ve just never tried writing it. I don’t know why. I double-majored in history, for crying out loud, and still have access to tons of primary documents via my university, making research a somewhat easier task.

So this is what I need help with:

What’s a historical time period you’d like to know more about, but haven’t read much about? Similarly, what groups of people seem to have taken a back-seat in your history classes? (For instance: I’ve been reading a series of books about the Quakers, who I never learned much about in school. Fascinating stuff). 

I’m interested in so many different time periods it’s difficult to narrow it down. Plus, I’d like to do something a bit different. Something that hasn’t been done much. My first thoughts were:

1. Elizabethan England. WAY overdone.

2. The Pirate Golden Age. Way, WAY overdone.

3. Colonial America/Frontier America–done properly I think I could carve out a space for myself here (for instance, where I’m from–Northern Michigan–during the early days?), but I’m not sure if I could sustain my own interest, having done quite a bit of this in school.

4. Australia with Bushrangers. I did my history thesis on bushrangers. One of my worries with this is, not being Australian myself (yet!), I kind of feel like I don’t have a “right” to it if you know what I mean.

Anyway. Those were the topics that came to mind that I’d be somewhat interested in (though I don’t think I’ll touch the first two). But I really want to hear about your favorite places and time periods, particularly the somewhat obscure but super interesting ones that you just don’t hear a lot about. What would YOU want to read about in a historical fiction/historical fantasy book? Leave your answers in the comments below! I’d love to start researching now so that I can be well prepared for NaNo in November.

Have you heard of Riffle?

3 Sep

A few days ago an e-mail appeared inviting me to join Riffle Books. I scratched my head and clicked on the link. I couldn’t remember signing up for any reminders about the site, but I must have done. I have to say, I’m kind of ecstatic about the find.

Riffle is being advertised as “the Pinterest for books.” It’s a website where you can find books you like, recommend them to your friends, create lists of books, and show off what you’re reading now. Plus, you can browse other people’s lists and find new books you’d like to read.

You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that what Goodreads is for?”

It does overlap Goodreads in many ways, but I’m finding that I like Riffle better. It’s simpler, easier to navigate. It doesn’t have all of the excess that Goodreads does. I like that I can type in a book in the “lists” section and it’ll tell me which lists that book is on so that I can find other books I might enjoy without having to sort through the hundreds and hundreds of somewhat irrelevant books on lists that Goodreads typically has. 

Cons? It’s new, which means that a) it doesn’t have every book in the world on it yet, b) sometimes glitches up on me, and c) there aren’t many people making new lists right now. You can solve that problem. Go join up! Make some lists. Share them. I’d love to hear what you think of Riffle in the comments below!

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