Archive | January, 2014

Brisbane Bookfest Haul: January 2014

25 Jan

You know you live in the right city when they fill a convention centre full of cheap books twice a year. Brisbane’s Bookfest is a fundraiser of sorts for Lifeline, a crisis support and suicide prevention charity. Donated used books are piled on a few miles of tables in the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre. The centre is divided into three sections: $1, $2.50, and “price as marked” (usually in the $5 range) depending on the quality of the books in question.


There are literally millions of books. It’s a bookworm’s dream. It’s her credit card’s worst nightmare.

My friend and I dropped $80 on 25 books–not bad, right?? This was a great bookfest for me too, because I found three books I have been thinking about reading for ages but never run across. Here is a list of the books I purchased–13, but some of them are for my husband. You’ll be seeing many of these reviewed on this blog over the next few months.

Books For Cal:

Born of Empire by Simon Brown
The Shadow of Ararat by Thomas Harlan
The Dragonbone Chair  by Tad Williams
The Iron Tree by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Books For Me:

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Inda by Sherwood Smith
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (have been looking for this book for YEARS)
Which Witch and The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson (read, but my copies are in the US; want to reread)
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (looking for this one for ages)
The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood (another one I’ve been looking for)
Set in Stone by Linda Newberry
Painting Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

Have you been to Bookfest? What did your pile look like? Have you read any of the books on this list? What was your opinion on them? Let me know in the comments below!


Book Review: Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

22 Jan

Prince of Shadows**The following review is based on a NetGalley e-reader copy of the book, which I received for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Charged with protecting his cousin’s life and reputation, Benvolio Montague starts with the trying but manageable task of keeping Romeo from Rosaline, a Capulet. Then Mercutio’s lover is hanged, and Mercutio–a shadow of himself–sets a plague on both their houses. A plague which is driving Romeo mad with love. The streets of Verona run red with blood and an undercurrent of power changing hands. A thrilling, fast-paced pursuit of answers follows, spurred by the fear that all star-crossed lovers may be lost… and not just Romeo and Juliet.

These past few months, it has been a rare thing for me to pick up a book and feel that excitement to turn to the next page all throughout. Prince of Shadows never once left my thoughts as I was reading it.

It is perfectly executed, running parallel to the play and overlapping where necessary, but it is clear that it was never really about Romeo and Juliet. Written in an almost Shakespearean tone–if Shakespearen language were fully accessible to, say, high school students–the book justifies the less believable aspects of the tragedy without compromising the bard’s story. The two are seamlessly interwoven and complement each other.

And while those who have read and enjoyed the play will undoubtedly get more out of Prince of Shadows in terms of humor and references than others who have less-than-fond memories of laboring through the text in their high school English class, this book is not only for Shakespeare fans. You do not need solid knowledge of the play in order to enjoy this book–in fact, your experience might be even more thrilling than for those of us who knew what was to come. It is packed with action, mystery, political intrigue, friendship, magic, and love both lost and gained.

Your heart will thump with the Prince of Shadows as he runs from the guards, you will weep with Mercutio, and love with Romeo. Spellbound, these pages will hold you fast until you’ve finished the last word. But I won’t tell you if this tragic tale has a happy ending–you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Worldbuilding Day 16: Limits of the Speculative Element

22 Jan

Day 15 was all about resources for worldbuilding. The website gives a pretty comprehensive list of some great resources to use if you’re interested in finding more worldbuilding tools, so check it out!

Day 16 deals with the limits of your speculative element. That means establishing rules for magic, or boundaries your creatures can or cannot cross, and setting out the repercussions.

I imagine magic in this world acting like another system within the body–a second circulatory system, for instance, with “magical” veins running alongside the blood-filled ones. Magic is mostly inherited. People with two magical parents are very likely to have magic than someone with only one magical parent, but  children of magical parents are not necessarily guaranteed to have magic themselves (example: Gareth). Magic is a recessive gene, and so will sometimes crop up among children with non-magical parents who might have had magical ancestors, but this is rare.

There are different types of magic:

Human: able to affect different parts of the human body, whether healing, helping to sleep, incapacitating, dictating movements, knowing thoughts, etc.
Animal: As above, but in regards to animals.
Natural: able to enhance the powers of plants, help things grow, mold rock, open the seas, cleanse water, etc.
Spiritual: Able to communicate with spirits. Extremely rare.

Within each type, there are different levels of magic. I like to think of it like this: people have “little” veins of magic or “big” veins of magic. Those with little veins of magic might appear to have a talent for something: a natural wizard with a smaller gift might always have the winning pumpkin at the fair, for example, but unless they’re well-trained, they wouldn’t know that they were even doing magic.

People with bigger veins are the problem. Without training and control, magic can come out unbidden–it doesn’t take necessarily take concentration on the wizard’s part. People with more magic to expend tend to have bigger accidents before they can get their power under control.

A person must be in physical contact with the object being magicked in order to work magic. However, after the magic has been done, the effects can last a long time without physical contact.

Education and training can make a wizard use his/her gifts more effectively, but it can not increase their power. It is like an artistic gift; some people are born to paint, and other scan study painting and become better at painting, but they’ll likely never become as good as people who have a natural gift.

When doing magic, wizards slowly but surely deplete the magic-blood in their veins. This can happen at the same rate for people with big and small gifts. People with small gifts are typically incapable of doing things people with bigger gifts can, but smaller workings take less than bigger workings do. However, people with bigger magics are accustomed do doing bigger workings–therefore, two wizards with different levels of gifts going about their average day will usually become exhausted at the same time.

When a wizard depletes their magic, the after-effects can be headaches, exhaustion, vomiting, fainting, or death depending on how far they’ve pushed themselves. Well-trained wizards know their limits and are able to stay within reason on the average day. To recuperate, they are prescribed with sleep, bed rest, and diets high in protein. If pushed to their limits, they typically recover some ability in two to three days, but it can take a week or two before they are at full strength.

Worldbuilding Day 14: Education

21 Jan

Yes, I am skipping a day. Day 13 is about plot hooks and I’m pretty well sorted with plot; this exercise is just an attempt to enrich my descriptions and make the world seem more “real.” Anyway, Day 14 is about education–what sort of education is available in your world?


Bellan children have use of school houses that were set up in King Roderick’s father’s time. In that generation, a law was passed mandating school attendance for all children from the age of 7. This was partially to keep the population educated in reading and numbers, but also partially to keep an eye on children at a time when they might start to display magical abilities. In the country, school houses are generally one room, with one or two teachers educating students on all different levels. In larger cities, a school house will have multiple rooms, or there will be multiple school houses, and children are sorted according to age and/or educational level (someone struggling with reading would be placed with younger children, for instance).There are often more teachers in cities, often allowing for a smaller student-teacher ratio.

Students learn reading, writing, history, and arithmetic. Around age 12, as long as they are performing well in other subjects, the children’s days are split. In addition to the above subjects, boys start learning about military tactics in the morning, while girls perfect skills like sewing and cooking. In the afternoons, they are placed in an apprenticeship. Usually this apprenticeship is with their parents, but sometimes children are exchanged between parents if they seem particularly interested in something else, or parents pay others to take on their children, if they have the money. Some examples of apprenticeships include farming, mining, metalworking, shopkeeping, and military training. At age 14, most students are in their apprenticeships full time. At age 16, they are considered full workers and can continue working for their apprenticed employer or find work elsewhere.

Noble children are generally educated by private tutors, learning most of the same subjects as their untitled counterparts.



Education is a new thing in Kedron, where previous Emperors and Kings didn’t want anyone to learn anything that might make the people question their decisions. One of the first things King Farram did was institute mandatory schooling for everyone. Children begin their lessons at age 5, learning the usual things like reading, writing, history, and arithmetic. However, from a young age they are also taught magical theory, which causes many of them to come to terms with their own power before it gets too dangerous. For those who aren’t able to use magic, they are taught techniques to block magic used on themselves. In addition, both girls and boys are given weapons lessons and hand-to-hand combat lessons; this was a controversial move, but one that has caused the people of Kedron to trust their king.

Classes are typically held in one room school houses in the country, while cities have large buildings dedicated to learning, serving all ages and abilities. As their magic develops, those with magic take extra lessons with someone who specializes in their type. Those with magic are also required to take several additional years of study. Many choose to do this in the capital, where King Farram maintains a school within his own palace. Students pay for their lessons and accommodation here by working in the palace. Anyone who can’t practice magic typically joins up with their family business or the military.

Many of the noble children are still educated by private tutors, but the royal children went through the large city school, just as other people living in Ahala did.

Worldbuilding Day 12: What If?

20 Jan

I found today’s exercise a little difficult. It challenges you to ask what if? about your speculative element–that is, magic, technology, whatever is a little “different” about your novel than in the real world. In asking what if, you should be able to pinpoint what your speculative element changes about your world. The example given is aliens with chip implants, so that they could get something like an internet feed to their brains. This changes things like people wouldn’t have to carry cell phones or brief cases and they could never get lost.

The struggle for me here, I guess, is pinning down the speculative elements. There are all sorts of different magics in my world–a mere talent for something is often considered lesser magical ability by some. In most societies, it’s deeply embedded in the culture. So I’ll start where it’s weird:

Bellador Declares War on Magic: Anyone who practices is forced out or killed. As a result, Bellador turns to “science.” By doing things the hard way, Bellador is slower to develop but often produces more quality products that are more accessible. For instance, with the right knowledge just about anyone can make a poultice to dress a wound; they don’t need to go to a healer.

Sarians Are All Mental-Magic: Sarians communicate by sharing images and thoughts with one another on a sort of telepathic network. As such, they don’t have their own language and are a silent people. Because of this, they are very musically inclined, preferring to fill the air with sweet sounds. Their inability to speak makes humans fearful of them.

King of Kedron Can Still Perform Magic: the King of Kedron historically used magic to suppress his people. While the current king does nothing of the sort, people are still wary of him because he used his magic to depose his father, and they worry he will turn on them.

Er… I don’t know if I did this one correctly. However, there you go, a few examples of my take on this.

Worldbuilding Day 11: Focus In

19 Jan

Yes, I know, I know, I’m so far behind! Honestly, I think what happened is I looked at this one quite late at night, shook my head, and went to sleep (why? because I did that thing where I didn’t read the directions all the way through and it looked a lot more daunting than it was, that’s why). However, to make up for my lapse in the challenge, I have been writing. And by writing, I mean writing story. And that’s quite a big change from recent weeks, so I still feel rather accomplished.

Anyway, today’s challenge is to flesh out a single category: history, economics/politics, OR language. Not all of them, like I first thought. As my story is rather political in nature, I’ll be doing economics/politics.


The Esteycor family has been ruling Kedron for many generations, largely due to their magical abilities which made it possible to corrupt the people and their advisors. When the Empire crumbled, it was thought that the Esteycor family would fall; however, a distant cousin was able to win the throne, cementing their place at the head of state.

The line is still in tact, however after King Farram deposed his father and did away with the scheming advisors who had hoped to snatch the power out from under him, he’s made progress toward instating a parliament to make legislative decisions. Parliament members represent much of the country geographically, though they are chosen by a small group of elders in each county rather than by the majority. Needless to say, this still causes problems, but has gone a long way to making the people trust and respect the King.

That said, the move has also made him a lot of enemies: namely, those lords and ladies who had something to gain by forcing legislative decisions through that favored them. As such, the political atmosphere in Kedron is heated at best and bubbling over at worst. There is a huge divide between rich and poor which Farram is attempting to heal, with very little help from his fellow nobility.


Under King Roderick’s father’s tender care, the country started seeing a huge economic boom, leading to a surge in the number of people who might be considered “middle class.” As this continued into King Roderick’s reign, he has a lot of friends amongst the people and is well-loved. However, he also has a large number of enemies due to his strict no-magic policy, which has led to families being torn apart. His government is also far more insular, and other countries are suspicious about what he’s up to–not to mention jealous about the wealth he’s accumulated.

As such, there are forces nudging at his border and forces trying to nudge out of it. To top it all, he has left his daughter relatively ignorant about the goings-on, despite not being oblivious to it himself. 

Australian Partner Visa Cover Letter Sample

17 Jan

I keep getting questions about what our cover letter looked like for our visa application. A cover letter isn’t necessarily a requirement for most Australian visas, but it’s nice to include as it gives your case officer an idea of who you are and adds a personal touch amidst all of the forms and statements. For those of you curious, here is the cover letter we included with our partner visa application:



To the Immigration Application Officer:

Attached is my application for the Onshore Partner Visa (subclass 820). The application is complete except for the medical and police checks. I have sent in an application for a criminal records check through the FBI and will send it in as soon as I receive it. I will complete the medical as soon as advised.

I have assembled the application in accordance with the document checklist, which I hope makes it quick and easy to go through. While we have attached evidence of our genuine and continuing relationship, please let us know if more evidence is needed or if you would like to conduct an interview—we would be more than willing to comply.

My husband and I met online in 2005 and met in person in 2008. In June 2012, after graduating from university, I arrived in Australia on a work and holiday visa. We have been living together since and married in November 2012. We have spent a lot of time and money flying back and forth over the Pacific to see each other and hope to be granted the ability to live and work alongside each other without being separated.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can provide. I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours Sincerely,
[Contact Detail — e-mail and mobile number]


This letter was written based on a similar letter I’d found somewhere–I can’t remember where or I’d link to it! This is not the only way to write a cover letter, by any means. You might find something that works better for you, but like I said, I’ve been getting questions about ours and this worked for us.

Basically, you want to start with what it is you are applying for and let the case officer know if anything is missing from your application–in my case, the police clearances and medical check. Let them know how far along you are in obtaining these items, or if you intend to wait until you are asked for them. I believe the police clearances and medicals are the only items that you can get away with leaving out of your initial application, but I could be wrong.

Your second paragraph should mention what you have already included and how you assembled the application. In our case, “in accordance with the document checklist.” Additionally, I offered the ability to hand over more evidence if needed. If they need more evidence they will typically ask for it rather than dismiss your application outright, but I thought the offer was good to include.

Lastly, I told the case officer a little bit about ourselves and why we wanted the visa. For partner visas, this answer is pretty obvious–“we want to be together.” However, the little bit about you is a nice personal touch. You’ll tell more of your story in your relationship statements later on. I think it’s good to give the case officer a little taste of what they’ll be seeing and dealing with.

I hope that helps! If you have any questions about the Australian partner visa application process, check out the following links. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!

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