The Week: 20th – 26th March

Canberra’s sky this week.

We started the week so well! Temperatures in the 30s, sunny days. And then the rain hit. It’s so odd to have rain in Canberra at all, let alone a number of days in a row.

Friday evening.

The first Formula One race of the year is on in Melbourne this weekend, and it is the first time in about a decade I haven’t gone. We gave up our (crazy-expensive) premium seats after the race last year. The corruption in the sport was a real turn-off. Little did anyone know that new managers would sweep in and fire sleazy, misogynistic, Putin-loving boss Bernie Ecclestone soon afterwards!

However, all those thousands once spent on the F1 can now go to more trips to Europe!

There is something stirring in Belarus. If there’s one country in Europe people care even less about than Ukraine, it’s their neighbour. On Saturday there were protests; there’ve been mass arrests in Minsk – demonstrators and journalists alike (it is estimated about one thousand people were arrested); the riot police were out in force. The country’s opposition leader was arrested shortly before the protests began, and one woman was even put in a mental hospital for daring to protest.

This is Soviet-level stuff.

It looks like the stirrings of the 2013-14 revolution in Ukraine. Frightening, but important.

in other news, this story (below) yesterday was… even after reading it, I still don’t understand:

Naked demonstrators kill sheep under Auschwitz gates

Estonian children in a forced settlement in Siberia in 1952.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the beginning of the Kremlin’s mass deportation of 90 000 Baltic people (mostly women and children). They were sent to forced settlements in inhospitable parts of Russia, and most were never able to return.

I was on Westminster Bridge only three or so weeks ago (the photo above is from this month). The terror attack this week was… not unexpected. Sadly, I’m surprised it has been so long since something like this happened in London.

Some people have been saying: ‘Why should we care so much about London? How about (insert world conflict here)?’

Um… as if anybody cares about Yemen etc. any other day of the week! I wish they did!

People are allowed to care about London AND other things!

However, while everyone was distracted by London, Russia did some absolutely awful things in Ukraine this week. They assassinated a Russian Putin critic in the middle of Kyiv in broad daylight. They blew up the Ukrainian army’s biggest and most important munitions factory (the image above), heavily hampering their ability to fight the invasion. They killed more people in their war.

^^^^

This is an amazing – and funny – account mocking Putin, and if you have Twitter, you should follow it. Last year, the Kremlin actually bribed Twitter to ban it for a while – so much for freedom of speech! So they deserve support.

It seems bizarre that this week the US and the UK decided to put bans on electronics on aeroplanes, citing the need to stop terror attacks. The following day, a home-grown terrorist committed the London attack – without a Kindle, a laptop, a camera, OR a plane. Me not being able to take my Kindle when I fly through the Middle East twice more this year sure didn’t stop what happened in Westminster.

Travel is becoming exhausting. The ridiculous liquids ban on international flights was meant to have been lifted years ago. Instead, here we all are, still carrying lip gloss in little ziplock bags for no particular reason, and now we can’t even read a book during our flight!

I had to go through airport security FIVE times just to get home a few weeks ago. I wish there was a way I could do aeroplane-free travel, but it’s a bit of a problem, living on an island!

O-kay… I think the ranting is done for the moment.

Jugiong Writers’ Festival last weekend.

My review of The Prodigal Son (A Rowland Sinclair Novella) by Sulari Gentill

RITA Nominees Announced

A Visit to Charles Dickens’ House

Romance without feminism is no longer an option.

Monday Randomness

The Prodigal Son (A Rowland Sinclair Novella) by Sulari Gentill

The Prodigal Son (A Rowland Sinclair Novella) by Sulari Gentill

1928

After eight years abroad, Rowland Sinclair has come home
to a house he hates, and a city which seems conservative
… and dull.

He longs to return to the bright lights of Europe.
Until an old friend persuades him to join Sydney Art School.

There, under the tutelage of the renowned Julian Ashton, Rowland learns to paint and finds himself drawn into the avant-garde world of Sydney’s artistic set.

But murder rears its ugly head and Rowland must decide who his friends really are.

This book can be (legally!) downloaded for free here:

The Prodigal Son (A Rowland Sinclair Novella) by Sulari Gentill

When you come across a really well-written piece of historical fiction, you realise how superficially “historical” some of your reads have been.

Author Sulari Gentill captures late 1920s (and the 1930s in her later books) Australia in way that makes you really feel as if you’re there. It’s honestly not an era I’m all that familiar with, even though it is the decade all of my grandparents were born in (but seeing as half of them were born in Ukraine…).

This story is apparently a “gift” from the author to the fans of her Rowland Sinclair series that mixes crime with politics and people in a transitional era for the world. It takes place before the series proper begins, and if I was familiar with these characters beforehand I think this would have been great fun to read. Not that I didn’t really enjoy it, but there’s nothing better than a strong author writing backstories for established, favourite characters.

I really appreciated the dialogue and the interactions between the people involved. To me, at least, I find the 1920s and 30s the period of time between “the past” and the “modern” world, and I think that is captured perfectly here. It’s an old, different era, but the contemporary one is beginning to emerge.

I get the impression from other reviews that this novella is not as heavy on the crime as some of the full length books are, but this wasn’t a problem for me as I went into it with no expectations. Gentill clearly knows how to construct a story so that it builds and builds.

I will have to seek out more instalments in this series, especially as they take place in areas familiar to me. So often I read historical fiction set overseas, and this was an interesting change.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

kerry-greenwood-miss-fishers-mysteries-books

I have seen exactly ten minutes of one episode of the television adaptation of this series, but now find myself the unexpected owner of a bunch of Miss Fisher books.

Set in Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s, the show turned out to do fairly well overseas, which surprised me a bit (in the parts I’ve seen, there are some VERY heavy Australian accents in there!). However, the costumes look gorgeous:

miss-fishers-murder-mysteries-tv-series

Has anybody read these? I have no idea when I’ll find time to, but I figure I’d better at least try one!

Goodbye, 2016.

Good stuff first, because when I get to thinking back on the year I realise I was sick or injured for much of 2016 (more of that near the end), and unfortunately Putin and Trump still exist!

One good thing: I did quite a lot of travel this year, both nationally and internationally.

IMG_20160607_173230

One of the houses we rented in Southern Italy. Having breakfast and then evening swims there, on a massive property just for us…? A definite highlight of my travels in recent years. Especially after two months of being sick and injured!

Cool things happened, like the fact we accidentally ended up in Spello in Italy during one of the country’s most famous festivals – the Infiorate, where they decorate the entire town with flower petal designs, and well over a hundred-thousand people attend. And we were there by accident, staying in a building that is actually a tourist attraction and part of the event (we didn’t know that when we booked, either!). So odd to be eating breakfast and having tourists coming in with their cameras!

IMG_20160424_173606

Beautiful Lviv, Ukraine. What a pity I was extremely sick for this whole visit!

regular-ssoldiers-lviv-ukraine-sonya-heaney-2016

Hanging out with soldiers in Lviv. They were on a few days’ leave from the war for Easter, and then heading straight back to the warzone. It’s Ukrainian Easter, as you can see by the giant Easter egg in front of the Opera House!

IMG_20160514_131630

Memorials to Ukrainians killed by pro-Russian and actual Russian snipers in the 2013-2014 revolution in Kyiv. The snipers were above the big clock on the ground, and near those trees, and they shot dozens of unarmed civilians.

Building the memorial to the Ukrainians killed by pro-russian and russian dsnipers in Kyiv. Sonya Heaney OKsana. 2016.

More memorials to the dead (it is just being set up in this picture; the Canadian Prime Minister visited soon after). There were also snipers in the hotel on the right of the picture. The brown, wooden, traditional Ukrainian church at the back of the picture is new – part of the memorial – and they had a collection for the war.

vKmLZIug

Plus, Ukraine shocked everyone and won Eurovision while I was in Kyiv – which means Moscow is VERY upset and threatening a boycott for 2017. The winner is a Crimean Tatar who absolutely considers herself Ukrainian.

And literal cool stuff happened: Europe had a shocking summer, which meant we got snow both in our month in Ukraine AND in our month in Italy. It was an interesting “summer” trip!

Rex

Gorgeous, SOFT Rex. I miss him very much!

As I seem to every year now, I had some unexpected animal experiences. Rex and Trixie, two gorgeous cats, moved in next door to be looked after by our neighbours for a year, and for months there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t wake up with Rex sleeping on top of me (the strangest one was being sound asleep and dreaming about something weird and heavy on my stomach, only to lift the covers and find someone else’s cat sound asleep there!).

Rex Burmese Cat Cute

You can literally SEE how soft he is!

I’ve spent the past few years looking after stray cats – and now these cats – but I’m still yet to have a cat of my own. It would be irresponsible when we travel so much.

sonyaheaneyhungry-magpie-visitor-magpie-canberra-australiananimals-bird-australia-spring-funny-cute-cbr-9th-september-2016

Of course, there were also all our crazy native, wild birds who adopt us every spring and summer. Australian magpies (not the same birds as magpies overseas) live for two to three decades, and they think we are part of their family. If I leave my bedroom curtains open they stand there and stare and sing and bash their beaks on the window at me from about 5:30am, to try and get me up to give them a snack.

And – despite all the racism and anti-immigration sentiment in the world at the moment – my cousin’s Turkish fiancé was granted his Australian residency, which meant they could finally marry.

Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney Mia Jacyshyn Nadia's Wedding. Sydney Australia 6th August 2016.

Hanging out after the wedding on Sydney Harbour (duh!). Me, my mother, and one of my aunts.

Even if most elections in the world (USA, Brexit, and Australia’s federal election, for example) all took a sharp turn to the extremist, far-right, at least here in Canberra we voted for sanity and progression. There don’t seem to be many places left in the world where that is the case. It’s the 1930s again, with the fascist attitudes just before the Second World War on the rise again, and nobody seeming to care.

act-canberra-election-labor-party-victory-abc-news-15th-october-2016

Me being excited and taking a BAD picture of the TV on Canberra’s election night.

Here, the “Liberal” Party is actually our right-wing, conservative party. Our country is weird. And we spell it “Labor” instead of Labour because more than a century ago some US politician came here and told us we have to use American English if we want to be progressive. And so we did…

Andrew Barr is one of the few openly gay political leaders… well, anywhere, as far as I know. I am proud to be from Canberra when most of Australia is so fascist these days.

I AM thoroughly tired of voting, however. It is compulsory here, and so I have been voting, or been spammed by politics, all year. Even on our trip to Italy they were campaigning for the local elections, and I got caught up in it!

Now, the BAD stuff…

People have called 2016 “the worst year ever”, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. It was a terrible year for people in English-speaking countries who aren’t fans of fascism, but for the people really suffering in the world at the moment, it all began long before this year. The war in Syria has been going a long time. Russia invaded Ukraine 2.5 years ago, and there were already millions of refugees (including in my own family) long before the year began. It’s old news now, but people never care until it is all about THEM, and 2016 was the year bad stuff touched the countries people consider to “matter”.

3rd-debate-putin-and-trump-together

However, what a frightening year! I’m thoroughly sick of the whole topic of Trump, Putin and all their cronies. People are becoming more misogynistic, bigoted, and racist. People are becoming more selfish, and care nothing at all for anybody beyond their own countries’ borders.

But hey – I’ve been saying that for years!

Norcia Italy Sonya Oksana Heaney June 2016

norcia-earthquake-destruction-30th-october-2016

Poor Norcia, before and after earthquakes. It is one of my favourite places in the world, and now it is destroyed (the top picture is mine, from June this year.)

What makes me sad about 2016 is the destruction. The natural disasters. I am starting to think I’m a curse on famous landmarks around the world. I was in Christchurch in New Zealand right before the city was destroyed in an earthquake. Before that, (though this one isn’t a natural disaster), I was living in Korea right before a madman burnt down their most famous landmark, the Namdaemun gate, a place I visited about every second weekend.

And now? All those earthquakes that destroyed the centre of Italy happened in all the places I visited this year.

2016 wasn’t all bad, but it seems as though my months in Ukraine and Italy happened years ago, not months ago. My family in Ukraine is suffering very badly, and the older ladies in the family are sick or have just died. The Russian invasion continues.

The more I think about it, the more I remember I was badly sick and/or injured for almost the whole year, from a dislocated knee in Sydney, to a broken hand in Italy, to a ruptured eardrum that left me deaf for the whole month I was in Ukraine, to a terrible disease (the Kremlin is importing illnesses into Ukraine as part of their warfare), where I literally could not speak AT ALL for weeks – that made meeting strangers fun (and at a few points it was incredibly embarrassing)! Plus, I had some painful eye problems (my eyesight is so weak, and my contact lens prescription so strong, that optometrists just about have a heart attack every time I go to a new person). Then on top of all of that I’ve started eating a gluten-free diet because I was becoming nauseous and faint from eating like a regular person. I miss all my favourite foods and drinks!

What a mess! I sound like a drama queen…

I guess the best word to describe 2016 is “dramatic”. Or maybe even “melodramatic”. I think we all learnt a few upsetting, hard truths about our fellow humans. From the neo-Nazi murdering Jo Cox – and it still not having any influence over the Brexit result, to the Russian football hooligans who went on violent and murderous rampages in France, to the terror attacks pretty much everywhere, to the fact so many millions of Americans who disrespect women so much they voted for “grab her by the pussy”, this year we learnt that the average human being isn’t as decent as we’d hoped they were.

I’d like to say 2017 will be better, but I’m not so sure about that… I do wonder where all these monsters are, however. Because, from the people I see regularly at my favourite cafés and bars, to the American tourists I met in Italy who are ashamed of Trump (including those from Republican states), I seem to mostly meet decent people. Where is this silent majority ruining it for the rest of us??

Apprentice In Death

How in the world did J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) get to book #43 in her In Death series? Wow! I haven’t read that many books in this (futuristic with a strong relationship at the centre) crime series, but what I’ve read, I’ve really liked.

Anybody still reading? I hear that she is one author who can actually keep the quality of her series going for this long.

Apprentice In Death (In Death #43) is out now.

Apprentice in Death (In Death #43) by J.D. Robb

Lieutenant Eve Dallas returns in a fast-paced new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author J. D. Robb.
 
Nature versus nurture…
 
The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.

Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD, but never one like this. After reviewing security videos, it becomes clear that the victims were killed by a sniper firing a tactical laser rifle, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the locations where the shooter could have set up seem endless, the list of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.

Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil…

 

Just because it’s funny…

I have mixed feelings about Death Comes to Pemberley (glorified Pride and Prejudice fan fiction that was adapted into a miniseries). The casting was pretty weird, and oh, the anachronisms!

However I generally liked this version of Mr Darcy, but now I’ve seen this utterly bizarre picture that makes his head look deformed, I might be changing my mind!

I know historically accurate hairstyles can be funny, but even so!

Death Comes to Pemberley

Northern Heat by Helene Young

Northern Heat by Helene Young  by Helene Young

In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is living under an assumed name and rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and a chance to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark.

After tragedy tore her family apart, Kristy fled to Cooktown with her feisty teenage daughter, Abby. She hoped being part of the small community would help them both heal, but Abby’s sports coach is turning out to be a compelling distraction. When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger in Cooktown. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.

Northern Heat by Helene Young by Helene Young

It sounds odd, but the thing that really struck me about this book is how well-structured it is. The information comes out gradually, but not too gradually. Characters are introduced as they need to be, but the story never seems crowded with them. Writing this kind of crime/suspense/romance book can be tricky because it is hard to find the right balance. So few authors do.

From a technical point of view, I’m sure this is Helene Young’s best book so far. Another great thing about this author is that she uses settings that she knows and clearly loves. It’s not possible for an author to always use places they have been to (Middle Eastern warzones, for example!), but you can always tell when someone is using a setting they care about and haven’t just looked up on Google.

There is a mature romance at the centre of this book. Not that the characters are old, but that they’re grounded, and have realistic backgrounds, and know a thing or two about life. Reading about them really illustrates how unrealistic a lot of characters in other books are. I think there are a few Australian authors around at the moment who approach their characters as people rather than “romance novel people”. It makes a difference.

Young writes books that are a good balance of all the elements of a suspense story with strong romantic elements. I never feel like the romance is getting in the way of the plot, and I never feel like the plot is getting in the way of the romance. Because of that, I think this is the sort of romantic fiction that appeals to a wider audience.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.