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.


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!


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


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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”.


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


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.

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

After what Laura Vennetti and her son have been through, she’s avoided all contact with the police. Then her son brings detective Ethan Winter into their lives. Despite how appealing – and gorgeous – he is, it’s safe to say Ethan isn’t her dream man…

Immediately, though, Laura can see how different he is from her late husband. Ethan is thoughtful, considerate and a good influence on her son. Add in the intense attraction between her and Ethan and the temptation to give in is irresistible. To her surprise, Laura feels the wounds of the past healing, making her wonder if she could love this cop forever.

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

This guy is supposed to be six-four, and attractive. I hate how they always use REALLY tall women and regular-sized men for their covers!

Well, this was brave!

You know, if any other author had written this book, I would have put it down after a few pages. It tackles some big, heavy, US-centric issues, and I know few people could have made it work. However, I love Janice Kay Johnson’s books, and so I made myself continue, and I’m glad I did.

This book is about US gun culture. That is the heart of the story. The heroine’s late-husband left his gun out, their little son accidentally killed someone with it, and then later the husband committed suicide. The sort of news headline that travels across oceans and even makes it onto television here.

How in the world do you write this story without upsetting half of America?! I think the author managed it.

I have never lived in a gun culture, and even coming from a military family, I do not know a single person who privately owns a gun or would ever consider buying one. Guns don’t factor into my existence, and so I look on things like gun shows and the NRA with total bewilderment.

I think this was a factual, unbiased representation of the situation. After all, major characters both own guns and teach gun safety classes, but guns are by no means glorified. It was as balanced as I think it could possibly have been.

On top of all the gun stuff, Johnson is just a plain good writer. She researches the bejesus out of her topics and can write people of all genders, ages and cultures convincingly. She writes realistic characters and believable romances. She has little nuances in their actions so they seem like real people, not creations from a book.

If there was one thing in this one I wasn’t so sure of, it was the way the heroine’s family did a total turnaround after years of heavy, horrible treatment, just because she spoke to them for thirty seconds. It was the only thing in the book I couldn’t believe in.

However, this was yet another good read by this writer.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Lady Vice by Wendy LaCapra

Lady Vice by Wendy LaCapra

Not every lady plays by the rules…

Lady Lavinia Vaile knows what happens to a woman who puts her faith in society. For her, it was a disastrous marriage to a depraved man—one she threatened to shoot when she left him. Now Lavinia lives outside of society’s strict conventions, hosting private gambling parties. It’s only when her husband is shot dead that Lavinia finds herself in terrible danger…

A former judge in India’s high court, Maximilian Harrison will do anything he can to help Lavinia. In the darkest of times, he held on to thoughts of her and the love they once shared. Now he risks his own position in society―along with his ambitions―in order to clear her name. Yet as desire reignites between them, Lavinia remains caught up in secrets and shame. Her only salvation is to do the unthinkable…and trust in both Maximilian and love.

Lady Vice by Wendy LaCapra

Wendy LaCapra is a promising new historical romance author who weaves lots of action and excitement into her story, but in the future I hope she will watch her Americanisms! Another one of those concept series where everyone’s in a secret society of some sort, the first book, Lady Vice seemed to be a really quick read. I felt that with so much going on and so many characters, it would have benefitted from being a longer book, taking place over a longer period of time. There’s a really interesting story here, but it happened too fast.

Set in the 1780s – love the Georgian era! – this book incorporates my favourite trope: the reunion romance. Our heroine was forced into an awful marriage that included sexual abuse and humiliation, while our hero has spent all this time thinking he was dumped for a better offer. When we meet our lead characters he is on his way to inform her not only has her husband been murdered, but she is a suspect.

As I said, this is a great story with a lot going on. However, the reunion happened over the space of a couple of days. There was no time for years of pain and misunderstanding to be dealt with. I would have liked a much longer timeframe for the story to be done justice.

And argh, but those Americanisms! The past participle of spit is spat. A full stop, not a period, ends a sentence. Too often the book used the modern American trend of dropping adverbs from sentences.

The history was well-researched but the language needed a lot more work.

My impression of this “first book” is that this is an author with great ideas and some solid research, and with a bit more work I think she could become an author I’d love to read.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Christmas Reads: Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Reviewed HERE

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

There’s always one case

The moment police Captain Colin McAllister sees her on TV he knows. She may call herself Nell Smith, but she is Maddie Dubeau – the girl who went missing from Angel Butte, Oregon, years ago. She’s haunted Colin, and now the adult version of her is so captivating, he can’t stay away. He wants to help her recover her memories – even solve her case – without crossing a professional line.
But distance becomes impossible when the threats against her escalate. It’s clear someone is determined that Nell never remembers what happened to Maddie. Colin must keep her safe so that he can finally bring her home to his home.