A visit to Charles Dickens’ house

Charles Dickens Doughty Street London Sonya Heaney February 2017

The view down Doughty Street.

Charles Dickens lived in many different places in his lifetime, but this house near my old home in Holborn, London is the one that has been turned into a museum about his life (and was recently – expensively – renovated).

Even though I lived and worked within a short walk of this house for a couple of years, I never actually visited. And so one chilly day at the end of February, on a short break in London on the way home from Italy, I marched from Covent Garden to pretty Doughty Street to finally pay a visit.

It is an interesting house in its own right, a recreation of middle class life in the Victorian era. I am not a fan of Dickens, the family man (or should I say, Dickens, the man who abandoned his family!), but there is no denying the impact he made on the world.

Naturally, the museum errs on the side of worship, rather than presenting some of the less savoury facts about his life beyond his books.

Dickens’ writing desk.

This is the bedroom where his teenaged sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, died unexpectedly. Dickens had a rather unhealthy obsession with this girl and her “purity”, which would carry over to a fascination with other very young women throughout his life.

The Enterprise and The Dolphin Red Lion Street London February 2017 Sonya Oksana Heaney Holborn Pubs

And, of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to my old home – Red Lion Street!

The Week: 13th – 19th March

What you see above are two shots driving home – Jugiong to Canberra – from the book festival yesterday evening (obviously the second picture was taken before the first one – the sun was setting as we drove). This whole section of Australia looks like this: dry, yellow, bright light.

So, I spent Saturday afternoon  moderating at the wonderful, friendly Jugiong Writers Festival. I was stunned that a book festival in a country town could pull in both so many celebrities, and SUCH big crowds. It was a little bit intimidating!

The wonderful book launch at the end of the day (with essential, free sparkling wine!) was a nice bonus.

Also – they have a GREAT pub! I’ve already planned a weekend trip back with my brother and his partner.

I stole a couple of pictures from Sulari Gentill’s Facebook page.

Here is the worst photograph ever, of me (and also Margareta Osborn), looking like we want to murder each other. It was put online by ABC reporter Pip Courtney. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it!

(That weird stripe across my face is actually the pot plant next to me!)

Autumn light on Friday evening in Canberra.

Thursday evening.

Finnish Ski Troops in 1940

Monday was the anniversary of the end of the Winter War, when Moscow decided to randomly invade Finland and steal regions of their country while the world was distracted by Hitler. (Anything about this situation seem relevant to 2017 – just change Finland to Ukraine and Hitler to Trump!). The Kremlin’s hybrid warfare tactics then are near-identical to what they are currently doing to their neighbours.

History is constantly running on repeat.

My review of Someone to Hold (Westcott #2) by Mary Balogh

My review of Seven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3) by Eloisa James

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Follow-up on Mem Fox

Happy Canberra Day!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

I have an Irish surname, so…

For St Patrick’s Day, here are some books I can think of with an Irish main character, or are actually set in Ireland:

The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters book 4) by Anne Gracie

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

IGNORE the AWFUL cover and trashy title! It’s a very good book.

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Secrets in Scarlet by Erica Monroe

Secrets in Scarlet (Rookery Rogues Book 2) Erica Monroe

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

Finally: If you want a book with a hero who came from Ireland centuries ago, you could always try this very popular vampire read!

Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian

Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian

Someone to Hold (Westcott #2) by Mary Balogh


Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery…

With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.

An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead…

Someone to Hold (Westcott #2) by Mary Balogh

Since discovering – VERY belatedly! – how talented a writer Mary Balogh is with the first book in this Westcott family series, I have been waiting anxiously for the second instalment.

I was VERY surprised when I discovered the heroine of the next book was Camille, the half-sister of the heroine of book one. In the first book she discovers that she isn’t, in fact, the legitimate daughter of an earl, and when her illegitimacy is discovered she reacts very badly (understandably), loses her fiancé, and refuses to have anything to do with her newly-discovered sister.

She is not a particularly likeable person and the author makes certain we know it.

However, there is much more to her than that, and I was excited to see how Balogh had her grow and change into a worthy heroine over the course of the book. As one of her relatives observes, while also noticing how she is changing:

‘I do not believe anyone really likes Camille.’

Someone to Hold takes place not in London, but entirely in the spa town of Bath. Camille is trying to understand who she is now she is not Lady Camille, and she takes a job at the orphanage where her half-sister grew up. There, she meets her sister’s best friend, Joel, the art teacher, and he takes an instant dislike to her.

This is no ordinary orphanage; it’s the sort of establishment where aristocrats dump their illegitimate kids and then pay for them to stay hidden.

Of course, things change over the course of the book, and I really appreciated the difficulties the two characters went through to reach a point where they fell in love.

This is a very different type of Regency romance to many. Instead of a heroine rising up to get everything she could ever have wanted, she has to learn to be a commoner, and find out who she is when she isn’t titled and extraordinarily rich.

The aristocrats are on the fringes of the story still, as they publicly recognise Camille, her sister, and their mother. So there’s still a touch of the rich and sparkly people. This series is, after all, all about family.

One thing I really loved was the orphanage setting – this came as a surprise.

The children are written realistically, and there is one little girl whose evolution as a character is as complex as Camille’s. She also starts off as an unlikeable character, and I loved seeing how that changed. Some scenes are a little heartbreaking.

Joel, our hero, also grew up in the orphanage (he discovers his origins over the course of the book), and it was great seeing him interact with the children.

Mary Balogh writes books with “more” in them. It is amazing how some authors can fit a complex story into the same word count where others simply give us people romping from ballroom to ballroom.

What fascinates me the most about this series is how imperfect the characters are. The hero of the last book was small, full of affectations, not at all the way romance heroes ever are – and also a very powerful duke. This heroine? Even her family has their doubts about her at the start, but she is memorable and tries very hard to become someone different. I never thought I’d be so engrossed in such unconventional characters.

I am impatiently waiting for the next book.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Seven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3) by Eloisa James

Seven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3) by Eloisa James

All of Eugenia Snowe’s problems start when Edward Reeve, an arrogant bastard son of an earl, bursts into her registry office. He wants a governess and he wants her. She gives him the governess he demands, but she refuses to give herself.

No question that Eugenia enjoys crossing wits with the brilliant inventor, but she will never tarnish her reputation with an affaire, particularly with a man who doesn’t realise she’s a lady!

She holds her ground…until he kidnaps her.

Ward will stop at nothing to convince Eugenia that they’re meant to be together. He promises her heaven.

She gives him seven minutes.

Seven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3) by Eloisa James

I don’t understand the “Desperate Duchesses” name for this series. Nobody is desperate, nor is anybody a duchess!

There is no question that Eloisa James can write beautifully, and that her characterisations (particularly for the child characters) are fantastic. This was my first Eloisa James book, and I will seek out more of her work, but Seven Minutes in Heaven didn’t work that well for me for a number of reasons.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book. On one hand, all I could think after reading the blurb was: Will this fad for governess agency stories EVER end?!

On the other hand, Eloisa James is one of the best-known names in the historical romance genre, and I knew that had to be for a reason. I figured that if anyone was going to manage to interest me in yet another governess agency story, it was probably her.

You never know when starting with a new HR author what end of the spectrum they’ll land on. Light and fluffy? Dark and serious? I found James to be towards the lighter end, but what grounded her work were her more complex characterisations. In fact, the characters I liked the best were the hero’s two much younger half-siblings.

Children in books can be disastrous, or sickly sweet. I thought the various quirks and insights from these two kids made them fascinating, rather than annoying (I know I’m not alone in being wary of “romance novel children”).

Unfortunately, though, there are some standards of behaviour that, when broken in historical romance novels, I can’t overlook. Hero and heroine openly – and frequently! – discuss sex while they are in public places and surrounded by members of the aristocracy. It was a little obscene, and people today wouldn’t have such inappropriate public conversations.

And then when the characters blatantly referenced Fifty Shades of freaking Grey, the magic was broken for me. I don’t want that sort of thing in my books ever, but especially not in historical fiction.

To be honest, by the 30% mark I was a bit bored.

What surprised me a lot was the fact there were so many obvious Americanisms. This is, after all, a prolific author of fiction set in England. For example, it was incredible that neither author nor editor is aware the season after summer is AUTUMN, not “the fall”.

I don’t think this was the best introduction to Eloisa James’ work, and I will try another book. She is clearly a brilliant writer, but this was not the book for me.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 6th – 12th March

Bright Blue Sky Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Autumn 6th March 2017

First day back home. Blue sky, sunshine, summer temperatures – and half a new deck!

We went to Canberra’s Enlighten festival last night. The national buildings (National Library – above, National Science and Technology Centre, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House etc.) are lit up. There are also bars and food stalls and opera performances and a whole lot of things.

I will find some better pictures tomorrow.

This possum has moved in (not our first one, but the smallest so far), right outside my bedroom window. The night-time fights with other animals kept me awake all night a few nights ago!

It has been absolutely gorgeous in Canberra this week. Temperatures up around thirty degrees, bright blue skies, sunshine. It feels more like summer than autumn most of the time.

Chris Miller 11th March 2017 Russia invaded Ukraine

A timely reminder from a very respected journalist in Europe.

A Ukrainian woman is behind bars in the United Arab Emirates at the moment because doctors found out she is pregnant to her fiancé. They are “testing” her to find out how long she has been sexually active, which sounds like an appalling abuse of a woman’s basic rights.

You’re not allowed to have premarital sex in the UAE, and women are imprisoned for reporting rapes. Please be aware that just because Dubai and Abu Dhabi look shiny and tourists love them doesn’t mean it isn’t an Islamic country with some terribly restrictive laws – especially for women.

I have to travel through there are few more times this year, and I really wish I wasn’t. Qantas sends their flights through there a lot now, and codeshares with Emirates, which is one of the worst airlines I have ever experienced.

Also on my list of “things that annoyed me this week”, this article:

Pope may allow married Catholic men as priests

The reason it annoys me? Ukrainian Catholic men – married, soon to be married, planning to be married – have ALWAYS been able to become priests. For centuries. Most of the priests I’ve ever known have been married – with children.

This is allegedly such a groundbreaking idea, but once again people totally ignore the fact this is already, and always has been, a thing.

Nobody knows anything about Ukraine, but you’d think a journalist or two might mention this extremely relevant fact!

And then there’s:

Muhammad Ali’s son detained at US airport for second time

He’s a flipping US citizen! What is wrong with Trump’s version of America??!

My review of Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn

My review of Devil in Spring (Ravenels #3) by Lisa Kleypas

My review of A Temporary Family by Sherri Shackelford

Patricia Briggs’ New Book

Excuse me, cover designers…

Ukraine offers free metro rides for poetry buffs

Taras Shevchenko (centre) died in St Petersburg in 1861, after a long period of exile imposed by the Russian authorities

The metro in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, is offering free rides to people who can recite a poem by Taras Shevchenko.

Shevchenko died in exile in Russia after being convicted of using the Ukrainian language in his work (the Imperial Russians seriously disliked people using their native languages).

Ukraine has a massive literary heritage – some of “Russia’s” most famous literary figures are actually Ukrainian.

I cannot imagine this poetry-for-free-trains idea working in most countries! One article about it is here:

Free metro rides for Kiev poetry buffs

(One day – probably in about 1600 years – the Western media will catch up with post-Soviet Eastern Europe and start calling Ukraine’s capital city KYIV instead of “Kiev”!)