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.

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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

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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??

Best of 2016

I get the impression I’m missing out on a lot of good books in my attempts to keep up with my review books! However, I did get to read some fantastic books by some of my favourite authors this year.

Yet again, I read more historical fiction than I intended to. I wonder if this is something that will ever change!

In no particular order, here are my favourite reads of 2016:

Marrying Winterborne (Ravenels #2) by Lisa Kleypas

Marrying Winterborne (2016) by Lisa Kleypas

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Baron (The Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

Baron (The Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

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

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

How to Rescue a Rake (Book Club Belles Society #3) by Jayne Fresina

How to Rescue a Rake (Book Club Belles Society #3) by Jayne Fresina

Sister of Mine: A Novel by Sabra Waldfogel

Sister of Mine A Novel by Sabra Waldfogel

Kiss, Kiss, Bark! by Kim Williams Justesen

(Yes, I enjoyed this Middle Grade book enough to buy a copy after finishing my ARC!)

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The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

Tycoon (The Knickerbocker Club 0.5) by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon (The Knickerbocker Club 0.5) by Joanna Shupe

The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

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The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen

The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen mills and Boon Cover

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Someone to Love (Westcott #1) by Mary Balogh

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Plus, one that isn’t out until next month, but I have already read and enjoyed:

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The week: 25th – 31st July

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Saturday sunset in Canberra.

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On Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra yesterday afternoon.

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Friday’s sunset in Canberra – taken on my blurry old camera.

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The sky two hours before the sunset above!

Flags fly at half-mast at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics after two were killed and 111 injured in a bombing for an anti-abortion and anti-gay agenda.

This week marked the twentieth anniversary of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics – when a man went and blew up Olympic Park because he didn’t want women to have abortions. Seriously. Ugh.

Cat missing for eight years found 280 miles away in Paris Cat missing for eight years found 280 miles away in Paris Moon Uint

My favourite story of the week. This cat went missing in London eight years ago, and turned up as a stray in PARIS.

Now Google is on Putin's payroll. They have redone Google Maps to change Ukrainian place names into the Russian names. Crimea.

Now Google is on Putin’s payroll. They have redone Google Maps to change Ukrainian place names into Soviet Russian names. This is just… sickening. Is there anyone Moscow isn’t capable of buying? If it was anywhere other than Ukraine, the world would care.

Ukrainian GYmnast Lilia Podkopayeva 1995 World Champion 1996 Olympic Champion

Back when gymnastics was gorgeous! Actual artistic gymnastics. That’s the 1996 Olympic champion.

I am not at all excited about the upcoming Olympics. So many drug cheats. So many other issues with the venue. The Australian part of the athletes’ village just caught on fire, and then they were robbed while they were being “saved”!

The maintenance staff were smoking (the village is allegedly a non-smoking location). The Brazilian officials turned off the fire alarms, so…

And the sport I have been following (and was for a while, very closely involved with) my whole life – gymnastics – I am not that interested in anymore. The sport is supposed to be artistic gymnastics, but now it’s just not. This former ballet dancer thinks gymnastics is an ugly, messy sport these days (thank you, new scoring system that pushes big, poorly executed tricks over technique or finesse!).

Anyway, I thought I’d get my Olympics-related rant out now, before the competition begins! 🙂

The anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

PrideundprejudicePoster for the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice.

So – how did they go?

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

My review of Willow Springs (Destiny Series #5) by Toni Blake

Willow Springs (Destiny Series #5) by Toni Blake

My review of Good For You by Tammara Webber

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My review of Taming the Highland Rogue (The MacLerie Clan #4.6) by Terri Brisbin

Taming the Highland Rogue (The MacLerie Clan #4.6) by Terri Brisbin

So – how did they go?

 I have finished all of the books I listed or discussed as my most anticipated reads of 2016. It was never a comprehensive list, as I tend to read what comes up for review rather than keep track of favourite authors’ newer releases.

Now I have read all of those I mentioned either here or separately – was I disappointed? Not really. Even though I was excited about all of the books below, some I was aware were going to be a little bit of a let-down; it was the series rather than the individual book I was excited about.

There were some great reads, however.

Now, what books are being released in the second half of the year that I have forgotten all about?!

Review: Marrying Winterborne (Ravenels #2) by Lisa Kleypas

Marrying Winterborne (2016) by Lisa Kleypas

Review: Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Review: One with You (Crossfire #5) by Sylvia Day

One With You by Sylvia Day

Review: The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

Review: The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters #4) by Anne Gracie

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

Review: Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9) by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9) by Patricia Briggs International Cover

Review: The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux (Lords of Disgrace #3) by Louise Allen

The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux (Lords of Disgrace #3) by Louise Allen UK Cover

Review: The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen

The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen mills and Boon Cover

Excited about in 2016

I used to be much more on top of upcoming releases, and followed a lot more series religiously. However, with all the review books now I tend to just take what is offered. I’m out of the loop more now I blog so much than when I wasn’t!

So, this is by no means a comprehensive list of what’s coming up this year. It’s just a few books I thought of…

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas

 Marrying Winterborne (2016) by Lisa Kleypas

The first book in this series created a fantastic secondary relationship and then left us hanging! When the book finished, their engagement had been broken off.

I don’t know how I will stand the wait to read the rest of the story. Lisa Kleypas is and always has been (since I started reading the genre) one of my favourite authors.

One With You by Sylvia Day

 One With You by Sylvia Day

True, the last book wasn’t… good… but I discovered this series less than a year ago, and so binge read them all and became a little obsessed. This is the final book in this entertaining series about an obsessive relationship.

However, if the author impregnates Eva, I’m going to be seriously annoyed!

The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

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

This is the conclusion to a fantastic series. Each book so far has been really good, but I do think this is one of those series you should read in order.

Anne Gracie’s mix of light and fun and the occasional dark moment makes her one of the most entertaining authors around.

Taking Fire by Cindy Gerard

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Cindy Gerard is the author who made me fall in love with romantic suspense. I am not up to date with this series, but I certainly excited about this book!

The Wicked Duke by Madeline Hunter

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

The third in a series I absolutely LOVED in 2015, Madeline Hunter has never once disappointed me with her books. She’s one of those rare authors who captures the era and makes you believe her characters really live there.

The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux by Louise Allen

His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish by Louise AllenHis Christmas Countess (Lords of Disgrace #2) by Louise Allen

I really love this series. I’m a big fan of Louise Allen, but this series in particular has been really great, in my opinion.