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

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: 5th – 11th December

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Here are three pictures of our AMAZING Canberra sunsets this week. I haven’t touched the pictures up; this is just what it looks like here in summer!

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It’s nearly Christmas, and I’m not getting anything done! It seems there’re a thousand people one has to have lunch with in December, which means I’ve spent more time hanging out in the city, or at pubs in various parts of town, than I have actually achieving stuff!

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Can we STOP talking about TIME Magazine like Hitler and Trump were the only monsters they picked, like Stalin and Putin weren’t also some of their “winners” who they named “Man” or “Person” of the Year?! Four maniacs, and TIME thinks it’s cute and cool to feature them like that. (The year after Putin was given the “honour”, he started invading countries – Georgia first.)

By the way: TIME only changed it from “Man” of the year to “Person” in 1999. That’s pretty disgusting. Only a few years ago…

 mogul-the-knickerbocker-club-3-by-joanna-shupe

I got my hands on a review copy of one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 this week, and no way was I waiting until next year to start it! I’m only 25% in now, and I love it, but I cannot understand why they have that female model in the terribly-fitted gown on the cover, when the heroine is supposed to be a stunning blonde…

However, READ THIS SERIES. It’s one of my favourites – ever. Even if the author thinks Stalin is a turn-on.

My review of Wrong Brother, Right Match (Anyone But You #3) by Jennifer Shirk

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My review of Charles Dickens by Karen Kenyon

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My review of The Hero (Sons of Texas #1) by Donna Grant

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There are book covers…

The Bite Before Christmas by Heidi Betts

Christmas Book Sculpture

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Book Christmas Trees

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Charles Dickens by Karen Kenyon

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Charles Dickens is one of the best-loved English novelists.

But who was the man behind the novels?

And how did his turbulent personal life contribute to his literary genius?

By the age of twelve Dickens was separated from his family when his father was sent to debtors’ prison. He was sent to work in a boot blacking factory, and had to live and walk the London streets alone.

He never recovered from the emotional wounds of those years, and when he began to write stories of the poor in London he included especially poignant characterisations of children.

He worked hard to change the way society viewed and empathised with the poor, and yet, despite these displays of kindheartedness, he could be heartless in his personal life.

He had strained relationships with his children and showed very little sympathy towards his depressed and lonely wife.

He was full of compassion, yet could also be a mass of contradictions.

Charles Dickens by Karen Kenyon

Despite living and working near the Charles Dickens Museum in London for a couple of years, I never got there. The more I read about Dickens’ personal life, the harder I find it to separate the books from the man.

Dickens is famous for his work helping the poor, but what is not as commonly known is that he was selfish and often cruel when it came to the people he should have cared about the most, and held a rather disturbing obsession with teen girls and very young women his entire life.

Karen Kenyon’s Charles Dickens is a detailed biography that shows Dickens as a complex and extremely contradictory man. A man who grew up in poverty and worked his way up to one of England’s most famous men, performing readings for the Queen and touring America more than once. (I found the part about his copyright woes in the US interesting.)

It is hard to make sense of a man who was loved by the public, but who blamed his wife for having too many babies – babies he was indifferent to – before leaving her for a teenaged lover when he was middle-aged.

Charles’ and Catherine’s last child was born that year…

…At the time of his birth, Dickens, with his characteristically cold response to the birth of his children, said, ‘on the whole I could have dispensed with him.’

This was a man who refused even to send his estranged wife a note of condolence when one of their children died.

Victorian England is a fascinating place, with a great deal of misery in the poorer classes that provided Dickens with subjects for his work. I think that the atmosphere of the time was described well in this book.

There is so much known about Dickens’ life, as well as more revealed about his secret life with his mistress (after it came to light in the twentieth century), that any biography is going to be heavy on the information. There is a lot of life to cover in detail, even considering he burnt two decades of his correspondence, and that there’re many unanswered questions about his thirteen-year affair.

I don’t think there was any way to present the man’s life than how it was done in this book, even if at times it was perhaps TOO fast with the facts to the point parts felt like a long list of dot points put in sentences.

Additionally, the copy I read had quite a few editing mistakes (and oddly switched back and forth between US and British English), but that was a minor issue.

It is hard to present both sides of such a complicated man – the good public one and the often cruel private one – with balance, but I think it was achieved.

Though this is a story of a man’s life, I think it is as much a story of how limited women’s options were in the nineteenth century.

I do wonder how a man with so much compassion for others could care so little about the most important people in his life.

This affair brought out all that was worst, all that was weakest in him. He did not care a damn what happened to any of us. Nothing could surpass the misery and unhappiness of our home.

One of Dickens’ daughters.

Overall, and despite my inability to get over my anger with a man who has been dead a long time(!), it was an interesting read.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Obituaries for Men

Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds, dies.

Author and neurophysiologist Colleen McCullough died last year, and apparently there was a big drama about her obituary, but for some reason I never heard about it until recently.

Why was there a drama?

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.

So, inspired by this *lovely* obituary, The Washington Post wrote some for famous male authors:

Charles Dickens: Definitely balding, with an increasingly visible comb-over and facial hair that looked like a sloth had crawled onto his face and died, nevertheless, this gentleman wrote a thing or two.

They could also have pointed out he blamed his wife for having too many babies, and then left her…

Read the rest here.