The Week: 8th – 14th October

Sunny spring days in Canberra.

This week started out gorgeous, had some weird weather in the middle, and involved a trip to the city to pick up my passport for my next trip!

Plus, there was a gorgeous (and very sweet) royal wedding to watch on Friday night (our time). I’m not into the royals usually, but this one…

How is October already half over? It’s nearly time to start thinking about Christmas!

Most of my posts this week were about sexual assault, and how the topic is handled (or dismissed in some quarters) in romance publishing. I’m utterly disgusted by recent events in the United States, and by how these things have an effect on women the world over.

Romance authors, misogyny, and conservative conversations about men.

Russian Orthodoxy – GONE!

China…

Books to Counter Kavanaugh – Easy by Tammara Webber

Books to Counter Kavanaugh – Breaking the Silence by Katie Allen

Books to Counter Kavanaugh – the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Books to Counter Kavanaugh – Breakable by Tammara Webber

Books to Counter Kavanaugh – Whispering Rock by Robyn Carr

Russian Orthodoxy – GONE!

ANDRIY BARANSKYY

The Lavra in Kyiv

In a centuries’ overdue move, and one that is going to lead to more Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Constantinople Patriarchate approved Ukraine’s split from the Russian Orthodox Church overnight. It is being called the biggest split in all of Christianity in a thousand years.

Russian Orthodoxy was forced on Ukrainians over several centuries, finishing with the forced conversion of my family’s Ukrainian Catholic villages in the west of the country when Churchill gifted the country to Stalin after the Second World War (thanks for that, Winston!).

What will happen now? Well, in anticipation of this move, the Russian military has already stepped up attacks in Ukraine’s east, with people being killed in record numbers again. It has to be understood that Russia’s Church – in the past decade or so – has become a weaponised political party that effectively runs the country, behind only Vladimir Putin.

Additionally, experts are predicting staged attacks on Russian churches, so that Putin can blame them on “fascist Ukrainians”, and attack and invade even more.

What I’m worried about is attacks on the thousand-year-old Orthodox monasteries and cathedrals in Ukraine, such as the Lavra complex in Kyiv. I sure hope they’ve stepped up security at those locations.

This move removes a major aspect of Russian colonialism from Ukraine.

I’m not sure why Russia never comes up alongside the likes of France and Britain and Spain in discussions about colonialism and cultural appropriation (because people think Russia is romantic?). The Russians were just as brutal as anybody else (see the Holodomor). And – unlike other nations – their behaviour is ongoing (see the annexation of Crimea, the invasion and occupation of eastern Ukraine, the ongoing invasion and occupation of one-fifth of Georgia, and the illegal occupation of Moldova).

The next few weeks are going to be chaotic for Eastern Europe.

The Week: 2nd – 8th February

Sunset Canberra City Australia 7th February 2015 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

Driving home in Canberra city last night.

Happy birthday to my mother for Tuesday and me yesterday!

I updated my recommended authors list this week.

Never, ever buy books from Australian booksellers if you can buy them overseas! Weeks ago I ordered two books from Australia and one from overseas (America) for my mother. The American one arrived before her birthday. I still haven’t seen the others. How can Australia Post be that bad…?? The shop is just down the road.

I was going through one of those phases: I’d read so many bad books in a row I didn’t know what to do! A sickeningly misogynistic new adult book. An adult contemporary romance written in first person, present tense, which was driving me crazy (‘I go here. I do this. I think that. I scream. I eat. He looks at me. We kiss. I. I. Me. I.’). I read a book set in Georgian England where everyone spoke like they were from 2015 New York.

But the end of the week came and I came across some more promising reads. I think the phase is over.

That strange “rule” about romance fiction never tackling anything serious

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline HunterOver the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

Religion in Romance

Kyiv Ukraine 2013 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

My review of Wagon Train Cinderella by Shirley Kennedy

Wagon Train Cinderella by Shirley Kennedy

My review of Surrender by Pamela Clare

Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers #1) by Pamela Clare

Scary 90s Romance

Romantic Times Magazine Cover July 1992 Fabio

Religion in Romance

Kyiv Ukraine 2013 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

Kyiv, Ukraine.

I read an opinion piece from a few months ago where it was discussed that belief systems (not necessarily religion per se) are often absent from secular romance fiction. Of course, the discussion that followed tended to ignore the “not necessarily religion” part and went into whether or not readers want to see characters in mainstream fiction as practicing Christians.

The Way Home by Cindy Gerard

Of course, there’s a real divide in attitudes about this. When I thought about it, for some reason we seem much more accepting of non-Christian characters practicing their religion in mainstream fiction. For example, in Cindy Gerard’s excellent The Way Home, there’re two female and two male leads. One of the women is from the Middle East, and her religion factors into her everyday life. I do think that it’s rarer to see Christianity threaded into mainstream fiction – though Gerard does have a book I’ve not yet read where the romantic hero wears a cross around his neck and apparently takes his religion as seriously as you can.

I have to admit, that US (as most contemporary romantic fiction is still US-based) romances featuring Christian characters tend to make me twitchy. It calls to mind people who support outlandish politics like the Legitimate Rape debacle and the Rape Babies are a Gift from God misogynist. It calls to mind homophobia and the like. Contemporary characters who practice their religion openly make me wonder if I could stand them in real life – and therefore if I even want to read about them and their happy ever after.

Is that a fair assumption to make? No. Especially not as only do I attend a Ukrainian Catholic church every so often, but I’m also an outspoken feminist who abhors homophobia.

One (Christian) person commented at the bottom of the article about their annoyance with reviews for a particular book: A Man to Hold on To.

A Man to Hold on To by Marilyn Pappano

Now, I’m pretty sure my review is one she was referring to. It was one of the first reviews out, and was posted on multiple sites. The commenter was upset that some of us disliked the Christian content in mainstream fiction, but in this case I do think it’s something I stand by. I don’t know if I can draw a line in the sand, but I felt the book crossed the line from mainstream fiction with religious characters into Christian romance.

A Man to Hold on To featured a heroine who read her Bible in the evenings. The characters – even children who were not the hero’s or the heroine’s – were made to pray before their meals. Yes, the book was set in a very conservative southern part of the United States, but it was also a hundred times more Christian than some of the Christian romances I’ve read – books that have been labelled as Christian romance. It distracted me.

The Wrangler's Inconvenient Wife (Wyoming Legacy #4) by Lacy Williams

I have enjoyed some Christian fiction. Immensely. Most of it is historical romance, however. Interestingly, most of it is set in the über-conservative parts of the United States that the modern books I don’t enjoy are set.

Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr

Christian characters can be done well without feeling preachy. Robyn Carr has a reverend as her romantic hero in Forbidden Falls. Though a few readers took issue with him having premarital sex, I found otherwise we were given a multifaceted, modern-day man whose profession just happens to involve his Christian faith.

I’m not exactly sure where the line between involving everyday aspects of a character’s life and turning your book into a fully-fledged religious romance is. I just know it when I see it. It’s quite normal for a lot of people from European cultures to incorporate religion in some way or another into their lives.

kyiv-ukraine-2013-sonya-heaney-oksana-heaney-1

Kyiv, Ukraine.

Many in my family are from small rural Ukrainian communities where the church is at the heart of the community, a custom that carried over to new countries when they became refugees and couldn’t return to Ukraine (thanks, Russia!). We have very progressive friends from Italy who still attend church, but their religion is a private thing for them, and not practiced as openly as praying before meals or studying religious texts.

My issue with Christian romance is that it’s all so black and white. Christian? No alcohol. Baddie? Perpetual drunk. (And by the way, that alcohol ban? Not a thing in most Christian societies!)  Christian? Save the children. Atheist? Child abuser. Such nonsense, and you can see why people who aren’t all that religious get defensive as soon as A Christian turns up on the page.

So I guess I have no problem with mainstream fiction characters having a religion. Where I start to become annoyed is when they’re the kind to start a sentence with, “As a Christian” and wield their Christianity as a giant sign they’re better people. Because they’re not.

The problem with Christian fiction

 

Harlequin Love Inspired Christian Historical Romance

Disclaimer: I have read and enjoyed Christian books. My frustration (and the frustration of many) comes from the fact there are so many rules about what is “correct” in the genre.

I was browsing the review book catalogue the other day and came across an odd entry. It was a Christian book – a romance of some sort – but the amateurish cover, strange blurb and the fact it was listed as being for Americans only (and with an exorbitant retail price) made me curious.

I ended up searching for the author and reading some of her blog. She linked to a Christian news site that ran a couple of articles about, basically, the fact Christian fiction is shooting itself in the foot with its evangelical-style rules around content. The author disagreed; I agree.

The first article.

Grace Bridges Christian Romance What's Wrong With Christian Fiction 1

The second.

No Swearing Please We're Christian

(If you have any respect for others, like you don’t believe in persecuting gay people, then don’t bother reading any other articles on the site! Also, the page does this weird thing where it reloads and jumps back to the top every so often – so you’d best read fast!)

Christian fiction was on my mind the other day, when the 2014 RITA Award finalists were announced. Inspirational (Christian) Romance is a category, and I find it a bit frustrating for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Why does one religion get its own category?
  • By “Christian” the publishers actually mean “American Protestant Evangelical Christian”. Nobody else, not even major Christian branches like Catholics, get a look-in.
  • A RITA is considered very prestigious. You can be a RITA winner only if you’re willing to follow the extremely tough and limited rules about what allegedly constitutes inspirational fiction.

Here is a quote from the second article, about the restrictions placed on Christian authors from Harlequin’s Christian imprint:

Grace Bridges Christian Romance What's Wrong With Christian Fiction

I’ve read a number of discussions on Christian fiction, and it always seems to come down to the idea that burying your head in the sand and pretending the real world doesn’t exist is the way to go. I’ve seen very tame children’s fiction stories written off as ‘demonic’ by people who read in this genre. It’s a brand of Christianity that is entirely foreign to me as an Australian. I grew up with Catholicism (Ukrainian on my mother’s side; Irish on my father’s) in my life, but nothing like this kind of extremism.

But then, I suppose that according to the publishers of Christian fiction, my brand of religion is too evil to even warrant a mention in their books!

Woman in Ireland dies after being denied life-saving abortion

Last month, a woman was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child. She was experiencing severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying the pregnancy.

A week later, she was dead.

Why? Because she ended up in a Catholic hospital, governed by an ethic that even a non-viable fetus doomed to die is more important than a living, breathing 31-year-old woman.

Read more:

HERE and HERE and HERE

And HERE. I cannot believe in this one the newspaper felt the need to stress she was married. What the holy hell is going on that a woman’s marital status is considered relevant in such a situation?

There is no denying that a lot of people in this world suck. None more so than those who use their religion to control and do horrible things to women.

This is one of the worst instances of this I have come across in a while. And, no, it’s not in some Third World country; it’s in the Republic of Ireland. How can politicians in America, in Australia, be so happy to demand things like this continue happening? How can women vote for this?!

You know what? I’m Christian – Catholic, to be precise. I can also see that a lot of things done in the name of Christianity are evil and wrong. I wish more Christians could think with their minds, not the science-free scaremongering they’re fed through church.