Recently Reread: Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

When Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, leaves her Aunt Merriweather’s comfortable English estate to join her father and brother in the remote mountain village of Paradise on the edge of the New York wilderness, she does so with a strong will and an unwavering purpose: to teach school. It is December of 1792 when she arrives in a cold climate unlike any she has ever experienced. And she meets a man different from any she has ever encountered — a white man dressed like a Native American, tall and lean and unsettling in his blunt honesty. He is Nathaniel Bonner, also know to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

As someone who had a very healthy(!) obsession with The Last of the Mohicans after the movie came out, it felt like Christmas morning when – years ago – my aunt handed me her copy of a book she’d just read: Into the Wilderness.

It was like reading the movie, but the – lengthy – book gave me so many more hours of entertainment. I remember not being able to put it down, to the extent I completely stopped studying for my university exams so that I could finish it!

The good thing about putting a book aside for a few years before picking it up again is that so much of it feels new during a reread. I enjoyed it just as much this time round.

Author Sara Donati has done some incredible research to recreate Georgian-era colonial America, especially when it comes to the Native American characters and cultures. The wild setting means the book is one big adventure from start to finish, an adventure we see through the eyes of the English heroine, for whom the world she now lives in is as new as it is for the reader.

Music-Less Historical Romances

Having recently gone on a bit of a period drama-rewatching spree, something has occurred to me: there’s almost never any music in historical romance books.

In fact, the new fad is for female characters in historical romances to reject ALL things that might be considered even slightly feminine. (ALL the cool kids hate sewing – and can’t sew. ALL the cool kids hate dancing – and can’t dance.). Of course they’re crap musicians – ALL the cool kids are!

What I consider to be the most emotionally powerful scene in the 1995 adapatation of Pride and Prejudice is the one that begins with Elizabeth Bennet playing and singing for the Bingleys and Darcys. Then Mr Darcy’s sister takes over, while the clueless Miss Bingley makes a cruel comment and upsets everyone.

The whole scene, while telling you a bunch of other things about the characters and the plot, is about the music. Imagine what a dull – and quiet – evening it would have been without any women with some musical ability!

Watch it below:

In both Pride and Prejudice the book, and every television and film adaptation, Elizabeth and Miss Darcy bond over music, and the snobs use music as a chance to show off.

Then there’s Anne Elliot from another Jane Austen book: Persuasion. There’s that scene where she sheds a quiet tear while playing the piano so the others can dance. There’s no crying in the 1995 movie version, but the scene below at 37:20 shows you exactly how crucial music was for an evening in the Regency era:

Also, in Poldark, Demelza’s triumph over the society ladies comes when she sings at the Christmas party. (As an aside, TV Demelza, Eleanor Tomlinson, did such a good job with her singing in the show that she’s releasing an album!).

Sure, there are some book heroines who enjoy their music. Faith Merridew and Helen Ravenel come to mind. However, we are very much in an era of publishing (and life in general, actually) where authors think that it’s somehow antifeminist for women to anything remotely artistic or creative.

Music isn’t just an art form; it’s to people of two-hundred years ago what television and the internet and evenings out are to us today. It was an essential part of a person’s social life, as it was one of the only ways to break the silence over long, pre-electricity evenings, and to entertain in an era before today’s technology existed.

I do think some authors avoid heroines who play and sing because they – ridiculously – think it’s demeaning to their gender.

However, I also think it simply never occurs to some authors that this was a major aspect of a Georgian/Regency/Victorian person’s day-to-day experience. It’s a little odd.


The Week: 5th – 11th June

Canberra Australia Winter Evening Lake Burley Griffin Sonya Heaney 11th June 2017 National Carillon Reflection Nature SunsetIMG_2045

Sunday afternoon on the lake in Canberra. That’s Defence on the other side of the water, with the American Eagle statue.

Enjoying the winter sunshine on Tuesday morning.

The neighbour’s cat has basically moved in now. So much for her being timid!

The trip from Queanbeyan to Canberra on Friday anfternoon.

I read a couple of good books this week (not reviewed here yet). One was a contemporary story about the daughter of an overly ambitious US Republican family, and the other was set in 1825 London – but not about aristocrats. However, I’m really struggling to take books about American politics seriously now, considering what is going on at the moment.

Terrible week in the aftermath of the London Bridge attacks. I honestly don’t understand how a man can just walk up to some innocent young woman (or older man – you know what I mean) and murder her like that. Donald Trump’s childish, ignorant responses only added to the disgust we outside the US feel for him.

The anniversary of the Battle of Binh Ba

My review of A Tailor-Made Husband (Texas Grooms/Turnabout Book #9 (Love Inspired Historical) by Winnie Griggs

My review of The Second Seduction of a Lady (The Wild Quartet 0.5) by Miranda Neville

Another Behind the Scenes Cover Video

Oh, the subtlety!




The Second Seduction of a Lady (The Wild Quartet 0.5) by Miranda Neville

Eleanor Hardwick and Max Quinton shared one night of incredible passion…that was shattered the next day, when Eleanor learned of a bet placed by Max’s friends. Now, five years later, Max still can’t get Eleanor out of his head or his heart. He has a single chance to make a second impression—one that will last forever.

The Second Seduction of a Lady (The Wild Quartet 0.5) by Miranda Neville

 Oh, I loved this novella, and for these reasons: #1 reunion story, #2 skilled author, #3 maturity in both characterisation and characters’ actions, #4 the author knows England, and it shows.

The Second Seduction of a Lady has been sitting on my to-read list for years, but I rarely have the time to read for fun when I’m so overwhelmed with review books.

Set in the late Georgian era (a generation before the Regency), this is apparently an introduction to a series, but it reads as a complete story in its own right, and you’d never know it was anything else.

There is something… I can’t explain why some historical romance authors are different; I wish I could. These smart, damaged, historically accurate characters are the reason I read this genre nonstop, even though these features are becoming harder and harder to find.

Some reviews have complained about the heroine’s anger, but I am GLAD the author went that way, and – honestly – it was hardly anything. Female leads are NEVER allowed their deserved anger, whereas we always seem to let male leads get away with almost anything they say or do.

Imagine even now, when virginity is not (at least where I live) the prized possession it was 2.5 centuries ago. Imagine finding out the man you thought you’d marry had seduced you on a bet. That everyone knew what was going on.

Yes, the hero took one look at her and decided he really wanted to marry her. However, he still betrayed her. She earned that anger.

I also really liked that the very young secondary female character wasn’t turned into a cliché. She was young, naïve, desperate to be in love no matter what, and screwed up pretty badly (as did her young lover). But they were good people nevertheless.

What I REALLY disliked were the multiple comments that the heroine – at thirty – was somehow on her way out, with a falling apart body. References to her droopy boobs and her flabby stomach, for example.

She must have some pretty terrible genes, because I don’t know anyone who’s sagging and on her way out at thirty!

Anyway – and apart from that – I loved this story.

Despite being a novella, it reads as a complete book. And I am glad I was bored on the weekend and decided to mine by 600-book to-be-read list for something I’d skipped over in the past.

**(At $5 in Australia for a novella, I never want to see overseas readers complaining about book pricing ever again!)**

The Week: 22nd – 28th May

Saturday afternoon at the lake in Canberra.

Midday in Autumn Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 22nd May 2017 Sunny Day Blue Sky Garden Autumn Leaves Autumn Colours Nature IMG_1767

Midday in Autumn Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 22nd May 2017 Sunny Day Blue Sky Garden Autumn Leaves Autumn Colours Nature IMG_1770

Monday in Canberra

Here is our neighbour’s eighteen-year-old cat, who is TOTALLY blind, almost totally deaf, and yet still climbs all the way up (a fence, and then two flights of stairs) to our back deck on a daily basis, just in case I have some chicken for her.

The Monte Carlo (Monaco) Formula One Grand Prix – the most prestigious event in the whole world of motorsport – is on this weekend. It’s the ten-year anniversary since I first attended that race. I remember it was supposed to be raining all day, but instead it was sunny and hot, and I got a terrible sunburn to match the red dress I had on!

Above is a (rather blurry) picture I took of one of the TV cameras. I’m better with heights more than anyone I know, but I’m pretty sure that would terrify me!

If you watch the race, imagine where your footage is coming from – it’s THAT!

What a bad week for the world. The terror attack in Manchester. Nicky Hayden died, and then Roger Moore died… Russia’s war in Ukraine has escalated again this week – worse than it’s been for six months. And because Trump is such a Putin supporter, Russia is now emboldened to kill so many more… The mass murder of Christians in Egypt. The Islamic extremists in the Philippines. Gorgeous Sri Lanka’s most recent natural disaster (because my family was based in India, I used to travel through there about four times a year). 😦 😦 😦 😦

Also this week: “artist” Jeff Koons has blatantly stolen a Ukrainian artwork, and now his plagiarised sculpture is on display in Rockefeller Center in New York:

My review of The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society #1) by Madeline Hunter

And: Bonus content from Madeline Hunter

Books for the Weekend

Cover Love


Books with McDonald’s!

The Week: 10th – 16th April

Happy Easter! We are being very Ukrainian. That bowl of pysanky (Ukrainian hand-painted Easter eggs)? All of them were all made by us in the 1980s – I was VERY young then! They take forever to make, but they are so badly faded now. We need to make some more, but these days it’s illegal to import a lot of the important stuff needed to make them to Australia (customs regulations are very strict here). Also, these days all eggs in the shops are murky brown and stamped with ink numbers. You need white eggs to paint.

The blue embroidery is from the Lviv region of Ukraine, where my grandmother and her family comes from. The black embroidery is from central Ukraine.

The candle holders are also from there; my aunt just bought them for us as a present – the floral design is so typical of Ukraine.

Autumn in Canberra is generally gorgeous! This was Good Friday at the Kingston Foreshore.

Autumn sunshine:

King Parrots everywhere around here in autumn.

The world has been so crazy this week, I can’t even be bothered discussing it!

 Rules of the Road for the Regency Language

Behind the Scenes at Harlequin

My review of A Sense of Sin (Dartmouth Brides #2) by Elizabeth Essex

My review of Distracting the Duke (Wayward in Wessex #1) by Elizabeth Keysian

Surely I’m not the only one…

A Sense of Sin (Dartmouth Brides #2) by Elizabeth Essex

A Sense of Sin (Dartmouth Brides #2) by Elizabeth Essex

The Ravishing Miss Burke has everything a young lady could want–beauty, status and suitors lined up just to beg for her hand. Until a blackmailer from her past holds her future for ransom.

Colonel Rupert Delacorte, Viscount Darling will go to any length to ruin the woman responsible for his beloved sister’s death. But the Ravishing Miss Burke is nothing like the icy murderer of his waking dreams–she’s nothing but a bluestocking with a shocking secret she’ll go to almost any length to keep. Even succumbing to his sinful seduction.

A Sense of Sin (Dartmouth Brides #2) by Elizabeth Essex

This is a revamped version of Elizabeth Essex’s second ever book; I have not read the original version, nor any others in the series. A Sense of Sin definitely, absolutely, 100% works as a standalone read; I loved that we weren’t dragged to random meet-ups with past characters to coo over babies!

What appealed to me about the blurb were the themes of deception and revenge. I like a bit of angst, and the hero tricking the heroine and then needing to ask forgiveness when he learnt the truth seemed like my sort of thing.

Also: this book is set in the Georgian era, before the oh-so popular Regency, so that was a nice chance of pace.

I was a bit surprised when the revenge/deception plot wrapped up before the halfway mark. This book definitely did not go in the direction I was expecting, which turned out to make it interesting. There was more going on in the plot than it originally seemed. I like it when books in this genre are a little more complex and a little less heavy on the clichéd scenes and settings.

I was a little concerned about the heroine being interested in botany. Not that I don’t like heroines with hobbies or even careers, but too many authors are using them as shortcuts for characterisation, as a way to mock and ridicule women who were more “standard” for their era. The “I’m not like other women” trope I hate so much.

This was not how it worked in this book. I think it was handled really well, and the heroine managed to be historical and multi-layered. She had genuine depth and background in her interests, and she also managed to behave like a decent person in society.

I am not a fan of woman-versus-woman plotlines – meaning that I have no problem with a villainess in a story, but when it’s one woman being spiteful and nasty to another for no good reason, I have issues. I dislike it especially when the villainess is a young, attractive blonde (romance writers need to stop with this sort of stereotyping!), as is the case here.

We have enough people demonising women and mocking women’s friendships and relationships; we don’t need it in books.

Essex writes beautifully, with a definite historical tone to her work – most of the time. There were quite a few blatant Americanisms, and “suss out” is an expression from around 1970, not the 1790s!

The version I read had a number of typos; I’m not sure if this is fixed in the version for sale.

Overall this was an enjoyable read. I wonder how much has been changed since the publication of the original version.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

“Some possibly unpopular thoughts” – by Isobel Carr

Ripe for Anything (The League of Second Sons #3.5) by Isobel Carr

Interesting read over at the Risky Regencies blog. Written by Isobel Carr, it addresses the attitude put out by popular book blogs that authors can write any historical romance, with any themes they want, and have a publisher go with it, no questions asked. Meaning, everyone will snap up books with characters of any race or orientation, in any location, in any time period.

Of course it’s not that simple! Hence the fact we have a sea of Regency-era English dukes – with even more Regency-era English dukes on the way! It’s also not that easy if they want to self-publish and actually sell books.

As she points out, every time a show becomes popular (think Downton Abbey, or the various US period dramas around at the moment), the book crowd expects there to be a huge craze for something new. There never is. 1910s-20s historical romance never became a thing after Downton, for example.

I definitely wish books like Joanna Shupe’s Gilded Age series would take off!

I do like the calls in the comments section for more historical romances set in Australia. I mean, come on! It’s Britain (remember, we had no American-style Revolution here, and were very much part of the Empire) combined with the Wild West! The two things that sell books!

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