The Week: 17th – 23rd August

End of Winter in Tuggeranong Canberra Australia 14th August 2015 Sonya Heaney Garden Eucalyptus Gum Tree Nature

Spring is in the air here. I put the heater on, immediately get hot, and then realise winter is pretty much done. The air is full of the smells of wattle and blossoms, and it’s warmer here now (twenty degrees – or sixty-eight Fahrenheit) than some countries I’ve visited in summer!

Pro-Ukrainian Anti-Russian invasion protest Canberra Australia 5th March 2014 2

Happy Ukrainian Flag Day! (This actually is our picture from a protest in Canberra last year, but you get the idea!) Screw Putin.

Wattle Garden Winter Tugggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 14th August 2015 Nature 2

In the garden in Canberra at the moment.

Flower Garden Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Winter Spring Red 22nd August 2015

This week began with my aunt’s birthday. When we were at the pub we received an offer on my late-grandmother’s house, which we accepted. The end of an era…

Our internet died this week, and getting by without it for a little while was bizarre! Also not good when I had a half-finished blog post that was due to go up because I’d stupidly scheduled it instead of saving it as a draft!

And Ashley Madison, the “dating” website that proudly encourages married people to have affairs, got hacked. Some 37 million people’s identities could be revealed, including multiple Australian politicians (I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked!).

20thAugust2015The Russian terrorist who publicly claimed bragged he shot down MH17 before being silenced by Putin, on Thursday once again called for Russia to totally destroy Ukraine. Does anybody care Donald Trump sure doesn'2

Yes, I know he looks like Hitler. This is the Russian military leader who claimed responsibility for shooting down MH17, up to no good again this week. The “New Russia” flag in the background looks a hell of a lot like the Confederate flag, does it not?

Running out of ideas for reprehensible romance heroes?

#Russian terrorists in #Ukraine. 5th April 2015.

Wallpaper Romance

When Calls the Heart Season Two.

Cover Love

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1) by Kristi Ann Hunter

My review of Collateral Damage (Bagram Special Ops #5) by Kaylea Cross

Collateral Damage by Kaylea Cross

My review of Wagon Train Sweetheart (Journey West #2) by Lacy Williams

Wagon Train Sweetheart (Journey West #2) by Lacy Williams

My review of Protecting the Colton Bride (The Coltons of Oklahoma) by Elle James

Protecting the Colton Bride (The Coltons of Oklahoma) by Elle James

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.

Christmas Reads: A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

After an accident leaves her injured, Daisy Richards stays secluded at her family’s Wyoming ranch to avoid the town’s gawking stares. Yet handsome cowboy newcomer Ricky White insists she can do anything she dreams—ride a horse, decorate a Christmas tree…even steal a man’s heart.

Once a reckless cad, Ricky is to blame for what happened to Daisy. Now reformed, he wants to make amends by setting things right for his boss’s beautiful daughter in time for the holidays. But Daisy doesn’t know Ricky’s responsible for her predicament. When the truth is revealed, will he lose the greatest gift he’s ever received— her trust?

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

I’m so in love with this little Christian Western romance series, and I’m not sure why! I guess it’s because Lacy Williams is a wonderful writer, and her books are so secular I really wish she’d turn her talents on a more mainstream market.

I do tend to stay away from books where one of the lead characters has lost a limb, because I tend not to like the way the situation is handled, but I thought – hey, I liked The Fault in Our Stars, and I like this author. So when I realised this is where the book was headed, I decided to continue.

There’s a lot of guilt and a lot of heartache in A Cowboy for Christmas, but I never found it was excessive. I could identify with the actions and reactions of both characters. I loved that while there was a little bit of religion in the book, the entire focus of the redemption was not on Christianity. This is a very accessible story for people who aren’t religious.

I’ve read a number of books in the series now, and I’ve really, really enjoyed each one. Perhaps A Cowboy for Christmas ends up tied in a couple too many bows, but this is a Christmas story after all, and I can forgive it!

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Return of the Cowboy Doctor by Lacy Williams

Return of the Cowboy Doctor (Wyoming Legacy #3) by Lacy Williams

The Cowboy’s Reluctant Sweetheart 

Two years shy of his medical degree, cowboy Maxwell White is out of money. So, he’s back in Bear Creek, Wyoming, working part-time for the local physician. Though he is immediately drawn to the doctor’s lovely, whip-smart daughter, she seems to be irritated by Maxwell’s very existence. 

Hattie Powell can’t quash her feelings for the town’s new would-be doctor. But that’s exactly why she must keep him at a distance. Hattie is closer than ever to fulfilling her lifelong wish of becoming a doctor. Now, the only thing standing in her way is the man of her dreams. 

Wyoming Legacy: United by family, destined for love

Return of the Cowboy Doctor (Wyoming Legacy #3) by Lacy Williams

Completely on a whim, I downloaded a later book in this series for review a little while ago. If you’d have asked me a year ago whether I’d enjoy a supposedly Christian historical Western romance, I’d have laughed. Yet author Lacy Williams has created a solid, entertaining series, and even though I didn’t enjoy this one *quite* as much, it was still a good read.

First thing’s first. I don’t like religious preaching in my books, and American evangelism is totally baffling to me. However, Williams’ books are so unreligious they could easily pass for mainstream fiction. In fact, I think the author is shooting herself in the foot by writing for the much smaller American Christian market.

The most religious this book gets is that a church is turned into a makeshift hospital during a cholera outbreak, and there’s a brief, passing mention of the hero praying over a sick person and someone saying Grace. That’s really about it, and it is actually in keeping with the times. I’ve read mainstream fiction that’s a whole lot more religious than that.

As for the story. I loved the characters very much. I love shy, awkward heroes, and while our guy here was strong and competent when he needed to be, he was also shockingly shy and struggled very hard with being accepted.

Our heroine has a rather mysterious medical condition that sometimes puts her into a wheelchair. While I know it would have been anachronistic to go into too much detail about it, I realised once I’d finished reading we were still left with no answers. However, I liked her for her determination to succeed in a medical profession, which I found believable for the late-nineteenth century setting.

What didn’t I like? I thought the random mentions of the hero’s demonic birth mother were weird and unnecessary. We kept hearing that he was constantly told nobody would ever love him, but it didn’t make any sense and was never properly explained.

I also thought the final Grand Gesture scene at the end was cheesy (I quite often skim the final moments of romances, because I find a lot of them cheesy!). More than that, I didn’t see how it solved any of the issues the couple had.

I also thought some of the expressions – “This is an intervention.” – were very twenty-first century.

I plan to read more books in this series, which surprises me a lot. I would really like to see this author tackle mainstream fiction, because she’s a little bit wasted being restricted by the rules of the line she writes for.

The Week: 28th July – 3rd August

Canberra Australia Sunset 9th January 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksna Heaney

A random Canberra sunset picture – taken at our house.

I’ve had a very uninspiring week, punctuated by lots of late nights staying up to watch the Commonwealth Games, and a random illness that made me feel about as awful as I’ve ever felt!

I was really running out of things to read, but on Saturday was rescued by a Georgian-era book recommendation, so now I’m okay again!

vd-Anti-Putin-march-408x264

As this week ends, all I can think about is the fact Russian soldiers took photos and videos of themselves torturing, murdering and mutilating Ukrainian soldiers, and then posted them on Russian social media. The men they killed were Russian-speaking Ukrainian soldiers. Remember how Russia invaded Ukraine to “protect Russian-speakers”? Remember that pathetic lie?

I accidentally saw those revolting pictures while reading a news site, and now I can – in all honesty – say I feel hatred for Putinists unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.

On the book front?

My review of Engaged at The Chatsfield by Melanie Milburne

Engaged at The Chatsfield by Melanie Milburne

My review of Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant by Owen Beddall

Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant True Tales and Gossip from the Galley by Owen Beddall

My review of 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger

84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger

My review of Fast Track by Julie Garwood

Fast Track by Julie Garwood

My review of Expose Me by Kate Hewitt

Expose Me (5th Avenue Trilogy) by Kate Hewitt

My review of The Wrangler’s Inconvenient Wife by Lacy Williams

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

The Wrangler’s Inconvenient Wife by Lacy Williams

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

MARRIAGE OF INCONVENIENCE

With no family to watch over them, it’s up to Fran Morris to take care of her younger sister, even if it means marrying a total stranger. Gruff, strong and silent, her new husband is a cowboy down to the bone. He wed Fran to protect her, not to love her, but her heart has never felt so vulnerable.

Trail boss Edgar White already has all the responsibility he needs at his family’s ranch in Bear Creek, Wyoming. He had intended to remain a bachelor forever, but he can’t leave Fran and her sister in danger. And as they work on the trail together, Edgar starts to soften toward his unwanted wife. He already gave Fran his name…can he trust her with his heart?

Wyoming Legacy: United by family, destined for love

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

This is definitely the best Inspirational (Christian) book I’ve read. It wasn’t perfect, and the relationship moved very, very fast, but with the nonstop action and the very few references to religion (I am not a religious person), I really enjoyed it. I’m not a big reader of books set in America’s Wild West, but this one worked for me better than most I’ve tried.

I was a bit hesitant about it at first, because there’re a lot of characters and they’re all introduced within the first few pages. Books in this line have short word counts, and I was worried by how many people I was going to have to try and care about!

However, this was a minor problem. I didn’t try too hard to remember all the secondary characters (I’m guessing there are a lot of future heroes for the series amongst them), and then that was that.

What I enjoyed was the way this was almost like a well-written suspense story. One where the danger is always there in some capacity, always at the back of the characters’ minds. The fact the entire story takes place as the characters are driving cattle across the countryside means there’s always something happening, something to learn.

As I said, I really appreciated not having the religion shoved in my face. In fact, twice I went online to check I was reading a so-called Christian book, because it wasn’t at all preachy! I actually think it’s a pity this author is writing to such a limited (mainly American Protestant) audience, when this book could easily work for mainstream readers.

Yes, the characters fell in love very fast, but I’m learning this is a defining feature of Western historical romance, and have been trying to adjust my expectations accordingly.

I just generally enjoyed this book. I’m pleased to discover Christian books aren’t always what I expect them to be.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.