The Week: 18th – 24th May

   End of Autumn Red Berries Garden Tuggeranong Canberra Australia 20th May 2015 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney 2

Sunny, warm and lots of berries at the very end of autumn.

Busy week. After years of posting pictures online and having them shared all over sites like Pinterest, I’ve finally decided to do something with them (by “decided”, I mean a few days ago – at 5am – I had a light bulb moment!), and am now selling cards and key rings and phone covers and postcards etc. It has taken me DAYS to upload just a few things, but I hope to soon have all sorts of things for sale, on at least three different sites.

I figure that everyone is already sharing my pictures, so I might as well make a dollar or two out of them! That is more than I’ll actually make per product. The royalties the artist gets are so miniscule it’s hardly worth the effort!

At the moment, I have the basics of a Zazzle store up and running, with others to come… Some of my featured images:

Tulips at Floriade 7th October 2013 Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Oksana HeaneySt Michael's Kyiv UkraineDSCN5541wpid-dscn0467DSCN3281

Writing personal, handwritten thank you letters after someone has died sounds great in theory. And then you actually have to sit down and write them, and it takes DAYS! Especially so when Ukrainians tend to go by a few different names in Ukrainian (Maria, Marusya, Marika, Mia – all the same person), and then an entirely different one in English (Jackie!) – plus a different married surname. Written in two different alphabets. Good luck tracking the people down!

We all keep going to pick up the phone to call Baba, and my aunt is travelling next week and I started to ask who was going to look after Baba. I’ve never before had this thing where you actually forget someone is gone. Robyn Carr dealt with this in a book a few years ago, and I thought it was unrealistic. I know better now! I also found out people from the shopping mall came to the funeral. Is there anyone who DIDN’T come?!

As for the rest of the busy week: Restaurant dinners, and a trip to the theatre to see the ballet Giselle (my favourite ballet, and the last one I ever danced – a romantic tragedy!). I worked with this company for years, and grew up with the senior dancers, so I’ll just say… (in romance terms!)… Hero = FANTASTIC. I fell in love with him. And that’s coming from someone who knew him as a skinny little kid, and joked about how he’d never be a romantic hero! Heroine = … I could use a lot of words, but they’re too mean to type, so… (as much as I like her as a person, she should never have been cast in this). Soloists = some great, some not so much. Corps de ballet = great. Production = emotionless and disappointing. Costumes = act one – horrific (WHY are the peasants dressed the same as the royals?!). Act two – FANTASTIC. That fabric had to cost a fortune.

The #1 thing you’re taught when dancing the romantic lead is to look into your partner’s eyes at every moment you possibly can. Look like you’re actually in love. I counted ONCE that the lead female dancer last night looked into her partner’s eyes. He was acting his heart out and she was in her own little world. And they should never have cast a dancer a decade younger than her as her mother!

I wish I had a ballet blog where I could discuss this in detail, because I found the entire production very problematic and a little bit upsetting, and I need to write an essay about it. However, I left the ballet world a few years ago and no longer have an audience for it!

You see (and I have a blog post about this coming soon)… growing up in the ballet world, you learn to be honest. God knows, I’ve been called everything under the sun since my first professional performance at age eight. I HATE being accused of being mean in romance reviewing when I’m just being honest. You’re selling something. Make it good.

The Historical Romance Revolution

Jon PAUL - Cover Art for Romance

Does this kind of thing bother you?

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas Stepback

Rape in Book Adaptations on Television

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Sonya Heaney

These Covers…

Wish Upon a Duke by Eva Devon

My review of A Mistress for Major Bartlett by Annie Burrows

A Mistress for Major Bartlett by Annie Burrows

My review of Defiant by Pamela Clare

Defiant by Pamela Clare

My review of Rosie Rinkstar by Janet Rosina West

Rosie Rinkstar by Janet Rosina West

Defiant by Pamela Clare

Defiant by Pamela Clare
Major Connor MacKinnon despises his commander, Lord William Wentworth, beyond all other men. Ordered to rescue Wentworth’s niece after the Shawnee take her captive, he expects Lady Sarah Woodville to be every bit as contemptible as her uncle. Instead, he finds a brave and beautiful lass in desperate peril. But the only way to free Sarah is for Connor to defeat the Shawnee warrior who kidnapped her—and claim her himself.

Torn by tragedy from her sheltered life in London, Lady Sarah is unprepared for the harshness of the frontier-or for the attraction she feels toward Connor. When they reach civilization, however, it is she who must protect him. For if her uncle knew all that Connor had done to save her, he would surely kill him.

But the flames of passion, once kindled, are difficult to deny. As desire transforms into love, Connor will have to defy an empire to keep Sarah at his side.  

Defiant by Pamela Clare

Good God, I tried really, really hard to not read this book immediately after finishing the one before it. Pamela Clare has only written so many of these brilliant pieces of historical fiction with romance at the centre, and I wanted to ration them.

However, instead I ended up reading it right away.

I had a pretty big obsession with The Last of the Mohicans a few decades ago, and I was in Heaven when I found Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati, which seemed to be written specifically for me, so similar it was to the Daniel Day-Lewis film. Years later I discovered Pamela Clare had written equally good, equally well-researched and equally wonderful books, and now I seem to have read them all.

I can’t pick a favourite; all of Clare’s books are fantastic. This one perhaps has the closest resemblance to the film I loved so much, and in fact the final battle is so similar to the Huron attack in the movie (it’s even the same people doing the attacking) it felt like a homage.

The realism of this series works wonderfully, with the attitudes of the times present, but also with characters you feel empathy for.

There are three books I can EVER remember making me teary, and this is one of them. There are two scenes towards the end with our heroine and her uncle – who has largely been a villain (but a sympathetic one) throughout the series – that are heartbreaking.

There is so much action, adventure and history throughout, and I’ve never come across someone who didn’t love these books.

Read them in order (though it’s not strictly necessary). You won’t regret it.

The Week: 11th – 17th May

Funeral Sophia Jacyszyn Ukrainian Catholic Church 12th May 2015

Three priests and my father…

Phew, it’s a relief for this week to be over. Monday was spent at the funeral home and Tuesday was my grandmother’s funeral. Now we’re settling in for everything that comes after, but at least the stress and the very public aspect of farewelling someone are finished.

Very odd to have to figure out how life works after the loss of someone who was at the centre of it. What happens on weekends now, for example? Do you keep going to the same pub for drinks that you used to go to with her on Fridays (we actually DID go this Friday, but it wasn’t the same…)? How about Sunday dinners? The church that was important to her but I would never have attended otherwise?

I’ve been writing thank you letters for the funeral, and have discovered just how many different people were there. Baba used to work for the Department of Defence, and I see their names in the condolence book. I’m trying to track down the people from Defence (I cannot find addresses!) to thank them, but no luck so far. I’d love to know where you are. We’re all a bit humbled by how many people came to show their respect.

Even though it feels like an age since I read a book, it really has only been a couple of weeks. However, I’m easing myself back into it now. I deliberately put all of my review books aside the moment Baba went into hospital, because we knew it was the end and I didn’t want to unfairly review with that hanging over me, but I think I’ve been fair in the past few days, and yet still I haven’t loved the review books I started.

I’ve been rereading a bit. Outlander – which is reminding me just how much humour and warmth the television adaptation’s version is missing in recent episodes. And Pride and Prejudice – I’m just in the mood for it at the moment, and have also been re-watching the 1980 and 1995 adaptations. I’d love for someone brave enough to do an adaptation that is historically accurate come along and do a new version. It’s SO stagey (almost embarrassingly so), but I love the 1980 production more each time I watch it.

This week I also read Sabrina Jeffries’ upcoming book, which had her usual strong writing. However, I think I’m becoming a little tired of new historical romances set around only a few characters in a country house. I think I’m looking for more action and excitement at the moment. A little more plot and a little less lusting!

Random thoughts on the past fortnight.

Sophia Jacyszyn Funeral Brochure

Where’d the Outlander recaps go?

Outlander 2014

My issue with Pride and Prejudice 1995

tumblr_nk6i9eBxIe1sb6tumo10_250

My review of Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

My review of Untamed by Pamela Clare

Untamed by Pamela Clare

My review of Holding Strong by Lori Foster

Holding Strong by Lori Foster

My review of The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns

The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns

Untamed by Pamela Clare

Untamed by Pamela Clare

In the breathtaking tradition of The Last of the Mohicans…

MacKinnon’s Rangers

They were a band of brothers, their loyalty to one another forged by hardship and battle, the bond between these Highland warriors, rugged colonials, and fierce Native Americans stronger even than blood ties.

Though forced to fight for the hated British, Morgan MacKinnon would no more betray the men he leads than slit his own throat—not even when he was captured by the French and threatened with an agonising death by fire at the hands of their Abenaki allies. Only the look of innocent longing in the eyes of a convent-bred French lass could make him question his vow to escape and return to the Rangers. And soon the sweet passion he awoke in Amalie had him cursing the war that forced him to choose between upholding his honor and pledging himself to the woman he loves.

Untamed by Pamela Clare

The number of times they talked about chest hair and stubble in this book, they could have given the cover model some bloody chest hair and stubble!

Pamela Clare can literally do no wrong with her historical romances. So much more than just the relationship, she includes a staggering amount of Georgian era history and culture, drops in little details that make the story so much richer, and manages to capture a mindset that is historically accurate.

I cannot choose a favourite from her books, but Untamed is definitely a five star read for me. A Scottish immigrant who has been raised alongside American Indians, whose loyalties are not with Britain, though he has no choice but to fight for them. A young woman of mixed French and Native origin, who he has to betray, even as he’s forced to marry her.

So much action and adventure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is like The Last of the Mohicans (the movie) in book form. It’s addictive.

The problem with books you love is that it’s hard to know what to say. The action and danger runs from start to finish, and you never know quite what might happen next. The relationship at the heart of the story is fantastic and full of angst.

I love that the author is able to bring the past to her characters’ lives, but yet we can still relate to them. People who take their religion seriously, following it the way you would expect of characters of their time (I’m not an overly religious person, but it’s thrilling to see people acting period-appropriate). People who think of the future and know they’re realistically going to have a houseful of children, and that they don’t drag modern sensibilities into it.

But most of all it’s the way the author can construct such great adventures where every page is gripping and the pace never drags. It’s obvious why she was encouraged to write contemporary romantic suspense: she has a talent very few writers possess.

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

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

You hear all the time that romance fiction is supposed to be an escape, a fantasy, an anything along those lines. As if you have to keep things light and fluffy and unrealistic at all times.

No problem with that – I want to read something like that sometimes.

However, when did this become the RULE?

I like reality. I really, really do. I enjoy darker stories, and I love books that incorporate the real world into them. Whether it’s showing life as it really was in the nineteenth century, or if it’s showing twenty-first century characters struggling with real world issues, for me there’s something much more rewarding about people finding their way to each other under difficult, realistic circumstances.

However, I’ve been coming across so many comments recently that tell me I might be in the minority.

Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers #1) by Pamela ClareThe Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

More realistic books!

For example, a recent discussion about accuracy in historical romance. I mentioned that I’m becoming less and less tolerant of anachronistic characters who act like they live in the present day. I said I wanted to see people living in the society of the time.

‘I would HATE that!’ came the replies.

I was confused. I didn’t ever like Disney much to begin with, but as an adult I don’t want to read fairy tales where there’re no true obstacles of struggles. If a book is in the past (and more often than not, the author gives us as specific year and month the book is set) then why am I weird for wanting to read about that time?

But worse than that is the reaction so many have to romantic suspense.

I’m told so often that it’s an awful, weird genre, and it has no redeeming features, and that I’m somehow a horrible person for reading it.

However, I’m not making any excuses for reading books by some brilliant authors. Yes, romantic suspense has taken a few funny turns in the past few years, and subsequently there’s not all that much of it available. What is coming out is all carbon-copy Navy SEAL stuff where most of the plot is sex, and guns appear as something “sexy” rather than out of necessity to the storyline.

To the Brink by Cindy GerardOver the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

Incredible romantic suspense!

I get that people have problems with books like that, but you’ll never convince me books like To the Brink, Over the Edge, Deadly Descent and Hard Evidence are not great reads and don’t treat issues sensitively. I love authors who take on real issues with the world and how people’s emotions and relationships are affected by them.

I’d much prefer to read a book like those than yet another Navy SEAL returns to small town Texas to take over his father’s ranch, and he meets the local librarian/wedding planner and they spend the rest of their days making adorable babies.

Romantic suspense can definitely take from real life. One of the best real life love stories I’ve heard in the past year was about two people who joined in the revolution in Ukraine. In the middle of all that chaos they fell in love and married in a tent on the main square, in the middle of the demonstrations.

These are the kind of stories I want to read. Call me crazy, but I don’t just read romantic fiction for an escape. If a SEAL appears in a story, I want him to be realistic, not someone with no scars from his experiences and a desire to do nothing more than settle down into suburbia. Not only is that not interesting to me, but it’s so far from believable I can’t jump into the fantasy of it.

Maybe I am crazy, but I don’t think I’m the ONLY reader in the world who thinks romance can bring more to the table than a little bit of forgettable nonsense. I don’t think romance needs to be mindless fluff, and I don’t think we should expect to turn to other genres to be challenged by a book.

Surrender by Pamela Clare

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

A hand-picked cadre of warriors, they had the fierce courage of their Scots forefathers, combined with the stealth and cunning of the Indians who lived beside them in the wilderness. Battling the French in no-holds-barred combat, they forged a new brand of honour, became a new breed of men…

MacKinnon’s Rangers

Iain MacKinnon had been forced to serve the British crown, but compassion urged him to save the lovely lass facing certain death at the hands of the Abenaki. He’d defied his orders, endangered his brothers, his men and his mission, all for a woman. But when he held Annie’s sweet body in his arms, he could feel no regret. Though he sensed she was hiding something from him, it was too late to hold back his heart. In love and war, there are times when the only course of action is… Surrender.

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

Some authors just have something a little more special than most of the crowd, and Pamela Clare is one of those people. Her historical romances, which are at least as rich in history as romance, have been astonishing me since I started reading them. I’ve been trying to ration her books, but it’s hard work to not gobble them all up in one go.

Surrender kicks off the MacKinnon’s Rangers series, which I would recommend if you liked The Last of the Mohicans. It has a similar setting, a similar vibe. The amount of research that has gone into this series is staggering, and once again I find myself appreciating an author brave enough to make her characters historically accurate.

Sure, it’s not as pretty as the fairy tale-style Regency romances out there, but life WAS harder then, and I prefer proper historical fiction over something that has been prettied up.

A big, sweeping saga, we see how high the stakes are for our characters in the middle of a brutal war. The war setting lends itself to lots of action and adventure and plenty of life-or-death situations for our hero and heroine. I love suspense stories with contemporary settings, and I love suspense in my historical reading just as much.

Honestly, I could go into details about the plot or talk about how great the romance was, but I don’t really need to. Just read it for yourself!

If there was one thing I would complain about, it’s the author’s love affair with the word gotten. Especially inappropriate when so many of her characters are British!

Highly recommended.

Best of 2014

As with every year, these are – in no particular order – the books that entertained me the most this year. Many of them are 2014 releases, but not all of them!

I hadn’t planned on my reading to go the way it did this year. I expected to read more suspense than I did, and my ongoing obsession with historical fiction really derailed things!

 

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

night broken_front mech.indd

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare Second Cover

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Surrender by Pamela Clare

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

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A 1950s Housewife (nonfiction) by Sheila Hardy

 A 1950s Housewife by Sheila Hardy

 

And a book that will be released in 2015:

 

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

The Week: 20th – 26th October

Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sunset 24th October 2014 Sonya Heaney

Canberra’s amazing Friday sunset!

Well. Summer seems to be here early, and it’s so great – apart from the hay fever! Still coping with the shock of being back in Australia, but the gorgeous spring is definitely helping matters!

2014-10-26_09_41_04Ukrainian cars ready to protest at the Russian embassy in Canberra, Australia today. Слава Україні!

Ukrainian cars ready to protest at the Russian embassy in Canberra, Australia today. Слава Україні!

2014-10-25 Cat Quanbeyan NSW Australia - Sonya Heaney

There’s this cat. And now this cat is ours – apparently! I’m in love after a couple of weeks, but I wonder if there’s an owner somewhere wondering where their pet went!

I read some good books this week, but they’re review books that won’t be out for a while yet.

My thoughts on Outlander 1×07

Outlander 1x07 The Wedding Jamie and Claire Church Sonya Heaney

My review of Running On Empty by Christy Reece

Running On Empty (LCR Elite #1) by Christy Reece

My review of Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

My review of Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare Second Cover

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

Take your pick of god-awful covers. Neither is at all representative of the great book it is – this is NOT a Fabio bodice ripper! My book is the one on the right.

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare Original CoverRide the Fire by Pamela Clare Second Cover

There was only one rule on the frontier—survival.

So when wounded, buckskin-clad stranger appeared at the door of her isolated cabin, Elspeth Stewart felt no qualms about disarming him and then tying him to her bed. Newly widowed and expecting her first child, she had to protect herself at all costs. And Nicholas Kenleigh threatened not only her safety, but her peace of mind. The terrible scars on his body spoke of a tortured past, but his gentle touch and burning gaze awoke longings she had never expected to feel. Bethie had every reason in the world to distrust men; the cruelty she suffered at their hands had marked her soul, though her blonde beauty showed no sign of it. But little by little she found herself believing in Nicholas, in his honour, his strength. As he brought her baby into the world, then took both mother and daughter into his care, she realized this scarred survivor could heal her wounded spirit, and together they would… Ride the Fire.

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

All of the books in this series work just fine as standalones, but I devoured them all in order, in a short space of time. Dealing with the mid-18th century and the upheaval of colonial America, the series is so amazingly researched, so engrossing. It’s full of action and adventure and the realities of the time. It’s as much historical fiction as romance, and it’s so exciting to find an author who manages to incorporate some major excitement in her stories. Historical romance doesn’t have to be bland and repetitive!

 

There could be so much more to the historical romance genre than what is currently on offer, but apparently publishers aren’t interested. I’ve read the extended versions of these books, those the author rereleased after her original publisher made her cut some things out for smaller book size. I’m glad to have read the better versions!

 

If you’re a fan of The Last of the Mohicans, there’s quite a lot here you’ll enjoy. It has that vibe about it, with a romance that takes place in a dangerous, war-torn setting, involving Indians and settlers on the frontier. You never know what’s going to happen next, but the author’s note at the end shows you just how closely she followed real historical events.

 

Hero and heroine are interesting, strong characters, and I liked how their story ran over the course of months so that their relationship was believable. We saw them falling in love.

 

I love that this series deals with the realities of the era. Nobody’s anachronistically whipping out a condom, and marriage DOES mean hard work and numerous children. Life is far from easy, and day to day life is very different to what we know. Thank God some authors still have the courage to depict the 1760s as it was!

 

The two teeny, tiny things I didn’t love were:

  1. The heroine’s violet eyes. Violet eyes is such an old school romance, idealistic trait!
  2. The endless breastfeeding – hear me out before getting upset! The heroine has her baby in the first part of the book, and literally every scene she’s in after that includes breastfeeding. She’s learning to read and write while she’s breastfeeding. Riding a horse? Breastfeeding. Just woken up after being punched unconscious? Breastfeeding before she can even sit up or stay awake. Meeting the other women at the fort? Breastfeeding. I was growing very tired of the term nurse the baby by the end!

 

I highly recommend this series. It’s a bit like an excellent, extended-cut movie put on the page.