Jugiong Writers’ Festival last weekend.

I’ve been wanting to write something about the Jugiong Writers’ Festival all week, but I have no idea how to say it!

Jugiong Writers Festival 2017 Sonya Heaney Stan Grant Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Margareta Osborn.

Now, some of the images I’m going to use belong to other people, so if you’re not okay with that, tell me, and I’ll remove them.

Sonya Heaney margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey

This is Sulari Gentill’s photo, taken just before our panel began on Saturday afternoon.

Firstly, I’ll direct you to this article from The Guardian about the first ever Jugiong festival in 2015:

From little towns, big writers’ festivals grow.

Then, I’ll direct you to the authors on the panel I moderated – in alphabetical order:

Sulari Gentill

Di Morrissey

Margareta Osborn

Three very well-liked, well-known authors. And I’m supposed to link them all together for a fifty-minute panel, when the only two things that link their works are that they are WOMEN from AUSTRALIA??

The good thing is, they all know what they’re talking about, and (I think!) it all worked out well.

I have been to big book conventions before, and I’ve hated every minute of them. At a convention a few years ago I spent too much of every day downstairs, hiding in the bar, because every attempt I made at starting a conversation ended in funny looks and turned shoulders.

I agree with the article above, that these smaller, more rural book events are much friendlier and more inclusive than the big book conferences I’ve attended before.

Sonya Heaney Margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Jugiong Writers Festival 18th March 2017

Vivien Thomson’s photo.

Our panel was titled “Connection to People and Place”, which was vaguely advertised as having a rural focus. However, with authors writing everything from modern-day rural fiction, to 1930s Sydney, to 1904 Italy, this was a bit tricky! The good thing is that they all have such a sense of “place” that there was more time for conversation than there was time for the panel to run for.

Sonya Heaney margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Jugiong Writers Festival 18th March 2017

Sulari Gentill’s photo.

Stan Grant opens 2017 Jugiong Writers Festival @thelandnews #Jugiong #HilltopsRegion Over 250 visitors

Newspaper photo from… I have no idea!

I know I come from Australia’s capital city, but as often as not we’re lumped in with rural, rather than urban Australia (half the ads we have on TV are for tractors etc.), and as we see more kangaroos in Canberra than almost anyone else in the nation, I definitely don’t feel out of place in the country.

Kangaroos Lawn Cemetery Queanbeyan Australia 11th July 2015 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney Winter

E.g. – my grandparents’ graves!

My day actually began with running (okay, driving at the speed limit) to the Canberra Centre to pick up two huge boxes of books they needed in Jugiong that afternoon. So my arrival was later than the others involved in the event.

I think the issues we discussed on the stage were relevant to all fiction written by women. I’ve been (more than) mildly obsessed with Regency and Victorian fiction in the past couple of years, but I think that any of those authors could have got up there last weekend and had similar things to say.

Women want to tell stories, and women authors often face the same obstacles no matter what. They write PLACE, and they write characters, and no matter what they do, they get lumped into the same group as “lady authors”, no matter is it’s romance, crime, or… well, or anything.

Free Champagne at the end of the day Sonya Oksana Heaney Jugiong Writers' Festival 18th March 2017

Free sparkling wine at the book launch at the end of the afternoon.

The discussion definitely did NOT go where I thought it would, but it seemed the audience enjoyed themselves, so… I only wish the people watching had more time for questions, but when you have three beloved authors in one panel – it’s not easy!

The other thing about Jugiong that was great was that JUGIONG was great! I have travelled through neighbouring – famous – Gundagai many times in the past few decades, but have never been to Jugiong. It’s a tiny place, but has a gorgeous – and recently renovated – old pub that I have plans to visit again soon.

Also, thank you to Freda and the rest of the team involved in the organisation of the weekend.

On top of that, the drive in and out from Canberra? Just look at it!

Jugiong NSW to Canberra ACT 18th March 2017 On the Road Sonya Oksana Heaney 2017

Jugiong NSW to Canberra ACT 18th March 2017 On the Road Sonya Oksana Heaney 2017 Dusk


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!

Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn


Carina Chapman wants a vacation. Somewhere hot. Somewhere decadent. Somewhere far, far away from her complicated life in New York. Somewhere in Australia appears to be the answer, until Carina discovers her PA has booked her into the wrong resort.

Cowboy Jake Richardson can cook a mean camp-oven roast, track wild horses, breed cattle and knows Australia’s rugged High Country like no other, but he needs to diversify if he wants to keep his land. Tourism seems like the answer, but his housekeeper just quit, the rooms aren’t ready and he doesn’t know a short black from a cappuccino.

Then his first guest arrives.

City slick Carina is smart, classy and disgruntled that her dreamy five-star retreat has been replaced by a rustic homestead beside the Barcoo Creek. Jake has seven days to convince Carina he can deliver all the items on her vacation checklist – including the five-step method to an everlasting relationship…

With him.

Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn

Margareta Osborn has a lot to achieve in a short space of time in Outback Cowboy.

We have an American heroine (from NYC, no less) who turns up in rural Australia with no idea what to expect, no idea what the local vernacular is, and no mental preparation whatsoever for an entirely different landscape and culture. And in this shorter story we have to believe she can transform into someone who could be in a permanent relationship with an Australian man from the land.

The title itself is a play on the language differences between the US and Australia (we tend to not call our men working the land cowboys).

This is a popular theme for rural romances the world over, and it can go one of two ways. Often authors fall into the trap of painting the “city girl” heroine as vain and stupid, and they make it all about her adjusting while he stays the same – this is when this theme doesn’t work for me.

When it does is when the hero learns a few things about himself, too, and doesn’t condemn the heroine for being from a different world.

I think Margareta Osborn achieved this. This is a hero who is out of his depth in trying to turn his property into a resort, and the heroine has a thing or ten to teach him about that. Sure, she is used to pampering and city life, but she’s definitely not stupid.

However, she is not particularly likeable at the beginning of the story. I have recently enjoyed a few books where an unlikable heroine transforms as we get to know her better. It’s sort of a taboo theme for the romance genre, as readers are always much faster to hate a prickly heroine than they are a bastard of a hero.

So I really appreciate when an author takes some risks with their female characters. Women are allowed to make mistakes and still be liked.

The language differences were done well; I hate it when the culture clash is turned into a joke, but it was done more subtly here. The only thing I noted was that our American leading lady was immediately thinking of eucalypts as “gum trees”. When I worked at an American school in Asia and we hit the Australian studies unit, nobody knew what a gum tree was.

Oh, and the fact she immediately understood temperatures in degrees Celsius!

This is a smaller publisher, and I do think they need to give some more attention to their editing, as there were missing commas and extra apostrophes, and little distractions that occasionally drew me out of the story.

However, this was a solid, quick contemporary romance read that would work for people on either side of the Pacific Ocean.

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

What if you don’t want to be home for Christmas?
Spending Christmas away from home is one thing but English nurse Katie Brooks is spending hers in Coorah Creek; a small town in the Australian outback.
Katie was certain leaving London was the right decision, but her new job in the outback is more challenging than she could have ever imagined.
Scott Collins rescued Katie on her first day in Coorah Creek and has been a source of comfort ever since. But Scott no longer calls the town home – it’s too full of bad memories and he doesn’t plan on sticking around for long.
Scott needs to leave. Katie needs to stay. They have until Christmas to decide their future…

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

This is one of the best “culture clash” romances I’ve read, because it doesn’t treat different cultures as a source of amusement! As someone who has lived years in both Australia and England (and I see the author has similar experiences) this is the most realistic and believable one of these books I can remember reading.

Capturing a romance that happens in December, rather than a romance that is all about Christmas, I think the family issues and the resolution of those family issues was handled REALLY well in a short space of time. I believed in these characters, and they were those rare things: romance characters who act like real people!

I am a bit cautious about reading books set in rural Australia, especially when one of the main characters comes from overseas, as the clichés, the embarrassing stereotypes, and the weird slang tend to be played up to a painful degree. Not the case here.

I needed this well-written, simple (in a good way) Christmas novella after the melodramatic, sexist disaster I just finished reading! I should be looking for more from this author, because she’s one of the better writers I’ve read in recent times.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Burnt by Karly Lane

Burnt by Karly Lane

Sebastian (Seb) Taylor and Rebecca Whiteman were high school sweethearts dreaming of a future together, when one terrible night forever changed their destiny.

Eighteen years after the tragedy Rebecca has brought her children back to the town she left behind to start a new life.

Seb, an elite SAS soldier in the Australian Army, has returned home injured, angry and grieving to face a town that hasn’t forgotten and a father who has never understood him.

Rebecca has enough problems of her own without adding Seb Taylor to the mix; a failed marriage, two children to support and an annoying heavy breather who refuses to stop calling. The last thing she needed was her first love to make a sudden reappearance in her life…

From bestselling author of Morgan’s Law and Bridie’s Choice comes a story of love, forgiveness and bravery that will touch your heart.

Burnt by Karly Lane

There are only a few authors who I’ve been following from their first book through their development as an author. Karly Lane (as Karlene Blakemore-Mowle) sent me her early ebooks for review years ago, and I liked her work then.

Now, years later, it’s incredible to see how far she has come. I think this is far and away her best book, and apart from her excellent development as an author, I think it helped that her love of her hometown – the setting of this book – shone through from start to finish.

I absolutely love suspense books and books involving the military. However, for the past few years I’ve been mostly reading historical fiction and other similar genres because my favourites have become mockeries of themselves. The term “Navy SEAL” has become a joke. Suspense has become clichéd.

So it was really nice to see an author who created a Special Forces (Australia’s SAS) soldier who actually qualified for his job, and an author willing to incorporate the realities of that job.

This is not the main focus of the story, however. But I enjoyed the other well-researched aspects of the story and the realistic characters, actions and behaviours. For example, the heartbreaking flashback to the car crash.

Australian small town romances have become a bit tiresome, predictable (and offensive to people in cities!) and downright boring for me recently, and I’ve turned down a number of review books in the genre.

If more authors wrote books like this I’d definitely be more interested!

But sorry, I definitely cannot agree. Lee Kernaghan is a total bogan, not sexy!! I actually worked in one of his dressing rooms a few years ago and ripped his name off the wall with a lot of satisfaction!

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

From bestselling author Margareta Osborn comes another scintillating rural romance with a devastating love triangle twist. After years of struggling as a single mother, Jodie Ashton has given up on love and passion. What she craves now is security for herself and her beloved daughter Milly. And marriage to widower Alex McGregor, the owner of the prosperous Glenevelyn cattle station in East Gippsland, will certainly offer that. If only he wasn’t so much older and so controlling. Needing space to decide her future, Jodie reluctantly agrees to a girls-only weekend at the Riverton rodeo . Meanwhile, cowboy Nate McGregor vows off women, after his latest one-night stand costs him his job in the Northern Territory. Perhaps it’s time to head back to his family home, Glenevelyn, to check out for himself the ‘gold-digger’ his father seems determined to marry. But first, on his way through Riverton, he plans to stop off at a rodeo. Two lives are about to collide in one passionate moment – with devastating results…

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Some days it seems the only books you can buy in Australia are about twenty and thirty-something farmer women. Walk into a bookshop and they’re everywhere, with near identical covers: young model staring out into a field, with an Akubra plonked on her head.

You have to have something special about your writing if you’re going to stand out in the rural fiction genre, and I think Margareta Osborn is one of the better ones. She knows how to craft a lively story, and – most importantly – knows how to get all the rural talk and lifestyle across without going overboard with the details.

Because, no matter how you put it, most readers aren’t all that interested in sheep and cows!

We meet quite a few characters in the beginning of the book (perhaps a few too many in the first couple of chapters), but the overpopulation situation irons itself out pretty quickly. The best thing was that Osborn made them all individuals with distinctive personalities.

The other work I’ve read by this author had a similar, accessible feel. Sometimes in rural fiction I feel like I’m drowning in lectures about sheep shearing and the evils of city folk, but Osborn doesn’t go there. She creates interesting situations for her characters and uses themes that appeal in any genre.

Definitely one of the better rural books I’ve come across in ages.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 14th – 20th April


Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Happy Easter…

Overshadowed as it is for my family and friends by Russia’s increasing invasion and theft of Ukraine (and the world’s pathetic response). Easter is a really huge deal in Ukrainian culture – bigger than Christmas. It’s just very hard to enjoy it this year, with friends stationed here looking at being called back to Ukraine to fight and relatives living day to day not knowing what is going to happen to them.

 Ukrainian colours for Easter Canberra Australia 17th April 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney 1

We went a little crazy with our patriotic Ukrainian decorations this year!

 Colours of Autumn in Canberra Australia 17th April 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney 1

The weather in Canberra has been beautiful. Autumn is a gorgeous season, even with that annoying bald English prince, his wife and baby visiting!

As for my week in reading? I’ve been reading a lot of category romances. Review books. I’ve been trying things that I wouldn’t usually try, and finding some interesting reads.

My review of The Empty Nest by Fiona Palmer

The Empty Nest by Fiona Palmer

My review of When I Met My Duchess by Caroline Linden

When I Met My Duchess by Caroline Linden

My review of What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

The problem with Christian fiction

Harlequin Love Inspired Christian Historical Romance

The Empty Nest by Fiona Palmer

The Empty Nest by Fiona Palmer

A moving story from bestselling rural romance author of The Outback Heart, Fiona Palmer.

Mothers’ Day has always been a special day for Sandi, because her beloved kids spoil her rotten. But this year won’t be the same. Her daughter, Gracie, has joined her brother Jack at boarding school and Sandi dreads waking up to a quiet house. Even her husband, Paul, seems distant and preoccupied with farm work. So she never could have guessed what the day has in store…

The Empty Nest includes an exclusive preview from Fiona Palmer’s forthcoming new novel, The Sunnyvale Girls!

The Empty Nest by Fiona Palmer

This is a Very Short story. Shockingly so: twelve pages on my computer and it was over before I knew it, and then more than 50% of the “book’s” content is promotion for the author’s other books. I’d probably be annoyed if I’d paid $1.99 for it as customers have to.

That’s not to say it isn’t written well – Fiona Palmer is a pretty well-known author of Australian rural fiction.

I know there’re a lot of people who can’t get enough of this genre. The big, open, isolated spaces of rural fiction appeal to a lot of Australians, particularly as most of us live in urban areas.

I can’t fault the writing. Palmer is getting steadily better as an author. I’ve read her first book and most of what she’s written since, and you can definitely see her improvement as an author.

There really isn’t a lot else to say, as there really wasn’t much of a story here!


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Goodreads giveaway closing soon: Driftwood by Mandy Magro

Australian and New Zealand readers have until tomorrow to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Driftwood by Mandy Magro. You can win one of ten copies!

Driftwood by Mandy Magro

When the bushranger heritage of a family explodes into modern day, buried secrets are unearthed… with lasting consequences.

To Taylor Whitworth, knowing that she’ll never meet her deceased biological father is devastating. All she knows is he was a stockman, so she yearns to be like her father and to become a jillaroo. She packs her bags and hits the road, destination unknown, until she happens upon the country township of Driftwood.

Life-burdened Jay Cooper is a cowboy through and through, with his passion for the outback and bad boy image inherited from his forefathers. The whole town whispers about him but Jay doesn’t care. Except that his rough and tumble lifestyle is stopped dead in its tracks when he happens across Taylor on a deserted country road. And soon, their mutual love of horses begins a wonderful friendship that develops when Jay offers Taylor a job as a jillaroo on his cattle station.