The Week: 13th – 19th August

What a week. I am very busy at the moment.

In the world? We’ve had about 120 bushfires in the region in the past few days. To people who deny climate change: it’s WINTER here. Canberra’s kangaroo plague is getting worse (also due to climate change!). Then there was another terror attack in London, and that horrendous bridge collapse in Genoa…

Then there was the shock death of Soviet gymnastics star Yelena Shushunova. She was the 1988 Olympic Champion and a five-time World Champion. I still have video tapes of her. She died so young that one of the gymnasts she trained with still competes.

Happy Birthday to the National Library!

Enlighten Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 11th March 2017 National Library of Australia Canberra Women's History Reflection Night

Out Now: Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee

Pie Comic by John McNamee Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears

On this day: the Australian Women’s Army Service was formed

Awas_in_wa_1943Northam, West Australia. 1943-04-20. The Minister for the Australian Army, the Honourable F.M. Forde, inspecting personnel of the Australian Women's Army Service at the We

Vietnam Veterans Day

Binh Ba 1 - Copy

One Year Ago

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The Week: 8th – 14th May

This photo is not edited. THAT is how blue the sky was when this photo was taken!

Such a gorgeous week in Canberra! I kept putting on nearly-winter clothes, getting hot, and having to change.

I would like to point out EVERYONE should note that Eurovision is happening right now in KYIV – the correct name for Ukraine’s capital city. Please – for the love of God – stop calling it by the Russian name, “Kiev”! Look at the official image above!

I was actually in Kyiv (not “Kiev”!) last year when Ukraine won. I was the only person in the building still awake, but I was not watching, because the corruption disgusted me. However, I turned on the computer, and there was the news: Ukraine won, despite everything. I danced around, and then woke everyone up!!

I am guessing Kremlin voting mills have been established throughout Europe (and maybe Australia, as we are now contestants). Whatever result it is, I guarantee you the Russians have influenced it.

I am NOT watching Eurovision this year.

Spent half a day early this week trying to rescue our neighbour’s cat. She is over eighteen (very old for a cat!), TOTALLY blind, almost totally deaf, and still insists on going on adventures every day (most of them in our garden). But she became completely disoriented that day, got stuck on top of a metal fence a few metres high, and it took several hours to rescue her (because she sometimes panics when people get close, due to her blindness). She did get a big piece of chicken as a present from me, however!

I had my 2000th post on this blog yesterday. 2000!

Happy Mother’s Day for people who celebrate it today (like we do). We are heading out to lunch in Braddon. Is it really late this year, or am I imagining things?

My review of An Unlikely Mother by Danica Favorite

Watching The Americans

Struggling Genres

Don’t Call Me Honey

The death of Winnipeg the bear.

 This Cover!

Don’t Call Me Honey

Interesting piece over at All About Romance a few days ago, discussing a Suzanne Brockmann book I haven’t read for years:

Don’t Call Me Honey

The piece discusses the offensive ways the hero insists on referring to the heroine, even after she has asked him not to, and even in a work situation. The AAR piece is worth a read.

Naturally, not everyone in the comments agrees, but I do take issue with people jumping straight to “If you want feminism, then I won’t open a door for you!” whenever someone wants to talk about gender equality. It’s the fastest way to dismiss real issues as unimportant.

It is not common in any country I’ve lived for people to use terms like honey and babe when referring to women (or men), and it wasn’t until I began reading the romance genre that I was even exposed to it. So it has always seemed a little odd to me.

However, the article is about much more than basic nicknames.

Suzanne Brockmann is a favourite author of mine, and one who usually works very hard to include diversity and feminism in her books, so don’t take this one example as a reason to not read her stuff!

Changes in Romantic Suspense

United States Navy SEALs

 US Navy SEALs

Romantic suspense was fantastic about ten years ago, but recently it has sort of disappeared and morphed into other genres (NA, for example), and something is… different. Many of the best authors have moved over to writing small town romances or young adult fiction, while others put out books so infrequently it’s frustrating.

I’ve noticed RS books now tend to be one of two types. Either they’re deliberately over-the-top, on the silly side, and featuring characters (SEALs, for example) whose work doesn’t even remotely resemble the way the jobs are done in real life.

Otherwise, they’re heavy on the sex and the melodrama, but sorely lacking in actual suspense or action.

The first type of book is fun sometimes, but I don’t want it all the time.

The second type of book is problematic for me because the drama doesn’t come from the plot; it comes from melodramatically tragic backstories and lots of brutalisation of the heroine that is totally unnecessary to the plot.

Things like violence – even sexual violence – can be and have been handled well in a lot of books, if not so many recently. I was recently rereading some Suzanne Brockmann books. Over the Edge was published in 2001, and it is still one of my absolute favourites. It incorporates some things that we might consider clichéd now (including navy SEALs!), but it was original back then, and it was done So Much Better.

This scene comes near the end of the book, and is between two secondary characters. Though it is the aftermath of violence, it is handled better than in most books now. I go back and reread this scene sometimes, and it has a much stronger effect on me than most books do now – and these aren’t even the main characters:

Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

Obviously, there’re some spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet:

Gina lay on the floor of the cockpit, aware of the door being forced open.

Someone came in. Someone in uniform who took one look at her and began shouting for the lieutenant, shouting for medical assistance.

And then another man came in. He was wearing a white button-down shirt and a tie, and he had a blanket that he used to cover her.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, ‘that we didn’t get here sooner,’ and it was so strange to hear that voice, Max’s voice, coming out of a real mouth, in a real face.

It was a good face. Blurry, but good. What she could see was older than she’d pictured, with deep lines of fatigue around his eyes.

He had tears in his eyes, and she knew that seeing her like that, broken and bleeding, hurt him badly.

‘At least you got here,’ she said. ‘I’m pleased to finally meet you, Max.’

He laughed at that, but then started to cry. As she watched, he composed himself, wiping his eyes and even managing to give her a smile. ‘I’m going to get you off the plane now.’

He was ready to pick her up in his arms, but she didn’t want him to remember her that way forever. First impressions were important, after all, and she was already at a serious disadvantage.

And dammit, she wanted to see something besides pity in his eyes.

‘No,’ she told him. ‘I want to walk.’ And as she said it, she realised it was true. She did. She wanted to walk off that plane. ‘Will you help me walk out of here?’

‘Yeah.’ He nodded and helped her to her feet, the muscle jumping in his jaw as his repositioning the blanket around her forced him to get another glimpse of her battered body.

He stood on the side of her unbroken wrist, slipping her arm over his shoulders, his arm around her waist, supporting her.

And she walked. Out of the cockpit. Out of the plane. One step at a time.

Military Romance

gi-jane

GI Jane – not my favourite sort of romance heroine!

RT Magazine had an article recently, about US military romance. It featured interviews with some authors whose books I’ve enjoyed.

However, the tone of the article really annoyed me.

I said for a long time that romantic suspense was my favourite subgenre, but I probably have more fingers than I need to count the suspense books I’ve read in the past few years. The main reason for that is because I can’t identify with the gun-toting, smart-talking, superhero women in recent books.

I read a lot of blurbs – even of books I get for free – before deciding against reading them.

This article was all about how bad romantic suspense books are when the heroine isn’t at least as big and tough and rough as the hero.

And I’m sorry, but I disagree.

Once again, we’ve gone down the route of mistaking gun skills and punching people with gender equality. A woman doesn’t have to BECOME a man in order to be strong. And too many authors in this genre seem to think that is the case.

I don’t want my heroines to spend the whole book flopping around uselessly and waiting to be rescued, but I would like a little bit more balance. There are too many romantic suspense heroines today who terrify me!

The reason I loved this genre so much was for the Suzanne Brockmanns of a decade or more ago. Sure, the men might have had the physical advantage, but that didn’t make the heroines weak, and it didn’t mean they weren’t stronger in other ways. In fact, one of the best things about those books was that even though the heroine often lacked the training the men had, she rose to the occasion.

Her appeal to the hero was that she was stronger than he could have believed she was.

Military heroines can be done brilliantly. Case in point: Kaylea Cross. But they can also be so “cool” that I start to dislike them. You don’t need to be good with guns to be a strong person.

I might be alone in feeling this way, but everything I’ve read has said romantic suspense has gone out of fashion in the past few years, so surely I’m not. Even some of my old favourites are now writing exclusively GI Jane heroines, and I no longer read what they write.

Does every heroine really have to be in the Special Forces? Because a lot of those heroines might have the credentials, but I often discover they’re the weakest and wimpiest characters in the end. In fact, one of the books in the article is one I gave a scathing review to because of the superficially “tough” but actually wimpy, weak and useless heroine. She was allegedly a military superhero, and it didn’t make her strong!

Is it really such a crime if just occasionally it’s the hero, rather than the heroine, who does something heroic? Just once every so often?

The only place you can still find the romantic suspense of a decade ago is in Harlequin/Mills and Boon, it seems. I’ve actually seen authors there who comment that their editors told them they’d made the hero too weak and let the heroine save the day on her own, and please don’t do that!

I don’t always agree with how conservative category romance is. However, surely there’s a balance between the two extremes. That’s what I want to read.

I’m Bored!

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I do a lot of my reading while I’m exercising, and recently I’ve started dreading that time of day.

Not because I don’t want to exercise, but because I don’t want to read.

I’d love it if publishers could enforce a rule for a year. Ban these terms:

Billionaire. Navy SEAL. Bluestocking. MMA Fighter. Cowboy. Duke.

PLEASE! Let’s see what authors can do when their comfort zones are taken away!

I have a few dozen review books I can’t even bring myself to start, and I have a pretty good idea that I could write reviews for them without even reading the first page. Actually, I could save even more time and just copy and paste an old review for a different book. It would still be accurate.

Robyn Carr Virgin River Series

When Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series got everyone excited, publishers decided that from then on they were only going to accept books that were exact copies of that series. I loved Bella Andre’s fire-fighter themed romantic suspense series, and was really looking forward to the final book. Only to discover it had become another VR-style small town romance.

Wild Heat by Bella Andre

Book One

I later found out Andre got dumped from her publisher because they didn’t want her suspense books, because – you know – People Only Want To Read Small Town Romances.

Then publishers started telling us all these ridiculous theories about why People Only Want To Read Small Town Romances. They blamed it on everything from the US economy to the war in Iraq.

I call BS on that. The reason Virgin River was popular was because Robyn Carr wrote great books. But you know what? I didn’t want to read everyone else trying to rewrite Virgin River!

Suzanne Brockmann revolutionised suspense when she wrote her Navy SEAL series in the late 90s and early 2000s. If you’re only going to read two or three SEAL books in your life, choose from The Defiant Hero, Over the Edge and Out of Control.

The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

However, just because Brockmann wrote something brilliant doesn’t mean every single other hero in every single suspense or contemporary book from here on has to be a SEAL. I’ve just come across a series that’s about SEALs who go on a holiday cruise together, and there they all meet women and fall in love with them, and there’s some BDSM involved, and CAN ANYBODY TELL ME WHAT THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE MILITARY??

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Not to mention the huge number of historical romances I’ve read in the last few years where authors have pretty much stolen scenes from Lisa Kleypas‘ books. They’ve quite literally written Kleypas’ scenes, but with just enough changes that it couldn’t be called plagiarism. No originality. Just “more of the same”.

I hate that publishers think that just because someone wrote a book that was good, for the rest of eternity ONLY that exact book can be written and published.

The romance industry has made SEALs into a joke. I go out of my way to NOT read about them anymore, even though military romance is a genre I used to love to pieces (and still do with a few authors). Seeing yet another series coming out that’s attempting to be Virgin River 2.0 makes me want to cry.

I can’t believe it, but at the moment I’m almost sick of reading. And that is entirely the fault of today’s publishers and editors.

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.

The Week: 10th – 16th March

CrimeaUkraine23

The week Vladimir ‘Adolf Hitler’ Putin “officially” stole Crimea from Ukraine.

I’m posting this a day late, as we’ve been in Melbourne since Thursday for the Formula One Grand Prix and we only just flew home.

Melbourne Australia Formula One Grand Prix 16th March 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

The race was great fun and everything was going so well, and then the officials went and ruined it by making the result invalid due to some silly regulation breach. It’s really bad for the sport, for the spectators, for everyone.

There was a bit of bad weather, but nothing like we worried it would be. I think I made the same complaint last year, but I’ll say it again: what’s with all the cigarettes in Melbourne?! You can still smoke in cafés. At the track people have no qualms about sharing your table and then lighting up and wafting cigarette (or – worse – cigar) smoke in your face. Yuck!

Anyway, I’m a little behind on things now. I spent a week trying to cheer myself up with light and fluffy Regency romances, but apparently I don’t like light and fluffy Regency romances! All the inaccuracies and all that modern American dialogue drives me insane. So instead I got into a darker book and reread a favourite.

My review of Where It May Lead by Janice Kay Johnson

Where It May Lead by Janice Kay Johnson

My review of Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain

Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain

My review of Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

My review of Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

My review of Her Highness and the Highlander by Tracy Anne Warren

Her Highness and the Highlander (The Princess Brides, #2) by Tracy Anne Warren

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs. Or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the U.S. government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission for reasons he will not—or cannot—reveal.

But saying no is not an option. Especially not for Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s beautiful and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, she not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible–style operation, whether he likes it or not.

Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty—or die trying.

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

“I a holding my Glock on you, Mr Dunn.”

“What kind of Glock?” he asked.

“A great, big, shiny one,” she told him.

“Hah!” he said. “Mistake! Glocks aren’t shiny.”

Suzanne Brockmann was a true innovator in the romantic suspense genre. She wrote about Navy SEALs long before everyone, their grandmother and their dog did. (She also wrote them properly – with lots of research – which can’t be said for most of the 1000000000 SEAL heroes today.) She wrote real men, not the unrealistic, poetry-quoting, “obsessive” men I’m so tired of reading about these days. She wrote with humour.

I haven’t read a Brockmann book for years, but I have to say that she found her magic again. For anybody who appreciates a – you know – plot as much as they do the other stuff in this genre, you’ll be overjoyed to read this book.

The plot is unique, the characters all individual, and there’s so much humour in here even though it’s officially a serious story. It was just great to read.

Look, I know not every review for this book is perfect. There’re complaints about too many characters, however I think Brockmann is one of the few authors who can pull that off without confusing me. I don’t even remember what the other complaints were, but I suspect the romantic suspense genre has gone so far in the direction of Navy SEAL returns to hometown and spends 200 pages having sex with his high school girlfriend that this was a huge shift for people’s expectations.

My promise to myself to read more romantic suspense this year is going okay so far – not as great as I wanted it to be. I’m going to have to find more Brockmann-esque writing if I’m going to achieve it!

Review copy provided by NetGalley.