The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

Unusually for me I saw the movie of this book twice before reading the book. I almost never see the movie first, and pretty much never prefer the it over the book.

In this case I loved the movie so much that the book had a lot to live up to, and it didn’t quite make it. For a start the story is incredibly visual with all the dresses and other outfits, and reading descriptions of them didn’t do much for me.

I also found there were too many characters, I think more than were included in the movie. I kept forgetting who was who or trying to picture their on-screen incarnation.

That’s not to say there’s nothing good here. Most interesting to me was the extra insight into lead character Myrtle Dunnage and detail of her story. I thought the movie was dark and it is, this is darker again but leavened with dry laughter as Australian literature can do so well.

The character of Teddy made more sense when the incongruous sight of Liam Hemsworth was gone and the dialogue rang true, spoken in that flat Australian accent.

This story is for anyone with an appreciation of pitch black storytelling well told. Characters like Mr Almanac, the hunch backed chemist, or Sgt Farrat the cross dressing local policeman, are simply wonderful inventions of page or screen.


The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Australian outback is not a part of the country that many people see. Visitors generally stick to the coastal cities or the big ticket inland sights like Uluru.

The Lost Man takes place in western Queensland, far from the Great Barrier Reef tourist boats in the east. The landscape is baked and deadly, ranches are the size of small European countries and cattle are mustered by helicopter.

Jane Harper expertly evokes the heat and dust of this challenging place, while the plot grabs from the first paragraph as we are introduced to the Bright brothers. Only two of the three are alive and oldest brother Nathan has no idea what has happened.

The story follows Nathan as he tries to understand his brother’s death and navigate family relations while they deal with their new reality. I liked Nathan a lot, not least because he is believably flawed and human in his ability to make mistakes.

This is masterful storytelling that has the reader turning the pages while bringing home an understanding of the dangers of outback living. A great holiday read for me and one of my top recommendations from 2018.

Top 10 Books of 2018

  • Ok so there are 11 books in this list, probably closer to 20 if I was to count all the individual books in the series I’ve put down 😄 Ah feck it! They are not in any order but they all made my year a better place.
    • Notes to Self by Emilie Pine – if I had to pick a no. 1 this would be it. Loved it.
    • Circe by Madeline Miller – great telling of the story of the Titan goddess.
    • Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson – still my favourite fantasy author. Great characters and story, can’t wait for the next one.
    • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – fun, clever and sometimes dark series that I have really enjoyed.
    • Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – surprise December reads that I thought were great, have the next one on hold at the library.
      An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – deservedly in top lists everywhere this year, a tragic story in which both parties are in the right.
      Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Jones – third in this trilogy focussing on the human population of the her universe. Shows us our best selves.
      Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner – really enjoyed the main character and will continue with the series.
      Educated by Tara Westover – I read some great non fiction this year. A very American story of Mormonism and success against the odds.
      The Lost Man by Jane Harper – I finished this yesterday and had to add it to my top 10 which then became 11. Great storytelling.
      One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – I read this at the start of the year for a book club and it’s stayed with me. Not a long book and one I would never have picked up without the book club. An account of life in a gulag over a 24 hour period that puts modern difficulties in perspective.

    December Reads

    December was a great reading month! I’ve been on holiday for most of it which helped me get to my target of 100 books on Goodreads.

    • Circe by Madeline Miller (reviewed) – great, my favourite of the Greek myth revisits so far.
    • Warm Up/Vengeful by VE Schwab (reviewed) – ok but didn’t enjoy either as much as Vicious
    • A Keeper by Graham Norton (reviewed) – not as good as Holding for me primary due to the unlikely plot.
    • Bubbles by Eamon Ambrose – another enjoyable short story from Eamon. All his writing is worth checking out.
    • All Systems Red/Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (reviewed) – surprise of the month. I picked them off my TBR due to their short length but loved them both.
    • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (reviewed) – this was a great concept slightly let down by execution. Hoping to see the movie.
    • Dubliners by James Joyce – finally got through this collection as I didn’t prioritise it at all this year. Some beautiful writing and a real sense of Dublin at the start of the 20th century.
      The Lost Man by Jane Harper – loved it, review to follow.

    Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

    Artificial Condition continues the Murderbot Diaries with the main character now freed from its contract status and investigating its past. Along the way it finds unexpected help from ART – Asshole Research Transport (yes the sense of humour continues from the first one!) and takes on a security consultant role for s group of researchers.

    Once again this is a quick, enjoyable read with plenty of plot to enjoy despite the short length. Murderbot and ART’s interactions are often straight our funny as they get caught up in soap operas while fighting killware, among other things.

    This is s terrific series and I look forward to the next instalment!

    All Systems Red by Martha Wells

    I have to be honest, I started reading All Systems Red because it’s short. I’m nearly done with my Goodreads goal of reading 100 books this year and a novella sounded like the perfect choice for no. 98.

    It was a fantastic choice! I flew through the first Murderbot story (and straight into the second) and loved it, Martha Wells is a terrific discovery. Looking up her Wikipedia page I discovered her extensive bibliography and awards so hope to get to more of her work.

    Murderbot is a part human, mostly robot, SecUnit designed to protect humans. It has guns in its arms which is just good fun and a nice line in dry humour. Murderbot has a murky history, hence the self-determined name, and lives in a world that is well thought out, with enough detail and internal logic to make sense of the story without being confusing.

    Despite being mostly robot, Murderbot’s personality comes across clearly, and as a reader I was completely won over. A robot that has no problem killing but doesn’t like being looked at by humans? One that is addicted to soap operas but would rather self destruct than discuss feelings?

    Read this and enjoy, Martha Wells knows what she’s doing.

    Vengeful by VE Schwab

    Vengeful is the sequel to Vicious (2013) which I read and enjoyed earlier this year. Vicious set up a world inhabited by ExtraOrdinaries, people who have gained a super power at the point of death, an interesting take on superheroes.

    Vengeful continues the story of the EO friendship turned rivalry of Victor and Eli plus returning characters Sydney and Mitch. The narrative follows Victor, Syd and Mitch on their travels for the first section of the book, which unfortunately dragged a bit for me. It wasn’t until attention turned to other characters, for example mob wife Marcella, that the pages started turning faster.

    This was a relief as I had been wondering if I might get stuck, but I was glad I persevered as the pace finally picked up and the story became more interesting. I didn’t think this was as good a payoff as Vicious however. Syd is cosseted and protected all the way through but I didn’t care enough about her by the end to worry about what her fate. Shapeshifter June is a great invention and I would like to see where her story goes if there is a further instalment.

    In summary I would recommend Vicious over this sequel, or better still go for the Shades of Magic trilogy.