The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham | August 11, 2015 (Thank you, Penguin!!)
1950s Australia. A once-exiled woman returns to her hometown to care for her ailing mother, Mad Molly. Myrtle Dunnage – now Tilly – left Dungatar two decades ago after a terrible accident left fingers pointing her way. Since then she has studied fashion in some of the world’s most fashionable places: Paris, London, Spain. With her mother’s health (both mental and physical) failing, Tilly packs up and returns to the town that doesn’t want her. Once the women see the wonders she can do with a bolt of fabric however, they all but fight over her, only to have tragedy strike once more, convincing Tilly she is indeed cursed.
For such a wide range of characters and threads (ha!) I have surprisingly little to say about this one. I first became aware of The Dressmaker through the movie trailer (gorgeous Kate Winslet, shirtless Liam Hemsworth – need I say more??) and was instantly charmed. While I still have every intention on seeing the film, I can’t exactly say the book had the same effect on me. To be honest, I’m hoping the movie strays from the book – yes, gasp, I know.
The cast was overwhelmingly large and, even having finished it, I’m still having a hard time getting everyone straight. Ms. Ham’s attempt at memorable characters was a letdown and, instead, every person in this book was a complete caricature: there’s the frumpy spinster, the highbrow mother-in-law, the crossdressing sheriff. By the end of the book, there’s an odd veer into a town production of a Shakespeare play and a baffling moment when Tilly gets her revenge that left me scratching my head. While I enjoyed the peek into small-town life, I wish The Dressmaker would have stuck with Tilly’s story. I wanted to know so much more about this woman, particularly her past, but those moments were unfortunately dedicated instead to characters I didn’t care for at all.
The Woman Who Would be King by Kara Cooney
This one is subtitled Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt and I couldn’t have been more delighted when I saw it was available at my library. Lately I’ve found I LOVE listening to non-fic on audio, particularly while running (some of my favorites ended up in my top reads of 2015 post!) While I especially love non-fic that digs into history, I’ve come to realize that the bios I do read tend to be male-focused. Determined to make a change – and learn about a little-known woman – I scooped up this one and dove right in.
While I immensely enjoyed it, I will admit that this one definitely wouldn’t appeal to die-hard Ancient Egypt fans or academics already knowledgeable on the subject. In the preface Cooney states this book heavily relies on guesswork and suggestions and is completely upfront about taking several liberties since so few records have survived. Because of this, many of the sentences begin with ‘maybe,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘one can assume,’ etc. With this style of writing, The Woman Who Would be King comes off as more of a historical fiction novel than a researched biography. Personally I adore histfic so this didn’t detract from my enjoyment, though I would have preferred either a 100% fictional account of Hatshepsut’s life or a more unbiased text.
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff | April, 2011
I have a HUGE thing for WWII novels, yet rarely venture into WWII non-fic. I had put in a request for this one at my library after reading several rare reviews and was ecstatic when it was finally my turn. Having read it, I’m left wondering how could an adventure story, this plane crash that only left a few survivors in an uncharted jungle filled with cannibals be so boring??
That’s not quite fair though. The beginning was truly fascinating and I found myself wholly swept up in the story. There were a few moments with Zuckoff (who did the audio – yay for authors who read their own work!) pronounced words incorrectly and that threw me out of the story, but those were few and far between. By the halfway point, however, my attention span grew mighty thin. I wanted to know more about this handful of survivors – some of whom had gangrenous limbs. I wanted to know more about the native tribe who took them in. Sadly, as the novel progressed its intrigue lessened and by the end I was so far removed I barely noticed. Bummer.