Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

Title: The Dress Shop of Dreams
Author: Menna van Praag
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (December 30 2014)
ISBN: 9780804178983
Pages: 336 pages
How We Read It: eARC
Genre: magical realism, women's fiction, contemporary
Our Rating: 5 cups 

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Our Thoughts:

As a huge fan of the magical realism genre, and having read and enjoyed this author's previous book, The House at the End of Hope Street, I was extremely eager to read this novel. Happily, it did not disappoint! The few minor quibbles I had with the prior book -- uneven pacing, abrupt point of view changes, and slightly one-dimensional characters -- were completely rectified here. There is still a fairly large cast of characters, but all are well-written and appealing, even those that are not the 'heroes' of the tale. I found myself fully invested in each of their stories, and felt the changes in POV were much smoother this time as van Praag deftly maneuvered the various storylines to come seamlessly together.

Once again, van Praag's lyrical writing enchants. As soon as you open the stunning front cover, you fall right in from the very first pages, as her prose wraps around you and transports you fully into the story where you happily remain until turning the final page. The imagery is so engaging you feel as though you are trying on dresses at Etta's dress shop,

“Wear this dress and you'll find what you're missing: confidence, courage, power, love, beauty, magnificence....Wear this dress and it will transform your life....For these are dresses that unlock the wisdom and wishes of women's hearts, dresses that help them to heal themselves and, eventually, attain their deepest desires.” 

or experiencing the book shop for the first time alongside young Walt,

He had stepped into a kingdom: an oak labyrinth of bookshelves, corridors and canyons of literature beckoning him, whispering enchanting words Walt had never heard before. The air was smoky with the scent of leather, ink and paper, caramel-rich and citrus-sharp. Walt stuck out his small tongue to taste this new flavor and grinned, sticky with excitement. And he knew, all of a sudden and deep in his soul, that this was a place he belonged more than any other.”

I enjoyed all the elements within this tale. There is a bit of mystery mixed in along with van Praag's trademark 'life lessons' and plenty of personal growth for all the characters as they endeavor to find their places in the world, especially the overly analytical Cora.

Not all of life's answers are found in your head, some you have to sense with your heart.”

This was a truly delightful book from cover to cover. It left me with a huge smile on my face, feeling that satisfied 'after book glow', and firmly ensconced this author on my list of favorites. She strikes a perfect balance here, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Pick it up and experience a little magic for yourself!

Most people think this world we live in is mundane, you remind us that it's magical. You wrap reality in the wonder and joy of fiction, until it infuses us and becomes true.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

GIVEAWAY: First Frost Challenge

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves...


Enter to Win a Grand Prize of an iPad Mini and a Signed Copy of First Frost.25 runner-ups will receive a signed copy of First Frost.(open to US residents only)

Complete Four Steps:

  1. Go to Goodreads
  2. Add the Book
  3. Watch the Trailer
  4. Like a Quote

But hurry because January 11th is the last day to enter - GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: The Night Falling by Katherine Webb

Title:  The Night Falling

Publisher: November 25 2014 by Hachette AustraliaOrion
Pages: 432 pages
How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction
Our Rating: three ½ cups


Puglia, 1921. Leandro Cardetta, born into poverty, emigrated to America to make his fortune and has returned home to southern Italy a rich man, accompanied by his glamorous wife, Marcie, an ex-showgirl fighting middle age. Now Leandro has money enough to hire renowned English architect, Boyd Kinsgley, to renovate a crumbling palazzo into an Art Deco statement of wealth, and host Boyd's teenage son and his diffident young second wife, Clare, for one extraordinary summer.

Under the burning sky, beyond the luxury of Leandro's home, tensions are high. Veterans of the Great War are desperate for work and food. Among these is Ettore, Leandro's nephew. Gripped by grief at the loss of his fiancée, Ettore has sworn to identify Livia's killer, and take his revenge. He is too proud to go to his uncle for charity, but when he injures himself one day, he has no choice but to knock on Leandro's door. Meeting Clare there will change everything - and in the most violent way.

During the fierce summer of 1921, all these lives converge. Exactly how did Leandro grow rich in America, and what is the strange hold he has over Boyd? What happened to the first Mrs Kingsley, and what secret haunts the outwardly exuberant Marcie Cardetta? Hearts will be broken, blood will be spilt and the hardest of life's lessons will be learnt as shadows fall.

Our thoughts:

“The streets of Gioia feel poised, as tense as a pent breath; like the whole town is waiting to exhale, and that exhale might be a roar”.

We have mixed feelings about this book. We were expecting to get swept away immediately, and kept telling ourselves, that the author was taking her time in establishing the characters and situation etc. So the first odd hundred pages are not inspiring. Persevere though, for the tale will take over and you will be rewarded by a very skilful pulling together of separate threads into a climactic ending.  The plot twists, especially towards the finale, are most noteworthy.

“There are things we can’t force, and things we can’t help but do, where the heart in involved”.

This is a tale based on alternating chapters between the two lead characters – Clare and Ettore – and is set mainly in the South East corner of rural Italy in 1921. There is such an array of strong characters in this tale that you will be pleasantly surprised. They will do, and have to do, so much just to survive, with each individual convinced that their path is the right one.  

“This is not Britain, Mrs Kingsley; this is not even Italy. This is Puglia”.

Initially we found the political component of the story rather tortuous. But as the author correctly states, this is a tale that is true to the era and to the social and political landscape of the time. There is a lot to be learnt in this small post-war area of Italy – the suffering that existed and how the people tried to overcome such dire poverty with methods that may not be sanctioned and peaceful, and ultimately, had such devastating consequences.

We only wish we'd had the impulse from the start and that whilst the author remained as true as possible to facts, captured the readers attention earlier. Some aspects of the tale were a little too wordy for us – a sensory overload in adjectives – but then again, you might like to get lost in lavish descriptions.

“He’s one of a silent multitude who have broken themselves against the rocks and hard ground, who have starved and toiled and ground a life out of dust, and afterwards have given back their bones for the privilege. Short lives, anonymous lives; lives lived hand to mouth, with their fleeting moments of joy like tiny sparks that flare and are then snuffed out”.

If you give yourself the time to become immersed, then perhaps you'll rush to the end as we did. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.