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.

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