Hello, and happy Monday! I hope you had a relaxing weekend and that your week is off to a wonderful start!
One of the things I’d like to do on this blog is to highlight and review books that I’ve enjoyed. I’m a reviewer for Net Galley, so I’ll do some advance reads from there, but sometimes, I’ll do one I’ve selected just for fun… and that starts today!
I’m going to call these “Book Notes.” A book review sounds so formal, and I like to think of this as sharing some thoughts between friends. 🙂
For my very first Book Notes entry, I’ve chosen The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag. The intro from the publisher begins:
“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.”
That description is on target! First of all, are you familiar with magical realism? Goodreads defines the genre like this:
Magical realism is a fiction genre in which magical elements blend to create a realistic atmosphere that accesses a deeper understanding of reality. The story explains these magical elements as normal occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.
Basically, it’s a story set in the real world with ordinary people, but it’s just a given that a magical thread is woven through their lives. This is one of my *favorite* genres to read, and the book I’m currently writing has elements of this genre. If you’ve never tried it, this story is a good place to start!!
In The Dress Shop of Dreams, Cora is a twenty-something who, after the sudden and mysterious deaths of her parents twenty years ago, has shut herself off to love, wonder, and emotion. Instead she resides in the world of science, logic, and facts. She’s never been in love and doesn’t see the point.
Cora’s grandmother, Etta, lives in a different reality altogether. Etta’s unassuming but delightful dress shop appears somewhat ordinary, but holds a big secret: with a few stitches, Etta can give the right dress the power to unlock a woman’s deepest wishes and desires.
Etta would love to apply this magic to her granddaughter, who has been oblivious to the fact that Walt, Etta’s neighbor and owner of the local book shop, has been in love with Cora for years. So Etta, innocently enough, adds a few small stitches to Walt’s shirt, just to give the potentially perfect match a little help. But magic isn’t exactly science and sometimes takes a path of its own, and in the end, Etta has unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that quickly spirals out of her hands.
Throughout the book, secrets are revealed and incredible connections are made between seemingly unrelated incidents. By the time the story wraps up, Cora’s life, and the lives of everyone around her, are changed in stunning ways.
Whew! Let me start off by saying, this is a book I couldn’t read all in one sitting. Not because it wasn’t magnificent, but because it’s the sort of read you don’t just rush through. This is meant to be savored and pondered. It may seem like a light read on the surface, but the author hits on so many universal experiences: unrequited love, life not turning out as you plan, and good intentions gone awry, to name a few.
I really enjoyed the characters. Cora, the protagonist, had the most obvious growth throughout the novel, but I loved the changes to the other characters as well, particularly Etta, who turned out to have a secret of her own. This is a story where you root for the characters, and for them to have happy endings.
All in all, I loved this book. The threads of the story were woven together much like the threads Etta wove into her creations, to give us something whimsical and wonderful. To call this magical realism almost seems too light… this book was just plain magic. Highly recommend for a great summer read!!
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