After Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was very young she lived with her maternal grandmother, Etta, above her dress shop in Cambridge. While Etta worked to change the lives of her customers one magical stitch at a time, Cora was more interested in numbers and science and changing the entire world, her heart having hardened itself against joy and love and embraced the solidity of measurable facts in an attempt to hold back the pain and grief that she can’t quite remember. Now having grown into an intelligent, socially-stifled young scientist, Etta is determined that it is finally time for her to work her magic on Cora, trying to find a way to open her granddaughter’s heart to the shy bookseller, Walt, who has loved Cora since he first met her when he was four. But working her magic has unexpected consequences, ones that not only confuse the relationship between Cora and Walt but also brings up old memories of what really happened the night Cora’s parents died, something that might not have been as accidental as it seemed.
If one can turn off their rational mind and just go into the reading of The Dress Shop of Dreams with a completely open and whimsical disposition than this story is a balm for the spirit. The main premise surrounding Etta’s magical dress shop and her dresses that help the women wearing them discover and reach their ultimate dreams is delightful. The descriptions of not only the dress shop but Walt’s book shop and the surrounding insular world of Cambridge is enchanting and so vivid that I couldn’t help but feel wrapped up tight in this wonderful setting.
My favorite aspect of the novel was the fact that it is an absolute love letter to bibliophiles. The descriptive passages of the all-encompassing effect books have on all the senses as well as the complete magic one experiences when opening the cover and turning the pages is simply spot on. I read these passages over and over and found a kindred spirit in the quiet yet bookish Walt.
Where my enjoyment of the novel ebbed slightly was in the fact that everything was just a little bit too whimsical for me. Not only does Etta have a gift for stitching magic into her dresses but Walt’s second job reading books aloud for the radio has people overcome with longing and hope just from hearing his words. A local priest can hear the confessions of his parishioners even without them speaking and the police officer that assists Cora when she tries to find out what really happened to her parents can instinctively know if someone is lying or telling the truth. It just seemed too convenient that all of these people have special, magical gifts and that they’ve all somehow found their way to each other.
The other aspect that lessened my enjoyment was the simple fact that just too much was dealt with within this relatively short book (under 300 pages). We have the magical dress shop and the women who come in and out of the shop that Etta helps, we have her trying to bring Cora and Walt together and Cora’s warming heart unleashing painful memories that set her on her quest to discover how her parents really died. That in itself would be enough for me but also laced in with these storylines is a secondary romance for Walt, the complicated relationship between the police officer assisting Cora and his ex-wife and even an old and complicated relationship for Etta. It just felt a little too much and in the end all wrapped up a little too neatly.
The Dress Shop of Dreams is an altogether enchanting and enjoyable story. It is beautifully written and any reader looking for a read to get lost in will end the book happy and completely satisfied. However, if you like any reality mixed in with your magic then you might find yourself questioning just how perfectly everything fits together. I definitely enjoyed my time within the story and look forward to reading other books by the author.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.