Friday, April 24, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams

Title:  The Dress Shop of Dreams
Author:  Menna van Praag
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0804178984 / 978-0804178983

Book Source:  I read this book based on its cover.

Opening Sentence:  "When ordinary shoppers stumble into the little dress shop, they usually leave without buying anything."

Favorite Quote:  "It's a great shame ... that the heart cannot feel joy without also feeling pain, that it cannot know love without also knowing loss."

The surface plot of this book is about Cora Sparks, a studious scientist who never recovered from the mysterious death of her parents. Her grandmother Etta raised Cora after her parents' death and watched her forge a path in science in an effort to live up to her parents' unfinished legacy. Etta knows that there are secrets that Cora has buried and that perhaps her path should allow for more than science. So, it begins with Cora. A revelation from her grandmother leads her on a path of discovery of what happened to her parents and on a journey to herself.

More than the mystery of Cora's parents, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a story of love - secret loves that go unexpressed, actions we take to protect those we love, sacrifices we make for love, love where we don't expect it - romantic love in a myriad of expressions. Be warned, however. The love stories in this book are not always sweet and heart warming. Each has a sadder, darker element to them.

The first love story is Cora's. The scars of her childhood leave Cora unable to open herself up to see the love before her; she leads a somewhat sad, closed off life.

Investigating her parents' death, Cora meets a young detective. He is in the middle of a divorce, but he still loves his wife. His story leads to sad discoveries about the reasons for the divorce.

Walt is Cora's childhood friend; he has loved her all his life. However, he ends up involved with Milly, a young widow; he leads Milly on in a way that she certainly does not deserve. His voice brings magic to other people's lives, but he cannot bring it to his own. His unrequited love turns into sadness for someone else as well.

Milly is a young widow. Bereft after her husband's death, she begins to envision a future. However, when Walt's reality does not match the letters signed by him, she stands on the brink between the joy of new love and the sadness of loss.

Walt's boss is leading life alone. His love story seems to be living vicariously through the dreams of others.

Etta herself runs a dress shop, and not an ordinary one. Her dresses seems to find the right people at the right time in their lives. Etta's magical stitches in the dresses seem to reach wishes and desire that perhaps even the wearer does not know she had. However, Etta hides her own secrets and wishes well. Her love story is one of walking away to give the one she loved the freedom to pursue his life dream.

A local priest has the ability to hear confessions that his parishioners wish to share and to provide them the solace they need. However, the secrets of his own past make his heart heavy. The solace does not reach his sadness.

All these lives intersect in this one book. Sometimes sweetly, sometimes, disturbingly, and sometimes sadly. By the end, things sort themselves out as you would suspect they would. It's not quite the feel good book I expected, but it is a very quick, very easy read.  A few stitches in a dress, a little magic - All it takes is a little suspension of disbelief to spend a quiet afternoon with this story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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