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11 February 2015

Review: 'The Dress Shop of Dreams' by Menna van Praag (2014)

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.

I was not familiar with author Menna van Praag when I spotted the book cover of her latest release 'The Dress Shop of Dreams.' However, I straight away absolutely loved the blurb and was quite sure I would end up really enjoying this story. The novel is described as magical realism, which immediately reminded me of Cecelia Ahern's books, which I absolutely love and can never get enough of. The title and the cover also grabbed my interest, and I was really happy when I was lucky enough to get a review copy through NetGalley. Unfortunately, it took me a bit longer than unexpected to finally pick up the review copy and start reading the story, but at the start of this year I sat down with it and didn't want to stop reading until I had finished it!

Cora Sparks' life revolves completely around two things: science, the field where her passion lies, and her grandmother Etta, who has taken care of her ever since her parents died in a fire when Cora was just a little girl. Etta owns her own dress shop and has the magical ability to help women pick the perfect dress that will help them with the issues they are dealing with; help them make their most secret dream come true. To save Cora from all the hurt and pain that was waiting for her after her parents' death, Etta used her magic to make sure Cora would not be able to feel the sadness. However, this has turned Cora into the pragmatic scientist she is today, unable to empathise with others or feel love. Etta wants Cora to realise what is right in front of her in the shape of her best friend and bookshop owner Walt and wants her granddaughter to not miss her chance at happiness and love. Yet things don't exactly go according to Etta's plan, and suddenly Cora's life is filled with lots of unexpected changes and events through which she has to find her own way.

This novel managed to exceed all of the expectations I had, and I honestly loved it from start to finish. The storyline was already captivating from the first few pages, but managed to continue to surprise and entertain me as the story progressed. Both Etta and Cora are wonderful characters; different from one another but both with a fascinating story to tell. I really enjoyed the author's writing style and how we were able to see things from the perspective of several of the characters. The different points of view and storylines were all connected to each other in an amazing way, and I honestly didn't want to have to put the book down for even a second. I would love to visit Etta's dress shop, hidden away in a street in Cambridge, with its gorgeous dresses, the music that starts playing as soon as someone walks in... Such a magical place! 

And that's exactly the word to describe this novel: magical. I love the magical realism genre, and Menna van Praag definitely managed to create an amazing novel that fits this genre perfectly, with a lovely touch of romance and mystery at its core. I really want to applaud the author; she's a wonderful storyteller and this novel will certainly stay with me and will be one I can't recommend to others enough. I don't often mention quotes in my reviews, but the one at the start of this novel definitely made an impression on me: "If two hearts truly love each other then they always will, even when they are apart. Unless they both let go. But if one holds on then it's because the other one hasn't yet let it go either." 'The Dress Shop of Dreams' is a beautifully written, captivating and magical story that held my attention from start to finish; quite simply a must-read! 
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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