Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Secret Lives of Dresses

Summary: Dora has always taken the path of least resistance. She went to the college that offered her a scholarship, is majoring in "vagueness studies," and wears whatever shows the least dirt. She falls into a job at the college coffee shop, and a crush on her flirty boss, Gary.

Just when she's about to test Gary's feelings, Mimi, the grandmother who raised her, suffers a stroke. Dora rushes back home to Forsyth, NC, and finds herself running her grandmother's vintage clothing store. The store has always been a fixture in Dora's life; though she grew up more of a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of girl, before she even knew how to write, Mimi taught her that a vintage 1920s dress could lift a woman's spirit.

While working there, Dora befriends Mimi's adorable contractor, Conrad. Is he after Dora, or is working from a different blueprint? And why did Mimi start writing down--and giving away--stories of the dresses in her shop?

When Mimi dies, Dora can't get out of town fast enough and cedes control of the store to her money-hungry aunt who wants to turn it into a t-shirt shop for tourists. But ultimately, she returns to Forsyth, willing to battle whatever may stand in the way of her staying there. Dora can trade her boring clothes for vintage glamour, but can she trade her boring life for one she actually wants? -- Five Spot

I've been reading some pretty heavy books lately, so I decided it was time to curl up with a lighter read. I grabbed THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES by Erin McKean primarily because I just love the cover of the book. Isn't that vintage dress just beautiful? And then I read the book description and I knew it was exactly what I needed right now. I am a sucker for stories about families and relationships.

I really, really liked THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES. Maybe it was because I needed a book with likable characters that would warm my heart. But most likely it was because this book incorporated so many things that are near and dear to my heart like clothes, shopping, grandmothers, relationships and love. I think THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES is just an entertaining story that is going to appeal to a lot of women.

When I started THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES, I was expecting kind of a chick lit story, but this novel ended up being quite a bit more for me. It did have lots of chick lit elements which definitely made the book a light read, but it also touched upon some more serious issues. Even though Dora is much younger than I am and at a very different place in her life, I still found myself relating to her. As you might know, I am very close to my grandmothers -- I even wrote a tribute to them on my blog a few months ago. The book begins with Dora rushing home to visit her ailing grandmother and I was immediately drawn to the story. Just a few weeks ago, I did the same thing when my grandmother was hospitalized with pneumonia and renal failure. What's even more coincidental is that like Mimi, my grandmother loves fashion and fabrics. She made many of her own clothes (and her children's and grandchildren's) for a number of years. Fortunately my grandmother is on the path to recovery or else this book might have been a difficult read for me rather than an entertaining one!

For the most part, the characters in THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES were all pretty likable and interesting, and even the ones who weren't that likable provided some humor to the story. I liked Dora a lot (even though I did get frustrated with her at times), and I also liked her love interest Con. Their relationship was cute and sweet --  and Con was quite a catch for Dora. But what I really appreciated about Dora's character is how much she evolved throughout this novel. When she returned home to visit Mimi, Dora had no idea how much her life would change. Not only did she have to deal with her Grandmother's condition, but she also received some answers about the parents she never knew. Throughout it all, Dora was finally able to see what direction she wanted to go with her life.

In addition to Dora, I also liked so many of the supporting characters including Dora's friends (the thrice married Gabby was a hoot!) Each one brought something special to Dora's life and were there for her when she needed them. I also adored Mimi even though she never said a word throughout the entire book. I loved how the author brought Mimi's character to life through Dora's memories as well as the special stories that Mimi wrote about the different dresses.

And that is the perfect segue into something that made THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES extra special -- Mimi's mini-stories about the various dresses. There were many parts of this story that I thought were kind of predictable (that's not to say that I didn't like them), but these little short stories really stood out to me -- and they are definitely something that I will remember about this novel. Evidently, the author had written many of stories like this for her Dress a Day website and she was able to incorporate them into this novel. I really enjoyed the snippets and, in my opinion, the book could have had a few more!

THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES would make a great book club pick -- especially if your group is in the mood for a fun read. While I definitely consider the book to be chick lit, that doesn't mean that there aren't lots of things to discuss. I was very excited to find that there is a reading guide available with ten questions. Of course, it's always fun to talk about characters like the ones in this book, but you might also want to explore some of these topics: career decisions, home, self actualization, staying true to one's self, relationships, loss, grief, and family dynamics.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed THE SECRET LIVES OF DRESSES. I recommend it to fans of chick lit as well as fans of women's fiction. And I especially think those of you who appreciate vintage fashion and stories about all types of relationships will appreciate this novel too!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I am drawn to that cover, so I'm glad to see the book lives up to it! This sounds like it's right up my alley!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I love vintage dresses, so that element of the story is a major draw for me :)

Karlie said...

Sounds great, and I love the cover too!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I like stories that have a theme like this!

Jen R said...

another book to add to my wish list!

Anonymous said...

I was drawn by the cover as well, it reminds me of the cover to A Vintage Affair-another excellent book. I look forward to reading this one.

Joy said...

This sounds lovely -- a very cheery read for mid-winter!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

What a fabulous review - and I love the dress on the cover, too. I'm going to have to hop over to read the tribute to your grandmothers, too - how thoughtful :)

Beth F said...

Just the grandmother element alone would draw me into the book. I thought this was straight chick-lit so I didn't even give it a second look. Now I want to read it.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I know what you mean about sometimes needing a lighter read, and I like to have a list of them so that I don't have to hunt too hard when I need that fix. This one is definitely going on that list! It's funny though, I can't remember the last time I actually wore a dress!