Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag *spoilers at the bottom of the post*

I was really looking forward to picking this up because I knew I needed to read a contemporary after all of the darker books I've been reading in the past few months. The idea of having a lighter, fluffier read just made me so excited to pick this up.

Publication Date: December 30, 2014

Cora is a brilliant scientist, working on a groundbreaking project, but she has never been able to open her heart up. Ever since the mysterious death of her parents, Cora's heart has been locked up and she has thrown away the key. She operates on a predictable schedule, alternating her time between her lab and her grandmother's dress shop, while overlooking someone who cares deeply for her

Etta owns a charming little dress shop, sewing clothes and making women feel wonderfully confident again. She does all that with special stitches in her clothing and a little sprinkle of magic, bringing out and fulfilling women's deepest desires. All she wants is for her granddaughter, Cora, to open up her heart before it's too late. So with a few magical stitches here and there, Etta opens the doors to an adventure of the heart.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Starting right off the bat, I really liked the idea of this dress shop that Etta owns and how she helps women bring out the characteristics and personality traits they need. The thought of a woman who could simply stitch something special into a piece of clothing and bring out exactly what another woman needs, just made me so interested. I've don't think I've ever read a book with magical realism in it before, so when I realized that this was my first (possibly) first book with magical realism in it, it made me even more excited to read this.

I started this thinking that it was a really light and fluffy contemporary, but the more I read, the more I realized that it wasn't the case. While it did have the love story that is commonly associated with contemporary books (especially in the romance genre), there were also a few other themes that kept coming up throughout the story.

One of the themes that became pretty obvious in the beginning was dealing with loss. Cora, one of our main characters, lost her parents when she was a child and since then, everything she's done has been to keep her parents' memory alive. She'd dedicated her whole life to accomplish what they did, and it's all in her own way of dealing with the fact that they're not there anymore. That theme, dealing with loss, was combined with an element of mystery, since Cora doesn't actually remember much about her parents' death.

Another theme was unrequited love. This is a really common thing that happens in romance stories and/or contemporaries, but this was different. It was an almost-20-year long love that has never been returned. Not only that, but the receiving end of this love had absolutely no idea that they were being loved by someone for 20 years. It wasn't just unrequited love, but also unprofessed love. And I actually really liked how this whole theme was written into the story. Often times, unrequited love makes characters bitter and results in some kind of anger or hatred, but this wasn't the case here. There was a more realistic approach to the whole scenario, as something as long as a 20 year unrequited love isn't something that just vanishes overnight. It wasn't something crazily unrealistic either. There was a legitimate reason for the character's struggles and the way they chose to deal with it was completely understandable.

There are several other aspects of love, romance, and relationships that are dealt with throughout the book, and all done in an incredibly thoughtful manner. I like how the author chose these particular aspects of love, and tackled them in an unconventional manner. Bring magical realism into something like this can often make it tacky or turn the story into something too unrealistic and sappy, but in this case, it actually fit the book very well. I can't imagine what this book would be like if it didn't have magical realism.

I actually really liked how the whole story was written and I really enjoyed the plot. It was a nice change after all of the other books I've been reading.

The ending was probably my favorite part of all, because everything was resolved so fantastically. There were no lingering questions and all the storylines were tied up into beautiful bows. I couldn't have asked for a better ending to this book, and the last line simply made it even better! There is no possible way for me to describe how wonderful this book is!

I really loved Cora's character, even right from the beginning. I understood her motivations to be a successful scientist and why she threw herself into science so much. It may not be a healthy method of coping, but it's an extremely common method. Many people throw themselves into work or something else in order to cope with something such as loss. But even though that's what Cora did, there was something about her routine of spending time with her grandmother that revealed a hidden soft side in her. As the book went on, I liked her character even more. Her determination and the way she slowly opened up made her a character that I could easily relate to.

Etta is possibly one of the sweetest elderly characters I've ever read about. Oftentimes, elderly characters in books are either angry and bitter, senile, depressing or just plain weird. Rarely do you really see an elderly character that is so incredibly sweet and selfless. She made me want to visit her dress shop and talk with her for hours. She felt like the kind of person you could talk to and know that they would never judge you or make you feel bad. She felt like someone who could actually be real.

Walt, oh Walt. Dear, sweet Walt. I don't even know how to talk about him without giving away spoilers for the book. I really enjoyed reading about him and his journey over the course of this book. I found myself relating to him on a fairly good level, despite the gender and age difference. Still, he was relatable and I knew what he was going through, which made him that much more enjoyable to read about.

4.5 stars and very highly recommended. I couldn't give it 5 stars because two of the characters annoyed me to no end, but don't let that stop you from picking this book up. I can promise a wonderful contemporary with the right amount of romance and mystery about it.

Thank you to NetGalley for hosting this on your site. Thank you also to Ballantine Books for approving my request to read and review this.

Again, there was a cheating aspect to this book, and I'm having conflicted feelings about it. Etta and Sebastian only slept together after Etta told Joe that she can't marry him, but there was already the whole emotional cheating thing going on before that. But at the same time, there wasn't actually any cheating because all the physical stuff was after Etta broke it off with Joe. And yet, she did knowingly go along with Sebastian on all those 1-on-1 walks and they spent a lot of time together, while she knew that she was engaged to Joe. So I'm having really conflicted feelings, but at the end of the day, I still consider it cheating, and that's never okay with me.

I actually quite liked Milly in the beginning, but as the book progressed, I saw her as an incredibly insecure person and someone who was just standing in the way of Walt and Cora. Milly began to annoy me with the way she felt like it was okay to not tell Walt that she lost his mother's notebook, and then cry and wail about it when he got upset (which he had every right to, since it was the last thing he ever had from his late mother, and it was written specially for him). And then there's the whole thing of writing the letters and not realizing that she was writing to one person and dating another. Like, how do you not realize that those are two different people? Especially when Dylan (Walt's boss) said that he loved Sense and Sensibility when Walt said that he really disliked anything Jane Austen. I, myself, would've found it so weird and questioned it, but then again, I would never write a letter like that to begin with instead of just telling someone how I feel. And then the whole thing about how she was willing to trick Walt into impregnating her, just made me so annoyed with her.

I really didn't like Dylan as well. What he was doing, pretending to be Walt and replying to all those women, it wasn't what a friend would do. Not that he even considered himself Walt's friend. No, he just decided that he would fuel these women's lust and sexual desires by replying and pretending to be Walt. Honestly, if I ever had a "friend" or even an acquaintance l like that, I would be so mad with them. It's just such an unfair thing to do, and I don't see how he justified all that by saying that Walt "would never read the mail anyways, so it's fine." Even with how things ended, I don't feel like it justified Milly's and Dylan's behavior.

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