Book review: The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

14 Dec

dress shopSince 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.

Imagine a book with a magical dress shop that sells creations that can change lives. Imagine a book shop next door run by a man who’s wonderful voice captivates all who hear him. Picture a girl who lives by order, science and facts and throw in a little unrequited love and a mystery that needs to be solved – doesn’t it sound intriguing? These are the premise and themes for The Dress Shop of Dreams and I was completely drawn into the story and captivated by it as I read.

The Dress Shop of Dreams is the second of Menna Van Praags’s Cambridge set novels that I’ve read this year and I loved it. Menna’s books have that wonderful magical realism and fairy tale quality that another favourite author of mine, Sarah Addison Allen has in her stories and The Dress Shop of Dreams is a perfect winter read to curl up and escape with.

Cora Sparks is an orphan; her parents died in a fire when she was young and she’s grown up with her grandmother Etta who owns a dress shop. While Etta and her magical dress shop are colourful, imaginative and creative, Cora lives a frugal, almost clinical existence as a scientist. The contrast between them is immense but as events conspire to throw Cora into disorder and confusion she begins a brilliant journey that will change her life forever.

In the middle somewhere is Walt the boy next door, now man who is a bookseller in the shop next door. Walt has his own share of secrets and he brings a wonderfully romantic thread to the book too. I very much enjoyed all of the different mysteries and strands to the stories in this book.

This is absolutely my favourite of Menna’s books to date (I did say that about the last one I read too though – they just get better and better!) I loved how Menna explored the boundaries and crossovers of science and art and of course magic in this novel – it’s a fascinating and thought provoking read as well as a wonderful and captivating story. Menna’s love of books and stories shines through and this is definitely a booklovers book. Slip a copy of this into your favourite booklovers’ stocking this year – they won’t be disappointed!


The Dress Shop of Dreams is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Menna and her writing at:

I’d like to thank the publisher; Allison & Busby for providing a review copy of this book.


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