5 January 2011

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Dora is stuck at University, she's in love with a man that doesn't realise she fawns over him and she doesn't like dressing for anything except comfort, much to the annoyance of her grandmother Mimi. Mimi owns a vintage fashion store back where Dora grew up with her, and she hates the fact her grand-daughter won't wear any of her beautiful dresses. When Mimi suddenly becomes seriously ill, Dora is forced to return home and look after the shop, which brings back lots of her own memories. Together with Maux and Gabby, the three women rally around to look after Mimi and her shop, as well as trying to sort out their own lives. Is Dora going to realise her heart really lies in vintage clothing, and that there are men out there who are interested in her? And is she ever going to find out what the "secret lives" are that keep appearing within the vintage dresses she is starting to fall in love with?

I was sent this book to review by the publishers as an ARC and the pink and black cover really struck me straight away, it made me want to pick up the book and read it because it was so pretty! When I received a finalised copy, the swirls and book title were all gold foiled and made the book look even more gorgeous, I certainly think this is one of the prettiest covers I have seen in a long time! The book is by author Erin McKean, and this is her debut fiction novel based loosely on her website www.dressaday.com, something Erin runs herself. I do sometimes struggle with books written by American authors, but I was instantly consumed by this one, and it was certainly a great start to my 2011 reading list!

The book begins with our main character Dora finding out that her grandmother Mimi has had a stroke. Because of this, the only way we actually see Mimi throughout the book is the flashbacks that Dora regularly treats us to, but these are enough to get an idea of what Mimi is like and why Dora loves her so much. Dora herself isn't exactly into fashion, so when she steps into Mimi's vintage clothing store, she's a bit bereft and unsure about what to do. This is where Maux and Gabby step in. Maux has worked for the store for a few years, and is a loud, brash personality that contrasts well with the sedateness of the rest of the book. Gabby is Mimi's somewhat adopted daughter - she's been living with Mimi and Dora long enough to be so anyway, and was a bit of a puzzling character, we didn't get to find out much about her, and her story wasn't forthcoming during the book. Either way, both characters were good, and I especially liked Maux, she really lit up the book when she was in scenes.

Although the book is called "The Secret Lives of Dresses", in my opinion there just weren't enough of these stories inside! The idea is that whenever Dora sells a dress, there may be a Secret Life behind it that Mimi wrote for that dress, and she gives it to the person who buys the dress. I absolutely loved these little tales, and I feel they really added something to the book, and felt so different. For me, however, there just weren't enough of them and I would have loved a lot more interspersed throughout the book as they were so lovely. Dora's utter belief and love for them also makes them more special, she sees them as an attachment to her beloved grandmother, and its fun to read all about the dresses and what sort of life Mimi thinks they will have lived.

This book was an absolute joy to read from start to finish, and I am really pleased to start off my reading year with such a great story. This book has everything for me - a bit of mystery, a bit of love and romance, a bit of sorrow and most of all a well-crafted and enjoyable tale. The characters are all excellent, the book only has a small cast but it suits the book completely, and makes it feel more intimate when you read it. There were a few characters I didn't like so much, Aunt Camille is one of them but is a brash contrast to the other more lovely characters, my favourite of which was Dora. She really does grow during the book, and I really enjoyed going on her journey with her. It's a lovely story, and I certainly do recommend it.

Rating: 4/5


  1. OOH! Adding this to my TBR list!

  2. I agree I have just read it, a great book really enjoyed it, so much that I read it all in one night!! I couldn't put it down

  3. This book was so good - I couldn't put it down!