Saturday, July 25, 2015

Two Fashionable Reads in One

I've read a few books in recent weeks that deal with fashion or dresses in some way. Not a surprise, really -- I've been really focused on my sewing lately and it's colouring my reading choices too! Here are a couple of the novels that I picked up.

The Knockoff / Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza
New York: Doubleday, c2015.
352 p.

This book had a fun premise -- recalling the likes of The Devil Wears Prada -- Glossy magazine editor Imogen Tate returns from a leave, only to find that her fashion mag is being changed to an app.

To make matters worse, all of her reliable older staff have been sidelined, some sent off to offices in former closets, or even fired. Meanwhile, a bright young thing, Eve Morton (actually Imogen's former assistant) is now in charge.

There was a lot of potential for breezy fun in this book. And there were some bits that I genuinely enjoyed. However, even as a light summer read I found there were numerous 'cons' to the novel.

Firstly, the characters = caricatures. Only Imogen feels like a real person, with interior thoughts and actual human feelings and motivations. Eve is a frighteningly nasty person; there is no nuance to her at all. She's a selfish, cruel, boorish woman who has somehow morphed from a so-so assistant to a self-absorbed, cartoonish monster. The awfulness of Eve becomes almost ridiculously so, ie: she ends up by online bullying Imogen's young daughter, which isn't really a spoiler as it is immediately obvious to the reader that this is another of Eve's horrible acts. One of the points against her, in Imogen's mind, aside from all these blatant problems, is that Imogen was nice to her when Eve worked for her and now Eve is just so ungrateful...

Also, the concept that Imogen is just SO OLD that she's completely out of touch with technology and has to learn to keep up with these scheming youngsters by getting current with Twitter and Instagram and the whole idea of apps...well. Imogen is 42. And an editor-in-chief of a major magazine. She'd know all of this already. Perhaps I was particularly surprised by this since Imogen and I are about the same age...and I'd like to think that both myself and all of my similarly old lady friends are quite hip to this whole online thing.

So, while there are fun bits, I found that the tone of the book was pretty mean-spirited, especially in its portrayal of Eve. While you're supposed to despise her, I ended up wishing that someone would stage an intervention and get her the help she needed. It's an interesting read for the fashion world setting -- and certainly put me off the idea of working in surroundings like those!

Dress Shop of Dreams / Meena van Pragh
New York: Ballantine, c2014.
326 p.

Dresses. Books. Science. All in one.

This is another story about a magical vintage dress shop (similar to A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff or The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean).

It's cute, sweet, a little predictable and not altogether believable -- but still entertaining and charming.

Cora Sparks is a focused realist, a scientist whose parents died mysteriously when she was quite young. She was raised by her wonderful grandmother, the owner of said dress shop. When women try on dresses there, Etta stitches in a magical little star that brings women their dreams. Mixed in with this story is Cora's search for the truth of her parents' tragic deaths, a conspiracy with long-reaching effects. And there is also a secondhand bookseller just down the street, one who bakes a mean cherry pie. And is the velvet voice of a late night radio show. Walt has been Cora's friend since they were 5 yrs old, but she doesn't see how he adores her. Until Etta throws a little magical influence into the mix...

There are many lines in the story that cross and influence one another, just like Etta's little thread stars. If you let yourself go with the flow, you'll probably enjoy this sweet read. In some bookish ways it reminded me of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (the good parts) or maybe even the slightly loopy magical bits from stories by Sarah Addison Allen.


  1. Thank you for your honest reviews of these books. The second one sounds especially charming.

    1. It was charming -- though I still like Secret Lives of Dresses best in this "genre" of vintage-shop reads.


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