Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

I know I have probably mentioned this many times already, but I really love my local library, especially their book sales.  At the most recent sale I picked up The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean.  It is a sweet little book about Dora, a college student whose grandmother, Mimi, owns a vintage dress shop.  When Mimi has a stroke, Dora rushes home to help.  When she realizes there is not much she can do at the hospital, she fills her days keeping the dress shop running.  She is surprised to find that Mimi has been writing stories about many of the dresses in the shop.  Vintage clothes are something Dora knows, but that can't see herself wearing.  Unfortunately for her, she rushed to town with only the clothes on her back and so is forced to dress from the closet that Mimi has been cultivating for her for years.  As each day passes, Dora feels more and more comfortable in the beautiful clothing and she begins to change from the aimless student into a more determined, confident young woman.  

This book wasn't perfect and I would consider it more of a beach read, but I still enjoyed it.  I felt like there weren't nearly enough of the dress stories included in the book and there were a few characters that annoyed me, but overall it was good enough.  I could picture it as a film with hazy sepia-toned flashbacks for each of the dress stories.  The wardrobe would be fantastic.  If you are looking for something light to add to your summer reading list, this could be for you.

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout

The official book club selection for May was The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout.  I'm not normally a fan of Westerns, books or movies, but that is what book club is all about- reading something different.  This particular book was named the Best Western Novel of 1988 and its film version will be released at the Cannes Film Festival later this month.  The film is directed by and stars Tommy Lee Jones along with Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep.  Knowing a movie with a cast of this caliber would soon be in theaters was another good reason to give the book a read.

Mary Bee Cuddy is a single woman attempting to make it on her own in frontier Nebraska.  She is actually doing quite well when she volunteers to transport four women who have gone insane back to civilization.  The stories of these women is heartbreaking, but life is difficult on the homestead and there are a few women each year that can't make it through the long, cold winter.  Cuddy, as she is commonly called, recruits a claim jumper to help her transport the women back to Iowa where they can be returned to their families.  

The first three-quarters of this novel really had my attention.  Cuddy is self- sufficient, determined and capable.  I love strong female characters.  The women she is helping are victims of a long, lonely winter and husbands who do not understand what they are asking of them.  I was fascinated with the female perspective of being a pioneer that this book explored, but then I was painfully disappointed when it took a turn that I felt made little sense with the characters involved.  Of course, I won't spoil it for anyone who would like to read it on her or his own, but I found it very frustrating.  When I read a book, I like to get a sense of each character's personality and if the author has done a good job developing her or his characters that should be easily done.   I find it very difficult to understand when an author, perhaps wanting to throw in a surprising twist, has a character behave in a way that is inconsistent with all that that character has done or said up to that point.  Now, I love a good plot twist as much as the next person, but a complete personality change is not the same thing.  I was disappointed and I haven't decided yet if I will see the film when it comes to my local movie theater.  Have you read it?  What did you think?