UK Publisher: Transworld
Genre: Contemporary romance fiction
Fran’s wedding dress shop isn’t like any other. A treasure trove of history, filled with gowns from every decade for every type of bride. But not as you’d expect.
Something bold for the shy and retiring.
Something simple for the woman who is unafraid to stand out.
And something dazzling for the bride who wouldn’t normally dare to be different.
No matter your expectations, you’d never guess your own perfect dress. But Fran knows… she feels the wisdom woven into every gown, a gift from the previous owner waiting to be handed down to the next bride.
When Fran finds a dress that seems to be perfect for her she can’t wait to know its complex history which starts with her getting to know the son of the previous owner…
I’m a bit of a sucker for weddings. I really enjoyed planning mine, but I particularly loved flouncing around in beautiful dresses and pretending they were mine for a bit. In general I am 100% not into changing cubicles at shops, I always end up hot and flustered and struggle to get in and out of clothes. Sometimes I have to ask for help. One time I actually had to be cut out of a dress after the zip jammed (John Lennon Airport, June 2012, soft cotton, navy blue tea dress with white cat print). Trying on wedding dresses didn’t feel like that. Perhaps I was lucky with the shops I went to, but it felt like a delightful experience every time, and a bit of an adventure. I still follow some dress shops on facebook, and ogle their designs. I still think about the dresses I almost got but didn’t (White One Tango, with the bolero and Swiss dot tulle; Pronovias Berta, with the lace edging and swiss dot tulle; I really loved Swiss dot tulle, but didn’t actually get it – I need more occasions to wear fancy dresses so I can get a dress with Swiss dot tulle). Anyway, this is a tangent to say that basically this book description – about a woman who can pair the perfect dress to any bride, and who finds a dress that is perfect for her – absolutely ticked some boxes.
I adored the premise of the vintage dress shop, and of Fran being a woman obsessed with fashion, with a strange sort of psychic power that tells her the stories behind each dress and helps her to match the right dress to the right bride. The descriptions of the dresses and the stories behind them are all beautiful. Leaman clearly knows her stuff when it comes to clothes, and some of the dresses are described so vividly and richly. It’s so easy to picture them. I equally love how Fran always seems to dress in vintage too, her quirky and unusual style informed by her love of fashion history and a sense of whimsy rather than social convention. Rafael is the perfect romantic lead as well – tall, dark, handsome. Crunchy on the outside as he seems brusque and untouchable, but soft on the inside as he strives to ensure his family’s charity moves away from nepotism and wants to avoid being vulnerable.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the chemistry between them. Or rather, I didn’t quite feel it as fast as they did, or with any sort of sustained pace. They go from intense attraction to “falling in love” extremely quickly, without having had any real conversations and mostly spent it arguing and apologising instead of finding common ground. Fran seemed to be Rafael’s manic pixie dream girl, wafting into his life full of bright colours and optimism, determined to teach him to feel again. I wasn’t entirely sure what he brought to the table, aside from judgemental comments and a big wallet.
That might be a little unfair. He’s clearly principled and kind, and willing to admit big mistakes. Unfortunately Fran isn’t willing to admit to mistakes either, and that was another issue I had. They meet at the clearance of his late mother’s house, when Fran finds a wedding dress by a long-dissolved, high end designer, known for evening dresses but not bridal wear. She knows the dress is worth a fortune, but after explaining this to Rafael, and he clearly stating that he understands but doesn’t want it or care, she keeps pushing until he snatches it off her and throws it in the skip.
She then comes back the next night and goes dumpster diving to try and retrieve it, only to get embroiled with drama between him and his drug-addict sister. From there they keep stumbling into each other, but every time they seem to make progress Fran massively oversteps her boundaries by pressing to know more about the wedding dress and Rafael’s mother. It’s clear that this is a sore subject, a deeply personal one, and one that is very unhappy. She’s known him ten minutes and cannot accept that she needs to respect his boundaries. While Rafael tended to explode every time she brought it up (which suggests volatility which ain’t a good look on a guy), I did see his point. When she goes behind his back to start digging up dirt with his sister after he refuses to answer I couldn’t believe it. When she asks him to take a romantic trip to Paris to meet a designer who holds answers without telling him why she wants to go, I could understand why he was narked. Especially since the designer had said he would come visit her in London in two weeks. Why was it so urgent? It wasn’t. It was a dress, one which needed fixing up anyway. Just… give it a rest will you?
My other gripe is that we never really see them addressing the issues which keep driving them apart. I mean, yes we explore Rafael’s traumatic childhood (which Fran keeps pushing him to share, while never offering up her own secret past which is definitely not anywhere near the same scale, until she causes more drama with that coming to light), and eventually exorcise Fran’s demons, but we never deal with the fact that they explode at each other rather than talk. With the fact that they storm off or split up instead of seeking resolutions. That’s not grounds for stable relationship. You don’t just go “Oh, here’s my trauma, but now I’ve told you why I’ve been weird we’ll never have any further problems!”
Also: they have sex in a park, in Paris. Full on, strip naked sex. In a park. In the middle of Paris. Underneath a willow tree admittedly, but still guys, it was minutes (quoted in the book) from the busiest street in the city. That ain’t good. That ain’t right. Don’t do that. What about twigs. What about breezes. What about small children playing football.
These are all niggles which are very specific to me, however, and don’t let them put you off the book if these aren’t the sort of thing you’d generally notice. It’s a fun, fluffy and easy read, with fantastically luxurious descriptions – particularly of the dresses and the stories around them. I’d have loved more of those, more interactions with brides and their fun, unusual vintage dresses. Rafael is a textbook gorgeous romantic lead, and Fran is pretty cute as a protagonist. It was the perfect read while I was on holiday, even if it wasn’t 100% for me in the end.
- A cute, easy love story, with an added mystery and a little bit of subtle magic. A quirky girl and a stoic guy fall in love. The grumpy one is soft for the sunny one! Such a good trope.
- Where this book really shines is in the descriptions of all the wonderful dresses and the stories behind them, as well as the ways they transform the brides who wear them. It’s really uplifting, rich and charming.
- Don’t have sex in public parks guys. That’s not cool.
Rating: 3/5 – it’s an ideal holiday book, but it didn’t quite tick all the boxes needed to sweep me, personally, off my feet. There’s something cute and magical about it that might be just the ticket for others though.