Today I’m thrilled to join the blog tour for The Perfect Dress by Louisa Leaman. My thanks to Katie Cregg at Transworld for inviting me to join the tour and providing an advance copy of the book for review. Before we hear my thoughts, here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
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.Available from: Amazon | Waterstones | Kobo | Google Play | Apple Books
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…
Now people who know me well may well be raising an eyebrow right about now. This book, The Perfect Dress, is, afterall, about two things I have very little experience of – weddings and dresses. Three things if you count romance in the mix as I’ve always considered myself rather unromantic which should be read as ‘not remotely romantic’. But I do love to mix things up a little when it comes to my reading, and I will cast aside the crime for a book that catches my eye and in this instance, The Perfect Dress was that book.
This book is more than just a story about dresses and weddings and the chemistry between the two main characters, second-chance bridal shop owner, Fran Delaney, and third generation Charity Foundation Chairman, Rafael Colt. And there is strong chemistry there believe me, one which is apparent from the moment they meet, even of both are too stubborn and frightened to admit it.
Fran runs The Whispering Dress, a bridal wear shop in which she seeks to match the perfect wedding dress, vintage dresses that have been worn at the start of many a happy marriage, to their new owners. Fran knows the dresses inside and out, knows their provenance, knows everything about the women who wore them and the kind of person they were to become. Understands the aura that they give off and the kind of women that they deserve to be paired with. You may think that the choosing of a gown is instinctual on the Bride’s part. Fran knows better. Fran is a ‘dress whisperer’ and knows the gown determines the bride. And she’s pretty good at it too.
Rafael, or Rafa, Colt, is heir to and Chairman of the Colt Foundation which seeks to support learning initiatives across the country, helping those who are far less fortunate than himself. He is the very straight and professional piece of chalk to Fran’s quirky and down to earth cheese. It is during a clearance of his late mother’s effects that they meet when Fran discovers a beautiful wedding gown, but one that she knows in her heart was witness to a very troubled and emotionally dark past. They have no place in each other’s world and yet they are drawn together by more than just the lacy threads of the Garrett-Alexia dress.
What I loved about this book, aside from the fact that beneath the surface both Rafa and Fran are delightful and interesting characters who I both wanted to spend time with and get to know, was the way in which the author brought the dresses, and their former occupants to life. I don’t wear dresses – I’m a jeans and jumper kind of gal to be honest – and I don’t give much thought to the former life of the kinds of clothes to be found in charity shops or on second hand stalls. It hadn’t really struck me as important. But Louisa Leaman, through Fran, makes it important, making the history of the dresses, the lives of their owners, as much a part of the story as the lives of Fran’s living customers.
The author has made each character quite unique, made the motivations of the brides perfectly clear so that when they are dress matched you feel it makes sense. You can feel the jealousy ooze from the pages in some cases as friends and family look on during a dress fitting, sense the optimism in others and know, instinctively, when things will go wrong, driven as some brides are to have exactly what they think they want, even if it isn’t what they really need. I flew through the pages, engrossed in each individual story, keen to see if they worked out and if Fran’s romantic and optimistic nature would triumph.
The back and forth between Rafa and Fran was beautifully played out too. Ultimately you knew they would end up together, it was one of those kinds of books, but it was far from plain sailing. The conflict between them felt authentic, not thrown in for dramatic pause, the truth of their own pasts clouding their judgement in the face of what was overwhelmingly obvious to me as a reader.
I did love the character of Mimi, Rafa’s no nonsense assistant. She reminded me of me – underwhelmed, unimpressed, the ultimate professional and one hundred percent cynical. She kept Rafa grounded, balanced out the romance with a healthy (or is it unhealthy) dose of realism. Her scenes may have been minimal but her presence was felt. And then there was MIck, Fran’s best friend and sometime shop assistant, who was a breath of fresh air, supportive to Fran as only a best friend can be.
The author takes us on a journey with our main characters as Fran seeks to find out more about that special, if somewhat haunted, wedding dress. They learn more about themselves, about each other, and about the truth of Rafa’s family history, part of which he would rather forget, the painful truth something that no amount of money can erase. It made for a moving and often emotional series of revelations, carefully drawn by the author, not sensationalised not glossed over. It added to the weight of the history of the dress and also to the kind of future our two protagonists could hope to achieve.
All in all this was an enjoyable, romantic, optimistic and emotion filled read, exploring how dreams can be both won and lost at the altar, and how even the most beautiful of gowns can belie the overwhelmingly dark and painful truth of a life lived in regret. True romantics and dress fanatics will love it.
About the Author
Louisa Leaman was born, raised and now lives near Epping Forest. She studied Art History at Leeds University before becoming a teacher working with children with special needs. After winning the Times Education Supplement’s New Writer’s Award, she turned her hand to writing books for children. Louisa currently writes content for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but has also been published in the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent and The Times Educational Supplement. Her interest in the arts is often inspiration for her plots and her first book, The Perfect Dress, was inspired by the V&As large wedding dress collection and fulfils her dream of writing romantic fiction. When she isn’t busy writing or rearing her three lively children, she paints portraits, takes long walks and spends far too long browsing vintage clothing shops.
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