For a blog called Writing Whimsy, I realize I share few things that are truly whimsical. There’s just not enough pictures of unicorns. However, today’s post features two books, The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag* and The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen, which both have their own kind of whimsy in them. You might have guessed from the titles, but these stories fall into the magical realism genre, where real life gets a hint of magic. It might not be a unicorn, but it’s a start.
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In The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag a scientist who has kept her heart closed off experiences a bit of magic. Cora’s parents died mysteriously when she was young, and ever since then she has had one goal: to finish their research. So she keeps to the lab and her grandmother, Etta’s, dress shop. But a few stitches from Etta’s needle can unlock powerful magic, so when she sews a stitch onto the collar of Walt, a shy man who owns a nearby bookstore and has loved Cora for years, the results transform all three of them forever.
The scientist aspect of The Dress Shop of Dreams is part of what first got my attention, but to be honest, that really has to be treated with the same kind of suspension of disbelief as the rest of the novel. There are a lot of characters and stories going on in van Praag’s novel, but I found it pretty easy to keep track of everyone as they all cross paths throughout the book.
The Dress Shop of Dreams is a very charming book, from the English setting, to the idea of stitching magic into dresses, to Etta herself, who I loved. However, while the mix of magic, romance and mystery definitely deserve the Sarah Addison Allen comparison, I didn’t feel the same emotional depth to the characters. I also found the story a bit too sappy and wasn’t totally satisfied with the way things ended, as tidy as it was. Still, if you are looking for a light read with a dash of magic, The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag just might enchant you!
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When it comes to the magical realism genre, often the first author mentioned is Sarah Addison Allen. I read The Peach Keeper a few years ago and have been meaning to pick up another book by Allen since, which I finally accomplished by listening to the audiobook of The Girl Who Chased the Moon. This is the story of Emily, a teenage girl moves in with her grandfather in Mullaby, North Carolina, after her mother dies. Emily’s mother never shared stories of Mullaby, and it turns out she left behind a pretty big secret.
Mullaby is a town filled with subtle magic, from wallpaper that changes to mystical lights that fill the forest. Allen captures all of these whimsical moments just as well as the the emotional heart of Emily, as well as the other main character, Julia, who also left Mullaby with a secret only to return decades later. The writing in The Girl Who Chased the Moon is lovely and there is just enough detail in the right places to really bring Mullaby and the characters to life-in fact, the town of Mullaby forms a character of its own.
“I just don’t know where home is. There’s this promise of happiness out there. I know it. I even feel it sometimes. But it’s like chasing the moon—just when I think I have it, it disappears into the horizon. I grieve and try to move on, but then the damn thing comes back the next night, giving me hope of catching it all over again.”
I was enchanted from beginning to end of The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and although the pace was a lot slower on audiobook, so it took me over a month to finish, I never lost interest. If I had a paper copy I would likely have devoured it in one sitting. This book completely enchanted me, and it definitely will not be a few years before I pick up another one from Sarah Addison Allen.
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If you are looking for a book with a hint of magic I definitely recommend checking out either the The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag or (especially) The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. I definitely want to read more magical realism in the future. Have you ever read a book that falls into this genre? Let me know if you have any recommendations besides all the Sarah Addison Allen…