Short & Sweet Sunday Review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Published May 13, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

 In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist: Meet Tess Collins, a young housemaid who dreams of becoming a dressmaker. When she finds out about the Titanic‘s upcoming voyage to America, she scurries to the docks and pleads with first-class passengers to hire her on the spot. As luck would have it, she accidently meets England’s most famous fashion designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who just happens to be looking for a good personal maid. Bemused by the poor girls’ desperation, she takes her under her wing. Four days after setting sail, the  ship takes a nosedive and Tessa mercifully scores a seat – right next to the venerable Unsinkable Molly Brown – in one of the few lifeboats.

Shortly after the ship plummets to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, rumors about the survivors and the half-empty lifeboats run rampant in the news. And when the New York Times catches on to Lady Duff Gordon’s cowardly actions, she soon becomes the target of public scorn. When Lady Duff’s stories don’t add up, Tess must make some tough decisions. Should she ignore the accusations against her boss and continue moving up the ladder to stardom? Or should she take the moral high ground and walk out on the woman who turned her back on a sea of drowning souls? 

Why I picked it up: Confession – I’m a closet hopeless romantic. Though I scoff at my friends who cry over their popcorn during cinematic love scenes, I’m not as cynical as I appear to be. When I slip out to “go to the bathroom,” I’m actually sobbing into my hanky and shaking off the warm fuzzies. Since these poor saps aren’t big readers (except my BFF who laughs along with me during the most heart-wrenching love scenes) my secret is safe! That said, you can imagine how much I LOVE The Titanic, especially the car scene…oh Leo how I love thee. Oops, where was I? Oh yes…so when I read the dustcover, I hoped this could be a love affair to rival that of Jack and Rose. Plus I love late-Edwardian era fashions, so how could I go wrong?

What I liked:  Surprisingly, I found myself somewhat interested in the post-sinking events– from the Senate hearings to the investigative journalism to the shakedown of blackmailing bullies.  I especially enjoyed watching the high and mighty Lady Duff get roasted by the press. One of the many rich first-class passengers who commandeered the lifeboats, this wretched woman and her equally repugnant husband refused to make room for drowning victims on their half-empty lifeboat. Although the author tried to paint a softer side to this character, I couldn’t let my heart bleed over her dwindling business and sad backstory.

What irked me: The main character.  Sorry Kate Alcott fans, but the leading lady is BORING! No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t connect with her. I admire her drive to become the next Coco Chanel, but other than that, she lacked personality. I need my main characters to not only be strong and brave, but also quirky and fun. Yes, toward the end Tessa grew a pair, but until the last few chapters, she just couldn’t make up her mind about anything and just seemed to go with the flow. More than anything I wanted to see her jump on a white horse and join the women’s suffrage movement, which she casually observed throughout the book, but she seemed to be too wrapped up in herself to do anything interesting.

The romance:  While aboard the doomed vessel, Tessa crosses paths with two love interests: A sweet-natured sailor with a crooked smile and a talent for wood witling, and a gallant Chicago tycoon. If she chooses the rich guy, she’ll be set for life. But if she falls for the penniless “village boy,” she might as well kiss her future as the next hotshot dressmaker goodbye. If you’re familiar with this setup, I’m sure it’ll come to no surprise which one she’ll choose. To be honest, if you want a good Titanic romance, go watch James Cameron’s masterpiece. Yes, there is some romance in this book, but Tessa doesn’t really get on the ball until the very end.

This book is best pared with: A piping-hot mug of cinnamon spice tea and a dainty high tea stand filled with colorful petit fours.

Overall assessment: History buffs are sure to be enthralled by the author’s well-researched depictions of the post-Titanic sinking aftermath. Romance fans, however, are likely to be rather disappointed by the conventional love story. I do have to hand it to the author for planting some deep thoughts in my head.  This book will really make you think about human instincts, and how our actions during a fight-or-flight situation can define who we are and what we stand for. If we make the wrong life-altering decision under duress, can we learn to live with ourselves?

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4 comments on “Short & Sweet Sunday Review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

  • The Titanic is my favorite movies! I just saw it in 3D and bawled my eyes out as usual. The premise of this novel therefore looks fantastic. I’m hoping to connect better to the heroine. Awesome review.

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