Sometimes, I sit down to write a book review and don’t know what to say because I have so many thoughts battering my brain for first crack at the door. Other times, I don’t know what to say because despite my sometimes “brutal honesty,” I strive to be kind in my reviews–even on books that I really don’t like. Both of those are easier than the third alternative.
Because once in a while, I run across a book that has so much going for it that I should absolutely love it, and yet I don’t. I like it. It’s… good. Even when… And there, you can insert a million things that keep it from being a book I can’t shut up about.
When I requested a review copy of The Dressmaker’s Secret, I knew I’d like it. What’s not to like? A mystery (or two or three), a plucky woman who hasn’t lost her femininity, a loving family as well as a harsh, cruel one? Oh, yeah… the book has great elements. So why am I calling The Dressmaker’s Secret…
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The Best Book I’ve Ever Kind of Liked?
Kellyn Roth has written a deep, soul-stirring novel that challenges societal norms while holding fast to Biblical principles. It flies in the face of presumption, gossip, and the ridiculous notion of “tainted children.” Without a single “Mary Sue” character in the bunch (except for the only one who actually “should” be one), Miss Roth treats us to love, hate, joy, bitterness, shame, grit, weakness, strength–I could go on indefinitely. No, really. I could.
These rich characters have depth that isn’t always good, but it’s real. The spiritual lessons are there without too much preachiness. It goes there at times but always for good reason and usually stopping short of going overboard.
The Dressmaker’s Secret offers a frank look at the hypocrisy and cruelty that sinners show to other (perceived) sinners. Through a multi-layered story that becomes more vivid with each piece laid bare, we see mysteries within mysteries, truths covered by evasions and deceptions, and one shining reality among it all.
God is still on the throne, and He alone holds our futures in His grasp.
There’s just one problem with this book.
I should love it. I want to love it. So many things within its pages resonate with me deeply. I just kind of like it.
See, part of it is it took a long time for me to get into it–so long that I’m really glad I requested the review copy, because if I’d just put it on my Kindle Unlimited shelf and read it when I got to it… I’m afraid I would have stopped too soon.
Because while the first half or more of the book had me fighting against the temptation to skim and move it along, the last third at least kept me riveted. It’s as if the author came into her own there and really punched up the story. I went from glancing at the “progress bar” to see how much I had left to read to not being able to flip the page fast enough.
Truth be told, I’m so glad I can say that. Because now I’m eager to read the next in the series. And, much like another series that I predicted I’d love and ended up being right about, I suspect this will be another. If you read the author’s note at the end, this book has been through many iterations, and with different subplots and endings, even! I wonder if maybe that’s why it got so much better there at the end.
Oh, I almost forgot!
It was refreshing to read about eight-year-olds who act and think like eight-year-olds–wise for their years one moment and totally clueless the next. That kind of realistic treatment of children deserves a standing ovation right there.
Also, as I’ve made no bones about, this book deals with some seriously mature topics, but Miss Roth handles them in a way that does not “sully the mind,” so to speak. Let’s face it. I’m a prude. However, even a child trying to work out how she doesn’t have a father when supposedly everyone does… well, it takes skill. And Miss Roth shines there.
So what’s “wrong” with it?
Well, I’m not going to shred it to bits, but since I’ve shared its strengths, I’ll point out what bothered me about it. Aside from the aforementioned lapse into preachiness a time or two (which I’m not sure I’d change, being the hypocrite I am), there was a bit too much info-dumping in sections. Actually, most of the backstory told upfront or through “stories” to the girls etc…. Well, it all would have been much better if it had unfolded naturally in the course of the story.
As it is, I’m convinced much of that is what bogged down the first half or so. I can see exactly where things could have been revealed naturally, but instead, those info-dumps really do force the story along at first, and as a result, it drags.
Additionally, I’ll admit that I was frustrated with one “convenience” in the story. I’ll also admit that in the time this book was set, it probably was more of a reality than a plot device. Unfortunately for Miss Roth, to our modern eyes, it just seems convenient. And, being the hypocrite I am, I both want the other scenario and the one she chose. Both cannot co-exist. So, I cheer the author for doing what she thought best.
Still, despite my issues with the book (and there are a few others I’m not going to mention because they’re probably just me), there’s another in the series, and I’ve already added it to my Kindle Unlimited shelf.
Do I recommend it?
I think so. If you’re a contemporary suspense/thriller reader… no. If you enjoy historical fiction heavy on plot and characterization without too much concern for setting, yes. I think I do. Furthermore, The Dressmaker’s Secret is also available on audio, and I actually wish I’d bought it and listened to it that way. Because the snippet I heard made some of those “draggy” moments come alive. This book might be best enjoyed that way.
So yeah, The Dressmaker’s Secret is the best book I’ve ever kind of liked. Giving it 4 stars because 3 isn’t enough.
Keep writing, Miss Roth. I’m anxious for your next book.
The Dressmaker’s Secret is on tour with Celebrate Lit.
Book: The Dressmaker’s Secret
Author: Kellyn Roth
Genre: Christian historical women’s fiction
IF THEY KNEW WHO SHE WAS, THEY’D NEVER ACCEPT WHAT SHE’S BECOME.
Claire will stop at nothing to provide for her daughters. An unwed mother, she does everything possible to raise them whilst avoiding her scandalous past. Some secrets are best kept, even between mother and daughter. Alice longs for a father, especially if that means her mother will be happy. She takes matters into her own hands—but she never expected what she finds.
Despite her efforts to shelter her daughters, Claire’s ghosts rise up to haunt her, and any semblance of control over her life vanishes. If her secrets are uncovered, what will become of her family?
About the Author:
Kellyn Roth is a Christian historical women’s fiction & romance author from North-Eastern Oregon who has independently published multiple novels, the most notable being The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy series. You should definitely call her Kell.
Kell lives on family-owned property outside an unmemorable but historical town with her parents, two little brothers, arbitrary cat, precious border collies, a dozen cows, and lots of chickens. She also possesses a classic, vintage aesthetic that does not at all speak to her country girl side, but such is life.
When not writing, Kell likes to blog, teach writing to her various students, have day jobs that allow her to keep her car properly insured, and spend lavish amounts of money on Dairy Queen french fries.
More from Kellyn
I’ve honestly never rewritten a book as many times as I rewrote The Dressmaker’s Secret, and I hope I never do.
A first draft flew out of me one November when I was fourteen, and before the next November had come around, I’d gone through twelve drafts, changed points of view multiple times, and eventually rewrote the whole thing from scratch.
The ending especially went through many, many versions … until at last, I settled on the final. Or so I thought.
Not long after, some more issues were called to light, and I revised again. And again. Years passed. I went through over twenty-five drafts! And, at the time, I liked all of them. Would I ever like one for longer than a month, though?
Well, turns out, it was possible! I’m over a year and a half into loving my draft of The Dressmaker’s Secret – e.g. the published draft –
and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
This book taught me a lot. It practically taught me how to write – and edit! – a good book, and it made me really focus on quality, even when it took some humility to admit I was wrong and critics were right – or, sometimes, that my gut was right. It taught me to not give up on something I love. It taught me that the risks I always wanted to take are worth taking. It taught me that no mistake is too great to be corrected … well, in some ways, at least.
And it taught me that there’s a great God out there who has grace for all my delays and mistakes and learning experiences.
So, that’s the story of how The Dressmaker’s Secret came to be written!
Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, January 27
Jeanette’s Thoughts, January 27
Splashes of Joy, January 27
Remembrancy, January 28
Genesis 5020, January 28
Worthy2Read, January 29
Vicky Sluiter, January 29
Maureen’s Musings, January 29
The Write Escape, January 30
Sara Jane Jacobs, January 30
Abba’s Prayer Warrior Princess, January 31
Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, January 31
A Novel Pursuit, January 31
Texas Book-aholic, February 1
CarpeDiem, February 1
Library Lady’s Kid Lit, February 2
Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, February 2
Inklings and notions, February 3
lakesidelivingsite, February 3
Betti Mace, February 4
Reflections From My Bookshelves, February 4
deb’s Book Review, February 4
For Him and My Family, February 5
Connect in Fiction, February 5
Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, February 6
Connie’s History Classroom, February 6
Locks, Hooks and Books, February 7
Godly Book Reviews, February 7
Labor Not in Vain, February 7
Artistic Nobody, February 8 (Guest Review from Joni Truex)
Blogging With Carol, February 8
Happily Managing a Household of Boys, February 9
Sodbuster Living, February 9
Bizwings Blog, February 9
To celebrate her tour, Kellyn is giving away the grand prize package of a paperback copy of both The Dressmaker’s Secret and Ivy Introspective, as well as a $25 Amazon gift card!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.