Book Reviews

Book Review: The Seamstress of New Orleans

By Diane C. McPhail

Publication Date:  May 31, 2022

349 pages (Kindle edition)

In the year 1900, two women find themselves in a crisis.  Alice Butterworth lives in Chicago, expecting her husband Howard to return from a business trip.  But he never comes home.  After weeks of waiting, with her money running out and a child on the way, she sets off for Memphis to look for him.  When she arrives there to search for his mother, she realizes that he lied about her.  The woman is as much of a ghost as he is.  On a whim, and with nowhere else to go, Alice re-boards the train for New Orleans.

Constance Halstead has also lost her husband but in her case, she knows he is dead. Even if Benton is gone, threats stemming from his misdeeds remain and Constance lacks the fortitude to protect her daughters on her own.

The women meet through a mutual acquaintance, and Alice agrees to sew a gown for Constance to wear to a Mardi Gras ball run by an all-woman krewe, an event unheard of for the time period.  As they plan and create the gown, Constance and Alice grow closer, buoyed by each other’s strength.  Set against a backdrop of women’s suffrage and societal restrictions, the women form a bond in which their independence of spirit is allowed to bloom.

I was expecting something different from this book.  Perhaps it was the gorgeous cover. I’m a sucker for a great cover and this one is spectacular.  Perhaps it was the New Orleans setting. Not that I expected the decadence of an Anne Rice New Orleans but there wasn’t a whole in this novel that got me really excited.  Whatever it was, I kept wanting more from the story.

The characters had depth and I loved the relationship that grew between Alice and Constance.  It was moving to see how they forged a new life independently of a husband, even though there was a hint that Constance might not remain single for long. These women were ahead of their times and in that, they were inspirational.

“The Seamstress of New Orleans” interpreted by Wombo Dream

But in some ways, the book fell flat for me.  The mystery of Alice’s husband and her connection with Constance was fairly obvious from the first few chapters, although the author teased me with whether the two women would ever find out throughout the book.  (In the end, this one huge secret was never revealed to Constance and I felt fairly let down by that.  I mean, why start out a new life holding on to that big of a revelation.  It won’t go well for Alice if the truth comes out later.)  I also didn’t understand why the drawn-out illness for Constance played such a large role in the book.  If it was to bring the doctor into their familial circle, they’d been childhood friends.  Honestly, I thought there could have been another, more logical way to bring him into the picture.  Lastly, the build up to the Mardis Gras ball encompassed so much real estate, that the actual ball was a bit of a let down.  Oh, and there was fainting.  Lots of fainting.

I will say that my disappointment was based mostly on my expectations going into the book.  I expected more without being able to put my finger on exactly what else I wanted from it, only that I finished wishing it had been more fulfilling.

All that aside, it wasn’t a bad book and I think it’s worth the read if you like historical fiction.  I did see one reviewer comment that this novel perfectly captures New Orleans so, there’s that. And if you like a quiet read, this is probably right up your alley.

This book rates higher than 3 stars, but not so high as to round up to 4 stars, so I’m going to hit a happy medium and rate it at 3.25 stars.  ⭐⭐⭐+

I’d like to thank NetGalley and Kensington Books for providing the ARC copy of this novel.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.

Did you have a different opinion of this novel?  I’d love to hear what you thought!

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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