The Dressmaker's Dowry
This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.
For readers of Lucinda Riley, Sarah Jio, or Susan Meissner, this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways.
An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom...
San Francisco: 1876
Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O'Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city's most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna's future is altered forever. With Margaret's encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision...one that will echo through the generations.
San Francisco: Present Day
In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?
A UNIQUE AND APPEALING MYSTERY
THE DRESSMAKER'S DOWRY, by Meredith Jaeger, is an appealing and unique story of love, survival and secrets. Set in San Francisco, it alternates between modern times and 1876.
The story begins in the present day and is told in first person, past tense. Sarah Havensworth is a grad student trying to write a novel for her MFA thesis. She's stuck with her story about life in the late 19th century Barbury Coast. Not only does she feel like a failure, she's reluctant to tell her husband Hunter Havensworth.
While researching her novel, Sarah discovers an article in an 1876 local newspaper referring to the disappearance of two dressmakers. The story intrigues Sarah because a serial killer was in the area at the same time, and she wonders if they were his victims. So she abandons her soulless novel to write the more compelling dressmakers' story. This portion is set in 1876 and told in third person, past tense of Hannelore "Hanna" Schaeffer. She's an immigrant from Bavaria, speaks German and English fluently, and is the oldest of four children of a fat, alcoholic, and abusive father. She and her Irish immigrant friend, Margaret O'Brien, spend long hours sewing for an unpleasant woman and her wealthy clients. One night Margaret is supposed to watch Hanna's siblings but never arrives. Hanna vows to find Margaret and enlists her friend, real estate mogul Lucas Havensworth, to help her.
Both Sarah and Hanna are survivors. They've lived through horrible situations and experienced bullying, deprivation and self-doubt. Though they each find love, they feel they don't deserve it and try to distance themselves from their partners. Sarah and Hanna have secrets too. Deep ones, that if discovered, could make their lives miserable.
As a history and preservation professional, I'm drawn to the research Sarah conducts to gather information for her story. The author uses this info to capture the disparity in living conditions between the wealthy citizens of late 19th century San Francisco and the poor immigrant populations living in unsafe and squalid areas of the city. And her portrayal of how the upper classes treated the other levels of society is reflected in both Sarah's time and in 1876.
Pros: The story is definitely unique and well thought out. The plot and subplots interweave fairly well, and the characters are multidimensional and extremely interesting.
Cons: The novel could have been shorter--some passages are a little too long without adding to the story. In several places, the length of the sentences are similar, resulting in a somewhat stilted reading rhythm.
Final Thoughts: THE DRESSMAKER'S DOWRY is a good book for readers who like mysteries and character-driven stories and for people who like a bit of history sprinkled throughout their fiction. Though it's in the contemporary women genre, it's something I would have wanted to read even in the fifth grade (when I read GONE WITH THE WIND), so it's suitable for teenagers too.