The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters

Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girls from Ames shares an intimate look at a small-town bridal shop, its multigenerational female owners, and the love between parents and daughters as they prepare for their wedding day.

Thousands of women have stepped inside Becker?s Bridal, in Fowler, Michigan, to try on their dream dresses in the Magic Room, a special space with soft lighting, a circular pedestal, and mirrors that carry a bride?s image into infinity. The women ...

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The Magic Room: A Story about the Love We Wish for Our Daughters

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girls from Ames shares an intimate look at a small-town bridal shop, its multigenerational female owners, and the love between parents and daughters as they prepare for their wedding day.

Thousands of women have stepped inside Becker’s Bridal, in Fowler, Michigan, to try on their dream dresses in the Magic Room, a special space with soft lighting, a circular pedestal, and mirrors that carry a bride’s image into infinity. The women bring with them their most precious expectations about romance, love, fidelity, permanence, and tradition. Each bride who passes through has a story to tell—one that carried her there, to that dress, that room, that moment.

Illuminating the poignant aspects of a woman’s journey to the altar, The Magic Room tells the stories of memorable women on the brink of commitment. Run by the same family for four generations, Becker’s has witnessed transformations in how America views the institution of marriage: some of the shop’s clientele are becoming stepmothers, some are older brides, some are pregnant. Shop owner Shelley has a special affection for all the brides, hoping their journeys will be easier than hers. Jeffrey Zaslow weaves their true stories using a reporter’s research and a father’s heart.

The lessons Zaslow shares from within the Magic Room are at times joyful, at times heartbreaking, and always with insight on marriage, family, and the lessons that parents—especially mothers—pass on to their daughters about love. Weaving together secrets, memories, and family tales, The Magic Room explores the emotional lives of women in the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

Bookpage
“Zaslow captures the joy, hope, love and magic.” (Top Pick)
From the Publisher
“Zaslow captures the joy, hope, love and magic.” (Top Pick) — Bookpage

“A compelling and sincere chronology of the experiences, tragedies, and love that led them to the shop. His narrative is sprinkled with fascinating statistical information … and insights into the lives and relationships of the four generations of Becker women who have worked at the store … A study of individual lives and dreams, this is recommended for casual readers and those with an interest in cultural and social customs concerning marriage, women’s roles, and parent-child relationships.”

Library Journal

"The Magic Room has all the makings of a cozy, nostalgic wedding read. Tulle, check. Satin and organza, check. Bridezillas, drama and tears? Yes, yes, yes….the highlight of the book is the comings and goings of bride after bride through Becker's, Zaslow also details the excitement and joy of getting married and the commitment and dedication it takes to stay married."

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Interesting, rewarding and heartbreaking”

The Washington Post

“Shows the poignancy in everyday love stories.”

The New York Times

“Forget bridezillas.  A best-selling journalist visits a small-town wedding shop to uncover the poignant dreams of real women on the verge of commitment.”

O, the Oprah Magazine

“A tenderhearted portrait of a bridal store in a small Michigan town... In a handful of their stories, Zaslow gently delineates the changing lives of women and finds—in among the mishaps, misunderstandings and tragedies that derail many relationships—ample evidence of the enduring power of marriage.”

People Magazine

“The book itself — to use the manliest possible term — is lovely. As lovely as a bride.”

Detriot News

Anyone looking for happily-ever-afters will find plenty of them here.”

Columbus Dispatch

“Zaslow’s profile of the bridal shop, from the geopolitics of dressmaking to the effects of TV shows like Bridezillas, is almost as riveting as the bridal tales. The author plucks at the heartstrings as he relates all the yearnings of the brides-to-be and the travails they encounter on the way to the altar.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Tender and intimate.”

Publishers Weekly

“Zaslow captures the joy, hope, love and magic.” (Top Pick)

Bookpage

“A compelling and sincere chronology of the experiences, tragedies, and love that led them to the shop. His narrative is sprinkled with fascinating statistical information … and insights into the lives and relationships of the four generations of Becker women who have worked at the store … A study of individual lives and dreams, this is recommended for casual readers and those with an interest in cultural and social customs concerning marriage, women’s roles, and parent-child relationships.”

Library Journal

The Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Magic Room has all the makings of a cozy, nostalgic wedding read. Tulle, check. Satin and organza, check. Bridezillas, drama and tears? Yes, yes, yes….the highlight of the book is the comings and goings of bride after bride through Becker's, Zaslow also details the excitement and joy of getting married and the commitment and dedication it takes to stay married.
The Washington Post
Interesting, rewarding and heartbreaking
The New York Times
Shows the poignancy in everyday love stories.
People Magazine
A tenderhearted portrait of a bridal store in a small Michigan town... In a handful of their stories, Zaslow gently delineates the changing lives of women and finds—in among the mishaps, misunderstandings and tragedies that derail many relationships—ample evidence of the enduring power of marriage.
Detriot News
The book itself — to use the manliest possible term — is lovely. As lovely as a bride.
Columbus Dispatch
Anyone looking for happily-ever-afters will find plenty of them here.
Bookpage
“Zaslow captures the joy, hope, love and magic.”
Kirkus Reviews
Wall Street Journal columnist Zaslow (The Girls from Ames, 2009, etc.) delivers an emotive excursion through the world of parents and daughters and the state of marriage in the United States. The author approaches his subjects via a small-town Michigan bridal shop, a canny choice in that he can take measure of the heartland while framing the bigger picture through sociological studies and then tightening down to his own fears and hopes as a father of three girls. The town of Fowler has only 1,100 residents, but it is a major crossroads in many lives: Becker's Bridal has sold more than 100,000 gowns over nearly eight decades and four generations of Beckers. Zaslow writes in a tone of inclusive intimacy, focusing on six women who went to Becker's to find the right dress. The author plucks at the heartstrings as he relates all the yearnings of the brides-to-be and the travails they encounter on the way to the alter. Zaslow offers plenty of statistics about love and marriage, but they pale in comparison to the everyday stories of the complex circumstances that often surround the big day. "A wedding is a happy life-cycle event, yes, but the harsher life-cycle moments aren't kept at bay until after the wedding […] weddings are often optimistic islands surrounded by oceans of uncertainty, loneliness, and grief," he writes. "For some women, a bridal gown can feel like a life preserver." The author's vignettes of the six women are wildly dissimilar, but they weave together into a complicated damascene that holds true to much age-old wisdom: Marriage involves serious demands on patience, endless petty annoyances and many compromises, as well as modesty, respect and duty. Zaslow's profile of the bridal shop, from the geopolitics of dressmaking to the effects of TV shows like Bridezillas, is almost as riveting as the bridal tales.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592407415
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 408,232
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Zaslow

Jeffrey Zaslow was a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and author of the New York Times bestseller The Girls from Ames. He was coauthor with Chesley Sullenberger on Highest Duty; with Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband on Gabby; and with Randy Pausch on The Last Lecture, the number one bestseller.

Biography

Jeffrey Zaslow is one of a handful of journalists who have carved successful careers out of the human side of reportage. In 1987, while working for the Wall Street Journal, he learned of a competition sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times to replace retired advice columnist Ann Landers. Seeking an angle for a feature story, he entered the contest and ended up winning the job over a field of more than 12,000 applicants. He worked for the Sun Times from 1987 until 2001, dispensing sage, common-sense advice and using his journalistic influence to benefit several charities and community causes.

Zaslow has returned to writing for Wall Street Journal, but his features, unlike those of his colleagues, are not centered on the world of finance. In an award-winning column called "Moving On," he chronicles the often emotionally charged human interest stories behind various life transitions -- from marriage to divorce and from career change to retirement. It was in pursuit of just such a story that he found his greatest fame.

In 2007, Zaslow learned about an unusual event to be held at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. A computer science professor named Randy Pausch was scheduled to take part in a popular series of campus talks that invites teachers to present hypothetical "last lectures" to their students. But, what made this talk different was the total absence of hypothesis: Recently diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer. Pausch was, indeed, addressing the student body for the last time. Zaslow attended the jam-packed lecture and wrote about it in his column, helping to fuel worldwide interest and an Internet phenomenon. Pausch and Zaslow collaborated on The Last Lecture, a book-length narrative that served not just as a compendium of life lessons, but as a moving testimony to Pausch's optimism and courage. The book was published in April of 2008 and became an international bestseller. Pausch died three months later.

After Pausch's death, Zaslow returned to a project he had spent many months pursuing: the biography of an extraordinary, enduring friendship among 11 women who had grown up together in the American Midwest. Revelatory, inspiring, and shot through with the optimism and emotional resonance that distinguishes all of Zaslow's writing, The Girls from Ames was published in April of 2009.

Good To Know

Some fun outtakes from our interview with Jeffrey Zaslow:
"I sold hot dogs for 4 years in college in the stands at Philadelphia Phillies games."

"When I was an advice columnist in Chicago, I hosted a singles party for charity every fall. We'd have 7,000 attendees a year, and 78 marriages resulted."

"I had never been to Ames, Iowa, before I began reporting The Girls From Ames."

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    1. Hometown:
      West Bloomfield, MI
    1. Date of Birth:
      581006
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, PA
    1. Education:
      B.A., Creative Writing, Carnegie Mellon University, 1980

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
“It’s not just about the dress, the flowers, the reception. It’s about the man and the marriage and the life that will follow” (p. 256).

In 1934, Eva Becker sold her first wedding dress to her first bride. It was “a highnecked, pure white satin number with leg–o’–mutton sleeves” (p. 37). A fiercely unsentimental German Catholic housewife–turned–businesswoman, Eva would go on to sell tens of thousands more dresses, outfitting women throughout the region on one of the most important days of their lives. More than seventy years later, Becker’s Bridal—now run by Eva’s granddaughter,

Shelley Becker Mueller—is still doing business in small–town Fowler, Michigan. The divorced mother of three, Shelley bought the business from her parents, Clark and Sharon Becker, who, in turn, bought it from Clark’s parents, Eva and Frank.

Each generation put its own imprint on Becker’s, but it was Shelley who created the Magic Room.

Housed in a former bank, the store’s old vault lay cluttered with racks and dresses until Shelley transformed it into the ultimate staging area: a quiet, softly lit dressing room away from the chatter of the sales floor. “You want mirrors everywhere, taking every bride into infinity.. [because] remember, it’s still very much the ’money room’” (p.191). And for Shelley, clinching the sale has become more critical than ever. Whereas during Eva’s reign, a woman might try on two or three dresses before making her selection, now, “the search for the gown has become a weeks–long quest” (p. 54) involving multiple stores, a gaggle of friends, and sometimes ending with the bride buying her gown on the Internet for less money. Everything about the wedding—especially the brides—has changed dramatically over the years. “About a third of brides today are divorced, buying a dress for a second or third wedding” (p. 19), while “25 percent of first–time brides already have children” (p.23). Yet, each bride–to–be still arrives at Becker’s with a heart full of fears and hopes about life after her walk up the aisle.

Today, there is no such thing as a “typical” bride. Women like thirty–nine–year old Meredith Maitner are embarking on first–time marriages later in life after successful careers trumped lackluster romances. Others, like Ashley Brandenburg, meet their future husbands on the Internet, or, like Jennifer Otto, wed after having a child with someone besides the bridegroom. “On any given weekend, an average of fifty–four Becker’s brides find their way down the aisles” (p. 257), and while many of those marriages won’t last, several relationships have already overcome challenging obstacles. Megan Pardo lost part of her fingers on her right hand in a car accident shortly after buying her dress at Becker’s. While Julie Wieber, a young widow, is remarrying against the wishes of her four children.

These women and many others visit the Magic Room in Jeffrey Zaslow’s deeply moving, eponymous book. By sharing each bride’s unique story and that of Becker’s Bridal itself, Zaslow offers an unforgettable glimpse into the lives of some very real modern women and—like the Magic Room’s seemingly infinite mirrors—reflects the enduring hopes, dreams, and love that we cherish for them.

ABOUT JEFFREY ZASLOW

Jeffrey Zaslow is a columnist for Wall Street Journal and author of the New York Times bestseller The Girls from Ames. He is the coauthor with Chesley Sullenberger of Highest Duty, and with Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture, the number one bestseller, now translated into forty–eight languages. Zaslow most recently collaborated with Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband astronaut Mark Kelly, on their memoir,Gabby. He lives in Michigan with his wife, Sherry, and their three daughters, Jordan, Alex, and Eden.

A CONVERSATION WITH JEFFREY ZASLOW
How did you come up with the idea for the book THE MAGIC ROOM?

I wanted to write a nonfiction book about the love we all wish for our daughters. I needed a place to set the book - a place with great emotion –– and I considered all sorts of possibilities. Maybe I could visit maternity wards, dance studios or daddy–daughter date nights. Maybe I’d hang out at spas where mothers and daughters go to bond. But then my wife suggested that I find a bridal shop. “There’s something about a wedding dress...” she told me. She was completely right. I was willing to go anywhere in the country to find the right store and the right stories, but I began by looking closer to my home near Detroit. When I came upon the Web site for Becker’s Bridal, which is exactly 100 miles from my house, I was very intrigued.

The subtitle of your book is A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters. In general, would you say that—despite the advances in women’s rights—our society continues to harbor different hopes for our daughters than for our sons? To what would you attribute this?

I met a lot of brides at Becker’s, and many of them seemed too young to be taking a step toward marriage. I was reminded that for a lot of young women and their parents, early marriage is still seen as a necessary, and almost ultimate, achievement. Parents and society have fewer expectations on young men today on the marriage front. Our society has come a long way, yes, but in many pockets of the country, traditional mores still hold. Nationwide, the average bride is now twenty–six years old, up from twenty–one in 1970. The average groom is twentyeight, up from twenty–three. At Becker’s, which draws from a lot of rural communities, most brides are still in their early twenties.

How has having three daughters shaped your own life? Did you discuss The Magic Room with your wife and daughters as you were writing it?

Yes, my daughters, ages 16, 20 and 22, saw the book come together every step of the way. My wife and I wouldn’t want them to feel any pressure to marry. When the time is right, they’ll find their way. But one reason I wanted to write the book was because so many aspects of womanhood today feel like they’re in flux and ill–defined. I was intrigued by the question of how other parents guide their girls into young adulthood.

At Becker’s Bridal, Bill adopts a gay persona to put the store’s female clientele at ease. How did shoppers feel about your presence?

They were curious about why this man with a notebook was hovering around. Some wanted to focus on dress–shopping, and gave off a vibe that they weren’t too interested in me or my book. Most people, though, were very friendly. I didn’t want to be intrusive, but I would introduce myself and ask questions, trying to figure out which families might be worth focusing on in the book. It was nice that a number of the brides had actually read some of my earlier books, so they were intrigued by the idea of being profiled in The Magic Room. They knew from reading The Last Lecture or The Girls from Ames that I try to write people’s stories with heart and respect.

The women you profile were extraordinarily open with you about their histories. Have you kept in touch with any of them or their families after you concluded the book?

Their weddings were a year ago, and yes, I’ve remained in touch. One of the bride’s was pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage in her fifth month. That was rough to hear about. The book is finished, but their lives continue.

It’s usually the mother who accompanies her daughter when she shops for a wedding dress. After writing The Magic Room, do you feel tempted to join your daughters’ shopping expeditions one day?

I might not go on the first trip into a bridal shop, but I’ll find my way on the second or third. After working on this book, how could I miss it? And yes, I will steer my girls to Becker’s! That’s become my favorite bridal shop on the planet, of course.

Throughout the book—no matter what the issue—your voice is completely non–judgmental. Is that difficult to maintain? Were there moments when you struggled to suppress your own opinion?

I saw my job as being that of a reporter, or perhaps a curious fellow parent. I didn’t want to judge a pregnant bride or a bickering mother and daughter. And I wanted to assure the families I wrote about, and the Becker family, that I wasn’t looking to hurt anyone. It was a privilege to share their stories, and I wanted to work to earn their trust, especially when they were telling me hard stories about their lives. Sometimes, I didn’t need to be judgmental. I just reported on life at Becker’s. One bride, marrying for the fourth time, described herself as “always a bride, never a bridesmaid.” Her own words tell her story better than I could by editorializing.

You’ve spent more than twenty years as an author and a columnist. Do you ever wish you’d chosen another path? What are the best and worst things about your job?

I think I listen well and I’ve learned how to tell emotional stories in heartfelt ways. But I have no other job skills. So I don’t know what line of work I could possibly do - or that I’d want to do, besides somehow being in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The best part of writing a book is hearing from people that it moved them, or that they somehow saw their own lives in the story. The worst part, of course, is the empty page. I write pretty fast and have a good work ethic, but sometimes I need to stop Googling and get back to writing!

You write about how celebrity brides from Grace Kelly to Kate Middleton have influenced popular tastes in wedding gowns. Is the power of celebrity a positive or negative aspect of our culture?

I kept waiting for Kim Kardashian to show up at Becker’s to buy her dress. She never made it in. I’m kidding! But Shelley, the owner of Becker’s, says that celebrity brides do get her customers excited about marriage and about their wedding dresses. So they’re good for business. I don’t think Kim Kardashian and all the coverage of her short marriage helped the culture. Then again, people were so appalled by that story that it led to good discussions in families about what marriage means, especially today. Maybe that was helpful somehow.

Did you ever feel the presence of Eva Becker’s ghost?

I did, even out on Main Street. It really is a very old–looking town, and I could picture Eva walking with a dress over her shoulder. Shelley is a spiritual and open–hearted person, and I saw Eva through her eyes.

Did your approach differ for writing The Girls from Ames and The Magic Room?

The Girls from Ames was a harder book to write. That was about eleven women who’d been friends for decades. They didn’t know how readers - and people in Ames, Iowa, –– would respond. When it came time to write The Magic Room, I had learned a lot from the Ames book. Also, many of the people I wrote about at Becker’s had read the Ames book, and so they knew my style and approach. That made them more comfortable. Shelley, especially, opened up her store and her life to me, and I promised I would work to do justice to the seventy–six years of the Becker’s saga. I’m grateful that she trusted me to do that.

What did you learn about the bridal industry while working on this book?

I saw that it is a business, yes. But I also realized that those in the bridal industry are selling much more than dresses. They’re selling dreams, love, the future. I tried to capture all of that in the pages of the book. I got to know Shelley, the owner of Becker’s, very well. She and her staffers resist the hard sell. Their clientele tends to be middle–class, and they don’t conspire to steer brides into more expensive dresses. Instead, they aim to be good listeners. Every bride has a story, and they tease out those stories from brides and their families. For the book, I focused on eight brides. I saw how their purchase of address was in some ways the culmination of their entire lives up to that moment. Pretty powerful stuff.

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

Trying on all those dresses! No, I’m kidding about that. The challenge was making sure I was honoring the stories of the families in the book, including the Becker family. They entrusted me with their secrets, and they revealed their fears and doubts. The things I asked them to talk about were not always easy. All the books I’ve authored or coauthored - including The Girls from Ames, The Last Lecture, and Gabby - try to offer a window into people’s hearts. That was especially true for the women I found in The Magic Room. I was grateful that they were willing to open up to me, and I didn’t take lightly the responsibility of sharing their stories with the world.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Discuss Jeffrey Zaslow’s decision to explore “how all of us can best show love to our daughters” (p. xiv) by examining the world of Becker’s Bridal. Do you agree that a bridal salon is the ideal setting? What are some other places that would have worked as well?
  • How do you think the idea of “love” has changed over time?
  • Zaslow researched the history of marriage in The Magic Room. How has our outlook on weddings changed over time? Is it for the better?
  • Of the many women Zaslow profiles, whose story resonates with you most and why?
  • If you are married, did The Magic Room reaffirm the decision you made regarding your dress? If you are unmarried, did the book affect the way you may one day approach your purchase?
  • Discuss the unusual vows that Erika and her sisters made. Do you think divorce rates would be lower if most men and women took a similar vow?
  • How did you feel about Julie’s decision to remarry so soon after she became a widow?
  • Becker’s Bridal is in a constant struggle for survival, in part, because some budget–conscious brides find their gowns at Becker’s and then order them online for less. Has reading The Magic Room made you reconsider your own shopping habits?
  • “In the 1930s, wedding dresses were still expected to be multifunctional, rather than one–time–only fashion statements. A lot of women would wear their gowns at their weddings, and then months later, dye or hem them for other important occasions, or even as maternity wear” (p. 39). In our age of reduce, recycle, and reuse, should this practice be revived? What do you think of the recent trend toward “trashing the dress”?
  • “Despite Eva’s clear lack of a soft spot, she was a trailblazer as a woman in the workplace. She not only kept the business afloat but expanded it at a time when women were almost exclusively in the home” (p. 43). Do women today still need to be as tough as Eva in order to succeed?
  • Did Shelley make the right decision to take over Becker’s Bridal? Should Alyssa follow in her footsteps?
  • Have you read The Girls from Ames? How would you say the female relationships between friends and mothers/daughters differ?
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    Recommended highly

    Really liked this book. Tragic that it was one of his last, I am now on a mission to read all his books. The best part is the telling about the four generations of family women who run the business. Love the way he ties the stories about each of the brides together, although each one very different. He shares insights about the brides, their personal stories and their weeding days, makes you feel like you knew them personally.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    A deep look at brides and the bridal business

    I was first drawn towards this book as I have a love for Bridal gown reality shows. What attracts me to them is the story behind the dress. The family, the bride, the groom, the personalities, the meaning of the marriage etc. So this book is not only about brides but it is also about the bridal gown business in a small town. The story line details a list of brides who come through the shop's doors, some of whom are back for a second time, or they are daughters of brides who purchased their gowns from the same shop many years before. Each story is unique, some tragic, other stories are inspiring and uplifting. The author details each bride in several chapters, and at times, I lost track of which one was the current subject. Beautifully written and detailed, this book will take you to a place you never really gave much of a thought to and you will think about those in your life who are brides, or will become brides.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    A wonderful read

    I enjoy all of Jeffrey Zaslow's books, and The Magic Room did not disappoint. I love the way he mixed facts of weddings in general with the stories of the brides. Also rounding out all the bride's stories really made you feel a part of their weddings.
    I'm very sad that he will not get to walk his love3ly daughters down the isle, but I know they realize how special that time of life is through this book.
    He was a thoughtful author, gone too soon. He will be missed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    So Confused!

    For some reason I thought this was going to be a story, not a weird documentary about a wedding shop.

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  • Posted January 25, 2013

    It had a story to tell but honestly I kept waiting for the book

    It had a story to tell but honestly I kept waiting for the book to get going into some depth. I would not recommend it for the money I paid. too bad you cannot lend it.

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  • Posted June 11, 2012

    Like an essay collection

    This is a great group of individual stories, that flow along the common thread of the family that owns the shop.

    If you enjoy hearing interesting human interest type stories about regular (vs celebrities) people, you will probably like this book.

    Michele

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  • Posted May 16, 2012

    This is a series of short stories about brides and their stories.

    This book is well written and centers around a Bridal Shop and the women that sell and purchase bridal gowns. Their stories are as varied as their gowns. Very enjoyable for all women as this book deals with the varied ages and stories that about women about to start their marriages and all that entails.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2012

    W A great read

    A refreashing story you cry and laugh while reading this
    I recommend it to every mother and father who have a daughter

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    Posted February 17, 2012

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    Posted April 5, 2012

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    Posted July 21, 2013

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    Posted January 1, 2012

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