The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker cover

The Dressmaker
Kate Alcott


In 1912, when the Titanic’s rescue ship pulled into New York, survivors of the disaster faced a great deal of complicated feelings, among them, survivor’s guilt. Of 2,224 passengers, only an estimated 705 survived the sinking of what people thought was an invincible ship. The world was horrified and demanded answers from Bruce Ismay, Chairman of White Star and the surviving crew. In response, Senator William Alden Smith led an inquiry into the accident and the rescue. One of the investigation’s first discoveries was that there were not enough lifeboats on board (only enough for 1,178 passengers), that many of the lifeboats left the ship before they were filled and that some of the boats had only a few passengers on them. Although women and children were chosen first for the lifeboats, wealth and privilege were also major factors in determining who got a seat. There were plenty of heroes, but rumors also flew about lifeboat passengers who ignored the desperate cries and pleading outstretched arms from the ship and from the water.

The Dressmaker is a story written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath. It’s a light historical fiction and romance, centered around a young English maid and seamstress, the fictional Tess Collins, who talks her way onto the ship to work for Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, a famous and mercurial English fashion designer. Lucille is a demanding boss, with no scruples and her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon pulls strings in the background to guarantee his wife’s success and prominence. The Duff Gordons are actual historical figures, as are many other characters in the story, including Lucille’s sister Elinor, Bruce Ismay, Mrs. Molly Brown, and Senator Smith.

As the story begins, Tess catches the eyes of two interesting men on the ship, a young sailor named Jim Bonney, and Jack Bremerton, an older and sophisticated Chicago businessman. Tess has just escaped a servant’s life and may be ready for love, but who will win her charms? Disaster may hit, but the love triangle continues and becomes more complicated once Tess arrives in New York.

Once in New York, we meet Pinky Wade, a spunky newspaper gal from the New York Times, who knows how to get a good story, and is assigned to cover the Titanic hearings. During the inquiry, stories about what others did to survive paint a desperate scene, which becomes a heavy burden for some of the passengers. As details emerge about what went on in the Duff Gordons’ lifeboat, whether Cosmo bribed the crew to refuse more passengers or worse, Lucille’s reputation is in big trouble. To help, Tess takes an active role in Lucille’s upcoming fashion show. Despite Lucille’s tantrums and criticisms, Tess feels indebted to her mentor, that is, until Jim becomes a target. Then Tess must decide what’s more important, her friendship with Jim or her fashion career with Lucille.

It’s hard to resist a story about the Titanic and I enjoyed reading The Dressmaker for these historical references. I also liked imagining the interactions between the actual historical figures and Alcott’s fictional characters in the book. I did not know about the inquiry that followed the disaster and found that very interesting. Alcott includes actual testimony from the hearings, which brings a good sense of authenticity to the book.

Alcott’s characters, however, are simple and undeveloped, and that takes away from the lure of the story. I wanted to know more about Tess as a girl and about her job as a maid. Because she boarded the Titanic in France, I was unsure if she was French or English or Irish, as details about her past are vague. Alcott’s other characters seem stereotypical and flat, forcing the reader to focus on the historical element.

The story is a nice one, nevertheless, an easy read and a good way to relax. I would be interested in reading Alcott’s newest book about Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, A Touch of Stardust, since I’m a big fan of Gone With the Wind!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

What’s up next? The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker cover

During this busy holiday season there’s no better time to pick a book that’s fun to read after a long day. I just started reading The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott and it promises to be just what I need! In this story, Tess Collins is a young maid in Cherbourg, France who, minutes before the Titanic’s maiden voyage, talks her way onto the ship, to work for the famous designer, Lady Lucille Duff Gordon.

We all know what happened to the Titanic, but we don’t know what will happen to Tess and the people she meets on the ship. This is the kind of book that is easy to get into, perfect for this time of year!

Photo by Michael Lionstar
Kate Alcott/Photo by Michael Lionstar

Kate Alcott is a New York Times bestselling author. Alcott is actually the pseudonym for journalist Patricia O’Brien, who is the author of several books under her real name.

Since The Dressmaker, Alcott has written two new books, The Daring Ladies of Lowell and her newest historical fiction, A Touch of Stardust, the story of Clark Gable’s affair with Carole Lombard during the filming of Gone With the Wind. To learn more about her books, click here to visit Alcott’s website.

Thanks for visiting and be sure to check back soon for my review!

Reading List Update

I’ve been a busy Book Club Mom lately and I have a big list of books in the queue. Here’s a look at what I’m reading now, and what’s ahead:


Reading now:

A Walk in the WoodsI’m in the middle of reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. In 1996, Bryson and his old school friend, Stephen Katz, began a hiking adventure on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100-mile path in the eastern United States, running from Georgia to Maine, through forests and over mountains. Written in 1998, A Walk in the Woods is an entertaining story of how these unlikely hikers fared on the trail. It was made into a movie this year, and stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. I’m enjoying Bryson’s commentary and writing style very much and I’m looking forward to reading more. Bryson is a best-selling author of many humorous books on travel, the English language and science.


On the list:

The Dressmaker coverThe Dressmaker by Kate Alcott – this is a historical novel about a woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic and the aftermath of the tragedyMy book club will be discussing this one next month.


we are not ourselves.jpgWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – recommended to me by blogging friend Dawn from Mom Mom’s Apron. Publishers Weekly describes it as “A definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the twentieth century.”


Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris – a historical novel set during the Japanese internment of World War II. My book club read and liked another book by McMorris, The Pieces We Keep (read my review here) so I’m looking forward to this one!


The Oblong Box“The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allan Poe – recommended to me by Jeff at Stuff Jeff Reads. Jeff reviewed “The Oblong Box” on his blog and I found it for free on my Kindle. I always love a good short story so thanks to Jeff for the suggestion!


The Liberty Box 2The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray, the first book of a young adult dystopian series, referred to me by Evil Cyclist’s Books. You can check out his review here. The Liberty Box is a new book series and was released on October 25.


Threaten to Undo UsThreaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott –Scott describes her historical novel: “As Hitler’s Third Reich crumbles and Stalin’s Army advances, German civilians in the Eastern territories are forced to flee for their lives…Liesel and her four young children hope they can make it from their home in Poland across the Oder River to safety…But all that awaits them is terror and uncertainty.”


I’ll be posting reviews as I work my way through this interesting list.  What are you reading right now and what’s on your list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!