Dorothy Caldwell Minor, aka The Book Whisperer, finds a novel to cherish in Piper Huguley’s historical fiction debut By Her Own Design.

A little about Dorothy:

“I am an avid reader and also enjoy Indie and foreign movies. I retired from teaching English at Tulsa Community College after teaching as an adjunct first and then twenty-four years as a full-time faculty member. I was also involved in faculty development, planning and facilitating workshops for colleagues. I like technology and using technology to enhance learning. As an adjunct, I started a book club on campus, and it is still going strong thirty-one years later! I also belong to two other book clubs.I’ve included a picture from a Chautauqua Tea at TCC, complete with hat and brooch! I enjoy collecting vintage rhinestone brooches.”

Dorothy’s book club, Circle of Readers:

“We meet twice monthly. The first of the month, we all read a book and discuss it; the second time we meet, we discuss other books we’ve read. We enjoy inviting authors to join us! We have 20 members, and we are located in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. We enjoy reading fiction, historical fiction, memoir, nonfiction, YA.”

Dorothy’s review of By Her Own Design:

Dear Readers, for those of you seeking historical fiction, look no further than By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley. Many may know the story of Ann Lowe, a Black woman born in 1898 in Clayton, AL, who became a famous designer, designing and making Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s wedding dress. For me, the story was new, and it is a fascinating story about overcoming all odds to be renowned as a designer beginning well before the Civil Rights movement.

Ann began sewing with her mother and grandmother; they made an inaugural gown for the governor of AL’s wife along with other designer dresses for her and other wealthy women in AL. Ann takes scraps of fabric and starts making flowers to adorn her own clothing. Soon, others want those flowers on their dresses as well. Ann’s mother and grandmother do not think Ann is ready to take on larger sewing assignments, but Ann herself is itching to design and make clothes.

Ann starts by making clothes for herself. From an early age, she felt she should not call attention to herself, so her clothing was always beautifully tailored, but she chose muted colors. In a store in Montgomery, Ann caught the eye of Mrs. Lee, a wealthy woman visiting from FL. Mrs. Lee asked Ann who had made her dress. At first, Ann is too shy to promote herself, but she does finally admit that she is the dressmaker. Mrs. Lee gives Ann, who has married and has a son by now, an opportunity to make dresses for her and her five daughters, one of whom is getting married soon.

Ann’s husband, Lee, is a tailor. He marries Ann when she is twelve, not because he loves her, but because he wants her to sew with him in his business of making men’s suits. He is a drunken, abusive husband who ruled Ann’s life. Fortunately, Ann finds help from Lee’s mother who tells her to take Arthur, her son, and go to FL to work for Mrs. Lee. Luckily, too, Mrs. Lee offers Ann and Arthur a place to stay. In fact, Mrs. Lee becomes very like a fairy godmother for Ann and her career.

Mrs. Lee even sends Ann to design school in NYC where Ann excels in all the coursework. Sadly, the administrators of the school put Ann in an empty classroom adjacent to the classroom where the white students sit. Ann is clever, and she gets to class early and positions her desk in the cloakroom so that she can see the board as well as the other students.

By Her Own Design is a novel to cherish. Learn about Ann Lowe and her gorgeous designs for all manner of important, wealthy people including designing a dress for Olivia de Haviland to wear to the Academy Awards. For book club members, the story will provide a wealth of discussion topics: Jim Crow laws, domestic violence, child labor, and racial prejudice. It will also offer happier topics like success and generosity.

Olivia de Havilland in the dress Ann Lowe designed and made;
John and Jacqueline Kennedy with Jacqueline wearing the dress Ann Lowe designed and made

Buy the book now.

Piper Huguley is available to visit with book clubs via

Be sure to visit Dorothy’s website, Parkdalear’s Blog, and watch for her reviews of our NovelNetwork authors featured there, and shared right here at