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May 6, 2020

The First Emma by @CamilleDiMaio ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

"'Emma,' he whispered as he took his last breath.
But they didn't know which woman he called for.
Emma, his first mistress.
Emma, his second mistress.
Or Emma, his wife."  (loc 173)
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

May 2020; Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing; 978-1948018760
ebook, print (323 pages); historical fiction
Camille Di Maio's fifth novel The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler, whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses—both also named Emma—and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during Prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.

This was the kind of historical fiction novel that I really enjoy - not only was it a well-written novel but I also learned about people and situations that were new for me.  It's a dual timeline book told by Emma in 1914 and Mabel in 1943.  Both of these women are strong and brave and feminists in the time they live in.

1914 - Emma married Otto hoping for a happy marriage full of love.  The day after they married, they moved to San Antonio, Texas, where Oscar worked for a major brewing company.  Soon after, he opened his own brewery and his obsession with business and accumulating more wealth were much more important than his wife.  Emma, lonely in her large mansion with no children, decides to become more involved with the brewing company - not from the business side but from the human side - getting to know the employees by name and learning about their lives.  When Otto decides to take not one, but two mistresses - both named Emma.  After he is murdered, Emma has to decide if she'll follow a woman's role of the time period or if she will become a strong woman of independence who will run the business.

1943 - Emma puts an ad in the newspaper to find someone to write her life story.  Mabel, in Baltimore, reads the ad and since her life is in disarray,  she decides to apply for the job.  Her mother has died, her father is an alcoholic, one brother has died in the war, one is missing in action and her boyfriend just broke up with her - what reason does she have for staying in Baltimore? When she arrives in San Antonio she is amazed at the trappings of wealth that she sees in Emma's mansion.   She soon becomes amazed at Emma's story of her life.  She also gains acceptance and finds romance.

I loved Emma and Mabel as characters.  They are both strong women living in a man's world and are able to defy conventions of their time and take control of their lives.  The two stories mesh together seamlessly because both women have a story to tell.  The author definitely did a lot of research into the two time periods and gave us a vivid picture of life in 1914 as well as 1943.  This is a story of love and family, of betrayal and commitment, and of two women who made their own paths through times when women were considered to be second class and men ruled the world.  Emma and Mabel, especially Emma, are characters that I won't soon forget. This is another great novel by Camille Di Maio.

NOTE:  Be sure to read the Author's notes at the end of the novel to find out more about the real family that this book was based on and the research that the author did to write this book.

Buy The First Emma at Amazon

Camille Di Maio books include:

THE MEMORY OF US - Amazon bestseller, a finalist for the Holt Medallion Award for Literary Excellence.
BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS - Holt Medallion finalist, GDRWA finalist
THE WAY OF BEAUTY - Amazon bestseller in the UK and Australia
THE BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS- Pulpwood Queens Book Club Pick, Once Upon a Book Club Pick

Author on Social Media:

Twitter: @CamilleDiMaio

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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