book review,  Books

Book Review: The First Emma by Camille Di Maio

I’m a huge fan of Camille Di Maio’s writing. She writes strong female characters and page-turning plots, and The First Emma offers both. Be sure to check out other stops on the tour for excerpts, other reviews, and more. Read on for MY take on this engaging story and be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the book.

Many thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy of the book through Lone Star Lit. All opinions are my own.

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Camille Di Maio

Historical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Date of Publication: May 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 315

Scroll down for the giveaway for your own copy
of The First Emma!

cover image for The First Emma

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.
PRAISE for The First Emma: 
“Di Maio’s take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romantic and historical fiction . . . a sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.” —Kirkus

“A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman. Mystery and romance are set against the backdrop of fascinating pieces of twentieth-century history, and a richly drawn setting leaves the reader feeling wholly immersed. Historical fiction fans will love this one!” —Chanel CleetonNYT bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“Di Maio does a brilliant job of weaving together all the threads—from past to present—while unearthing a tale of blossoming love, the power of our chosen family, and the losses that make us whole again.” —Rochelle B. WeinsteinUSA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends


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I love historical fiction, particularly when it is based on a real person or event. The First Emma is the story of Emma Koehler, the wife of San Antonio brewing tycoon Otto Koehler. She was the driving force behind his successes and later went on to become CEO of Pearl Brewing. It’s a pretty incredible story, particularly for its time.

Author Camille Di Maio tells her fictionalized story of Emma’s life through Mabel, a young woman from Baltimore who travels to San Antonio to record the details of Emma’s life. The story could have focused on the more sensational parts of her life – such as her husband having two mistresses, both also named Emma, one of whom murders him. Instead, we get a portrait of a strong woman, an early feminist, even, who defied convention and successfully built up the brewery she started with her husband, keeping it alive during prohibition while supporting both its worker and her extended family. She’s a woman of remarkable strength who overcame a husband’s betrayal and physical challenges to become a leader and a change-maker.

“I want to start making some of the decisions for the brewery. I want a seat on the board and I want you to vote the same way I do. And to champion my causes for it….”We’re on the brink of a prohibition against our very industry and you need me more than you realize if we are not to lose it all.”

With engaging storytelling, the tale unfolds via two timelines, the first beginning and 1914, and told via Emma’s recounting of her life to Mabel, the second in 1943, at the end of Emma’s life and revolving more around Mabel’s life, her losses and a new relationship (for which the seed was plotted by Emma herself). Interspersed between chapters are brief news pieces reporting details of the third Emma’s arrest and subsequent trial for the murder of Otto Koehler.

Di Maio’s characters are my favorite aspect of her books. They are so fleshed out and relatable, and she does an excellent job of drawing you into their lives and making you FEEL for them, be it love or otherwise. We can watch Mabel bloom and grow within the story as a result of her interactions with Emma and the stories she is told. Through the stories she recounts to Mabel, Mabel also overcomes fears and rediscovers herself. Her exchanges with Erik are equally revealing, particularly when they talk about her father’s drinking and how it has shaped her beliefs – and how he changes her perspective.

“…But like anything, it’s how you use it that matters. Water quenches your thirst, or you can drown in it. Fire warms you, or can rage through a forest and kill everything in its path. Alcohol has medicinal and social benefits, but can ruin lives if misused.”

Di Maio also continues to display her wonderful attention to detail for place and setting. San Antonio comes alive in this story, and we can picture the world Mabel and Emma reside in.

This is a beautifully written story of overcoming adversity, and of discovering and staying true to yourself.

author image of Camille De Maio, author of The First Emma

Camille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, though she took a winding path of waitressing, temping, politicking, and real estate to get there. It all came to fruition with the publication of her bestselling debut, The Memory of Us, followed by Before the Rain FallsThe Way of Beauty, and The Beautiful Strangers.

In addition to writing, she loves farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway tunes when the mood strikes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge her passion for travel. Married for twenty-three years, she home-schools their four children. (Though the first two are off at college now!) She is happy to live in Virginia near a beach. 

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ONE WINNER receives a signed copy of The First Emma
May 19-29, 2020
(US only)

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