A mixed bag here as Natasha Lester comes to the blog with a new historic fiction with a twist: dual timelines from 1940 and ¾ of a century later in 2015, I’ve both read and listened to this book – and I cant say which makes me more excited. Narrated by Penelope Rawlins, please read on for my review of
The Paris Seamstress
Told from two points of view three-quarters of a century apart, this book mixes historic fiction with discoveries of long-held family secrets, the influence of family, experience and questions resonate through the pages. Estella has only ever known her mother’s love, raised in Paris and spending her time learning fashion, construction and the joys of being young and carefree in Paris. Until the German occupation, and her realization that the Paris she once knew is changing for the worse, pitting neighbor and friend against one another, closing shops and putting everyone on edge. When she follows her mother on one of her much-extended forays into the night, she is quickly thrown into a world she didn’t know existed: the resistance operatives, a devastatingly handsome man, a dead friend and her ‘American’ papers. Placed on one of the last ‘evacuation’ ships out of France that will carry American ex-pats out of the Nazi dangers, she’s not sure if or when she’ll ever see her mother again, or get answers to the many questions she now has.
Fabienne is reeling from the death of her father, and visiting her ill grandmother, Estella, before heading back to Australia to start her new position as fashion curator for a museum. This journey, like so many others, has her grandmother working to convince her to take over Stella Designs, the fashion house started in the 1940’s in New York, bringing a whole new ‘view’ of fashionable to the American public. Doubting her own talent, and still unsettled by both her father’s death and her own relationship ending, she’s convinced that running Stella Designs is not for her. Until a series of questions pop up: stories that her grandmother could relay and share, until she suffers a fatal stroke. Left with a box that contains some letters, a book as well as her grandmother’s extensive property holdings, including a house in Paris, the business and more questions.
There is not really a way to describe the compelling nature of these stories and characters: from the descriptions and atmosphere that come alive in Paris of the day: from the changes to the near-desperate grasping to moments that will allow the horrors of the occupation and war to diminish, if only for a moment. To Estella’s startling discovery of her own father and creation story, her mother’s work as an operative for the Resistance and her determination that Estella should leave the only city she’d ever known to have a chance at her dreams and a good life. From discovering Lena and the juggle between attraction and self-preservation where Alex is concerned, the horror at the past her mother endured and her own struggles as a new entrant into the New York fashion world, one that believes Parisian fashion, even the outdated, copied and badly reproduced styles are the only way. To Fabienne as she unravels the stories of her Grandmother’s past while trying to find her own road to travel. A chance encounter in Paris with Will and his sister Melissa that will bring her a world of hurt and hope, understanding the three witches on her grandmother’s pendant, finding her design chops along with her own courage to move forward and take on her dreams, in the fashion world and in love. Each moment of self-doubt, fear, struggle and even the determination to move on and forward as both Estella and Fabienne grow and build worlds that invite us in to experience and enjoy them – tastes, smells, colors and textures all combine in ways that are unique and palpable – each new revelation adds another layer of understanding of choices, challenges and above all, demanding attention as the story takes you in directions unexpected.
Narration for this story is provided by Penelope Rawlins and she managed to take the multiple characters and bring out their ‘moments’: Estella’s determination and enjoyment of the simple moments, her core of steel when challenged, the joy and sadness as the moments come to her, present and easy to visualize each moment and phase, feeling that survivor deep within. For Fabienne, the tone was decidedly less mature, yet when pressed the influence and strength learned from Estella are clear and palpable. Seamless transitions from accents, enunciation and switching between the multitude of secondary characters to our main women, the performance was exceptional in a story that held so many twists and moments that were connected with a near-palpable thread, never losing the moments where present honors past or vice versa. I can’t decide which version was my favorite – having both read and listened to the story, but if you want a story that will take you away – this is it.
Stars: Overall: 5 Narration: 4 Story: 5
Title: The Paris Seamstress
Author: Natasha Lester
Genre: Dual Timeline, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Mystery Elements, Romantic Elements, Setting: American, Setting: Australia, Setting: France, World War II
Narrator: Penelope Rawlins
Published by: Forever, Hachette Audio
Published on: 18 September, 2018
Source: Hachette Audio, Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 14 Hours: 57 minutes
Heat: Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google ♦Audible
For readers of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale comes a World War II novel that spans generations, crosses oceans, and proves just how much two young women are willing to sacrifice for love and family.
1940: As the Germans advance upon Paris, young seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee everything she's ever known. She's bound for New York City with her signature gold dress, a few francs, and a dream: to make her mark on the world of fashion.
Present day: Fabienne Bissette journeys to the Met's annual gala for an exhibit featuring the work of her ailing grandmother - a legend of women's fashion design. But as Fabienne begins to learn more about her beloved grandmother's past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and family secrets that will dramatically change her own life.
"The Paris Seamstress is a gorgeously rich and romantic novel about young women finding their way in the world." -Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens
A copy of this title was provided via Hachette Audio, Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.