The Paris Seamstress

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

Once again this author has delivered. She always has strong female characters. Loved this book, thanks
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(I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.
2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother's work - one of the world's leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother's past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets - and the sacrifices made for love.
Crossing generations, society's boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

Dual-timeline narratives seem to have been the order of the day lately for me - thankfully, this is one of the better ones. 

I won't delve into the plot cos that's what the blurb is for, instead, I just want to say a few words about the writing itself.

The one thing that needs to be commended is the obvious research that must have gone into this book. Not just the details of the period or the sections regarding the clothes making and the history of such, but it was the everyday details - locations, speech, dress - all those things that transport a reader to a time and place...

Other highlights include the characterisations - Estella from the 1940's and Fabienne from the present day - these are exceptionally drawn characters, so much so that we experienced everything with them. They are strong, determined women, making them great reading. 

Finally, the mystery that runs through the family history was excellent. Although I will admit that there were times during this book that the family tree got a little awkward for me to follow, and the great reveal at the end didn't really do much for me, it was the journey - not the destination - that impressed me completely.

Highly recommended!

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I have been a fan of Natasha Lester's since reading A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. I love her strong resilient woman who challenge their times. Great reading.
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Flipping back and forth between the early years of WWII and 2015, this novel follows the lives of Estella fleeing from occupied France to New York City ; and Fabienne, her granddaughter in Australia who has uncovered a family secret.

Lester first got on my radar with A Kiss from Fitzgerald, and at the time we were doing an author Q&A with her so I went back and read her first two novels. I'm disappointed to say that I feel her earlier work was much better. It was emotive and thought provoking. Since she has moved into Historical Fiction / Romance writing, it feels like she has not only become commercial, but many of her plot points border on comical. I'm not sure why so many soap opera tropes are required, but clearly they are popular (as are soap operas!). I also found the characters in this were just not well developed and the story took far too long to reach a conclusion. I was getting quite frustrated and bored towards the end just wanting to push through and finish.

I'm very sad to write this review because I really did think she was a great author, but these last two books have not suited me at all, so I think it is time to say adieu and wish her well. I do hope she has great success with her new audience who are much more forgiving of her style and enjoy the ride.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book tells the story of Estella who is a seamstress in France. She works copying designs from the fashion shows and selling the designs to American buyers so they can stay ahead of the latest fashions. She dreams of one day being able to design her own line of clothing, but with the war happening, its hard enough just to keep her head above water. As things heat up her mother pushes her to go to America to pursue her dreams there. She is lucky enough to befriend Sam on the ship who gives her a lead on where to start. She meets so many people and discovers that things are not what they seem with secrets and lies. Fast forward to the present day and Fabienne who is Estella's grand daughter has just started a new job, and is also caring for Estella who is now 93. Estella hopes that Fabienne will take over the fashion empire that she has built over decades. The story alternates between the two time periods and is very well researched and written. An enjoyable historical fiction.Thank you to Net Galley and Hachette for the complementary copy for review.
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I am left speechless and emotional after reading this awesome story WOW, this is the first Natasha Lester book I have read and I need to fix that because here is an author that you don’t want to miss, this is just so beautifully written, moving, emotional I loved it, a story across two timelines World War 11 1940’s and 2015, fabulous characters that show love, strength and what they go through, secrets to uncover and love to find. I do highly recommend this book.

The story starts in 1940 in Paris the Germans are coming to Paris and Estella Bissette a young seamstress is sent to Manhattan by her mother after she helps with secret papers and meets a man she will never forget, she has very little in her pockets but she has a sewing machine and hope and strength, she meets Sam on her way over and then Janie when she gets there and then her life changes when she meets Lena and Alex and there is a lot to learn and fashions to create.

It is now 2015 Australia and a young curator Fabienne Bissette is travelling to New York for her beloved grandmother’s Gala exhibition of her fashions, a lot has happened in the past year for Fabienne, the death of her father she has just taken on a new job and sadly her grandmother is getting frailer as she gets older. Fabienne has doubts on whether she could take over Stella Designs as her grandmother wishes and is sent to Paris for the weekend where she meets Will and these two inspire each other. When her grandmother suffers a stroke and is trying to tell her things that she needs to know, life again changes when she uncovers heartbreaking secrets that in the end will make her stronger.

Really this is such an emotional story I loved it from page one I savoured every word every trip to Paris and Manhattan and from the 1940’s to 2015 from Estella and Fabienne and all of the characters that we get to know and love. The love the strength the pain the heartache and yes the joy that is there, I bow down to you MS Lester this story is going to stay with me for a long time to come I have tears in my eyes typing this review and cannot highly recommend it enough thank you for a fabulous story.
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Thank you  Natasha Lester and Netgalley for a copy of this book.
I am totally in love with Natasha's writing style,  it's the type of historical fiction that makes you bee-line for the internet after you read the last pages of acknowledgments and such. The need to look a bit deeper into the lives of characters you have just left makes a book stay with you just a little longer I think. 
Watch out Belinda Alexandra, there seems to be a new contender in my "Top 5 Australian Authoress's" and she's rising up the list fast...
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This is a fabulous historical fiction that looks at the war from an alternative point of view and highlights the active role, risks and challenges women had during the war. It was a book that once started was difficult to put down. I would honestly recommend this book to someone looking for a book that is a good holiday read.
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A quick piece of context, I love Kate Morton. The Australian author writes sweeping historical stories that have protagonists in two eras – current day and historical who’s stories intertwine. When I read the description of this book, I immediately thought of Kate Morton’s books.


I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, despite the darker themes than I usually enjoy, I adored this book. The story, the characters and the writing all engrossed me. I was, however, deeply disappointed with how Estella’s relationship turned out. The ending had me teary but it was beautiful.

I wholly recommend this book if you enjoy historical, contemporary, mystery, romance or drama
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What a remarkable book this has been! I have been utterly engrossed throughout, anxiously waiting for the two stories, that of Estella in the 1940’s and that of her granddaughter Fabienne, to resolve themselves. Both women are strong and independent, utterly dedicated to their craft but also to those people who matter to them. I was both fascinated and horrified by Harry Thaw, a thoroughly horrifying man. That he was able to get away with what he did is a disgrace, yet his role in this story was vital in ramping up the tension and making things worse and worse for Estella. As I mentioned above, this story combines two timelines, Estella’s and Fabienne’s. With two stories running parallel there is always a risk that you will lose reader interest, but that’s certainly not the case with this story. It is superbly told and I truly loved reading it.
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This review will be published at the link below and on Goodreads on 21 April 2018.

In brief ★★★★

In this sprawling historical epic, Lester takes us from contemporary Sydney to wartime Paris, with the New York of both thrown in, as Estella struggles to launch her fashion business in the 1940s, and her granddaughter Fabienne begins to unravel family secrets in 2016. With lavish descriptions of opulent lives contrasting against the deprivations of war, the dominant romantic plotlines take on depth and nuance, making this a rewarding read. In many ways this reminded me of a Kate Morton book, although with a more global scale. I found myself deeply invested in the characters and wept a lot - recommended for a heartfelt experience.

In depth

Plot: Lester draws you in to Estella's story, which is hard to leave when the narrative switches to Fabienne, but I found myself engrossed in both womens' stories so much that after the first swap I didn't mind at all. The narrative tension switches from being about the war to both Estella and Fabienne's relationships, and there were enough surprises that I didn't mind having picked a couple of key twists early on. If you step back and look at the bare plot, it could be rather cheesy, but in Lester's experienced hands each of the events unfolds with tension and emotional depth. I found myself staying up late saying 'just one more chapter...'.

Characters: I cried for these characters, a lot. Lester doesn't give them easy lives, but she easily helps the reader connect with them. Estella is a young woman torn from her life in Paris, bold enough to pursue her dreams in New York and with a wicked mouth on her to boot. I loved her spunk, and appreciated the way her self-awareness grew throughout the story as she makes mistake after mistake. Fabienne's adoration for her grandmother (Estella) is lovely, and from it grows an unexpected romance, and a quest to uncover family secrets. She struggles to accept her family legacy and deals with the bittersweet ache of finding a friend who is terminally ill. The men of the story - Sam, Alex and Will - are catalysts for changes in the two women's lives, but each also develops and grows over time, making for a rich cast, along with supporting women like Janie and Melissa.

Themes: Love is the overriding theme of the novel, but sacrifice plays a large part too, particularly in the 1940s narrative. There are feminist elements for sure - Estella pushing against male domination of the fashion industry, Fabienne not willing to give up her career - but the romantic relationships really are the heart of the story. Identity is another key theme, and how much who we are is determined by blood. 

Writing: I fell into Lester's writing easily, absorbed by her descriptions of each city and the inner lives of her characters. I particularly enjoyed the fashion scenes in 1940s New York, which had fabulous imagery of stunning women's clothing, art and attitudes. The more dramatic scenes are written without melodrama, and the use of symbols (e.g. the Frida Kahlo painting and the witches medallion) was tastefully done.

Recommended if you liked: The Lace Weaver, anything by Kate Morton
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Natasha Lester is known for her historical romance novels which feature strong, independent female characters. 

Estella Bissette is our protagonist. In 1940 she managed to get out of the soon to be occupied Paris, on the last boat to New York. She's got limited funds but she dreams that one day she'll get to be a clothes designer. During her sea voyage to New York, she meets a young man, Sam, who is very interested in clothes cutting. A happy coincidence. Estella has a temper so she gets herself fired from several jobs within a short period. 

On a night out she meets again a mysterious man whom she had briefly met in Paris. His name is Alex and he's a British - American spy pretending to be a lawyer. He's extremely attractive and he's got a reputation of a player. He also introduces Estella to her doppelganger. And from that point on the things get complicated and complex. I won't say much more because it'll spoil it for you.

Natasha Lester wrote an ambitious novel - which was meticulously researched. I appreciated the period details and even the clothes making segments - although I have very little interest in fashion these days. 

In saying all that, I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief on several occasions. That prevented me from fully engaging with the story.

There were too many convenient coincidences, complications and so many secrets, I was getting whiplash. It may very well be just me, as I don't care for unnecessary drama in my life and it seems I have the same issues when it comes to fictional drama. 

The Paris Seamstress is a detailed historical romance novel that will keep you turning the pages, especially if you enjoy untangling family secrets.
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Natasha Lester continues to write books that are what best sellers are all about. A book you can curl up with and be transported to another era and follow the journey of strong independent women. Books with heartfelt passion and intrigue that move along with fabulous pacing.
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My Thoughts

‘Be brave. Love well and fiercely. Be the woman I always knew you would be.’

The final page has been turned, the cover closed and I wipe a tear from my eye ... *deep sigh* ... this is without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. If historical fiction is close to your heart (even if it’s not, as Natasha tackles dual narratives for the first time) you will be hard placed to find a more heart wrenching tale than this. For this is, in my opinion, Natasha’s best book yet. With her first book, ‘A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald’ making a remarkable debut, her follow up, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, cemented Natasha at the forefront of historical fiction with meticulous research, endearing characters and mesmerising  mysteries. If I gave these previous two novels five stars how on earth am I to rate this one as it is off the richter scale!  I don’t think I have ever read a book that has touched me so deeply, so profoundly and felt such an array of emotions. 

‘His pillow carried the scent of him and as she rested her cheek against it, she knew that if what she felt wasn’t love, then love must be so acute it couldn’t be survived. Because what she felt right now was agony.’

Based on fact (some of the characters existed, as do the buildings some of which are central to the story and can be viewed on Natasha’s blog) I feel at a loss to voice my thoughts ... I don't think I have ever read a book so profound and which made me feel so much. Writing one compelling narrative is commendable, writing two within the one book is rare indeed. The fact that both stories held so much depth is a credit to the author. The changeovers were seamless and I found myself whispering a shocked, ‘No!’ at the conclusion of many a switch in timelines. It just all came together so well, which each section complimenting the other.

‘... she would not help Alex and Lena tear away the fabric of the stories she and Lena had been told because that would leave her naked and with nothing.’

This is one rollercoaster ride. Natasha writes of strong women and here you have not one but two - grandmother and granddaughter - who through their personal journey, experience the many highs and lows, love and  heartache and will have you literally gasping for breath. I willing admit there are plot twists that shocked me and my eyes welled up as events played out on the pages before me. Never before have I been so emotionally invested in such an array of characters (primary and secondary) in both timelines - once again a testament to Natasha’s writing. 

“...if the government had known the city would be bombed, then why hadn’t they taken the people, wrapped them in sheets, and saved them instead of panes of lifeless glass.’

Do yourself a favour, escape to Paris with Estella in war torn France, then start putting all the pieces together with Fabienne in present day New York. I challenge you not to be shocked as secrets are revealed at just the right points throughout the story, or feel triumphant when your heartfelt hopes are realised. This is historical fiction, indeed storytelling, at its finest. I simply cannot wait to see what Natasha will come up with next. 

‘But it seems wrong that we leave it all to a few people like you to take on the burdens that the rest of us are unable to face. Thank you.’
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World War ll viewed from a totally different perspective : that of the fashion industry - first in Paris, then New York.
Well....that was what the book appeared to be about, & very interesting it was, too. But it was so much more; there was a whole other story - or two, or three - going on underneath. There was more detail than I wanted to know on some matters (I appreciated the author's note at the end that this was based on real events, so she was not making it up), but one can't help becoming involved : it is rarely that a work of fiction makes me cry.... Some people are asked to go through too much in their lives, surely. I cannot say more without spoiling the story for future readers. Suffice to quote Viktor Frankl : "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." 
We cannot always choose what happens to us in life, but we do retain the power to choose how we react to it.
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An emotional story of love, the complexities of families, family secrets and the compounding effect of misconstrued communications and perceptions. We are kept in a state of suspense as the story gradually unfolds with a lot of intricate complications that add twists and turns but also adds depth to the characters who hold us spell bound.  Set in two time periods of World War II and the present time with locations including Paris and New York with the addition of Sydney, Australia in the present time provides an excellent backdrop for the story.
Easy to read with a flowing writing style which enabled the reader to smoothly follow the story. Excellent character development as you easily became attached to them and their story! 
Being a story about fashion the descriptions were vivid and precise but not overwhelming.

An excellent read and comes highly recommended.

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read and review this novel.
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This romance was set in the 1940’s and the present time. It switches back and forward from Estella’s life in Paris and New York in the 1940’s and to Fabienne’s life in New York and Australia in 2015.
It is about fashion and designers. World War 2, spies, grief, romance and family relationships.
Estella lives with her mother in Paris at the beginning of World War 2. She has a passion for designing and making clothes. Estella leaves Paris on a ship bound for New York and works in various fashion jobs.
Fabienne travels from Australia to New York to curate an exhibition of Estella’s fashion designs in 2015 and tries to unravel the secrets of her father’s birth and Estella’s life.
I loved the way Fabienne gradually discovered her grandmother’s history and the descriptions of places in Paris that she visits.
This was a quick easy read, lots of action and romance. I loved the characters.
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The Paris Seamstress is a dual time line book, that ranges in setting from Paris to New York to Australia. One era is the war years - and the effects on France especially. The other era is one recent and modern. And through the years there is the mystery of family and friendships.  It tracks the endeavours of one woman - Estelle and her love of designing dresses and other clothing. When she finds herself in New York her journey begins.

The story is a huge roller coaster. There are highs and lows, at times it is quite dark and other times filled with hope and courage. It is an emotional read that documents the story of two women linked through family, and the people they are friends with and the people they deeply love.

While Estelle had many set backs, she continued on, at times she made mistakes and yet what a woman. I loved when she realises that a bully can have their 'power' taken from them. She is talented, far-sighted, loyal and loving.

Fabienne is hit with many surprises as she learns the story of her grandmother Estelle  through various revelations. Fabienne too is challenged to live life to the full, to develop her own talents and believe they can take her places. As well she comes to realise the power and passion of love, and can she grab it or let it flow out through her fingers.

If you like a book with women who have  a passion for what they do, you love clothing, enjoy dual time lines and can appreciate a book of highs and lows, secrets slowly revealed - some shocking, then this book is for you.
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Natasha Lester writes romance the way it should be written – fierce and passionate with strong men and, most importantly, strong and independent women.

Her third historical fiction novel, The Paris Seamstress, is the story of Estella Bisette – forced to flee France in 1940 with little more than her sewing machine and a dream of creating couture in New York – and Fabienne Bisette, Estella’s granddaughter who, in 2015, uncovers secrets about her grandmother’s past while curating a museum exhibition of her now-famous grandmother’s fashion designs.

While I felt the central theme was definitely the mystery of Estelle’s lineage, the storyline contains plenty of romance – though of a refreshingly modern kind. Estella’s beau, even in the 1940s, understands that without her work she is not herself. Her work is part of what makes Estella the woman he falls in love with:

He stood in the doorway for a moment, seeing her in a different light, in her element, working with her friends and he suddenly understood that she needed them, needed her designs, as much as she needed him; that without her work she wasn’t Estella.

There are, however, plenty of nods to traditional romance novel conventions. The men, for example, are still extravagantly handsome, accomplished and wealthy.

Throughout the war scenes and the love scenes, The Paris Seamstress never lets you forget you’re reading a book about fashion. Even the romance scenes are imbued with fabric references:

"And the simple act of the back of his hand touching hers felt as sensual as silk on skin."

I loved the references to political resistance in the form of fashion trends. Clothes are not just there to cover skin or help a woman attract a man. They are political – Parisian women wore decorated hats as a rebellion against the poverty inflicted by German troops against the French who refused to collaborate. The woman wore threadbare dresses on their starving bodies, but they wore hats that were the height of fashion.

In 2018 we’re still fighting for widespread acceptance of workplace flexibility to allow parents (not just mothers) to work while caring for children. Back in the 1940s, even working after marriage was unthinkable for a woman. Estella, on the other hand, has been raised by a fiercely independent single, working mother. She barely conceals her irritation at being patronised by Janie’s beau and his friends:

"No, Estella wanted to interject, our lives were so dull before you came along. We couldn’t order our own champagne or work out for ourselves if we were cold or make a decision about the lobster without first checking with you."

And yet, for all the breaking of social conventions, this is a satisfying novel to lose yourself in. You know your emotions will ultimately be quite safe – bad people are bad; good people are good.

And if good people do bad things it’s because they were wronged in the past and are damaged now and can’t quite help it.

In this way it’s a wonderful sort of moral escapism from the confusing times we find ourselves in, where even some charity workers exploit the very women they’re supposed to be helping.

If, like me, you love reading novels set abroad partly for the armchair travel element, The Paris Seamstress will certainly satisfy your itchy feet. Natasha Lester went to Paris to research the book, so you can be sure of some wonderful descriptions.

Fabienne heads out to lunch at the Marché des Enfants Rouges – a real place and Paris’s oldest covered market – ‘with its delicious food and handful of rickety tables near the old Carreau du Temple.’ From there she meanders through the Village Saint-Paul ‘home to an eclectic assortment of antique shops, galleries, cafés, vintage treasures and beautiful objects…’

The only problem is the descriptions are so vivid you’re likely to develop a craving for coffee and French pastries:

"She made a cup of coffee. Then she waited, standing silent and still in the kitchen for half an hour until the caffeine hit her veins and her breath evened out."

Oh, and if you’ve read Natasha Lester’s 2017 book, Her Mother’s Secret, you’ll be thrilled to know that Leo Richier, cosmetics tycoon, makes a few cameos and helps Estella on her way.
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