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The Paris Seamstress

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For readers of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale comes an internationally bestselling 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.

[Synopsis from]


Genre(s): Historical Fiction, World War II, Romance
HB&W Rating: 3.75
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Well friends, here we are. Another WWII novel…I told you…I have been on a kick of them lately, and there are still a few more in my TBR stack. This book though, while it took place during the war and does have a few scenes that give a glimpse of it, mostly focuses not on war, but on the story of a young woman, Estella, catching the last boat out of France to America with little more than a few dollars and a sewing machine. Fast-forward to the present day, and you also have Estella’s granddaughter, Fabienne, who is on a mission to learn what she can of her family’s secrets, while also trying to decide whether she wants to take over her grandmother’s fashion dynasty.

He always said it wasn’t love if you wouldn’t give up everything for the other. Otherwise it was just a flame, not worth the candle it was lit upon.

I enjoyed a lot of the researched period details, from the migration of people out of Paris (reminiscent of the description of the same in The Nightingale), the fashions, the social scene, etc. This book is classified as a romance, and it was the focus on love in the book, and how fleeting time can render it, how it shouldn’t be squandered or put off….that was particularly romantic I thought.

‘Two kinds of love,’ Estella said, her voice almost transparent in its thinness. …’Love like a toile,’ Estella said. ‘The pattern on which one’s whole life is shaped. But nobody sees the toile, or knows it even existed. Nobody understands that, without it, nothing can be fashioned.’ … ‘And love like a spool of thread, running on, strong enough to pull everything together.’

This was definitely more of a light read, as light as a WWII book can be, in which the author took a few easy outs with her story, making parts of it seem contrived. For example Estella, a budding clothing designer very conveniently meets and befriends Sam, a wannabe clothes cutter, and then on Day 1 of her first job, she meets and befriends and moves in with a model, and together they form Stella Designs, which becomes the leading label in women’s ready-to-wear and a dynasty that older, present-day Estella hopes will be embraced by her granddaughter, Fabienne. Additionally, some of the conflicts the characters faced seemed a bit too contrived as well, most notably Estella’s reaction to finding out who her father was. I won’t go into detail here and spoil it, but I will say I was very surprised and kind of irritated by Estella at this point.

Even so, this story was an immersive, page-turning read and I finished it in about a day. It was well-written, and the author clearly did her research. I also enjoyed her Author’s Note and the additional history she supplied there. I will say that she definitely raised a good point in her Author’s Note at the end regarding how there was no justice for the women Harry Thaw (a real life person) abused, only the men, rendering women to be the second class citizens they were treated as. She writes a bit of this at the beginning of the book when she tells about the English lessons Estella’s mother had to pay back their employer for because women weren’t allowed to have checking accounts or borrow money from a bank.

They couldn’t vote either; they were an under-class, meant to sit unobtrusively at home and bake and breed.

In conclusion, it’s a solid story and a quick read, if you can suspend reality enough to buy into the contrived aspects of the book. I enjoyed it and will look into other books by this author.

Let me know if you have read this or have any other WWII books you think I should read!

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  • Tanya

    I don’t know honestly
    I have started reading this book twice and every time I can’t seem to go beyond 3 pages
    I feel that the writing is actually very clunky and childish
    She starts almost every other sentence with Estella — this or Estella that…
    I feel like it’s contrived in every way!! From the very beginning—- everything that ever happens is just so conveniently falls into where she needs it to fall!
    From the first scene — she lives the fabric and what do you know!! There’s extra for her to have!!? Perfect!! Except it’s not believable after the first 3 times!
    I can’t believe this book is an international bestseller


    • Hooks Books & Wanderlust

      Hi Tanya!
      I honestly don’t recall the writing style being anything to remark on, good or bad, so I haven’t much to say to that. But I definitely agree that the plot was very contrived, which I recall reading those bits with tongue in cheek and an eye roll or two! Ultimately, I enjoyed the world of fashion, the time period and the self-made sort of story enough that I could overlook the easy-outs that the author took in the story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts though! I always enjoy hearing what others think on the books I’ve read!

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