Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The First Emma

Rate this book
Inspired by true events

1914 - Young bride Emma Koehler dreams of a happy marriage and a simple life with her husband, but her hopes are quickly dashed by Otto’s obsession with his business. Though they become one of the wealthiest couples in the country – a fortune made on beer, mining, and hospitality - Emma is lonely in their stone mansion, unable to have children and unable to keep his attentions at home. When a tragic accident changes everything, Otto presents a new betrayal – and Emma must choose between loyalty and independence in a world that demands convention.

1943 – Mabel Hartley flees Baltimore after the war leaves her broken and alone. She answers the advertisement of a dying woman in San Antonio, with an urgent plea to come write her memoirs. In Emma Koehler, Mabel discovers astounding resilience - a pioneer who weathered personal devastation and navigated her large brewery through the storm of Prohibition. Soon Mabel realizes that Texas holds more for her than this new friendship. Romance blooms even as she’s given up on love, and an unexpected phone call gives her hope that not all goodbyes are final.

The First Emma is a moving story of love, hope, and murder that captures one woman’s journey to make her mark on history and another’s desire to preserve it.

326 pages, Paperback

First published May 5, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Camille Di Maio

9 books1,041 followers
Camille recently left an award-winning real estate career in San Antonio to become a full-time writer. Along with her husband of 23 years, she home schooled their four children, two of which are off to college. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She's lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai'i to feel like a local. She's traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries), and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There's almost nothing she wouldn't try, so long as it does't involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal.

She appreciates you stopping by, and welcomes you to reach out and share a love of books!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/camilledimaio.author
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/camil...
Instagram: www.instagram.com/camilledimaio

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
373 (42%)
4 stars
371 (42%)
3 stars
114 (12%)
2 stars
16 (1%)
1 star
8 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 282 reviews
Profile Image for Karren  Sandercock .
848 reviews174 followers
July 26, 2021
In 1914, newlyweds Emma and Otto Koehler move to San Antonio in Texas and Emma knows her husband is very ambitious. Otto’s frugal, he likes to save money, and Emma never questions his thriftiness and business plans. Despite knowing her husband wants to be successful, Emma didn’t release it would take over his life, they become extremely wealthy and the distance between the couple grows. Alone in the mansion her husband built, Emma’s childless, lonely and a tragic accident robs her of her independence. Otto has a series of affairs, with two of the nurses he hires to care for his wife and she’s hurt by her husband infidelity. Emma’s a strong woman, she gave Otto ideas to help create the thriving brewery business, she wants power in the company, and a cheating Otto's shot by one of his mistresses.

In 1943, Mabel Harley leaves freezing Baltimore, her alcoholic father has disappeared, and her brother Robert has been killed in training and her brother Buck is listed as missing in action. Mabel applied for a job listed in a newspaper, an older lady in San Antonio wants someone to write her memoirs and Emma is shocked when she’s hired. Emma Koehler is now eighty two, her physical disability and her husband’s death didn’t hold her back, and she adapted the brewery business along the way to make sure it survived prohibition and the great depression.

By moving to San Antonio Mabel takes a risk, she finds a new home and unfortunately time is quickly running out for Emma to tell Mabel her life story. Just when Mabel’s given up on love, she meets Erik Garrel, a member of Emma’s extended family and did a wise Emma play match maker?

The First Emma is a story that honors the real Emma Koehler, a woman running a business in a man-centered world and industry and her story should inspire younger generation of women to follow in her footsteps.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, another well written and thoroughly researched book by Camille Di Maio and five stars from me.
Profile Image for Twins.reading.books.
364 reviews1,202 followers
May 5, 2020
The First Emma is a fascinating rich historical fiction, I loved reading it so much!
Di Maio has explored her very best prose in this one and has filled The First Emma with extraordinary fabulous details that I felt in love! The timeline changes are transmitted in a perfect performance, there are many moments that you feel Emma in her struggles but the Author has build her so strong and I can say that she definitely is one of my favourite character I've read this Year!
Emma Koehler is a married woman with Otto, a mysterious man who has mistresses! When he gets murdered by one of his mistress named Emma, things get an intriguing turn! The First Emma tells the powerful story of Emma as a strong independent character who runs her dead husband's brewery business! The love and loss is merged between the pages of the novel in such a perfect way that Di Maio has presented to us!
Every book that we read from the Author is unique and she comes every Year with more complexed and quality novel to read, we loved her previous books so much but this one has topped many historical fiction books we've read and we highly recommend you to read it too!
While you read this, you can sense that a lot of research has been made, and the story is based in true events this made the novel more interesting! I loved the ending so much, it accomplishes all the details that a book should have, including the story, the meaning behind, the personality of the characters, the cover and many many great quotes that I have saved in my phone. Definitely a five star read, you should read it!
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,183 reviews30.5k followers
May 15, 2020
The First Emma has two timelines. The first includes Emma Koehler, a wealthy newlywed living in 1914 with her husband, Otto. She’s lonely as her husband works and philanders. There’s an accident and another betrayal, leaving Emma forced to decide whether she’ll stay or go.

The second time takes place in the 1940s as Mabel Hartley leaves Baltimore with a broken heart. A terminally ill woman in San Antonio placed an ad for someone to write her memoirs, and Mabel accepted. The ad was written by Emma Koehler.

The First Emma is the story of two powerful and formidable women, each in their own ways resilient and inspiring. I learned so much about these two time periods from Mabel and Emma’s perspectives. The storytelling drew me in from the start.

Overall, I highly recommend this beautiful book to my friends who love stories of strong women in history. I’m so grateful these stories are being told.

I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
April 7, 2020
Thanks to Netgalley for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

First, the cover designer of Camille Di Maio's books needs a big bonus because the covers of all her books are absolutely stunning! That's why it's difficult to resist hitting that request button.

The First Emma takes readers back to the United States in the prohibition years and tells the story of how a murdered tycoon's wife builds a brewery empire. Now an older woman, Emma Koehler wishes to tell her tale about how a young woman from Germany became a great matriarch. It's a tale of both power in business and the power of women.

Loved, loved, loved! As per usual, Di Maio writes compelling stories about women that may have faded from our attention if she didn't dust off the historical record. It's got romance, betrayal, and lots of ambition traced into the narrative.

Goodreads review published 07/04/20
Expected publication date 05/05/20
Profile Image for Chanel Cleeton.
Author 20 books6,135 followers
December 28, 2019
A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman, The First Emma is Camille Di Maio at her finest. 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!
Profile Image for Marilyn.
855 reviews275 followers
August 1, 2021
The First Emma by Camille Di Maio was written as a historical fiction novel that was forced to incorporated a fair amount of fictional details. I listened to the audiobook that was very well narrated by Nancy Peterson. This remarkable story was about the true life events of Emma Koehler and her ambitious tycoon husband Otto. In her lifetime, Emma Koehler, became known as the Queen of Pearl Beer. She was most ambitious and quite intelligent. These qualities were not looked on favorably in women in those days. I had never heard of Emma Koehler or her story before reading this novel. It took place in San Antonio, Texas and was told in a dual time line that concentrated on the years of 1914 and 1942. I mentioned previously, that a fair amount of fiction had to be incorporated into telling this significant story. The primary reason for that was because there were not a lot of records or information about Emma Koehler. In those times, women were rarely recognized for their contributions or accomplishments. Emma’s husband Otto was afforded credit for Emma’s ideas and execution of those ideas. The fictional parts in The First Emma were believable and only enhanced the story. Camille Di Maio was able to create believable, likable and complex characters in both the ones she created and the ones that actually existed. The First Emma was also highlighted by the crime-of-the-century murder case and trial for the murder of Emma’s husband Otto. The only way to describe Otto Koehler was that he was a womanizer. Otto Koehler began love affairs with the two nurses that he hired to take care of his wife after her devastating accident that left Emma as an invalid. Was it coincidental that both nurses were also named Emma even though all three Emma’s were so physically opposite from each other? Otto was far from the perfect husband but this deceitful act was both hurtful and infuriating for Emma. The First Emma also depicted the atmosphere in the United States during prohibition, The Great Depression and between the two World Wars.

Emma Koehler, still the strong matriarch of her family, had grown old and now desired to have her story known. She placed an advertisement that requested applicants with strong writing talent apply and include a photo. Emma had a dual purpose in her employment search. Mabel Hartley was hired even though she honestly admitted to having no actual experience as a writer. Slowly over time, Emma divulged her story to Mabel. The two women forged a beautiful relationship and each thrived in each other’s company. Emma’s ambition and intellect gave Mabel the courage to become a stronger and more confident young woman. The two women took on the roles of mother and daughter to each other. Mabel became so impressed with all the accomplishments Emma was able to make as a woman in a male dominated world. As Emma’s life was now approaching its end, Emma became obsessed with finding a wife for her favorite nephew. Could Mabel’s hiring have had anything to do with Emma’s secret desire?

Although this was Camille Di Maio’s fifth novel, this was my first that I have had the opportunity to read. I thoroughly enjoyed The First Emma. It had all the qualities I look for in a historical fiction book. The biggest component was that I learned so much from reading this novel and that it had strong women characters only added to my enjoyment. Camille Di Maio brought the elements of courage, bravery, family, love, hope, friendship and respect and incorporated them into the story she wove so expertly. I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook of The First Emma and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for MicheleReader.
746 reviews130 followers
May 3, 2020
Back in 1914, Otto Koehler, a successful entrepreneur and President of the San Antonio Brewing Association/Pearl Brewing Company is murdered by Emma B., his mistress. Also at the scene of the murder is Emma D., his ex mistress. Both women were nurses to Otto’s wife Emma Koehler, who had accepted her husband’s indiscretions after a car accident left her in a wheelchair. Otto’s wife cared less about her loveless marriage than the thriving brewery business she helped build. She ignored the affairs in exchange for power in the company.

We’re transported to 1943 and World War II is in full force. Young, smart and heartbroken Mabel Hartley responds to a job advertisement and is selected to travel to San Antonio to document the memoirs of a now aged and sick Emma Koehler. Mabel quickly learns that Emma is one amazing woman. At a time when women couldn’t vote, Emma Koehler was running the most successful company in the state of Texas. Her business sense and leadership skills would be impressive in any time period but this feisty woman kept the business growing long after her husband’s murder – through Prohibition and beyond. Emma’s incredible story inspires Mabel, who is dealing with many disappointments in her life.

The First Emma is an interesting, fast-paced work of historical fiction. It is based on a true person (Emma Koehler) and the author utilizes a fictional character (Mabel) to help tell the story. The murder of Otto actually took place – the sensational trial is not the focus of the book but is creatively told through news clippings. It is the friendship that evolves between the hard-edged Emma and the vulnerable Mabel that is at the heart of the story. You’ll find yourself googling the history of Emma Koehler to learn more.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Camille Di Maio for an advance copy of this enjoyable book.

Review of The First Emma posted at MicheleReader.com.
Profile Image for CarolG.
671 reviews265 followers
June 29, 2023
The First Emma is based on the true story of Emma Koehler, widow of Otto Koehler, founder of a brewery in San Antonio Texas, and her involvement in the business, very unusual in the early 1900s. Otto was shot by one of his two mistresses, also both named Emma, in 1914. In 1943 19-year-old Mabel Hartley responds to an advertisement placed by the first Emma, now 82, for someone to write her memoirs.

This is quite a story and I really enjoyed it. The current (1943) story is told by Mabel while she's recording Emma's memoirs and is interspersed with newspaper clippings which I think are real. I found the characters to be endearing and the story was amusing at times and sometimes sad plus there's a bit of a love story but it was pretty low key. The description of places in and around San Antonio kept me googling and made me want to hop on a flight there since many of the places are still around - the Majestic Theatre, the Fairmount Hotel, the Pearl Brewery, the Koehler House. I'll definitely be looking into other novels by Camille Di Maio.

The book was published in 2020 and I'm not sure how it came to my attention but I think it was GR friend Karren's review in 2021 and it's been on my TBR ever since. I wonder how many other gems are lurking on that epic list?! This was a Kindle Unlimited read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,082 reviews1,411 followers
May 6, 2020
Wanting her story to be told, Emma Koehler puts out an ad for a journalist to write her book.

Wanting to escape Baltimore, Mable applies and lands the job even though she isn't a journalist.

What Mable finds when she arrives in San Antonio is an elderly Emma with an interesting life's story to record. She also finds relatives who aren't that friendly except for Erik.

I thought it was clever how Ms. Di Maio introduced a character to record the life of Emma Koehler as we learned how Emma wanted women to know their value.

You will immediately be drawn into the life of Emma, the brewery, and the time period.

Ms. Di Maio has written a marvelously researched book with characters you will love.

Her writing simply pulls you in with its ease and welcoming tone.

Another beautiful book by Camille Di Maio.

You definitely will not want to miss reading this book. 5/5

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Mary Jackson _TheMaryReader.
1,177 reviews141 followers
April 24, 2020
I read this book as part of a tour. I must say that this historical was very well researched and I enjoyed it. I learned a lot.
This is a must read for historical lovers. I gave this book 4 stars and recommend it.
The Mary Reader received this book from the publisher for review. A favorable review was not required and all views expressed are our own.
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
2,191 reviews340 followers
May 4, 2020
Camille DiMaio's THE FIRST EMMA is a wonderfully researched and beautiful historical fiction story about the brave and strong women and their complicated roles in history especially during the early 1900's, the Prohibition era, and the amazing history of the breweries in San Antonio.

The story begins dramatically in 1914 as we hear about the murder of one of the richest and most influential man in the country, Otto Koehler by one of his many mistresses ( the other Emma). Otto’s wife, the first Emma, despite the misfortune of being in a wheelchair from a tragic accident, takes over the helm of their business in the brewery, mining and hospitality.

Mabel Hartley answers a plea from Emma Koehler to help write her memoir. This develops an unlikely friendship between these women, and through this journey upon Emma's death bed, we are privy to these amazing stories, and what stories Emma had to share.

Di Maio is an exceptionally talented storyteller that delivered such an amazing story of not only a strong woman but one that is inspiring, fearless and one to be admired. This is a and moving true story that I enjoyed reading about.
Profile Image for Tonni Callan.
56 reviews22 followers
September 9, 2019
Review will be coming soon! Y’all do not want to miss this one!
It is Camille Di Maio at her best!!!!
Profile Image for Cheryl James.
281 reviews182 followers
January 28, 2023
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. I am very familiar with the Pearl Brewery but had no idea of the history behind it.

This is a historical story of the lives of the Koehler's who were the master minds behind the Brewery.

One husband, one wife named Emma, 2 mistresses named Emma, a great city and a lot of history.

The author put a love spin into the book outside of the main characters that was annoying and so not necessary. It took away from the story but I weathered through it.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone from San Antonio, Texas.

The Pearl Brewery has been recently updated with restaurants, art galleys and more.

I am looking forward to visiting the area upon my next visit home to San Antonio.
Profile Image for Judy Collins.
2,683 reviews375 followers
March 1, 2022
“A captivating retelling.
Meticulously researched.
Historically stunning.
Richly drawn characters.
Di Maio delivers another
exquisite narrative. 
She Dazzles!"

Set in San Antonio, Texas in 1914, master, storyteller Camille Di Maio, brings her characters to life on the page, delivering another stunning narrative. A genuinely captivating novel THE FIRST EMMA. Her superb research and her attention to detail, does not go unnoticed.

Inspired by the true story of a woman named Emma Koehler, who was the wife of a German-born brewer. After an accident, her husband took on not one but two mistresses, and both named Emma as well.

Otto, the husband, was murdered by one of the mistresses. Emma, the wife, turned into quite the businesswoman after left to take over the brewery business.

She not only took over; she excelled and kept all her employees working even during the Depression. Pearl Brewery was one of the only brewing companies in the country at the time that did not go out of business. She was highly creative and makes you think about the times we are living in currently, that business owners must adapt and be creative.

She builds an empire in the brewing business and became a prominent successful woman against all the odds. The San Antonio pioneer and widow’s story is riveting and fascinating.

Once, the Pearl Brewery, today has now been turned into a top boutique hotel called Hotel Emma in San Antonio, Texas. (stunning)

Everything the Author pens is exquisite! If you have had the opportunity of entering her world of historical fiction, count yourself lucky. If not, please do so. It is a rewarding experience.

As with her all her novels, each is meticulously researched. She finely weaves the historical past with the contemporary present, delivering a captivating, absorbing, and satisfying reading experience. You are also assured to learn something new along the way.

With her vivid descriptions, emotions, settings, and likable characters, she is one of the best historical fiction authors I have come across. My favorite!

What enhanced the novel, the author brilliantly crafted a companion character, Mabel, for Emma. She has her own story of love and war. She came to Texas answering an ad at a time when Emma was getting older and in her eighties. (loved this relationship)

She was to write Emma’s memoir and story. However, she got so much more than she could have imagined. She learned from a wise woman and she inspired her to take risks, love, and leave the past behind. I love the way the book was laid out with the snippets about the murder and news articles.

THE FIRST EMMA further reiterates why Camille di Maio is at the "top of her game." Her creativity, impeccable research, intriguing storylines, and her ability to bring the past alive is extraordinary.

I love how she writes about strong women and how their lives intersect across generations. How women made a difference in a man's world. From stunning architecture, vibrant settings, and historical landmarks—each adds intrigue and mystery. A compelling story that will resonate.

What I enjoy about historical fiction is allowing the author to take liberties, while inspired by a true story, but yet get into their heads or as in this case, there was so little material about this courageous woman, that she needed a voice. She gives them a voice, and who doesn’t love that?

Camille breathes life into her characters and gives them the story they deserve. Indeed, she accomplished her goal of taking inspiration from Emma’s life while exploring the feelings she may have had while she was placed in such a unique and remarkable time period.

Just think a woman running a business in a man’s world and taking the beer business and steering the company through the Great Depression. What a beautifully passionate story. Camille truly captured the essence of this astounding woman’s life.

What I love about Camille’s books is they are rich in history, you will be assured to fall in love with the details, the romance, and find yourself doing your own research because you are so pulled into the story.

Plus the gorgeous covers! I love the "Author's Note and wish more authors would do this. I adore this because I am so intrigued about the story behind the story.

THE FIRST EMMA is both inspiring and empowering. Well done! This is a Top Books of 2020. I highly recommend all the author’s books. I have read them all and each presents an unforgettable story and characters that linger long after the book ends.


A special thank you to Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, the author, and NetGalley for an advanced reading copy. Truly honored.

PS, Years ago in Atlanta, I worked for the third-largest beverage company and distributor as Director of Sales. It was such a man’s world, so I cannot even imagine being in the early 1900s.

Read My Reviews She is on my Top List of Books each year.

Until We Meet
The Beautiful Strangers
The Way of Beauty
Before the Rain Falls
The Memory of Us
Profile Image for Martina Primerano.
27 reviews47 followers
May 5, 2020
Camille Di Maio is one of my favorite historical fiction authors, so I was so excited to read her new novel in advance!
To be completely honest, I didn’t love it as much as The Beautiful Strangers, because I didn’t feel as deeply connected with the characters as I was with that one and I wasn’t as much engaged in the love story, but nonetheless The First Emma was a wonderful book.
It isn’t even a real criticism, it’s just that I loved The Beautiful Strangers a little bit more, and if there is anyone here who hasn’t read it yet, I strongly recommend to do it as soon as possible!
The First Emma started off really great: Otto Koehler, a rich businessman famous for his brewing company and numerous investments, with a disabled wife and two mistresses, all of them named Emma, killed by one of his mistresses.
What’s not to like about an incipit like that?
Then the story switch to many years later, in 1942’s Baltimore, where young Mabel is alone and hopeless, at first working as a secretary but soon in need of a new job, eager for a change of luck and with not much left to lose.
When she reads the advertisement of an old woman looking for an aspiring writer to record her story, Mabel believes she may have found her chance.
So she leaves for San Antonio, where this old woman lives, and soon meets the memorable Emma Koehler.
Immensely rich, proud and determined, Emma is surrounded by nieces and nephews whom she welcomes generously in her house, while knowing that not all of them are moved by sincere affection for her, but more by the hope of receiving a bigger part of her inheritance.
She is confined to a wheelchair after a car accident and the two nurses employed to help her, petite blonde Emma Dumpke and fierce redhead Emma Burgemeister, both became her husband’s mistresses.
She is pushing eighties, but still strong-minded and ready to tell her story, how she moved from Germany to San Antonio with her husband Otto, who only lived for making money and was extraordinarily good at it, and slowly learned to make his world her own, becoming an essential part of his business.
Otto was unstoppable, always moving to the next achievement, while Emma was focused on maintaining their brewing company, Pearl, and making it grow.
I strongly disliked Otto and actually hated him with a passion from a certain point on.
He didn’t seem capable to love, at least not people, and he only truly cared for his damned investments.
I was furious with him, for how he mistreated Emma’s feelings, ignoring and hurting her with his coldness before the mistresses came into the scene and openly cheating on her after the accident, claiming that “a man has his needs”, yeah sure. He almost never gave a damn about Emma’s needs, so I nearly threw my Kindle when I read that. I would have very gladly killed him myself, if dear Emma Burgemeister didn’t see to it.
I adored and devoured the first half of this book on a plane, already anxious and sad about it having to end at some point too soon.
At first I was more engaged in Mabel’s story than in Emma’s tale, but in the second half of the novel I couldn’t wait to return to the past, eager to discover more details about the two other Emmas and Otto’s murder.
I was slightly disappointed at the end, because there wasn’t as much about the mistresses and the murder as I expected: the story revolved much more around the first Emma, as the title suggest, and her transformation from loving wife to wise and acute businesswoman both with and without Otto Koehler, especially during the Great Depression.
After reading the author’s note, I understood: there isn’t much information about Emma Koehler, despite Camille Di Maio’s admirable research, and she didn’t want to fictionalize her too much, a decision which I totally respect.
The romance was lovely and Mabel and Erik were both great characters, well-constructed, believable and each with a history and an identity of their own.
Even though I wasn’t as invested in them as I was with Kate and Sean in The Beautiful Strangers, I still liked them a great deal.
With this book, which will be out in May 2020 (and I can’t express how honored I was to read it so early!), Camille Di Maio confirms herself as a great writer of historical fiction, one who has definitely earned a special place among my favorite authors.
I highly recommend The First Emma to any lover of historical fiction and to everyone looking for a good, inspiring novel about a strong and clever woman with very much to teach about female dignity, potential, love and commitment.
A sincerely heartfelt thank you to NetGalley, Camille Di Maio and Wyatt-MacKenzie for the opportunity to read this wonderful book in advance!
I am already waiting for Camille’s next novel, sure that it won’t disappoint!
Profile Image for Laura • lauralovestoread.
1,218 reviews264 followers
May 12, 2020
What a delight! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading The First Emma. What I found was a fast paced intro that began as a love affair and ended that first chapter in cold blood.

I enjoyed the historical elements of a San Antonio brewery and how the strength of one woman was the saving grace to keeping things afloat during prohibition.

*Thank you to the author for this gifted copy. All opinions are my own
Profile Image for Susan Peterson.
1,631 reviews279 followers
May 5, 2020
The First Emma encompasses everything that I love best in a historical fiction novel: a story that is inspirational as well as compelling, a story that enriches my own life by educating me on a historical time and figure with whom I was not well-acquainted. Emma Koehler is such a fascinating person--she was able to achieve so much during her lifetime, things that were unheard of during the first half of the 20th century. The fact that she was able to be so successful with the backdrop of Prohibition and the Great Depression, not to mention the murder of her husband at the hands of one of his two mistresses, defies belief! Mabel, the young woman who is hired by Emma to take down her story, embodied courage and grace, and I liked her so much! The fact that this story takes place in my own hometown of San Antonio, a city with its own fascinating history, added an extra layer of enjoyment! The author does a masterful job of placing us in San Antonio during such a tumultuous time, but reminding us that it is a place of extraordinary beauty and opportunity.
Profile Image for Patricia Sands.
Author 19 books963 followers
May 5, 2020
Camille di Maio has yet to disappoint me with her exceptional story telling. Beginning with The Memory of Us, I have loved every one of her novels and The First Emma is no exception. The prologue establishes the location of San Antonio, Texas in 1914, introducing readers to German-born Otto Koehler, one of the richest men in the United States. Included in his vast holdings is Pearl Brewery, a commanding presence in San Antonio. Surprisingly, we are also introduced to the three Emmas in his life ... a wife and two mistresses.
Chapter One relocates to Baltimore in 1942, where we meet nineteen-year-old Mabel Hartley, whose life is about to fall apart. Searching for a complete change, Mabel responds to an ad searching for a writer to pen the memoir of an elderly woman in San Antonio ... the widow Emma Koehler, who is not expected to live much longer.
From this point, Mabel is drawn into an environment of wealth, dysfunctional family and drama beyond her wildest imagination. The story moves between past and present, including the dark history of war, the Great Depression, Prohibition, and the struggles of a brave, determined, intelligent woman to succeed in a male-dominated business. Learning the details of the brewing industry was of particular interest to me as I have a son who is a brewmaster. In her conversations with Mabel, Emma Koehler unfolds a fascinating, privileged, challenged life.
Mabel experiences her own metamorphosis through her time in this environment and the blossoming of mutual affection with Emma. The possibility of romantic love for Mabel weaves into the story adding another layer of interest.
There is so much to recommend in this novel and I thank Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review.
Profile Image for Rochelle Weinstein.
Author 7 books1,254 followers
December 29, 2019
I've read all of Camille Di Maio's books, and I can honestly say she gets better and better with each one. A brilliant storyteller and fabulous writer makes for a moving, hard-to-put-down read. That's THE FIRST EMMA.

When Emma Koehler's tycoon husband Otto is murdered by one of his many mistresses (conveniently named Emma), the first Emma moves through her solitary life at the helm of the brewery business with a remarkable story to share.

Upon her deathbed, Emma plucks the young, disheartened Mabel Hartley from Baltimore to share her colorful tale. And it is through these conversations that the reader is taken on a journey through the history of the San Antonio beer industry, war-torn Prohibition, complicated relationships and the resiliency of one brave, formidable woman.

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.
May 5, 2020
The First Emma

📚 𝗛𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗼 𝗯𝗼𝗼𝗸 𝗳𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗱𝘀! If you like books with a strong female protagonist, 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗘𝗺𝗺𝗮 by Camille Di Maio is the book for you. Emma Koehler knows that her life is coming to an end. She hires Mabel Hartley to record her story, but she has also an ulterior motive to bring this young woman in her home. Emma’s story starts with leaving her beloved family and town of St. Louis to follow her new husband, Otto, to start their new life in San Antonio, Texas. They will start a successful brewery that will become dear to Emma. While on a business trip to Germany, Otto and Emma are in a car accident that leaves Emma crippled. Emma is determined to walk again and with the help of two German nurses named Emma Dumpke and Emma Burgemeister, she does. But her struggles do not end there. She soon finds out that Otto is being unfaithful. This discovery only confirms what Emma already knew about the state of her marriage. She uses this to her advantage and blackmails her husband to give her more decision power for the brewery. After Otto is murdered by one of his mistresses, Emma will turn her energy to make the brewery a success despite the many obstacles that will present themselves. Through resourcefulness, the brewery will survive Prohibition and the Great Depression. Emma Koehler is truly a remarkable woman who had an extraordinary business acumen and ingenuity.

This book is inspired by true events that took place between 1886 and 1943 and it is a wonderful and uplifting story.

🙋🏼‍♀️ Thank you, 𝗪𝘆𝗮𝘁𝘁-𝗠𝗮𝗰𝗞𝗲𝗻𝘇𝗶𝗲 for sending me an ARC of this inspiring novel. 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗘𝗺𝗺𝗮 by Camille Di Maio is available at your favourite bookstore today.

#poodles #poodlestagram #poodlesofinstagram #furbabies #dogsofinstagram #bookstagram #dogsandbooks #bookishlife #bookishlove #bookstagrammer #book #books #booklover #bookish #bookaholic #reading #readersofinstagram #instaread #ilovebooks #bookishcanadians #canadianbookstagram #bookreviewer #bookcommunity #bibliophile #bookphotography #thefirstemma #camilledimaio #wyattmackenzie
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,218 reviews
June 17, 2020
I'm a big fan of Camille Di Maio's writing. She always amazes me with her historical fiction and all the details she puts into the stories to keep them engaging while also teaching an interesting lesson.

I have never heard of Otto and Emma Koehler prior to reading The First Emma, so this story was fascinating and compelling. I don't even like beer, nor do I care about how it is made, but somehow I found myself enjoying reading about the process through Camille's eyes. I love how Emma was so business savvy and that she stood up for herself and for what she wanted.

I know Camille didn't have much background information to work with, but she crafted an interesting story based on what she had. Mabel was a great character too and I only wanted to see good things happen for her. One of those good things was Erik, who sounds like an amazing guy. Aside from the adultery and murder, which was foreshadowed at the beginning, it's mostly a sweet and empowering story. Even though it took place around World War II, I appreciated that the war was more in the backdrop of the story instead of the main focus.

I definitely recommend checking this one out!

Mabel: Shira Haas
Emma (mid-late 1800s): Elizabeth Debicki
Emma (early 1900s): Elizabeth Mitchell
Emma (early 1940s): Elizabeth Ashley
Erik: Cody Christian
Ernestina: Amy Forsyth
Emma Dumpke: Eline Powell
Emma Burgermeister: Rachel Brosnahan
Otto (early 1900s): Mads Mikkelsen
May 5, 2020
Love this story!!!!!!!!! This is a story of four women who all had a hand in shaping each other's lives and one who made history. Emma Koeler marries Otter and helps him shape his dream of owning a brewery and she makes it the most successful brewery around San Francisco. Mabel is a young woman hired to tell Mrs. Koeler's life story and boy what a life it was. Thank you to Netgalley and Wyatt Mackenzie Publishing for my honest review.
Profile Image for Dawnny.
Author 1 book29 followers
April 22, 2020
This was such a good story. Emma Koehler is in a loveless marriage. She looks the other way while her husband has affairs. Until he is murdered by his mistress also named Emma. Emma helped him build an empire with their brewing company during the prohibition era. Now old, Emma places an ad for someone to write her story. Mabel Hartly accepts that request. I loved the time period. I loved the strength and courage of these women. I have never heard of Emma Koehler before and I really liked reading her story. I haven't read all the books by this author but I loved the ones I have. This was moving and compelled me to the last page. A remarkable story. A perfect book club read.

Novels N Latte
Hudson Valley NY
Profile Image for Tanya Williams.
Author 9 books175 followers
May 29, 2020
The First Emma is a wonderful and intriguing story based in reality. I found myself swept away into the warm evening air of San Antonio, Texas while I stepped back in time. The two timelines (1914 and 1942) merge seamlessly as the characters connect with one another, each of them having a deep and lasting effect on the other.

The story is a complete package with an immersive experience in terms of location, characters, and descriptions of sweet and savoury treats that make your mouth water. I enjoyed learning a story from the past that I was not aware of prior to reading Ms. Di Maio's novel. I highly recommend The First Emma as a true tale, rich with historical detail, told in the format of fiction.
Profile Image for Basic B's Guide.
1,037 reviews333 followers
May 12, 2020
This is my second book by this author and she doesn’t disappoint. Camille is a big reader and huge supporter of fellow authors. I love watching her YouTube videos and Instagram/Facebook commentary. She’s always so appreciative and supportive of those in the reading community.

What I also appreciate about Camille is that she writes truly unique stories. She urges the reader to dig deeper into the characters and the setting that is presented. After reading The First Emma, I immediately made a note to visit Hotel Emma. I MUST get to San Antonio, asap!

While I wish there was more documented and explained about Emma and what she accomplished with Pearl Brewery, I love that she introduced me to someone I was unfamiliar with. She also has a great way of blending history and romance and Mabel was a great addition to the story. I always love a story with strong women and Emma and Mabel made things happen! They took back their power and demanded respect.

I think historical romance fans will be delighted and inspired with this story.

Profile Image for Booksandchinooks (Laurie).
735 reviews74 followers
July 20, 2020
Camille Di Maio writes the most amazing historical fiction books! This is another one that is based in fact. The first Emma was an actual person and was a formidable and remarkable woman. She was quite the business woman and ran a brewery in San Antonio in and around 1918. Not the thing that women did in those days. The book documents what the author could find out about Emma’s life and develops a fiction story around it. Fun fact - there were three Emma’s in real life and they were all vastly different women. I’ll let you find out how that works. This is a historical fiction book that I highly recommend. The research alone for this story is amazing.
Profile Image for Jen.
438 reviews116 followers
May 30, 2020
A Camille Di Maio historical fiction never fails. Never. The research and creativity that she puts into her works is astounding and The First Emma is no different.

The First Emma is Camille's fictional take on Emma and Otto, real life owners of Pearl Brewery in San Antonio. Meticulously researched, Di Maio's intention was to tell Emma's story. Of course, true to history, there was not much to tell because women didn't have much of a voice then and all credit was given to the men. So through research, and how Camille imagined Emma would have felt and acted at the time, The First Emma was created.

Otto was a bit of an asshole and philanderer, hence the FIRST Emma title. What started with good intentions and love, turned into a one sided, then an altogether loveless marriage. Otto had thing for the name Emma, which would end up being his demise. Divorce would have been too much of a scandal at the time and would ruin the empire that was built. So, while Otto dallied elsewhere, Emma turned her love and attention to the brewery, eventually even making sure it survived Prohibition without losing a single employee.

The First Emma is a story of building strength from loss and a woman making a life for herself in a time when that was almost unheard of. It is love lost, love found, a murder, and gumption. I couldn't ask for more in a story.

I received an advanced copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for menna hafez.
466 reviews64 followers
February 29, 2020
Thank you so much NetGalley and Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishin, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Titles for providing me with an ARC.

This is the first novel to me by Camille Di Maio.

I don't know how to describe it because i have multiple opinions about the novel. I loved that the author taken it from real events but it's little slow, i wish that it little faster. The characters names made me confused because all of them named Emma and i don't why she not changed them.

I loved Emma Koehler character and the way she stared over to stand up again.

Erik and Mabel characters are so light and funny for me and i loved the happy ending to them.

OMG, OMG,The Cover is so amazing, delight and wonderful. I loved so much especially the dress that the model is wearing , It's Stan and I adore this kind of fabric.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
913 reviews36 followers
July 1, 2023
Emma Koehler is a widow, her husband, Otto, had been murdered by one of his two mistresses, also named Emma. At the end of her life she decides to advertise in the papers for someone to write her memoir. Mabel is having a bad day in Baltimore. The war is on, one of her brothers has been killed and another MIA, her fiance stationed in England breaks up with her and her father is missing on the streets. On the bus she sees the newspaper ad and decides to apply for the job.

Emma was quite remarkable. Even being confined to a wheelchair she continued to run the brewery that she helped build with her husband. They were childless but she would sponsor relatives from Germany and help them make their way in America.

I enjoyed Mabel. Even with all that went wrong in her life she didn't become bitter but kept looking for the good around her and grew to love Emma.

Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in return for an honest opinion.

I felt that there were things missing from the story that I would have liked to know more about. All that family visiting and living in the mansion were hardly mentioned. Some didn't really care about Emma and just wanted her money but I wanted to know more about all of them. Why did such a strong woman put up with them?

Some newspaper clips regarding her husband's murder and the trial were thrown in but that left me with more questions. I really, really wanted to know more about the trial and what did Emma think about it.

I did like the book. I vacillated between 3 and 4 stars so I went with the higher. I liked the story and I was really rooting for Emma and Mabel.

Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for Really Into This.
378 reviews18 followers
April 8, 2020
Melissa contributed this review to Really Into This

Check out all of our reviews at https://reallyintothis.com
Happy Reading, friends!

Special thanks to Lake Union & Suzy Approved Book Tours for providing our copy of The First Emma by Camille Di Maio in exchange for an honest & fair review.

Mabel finds herself in a dead end job is actively looking for new stars Desperately, she answers an ad for a personal secretary. She up & travels halfway across the country for this new opportunity. She lands in San Antonio, TX of all places.

Her job as a secretary is really transcribing a memoir. Emma has led quite a life. As she works closely with Emma to put her memories & ideas on paper, their lives become intertwined. Over time, Mabel becomes part of the family.

As Mabel is putting the memoir together, she is racing against time. Emma’s memory is fading. This makes Mabel anxious about getting it all down. Quickly, she begins to seek out answers from other family members. Truly, Emma’s story is incredible.

The First Emma is a really well written dual timeline novel featuring strong female chancres. As I turn the pages, I’m captivated & enthralled in Emma’s journey. I highly recommend this story.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 282 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.