The Life She Was Given

This story made me think of the quote by Harper Lee: “You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family.”  Meet heroine number one, Lilly, who survives daunting familial abuse only to face even more when she is sold to a circus sideshow traveling through the town in which she lives.

Lilly is a beautiful child, but because it’s the 1930s and she’s a child with albinism, she’s turned into a freakish oddity. Her family locks her away in their attic until she is sold by her mother to the circus at age 10. Having never been allowed to venture outside of her attic domain, she is terrified by her new surroundings and struggles to adjust to them. Ultimately, she develops friendships, finds love, and becomes a featured star performing with her beloved elephants in the Big Tent.

Fast forward several years to when heroine number two, Julia, inherits a horse farm, including the family mansion where Lilly was incarcerated as a youngster. As Julia explores the house, she uncovers hidden areas and secrets to which she is determined to find the answers. She finds her father’s diary. For what horrible deeds did he seek forgiveness? Who is the mysterious Lilly? Her father’s mistress perhaps? Or?

This is not a particularly happy story. However, it shines with the resilience and determination of strong women who refuse to be defeated by adverse circumstances. It also is an insightful look into the bonds created between animals and humans as well as behind-the-scenes life as a circus performer. Does Julia solve the mystery of Lilly? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Go to Great Finds and Giveaways for the chance to be the new owner of my copy of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Life She Was Given.

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I am so excited to read this book. It is the next book I will be reading once I finish When The Jessamine Grows. It’s sitting on my nightstand waiting for me! I have enjoyed books from Ellen Marie Wiseman in the past and I bet this one is just as intriguing. Her writing style really draws me in. Plus, I love reading books about strong women determined to overcome what lies in their path.

  2. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I started this book on Monday and can’t put it down! Lilly’s story really draws me in and I am completely baffled at how her mother could treat her the way she does. I also feel really drawn to her because my oldest is really close in age to her when she is sold to the circus. I couldn’t imagine treating my children the same way. I can’t wait to see what secrets Julia discovers and what the outcome for Lilly is.

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Sisters of Fortune

Tell boredom to take a hike … with Sisters of Fortune in hand. Released just six days ago, has anyone read it? Is this a book that interests you?

photo of Sister of Fortune

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This book is of interest over here! My oldest and I plan to read it together. He loves everything about the Titanic and will take anything he can get his hands on related to Titanic. We look forward to this one coming out next week!

  2. Jean Pici says:

    SISTERS OF FORTUNE by Anna Lee Huber

    If you loved the movie, “Titanic”, what can I say? Flora and Chess Kinsey can’t even begin to compare to Rose and Jack Dawson. I mean, really, he didn’t even teach her how to spit with gusto!

    Kidding aside, the first half of the book spends a lot of time describing the magnificent accoutrements of the Titanic as well as the fashions of frivolous debutants in 1912. And there are many characters to meet. But the author did her homework. Most of these characters were actual passengers on the doomed Ship of Dreams. And some of their back stories are quite interesting as is much of the detail about the ship which, of course, the movie couldn’t adequately cover.

    Other than the tragic disaster itself, the storyline pretty much revolves around one family, The Fortunes, fom Winnipeg, Canada who are returning from a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East. Huber has taken some creative license with the individual sisters. So be sure to read the Author’s Notes at the end to separate fact from fiction.

    If you are an aficionado of all things Titanic, you will enjoy this book. If you aren’t, move on to a different disaster.

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The Orphan Collector

How about this book? Does it interest you? Maybe you’ve read it already. If so, let us know what you thought about it! Because I’m old enough to remember the impact of polio before there was a vaccine (two of the boys in my neighborhood were stricken), I’m not sure I want to revisit this topic, especially since we’ve just been through a modern-day pandemic. On the other hand, history is a great teacher and often helps broaden my perspective, while allowing me to cancel out all the current noise and notions that have a tendency to be politically motivated.

In the fall of 1918, 13-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . . .

  1. Jean Pici says:

    This book hit very close to home because my maternal grandmother along with two of her small children succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1919 in Buffalo New York. Diligent genealogy searches have never been able to turn up any death records for her or the children. After reading The Orphan Collector, I realize that the deaths were occurring so rapidly that bodies were just taken away and buried in mass graves often with no records being maintained. That’s probably what happened to Grandma Jane.

    This was certainly not a happy story but definitely a riveting one. Thirteen-year-old Pia endures unbelievable hardships including the loss of both parents, surviving the flu herself, being sent to an orphanage, and separation from her only two remaining relatives – four-month-old twin boys. She spends years searching for them not realizing they were taken by a neighbor, Bernice, whose own infant son and husband had both died. Bernice is the ‘orphan collector’. She is unbalanced by her grief and is extremely prejudiced. She embarks on a dark journey impersonating a Red Cross nurse and taking abandoned infants and providing them to couples who have recently lost their own asking for healthy donations to an orphanage which she keeps for herself. In other words, she sells babies. She also puts older ‘undesirable’ immigrant children on trains going to rural areas promising them families will meet them at their destination and give them loving homes on farms. No one meets them and they are abandoned to subsist as best as they can far from home.

    This book was written at the dawn of the Covid 19 pandemic and is not for the faint of heart. There were so many similarities in how the two pandemics, separated by 100 years, were handled by authorities — it was eerie. If you love reading good historical fiction and are curious about the Spanish Flu pandemic, this is an excellent read.

  2. Grace Brown katmom says:

    Jean, great review. I will certainly have to check this one out to read. So similar to my mother’s life during WWII. Her hometown of Heilbronn Germany was bombed by the Allies on Christmas Eve, so many deaths that a mass grave was used for the bodies, and like in The Orphan Collector, there was no record of those buried, and so many orphans left to fend for themselves if not taken in by remaining family or neighbors. 1918, 1930’s or 2019, sadly so much history, “people’s stories” are lost.

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The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

I haven’t read this book yet, but historical fiction is a genre I’m drawn to. How about you?

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined . . .

“Powerful. Grounded in historical fact, it ends like a fast-paced thriller.” – Historical Novel Society

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I have read The Lost Girls of Willowbrook and really enjoyed it. I have a big interest in anything related to psychology, especially insane asylums. This book was very hard to put down and the fastest book I have ever read. So many twists and turns. It also encouraged me to look more into the real Willowbrook facility to see what happened with it. I loved that it was based on a real facility. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.

    The next book I would like to read from Ellen Marie Wiseman is The Orphan Collector. It’s based around the arrival of the Spanish flu, and I feel it would be relatable because of some of our most recent events.

    The Life She Was Given also sounds like an amazing read! It’s going to be hard to choose.

  2. Jean Pici says:

    The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman

    Is author, Ellen Marie Wiseman, a gifted wordsmith? YES. Does she do impeccable research? YES. However, I found this to be a very disturbing book that gave me a couple of nights of restless sleep. Before writing this review, I did some internet research to determine what was real and what was fiction. And, I am old enough to remember Geraldo Rivera’s explosive TV documentary about Willowbrook.

    I know this book has received many kudos. But the facts were distressful and the fiction depressing. Perhaps I found the subject matter too close to home. I am a senior handicapped individual. I have friends who have mentally challenged children. As I labored through this story, I couldn’t help but wonder often if we would just be “throwaways” were it not for loving families.

    If you are curious about mental illness and the history of its treatments and you have a strong stomach, then this book may be for you. Otherwise move on to something a little less stressful to read. Whether you read it or not, however, I would urge you to Google “Geraldo Rivera Willowbrook”. You will be able to view the original documentary as well as an updated interview with Rivera 50 years later. But be prepared to view man’s inhumanity to man up close and personal. While it has taken many years, this single documentary changed the way the unfortunates with mental disabilities are treated. Thank you, Mr. Rivera.

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