Tuesday was publication day for Ellen Marie Wiseman’s fifth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN (Kensington). We were fortunate to meet Ellen in May at BookExpo in New York City and get an autographed copy, that we’re giving away to one lucky Thoughts on This ‘n That follower.
THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN begins in the Dickstonian-esque lurid world of a Dickensian-era traveling circus. It’s 1931 and Lilly Blackwood’s mother believes her daughter is a “monster” and keeps her locked in a narrow attic bedroom. Lilly is only able to see the world through one grimy window. Her mother says it’s for Lilly’s protection, that people would be fearful of her. But one night, after being in the attic for ten years, Lilly’s mother takes her from the safety of her room and outside Blackwood Manor. That night her mother sells her and Lilly becomes a sideshow for a traveling circus.
Lilly’s older sister, unaware of Lilly, Julia flees Blackwood Manor because her parents were severly strict and abusive. More than ten years later, Julia inherits her parents home and returns to the place with the terrible memories. But while trying to put those disturbing years with her parents behind her, she discovers a hidden attic room. In that tiny room, she discovers pictures of circus scenes and a curious young girl. In her heart, she knows there is much more to the pictures and she begins her search to solve that mystery.
THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN is about family secrets and a horrific betrayal. The narrative alternates between Lilly and Julia’s stories. At times heartbreaking (keep tissues close by), THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN has brief moments of hope. Ellen’s prose are simply beautiful and lyrical, but I found myself completely drained after reading this novel. It was as if I’d listened to Gustav Mahler for an hour, as opposed to something light and playful by Mozart. Both are uniquely brilliant, but each leave you with a different feeling.
On a personal note, Ellen has two Shih-Tzus, and being I have my rescue, Sassy, I feel a kindred spirit to her. We Shih-Tzu owners are a rather grateful bunch for our “little lions.”.
Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in upper New York State.
Her debut novel THE PLUM TREE—a WWII story about a young German woman trying to save the love of her life, a Jewish man—was inspired by her mother’s childhood in Germany during the Second World War. The book was published in 2013. Wiseman’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, published in 2014, centers on the now-shuttered Willard Asylum for the Insane in Ovid, near Seneca Lake, New York, and involves a woman wrongly committed. COAL RIVER , Wiseman’s 2016 novel, revolves around the efforts of a young woman to help at-risk workers in the Pennsylvania col mines.
Originally from Three Mile Bay, New York, Wiseman lives on Lake Ontario with her husband, two spoiled Shih-Tzus and a rescued Labrador. She loves to read, cook, garden, go to drive-ins, travel and spend time with her grandchildren.
We have one signed copy of THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN to giveaway. Just tell us which of Ellen’s novels is your favorite. We’ll announce a winner next week.