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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Coal River

ISBN: 9781617734472

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 11/24/2015

Format: Paperback

My Rating: 5 Stars

Featured Weekend Read Oct 30-Nov 1

With the smallest act of courage can come the power to change everything…

In a haunting new historical novel by the internationally acclaimed author of What She Left Behind, grief, dark secrets, and corruption unravel against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania coal mining—and the corrosive child labor that made possible the excess of the generation that built the Titanic.

As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Now, orphaned and penniless at nineteen, she accepts a train ticket from her aunt and uncle and travels back to the rough-hewn community. Treated like a servant by her relatives, Emma works for free in the company store. There, miners and their impoverished families must pay inflated prices for food, clothing, and tools, while those who owe money are turned away to starve. Most heartrending of all are the breaker boys Emma sees around the village--young children who toil all day sorting coal amid treacherous machinery. Their soot-stained faces remind Emma of the little brother she lost long ago, and she begins leaving stolen food on families' doorsteps, and marking the miners' bills as paid. Though Emma's actions draw ire from the mine owner and police captain, they lead to an alliance with a charismatic miner who offers to help her expose the truth. And as the lines blur between what is legal and what is just, Emma must risk everything to follow her conscience. An emotional, compelling novel that rings with authenticity--Coal River is a deft and honest portrait of resilience in the face of hardship, and of the simple acts of courage that can change everything.

Advance Praise

“Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a story of intrigue, terror, and love.” – Jewish Book World on The Plum Tree

“Screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding.” The New York Journal of Books on What She Left Behind

“In clean, clear prose, Wiseman paints an insightful portrait of a coal town and the miners’ struggle for their rights, along with the fight against child labor. This non-stop read is a compelling story of one woman’s determination to see justice win over greed and corruption. The careful research shows in every page of this forthright picture of a world brought from darkness into the light.” - RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

My Review

A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Ellen Marie Wiseman returns following What She Left Behind with COAL RIVER, set in the backdrop of a poor Pennsylvania mining town in the early 1900s, a powerful portrait of grief, fear, and courage infused with historical significance. A remarkable story, of one woman’s determination; fierce and compelling—the suspense does not let up until the last page is, breathtakingly, turned. Set in 1912, Nineteen-year-old Emma Malloy has limited choices. Get on the next train to Coal River, Pennsylvania, or be sent to a Brooklyn poorhouse. The doctor had released her from the Manhattan hospital, and all she had to her name was the small donated suitcase from the church with a few items of clothing. No time to grieve her loss. Her aunt and uncle sent money for a ticket. She only had an hour to decide, and mournfully, walked to the train station in a trance. She escaped a deadly theater fire and was lucky to be alive, or so everyone says. She is officially now an orphan. She is in between a child and a woman. She is alone. Her mom and dad were gone, and her sweet eight-year- old brother, Albert drowned so long along in the river trying to help save her pendant. There was no escaping this wretched grief, and the pain. She could still hear her brother’s cry washed away by the cold current. Haunting her. She was only ten at the time—maybe she is being punished. Two days later she finds herself in Coal River, the town she swore she would never return. A town holding nightmares, and constant reminders of another day she would give her life to forget. With little choice she now is stuck living with her horrible aunt and uncle. To think her Uncle Otis will be different is crazy and her cousin Percy, controlled by his parents. Her Aunt Ida is all about denial and putting on a perfect face for the town to see. Basically, she will be treated like a slave. Someone to provide free labor. She and her brother had spent four miserable months here with her aunt and uncle while her parents were in Manhattan looking for jobs. She knows how bad it will be. After Albert died and her parents had taken her back home to Manhattan, where they worked with the theatre group. She wants nothing to do with this mining town. The Bleak Mountain Mining Company was like an enormous monster created, with black nostrils spewing its darkness through the lives of those in the village. The Flint Mansion (nice tie in later) sits high on the mountain, with an evil man who controls the town. A curse. The scandal and death connected with the mansion over the years before her birth; however, a constant reminder of the tragic tale, passed down from generation from generation. Hazard Flint and his wife Viviane –an arranged marriage. Their oldest son Levi and then another child. Hazard took over the operations of the mine, treating everyone unfairly. Then the nursemaid and the stable hand kidnapped the six year old infant, with a ransom note. The money was paid and the baby was not returned. Vivian committed suicide, and could not go on without her baby. Of course, the town thinks she is cursed, with death following her. Even with the miserable dark town she wants to escape, Emma soon finds herself drawn into the personal lives of the people of the town. The coal mining town with illegal working conditions. Controlled by a cruel evil man. While working between being a slave for her aunt and uncle, she also works at The Company Store with Percy. She has to find a way to help those who cannot help themselves. She soon learns these poor families cannot feed their families. The child labor laws; children are working as Breaker boys in the mine in extremely, poor and dangerous working conditions. Their lives are in danger working ten hour days, six days a week, without gloves. The husbands suffer from health issues from the coal; poor ventilation, low wages, unfair treatment, and unsafe equipment. They are threatened. The women lived in horrific conditions, with no money for healthcare, or means to feed their children. They have little options. Someone has to help them escape from this nightmare. The corruption. Injustice. Violence. Death. Murder. The children are not educated and no schools. Everyone has to survive. If they do not work, they will have no home. They are forced to buy their supplies at the Company Store. Emma’s heart breaks for these people and their children. She soon begins stealing food from her aunt and marks bills paid at the Company Store. She even tries to help them read. She is fearless. She has to help the poor men and boys in the mine---Conflicts of fair wages, underground safety and above-ground social justice for the working families. From the ongoing tension and strive between the mine owners, the corrupt police—Frank which she does not trust, and the workers, Emma meets Clayton. A man she is unsure she can trust. She is attracted to him. Her aunt and uncle warn her to stay away from him and the mine. However, she sees him taking in orphans and trying to help the men. Then there is Michael, a deaf breaker boy without a leg…she is sure her late brother Albert is speaking through him. When she has an opportunity to escape, the people continue to pull on her heartstrings. Who will help them, if she leaves? They have no one. Fighting against all odds and danger, Emma finds the courage and strength to uncover the injustice and help those who cannot help themselves. A haunting and disturbing tale, yet a beautiful portrayal of how desperate circumstances, despair, and obstacles can provide a young woman, the courage and strength; to take dangerous chances, a David and Goliath saga. One person who makes a difference, changing hundreds of lives.. With mystery, suspense, twists, turns, and some nice surprises, Wiseman delivers an exceptional story with deep emotions, secrets, redemption. Wiseman’s writing shines, with an engaging gripping mystery with vivid descriptions of despair, and hope--a nice balance. My first book by the author– highly impressed with her writing style; have purchased What She Left Behind; currently listening to the audio. I loved Emma’s tenacity, her resilience, even though sometimes she took crazy risks, she reminds me a little of myself (a former whistleblower). Even though I have read many fiction and non-fiction works of the horrific conditions of the coal mining industry, the author creates a more human interest side, showcasing the decency of the village people, children,and the real suffering inflicted on those people by mining companies ---the politicians who use them for their own greed. Good versus evil. The one part about the mystery surrounding the mansion, reminded me of The Lake House by Kate Morton (no spoilers here---read and find out) Thought-provoking, an utterly heart-wrenching mystery. So compelling, I found it impossible to put down...incredibly complex and intriguing novel with a well-developed and diverse set of characters. Equal parts tense, suspense thrilling mystery and heartbreaking drama. A gripping tale of hardship, deceit, hidden secrets, and an ending you will find satisfying.

Coal Mining In my other readings of the coal mining industry (find fascinating), in various areas of the country (fiction and non-fiction) there is a common thread: Too often families and communities mourned for fathers, brothers, and sons crushed in a tunnel collapse or burned to death in an explosion. People ask why stay? Sometimes unions cannot help. Yet the mine workers found dignity in their work and in providing for their families, a pride that was sometimes ignored, belittled or deemed radical by mine owners and those far away from the coal fields. These feelings of pride, dignity, and injustice led the workers to risk their jobs and their lives again and again in unionizing efforts that at times turned violent. Unfortunately, the owners of the mine had their own greed and interests at heart, similar to the corporate giants of today. (NFL, tobacco, pharmaceutical, financial, food, and environmental industries). They asserted their right to manage their property as they pleased, and demanded their workers be subservient to the business.

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About the Author

As a first generation American, I’ve traveled frequently to visit my family in Germany, where I fell in love with the country’s history and culture. My first trip overseas was an eleven-day journey by ship when I was two years old. Even now, Germany is like a fairy-tale to me, with its rolling hills, tidy orchards, sprawling vineyards, ancient castles, and delicious food, all set against a backdrop of church bells, cobblestone streets and stepped alleys.

I live peacefully on the shores of Lake Ontario with my husband, two spoiled Shih-Tzus, and a rescued yellow lab. I love to read, cook, garden, go to the Drive-ins, travel, and spend time with my grandchildren. Read More






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