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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Life She Was Given

ISBN: 9781617734496

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 7/25/017

Format: Paperback

My Rating: 5 Stars From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s. On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow. More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an early reading copy.




“Wiseman offers heartbreaking and historically accurate depictions. . .The richly developed coal town acts as a separate, complex character; readers will want to look away even as they're drawn into a powerful quest for purpose and redemption. . .a powerful story.” —Publishers Weekly

“This book will attract readers of historical fiction and those looking for strong female characters.” —VOYA Magazine

“Heartrending and strongly drawn.” —Booklist

“Ellen Marie Wiseman takes readers deep into the politics and hidden atrocities of a 20th-century Pennsylvania mining town.” —


“A great coming-of-age story.” —School Library Journal

“A great read!” —The San Francisco Book Review


“The meticulous hand-crafted detail and emotional intensity of The Plum Tree immersed me in Germany during its darkest hours and the ordeals its citizens had to face. A must-read for WWII Fiction aficionados—and any reader who loves a transporting story.” —Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

“Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a story of intrigue, terror, and love from a perspective not often seen in Holocaust novels.” —Jewish Book World

“Ellen Marie Wiseman’s provocative and realistic images of a small German village are exquisite. The Plum Tree will find good company on the shelves of those who appreciated Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian, Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, and Night, by Elie Wiesel.” —New York Journal of Books


About the Author

Ellen Marie Wiseman

Born and raised in Three Mile Bay, a tiny hamlet in Northern New York, I discovered my love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in the state. My first stories starred heroic horses and adventurous dogs, such as Becky the Black Horse and Buffy the Rabbit Hunter. I had a vivid imagination back then, imagining terrifying creatures around every corner, kidnappers, ghosts, vampires, monsters from the deep. One of my favorite things to do was walk to the general store to buy a nickel candy bar and a scary comic book. As a teenager I discovered the power of words reading Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Dean Koontz. I’ll never forget feeling goose bumps the first time I read Salem’s Lot! I read everything from paranormal to classic literature, and adore watching movies. I always thought my debut novel would have an element of paranormal or horror, but I guess you can’t get much more horrific than WWII and the Holocaust.

After getting married, raising two children, and working part-time as a bookkeeper, I decided to pursue my love of writing and never looked back. Having graduated from a tiny high school (400 students in K-12) I knew I had a lot to learn. After all, I'd never taken a creative writing course, there were no local writers’ groups, and I didn’t go to college. The only place I had to turn was the Internet. I will be forever thankful that my search led me to William Kowalski. He became my editor, teacher, mentor, and friend. His faith in my work bolstered me during difficult times and pushed me to believe in myself. With his gentle guidance and immeasurable knowledge of what it takes to be a storyteller, I learned the skills I needed to make my dream of becoming a published author come true.

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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