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Monday, January 29, 2018

Circus Tale Compelling, But Cheerless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's ten years old, Lilly Blackwood has never run outside, never played with other children.  Instead, she's confined to a small attic room with only her parents for (occasional) company.  Her mother—a religious zealot—insists the isolation is for her own protection.  If other people saw Lilly, she says, it would scare them.  When she is finally released from the home that has become her prison, Lilly's freedom is short-lived.  Sold by her mother to the circus, she becomes imprisoned again, just with a different jailer. 

Despite the bleak, often cruel world of the circus, Lilly finds a ragtag family and, for the first time, a sense of belonging.  When tragedy descends, however, it seems she may never find a happy ending ...

Twenty years later, Julia Blackwood returns to the home and horse farm she has inherited from her parents.  The place holds few happy memories for her.  Hoping to make peace with her past, Julia explores Blackwood House, especially the corners that were off-limits to her as a child.  Stunned to discover a hidden attic room and old circus photos featuring a striking young woman, she determines to uncover all of Blackwood House's secrets.  What she discovers—about her family and about herself—will shock her to her core.

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman is an atmospheric, absorbing novel peopled with colorful, complex characters.  Told in the alternating voices of Lilly and Julia, it tells a vivid and compelling story.  Also a sad, sad one.  In fact, parts of the ending are so mournful that the novel, overall, feels less than satisfying.  While it offers a few sparks of hope and uplift, on the whole, The Life She Was Given is just depressing.  Engrossing, but pretty darn cheerless.  In the end, then, I found this one disappointing despite being well-written.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen)  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Life She Was Given from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. I've not ever heard of this book. And it does sound a bit grim, but I'm still interested. I'll have to be in the right mood for it. LOL

  2. Hmmm, depressing or not I’m very intrigued in this one. Ugh! Another book to add to my ever growing list.

  3. I'm not sure I can handle this much grimness and cheerlessness. I think I'll pass though I do love a ragtag family!

  4. I just got done reading a really depressing book. Sometimes they're really good to read but I just can't take many of them, lol.


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