Cover Image: The Life She Was Given

The Life She Was Given

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Member Reviews

This book is about Lilly who is a little girl and is sold to a traveling circus and Julia who comes along 20 years later and starts to piece together a mystery that took place at the farm she inherited. Carnival/circus books are always intriguing to me and this one did not disappoint. The dual time periods and mystery really drew me in.
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I read this book recently, but I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC copy and I'm sorry I didn't get around to read it in time.
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A decent historical fiction with vivid characters and the whimsical setting of the circus. I found there wasn’t enough action to really keep my attention but that may be more my problem than the book’s.
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Magical and full of loveable characters, I was immediately pulled in and fascinated by this story, a delightful read to sit and relax with now the summer months have come upon us.
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It's hard for me to rate this book. On the one hand, I was completely engaged and burned through the pages to see how the past and present storylines would come together. But on the other hand, I had some issues. Despite dealing with some dark and heavy material, the story somehow felt superficial. I think that's because there wasn't enough time to develop and deepen relationships, particularly in the present-day story. I found the writing to be on the wordy side with a lot of time spent on description and pedantic action. Like taking pages to describe getting from one room to another in the same house, pages on repetitive introspection. That time could have been better spent fleshing out Julia's story around the mystery she wanted to solve and exploring Lilly's connection with animals. Though my heart went out to Lilly and I did love how she eventually found her confidence and happiness, I thought the ending was unsatisfactory, on several levels. It's by no means a bad book; it's just one I feel a bit ambivalent about upon finishing.
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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. 
This was a really good story. It goes between both Lilly and Julia seamlessly. The further the story progresses, the more your heart breaks for both characters. I thought the author did a great job in describing the cruel conditions of that time. I recommend to anyone that doesn’t mind stories that pull at your emotions.
**I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
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Thank you to Net Galley and Kensington Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book tells the story of two women, Lilly and Julia, who lives are tied together by the home they both grew up in, Blackwood Manor. Lilly's tale tracks her life after her mother sells her to The Barlow Brothers Circus. She becomes part of the side show and eventually comes to discover a world she never knew existed along with friendship, loyalty and love.
Julia grew up in an oppressive household full of rules until the day she ran away. She is pulled back after discovering her mother has died and left the house to her. She returns and uncovers a family secret and decides to unravel the mystery which will change the course of her life forever.
The book strikes a balance of joy and heartbreak and is full of hope even when it seems like there is none. An emotional and enjoyable read from start to finish.
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While there seems to be a run on circus settings lately, The Life She Was Given is actually perfect to have a circus setting! We have two settings and POVs here. One from a girl in the 1930's and another from a girl in the 1950's. Both are connected to the same house; but the mystery of how, why, etc. is of course a good chunk of the plot of the book. 

Setting
You can't go wrong with a creepy old house that has areas boarded up and secret rooms. And alternatively the circus is a great place to tell the story of a 'freak' or 'unnatural' (as she is called in the books) girl. Between these two settings I was hooked from the first chapter. 
The rich circus setting is not over done or exaggerated at all. As for the house; I can't say much or I'll give too much away. Just now that it's a bit creepy and hides secrets well. 

The 30's
As always, the primary story I loved was the older one set (largely) at the circus with our 10-year-old girl.  The start of our story is a 10-year-old girl who is trapped in an attic and never let out by her parents because she is a 'freak'. 
I won't give away what makes her a 'freak' because I think it's an interesting reveal.

Relevant to the start of this story is actually a tidbit from the acknowledgements where author Ellen Marie Wiseman indicates that Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews was a part of the inspiration for the past story. Certainly she nailed it on that aspect. I read Flowers in the Attic when I was a teen (and like Wiseman) I was very struck by it and immediately upon reading the first chapter of The Life She Was Given it was my first thought. Kudos to Wiseman for taking the trapped in the attic element and making it her own story from there. 

The 50's
Our lead gal in the 50's timeline is a down on her luck gal who definitely could use some direction and purpose in life. This portion of the story is maybe 25% of the whole story; but is (of course) relevant to the reveal at the end of the book. I think there was just enough of this time period without it becoming monotonous or overdone. The reality is that we all want to read about the circus more than we want to read about breeding race horses. That's just basic human curiosity for most. 

Writing Tone
Of all the things that were lovely about The Life She Was Given, certainly the tone, flow and voice of the stories was most striking.  Wiseman has a writing style I love. One that compels you to turn the page, but also captures that 'old' feel. Almost like you are watching an old movie of someone's life that has the stains on the edges, and is maybe a bit worn. I'm not sure how else to explain it but this is the kind of historical fiction writing I love. Where we feel immersed in the past and the small details (like the value of leather or silk) is emphasized in order to remind us that they didn't use go to a mall to buy things. I am definitely interesting in reading all of Wiseman's books now just to read more of her writing style. 

Overall
If you like historical fiction I think you are destined to like this. Interestingly it sets just before WWII and just after. I found this choice to be quite clever by Wiseman and at no time did I feel like she forgot the war because during the narrative it's clear lots of things are happening in the world. However it's not necessarily relevant to our the very focused story here. 

Overall I adored this book. Characters were all very enjoyable, romance was lovely (not over done) and the settings were the icing on the cake. 
Definitely one I will be purchasing for my personal print library.
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Sadly, this is one of my DNF pile. I tried so hard to give this a chance but to no avail.
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Another enjoyable two timeframe book, which I really like, but this one just didn’t have the depth as the recent ones that I have read. The controversial matter seemed well researched and was presented well, but I don’t think it will linger in my mind as much as ‘Before We Were Yours’, ‘The Address’, and ‘The Dollhouse’.  Unlike a few of my friends, I actually liked the behind the scenes look at the circus. I didn’t like the behavior of a few of the characters, but I figure it wasn’t uncommon in those circles. 
Overall, this is a book worth reading. 
Thank you #Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review! Much appreciated!
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Was it monster living in the attic? Or was the mother the real monster? It is up to reader to make their choices.

Beign both a mother and a woman who was born different, it was very difficult to read this book. I am blessed with loving and caring parents, with amazingly strong and wise mother who persisted, supported and encoraged me all through my life. My mum has been to hell an back with me so many times I stopped counting at 24 years of age.

Lily, poor Lily. My heart bled for her. I cried for her. Her pain, anguish, helplessness and hopelessness were so acute, so sharp all throughout the book, the author should be proud.

Lily’s story does not have a happy ending. Her story continues through her daughter (spoiler). Any hope for bright future was only possible through complete destruction of the past, good and bad. What a heartwrenching story.

Reading the book I have read other reviews. People were shocked at animal cruelty segments of the book. Yes, those bits are not for light-hearted readers. However, what I found more cruel, clod, heartless was not human cruelty to animals, but human cruelty to humans. It was boundless.

What I found the worst of all was the behavior of Lily’s parents. Even all the cold, greedy, sadistic actions of circus’ bosses can be understood on their level and perspective. But Lily’s father and especially mother? No, never.

What sort of God allowas a mother to behave like that? If there is such a God I do not want to believe in it. No matter what, this woman does not give in or give up. Julie (spoiler) was right, this woman is the one who is not normal, a freak. It is her who was born with parts missing. She was born defected. She was born with cold heart.

The Life She Was Given is not really a life. It is an attempt. It is an attempt at life, escape, love, escape, love, escape, life. It is a constant trying action. Lily almost succeeds only to fall so much deeper, so much more painfully.

I honestly do not know how the author managed to keep writing this book to the end. Reading it was extremely difficult. Hoping fo something better for Lily, for the pain to stop only to see something even more horrible to happen to her, was really trying on all my emotions.

Even gringing everything to an end, giving characters and readers hope for redemption and better future, author managed to keep readers hurting and gasping.

I guess one can see the light only when there is dark…
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The title wasn’t available for download unfortunately and so I wasn't able to review it. Still, the cover is absolutely lovely and is sure to engage readers on this alone.
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I sped through this book. Usually, when a book is in a past/present format (though the "present" is the 50s in this case), I usually prefer the past, but both parts of this story were great. Ellen Marie Wiseman does an amazing job of tackling important topics (in this case child abuse and animal cruelty) in interesting ways. I must admit I didn't expect this book to be so depressing, and I finished it feeling a bit bummed, but it was fascinating to learn more about circus life and the treatment of those in the sideshows. I thought the big reveal at the end was pretty obvious, but it didn't detract from the story.
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This story was so much more than I expected. Told from the perspectives of Lilly in the 1930s and Julia in the 1950s. Lilly Blackwood, an albino girl, was sold to the circus by her mother during the depression. Lilly did not know why her mother did not love her and why her father did nothing to help. She was told she was horrendous looking and if she was out in public, people would do terrible things to her. Her part of the story describes her life in the circus. It was not all smiles and laughs. She was purchased from her mother by the owner of the Side Show and he treated her terribly. She was beaten, ridiculed and almost raped. Julia Blackwood, born almost 2 decades later, was also treated poorly by her mother until she could no longer stand it and ran away from home. Her father had already died and her mother blamed her for it. When she finally gets word that her mother has died, she returns to Blackwood Manor with mixed feelings. Once there, she realized that she needs to find out what went wrong with her family. She begins to explore and uncover secrets.

There are many themes in this book. The first is the idea of freaks, albinism was treated very differently in the past. We now have much more tolerance for people born with defects, however it is not as good as it should be. The theme of animal cruelty also resonates throughout Lilly's section when she is talking about the circus. There is also some religious fanaticism and both child abuse and abuse of women. Sections of the book require a strong stomach. This is the first book I have read by this author and I was not disappointed. The characters were well developed and the scenes were descriptive, but not overly so. There are many parts of this book based on real situations, which makes it even more thought provoking. Overall, this was a great read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, reading about circuses, family drama etc.
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Place:  New York, early 1930's, as well as on board a travelling circus

People:  Lilly Blackwood, nine years old. Julia Blackwood, 19 years old. 

Plot:  Lilly Blackwood has never been out of her room in the attic of the Blackwood Horse Farm. She dreams of knowing what the air feels like outside on a rainy day, of seeing the horses in a way that doesn't involve a telescope, of seeing her reflection in a mirror so she can finally understand why her mother says she must stay locked away for her own safety - and why anyone who sees her would be fearful of a child. But when the day comes when Lilly's Momma retrieves her from the attic room and leads her out into the night, Lilly wants nothing more than to go back. Momma takes Lilly to the nearby circus and sells the child to a sideshow. 

In 1956, on Long Island, Julia Blackwood has escaped the cruel and loveless home she grew up in, only to find herself forced to wash in a grocery store bathroom and work in a local greasy spoon. When a private investigator tracks down the 19-year-old runaway, he brings news that Julia's mother has died and the family horse farm and manor now belong to her - but only if she returns home to Blackwood Manor. Julia has few good memories of her childhood and has been carrying the guilt of killing her father - or, as least that's what her mother has always claimed; that Julia's father was killed because of his daughter. Her return to the manor is filled with trepidation, but also a desire to know why her mother was so heartless and unloving. 

The novel is told in turn by Lilly and Julia. As each chapter begins and ends, readers uncover the dark secrets of the Blackwood family.

Pacing:  Measured and steady

Predictability:  Low

Perspective:  The Life She Was Given left me with a lot of mixed feelings. The storytelling is outstanding. Ellen Marie Wiseman crafts an artful tale in a style that urges the reader to continue chapter after chapter. The nature of the story, however, is dark and heavy. There are themes of child neglect, abuse, and animal cruelty that are difficult to digest. I'm an advocate for elephants and some of the scenes in the novel were heartbreaking and very hard to get through. That said, there is also an inspiring thread of resilience in the story. It's amazing to see the kindness within both Lilly and Julia, especially given their families and the environments in which they grew. The one thing that I am sure of, is that this is a story that will stay with me.
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Its been hard getting me into this book. After reading the description I though tit would be a book that Id really enjoy but that turned out not to be the case for this book.
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A heartbreaking story told in two points of view. The first is Lilly's story.  She is kept hidden in her parent's attic until, through no choice of her own, she leaves the home.  Her story is told alongside the story of a runaway named Julia.  Through this story, we get to see behind the scenes of a circus, traveling from town to town.  We also learn some about championship horse breeding.  For animal lovers, there are "awww" moments when the characters and animals connect in ways that warm the heart. But, be warned that some scenes graphically depict abuse that may make you very uncomfortable.
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Every bit as good as Wiseman's first novel. If you like balancing timelines and stories that draw you in slowly this will be a great read for you!
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In 1931, young Lilly Blackwood is sold to a circus sideshow by her mother. More than two decades later, Julia Blackwood inherits Blackwood Manor from her parents. She returns to her home and begins finding mysterious secrets there. This was a very interesting read. The details of Lilly's circus life seemed very well researched and were intriguing. I was surprised that this story was quite a bit darker than I expected. I did feel towards the end that the darker aspects were a bit over the top which kept this from being a 5* read. Overall, this was very enjoyable and I enjoyed the story switching back and forth between the two time periods.
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