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Publisher's Summary

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, 19-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 ragtag, 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' 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's 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.

©2017 Ellen Marie Wiseman (P)2017 Recorded Books

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Don't waste your time

Pretty sure this book was written for children, except it's too disturbing. Don't spend your money on this

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

If you're sensitive to animal cruelty don't listen

I suppose if this author wanted me to feel something, the goal was achieved. The book is nothing but heartbreak after brutal heartbreak.

At the end they try to smooth it over with flowers and foals but it's not successful. A good book is one that you can read over and over again. This is a book that makes you want to throw your phone at the wall.

I would not recommend this to any one.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Horrible writing!

This was so difficult to listen to because it was so bad. It was like a 13-year old wrote it. There's little attempt to actually create the world within the book. The narration was so boring. There was no attempt to even bring the characters to life. Such a waste of money :/

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

So much promise!

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The writing would have to be much better

What could Ellen Marie Wiseman have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The idea was excellent I just felt it was rushed through - yet at the same time parts were dragged out Also readers do not need to be led by the nose - it would make it enjoyable if I could draw my own conclusions instead of forcing the conclusion on me - she felt for mother and baby horses because she had a difficult relationship with her mother - pretty easy to grasp without it being spelled out. Unfortunately you get to the end and no one really grew or learned - bad things happened the end.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Lori Gardner?

maybe - she did well with what she had

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Life She Was Given?

'oh no, there is no key, oh gosh a million terrible things will happen, oh woe I will never find the key and on and on... oh look it's not locked. One of those scenes would have been ok but there were way too many. If some of that writing time could have been spent expanding on the characters it would have been much better.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Another gripping story

This is a sad but gripping story about a little girl who is sold to a circus by her cruel vicious mother and the life she lead there. Nine-year-old Lily is taken from her attic room where she has been held prissoner by her parents and sold to the circus because she's a "monstor" according to her mother. Lily was born with albinism in the 1920s. In the circus, she's put in the "freak" show as one of the star attractions. She suffers horrible abuse but has great strength of character and survives in spite of it all. She befriends Pepper, an elephant and her handler Cole, whom she later marries. Lily performs with Pepper in the big top until tragedy occurrs, and she's forced out of the circus life she's come to love.

This is also the story of Julia Blackwood, who runs away from the manor on the day her father dies. Living a hard life on the streets, she's tracked down by a private investigator hired by her mother's attorney. She's given a letter informing her of her mother's death, and Julia is the new owner of Blackwood Manor. On her return, she discovers her father's old journal where she reads about the sister she never knew she had. Eventually Julia learns the truth and that things are not always as they seem. The story of her past is not what she believes it to be. She must come to grips with this and create a new life for herself where she will find love and acceptance. This is a story that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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Animal cruelty does not make a good story

Traumatic to listen to. What was the purpose of this book? As a gothic novel it fails, as a moral story it fails. I felt like a perpetrator just listening to it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Horrible.

Struggled to finish this long, boring, horrible story, and really wish I had not bothered.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Someone obviously read water for elephants

This book tries way too hard and the similarities in the story to the much better book "Water for Elephants" makes this a difficult read. The narrator was lackluster at best.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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that was awful!

the narration was fine.

the story lacked, the writing sophomoric. 1,000 ways this idea could have been done well. No literary merit. It was dumb.

Don't be fooled!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful book!

This book was well crafted and a delight to hear. Captivating and the reader did a really good job. I fully enjoyed my first Audible.com book.