Readers' Favorite

September 8, 2020

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

September 28, 1918

The deadly virus stole unnoticed through the crowded cobblestone streets of Philadelphia on a sunny September day, unseen and unheard amidst the jubilant chaos of the Liberty Loan parade and the patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa. More than 200,000 men, women, and children waved American flags and jostled one another for prime viewing space along the two-mile route, while the people behind shouted encouragement over shoulders and past faces to the bands, Boy Scouts, women's auxiliaries, marines, sailors, and soldiers in the street. Planes flew overhead, draft horses pulled eight-inch howitzers, military groups performed bayonet drills, church bells clanged, and police whistles blew;  old friends hugged and shook hands, couples kissed, and children shared candy and soda. Unaware that the lethal illness had escaped the Naval Yard, the eager spectators had no idea that the local hospitals had admitted over two hundred people the previous day, or the numerous infectious disease experts had pressured the mayor to cancel the event. Not that it would have mattered. They were there to support the troops, buy war bonds, and show their patriotism during a time of war. Victory in Europe - and keeping the Huns out of America - was first and foremost on their minds. (chapter 1, first paragraph)
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Orphan Collector
August 2020; Kensington; 978-1496715869
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); historical fiction
Readers can always depend on Ellen Marie Wiseman to bring them an emotional, well-researched novel with characters so well written that they aren't soon forgotten.  Her newest book checks off all the boxes and her exquisite writing takes us to a time in history that will be new to many people.


The year is 1918 and the people of Philadelphia are all crowded together to see the  Liberty Loan Parade, where overwhelming crowds of over 200,000 are gathered in Center City to cheer their WWI veterans, buy war bonds and show their patriotism.  Pia didn't really want to go to the parade with her mother and infant twin brothers but at 13, she was too young to stay home alone in the rough part of town they lived in. Pia and her parents had immigrated from Germany several years earlier and there was currently a very strong sentiment against Germans.  Her father had joined the army to show his patriotism and her mother believed that they needed to show their patriotism by going to this parade.  Many of the people of Philadelphia had heard about the flu but the newspapers had assured them that influenza posed no danger to them as long as they "kept their feet dry, stayed warm, ate more onions and kept their bowels and windows open."  The crowds weren't aware that the flu was ramping up and that it would spread quickly and many of them would get sick and die.  Soon after the parade, Pia's mother died of the flu, and Pia was left to take care of her infant brothers.  She waited as long as she could, but they are out of food and she knew she must get some food to keep them alive.  She wraps her brothers in blankets and leaves them behind to try to find food.  While Pia is struggling, her neighbor Bernice is mourning the death of her infant son.  Bernice is a critical, mean-hearted woman who hates immigrants, and she reasons by stealing the young bothers, she can raise them as good Americans.  The lives of Pia and Bernice intersect several times over the years as Pia continues to search for her missing brothers.

Pia is a wonderful character.  Despite the hardship that she faced, she remained brave and determined to find her brothers.  At the extreme opposite is Bernice, a hateful and prejudiced woman who doesn't care how many people she hurts.  Pia was one of those characters that you think about long after the last page of the book.

The Orphan Collector is a wonderful book.  It has love and family, hate, mystery, and romance. It's a book that I wanted to read fast to find out how it ends but I also wanted to read it slowly to enjoy the exquisite writing.  I can't wait until it is published in August to discuss it with more people.  In my opinion, this book is going to be one of the most popular books of the summer.

I found this an interesting book to read as the COVD-19 pandemic was beginning in the US.  We are over-saturated with information and I couldn't help but wonder what it was like in 1918 when the people had little to no information - no telephones, no internet, and no way to find out what was going on and what to do.  Hopefully, all of our dedicated scientists and health care professionals will be able to keep our current pandemic to a much lower level of deaths than in 1918.

Information  about the Influenza Epidemic of 1918:

World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One-fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

The plague emerged in two phases. In late spring of 1918, the first phase, known as the "three-day fever," appeared without warning. Few deaths were reported. Victims recovered after a few days. When the disease surfaced again that fall, it was far more severe. Scientists, doctors, and health officials could not identify this disease which was striking so fast and so viciously, eluding treatment and defying control. Some victims died within hours of their first symptoms. Others succumbed after a few days; their lungs filled with fluid and they suffocated to death.

The plague did not discriminate. It was rampant in urban and rural areas, from the densely populated East coast to the remotest parts of Alaska. Young adults, usually unaffected by these types of infectious diseases, were among the hardest-hit groups along with the elderly and young children. The flu afflicted over 25 percent of the U.S. population. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.

Buy The Orphan Collector at Amazon

Start reading

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


  1. There is a familiar ring to these events, while there are differences, too. I am drawn into the story through these excerpts. Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “THREE PERFECT LIARS”

  2. This sounds really good, although it might hit a bit close to home right now. Still, I think this would be a fascinating book. I have to add this one to my wishlist.

  3. I know I have a copy of this book somewhere in one of my many stashes--I must find it--because I really want to read it.