The Piano Player
by Carolyn Niethammer

Oak Tree Press, 2014. ISBN 978-161-0-09126-8.
Reviewed by Tiffany Benton
Posted on 07/22/2015

Fiction: Historical

The Piano Player is a historical fiction tale set in the late 1800s. The author, Carolyn Niethammer, uses the journals of the lead character, Mary Rose Langley, to tell her life's story. We travel along as Mary Rose experiences the joys and sorrows of a life of independence in the Wild West.

Through her own writings, we learn that Mary Rose has aspired to find fame and fortune as an actress and piano player. Abrupt family changes quickly set her upon this quest with little experience but with a great deal of determination. Still, it's a shock when she finds herself far from her life of privilege in San Francisco. To reach her goals, she must become a working girl in Tombstone, Arizona, where independent women are often frowned upon. Mary Rose faithfully writes down her experiences and feelings. Some days her journaling is a way to keep her from feeling so alone and frightened, and other days it's a way to remember all of the exciting things going on in her life.

As the years go by we meet the many incredible characters that come in and out of Mary Rose's life. She changes her name to Frisco Rosie to better fit the piano player and entertainer that she's become. Everywhere around her, people are searching for gold and she sees how moving along with this tide can bring her the success she yearns for. But it's a hard life, from Tombstone to The Klondike and eventually to Nome, Alaska. The people she meets are all seeking their own pots of gold. For some, it's only about the money. For others, love. But for most, it is also about being able to be their true, unique selves.

I'm drawn to stories about women adventurers. Maybe a part of me wishes I had lived in their time and been able to do some of the things they did. In reading Frisco Rosie's tale, I wonder if I would have been as adventuresome and courageous as she was. Part of me likes to think so, but I'm not sure. She had to be really tough. Sometimes that cost her a great deal. But I believe in the end her courage kept her going. The Piano Player is exciting, adventuresome, and filled with strong colorful characters. When it was over I was sorry not be following Mary Rose on another adventure.

Carolyn Niethammer grew up in the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, and now lives in Tucson. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on Southwestern subjects: popular ethnobotanics of western plants, biographies, a book on Native American women, and a travel book on Southwestern Arizona. Visit her website.

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