The Rooming House Diaries: Life, Love & Secrets - Book Review

The Rooming House Diaries: Life, Love & Secrets

Author: Bill Mathis
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Date Published: August 8, 2019
ISBN-10: 1624204228
ISBN-13: 978-1624204227

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Book Review of :  The Rooming House Diaries: Life, Love & Secrets


Bill Mathis delivers the perfect fix for all those voyeurs at heart who'd love to discover a private diary containing intimate, lascivious and salacious entries that make you feel just a little guilty as you read the secrets of another’s life. He doesn’t give you only one diary either. These diaries consist of family history, and a graphic glimpse of the unfolding of early U.S. history that is powerfully portrayed in The Rooming House Diaries: Life, Love & Secrets by Bill Mathis. The prologue, set in 2009, tantalizes the reader to delve into one hundred and twenty years of family stories, mysteries, surprises, and secrets.

            The generational diaries begin with a Polish immigrant’s notes found in an old ledger. Josef Sawicki died in Chicago in 1936. His diary was translated into English by his daughter-in-law, Mae. The ledger and others containing subsequent diaries were found in a Chicago rooming house which is a catalyst for the plot.

            The first few diaries are sequential; however, the latter are a retelling or reminiscing of the family’s story from different points of view. Deceit and tangled webs of disgrace, love, and redemption are encompassed by the extended family. The diaries expose the lives of multiple individuals sparing nothing - they talk of their quirks, allegiances, betrayals, love, sex, partners, friends, roommates, sadness, deaths and numerous satirical events.

             The author’s characters are distinctive as “real” people.  The reader can visualize characters such as the Catholic Sister who is over six feet tall and thin and is rumored to wear thick-soled shoes that made her look even taller.  She looked down on you, over large round glasses sliding down her nose and had green eyes that bore into you. The kids feared her.

            Dialog and dialect are masterfully used to flesh out the characters as when Clancy is asked where he is from.  He replies, “Me?  I got an accent?  I ain’t got no accent.  You da one talks funny. Me?  Dad says we hines fifty-seven mixed wit a lot of milkman… We American, man. We shicaago true and true.  Been here since dirt. You gotta learn to talk good English, man. I ain’t got no accent.”

            The physical setting of a rooming house is a perfect background for the “hines fifty-seven” personalities who reside there.  Built-in the late 1880s, the twenty-by-eighty foot three-storied building held a four-bedroom owners apartment on the first floor and a small back apartment. The second floor contained fifteen eight-by-nine foot rooms for single men.  The third floor had thirteen rooms for women and a matron’s efficiency apartment.  Two out-houses served the building until much later when plumbing was installed.

            The interwoven plot is as varied as the extended family and tenants that live in the rooming house. The reader will empathize with the trauma and powerful love that hold the family together. Compassion throughout the generations and the theme, “love in families can be difficult”, is continued in the author’s sequels, The Rooming House Gallery, and Face Your Fears.

Reviewed by: carol W

About Bill Mathis


Bill Mathis grew up as a preacher's kid in a small Michigan village. He began writing after he retired from careers directing YMCA camps and working with foster children. His first novel, Face Your Fears, dealt with disability, LGBTQ & family. His companion novel to The Rooming House Diaries (The Rooming House Gallery) is completed and will be published in 2020. A crime/mystery novel is in progress. He resides in Southern Wisconsin with his partner. He reads, writes, volunteers and travels.

Visit for more information on Bill Mathis


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