Thursday, February 05, 2015

Review: Secrets of a Charmed Life

Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

By Susan Meissner
NAL Trade, February, 2015

About the Book

The author of A Fall of Marigolds journeys from the present day to World War II England, as two sisters are separated by the chaos of wartime.

She stood at a crossroads, half-aware that her choice would send her down a path from which there could be no turning back. But instead of two choices, she saw only one—because it was all she really wanted to see . . .

Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades, beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden—one that will test her convictions and her heart.

1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister, Julia, find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed.

My Review

While I’m a fan of all of Susan Meissner’s novels, this one is my favorite so far. When I say I could not put this down, I don’t say that lightly. The characters who survived the German attacks on England and the mystery of what happened to them kept me turning pages.

One thing I love about Meissner’s novels is that they so clearly illustrate how the experiences and trials from the past can aid us today as we go through life, just as the modern day character Kendra learns in this story. Truthfully, at the start I was a little apprehensive with the topic. WWII, the Blitz, English children . . . I thought it had the potential to be overly sad and horrific, and of course it is. You can change the facts, but with Meissner’s skill as a writer who touches hearts the story unfolded beautifully.

Even as Emmy struggles with the disappearance of her sister, which she blames herself for, I knew there would be an element of hope, a story that, while true to the historical tragedy, would reveal the strength those people embodied while enduring war and separations. At times I didn’t know how Meissner would accomplish that, and that kept me reading. This would make a wonderful movie! Highly recommended!

Cindy Thomson

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