Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

5 Star

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, one million 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…

Kathryn- 5 Star

I was completely caught up Susan Meissner’s novel from about page 15. I read the novel obsessively and partially ignored my very understanding children to keep reading!  I felt that the author took a commonly “understood” moment in history and dug into the reality of the London blitz with as much knowledge as anyone could undertake.

Emmy’s story never felt unrealistic and I was drawn into her world of fear much more than I expected to be- her pain and guilt was certainly felt across the pages.   Her little sister Julia was clear also clear a bell to me and you could see her desperately trying to remain with her big sister when everything else around her had changed.  The love they felt for each other was honest and true.  I could understand why Emmy tried to leave her behind and I was so engrossed in their story that I forgot they weren’t real people. I wished so much Emmy had stayed behind to protect her sister- I don’t think I would ever have left her myself.  The trouble really was that Emmy didn’t understand the magnitude of the danger in going back to the city. I loved this one line of Meissner’s towards the end of the book “there is the simple truth that you must forgive yourself for only being able to make your own choices, and no one else’s”.  This little snippet of the novel is a truth many of us must learn to live with, to be able to live our lives fully for our futures.

Each new disappointment weighed on me until I knew how things had worked out for Emmy and Julia in the end. To imagine that hers would be one of thousands upon thousands of stories during the horrific wars that plague our global history is gut-wrenchingly painful. Much as I find some novels difficult to read I think it’s important to remind ourselves how lucky some of us are.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Susan Meissner:
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