The author of A Bridge Across the Ocean and The Last Year of the War journeys from the present day to World War II England, as two sisters are separated by the chaos of wartime...
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...
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A truly wonderful book that had me reading long into the night, unable to put it down.
It’s been a long time that I have so utterly immersed myself in a story that the ending was dreaded: that necessary return to the world of reality. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner has become that book, the one that stays with you for days after.
A curious mix of contemporary and historic, presented in several perspectives by three of the characters starts with Kendra, a history major studying abroad at Oxford. Kendra is working on a term paper, her last before she returns to school in the US. Part of the challenge for this assignment is to be one of five papers chosen to be printed in celebration of the 70th anniversary of VE Day, focused on survivors of the London Blitz.
Kendra is given a last-minute replacement interview with Isabel MacFarland, a noted local artist and survivor of the Blitz, living in a small town in the Cotswolds. Isabel is celebrating her93rd birthday, and seems anxious to share her story with Kendra after Kendra is quoting Michael Crichton “if you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree”. The exuberance and interest that Kendra shows for history: not just the events but the effect those events had on the people who lived through them, how they felt, is integral and should interest everyone.
Told in three voices this story winds from contemporary conversation to reminiscence, to diaries and letters where the writer bares their emotions, their hardships and the unending quest for the answer to ‘what if’: what if different choices were made, or other opportunities were available. A recurring theme throughout the story where choices are made and the characters need to learn to deal with all that comes from turning left or right, without the opportunity to go back.
Rich with description and characters who we only come to know through another’s eyes as they understand and come to accept their lives, their own choices made and the staunch reliance on doing what needs be done at the time, we also see the strength and courage needed by those who are to emerge from war.
Lush details of the city and country bring England of the past and present to light: the old juxtaposed against the new, and the rich legacy of history that is omnipresent, and so intriguing to the modern day Kendra. Details as simple as light pouring into a room, or the dust in the air give readers instant visual images, populating their imagination with a scene that is familiar and yet exotic, adding to the effect of Meissner’s storytelling, immersing you deeply and lasting long after the final page.
The perfect read for teens and adults interested in stories that transport and engage, a great read for those unsure about liking historical fiction, and sure to please fans of the genre. A truly wonderful book that had me reading long into the night, unable to put it down.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility
Good WWII Story
This was a good read, with the story really gaining interest during the last few chapters. Primarily about two young sisters, ages 7 & 15, making choices/ decisions during the war & then spending the next 20 yrs recovering from their own guilt. I couldn’t get over the idea that these girls were so selfish, at so young an age (perhaps the teen,) but still couldn’t relate to the utter absence of thought about her sister. Clearly their youth & timing demonstrates they couldn’t have comprehended the possible outcomes of their actions, but still couldn’t relate to so much distress after their actions, but seemingly no dilemma was expressed before.
Secrets of a charmed life
One of the best books I have read in a long time!
What a gift this author has. Could not put this book down, read it in one day. This book would make a great movie.