Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner begins with history student Kendra Van Zant arriving for an interview with famed watercolor artist Isabel MacFarland for a paper she is writing. Isabel almost never gives interviews, but agreed to this one because one of Kendra’s professors is her friend and arranged it. Kendra’s paper is on the effects of the blitz on London during WWII, and Isobel’s home was bombed during the war. As they start their interview, however, Isabel begins to tell the story of two sisters, teen-age Emmy and seven year old Julia.
They lived in London in the 1940s. Emmy liked to draw sketches of wedding dresses and hoped to be a designer one day. When she happened across a job opportunity in a bridal shop, she seized it. When the owner said she had a cousin who designed costumes and might be willing to take her on as an apprentice, Emmy was overjoyed.
But her plans were cut short when the city called on parents to evacuate their children into the countryside for safety. Emmy protested that she didn’t need to be evacuated, but her mother insisted. The girls were taken to a village in the Cotswolds and taken in by an older single lady and her sister. The setting was peaceful and idyllic, but when Emmy learned that her employer’s cousin was coming to London, she felt this was her only chance to make something of herself. She made arrangements to leave secretly for the rendezvous, but Julia found out in the meantime and insisted on going. Emmy decided to take her along, trusting that her mother could make arrangements to send her back. As the girls quietly sneaked out of the house to make their way back to London, what neither of them could have known was that the Luftwaffe blitz on London was going to start that very day.
I can’t go more into the plot without spoiling it, but slowly, as the story unfolds, the connections between Isabel and the two girls becomes increasingly clear.
I listened to the audiobook of this and was so drawn in, I kept looking for times other than my usual listening times to hear more. I’ve read many WWII novels, some even involving the evacuation of London’s children, but never quite from this angle. I thought the story unfolded wonderfully. I read some readers’ criticism of a section of the book near the end made up of journal entries, but I thought that was as well done as the rest of the novel. The fact that it contained a good bit of information that readers have been wondering about all through the book made it as suspenseful to me as the rest.
The faith element was perhaps a little too subtle for me. It is a vital part of the book, underpinning the plot, but mostly in the background, and only occasionally and somewhat vaguely referred to.
I thought I had not read Meissner before, but a search through my blog showed me I have, and I enjoyed those books as well, so I need to keep a lookout for more of her books.
Genre: Inspirational fiction
Potential objectionable elements: Emmy’s mother is what we would call a kept woman, and unmarried sexual encounters are mentioned, but details are not explicit. A few bad words (I can’t remember if they were “damn” or “hell” – perhaps one or two of both).
My rating: 9 out of 10