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Secrets of a Charmed Life

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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...

386 pages, Paperback

First published February 3, 2015

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About the author

Susan Meissner

33 books6,558 followers
Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling novelist with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. Her critically acclaimed works of historical fiction have been named to numerous lists including Publishers Weekly’s annual roster of 100 best books, Library Reads Top Picks, Real Simple annual tally of best books, Goodreads Readers’ Choice awards, Booklist’s Top Ten, and Book of the Month.

She attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper. Susan’s expertise as a storyteller and her thoroughly researched topics make her a favorite author of book clubs everywhere. Her engaging and warm speaking style appeal to all manner of women’s groups, literary organizations, libraries and learning institutions, and service clubs.

When she is not working on a new novel, she enjoys teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with her family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

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5 stars
23,589 (41%)
4 stars
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3 stars
7,480 (13%)
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434 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,136 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 14 books537 followers
November 21, 2014
This book ALMOST made my list of best books I've ever read. I've rarely been so swallowed up in a story since I was ten and read the Little House series. Susan did a masterful job of making me care about Emmy and Julia and then, well, stringing me along on a horrific ride through the London Blitz.

And then. And then we came to the last section of the book presented as journal entries and although there was no way I was going to quit reading at that point, the story lost its momentum. I no longer had a front row seat to the action. And that action included the moment I'd scrambled through war-torn England to reach. It was a good ending, I was satisfied with how the story turned out, but I felt robbed of the chance to be present for the climatic moment.

I wouldn't have minded so much if the book hadn't been so incredibly good.

I still HIGHLY recommend this book, I just wish I could have been there when . . . well, you'd better read it for yourself.
Profile Image for Danielle.
832 reviews451 followers
July 18, 2020
This is a tragic story of a girl during wartime in London. She has talent as a dressmaker/designer and unfortunately makes bad decisions while chasing her dream. I loved Charlotte (the foster mom) she was a lovely character. This is kinda a depressing book, so I’d avoid reading it on a sunny day! 😎
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
746 reviews1,793 followers
June 17, 2015
Loved it! I really appreciate the fact that Meissner didn't feel the need to create a complicated "present" story... the past took center stage. Wonderfully and descripitively written to where I felt compelled to Youtube videos from the "Blitz". Must have been a truely terrifying time to be a Londoner. I look very forward to reading more by Meissner. 4.5 stars.
9 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2015
Only just started this book but it is already irritating me! With alls it's talk of 'sidewalks' and putting their foot on the 'gas' when referring to the accelerator in a car. I keep expecting to find out that the main protagonists are recent American immigrants . If you are going to write a book about the Blitz in London from an English perspective and expect English readers to take it seriously little things like this are important. I keep waiting for the next gaff ( mistake ).
Profile Image for Kavita.
783 reviews380 followers
August 2, 2023
American authors should really just stick to American fiction. This story reads like a modern American teenager throwing hissy fits when nothing goes her way, only in a Blitz setting. The disconnect between history and character reaction is gaping. Just think, this is similar to a blend of High School Musical and the SS marching down the street in the same plot. It's disconcerting to say the least. Not the least concession was made to the fact that this book was not set in the modern US.

I might have been able to overlook this big fault if there were anything good with the book. The plot held out a promise, which is why I chose the book. But gosh, it SO did not deliver! I am giving the plot away below because I don't want you all to read it and suffer like I did. So, SPOILERS ahead!

Emmy and Julia are two sisters who live in London. Emmy is a shit-faced bitch, and Julia is a lonely kid. Their mother is a single mother and is often absent, trying to provide a good life for them. But Emmy keeps slut-shaming her and thinks of her as a whore despite hogging on the food she brings. As far as I am concerned, the mother is doing her duty towards her children, whether by sleeping with someone for money or not, is none of anyone's business, least of all, the nincompoop Emmy's who is being fed and clothed with this money. Also, it turns out that the mother was not a prostitute, so Emmy made more than a fool of herself. I disliked this character so much that I kept hoping the Germans would drop a bomb directly on her head.

The only idea in Emmy's otherwise empty head is to design stupid wedding gowns. Really? This is a career? In the wartime with rationing, when people were struggling to get basic food rations? According to her, this will make her rich and famous "when the war is over". She sets up an appointment with a big designer for a job, but before anything could proceed, she is evacuated along with many of London's children to the countryside, where she proceeded to make herself unpleasant with prospective foster parents. Finally, the two sisters move in with a woman. Emmy keeps in touch with the designer and gets a date for the interview. So she plans to sneak off with her box of sketches into the night without a thought about pretty much anyone else. Her little sister discovers the truth and naturally doesn't want to be left alone. So she makes Emmy promise that she would either not go or take her along with her. But poor Julia is trusting an unreliable idiot, because Emmy still plans to sneak off leaving a seven year old Julia behind! As luck would have it, Julia wakes up in the middle of the night, and Emmy faces a dilemma. Or at least, she should have faced. But Emmy doesn't give a shit about anyone else, so she takes Julia along with her to London, towards the war! Oh, stupid wedding dresses are so much more important than little sisters!

And then she loses Julia, and her mother dies trying to find her. Emmy is now left to mourn and then she assumes the identity of a woman called Isabel, so that she could keep searching for Julia. But for some strange reason, she continues to keep that name after the war, lies to the man she marries about her real identity and then claims she is too traumatised with the war to give any kind of freedom to her daughter. Yeah, right! It's not really strange because this is what disgusting Emmy does. It's all about her. Then some American woman shows up and Emmy tells her the REAL story that she never told anyone else. Why? Because halfwit Emmy only likes Americans? Whatever.

Julia's part of the story is hurried through and doesn't even make it to a decent narrative. Her entire life story is condensed into a few letters that she wrote to herself as part of her therapy. This is about the clumsiest narrative device I have ever seen in a book. At the very least, Meissner could have told the story from Julia's pov and stuffed the annoying Emmy into a few pages.

Just skip this stupid book about the angst of a stupid girl who basically just brings it all on herself. I must admit I was happy with the ending. Very happy that Emmy doesn't get to design wedding dresses. Ha! Go fuck yourself, Emmy!
Profile Image for Melisa.
324 reviews516 followers
July 23, 2016
"Fear is worse than pain, I think. Pain is centralized, identifiable, and wanes as you wait. Fear is a heaviness you can't wriggle out from under. You must simply find the will to stand with it and start walking. Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can't."

This is a relatively simple story of ordinary people during an extraordinary time, but is complex in its development. It is the story of how one decision can change your entire life.

I think I often fall into the trap of wanting to read twist after turn and suspense and action. While the book contains quite a bit of the action of WWII, it is a slow story told beautifully and I loved how it unfolded.

As someone who is enamored with history, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening question that sets the stage for the entire story:

"Ah, but what is history? Is it a record of what happened or rather our interpretation of what happened?" "I think it's both," I answer. "It has to be both. What good is remembering an event of you don't remember how it made you feel? How it impacted others. How it made them feel. You would learn nothing and neither would anyone else."

4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books295 followers
November 20, 2014
I love being shocked, being forced to think, and becoming completely engrossed in someone else's story. This book certainly didn't disappoint. I was sucked in by the engaging narrative. I was left in suspense as to the ending. I was forced to think hard on the issue it tackles: blame. Notably blaming oneself for things out of one's control.

And this was a good lesson for me right now.

The lowdown: It's London, WWII; the actual focus is what happens during the Blitz. Though the story delves into the before and after, it's about how the Blitz completely changed the course of people's lives: two sisters, their mother, an "aunt", and more. Hardly a single soul went unaffected. It's about family being torn apart and while you could point the finger at so-and-so for having done this and so-and-so for not having done that, in the end, the blame lies with war itself.

It's about blame, beating one self up, and there's a side story about being forced to grow up before one's time. Being forced to be a mother when one isn't. Taking on more responsibility than one is ready for. So many lessons wrapped up in these pages.

And there's a mystery too, one you can never possibly figure out till the very end. Yet we can make assumptions. It's like a guessing game. In the end I was blown away by how many people were involved and didn't even realize it.

Imagine living that way for real. What happened to her? Did she die? Did someone find her? Was it my fault? Imagine thinking that for twenty years, and you'll be in Emmy's shoes. I love the way this story came together; the brides dresses, the umbrellas, the names. I felt for both heroines. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. And because so much of this tale could be considered spoilers, I hesitate to write paragraphs explaining what happens. This is one you need to read for yourself. You won't regret it. In the end, I was amazed at how so many people were involved, at who made errors in judgement and didn't realize what they were doing.

The writing is stellar and engrossing. Not too much of anything; not too little. The modern story is very minimal and you only need it to tie things together, but this didn't bother me at all. It worked well. There wasn't enough of it to distract me from the history and lesson and the story of mothers and daughters and sisters within the pages. And the final lesson (at least to me): the closest you get to a "charmed" life is allowing yourself to be happy.

Profile Image for Katie B.
1,351 reviews3,005 followers
April 17, 2019
I have had my eye on this book for awhile not only because the premise sounded like something right up my alley, but also because I really love the book cover. After I read and enjoyed the author's latest book, The Last Year of the War, I quickly added my name to my library's wait list for this one. Even though I have rated both books at 4 stars, I do think this book was slightly better.

American Kendra Van Zant is studying in England when she is given the opportunity to interview an elderly woman who is ready to spill secrets she has kept dating back all the way to World War 2. The story will go back and forth between the present day interview and the 1940s which follows 15 year old Emmy and her younger sister, Julia, who are evacuated from London and sent along with thousands of other children to the English countryside to live with foster families. Emmy wants to have a career designing wedding gowns, but the actions she takes in order to pursue that dream will have unimaginable consequences.

While this book can be classified as historical fiction, I wouldn't say it is heavy on the historical aspects of the story. And I'm not saying that as a negative thing because in my opinion the author did an excellent job in using some real life events from the war but also coming up with a compelling fictional story about sisters. It was very easy to feel invested in the two sisters and wanting to see how everything was going to play out. I might be in the minority here, but I didn't love how the Third Part was written but I did come around a bit towards the end as there were some good emotional moments. Overall, a very good story and I look forward to reading more books by the author.

Profile Image for Holly in Bookland.
1,077 reviews440 followers
March 26, 2015
I received this book through a goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this story! I thought it was beautiful in a simple way but still left an impact on me. I just cannot imagine going through something like the London Blitz in WWII. Such a sad and devastating time. This book made me feel like I was there going through it with Emmy. I could feel her loss and hopelessness. I could feel her desire to prove herself and to shed herself after losing so much. Emmy's story was wonderfully told, one that I'm happy to have had an opportunity to read.
Profile Image for Donia.
1,082 reviews
March 28, 2015
I deeply appreciate writers who tackle historical fiction and mean Ms. Meissner no disrespect. I truly wished to read a good story about War Time London but this poorly crafted story simply did not deliver.Perhaps it would have worked if it was listed as Juvenile Fiction? As an adult consumer I was annoyed by this poorly constructed story. At every twist and turn the plot was advanced through the use of transparent props. The blitz has happened; Winter is coming, Emily needs a warm coat; oh my there is a suit case with a coat and pajamas; gloves; everything she needs. Emily needs a light to see with; oh my she just happens to have a key to the one and only building left standing in London with electricity and running water. This teenage know it all school drop out just happens to interest nationally acclaimed journalists. No way. Sorry.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
670 reviews82 followers
July 11, 2015
Warning: If you get irritated by "prudish" reviews, stop now. You won't enjoy this one.

I feel very disappointed right now. Susan Meissner has a way with words and I was immediately swept away by her beautiful prose and fully developed characters. I started to get a bit uneasy when the Lord's name was taken in vain a couple of times, but thought it surely would be a rare occurrence and I could press on. Meissner is a Christian author after all. Then I realized that the book really didn't contain any Christian elements and the perspective on life presented was rather hopeless and dreary. Then more crude language and awful use of God's name popped up again and again. When it dawned on me that this book was going to include a sex scene, that was the last straw. I ended up skimming quickly over the last few chapters and was again disappointed to see that the book offered little hope. I can't understand why the author would spend so much time writing a well-crafted story and squander the opportunity to point readers to God and His light. I'm not looking for a sermon or for clumsy Christian messages, just some light and some hope. Is that too much to ask?
Profile Image for Retired Reader.
124 reviews48 followers
September 9, 2017
Whyyyyyy did I wait so long to read this book?! It is an excellent, beautifully written novel of two sisters who are tragically affected by the World War II bombings of London. Emmy is a strong female character who has lofty dreams, and we see her mature into a woman on a quest to make up for regrets. Julia is the younger sister who lives with different regrets and is deeply affected by what occurs in London. I had a lump in my throat for the entire last part (of 3). Many life lessons can be learned in these pages. I will think about this book for a long time to come.
Profile Image for Lynn.
900 reviews131 followers
November 28, 2019
This is an exceptional book that mostly takes place in London, during the Blitz. So many historical fiction WWII books take place in Europe, but this one has the reader experiencing the Blitz in London almost first hand.

As is usual today, the story takes place in two time periods: the present day when an American scholar, Kendra Van Zant, sets out to interview an elderly famous artist, Isabel MacFarland; and in 1940s England, where two sisters, Emmy and Julia Downtree are sent into the English countryside to escape the German bombing of London.
As Isabel opens up to Kendra as she never has to anyone else, the intersection of Isabel, Emmy and Julia’s lives becomes clear.

Susan Meissner has a wonderful way of placing the reader right in the middle of her narratives. Her storytelling is engrossing and her creation of settings is compelling. You are right there as the bombs rain down on London, and you feel each concussive blast. You feel the fear of each character as they experience life changing situations that are out of their control. Emmy especially is very well portrayed, as her story takes up the greatest part of the book. Other characters are also beautifully and carefully portrayed.

I could not put this book down. At times I thought I has figured out some plot twists, but I was wrong, and I’m glad of it. The book is suspenseful, funny, heartwarming and informative, all in a beautifully written way.

I absolutely recommend this book!
Profile Image for Gretos knygos.
602 reviews157 followers
August 19, 2021
Padariau didžiulę klaidą. Viskas baigėsi gerai, bet vis tiek: įsivaizduokit, perskaičiau nuostabias knygas apie Antrąjį pasaulinį karą, apie evakuojamus vaikus, knygos nunešė stogą, nieko TOKIO šiemet neskaičiau ir visai netyčia pasiėmiau šią knygą... ir toks deja vu... viskas matyta, girdėta, skaityta... prieš dvi dienas. Žinoma, galėjau knygą padėti šalin, pasiimti dar kartą vėliau, kai būtų nuslūgęs anų romanų įspūdis, tačiau nesigavo, nes buvo labai įdomu. Labai.

Romanas ir vėl pasakojamas dviem laikais – dabar, ir prieš daug daug metų – Pirmojo pasaulinio karo išvakarėse... kadangi dabartis buvo visiškai nesureikšminta, jos buvo vos keli skyreliai, intrigai sukurti, tad apie juos net nesiplėsiu... karo laikotarpis, kita vertus, buvo stipru: dvi sesutės – Emelina ir Džulija yra išsiunčiamos iš Londono į kažkokį užkampį ir apsigyvena vyresnių seserų, Šarlotės ir Rozos, namuose. Viskas būtų nuostabu, tačiau penkiolikmetė Emelina trūks plyš nori grįžti į miestą ir dirbti vestuvinių suknelių salone, mokytis siūti, toliau kurti suknelių modelius ir tobulėti. Tačiau tai pats nedėkingiausias laikas svajonėms: viską iš po kojų išmuša karas...

Kad jau minėjau Bradley knygas, tai dar paminėsiu, kad iki vidurio jos LABAI panašios. Du vaikai išsiunčiami, vyresnis rūpinasi mažesniu... tik žinote ką... šioje viskas buvo tiek pat blogai, bet ji buvo daug negatyvesnė. Iš kitos pusės, kaltės jausmas yra nepaprastai stiprus, kad ir kaip su juo kovosi, lengva nebus, o ir neturėtų būti. Šioje knygoje norėjau verkti, ne vieną kartą, bet ką tai būtų pakeitę?

Prieš kelis mėnesius buvo itin populiarūs romanai apie holokaustą, koncentracijos stovyklas, o dabar banga tarsi pasidavė plačiau: karas ir skirtingos aplinkybės kitose šalyse, nes, pripažinkime, viskas tikrai skyrėsi priklausomai nuo šalies... šiuo atveju vėl romanas apie nepažeidžiamus, saloje gyvenančius anglus. Ir vėl skauda skaityti apie žmonių likimus, kaip juos išdrasko, kaip jie turi toliau gyventi ir apsimesti, kad nematė nutrauktų galūnių, suguldytų mirusių kačių, apsidirbusių ir rėkiančių kareivių, nes ką daugiau gali daryti, kai supranti, kad mirsi?

Stipru. Ties pabaiga man jau visko buvo kiek per daug, tačiau vis tiek labai patiko. Romanai apie karą nėra tiesiog istorijos... juk tokie dalykai iš tiesų vyko, žmonės juos pergyveno arba ne... tik susimąstau, kad gaila, kad neturiu nieko, kas man apie tuos laikus papasakotų, pasidalintų, juk taip įdomu.

Vėl knygoje apstu sutapimų, kuriems įvykus staiga užsikerta visi keliai. Ir labai liūdna. Beveik nieko neatspėjau, ir tai yra gerai, džiaugiuosi kaskart, kai autoriui pavyksta mane apgauti... knygą labai greitai perskaitysite. Suvirpins širdis, bent jau turėtų.

Ir dar. Sese, aš labai tave myliu...

Baltos Lankos vėl didelė padėka jums.

Susitikime instagrame:

Visas apžvalgas rasite čia:

Leidyklos dovana.
Profile Image for Ugnė | pilna_lentyna.
226 reviews123 followers
January 25, 2020
Prieš pradėdama skaityti žinojau, kad didžioji dauguma perskaičiusių šią knygą liko ja sužavėti. Man asmeniškai didelio susidomėjimo nekėlė nei knygos anotacija, nei juo labiau viršelis. Jei ne gausybė rekomendacijų, pro šią knygą tikrai praeičiau neįsimetusi jos į pirkinių krepšelį. ⠀

Net ir pirmasis skyrius nežadino susidomėjimo, todėl padėjau ją į šalį. Kitą rytą pabandžiau vėl ir supratau, kad laukia keletas bemiegių naktų, klaidžiojant po dviejų sesučių gyvenimą Londone aidint karo garsams. ⠀

Emelina ir Džulija - seserys, kurioms dėl karo grėsmės tenka evakuotis iš gimtojo Londono. Vyresniosios Emi, kątik gavusios darbą išsvajotame vestuvinių suknelių salone, visai nežavi reikalavimas viską mesti ir palikti galimybes įgyvendinti didžiausią savo svajonę. Nors gyvenimas pas naująją mergaičių globėją pasirodo ne toks ir blogas, Emelina pradeda kurpti planą, kaip saugiai palikusi sesę globėjai, ji paslapčia grįš atgal ir gaus galimybę toliau mokytis svajonių amato, o ateityje kurs savo pačios modeliuotas sukneles. Kai viskas atrodo ranka pasiekiama, likimas iškrečia žiaurų pokštą, kurio pasekmės Emi lydės visą likusį gyvenimą..⠀

Net sunku nupasakoti, kiek daug jausmų sukėlė knyga. Verčiant vieną skyrių po kito, teko išgyventi liūdesį, džiaugsmą, pyktį dėl kai kurių sprendimų, nusivylimą, viltį, kad viskas gali baigtis gerai. Vieną akimirką Emelinos sprendimai ir naivumas erzino, kitą jau žavėjo jaunos merginos drąsa.⠀

Labai patiko autorės kuriami personažai, jų charakteriai, lengvas, bei įtaigus rašymo stilius. Jau baigus knygą puoliau daugiau pasidomėti apie Londono bombardavimą ir pačią vokiečių vykdytą operaciją Blitz. ⠀

Trumpai tariant - istorija įtraukianti, priverčianti susimąstyti apie tai, kaip kiekvienas mūsų priimtas sprendimas gali pakeisti ateitį. Tikiu, kad knyga sudomins ir neleis užmigti, kol nepasieksite paskutinio puslapio. ⠀

Rekomenduoju 💯 Gal knyga ir nebus geriausia iš perskaitytų šiais metais, bet kad geriausia šį mėnesį - net neabejoju. ⠀
Profile Image for Dianne.
178 reviews7 followers
March 12, 2015
Could not get past the first few pages. Tedious, excessive references to irrelevant details (i.e. scenery). Predictable and cliche descriptions (i.e. English cottage). And really? They scheduled her interview with the lady on the same day as her 93rd birthday party? How realistic is that? Well, just as realistic as everything else I read the first few pages....not at all. I'm all for running away, fantasy, a perfectly dreamy world to escape to, etc. But this is just too much.
March 20, 2018
Roman počinje kada Kendra, studentica historije, dolazi u raskošnu englesku kuću kod starice koja je jedan od rijetkih živućih svjedoka londonskog Blitza. Ona joj priča priču o svom životu koji se mijenja početkom rata kad donosi odluku koja će je zauvijek promijeniti..

Odličan roman, vješto napisan, ni u jednom trenutku mi nije bio dosadan i jako brzo se čita. Likove naprosto morate zavoljeti i čitajući skupa s njim proživjeti sve ono što i sami proživljavaju. Preporučujem! :)
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book562 followers
March 7, 2017
3.5 stars rounded up.

This tale of two sisters, Emmy and Julia Downtree, takes place during the days of World War II when London was under the Blitz and children were evacuated out of the city into the countryside. It is a story of misconception, too many assumptions, too many actions without enough forethought to avoid dire consequences and the grief that comes from making a mistake you feel you can never rectify.

Throughout the story you want to scream at Emmy, “don’t do that” or “think about what you are doing”, but she is fifteen and she acts from impulse, as fifteen year olds so often do. She misjudges her mother and in many ways distrusts her, and she sees only part of a situation but judes it as all. Her rashness costs her dearly and puts her sister’s life and well-being at jeopardy as well. While it is hard to live with messing up your own life, sometimes it is even harder to live with your effect on the lives of others.

The truth is uncovered in layers in the novel. Truths about self, about others, and about events. As one character says, The truth is a strange companion. It devastates one moment and enthralls the next. But it never deceives. And because of that, in the end, it comforts.

I particularly liked this reflection on time and grief ...but if I know anything about time, it is that it stretches to walk with you when you grieve. The rest of the world may zoom past at breakneck speed but when you are learning to live with loss, time slows down to the pace of your breathing.

And, the quote from which the title springs, that is all about responsibility and guilt: I want her to see that I understand there are no secrets to a charmed life. There is just the simple truth that you must forgive yourself for only being able to make your own choices, and no one else’s.

Meisser has done a good job of recreating the historical time frame, weaving believable characters and investing them with meaning beyond their own individual stories. An easy narrative with enough mystery and emotion to keep you reading to the end.
Profile Image for Melissa (Semi-hiatus Very Behind).
4,649 reviews2,114 followers
April 6, 2018
Really enjoyed this look back at two sisters and their lives before, during, and after the London Blitz. I was captivated throughout by their plight--I could feel Emmy's anguish at every turn and I completely identified with all of it, even though as an adult I disagreed with many of her choices. I could see myself making similar ones if I were in her place. This book is a careful unfolding of a life and the effects our choices have on everything around us and on our future.
Profile Image for TL .
1,879 reviews53 followers
September 25, 2015
3.5 stars :) *Some editing, more thoughts on the story*

This is inspirational fiction but it doesn't feel preachy, it's just a lovely story... I normally don't read much of this genre (nothing against it, just doesn't cross my radar very often) but the synopsis had caught my eye and (thanks to Kate Morton, I love these kinds of stories) I was eager to read it... dove into it without reading any reviews.

Thanks again to my friend Shaun for gifting me this for Christmas :).

It starts off slow, building up the lives of Emmy,Julia, and their mom before the war came to England.

Not compelling exactly but it keeps your attention as the story moves along. We're immersed into the lives of these people and ache with Emmy as she endures the disappearance of her sister and the uncertainty if what had happened to her... and having a hard time of forgiving herself for her 'mistakes'

Emmy annoyed me in the beginning when she and Julia were evacuated, her determination to be a designer of wedding dresses and scheming to get back to London matter what. I understood her better later on. Emmy starts out optimistic, believing anything is possible and excited envisioning her future.

Then Emmy and Julia were evacuated to the countryside to keep them safe and many events were set in motion.

After all that had happened, I thought she was too harsh on herself and another character as well but I could sort... not understand exactly( but for lack of a better word) why they felt how they did. I truly don't know how I would have reacted if I had had to live through all they did.

Charlotte was a wonderful character as well, someone I would have loved to know and Thistle House sounds so beautiful (The kind of house I would want to have).

Couldn't help but love Julia, such a sweet kid:).
Isabelle's husband was a good man, I admired him.

Part three had me wanting to give the person whose POV it was a big hug... both this one and Emmy were brave people, pushing on despite what life has thrown at them.

The relationships between everyone were extremely well done, the bonds felt natural and not forced at all. Each one has their own powerful effect on the story and in some motivations of each person.

A beautiful ending that made me smile as well.

The narrator is lovely, a softish way of speaking that suits the story wonderfully. It took me a bit to warm up to it but she was a good fit for it. Not my favorite narrator but I would probably listen to her narrating something else in the future.

Would recommend, happy reading!
Profile Image for Colleen Chi-Girl.
648 reviews109 followers
June 1, 2019
5 STARS! I finished Lilac Girls just before the audio for Meissner's historical novel became available and was concerned I wouldn't enjoy another WWII theme back to back, especially since Lilac Girls didn't rock my boat. Historical fiction is something I immerse myself in and take seriously. But no fear, I was sold in the first ten minutes. What grabbed me quickly were: the female narrator has a clear and easy voice, with a nice cadence - always important in an audio; also the book's beginning grabbed me immediately and I breathed a sigh of relief - it wasn't that I couldn't absorb another WWII novel! This one truly engaged me. The novel is set in England, in the beginning of the war, before the US had entered the war. There are 2 daughters, under 15, who live with a single mom in London, and it's their story that unfolds. We learn about their lives before the bombing and before they're sent to the countryside. Then we learn about how this awful war and bombing affects all of them, and introduces new people along the way. What follows is the war's ending result. It enfolds in a beautiful and tragic way that had me teary-eyed at times and absorbed all the way through. There's also a twist towards the end that surprised me. And that's always a nice way to end a beautifully written story.
Profile Image for Myrna.
714 reviews
June 15, 2015
Slow to start but interesting to read as the story unravels. Secrets of a Charmed Life is a beautiful historical fiction full of joy, heartache, surprises, tension, and sadness. The author captures WWII in England and the evacuated children well. Highly recommended if you like to read WWII historical fiction books about sisterly love and how fate can change lives. This will definitely not be my last Meissner book!
Profile Image for Rachel.
107 reviews
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 8, 2016
DNF @ 42%

Dynamically annoying sisters.
Flat plot.
Lack of historical atmosphere.
Profile Image for Erica (sand_between_pages).
549 reviews153 followers
March 18, 2021
“Truth is a strange companion. It devastates one moment and enthralls the next. But it never deceives. And because of that, in the end, it comforts.”
I AM OFFICIALLY A SUSAN MEISSNER FAN! (Well I was before, but this book seals the deal!)
Secrets of a Charmed Life absolutely broke my heart and then put it right back together again!! The last 100 pages were such a whirlwind after a solid-built foundation.
This is the story of sisters, Emmy and Julia, who reside in London during the outbreak of World War II. Meissner depicts what life was like in London during the Blitz (a piece of the war I was less knowledgeable about), how children were fostered in the English countryside during the duration of the war, and what life was like for the survivors of the war. You will absolutely root for these main characters and be moved by their stories; I was so emotional. The plot moves along very nicely and the character development is deep and relatable.
This is a very solid hist fic book with beautiful prose and heartfelt meaning.
Profile Image for Cindy Sheppard Gidge.
547 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2022
This was an intriguing story I have to say. A first by this author yet I will read more by her as another arrived this week. Sometimes a bit wordy (perhaps just me) so I would skim at times..... My heart ached yet again reading about the anguish and misery that was caused by Hitler and his beyond evil accomplices still floors me. It felt so real reading about the bombing blitz inflicted upon Londoners....the terror they experienced as well. So utterly senseless....all for what?? The courage fellow citizens displayed was evident as they rallied together to fight back against the tyranny while aiding through caring for so many children who needed evacuating to the countryside....The sorrow was distressing to even read about. She wrote about how our decisions can have consequences not only for ourselves but on others as well as we know. I'm not quite sure how I felt about this cards being aspect so to speak.....otherwise, it was an enjoyable story, as sad as it was.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
76 reviews5 followers
August 9, 2015
This book was an enjoyable read, but I must admit I am a little baffled: I've read nothing but rave reviews and high praise about this novel, so I was anticipating it to land among my favorite books, but it fell drastically short.

Again, I reiterate: I liked this book. But I also found it lacking—what, exactly, I can't quite figure out. Perhaps this book was at the disadvantage of having just been read after a book of approximately 530 pages (and before that, a book of 870 pages) because I felt this story seemed rushed, missing details and exploration of some plot points that would have pushed it over the edge from being an enjoyable read to being a story in which I completely immersed myself. I welcomed a shorter read as a follow up to those heftier books, and this book tells the story it sets out to tell, a beautiful account of two sisters whose lives are forever changed by war and the secrets that follow them in the years following, but I guess I just wanted more.

Despite my own desire to glean more, I recommend this book for an easy, pleasant read.
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