Originally published Monday, 19 January 2015.
I have three kids.
I can’t imagine putting them on a bus and sending them away.
In her latest historical novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life, author Susan Meissner recounts events that transpired in London during World War II, when half a million children were evacuated from the city into foster homes in the countryside.
Half a million.
On their own. Without their parents.
Can you even imagine?
Susan Meissner quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read her novel, Lady in Waiting. To quote Publishers Weekly, “her prose is exquisite.” Last year, I read her book, A Fall of Marigolds. The storyline stayed with me for months, and kept resurfacing. Secrets of a Charmed Life is no exception.
The story focuses in on two sisters, fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her younger sister, Julia. They live with their single mother in the city of London on the brink of the second World War. Emmy and her mother have a strained relationship, as Emmy’s father has never been in the picture, and her mother is rarely at home. Because of their mother’s lifestyle, the bulk of Julia’s care is largely shouldered by Emmy.
Emmy’s greatest dream in life is to design, make and sell her own bridal gowns. She has a treasured box of sketches she drew, which she values more than anything. With a fierce independence and a strong determination to make her mother proud, Emmy obtains employment outside the home in a bridal shop.
Then one day, unthinkable news arrives. All of the children of London are to be evacuated to temporary foster homes in the countryside until the war is over.
Emmy protests, but has no choice. She has to go, if not for her own protection, at least to make sure her sister Julia is in good hands.
The sisters are taken in by an elderly woman who owns a delightful cottage in a village called Stow-on-the-Wold. They are welcomed into her home, which she has affectionately named Thistle House.
Though they are well cared for, Emmy is not happy about her lot in life, as she had high hopes and dreams of becoming a wedding dress designer. Instead, she is stuck playing guardian of her little sister, who dotes on and positively adores her big sister.
With her stubborn and independent personality, Emmy decides to take things into her own hands. One night she leaves Thistle House in the middle of the night, and sneaks back to the city in the early morning hours, without permission. As the sun rises and the hours unfold, she couldn’t possibly regret her decision more.
Secrets of a Charmed Life was such an enjoyable read. Not only were the characters well developed and the historical setting fascinating, but the storyline is filled with unexpected plot twists that will keep you turning pages. As with the other books I’ve read by Susan Meissner, I highly recommend this new novel, which releases February 3rd, 2015.
Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of seventeen books, including A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.