Reviewer Francesca Pelaccia: Francesca is the author of The Witch's Salvation. She enjoys reading everything from the literary to genres of all types and blogs on the craft of writing. By day she teaches ESL to adult learners. Follow Here To Find Out More About Francesca.
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: New American Library
As Hitler wages war in 1940s London, children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. Among them are Emmy Downtree, who is far beyond her fifteen years of age, and her seven-year-old sister Julia. Both find refuge in a Cotswold cottage, overseen by Charlotte Havelock a caring and nurturing foster mother and the complete opposite of their party-loving and secretive biological mother. But Emmy’s burning ambition to apprentice with a fashion designer forces her to leave in the middle of the night with Julia in tow on the very day the Luftwaffe starts its destructive blitz on London. While Julia waits by herself at their apartment, Emmy goes to her interview with the designer only to have her world and Julia’s forever altered when the air bombing starts. The sisters are separated and their mother goes missing, triggering Emmy’s lifelong journey to find her sister, understand her mother, and reconcile herself to her actions and loss.
Emmy’s story during and after the war is told decades later by ninety-year old Isabel MacFarland to Kendra Van Zant, a young history major, studying at Oxford. Isabel is actually Emmy. In order to deal with the tragedy and move on with her life, Emmy reinvented herself as Isabel. Now at the end of her life, Isabel wants the truth told about herself, Julia, their mother and all the people who became important to her. She not only needs to put the pieces of her shattered and disparate life to rest, but absolve herself of any lingering pain and guilt about her actions. Kendra is merely a soundboard for Isabel who figuratively and literally needed to shed her identity and take on another to separate herself from who she was and the decision that forever changed her life and start fresh as a completely new person. Julia’s story is told through letters to Emmy during the last quarter of the novel. Told in the first person, Julia’s story is concentrated and emotionally charged and tells another story of survival.
Secrets of a Charmed Life is the story of two very different girls’ survival during WWII and their reconciliation and healing process as women over the course of their lives. The novel starts slowly but picks up speed and depth when emotions are invested and the stakes of love and loss are heightened.