Book Review: Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life is available now! I received an advanced release copy of this book and have been looking forward to sharing it with you since I read it. My Powpow was in his 90s when he died last year, close to the age of Isabel in the beginning of Secrets of a charmed Life. I was intrigued. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.

The young illegitimate girl who fills empty pages with brides and wedding dress designs weaves a story through time that bring to life aspects of history previously unknown to me. Mystery and history are combined in this story of two sisters that kept my attention until the very last word as the characters seemed like personal friends. 

There are times when we can't see beyond our perspective and don't realize until too late how much one decision can change our life until we look back. This book shows just how far reaching one selfish decision can be. A lie of omission, a child taking on adult decisions without turning to the adult in charge, things that seem insignificant can in fact lead to disaster.

wartime poster of childrenWhen you live through a tragedy, the event can color events before and after it. For us, Hurricane Katrina was one such tragedy. Though we moved from the area, I still can't help compare things we see each time we visit the coast to how it used to be, "before Katrina." Even a nearby large city changed with an influx of evacuees and we occasionally discuss how it is different now than "before Katrina." Susan Meissner's book covers a lengthy span of years, but some of the critical events happened during World War II. One of the main characters in Secrets of a Charmed Life shared the following view which I completely understood as I read it: "You can say that (I list my family in the war) and it answers a thousand other questions. The war is still spoken of here as if it happened yesterday even though it's been thirteen years since VE day." 

This is a work of historical fiction, one of my favorite genres to read. History isn't overtly taught so much as shared through the experiences of the characters. There are heart wrenching situations, especially events that make the London bombing sadly realistic, providing a much more personal type of history lesson. Though historical in the parts that look back, it is also a contemporary tale as the character ages and the story covers her current life.

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. Find out more about her at www.susanmeissner.com

Author interview: 
Susan, tell us where the idea for Secrets of a Charmed Life came from.
The story began first as an image in my head of an impoverished girl on the brink of adulthood sketching wedding dresses in the tiny bedroom she shares with a younger half-sister. I could see her in my mind’s eye imagining a life far different from the one she is living. She wants a fairy tale life where love and comfort and happiness are in abundance, and for her, that charmed life begins with a wedding dress worn on that blissful day a girl’s childhood dreams come true. I decided to set her in London at the start of the war because I knew that even for a young woman not yet sixteen, war is a crucible. It is a tester of dreams and desires and determination. I knew the London Blitz was an opposition that would bring out the very best and the very worst in this girl, as war so often does.
What is the story about, in a nutshell?

Like many of my other novels, Secrets of a Charmed Life is historical fiction framed by a contemporary layer that links to a story in the past. An American college student named Kendra, who is studying abroad at Oxford, interviews Blitz survivor Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets she has kept all her life – beginning with who she really is. The story then takes the reader to England in 1940. An unprecedented war against London’s civilian population is about to take place and half a million children are evacuated to foster homes in the countryside. Fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, but 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. The sisters’ lives are forever changed when—acting at cross purposes—they secretly return to London on the first day of the Blitz.

Secrets of A Charmed Life was released yesterday and is already #44 on Goodreads’ Top 200 most anticipated February releases, and #20 on Amazon’s hot new historical fiction digital releases for February! 

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. This is disclosed as per FTC guidelines. Amazon affiliate links are included in this post. 


  1. Wow, this sounds like a great book! thanks for the review. I'm sitting on a Christmas Amazon card so who knows!

    1. I'll have a giveaway for this book tomorrow!

  2. It's a little different from my usual reading preferences, but it's been on my to-read list anyway. :-)

    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It made me consider circumstances I'd not thought about before reading it.

  3. This looks great. I'm fascinated by WWII. The whole thing just amazes me. Have you read "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay? Also, I really want to read "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak! I'll see the movie after! (I'm a librarian, which is a blessing and a curse). kristiedonelson(at)gmail(dot)com Thank you.

  4. My mother in law would LOVE this story. It is right up her alley :)

  5. I love this era & this sounds like a good book. My 19 year old daughter loves to read & this sounds like something she would like.

  6. This sounds like a fascinating book that I'd like to read.

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