Secrets of a Charmed Life

Written by Susan Meissner
Review by Arleigh Johnson

In 1940, sisters Emmaline and Julia Downtree are sent to a small Gloucester village during London’s evacuation of children. Emmy, eight years Julia’s senior, left behind the opportunity to see her budding fashion career take off. Having grown up not knowing her father’s identity, Emmy latched onto a fondness for bridal gowns, much to her single mother’s annoyance. She spent her youth poring over drawings of her own creations, and at the tender age of 15, already had a designer interested in her work.

Unfortunately the war complicated both her dreams of the future, and her relationships with her sister, mother and foster mother. Emmy chafed at her lost prospects, impatient with the kindness and safety found in her temporary home. Not realizing the magnitude of the upcoming devastation of the Blitz, Emmy makes a rash decision that puts all of them in danger and forever changes the course of her life.

This story of choices and consequences takes readers on a heartrending journey through war-torn London, the quiet Cotswolds and far-off America. Told in the author’s signature style of a current day character revisiting the past, the identity and circumstances of the protagonist is revealed in bits and pieces, keeping the reader on edge. This is an eye-opening view of the United Kingdom during WWII, and particularly the aerial raids known as the Blitzkrieg.

The most notable attribute of this story is the plethora of well-fleshed personalities, and the care taken with each backstory. There was not a point in the story where a character’s motives were questionable or unclear, making this a rather impressive and emotional novel.