Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 8 /10
Secrets of a Charmed Life is a historical fiction novel set in WWII London, and tells the story of two sisters as they struggle to survive during the brutal everyday horrors of a war and how they deal with the life-altering choices they both make.
Secrets of a Charmed Life is a beautiful, heart-breaking at times, well researched novel, but its inconsistency and awkward timing keep it from being a great novel. In order to achieve what the author really wanted-- to watch as one childhood choice effects the person you become years later, to watch as a war long ended can still imprison you-- you would need at least 300 more pages. Instead, the author started out slowly and then tried to wave years away in a sweeping manner which felt inauthentic. I hate to harp on this fact, because in general it was a good book. It starts out great though, which left me feeling sad when it wasn't consistently great.
While I feel like the author wasn't masterful at huge story arcs, she wrote about the war with a painful beauty. The characters were both interesting and fully fleshed out. They were lovable and frustrating. One of the main characters, a teenager when the novel begins, acts like such an annoying teenager-- which is perfect, because that's who she is. A ready-to-be-grown teenager who feels like every little thing is a now-or-never decision upon which her future hinges.
It was when time start to sped up, years passing by on each page, that the writing fell short. It's always a difficult transition to go from seeing every moment of a character's life to seeing the years flash by, and it didn't always click in this novel.
Now don't get me wrong-- I'm glad I read this novel (even though it made me bawl. like goodness gracious y'all I never cry at books. and it wasn't even the actual story I cried at, it was a random, small reality of the horrors of the war that people had to go through.) and I think parts of it were really well done.
I was a little disappointed-- and this is not the author's fault-- at the set-up. To be fair, I think I read the first line of the synopsis before deciding to read this novel because the synopsis always gives away the good stuff. I thought that this would be one of those novels that tell two separate stories separated by time. And it's not. Like not at all. This is a story about two sisters during WWII and the years after. The format of the story is that it's being told to a modern day woman but there is one primary story line.
Overall, this was a good book-- it was just so close to being a great novel. Still, the author did many things tremendously well: the writing was beautiful, the plot was interesting, I was never bored, and the novel brought to light many realities of what it would be like to live in England during WWII. I would recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction with no reservations (okay except that whole time issue but really it wasn't a major roadblock).
What about you? Have you ever read Secrets of a Charmed Life? If so, what did you think? Did you enjoy the second half of the book as much as the first half?