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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner is set during the London Blitz of WWII and was chosen for our book club.

From the Cover:
1940s England - as Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London's civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen year old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister, Julia, find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, 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 are cruelly separated and their lives are transformed.

My thoughts:
I wasn't quite sure what I thought about the novel. I do think Susan Meissner captured the horror of the Blitz. My mother and her family lived in London during that time and I'd heard many of their stories. One neighbor who lived in an area that had been bombed never flushed the toilet when he came to our house. During the bombings they had an outside toilet with a high cistern with a chain hanging from it. Unfortunately he was in there when a bomb fell. He told me "I pulled the chain and the whole bloody house fell on top of me." He never flushed a toilet after that!
There were several inaccuracies in the book which didn't make it flow well for me. The story line was good, but I found Emmy to be a bit wishy-washy and not very believable. She had told her boyfriend that she had a stepsister and they shared the same father and yet they both had different last names. As someone who grew up in London several things bothered me which might not be noticeable to American readers. Emmy often referred to her time as a child in Brighton Beach. Brighton Beach is near Brooklyn, she was actually referring to the town of Brighton (south of London) which has a beach, but is not part of the town's name. Also Emmy was fifteen (but pretended to be 16) when we are introduced to her in 1940 and she constantly mentioned that she was fifteen and not school leaving age. Until 1947 the school leaving age was fourteen. When she arrives in the Cotswolds it's June and she mentions she won't need to go back to school for three months. The school term in England is the beginning of September until the middle of July with approximately six weeks for the summer, not three months.

Read more about the two Brightons in an article by Peter Brampton here

2 comments:

Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like an interesting book, but that the author didn't do as much research as she should have. Not getting the beach's name right would throw it off. You wouldn't know if you were in London or Brooklyn.

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TracyK said...

I probably would not have noticed the errors in the book, but I do expect authors to get it right if they are going to feature real locations and events. Intellectually I think it should not make a difference to the story overall but credibility does make a difference. I like stories about that time and place, though.