What Love Sees

What Love Sees

We’re doing a series on “Love Songs” at Do Not Depart this month. But, before you cringe and turn away, know that these aren’t your ordinary love songs.

We’re talking about God’s love and loving others this month and sharing some of our favorite traditional and contemporary worship songs that inspire us to remember His love and share that love more.

My post today references a great song from Jason Gray and talks about the opportunities love sees.

This post has a lot of my heart in it. Please join me over at Do Not Depart today and share your experiences.

What Love Sees

A review of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Insights from Author Susan Meissner {Plus book giveaway!}

On Friday, I posted my review of Susan Meissner’s stellar new historical fiction novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life. (If you want to read what the book is about or missed that review, click here to read it!)

Today, I’m honored to share some of Susan Meissner’s insights to writing this novel. (Plus, stayed tuned to the end of the post for information on a book giveaway!)

Q&A with Susan Meissner

Susan MeissnerSusan Meissner is the 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. (Caroline’s addendum: Plus, she’s super sweet and genuine when you meet her in person! She kindly dealt with my introverted-ness at She Speaks years ago. Thanks, Susan!)

(Susan’s answers are beneath the bolded questions.)

A review of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Susan, where did you get the idea for Secrets of a Charmed Life? 

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 drew you to include in your story the evacuation of London’s children?

Prior to researching for this book, I was only minimally aware of what London’s parents did to keep their children safe during World War II. I’d long ago read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and I knew the four children in those stories had been sent out of London into the countryside at the start of the war. But I didn’t know that for tens of thousands of children just like them that stay in the countryside lasted for the duration of the war. We’re talking five years. How difficult it must have been for the parents and their kids to be separated from each other – with just occasional visits – for half a decade, and during a time of fear, danger, and deprivation. From a storyteller’s standpoint, the emotional pull of this situation is intense. I knew I wanted to explore what this scenario might have been like for two young sisters.

Evacuees

Photos via Susan Meissner

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds (countryside where Emmy and Julia were evacuated) – Photos via Susan Meissner

What is the significance of Emmy’s wedding dress sketches?

Those bridal gown designs represent Emmy’s naïve notions about the happily-ever-after life that she believes begins for a girl on the day she wears a dress emblematic of bliss and perfection. Emmy sees her unwed mother as someone on whom fate has frowned and that she is somewhat to blame for that. Emmy’s vision for her future is to rise above the constraints of her mother’s unlucky life. But those sketches blind her at first to the larger forces at work. And there are always larger forces at work.

Many authors accumulate way more research than what actually makes it into the book. Roughly how much of your overall research do you think is included in Secrets of a Charmed Life? What is one piece of research that didn’t make it into the book that you’d like to share with readers?

I bought or borrowed perhaps twenty different books and read most of them, which makes me think that I perhaps ended up using only half of the content I learned. That’s pretty typical for me, though. I don’t actually know what I will need in the beginning when I am in research mode, so I collect it all. And it’s as I am researching that I find I make the biggest decisions on where the story will go. The one bit that I mention only briefly in the book that was actually a big deal was when the Germans started using V-1 flying rockets in the summer of 1944. These highly destructive missiles were also called harmless-sounding “doodlebugs” but they were nothing to joke about. Londoners knew a V1 was nearby by the rasping, grating noise from the jet engine which powered the missile. They also knew that if this noise continued off into the distance then they were safe. If that sound suddenly cut off however, then there was about 15 seconds to run for cover. Nearly nine thousand people died during the Doodlebug summer.

What were you most surprised by in your research for Secrets of a Charmed Life?

I think many of us who were born after World War II have a limited understanding of what England suffered because there were so many other more shocking situations, like the slaughter of millions of Jews, the occupations of nations like Poland and France, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the storming at the beach at Normandy, and the Bataan Death March, to name just a few. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what London suffered until I took a closer look. The city was never occupied by Hitler’s forces but it was bombed relentlessly. Seven of Christopher Wren’s beautiful churches were destroyed, as were thousands upon thousands of homes. More than sixty thousand civilians were killed in the whole of the British Isles. Those are staggering losses. And yet the British people were and are resilient. Their rallying cry of Keep Calm and Carry On (I truly can’t stand trivializations of this motto!) is truly the hallmark of that resiliency. You can go to London’s East End now and see street after street of 1950’s-era buildings, framed by a quiet horizon of much older buildings that the war did not flatten. London, Coventry and the other bombed cities rebuilt what was destroyed and moved on. The memories of the war aren’t in the streets but in the museums, and in national cemeteries, and sometimes, if you look closely enough, in the faces of those who survived it.

Little girl on bombed streets of London

Photos via Susan Meissner

Authors know a book comes alive when a reader reads it, so themes within are important. What would you especially like readers to take away from Secrets of a Charmed Life?

The title of this book, which I love, is meant to cause the reader to wonder if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily-ever-after written all over it. The title seems to suggest there are hidden truths to being able to have everything you’ve always wanted. But in actuality, and what I hope readers will take away, is that a happy life is not made up of what you have chased and achieved, but rather who you have poured your life into, who has poured their life into yours, and the difference you’ve made in the lives of others. Most of the dreams we pursue don’t have intrinsic worth, but people always do. It’s not a perfect world, and we can only play our own hand of cards – if you will – but if we play the hand as best we can with love for others as the motivation, I think we can rest content.

————————————————————————-

I love Susan’s answer for that last question! See my review from last Friday for some of my personal favorite quotes from the book, including some poignant thoughts on fear and hope.

Susan has graciously offered one signed copy of Secrets of a Charmed Life for one of you! Enter this giveaway through the Rafflecopter widget below. (For shipping reasons, this giveaway is open to US or Canada residents only.)

This giveaway is open from Monday, February 9th through Saturday, February 14th, 2015. See full terms for the giveaway when the Rafflecopter widget. (If you’re an email subscriber, you may need to click over to the actual post to enter the giveaway.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Since we’re talking history, What is a historical event you want to learn more about? (Share your response in the comments below!)

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

 

"Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can't." - from Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Growing from the Past into the Future {Book Review – Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner}

Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres, and Susan Meissner’s historical fiction is in the top of that list.

Her most recent novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life (New American Library, 2015), just released this week!

A review of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

The books opens with the reader meeting Kendra Van Zant, an American history major studying for a semester in England. Kendra arrives in the Cotswolds to interview 93-year-old Isabel MacFarland, a renowned painter who, prior to this point, has never agreed to an interview about her first-hand experiences of the bombings on London in 1940.

Chapter two quickly ushers the reader to 1940 England where we meet and follow 15-year-old Emmy Downtree for quite a while, from the time leading up to the bombings and years after. Emmy and her half-sister, Julia, are very close, but Emma strongly desires to get out the mess of a home her unmarried mother has made and become and wedding dress designer. She gains the opportunity to work part-time at a neighborhood bridal shop. But, as enemy forces draw closer to England, all of London’s children are evacuated to the countryside (or beyond), including Emmy and Julia. After months under the safe and nurturing care of Charlotte Havelock, Emmy is offered a once-in-a-lifetime meeting to begin a mentorship, and in her stubbornness to return to London, gets separated from Julia during the start of the bombings. The reader then follows Emmy’s multi-year search for Julia and efforts to heal into a somewhat normal life.

Susan Meissner has a masterful use of sensory details in both description and action with strong verbs and vivid analogies.

“As I pull up on to the driveway, the crunching of tires on gravel sounds like applause…” – p. 3, Secrets of a Charmed Life

Through both actions and emotions, the reader gains a strong sense of most of the main characters in just two chapters.

Besides incorporating stunning and obviously well-researched historical detail, this book makes the reader think starting from even page 10 with a discussion of the importance of history. This book considers the events, emotions, and implications of the evacuation on the children, parents, foster families, and neighbors. Even more than a fascinating story about these effects of war, this book is about learning to let go of hurt, appropriately handle the past, endure grief, manage fear, and hold on to hope through it all.

"Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can't." - from Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

I love that Susan Meissner writes Emmy’s chapters in a past-tense perspective and Kendra’s chapters in the present tense. At occasional times throughout the book, we return to the present tense and Kendra’s interview with Isabel. The present tense structure allows the reader to easily make the switch between the two eras. This book is divided into three main parts, and Part 3 holds some surprises that intrigue and delight. Throughout reading this book, I found myself hunched in empathetic pain with the characters at times, eyes brimming with tears at times, and smiling at other times.

“…when you make a choice, even if it’s a bad one, you’ve played your hand. You cannot live your life as though you still held all your cards.” – p. 298, Secrets of a Charmed Life

If you’re not sure yet about this book, just read the first chapter (available to read on Amazon and other locations). With the very last sentence offered in Chapter 1, I can guarantee you’ll want to read more.

Also stay tuned for a giveaway of this book on Monday!

What is some of your favorite historical fiction?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker

Listening and Learning {Book Review – Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker}

Ever since my son was 1 or 2 years old, I’ve said that I’ve learned much more from being parent than I ever did in the years in was a public school teacher. And that statement keeps growing in truth.

Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker shares numerous examples of this growth in her book Small Talk: Learning from My Children About What Matters Most (Zondervan, 2014). This memoir-style book follows Amy Julia’s journey through several years of parenting two, then three, children, including one of whom has Down Syndrome. This series of stories encourages readers and highlights how we can see grace in the small moments of our lives.

“In the midst of snow days and sickness, in the midst of yelling and tears, grace enters in.” – p. 12, Small Talk

Amy Julia tells the story in present tense with some past tense reflections to draw readers in. She lets the reader know in the introduction that this is not a how-to book. She utilizes a lot of “I think” and “I wonder” and “I understand” sentences to show her own thought processes and conclusions on what she’s learning as she grows along with her children.

My favorite components of these stories are the family conversations. The dialogues between children (child-to-child and child-to-parent) are so realistic and so pure. Any parent can identify, and, as a parent of a child with multiple special needs, I especially relate to many of those conversations and specific fears. She doesn’t present herself as perfect, and these thoughtful stories help spur reflections of the reader’s own family and circumstances.

She covers holding on to certain things, letting go of others. Her children help her realize the importance of forgiveness, understanding, growth. She recounts stories of waiting, of tragedy, of community, of understanding dependence, of marriage. All while exploring God’s presence in all of it.

The reader won’t leave this book with all the answers, and the reader might not even agree with all of the author’s conclusions. But the book will allow readers to marvel in the insightfulness of children and the ability to reflect and grow, no matter one’s situation.

“…But the reminder of God’s promises quiets my soul. A gentle encouragement to trust. This Christian life of ours if messy and mysterious and beautiful. Like water, running down and spilling over.” – p. 219, Small Talk

What have you learned most from your children?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (through the BookLook bloggers program) in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

Shop Signing Time

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

On Forgiveness, Grace, and Hope

As much as we can learn from others’ stories, sometimes we just can’t understand them. The “how”s. The “why”s.

Corrie ten Boom has such a story. As a holocaust survivor, she endured and witnessed atrocities no one should. We can’t understand why her story happened or how such things existed. But we can, as she did, still learn from it.

Join me at Do Not Depart today with a look at Corrie ten Boom’s story and some wisdom she drew from her outrageous circumstances. Her story teaches much about God’s presence, about accepting grace, and about holding on to hope.

Also, read her book, The Hiding Place. It’s on my top 10 list of books everyone should read at some point.

The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

While you’re at Do Not Depart, check out the other posts from this month on various godly women and what their stories share.

Share your own stories of hope and grace over at Do Not Depart today.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

Shop Signing Time

 

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.