Tag Archives: Susan Meissner

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner (New American Library, 2016)

Book Review – Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner

I’m a big fan of historical fiction. And Susan Meissner is one of my favorites for adult historical fiction. (One of my very favorites of hers is Secrets of a Charmed Life, which came out last year. You can read my review here.)

Susan’s newest novel, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard (New American Library, 2016) just released this month.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner (New American Library, 2016)

Susan employs a dual-perspective format in this novel, as she so successfully does in several of her previous novels. In this particular novel, rather than have one present timeline and one past timeline (as she does in Secrets of a Charmed Life), we follow both Audrey and Violet in time together. Both women work as secretaries at a famous Hollywood movie studio, and instantly bond as they become roommates and work on the ground-breaking movie, Gone With the Wind. Each woman desires something different in life and career, yet forge a friendship to last over the joys and challenges of decades, snippets of which are covered in the book. This book also weaves in themes of trust, deceit, adoption, societal pressures, feelings of wholeness (or lack thereof), broken families, and more.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually haven’t seen the movie, Gone With the Wind (or read that particular book). I still enjoyed reading Susan’s work, but readers who have read Gone With the Wind or seen the movie will likely be ecstatic about the historical details Susan weaves throughout this story. Susan researches deeply for each of her books, and those historical details, societal aspects, and setting notes create a richer read.

Read more from Susan about this book here.

Have you seen Gone With the Wind or read the bookIf you have, you’ll enjoy this novel!

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 Amazon Associates. If you click on a 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.

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.

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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.

Book Review – Blue Heart Blessed

Image from www.susanmeissner.com


Blue Heart Blessed is the story of Daisy Murien, a woman who has experienced heartache in her life and opens up a secondhand wedding dress shop in part to help deal with her past.  Daisy is surrounded by colorful, loving characters, including a kind, retired priest who blesses small blue hearts that are sown into each of the resold dresses.  The trouble comes with this sweet priest becomes ill and in need of care.  Family care comes in the form of his unhappy son, who wants to take his father away from his life and Daisy’s shop.  Daisy then fights for the priest’s chance to stay and learns much about the priest’s son, herself, and her past in the process.  Blue Heart Blessed takes the reader through part of Daisy’s life, filled with discoveries of love and faith.


Touching with an edge of humor, Blue Heart Blessed is filled with relatable characters and has a very real feel to it.  The situations and events do not seem manufactured; they seem plucked out of Daisy’s real life.  The supporting characters add a great deal to Daisy’s story, whether through knowledge of her past, glimpses of how she is in the present, or visions of what hope exists in her future.


From a writing standpoint, Meissner often ends each chapter with a provoking thought or interesting detail that is comprised of just one sentence.  I love this tactic.  Each line keeps me wanting to turn to “just one more chapter” before putting the book down to return to the rest of my life.  I’m interested to see if she uses this approach in any of her other books.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, Meissner’s writing style, and especially the themes of God’s complete and always present love and His guidance and timing in our lives.  I have already recommended this book to others, and am looking forward to reading more by Meissner.



Questions for you: Have you read this story?  If so, what drew you into the story?  If not, what about this novel sounds intriguing to you?  What is one of your favorite stories with themes of real love and God’s timing in love and life?




Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – Blue Heart Blessed

Image from www.susanmeissner.com


Blue Heart Blessed is the story of Daisy Murien, a woman who has experienced heartache in her life and opens up a secondhand wedding dress shop in part to help deal with her past.  Daisy is surrounded by colorful, loving characters, including a kind, retired priest who blesses small blue hearts that are sown into each of the resold dresses.  The trouble comes with this sweet priest becomes ill and in need of care.  Family care comes in the form of his unhappy son, who wants to take his father away from his life and Daisy’s shop.  Daisy then fights for the priest’s chance to stay and learns much about the priest’s son, herself, and her past in the process.  Blue Heart Blessed takes the reader through part of Daisy’s life, filled with discoveries of love and faith.


Touching with an edge of humor, Blue Heart Blessed is filled with relatable characters and has a very real feel to it.  The situations and events do not seem manufactured; they seem plucked out of Daisy’s real life.  The supporting characters add a great deal to Daisy’s story, whether through knowledge of her past, glimpses of how she is in the present, or visions of what hope exists in her future.


From a writing standpoint, Meissner often ends each chapter with a provoking thought or interesting detail that is comprised of just one sentence.  I love this tactic.  Each line keeps me wanting to turn to “just one more chapter” before putting the book down to return to the rest of my life.  I’m interested to see if she uses this approach in any of her other books.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, Meissner’s writing style, and especially the themes of God’s complete and always present love and His guidance and timing in our lives.  I have already recommended this book to others, and am looking forward to reading more by Meissner.



Questions for you: Have you read this story?  If so, what drew you into the story?  If not, what about this novel sounds intriguing to you?  What is one of your favorite stories with themes of real love and God’s timing in love and life?