Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Book Recommendations: SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE and A FALL OF MARIGOLDS by Susan Meissner

Several months ago, I asked the Twitterverse for women's fiction recommendations, and Ms. Meissner's SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE was one of the first replies I got. The summary sounded interesting--she had me at London Blitz--and the book was even better. That got me started on a Susan Meissner binge*, and I also fell in love with A FALL OF MARIGOLDS.

In present-day England, an American history major, Kendra Van Zant, goes to a cottage in the Cotswolds for a prearranged interview with a survivor of the London Blitz. The interviewee, Isabel McFarland, is a reclusive painter whose family is celebrating her ninety-third birthday later that day. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Kendra pulls out her list of questions, but she can't bring herself to ask any of the questions on her list. So Kendra asks the question that pops into her head instead: "What would you like to tell me about the London Blitz?" Isabel smiles enigmatically, as if, after all these years, someone's finally asked the question she's been waiting to answer. "My name is not Isabel," she says, "and I am not ninety-three years old."

The book then flashes back to 1940, on the eve of the London Blitz. Most of the book takes place in the past, but it's this juxtaposition between past and present that Ms. Meissner is most known for. A FALL OF MARIGOLDS opens in a similar way, with a textile hunter, Taryn Michaels, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th. As Taryn is reintroduced to the hundred-year-old scarf that saved her life that day, we flack back to 1911 and one of the scarf's former owners, a nurse on Ellis Island who's also a survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Both women lost someone on the days that changed their lives, so both must come to terms with their survivor's guilt and grief.

Both SECRETS and MARIGOLDS are a lovely blend of history, romance, and personal growth, and I eagerly await Ms. Meissner's next book.

*As part of my binge, I also read Ms. Meissner's STARS OF SUNSET BOULEVARD. Though I didn't love it like I loved SECRETS and MARIGOLDS, it was an engaging read, especially if you're a fan of the film Gone with the Wind.


Heather said...

I loved both of these!! So excited for her new one in March.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Heather! Were you the one who recommended SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE to me on Twitter? I think you might have been!