Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Title: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / 1940s / Wellesley Grad / Ex-Pat / War Work / Murder Mystery / Political Thriller / Terrorism)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bantam (2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did -- raced through this one.
One-sentence summary: British-born Wellesley grad Maggie Hope is hired as a typist for Prime Minister Churchill but finds herself embroiled in more serious, and dangerous, tasks.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- I love the retro/vintage feel of the style -- so striking!

First line: Half an hour before Diana Snyder died, she tidied up her desk in the typists' office of the Cabinet War Rooms.

Do... I love browsing the author's blog?: YES. Not only does she seem like someone who I would love to be friends with, her blog is chock-full of fabulous historical pictures and tidbits as well as cocktail recipes. Be still my heart!

Do... I love the author's interest in cocktails?: YES. Look, I can't help it, I love me a good mixed drink, and that MacNeal does as well only endears her to me even more. Check out her articles about drinks in honor of Winston Churchill (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Am... I delighted to know there are two more Maggie Hope novels after the second one?: YES. I definitely want more of this girl!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like wartime place-as-character, plucky heroines who don't grate on one's nerves, and frenetic glamor of WWII.

Why did I get this book?: I've been long eye-balling this series and am on tour to review the sequel, Princess Elizabeth's Spy.

Review: I was surprised at the dark violence of the novel's open -- I think I was expecting a more 'cozy' kind of war story -- but the shadowy moodiness balanced our heroine's spunkiness and made for an enjoyable, fast-paced, thriller-y type WWII mystery.

Set in the spring of 1940, the story follows Maggie Hope, a British citizen raised in the US. After graduating from Wellesley College, Maggie planned to pursue a degree in math at MIT, but the death of her grandmother required her to go to the UK to settle her inheritance. When war breaks out in Europe, Maggie decides to help the war effort in Britain. Despite her excellent schooling and natural smarts, however, as a woman she's relegated to the typing pool. A task for Prime Minister Churchill places her closer to the action, and she soon finds herself embroiled in more interesting albeit dangerous work.

I was immediately charmed by Maggie -- and not just because she's a Wellesley grad like some of my favorite people (like my wife!). Smart, determined, and idealistic, she's the kind of heroine I love to love, and happily, MacNeal's other characters are just as appealing. There's a ton of plot crammed into this book, from national-level to personal-level, but the varied levels of drama interested me (even if I could guess where some of the threads where heading).

As with Fires of London, I was surprised by the level of localised violence that occurred. I suppose I shouldn't be. IRA terrorist bombings and murders made for a fascinating juxtaposition to the encroaching war, the horrors at home and afar, and MacNeal really articulates the frenetic, defiant celebration of those in wartime London. 

My only complaint is that I found the shifting POV a bit jarring. The novel is mostly seen through Maggie's eyes, but every now and then the story would shift to another character, sometimes in the middle of the page. While it certainly created more tension, allowed for more plot threads, I hated leaving Maggie so much and now and then I had to remind myself where I was and who I was with.

I am really keen for the second book -- I'm always on the fence about sequels (do I really need to commit myself to another X number of books?!) but in this case, I'm eager to spend more time with Maggie.

19 comments:

  1. I loved this book and am reading Princess Elizabeth's Spy right now. I didn't notice the shifting POV, honestly. I think I was so caught up in all the different storylines and just loving the characters.

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    1. Can't wait to see what you think of PES -- I just started it!

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  2. This book was a LOT of fun to me. My mom just borrowed my copy of book two before I had the chance to read it, so your review is piquing my interest again.

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    1. Even though this one was a spring-time-y book, it felt perfect for the autumn -- I'm really so happy to have another book to immediately dive into!

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  3. I actually read Princess Elizabeth's Spy first. I think I would have enjoyed that one more if I read this one first. I do love the covers for both of them!!!

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    1. I adore the cover design for all the books -- so spot on, I think!

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  4. This book is getting lots of praise and it sounds like it's for good reason!

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    1. Kathy -- it really is wonderful -- very engaging, lots of personality, familiar in that WWII-ish way that's appealing, but very novel as well.

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  5. I'm actually reading Princess Elizabeth's Spy now for review and then am going back to read this book (I ran out of time to read them in order :) ). I am loving PES and am a huge fan of Maggie Hope now! So glad to know this first book is just as good! I knew of a third book coming out next year but you made my day letting us know about a fourth in the series. Thanks for the review!

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  6. I'm actually reading Princess Elizabeth's Spy now for review and then am going back to read this book (I ran out of time to read them in order :) ). I am loving PES and am a huge fan of Maggie Hope now! So glad to know this first book is just as good! I knew of a third book coming out next year but you made my day letting us know about a fourth in the series. Thanks for the review!

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  7. I'm actually reading Princess Elizabeth's Spy now for review and then am going back to read this book (I ran out of time to read them in order :) ). I am loving PES and am a huge fan of Maggie Hope now! So glad to know this first book is just as good! I knew of a third book coming out next year but you made my day letting us know about a fourth in the series. Thanks for the review!

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  8. I can't wait to get my hands on both these books :)

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  9. Apart from the story I have fallen in love with the cover

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  10. This sounds hard-hitting but good. I've read a few books with that change of POV method, I guess it's a style choice but yes, very disorientating and often unwanted.

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  11. This is on my must read list. I hear that some like it better than the Maisie Dobbs series.

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  12. I've accepted sequels; they're so popular now they would be hard to avoid, particularly since I read so much young adult literature. I added this to my to-read list based on your review. This sounds lovely!

    I adore the cover too. Such rich colors. :)

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  13. I'm a big fan of the cover of this book as well - it's got that "something" that really catches my eye.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

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  14. I didn't like this book as much as others http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=4226 but I did like it though and would recommend it to folks who are interested in that time period. I did like the second book in the series better.

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  15. I'm interested in this book - but I don't know that I can commit to reading another series (I really miss stand alones!!!) The time period isn't one of my favorites, but the book sounds good. Going into my maybe pile. Thanks for the review.

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