Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
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.