Review: Mr Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal

With flaming red hair to match the bombs bursting in air, Margaret Hope sits behind a typist desk in the Prime Minsters office at Number 10…waiting to be useful to someone….anyone.

Air raid sirens sound throughout London in 1940. Bombs drop from the air threatening to destroy the heart and soul of the British people.

In this dark time, Winston Churchill has been named PM and with any luck, he will keep the British spirit alive while war rages on….though he knowns a German invasion is eminent, all he needs is a little bit of hope to give the people.

As luck would have it, Churchill does have Hope in his office–Churchill has just hired Maggie Hope to be his typist.

In Susan Elia MacNeal’s debut novel, Mr Churchill’s Secretary, we meet a new contemporary and captivating heroine!

Maggie has put her life and graduate degree from MIT on hold to come to London to sell her long-lost grandmother’s house. As an orphan, Maggie lives with her Aunt Edith who works for Wellesley College where Maggie has just finished her degree in math (at the top of her class).

Aunt Edith is a treasure trove of family secrets…she is a puzzle that Maggie can’t solve, so instead of sticking around Massachusetts trying to figure out Aunt Edith, Maggie welcomes the trip to London before returning to Boston to complete her graduate schooling. London holds the key to Maggie’s past, present, and future…of that she is certain.

While in London, war breaks out and Maggie decides to stay in London–she is a British citizen after all, and she wants to do her bit for King and Country by helping the war effort.

She applies for a job at the PM’s office as his private secretary, a post typically reserved for young men fresh off the train from Oxford or Cambridge–she gets the job of typist instead, a woman’s job. Though she has a degree in math and solves codes for fun, the PM’s office isn’t ready for a woman in the privileged circle of Private Secretaries.

But soon people in the PM’s office start taking notice of Maggie’s talents….particularly one John Sterling. John sees how eager Maggie is to put her talents to good use and tries to include her and stand up for her when the other private secretaries give her a hard time for being ‘too smart’. As a typist, Maggie isn’t privileged to much of anything in the way of homeland security or warfare, but John is and he knows more than he is letting on–especially about Maggie and her past.

While London gets hammered in the Blitz, there are more sinister forces plotting to steal London’s hope…the The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an active terrorist cell responsible for various bombings throughout London and they have fixed their next attack on the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral. While everyone in the PM’s office s focused on Germany’s movements, the IRA is seemingly forgotten about, until Maggie sees something she believes to be a coded missive about the PM and St Paul’s.

Maggie takes her theory to John who agrees…..the IRA is on the move! They must figure out the coded missive and discover a way to stop the terrorist group before it is too late and all Hope is lost–and I do mean all Hope!

First of all, a big thank you to Random House for providing this ARC! I have been marking off the days till this release so I could read the book and share it with you all! The first thing that caught my eye about this book was the cover–spot on! I love it, it totally caught my eye right away! Not only did I fall in love with the cover, but after reading it, I fell in love with the story and characters.

Maggie is a spunky, refreshing heroine–a mixture of Mary Russell and Maisie Dobbs! I thought she was very real and genuine in the books. Maggie marches to the beat of her own drum and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself but not in an obnoxious, rude way which I loved. Maggie makes me want to don red lipstick and dye my hair flaming red to match…too bad I can barely balance my checkbook otherwise I would be a dead ringer for Maggie Hope 🙂

I loved the pace of the book. The chapters clipped along nicely and the little ‘snap shots’ of the story were clear and concise which I thought also kept things action packed and fast paced. The over all mood of the book came to life against the backdrop of WWII London. I loved when the air raid sirens would sound and everyone would go running for cover….it added to the tension of the story and building the climax but also made the reader eager with anticipation. Great foreshadowing and use of pathetic fallacy 🙂

The romance had just a hint of Pride and Prejudice (especially the coffee shop scene) that it held my interest without taking over the story. The book is a little bit of everything….spy novel, romance, murder mystery, laced with espionage. A truly thrilling read to be sure! But in this book it is Maggie that wins over the audience and shines! I couldn’t put the book down from the moment I started reading it!

Maggie brings Hope to a new and thrilling series!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Mr Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

  • Paperback, 384 pages
  • Published April 3rd 2012 by Random House Publishing Group
  • ISBN 0553593617 (ISBN13: 9780553593617)

This book counts toward: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (an appealing new series with spunky female heroine)

Genre: Historic fiction, mystery, War fiction

Memorable lines/quotes: 

What is truth? What is beauty? they were asked in English class–slippery, dangerous concepts. But in math there was always an answer, and one could always be sure it was right. Truth was the correct answer, which could be proved. Beauty was in the elegance of the proof (84)

Maybe it’s best not to know everything….and yet we just can’t help ourselves can we? (232)

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13 Comments

  1. Gabby R

     /  May 22, 2012

    Thanks for the in depth review! I was listening to the Book Report show on Saturday afternoon(recording can be found at bookreportradio(dot)com), where host, Elaine, started her lineup with this. My mom was given a copy for Mother’s Day, and just a week later, I was listening to a clip on the radio. My mom seems to be battling to get into the story, but your review sounds positive, so I may just hijack it from my mom! I often find myself looking for a book on your site after seeing a friend with something new, or hearing about it on the radio show-I enjoy your writing style. As for the book report show, it’s a lovely tool for ideas on reading material I would otherwise pass over, like this coming weeks selection relating to food ;)!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words! It is always nice to know that my reviews are helping to get people excited about reading and books :). Thanks for stopping by and the lovely comments 🙂
      Cheers

      Reply
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