Friday, January 13, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Goodreads rating: N/A
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Pages: 349
Release Date: April 2012


I won this book as part of the Goodreads giveaways, and I'm sorry, but this is going to be another book that you won't get your hands on until it is released in April. This book will be a favorite for any fan of historical fiction, World War Two, or a spunky female lead. As a person who loves history, I appreciated all of MacNeal's fact checking, since the story was based in WW2 era England, she seemed spot on with her representation of what living in England was like during that time.


Synopses from Goodreads.com:


Heralding the arrival of a brilliant new heroine, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character,  Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.



My review after the jump!

I truly enjoyed this book and was looking forward to reading it. One of the biggest problems with being a history major and loving historical fiction is that you get caught up on whats right and whats wrong about the era. Thankfully there wasn't much wrong for me to get caught up on. The amount of research that was devoted to the writing of this book was amazing, and I commend MacNeal on her efforts. Following the conclusion of the book, she included a "Historical Note" which mentioned that her sources were Mr. Churchill's secretaries. 


Maggie Hope was likeable, even if she seems to have everything made for her. She has her own struggles and her own problems like every person does, and seems to hold her head high. Although born British, she has a hugely American attitude toward things, such as what rights women are entitled to and chose to be outspoken about things which was a lot of fun. Although the book isn't told from her perspective, the focus is clearly on her while also being able to explore the thoughts and actions of other characters. One mildly annoying scene was when she went into the thoughts of another secretary and it had no point to the plot and she never did it with any other character.


My biggest peeve of this book was the cursing. Words like "Fucking" were not used like that back then, but if that was my biggest peeve, then this book did a pretty good job. Going into the book, you had to accept that there was going to be a lot of absurd scenarios, such as having a woman accepted into a mathematics PHD program at MIT (It is possible, but I don't think that it was very likely) but for that same woman to be the only person that picks up on a secret code, and figures it out, while also unknowingly playing a part in a plot by the IRA. 


I really liked how romance took a back seat in this book. While it came up every so often appearing in the form of a proposal or flirting at bars. While I am a big fan of chicklit and romance, a WW2 spy book is not the place. The little romantic interaction that there was kept it believable, that there were sweethearts that went to war and may not have returned and that there were people who disagreed over the right corse of action. I think that the friendships were what made this story believable. 


There were times where the amount of people were hard to follow, even just talking about her roommates, Chuck, Paige, Annabelle, Clarabelle, and Sarah. The intermittence of the introduction of the characters made it easier, but it was still a lot of people to keep straight. The development of each of the characters was just enough that you felt something for them, but not so much that you knew their whole life story. MacNeil used a lot of finesse as she weaved the complicated tale, slowly letting you in on information while also misleading you slightly. 


There was only one scene at the end that I thought was a bit of overkill, but its hard not to think that when a huge part of the action and unraveling of the plot is focused around the last 100 pages. The ending was left on a great note, making it perfect for a stand alone book or if MacNeil wants to open it to a second book. (Which she is doing and its anticipated this August). 


Who would I recommend this book to? People who love a good spy book, historical fiction or World War Two books. I think this book had a little bit for everyone and that this book can appeal to people of both sexes (although the men might not be able to relate to the struggles of getting a rip in your stocking). I know I'll even be awaiting her next book, Princess Elizabeth's Spy.

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