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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Novel…

Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Novel (Maggie Hope) (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Susan Elia MacNeal

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472None21,806 (3.48)92
gmathis's review
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Mr. Churchill's secretary, in this speedily paced, well-researched story, is Maggie Hope. Maggie's a mathematician who postpones post-graduate studies at MIT to return to London at the dawn of WWII to sell her grandmother's family home. She develops an affinity for her re-adopted country and is enlisted, not in her chosen profession, but as a typist and stenographer to Winston Churchill.

Adventures ensue, and Maggie proves she's worth far more than a dime-a-dozen typist by helping defuse assassination and bombing plots, while at the same time, discovering secrets about her own past. This is a treat to read, made more so by the authentic and accurate period detail. No further spoilers, but there is plenty of room--it's early in the war--for more of Maggie Hope.

My only criticism is that the language, personal habits and proclivities of some of the secondary characters rate a PG-13 for those of you who care about content. Those segments and situations detract from an otherwise outstanding story. Close one eye, skip that stuff, and enjoy the rest. ( )
  gmathis | Feb 15, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 1-25 of 85 (next | show all)
Totally sucked me into the series! ( )
  ewillse | Mar 23, 2014 |
The next book in this series is now released. (Princess Elizabeth's Spy)
Saw it in the library and will be picking it up soon.
Easy reading, spy story, female lead, and the addition of some interesting historical background. ( )
  CasaBooks | Mar 14, 2014 |
Totally sucked me into the series! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
Totally sucked me into the series! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
Totally sucked me into the series! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
Whenever I first start reading a book, I always wonder if the first few chapters are going to be good enough to hold my interest. I can definitely say that this book had me at the first chapter. The writing flows well, and the plot twists really keep you on your toes. I particularly liked the way the author used italics to differentiate private thoughts from the rest of the text. It really helped develop a deeper understanding of the characters. I highly recommend this book for those who are fond of period pieces. There are plenty of accurate historical references as well. And the way the real historical figures are fleshed out is very believable. There were times when I could picture in my mind's eye Churchill actually puffing on one of his cigars. This is one of those books that you have to keep reading until you finish it. It is going on my bookshelf at home with others that I want to keep and reread over and over again. ( )
  geckosrule | Feb 26, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book. I liked the characters and atmosphere. More heart-stopping moments than I have found with Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford. It did remind me a bit of Foyle's war. I liked that Ms MacNeal included notes at the back of the book to explain some of her research. I'm afraid that some of the major incidents towards the end of the book I found completely unbelievable. I will try another of the series because I liked that characters so much. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I've long been a fan of Winston Churchill, so couldn't resist this one. It's the first of the Maggie Hope mystery series, about a young woman in London at the start of World War II. A mathematician, Maggie hopes to do more for the war effort than type, but takes a job as a secretary in the Prime Minister's office. She has no idea that she is of interest to the authorities because of her parentage, of which she knows very little, having been raised in the US by her aunt. The likable characters, exciting plot and a great sense of time and place make this a marvelous read. ( )
  flightsafancy | Feb 2, 2014 |
Great book, I look forward to the sequel. Maggie Hope is great new character. ( )
  velopunk | Jan 4, 2014 |
The first book in a series, author Susan Elia MacNeal seems to be aiming for a Maisie Dobbs-like character in her novels. Her heroine, Maggie Hope, is a British citizen who was raised in the United States by her aunt after her parents were killed in a car accident when she was a very young child. She is a graduate of Wellesley college with a summa in mathematics who has put off her entrance in a pH.D program at MIT in order to settle her grandmother's estate in London, of which she is the sole heir. In the meantime World War II begins and Winston Churchill needs a new typist (one of his having bee inconveniently murdered). Maggie, who apparently also learned excellent secretarial skills (not unknown in those unliberated days), is recruited for the job by a friend who works for Mr. Churchill as one of his private secretaries.

Maggie reluctantly takes the job, but is resentful that with her excellent qualifications, she is not considered for a private secretary position, and with her skills at code breaking and problem solving, she starts to show the powers that be that they may have underestimated her when they initially denied her such a position.

The plot twists and the plot turns right up to the final pages of the book. Maggie hope is no Maisie Dobbs and Susan Elia MacNeal is no Jacqueline Winspear, but the period atmosphere in this book is excellent and the story keeps the reader tuning the pages. This was a fun read for the week between Christmas & New Year's. ( )
  etxgardener | Dec 26, 2013 |
Interesting setting and time with a promising character, Maggie Hope, although the circuitous plot is a bit tiresome and had this reader's mind clinking out a few times. The supposed "German code" deciphered by Maggie is actually unintelligible; should Germans have used it, there wouldn't have been any need to encode it - it's complete gibberish. Maggie's German language expertise is supposed to be one of her major abilities- as a reader I expect some competence in this area. ( )
  DerBuecherwurm | Dec 15, 2013 |
A spirited American girl becomes Winston Churchill's secretary though she would rather be cracking ciphers. Bit of an old-fasioned "girl's own" adventure flavor to this story.
  bfister | Aug 31, 2013 |
AUTHOR: MacNeal, Susan Elia
TITLE: Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Date Read: 08/11/13
RATING: 4.5/B+
GENRE/PUB DATE/PUBLISHER/# OF PGS: Mystery/2012/Bantam Books/349 pgs
SERIES/STAND ALONE: 1st in Maggie Hope series

TIME/PLACE: 1940/London
CHARACTERS: Maggie Hope born in UK but raised in US by her aunt, now living & working in London for Winston Churchill

FIRST LINES: I would say to the House, as I've said to those who have joined this Government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears & sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle & suffering," intoned Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill to the House of Commons & the British nation in his first speech as the new Prime Minister.

COMMENTS: Maggie Hope is a brilliant young woman w/ a degree in Math and plans to continue on w/ her education. She was born in the UK but her parents both died in an accident when she was an infant & her aunt brought her to Massachusetts and raised her. Maggie's grandmother passes & leaves her London home to her. She goes over to London to settle the estate delays her plans for her school. She gets a job in the office of Mr. Winston Churchill, she feels she has been slighted since she is not offered a higher position where her education could be used. Nevertheless, she is not one to be idle and uses her codebreaking skills to assist the government office. Will be looking for more in this series. ( )
  pammykn | Aug 16, 2013 |
Heard about this book from Deanna Raybourn. She wrote about it on her blog.
  jlapac | Aug 14, 2013 |
Margaret (Maggie) Hope is a British-born, American-raised woman who has returned to London to sell her late grandmother's house, but as the house remained unsold and the Second World War loomed ever closer, she stayed on and grew to love the city. She works as a typist for the Prime Minister, even though her university degree in mathematics would be better served as a private secretary (alas, those positions are filled by men). However, soon her chance comes to foil a plot that strikes at the very heart of British government -- and discover some more personal secrets along the way.

This book pretty much met my expectations. It was light, set during WW2 in London and featured a plucky female protagonist. I did, however, think that Maggie had one or two too many impassioned speeches striking out against sexism -- not that the content was bad, just that they seemed a bit contrived for the situations in which they arose. (The Eleventh Doctor's companion, Clara, came to mind at those points -- so if you like Clara you may get along well with this protagonist.) I did like the cameo appearances by Winston Churchill, especially when his wife, Clementine, was there too, and the atmosphere of the Cabinet War Rooms is captured very well. The dialogue afforded plenty of smiles, I was able to guess enough of the plot to feel smart but still managed to be kept in suspense at one or two points (or at least had to know how my guesses turned out), and the ending worked well to suit both those who want to read more about Maggie's adventures and those who are satisfied with this installment.

If you're in the mood for a WW2 mystery that's light on gore and you like clever female protagonists, this may be the ticket. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jun 19, 2013 |

If I could I would have given this a 4.5. Loved this spunky smart-as-hell heroine and very much look forward to more from this series!

for more, please go here: http://stitchingmystressaway.com/blog/?p=852 ( )
  knittinkitties | Jun 11, 2013 |
The two World Wars and the decades between them have long been my favorite period of history, whether treated in fiction or non-fiction. So I was predisposed to like Mr. Churchill's Secretary. The setting of London during the Blitz never fails to inspire (as awful as it must have been to live through). But practically everyone who has done a bit of research can write that description well. Where McNeill shines is in her characters and the surprising plot twists she comes up with. Melodramatic? Sure. With Nazi bombs overhead and IRA bombs in the very Tube stations where Londoners went to escape the aerial bombing, melodrama was a part of daily life. I was thrilled to find the next in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, at the first library book sale of the season. I listened to Mr. Churchill's Secretary on Audible, but I think it would be equally enjoyable in print or e-format. Highly recommended. ( )
  auntieknickers | May 17, 2013 |
I'd call the Maggie Hope series "cozy spy", if such a thing is possible. It's a very enjoyable series; I am now part-way through the Princess Elizabeth's Spy and already I am waiting for the next one. ( )
  mysterymax | May 8, 2013 |
Good story but the best part is all the detail of London people and places in WWII. ( )
  librarian1204 | Apr 27, 2013 |
It seems like every time I read a book about WWII, I learn a little something new--this was an interesting, at times sad, at times fun read. I'm glad it's a series. :) ( )
  dragonflydee1 | Apr 3, 2013 |
Maggie Hope is an English girl who was orphaned at a young age. She was sent to an aunt in New England and was raised there. Maggie is an intrepid young woman who is a math whiz and is taking a relatively unprecedented step in going for her doctorate in mathematics at a prestigious university. When she is bequeathed her grandmothers house in London she planned on making a quick trip across the pond to sell it and get back to her life. The house proves hard to sell and Maggie keeps it open by renting rooms and gets herself a job.

One day an American friend whom she knew in college and who also lodges with her tells her about a secretarial job at 10 Downing Street with the then Prime Minister Mr. Churchill. This kind of a job won't use any of Maggie's talents but she takes it anyway.

In the next few months Maggie begins to learn that there are mysteries about her past as well as plenty of mysterious things going on at work. WWII has begun and Britain has joined they fray. The problems confronting England are the rapid advancement of the Germans on one front that has all worried about invasion, while on the other hand the IRA is stepping up it's terroristic activities in order to help out the Germans.

The story is intricate, fascinating and well done. There are plenty of small details that MacNeal includes about the daily life that added to the ambience. For instance in getting London ready for a possible invasion all the dogs were sent to the countryside or euthanized for the fear that barking would alert the invading forces to the presence of the the citizens. Just imagining the attention to the small problems the British aside from rationing, blackout curtains and fear gave the story depth. ( )
  Condorena | Apr 2, 2013 |
I enjoyed the storyline, although I did find the sheer number of characters hard to keep track of, and the plot seemed to jump around a bit. ( )
  scote23 | Mar 30, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Maggie Hope is a Brit who grew up in America, but she is now living in London in 1940. When a secretary dies, she is offered the job at 10 Downing Street for none other than Winston Churchill. While much of the danger comes from the Germans, IRA agents are planning sabotage closer to home.

I like historical fiction. I like mysteries. This book didn't quite work well as either while it tried to do both. I was not impressed with the writing. The author apparently loves adjectives and never uses one when three will do. Her narrative is full of "information dumps" - whole paragraphs of explication of historical facts that were either not necessary or could have been more cleanly folded into the narrative as a whole (there was more than once that after several paragraphs of this told as a character was thinking, I'd lost track of what was actually happening and had to page back to pick up the narrative thread). The third-person omniscient narrator allows readers to know much more than Maggie or the other characters, so there is no need to figure out a whodunit as in a traditional mystery. The story depends quite a lot on coincidences to keep moving forward. On the other hand, I generally found the pacing smooth and the plot kept my interest - I did want to know what happens in the end, even if I don't particularly care to read the sequel. ( )
  bell7 | Feb 25, 2013 |
I enjoyed this historical fiction thriller/romance/mystery. The main character, Maggie Hope, an English girl raised in America by a maiden aunt, becomes Winston Churchill’s typist after a murder. Although a mathematical genius, she is relegated to typing when she applies for a job as a cryptologist for the government at the beginning of the Battle of Britain. After setting up the situation, the plot moves along quickly and is engaging. This is obviously the introduction for a series of war time thrillers with Maggie as the girl who saves England with her intelligence and pluck.
Maggie and her roommates are carefully fleshed out, but the male characters quickly became confusing simply because they were not clearly differentiated. The “romance” is not as well done as the mystery, possibly because I couldn’t keep the males straight – was it John or David who was falling for her? And then there was Chuck who was really a girl named Charlene.
The historical details were interesting and integral to the plot. The details about Churchill, Number 10 Downing, the Blitz and MI5 added to the story. I’m looking forward to the next installment – at least three are in the works. ( )
  beckyhaase | Feb 12, 2013 |
Maggie Hope, a Brit raised in America by a maiden aunt, is a math whiz getting ready to begin her doctorate in mathematics at MIT. But when she visits London after she’s left a legacy from her late grandmother she decides to stay. Eventually, she gets a job as a typist at Number 10 Downing Street for Winston Churchill.

Britain is at war and The Blitz is just beginning. But it’s exciting times for Maggie and her friends, most of whom are also working for the British government. In addition to her work, Maggie is looking for information about her parents, who died when she was quite young. That takes her all over the British countryside -- and into danger.

I read the second book in this series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, and wanted to read this one for Maggie’s back story. I wasn’t disappointed. Although it is not nearly as believable as the Maisie Dobbs historical novels written by Jacqueline Winspear, I find it quite enjoyable escapist fare. Maggie is a wonderful character, and I see a bright future for this series. I hope it finds an audience and goes on for a very long time. ( )
1 vote NewsieQ | Feb 10, 2013 |
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