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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Maggie Hope Novel, Book 1 | [Susan Elia MacNeal]

Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Maggie Hope Novel, Book 1

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 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....
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Publisher's Summary

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, 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.

©2012 Susan Elia Macneal (P)2012 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

“This wonderful debut is intelligent, richly detailed, and filled with suspense.” (Stefanie Pintoff)

“A terrific read.... Chock full of fascinating period details and real people including Winston Churchill, MacNeal’s fast-paced thriller gives a glimpse of the struggles, tensions, and dangers of life on the home front during World War II.” (Rhys Bowen, author of Royal Blood and winner of the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards)

“Think early Ken Follett, amp it up with a whip-smart young American not averse to red lipstick and vintage cocktails, season it with espionage during the London Blitz, and you’ve got a heart-pounding, atmospheric debut. I loved it.” (Cara Black, author of Murder in Passy)

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  •  
    Ronna 07-08-12
    Ronna 07-08-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "New WW2 heroine in mystery"

    Maggie Hope is a new character in the many mysteries about women in war times. She was British born, but was raised by her aunt in America after her mother was killed in a car crash and her Dad 'lost it' mentally.  After graduating top in her class with top skills in math and languages, she's planning to get a graduate degree at MIT, but her plans change when she returns to England to sell the old family home.  Getting a job in England is hindered by the prevailing attitude that 'women belong in the home, or in support jobs'.  She has mixed feeling about her secretarial job at #10 Downing Street but is prepared to do ALL  for home and country.

    Frustrated by her seeming menial secretarial job, her position changes when she decodes a covert message she finds in the newspaper.  This comes along with her replacing PM Churchill's sick secretary.  Everything's comes fast and furious after that.  Murders, spies, bombs, and differing views about Hitler mixed with Irish IRA resistance actions, keeps everyone anxious and working to keep England in the winning mix of war.

    What adds extra interest to this book is the well researched addition of views on women, spies, Churchill, and decoding enemy messages. The factual research for this fictional book is spectacular!  There are also relationships between diverse friends and family secrets that made this book a cut above the present popular WW2 women mysteries like the Jacqueline Winspear series.  If you enjoy this genre, you need to add this Maggie Hope series to your reading list!!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David 02-04-13
    David 02-04-13 Member Since 2010

    Indiscriminate Reader

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    "Worse than mediocre "cozy" disguised as historical"

    I thought this book would be about cryptography and codebreaking in World War II. I expected Bletchley Park and Alan Turing and Nazi double-agents, with a female mathematician as the protagonist, which sounded cool... maybe something like a light cozy version of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

    Alas, no. This was a "cozy" of the most offensively stupid and badly-written kind. Characters who are just quirky/"charming" composites of personality traits (expect many, many recyclings of British/American stereotypes vis-a-vis tea and coffee) and nicknames, arbitrary name-dropping of historical figures and events, usually accompanied by long infodumps to remind us that this is taking place in England during World War II ('cause the title wasn't a big enough clue), and cardboard villains (Nazis and IRA terrorists who practically twirl their mustaches while cackling over England's demise). A male character is introduced as "enigmatic" and "frustrating" (and yes, we're just told he's enigmatic and frustrating, he never actually does anything enigmatic or frustrating) - i.e., DESIGNATED LOVE INTEREST in great big flashing letters, but not content to leave any cliche unplumbed to its depths, sure enough, he and the main character spend most of the book snapping at each other and declaring one another to be insufferable and impossible and annoying while giving each other looks accompanied by "unexpected" hot flushes at Significant Times.

    Maggie Hope ("Magster" to her friends - seriously, was that even done in the 40s?) is British by birth, born in London to British parents, but raised in America by a college professor aunt after her parents died in a car crash. With a PhD in mathematics, Maggie returns to London to sell her grandmother's house, just as World War II begins. By various contrived circumstances, Maggie winds up as a typist/secretary to Winston Churchill himself, by which device the author recites verbatim many of Churchill's speeches, inserting some adoring commentary from Maggie. We also get an extraordinarily cutesy take on Churchill as a fictional non-fictional character, which the publishers have the nerve to call "psychological insight into Winston Churchill," just like they call this book "meticulously researched" because MacNeal mentions Alan Turing (in a single sentence) and makes an allusion to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. (I guess MacNeal thought she was being clever by showing she can read Wikipedia.)

    Oddly enough, though Maggie's aunt is a lesbian and one of her British friends (who works with her at Downing St.) is gay, this is something that is just accepted with open-minded tolerance by Maggie and her friends, along with cheery hopes that someday he won't have to keep it a secret. That's about as far as the book goes in addressing the very real persecution of homosexuality that existed at that time — you'd think if the author is going to name-drop Alan Turing, who was later forced to undergo chemical castration because of his homosexuality and ended up committing suicide (hey, Susan MacNeal, that's on Wikipedia too!), she might have had the characters acknowledge that homosexuality was actually a rather serious secret to be harboring. But no, the gay characters apparently exist only to show us how open-minded Maggie is and to score the author some gay-inclusion points.

    Maggie is a mathematician and we are frequently told how brilliant she is, which is mostly an excuse for her to go on periodic rants about how unfair it is that she's not allowed to be a codebreaker and is relegated to being a typist and how sexist society is and how sexist her coworkers are blah blah blah. Okay, fair enough, it was a very sexist time period and no doubt a smart university-educated woman like Maggie would have been very aware of and irritated by this, but her repeatedly getting up on a soapbox to tell us that England in the 1940s was sexist and the sky is blue do not feel historical or even appropriate for her circumstances, just an excuse for the author to show us how very feisty and feminist her character is. Her friends mostly just kind of nod and say "Gosh, you're right Maggie, oh, hey, what is Winston Churchill really like?"

    Maggie also decides she's either American or British whenever it suits her. When her friends or coworkers question her dedication or trustworthiness because of her American upbringing, she loudly tells them she's British by birth and a British taxpayer and a British homeowner and British, dammit! But when they start criticizing America, she defends the US and complains about the UK and doesn't correct them when they refer to Roosevelt as "your President."

    Does Maggie ever use her codebreaking skills? Yeah, kind of, at the level of a 12-year-old cracking his first alphanumeric-substitution cipher.

    The plot involved a really stupid Nazi/IRA plan to assassinate Churchill and some "surprise twists" that are pretty lame (and also spelled out for us beforehand by the author's constant "telling"), but it still could have been moderately entertaining anachronistic brain candy if the writing hadn't been so terrible.

    Ever heard the writing advice "show don't tell"? You have if you've ever flirted with writing even a little. Mr. Churchill's Secretary could be a case study in how to tell without showing. We are told that everyone is very inspired by Churchill's speeches. We are told that the British bravely face the Blitz. We are told that this or that major event happened. We are constantly told what characters are thinking and feeling, in lieu of having them actually say it or act like it. When a character dies, we are told they died. The book is also full of head-hopping by a third-person narrator who can't decide whether she wants to be close-third or omniscient. Really, I could not believe this book got published, the writing was so bad.

    It doesn't help that all the women are constantly "shrill," "hysterical," "trilling," and their eyes are constantly filling with hot tears on every other page. There's your "feminism" for you. The female characters are also the ones who break down, the female villains are the ones who are easily overpowered - I mean, at one point someone walks into a room and just walks over and takes a gun from a woman holding it pointed at someone else because... she's a woman and couldn't actually be a threat, with a gun? And of course they are also the ones who have second thoughts and end up abandoning their cause when they find out that gosh, Nazis and IRA terrorists are actually bad people who do bad things - why they never imagined that things might get ugly!

    Just bleah, bleah, bleah. A dumb story without a spark of originality or nuance, and offensively bad writing. And this is the first in a series. No, I will not be reading the sequels. If you're looking for an exciting tale of a codebreaking female special agent in World War II, don't get suckered like I was, because this book is mindless and poorly crafted. 1.5 stars, the half star because the story is kind of okay for what it is, but I am rounding down instead of up like I usually do because I have read fan fiction and rough drafts written better than this and I am depressed that this book got published.

    10 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Forgiven 07-20-13
    Forgiven 07-20-13 Member Since 2003
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    "much better than the reviews led me to expect"
    What did you love best about Mr. Churchill's Secretary?

    Having read a great deal about Churchill, I thought the characterization of him was well done. The experience of young girls living the early war days in Britain was very well communicated.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Of course it had to be Maggie since she was the center of attention and the point of view. She was thoughtful and sympathetic. But Sarah was intriguing from her first entrance on the scene. I really thought Clare would turn out to be Chuck, so the Paige revelation was a surprise.


    Have you listened to any of Wanda McCaddon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    She's always great. She's my very favorite narrator. In her many names, I have listened to many of her performances and have never been disappointed. Though the material at times was not the best, she always brings out the best of every character. Her American accent is always a little off but recognizable but her various British, Irish and Scottish accents are great to my American ears.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I don't really think that would be an extreme reaction. I did laugh and almost cried.


    Any additional comments?

    The strings of numbers doesn't translate well into an audiobook. Maybe that slight bit could have been abridged.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hoxiesgirl The Ozarks, USA 06-24-13
    Hoxiesgirl The Ozarks, USA 06-24-13 Member Since 2009

    Hoxie's girl

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    "Maggie is an entertaining spy-to-be"

    After reading the reviews, I am almost afraid to say that I liked this book.

    Why would I enjoy this fictionalized version of Churchill and his world? Call me a sucker for a British spy story that is easy to listen to without the need to take notes to keep up with the characters and sub-plots. The narrator, Ms. McCaddon, handles the tone of the characters well, drifts from dialect to dialect without pause, male - female, no problem. In short, she is easy and entertaining to listen to as she brings a story to life - and I enjoyed my time with her.
    MacNeal tees up the next installment, which is already in my library.

    Look, this is fiction. It is supposed to take you into a piece of time and place that, for a short while, wraps you in a story effectively enough to make you feel the emotion of the characters, visualize the scenes described, smell the foods, tea and smoke from bombing and cigars and leave you entertained. She accomplished that for me.

    Certainly, it is not historically accurate - it's fiction! It's entertainment and I enjoyed it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. O. Pardue Atlanta, GA United States 05-24-13
    L. O. Pardue Atlanta, GA United States 05-24-13 Member Since 2010

    I love to read books set in interesting places or historical settings. I especially love mysteries and thrillers.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Historical Story was better than the Mystery"

    The title was what got me to choose this audio book. This time period and setting is one of my favorite reading subjects. I found the day to day description of living in the 1930-40s in England,and working for Mr.Churchill, to be the most interesting part of the story. It has been about a month since I finished the audio book and while I can remember the hardships and fear of the English people, I can hardly recall the mystery at all.

    There is a good back-story that includes the Irish conflict during this time period. The main character was bland to me, but likable.

    Would I read another book by this author? Maybe.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jan H. Wolfe 03-29-13

    Theatrician

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    "Surprising Spy novel"
    What did you love best about Mr. Churchill's Secretary?

    This delightful book slowly and carefully brings one into England during the beginning of World War II with interesting characters: The world before women were accepted into the upper echelons of politics; the world of Winston Churchill's office. And suddenly, it becomes a mystery to unwind and evolves into a full-fledged spy novel with just a touch of romance. This was most enjoyable and I will make it a point to follow this series.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Mr. Churchill's Secretary?

    Can't give that away. It is, after all, a spy novel.


    Have you listened to any of Wanda McCaddon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    This was new to me.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deirdre 03-04-13
    Deirdre 03-04-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Enjoyable Read"
    Where does Mr. Churchill's Secretary rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I like this book better than most of the other books I have listened to.


    What other book might you compare Mr. Churchill's Secretary to and why?

    It is similar to "Her Royal Spyness". It is set in a similar era, british, female heronie.


    Any additional comments?

    The book starts off slow, and it's a little jumpy shirting perspectives. It does address some thought provoking ideologies regarding war that I found interesting.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Queen Squared Columbia, SC, United States 12-24-12
    Queen Squared Columbia, SC, United States 12-24-12

    Queen Squared

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    "Loved it!"

    I absolutely loved this novel. The main character, Maggie Hope, is obviously incredibly intelligent, but also ambitious and quirky. What I really enjoyed about the novel is that all of the characters are multidimensional. MacNeal has made sure to make her characters both entertaining and believable. Most importantly Mr. Churchill's Secretary does best what historical fiction is supposed to do--it brings you fully into a different time and place. MacNeal does this effortlessly in that she has obviously done her homework, but she doesn't shove it down your throat. In essence, she's done her research so well that you don't notice it. Instead, you get lost in an excellent storyline with fascinating characters.
    Aslo, McCaddon does a great job as narrator. Her imitation of Churchill is PERFECT. She makes clear differences between her voice as narrator, and the different voices of the characters.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    HIII 12-07-12
    HIII 12-07-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Brave Britons"

    It seems World War II never looses its appeal. Inspite of being hard to believe during some of the story this was entertaining.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jose Chula Vista, CA, United States 11-13-12
    jose Chula Vista, CA, United States 11-13-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Entertaining, nice, soft, good historical images"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Mr. Churchill's Secretary to be better than the print version?

    I do not know.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Maggie. Focused, brave, intelligent, non-selfconcious beauty.


    Have you listened to any of Wanda McCaddon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have not.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    None really. Meeting her father is the most moving, but then not very much.


    Any additional comments?

    Good plot. Good listen (great reader). Not as crude or violent as other novels of the same genre.Historical references to London at the onset of the war, were interesting.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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