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
“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)
Librarian, Avid Reader, Audiobook Addict!
About the audio production: **Just my 2 cents** First off was my confusion on narration: the listing on audible says Wanda McCaddon but the intro of narrator says Donada Peters I guess they are one in the same but then the intro and the listing should use the same name. Wanda/Donada was a good narrator there were times when slipping in between the British and American accents didn’t work well for me, there were times they were kind of a cross between the two and it was hard to tell who was talking. But I did enjoy her narration as whole.
This book was not what I was expecting; I didn’t expect it to be a spy/war/mystery/family secrets story all rolled into a really good book. The setting was fascinating; the beginning of WWII and with people like the US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy who lost his post for being a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite which I looked up and was a bit shocked to find this all to be true. And of course Winston Churchill it was fun to hear about his pets running rough shod over 10 Downing (I looked that up too and found it to be true). So this book was well researched and made me want to look things up and as I’ve said before that’s what makes a good historical fiction novel.
I really liked Maggie she did remind me a little of Maisie Dobbs but that could just be the setting and the fact that she is a strong independent woman in a time that was a bit frowned upon. I also liked the fact that Maggie was raised an American but by the end of this book has been found to be a valuable asset for the England. There are at times a lot of characters to keep track of and I did get confused a couple times as to who was who so I hope in the next book this will be tightened up a bit. I do look forward to reading more of Maggie.
I felt this book was kind of a Cozy Spy Thriller it had all the great elements of a good spy novel plus the best of a cozy mystery. I look forward to more by this author.
I didn't actually like the Jacqueline Winspear books, although I wanted to, but I did like this one. I've started the second in this series and it's even better. In this first book, I think the writing was a bit 'loose', if that makes sense. I mean that sometimes people seemed to talk too long about a topic, but overall I liked it very much. It really is, as someone said, a cozy spy book, which I think is a new genre. There was a lot more plot than I expected, with some real surprises and the heroine is definitely the 'heroine', meaning a bit larger than life. It's many decades since I read Nancy Drew, but I remember admiring her as a young girl and this heroine is worth looking up to as well, as she solves problems that don't tend to happen in everyday life.
One always associates the "Keep Calm and Carry On" motto to the British and the 'stiff upper lip", but I had never really connected it to wartime, Winston Churchill, and that resolute attitude he helped the Brits maintain, before it was known that Hitler was not going to be able to steamroll over Britain as well. I find it a more inspiring quote now, plus we learned a variation: KPO for Keep Plodding On and another variation in Book 2. Good for some days at work! Also, helps one to remember every day to be grateful for NOT being in a war zone.
But the main character had to be a super hero.
If you are looking for a thoughtful story of code breaking and the inner workings of the war room go to a different book. Maggie gets caught up with IRA terrorists and an unlikely side story of her long dead father being kept as a mad professor at Betchly park (still very much alive). The first couple hours are spent introducing forgettable characters. Then you spend the rest of the book trying to remember who "was that?". The last couple hours were exciting and the action was well done. But I was expecting a much more brainy book and instead this was very much more action/adventure. Badly out of place hand wringing and the obligatory gay character (with no real impact on the plot) round out a not great book.
I think this author knows how to write, but could not quite decide what the book should have been about.
I had no particular problem with any of the book. All women know the predjudice involved in evaluating our skills. I always enjoy a book about a woman who has interests, as an adult, that uses intellectual skills with being dehumanized. Maggie is smart, analytical, but very empathetic too. She doesn't try to be one of the guys except to try to excel at the things she does best.
The blending of history and fiction is very masterfully done. I am a Churchill fan and have read his biography. What a character.
Maggie because she is bright, grows with each experience and is very plucky.
When Maggie was being pursued and was hiding in the Anderson shelter. It taxed one to think a out how she could escape. Kept your attention.
What History Didn't Tell Us.
Immediately listened to the second book and am looking forward to the next. My dad was a WWII vet and I have read extensively about that era. It is fun to see the authors skill in using fact and fiction.
I loved the historical setting.
No detailed graphic violence.
Yes. I thought it was well performed given the multiple nationalities.
Another piece of the great of the great war.
likable characters with interesting detail about the period plus enough mystery to keep me guessing. I'm only disappointed there is no book 2.
I read science fiction and fantasy, but I also like literary fiction, the classics, the occasional mystery/thriller, and non-fiction.
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.
Have re-discovered "quality time." Evenings listening to good books have replaced mindless tv watching. What a difference!
I liked that she was a capable young woman, earning recognition for herself during a time when women were starting to be noticed in new ways (during the war).
I don't know--I might have read it differently than listening to it. I don't think she is the worst narrator, but really, not the best. I don't think she could decide if she was American or British. Some of the American accents shifted from southern to more northern, and I couldn't really tell about the British. I didn't really enjoy her voice quality for certain characters. But she did do a good job of creating different voices for everyone.
I had hoped it would have been better---a great premise, but too many anachronisms (Like, "Playing the Italian card." That expression is pretty new--wasn't being used in the 40's. )
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!!
Tell us about yourself!Omnivorous catholic reader who especially enjoys unusual mysteries and thrillers
Born in 1939,a month after WWII was declared,I grew up on war stories and experiences from my British grandparents and uncles who had served "over There"."Mr Churchill's Secretary" by Susan Elia MacNeal enthralled me as it fleshed out many of the ideas and impressions which I had absorbed in my early years.
Maggie Hope is an engaging heroine,born English but raised American, who has returned to England in 1939 to dispose of her grandmother's house in London according to the terms of her will.When war breaks out she takes a position as a typist at 10 Downing St and so begins her "great adventure".
Susan Elia MacNeal has obviously done a tremendous amount of historical research to write this novel and she weaves this almost seamlessly into her riveting plot.
The few anachromisms present eg.Maggie's occasional rants about sexual and personal equality,seem out of place in a woman of this time and background,however,the absorbing plot and likeable characters make up for any minor flaws.
As a long-time follower of authors such as Anne Perry, Laurie R.King and Jacqueline Winspear et al, I find that "Mr Churchill's Secretary"shows great promise as a first novel and hopefully will become a series I cannot miss(especially if Wanda McCaddon continues as narrator).
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