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Book Review: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

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Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal is an enjoyable historical fiction book taking place in the early days of World War II. This is a debut effort for Ms. MacNeal, who has a wonderful World War II blog which is well worth a read. The second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, is already out and I’m already looking forward to the third one.

Maggie Hope, an English citizen raised in America, journeys across the pond to sell the estate of her late grandmother. While unsuccessful at her original endeavor, she feels camaraderie with the British people who are in war.

Maggie puts her PhD in mathematics on hold, makes friends and get a job as a secretary at 10 Downing Street typing up Prime Minister Churchill’s memos. As a brilliant mathematician, Maggie recognizes code when she sees it helps crack an espionage ring.

The emphasis on Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is certainly more on the fiction part and less on the history, which makes it a fun ride (even though I like my books to be historically accurate). When reading this book keep that in mind–it is not meant to be substantial on the historical front.

Ms. MacNeal managed to write a compelling and captivating debut, while creating a saucy character (damn, I never thought I’d use the word “saucy” anywhere but a bar-b-q pit). While one could certainly sense that this book was meant to be part of a series, and hence an “origin” story, it is still energetic and involving.

It seemed likely to me that the book was not written by an English person but by an American; the language does not ring true and the choice of syntax was a little distracting throughout. But that’s being picky since, as I mentioned, the book is a fun ride and the author fully admits that she was not writing a historically accurate novel, and the characters are fun and engaging despite (or maybe because) they funny talk.

There are many characters in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, a few too many, whose qualities are repeated over and over again. We are told multiple times how annoying the twins are or that another character is gay and it should be kept hushed at points which are, it seems to me, simply there to remind the reader,  with no plot advancement. Due to the many characters and the fast pace of the book, many of them are sketches or caricatures of characters.

I like that the book concentrates on wartime London, the little day-to-day hardships, and how people make do with the little they have. The rapid advancement of the Germans scared the population immensely and each citizen took it seriously, as they should have.

Despite the plot, which stretched my believability and at points gets out of control, I like the book and the story. I am looking forward to more adventures of Maggie Hope as she discovers her new country, family, and saves England… again.

  • 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553593617

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

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  • Robyn

    I’m not sure if this book is for me or not. I love the review and am glad that you have shown the highs and lows of the book. Thank you! Another great historical fiction book I recently finished is called, “Up From Corinth: Book 2 of Journey Into Darkness” by author J. Arthur Moore. Up From Corinth is a story of human compassion in which 11-year-old Duane Kinkade is searching to find his father in one of America’s greatest crises working to save lives, not take them, but also to keep from loosing his own, if it does require the taking of one who would take his.