Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Title: Mr. Churchill's Secretary
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Series: Maggie Hope, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

I've seen Mr. Churchill's Secretary make the top 10 list of 2012 quite a few times and decided to give it a try. The book starts by introducing the reader to Maggie Hope, a rather progressive young woman for her time about to start her post-graduate degree in mathematics at M.I.T. Her plans are derailed by her grandmother's death and Maggie comes to London to sell the old house and becomes involved in WWII effort by becoming Winston Churchill's personal secretary.

I liked Maggie's character. She is no-nonsense, smart, straightforward and a bit naive. She grinds her teeth at  having to take a position below her ability, but she is capable and able to stand up for herself which makes her a rather sympathetic character.

My biggest issue with the book is the way it flows. The first half moves pretty slowly, we are introduced to all the characters, attend the parties, listen to the conversations. Maggie bumbles around learning her way around the new job. Then all of a sudden the book completely switches pace in the second half with crypto-puzzles, hostages, intrigues, bombings, and plenty more all packed into a rather small space.

Some of the things Maggie accomplishes seem a bit beyond belief and while I enjoyed the story and cheered her on, the thought of how unlikely some of the events were stayed with me in the second half of the novel. And even though I was satisfied with the resolution of the book in the sense that all plot lines neatly got tied off, I felt that the success turned out to be a little over the top.

I also didn't particularly care for the romantic story line of the book. It was clear from the beginning who Maggie would end up with, but it felt somewhat unmotivated and, for me, un-moving. In fact, none of the romances in the novel felt particularly natural to me. Something just didn't click there.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the atmosphere that MacNeal created in the book. London during WWII seems well-presented and well-research. There are lots of neat details about the bombings, rations, St. Paul Cathedral watches, and other war-related trivia. I liked the descriptions of the Churchill's office and excerpts from his speeches. The details made the novel a whole lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

Altogether, it was an enjoyable read with some flaws, but I would definitely recommend it to someone who wants a quick adventure in a historical setting with a variety of memorable characters.

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