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Source: Review copy from Bantam
Rating: ★★★★★

Learning all the sick and twisted details of the war, Maggie was starting to hate, hate with a ferocity she never knew she had within her.  Could I kill a Nazi?  she thought.  Before, she would have said no.  Or maybe — but only if she was in a kill-or-be-killed situation.  But now she felt she could do it easily, with a song in her heart if it meant getting even.

(from Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, page 78)

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first book in a new series set during World War II that follows Maggie Hope, a young mathematician who was born in Britain but grew up in America.  Maggie puts off grad school to handle the sale of her grandmother’s home, but when war breaks out and the home doesn’t sell, she decides to stay and takes a job as a typist at No. 10 Downing Street, the headquarters of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

As one would imagine, there’s a lot going on in London in the early days of World War II, and Susan Elia MacNeal does an excellent job bringing the city to life.  There are fears about the Germans bombing the city or even invading England.  There are IRA bombings, fascist groups, and sleeper agents wreaking havoc in London.  Meanwhile, Maggie battles against the sexism that keeps her from using her skills as a code breaker and searches for the truth about her parents, who died when she was a baby.

Once I started Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I couldn’t put it down.  I absolutely loved Maggie.  She’s smart, feisty, and insecure at times, and she’s totally someone you’d want as a best friend.  I was reminded me of the Maisie Dobbs series, but Maggie is more kick-ass and this story had much more action.  I loved the variety of characters and personalities and how MacNeal threw them all together, and her portrayal of Churchill was thoroughly entertaining.  Moreover, I thought the various plot lines were exciting and enjoyed how MacNeal connected them all, even though the big twist was obvious to me early on.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary really shines in MacNeal’s portrayal of wartime London and how the people tried to keep their spirits up amidst so much destruction.  Even though Maggie seemed a bit ahead of the times (and managed to enjoy the nightlife despite being so busy at work), I appreciate a gutsy, intelligent heroine and can’t wait to continue the series.

Book 35 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Mr. Churchill’s Secretary from Bantam for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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