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

“You grew up in America, after all — exactly what do you know about British aristocracy?”

“Not much beyond the historical, I’m afraid,” Maggie said.

“All right, impromptu quiz — what do you say when you meet the King and Queen?”

Maggie gave David a wry look.  Frain had forgotten about royal etiquette lessons.  “Hello?”

David smacked himself on the head.  “Oh, my dear Eliza Doolittle — we have a long night ahead of us.”

(from Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, page 52)

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is the second Maggie Hope Mystery, set in World War II London.  There are no spoilers in my review of this book, but proceed with caution if you haven’t read the first book, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.

In Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, Maggie Hope is no longer a typist for Winston Churchill.  She has proven that her intelligence, math and problem-solving skills, and ability to handle herself in dangerous situations make her an asset to the war effort, and she is now a spy with MI-5.  The Nazis have a plan to put the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, back on the throne once they invade England.  Because this plan may involve kidnapping Princess Elizabeth so she cannot become queen, Maggie is assigned to Windsor Castle, where princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are living to avoid the bombs falling on London.

Maggie is a bit disappointed that she will be serving as a math tutor while undercover, rather than being dropped into France or Germany, but she soon finds that danger lurks on the castle grounds.  A lady-in-waiting is murdered, and decrypted German code is found in one of her books.  While Maggie sorts out the mystery, she also must figure out how to build a relationship with her father, deal with not knowing whether the man she loves is alive, and contend with her feelings for a co-worker.

Susan Elia MacNeal’s novels may be set during a time of fear and devastation, but they are delightful and riveting.  Maggie navigates grief and danger with grace, and I just love how she is not afraid to speak her mind, particularly when it involves men in positions of authority who don’t value or respect women.  As in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Maggie is feisty and strong, but this time around, she also shows her sensitive side, and the way she fumbles her way through Camp Spook makes her feel real.

MacNeal certainly has a talent for developing characters, even those based on real people.  I loved getting to know Princess Elizabeth, a.k.a. Lilibet, as a 14-year-old girl.  Readers get to see her embarking on a romance with Prince Philip, learning the responsibilities she will have one day as queen, standing strong during wartime, playing with her beloved corgis, and even arguing with her little sister.

MacNeal also brings Windsor Castle to life.  Paintings and books may have been put in storage, blackout curtains may have been hung from every window, and the dungeon may have been transformed into a bomb shelter, but the castle is still imposing and rich with history.  Readers get lost in its vastness right alongside Maggie, and the inner workings of the castle, from the relationships among the servants to the princesses’ daily schedule, are fascinating.

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is a light mystery, but MacNeal’s love for London and the World War II era are evident throughout.  This is the kind of book you read for the history, the strong female lead, and for the page-turning excitement.  I am hooked on this series and am anxiously waiting for the third book, His Majesty’s Hope, due out in the spring.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Princess Elizabeth’s Spy tour.  To follow the tour, click here.

Book 36 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Princess Elizabeth’s Spy 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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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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