Posts Tagged ‘Maggie Hope’

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My reading pace has been fairly slow (for me) this month. New apartment, still-new job, lots of other things crowding into my brain. But I’ve still found a few good books. Here they are:

A Sense of Wonder: The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane and the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle
An eclectic, luminous, often demanding collection of essays first published in Portland Magazine. My favorites are by Heather King, Robin Cody and Pico Iyer, but they are all worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Crowned and Dangerous, Rhys Bowen
This 10th entry in Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, which I love, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch unexpectedly in Ireland with her beau, Darcy, trying to exonerate his father of a murder charge. Frothy, fun and smart, like this entire series. (I adore Georgie.)

The House of Dreams, Kate Lord Brown
Journalist Sophie Cass interviews artist Gabriel Lambert about his experience as a refugee in Marseille during World War II. The true story of Varian Fry and others at the Emergency Rescue Committee, who worked tirelessly to get artists out of France, is fascinating. But the novel’s framing story was less so, and I did not like the ending. (I loved Brown’s previous novel, The Perfume Garden.)

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, David Hajdu
Music critic (and self-professed music geek) Hajdu takes readers on a tour of pop music in the U.S., from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, 45s to LPs to mixtapes and MP3s. Smart, entertaining and surprisingly deep. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope returns to WWII London and gets pulled onto a gruesome Scotland Yard case: a Jack-the-Ripper copycat serial killer targeting young professional women. I like Maggie (this is her sixth adventure), but this book was daaark. Also, the comments on the treatment of women felt heavy-handed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 4).

Faithful, Alice Hoffman
Since the night of the accident that left her best friend in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn’t believe she deserves to live. Faithful is the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way, with help from her stalwart mother, a few stray dogs and a few highly unlikely friends. Bleak and gritty at times (Shelby messes up over and over), but also beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Hoffman has written many books, but I’d never read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

The Boy is Back, Meg Cabot
Pro golfer Reed Stewart hasn’t been back to his Indiana hometown in a decade. But when his parents end up in the news (and in financial trouble), he returns to try and help out – which means facing his ex, Becky Flowers. Cabot tells this hilarious story through emails, texts and newspaper articles. Fluffy and really fun – smart chick lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Wonder Women: 25 Inventors, Innovators and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs
We are hearing a lot lately (it’s long overdue!) about brilliant, brave women whose stories have been overlooked. Sam Maggs writes bite-size biographies of 25 such women in this snappy, girl-power book. The colloquial tone got a little wearing, but these women – inventors, spies, scientists – are amazing. Would pair well with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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Last spring, I won an advance copy from Goodreads of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, the first in a historical mystery series starring whip-smart, red-headed, mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope. Born in England but raised by an aunt in the U.S., she returns to London as a young woman, as the rumblings of war from Hitler’s Germany grow louder and more ominous.

Maggie intends to stay in London only long enough to sell her grandmother’s house and tie up the loose ends. But, loyal to her new friends and inspired by the determination of the British people, she stays on, longing to contribute to the war effort. Before long, Maggie is working for Winston Churchill, using her intellect and wit to convince him and everyone else that she’s more than just a secretary.

I enjoyed Mr. Churchill’s Secretary – meeting Maggie and her group of friends, then getting an insider’s look at life in the War Rooms under Churchill. Maggie also makes a few vital discoveries about her own history, and the tense finale paved the way for the sequel, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

No longer a mere typist, Maggie goes undercover at Windsor Castle to tutor and protect Princesses Margaret and “Lilibet,” as the future Queen was then known, helping prevent a kidnapping attempt. Susan Elia MacNeal ratcheted up the plot tension, character development and quality of writing in her second book, and the setting – Christmas at Windsor Castle! – was captivating.

Maggie’s third adventure, His Majesty’s Hope (out tomorrow), is the best yet. Now fully trained as a spy, Maggie parachutes into Berlin on a mission that will bring her dangerously close to both the enemy and her own past.

Susan graciously agreed to answer a few questions about Maggie – read on to learn more about Maggie’s origins and Susan’s research travels. (As a fellow Anglophile, I am so jealous of the latter.)

How did you come up with the character of Maggie Hope?

Maggie Hope is definitely inspired by my late friend and writing mentor, the novelist Judith Merkle Riley. She was, like Maggie, brilliant — and, also like Maggie, combated more than her share of sexism as she worked in academia in the ’60s and ’70s. Judith was an amazing person, and Maggie has her intelligence, her warmth, her sense of humor — as well as her impatience with red tape and bureaucracy.

Maggie’s name, Margaret, was a nod to Judith’s character Margaret of Ashbury, in her first novel, Vision of Light. Maggie Hope’s hair is red because Margaret’s hair was red — Judith based Margaret physically on her daughter, who’s a redhead (and is still a very good friend of mine!).

I chose the name “Hope” because of an actual conversation Winston Churchill had with one of his real wartime secretaries, Marian Holmes. When they met, he thought she said her last name was Hope — and was actually disappointed that it wasn’t. (Although he went on to call Miss Holmes “Miss Sherlock.”) I thought it was intriguing that Mr. Churchill really wanted a secretary with the surname “Hope.”

What drew you to write about World War II in Britain?

I was very lucky to be able to accompany my husband, puppeteer Noel MacNeal, on a business trip to London. I remember we went out to a pub with some British friends, and one handed me the latest Time Out London and said, “You might want to take a look at the Cabinet War Rooms — despite what you Yanks may think, World War II didn’t start on December 7, 1941.”

So I decided to have a look the next day, and had a completely transformative experience. The museum is in the actual underground bunker where Churchill and his staff ran the war during the Blitz, and there are many places where you can do a complete turn and see it just as it must have been during the war. For a moment I really did feel like time had telescoped in on itself, and I’d somehow been transported to the war rooms of 1940. And I knew I wanted to write about it.

Have you been able to visit the places depicted in your books – Bletchley Park, the “finishing school” for spies in Scotland, etc.? If so, what was that like?

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel to many of the places I’ve written about. It’s always thrilling to me. I usually travel alone (or at least do my research alone) and I feel like my characters come with me!

For His Majesty’s Hope, I went to Berlin and a good friend of mine, who’s also a working mom, came with me. So much of the research was disturbing, I was grateful to have someone to have dinner with and laugh with at the end of the day.

What made you decide to take Maggie to Berlin (and behind enemy lines) in this third book?

Well, Maggie has paid her dues, both psychologically and physically. She’s now exactly the kind of spy the SOE would have wanted to send behind enemy lines. She’s certainly come a long way since she started out as Mr. Churchill’s secretary!

Do you have a favorite period detail or incident you’ve come across in your research?

I love vintage perfumes and have been known to track them down on eBay. It’s like time travel in a bottle. Even though it doesn’t necessarily make it into the book, I know what perfume or cologne each character wears (or doesn’t wear).

Can you tell us a bit about Maggie’s upcoming fourth adventure?

Yes! In The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, we follow Maggie to Scotland, where she’s become an instructor at one of the spy training camps, and is trying to make sense of her experiences in Berlin. And, of course, she’s pulled into a mystery. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan are eroding and the Japanese plan their attack on Pearl Harbor, using spies (one German, one Japanese) on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The ultimate attack on the U.S., and the U.S. finally entering World War II, will have profound reverberations for Maggie.

Thank you so much for having me as a guest!

Thanks, Susan! Be sure to check out His Majesty’s Hope and Maggie’s other adventures.

*I received an advance reading copy of His Majesty’s Hope, but was not compensated for this review or interview.

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