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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Currently Reading: The Maggie Hope Mysteries

A couple months ago I was browsing the International Spy Museum gift shop. A bookshelf by the back registers caught my eye. On the cover of one book was an art deco propaganda-worn graphic of a young woman with crayon-worthy red hair and the title "Mr. Churchill's Secretary" in a mod font. Without command, my hands snatched up the book. I started scanning the synopsis.

My time with Jane and her husband, Vincent, were coming to an end and I needed somewhere new to start. Light Googling had proven to me that there was nothing like the Glamourist Histories that I was willing to get into. (I don't think I'm ready for Sense & Sensibility & Seamonsters...) All seemed lost until this chance meeting in a museum gift shop. A book about London during World War II with smart women and espionage was sure to have me hooked. And it might be just the thing you were looking for as well.

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase goods or services through links contained in this post I may be compensated by the website, brand, or product. All the opinions in this post are my own. 

Currently Reading: The Maggie Hope Mysteries - a story of a young girl coming of age and espionage in WWII London

The Background

The Maggie Hope Mysteries is a New York Times Bestselling series written by the quirky and smart Susan Elia MacNeal. The story follows Maggie Hope, a once-aspiring mathematician who grew up in the United States, and her friends who are anxious to help Great Britain in its fight against Nazi Fascism. The journey from a band of patriotic flatmates to high clearance agents working for Churchill himself is one to obsess over. With diverse, independent characters and an offbeat perspective on the time period, each installment of The Maggie Hope Mysteries is worth the late, late nights and the last minute searches for the  next book in the series. I was crushed when I found out the next book in the series isn't even out yet! You should see the desperate email to my library in search of the next book. So "currently reading" might be better said "currently waiting" haha.

The five novels so far are highly entertaining. MacNeal does a fantastic job of making you feel like an insider to the Allied forces and their efforts in the early 1940s. I love that the books incorporate dual perspectives - British and American - on culture, strategy, and politics during the War. Thanks to the differing cultural expectations and the intrigue, readers have the chance to hear well-known events and characters retold in a new light. The historical notes are a great bonus offering extra detail and some basis for the more interesting conspiracies which MacNeal chooses to highlight. About 25% of my time with the books was spent online doing my own research. A book that is entertaining AND makes you curious is definitely on my list of must-reads.

The Best & The Bad

Admittedly I started out the series wondering why I kept reading. Then I found myself burning through them as fast as I could find the next title. The stories suck you in without your knowing it! That might have a little something to do with MacNeal's consistent nod to the cliff hanger. The book would end and I'd NEED to know what happened next. I tip my hat to you, good lady.

The best part of the series has to be the way MacNeal presents the imperfectness of decision-making during the War. As a teacher and fan of history I was impressed by the portrayal of life-and-death questions being answered with more than a simple "yes" or "no." Powerful people were making powerful moves, and that is evident throughout the text with intentional conversation between all levels of characters. The stories strive for balance in explaining the reasons behind going to war, etc. Sure there was hope for positive results, but these world leaders also contradicted themselves in these endeavors. Even a simple reference to this is important to a well-balanced story.

I also appreciate the seemingly tangent stories that are mixed in among the spying and warring. Susan Elia MacNeal often reminds readers that "there's a war going on." But she also reminds us that, despite the repeated mantra, there is more to the story. Social and economic questions were being debated on both sides of the pond both in the context of war and without. Race, homosexuality, propaganda, family, terrorism - they all have strong storylines throughout the novels. However, I do feel that the discussion was a little too open and relaxed. Many may have felt as open-minded and accepting as the characters in the series, but I would say that the majority opinion was much more rigid. For that opinion to not have a lasting effect on the characters is a bit unrealistic. Still the mention of these topics within the text adds to the perspective of the books which is what makes the series its own.

On a lesser note, I do wish the romance worked out differently in the books. At times the intimate relationships in the story seem *too* realistic and logical. Just once I would like for it to get messy enough to work out in the end. I've got my fingers crossed for Maggie in the upcoming release - #OTL.

More Books

I will be counting down the days until The Queen's Accomplice debuts on October 4, 2016. Until then I'll have to fill my time with something... First, I'm digging into a nonfiction reading challenge I'm hosting over the Summer (deets coming next week) and getting back to my roots with Harry Potter.

When I am done with that I might try The Maisie Dobbs Novels by Jaqueline Winspear, also a New York Times Bestselling series, or Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen which are set in Britain during World War II as well. That last one sounds like fun.

Stay up to date on the release of the sixth novel starring Maggie Hope and company by following Susan Elia MacNeal online: Website/Facebook/Twitter.

Click to explore the books in The Maggie Hope Mysteries and pre-order The Queens Accomplice:

Use an eReader? Start reading now:

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Kristyn here. I'm really good at Googling, dreaming, and thinking outside the box. Someday I'm going to save all the puppies and perform on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

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