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Monday, July 31, 2017

Author Interview - Susan Elia MacNeal

Today we have Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the smash hit Maggie Hope series set in WWII.   Read my review of newest addition to the series, The Paris Spy (click here) including a book giveaway!  Please welcome Ms. MacNeal.

1)  What drew you to write a historical mystery and why the WW2 era?

 You know, I never planned on writing a historical mystery. But I was writing fiction when I went to London with my husband (who was there as Bear for the Disney Channel show Bear in the Big Blue House). I ended up going to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker where Churchill and his staff ran World War II. It was a powerful, transformative experience — and I just knew I had to write about it.

2)  What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I usually write every morning from about 8 or so to noon. After lunch, I do a little more and also answer emails and whatnot. When I'm starting a new novel it's harder, because I don't know my characters and setting as well. Towards the end, I put in really long days because the people and the world seem so familiar. It usually takes me a year to write a book for my editor, and then more time as it goes through editing and copyediting.

3)  What in your background prepared you to write not just mystery novels but historical intrigue?

 I have a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and also studied history. But basically I just love to read and learn. I knew about World War II, of course, but more of the big battles and also from an American perspective. I had to educate myself about World War II in London, which I did with books, videos, and talking to people in the UK who lived through the war.

4)  Who is your favorite Mystery character (by another author)?

 I'm a huge fan of Flavia de Luce, Alan Bradley's heroine. The Favia series starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I'm also currently obsessed with Ann Cleeves, who writes the Shetland Island series. The first book is Raven Black. I'm also reading and rereading a lot of P.D. James, currently on An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, about private investigator Cordelia Gray.

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Thank you Ms. MacNeal for that interview and joining us today.

Now, please read further if you are interested in the women Churchill utilized as spies in Nazi occupied countries in his full out effort to stop Hitler's advance.  It is this effort that the Maggie Hope series highlights and is built upon.  Here is a clip on the SOE training.

I am fascinated by the story of Eileen Nearne, one of the SOE spies for the Britain during World War II.

She died at 89 years old, poor and alone in September of 2010 in England.  When her small apartment was being emptied, her wartime medals (Croix de Guerre by the French government, and appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire) were discovered and her secret was out.  She had no family or friends to pay for her funeral and was about to be cremated, until the news was spread that she was a war hero.  The public flooded local officials to help pay for her funeral and to attend her services.  The Royal British Legion placed a flag on her casket.  There was even a French official in attendance at her funeral to honor this incredible brave woman.  Her eulogy was given by Adrian Stones, Chaiman of the Special Forces Club.

It turns out she was only 23 when she was sent into occupied France since she spoke fluent French. She was one of 39 (some report 57) British women who were parachuted into France as secret agents by the Special Operations Executive [SOE is featured in The Paris Spy], a wartime agency known informally as “Churchill’s secret army.”  She was caught by the Nazis using her radio to send information.  She endured torture but maintained her cover story, but was still sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.  She managed to escape and resumed spying.  In all, she was captured three times by the Nazis, and either convinced them she knew nothing, or escaped.  The New York Times reported that after the war, she suffered emotionally from the toll of her experiences.

Then there is Nancy Wake who escaped France, but her husband didn't make it and was executed by the Gestapo.  So Nancy joined the SOE (featured in The Paris Spy) and returned to France to coordinate the 7,000 person strong Resistance attacks, led a raid against Gestapo headquarters and German gun factories.  When wireless operator codes were destroyed in a Gestapo raid, she cycled (autos were banned except for Nazi's) over 71 hours on sheer determination - through multiple Nazi checkpoints - to replace the codes so orders and weapons drops could resume.  She became the Gestapo's Most Wanted.  She was awarded the George Cross medal by Britain, the Medal of Freedom by the USA, and the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix de Guerre – three times – and the Légion d'Honneur by France.  Nancy died in 2011, at the age of 98.  She has had books written about her and movies and documentaries made about her.

Movie Trailer:

The 1958 black and white movie "Carve Her Name with Pride" was about Violette Szabo, who even has a museum about her work as a spy. She was another SOE agent and was trained in fieldcraft, night and daylight navigation,  escape and evasion, uniform recognition, communications, cryptography, extensive weapons training, and demolition. She provided critical information on the factories producing war materials for the Germans that were critical in determining Allied bombing targets.  On her second mission during the Normandy invasion, a Nazi roadblock resulted in a shoot out and while racing across fields she severely hurt her ankle and provided fire cover so her partner could escape and carry out the mission.  She was captured and interrogated by the SS for four days, then taken to Gesatapo HQ in Paris and tortured.  As allied forces were sweeping France, Violette was moved to Ravensburck concentration camp in Germany where she reportedly helped to save the life of Belgian resistance courier Hortense Daman.  She was eventually executed at the age of 23 and received many medals posthumously.

I shared these to highlight how the character of Maggie Hope is based on real life heroines and the plots borrow much from the history of the actual SOE and their mission.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Review - The Paris Spy

I have followed and reviewed each of the books in the Maggie Hope series:  #1 Mr. Churchill's Secretary (click here), #2 Princess Elizabeth's Spy (click here), #3 His Majesty's Hope (click here), #4 The Prime Minister's Secret Agent (click here), #5 Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante (click here), #6 The Queen's Accomplice (click here), and a wonderful interview with Ms. MacNeal (click here).  Today I review the newest addition to the series, which can be read as a stand alone, if you haven't read the six prior books.

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Copyright: August 2017 (Bantam) 320 pgs

Series: 7th in Maggie Hope Intrigue series

Sensuality: Medium on violence and adult themes

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth, Historical Intrigue

Main Characters: Maggie Hope, a spy who started as Churchill's secretary

Setting: 1942, Nazi occupied Paris

Obtained Through: Netgalley - Publisher for honest review

From the book cover: "Maggie Hope has come a long way since serving as a typist for Winston Churchill. Now she’s working undercover for the Special Operations Executive in the elegant but eerily silent city of Paris, where SS officers prowl the streets in their Mercedes and the Ritz is draped with swastika banners. Walking among the enemy is tense and terrifying, and even though she’s disguised in chic Chanel, Maggie can’t help longing for home.

But her missions come first. Maggie’s half sister, Elise, has disappeared after being saved from a concentration camp, and Maggie is desperate to find her—that is, if Elise even wants to be found. Equally urgent, Churchill is planning the Allied invasion of France, and SOE agent Erica Calvert has been captured, the whereabouts of her vital research regarding Normandy unknown. Maggie must risk her life to penetrate powerful circles and employ all her talents for deception and spycraft to root out a traitor, find her sister, and locate the reports crucial to planning D-Day in a deadly game of wits with the Nazi intelligence elite."

Maggie, who originally started out as Churchill's Secretary and is now a Major.  She had already completed an assignment where she was air dropped into Germany...This one is just as dicey. She is looking for an agent she fears has been captured and her half-sister who escaped a prison camp in Berlin.  Sarah, Maggie's old roommate and former prima ballerina now spy is having her metal tested on her own extremely dangerous mission.  Hugh, an old flame of Maggie's now Sarah's love, is posing as Sarah's husband for their mission.  Jacques, Maggie's Paris contact for her dual mission, is a charming Frenchman.  Even Coco Chanel makes an appearance.  Then there are the various departent heads back in England that seem oblivious to glaring clues that the Paris spy network has been compromised.

No romantic Paris in Springtime glow fo the setting. As Maggie's contact described it: " 'It's the only rule you'll need while you're here,' he whispered, mirth gone from his eyes. 'Easy to remember: Trust no one.  Nothing is clear here. Everything is shadows.'"

I've heard much about England's suffering under the Luftwaffe bombing raids, but little about Paris.  Paris went from being like champagne, light and bubbly to a tripple-shot expresso, dark and nerve wracking.  But the author highlighted that many French collaborated with the Nazi's because of the continual lies spread that the real threat was the communists and convinced them to partner with Germans.  The propaganda is clear in hindsight, but in the midst of it so many succumbed to the lies.  It is such details woven into the story that makes the reader feel you have just witnessed history first hand as you read, I certainly did.

The plot is classic intrigue with rarely a safe feeling moment. One slip of a word can blow your cover.  Maggie's dual missions are one plot, but Sarah and Hugh's are another plot.  Eventually, they all converge.  This builds the tension like a Hitchhock thriller.

With such suspense through the story, it is hard to pull off a nail-biting climax.  Yet, it happens in this case.  Even the wrap-up ends with a major shock that took my breath away.

Another stellar addition to the Maggie Hope series. The plot has the very direction of the war at stake without the spies involved being aware.  The characters are real, in some cases you feel their anguish and pain.  Throw in some twists and a final surprise to have a powerhouse of a novel.  As always, I love the historical notes at the end to fix in my mind how much was based on fact - always an eye opener.

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. If you haven't read the prior books, buy all of them while you're at it.

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The publisher has agreed to do a giveaway of The Paris Spy.

Giveaway entry lasts until Friday August 4 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S. entries only please.

The Publisher will be shipping the book to the winner.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.

I shall notify each winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.  If I don't hear from you in 3 days, I will select another winner and notify them.

** IF you are a member (or email subscriber) of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member (or email subscriber) of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

Good Luck!

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Crossing - Love Your Books, Let Them Go

I came across Book Crossing and wanted to share this website and its quirky yet delightful idea with all of you.

BookCrossing is the act of releasing your books "into the wild" for a stranger to find, or via "controlled release" to another BookCrossing member, and tracking where they go via journal entries from around the world. Our community of passionate, generous book-lovers is changing the world and touching lives, one traveling book at a time. We hope you join us!

Step 1. Label
Register your book for FREE, and get a unique BookCrossing ID.

This BCID allows you to follow your specific book wherever it goes. Think of it as a passport enabling your book to travel the world without getting lost!

There are several ways you can label your book:

Download free BookCrossing labels and print them from your computer onto label stock. Order labels from our bookplate collections. Create custom labels with our Bookplate Creator using your own image and message (even in your own language!).

Step 2. Share
There are a few different ways you can share your book:

Give it away. Pass your book on to a friend, a stranger, a strange friend, or a friendly stranger! You can find someone in the BookCrossing community who's looking for your book and make their day by sending it to them. These particular methods are referred to as “controlled releases", because you know the destination of your book’s next stop.

Or leave your labeled book on a park bench on a summer day, in a train station, on the table in your favorite coffee shop -- anywhere it’s likely to be caught by another delighted reader. Then come back and read about your book’s new adventures!

BookCrossers find a myriad of creative ways to exchange books and make new connections! They might establish an "Official BookCrossing Zone" (known as an OBCZ); a physical location where books are regularly caught and/or released. They may start a "bookring",  "bookray", or "bookbox".

Step 3. Follow
See where in the world your book goes, and who reads it!

Once you’ve labeled and shared it, follow your book’s adventures.

When another reader finds your book, they can enter the BCID on and report that it’s been caught. Journal entries about your book allow you to see where your book is, who's reading it now, and follow where it goes next. Some books tend to stay in one region while others really move! Your book may touch the life of a reader you never would've met, or it may just circulate among your friends.

Click this icon to go to their site:  Read and Release at

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Guest Author Post - Victoria Laurie

Please welcome Ms. Victoria Laurie to the blog today.  She is a professional psychic of many years and wanted to portray an intuitive as a normal person.

This House Was Designed for Murder

Of all the covers on the Psychic Eye Mystery series, I think the cover for A Panicked Premonition is my absolute favorite. I’m so in love with the scene that it captures; from Abby’s alarmed posture, to that glorious bloody handprint which evokes such wonderful tension, to the Architectural Digest –worthy house in the background.

Typically, an author gets very little say in what imagery goes on our covers, but we are often allowed to make suggestions, and for this cover I’m very proud that what I envisioned and suggested to the awesome art department at Penguin was not only listened to and put to use, but also taken to such an aesthetically interesting level. (And yes, I had to FIGHT for that bloody handprint!) J

The fabulous thing here is that the cover also highlights a theme that really, until this book, I’m not sure I was completely consciously aware of, and that is the integral role architecture plays in my novels. It’s probably a natural condition of being in love with an architect—my S.O.—who’s also the inspiration for Dutch, by the way. Brian—my hunka gorgeous man—is such an interesting character in his own right and his love of architecture and art is such an interesting and wonderful thing to be exposed to. Early on in our relationship I started to see how architecture is really so much more than an expression of something abstract; it’s actually an expression of our personas –who we are is distinctly reflected in where we live and even where we work.

And I think it’s this concept that crept into my creative psyche and began to majorly influence the scenes in the stories that I write. Giving a description of the locations and homes that Abby and her gang visit or spend time in became an interaction every bit as revealing as her interviews with suspects and witnesses. And in A Panicked Premonition I definitely turned up the volume on this theme.

The house in the background on the cover is the setting for a violent crime, (duh, hello bloody handprint!) and Abby’s intuition suggests the structure itself has actually absorbed a lot of the energy of that violence, which plays counter to what we’re visually seeing in the image of the house in my description—and the cover. When I was writing the novel I liked that juxtaposition so much that I used it in several more places throughout the story, and if you’re very clever and looking carefully you’ll be able to find the clues hidden in the homes and buildings that Abby and Candice visit as they work their way through the mystery.

I think of this novel as a bit of a treasure hunt that way, and it’s added a no small measure of extra excitement for the release of A Panicked Premonition. Giving my fans and readers something extra to think about as they follow along is something that gives me a squidgy little thrill. In any event, I so hope you enjoy this one. I loooooved writing it, like, I actually had a blast parceling out the somewhat complicated plot, putting in a lot of twists, turns, and crazy characters just to keep you all guessing! I’m thrilled that it’ll be released this 4th of July too—

just in time to take a nice break from the rat race and dive into something fun and intriguing. May your holiday week be glorious, and may you all enjoy my latest and greatest!


Victoria Laurie
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Here is a wonderful short video interview with Ms. Laurie too:


Thank you Ms. Laurie

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