Cover Image: The Secret Guests

The Secret Guests

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This book is great! Would definitely recommend. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
It took me an hour to read just the first chapter because the wording used for descriptions of anything is so inflated and extensive. I had to read each sentence multiple times just to get a sense of what the author was trying to say. I'm sure this was a great idea for a story, but the writing still needed to be edited down in order for me to enjoy it.
Was this review helpful?
I was expecting a lot more about the book, The Secret Guests.  It starts at the time of the Blitz.  I usually love reading books from this time frame, but it just didn't grab me the way others have done.  I will not post a review on Goodreads due to not loving it.  Thank you to Netgalley for this free ebook in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Billed as an “enthralling historical mystery”, and as fan of anything about the Royals (I adored watching The Crown) I had high hopes for this novel. But somehow The Secret Guests missed the mark for me. Benjamin Black, the pen name of the acclaimed novelist John Banville, has a poetic and atmospheric writing style, but the suspenseful plot soon became plodding and often dull.

That’s not to say I didn’t finish it — I did in fact. I was still interested in what was going to happen to the girls — especially the young Princess Margaret — whose character was brave and spirited – already forming her future free and often reckless personality. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is already shouldering the weight of her responsibility as the future queen – she is formal and stiff. I did appreciate the conflicting viewpoints of Ireland and the English during that time period. But, then when I got to the end of The Secret Guests, it felt rushed and out of the blue.  A real disappointment.
Was this review helpful?
Good historical fiction book. I wish the story was better developed, but other than that - I truly enjoyed it. 
4 solid stars here.
Was this review helpful?
Author #Benjamin Black aka John Banville well known literary fiction has written a what “IF”.The novel takes place in neutral Ireland in 1950s and is a slow burn.Elizabeth And Margaret like many children are sent to a old country house for safety.Hosted by a Duke friendly to the crown.
Readers should find the story interesting.Its just so wonderful.Mr. Black really has fun with his characters.
Thank you,
#Netgalley,#Benjamin Black and #Henry Holt & Company
Was this review helpful?
The novel was based on the premise that during the blitz, princesses Margaret and Elizabeth were evacuated to an estate in Ireland.  Ireland was still experiencing division, and a plot developed to kidnap the girls.  The setting and description of the crumbling estate held my interest, but the characters could have been developed more.  The book was just okay.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
I had not read any books by this author before, but I am a huge fan of historical fiction, especially WWII fiction. If you read this story expecting accuracy, you will be disappointed. Definitely read this as "maybe it could have happened" and you will enjoy it a lot more. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I am a huge fan of the Royals so getting to read about the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (even if it didn't really happen) was a huge bonus. I will be reading more by this author. Thank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt & Co for the copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
What is Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were sent to a relative's Irish estate during the Blitz?  This historical novel explores that possibility.  The storytelling is engaging, the historical details are well researched, and the setting is atmospheric.  Recommended for fans of historical fiction!
Was this review helpful?
I am a long-time fan of John Banville/Benjamin Black, and THE SECRET GUESTS is his most entertaining & bewitching novel in years. You know almost immediately you are in the hands of a master storyteller. Plot is important,  but far more so is the leisurely pace of the story, the acute insights into human nature, the seamless flow from one character's POV to the next. Part of Black's genius is making this all look effortless, and it's certainly not! Highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
I was very excited about the premise of this book. The Princesses of England squirreled away to Ireland during WWII to avoid the bombings of London. And I think the payoff of the story is quite interesting. After watching the Crown, this gives you more imaginary back story on the two girls and how they became the women they grew up to be. Especially Princess Margaret. If I was totally oblivious to the royal family, I would still find this an interesting book, but knowing even a little bit adds to the appreciation of the story.

By the cover and description, you may think this is a middle grade novel. I did. But from a content standpoint there is some adult material, so it is definitely for more mature audiences.
Was this review helpful?
While this book is presented as historical fiction, the beauty of the book lies in the wonderful building of characters, and setting. Pulling from a little known incident and perhaps, only nominally factual, the Secret Guests adds to Benjamin Black's canon.  Very few contemporary authors have  shown such literary talent as has Benjamin Black.  This seemingly straightforward historical novel expands his literary view.
Was this review helpful?
The Secret Guests, by Benjamin Black, purports to be historical fiction.  It is not. The basic premise of the story is that during the bombing of London by the Germans in WWII, the Royal Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were spirited away to Ireland for safety while their parents remained in London. While not unreasonable in theory, it never happened.  As far as I could tell the only facts that had anything to do with the story was a World War, the bombing of London, and the ongoing fighting between the IRA and the British.  Only the last issue moved the plot to its ultimate conclusion.  

Second, not a single character was likable. The characters of both Princesses, 14 and 9 years-old, were assaulted with the future Queen described as haughty, dismissive, and aloof while her younger sister comes off as dangerous, spiteful, and perhaps sociopathic.  Their protectors appear to be untrained, uncaring, and negligent.  Even the Queen Mother is portrayed as more interested in her evening cocktails than anything else.  

Finally, the plotting was terribly uneven and very slow until the last twenty percent which moves so quickly that a few plot lines seemed unfinished.  Please read other reviews as others did seem to enjoy the book much more than I did.  

Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Company for giving me the opportunity to read an electronic ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This turned out to be an interesting WWII historical mystery with a unique premise.  The English princesses have been evacuated to West Ireland for safety while London is being bombed.  They're being watched over by an Irish detective and a British secret agent.
I thought the book would be more about the princesses, but it was more about the two trying to protect them.  I enjoyed it though, and recommend it.

Thanks to Henry Holt and Co. and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Judging from this book, Princess Margaret had spunk from an early age, and Elizabeth was well aware of her mantle of responsibility. Like many of the characters in the book stated, Ireland was a strange place for King George to evacuate his daughters in 1940. Ireland had recently won its independence from England and emotions ran deeply against the British. How did the Royal Family think that the Princesses’ identities would remain hidden. Although not a page turner, this book was an interesting story about the British royal family.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars

An interesting premise in the always treacherous genre of alternate history. It's World War II and the Blitz is on in London. There is much concern that Buckingham Palace itself is vulnerable. The king and queen feel they must stay and show an example in courage, but they decide to send their daughters Elizabeth and Margaret out of the country to safer surroundings.

Here the plot gets a little dicey. They have several choices of course - Australia, Canada, Scotland... so what do they decide? They decide on Ireland, inexplicably. This is just twenty years after the Irish Civil War, and the infamous barbarism of the Black and Tans by the British against the Irish. British law enforcement had been preoccupied for decades, even during two world wars, with Irish terrorists targeting Britain and the royal family. So this part of the plot requires a leap of faith.

Supposedly they choose Ireland because of its neutrality, and they lure the Irish in with the promise of coal which Ireland sorely needs. They choose the remote estate of a distant relative and assign a female MI-5 agent to safeguard the princesses. Even in remote Ireland, is it plausible to think that the often photographed princesses would not be recognized?

There is also a Protestant Irish Garda detective assigned to them. He is an interesting character.
The characters and inner thoughts of Elizabeth and Margaret are fictionally supplied, along with the relationships between the staff and the two bodyguards. Predictably, the girls are eventually recognized, and the IRA does make an attempt. 

This was an interesting read, but felt somewhat incomplete and the ending was a bit hazy. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
In this entertaining work of historical fiction, Benjamin Black (pseudonym of writer John Banville) speculates on a possible event involving the British royal family during the blitz. While history has it that the royal daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, remained in London with their parents during that time, The Secret Guests posits a different course. Here, the two princesses, with their names changed for their safety, are transported to neutral Ireland and Clonmillis Hall. A young MI5 agent, Celia Nashe, accompanies them as guardian and sort of supervisor.

The plot is rolled out in Black/Banville’s wonderful prose and style and reflects the ongoing struggle among many factions in Ireland: the free Irish, the IRA working to unite the 6 counties of the North, connected to Britain, with the free counties of the South, and the often-in-decline Anglo-Irish who remain in Ireland. Some of the struggle is almost humorous—except that there are those who see it as a matter of life and death.

There are many selections I really liked:

In those days of bibliophilic bliss he saw little of the girls...

It occurred to Strafford that in the same way that Hegarty looked
the spit of Ollie Hardy, perhaps he himself...resembled a young
Stan Laurel.

He found it slightly uncanny to be in their presence; they still seemed to him figures from some famous old painting who had come magically alive.

Eventually lunch came to an end, provoking an almost audible sigh of relief from all at the table.

Additionally, there are so many examples of descriptive passages of people and places that range from amusing to inspiring.

I do recommend this book to those who enjoy well written historical fiction. And I plan to check out more from Banville and his work as Benjamin Black.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This novel has such an interesting premise.  During the dark days of WWII, when England is suffering from continual bombings by German aircraft, the King and Queen make the difficult decision to send their two daughters to a safe hideaway.  Elizabeth, the future queen of England is fourteen and her sister, Margaret, is only ten. They are spirited away to Ireland, where they will stay with a distant cousin of the King’s.  Accompanying them is a young woman, a British secret agent, and a young Irish detective.  

This is a fictional story told against the backdrop of WWII. In reality, there are no indications that the two girls were sent to Ireland by their parents.  But, it’s an interesting “what-if” kind of question that the author attempts to explore. Kudos to Mr Black for a great idea. 

I enjoy historical fiction and WWII offers so many venues for this type of storytelling.  However, I feel that this author fell far short of providing an interesting and creative story.  The story is ponderous and moves very slowly.  There is constant reference to characters’ backstories, which I usually enjoy, but in this instance, they seemed to be told in excess.  The descriptions are lengthy, as are the sentences, which sometimes seemed to ramble on far longer than necessary.  While some of these criticisms are simple about the writing style, the story itself was less than interesting, the characters unlikable (especially the younger royal, Margaret), and the ending simply seemed contrived and much of it unnecessary.  

I so wanted to enjoy this book, but it just wasn’t to be.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review.
Was this review helpful?
It’s World War II, and the Blitz has begun. The Royals are torn, wanting to remain with their subjects and share their misery, but not wanting the risk the well beings of their daughters. It’s decided that the girls must be moved, but with the shipping lanes and skies fraught with peril, where can they go and be safe? Ah, a fine idea: they’ll send them to a cousin in Ireland. 

My thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt for the review copy. This book is for sale now. 

As historical fiction goes, this is lightweight material, based on almost no historical event other than the war itself. However, as general fiction goes it’s terrific, immensely entertaining and droll as heck. I figure it’s 3.5 stars for historical fiction, 4.5 stars as general fiction; thus my 4 star rating. 

Our protagonist is Garda Strafford-With-An-R, a marginally competent Irish detective who resembles Stan Laurel, tasked with the security the estate where the girls will be housed. Secondary characters are Celia Nashe, a British cop equivalent to a Secret Service agent, who is assigned to serve as personal security for the princesses; an arrogant, sleazy ambassador named Laschelles; and Strafford’s boss Hegarty, who resembles Oliver Hardy. We also have clueless but entitled Sir William, the girls’ host; two bored princesses that get up to things when nobody’s looking; some household servants that know more than they are supposed to; and a few local people that also know too much. 

The fact is that I’m entirely burned out on World War II fiction, and that fact nearly prevents me from requesting this galley. But the spin—Ireland, which remained neutral and flirted with taking the side of Germany, what with its enmity toward the British—proves irresistible. The greatest surprise is how much wit is employed and how fast the story moves. I have never read Black’s work before, and this guy is hilarious. He shifts the point of view often, always from the third person omniscient but varying several times within a single chapter, so we get snippets of the person that’s bored, the person that’s nosy, the person that’s confused and so forth. The word smithery is so original and clever that I cannot put my highlighter down. Highlighting is pointless when I highlight close to half of the text, but I can’t help myself. And best of all, the cliched ending that I think I can see a mile away isn’t happening. 

Those of us in the States have a three day weekend right around the corner, and the weather will be too miserable to want to go anywhere. This novel might be just the ticket. If you’re lucky enough to be planning a vacation soon, this would also be a fine beach read. But the humor will be a terrific pick-me-up for those stranded indoors with a case of the grumps. I recommend this book to you, and I would read this author’s work again in a heartbeat.
Was this review helpful?
4 stars for an entertaining historical fiction book.
The premise of this book is that, at the start of the German bombing blitz of England, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are whisked off to Ireland for their safety. Actually according to her Wikipedia biography, they spent this time at Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle is a formidable Castle. I took a visitor tour in 2016.
In any case there are richly drawn characters:
Strafford, the only Protestant Garda detective in the Irish Garda(police) in 1940.
Celia Nashe, one of a few females accepted into the Secret Service
Thomas Clancy, hardware store owner in Clonmillis and IRA wannabe
Lascelles, an arrogant Diplomat from the Dublin British Embassy
Sir William Ormonde, the Duke of Edenmore, owner of Clonmillis Hall, where the princesses stay.
These characters and others interact in a story more of a historical fiction/character study than a mystery, since you know that the princesses survive.
I enjoy the author's evocative use of language to describe both the characters and the settings.
Some quotes:
Arrogance: "Lascelles had noticed that the detective had hardly bothered to look at the house, probably knew a dozen places like it--Strafford was a bona fide descendant of sixteenth century Protestant settlers. But if so, what the hell was he doing in Paddyland's pretend police force, which was hardly more than a gang of pensioned-off gunmen pressed into blue serge uniforms and told to behave themselves?"

Conversation between Nashe and Strafford:
"Yes, I mustn't let my imagination run away with me,' she said. "Who would want to harm two young girls?"
To this, again, he made no reply; if he were to respond with what he really thought, it would be no comfort to her. Ireland had been held in British overlordship for eight hundred years, more or less, depending on who was doing the counting, and although the larger part of the country was independent now,the fact that it had been occupied for so long had a potent, abiding and visceral significance for a considerable portion of the population."

Clonmillis Hall: "For years this house had drifted along contentedly enough, like a giant anchorless hulk in a torpid sea."
Thank You Henry Holt and Co. for sending this eARC through NetGalley.         
 #TheSecretGuests #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?