Friday, June 24, 2022

Review - The Secret Life of Maggie Blake interview with author Marilyn Brant

Today is a special day on The Reading Frenzy because my friend Marilyn Brant is here to talk about her  brand new release, The Secret Life of Maggie Blake. And I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts. I know you'll enjoy the chat between old friends and once you learn more about the new novel, I know you'll want your own copy. Which by the way is free to all you #kindleunlimited peeps.

ISBN-13: 979-8449806932
Publisher: Independently Published
Release Date: 05-02-2022
Length: 432pp
Source: author for review
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



THE SECRET LIFE OF MAGGIE BLAKE is a contemporary romantic suspense, light action & adventure tale by New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Marilyn Brant! This story is for fans of humorous husband/wife spy films such as "True Lies," readers who love slow-build romantic suspense, admirers of heroes in disguise like Zorro & The Scarlet Pimpernel, and anyone who's ever found themselves having "Walter Mitty"-like fantasies in the middle of the day...

In an affluent Chicago suburb, Maggie Santori Blake, a clever stay-at-home mom with vivid daydreams of a more exciting life, is caught up in a dangerous game of espionage when an elusive motorcycle-riding hero returns to town.

The Motorcycle Maverick's top-secret government mission puts Maggie's life, her family's safety, and her marriage at risk...especially when she discovers that the sexy, highly skilled, and masked special agent is none other than Preston A. Blake III—her seemingly mild-mannered CEO husband.

To protect those she loves, Maggie must not only confront the man she thought she knew and the decade of lies between them, she's also forced to put aside her fantasies and become the heroic woman of her imagination.

Read an excerpt:

Maggie halfheartedly moved through her chores, meditating all the while on the Motorcycle Maverick. What he was like. What she'd do if she were ever face to face with him again.
She cleaned the kitchen and wondered, What did he like to eat?
She threw in a batch of laundry. What did he wear underneath that black leather jacket and those skintight leather pants?
She took out the garbage. Was he good about recycling?
She'd just moved on to polishing the chrome of the bathroom sink's faucet when it magically morphed into the chrome on the M.M.'s motorcycle, and her daydream began in earnest.
"In between the tailpipes, Maggie," the M.M. whispered to her with his ultra-genteel but oh-so-sexy British accent. "It's easy for it to get rusty there if you don't remove all the moisture."
He tenderly guided her hand as she held the soft polishing square, instructing her with a touch as to where she should slide the cloth next. She followed his directions, marveling at the wonder of simply being near him.
He reached for the cleanser, squirting a bit on the pipes, then nudging her to polish them. Long, smooth strokes. Together they shined his bike.
She couldn't see his whole face, but she could hear his sexy James-Bond-esque voice dropping his Rs and Hs.
"I remember you," he said, his voice soft, low. "From the parade. You were there that day."
"Yes," she answered.
"Is it just me, or is it hot in here?"
"It's not just you. Take off your helmet," she suggested, knowing, of course, he had to protect his identity, but hoping he'd somehow trust her. Make an exception for only her.
"Not yet." He removed the scarf from around his neck and wrapped it lightly around her. "But that's one thing I can take off. And this," he added, slipping off the leather jacket and tossing it to the ground.
Maggie knew she shouldn't be staring, but how could she help herself? He wore a tight, black sleeveless muscle shirt under the jacket, his well-defined biceps clearly visible, his skin a tanned bronze. It was all she could do not to reach out and skim her fingertips along the length of his arm. Was a hug from the legendary Motorcycle Maverick too much to ask?
But he had a better idea.
He pulled the cloth from her fingers and let it drop to the floor. She swallowed as he grasped her hand in his and raised it to his mouth. Her knuckles grazed his bottom lip and she held her breath as he kissed-
The loud, distinctive, clanging of the garbage truck yanked her away from this fantasy. Her heart pounding, Maggie stood in the bathroom and caught her reflection in the mirror.
Life was passing her by. And she wasn't going to let it. Not anymo

My Interview with Marilyn:

Marilyn hi! It’s been a few years (3.5 to be exact) since you visited my blog.
So first catch us all up on some of the most exciting things that happened to you in those years?
Debbie!!!! [*waving wildly & throwing handfuls of confetti*] Hello to you and your wonderful readers! Thank you so much for inviting me to visit. I always love getting to chat with you, and I’m honored to be a guest on The Reading Frenzy :).

The past few years have involved big changes for everyone in my immediate family, so my life changed as a direct result of theirs. My son went off to college, graduated, and just moved 9 hours away with his job. My husband retired—after over 30 years as a high school teacher—so our daily routine is now pretty different than it had been! And my parents, who live in another state, have had some significant health issues that have kept me on the road. The one change I personally made, which started during the early months of the pandemic, was to dig out my old paintbrushes and play around with art again. I’m very much an amateur and it shows in my work, LOL, but I find painting animals & nature in acrylics to be relaxing. Much as I love writing, it’s been enjoyable to create projects in a totally different art form on occasion. 

Marilyn I LOVED your new book, The Secret Life of Maggie Blake.
So tell us what led to your writing it?
Thank you so much, Debbie. I’m absolutely thrilled you loved it!! This story has been hanging out in the corners of my brain for over 15 years. I started work on it after I finished drafting my debut novel, According to Jane, but set it aside while I was completing the women’s fiction books I had under contract with Kensington. After Friday Mornings at Nine and A Summer in Europe were published, I focused mostly on romantic comedy, but Maggie & Preston’s story continued to haunt me. Our world kept changing and, with it, my original plot for the book kept shifting. It wasn’t until last summer that I finally could see my way through the Blake family’s entire storyline and could shape it as I felt it needed to be. There’s obviously a nod to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in this novel, but there’s also a play on The Scarlet Pimpernel that I wanted to merge with the Mitty concept. Plus, I was really interested in delving into the ever-changing state of a marriage, which allowed for both comedy and drama, given the rather extraordinary plot circumstances.

Okay so I admit it I am guilty, like Maggie, of living vicariously through daydreams on occasion, usually brought on by an exceptional book, TV or a movie.
Now Maggie is a former journalist, someone who deals in facts, so why give her this trait?
Maggie is a woman who’s both imaginative and intelligent, but she also admires heroism and actively seeks the truth. While working as a journalist, she felt she could do her part in directly contributing something she values to society. As a stay-at-home mom, however, although her contributions are still very real (she’s bringing up two beautiful children who will, hopefully, become good citizens someday), there’s less recognition of her gifts in that role. She often feels invisible and ineffective, misses investigating stories and the thrill of the action, and daydreams about being heroic in her own right.

When I thought deeply about what resonated with me in James Thurber’s short story, it was Walter Mitty’s desire to be viewed by his community as important. To have his skills acknowledged and appreciated. Maggie’s deepest desire is to really be seen by those closest to her. To feel significant. To believe she’s using her talents to make a difference in the world. And this is a very human thing... I think all of us want that. It’s just that, in Maggie’s case, while trying to add a dash of excitement to her life and follow her journalistic curiosity, she comes face to face with real danger. Eventually, she has to challenge the line she’s been walking between fantasy and reality. 

So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned of Preston’s double life (I’m not spoiling since this is revealed right away in the novel), he is definitely not (on the surface anyway) secret agent caliber, at least not right away.
Did you have him characterized immediately during his creation/development or was he a work in progress?
Preston was inspired by a combination of literary and cinematic heroes and, as such, I had a pretty clear image of him in my mind from the beginning. Back in 1982, I fell in love with the character “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” aka Sir Percy Blakeney, the moment I saw Anthony Andrews as the dashing lead in the film by the same name. (The stunning Jane Seymour played his wife Marguerite in the movie.) But what I loved even more than his compelling performance was the pure idea of such a character: a clever hero in disguise who used his resources, his wits, and his position in society to outmaneuver bad guys in a system that wasn’t working. Even as a teenager, I desperately wanted a character like this to exist, so I’d fantasized him into being when I was about 14, LOL. I’d imagined a leader of a secret group who was a combination of Batman, Zorro, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, but who rode a motorcycle instead of a horse. Thus, Preston Blake as the elusive “Motorcycle Maverick” was born.

Why is it in every successful spy story, yours included, there’s always a Brit of MI6 variety included?
Ha!! This is an excellent question! The original Pimpernel story was based on the novel series by Baroness Emma Orczy, which was set during the bloodiest years of the French Revolution. It involved a band of British aristocrats (known as “The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel”) who helped to rescue innocent French citizens intended to be the guillotine’s next victims. Much as I admired the storytelling possibilities of a period drama, I longed for my heroes to live in the modern world and possess high-level military expertise, like an MI6 operative might have—which was also a nod to the British characters in the original series. So, a sidekick like Tony “English” Lord (Preston’s best friend) was drawn from that idea. Plus, you know, having a character with a dash of James Bond-esque swagger is always great fun! 

On your book’s overview the movie True Lies is used as a comparison and I have to admit I did see a few Jamie Curtis/Schwarzenegger examples. However, unlike Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Maggie has some real colorful and criminal characters on her family tree.
Tell us why you gave her such a family?
There were several very specific plot reasons that made me populate Maggie’s family with an array of “colorful and criminal characters,” as you so aptly described them!! All four nationalities of her grandparents played a role in a particular story thread. However, I also wanted Maggie’s less-than-blue-blood background to influence her perspective on her place in society, especially with regard to her husband’s privileged upbringing and the contrast between their families. She’s decidedly an outsider, not just in her affluent suburban community but, also, to an extent, with the world she believes Preston inhabits. 

So there is often a lot going on in your book and a lot of characters either active players or just mentioned as the storyline is told.
How did you keep them all balanced?
I actually wrote a fair bit more about the League operatives (their names, their skill sets, their assigned locations, etc.) than I included in the final draft. After I’d revised the novel extensively myself, I sent the manuscript out to various brave beta readers, asking them to please tell me what details they didn’t need to know about the team and the secondary characters, LOL. I’d lost all sense of objectivity by that point, so it was truly my friends who get some extra credit for helping me keep the large cast balanced. For authors, there’s always that fine line we need to navigate between boring the reader with too much information and confusing the reader with too little! But, given that this is a suspense tale as well as a comedy and a relationship story, there needed to be red herrings and misdirects built into the plot, so it was a necessity to include more detail than might have been the case with another genre.

Let’s talk about another mainstay in the book, Maggie’s brother Armando.
Did he behave as you were creating him or did he run amok a time or two?
I knew from the beginning that Armando would be involved with Preston and the covert government team, and I also knew that it would be his changes in behavior that would make Maggie suspicious and send her into investigative mode. What I hadn’t expected was how Armando would interact with the group of operatives—Preston, Tony, and J.C., in particular—and that it would be such a delight to bring them together on the page. Being new to the undercover agent group, Armando was able to serve as a pair of fresh eyes and ears for the reader, getting a peek into the secret life of Preston and his League. Some of those conversations didn’t go as I’d expected them to at all, which was exciting from a writing standpoint, but this also had me scrambling to revise the earlier scenes!

It’s been a few years since you had the pitter patter of small feet running around your house so was it hard creating Taryn and Tyler, Maggie and Preston’s twins, or was it just like riding a bike?
Ohhhh, I remember the elementary school years with my son so, so well. All of those memories came flooding back as I wrote this novel. The decades just fell away, and it was like I was there again... I’ll confess to having had Maggie’s tendency to daydream my way through several school board & PTA meetings—both as a parent and, before that, as a teacher! Although, thankfully, I never agreed to chair any committees or volunteer for any activities while in the midst of one of those fantasies. :)

Marilyn thanks for taking the time to scratch my curiosity itch, I always love picking your brain, and good luck with the new novel.
Are you working on another project yet?
Debbie, thank YOU for having me!! It was, as always, such a pleasure.

As for new projects, yes, I’m working on two of them. One is a short story collection that’s nearly complete. The other is an extremely quirky novel that’s still a big puzzle to be solved. We’ll see how many months/years it’ll take me to untangle it...

All the best to everyone here,

 My Review:

The Secret Life of Maggie Blake
by Marilyn Brant


Marilyn Brant’s latest is a romantic spy comedy with teeth starring a family who’s good at keeping secrets and masking the truth under a veil of subterfuge. Maggie is a hoot, a daydreaming, Walter Mitty-ish mom of twins and wife of a seemingly indifferent CEO husband and Preston makes a believable man living a dangerous double-life and readers will love learning all the particulars about the pair. The other characters are all very interesting especially Preston’s British friend Tony and Maggie’s brother Armando and the villain(s) are many and varied plus the couple’s twins, Taryn and Tyler are adorable. The family dynamics are rich in the mundane of real life and provide some much-needed levity when the read gets a bit dark. The plot is ingenious, a twisty turny conundrum filled with half-truths, carrot danglings and red herrings with a pace that’s on an even keel until the second half then things really speed up. Fans of spy fiction, romantic suspense and of this author’s other works will devour this gem of a read.


Maggie Blake is too young to be having a mid-life crisis but what else could you call it when the man of her dreams is not her husband but a motorcycle riding champion of justice and avenger of lawlessness, aka The Motorcycle Maverick, who first made an appearance in her life eight years ago when she was a journalist when he prevented the murder of a visiting dignitary. Well now he’s back cleaning the Chicago streets of drug dealers and Maggie just can’t help doing a little daydreaming starring the two of them.  Maggie loves being a stay-at-home mom to her first-grade twins Taryn and Tyler but lately there’s just been something missing in her marriage to her husband Preston hence the daydreaming.

Little did Maggie know how close to reality her daydreams would become.

 Preston A. Blake III part timed mild mannered CEO and part time US Government black-ops leading spy has been leading this dual life for too long, he would love to come clean to his beloved wife Maggie especially now that her brother is part of his secret life trying to rid the world and Chicago of a nasty drug cartel but it’s just not time yet. What it is time for is for him to don his motorcycle paraphernalia and revive his alter ego, The Motorcycle Maverick and hope he’s got what it takes to save the windy city while hiding his secret life from Maggie a little longer.

Little did he know there was danger lurking close to what he thought of as his suburban sanctuary endangering his home and his family.

About the author:
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary fiction. Her debut novel won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007 and she was named the 2013 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She wrote ACCORDING TO JANE, the story of a modern woman who receives dating advice from the spirit of Jane Austen, FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE, and A SUMMER IN EUROPE, all women's fiction releases from Kensington Books.

She's also a #1 Kindle & #1 Nook Bestseller and has written a series of fun and flirty contemporary romantic comedies, such as ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAE and PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT MATCH, along with a bestselling coming-of-age romantic mystery (THE ROAD TO YOU), a sweet holiday romance (THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS), and the 7-book "Mirabelle Harbor" contemporary romance series. Look for her latest release, THE SECRET LIFE OF MAGGIE BLAKE, a light romantic suspense/fantasy/action & adventure tale, in May 2022!

Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, analyzing novels for the storytelling website Save the Cat! and working on her own writing projects. When she isn't rereading Austen's books or enjoying the latest releases by her author friends, she's daydreaming plot ideas for her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.

Visit her website:


  1. What fun to read your interview! I had a blast with the book, too.

  2. Debbie, it was such a delight to get to do this interview with you! Thank you again for inviting me to visit & for always being so supportive <3 .

    1. Marilyn this was my pleasure and supporting a good friend and deserving author is no chore xo

    2. XOXOX Thanks, Debbie!! Wishing you a wonderful weekend :).

  3. It is my first time hearing about the author. I see myself enjoying this one.

    1. Thank you so much, Nadene! I really hope you'll like the story :).

  4. Oh what a twist, sounds utterly fascinating. Must investigate!

  5. What a fabulous interview! I thoroughly enjoyed the questions and Marilyn’s entertaining answers. It was a wonderful insight into Marilyn’s thought process and her latest exciting novel. I love all of Marilyn’s stories. This latest novel is loads of fun and highly recommended. Vee x

    1. thank you and I as you know totally agree :)

    2. Vee, you get handfuls of credit for helping me decide which details to keep & which to cut in several scenes across the novel!! Thank you for your friendship, for being there for me, and for your many insights! ♡♡♡

  6. Oh, this sounds like a fantastic read. I will have to see if I can give it a try sometime.

    1. How kind of you, Carole! I'm so glad you like the sound of it & hope it's a story you'll enjoy! ;)