A.J. Pearce comes to the blog today with her debut offering set in WWII London, following the life of one twenty-something girl as she lives her life in the midst of air-raids, losing friends and no sleep in
Dear Mrs. Bird
Emmeline Lake has had one goal since childhood: she wants to be a Lady War Correspondent and make a difference. Engaged to her childhood boyfriend, sharing a flat with her best friend Bunty with whom she shares everything, the two are working and ‘doing their part’ for the war with Bunty at the war office and Emme working for a solicitor, but volunteering with the Fire Auxiliary on overnight shifts as they dispatch fire and rescue crews throughout London after bombs are dropped. Desperate to be ‘in journalism” she catches a small advert for the publisher of the London Evening Chronicle and her imagination, and hopes run wild. A letter is sent, an interview arranged, and Emme soon finds herself daydreaming of exotic locations, finding a scoop and all of the many ‘journo stereotypes’ she’s seen in film. And she is more than excited, sharing her news with all who will listen, when the job is hers.
Arriving at the office, Emme soon finds that she is working directly for Mrs. Bird: the editress of Woman’s Friend, one of the many woman-centric magazines with fiction, patterns, recipes and tips and, an advice column. Emme’s job is to type up whatever is needed, and sort through the letters coming to Henrietta Helps, the advice column (half page, second from last) of the magazine. Now, Mrs. Bird is brash, overbearing and more than a bit regressive. Her advice is meant only for the steel-skinned, and full of “stiff upper lip’ and ‘deal with it”, and her list of UNACCEPTABLE (and yes, Mrs. Bird is a shouter) topics include relations (married, pre-marital, affairs, thought of, difficulty with), fear of war, nerves, the war, Hitler, complaints about war, choices about evacuating children, missing said children… essentially, if it’s something that everyone BUT Mrs. Bird is struggling with – it’s forbidden. But Emme is different: seeing her own self, or her friends in some of the questions, and knowing that people are often afraid to speak with friends about their worries as everyone is trying to keep moving forward bravely, and wanting to help – she starts to answer some of the questions, herself. Some she simply mails a response back, then with a dash of bravery and foolhardiness, she puts on in the magazine. The real issue here is Emme doesn’t know what she doesn’t know – and the chance of her being caught are greater, and more dire, than she could believe.
What emerges here is a lovely story with what has to be one of the strongest and most palpable characters in a debut offering that I have ever read. Emme is kind and determined, if a bit headstrong, and often believes that she, and she alone, can keep her friends, co-workers and even her little place in the world happy and safe. This often means that she’s a tiny bit of a martinet, with all the best intentions: she wants to keep her friends happy and safe, and she’s doing all she can to make it so. Told from Emme’s perspective, we see her grow and come to understand the scope and challenges of the war and for the people she loves, and when it all comes to a head with a separation from Bunty who has always been there, her depression throws her into doubling down on both her letters and her work – overnight shifts for the brigade, mornings at the magazine office – the telling statement of her not knowing how they did it all, all are both typically British in feel, and wholly unique as Emme takes us through war-time London, showing us the moments of fear, destruction and kindnesses shown. Unlike what I expected, in all of the best ways, A.J. Pearce is an author to watch, particularly notable for her strong character development and growth, and the palpable and lifelike voice in which Emme shares her tale.
Title: Dear Mrs. Bird
Author: AJ. Pearce
Genre: Historic Woman's Fiction, Setting: Britain, World War II
Published by: Scribner
Published on: 3 July, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 9 Hours (est)
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google ♦Audible
A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.
London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.
Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.
Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Part of Emme’s charm comes from her solid and loving family and friends – and you’l love and apprecitae her as much as they do (even when she’s frustrating) An example is her parent’s response to her jilting, as her fiancé married another woman…..
“Absolute dunderhead. Your mother’s worried, of course, but I’ve told her to look on the bright side as at least now we won’t have idiots for grandchildren.” He gave me a wink. “I think that perked her up.”