Official Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: London, 1940-1941
My copy came from: I borrowed this from my local library.
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Review: Compelling and fascinating, but there’s something missing. Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce tells the story of friends Emmy and Bunty, with Emmy going to work for Mrs. Bird at the weekly magazine Woman’s Friend. I loved Emmy and Bunty’s friendship. They have one of those close bosom buddies friendships that everyone wants, and it is a joy to read about! The two gals are funny and kind, and want to do their part to help with the war effort.
What I liked about Dear Mrs. Bird was the tale of the war effort in London. Emmy volunteers as an phone operator for a fire station, and it was tough to read about the efforts of the firemen and the operators as the Blitz was going on night after night. Bunty’s fiancé is one of the firemen, and so we see lots of what they had to deal with at this time.
While I thought the war and history aspects of the book worked well, what didn’t work for me was the whole Mrs. Bird plotline (so, basically the main plot of the book). Henrietta Bird is not a nice lady. Well, I shouldn’t say that, as we as readers never actually learn anything about her. She marches in, barks orders, and marches out, and that’s really all we get from her! There’s such an air of mystery about her (What exactly is she doing at the farm? How is she helping the war effort? Why is she against any Unpleasantness?) and I had so many unanswered questions and that was quite frustrating to read. I went in expecting there to be some “reveal” as to what makes Mrs. Bird tick, and didn’t get any answers.
I held out a letter which Mrs. Bird took, still looking ferocious. After a very long moment, she gave a short nod.
“Miss Lake, your moral standards belong in the gutter. They are quite extraordinarily low.”
She made it sound as if I had been brought up by a group of exceptionally awful prostitutes or had made a habit of punching the infirm. Nevertheless, I looked as contrite as I could.
“I do not want to see that sort of letter,” she said, pointing to my desk in a final declaration. “I will not read them, I will not answer them. They are not from Good Sorts.”
With that she took a handful of the letters I had been reading to Kathleen and threw them all into the bin.
Then, like a galleon that has outflanked an Armada despite having an off-colour day, she made as magnificent an exit as the size of the room would allow.
While I couldn’t connect to Mrs. Bird and the central plotline of Emmy sneakily ghost writing Mrs. Bird’s responses for the magazine, I did enjoy the characters of Emmy and Bunty, and also Guy, the features editor, and Kathleen, another typist at the magazine. There are some truly emotional scenes in the book, and I did have to peek at the ending to see if my favorites survived.
So while the history and most of the characters really worked for me, the whole Mrs. Bird thing did not, and so while as a whole, I did like the book, I felt it needed more insight into Mrs. Bird in order for this to work for me.
Bottom Line: Some great characters and compelling scenes, but the main Mrs. Bird plotline didn’t work for me.
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