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REVIEW!! Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce

Image description: the cover of Yours Cheerfully has a pastel blue title text and an illustration of a typewriter on a pastel pink background

London, November 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

As I said when I first read A J Pearce’s first novel – the delightful Dear Mrs Bird – some books really do come along at just the right time. And after the rough ride that was 2020, it feels like we could all do with some cheerfulness and support in our lives. So it really is the perfect time for the irrepressible Emmeline ‘Emmy’ Lake and her colleagues at Women’s Friend to make their return in Yours Cheerfully!

It’s all change at Women’s Friend following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird. The good-natured Mr Collins has assumed the role of editor and Emmy is now free to assist the understanding and practical Mrs Mahoney on the problem page. More importantly, however, Women’s Friend has been given An Important Task.

Called for a high-level meeting at the Ministry of Information, Emmy and the rest of the Women’s Friend team are tasked with helping to recruit female war workers. Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help but, when she and her best friend Bunty meet a young widowed mother on the train, she begins to realise the challenges faced by some of the women trying their best to do their duty to the country. Before long, Emmy is back on the campaign trail and getting involved in helping her new friends as only Emmy can – but what is she prepared to risk to stand up for her friends?

A J Pearce has done a fantastic job developing her returning characters – and bringing in some interesting new faces. Emmy grew so much during the course of Dear Mrs Bird and, in Yours Cheerfully, we see her develop further as both a young woman and a young journalist. I really empathise with Emmy because she does make mistakes and she sometimes gets herself into a right tangle – but her heart is always in the right place and, whilst she’s becoming increasingly aware that sometimes you can’t just push away your worries, she’s determined to Make a Go of It and do her best to support her friends, her family, and her beloved boyfriend Charles.

I also really loved the focus of Yours Cheerfully, with its depiction of women’s war work and the challenges faced by working mothers – challenges that still haven’t been adequately solved to this day. As with its predecessor, there’s a real sense of the challenges of wartime life beneath Emmy’s cheer and spirit, and the novel doesn’t shy away from depicting the tragedy and often grim realities of the war years.

This is also bought across in the other strand of the novel – Emmy’s relationship with her boyfriend, Captain Charles Mayhew. Although now stationed back in England, the demands of the war place constant constraints on Emmy and Charles’s relationship – and there’s the ever present possibility of redeployment to contend with. I loved how Pearce balanced Emmy’s pride in Charles with her worries about him being sent back into the front lines of the fighting.

As with Dear Mrs Bird, there is an accomplished lightness of touch in Yours Cheerfully. A J Pearce has, yet again, walked the line between the realities of life on the UK’s Home Front in World War II and the uplifting, hopeful story of Emmy and her friends with great skill. As I said in my Dear Mrs Bird review, the deft lightness of touch that allows such a story to work on so many levels is a real testament to the skill of the author.

The story does work perfectly well as a standalone so readers unfamiliar with Emmy could certainly dive straight in here – although I’d recommend picking up the first book anyway because you’d be missing a treat otherwise! Fans of Dear Mrs Bird are, however, sure to adore Yours Cheerfully – it really is the perfect sequel, and an ideal novel for picking up and diving into to take your mind away from the challenging times we find ourselves in.

Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce is published by Picador and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to Camilla Elworthy at Pan Macmillan and to Picador for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

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Reviews

REVIEW: Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce

Mrs BirdSometimes a book comes along at just the right moment in life. This was the case with Dear Mrs Bird, a spirited wartime romp that I read back in cold, wet November when my spirits needed A Jolly Good Talking To (as Mrs Bird herself would advise).

Set in 1940s London and with the Luftwaffe making nightly raids overhead, Emmeline (Emmy) Lake dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. So when she seeks a job advertised at an impressive newspaper, she promptly quits her existing job and applies. Only it turns out the job isn’t for the newspaper at all but as secretary to the fearsome Henrietta Bird, acting editoress and redoubtable agony aunt at failing women’s magazine Woman’s Friend.

Mrs Bird’s requirements are very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. And Mrs Bird’s list of Unpleasantness is very long indeed. As Emmy finds herself dismissing letters from love-lorn, grief-stricken and morally confused readers in favour of those asking for a good rationing recipe or help with unsightly ankles, she decides the only thing to do is to write back to the conflicted readers herself.

Make no mistake, this book is a romp through and through. To start with, I even wondered if it was a pastiche because there’s just so much sugar in Emmy – she’s the epitome of the Blitz spirit and, as a result, her narrative voice is very Famous Five jolly hockey sticks and lashings of ginger beer. Stick with it though because, behind all the mustn’t grumble stiff-upper lip is an irresistibly funny and very moving novel about friendship, growing pains and the importance of being kind.

I loved Emmy as a character – she’s spirited and funny and a little bit daft. There’s also an eclectic supporting cast from Emmy’s sarcastic boss to her sensible best friend Bunty – and not forgetting the formidable Mrs Bird herself of course, who never speaks when she can shout and never shouts when she can bellow.

Underneath all the high-jinks though, there’s a real sense of daily life in wartime London, both from Emmy’s own experiences and the letters of the readers she responds to. As the book progresses, Emmy begins to realise that you can’t always rely on Keeping Your Chin Up and Carrying On Regardless. There’s some particularly evocative descriptions of the blitz that, for me, are only rivaled by those I read in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. And there’s definitely sections of the book that made me cry just as much as other parts made me laugh out loud – the deft lightness of touch that allows the story to work on so many levels is a real compliment to the author, especially as this is a debut.

Overall though, this is a heart-warming and spirited read that would be perfect for anyone who enjoyed Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Yes, at times it’s so quirky that it verges on the twee but some books you read for pure pleasure and this is most definitely one of them. Heart-warming and irresistible, this is a warm hug of a book that’s perfect for cheering dull spirits and brightening a wet, cold afternoon.

Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce is published by Picador Books on 05 April 2018 in hardback and ebook. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley for providing an advanced eproof in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

 

Book Tags

The 20 Questions Book Tag

March has been a busy old month for reviews and blog tours on The Shelf so I thought a change of pace in the form of a book tag might be nice this weekend. This one was created by buydebook over on Goodreads and seemed like a lot of fun.

1. How many books is too many books in a series?

I prefer standalones to series – asking me to read your unfinished seven book fantasy epic is asking me to enter into a long-term reading relationship (yes, I’m looking at you George R R Martin) and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment in my reading life right now. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s more than three books long, I want to know that it’s REALLY good before I start it. Series with books that can be read as standalones, as with Agatha Christie or Terry Pratchett, are an exception to this rule however, as is Harry Potter.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

Depends on how they’re done. I find a lot of the time they’re included just for the sake of it (and to generate hype for the next book in a series) which I think is…a bit of a cheap shot if I’m being honest. I prefer it when each book wraps up it’s own story but manages to show that there’s more to develop in the next one in the series. Kudos to J K Rowling for getting this absolutely right with HP.

3. Hardback or paperback?

Paperback, always. Just so much easier to read and carry around with you. That said, nothing is as nice as a gorgeous special edition hardback on a bookshelf. And always, always print over ebook. My Kindle is useful when I’m on the go but a physical book will always be my first love.

4. Favourite book?

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. The one book I regularly re-read and I never fail to get sucked into the world that Tolkien builds. And yes, I know it has dull bits and there’s far too much singing at times; but I shall love it forever despite its flaws.

5. Least favourite book? 

Can’t say I have one. If I don’t like a book, I generally either don’t finish it or don’t remember much about it!

6. Love triangles, yes or no?

Again, depends on how they’re handled. If we’re going down the Bella/Edward/Jacob route from Twilight, it’s a red flag (in fact, you can include most things about Twilight in my list of red flags – sorry Twilight fans but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse) but if we’re looking at a Willoughby/Brandon/Marianne from Sense & Sensibility sort of situation then the romantic tension can really add to the story.

7. The most recent book you’ve read that you just couldn’t finish?

Prisoner of Tehran  by Marina Nemat. It was my book club’s choice for March but I just didn’t like the writing style at all so I only made it about three chapters in. Everyone else loved it though so who am I to judge?

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan. It’s fantastic.

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. One of my friends is a true crime fan and I think she’ll devour this, despite the dark subject matter. Just so well written, researched and balanced.

10. Oldest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Probably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, although it’s debatable as to when that was ‘written’.

11. Newest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce – it’s not published until 05 April 2018! Review coming very soon (heads up, it’s wonderful)

12. Favourite author?

As Loki would say “it varies from moment to moment”!

13. Buying books or borrowing books?

Both! I’m increasingly making use of my local library however, in an effort to save funds – so at the moment, I’m probably more of a borrower.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. So many people loved this one but found the narrator more unlikeable than unreliable and I guessed the ending about a third of the way in. Plus can we stop calling grown women ‘girls’ in book titles please?

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Dogs-ears? Sacrilege! Bookmarks all the way for me.

16. A book you can always re-read?

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I love all of Jane’s novels but this one merits repeated reading. Each time I read it, I get another layer of her bookish in-jokes. Plus Henry Tilney is just delicious isn’t he? In my dream film cast, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston…

17. Can you read whilst listening to music?

Only classical. I have a playlist of music that doesn’t have any words – it’s a mix of film music, video game scores and classical music, and I listen to it when I’m reading and also when I’m writing.

18. One POV or multiple POV?

I don’t have an especial preference for either, although I do think if you’re going to move between multiple characters’ heads, you need to have a reason why you’re doing that.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

Usually over multiple days. With the demands of the day job, the household and the occasional need to have a social life, opportunities to read books in one sitting are few and far between.

20. Who do you tag?

Everyone! I love reading other people’s responses to book tags so if you like the look of this one, please do join in!

I’d also love to have your answers to any of the questions above in the comments down below, or come say hi over on Twitter! I’ll be back next week with another book review but, in the meantime…

Happy Reading! x