Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Dear Mrs Bird – AJ Pearce

Historical Fiction
4*s

London 1941 and Emmeline Lake, Emmy to her friends, sees an advert in the paper for what she thinks will lead to her having her dream job, to be a Lady War Correspondent. Sadly for Emmy the job is working for the formidable Mrs Henrietta Bird sorting out the letters for the woman’s weekly magazine Woman’s Friend.

Emmy shares rooms in Pimlico  with her friend Marigold who is known to everyone as Bunty, and it is this close friendship and mutual support that gives them, and one suspects many of other young women, through a world which is dominated by war. Everything from the lack of clothes to bombs are a part of daily life during this time and that’s not even considering the constant threat of death of your nearest and dearest!

Emmy is a nice girl, engaged to be married and she has known Bunty since childhood but she also carries out shifts on the telephone volunteering for the fire service and sees the men go out on call to rescue those when the bombs fall.

So when Emmy starts her job with Mrs Bird she is taken aback, but not quite a quivering wreck, even though the magazine’s agony aunt makes the word brusque sound like a stroke with a feather. She is given instructions of all the words and phrases which determine that the letter is unsuited to the magazine. The instructions rule that these letters should be cut up the very instant the banned word is read, and put into the bin. The words include: Marital relations, Pre-marital relations, Extra-marital relations, physical relations, sexual relations in general (all issues mentions, suggestions or results of), illegal activities, political activities and opinions, religious activities and opinions (excl. queries regarding church groups and services), The war (excl. queries regarding rationing, voluntary services, clubs and practicalities), cookery…

This would seem to cover many such letters however the page is headed up:

Mrs Henrietta Bird Will Help
There’s nothing that can’t be sorted out with common sense and a strong will.


Mrs. Bird is here to answer your worries. For a postal reply in confidence, send a stamped addressed envelope but please note that Mrs Bird’s postbag is a full one, so there may be a temporary delay.

Yes, you read correctly all you need is common sense and a strong will! This is the time of the stiff upper lip and there appears to be none so stiff as Mrs Henrietta Bird’s. Emmy is able to pass a few suitable letters to Mrs Bird whose inevitable response is along the lines of try harder, do better and the like but she spends most of her time chopping up letter after letter into pieces as very few are above the very high morality bar that has been set by Mrs Bird. But on reading a letter from In a Muddle written by a seventeen year old girl who has repaid her boyfriend who takes her to dances in a way that she knows is very wrong, she is moved to do something… but Emmy, is it the right thing to do?

This book starts off lightly fully creating a life of a young woman in wartime London but as it progresses the harsh reality of war-time is confronted and the humour of the first part fades into the background. This is a unique read which not only has wonderful characters but also a real sense of time and place which transported this reader with ease. It also highlights the role young women took during the war, something like being a volunteer for the fire service sounds relatively easy until you realise what those calls would have consisted of, and all of this on top of a full day’s work thinking about the problems of the readers of Woman’s Post!

This is a wonderful debut that I think would be perfect Sunday evening TV viewing such is the perfect mix of sweetness, female friendship along with some drama and a dollop of historical details.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance copy of Dear Mrs Bird, this unbiased review is thanks to them and the author AJ Pearce for a delightful read.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Missing Girl – Jenny Quintana

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Wow! I’m not sure what I expected from this debut author but it wasn’t this evocative tale of a girl whose sister goes missing one autumnal day in 1982.

Anna Flores’ sister, Gabriella went missing, in fact we only see her reflected through her younger sister’s adoring eyes but it’s now thirty years later and Anna’s mother has died and it is time to clear the house and sort through the family possessions. Anna sadly returns from Athens to attend the funeral but finds herself needing to confront what happened all those years ago.

Split between the present day and 1982 this is every family and uniquely the Flores family. Somehow this author has summoned up the 1980s without resorting to constantly naming the brands of the day or key events of the time but rather more exceptionally, by evoking the attitudes of those times.

We have Esther Flores, mother to two daughters, Gabriella and Anna and wife to Albert Flores who owns a second-hand shop which offers house clearance services. Now I don’t know about you but in another life I can think of no better way than to go poking around through the books, photos and sentimental items collected by a homeowner – I have to admit, I’m not up for the heavy lifting of furniture or cleaning up but the building a picture of a life lived, sorting the valuable from the rubbish, would be perfect for the nosiness I have about other people’s lives. Esther doesn’t like it when Albert does a house clearance as he is away from home far too much as but she has her friend Rita who brings her crime thrillers to read and offal from her husband’s butcher shop to feed her family.

At first any conflict in the family is seemingly benign with Gabriella pushing against her mother’s rules by dying her hair black and wearing unsuitable clothes at which point Albert steps in as the peacemaker without overly upsetting either party. Meanwhile Anna is young enough to observe all that is happening but when the whispering starts between her mother and father her attempts to eavesdrop fall far short of informing her of what has happened. Gabriella now has secrets from her and she feels she’s been pushed to the edge of the family.

And then Gabriella disappears on her way home from school one night, she’s agreed to meet Anna at the shop, House of Flores but she never turns up and in the intervening years there have been few clues to follow.

Told in alternating time periods between the events of 1982 and Anna’s present life carrying out the one last house clearance her mother had agreed to, Anna starts to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. Reconnecting with those residents who are still alive, including of course Rita who had remained a steadfast friend Anna is able to reconcile the events of the past to some degree.

This book, despite not being the psychological thriller I had expected from its title was definitely a page-turner but of the less manic variety than the genre normally provides; indeed I would say this is on the edge of what is traditionally called women’s fiction exploring as it does families, secrets, friendship, community and love in a vivid and evocative way. I adored it all, the descriptions of Anna’s grandparents coming to visit, the two girls exchanging looks as the same old stories are told, visit after visit, the gentle love and respect her parents demonstrate for each other and their children gave me a feeling of nostalgia for what were arguably simpler times for children.

An assured debut that has me eager to see what Jenny Quintana will offer next.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan who sent me a copy of The Missing Girl, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 18 December 2017
Publisher: Mantle
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Lake House – Kate Morton

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose to keep my copy of The Lake House for reading as my first read of the year as I had a feeling that I might not want to put it down and I was right I didn’t.

As in all of Kate Morton’s tales the story is split across different time periods; firstly in 1933 where Alice Edavane lives with her parents, her two sisters and her baby brother Theo at Loeanneth. Alice is in her teens already sure that she doesn’t want what her elder sister Deborah wants which is to go to London and marry well. Oh no, she is far too interested in writing stories and living at home for ever helping her father with his natural history studies. So far so normal but on the night of the Midsummer ball the Edavane’s host annually, something terrible happens and life will never be the same again..

Years into the future in 2003 the Metropolitan Police have been looking for a mother whose young daughter was left alone for days. Sadie Sparrow, a detective finds herself at odds with her superiors and is packed off for enforced leave to let the dust settle. She decides to stay with her Grandfather Bertie in Cornwall. Bored and worried about both her past and her future she hears of an unsolved crime and decides to investigate. Between that and her running she anxiously awaits the verdict on whether she still has a career to return to.

There are layers to this story which span far more years than the two main ones mentioned, we visit the battlefields of WWI, suburbia in the 1980s among plenty of others in-between, and as always with this author, I got a sense that this was backed up by solid research that underpins but never overshadows the story in hand. There are books within the book as well, a murder mystery and a children’s storybook that featured Mrs Edavane, Constance, as a young girl. So the stories swirl around each other, connected but each satisfying in their own right.

This is a large book at just over 600 pages and they are all packed with details or actions so none were inserted to make up the numbers! While not fast the pace of the book is consistent without that dreaded dip in the middle, and the characters are varied with realistic lives, hopes and dreams, which is always a bonus. The author has worked hard to make the largish cast rounded, nearly every single character had their fair share of emotions and motivations, some with a hint of a darker side.

In amongst the sheer readability is a solid mystery to be solved, along with a few more minor ones. I’m not going to pretend that some of the reveals don’t hinge on massive coincidences, but I found that easy to forgive in such an engaging and entertaining tome of a book, it does come with the territory for these type of historical split time-line stories and Kate Morton carries it off with far more aplomb than most. It was one of those books that I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to once I’d read the last page, it was that satisfying a read but my copy is now off to my friend who I’m sure will love it just as much as I did!

I’ve read all of Kate Morton’s previous books, you can see two sitting on my bookshelf on the header to this post and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely.

The House at Riverton
The Forgotten Garden
The Distant Hours
The Secret Keeper