Dear Mrs Bird

London, 1941. Amid the falling bombs Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a fearless Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, Emmy instead finds herself employed as a typist for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt at Women’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird refuses to read, let alone answer, letters containing any form of Unpleasantness, and definitely not those from the lovelorn, grief-stricken or morally conflicted.

But the thought of these desperate women waiting for an answer at this most desperate of times becomes impossible for Emmy to ignore. She decides she simply must help and secretly starts to write back – after all, what harm could she possibly do?

When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst. I’d had a rather cheerful day so far, despite the Luftwaffe annoying everyone by making us all late for work, and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew. But when I saw the announcement, I could not have been more cock-a-hoop.”

So begins Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce, a book I devoured over a couple of rainy afternoons curled up on my sofa. Relentlessly practical and optimistic in the keep calm and carry on sort of way you imagine war time women to have been, Emmy’s energy was exactly what I needed to channel to get me through lockdown. Like the blurb says, Emmy dreams of being a war correspondent – though currently working as a secretary at Strawman’s Solicitors and a volunteer telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Service three nights a week. So, as you can imagine, she is over the moon when she sees in the paper that the Launceston Press, publishers of The London Evening Chronicle, is hiring a part-time Junior.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out quite like she thought. Rather than getting a position writing the news, it’s actually Women’s Friend magazine Launceston Press is hiring for. This magazine is pretty much what it sounds like – all crochet patterns, serialised romance stories, parenting advice and Henrietta Helps, the problem page. It’s this problem page that Emmy has been hired to type up letters for. Emmy quickly learns that having accidentally taken entirely the wrong sort of job is going to be the least of the problems in her role. The page is ruled by Mrs Henrietta Bird’s draconian hand. The old fashioned type, Mrs Bird refuses to answer questions that involve any sort of ‘unpleasantness’, which, for her, comprises pretty much everything of any interest – sex, politics, religion (with the exception of church fundraisers, of course), war, etc. The list of topics with which Henrietta won’t engage, presented to Emmy on the first day of her job, is extensive.

Obviously Emmy quickly takes the situation in her own hands, answering the listener queries Henrietta had been tossing in the bin for years on the DL.

And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Dear Mrs Bird is the quintessential comfort read. The language is delightful, with phrases like “cock-a-hoop” and “you’ll be smashing” scattered throughout giving Emmy and her friends voices that felt very much of the 1940s, which, coupled with typically stoic British throwaway comments about the war (my personal favourite: “if Hitler asks, tell him I’ve gone on holiday.”) providing what I felt was a pretty authentic insight into the time. Bombs were always a possibility, but life did not simply stop as a result.

The novel is very much a love story, but not in the sense you might expect from one of is genre. It isn’t a tale about Emmy sending off letters to a doomed sweetheart on the front, but instead a story of friendship. Emmy lives with her best friend Bunty (amazing name), and it’s these two women and how they navigate their young lives in the midst of war that is the heart of Dear Mrs Bird. How they support each other (no one is more thrilled about Emmy’s new job than Bunty), hold each other accountable, have fun together and when tragedy finds them – which, it’s a novel about the Second World War. You know that it does – navigate it together (well, with a few bumps along the way) got me right in the feels.

I haven’t read a lot of books set in the Second World War, but those I have were dominated by the high stakes, violence and tragedy of the situation – which totally makes sense. What I loved about Dear Mrs Bird, though, was that it was concerned only with daily civilian life, the daily grind of war – because it would have been a grind, and it would have been boring, frustrating and, at a certain point, normalised. Emmy’s story is one of how a person carries on their life despite the entire world’s descent into complete and utter chaos.

Which is quite a comforting message for right now, I think.

The Unexpected Everything

Before the scandal, Andie had important plans. And zero of them involved walking an insane amount of dogs, being in the same house as her dad or hanging out with Clark. Now there’s a whole summer stretching out in front of Andie without a plan. And Andie always sticks to the plan.

But here’s the thing – if everything’s always mapped out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that?

The Unexpected Everything (2)

The Unexpected Everything was my first Morgan Matson. It’s a cute, romantic, heartfelt and emotional read that had me thinking Matson has been praying at the altar of Sarah Dessen for at least as long as I have.

Five years before the start of the book, Andie lost her mother to ovarian cancer. After that her father, a politician, withdrew from her and disappeared into his work. As you can imagine, these events left Andie with some pretty serious abandonment issues. They also made her into a total control freak. She plans every aspect of her life according to how it will appear on her CV. She has learned to be carefully expressionless during her father’s speeches. She’s never had a relationship than lasted longer than three weeks.

So, when her father gets embroiled in political scandal and Andie ends up losing her summer internship, she doesn’t handle it well. But those events, it turns out, are only the beginning. Once there’s a crack in her carefully constructed control, it’s not long until the whole thing comes crashing down around her.

Watching it come crashing down is the fun part.

The way Matson handled Andie’s insecurities really made the book for me. It felt very authentic to watch Andie build meaningful relationships while contemplating the loss of them. Andie lives in terror of the people that she loves leaving her, and this leads her to make some very bad decisions

When we first meet her, we see that with most people she only lives on the surface, refusing to answer meaningful questions and never asking any herself. Even with those she’s closest to she can be distant, and is immensely conflict averse. She would rather manipulate friends into lying to each other than deal with the possibility that they might fall out, and as a result, leave her.

She sometimes drives people away because she’s afraid of how they make her feel.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with her actions and actually found myself groaning ‘Andie NOOOOOOO’ out loud on at least one occasion, everything Andie did made sense to me from within her worldview.

I think characters like Andie challenge us to be compassionate readers. It’s really hard to engage with the insecurities of other people, because 99% of the time, they make absolutely no sense to us. What Matson does is challenge us to become Andie for a little while. To ask ourselves: if we had grown up like Andie did and had the experiences she has had, would we have made different choices?

Probably not.

While I enjoyed getting into Andie’s psyche, everyone else in the book, I found myself wanting more from. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Andie’s friends. I totally did. Andie has a very solid girl group who became her surrogate family after the collapse of her own. Their interactions were sweet and funny… but that was it. They all had summer jobs that seemed to relate in some way to their future plans but we never really got to see that side of them. Mostly they just talked about boys. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – talking about boys is fun – but I just wished there could have been a couple scenes where they talked about anything else.

Clark, Andie’s boyfriend is the typical cute nerd who just happened to start publishing books when he was fourteen. Again, I enjoyed him enough, but he didn’t especially interest me. I am not, for example, fantasising him into existence now the book is over. When I wasn’t reading, I didn’t really think about him at all. As with Andie’s friends, I feel he could have been more complex. The resolution to his problems happened on the fringes of the story. We only knew about them if Andie happened the mention them. This all meant I wasn’t as invested in his character as I would have liked to be. Even the one great revelation of his past trauma didn’t really land. Mostly because Andie didn’t really respond to it and then they never spoke of it again. Weird, no?

Probably my favourite relationship in the book was Andie and her dad. After getting suspended from his job, he and Andie have the opportunity to get to know each other again. Initially, they have an awkward time trying to establish their roles. Alex doesn’t exactly know how to be a father, and suddenly adopting the role of disciplinarian after five years of anything-but does not go down well. Andie, on the other hand, has to adapt to actually being someone’s child again. They also have to start talking about Andie’s mother, and the grief they kept them distant from each other for years. Whether you’re close or not, so much of the parent-child dynamic is about renegotiating your relationship as you grow up. Watching Andie and her dad go through this gave me the serious feels.

If you’re looking for a light summer read that’ll sneak up on you with a surprise kick to the emotional butt, The Unexpected Everything is for you.

Becoming Bindy Mackenzie

Bindy Mackenzie is the smartest – and kindest – girl at Ashbury High. She likes to share her knowledge of common teen anxieties and offers lunchtime advisory sessions in a relaxed setting (the locker room). But then Bindy discovers that, despite all her hard work, NOBODY LIKES HER! It’s time to banish benevolent Bindy – and release ruthless Bindy instead.

Bindy records every moment of her new rebellious life in a project – from The Philosophical Musings of Bindy Mackenzie to extracts from her essays. But her scrapbook is also the key to a bizarre mystery – with Bindy herself at the centre. Only her friends can help her now. If only she had some.


Rereading Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was such a good choice. I was still in high school last time I read it (5 years ago. This is always frightening to realise.), and I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t withstand the grown-up test.

I needn’t have worried. It totally does.

The thing it’s important to realise about Bindy is that she is almost unbearably annoying.

She’s also totally real. She’s that kid from school – the one who is just too… everything. Too enthusiastic, too smart, too friendly with the teachers. The kind of kid who made my sixteen-year-old self cringe. I was a painfully quiet kid and couldn’t help but ask myself why people like Bindy didn’t realise their life would be so much easier if they would just fly under the radar?  No one can be mean to you if you never open your mouth.

Important note: I don’t think this way anymore. Now my view – in the words of Amy Poehler – is as follows: Do your thing. Don’t care if they like it.

(some things get better when you’re a grown up.)

Bindy is the kid who approaches her classmates as if they are subjects in an experiment. And later, after they reject her, like a rival army. Both have the singular effect of pissing people off. A large part of Bindy Mackenzie’s becoming is the realisation that perhaps the classmates she has judged from a distance are actually a lot more complicated than she’s given them credit for.

‘And I’ve been thinking about how said you’ve tried to change and see the positive things in us, instead of being critical. So you sent us those memos giving us ‘good animals’. I guess I’m thinking that that was nice of you, and you were trying hard, but there’s not much difference between deciding what’s bad and deciding what’s good. Either way it’s judging people.’

Jaclyn Moriarty really knows how to use perspective. Throughout the book, Bindy laments her tendency to get caught up in reverie – the girl has personal stationary for her ‘philosophical musings’, after all. She wants to understand the world, but is irretrievably caught inside her own head. She thinks she has all the answers. Then one night on a school trip she leaves her computer unattended and the messages her peers type to her crack her whole world open. I love how Moriarty used the sometimes pretty silly messages Bindy’s friends typed on her computer to demonstrate that, oftentimes, the only real cure for reverie is a fresh perspective.

Then there is the murder-ey side of things. In some countries, this book is called The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. I won’t say much, because you want to go into this spoiler free, but I will say that the thriller aspect of the thing is subtly executed. Were it not for the blurb, and in some countries, the title, you might not even realise something bad is happening the Bindy until almost all the way through.

Twists happen. Almost everyone falls under suspicion.

It’s fun to connect the dots.

This is the definition of Fun Summer Read.

A Summer TBR

As the long rainy days of the English summer stretch on and around me my country is overrun by alarmingly hateful people and attitudes, I find myself in need of a distraction.

Luckily, I have books. Specifically, lists of books. To be read. Future distractions. Depending on what happens on Thursday, anyway.

(RemaIN, guys. UK people, I am literally begging you).


Let’s do this.

(summaries from Goodreads).

My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix

my best friends exorcism

This is one of those from the title alone selections…

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act . . . different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

The Unexpected Everything – Morgan Matson

the unexpected everything

I have read endless good reviews for this one, and it sounds Sarah Dessen-esque. I am so in.

Andie had it all planned out.

When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future.

Important internship? Check.

Amazing friends? Check.

Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).

But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life.

Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected.

And where’s the fun in that?

A Corner of White (The Colours of Madeleine #1) – Jaclyn Moriarty

a corner of white

I must have read Becoming Bindy Mackenzie at least five times. I adore it. Yet for some reason, I haven’t read any other Jaclyn Moriarty books. This summer, that changes.

The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

Unhooked – Lisa Maxwell


This one had me at roguish young pirate….

For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

The Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

the lies we tell ourselves

I read this list of books that should be added to YA required reading lists a while back. I plan to read my way through the whole thing. This is the first one on the list.

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

What are some of the books you’re most excited to read this summer?

5 Summer Weekend Reads

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

all my friends are superheroes

A cute, optimistic little book about a man called Tom, who is surrounded by superheroes. The evil Hypno has tricked his wife, The Perfectionist into believing that Tom has disappeared. Tom has been trying to convince her that he is not invisible for months, without much success. All My Friends Are Superheroes is a strange, introspective but ultimately optimistic read that’ll leave you with the sense that the world is a little bit brighter.

Keeping the Moon –Sarah Dessen

keeping the moon

Colie has been sent to Colby for the summer. She doesn’t fit in back home – she was bullied first because of her weight, and after she lost that a nasty rumour spread around town and now nobody will talk to her. She doesn’t have much hope of having a fun summer. In this book Sarah Dessen looks at self-worth and how it affects us. She shows us how crippling low self-esteem can be and also how you can have everything that you want despite it.

This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales

this song will save your life

Elise Dembowski has always been unpopular. She has come to expect hurt from others in a way that is self-destructive. She feels alone in the world. Then she discovers in one serendipitous night that she can DJ. And if she can do that then she can become a different person altogether. This an interesting read about the life changing consequences of finding your passion.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

the lover's dictionary

David Levithan tells the story of a relationship from start to finish in 185 dictionary definitions.

Gravity, n.

I imagine you saved my life. And then I wonder if I’m just imagining it.”

Voluminous, adj.

I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.”

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

anna and the french kiss

Anna is pissed. She had a job she loved, a boy she really liked and a great summer lined up with her best friend. Then her dad ruined it all by deciding to send her to boarding school in Paris. This is a great book about falling in love, new friends and new challenges. And it all happens amongst the beautiful winding streets of Paris. It is a complete escape.