by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): Dear Mrs Bird is the first book in the Emmy Lake Chronicles series. A slightly vague job advertisement and a desperate desire to be a journalist: these are what lead twenty-two-year-old Emmeline Lake to quit her position with Strawman’s Solicitors and sign on as a Junior typist for Launceston Press. All her family and friends are excited for her: it’s a dream come true.

On her first work day in January 1941, she’s thoroughly disheartened when she realises that she will be typing out letters for an advice column in The Woman’s Friend, an old-fashioned weekly magazine apparently on its last legs, rather than fast-tracking to becoming a Lady War Correspondent for The Evening Chronicle.

Worse still, the acting editress, Mrs Henrietta Bird was, decades ago, the most loved advice writer in the press, but sees no reason to update her outlook or advice. She absolutely refuses to read or reply to anything Unpleasant, and Emmy is given a long list of Unacceptable topics, whose letters must be cut up and binned.

Those Unacceptable letters, though. Women who have made poor decisions, or been unlucky, or just aren’t sure what to do. Often the war had exacerbated their problems. Emmy agonises over them: surely these people deserve someone to care about their problems and help them?

She knows she probably doesn’t have the life experience to help some of them. Eventually, though, she can’t ignore them any longer, and risks her job to write personal replies. And then she takes it one step further, not reckoning on readers familiarity with Mrs Bird’s attitude.

Daily life goes on around Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, whose grandmother allows them to live in her London house while she stays safely in Little Whitfield. Engagements are broken and made, heartbreak and romance continue.

But with a war on, rationing and air raids are part of life, along with sweethearts stationed far away and volunteer night shifts at the fire station. News of those lost at the front or in air raids can make it hard to stay upbeat. And then the worst happens…

In this outstanding debut novel, Pearce easily captures her era and setting, her characters are endearing for all their very human flaws, and the plot is realistic. A dose of historical fiction that is funny and moving. The sequels, Yours, Cheerfully and Mrs Porter Calling, are eagerly anticipated.