About the Book
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.
Format: Hardcover (352 pages) Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 24th June 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
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I loved Dear Mrs Bird, the book that first introduced readers to Emmeline Lake and also to the inimitable Henrietta Bird. Henrietta has departed to pastures new and Emmeline, known to most as Emmy, is getting used to her new role with greater responsibility for answering letters sent to Woman’s Friend magazine by readers seeking advice on their problems. Not only has the ‘Henrietta Helps’ column become ‘Yours, Cheerfully’ but it’s become much less judgmental as well.
I loved sitting in on the Woman’s Friend editorial meetings, chaired by the magazine’s new editor, Mr Collins, and listening to the contributions of the people who make up the team. For example, Mr Newton’s report that Hartley’s Jams are taking out a series of advertisements telling people there wasn’t any, or Mr Collins’ mention of rumours he’d heard about ‘something big coming up for blancmange’.
The war is an ever present backdrop to events especially once Woman’s Friend is invited by the Ministry of Information to join the campaign to increase the number of women volunteering for war work such as working in munitions factories. As Mr Collins says, “Let’s show the Ministry what our readers can do, and let’s look after our readers while they’re doing it!”
As Emmy gets to know more about the realities of working in a munitions factory, thanks to a chance encounter on a train, she realises the lack of appreciation for the unique challenges women face, such as balancing child-minding, shift work and long hours. She’s aggrieved as well when she finds out the women are paid less than men for doing similar work. When factory management prove uninterested in the women’s difficulties, Emmy embarks on a new campaign that results in some difficult choices and not a little subterfuge.
Although Emmy often underestimates her abilities, luckily her friend Bunty is there to buoy her up. Can I just say at this point that if everyone had a friend like Bunty then the world would be a better place and, that if Bunty was in charge of things, it would probably be a much better organized place as well.
Aside from women’s contribution to the war effort, much of the book focuses on Emmy’s personal life and her relationship with Captain Charles Mayhew, who just happens to be Mr Collins’ half-brother. Like many other women with husbands, sons or boyfriends on active service, she faces the challenge of carrying on whilst all the time dreading the arrival of that telegram reporting him missing or worse. Since plenty of ups and downs lie ahead for Emmy and others, I can’t do better than quote Bunty’s words of wisdom, “I always think that keeping your chin up isn’t that hard. You just need to lift your face. It’s your heart that takes the effort. When it falls over it can be so stubborn about getting back up.”
If Yours Cheerfully isn’t the book for the times we’re living through, I don’t know what is. I thought it was utterly delightful and I certainly finished it with a smile on my face, having shed a few tears along the way.
In three words: Engaging, heart-warming, spirited
About the Author
A J Pearce grew up in Hampshire, England. Her debut novel, Dear Mrs Bird, was a Sunday Times and international bestseller and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Debut of the Year and the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown for best historical debut. Yours Cheerfully is the second novel in The Emmy Lake Chronicles. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)