Book Reviews: January 2019

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
Pub Macmillan £7.99

In paperback after its enthusiastic reception in hardback this autumn, a heartwarming and amusing novel which brings to the fore the sometimes neglected subject of women’s role on the Home Front. In 1941 young Emmeline Blake excitedly accepts what she thinks is a post as a war correspondent for a newspaper, only to find that she is working for a dragon-ish agony aunt called Mrs Bird at Woman’s Friend magazine.
Emmy, despite dire warnings from the prudish Mrs Bird, finds herself unable to ignore the letter writers’ problems and secretly answers them herself, creating her own set of problems with far reaching consequences. Some readers might be initially deterred by the breathlessly arch tone but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that AJ Pearce has captured the authentic voice of the period in a manner both comic and poignant. A delight. 'Pearce gives a voice to all those women who had to be 'chipper and stoic and jolly good sorts and not cry or be dreary' Guardian

The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Pub Allen & Unwin £8.99

A debut historical novel by a young and enthusiastic author who will be one to watch. Set in 17th Century England the novel follows its feisty protagonist as she attempts to avoid the arranged marriage planned for her and escape to the world of the theatre to follow her dream of becoming a playwright. The book is cleverly constructed, the narrative interspersed with period flavour play scripts that chart Ursula’s progress.
While this device can at times lessen the dramatic and emotional tension, this charming homage to Restoration drama is a pleasing read for dark January evenings.

The Boy Who Flew with Dragons by Andy Shepherd. Illustrated by Sarah Ogilvy.
Pub Templar Press £5.99

From the author of The Boy Who Grew Dragons and The Boy Who Lived with Dragons comes the third witty and event-filled story about young Tomas who, inspired by his grandfather to grow fruit, discovers a strange plant that produces dragons. Unsurprisingly this complicates his life enormously. With adorable and amusing illustrations from the wonderful Sarah Ogilvie (illustrator of Julia Donaldson’s great tale Detective Dog), this series is sure to be a favourite with children from age 6-10. Fun for adults to read aloud too.

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay
Pub Macmillan Children’s Books £6.99

Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2018, this novel from popular award-winning children’s author Hilary McKay is an absorbing family story which takes place against the backdrop of the First World War. Clarry and her brother Peter long each year for their summer trip to Cornwall – a chance not only to escape their rather remote father, but to meet their admired older cousin Rupert. When the First World War begins and Rupert enlists in the army, they are distraught and fear they won’t see him again. The effects of the devastating war at home and at the front are skilfully portrayed in a way that will resonate with young readers.
'Written in a timeless, classic style, The Skylark's War will transport you into Clarry and Peter's lives, following them all the way from childhood mishaps to adult decisions. A must-read.' Book Trust.
Note – another interesting candidate for the Costa Children’s Award is a novel also set in wartime but this time during the Second World War. Monster, Orphan Spy by Matt Killeen (Usborne 7.99) is an unusual thriller for youngsters about a young Jewish girl who finds herself trapped in Germany and working for a spy network.
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