Dear Mrs. Bird

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

Well, this was just what I was in the mood for. It felt fun and charming and, like the reviews say, a wartime romp through London. But it wasn't silly! There were scary and sad parts. But I definitely smiled through a lot of it. My bookseller mind thinks "this will be SUCH an easy paperback sale." 4.5 stars.
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A really enjoyable book - both charming and uplifting story of 40's London
A quick read but still holds your attention
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Dear Mrs. Bird,  the witty and delightful debut novel by AJ Pearce, conjures up a world of courage and perseverance during the London Blitz of the Second World War, and does so in a positive and upbeat way—quite a feat for a novel set in this era.  I loved this book, and think you would too.

As the novel opens, life in the UK and London are literally hellish, and we, the readers, know that the war will not come to an end for another five years.  But, thanks in a large part to the narrator and protagonist of the novel—young Emmeline Lake, the never-say-die spirit of this small island nation dealing with death and destruction on a mass scale and standing firm against Hitler shines through in an astonishingly endearing way.  It amazed me the way that the author could take this setting, be true to it, and write a page turner that was so uplifting.

Emmeline Lake, in her early twenties, goes about her business under “a weak but plucky sun”.  She lives in a smart flat with her best friend, Bunty, and dreams of becoming a lady war correspondent   The flat they share in a property owned by Bunty’s grandmother means a frantic dash to the shelters every time the sirens go, but they are “awfully lucky to live there for free”.  She cares far more about other people than she does about herself.

When she sees a job opening advertised at a women’s magazine, Womens’s Friend, it seems like the perfect step to take to get her closer to her goal.  Unfortunately, the job turns out to be that of typing up letters for a women’s magazine advice column run and written by a crochety tyrant in a feathery hat, Henrietta Bird.  An example of the book’s humor can be seen in this description of Mrs. Bird’s favored manner of dress:  “an ancient and vast fur coat, which gave her the appearance of a large bear that had just failed to catch an especially juicy fish”.  

Emmy is to examine the letters asking for help that  the magazine receives and pass on only the ones not dealing with Mrs. Bird’s “Topics That Will Not Be Published Or Responded To” which is an extremely extensive and outdated list.  

Emmy finds herself moved by her correspondents’ troubles (myriad in wartime Britain), and begins first to answer some of them by personally writing back, and then rashly by printing a couple in the magazine when there is no return address—in the hopes that busy Mrs. Bird won’t see them.  Emmy is so charming, and so caring, that you want her to get away with it.

From the book ( a conversation between Emmy and another secretary Kathleen):

“You know these are the type of people Mrs. Bird won’t entertain.” 

“Type of people?” I said, thinking of Kitty and her little boy. “For heaven’s sake, Kathleen, it could happen to you or me. It’s not just a Type Of People. Listen to this one: “

 ‘Dear Mrs. Bird, 
When they first evacuated the kiddies from London, I couldn’t bear to let my little boy go. Two months ago we were bombed out and now my boy has been crippled for life.’ ” 

I stopped. I was not a crybaby, but I felt my voice catch in my throat. I had shown this letter to Mrs. Bird. She’d said the woman had only herself to blame. 

“Honestly, Kathleen,” I said. “What’s the point of Woman’s Friend having a problem page if we don’t help anyone out?”

 I knew I was speaking to the wrong person. I should be trying to persuade Mrs. Bird. 

Kathleen sighed.
 “Emmy, look,” she said in her quiet voice. “I know it can be awful. Sometimes I feel terrifically glum about it as well. But there’s nothing you can do. If Mrs. Bird says to ignore someone who has, um, you know, is having . . . a baby, then that’s what we have to do.” She shook her head and her hair joined in sympathetically. “Even if we don’t like it.”

Emmy even manages to stay upbeat when things in the romance department are no better and her fiancé, Edmund, sends a telegram from the front to say he’s run off with a nurse. At least he’s not dead, Emmeline thinks.  But things look up when she meets the brother, home from the front, of one of the likeable staff at the magazine, Mr. Collins.

The grim reality of war is accurately portrayed through a description of Emmy’s volunteer APS work in the evenings.  “Tonight the sky was clear as anything. Mr Collins was right: the Germans would be busy later.” About one of her fellow volunteers:: “I knew Thelma didn’t eat a thing so she could give more of her rations to her children.” 

Bunty’s fiancé works with the fire bomb brigade that deals with the effects of the Blitz and the Luftwaffe’s shelling of the city.  And Emmy sees her fair share of heartbreaking sights : “I didn’t see his face, but I saw that his hands were gone.” And afterwards, when the dust has settled and the deaths have been tallied: “I wanted it to be 10 seconds ago when I still didn’t know.”

From the Author’s Note at the end of the book:

“The idea for Dear Mrs. Bird began when I came across a 1939 copy of a women’s magazine. It was a wonderful find—a glimpse into an era and world where I could read about everything from recipes for lamb’s brain stew to how to knit your own swimwear. 

But the thing I loved the most was the Problem Page. Among the hundreds of letters I went on to read while researching the novel, there have been many that made me smile—such as asking what to do about freckles, or trouble with people who pushed into queues. Most of all, though, I was struck by the huge number of letters in which women faced unimaginably difficult situations in the very toughest of times. 

Readers were sometimes lonely, hadn’t seen their loved ones for years, or knew that now they never would. Others had turned to the wrong man or lost their heads and found themselves in trouble with no one to help. Some faced problems any of us might relate to, but of course in circumstances I hope we never will. Many wrote in for advice about decisions they knew would impact their lives forever. 

It was clear that wartime women’s magazines provided even more to their readers than making do, getting the most out of rations, or knitting and sewing—important and necessary though these all were. 

The replies from the agony aunts surprised me, too. They weren’t just clichéd Keep Calm and Carry On responses. More often than not they were sympathetic, supportive, and suggesting practical help. 

Slowly the magazines became a bridge into a world I wanted to write about, an inspiration for characters that wanted to speak and the adventures they wanted to have.”

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book and for allowing me to review it.
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I enjoyed the historical setting of this book but wasn't really that interested in the story. I ending up skimming through parts of it just to finish.
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Totally charming historical novel set in London during the Blitz, where the main character, a plucky young woman named Emmeline, ends up taking a job working at a woman's magazine (where she types up the advice column) along with her work as a telephone operator for the Fire Auxilliary Service. It's written in a bit of an old-fashioned style which took a tiny bit to get used to, but once I did, I found it just added to the quirky charm of this book.
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Enjoyable quick read set during WWII in London. The book centers around a young girl (Emmy Lake) and her dreams of being a war correspondent and her best friend and their boyfriends / fiances. Emmy lands a job working at a magazine, but her job is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from that of a war correspondent. The book brings the bombings from the war and resulting casualties into it, and how people had to pick up their lives after tragedy. I look forward to ready more from AJ Pearce..

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed it.
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Dear Mr. Bird is a cute, lighthearted look at life in London during the bombing raids of WWII. The story follows Emmeline Lake as she goes about her life working at a woman's magazine, answering calls at the fire station and managing life in bombed out London. She falls in love, almost loses a friend in an air raid and must make the best of things as London braces for the worst. Fans of novels like the Alice Network or The Women in the Castle will definitely enjoy Dear Mrs. Bird.
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Charming, fun, wonderfully written. This is a fun story perfect for fans of the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society with a sweet sense of humor.
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Spunky Emmy dreams of becoming a war correspondent. Living in London in 1940, she spends her days at work and her evenings manning the telephone for the Fire Brigade. When a newspaper posts an ad for a part-time position, Emmy knows her ship has come in!

Emmy secures the position but it isn't quite what she expected. In her excitement during the interview, she hadn't quite realized that she would be typing up replies for an advice column in a women's magazine. While not the journalistic dream she had hoped, Emmy does become interested in the lives of the women who write to Mrs. Henrietta Bird. So many broken hearts and difficulties faced by jilted girfriends or worried wives of enlisted men.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Bird, ever prim and proper, deams most topics Unacceptable and instructs Emmy to cut up any correspondence that relates to any number of off-limit topics.

Day by day as Emmy opens letter after letter of women needing help, she decides to smuggle home a letter to answer herself. That sets into motion a chain of events that lead to the threat of termination. On the personal front, Emmy has had her ups and downs with romance, strained friendships, while being a witness to unspeakable tragedy during the bombings in London. 

Readers will love Emmy's enthusiasm and willingness to do her part for the war effort. Emmy meets each new challenge in her life with humor and aplomb. Author A. J. Pearce has created an endearing heroine that readers will adore. I hated to reach the last page and sincerely hope there will be a sequel!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Dear Mrs. Bird from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.
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I am late to the game but really enjoyed DEAR MRS. BIRD by A.J. Pearce.  This novel follows Emmy, a twenty-something trying to break into the men’s world of journalism during the war.  She ends up working for Henrietta Bird, who writes an advice column. Only Mrs. Bird doesn’t like anything unpleasant in her letters, so she doesn’t answer most of them.  Emmy is compelled to step in and the novel is about what happens when she does.  The book captures the uncertainty, the loss of innocence, and more through the letters that are discarded.  I was also not familiar with the chaos of the air raids in London d during the war so there was a lot of description in this book that shocked me.  The author does a good job of setting the scene as Emmy also volunteers at the Fire Station where folks call in the raids.  There are definitely sad parts to this book and funny ones.  The first part of this book read a little slow so I wasn’t sure what I thought of it but once I got familiar with all the characters, I enjoyed it and the last third of the book was read in one setting. 

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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I received a digital ARC of Dear Mrs. Bird from Scribner on NetGalley. I’m grateful to Scribner for their generosity and am happy to post this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Emmy Lake, is a small-town girl living in Blitz-sieged London who dreams of being a real journalist.  For now, she’s got a respectable job at a law firm, an apartment with her best friend, and her volunteer work answering emergency calls for the Auxiliary Fire Service.  She stumbles upon an advertisement for a job in the London Chronicle and promptly applies, visions of her life as a Lady War Correspondent traipsing through her daydreams.  Except, the job isn’t with the London Chronicle, it’s with a failing women’s magazine, as a typist for Mrs. Henrietta Bird, an advice columnist who refuses to print answers to anything unpleasant.  Emmy bucks up and settles in to her new role, only to find herself dismayed at Mrs. Bird’s refusal to respond to readers with real needs.  So Emmy starts to write back.  Both expected and unexpected mayhem ensue.  

Tone & Writing
Dear Mrs. Bird was, for a book about World War II in which some truly awful things happen, surprisingly cheery in tone. It is rare to find a book about World War II that manages to keep a light tone while writing in an appropriate manner about grave topics.  The writing here is charming but never flippant.  It’s popular fiction but still flowed and wasn’t jarring like the Lilac Girls was for me.   

It’s clear Pearce did her research on women’s magazines and WWII-era slang—indeed, it was the slang that by golly nearly put me over the top at first.  It felt a little forced initially and contributed to Emmy seeming a bit too wide-eyed but that feeling dissipated after the first few chapters and I settled in to the language choices.  Overall, the book is earnest and hopeful in a way that was reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.   I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a read-alike but I do think someone who enjoys one will enjoy the other. 

Admittedly, I was a bit taken aback at how light Dear Mrs. Bird started off—Emmy wasn’t clicking with me in the first few chapters and a frivolous female lead in a book about World War II was the last thing I wanted to read.  After a few chapters I got used to her and what seemed frivolous about Emmy revealed itself to be an almost-indefatigable optimism combined with a heightened sense of right and wrong.  Men and women on the home-fronts of World War II were told to buck up and put on a good face—Emmy is what it looks like when a character takes that encouragement to heart, even as bombs literally fall around her.   As the plot progressed, the book took surprisingly poignant turns that made me care deeply about her by the end.

There wasn’t much that I saw in Emmy that I really identified with—even when I’m trying to put on a good face, I can’t be that cheerful or earnest and I can’t see myself making some of the choices she made.  With that said, she endeared herself to me and I started wanting the best for her.  Though I don’t think Dear Mrs. Bird will become as iconic as Anne of Green Gables, in some ways Emmy reminded me of Anne in her optimism and wanting the best for those around her.  Both are clearly intelligent and yet do some frightfully silly things in their quests to do the right thing.  If you’re a reader who identifies with Anne (I used to think I was and have sadly had to accept that I’m far too cynical to be Anne.  I’m probably Marilla.  But I digress)…if you’re a reader who identifies with Anne, you will probably be able to settle in to Dear Mrs. Bird faster than I did because you may identify more quickly with Emmy.  If you’re not an Emmy-Anne, Dear Mrs. Bird is still a delightful book.  Anne won over Marilla and Emmy won me over.

If All the Light We Cannot See is on one end of the WWII literature spectrum and The Nightengale somewhere in the middle, Dear Mrs. Bird is the opposite end from All The Light.  The writing is light and the ending unambiguous and not soul-crushingly depressing.  I recommend it for readers who enjoy more popular fiction or loved Guernsey.

Published: July 3, 2018 by Scribner (@scribnerbooks)
Author: A.J. Pearce (@ajpearcewrites)
Date read: July 1, 2018
Rating: 3 ½ stars
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Coming out of my re-reading of The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, I remembered I had a copy of Dear Mrs. Bird which is touted as:

...a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 

Unable to return to present-day reading, I dove right into another novel based on a plucky young woman in war-torn London.

The novel opens with Emmy Lake, aged 23, riding the bus home from volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services.  She is carrying her handbag, gas mask, and a prized onion for stew. But, most importantly she has seen an advertisement for a position at the London Evening Chronicle.  Emmy dreams of becoming a journalist, and with the war on, she imagines herself reporting from dangerous locations. With great excitement she applies for the job and gets the position, only to discover she's actually working for the formidable Mrs. Bird who writes an advice column  in the stodgy (and failing) Woman's Friend magazine.  

Emmy has to sort the incoming letters discarding any that are deemed as off limits.   Mrs. Bird refuses to even read letters contain any mention of premarital, marital, and/or extramarital relations.  No political or religious activities or opinions - no Hitler.  Mrs. Bird ignores pleas from women who are troubled by Unacceptable Topics, which includes just about everything except questions about cooking or skin care. Everyone else needs to take Brisk Walks and have a Cheerful Attitude.

Emmy, can't bear to see these heartbreaking letters so callously dismissed and decides to respond to a letter, then another, directly, without Mrs. Bird knowing. Okay, you're thinking, I know how this is going to end, how quaint -- it's just a matter of time before Emmy will be found out. Is that it?

Never fear, the author has given us much more.  Through the first person narrative, the reader is immediately drawn into Emmy's world.  The narrative alternates between her thoughts (almost like reading her journal) and her correspondence. Yes, she's young, full of hope, excitement -- with her emotions in capital letters -- so much is Important or Exciting.

There is humor, with chapter titles such as  A Quandary over Next Steps, or A Rumour of Pineapple Chunks

And then there are Emmy's observations at once naive but also insightful:

My mother steadfastly referred to the war as This Silly Business, which made it sound like a mild fracas over a marmalade sponge.

Emmy and her friends are resilient and hard-working young people, making do with rationed food and altering hand-me-down clothing — they're just trying to get on with their lives, their jobs, friendships, going to dances, and love complications ~~ all with the nightly backdrop of bombs falling on their beloved London.

Noise was coming from everywhere at once, as if we were being eaten by the very sound itself

Dear Mrs. Bird also deals with some serious issues.  The plight of women left behind in widowhood or with lost lovers, trying to rebuild their lives.  We see how post traumatic stress collides with the British stiff upper lip.  The loss of lives, rationing, and the weight of constant fear.  And there's poor Emmy, in her volunteer fire service role, dispatching her male friends into bombed and burning buildings -- with tragic results.

Emmy is the most fully characterized with her guileless faults and strengths (she reminded me of Jane Austen's Emma) and we see a view of the London Blitz through the eyes of this young woman who wanted more out of life than society was willing to give her. Other characters could have been more fleshed out.  Mrs. Bird was especially one-dimensional, I wanted to know her background and character a bit more.

But otherwise, this debut novel is just lovely -- inspiring and intelligent and will have you alternately giggling and crying.

A digital review copy was kindly provided by Scribner via Netgalley

Ms. Pearce was inspired to write this novel after obtaining a women's magazine from 1939.  Interview with the author HERE
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Thank you to Netgally and Scribner for the ARC. This was a refreshing read about an ambitious girl, which was must needed after a slew of unreliable narrators in stacks of thrillers.
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What a charming book. I think I need more books like this in my repertoire. Set in London in the 40's during the war, this is a story of a girl who approached life with optimism even in the midst of some really awful things. Emmy Lake has dreams of becoming a war correspondent. She answers a newspaper ad for a part-time writer and unknowingly accepts before realizing that it is just typing responses for a women's magazine for Mrs. Bird, the grumpy old woman behind the advice column, "Henrietta Helps." As you can imagine, hilarity ensues and you will find yourself rooting for sweet Emmy. 

This is a great debut novel. I love that the author got the inspiration for this story after she found an old women's magazine from 1939 and read the advice column inside. Back then, women would write in and ask for advice for everything, from cooking to their love lives. This is a really clever way of exploring that a little bit. It is a delightful little book that I would recommend for your next light read.
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What an enjoyable read!    In the genre of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lady Pettigrew’s Last Stand.  A more perky and witty, yet sober novel on the times of the Blitz in London as seen through the eyes of a young woman, Emmeline, who dreamed of being a woman war correspondent who had an impact on the world but instead worked as a part-time assistant to a rather dowdy and rigid advice columnist.   Emmy also worked as a volunteer for the local fire brigade on  her off hours.  Notwithstanding not doing what she yearned to do, Emmy did make an impact on the everyday lives of those surviving during the turbulent times of the war, sometimes with unforeseen consequences.  The novel probably included every English colloquialism yet so delightful.  The characters are all very well defined.  This is a debut novel by Ms. Pearce and I look forward to her future works if anything like this.  Righto!
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*Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you Scribner Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Review: I can’t get over how cute this story was. Filled with examples of true friendship, love, & determination. I simply loved this one. Hard topics of WWII presented in a lighthearted way. Humor galore and the perfect mix of strength and vulnerability. 

Emmeline (Emmy) Lake, determined to become a Lady War Correspondent, finds herself taking on the role of a typist for an advice columnist instead. As her journey continues, she is faced with the decision to either take a chance and help women she so desperately wants to help or obey Mrs. Bird, who often thought the writers represented “unpleasantness”. 
I don’t want to spoil this wonderful book for anyone, so do yourself a favor and pick it up. You won’t be disappointed .
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Books that are about WWII are my jam. So, when I saw that this book was about 1940 London I had to see what it was about. Emmy and her friend Bunty live together and are trying to do their part during this difficult time. Emmy has aspiration of being a War Correspondent, she sees an advert in the paper and goes for an interview. Emmy unfortunately does not pay attention to what is being discussed in the interview and soon finds out she will be a typist for Harriet Bird's advice column. Very quickly Emmy becomes uncomfortable not addressing certain letters that Mrs. Bird deems "unpleasant" but Emmy feels need to be answered.

In those days as the young men went off to War many engaged themselves to the young women only to change their minds and leave others in compromising situations. It was an unsteady and fleeting time. I enjoyed the book. I knew right away what was going to happen and wanted a bit more depth about war. It was a good look into what life was like for young women and families during the time. 'Dear Mrs. Bird' is an entertaining light read that I enjoyed and would recommend.
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4.5 stars rounded up. 
I’ve read many books about World War II.  Dear Mrs. Bird offers a fresh tale on this fascinating time period.
A 1939 copy of a women’s magazine, especially its Problem Page inspired author A.J. Pearce to create a lively fictional account of London during the Blitz. 

The boss, Mrs. Bird, is formidable and strict. She will not respond to Unpleasantness (Married Life, kissing, politics and religion) in her women’s magazine column. The novel, Dear Mrs. Bird, has it all: kissing, drama, deep friendship, humor, kindness, sorrow, spunk, well-drawn characters who elicit an emotional response. 

Chapter titles (A Quandary over Next Steps, A Rumour of Pineapple Chunks) poke fun at an old style of writing, but there is nothing ‘fuddy-duddy’ about the sharp, witty writing. Clever descriptions add humor, “I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew.”

The British wore an attitude of Keep Calm, keep going. They didn’t over-analyze, they just did it. In Dear Mrs. Bird, Emmy Lake questions if glossing over the hard stuff is always helpful. She begins secretly answering magazine reader responses with caring and understanding. “How often did we say well done to our readers? How often did anyone ever tell women they were doing a good job? That they didn’t have to be made of steel all the time? That it was all right to feel a bit down?”

Emmy’s first-person narrative draws the reader like friends sharing a cup of tea. Chin-up Emily later admits, she kept telling herself to buck up but couldn’t. Her colleague's face "twisted itself into a determined imitation of an Everything Will Be Fine smile. I managed an equal imitation of one back.” I love when author’s say so much is with so little. 

Well-researched details add dimension to the story without getting in the way – the girls wore white scarfs, so they wouldn’t get “flattened by a bus” walking to their flat during blackouts. London’s bombing/ fire scenes were sad and terrifying, (though not graphic).

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for granting access to an arc of this book for an honest review.
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This was a charming read.  It was very much about “having pluck” and “putting on a brave face.”  And lots of other very forties catch-phrases.  It was one of the more lighthearted books I’ve read about World War II.  And I don’t think it was unrealistic – as there was plenty of awful things happening – but truly the women were expected to just carry on so as not to bring down the boys.  Don’t forget to put on your make-up ladies and fix your hair so your men will never know there’s something wrong!

Honestly it was a little too lighthearted for me.  Air raids and a personal crisis and the main character hardly bats an eye.  I am totally all for grinning and bearing it – but we are in her mind – she should have been feeling something even if she was still putting on that make-up and stuffing it way down deep.  However, it picked up in the last half of the book, where I thought she showed more heart and feeling than she had in the first half.  

“I tried to take a deep breath and be British and brave, but it didn’t work, and instead, the tears began.  Masses of them.”

And I said thank God, Emmy! Finally! Because every once in a while you just have to stop with the brave face and admit that it’s all just too much!  So all in all, it was a very sweet book – a bit predictable, but sweet – and I recommend it to fans of historical fiction looking for a pretty wholesome read.  

Entertainment Value: 4
Characters: 3
Voice: 3
Plot: 3
Overall 3 stars

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