REVIEW: Mrs. Porter Calling by A. J. Pearce
London, April 1943. A little over a year since she married Captain Charles Mayhew and he went away to war, Emmy Lake is now in charge of “Yours Cheerfully,” the hugely popular advice column in Woman’s Friend magazine. Cheered on by her best friend Bunty, Emmy is dedicated to helping readers face the increasing challenges brought about by over three years of war. The postbags are full and Woman’s Friend is thriving.
But Emmy’s world is turned upside down when glamorous socialite, the Honorable Mrs. Cressida Porter, becomes the new publisher of the magazine, and wants to change everything the readers love. Aided by Mrs. Pye, a Paris-obsessed fashion editor with delusions of grandeur, and Small Winston, the grumpiest dog in London, Mrs. Porter fills the pages with expensive clothes and frivolous articles about her friends. Worst of all, she announces that she is cutting the “Yours Cheerfully” column and her vision for the publication’s future seems dire. With the stakes higher than ever, Emmy and her friends must find a way to save the magazine that they love.
Dear Ms. Pearce,
I was thrilled to get a chance to read this book in advance. Thrilled. Over the moon. Giddy. Alright, I’ll stop now. Chuffed. Happy. Ecstatic. Right, right, stopping now. The previous two books had been such joys to read but I knew that there was still a lot to be written in this series.
Emmy’s life is going well considering this is heading towards the fourth year of the war. She’s happily married yet has spent so little time with Charles who is off censored somewhere fighting for King and country. No personal news is good news, right? She and bestie Bunty are still living in Bunty’s grandmother’s house in Pimlico and thrilled that Thelma, Emmy’s fellow telephonist at the National Fire station were Emmy works part time, and Thel’s three children will be moving into the flat at the top of the house.
Lord Overton, the beloved longtime owner of Woman’s Friend magazine has recently passed away but so far, the staff don’t anticipate any change to their mission to help the ordinary women of Britain soldier through the wartime shortages and challenges. Then word arrives that the magazine has been left to Lord Overton’s Society niece – the Hon. Mrs. Cressida Porter.
While she might at first appear like a dazzling haute couture fairy creature dispensing glamor and fudge, Mrs. Porter, while smiling charmingly, quickly slashes through the bread-and-butter content of Woman’s Friend in a way that would make a velociraptor sit back in awed appreciation before beginning to take notes on her technique. Emmy’s brother-in-law, Mr. Collins – wonderful man and the type of manager anyone would be lucky to work for, is tact and patience personified as he attempts to stanch the blood and soothe the nerves of the staff. But there’s only so much Guy can do to head off Mrs. – “call me Egg” – Porter’s. ruthless plans to turn their humble but needed magazine into a glitzy publication for the wealthy, landed, and titled. As the complaints from their readers rise and ad revenue falls, can Emmy and Guy cook up a plan to save what’s left of Woman’s Friend?
We’ve been through ups and downs with Emmy, Bunty, and the staff at the newspaper Woman’s Friend. The staff brought it back from the edge – and unwittingly became minor celebrities among the London journalists for doing so – but now they face their greatest challenge. They’ve dispensed helpful information and tips to their readers about how to make do and carry on. The “Friend to Friend” column has been a sounding board for readers’ hopes for the future “once the world is free.” And in “Your’s Cheerfully,” Emmy has given advice to those who often have nowhere else to turn. When Mrs. Porter’s little ideas begin to turn things on their head, the staff is dismayed and then furious. She might think that glum letters from dreary people are “a bit Mis” and that yet another recipe for potatoes or knitting patterns need to be ditched for a write up on a Society wedding or advice to spend 4 guineas for a frock (4 guineas!) but as boring as Mrs. Porter finds business dealings (a bit Mis) it’s soon obvious that the paper is spiraling and headed for disaster.
Bunty is still a bit raw at the loss of her fiancé Will in a Luftwaffe bombing raid but Emmy susses out that there might be a new male friend in Bunty’s life. Soon Harold is a part of the jolly bunch living in the house and he finds himself a hero to Stan, Marg, and George – Thel’s children. As an engineer (formerly tasked with dealing with unexploded bombs), Harold is a key part of repairing the garden shed for Stan’s hoped for guinea pigs and other assorted creatures. If you need chickens, ask for Scary David or his scary brother but don’t ask too many questions.
Emmy and Guy watch helplessly as Mrs. Porter’s ideas scuttle the paper until Emmy thinks outside the box after which the Wonderful Monica and her source at the Ministry Do Their Part. What Guy and Emmy don’t count on is a rear attack. I was sweating how this would end. I was also waiting for Something Dire as several people near and dear are fighting in various military theaters plus though the Blitz is over, the Luftwaffe still does bombing raids. What happened had me gutted. I cried. I will freely admit that. For a good section of the last third of the story, tears trickled. Emmy’s oft repeated thought, “You are safe and you are loved” got me through. Then just when I thought all hope of a positive outcome for one issue was lost, it was saved and I cheered.
If I have one complaint to lodge, it would be that most of these characters are either very good or very bad. Most of the characters are three dimensional and have layers – even Small Winston – but yeah, good or bad. One big Yes from me though for Stan, Marg, and George who are Definitely Not Plot Moppets. Write the next book please quickly as I need to know what will happen next. A