In brief: Dear Mrs Bird; Music Love Drugs War; How We Win – reviews

Al Pearce’s agony aunt tale is difficult to dislike, Geraldine Quigley’s novel captures a generation, and George Lakey’s protest handbook pairs practical advice with personal yarns

Dear Mrs Bird
AJ Pearce

Picador, £7.99, pp320

Emmy, the protagonist here, is not immediately likable – she’s been compared to Bridget Jones, and it’s not an unfair equivalence. That’s not to say this by-the-roaring-fire-with-tea-and-scones read is entirely vapid; any book set during London in the blitz would struggle to not have some grit. Eventually I warmed to the over-zealous, naive would-be “lady war correspondent”, who finds herself working for a mean agony aunt at a failing women’s magazine. As Emmy starts secretly offering advice to the many letters Bird deems unacceptable, the most joyful thing about Dear Mrs Bird becomes its empathy for the women whose stories it reflects. A sequel is already on its way.

Music Love Drugs War
Geraldine Quigley

Fig Tree, £12.99, pp288

This sensitive and powerful coming-of-age novel is written against the backdrop of the Troubles in 1980s Derry. The young people the book follows are introduced in a rabble at their favourite druggy hangout spot, the Cave, but the narrative makes gains when it magnifies their individual, dirtily real experiences. The novel represents a generation defined by music in a way they can never be today; anarchists at a time where it meant something to be something. They are not afflicted by apathy, it turns out, but something much more terrifying: an absence of real choice. Even if able to extricate themselves from the clutches of the IRA or the beatings of the military, they’ll still be hurt. A reminder that war has been to our shores and that we should always welcome those trying to escape it.

How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning
George Lakey

Melville House, £14.99, pp224

Despite a Quaker bent, George Lakey’s updated version of his 1960s manual is stuffed to the brim with practical advice on nonviolent campaigning, giving rules to something that feels instinctual but actually, he argues, benefits from strong and sustained organisation. His work explores diversity, tactics, education and why a plan will always be better than a one-off protest, regardless of your politics. Personal experiences, such as being surrounded by hostile gunboats while on a peace-mission sailing boat off the Vietnamese coast, are littered throughout and effectively hold interest. As we await the sentencing of the Stansted 15 (direct action campaigners who prevented a chartered deportation flight from taking off) on 4 February, the book reaffirms how much those whose ethics guide their actions are willing to give up for what they believe in.

To order Dear Mrs Bird for £7.03, Music Love Drugs War for £11.43, or How We Win for £13.19, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

The GuardianTramp

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