REVIEW: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

NEW RELEASE: May 17, 2022

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls. Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans: Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiancé was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievance—most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction. Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she's been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own. Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future. As they interact with various literary figures of the time—Daphne du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others—these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.


REVIEW by Christina Boyd

Bloomsbury Girls is the convincing tale of spirit, hope, and courage for several post-WWII characters in and around a London bookstore—but mostly, it’s about the mighty connection between women in this character-driven narrative. Strongly sketched principals Evie Stone (former maid, now one of Cambridge’s first women graduates—and alumna from Jenner’s first The Jane Austen Society), Vivien Lowry (an aspiring writer who lost her fiancé in the war), and Grace Perkins (wife, mother, and sole provider for her family) find success and disappointment in this setting where men seemingly have all the power.


Though this is a women-centric novel, there are notable male characters, too, who not only add friction to the dialog and plot but also color my romantic sensibilities for all to find their happily-ever-after beyond the business of the bookshop.

As they reviewed the shop’s dismal accounts together, they fell back into another familiar routine. They would suddenly and simultaneously stop what they were doing, take a sip of tea that Grace had since made them, and observe the rest of the staff through the large glass window to her office. At one point, they both watched in amusement as Alex sidled up to Vivien at the cash counter and inquired about something, only to have her respond by throwing down her pencil and storming off.
“Those two need to find neutral ground of some sort.” Lord Baskin laughingly shook his head. “Not all relationships, I would hope, need to end in war.”—Chapter 12

Each chapter opens with one of the store’s 51 Unbreakable Rules, cleverly tying the chapter back to the rule. For example, Rule No. 28: Relations between staff members must remain strictly professional at all times. No spoilers from me, but with a staff of intriguing women and men, you might imagine what kind of tension and histories Chapter Ten reveals. And...whilst Evie looks for a priceless first edition that would further her credibility as a researcher but also satisfy her academic curiosity and more...

Evie’s heart now quickened at the possibility that here on the second floor was where “The Mummy!” had been hiding all along. The main reason Evie had applied for the position at Bloomsbury Books might soon be within her grasp—she had no idea what she would do if it wasn’t.
Ironically, Evie wasn’t even sure what she would do if it was. She did not have enough money to meet its purchase price, which she presumably was no less than the twenty pounds that Mr. Allen had bid and paid for it nearly four years ago. Evie didn’t dare confide in anyone else the book’s potential value or solicit help to purchase it. To her mind, this was an implicit violation of rule number twenty-four: not using knowledge acquired in the course of employment for personal gain or benefit.Chapter 21

Jenner pens snappy dialog and likable characters as she expertly blends historical details into her fiction, engaging me until the last nail-biting chapters and heartwarming final pages. I particularly relished the titillating interactions with real-life literary figures like Daphne du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair, Samuel Beckett, and Peggy Guggenheim.

“So you are one of two people in the world to have read it,” Miss du Maurier remarked with unusual humility. “Although I will admit, I circulated it far more widely than that. To no avail, I might add.”
“It’s a powerful story.”
“I always say, ‘Women want love to be a novel, men a short story.’” Du Maurier smiled brightly at the room as the women in the audience gamely laughed. Vivien looked over at Alec, who was watching from the other side of the makeshift stage. He did not look amused.—Chapter 19

With sentiment and wit, Jenner delves into the intricacies of female bonds and sometimes all-encompassing love—and the drive to be loved. Bloomsbury Girls, a poignant story of achievement above social and economic adversity, is a must-read for historical fiction lovers, booksellers, and readers alike. I hope no one revokes my Janeite card, but I enjoyed this more than The Jane Austen Society. 5 stars.


I listened to the audiobook narrated by acclaimed actress Juliet Stevenson. Stevenson immerses herself in this cast of many, and her performance is well-paced and distinct, pulling me in from the start. Still I wished for a little more variation for the Bloomsbury female employees and even the voice of Ash Ramaswamy. Overall, I appreciated the subtle rendering without making the voices caricatures. Stevenson shines as the star we expect!


PURCHASE LINKS

PRINT & DIGITAL BOOK

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB


AUDIOBOOK

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS

A message from author Natalie Jenner

Dear readers, I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it. Warmest regards, Natalie

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.

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