Monday, May 9, 2022

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Bloomsbury Girls
by Natalie Jenner
Read by Juliet Stevenson 
12 Hours 29 Minutes
Published May 2022 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Austenprose PR, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
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 grievances--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.

My Thoughts: 
Two years ago, I took a chance on Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society and thoroughly enjoyed it. Timing helped - it was the right book at the right time. When I was offered the opportunity to read her latest, I didn't hesitate. These days I'm looking for exactly the kind of writing I found in The Jane Austen Society, the sweetness, the fun characters, a little bit of predictability. I'm happy to say that I found it in Bloomsbury Girls. 

I was happy to see Evie Stone reappear in this book (read below how Evie wouldn't leave Jenner); this time she's older (but still so very young) and wiser but every bit as determined as she was in The Jane Austen Society. She is not the only strong female in this book, which is filled with strong females both in the lead and as secondary characters. Evie, Grace, and Vivien are each trying to find their way in a world where men make the rules. The feminist in me was delighted to find the three of them fighting back when men took what was rightly theirs. 

The battle between the sexes is the main theme of this novel, but Jenner also touches on immigration, racism, mental health, morals, and the aftereffects of war. The time period and setting allow for all of those well known people mentioned above to make and appearance which lead to even more tension between the men and the women. That touch of predictability I mentioned before? It's here. You expect that things will be resolved a certain way and for the most part, they are. You expect that there may be some things that are more easily resolved than they would be in real life, and there are. I'm fine with that. I wanted that, in fact; it's one of the reasons I wanted to read this book now. 

One of my quibbles with Jenner's first book was the reader (he did a fine job, just didn't have the range to voice so many women). Juliet Stevenson, on the other hand, is terrific and I highly recommend the audiobook version of this book. 

Thanks to Laurel Ann, of AustenProse PR, for including me on this tour. 

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

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