Jenner (The Jane Austen Society) spins an illuminating yarn about a London bookstore. Evie Stone, one of the first female graduates of Cambridge University, begins cataloging rare books at Bloomsbury Books in 1949 after being denied a position at Cambridge as a research assistant. Vivien Lowry, a stylish woman and budding writer whose titled fiancé was killed in WWII, also works at the shop and constantly competes with Alec McDonough, the store’s head of fiction, over whose ideas for author appearances will bring in the most business. Grace Perkins, a mother with two young sons, enjoys working at Bloomsbury for the time away from her mercurial husband, Gordon. Though the business is struggling, the owner is reluctant to sell, because he enjoys seeing how the store brings together people of various walks of life. As London continues to recover from the war, the women depend upon one another to find fulfillment, with Vivian pulling off a luncheon at the store with Daphne du Maurier, and Grace considering whether to risk taking her sons and leaving Gordon. Evie, meanwhile, discovers love and adversity with the store’s head of science and naturalism, Ashwin Ramaswamy, even as their relationship elicits racist scorn. Jenner’s well-plotted narrative gains strength from the characters’ bonds. Fans of emotional historical fiction will be charmed. (May)
From the Publisher
"A feel-good literary confection that will have you grinning in solidarity with these girls who dare to follow their dreams." Toronto Star
"Jenner follows The Jane Austen Society (2020) with another top-notch reading experience, using the same deft hand at creating complex, emotionally engaging characters [against] a backdrop chock-full of factual historical information... Fans of Christina Baker Kline, Kate Quinn and Pam Jenoff [will] appreciate this gem." Booklist (starred review)
"An illuminating yarn... Fans of emotional historical fiction will be charmed." Publishers Weekly
"Bloomsbury Girls is an immersive tale of three women determined to forge their own paths in 1950s London. Jenner has proven to be a master at spinning charming, earnest characters and paints a vivid picture of postwar England. I wanted to stay lost in her world forever!" Stephanie Wrobel, internationally bestselling author of Darling Rose Gold
"Bloomsbury Girls is a book lover's dream, one of those rare reads that elicits a sense of book-ish wistfulness and nostalgia. Jenner has created a colorful cast of characters in a story about friendship, perseverance, and the ways that determined women can band together in a man's world. You're in for a treat." Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary
"In a London still reeling from the ravages of World War II and the changes war has brought to English society, three young women take their futures into their own hands. With Bloomsbury Girls, Natalie Jenner has penned a timely and beautiful ode to ambition, friendship, bookshops, and the written word." Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library
Library Journal - Audio
Jenner's heartwarming follow-up to The Jane Austen Society traces the lives of three women who are transformed while working at an old-fashioned London bookshop. Evie, a trailblazing graduate of Cambridge University, has been unfairly passed over for a fellowship and now seeks to uncover a mystery while working at the shop. Stylish Vivien, a writer in her own right, is tired of being dismissed and is desperate to put her creativity to work. Grace struggles to balance a precarious home life with her work at the shop and wishes to be recognized for her business acumen. When illness shakes up the shop's personnel, all three women know that the time has come for them to step into new roles and exercise their talents and intelligence. Juliet Stevenson's luminous narration is a delight for the ears and makes for an entertaining and moving listening experience. With small changes in tone and cadence, she captures every nuance of expression. Her accent work is exquisite and conveys the broadest county accents to the poshest upper-crust tones. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of Christina Baker Kline, Mary Ann Shaffer, and Jennifer Ryan, or for any listener who enjoys post-World War II historical fiction.—Sarah Hashimoto
Jenner's sequel to The Jane Austen Society can be enjoyed by those who have not read the first book. Set in 1950, it is the story of three women from different backgrounds who come together working in an old-fashioned bookstore in London, Bloomsbury Books. The shop runs with a strictly enforced list of "51 Rules" that ensure that only the men can make decisions or get ahead. Evie Stone, who appeared in the previous book, had hoped to launch an academic career at Cambridge, but was passed over for a man who was dating the professor's daughter. Vivien Lowry was engaged to an aristocrat who was killed in World War II. Grace Perkins lives with two adored sons and a mentally ill, out-of-work husband who was changed by the war. There is sexual tension among characters, and they all have secrets. The novel's background action includes real places in London and real literary figures of the time, including Daphne Du Maurier and Sonia Blair, George Orwell's widow, who mentor the characters. VERDICT For readers interested in women's changing roles after World War II, with intriguing details of women's lives and the spice of real writers.—Jan Marry
MARCH 2022 - AudioFile
Juliet Stevenson’s performance of this novel about a post-WWII bookshop is vocal virtuosity. Stevenson enlivens a multitude of characters through a spectrum of dialects spanning from plummy to country. Each persona flourishes in the mind’s eye—from Evie Stone (the farm lass in Jenner’s THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY) to noted playwright Samuel Beckett. Evie, newly graduated from Cambridge University, finds work at a venerable London shop, Bloomsbury Books. There, she meets a cadre of intelligent women—salesperson Vivien, secretary Grace, and cultural figures of the time, including Daphne du Maurier, Peggy Guggenheim, and Ellen Doubleday. Romance and resourcefulness ensue as the fate of the book shop hangs in the balance. Stevenson delivers the satisfying triumph at the end with perfect polish. E.S.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
In post–World War II London, three women battle misogyny at a stodgy bookshop.
In Jenner’s follow-up to The Jane Austen Society (2020), former housemaid Evie Stone, age 17, has completed her studies at Cambridge, but, despite her genius for scholarship, the upper-class Cambridge boys club will not grant her the academic career she craves. Through her Austen Society contacts, she wangles a job at Bloomsbury Books, where men hold sway and a set of arcane rules keeps the female clerks toiling in the lower echelons of bookselling. From here, as in the earlier book, the lives of several characters intertwine. Vivien, of the fiction department, is a talented writer whose ambitions have been thwarted. Alec, her boss and spurned lover, is a less talented writer, which the near-omniscient narration makes clear in one of many pointed character assessments. Grace, a secretary, yearns to escape her controlling husband but fears losing custody of her sons. Ash, of the science section, comes to realize that as an Indian immigrant he cannot overcome British bigotry, however powerful the pull of his and Evie’s mutual attraction and matching meticulous personalities. The shop’s hierarchy includes Herbert Dutton, the general manager, who clings to power despite failing health, and Lord Baskin, the benevolent landlord. Except where Evie is concerned, class conflict is not a factor here. In fact, the dramatic tension suffers as conflicts are too easily resolved by lucky breaks, not to mention wealthy mentors. The timing of key developments often owes more to plot convenience than to convincing causality. The 1950 setting does allow for entertaining literary intrigues, including store events featuring Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett, which spark kerfuffles and exacerbate the gender wars that are the overriding preoccupation of this novel. Much of the plot revolves around overlooked women writers, notably Jane Webb, author of a prescient but forgotten 1827 novel called The Mummy! However, readers can be comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, in the expectation that the women will prevail.
A rose-tinted view of early 1950s literary feminism.