Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Natalie Jenner’s recent historical novel, Bloomsbury Girls! I’m reviewing the audiobook today. Read on for more about the story and an audio excerpt.
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 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.
Audiobook details: Narrated by esteemed stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, enjoy the full unabridged edition of Bloomsbury Girls. “Stevenson delivers the satisfying triumph at the end with perfect polish.” —AudioFile Magazine
Bloomsbury Girls is a bookish story of 3 women searching for, and working for, their dreams. Avid fans of literature and stories about the changing post-WWII culture will find something to love in this story that nods to the bravery of the female sex and the binding strength of friendship. The story is wonderfully presented in audiobook form with narration by Juliet Stevenson, who applies the perfect theatrical interpretation of the characters with voice and accents.
Natalie Jenner’s omniscient narrative style shines in this story! With all-knowing nods and tidbits, phrases foreshadow events in the story and color character interactions with wit. Each of the characters plays a key role in the story, from the three main women to the tiniest side character. They are united by the most unlikely heroine, Evie Stone, whose determination and fortitude underpin the plot in fabulous ways.
The establishment of the Bloomsbury shop rules, as penned by the inimitable manager Herbert Dutton, is a clever part of the novel. Each chapter is preceded by one of the rules, which relates in some way to the action of the story. The rules are defied by most of the characters, and upheld by some, which allows for quirky and funny situations.
While this book is considered to be historical women’s fiction, it does have a few different threads of romance, too. All contrast neatly, with one a comical friends-to-lovers situation; another a longstanding friendship with the possibility of more; and still another first love with seemingly opposite, romance-isn’t-for-me (until now) with a darlingly clueless couple. These interactions and the strong friendship forged between Evie, Grace, and Vivien serve to highlight the overarching theme of being known and accepted.
Content note: for my inspy reader friends, please note this is a general market title. It has a couple closed door romance scenes that are candidly referenced in conversation, and a depiction of homosexuality with some minor characters.
Thank you to the publisher and Austenprose tours for the audiobook review copy. This is my honest review.
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.
A MESSAGE FROM AUTHOR NATALIE JENNER
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