Pages: 304 pages
Published: May 17, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (UK: Alison & Busby)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store 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 fiance 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.
Three women. 51 rules. Determination to break the status quo.
I am always a sucker for books about books. But this one was of particular interest because it was the next book by Natalie Jenner. Bloomsbury Girls is the follow up of her bestselling debut and one of my favorite reads of 2020, The Jane Austen Society. I was excited to read something that would tug at my heartstrings and leave me with an uplifting message like Jenner’s first book did. And I am proud to say that I wasn’t disappointed with this one.
Jenner has a great gift of writing memorable and relatable characters. The authenticity of their personalities jumps off the page. You, as the reader, cannot help but fall in love with them. I had a hard time picking a favorite. All of the women, although different, brought tenacity that made each of them equally friendly face in the narrative: Evie Stone from The Jane Austen Society. Don’t worry! You don’t have to read that book before this one (although you should). But Jenner wonderfully connects these two books but, at the same time, beautifully stands on their own.
The Jane Austen Society was about a group of people banning together to save a beloved author. Bloomsbury Girls is about three women determined to be their destiny. Jenner manages to give readers an uplifting message. After WWII ended, the world couldn’t return to what it once was (sound familiar?). Most people dream of banning together to strive to make their dreams come true. That message was something I connected with and just found so satisfying that it came through books and reading. Jenner indeed shows how the power of books can get anyone to achieve their dreams. If you ever need an advocate for literacy, Jenner is your cheerleader!
You could also tell the thorough and detailed the research was. 1950s London came alive not only with its character-driven storyline, but its descriptive imagery brought the setting alive. You’ll also find some surprising historical figures, literary ones, of course. Still, I’m not going to say who they are because I want readers to be surprised by the introductions. But it truly cemented that this is one very special bookshop.
Jenner has another winner, and it’s safe to say that this is one of my favorites of 2022. Heartwarming, female empowerment, a strong friendship and of course, books…if you are looking for a historical story that will tug on book-loving heartstrings, you definitely will not go wrong with this one!