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May 24, 2022

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner ~ an Audiobook Review

by Donna Huber

Bloomsbury Girls
 is the second book by Natalie Jenner. It isn't billed as a sequel to her first novel The Jane Austen Society but a few characters from the first novel make an appearance in the second. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free audiobook was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction audiobook Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner
May 2022; Macmillian Audio; 9781250852328
audio (12h 30m), ebook, print; historical fiction

Before listening to Bloomsbury Girls I hadn't read The Jane Austen Society. I'm not a Jane Austen fan so when it came out in 2020 I didn't have an interest in reading it. However, I really enjoyed Bloomsbury Girls and Jenner's storytelling style I decided to put a hold on the audiobook at my digital library and it came in the same day I finished this book. So I will probably mention it some in my review, but if you haven't read The Jane Austen Society it is not necessary to read it first.

Bloomsbury Girls focuses on a new group of bibliophiles in 1950s London. The role and opportunities for women are changing, but not at Bloomsbury Bookstore where the rules of the shop ensure that nothing ever changes. Yet when the general manager suffers a health crisis, changes are inevitable. Vivian is finally getting her shot as she is named as acting head of fiction. She doesn't waste any time instituting changes in the department including a women's focus author visit during the afternoon - it doesn't hurt that she lands a very hot name in literary circles - Daphne du Maurier. As with most London businesses in the years following World War II, the book shop is struggling to return to its pre-war economic heyday. That is until now.

I found the introductory chapters to be a bit slow. I started to wonder why I picked up the book in the first place as I was not hooked and found it kind of boring. Now having listened to The Jane Austen Society, I realize that is part of Jenner's writing style - a slow build-up where you get to know the characters and the situation they find themselves in. I'm not exactly sure when it happened but at some point, I realized that I was totally sold on the story and the characters. 

I loved Vivian, who I felt was the central character though there is an ensemble cast vibe too. The other characters are great too and you are really rooting for them all to be able to pursue and succeed at their goals in life. But what I was really impressed with Jenner's storytelling style is how she took an almost invisible character and made her the pivotal character.

Evie Stone first appeared in The Jane Austen Society. She was a girl of 16 working as a housemaid. She had few lines and is often described as sitting quietly in the corner of the room. You might not have noticed her. But without her interest in books and cataloging the great estate's enormous library (~3000 books), the plot would have gone nowhere. When she appears on the bookshop's doorstep, she has just left Cambridge where she has been studying. She's there to interview for a position in the rare book collection, but she also has an ulterior motive. While we do see a bit more of her in Bloomsbury Girls, she is still a largely invisible secondary character. It is even mentioned that another character had forgotten that Evie was still on the 3rd floor. Yet, as in the previous book, she is the lynchpin character. I think many readers will identify with Evie - I know I did. We often feel invisible, unimportant in our own story but we still can make a huge difference in the lives of our friends and family.

Juliet Stevenson does a wonderful job as the narrator. I had no trouble following the story or keeping track of the various characters. 

I enjoyed Bloomsbury Girls a bit more than The Jane Austen Society. Mostly that has to do with not being an Austen fan and finding the characters' discussion of her works a bit tedious - though I did enjoy some of the other historical tidbits about the author's life. I also had trouble picturing the characters in the mid- to late 1940s. While I listened to the story, I kept picturing the characters in bonnets and top hats that would have been more appropriate for the 1800s. I think their speech and mannerisms might have also been mirroring Jane Austen's writing which would have also given that old-fashioned vibe. I was sucked into the story just as I was with Bloomsbury Girls. As I said in the beginning you don't have to read the first book to enjoy the second.

Buy Bloomsbury Girls at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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