I recently listened to these three, very different, historical fiction audiobooks. Bloomsbury Girls is set in London in the 1950s as the world is trying to recover from the devastation of WW2. The Bletchley Women is set during WW2, set around female code breakers. Little Souls is set in the US in 1918 when the world is still at war and dealing with the Spanish Flu Pandemic. What ties all these books together is that the main characters are all women. They are smart, strong, independent women trying to deal with and live in a male dominated world.
Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner, Juliet Stevenson (Narrator)
Published May 17th 2022 by Macmillan Audio, St. Martin’s Press
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Bloomsbury Books is a 100 year old bookshop owned by Lord Jeremy Baskin. The story is set in the 1950s, so although there are women working at the shop, it is run by men. The general manager, Mr. Herbert Dutton, who enforces his fifty one workplace rules. He is very old fashioned, and although Miss. Vivien Lowdry, a cashier and Mrs. Grace Perkins, a secretary, both have great ideas to get more business into the store, he won’t hear of it. Enter Evelyn Stone, Evie, who recently graduated from Cambridge University, but is overlooked for a job as a research assistant and the position is given to a male colleague. She is hired to work in the rare books collection at Bloomsbury. When Mr. Dutton takes time off for a health issue, the women finally get the opportunity to implement some of their ideas. Highlighting female authors, doing book luncheons and rediscovering forgotten works written by females bring in many new patrons. When Dutton returns things go back to normal until the three women put one over on him. I really enjoyed hearing about all the authors, spouses, and literary legends that were mentioned or that visited the store.
Bloomsbury Girls is a follow up to The Jane Austen Society, which I enjoyed. This is a post WWII story that once again showcases the inequality between men and women. Although women worked and held down the fort during the war, they were still considered to be not as smart or able to run a business or have ideas put into practice. This was especially true with female authors. As we meet all the characters in the story, the book did bog down a bit for me, but it does pick up shortly after that. Evie is one of the characters we met in The Jane Austen Society and she is shy and unassuming, but has an ulterior motive in working at Bloomsbury Books. Grace is a married mother of two boys whose husband has PTSD and she is supporting the family. Vivien is a struggling and frustrated author, whose fiancé was killed in the early part of the war. All three of these women are smart and have dreams. They work together, with some support to achieve those dreams as a team of women. Overall this is a book about books, authors, bookish people, women supporting women, and trying to be published when you are a female, friendship, and taking risks to follow your dreams. I enjoyed this historical fiction story very much and learned a bit about some famous female authors and their work along the way. I listened to the audiobook narrated by English actress Juliet Stevenson who does a wonderful job. Her voices and accents for the various characters brought them to life for me. It didn’t matter if it was a male of female, she was able to switch between characters easily and seamlessly. Her skills as an actress had her easily adding emotion and tone that added to my enjoyment of the story. I definitely recommend the audiobook to those who enjoy that format.
The Bletchley Women by Patricia Adrian, Narrated by Imogen Wilde & Antonia Whillans
Published April 29th 2022 by One More Chapter
The Bletchley Women by Patricia Adrian follows two women as they leave their homes in 1940 and start working at Bletchley Park decoding German messages that have been intercepted. The war ministry needs people who can speak German and both Rose and Evie fit the bill, however they come from very different walks of life. Rose is an educated woman who grew up on a farm and expected to marry soon. Her fiancé is in the military so she feels strongly about her work. Evie is the daughter of a an English lord who is expected to marry well and spend her time doing good works. Her parents are not happy at all thinking she has gone to work as a secretary, you see, they cannot tell anyone the true nature of their work. The story is about this highly necessary job, but also about the friendship of the women and the pettiness and disregard the men have for the women when they make suggestions or draw conclusions.
I have read several stories about Bletchley Park and the codebreakers and this story seemed to concentrate more on the life of the women and less on their jobs than I would have liked. The story is told from Rose Wiley’s and Evie Milton’s POV. Both women have issues in their own lives that are shared, as well as the difficulties they face in their role at Bletchley or with their billets. I was not surprised at how the women were treated by their male colleagues, but it sure is frustrating. They often had to run to their superior who was a family friend of Evie’s. I know this is historical FICTION, but if any of the situations where ships or airfields were bombed because the males wouldn’t listen to the women is based on an actual event, that is shameful. I found the story to be overlong and with a very slow pace, which caused me to set this book aside for a few days. Overall this is a story to highlight the role women played in the secret military organizations, the prejudice they faced as well as the fact that these women also had lives. I did a read/listen of The Bletchley Women narrated by Antonia Whillans and Imogen Wilde. I always enjoy when there is more than one narrator giving voice to various characters. They did an excellent job portraying the different voices and emotion with expression, tone and inflection. I didn’t have a clear cut preference for either format.
Little Souls by Sandra Dallas, Carly Robins (Narrator)
Published April 26th 2022 by Macmillan Audio, St. Martin’s Press
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Little Souls is a story set in Colorado during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It is 1918 and WW1 is still raging in Europe. Sisters Helen and Lucretia, aka Lutie have moved to Denver from Ohio after their parents’ death. Helen is a nurse, and Lutie, is an advertising designer at Neusteter’s department store. They purchased a small home with their inheritance and rented the downstairs apartment to the Streeter family. Maud and Ron have a tumultuous relationship and he leaves. When Maud dies from the flu, the sisters take Dorothy in. Shortly after this happens, Lutie comes home from work and discovers a dead man on their kitchen floor and Helen standing above the body holding an icepick. Knowing he had abused Dorothy in the past, she is sure it was self-defense, but proving it is another matter. With the help of Helen’s beau, a doctor, they leave the body in the street as a flu victim. Meanwhile, Lutie is worried that her fiancé will be killed in the war. When a murder investigation is opened and Lutie and Helen are being investigated, it is his wealthy mother who helps the women out.
Little Souls is a difficult story, with some hard situations. The flu pandemic is killing people constantly with Helen and Gil being in danger working with the victims. Dorothy is a victim of abuse, although not graphic it is apparent that she has been sexually abused by her father. Lutie is worried about her fiancé dying in Europe. There is some criminal elements and more. This is a very well-written and developed story, very realistic for the time. It is also a story of family, friendship, survival, secrets and human frailty. A story I won’t say I enjoyed due to the subject matter, but I am glad I read it. Carly Robins does an excellent job with the narration of this story. Voices, expression, tone and emotion were wonderful and I will watch for more books she narrates.