We at Literary Quicksand are wishing a HAPPY PUB DAY to The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club! Read on for Becky’s review of this book she read in one sitting!
Boston, 1954: With bags packed alongside her heavy heart, Alice Campbell turns a derelict, abandoned building into the enchanting bookshop of her dreams, knowing firsthand the power of books to comfort the brokenhearted. Soon enough, four Radcliffe College students wander in: Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt, who are all navigating the struggles of being newly independent college women in a world that seems to want to keep them in the kitchen.
When one of the most poised students suffers an unspoken trauma and finds herself lost, able to open up only to Alice, the strength of the friendships built during these monthly meetings is tested. Rumors fly, accusations are made, and the girls are soon calling everything they know about each other – and themselves – into question.
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Why I Chose This Book
There is something extra fun when books are about books – at least for me! I love bookshops for settings so that caught my eye first. Second was the fact that I don’t often venture from my WWII historical fiction and contemporary, sweet romances. Something about the post-war, women on the rise time period called to me, and I’m so glad it did! I’ll explain below!
I liked this book – a lot! – but I didn’t LOVE it. Please don’t mistake that for meaning this isn’t a good book worth your time because it 100% is. I sat down and read it in one morning, so I promise it’s good! I just wanted more. The writing is engaging, the dialogue and banter helps move the plot forward, the rotating narrative works for this novel, there is good pace without anything being overly contrived, and I loved how the books chosen for book club were perfect for what was happening in the girls’ lives during that time.
So, what did I want more of? I wanted more Alice. I wanted more Evie. I wanted more bookshop. I wanted a little more closure. To be fair, the last one is probably just me always wanting more of a story once I’m invested. The epilogue does a pretty decent job of sharing where things end up after the story concludes.
Alice and Evie though, I feel like we barely scratched the surface of these two characters. Concessions need to be made for the sake of the novel of course, but, without getting into spoilers, my personal opinion is that we could have had a lot more Alice and a bit more Evie.
The bookshop…it comes down to expectations. Going in, I assumed the bookshop would be the focal point, and for me, it kind of hovered in the background. Important, yes, but not quite as prevalent as I’d expected.
This is a great book for those with some literary knowledge that enjoy the dynamics of strong female characters. Despite being set in the mid-1950s, there is also something about this story that resonated as very modern and timely for our current point in history. Perhaps it always will as the themes of independence, self-identity and the struggle for equality affect so many layers of society around the world.
SPOILER: I know that this does spoil a portion of the story, but want to caution that there are triggers in this book including rape and pregnancy loss. These are understandably sensitive matters and while I feel that Julia Bryan Thomas handles these in a direct but respectful way, this may not be the best title to pick up if these are difficult topics for you.
I enjoy thinking of questions regarding the books I read, and sometimes, the books provide some as well! There are a number of great questions to consider at the end of this book and those with * below are directly from the book.
- Did you find yourself connecting with one of the characters? What was it that you believe made them more relatable to you?
- *What effect does [Caroline’s] wealth have on her relationships with the other women?
- *How does Alice select titles for discussion in the book club? Do you think her selections live up to her expectations?
- *What are each book club member’s expectations for marriage? How doe their observations of their parents contribute to their assumptions? Whose views are changed the most by the readings in the book club?
- *How is reputation dangerous even when it doesn’t contain truth? What effect does reputation have on the events [in this book]?
- Forgiveness – and lack thereof – is at the core of the end of this novel. How do you think you would have reacted as each character?
- Do you believe each of the girls in the book club deserved the “ending” they received?
- *By the end of the book, the principal characters have for the most part gone their separate ways. Do you think their friendships would have been more durable in other circumstances? Why might have driven them apart if not the events of the [book]? What do [two of them] do differently that allows them to stay close?
About Julia Bryan Thomas
Julia Bryan Thomas is the author of For Those Who Are Lost, an Oklahoma bestseller praised by Booklist, The Historical Novel Society, and more. She is also the author (as Julia THomas) of The English Boys (2016), a Library Journal Debut of the Month novel, and Penhale Wood (2017) which earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal.