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A header image with a background of an old Bethnal Green bath house overlaid with dark purple. The word "review" is located on top in yellow script and a cover image of The Little Wartime Library on the right side.

Reading The Little Wartime Library took me to a world full of deadly destruction, yet the hope, romance, and a darling little underground library drove home the reality of WWII. I will never be able to fathom the horrors of that time, yet this wasn’t all that long ago. I miss my grandmother a little more today because I never asked about her time during the war, and now I’ll never know.

An image with a brown flowy backdrop with purple taper candles, a birch log with votives, and purple and white flowers surrounding a hard copy of The Little Wartime Library.
  • Title: The Little Wartime Library
  • Author: Kate Thompson
  • Publisher: Forever on February 21, 2023
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Pages: 480
  • Available Formats: Hardback, Paperback, Audio, & Digital
  • Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis

London, 1944: Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While war ravages the city above her, Clara has risked everything she holds dear to turn the Bethnal Green tube station into the country’s only underground library. Down here, a secret community thrives with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café, and a theater—offering shelter, solace, and escape from the bombs that fall upon their city.

Along with her glamorous best friend and assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.

The Little Wartime Library Review

Clara felt a thunderclap of pride.

Pride. That is only one of the words I would use to describe Kate Thompson’s poignant tale of a community formed underground while the world burned down around them. Kate has much to be proud of, just like Clara and Ruby.


Clara Button is a war widow with a problematic family. Clara’s mother and mother-in-law blame her for a great many things, especially for being an independent woman in wartime London. Clara harbors many regrets but vows to keep going against all odds, and may even find some happiness in being independent after all.


Ruby Munroe lives a tragic half-life that she hides behind Victory red lipstick and booze. Needless to say, the war hasn’t been good to Ruby. Between trying to forget the deadly stairway that ruined her life, and saving her mother from sure death, Ruby needs all the love and support she can get from the underground community, even if she refuses to ask for it.

The Bethnal Green Library became unusable due to a tragic bombing. Unfortunately, the library is not all that the bomb took. Clara’s good friend and mentor, Peter, died during the assault. But Clara isn’t the kind of woman to give up, so she scavenged what she could of the wreckage and moved the library to the unfinished underground shelter of the Bethnal Green tube station.

It is in this little wartime library where readers get to know Clara, Ruby, a ragtag bundle of kids, and the other adults who make this shelter a place of community and home. The way Thompson builds this space with words defies all imagination. Kate gets every last detail down to a science, showing off her brilliant research skills.

I dare anyone who reads this rich story full of hope not to love it. I laughed and cried, and will never forget this harrowing adventure of love and happiness. With much pleasure, I award The Little Wartime Library a full 5 out of 5 stars.

Pin image of The Little Wartime Library cover blurred in the background with a sharp cover image in a white frame. Includes the words book review and www.roamingthepages.com. Cover image is a young woman sitting next to a pile of suitcases in the makeshift underground library.

Experience Bethnal Green

Clara and Ruby’s story takes place in the Bethnal Green Underground station during the height of WWII. Unfortunately, Ruby’s tragic history is tied to the biggest civilian disaster of the time. Find out more about this disaster at the Stairway to Heaven Memorial website.

Take a walking tour through the heart of Bethnal Green in this awesome video by Joolz Guides.

Don’t Forget

If you are playing in the Reading Around the World Book Challenge, you can use The Little Wartime Library for Britain.

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