Cover Image: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

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Member Reviews

Loved it!  Highly recommend 

Book club pick 

So interesting
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I loved the format of this book. Hearing a story through many different voices and formats (diaries, letters, third-person narrator, etc.) was really fascinating to me! It took me a little while to get into it, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I enjoyed it in the end.
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This book was better than I expected. Told through journal entries and letters, this World War II story is riveting and emotional. The way it was written is perfect, as I do not think the story could really be told any other way without coming across completely different. Although it was a little too dramatic at times, I did not want this story to end. I would definitely recommend it.
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This is one of those books that has gotten an incredible amount of publicity.  I started reading it thinking that I was not going to like it and "what was all the fuss about anyway".  But now I am one of the many admirers.  What a fabulous plot.  Author Jennifer Ryan has captured the personalities of her characters so well.  She has created a wonderful closeness of the small village that I can just imagine the people walking around from house to house visiting each other.  I can imagine the women gathering for choir practice.  

World War II has begun to involve Britain. The men of this small village have been drafted to serve. The women ban together to support those who are losing husbands and sons. As the war progresses and begins to encompass their world more and more they continue to lend strength to each other. 

In this novel we follow the diary entries and personal correspondence of four women.   Kitty Winthrop, a young girl writing in her diary, Venetia is her older sister writing to a friend who has gone off to London to work for the war effort.  Mrs Tilling writes in her journal and Edwina Paltry writes letters to her sister, Clara.  So in this way we get varying perspectives of the same events, which keeps the plot moving forward with different viewpoints of the gossip and happenings that are the everyday life of a small village.

There is an accepted way of life in a small British village.  Kitty Winthrop writes in her diary about the idea of life in the countryside of England, "...I suddenly began to doubt if she really knew the countryside, how attached everyone is to tradition around here. There is something called conventional wisdom, which means we have to carry on doing things the same way, even when it doesn't make sense.  that's what countryside's about."  

Then along comes Miss Primrose Trent, known throughout the novel as Prim.  She comes to live in Chilbury and is the music teacher at the Litchfield University.  She starts the Chilbury Ladies' Choir and forces the women to come out of their comfort zone.  They create the Ladies' Choir to help themselves and others keep their spirits up.  Mrs Tilling writes in her journal, "Funny how a bit of singing brings us together.  There we were in our own little worlds, with our own problems, and then suddenly they seemed to dissolve, and we realized that it's us here now, living through this, supporting each other.  That's what counts."

Among the choir members there is the widow who lost her husband in the first war and now has to send her only son off to the army.  There is the young girl, Kitty with a unrequited crush on a soldier. Her older sister, Venetia who feels trapped in the small village and is dreaming of a more exotic life. She gets romantically involved with a dashing stranger who comes to town.  Silvie, a small child, who is a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia living with the Winthrop family, hiding a family secret. Edwina, a conniving midwife, running from her seedy past. Along the way other characters come to town to stir up the mix of villagers.  The colonel who is billeted to live in the home of Mrs. Tilling. The mysterious handsome stranger who has come to the village to paint. The wounded solider who comes home to get on with his life.

All these characters help build the drama that creates so much of the intrigue, heartbreak and life and death matters this small village to deal with.  Twists and turns keep the reader's curiosity piqued until the very end of the novel.
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"The Chilbury Ladies' Choir" is a wonderful historical novel that will charm and intrigue any lover of literary fiction. Set in the English countryside and told in letters and diary entries, Jennifer Ryan has given readers a unique story full of characters who will capture your heart and demand your attention. It's the perfect novel for fans of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson and "Everyone Brave is Forgiven" by Chris Cleave.
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The Spirit of Womanhood – The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Rating : 5/5

Although the name “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” had popped up multiple times in my reading list, I had pushed it aside as I was on my thriller/mystery spree. After all the Agatha Christie and other true crime started affecting my sanity, I decided to give myself a break and go back to my reading list. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir really popped up with its elegant cover nudging me to read the blurb. One look at the blurb and I was completely won over. A women’s fiction set around WWII: How can I say no! Soon enough, I was so deeply engrossed in this book such that I managed to finish it within a day or two despite my busy schedule.

The story of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir revolves around a six month period in 1940 when Chilbury, a fictional town in England, is facing the early days of WWII. With all the able bodied men at war, the way of life in Chilbury is about to break down. Primrose Trent, a newly arrived professor of music, sets in motion a series of changes by resurrecting the church choir to an all-women choir. From this point onward, absorbing strength and support from each other, the women of the Chilbury choir exhibit great resilience, support and exceptional mental strength. Narrated through a series of letters and journal entries by Mrs. Tilling, a mild mannered widow, Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the daughters of Brigadier Winthrop, Silvie, a Jewish evacuee and Mrs. Paltry, a conniving midwife, the story explores the indomitable spirit of the women of Chilbury in the face of great challenges.

Reading this exceptional novel, it was hard for me to believe that this was the debut novel of Jennifer Ryan. She shows exceptional language skills, a well thought out plot tied together to even the minutest detail and exceptional characters who are fully fleshed and unique. A major part of the story revolves around the choir and their practice with the music providing them with solace, inspiration and courage. Credit must be given to Ryan’s exceptional writing as the readers can feel the music reverberating in their ears and lifting their spirits, just like the women of Chilbury. Although the story focuses on the village life with the war in the background, the atrocities of the war are touched upon with great effect. We can feel our hearts break when the mothers send their sons to war, the pain of the wounded, the trauma of the survivors and the fear of death in the civilians.

“If something needs to be done, it’s up to us women to make do” – Mrs Tilling

As the story develops, the women of Chilbury learn to stand up for themselves and for what they believe in, be it their principles or love. This change in character is very beautifully and thoughtfully portrayed in Mrs. Tilling, the meek and submissive widow, who decides to live for herself and her beliefs in the face of her mortality. Ryan’s writing tugs at our heartstrings in some chapters, especially when she writes about an air raid which destroys some parts of the village leaving a few people dead. The Chilbury choir again comes to the rescue when there are no able bodied men to be the pall bearers. The members of the choir thus become the pall bearers for their dear ones and carry the bodies singing the farewell song. This emotionally charged scene will remain etched in one’s memory for some time to come.

The story of the Winthrop kids is also well portrayed, partly salacious but equally romantic and emotional. These girls with their strengths and weakness will totally win you over. The bonding between them is so realistic with their sibling rivalry and petty fights yet providing support and love for each other. The Nazi brutalities are also indirectly touched upon through Silvie.  Her pain in being separated from her parents and the fear of a Nazi occupation of Chilbury fills one with sorrow and dread. Yet, Ryan has introduced a ray of positivity here through the Winthrop girls, specifically Kitty Winthrop who consoles Silvie and plans with her to travel to her home after the war by pouring over the maps all night.  

Overall, this is an exceptional saga of the fighting spirit of the women in Chilbury, who find salvation and inspiration in music to stand up against all odds for what they believed in. This book has everything going in its favour – exceptional language, magnificent story and fantastic characters. Personally, I am a fan of Ryan’s character development as each character is perfect with varying shades of black, white and grey. It is indeed very hard to believe that this is the work of a debutante.  This book is a must read for everyone out there who love books with exceptional female leads.

About the Author:

Jennifer Ryan was born in a village in Kent, England, and now lives in Washington D.C., with her husband and children. Before turning her hand to writing, she was a book editor, both in London and Washington D.C.

Thanks to Blogging For Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy in exchange of an honest review.
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The parallels between this book and [book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society] are obvious – both epistolary novels about women on the homefront of England as WWII heats up, telling the story from several women's points of view. Here there is a choir instead of a book club, but it is the story of villagers coming together to endure the horrors of the war at home. 

Regardless, though, this is a lovely book. The likeable characters are very likeable, and the unlikeable ones are truly loathsome (at about the halfway point I was all but praying for the death of one). The women's individual voices as evidenced in letters and journal entries are fairly distinct, especially the youngest, Kitty, the precocious had–been–youngest child of the local blue bloods. Her voice might be a little too precocious, a little too adult, in its language, but its attitudes are pretty much dead on. 

Except … I continually find it deeply frustrating that girls and women who know better engage in the sort of behavior Lavinia (?) does. "I'm being careful", she says. And then she is shocked – shocked, I say! – when after sleeping with her inamorato every chance she gets she finds herself – gasp! – pregnant. Never saw that coming! Passion. I get it. I do. But for heaven's sake, why does "passionate" automatically mean "stupid"? I mean, if you go to the worst part of town and leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, you have basically requested that your car be stolen. If you drink for several hours and then weave your way out to your car, you have tacitly agreed to having – or causing – an accident. If you decide to play golf with some nice metal clubs in the middle of a thunderstorm with heavy lightning, you have indicated your willingness to be struck by lightning. And if you have unprotected sex with someone who just doesn't care … well. The girl is young – but she's not stupid, and – as evidenced by her comment about being careful – she knows that sex leads to pregnancy, unlike girls left in ignorance in previous centuries, when sex was too awful a subject to be discussed and so girls really are shocked by what that nice man wants to do and by the result. Just once, I feel like I'd like to see a reaction from someone more along the lines of "Welp, that was predictable." 

But, still and all, it was a very enjoyable book, slotting neatly into the shelf next to "Guernsey", with enough of its own personality to remain discrete. "We have prayer enough to light up the whole universe, like a thousand stars breathing life into our deepest fears." Nice. Very nice. 

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.
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Very endearing pleasant read. I would recommend to anyone looking for a great entertaining experience.
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This is a refreshing perspective on how women supported each at the beginning of WWII. This tale follows a group of women of various backgrounds and characters and even though they can be mean, vain, annoyingly boring, it is quite interesting to see them gaining confidence singing in a choir and having to deal with the fears of living the war.  Many subplots are intertwined which distract us from the most interesting element: women proving to themselves that they can be strong on their own but mostly, by helping ans supporting each other's. Pleasant read.
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I’ve spent a lot of years in church choirs of various flavors. I’ve been in the choir of an Episcopalian church with a director who was such an amazing musician that if a piece of music didn’t work for our voices, he would simply write a new arrangement. I’ve also been in a UU choir where the director made us rehearse a capella to force us to truly listen to each other.

Many people erroneously believe that the point of choral singing is to blend everyone’s voice into one homogeneous sound, but the real goal is for each voice to harmonize, so that many individual voices combine into new sounds. Sometimes they’re unison, sometimes the separate notes – the separate voices – are meant to be heard.

In this lovely novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan has done the latter. She has created a collection of individual voices – a young window, a refugee, the church ladies you expect to find in such a setting, and she has given them solid unison pieces in which they blend – their determination to keep their choir alive with all the men gone – but she has also let their individual talents shine.

Epistolary novels can be tricky – it’s much harder to maintain the distinctions between characters when so much of the story is in first-person accounts – but Ryan has done so deftly. I felt immersed in these women’s lives, enjoying their triumphs and shedding tears at their  sorrows.

Each of the women whose voices we hear in this novel are distinct personalities, with loves and fears and wants and desires, and each one has a compelling story that, when blended together forms a chorus of voices painting a word-picture of their village in a specific period of time.

Many people have compared this novel to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, me included, but though they share a similar period, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is vastly different – it’s more candid, more personal, and more rooted in feminine sensibilities. Still, if you liked one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. I did.

Goes well with shortbread biscuits and hot tea, maybe with a splash of whiskey in it.
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When I started this book I was sure I wasn't going to like it. Two of the characters were pretty horrible people right off the bat and I almost didn't even want to continue reading about them. But, I thought about The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; I almost quit reading because I didn't like two of the characters but I ended up loving the book at the end. So I kept going, and I'm pretty glad I did. There were things that bothered me but the good far out weighed the bad.

The way the characters change over the course of the story is my favorite part of this book. I would say that there are four 'main' characters, Kitty, Venetia, Mrs. Tilling, and Edwina Paltry. Three of those four go through significant growth over the course of the story and that more than anything is what drives the story. 

Kitty, who is 13 and the daughter of the Brigadier, really grows up through the year the book covers. She goes from being jealous of her older sister (Venetia) to realizing that she can be special on her own. She is loyal and honest and desperate to prove that she is just as good as Venetia, whom everyone seems to love, and I think she comes to realize that she doesn't have to prove that she's important to anyone, she just has to start believing in herself. Her relationship with Venetia really changes as Kitty comes to believe in herself and Venetia becomes less self-centered. 

Venetia is my favorite character and she probably changes the most though the story. Her story is a sad one, and I will admit I was surprised that I was as okay as I was with what happened to her. When we first encounter her she's pretty self-centered, obnoxious, your basic beautiful 18 year-old who thinks she owns the world. She manages to seduce a painter who has recently moved to town and finds herself deeply in love. I have to admit, the love story was a bit hard to believe since even Venetia herself admits she knows absolutely nothing about him and he refuses to tell her even the smallest things about himself. I had to over look the holes in the love story to keep reading but it was worth it. Anyway, Venetia ends up pregnant and before she can tell her lover he disappears, leaving her thinking the worst; he's either dead after an air raid or run off as a Nazi spy. Venetia agrees to marry in order to cover up her indiscretion, but her fiance finds out about her condition and, well, lets just say he's not happy and he lets her know. 

Venetia ends up miscarrying. However, with the tone of the book, and everything that happens, it's not unexpected. From pretty early on in her pregnancy I got the feeling it was going in that direction, so when it happened I was not shocked. It wasn't the slap in the face that the miscarriage was in another book I read recently, and i feel like it was a big part of her growth. The realization that her actions can have severe consequences, and that she's not invincible, bad things can happen to her, really contributed to her change in attitude. Not that I think she deserved it, by any means. No one deserves that, but it definitely changed her.   

Mrs. Tilling's change was more subtle. She starts the story out quiet and meek, and ends by really coming into her own. She learns that her voice is important and that she has a lot to contribute to the village. I love how things end up for her. I don't want to spoil her story by saying too much about her but I really liked her. 

I loved the attitude of all the women in the village of 'keeping calm and carrying on' and 'stiff upper lip' and all that. They really come together and keep going in the face of all their husbands and sons being gone for the war. I was really disappointed that we didn't get to find out what happened to Mrs. Tilling's son. David. Once he leaves for the war we never hear from him again and at the end of the book it's not even 1941 yet and the war is still going strong. 

This was a good, intriguing read, with great characters who really made it successful for me. 3.75 out of 5 stars.  

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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This was an enjoyable read that lived up to its reputation of being inspiring and uplifting. It is told from the perspective of many people in the village, through a medium of journals and letters and announcements. I quite liked that the author chose to do it this way rather than having a single narrator; it produced such a well-rounded story with a great deal of depth and charm. The author introduces us to a whole host of characters, each unique and equipped with different skills to deal with the changes that are happening in their lives because of the war. Each character was beautifully created with a perfect balance of skills and imperfections; it was a delight to watch them grow and change throughout the course of the novel and its events. Spoiled children mature and become selfless, righteous women learn to let go of prejudices, and ugly personalities reveal themselves. Each character has their own little subplot going on, and yet the author manages to tie everything together beautifully - and I can imagine that this must have been a very difficult task to orchestrate! The effect was wonderful, with a poignant, cohesive, charming story emerging. If my previous remarks haven't been obvious enough, this novel is a character-driven story and it is done remarkably well. At various different time points, I felt a kinship with almost all of the characters. This is definitely one of my favorite books on WWII, and it shows the strength that women can have in uniting a community, facing their own internal fears, and being a source of comfort to those around them during times of distress.
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"Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!"
Set in the fictional village of Chilbury, Kent during the Second World War, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir explores the lives of the women left behind whilst the men go off to fight. The remaining villagers are disappointed at the closing of the church choir, which, according to the vicar, cannot go on without any men to sing the tenor and bass parts. However, the arrival of bold, forthright Primrose Trent brings the birth of a new choir, a choir for women only.

Although a war is going on, the ladies of Chilbury have so many other things on their minds. Told through a conflation letters and diary entries, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir reveals the everyday lives of a handful of characters. Mrs Tilling’s journal provides an overview of the general events, whilst 18-year-old Venetia’s letters divulge the wiles and charms she uses in the name of romance. Other characters, particularly the young teenager, Kitty, offer other insights to the goings on in the village.

From falling in love, to having babies, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is full of secrets, schemes and misunderstandings that almost let the villagers forget there is a war on. However, the effects of war do reach the little village, bringing with it terror and grief. 

The individual stories that make up the book provide the reader with a number of scenarios that are full of emotion, but equally entertain. One moment the horror of war could leave readers in flood of tears, the next, Mrs B.’s pretentious personality and vaunting comments bring amusement and laughter. 

All the while these events are playing out, the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir pulls the women together, providing them with a source of comfort to get them through the terrible times. No matter what disasters befall them, whether caused by war or their own actions, joining together in song gives them a purpose and opportunity to have a break from their fears and grief. War may destroy, but they will carry on singing.

Written in the manner of private letters and journals gives the novel a personal touch. The story is not merely narrated, it is expressed through the emotion and feelings of individual characters, making the scenarios seem more authentic. The downside to this method is the lack of distinction between each character’s voices. With no detectable dialect, the musings of a 13-year-old are composed in much the same manner as the much older Mrs Tilling. 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is an enjoyable piece of historical literature, which is bound to appeal to many people. Although set during World War II, its primary focus is on the people in the village, making it more attractive to readers who are fed up of reading about bombs and fighting. A mix of family issues, bribery and romance provide considerably more entertainment than a generic wartime novel. Being Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is of a quality that suggests the author has so much more to deliver in the not-so-distant future.
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This book was a "reward" for filling out some survey. I had no intention of reading it - it was for my wife. Unfortunately, she does not review books, so I cannot award the book any sort of evaluation.
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I received an ARC of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from NetGalley. Being a musician, as well as a person who penpals, I thought that the whole concept of the women's choir and learning about the lives of the individual women in this village would really appeal to me.  This book did not disappoint. I looked forward to reading it every night. I would recommend it.
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This is a charming novel about an English village in 1940.  It might not be the best of the books of this genre but it's pretty darn good.  I liked the way the story of each of the characters unfolded- it made for a read that I knew might and did hold some surprises.  There's no great highs here nor deep lows but it's a measured, gentle tale that's just right for, let's face it, fans of PBS series like Call the Midwife and Home Fires.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Ryan is one to watch.
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Set in 1940's war torn England, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir  tells the tale of the women who are left behind when the men go off to join the war effort. This is simply a beautiful read, showing the lives of these different women and girls through letters and diary entries.

The setting of the small English town was perfectly created. The characters were superbly written. Each one had a unique voice and tale. Jennifer Ryan managed to weave all the character's tales together in a way that flowed perfectly.

The heartbreak from the cost of war is balanced out by the determination that the Ladies of Chilbury show to carry on. The characters draw you in and make you feel everything that they do. From young Silvie, who has fled from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia, to Mrs Tilling who is trying to cope with her son  being sent to war, their struggles and their voices spring off the page. 

The story has a little bit of everything. There are quite a few dramatic story lines, however they work. 

My only issue is that the diary entries and letters had too much dialogue to be genuine. This is only a small thing that I noticed after I'd finished reading the book. To actually tell the story, the dialogue between characters was needed so it could not really have been done any other way. 

Overall, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a touching story that I'd highly recommend. 

4.5/5 Stars
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A beautiful rendition about the women of war. 

The story follows a select group of women in the small community of Chilbury during the early part of World War II. The women are very different from one another, but have been thrust together by a war that has stolen the men, taking them away from their homes. Instead of continuing on with their womanly roles, the women of Chilbury become women of war. 

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is so much  more than a novel about war, it is a story about coming together and overcoming differences to create something positive. War is merely a backdrop for the more important message that the novel aims to impart. 

Ryan is an exquisite writer. She seamlessly stitches together the stories of the women of Chilbury. She uses an intriguing structure for her writing, which is both pleasant and unique. 

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a beautifully written tale that holds within it a deep wisdom, which is both elegant and veracious.
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Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced digital copy of this book in return for a review.

The way the story was presented was very imaginative and once all the characters were sorted and identified, it was enjoyable! All the characters, while tellting approximately the same story, had different points of view and made the story as a whole very entertaining.

All the men have gone from Chilbury, so the church choir has been abandoned. But, wait, women can sing, and  sing quite well, without men! A newcomer to the village is a choir director and music teacher and helps reorganize the choir for just the women's voices. Thus, the varied women are drawn together to support each other as the war comes closer to them. The husbands, fathers, and sons have gone and the Nazi bombing is getting closer.

VERY enjoyable read. I would like to know what happens after the war!
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Captivating WWII historical fiction told through letters and journal entries.  Romance, mystery, deception and song in the small English village of Chilbury at the onset of WWII.  This warm and captivating story pulls the reader into the lives of the ladies of Chilbury as they take on new roles and test old conventions.  A heartwarming tale recommended to those who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Summer Before The War.
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