The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 May 2017

Member Reviews

I admit it starts slow. I almost quit a couple of times, as it is a little scattered. But as I proceded, I really enjoyed it! I finished it in 3 days, and would recommend to a friend.

My negative comments would be it has a few bad words in it. Also a questionable intimate scene. 
Other than this, it was good.
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I began this book thinking I was going to leave a wholly negative review. The book is comprised of a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings. This isn't a particularly novel approach to this time period and initially I couldn't see what this approach added to the experience and to the story. But Ryan explains in her acknowledgements about how people in wartime were encouraged to write journals and the like, and in fact, upon reflection, the letters help to set the time period as this would have been how people communicated, particularly in such a small village.

I also began this book thinking it would be a Call the Midwife-esque story line where yes bad things happen but in the end everyone learns something and there's a happy ending. To some extent that is true, but, without spoiling anything, there are moments far more heart wrenching than that. Though the writing style is on occasion a bit clunky, failing to capture the distinct voices of the wide range of characters that make up a small English village, nonetheless Ryan manages to craft a series of intriguing and delectable personal stories, all of which are totally believable in the context of Britain in the Second World War. Yes, some of them could come across a little far fetched if this were just a novel about an English country village, but the context of the beginning of war and the very real threat of German invasion which was felt keenly at that time make the heightened drama and emotions all the more plausible.

I laughed, I shook my head in disbelief, I gasped in shock, I bawled like a baby and I found myself strangely uplifted by this story of the resilience of women who found themselves suddenly without the men whom they loved and on whom they depended. The journey of realised potential in several of the characters is expertly done, their development is not so subtle that it is almost nonexistent, nor is it so obvious as to feel forced.

My critique of this book, other than the occasional lack of narrative voice, is that it takes a bit of time to really get into the action. I appreciate the need for scene setting but I think I needed to understand the importance of the location to the war effort to really appreciate why Chilbury was simultaneously a small English village and an important military location. The other thing I felt wasn't taken into consideration was faith, so much of the important moments in this story take place in a church and this was a time in which the faith of people in Britain was arguably quite strong. I can understand why an author might not choose to make faith an important aspect, but I didn't feel that it was given the place in society that it ought to have had.

My rating: 3.5-4 stars



I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.
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I love love love the epistolary novel's and this one did not disappoint!
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This was one lengthy story that went by surprisingly fast. When I first saw the number of pages in this book, I thought it would take me a week or so to get through it. It only took me a couple of days. 
Set in the fictional town of Chilbury, everything appears to be hunky-dory and small-townishly charming in the beginning. The threat of World War II looms in the background, but everyone is more focused on town gossip and their own self-interest. As the war progresses and the Nazis loom closer though, there is a remarkable crescendo in the pace of little village's life and soon everyone and everything is upturned. 

What started out as an innocent bet turns out into a commitment, misunderstandings turn deadly and most importantly, the nature of gender balance in the town is quietly changing. Thinking back, this was probably quite common during wartime. With most able-bodied men enlisted in the troops, the countryside was filled with women who were discovering their power and autonomy for the first time. 

'Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir?'

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a symbol of the revolution that takes place in the minds of the women of Chilbury. Starting out reluctantly, with a lot of goading and handholding, and then gradually becoming a presence in the village for all occasions good and bad, the choir provides solace to those who have lost in the war and uplifts those who cannot find the strength to carry on. Eventually, it becomes an instrument of change, enabling the women in the choir to take charge of their own lives and chart their own destinies. 

Some character arcs were definitely better thought out than others, but each one had a role to play. A little more nuance and detailing in some of the women, for instance, Mrs. B, would have made the story that much more believable. While the story itself was an absolute treat to read (the authentic British-isms were refreshing), it was more drawn out that it needed to be. On a more selfish note - I would have loved to know what happened to these characters, so an epilogue would have been perfect!
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I was expecting more from this book, but it turned out to be conventional women's fiction with gossip, jealousy and unwanted pregnancy set during WWII. Since the story was told in the form of letters and journal entries, it was a little disjointed. Also, this  stylistic convention wasn't convincingly done.  I don't think people usually include full conversations in their correspondence and journals.  I didn't hate it, but it was a very slight story.

I received a free copy of the ebook from the publisher, but I wound up borrowing and listening to the audiobook from the library.
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Though long, this book ended sweetly.  Thank you for the opportunity to read it in advance.
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Written in a unique manner that consists entirely of letters and journal entries, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a delightful tale about the trials and tribulations that the citizens of a small town in England go through as their country is plunged into World War II. When the story begins, most of the men in the small town of Chilbury have been sent off to war, leaving behind all the women of the town as well as the older men from the ruling families to carry on as best they can. The village’s Vicar decides to disband the long-running Chilbury Choir because he feels they “can’t have a choir without men,” however when music professor Primrose Trent arrives in town, she convinces him to allow the choir to be reinstated. Under Prim’s leadership, the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is formed and not long after that, the group takes on the important role of uniting and uplifting their small community as it struggles to deal with the chaos brought on by the war. 

The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters who record in vivid detail the day-to-day happenings in their small village. Through these’ characters’ letters and journal entries, we as readers get to bear witness to everything from local town gossip to major issues of life and death, but throughout it all, we get to see the fighting spirit of this wonderful group of women who all contribute to the war effort in their own ways. At times funny and heartwarming, especially when depicting the minor squabbles between villagers, yet also tragic and heartbreaking when lives are lost during the first raids on the village, the book actually covers quite a bit of ground on the emotional spectrum. Content-wise, it deals with a variety of issues ranging from class system, gender stereotypes, society conventions and expectations, to family relationships, love and romance, scandals, betrayals, the resilience of the human spirit, etc., all set against the historical backdrop of the war and its impact on the lives of ordinary citizens.

For me personally, I enjoyed reading about the different characters and how their backgrounds shape their actions and experiences throughout the book. Almost all of the characters (except for one or two) are likable in some way and even the ones that are flawed have redeeming qualities that make it difficult to hate them even when they do unscrupulous things. It was also interesting to see how the same situation / event could be viewed in completely different ways and how the actions that we take based on that can result in drastic consequences. I also like how the characters were portrayed realistically, which made it easier to relate to what the characters were going through. As I was reading, I kept drawing similarities of some of the characters to people I know in real life (for example – the exceedingly annoying Mrs. B, who is pompous and rude and loves to flaunt her wealth but is actually a good person underneath). This made the reading experience fun and enjoyable, despite the at times heavy subject matter.

I definitely recommend this book, especially for its uplifting, “feel-good” quality, which is hard to come by in a book set in the WWII era. This is actually one of the few war-related books I’ve read in recent months that didn’t leave me feeling sad and depressed. Enjoyable and delightful read!

Received advance reader copy from Crown Publishing via Blogging for Books and NetGalley.
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This book follows the stories of several strong and fascinating women in WWII England. It is definitely very beautifully written, but I was expecting more excitement and suspense. Unfortunately, as much as there was going on in the lives of all of these women the story felt pretty anticlimactic to me. I do feel like I may have been a bit unfair to this one because I went into it expecting something more along the lines of The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah and this is just not that. I went into it expecting something much different so I felt a bit let down. This is a beautiful and moving story in it’s own right, but as compared to many other WWII books I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of them as it’s a favorite genre for me) it just didn’t have the excitement or drama that I would expect. Actual rating would be 3.5 so I’ll round up to 4.
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This is a charming epistolary novel that delves into the lives of the women of Chilbury, Kent during the early years of WWII .  The narrative commences on March 26, 1940 and ends on September 6, 1940, a short six month period that brought major changes and new understanding to the women of the village.

Encouraged to keep journals of their experiences during this harrowing time in their lives the women complied and it is through these that we observe the unfolding of lives permeated by terrible deceptions, affairs of the heart, and struggles with personal losses.  Letters also pepper this narrative and it is through both of these written mediums that the reader is given an insight into a time and place in history that few of us have ever experienced or could imagine.

Filled with coziness and warmth this is a wonderful book for lover's of epistolary novels and historical fiction. It is filled with a vibrancy and a group of well developed characters that captures not only time and place but also the pressures faced by women whose men have gone off to war.
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One of the most cleverly written books I've read in quite sometime. The author introduces her readers to the characters by using letters and diary/journal entries.
There's a lot going on in the village of Chilbury and it requires the women to come together as most of the men have gone off to war. 
From the choir, to everyday life they find themselves engaged in each other's lives in ways they never imagined.

The age groups of the characters were wide-ranging and added different perspectives. 
I found myself drawn to different characters at different times, making it difficult to have a favorite due to the issues each faced.  From young love to finding love later in life, abusive relationships and  other scandalous behavior this book touches on many realities. 
There's so much going on in the village that I kept reading as fast as I could because the story is interesting and held my attention throughout. 

This is the first book I've read by this author but it won't be the last. 
It's a different from what than I normally read and I'm glad I chose it.

I received a complimentary copy of The Chilbury Ladies Choir from Netgalley and have given my honest opinion.
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Through diaries, newspaper articles, and letters, the characters of this novel spring to life in wartime England.  The men are gone, and the vicar wants to shut down the choir, but it's something that the women have left and can cling to for joy and love.  (This is a big theme of the book.)   There are a lot characters, and it takes a bit at first to really get the hang of each characters' voice, but once you do, it's not an issue at all.  There were some shocking actions in the story, but it's war and survival is also key.  Overall, they're human, they're women, and they're the silent warriors of their own community.  A good WWII themed read from the homefront.
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This book is told through letters, journals and the odd poster. One would think that it would be hard to get invested in the story that jumps back-and-forth this way or that it would be difficult to get to know the characters. But the author made it work here and it was brilliant, heartwarming and a clear picture of the ladies in this little town who are left when most of the men went off to war.

As the women are left to fill in roles that the men usually did, some reluctantly, it's when the war hits close to home  that everyone's true character comes to light. I won't go into detail about each of the different characters suffice to say that there were coming of age stories, romance where least expected, hearts softened and of course there are those that took advantage of the situation. This is war so there is also heartbreak and devastation. 

I think the author did a great job with this book, I was able to get to know the characters in fact I would like to continue hearing about their story and Chilbury during the rest of the war. Given the seriousness of World War II this book begins before the Battle of Britain where everyone thinks it will be over soon. The author was able to write a vivid story with wit and humour to offset the seriousness and show a realistic glimpse of a small town and the effects this war had on them. She made me care about the characters so much so that I hated to see the book end. From teenagers to retired women coming together in support, encouragement and to engulf each other in love and support it was a pleasure to read. 

Since this is Jennifer Ryan's debuted I can't wait to see what she comes up with next and would be thrilled with a sequel. Definitely a book I highly recommend, especially to those that loved Letters from Skye and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Thank you to TLC Tours for inviting me to be part of this tour.  My arc was provided by the publisher (via netgalley).
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Favorite Quotes:

It was the funeral of Edmund Winthrop, the Brigadier’s despicable son who was blown up in a submarine last week.  Only twenty he was – one minute a repulsive reptile, the next a feast for the fishes.  

As the place became full, the gnome-like Bishop of Litchfield walked to the front and asked for quiet in strong nasal tones, making me think that his wire spectacles were too tight.

Of course Venetia made sure she was center stage, hair perfect, which was funny as she was standing beside Mrs. Gibbs, who looked like an unhinged hen, with coats and scarves at all angles and hair like a bird’s nest.

‘I’ve always had a notion that marriage is not unlike getting a new hound,’ she said to me, loudly and in an instructional way.  ‘It takes a lot of whipping them into shape before you can get them to do what they’re told.’  She slapped her thigh with enthusiasm, and I had to purse my lips to stop myself from hooting with laughter.

He’d never used my name before, and it made me feel strange, like he was talking to the real me, the one inside, not the one who rushes around cheering people up and making things better.

She smiled in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen – not like her usual caring smile, or her polite smile, but a whole deeper level of smile, as if radiating a force of sunlight breaking through a stormy sky.

My Review:

I snickered, giggle-snorted, and laughed aloud as I read this delightfully amusing, insightful, and heart-squeezing tale featuring a small village in 1940 England.  Everyone living in this village appeared to be uniquely quirky and colorfully detailed.  The storyline sings and zings as it unfolds through the letters and journal entries of the various choir members and residents.  The main narrators were the lusty and saucy Venetia, the crafty and conniving midwife Edwina, the vivacious thirteen-year-old Kitty - bustling with self-importance and colorful observations, and meek Mrs. Tilling who finally finds her backbone when others have crumbled.  I just had to love Venetia, she considered herself an empress – I kid you not!  

I relished and adored each and every word chronicling these oddly flawed and endlessly endearing women as they bristle over the pompous and obnoxious entitled behavior of the village elite, bond and draw strength from each other during grief and despair, and through their choir, they each find their voice - inside and outside.  But sadly, it is wartime, bombs are dropping, and not everyone survives.   I had a chicken-skin reaction when the choir was forced to sing acapella during their first competition due to a power outage.  The writing hit all the right notes and was first class, smartly done, poignant, cleverly amusing, and unfailingly engaging.  I adored it!
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A gentle story that takes place in a small English village during WWII. Very well-written with lovable and sometimes quirky characters, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
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I enjoyed this book, but it had a few problems. I loved the characters and found myself very involved with the story. The letter and journal format was fun, but I found the writing of the 13 year old way above the average teenager's ability. Some of the language was delightful, but didn't feel like the words of the characters. Overall the story overcame my objections and I had a good time reading it. I would definitely recommend it to my patrons.
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A book told through letters, journal entries and so on was such a new inventive way to approach the subject of World War II and set in a small town that is on the outskirts, but close enough to have fear of the impending doom.

I would say it was hard to keep all the ladies straight from the Chilbury Ladies' Choir and make sure I could remember who was who and what was what.  It may have been harder given the style of the book, but in the same moment I loved how it was written.  I read this one slower because I took a minute at the beginning of each chapter to remember who was talking and where they were coming from.  I loved that the characters varied in age and station in life so you saw the full view of the village.  

I have read numerous books on World War II, too many to count at this point, so to have a fresh take is actually kind of hard!  I am not a big cryer with books, but this one definitely had my heart strings pulled because I just was so invested in the characters and how they were going to survive.  

Again another great debut and excited to see what Jennifer Ryan has up next.
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The book opens in the 1940's in a small English Village.  The story is told in a series of letters and diary entries of the women in this town called Chilbury..   This is a wonderful story, so well written that you can picture the scenery and the voices of these characters.   
Highly recommend for fans of women's historical fiction.
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What a delightful book!  Charming and vivid and very well written.  I enjoyed the author's use of letters and journal entries to tell the story.  The characters came to life on the page as their individual voices came through in their writing.  

There were moments that were funny, some that were surprising, some that were inevitable, some predictable, and some that were filled with sorrow. I finished the book with a smile on my face.  What more can one ask?
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