Cover Image: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

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?
Was this review helpful?
This story takes place in a small town in England during WWII and is told through letters and journal entries of the women who become members of the Chilbury Ladies' Choir. I absolutely loved this book and the way it was written. Even with each chapter being a different person's journal entry or letter, it flowed so very well and it just made each person's story more endearing. It showed how women can come together during difficult times and be there for each other, even though they aren't the best of friends. My favorite character ended up being Mrs. Tilling. She ended up taking charge in certain circumstances and helped out some of the women when they were down on their luck, even those she didn't particularly get along with very well. I was happy with how things turned out for her at the end. 

I highly recommend this charming and delightful book. It is excellent!!

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
As a choir singer myself, I am already of the belief that music can bring people together and... I spent a lovely weekend rediscovering that feeling in the quaint town of Chilbury. Jennifer Ryan's novel creatively captures the way music can lead us all through the hard times. What propels this tale is the characterization - as the women of Chilbury face the perils of wartime, Ryan so aptly develops her characters - even the minor ones that you feel immersed in the town. I truly felt that I was a fly on the wall - learning the gossip, the love stories, the family drama, and the tragedies of the women in this town.

I was particularly struck by the way that Ryan was able to demonstrate the women coming into their own - a feminist movement of sorts. The women of this town learn how to gain confidence in themselves first as a women-only choir, then in their own lives. It is still a poignant reminder during our own tumultuous times of the strength of women and how they should not be discounted.

4 stars from me!

**I received my copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**
Was this review helpful?
It's not often that I come across a novel that makes me dread to reach the ending. This was one of those beautiful treasures. I even tried making myself set it to the side and read something else just to delay it ending. It didn't work. I found myself running right back to The Chilbury Ladies' Choir like a dearly missed friend.

Perfect for fans of Home Fires and Land Girls!
Was this review helpful?
World War II provides the context for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan, but the war is not the story itself. The heart of this story are the women of the small village of Chilbury in Kent, England. This story becomes about each woman finding her own individual voice and about learning that the voice can stand alone and can be heard. The end result is a charming story of women, love, and survival tempered by the somber circumstances.

Read my complete review at

Reviewed for NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
A novel that unfolds via letters and journals? Yess!! I am a sucker for this type of book so snatched it up. And what a fabulous book it was. Jennifer Ryan’s “The Chillbury’s Ladies Choir” sits right up there with my other favorites written in this style. The letters and diaries truly felt authentic.

“There is a way of life here that I don’t believe any war can crush, that will endure long after we’re gone.”

This story begins in an English village in the early days of World War II after the men of Chilbury have left to support the war effort and a village ‘ladies only’ choir is born. Chapters cover the next 6-months and alternate mostly via four distinctive female perspectives. Oh how I loved each of these characters and being privy to the more ‘scandalous’ events and domestic drama unrolling via their diaries and letters. The tone of the book is upbeat but there are plenty of sobering moments as the war disrupts and impacts their lives.

Jennifer Ryan has a wonderfully creative style of writing which celebrates the spirit and bonding of the women left behind during War.
Was this review helpful?
**This review will post to my blog at on March 5th. It has already been posted to Goodreads. I will add a link to the blog post once it goes live on the 5th**

In the early days of World War II, the Vicar in the village of Chilbury announces that the church choir will be disbanded because there are very few men left in the village. A newcomer to the village, Music Professor Primrose Trent, objects saying that music can bring the women of the village together and help them all get through the war. Under her expert leadership, the women band together and form the Chilbury Ladies Choir. They use their music and friendships to help get them through deaths, threat of invasion, bombings, rationing and all of the changes the war brings to their little corner of England. 

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is a beautiful epistolary novel. The story comes to life through the letters and journal entries written by the women of Chilbury. The women share their fears, triumphs and challenges. Choir practices and performances bring them together and give them support and hope during a bleak time. One of my favorite scenes involves Prim Trent bringing the choir together to give thanks for the soldiers who have given their lives and to de-stress. Prim teaches the women about Gregorian Chant, and they sing together. Each woman left practice that night with peace and hope renewed in their souls. 

This is a moving and beautiful book. It shows an entire village pulling together to survive war-time horrors. Some rose to the occasion and became a support structure for everyone around them, and others were pulled down into criminal activity. The book doesn't sugar coat the effects of war on village life, but shows the reality through the eyes of the women left at home. 

I'm usually not a big fan of epistolary novels. But this one is well-written and wonderful. I highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys historical or women's fiction. 

This is Jennifer Ryan's debut novel. To find out more about the author, check out her website:

**I voluntarily read an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**
Was this review helpful?
I am not particularly a fan of epistolary novels.  In real life, the journal entry or letter of a 13 year old is not going to be anything like the journal entry of a grown woman in terms of content, details, descriptions, vocabulary, writing styles, etc.  Other than that mild annoyance, though, I wound up really enjoying this story of WWII Britain.  When most of the men of Chilbury have gone to war, the women of the town band together to keep their choir going, even though having a ladies only choir is most unusual in that time and place.  What the women find though, is it is not just a choir - it's a place for them to support each other through thick and thin, to help their village, to discover qualities and talents they never knew they had, to become stronger women all around. The cast is wide and varied, women you'd find in every city - leaders, followers, teenagers looking for first love, young housewives, matriarchs, a woman with an agenda, women mourning lost husbands and children. It covers just a few months of 1940, but these women endure a lot - Dunkirk, bombings, the loss of friends and family. This story is sometimes very moving, always interesting.  And I found myself humming the hymns these wonderful women sang.  Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing  for allowing me to read this in exchange for an honest review.  4 stars!   Just a wonderful story of women keeping the home front going during the war.
Was this review helpful?
I love reading stories set during this time period. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir takes place in a small English village and the story is told through letters and diary entries from the perspective of a variety of characters. 

The vicar wants to disband the choir because the men are away at war but when the new music teacher Primrose Trent arrives, she encourages the women of the village to create a ladies' choir. The choir helps bolster the courage of the members as they face various challenges and fears. It also helps the people of the village by raising their morale even as there are bombings and losses.

Not all of the characters in the book are likable but some grew on me as they changed through the positive influence of Miss Trent and the other choir members. One such character is Venetia, a spoiled and vain girl who causes trouble by making young men fall in love with her. Her younger sister Kitty is naive and can also behave spitefully but she means well. I couldn't stand either of them at first but as they began to change, I liked them more. Then there is vile midwife Miss Paltry and the evil Brigadier who are just loathsome throughout. Thankfully there are some genuinely likable characters like Miss Trent and Mrs. Tillings, a widow whose son has just left to fight. There are secrets in the village and some characters seeking to capitalize on the war. I wanted to know what would happen and how various issues would be resolved.  Although the war is a dark subject there is plenty of humor in the novel too. Even though we get to know the characters only through letters and journal entries, I still came to care about them.

If you like historical fiction and reading about life in England during WWII, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir won't disappoint. It reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Maryanne Shaffer and Annie Barrows as well as The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (set during WWI) and the British TV series Home Fires.
Was this review helpful?
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir opens in March 1940 in the English village of Chilbury. The story is primarily told through the diaries and letters of five women, although there are some other voices heard along the way. When most of the local men go off to war, the local vicar decides to disband the church choir. 
Jennifer Ryan has written a moving story about the way the start of World War II affected a village near the coast of Britain. Using the letters and journals of four main characters, Ryan humanizes history, using a mixture of humor, horror, pathos, and the banality of evil. We learn about the social and political forces in town through choir members' letters and journal writings. 
Ryan’s choice of telling this story through 4 or 5 individual letters and diaries brings too many    voices and can be confusing, which leads to no one character becoming worthy of our attention.  Ryan uses a mixed first- and third-person narrative, but with the narrator shifting every few pages, it becomes confusing.  Another way, in which this novel fails, is that her characters are flat caricatures. None of them have any depth and they never become real. There are some characters that could be real, but no time is spent or attention to make them interesting.

I thought a story about a choir and WWII would be fascinating but was disappointed. If you don’t mind 5 different voices moving the story you may be able to get through it.  I received a copy of the eBook from Crown Publishing and Net Galley for my review
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed THE CHILBURY LADIES' CHOIR, a debut novel by Jennifer Ryan.  Set in 1940 in a small village near the East Coast of England, this was a fairly gentle and undemanding read which allowed one to imagine the changes in personal relationships wrought by WWII.

Ryan uses letters and diary entries from a variety of village inhabitants to convey events involving bombs, baby-swapping and singing competitions.  Chroniclers include 13 year-old Kitty who has a beautiful singing voice and a lovely older sister, Venetia, who is prone to flirting. Adult perspective is provided by Mrs. Tilling, widowed and sending her only son off to war, plus Mrs. Paltry, a local midwife. 

Throughout the novel, there is plenty of talk of standing together and taking care of each other as the choir and its members all must take on new duties and face possible death from the Nazi air raids.  Even in the short space of a few months, Kitty and Venetia are forced to grow-up, with the latter observing, "I realized that this is what it's like to be an adult, learning to pick from a lot of bad choices and do the best you can with that dreadful compromise." 

THE CHILBURY LADIES' CHOIR has been compared frequently to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society; and, according to Library Journal, TV rights have been sold to the production company behind Downton Abbey.
Was this review helpful?
I really loved this story, set in a quintessential English village during World War II.  The personalities of the characters were well-developed, and their interactions were delightful to read, especially some of the scenes involving Mrs. Tilling and the domineering Mrs. B.  

The story was more substantial than I expected, including intrigue such as blackmail and espionage. Parts of the book made me smile, while at other times it perfectly captured the anguish of loss and war.
I loved the format of the story, told soley through letters and diary entries of different characters. One small critique is that through using that technique, the full conversations and dialogue that took place were not entirely plausible, given that journal entries and letters would not be written that way.  However, this did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, I found this to be a charming and engaging story of how a group of women in the midst of war  came together to lift up their village and each other, finding strength they didn’t know they possessed.  

Thank you to Crown Publishing through Netgalley for providing a copy of this book to review.
Was this review helpful?
But with a cautious smile, I realized that there are no laws against singing, and I found my voice becoming louder, in defiance of this war. In defiance of my right to be heard.
It all starts with a posting nailed to the door of the church. WWII is underway and all the men have reported for duty.  But that won't stop the ladies of Chilbury.

“All the men have gone,” I whispered back, aware of our voices carrying uncomfortably through the funeral crowd. “The Vicar says we can’t have a choir without men.”
Through the personal journal entries of Mrs. Tilling, a widowed nurse with a son at the front, and Kitty Winthrop, the youngest daughter of the wealthy Brigadier - and occasionally the Winthrop's refugee Sylvie- and the letters of Edwina Paltry, an immoral, scheming midwife, and Venetia Winthrop, the flirtatious eldest daughter of the Brigadier, we see a gentler side of war. The women are left to cope in a village stripped of it's men- their fathers, husbands and brothers. They experience a seismic shift in their daily life and with that they gain a newfound boldness.

I felt like clearing my throat and telling her that she was wrong, and before I knew it, I was saying out loud, “Maybe we’ve been told that women can’t do things so many times that we’ve actually started to believe it. In any case, the natural order of things has been temporarily changed because there are no men around.” I glanced around for inspiration.
Throwing convention to the wind, they reinstate the Chilbury Choir under a new name, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, with a renewed sense of purpose. In a time of uncertainty, these women band together and form a support system of the utmost importance.

The volume swelled with passion and deliberation as we poured our emotions into every darkened corner of the church. Every dusty cloister and crevice reverberated, reaching a crescendo in the final chorus, a vocal unison of thirteen villagers that cold, still night, pouring out our longings, our anxieties, our deepest fears.
Each narrative shines with the personality of the character that pens it and we begin to see to the heart of the village, which for some may be less than honorable. A crime, a bribe, and a potential Nazi spy add a bit of color to the events in Chilbury proving the saying that 'it takes all sorts'. In tandem, new friendships and romances are forged, shining a bright light during a dark time.

“Music is about passion. It’s about humanity. We need to bring our own passions to our voices.” She wound her baton thoughtfully through the air. “We have to imbue every note, every word, with our own stories. Think of what our members can bring: Kitty’s exuberance, Silvie’s courage, Mrs. Quail’s joviality, Hattie’s gentleness, Mrs. Tilling’s diligence. Even you, Mrs. B., bring a gusto and verve to our singing. Every joy, every pain we are feeling from this war will be put to use in our music.”
When the reality of war comes to England, to the front doors of Chilbury, the women are forced to dig even deeper within themselves to ensure the safety of their homes. They lean even more heavily on each other where they find strength and courage.

And a new dread crept into our singing, as if we were singing for them, for everyone who had lost someone, or could. By the time we reached the powerful chords toward the end, we were almost crying with our song, louder, more raucous than before, until the final Amen, when we all stood together, firm in the power of our choir to face this war together.
All at once charming and sorrowful, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is an inspiring tale about strength of character and the fierce spirit of women.

Perhaps there is something good that has come from this war: everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain. It has given us everyday women a voice— dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free advance e-copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  The men have gone off to fight in WW II and the vicar has disbanded the church choir but some of the ladies want to continue even though they don’t have male voices.  There are several subplots as the author gives us a look into the lives of several members of this small community.  The characters are wonderful and well developed.  There are secrets, small town gossip, illicit love, romance, births, death, conspiracy, bribery, and crime. The story is about hope and the survival of those on the home front in small town England during the time of war.  This is a very well written book.  The author draws the reader into the drama of small town society and the everyday lives of those who are left behind; at times making me laugh and at other times bringing me to tears.  This book is a keeper and well worth the read.  I look forward to reading more from Jennifer Ryan.
Was this review helpful?
The Chilbury Ladies Choir is the lovely and immersive story of a small coastal village in England during the early years of World War II. The story is told entirely through the letters and diaries of the members of the choir as they navigate the changes that have arrived in their little town in the wake of war.

The first change is the one that gives the choir both its name and its purpose. Chilbury is a small town. All the young men and even middle-aged men are gone. Only the very old and the very young are left. The local vicar, on that side of very old, comes to the traditional conclusion that without any men, without any tenors, baritones and basses, the church choir will have to disband for the duration.

The new music teacher disagrees. There is no reason why the women can’t make a choir of their own, with music altered to fit their soaring soprano and alto voices. And so it begins.

The ladies of the choir, at first hesitant to do something so completely nontraditional, discover that their voices have not been stilled. If anything, their voices have been amplified and expanded by the war, as they are left to take up all the tasks that are still required by village life, jobs that used to be filled by men.

As tradition falls by the wayside, so do many of the social restrictions that governed daily life, and more important for women before the war, the rigors of strict respectability. Things that were simply “not done” are now done all the time, whether that’s work at the nearby government installations or take up with a dodgy artist who claims to be too infirm to enlist.

Their world has been turned on its head, yet they soldier (and sing) on, even as they receive black-bordered telegraphs from the front and as bombs fall on their tiny town.

We view the early years of the war and the remaining denizens of the village through their eyes. Young Kitty Winthrop’s diary, and her older sister Venetia’s letters to a friend in London speak of the mundane and the tragic. We see their still simmering sibling rivalry, we experience almost-fourteen-year-old Kitty’s stops and starts at growing up. We experience the tragedy of Venetia’s love affair through her letters, and observe her through Kitty’s eyes as she changes from a self-absorbed vamp-wannabe to a grown woman who finally matures.

Through the letters of the local midwife and the diary of the local nurse, we see a great swindle unfold. And we see crime finally turned into triumph.

We see all the woman grow and change and expand into their new roles, into this frightening new world. And in the midst of so many tragedies, we see them rise along with their voices.

Escape Rating A: I think that a lot of readers are doing to compare The Chilbury Ladies Choir to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and from the looks of things there certainly are similarities. Enough so that I feel the need to get a copy of Guernsey, which I haven’t read. Yet.

One big difference is that Guernsey takes place after the war, so the characters are reflecting on what happened rather than experiencing it fresh. Chilbury is contemporaneous, we read the letters and diaries as they are being written. We find ourselves in the middle of these characters lives, watching them change and grow. We learn about Kitty and Venetia’s family life by what they write, not by an omniscient narrator telling us that their father the local squire is a bully and a brute who abuses them and their mother. They write about what they feel as it happens, and we watch them try to avoid and justify and self-efface and cower in an attempt to survive. We feel their confusion and triumph as he finally gets put in his place.

We see half the women in the village experience some variation of his bullying and brutality, and cheer when someone finds a way to stand up to him and make it stick.

This is kind of a gentle story, in spite of the war. Some of the women experience tragedy, but because of the epistolary nature of the story, the blood and guts are not described, not even when the village is bombed. But the emotional tsunami in the aftermath is experienced again and again.

In a way, not a lot happens. And yet so much does. The story, much like the choir, works together so well that it is a joy to experience these women’s lives with them, even though we don’t know how it ends. And we don’t need to. The war eventually ended, but these women’s lives, and the lives they touched, went on. While it would be marvelous to see each one’s happy-ever-after (or at least get some resolution if they don’t get one) it doesn’t feel necessary for the story to conclude.

One final note: there is another author named Jennifer Ryan. The other Jennifer Ryan writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense. And was the source of one of my most sarcastic, and most liked, reviews on Goodreads, The Right Bride. The two Jennifer Ryans are definitely not the same.

If you love stories about the homefront during World War II, or women’s fiction, or just want to read a lovely story, I can’t recommend The Chilbury Ladies Choir highly enough.
Was this review helpful?
A wonderful story, told exclusively through journal entries and letters to family, that follows the women of Chilbury as they come together to build a home front while the men are away at war.  The depth of the characters is really warming, as seen through each other's eyes.
Was this review helpful?
I received a ARC of this book from Net Galley for an honest review.

I have always been a fan of historical fiction, especially novels set during WWII, so I was excited to read and review this book. What a wonderful story. Told through the point of view of four main characters using their journals, diaries, and letters we learn of a small English village at the onset of the war. I enjoy reading books that use this means to tell a story...very engaging and a great way to feel like you "know" the characters.

Unlike recent books I've read set in this time period, this book dwelt more on the women in the town and how they banded together to make it through the hard times, rather than a book that examines the horrors of war. Not to say that there were not heartbreaking developments in the story, but it was more a story of female empowerment and awakening.

Highly recommend for fans of women's fiction and/or historical fiction.
Was this review helpful?
#OneBookWinter - The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

What is the one book you would recommend reading this Winter?

Today I'm sharing with you my thoughts on The Chilbury Ladies' Choir A Novel by Jennifer Ryan, my first 5 star read of 2017, and my recommendation for the SheReads #OneBookWinter book rec across social media day today!

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Source: NetGalley / Crown Publishing (e-edition ARC)
Release Date: Next Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Synopsis from NetGalley:
""Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!"

As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead "carry on singing." Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir," the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, THE CHILBURY LADIES' CHOIR moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit-- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past-- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life. In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict."

My Thoughts:

In a word: Exceptional!

So many layers to this novel. Ms. Ryan's writing is beautiful, and expertly weaves together all of the stories of the women left behind in the (fictional) village of Chilbury during WWII, and shows us not only what they had to do to survive, but also how the choir and its' music unites them, regardless of their ages and backgrounds, and how that unity becomes another tool for their survival during the war.

Side story/background: Back during SIBA/READ Savannah in September, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and chatting at length with Ms. Ryan at the Hilton DeSoto lounge about this novel, and writing & reading in general! (The cover is gorgeous in person by the way and I cannot wait until it comes out next week and I'm able to get my hands on a print copy). Since then I had been looking forward to reading this novel (it's one of my preferred genres - WWII hist fic) so I was thrilled when my NetGalley request to read it was approved via Crown Publishing and NetGalley back on January 4th. I actually finished reading on January 27th but wanted to hold my thoughts until closer to the actual release date.

Highly recommended! For those who love historical fiction and those who love a great story.

Links for Reference:
Penguin RandomHouse book page (to pre-order)
Author Twitter
Watch Author Talk About Writing on YouTube
Crown Publishing on Twitter

I want to thank NetGalley and Crown Publishing for providing me with a free copy of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir A Novel as a member of NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Opinions are my own, and I am not required by the publisher to write a positive review, nor have I received compensation for this review).
Was this review helpful?
Title: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir 
Author: Jennifer Ryan
Source: FirstToRead 
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads 
Rating:  five-stars 
Summary: This beautiful epistolary novel gave each character a unique voice and was very moving.

“As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.” (source)

I love epistolary novels and the first thing I noticed about this one was what a wonderful job the author did making each character sound distinct. The main characters include a scheming midwife; an upstanding but timid member of the community; a self-centered but beautiful young woman; a teenager who loves to sing; and a young Jewish refugee whose parents were unable to escape with her. I never had a hard time telling who was writing or keeping track of characters because each was given a writing style that suited who they were. The author also managed to include some really beautiful nature descriptions, touching moments, and exciting action scenes without breaking character.

In part because I got to know the characters so well, I found this book very emotionally engaging. I was invested in the characters. Even the more tangential stories made me feel emotional because the main characters were emotional about them. I’ve been wanting a book that would pull me into the story for quite some time and this book definitely delivered. It was also a success as historical fiction, giving me glimpses of many parts of life on the homefront in WWII Britain. Larger events of the war also impacted the lives of the main characters, something that always makes me remember more of the history I learn from historical fiction. I occasionally start feeling burnt out on stories about WWII, but this felt like a fresh new perspective to me. If you enjoy historical fiction, epistolary novels, and stories where everything is tied up neatly at the end, this is the book for you!
Was this review helpful?