The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 May 2017

Member Reviews

Set during 1940, Europe is coming apart at the seams and the ladies of Chilbury make the controversial decision to continue their village choir even though there are no men left to sing. This book is about much more than a choir, though, so the title may be misleading.   Mainly this is the story of how a village of women came together during the war and took charge of their own lives.  Full of characters who are well-developed and full of growth, this is a heartwarming story.  I would advise to read it as a chapter book told from different narratives instead of as an epistolary novel because the letters are not at all realistically written.  If you take away the fact that these chapters are supposed to be letters and journal entries, this is a beautifully written novel about the role of women during World War II.  I received this book from the Blogging for Books Program in exchange for an honest review.
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A while ago I received this book through Net Galley, and also received it as a gift for filling out a survey through Blogging for Books. Both were e-copies, but I received the Net Galley one first.

I loved this book about WWII and the power of music and community. Each character has his or her own story and the novel progresses through journals, letters, and straight prose. This was the type of story that I’d hope to see made into a BBC series.

Well-written and full of memorable characters, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR is a book I could easily read more than once.

Thank you for my e-copy, Crown Publishing! It publishes Tuesday, 2/14/17.
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"The Chilbury Ladies' Choir" by Jennifer Ryan is an epistolary novel covering six months in the lives of some of the village's citizens.  They have much to say about how the ravages of World War II are affecting their village.  One way of restoring a sense of normalcy to life is to start a women's choir at the local church.  The letters and diary entries of this novel reveal the hearts of choir members in everyday life as well as during rehearsals and performances.  And we learn much about the lives of supporting characters (non-choir members) through these entries.  

The contents of Edwina Paltry's letters to her sister, Clara, are unbelievably self-incriminating.  Both Mrs. Tilling's and Kitty Winthrop's diary entries give the reader hope, big sister Venetia Winthrop's airhead letters to BFF Amelia Quail peel back layers of self-centeredness and confusion.  The writer of one letter instructs the recipient to burn it after reading it.  The analyzer in me enjoyed tracking the dated entries by character.  

An observation by one of the village's military men sums it up nicely:  “There’s a way of life here that I don’t believe any war can crush, that will endure long after we’re gone.” 

Reading the ebook version of an epistolary novel has advantages and disadvantages.  I fought the urge to create a spreadsheet to keep track of the entries.  A simple list sufficed.  The "Chilbury Ladies' Choir" is a pleasant read about unpleasant topics -- war being the central theme.
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Thanks to Net Galley, I have had the ARC of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir on my Kindle for some time. Jennifer Ryan’s novel sounded right down my alley when I requested it – historical fiction set in an English village in World War II. I had been anticipating its move to the top of my reading list. 

The premise begins when the Vicar disbands the church choir because all the men have gone to war. The church ladies can’t be kept down long. They rally and reframe the choir for women only and so the thread of song winds through the novel. Diaries, letters, and journals tell the story of the village with intrigue, romance (not just for the young), and wartime life and death issues. There’s a conspiracy with the birth of two babies swapped by a midwife, the question of the real identity of the new guy in Chilbury where all the residents know each other, and the billeting of military. The members of the ladies’ choir have their hands full.   

I’ve tried to decide who to name as the protagonist and have come up with the community. The gossip and intrigue over large things and small will be familiar to anyone who has loved living in a village. While five ladies from the choir get the most attention, the men in the story are not to be ignored. In her first novel, Jennifer Ryan keeps her villains sympathetic and her heroes flawed. 

The book is purely recreational reading and fulfills its purpose. The book release is tomorrow (February 14), and I’m hoping Jennifer Ryan has a second novel on the way.
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Chilbury is a small village in Kent, with all of the dramas, intrigues and community that one would expect. But there’s one small hiccup: at the onset of war, the Vicar has decided that the choir, now bereft of male voices because of the volunteers and call ups, will be disbanded until the “boys come home”. This becomes the story of the women of the choir, and their efforts to keep that one bit of community alive in a time when they feel it is most necessary, despite the lack of support from their vicar. 

Told in a series of letters and diary entries, this story is not wonderful because of the ‘newness’ of the subject, nor are the characters we meet full of bonhomie and good will. These are ordinary women, faced with extraordinary circumstances and changes that rock the foundations of all they know, as they struggle to survive and support the war effort from home. Thrust into positions that they are unprepared for, these women are learning as they go: running households, farms, shops and their communities.  This doesn’t make them saints, they all have a solid streak of ‘get on with it, even as they all show they are human and subject to worries, cares and uncharitable thoughts. 

What emerges is a highly personalized version of those left behind during the war: the struggles they faced, the personal challenges they overcame and the knowledge gained that forever changed them, and their country.  Each character is carefully developed and explored: you hear their voices, you can picture their lives and worries, and a full image of the story and the moments arise with the author’s careful insertions of history, scenery and people. A book that draws you in and demands attention, yet allows you to savor the moments, reveling as if on a quiet bench looking on.  I’ve read it 3 times in the six months I’ve had it available, and just want to dive back in again! If you enjoy a quieter and subtly complex story that introduces characters, conflicts, resolutions and community with equal attention paid, this is the book for you. Certainly one of my favorites for the year.  

I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
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I absolutely LOVED this book! Through letters and diary entries I was drawn into this charming community of women struggling to make sense of the war that is ravaging around them. With each missive I became more involved in their lives, laughing with them, dreaming with them and even crying with them. I am not one to cry while reading a book but this story had so much depth that I found myself feeling their hurts and their triumphs in a very real way. 

Each of these women were connected by their participation in the Ladies Chilbury Choir. I especially enjoyed hearing how the act of singing together brought healing and comfort to each of them. Having been involved in choirs most of my life I can personally relate to how the experience of lifting your voices together can truly bring solace to your soul. 

But the biggest message I took away from reading this is captured in a quote from the book: “In this bleak world, there is at least one thing that we have left. Love.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy and the opportunity to review this book. It truly touched me and I will recommend it to all my friends and to my local library. 5 stars!
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I liked the unusual way the story was told and the wide cast of characters who had a part to play.  The choir is the one thing that brings this varied group together and keeps then there.
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"The Chilbury Ladies' Choir" was an absolute delight to read.   I got lost in England in 1940 and I didn't surface until the very last page.   What happens to a small town when all the men are drawn into war?   This novel, set in Chilbury England, told the stories of the women left behind in the form of letters and journal entries.   I loved the stories, the different voices, the vices and and heroics and the way that the women could pull together to accomplish anything.   I would recommend this book to everyone, especially those interested in stories about strong women in terrible times.   Great, great read!
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Set in the village of Chilbury, England, in the early days of World War II, this book shows the reader what life was like for the women left behind when the men went off to war, the women who now must fend for themselves. Told in a series of letters and diary and journal entries by an ensemble of women from the village, we get to know them all as the book progresses: a midwife with a secret, a young teen trying to find her own way, a widow worried about her son, the town beauty with an overbearing father. One thing that brings them all together is the Chilbury Ladies' Choir; a choir without men is quite an unusual thing in this era. 

I loved this book and its cast of characters. Some are more likeable than others, but I couldn't wait to find out what happened to each of them. I know some readers dislike the epistolary format, but I found it easy to keep track of who was writing each entry and thus, whose story was being told. I liked watching the women discover that they were capable of doing more than they thought, and watching them grow as the story progressed. It was so well-written, I had to keep reminding myself that this is the author's first novel. I will certainly look for more books by Ms. Ryan in the future.
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I really enjoyed reading The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir!  I felt as if I was living right there in Chilbury.  This story takes place in England in 1940 during World War II.  It is a story mostly about Mrs. Tilling, Mrs. Brampton Boyd, Ms. Paltry, Mrs. Winthrop, and Mrs. Quail, and their families.  It is told through journal entries, diary entries, and letters, but it reads like a story.  I often forgot whose words I was reading as I read through the pages.  The story has a dark, solemn undertone with the war going on and the events that occur because of the war.  Daily, they have to deal with food rationing, blackouts, air raids, and the very real possibility of their loved ones’ deaths.  The formation of the choir and the singing help to lessen this dark war atmosphere.  The ladies begin to gain strength and learn to stand together.  Don’t think this book is just about the ladies’ choir!  There are many surprises along the way that will keep your emotions going up and down.  There was one particular moment in the story where I was laughing out loud and couldn’t stop laughing!   If you like historical books or books about small towns, you will love this book!
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`The Chilbury Ladies Choir` is an adult historical fiction novel written by author Jennifer Ryan. This is the author's debut novel.

        This story is about a little village known as Chilbury, England and the dark days of WWII.

        Kitty Winthrop is thirteen years old and she wants to be a singer when she grows up. She has an 18-year-old sister and did have a brother until he was killed in the war. She lives in a grand house known as Chilbury Manor.

        The was has lasted six months, and there is no food, no new clothes, no servants, no lights after dark and no men around.

        Her brother was blown to pieces in a submarine. The funeral was held anyway, without a body. Kitty doesn't miss him, though. She says he was a terrible bully and she loathed him.

        Her sister seems to be enjoying the war because it has made everyone more adoring. And with her brother gone Venetia is now top spot in the family.

        Kitty's family rescued a 10-year-old Jewish evacuee before the Nazi's had invaded her home. Her parents were able to get her to safety and they were soon to follow.

        This novel is one of my least favorites, especially with the sexual displays talked about. There are no pictures, but there's not much left to the imagination. If I could change something about the novel I would leave out the nude imaginings.


Disclaimer:  "I was provided a free copy of this e-book. All opinions are my own."
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This is the story of the townspeople of Chilsbury during the beginning of World War II.  It was a bit unusual that the story was told entirely in first person, by a cast of different characters through journals and letters.  The journals and letters did not overlap except in a very few instances, so the entire story was not covered by one point of view in its entirety.  The unreliability of some of the narrators brought a sense of incompleteness to the story.  Overall, only a few of the characters were truly well-defined, because of the style of exposition did not lend itself to anything but self-evaluation, and few people are capable of doing so with accuracy.  

Still, I enjoyed this story, and seeing how participation in the Chilsbury Ladies Choir touched each woman's life - some superficially and some profoundly.  It was a gentle read, with a suitably upbeat yet open ending.
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At the start of World War II, the women of the small village of Chilbury take the bold move of forming an all-women choir after the men have gone off to war. This novel tells their stories through journal entries and letters as they learn how to survive and even grow with the aid of their music and friendship. From the widow who faces the possible loss of her only son and the young Jewish refugee whose parents and baby brother remain under Nazi threat, to the beautiful, rebellious daughter of an abusive brigadier general and the unscrupulous midwife who will go to extremes to change her life, Jennifer Ryan deftly crafts her novel with unexpected twists that will keep the readers turning pages to find out what happens to these and other characters until the very last page. Furthermore, when readers turn that final page, they may well feel they are leaving old friends. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is Ryan’s debut novel, and readers will hope more are to follow.
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ARC provided by NetGalley for review.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is one of the most delightful reads that I've had in a while!

Told in the form of letters and diary entries, the novel follows the titular ladies' choir in the village of Chilbury, Kent, formed by women of the local parish in 1940 after the men have left to do war work. Throughout the course of a few months' time, the girls and women of the Ladies' choir face numerous hardships, from the challenge of trying to form autonomy in a world ruled by men, to love and heartbreak, to a larger tragedy that affects them all. The main characters were all funny and likable (even those who clearly weren't supposed to be likable!), and the narrative kept my attention throughout. I almost didn't want the book to end! I also loved that it emphasized women's strength, intelligence, independence, and friendship. 

My one criticism is that sometimes there seemed to be a bit too much going on in the plot at times, and it felt too "busy." 

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves historical fiction and strong female characters. A truly wonderful read!
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The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a charming and moving story about ladies' Choir in Chilbury, England, all set against the backdrop of World War II. I think that the characters are believable and the dialogue is real. This book was a little bit slow at first, but towards the end it became interesting. I enjoyed the book for its lovable story. I also love the relationship and bond the girls have developed.

A copy of this ebook was generously provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that reading to review must be the surest way to destroy one’s enjoyment of the practice. Somehow, staring down adverbs is unlikely to contribute to a sense of wonder for the story being told. Once I’d spent a few chapters extensively noting down the things that bothered me about the book, I put down my pen and instead simply enjoyed it. Quite a bit. After all, a plot that kicks off with the women of a village wresting the control of their local choir back from the mayhem of WWII has much innate potential for drama, deportment, and development.

Primrose Trent, a somewhat bohemian music teacher, waltzes shockingly over Chilbury tradition and decorum just shortly after her arrival by resurrecting the choir, which was (quite properly, you understand) disbanded for the lack of men. Now, the men might be away for some time, there being a war on and all, and singing does so lift the spirits, so really, it’s a proper part of the war effort to cheer the populace. And so, despite resistance by the scandalised traditionalists, Miss Trent has her way and the reader gets to meet her old-new choristers – by way of their letters and journal entries.

“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” as it is from then on known, certainly features an intriguing cast of characters. Two sisters from a manor house, one thirteen and head over heels for her sister’s suitor, the other eighteen, treating love as a casual entertainment and gunning for a mysterious newcomer. A mousy widow worrying about her son at the front, a midwife with a need for money and a lack of morals. The tension from the all-encompassing international conflict may serve as a lightning rod for the emotional atmosphere, but sparks still fly. Anything could happen – as, indeed, it does.

I couldn’t help thinking that the developments in this novel could well set the stage for one of Miss Marple’s murders, so rife was it with future family secrets and the potential for regrets and resentment. In fact, it was such perfect kin to those mysteries that I found myself occasionally enjoying the experience as one might a well-spun yarn, losing my investment in the characters along the way. The threads of the story mingle and twist, but end up making a very complete and satisfying pattern. No questions are left unanswered, no unease is left to linger. This was first (and especially) apparent to me in the letters written by the characters. Rarely does a writer refer or reply to news or thoughts from the presumed correspondent, and where they do it is quite apparently in the service of the tale being told. As in a ‘Marple’, nothing inconsequential is included and nothing included is inconsequential. This serves to remove distractions but also seems to disconnect the protagonists from the fabric of the world around them. It makes for a satisfying read, but does not realistically reflect the messy lived experience of a real person and therefore hampered my emotional investment. It also meant that I struggled to care very much at all about the supporting cast whose words I did not get to read.

The author has done an excellent job of polishing the novel, though I do feel like the efforts have worn away some of the quirks and flourishes I’d need to see to believe these people were as real as me. For instance, different characters would often comment on another with very similar language, which made clear the attributes of that person but muddied my feel for the distinctions between the writers. Even were I to have the exact same opinion of someone as a friend of mine, we would surely light upon different words to describe them, emphasise different aspects, and so on. However, this issue fades somewhat as the book progresses, mainly because once the characters have been established the need for further descriptions is slim. Similarly, early journal entries and letters tend to feature the same kind of universal in-depth accounting of surroundings, which gives the reader a good picture of the setting but hinders character differentiation.

Some writing niggles aside, the novel is a glorious romp through the human experience, touching all bases and then some. If you’ve come this far and you’d like to give it a go (as I recommend you do), try and put my comments out of mind until you’re through. The journeys on which the protagonists embark are unique and glorious, if not always entirely surprising. My personal hero of the story walks a touching and difficult path to her real self while upholding her principles, but all the diarists and letter writers undergo transformations. Some of these are sweeping, catching up any and all bystanders, some are quiet and barely felt. All in all, “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” reeled me in and allowed me to forget about this review – at least until I sat down to write it.
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After all the super intense books I've been reading lately, I was in some pretty desperate need for something light and fluffy. And while war is never exactly fluffy...stories about it can be kept light and romantic. That's how The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is--some big action written into a lovely easy read that would be welcome alongside a cozy fire or on a sandy beach.

There are some interesting characters in this book, for sure--and as with most WWII novels, some pretty strong women. There's a few men around, but mostly the ladies run the show and all are incredibly unique. That said, there isn't much actual diversity in this book, which is disappointing. The only attempt at a diverse character is one homosexual soldier, whose only real role is to further the moral curiosity of one of the leads. I liked that soldier...but he wasn't in the book enough to really count as more than a diverse prop--not what we are going for, authors.

That's really the only criticism I can give, and while that is a big one, I did enjoy reading the book. It was a nice, pleasant read. I'm not bouncing off the walls wanting to hand this to everyone, but it was a good way to spend two days. I feel refreshed and ready for something that requires more digging.
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This historical novel, set in the tiny English town of Chilbury in the early days of WW II, is a heart-warming tale whose edges, perhaps, have some resonance today as ordinary people feel helpless and anxious in the face of political madmen who are obviously quite willing to spend other lives than their own.

The storyline is the establishment of a female-only choir, as the men are all gone off to war or employed in support work, and it’s told in a series of diary entries and letters. 

I confess to being a little surprised at the fuss the characters made over the idea of an all female choir—surely the more educated among the denizens would have heard girls’ choirs at boarding school, or nuns’ choirs if they attended services at an abbey served by female orders. Likewise, more humble villagers who recollected the days before radio surely would have been used to glees made up of whoever could be got to gather around the piano and sing. Which, according to letters and diaries I’ve read over the years, was predominately female. 

Respectable women performing on stage was a different prospect then, but this is a tiny quibble. There is so much else going on, with the grim general determined that his wife bear another son as the first was killed, and black marketeers tramp through the woods, and teenagers try to find romance where they can.

The first half of the story, as we get to know the villagers from high to low degree, and catch a glimpse of their secrets, evokes some of the mid-century English writers such as Barbara Pym, G.B. Stern, and perhaps D.E. Stevenson in Miss Buncle’s Book, though gradually as the war begins to touch their lives and violence becomes a possibility, a tonal shift toward drama and more conventional plotting moves the tale away from humor and satire in a more earnest direction.

The book will be accessible for the American reader in particular, as the language is a mixture of English and distinctively modern American language and idioms (such as “guilt” used as a verb, and “stepping up her game”, “doing my own thing,”etc). Some of the plot devices might seem a tad generic if one has been reading a lot of British writers of the war era, but no less heart-felt. And there were some nifty moments, like a nod to E.F. Benson’s Lucia characters as the choir of Riseholme performs in a local choir competition.

Even if some aspects of the story were predictable, and others a tad convenient, I enjoyed how it all came together, with one character getting an ending that made me laugh out loud, startling the dog.

Altogether a pleasant, warmly human story, a fine escape for those who’ve had enough grimdark and horror either in fiction or the news.
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The Chilbury Ladies Choir is an endearing story of  the residents of a small village in England during World War II.  This is a perfect book for readers who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Summer Before the War.

The story is told from several viewpoints through letters and journal entries.  The women of Chilbury were told that dealing with the stress of war might be easier if they kept a journal, so readers are privy to a few of the private thoughts of some of the members of the ladies choir.   My favorite chapters were of letters the scandalous Mrs. Paltry wrote to her sister.

 At the start of the story many of the women were disappointed that they no longer had a choir due to all the men going off to war.  With the local vicar’s permission, the ladies were able to form a choir of their own and in the process formed a support system that would prove to be a blessing in the months ahead.

As England becomes deeper entrenched in war, readers watch the choir members grow  up, grow in character and grow in compassion for others.  There were some sad events, but mostly the book was uplifting and light-hearted.

I  thoroughly enjoyed reading The Chilbury Ladies Choir and would like to thank Net-Galley and Crown Publishing for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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The characters in this WWII-era novel use letters to tell us their stories, set in a small village in England. The Ladies Choir in Chilbury, formed when most of the men went off to fight, is the glue that holds the story together, giving them a purpose and a strength to overcome a number of difficult situations. WWII was a time of great social change in England. The centuries-old aristocracy/commoner dichotomy was in the process of breaking down, as was the subservient role of women to men in general. Ryan does a good job of showing these changes through the personal stories of her characters. Some suspension of disbelief is required with one of the major plot points, but I won't disclose it. I enjoyed this book, the author's first novel, very much, and am looking forward to seeing more from Jennifer Ryan. I read it as a pre-publication galley through NetGalley.
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