The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

A Novel

Book - 2017
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"A delightful debut."-- People

For readers of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale , The Chilbury Ladies' Choir unfolds the struggles, affairs, deceptions, and triumphs of a village choir during World War II.

As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to close the choir and instead "carry on singing," resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies' Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.

An enchanting ensemble story that shuttles from village intrigue to romance to the heartbreaking matters of life and death, Jennifer Ryan's debut novel thrillingly illuminates the true strength of the women on the home front in a village of indomitable spirit.
Publisher: New York :, Crown,, [2017]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ♭2017
ISBN: 9781101906750
Characteristics: 371 pages


From Library Staff

SPL_Brittany Apr 03, 2017

A full review can be found in the Summary section. Review first published in the Stratford Gazette April 2017.

From the critics

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Dec 31, 2017

This was a light, enjoyable read about how the women in a small English village keep the home fires burning but without the depth (or editing!) of other WWII novels I have enjoyed this year such as The Alice Network or While Still We Live or The Women in the Castle.

Here is a link to my review:

Dec 05, 2017

If you enjoy WWII stories as I do, pick up this title. It's a light, quick read taking place just after Dunkirk; told mostly through letters and diary entries.

Nov 02, 2017

I expected something on the order of the British TV series "Home Fires'. This book is a rather tacky soap opera.

Ditto comments below from wyenotgo Ottawa Public Library. Great background but not great literature.

Sep 27, 2017

A quietly enjoyable book, immersed in its environment (small town, South of England, WW2) featuring a collection of local characters. A very promising concept, a choir becoming the emotional center for a community under stress. Unfortunately, I found the story to be overly romanticized, full of clichés and the writer, in undertaking to tell the story through many voices, overreached, i.e. not all of them rang true, especially that of Kitty, the 13 year old, using language and imagery in her "diary" that no one would include at that age. And the ending was wrapped up altogether too neatly. Accordingly, 2 1/2 stars.

Jul 12, 2017

This is an enjoyable quick read. The epistolary style of narrative gives voice to the disparate main characters and propels the plot along nicely. As witnesses to and participants of World War Two are passing on or superannuated, this book is a reminder to modern readers that we cannot take our comfortable lifestyles and personal freedoms for granted.
My biggest quibble with this book is with a number of overlooked details that were not corrected or edited out prior to publication. The most egregious of these errors pertain to the musical references which, for a book with the word Choir in its title really should have been caught. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir would recognize that choral conductors do not use batons. They use their hands to get maximum expressiveness from the singers (The only exception to this is when the choir is singing with an orchestra. ). As well, the author mentions many hymnbook standards that are arranged for four parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass or SATB). For women's voices these vocal lines would need to be carefully arranged for SSA or SSAA. Arranging music is a time-consuming and demanding art which usually takes an expert musician such as an organist or pianist to accomplish. I personally found the musical content to be disappointingly slap-dash which bothered me as I read the book. As well, there were a number of anachronistic words and phrases such as "wimp". Finally, the baby switching plot was simply daft, especially as it came to nothing.
Other recent WW2 novels I've read which are far superior in terms of historical accuracy and just plain better stories are: The War That Saved My Life and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and to a slightly lesser extent The Nightingale. Be sure to check these out too!

Jul 07, 2017

I really enjoyed this book which makes for a great and quick summer read. Focusing on an all-female choir created because men were at war, Jennifer Ryan's main characters come alive through their journals and correspondence. With the Second World War as a backdrop, it shows how good can come amidst the dreadfulness of combat and attack by the enemy. The story also shows how some individuals had to grow up quickly following their trials and tribulations. The author was also creative in weaving a story which takes place over a six-month period of time!

May 27, 2017

Love the book. It was a page turner for me. I like how it was written via through letters, diaries, notices pinned on the Village Hall or Church, journal entries etc. It was also the author's note which enlightened me to the fact that diaries and journals were encouraged during the war years - they were sent to "headquarters" and published in newsletters. These documents, from ordinary individuals, would back then and even more so now, become a treasure trove of information about that time.

Anyways - a bit about the choir and the characters.

The choir - When the vicar posted a notice that the choir will no longer be "as all our male voices have gone to war", a music teacher - Ms Primrose Trent set about to created the Chilbury Ladies Choir. Here are two lovely quotes by Prim (the shortened form of her name was how she was widely known)

"Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies, helps us look into a different world, a bigger picture. All those cadences and beautiful chord changes, every one of them makes you feel a different splendour of life."

And here again is Prim's encouraging voice:

"I always say that enthusiasm paves every path with a shining light."

The characters - all truly well created. There is the lonely widow and absolutely wonderful Mrs Tilling. It's only towards the end of the book that her first name emerges. With her only son, David, away on the war front, and with her being a nurse and kind soul, she emerges as a shining character in this story.

There is the very beautiful Venetia with her flirtatious antics; her dear sister - Kitty who is just like most girls "who are almost fourteen" and most likeable indeed. Their overpowering father - the Brigadier - and his timid wife.

Mrs B from the Brampton-Hall Manor - the control freak who always want to be at the centre of it all and is all about societal titles and one's place in the world.

Despicable Edwina Paltry, a midwife lacking scruples and with no compunction about black mail. Towards the end, the reader is provided some insights on her upbringing and what may have influenced her character.

Elsie the maid who is determined to improve her station in life and is amenable to teaming up with Edwina in her schemes.

The few male characters were equally interesting - the charming debonair Alastair Slater, Horrible Henry as the girls later nicknamed him, Colonel Mallard etc.

Just want to say - do read this book. It's a wonderful debut which I just couldn't put down. It had everything - romance, intrigue, spy, friendships and just a heart-warming tale of how this little village was helped by a choir to carry on and to have some uplift in their lives when all was grim around them.

"There aren't a lot of good things you can give people these days, now that everything's rationed or not allowed, but at least we can still sing. It's amazing how much better it can make you feel."

And finally a word from Mrs Tilling to young Kitty about love:

"Kitty, look at me.... Being a grown-up is a tough thing. We can't choose who we fall in love in with, or who falls in love with us. Whatever happens in your life, Kitty, you need to remember that you can't change the way someone feels about you. Love is a terribly odd emotion, and have very little to do with common sense. Sometimes it's a cozy, comfortable feeling, like tucking yourself up in a lovely warm blanket, but other times it just washes over you completely, and you simply can't help yourself."
Five solid stars.

May 11, 2017

Very sadly thin on content. After seeing Home Fires on PBS this is just poor copy catting. I couldn't finish it.

May 01, 2017

This novel is an epistolary lover's dream as the plot is delivered through public notices, letters, and journal and diary entries in a 6-month time period. It's spring 1940 and the village of Chilbury is experiencing its first World War II funeral after the son and heir of the local Brigadier was blown up in a submarine attack. Although all the men have left for war, the ladies defy the local vicar and carry on as a female choir only. The author explores all the interactions and intertwining of the local residents from the seasonal hops picker to the local midwife to the Brigadier's terrified wife and children with the choir's musical selections reflecting their lives. As the war becomes a reality in the Kent district, the old social mores and modern war clash and change village life. This quick read begs for a sequel and could easily be made into a movie or PBS series.

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SPL_Brittany Apr 03, 2017

While their men are off fighting the Nazis, the women in the English village of Chilbury struggle to carry on. Among the many changes that WWII brings to the little village of Chilbury is the demise of the church choir since all the men are away. With no choir, the women of the village band together under the leadership of spritely Miss Prim, and form the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, and use their joint song to lift up themselves and the community, as war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and diary entries written by several members of the choir and others from the village, Ryan gives each character a distinct voice. Among the members are Mrs. B who is both strong-willed and opinionated, and opposes the choir from the beginning; Timid Mrs. Tilling, a nurse and widow whose only child has been sent to fight in France leaving her bereft. Scheming Miss Paltry who is involved in a plot with the local aristocrat. There is beautiful Venetia Winthrop, eldest daughter of the aristocrat and village flirt; and Sylvie, a young Jew and refugee from Czech Republic who holds a mysterious secret, as well as a host of others who illuminate the true spirit of women on the home front.

Chilbury Ladies’ Choir will charm readers with its humour and dialogue, moving seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. Readers who have enjoyed the tight knit community of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, village life of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and The Postmistress are sure to enjoy this novel.

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