Date Finished: February 19, 2017
Date Published: February 14, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII England)
Source: TLC Book Tours
You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about women in World War II, books set in England during World War II, shows such as Upstairs/Downstairs and Downton Abbey, Epistolary novels
"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 home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.
Every once in a while, I find myself falling into a book as if it is the most comfortable chair ever made. This was one of those books. Jennifer Ryan was able to transport me to England in the early days of World War II and introduced me to some of the most memorable (but realistic!) characters I've met in a long time.
I am going to start this review with a bit of a heads up. This novel is told through letters and journal entries and has several narrators. This is all fine--and Ryan handles the multiple narrators expertly--but I know that this format may not appeal to all letters. I would also recommend reading this book in print instead of electronic form because I found myself flipping back several times in the early part of the book, just to remind myself who was who.
It does seem like the majority of books I've read lately have used the multiple narrator technique and, sadly, it isn't always successful, Here, however, it really works. Each narrator has a distinct voice and, because this is an epistolary novel, we have to get to know the characters through their words without any extra description. Ryan is able to do this with apparent ease.
There was so much I loved about this book. It reminded me of Downton Abby--not so much because of the manor life setting, because there wasn't one (there was one rich family and one maid was a supporting character), but because the plots in this novel just seemed very...English. Even if this book didn't deal with the aristocracy, the conflicts in this novel reminded me of ones you would see in such a show.
I also felt that this book embodied, more than anything else I've read, the British belief of "Keep Calm and Carry On." The War was brutal on the civilians of England, but the women in this story not only hold themselves together, but are also instrumental in the survival of the town. The fortitude of these women is definitely something to behold--and I'm sure that it is very characteristic of the behavior of real women in England during the War.
I truly enjoyed this book, and it was a book that stayed with me long after I finished it. I would highly recommend this to anyone, especially to those who are looking for a book chock full of interesting women.
Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor. Connect with her at her website and on Facebook.
I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.
To read more about this book, please visit some of the other stops on the blog tour.