The Chilbury Ladies' Choir A novel

Jennifer Ryan

Large print - 2017

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.

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Historical fiction
[New York] : Random House Large Print [2017]
Item Description
Title from web page.
Physical Description
528 pages (large print) ; 24 cm
Main Author
Jennifer Ryan (author)
Review by New York Times Review

Ryan's first novel represents the sunnier side of World War II fiction, where women stand up for one another, frolic with whatever stray men are still about (dashing, flat-footed and otherwise) and solve a few mysteries. The empowerment is genteel. In Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows's "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," such ladies (and a few gentlemen) tackled literature. Here they take up singing. Although the vicar has put the village choir on hiatus until the men return, Miss Primrose Trent, a music tutor from the local university who is prone to sweeping into rooms majestically (a role made for Emma Thompson), announces that the women will form their own singing group. Plotwise, a carrot in the form of a public choir competition is dangled, but the narrative is driven by the ladies' reconsideration of their own worth, whether over- or underinflated. Set during six months in 1940, the story unfolds mostly in letters and journal entries from nearly a dozen vantage points. Four dominate: Mrs. Margaret Tilling, a middle-aged widow about to send her only child off to the front; Edwina Paltry, a midwife of suspect ethical standards; and to-the-manor-born sisters, Kitty Winthrop, 13, and minxlike Venetia, 18, whose brother has just been killed in a submarine explosion. Dry your eyes: "He was a disgusting bully," Kitty writes in her diary. This death sets in play a baby-swapping plot hatched by the Brigadier, Kitty and Venetia's mustache-twiddling father, who needs a male heir. It's all quite diverting, even if Ryan sometimes seems more interested in describing her characters' clothing than their inner lives (skirt-swishing Venetia is a veritable Carmen Miranda). As for the war itself, it's mostly a narrative convenience, a way to get rid of supporting characters we're merely fond of, including one whose demise, while sad, neatly solves a dilemma. World War II is a way to tame a shrew and a bully and to pair off adorable couples of multiple generations. The fact that the fighting is still going strong at the book's end confirms that this isn't a story about war in any real sense, but rather a novel set in a time of war. To a tune called pleasing.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [April 9, 2017] Review by Booklist Review

Among the many changes that WWII brings to the little English village of Chilbury is the demise of the church choir, since all of the men are away. The women are still at home, though, and form the Chilbury Ladies' Choir. Ryan structures her novel in the form of letters and diary entries written by several members of the choir: nice, widowed Mrs. Tilling; waspish and scheming midwife Edwina Paltry; posh Venetia Winthrop, who becomes entangled with an artist who may or may not be a spy; and Venetia's 13-year-old sister, Kitty, who is trying to navigate her way through adolescence and first love. Working with multiple perspectives can be tricky, but Ryan generally does a convincing job of differentiating the women's voices as they offer their perspectives on various characters and plot threads that include black marketeering, espionage, baby swapping, sexual orientation, unplanned pregnancy, air raids, a Jewish refugee, romance, and more with so much going on that the choir story line gets lost. Still, readers who like home-front and small-English-village settings will enjoy this. Definitely hand it to fans of the PBS series Home Fires.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1940, at a time when women's roles were still firmly rooted in home and hearth, the ladies of Chilbury, England, find themselves at the bleeding edge of progress as the ramifications of World War II begin to infiltrate their little town. The men of Chilbury head to battlefields, and the village choir becomes the first casualty of the war. When a female professor of music insists the choir can be reassembled as a ladies' choir, the small community is at first scandalized by such an idea. But this is soon lost to other more salacious events. There is the brigadier who hires an unscrupulous midwife to swap his baby girl for a boy, and his teenage daughter seduces a handsome artist who's come to town under mysterious circumstances. An upstanding single woman (a widow whose only son has gone to fight) is tapped to take a colonel into her home, and a 10-year-old Czech evacuee finds out what happened to her family. As the war advances on Chilbury, even more lives are changed when a German bomb kills a young mother as well as the choir mistress, young men are sent off to war, and spies and black market profiteers lurk in the quiet lanes. Told in the form of diaries and letters in the voices of the female characters, Ryan's novel, reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, captures the experience of the war from a woman's perspective. Readers may have come across this kind of story before, but the letter/diary format works well and the plot elements satisfyingly come together. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

It's 1940, and the European continent is being overrun by Hitler's troops. In Chilbury, Kent, -England, the women are doing their best to maintain morale and that includes keeping the choir going despite the lack of male voices. Mrs. Tilling is a nurse whose son is about to leave for France. She is keeping a journal, as does young Kitty Winthrop, just 13, but her entries relay a good deal of what's happening. In fact, the entire novel is composed of journal and diary entries, notices, documents, and correspondence. An unscrupulous midwife enters into a nefarious plot with Brigadier Winthrop. Kitty's older sister, Venetia, is playing a dangerous game by seducing the artist Mr. Slater. Within six months, the village undergoes many changes as war edges closer to home. Unfortunately, debut author Ryan miscalculates the credibility of her novel's structure and her narrators. Would the vile Miss Paltry reveal her illegal dealings in letters to her sister? Would Venetia be injured by an errant bomb and still find the wherewithal to pick up pen and paper? VERDICT The stalwart ladies of the choir deserve better. Not a necessary -purchase. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/16.]-Bette-Lee Fox, -Library Journal © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.