by Jennifer Ryan
Hardcover: 384 pages
“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.
“There’s so much happening in Chilbury: intrigue, romance and an unforgettable cast of characters who aren’t always as they appear. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a charming slice of English wartime life that warms the soul like a hot toddy.”
— Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls
“Lyrical, poetic, emotional, funny, endearing, surprising – it is a masterpiece.”
— Veronica Henry, author of An Eligible Bachelor
“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir sinks you deep inside the rich, intricate atmosphere of an English village in the middle of war, when quiet lives are upended and secrets unravel. With her unforgettable characters and vivid narrative, Jennifer Ryan creates the kind of wartime novel that plays out over the intimate territory of the human heart—full of soul, full of hope. You’ll be thinking about this book long after the last page turns.”
— Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers and The Secret Life of Violet Grant
“World War II in an English village seen through the eyes of the most delicious cast of characters you’ll ever meet—The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a masterpiece of secrets, misdirection, village gossip, and gleeful disregard for anything but the main chance, as the Home Front learns to carry on. Seldom do you find a writer with such a deft touch—Jennifer Ryan sweeps the reader along to the very last page in a remarkable debut. “
— Charles Todd, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge series
It was the funeral of Edmund Winthrop, the Brigadier’s despicable son who was blown up in a submarine last week. Only twenty he was – one minute a repulsive reptile, the next a feast for the fishes.
As the place became full, the gnome-like Bishop of Litchfield walked to the front and asked for quiet in strong nasal tones, making me think that his wire spectacles were too tight.
Of course Venetia made sure she was center stage, hair perfect, which was funny as she was standing beside Mrs. Gibbs, who looked like an unhinged hen, with coats and scarves at all angles and hair like a bird’s nest.
‘I’ve always had a notion that marriage is not unlike getting a new hound,’ she said to me, loudly and in an instructional way. ‘It takes a lot of whipping them into shape before you can get them to do what they’re told.’ She slapped her thigh with enthusiasm, and I had to purse my lips to stop myself from hooting with laughter.
He’d never used my name before, and it made me feel strange, like he was talking to the real me, the one inside, not the one who rushes around cheering people up and making things better.
She smiled in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen – not like her usual caring smile, or her polite smile, but a whole deeper level of smile, as if radiating a force of sunlight breaking through a stormy sky.
I snickered, giggle-snorted, and laughed aloud as I read this delightfully amusing, insightful, and heart-squeezing tale featuring a small village in 1940 England. Everyone living in this village appeared to be uniquely quirky and colorfully detailed. The storyline sings and zings as it unfolds through the letters and journal entries of the various choir members and residents. The main narrators were the lusty and saucy Venetia, the crafty and conniving midwife Edwina, the vivacious thirteen-year-old Kitty – bustling with self-importance and colorful observations, and meek Mrs. Tilling who finally finds her backbone when others have crumbled. I just had to love Venetia, she considered herself an empress – I kid you not!
I relished and adored each and every word chronicling these oddly flawed and endlessly endearing women as they bristle over the pompous and obnoxious entitled behavior of the village elite, bond and draw strength from each other during grief and despair, and through their choir, they each find their voice – inside and outside. But sadly, it is wartime, bombs are dropping, and not everyone survives. I had a chicken-skin reaction when the choir was forced to sing acapella during their first competition due to a power outage. The writing hit all the right notes and was first class, smartly done, poignant, cleverly amusing, and unfailingly engaging. I adored it!
About Jennifer Ryan
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 Jennifer