Published by Crown Publishing Group on February 14th 2017
Source: the publisher
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"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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It’s hard to find things to say about The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan that haven’t already been said. The setting is brilliant, the characters are wonderful and quirky, and the epistolary style fits the story perfectly. What stands out to me most about this book is that it is so utterly charming. I mean, I felt every emotion at some point in the story, but this book charmed the heck out of me and I think that’s really wonderful for a story that is truly based around WWII. My experience with that time period is that even if stories are great, they’re usually sad and less uplifting and less hopeful than this one.
First of all, I love the story here: the men are off to fight in the war and the women are told the choir will close down because who on earth can imagine a choir with only women? How scandalous! But there is one women that steps up to lead them. She encourages them to keep singing. The choir ends up becoming a group of women that grows stronger as individuals. They help one another through life’s trials. The village of Chilbury and the surrounding areas can depend on them when unimaginable things happen, like they sometimes do in times of war.
I read this one slowly, over about a month. Every time I sat down with the book or turned on the audiobook, I was so happy to be with these characters again. I had favorites among them – I think it’s impossible not to choose favorites with a cast as large as this one. But even with the ones that weren’t really the “good guy” characters, I was so invested in their parts of the story that I couldn’t wait to see what would pop up next for them.
This book wasn’t gloomy or sad just because all of the men were off at war. There were some sad times, yes. These made my heart stop, truly. But there was so much hope and happiness and humor in this story. One of the plot lines in particular made me giggle in several different places. And listening to the audiobook while I read the book was a bonus. Some of the narrators were so wonderful and dramatic in their interpretations of these characters. Hearing them voiced through the audiobook just made them leap off of the print pages and become more robust as characters. (If you like listening to audiobooks, this one is fantastic with multiple narrators. I highly recommend it.)
I was surprised that two of the characters turned out far differently than I first thought in the end – I suppose I’d judged them a little too harshly. (Judged may be too harsh a word, but just go with me here.) And there ended up being a couple of very sweet, subtle romances that I loved.
Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Definitely in my top picks for this year. And totally going on my rereads shelf.
The audiobook version of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is narrated by Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, and Mike Grady and it is DELIGHTFUL. It is 11 hours, 34 minutes, Unabridged. Every single one of these narrators adds nothing but wonderful things to this story. They all have the perfect voice and pitch and personality for the roles that they’re reading. They take an already wonderful book and somehow manage to make it even better.
If you’re new to audiobooks and considering where to start, this would be a really book to consider for your first listen! And if you’re an avid listener like me, you have to listen to this one. You have to. Whether you listen for your first read or on your reread, this one is definitely worth the time. Not only is the actual narration wonderful, but in a few places then the Ladies’ Choir is singing in the story — there are a couple of lines of actual choir music for effect.
I LOVED it.
Note: I read a print copy from the publisher while listening to an audiobook that I checked out from my library.