Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The best wartime stories don’t necessarily take place on the battlefield.  The home front can weave a rich tapestry, especially in the competent hands of author Jennifer Ryan. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is the charming tale of what happens to the women in the fictional village of Chilbury, England, in early WWII after most of the men leave for war. The story takes place from March to September 1940; the action precipitated by a notice from the vicar on the church door. Since all the male singers are gone, he disbanded the choir. After all, who wants to listen to a group composed of only women? It just isn’t done.

The vicar’s action triggers unexpected uproar in the members, as if the sudden decision ripped the last shred of normalcy from their lives. The battle in Europe isn’t going well; the fate of loved ones overseas is unknown. Under the prodding of the choir mistress and music teacher, the women decide the choir must not only continue, but also serve as a morale booster to those left behind, a distraction from the horrors of war. So they change their name to The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and gamely carry on. This simple act of defiance from women used to toeing the line causes a ripple of unexpected consequences. War doesn’t only leave a mark on soldiers. It can also change their families and, in the case of this novel, for the better.

Ryan created an engaging cast of characters. The book is a first person account, but not from the same person. The story progresses using a compilation of notes, letters, journal entries, and assorted postings from choir members and a few others. Each writer sees the action from a different viewpoint, but this is entertaining rather than confusing. While the story isn’t a heavy handed drama, there is spectacle galore; deaths, births, kidnapping, falling in and out of love, not to mention a little wartime intrigue. It’s all done with charm, cheek, and gentle good humor. Each character speaks with an engaging voice; not an easy task when an author is working with a range of ages from 13 to about 60.

The change in a few of the characters is a bit of stretch, but that’s a minor quibble and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I highly recommend The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. If I have one complaint it’s that the story ends after a few months. Within that short period of time everyone gets their just reward (or due comeuppance). I enjoyed my visit to Chilbury and hated to leave the villagers behind. Although Ryan doesn’t say, I like to think they came safely through the war and both happy days and the choir lasted ever after.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.

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