Monday 24 April 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan

Kent, 1940.
In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.
But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.
Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.
Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

What did I think?

I had my eye on The Chilbury Ladies' Choir when I saw it being published and I had barely added it to my wishlist before I was fortunate enough to win a beautiful hardback copy.  As a careful reader I always remove the dustjacket from a hardback whilst reading and I have to say that I got a really pleasant surprise to find a printed cover underneath of the village of Chilbury.  Full marks to The Borough Press and HarperCollins for making The Chilbury Ladies' Choir as beautiful outside as it is inside.

On turning the first page we are greeted with a notice that the village choir has closed as all the men have gone to war.  Throughout the forthcoming pages, comprising personal journal entries and letters, we meet the ladies of Chilbury who don't see why their choir has to close just because they are short of a few male voices.  So The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is born and through tears and laughter, personal challenges and German bombings, the ladies draw strength from each other.  You could certainly apply the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On' to Chilbury as they face each day with a song in their heart.

I loved the way this book was written with letters and journal entries of the main characters.  It surprised me how easily it flowed and I often forgot that I was reading what you would define as excerpts rather than chapters.  They are so very personal at times that we really get into the heart of the characters, warts and all.

We often hear stories of the Battle of Britain and the Normandy Landings but what about the Home Front?  The women who kept Britain running whilst the men went off to war.  I am proud to say that my maternal Grandad was part of the Normandy invasion, but what I often forget, yet remain equally proud of, is that my paternal Grandmother turned her hand to driving cranes in a munitions factory during the war.  It was said that Mary Ryles could pick up a threepenny bit with her crane.  Jennifer Ryan has subtly reminded us of the huge part played by the brave ladies of war-torn Britain and her book is dedicated, very fittingly, to her Grandmother and all the women of the Home Front.

So if you're looking to snuggle up with a good book, look no further than The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  Read about the privileged lives and secrets of Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the battle of the midwives: Mrs. Tilling and Miss. Paltry, but most of all the strength and camaraderie of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  A superb debut novel filled with tears and laughter, based on real life as told to Jennifer Ryan by her Grandmother.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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