The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Jennifer Ryan's first novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, takes on a range of the human experience through the lives and voices of the women of the village of Chilbury, in the south of England, at the beginning of World War II.

Mrs. Tilling is a timid, good-hearted, churchgoing lady, a widow whose only son is about to be sent to France to fight. In her journal, she documents how the funeral for young Commander Edmund Winthrop is to be the last appearance of the village choir, as, according to the Vicar, "all our male voices have gone to war." In addition to Mrs. Tilling, the reader is introduced to Miss Edwina Paltry, the town's sly midwife; Kitty Winthrop, the 13-year-old sister to the lost Commander; and her older sister, Venetia, a wildly boy-crazy 18-year-old.

When a new music teacher arrives from London, she doesn't see why a choir needs male voices, and promptly calls practices again. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir meets some resistance, some grumblings about tradition, but as the war proceeds, the women learn to lean on one another. Eventually the choir becomes a central institution in the town, providing material as well as moral support, and a theatre for personal growth.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir offers a world of emotions, experiences and characters in a tiny village, over a few months in 1940. Through variously sweet, mischievous, aggrieved and hopeful letters and journals, these ladies bring home the impact of war in an inspirational, sometimes sad, novel that Jennifer Ryan crafts with style. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

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