The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • Title:  The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
  • Author:  Jennifer Ryan
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
  • Pages:  384
  • Published:  February 2017 – Crown
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  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.  (publisher)

My take:  My thanks to the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and Crown for the  review copy. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a warm and touching novel about life in a village in Kent during 1940. The war is in full-swing and most able-bodied men are away, involved in the fight. When the Vicar sees fit to disband the choir because there are no male voices, the women beg to differ in their opinion. Under the leadership of a confident director, the ladies of Chilbury meet to practice their songs and, at the same time, become a source of support to each other that will be invaluable in the days ahead.

Jennifer Ryan’s novel will probably land on my favorites list this year. Told through letters, diary entries, newspaper items, etc. the story of Chilbury unfolded seamlessly. The drama, humor, fear and sadness were palpable when shared by various characters’ perspectives. When I finished reading I immediately thought ‘there’s more story to be told here’ as only a few months in 1940 were covered. I’d love a series! This is Ryan’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. Recommended to fans of historical fiction.

Note: I also used an Audible credit for the book. It’s a wonderful audio production.

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#FitReaders Weekly Check-in: Jan. 17, 2015 (and a brief review)

FitReaders2015Fitbit steps:

  • Sat:    6,115
  • Sun:   5,517
  • Mon:  11,021
  • Tues:  11,870
  • Wed:  12,237
  • Thur:  11,574
  • Fri:  13,371

All treadmill exercise this week. I keep meaning to add some resistance training but somehow never get around to it. Maybe next week…  In addition to finishing The Martian I also completed One Wish and Hearth Stone.


 

  • the martian (audible)Title: The Martian: A Novel
  • Author:  Andy Weir
  • Narrator:  R.C. Bray
  • Genre:  SciFi; Thriller
  • Published:   2014 by Crown
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him? (publisher)

My brief take:  I read/listened via whisper sync (Kindle/Audible). RC Bray’s narration is perfect and made the book almost unputdownable (yep, I used that word).

I was totally out of my reading comfort zone when I picked up this book and now I’d recommend it to anyone. At the end, when certain characters were pacing, I was up and pacing with them. The Martian is interesting, funny, thrilling and a great read. That’s all I’m going to say. Except, if you haven’t read it put it on your list!

It’s no surprise The Martian was voted Best Science Fiction book in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. It was also a 2014 Audie Award Finalist, Science Fiction. Highly recommended.

Note: At the end of the book (but not the audiobook) there’s a Reader’s Guide and an Author Q&A. My Kindle edition also has an essay by Andy Weir: How Science made Me a Writer. Not sure if that’s in the paper edition. Anyone?

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Title: The Bird Sisters

Author: Rebecca Rasmussen

Genre: Literary Fiction

About: (Back of the book) Whenever a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.

But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. . .

My take: Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel is a delicate portrait of a family who find that life doesn’t always deliver what had been promised. The family consists of a mother who married beneath her parents’ expectations, a father who aspired to be accepted by people who never would, and  the daughters who simply want their family to be the way they used to be. When cousin Bett arrives for the summer she seems intent on throwing everyone off balance – and she does.

The story is told in the present and the past. I was completely drawn into the novel and felt an ache for the sisters as they tried to fix their broken family, each other, and then the injured birds.

Rasmussen’s portrayal of the sisters in their later years is bittersweet and lovely:

Now that she was old, Twiss understood why people her age stopped speaking and started sitting on porches. Language failed to describe the simplest of phenomena; a fine sunset, for example, was more than fine. There were no words, or Twiss couldn’t find them anymore, for the way the colors made her feel. She’d say to Milly, “It’s an especially pretty one tonight,” when she meant that it reminded her of other sunsets, and years, and people who had nothing to do with sunsets: pinks and reds and blues.

“It is,” Milly would say. Or she might add a word like “lovely” or “otherworldly” and then Twiss would know that Milly, too, was thinking about something else entirely as they passed a glass of iced tea back and forth and gazed at the changing colors of the sky. (p.105)

Reading this novel was like looking at a painting and with each glance discovering something new in the deceptive simplicity of it all.  The Bird Sisters is the story of hopes, dreams, sacrifice, and the love of two sisters.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Crown

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Title: Madame Tussaud

Author: Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction

About: (Goodreads synopsis)  In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror?

My thoughts: Michelle Moran brings to life a familiar character while examining her place in history.  I learned things I’d either forgotten or never knew about the French Revolution.  Madame Tussaud and her family chronicled with wax models the royals and political figures of France in the time leading up to the revolution and beyond.  It was not unusual for Robespierre and other revolutionaries to sit at their table for dinner and discussion.  They also hosted private showings for the Royal family and other dignitaries.  The common people of Paris who could afford the fee relied on the gallery to depict recent events and to always be of the moment. Because of her dedication to her profession Madame Tussaud had very little private time.  She even tutored the sister of the King in wax modeling.  As the Revolution turned into a bloodbath Marie was called upon to make death masks of beheaded Royals and royalists.  She complied until the day she refused to make the mask of a friend.  That sealed her fate as well as her mother’s.  The story doesn’t end there but I don’t want to spoil it for other readers.

Michelle Moran’s gift for storytelling and detailed descriptions put me in the opulent halls at Versailles, the workroom at the Salon de Cire (the gallery), and in the middle of the crowd watching the executions-by-guillotine in the Place de la Révolution.

After reading Madame Tussaud I have a better understanding of this turbulent time in French history as well as an appreciation of one remarkable woman who is now much more than a trivia answer.

Recommend? Yes, if you like historical fiction I think you’ll like Madame Tussaud – it was a page-turner!

Source: Michelle Moran