When I am helping patrons pick out a new book to read, I am often asked for something “light.” This can be tough, because one person’s “light” is not necessarily another’s. But I get it. Our lives are busy, complicated, and sometimes stressful. Sometimes we need to escape into a good book where nothing really bad happens and everything turns out well. When I need something like this, I turn to cozy, historical British novels (or TV). Books like Mary Ann Shaffer’s “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” or Helen Simonson’s “The Summer Before the War” are perfect “light” reads for me. Although both take place during wars, the wars happen at a distance. There is no graphic violence. The settings are idyllic, small British villages and the characters are good-mannered Brits.
Jennifer Ryan’s new novel “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” came at just the right time for me. I needed an escape from the bombardment of news and this hit the spot perfectly. This is a wonderful story, told through diary entries and letters, about life in Chilbury, a quaint English village in Kent. After World War II breaks out and most of the men have gone off to war, the vicar decides to disband the local choir. Saddened, the ladies left behind try to convince the vicar to carry on, but to no avail. Fortunately, a new music tutor, Prim, moves to town and decides to start up an all-ladies choir. For some of the ladies, this is wonderful news. But some of the more old-fashioned women, like Mrs. B, can’t imagine having a choir without men!
While the ladies plan for their first performance, we are drawn into the lives of Chilbury’s villagers. Venetia and Kitty Winthrop are sisters. Venetia, the older sister is a self-centered young woman in love with a mysterious newcomer. Who is this young man, and why isn’t he off fighting in the war like other men his age? Kitty is a love-struck teenager with dreams of becoming a professional singer. Mrs. Tilling, the local nurse and moral compass of the town, worries over her son off at war and begrudgingly lodges an officer in her son’s empty room. Mrs. Paltry, the scheming midwife, hatches a plan with Brigadier Winthrop over the impending birth of Mrs. Winthrop’s hoped-for son. Meanwhile, all the villagers live with the ever present worry of the potential of invading Nazis.
I was quickly drawn in to the charms of Chilbury and lost in the stories of its residents. While some people might interpret the word “light” as fluffy or insubstantial, the villagers of Chilbury face some weighty situations, despite the cozy feel to the story. Besides Shaffer’s and Simonson’s novels, readers may also enjoy Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series or the PBS series “Home Fires”.
You can put “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” and other suggested titles on hold through our catalog.