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The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 400 pgs.
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The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a historical fiction novel that is told from both Letti and Marco’s points of view as their lives take different turns than they expect with the rise of Nazism, WWII, and its aftermath. But at its heart it is a romantic novel Lettie finds her soulmate in the most unexpected place.  Joubert’s detail in describing Italy and South Africa create a vivid world in which Letti and Marco live, and these characters face some tough trials.

Marco was a strong character filled with integrity and love and his determination and hope filled these pages from beginning to end.  He infused each character he encountered with a strength they did not know they possessed, and he makes the pages turn.  From his love of history and Da Vinci to his ability to go on even after he loses his childhood sweetheart.

Letti, on the other hand, is weaker, living in the shadow of her friends and feeling out of place next to the beauty of the village and the one from the richer family.  Like her father, she yearns to be a doctor and to care for others, even as she realizes her childhood crush is not meant to be anything more.

“The war seeped into the homes. The lowing winds blew it in through the front door when someone came in from outside. It oozed through the floorboards and the closed shutters.” (pg. 39 ARC)

Lettie’s strength comes later when she leaves for medical school and is on her own, away from the pressures of her friends and family. She’s able to see her goal and reach for it with both hands. Her hard work and thirst for knowledge make her the dedicated village doctor she becomes. But like all of us, even knowledge can take a back seat to fear and loss.

Although the ending for Lettie seemed a bit too convenient, it was understandable given her early years in her home village. The quick resolution so many years after WWII may have been truncated, but The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a journey worth taking and it reminds us that life is not a straight line and is very unpredictable. But love and happiness are possibilities that emerge from the ashes of our best laid plans.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

International bestselling author Irma Joubert was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She’s the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels. Connect with Irma on Facebook.

A Vintage Victory by Cat Gardiner

Source: Purchased
ebook, 54 pgs.
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A Vintage Victory: Memories of Old Antique Shop Book 2 by Cat Gardiner is a short story that takes us back to the time portals of the old antique shop in Meryton where not only Elizabeth and Jane Bennet have taken a trip back in time, but so too has Mr. Darcy.

Charles Bingley has cold feet about his wedding to Jane, but a trip back to WWII through the Memories of Old antique shop might just set him to rights. Gardiner’s short stories and this time portal antique shop always delight, even when the subject matter is the possible loss of lives during a harrowing WWII battle.

Charlie isn’t only experiencing cold feet, he’s also very different from Austen’s young beau in that he has a tough time making decisions and often just lives off his family’s money. Meanwhile, army ranger Darcy finds that the trip is not only the remedy his friend needs to cure his indecision, but also the push he needs to share his feelings with his love, Elizabeth. But can these two men return to the present without dying? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Gardiner is one of the best historical fiction authors I’ve read, and her Pride & Prejudice variations are unique and engaging. Antiques will often transport us to the past and memories we hold dear, but Gardiner takes that one step further in these short tales. Readers will be truly engaged with the present and past, and itching for their own trip into the Memories of Old antique shop. A Vintage Victory: Memories of Old Antique Shop Book 2 by Cat Gardiner is another strong installment in this short story series, and I cannot wait for the next one.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. Austenesque, from the comedic Christmas, Chick Lits Lucky 13 and Villa Fortuna, to the bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventures Denial of Conscience, Guilty Conscience, and Without a Conscience, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers, who don’t mind a deviation away from canon and variations.

Cat’s love of 20th Century Historical fiction merges in her first Pride & Prejudice “alternate era,” set in a 1952 Noir, Undercover. Her most recent publications are time-travel WWII P&P short stories: A Vintage Valentine, A Vintage Victory, and A Vintage Halloween as part of the Memories of Old Antique Shop Series.

Her greatest love is writing Historical Fiction, WWII–era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever was named a Romance Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She is currently working on her second novel in the Liberty Victory Series.

Married 24 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world—their orange tabby, Ollie and his sassy girlfriend, Kiki. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook; 14 CDs
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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana — which was our September book club selection — is an expertly woven tale of Caroline Ferriday’s lilac girls, or the Ravensbrück rabbits, who were experimented on in a German WWII camp.  Ferriday, who was a real woman, is a socialite who soon realizes that her work with French nationals is more about helping others than it is about her social status, even as she falls for a married French actor and considers a different life for herself.  Told in alternate points of view — Ferriday, polish teen Kasia Kuzmerick, and a young ambitious German Dr. Herta Oberheuser — Kelly’s trifecta pushes readers deep into the emotional baggage of WWII and the relationships that carry each woman through.  Clearly well researched, Ferriday comes to life as a woman with little else to do but mourn her father and help those in need, while Kasia has a lot to learn even as she plunges headlong into the resistance to impress a boy.  Meanwhile, Herta — the most educated of the three — seems to have learned little compassion for others, instead remaining focused on how to get ahead as a medical professional, no matter the cost.

Even the German doctor appears sympathetic at first, until we see how camp life hardens her against humanity.  Kasia wears her camp damage on her at all times, pushing even her family away when it is clear she needs them most.  Meanwhile, Ferriday’s romantic troubles seem trivial in comparison, though it is clear they will push her into something that will become her life’s work — a search for justice for those who need it most.

It will be hard to look away from these women as they deal with the harsh experiments perpetrated by the Nazis, and they are set on their own paths and learn how best to move on with their lives after the war is over.  Kelly has lived with these women for some time, and it shows in her deeply dynamic characterization of the real-life Ferriday and Oberheuser; Kasia and her sister also are clearly based on real life accounts as their sisterly bond becomes a rock on which they can rely in even the toughest moments.  Even if you think you’ve read everything about WWII, this is not to be missed.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana – is a harrowing look at guilt — misplaced or not — and the affects of bonds between siblings, mothers and daughters, and even strangers during wartime.  Nurturing supportive relationships with other women can ensure survival.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander who lives in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, raised three wonderful children who are now mostly out of the nest and Lilac Girls is her first novel. She is hard at work on the prequel to Lilac Girls.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 479 pgs.
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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which was the readalong selection for June at War Through the Generations, is a complex story in which Anna Schlemmer has kept her activities during WWII in Weimar secret, even from her daughter Trudy. Although Trudy was a young girl during the war, she remembers very little and what she does remember often comes to her in snatches of dreams and makes little sense. She’s tried to pry the past out of her mother ever since finding a portrait of herself, her mother, and a Nazi SS officer in her drawer at their farm in New Heidelberg, Minnesota.

“It is one of the great ironies of her mother’s life, thinks Trudy Swenson, that of all the places to which Anna could have emigrated, she has ended up in a town not unlike the one she left behind.” (pg. 73)

Blum’s novel shifts from the points of view of Anna and Trudy and shifts in time from WWII to the 1990s, where Trudy has begun a project to interview Germans about their time during the war, as her colleague strives to save the stories of Jews who escaped the Holocaust. But this story begins with a young girl looking to get out from under her father’s thumb in Germany, as war is beginning to seem more likely. Anna falls for a young man, and their relationship is doomed from the beginning. What transpires from that love affair onward takes Anna on a journey into darkness where she is alone and very aloof, even from the local baker, Mathilde Staudt, who agrees to take her in.

“It is as though Trudy has reached under a rock and touched something covered with slime. And now she is coated with it, always has been; it can’t be washed off; it comes from somewhere within.” (pg. 185)

Anna’s silence looms large over Trudy’s life, and it has foisted guilt upon her for a time she barely remembers and a man she suspects is her father. Her guilt is compounded by her mother’s unwillingness to talk about the past and the death of her stepfather, Jack – a former WWII soldier for America. Along the way, Trudy meets an older man who is half Jewish, Rainer, and she begins to see that her happiness does not have to be tied to the past.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum explores generational guilt and the effects of war atrocities on those who did not commit them but were considered just as guilty as those with whom they associated. Blum’s research is impeccable and her understanding of the guilt and horror of the Holocaust and WWII emerges in the characterization of Anna, Trudy, and so many other secondary characters. Readers will be submerged alongside Anna as she struggles to survive for herself and her child, doing things she would prefer not to. She is forced to remain practical and to deal with any one she encounters with suspicion and caution, and when the past is on another continent she wants her daughter to leave it there. Although I would have preferred greater resolution between Anna and Trudy — whose relationship appears broken from the start of the novel — the ending does provide some hope. The novel carefully explores the question of whether we can love those who save us even as they commit the most heinous crimes and whether the past is best left where it is in order for happiness to be found.

RATING: Quatrain

Read the discussions:

About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY forthcoming from Harper Collins in Spring 2018.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 528 pgs.
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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, available at HarperCollins, is a stunning and intricate look at the network of female spies during WWI (and later, in WWII) and how integral they were to many of the triumphs and near misses that occurred to bring down the Kaiser (and later, Hitler). Eve is just one of those spies, but the intersection of her story and that of Charlie St. Clair happens just after WWII as a pregnant young woman comes to England in search of the one woman who might know what happened to her cousin Rose. Both women carry extreme guilt for those they were unable to save and both have been broken by those failures.

“It was why she’d been hired, her pure French and her pure English. Native of both countries, at home in neither.” (pg. 25 ARC)

In a world in which men were called to war by posters seeking identical soldiers who would follow orders without question, Eve’s call to arms came in an unexpected way as she typed letters in other languages in an office. Her unassuming stature and her stutter rendered her nearly invisible and an outcast at once, and this is exactly what Captain Cameron sought in recruits. But she would need more than the ability to be invisible, she would need to transform into another person and be able to lie without being detected, even among those who were proud of their lie detecting abilities.

Both Charlie and Eve are women who face the double-standard — groomed to be or expected to want nothing more than to be mothers and wives but having the ability to be much more. Charlie, a walking adding machine, is searching for the cousin she loved like a sister who disappeared during WWII, and she bails on her mother’s hope for a brighter marriage. Eve is reluctant to join the search until a name from her past creeps up and her unfinished business rears its ugly head. Quinn has researched the network of spies well, but what she also has done is delved deep into the hearts of these patriotic women to uncover their desires, their fears, and their uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

Eve is real, a woman who should have lived during WWI and gained the respect of military men for her unwavering bravery, and Charlie is more than that wayward boarding school girl acting out. These women have experienced great loss and are forever changed by it. But together they realize that a future can still be had for the both of them, if they can only survive the past. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a sure winner and a “best book of 2017.” It’s a book you won’t want to put down but sad to see end because you don’t want to leave these heroines behind.

RATING: Cinquain

I was happy to participate in a TLC Book Tours online Junket with Kate Quinn. Please check out the video below:

Blogger Junket Video:

Photo by Kate Furek

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Find out more about Kate at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

New Authors Challenge 2017

WWII Reading Challenge 2017

Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir

Source: giveaway win from Diary of an Eccentric
ebook, 247 pgs.
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Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir, which I received from a giveaway and is an advanced reading copy, tells the tale of Chana Pershowski a young girl not yet fifteen who’s family is forced into a ghetto in Poland during WWII. Her brother Isaac loses his new wife and child, and that becomes a catalyst for the life they eventually live among the partisans. Fleeing Poland has to be the hardest decision Chana is forced to make, though she really doesn’t make it. As a young girl, she has little choice but to follow the orders of her mother and follow her brother into the wintry forest.

Her brother vows to protect her, as does his childhood friend Saul, who Chana views as strong. She’s had a crush on him for a long time, but he sees her as a little sister, and nothing in the forest is certain when the Nazis are looking for you. Running under cover of night and breaking camp when the Russian partisans decide to whether or not everyone is present makes life unpredictable at best. Being sent on missions when you don’t know how to shoot or make bombs can be deadly, even when you have protectors around you.

“I worked with gunpowder and straw, and was amazed to find how fearless I felt.  In a strange way, putting together a bomb reminded me of making sugar cookies with Mama.”

Katzir takes the reader on a journey through the forests with Chana the partisan and in the United States after the war with Chana the young woman finding her way in a world she still fears. Paranoia left over from the war threatens to keep her from happiness, and readers will wonder how far her PTSD will hinder her. Along the way, she learns to trust some of the partisans even against her mother’s ingrained advice, and she even learns to love.  But the war is far from done with her, and she needs to prepare herself for the ultimate sacrifice.  Chana is equal parts strong and weak, child-like and mature, and it is her makeup that leaves her at the mercy of others on a few occasions, especially when she makes rash decisions.

Three things bothered me to prevent a 5-star review: one that she wore a red coat in the snow-white forests when more than likely it would have made her a target, the resolution at the end seemed too rushed, and I’m hoping that many of the typos and grammatical and story line errors I saw were corrected in the final book.

Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir provides readers with a well-rounded look at what life in the forest during WWII looks and felt like for a young girl who hasn’t had time to find herself, let alone dream of how she wants her life to be in the future.  It also doesn’t gloss over partisan life and how women were perceived in those freedom fighting bands.

RATING: Quatrain

 

 

 

 

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (available for purchase at HarperCollins) is the story of “green” American journalist Ruby Sutton who is hand-picked to cover WWII in England by her editor at The American.  Splitting the costs of her employment, The American and Picture Weekly will get double the amount of stories from Sutton as she strives to report on the effects of war.  Her journalism colleagues in America seemed pleased that they were not picked to go, but when she gets to England, she realizes there are far more hoops to go through in order to get a story to print.  Across the Atlantic, she finds life in London agreeable and she makes friends quickly.

“It was a stomach-emptying, life-draining thing, her entire body trying to turn itself inside out, her world reduced to the bunk on which she was marooned and the bucket sitting next to it.” (pg. 14, ARC)

However, the reality of war is not far away, as she must endure the bombings from the Blitz and the hefty losses that surround her every day.  She may not have family back in America, but she certainly has an adopted family that she clings to and watches endure war with little complaint.  From her editor, Kaz, to the photographer she’s assigned, Ruby become part of a journalistic family that will soon face some tough roads ahead.  Her life becomes even fuller with Bennet, though he appears and disappears from her life constantly.  But the war leaves her little time to reflect as she becomes more integral to the paper’s success.

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson is a wonderful historical fiction novel that touches not only on the tribulations of war, but also the relationships that can form quickly between strangers.  With a bit of intrigue and suspense as it pertains to the Blitz, Robson’s novel offers a glimpse into the lives of the British during a precarious time in history.  Plucky Sutton will win readers’ hearts with her resolve and her ability to navigate the choppy waters when secrets come to the surface that she expected to remain buried in the deep sea.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a book about a resistance movement started by young boys and girls after they saw what the Hitler Youth movement was really like and what it was about. The White Rose movement ultimately came to the attention of the Gestapo, and while the Nazi regime looked for them, the student network continued to grow.

Through a series of mimeographed leaflets that were left in doors and other locations, the students were able to call attention to Adolf Hitler’s terrible policies and the deaths of Germany’s citizens. Freedman uses a series of historical documents and photographs to chronicle the journey of the Scholls and how they came to oppose the regime and garner supporters.

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a testament to the power of youthful conviction and social networks in opposing forces that are immoral and policies that are wrong.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.

New Authors Challenge

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner pivots on the life of the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that crossed the ocean to entertain the wealthy and was later converted to carry troops across the Atlantic and war brides back to America after WWII.  Katrine Sawyer, Phoebe Rogers, and Simone Robinson are war brides hoping to return to the arms of their American husbands, and they share a stateroom together and exchange camaraderie until one woman’s secrets come to the surface threatening to upend all of her plans for a new future in America.  In the present, Brette Caslake is a reluctant medium who visits the old ship to help an old friend from her past, as she deals with her own decisions about whether she wants to start a family.

Meissner’s historical fiction elements are vibrant and and emotional.  Simone struggles to flee her home in Paris after the Gestapo raids her father’s shoe repair shop, while Phoebe is just eager to return to the arms of her husband and introduce him to his son.  However, Katrine has fled Germany and a secret past that she will have a hard time escaping.  The stories set during WWII are the strongest, and while Phoebe is a war bride on the ship and seems to take a central role as Katrine’s friend, her backstory is a little lost to the reader.  Meanwhile, the present day story is developed slowly throughout the novel until the end where it seemed a bit rushed.

There are a few magical elements that have to be taken at face value, but overall the novel is enjoyable.  It also raises questions about how one can come to forgive someone who comes from a land where you bore so many losses and traumas?  A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner is about the future happiness just out of reach and what it takes to get there, especially when everything is stacked against you.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses.  Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.

She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with my family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is about the strength you can find amid hopelessness and tragedy, as women who are left behind in the English village of Chilbury find that the one thing they look forward to — the choir — is being shut down as the last eligible men are sent to the front during WWII. Told through a series of journal entries and letters, Ryan crafts a winding story of intrigue and homefront concerns during WWII. Mrs. Tilling is a nurse and widow who is very meek beneath the overbearing Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, but there is a stronger person beneath who acts as the core of the village in their time of need. Meanwhile, Kitty (age 13) and Venetia (age 18) are sisters of the Brigadier Winthrop, an overbearing and violent man, at Chilbury Manor, and like any set of sisters rarely get along and even fall for the same man — or at least seem to. Other characters are equally unique, if secondary, and they propel the narrative through the brambles.

“First funeral of the war, and our little village choir simply couldn’t sing in tune. ‘Holy, holy, holy’ limped out as if we were a crump of warbling sparrows.” (pg. 3 ARC)

The village ladies are sad that the choir has been shutdown because of a tradition of having both men and women in the choir. It is not until a new lady enters the village and suggests that the choir be composed of just the remaining ladies. Prim is a bit of a free spirit, who has equally suffered loss, and yet she remains focused on living life to the fullest. Her gentle guidance inspires all the women in the village to sing and too seek happiness where and when they can find it. Ryan carefully crafts a set of small village characters, and each has their weaknesses and strengths, with most not all bad even when they engage in the black market or other nefarious schemes. War is a time of opportunity within chaos.

“The hymn was sung at my father’s funeral, as it was for so many of those men who died in the Great War. And then we sang it again at my mother’s funeral, and then at Harold’s. As I was singing it out alone in the church, it took on a new horror. I realized that I have been trapped by those deaths, that I had let them take over.” (pg. 105 ARC)

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan demonstrates the strength we fail to see in ourselves until we can no longer bare any further loss or chaos. It takes a jolt to often wake us up from our complacency, and while WWII was an unexpected jolt for this village, they rally together well and find that there is more that they have to give and set about doing what’s right, fair, and just for their community at large.

RATING: Quatrain

Jennifer Ryan Photo © Nina Subin

About the Author:

Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor. Connect with her at her website and on Facebook.

Check out this video of the author talking about writing with any distractions: