World War II is raging, and England is in chaos as the Germans bomb London and its surroundings almost nightly in what is called the Blitz. It’s hard to imagine living in a world where you don’t know if you’re going to make it through the night.
But all that Mrs. Braithwaite, the protagonist of The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan worries about is that she has lost her standing in the community because her husband has filed for divorce. Never mind that it was he who had the affair. She is being shunned.
So she sets off to London to surprise her daughter Betty, with whom she has never been close, to find comfort. Imagine her surprise when she learns that her daughter has been missing for a few days. Mrs. Braithwaite is immediately suspicious, and sets out to find her daughter. She convinces Mr. Norris, Betty’s timid landlord to help. The two quickly figure out that Betty isn’t just a secretary, but instead, is a spy working for the British government. It isn’t long before Mrs. Braithwaite and her new friend are in the thick of it.
The novel is a feel-good look at the role women played in World War II, and the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters. It’s hard to dislike Mrs. Braithwaite’s spunk, and her unwillingness to quit until she knows her daughter is safe.
War is, of course, a serious topic, but Mrs. Braithwaite and her newfound friend provided readers a look at how strength and kindness we don’t even know we have can have a major impact.
The Spies of Shilling Street might be the first in a series? At least the ending led me to think so.
Here is a link to the book.
Once you start reading books that take place during World War I and World War II, it’s hard to get away from it. Amazon and Goodreads both start feeding you recommendations based on what you’ve been reading and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of a million books that take place during the world wars. Most are terribly sad. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a glimpse of blue sky in the dark sadness of death and hatred that war brings.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a debut novel by writer Jennifer Ryan. Though certainly not a deep and meaningful literary look at WWII as, say Sophie’s Choice, I truly enjoyed the story and the characters.
When it becomes clear that England must become involved in World War II, the small English village of Chilbury isn’t immune. One at a time, the men of the village are called to serve their country, leaving the women to carry on. Though the vicar advises that the town disband its choir because there are no male singers, the women elect instead to continue, making the controversial choice to have a women’s-only choir. Egad! But the women’s choir not only provides an outlet for singing, but more important, it provides a support group for the women of this village.
The story is told primarily through letters, which give readers a look at five particular women and how they are impacted by the war. Among the five women, particularly meaningful to me was a timid young widow whose only child is called to serve. As the weeks and months go by, she becomes stronger and more independent. She eventually becomes a driving force in keeping the town together.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a gentle reminder that war not only affects those fighting the battles, but also those left behind.
I loved the book and give it a strong recommendation.
Here is a link to the book.