Jennifer Ryan is known for her tales of bucolic village life in World War II England. She grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories of the time period, longing to write while working as an editor for different publishing houses. After receiving an MA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University, she wrote her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I enjoyed that book very much in 2019– a personally dramatic year–and it never received a mention on this site. It’s time to fix that, along with introducing you to her upcoming book, The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle.
The Chilbury Women’s Choir: Told through a series of letters, we learn about the lives of several different women in the village of Chilbury in 1940. The war is raging and the vicar has decided to close the choir until the men return. The ladies take it upon themselves to establish a ladies’ choir (shock and horror) in their absence.
The characters who write the letters have very different personalities, a true testament that perception is everything. There is service, there is gossip, and there are lessons learned. I read and listened to this book. The audio book was especially enjoyable because of the multiple narrators. 9/10 Stars
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle, Available May 31, 2022: This book is a treat from start to finish. I loved it. Cressida Westcott is a renowned London fashion designer whose home and studio are destroyed in the Blitz. She finds refuge in her family’s manor where her niece, Violet, and nephew, Hugh, now live. Violet is thrilled to meet her famous aunt and invites her to the local village sewing circle. The newest project is to mend and update Grace Carlisle’s mother’s wedding dress. Rationing has made it impossible to get materials for a new dress and Grace, the vicar’s daughter, is engaged to be married. We cycle through the lives of Cressida, Violet, and Grace, whose stories become more entwined as time goes on.
This book is very special. I loved all the characters, their individual journeys, and–yes–the positive effects the war has on their lives. Each of them experienced their share of losses before the story begins and a few bumps after, but the majority of the novel is about their separate epiphanies and realizations about what is really important. People are humbled, they learn more about themselves, the British class system is called into question, and the American soldiers even make an appearance. Highly, highly recommended. 9.5/10 Stars