The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Thanks to Net Galley, I have had the ARC of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir on my Kindle for some time. Jennifer Ryan’s novel sounded right down my alley when I requested it – historical fiction set in an English village in World War II. I had been anticipating its move to the top of my reading list.

The premise begins when the Vicar disbands the church choir because all the men have gone to war. The church ladies can’t be kept down long. They rally and reframe the choir for women only and so the thread of song winds through the novel. Diaries, letters, and journals tell the story of the village with intrigue, romance (not just for the young), and wartime life and death issues. There’s a conspiracy with the birth of two babies swapped by a midwife, the question of the real identity of the new guy in Chilbury where all the residents know each other, and the billeting of military. The members of the ladies’ choir have their hands full.  

I’ve tried to decide who to name as the protagonist and have come up with the community. The gossip and intrigue over large things and small will be familiar to anyone who has loved living in a village. While five ladies from the choir get the most attention, the men in the story are not to be ignored. In her first novel, Jennifer Ryan keeps her villains sympathetic and her heroes flawed.

The book is purely recreational reading and fulfills its purpose. The book release is tomorrow (February 14), and I’m hoping Jennifer Ryan has a second novel on the way.


Inventory - 2016

I am aware that this activity that I do at the end of each year may be of interest only to me, but just in case, I share it with you. Without a clock to punch or a sign-in sheet, I had to figure out a way to evaluate my own attention to task when I retired from teaching to write. I do that with a weekly calendar where I record both my writing and reading activities. (How good is it to be able to count reading as part of your work?)

At an end-of-year inventory, I like to see how much and what I have read during the year. Let me say up front, one underreported part is the number of books for younger children. I’ve not written down the story before bedtime or nap or the stack of Winnie-the-Pooh books brought in by a four-year-old with a request to read.

With that explanation behind us, I have read 77 books this year. Twenty-seven were for adults, thirty-one were for middle grade or young adult, and nineteen were for young children. The books were 68% fiction and 32% nonfiction. A protagonist that fit in the category of diversity either by culture or some kind of physical challenge made up 22% of the books. Probably for the same number, the protagonist could have been from any culture since the book was generic or some kind of fantasy. Poetry formed an unusual part of this year’s list with seven younger children’s non-fiction books and one middle grade novel written as beautiful poems. 

You would think that all this reading would have lowered my to-be-read stack and cleared my Kindle. Not so. As the wise man in Ecclesiastes 12:12 said, “Of the making of many books there is no end,” and he wrote before the day of the printing press. So if you will excuse me, I’ve started my 2017 list and need to get back to some diaries and letters in a World War II novel. The blog for that one is coming soon. 


The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

I liked Hawthorn from the beginning page when she compared her mother’s oatmeal to silly putty. My mother made oatmeal like that. This lighthearted opening for The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti doesn’t stay lighthearted long.

Questions begin for Hawthorn as soon as word gets out that Lizzie Lovett has disappeared. Is she dead? Did her boyfriend kill her? Has she become a werewolf? And the big one, can Hawthorn find out what happened to her?

Relationships with her longtime best friend, her brother and his best friend Connor, the people at the diner where she works to keep her dilapidated car running, and Lizzie’s boyfriend round out the story of Hawthorn’s search. Then her mother’s long ago hippie friends show up to camp out in the back yard.

In an unapologetic spoiler, the book deals with bullying, social outcasts, and suicide. Hawthorn says it well, “The thing about high school is that you have to pretend you don’t care what people think, even though that’s all you care about.”

Hawthorn’s poor decisions sometimes had me wanting to yank a knot in her neck and questioning whether I would even use the book for a blog, but her frailties seemed so real and relevant that I began to come around. The final decision came when Hawthorn remembered and understood the significance of Connor’s words “about life looking different depending on where you were standing.”

This book is not an easy read but has relevance and would appeal to its intended audience of high schoolers.


Punxsutawney Phil Phails

He goes by the name of Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, PA; Chuck in Marion, OH, Staten Island, NY, and Los Angeles, CA; Pierre C. Shadeaux in New Iberia, LA; and Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Canada. Sometimes he’s called a whistle pig or a woodchuck, but on February 2, midway between the winter and spring solstice, he’s known as a groundhog. He finds his place on the news even in years with vast political shenanigans to answer an important question.

Will there be six more weeks of winter or will spring come early? The questionable answer comes in whether he most famously sees his shadow in the official town of Punxsutawney, PA. Crowds arrive rivaling those of big football games to observe what could be as accurately predicted in the toss of a coin since Phil has been right about fifty percent of the time.

Yesterday amidst a crowd singing and dancing, the men from the Groundhog Handlers’ Club coaxed Phil from the ground on Gobbler’s Knob, a couple of miles out of town. He immediately saw his shadow and supposedly returned to his burrow to finish his nap during another six weeks of winter.

Of course, in South Mississippi this year, the whole question is moot. Winter has yet to show its face with December and January temperatures most often reaching a daily high in the seventies. We still have February when it might turn up, but you can see that my azaleas and daffodils are already in bloom with the snowdrops just ready to burst open.

There are those who would call him Phil the Phailure, but I say give him some slack and let him sleep. He’s only a rodent doing the best he can.


The War That Saved My Life

Two things converged to move The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley to the top of my reading list. One was the insistence of a friend, who has never steered me wrong on a good book, and the second was the intriguing title. Make that three – it won a Newbery Honor and half a dozen other awards in 2016.

The book opens with a scene of nine-year-old Ada being reprimanded by her mother for saying hello to another child out the window. Her mother is too embarrassed by Ada’s deformed foot to let her outside. It would be a war in the summer of 1939 that would take Ada from London – make that – allow her to slip out of the city. Children were being sent away from the bombings to the country for safety where they were housed by volunteer families. Ada sneaks away when her brother Jamie is being sent to safety.

Jamie and Ada are last of their group of children to be placed. Their reluctant foster parent, Susan Smith, lets them know right away, “I don’t know a thing about taking care of children.” Ada claims that their last name is also Smith. Susan lets the lie slide. When Jamie explains that nice people hate Ada’s ugly foot, Susan responds, “You’re in luck then because I’m not a nice person at all.”

This not-nice person immediately bandages Ada’s foot, puts them in clean clothes, combs their hair, and scrambles a big pan of eggs. The adventure now begun will have wartime difficulties, including a time when most of the other children return home to London. A bigger difficulty arises when their mother figures out where they are, but I won’t spoil the story.

Now that I’ve finished reading the book, I must add a fourth attraction. This piece of historical fiction set in World War II falls into my favorite category, especially when the time and place is woven so skillfully into the story. If you have as long a reading list as mine, I recommend moving this up in the stack to be read soon!