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The Bellbird River Country Choir by Sophie Green

Title: The Bellbird River Country Choir

a green cover with cream text reading Welcome to The Bellbird River Country Choir. Red text reads Sophie Green. Australian flora surrounds the text.

Author: Sophie Green

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th July 2022

Format: Paperback

Pages: 426

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A warm-hearted story of fresh beginnings, unexpected friendships and the sustaining power of love and community, from the Top Ten bestselling author of The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle and Thursdays at Orange Blossom House.

Bellbird River, 1998: Teacher and single mum Alex is newly arrived in the small NSW country town of Bellbird River after escaping the city in search of a change of pace and the chance to reconnect with her young daughter. Across town, well-known matriarch Victoria and her globe-trotting, opera-singing cousin Gabrielle find themselves at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives, while local baker Janine and newcomer to the district Debbie are each secretly dealing with the consequences of painful pasts. With its dusty streets, lone pub and iron-lace verandahs, Bellbird River could just be a pit stop on the road to somewhere else. But their town holds some secrets and surprises – and it has a heart: the Bellbird River Country Choir.

Amid the melodies and camaraderie of the choir, each of the women will find the courage to leave the past behind. And together, they’ll discover that friends are much closer to home than they’d ever realised.

~*~

Welcome to Bellbird River, a small country town just near Tamworth. Where everyone knows everyone, and where five women find connection in the local choir over the course of a year, 1998. Alex is a single mum and teacher, has moved there for a new job with young daughter, Kim, to escape the city, and hopefully reconnect with Kim, yet their lives are not made any easier by gossip and bullying at school. Debbie is also new to Bellbird River, seeking solace after a painful past, much like local baker Janine, whose family is complicated, and whose life feels like it is being torn in different directions. And cousins Victoria and Gabrielle are living together again, as they both grapple with changes in their lives professionally and personally. The choir is much bigger than these five women, but the novel centres around their experiences and stories, and the way they connect with each other in and out of the choir, and the secret, painful pasts that they are all grappling with, and trying to find new beginnings, new lives, and new friends. But in a small country town, can they outrun what they don’t want to reveal, or will they each be forced to face it in different ways, and come to terms with what their lives are now?

The Bellbird River Country Choir is at its heart about friendship – female friendship, and its setting in 1998 was relaxing – a predigital world, a COVID-free world. I liked this setting because I think it gave the characters space to evolve without the demands of social media and constant connectedness and reflected on a world where there was a time when we could in some ways leave the tensions of school and work, and bullying behind, though it still followed us home. But it was the break from the constant barrage in those days that gave people a chance to talk to those around them about it, I suppose, rather than having it in our faces all day, every day with all the messaging apps we have access to these days. It was also refreshing to have a world where people weren’t glued to a screen – a world that many of us reading this book will remember. I loved that the characters were allowed to be flawed, allowed to have misunderstandings, and the tensions and worries that existed between interactions, because it was relatable. Because back in 1998, we couldn’t always text, message, or call someone to clarify something. Often we would have to wait until the next time we saw them to apologise or talk to them, and that is what made this work so well. It showed a world that the readers of this book are going to recognise and be able to relate to.

The friendships and familial relationships are the driving forces in this book – with some romance on the side. I quite enjoy it when other types of relationships are the focus, as it shows that there’s more to life than romance – that other relationships and how they develop, and the ups and downs of these are just as important, and just as key in our lives. Sophie Green’s book illustrate the complexities of life, the light and the shadows, and the secrets that people don’t always want to tell people, or feel like they can’t confide in anyone. She allows her characters to drive the story, with the small country town as an extension and backdrop – in this case it is Bellbird River. And I liked that the characters are a wide array of ages, who have different lives and backgrounds, but something that draws them all together in the choir – which is the thing that they all have in common – at least at the start of the novel. It is the vehicle of the choir that drives the novel, and brings the characters together, allowing the reader and the other characters to get to know them as their secrets and lives are slowly revealed, letting us know what we need to know when we need to find it out.

The tone is light, with shadows when needed, and each voice is distinct. This allows the alternating chapters to shine individually, but they also seamlessly slip into each other and weave in and out, so we come to an understanding of who is who, what they want, and what drives them. It’s a lovely, light-hearted book, which is welcomingly set in pre-COVID, pre social media times, which the main audience of the book can relate to. I think there are spaces for books set in contemporary times and the past, with or without the pandemic – as readers, I think we need access to both for many reasons, and having that choice and a balance of both is where books like this fit in. At the moment, I’m enjoying reading non-pandemic books, though haven’t minded those that have touched on them either. And I hope that the audience Sophie intends this book for enjoy it, and get something out of it.

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