29 August 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

I. Love. This. Book.

It wasn't until I removed the hold slip at the library that I took a good look at the cover.  Then there was a swift recollection of the author's name (when you work at a library you place holds on all sorts of things...really fast...between customers).  Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed Their Finest Hour and a Half so when I twigged that my new book was by the same author I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

The story begins in Hampstead during the early days of World War II.  Noel Bostock is nearly ten years old and living with his godmother, Mattie, in a 'spacious brick box, with a fancy ironwork verandah and a garden full of azaleas'.  Mattie is a fascinating character with a fiercely dedicated belief in independence and education, although she is highly suspicious of government, rules, and regulations.  She was also an active participant in the fight for women's right to vote.  Noel has seen her pins, bars, sashes, rossettes, and a medal that states she was force-fed while imprisoned.  But these days Mattie struggles to recall names and places...

'Or 'that church', she'd say, standing at the top of Hampstead Heath, gazing down at the scribble of blue and grey that was London.  'The one with the dome - remind me of what it's called.'
  'St Paul's Cathedral.'
  'Of course it is.  The architect has a bird's name.  Owl...Ostrich...'
  'Wren.'
  'Right again, young Noel, though I can't help thinking "Sir Christopher Ostrich" has a tremendous ring to it...'

You can already sense the perfect combination of delightful characters, setting, and humour.  But it's not all tea and roses.  The bombs begin to fall and Noel is evacuated...

'The day after that, all the children disappeared, as if London had shrugged and the small people had fallen off the edge.'

Vee Sedge is a down-at-heel woman living in grim circumstances with her adult son, Donald, above the offices of a scrap metal business in St Albans.  They can't afford to miss an opportunity and this time it comes in the form of a little boy.  Noel.

There is another wonderful character in Vee's mother.  Flora considers Mr Churchill, as in 'the Prime Minister', to be a personal pen friend.  She writes letters to inform the elected official of her thoughts about everything from ration rip-offs to people whom she suspects to be spies...

'I don't know if you know this, but when Alvar Liddell on the wireless says Nazi on the news broadcast he says it in a different way to the way you say Nazi, you say it Narzee and he says it Nartsi.  People have noticed this, and when I met my cousin Harold at the Abbey Tea Rooms last week he told me that he's even heard jokes about it.  I thought you out to know.  Alvar sounds a foreign name to me.'

Lighthearted bits like that provide gaps of pleasure because, as I mentioned earlier, it's not all urns of tea and chatting over the wall.  There are other characters looking to thwart the system and have no bones about using violent means to accomplish their will.  Black-outs and bombings provide the opportunity for thievery and it's not always the perceived image of a criminal that is the mastermind.

Crooked Heart is a wonderful story about relationships between the young and old and that family is sometimes where you find it.  It also portrays the fact that despite severe hardship you can still have principles; stand up for what is right.  By the time I was on page sixteen I knew this was a book that must have a place on my bookshelf so I will be buying a copy to enjoy again and again.  It's an absolute delight!

*Just read that Lionsgate has bought the rights to Their Finest Hour and a Half with Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in starring roles!

12 comments:

  1. I thought when I saw this book in your sidebar that you would love it, and it's lovely to find that I was right.

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    1. If you discover more gems like this feel free to send me an email, Jane! Usually I'm the one searching the catalogue for titles and being too early off the mark but this time I was caught off-guard. Such a lovely surprise!

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  2. This sounds so good. Isn't it fun to discover a treasure like this? And how wonderful that it is being made into a film. I adore Bill Nighy! Thanks for letting us know about this book.

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    1. It's as though this book was written based on my checklist of favourite things in a book. Actually, the film that is being made is based on Lissa's previous book 'Their Finest Hour and a Half' but I think Crooked Heart would be an amazing film as well...fingers crossed.

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  3. Well, now I'm feeling like a silly idiot for canceling my hold on this when it came in last week! It does sound right up my alley, but I thought I probably wouldn't have time to read it and now I find that the books I planned to read don't appeal and this probably would have. So, back on to the holds list I go. I do like that it explores the darker side of the home front.

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    1. Oh no! Well, hopefully the holds list is not too, too long and you'll have this in your hot little hands in no time at all. I've been having a spell of 'what to read next' not working out so well so I know what you mean about planned reads not appealing....but Crooked Heart will!!

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  4. I'm really looking forward to this one (I'm next in line at my library) partly because I loved, LOVED Their Finest Hour and a Half.

    Bill Nighy as Ambrose? Perfection!

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    1. Hooray! I have no doubts at all about Crooked Heart being a perfect read then...you're in for a treat.

      I'm planning a read-along with some friends at work but I think 'Their Finest Hour...' is coming off of the shelf for a re-read once we've wrapped up. Bill Nighy in anything!

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  5. So excited to read this and delighted to hear how much you loved it! My library finally bought a copy so I am just waiting patiently (...sort of. Not really) for my turn.

    Haven't read Their Finest Hour and a Half but might have to before the film comes out.

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    1. Usually I'm the one sighing because your library acquisitions department has beaten mine, Claire. Hope your wait isn't too long! And come to think of it, I've never seen a copy of 'Their Finest Hour...' in any of my searches in second-hand shops....do try to find one though!

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  6. I loved this, too and I'm recommending it to all my friends in reading groups. Just one thought: I'd love to hear from a man who's read and enjoyed it.

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    1. And I'll be doing the same, Nomey!

      There are loads of male customers at my library who would find Crooked Heart to be entertaining so I'll put my interviewer hat on when an appropriate lucky fellow returns a copy.

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