About the Book
When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family – is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge – thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel’s mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she’s never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan. On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.
Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all…
Format: ebook (282 pages) Publisher: Transworld
Publication date: 6th November 2014 Genre: Historical fiction
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I very much enjoyed Lissa Evans’ book Old Baggage when I read it back in 2018 so I was excited to learn she had a new book coming out, V For Victory. Before reading that for the blog tour (you can read my review here) I felt I just had to find time to squeeze in reading Crooked Heart. I’m so glad I did because, not only did it fill in some gaps in the story, but it meant I spent time getting to know Noel and Vera.
I’ll say right now the author made me fall in love with Noel. I laughed at him thinking up suitable punishments for some of his more irritating classmates and recording them in a notebook. “Roy Pursey. Liver pecked out by eagle. Harvey Madeley. Locked into an oubliette and forced to drink own urine. The Ferris Twins. Lavatory cleaners.” Although his eclectic knowledge and precocious vocabulary (courtesy of his years with Mattie) make him stand out from his contemporaries, underneath Noel is just a young boy who’s found himself alone in the world.
Therefore he’s fortunate to be taken under Vera’s wing – even if her motives are mercenary to begin with. Her actions and approach to life are epitomized by the question Noel poses to her at one point in the book, “You mean it’s legally wrong but morally right?” She’s not the only person in wartime London tempted to cross that line, whether that’s flirting with the butcher to get a better cut of meat, fiddling the ration books or trading on the black market. After all, it’s a time when every moment may be your last.
Unfortunately for Vera (known as Vee), not all her ploys – even her legal ones – work out as she hopes. For example, having taken out an insurance policy on the life of a very elderly and frail-looking neighbour, Vera is frustrated to find the old lady continues to enjoy rude health. As Vee reflects, “That was what happened when you tried to do something straight: the world simply laughed at you.”
Crooked Heart features the author’s trademark blend of drama, period detail, gentle humour and emotional storylines. In one very touching scene, Noel visits the house he used to live in with Mattie and finds himself noticing objects that belonged to her – one of her slippers, her toothbrush, her comb, an old shopping list, her gardening coat hanging on the back of the scullery door. It’s as if she has just popped out and might return at any moment, although he knows that cannot be the case.
I loved Crooked Heart and it made the perfect appetizer for the wonderful V For Victory.
In three words: Funny, heart-warming, tender
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About the Author
Lissa Evans has written books for both adults and children, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, longlisted for the Orange (now Women’s) Prize, Small Change for Stuart, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Award, and Crooked Heart, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Old Baggage was a sell-out Waterstone’s Book of the Month and Their Finest Hour and a Half was adapted into a star-studded film with Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy.
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