Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Isn’t it lovely when you find a story that really strikes a chord?

This is the story of ten year-old Noel Bostock. He lived in Hampstead with his godmother Mattie; she had been a suffragette and she had firm and individual opinions, formed over the course of a life well lived. Noel was bright and he was bookish; he had little in common with children his own age, he didn’t understand them at all, and so he had few friends; but he was very happy with Mattie. They understood each other.

But when Mattie’s mind began to fail, when she began to lose her memory and to act oddly, Noel struggled to cope. He didn’t ask for help, because he knew that Mattie wouldn’t want that. Tragedy ensued.

This was the part of the story that struck a chord, because I have had to support and my own mother, who is on the same path that Mattie followed. Lissa Evans telling of this part of the story was pitch perfect and profoundly moving.

19546111Noel tried hold on to his home and his way of life, but the encroaching war, and there own wish to not be too involved, led his new guardians to send him as an evacuee, to the relative safety of nearby St Alban’s.

The sullen child, who had a limp and ears that stuck out terribly, had a long wait to be offered a home; but eventually he was taken in by the muddled, well meaning, and not entirely honest Vee Sedge.

Vee did her best to keep her family together. Her son worked nights and during the day often went away, offering no explanation at all; and her dependent mother, was an obsessive letter writer, writing to government ministers and public figures, determined to sort the war out and make the world a better place. The family was always in debt, it was a struggle to find the money to keep the rent collector at bay, and Vee was sure that she could keep an evacuee for less that the payment she would receive for his board and lodgings.

Vee had other plans for making money from the war, and she found that a bright, young boy could be a very useful ally; Noel instinctively helped Vee and he found himself enjoying his new role. The two of them became a team.

That was lovely to watch; two completely different characters, who don’t entirely understand each other but who realise they can help each other and instinctively do just that. It worked so well because those two characters were flawed and so very, very believable, and because Lissa Evans wrote of them with wit, with empathy and without a hint of sentimentality.

The depictions of London during wartime was very well done, and the story touched on interesting aspects of life in wartime, some of which I hadn’t thought about before. It was utterly engaging; I was there, I was involved, I cared.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find out that Donald’s absences had come about because, like his mother, he was scheming to make money from the war. His plans were much more dangerous than hers, and when Noel found himself out of his depth and in serious trouble it was Donald’s fault. Vee wanted to do the right thing, but she knew that there would be a price, and that scared her.

My heart was in my mouth. The danger was very real.

I was so sorry when the book was over.

It spoke so very well about the lengths people will go to survive; about our need for love and support; and about how people can take you by surprise.

It’s a wonderfully human story, balancing dark subjects and rich humour wonderfully well.

I loved it!

Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans

London. 1940. There’s a war on, and it doesn’t look like being over any time soon. That’s why the Ministry of Information is looking to make a film. A film to boost morale, and maybe draw the USA a little closer to what is going on in Europe. Propaganda? Well why not?!

It’s not going to be easy, with so many of the country’s finest unavailable. But it makes a wonderful story.

It is told through four characters, on separate paths that will, of course, converge.

First there’s Catrin Cole. She comes from small town Wales, but she left home to follow her artist lover to the bright lights of London. She works as a copywriter, but she’s spotted as a writer with potential by the Ministry and recruited. And so we learn with Catrin the finer points of writing for the screen and dealing with the strange world of both civil servants and film industry people.

Catrin proves to be an adept recruit. She uncovers the story of twin sisters helping the Dunkirk evacuation that forms the basis of the much vaunted film. Though the sisters probably wouldn’t recognise their story after the film people have had their way with it.

There’s Ambrose Hilliard. He was a matinée idol back in the days of the silent screen and he is still a leading man in his own mind. Not though on anyone else’s. What will he make of the supporting, less than heroic, character role he is offered?

He has a huge ego, but you cannot help feeling the sadness of his situation and hoping he will accept that his expectations must change.

And there’s Edith Beadmore, a quiet middle-aged woman. She is a seamstress, working as Madame Tussaud’s, behaving properly and  hoping that one day something interesting will happen to her. Maybe it will. You can’t help hoping so.

Finally, there’s Lance Corporal Arthur Frith, a simple soul who is none to sure why he has been appointed Special Military Adviser to the film. It could be because  he is a survivor of Dunkirk, or, more likely, it could be an administrative error. And maybe it’s fate.

All four principal characters are beautifully drawn, and so utterly believable. You want to follow all of their stories, to find out what happens to them.

Those stories come together beautifully to tell the story of the film.

There’s much to enjoy. Gentle comedy – the kind that comes from observation and affection. And some rather broader comedy when filming finally gets underway.

But that’s balanced by very real emotions. And the picture painted of life in London, with  nightly bombing raids and all of the privations of war is utterly convincing.

This is a book full of wonderful details, incidents and characters. There’s a lot going on and it would be so easy for things to go wrong, but they don’t.

Their Finest Hour and a Half speaks wonderfully of lives that change, in small and in big ways, as the result of one propaganda film.

It’s one of those books well worth living in for a little while.

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“Catrin had been sitting there alone for nearly ten minutes when a young man whose name she didn’t quite catch poked his head round the door, checked that she was unoccupied, and proceeded to sit down, open a file and – without explanation or preamble – read her a series of jokes. Each time he finished a punchline he looked at her sharply, hoping, presumably, for laughter, but since his delivery possessed all the flair of a platform announcer it was hard to oblige, and Catrin could feel her mouth stiffening into a dreadful fake grin.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


I’m in London, in Fitzrovia, at the Ministry of Information. I’m an advertising copy-writer but, while the war is on, I’ve been sent here to work on scripts for propaganda films. I’m really not sure what I’ve let myself in for.

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

All of this comes from Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans.