Tag Archives: penelope lively

Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

Search for Crooked Heart on the library catalogueI’ve read World War II evacuee stories before. The fear of the unknown, sullen confusion, awful foster homes, inevitable loss. Children labelled like lunches, dragged from door to door in search of a temporary home. I can’t think of many novels with positive evacuee experiences.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans doesn’t sound like a positive evacuee story, but it is. It begins with Noel, age 10, realising his godmother, Mattie, is succumbing to dementia. A tragedy for anyone to have to deal with, but especially for a boy on his own.

She was losing words. At first it was quite funny. ‘The box of things,’ Mattie would say, waving her mauve-veined hands vaguely around the kitchen. ‘The box of things for making flames. It’s a song, Noel!

The box of things for making flames
I can’t recall their bloody names.’

After a while, it stopped being funny. Some words would resurface after a few days; others would sink for ever. Noel started writing labels: ‘SHAWL’, ‘WIRELESS’, ‘GAS MASK’, ‘CUTLERY DRAWER’.

There are two unusual and meaningful relationships in this book: between Noel and his suffragette godmother Mattie, who is so erudite and funny I could quote pretty much anything—

‘Hobbies are for people who don’t read books,’ said Noel; it was one of Mattie’s sayings.

—and, later, between Noel and his foster mother Vee, whose early descriptions make me think of a hen — head constantly turning, looking for something better.

At first Vee sees Noel as an opportunity, a crippled evacuee who might get her some more money (which she is severely lacking). In a way she was right: Noel quickly catches on to her scams, and becomes the level-headed organiser of their illegal outings. It sounds awful, but I ended up rooting for the pair of them, even while they’re going around pretending to be collecting for the war fund. Despite their seeming differences — Vee is “common” and middle-aged, Noel is educated and a child — they’re both lonely and neglected by their surviving relatives. Their growing affection for each other and funny/heart-breaking mishaps already guarantee Crooked Heart a place on my Best Of 2015 list.

Some more books of love and friendship set before, during or after the World Wars:

Search for From a Distance on the library catalogueSearch for Code Name Verity on the library catalogue

What are your favourite sad but funny books?


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Favourite adult fiction of 2014

Looking over this year I’ve both a) read a lot of new authors but also b) read a lot of books by a particular author. Top of the list is Lois McMaster Bujold, with a whopping 21 books (that’s most of the Vorkosigan saga, the Sharing Knife quartet, and the three Curse of Chalion books). Coming a close second is Ellis Peters, with 20 books (mostly Cadfael but a couple of Felse mysteries snuck in there). After that there are a few authors with five or six books, but I’m going to nominate Dorothy Dunnett in third place because her books are SO DENSE and I feel like each paperback should really count as two. (And when I say they’re dense, that’s not a criticism as such — her books are fantastically researched and written, with some fantastic sensible ladies — but I have to admit I’ve stalled a little on the Ringed Castle.)

Anyway, books I most enjoyed that were published this year:
Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

I loved Maia — such a sympathetic character, fallible but always determined to do the right thing, which isn’t super common in fantasy right now. It’s a quiet, thoughtful book, exploring the administration of government and the effects of discrimination in an industrial-era society. This makes it sound really boring but it’s not! Or at least, it’s not if you’re a fan of character-based fantasy (which I am).
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine

Reviewed earlier.
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Okay, technically this wasn’t published this year but the sequel (Ancillary Sword) was, and I know that it will be fantastic. Like The Goblin Emperor they are reflective, but the protagonist (a ship who once controlled hundreds of bodies, now down to one) is a lot older, experienced and betrayed. Ancillary Justice has deservedly got a lot of good press and won a lot of awards. You should read it if you like science fiction or characters learning to care about each other. (Especially if you like characters learning to question their privilege and not be such an arrogant arse.)
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I thought this was a fun murder mystery with serious bits, where you don’t know who did it or who was murdered right until the very end. I loved all the ladies in this book, even the awful ones.
Collected Works of A. J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Another fun book with serious bits. I can see how some people might find it a bit twee, but it’s about books and islands and grumpy people so it was a hit with me.

Books that weren’t published this year but I enjoyed them anyway:
Troubled Waters, Sharon Shinn
Hens Dancing, Raffaella Barker
Fate of Mice, Susan Palwick
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

Everything else Willis writes is overwhelming depressing (Doomsday Book? Blackout/All Clear? I mean I love them, but I weep) but this is just an amazing romp. If you like Dorothy Sayers, Jerome K. Jerome and/or Agatha Christie then you will love this book. It’s just fantastic. And the animals are just perfect.
Melusine, Sarah Monette

I made wounded animal noises all the way through this book.
Consequences, Penelope Lively
Dark North, Gillian Bradshaw

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