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Crooked Heart: A Novel

Crooked Heart: A Novel

4.0 5
by Lissa Evans

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Paper Moon meets the Blitz in this original black comedy, set in World War II England, chronicling an unlikely alliance between a small time con artist and a young orphan evacuee.

When Noel Bostock—aged ten, no family—is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge—a


Paper Moon meets the Blitz in this original black comedy, set in World War II England, chronicling an unlikely alliance between a small time con artist and a young orphan evacuee.

When Noel Bostock—aged ten, no family—is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge—a thirty-six-year old widow 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. Wise beyond his years, raised with a disdain for authority and an eclectic attitude toward education, he has little in common with other children and even less with the impulsive Vee, who hurtles from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s provided unprecedented 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 a scheme. Crisscrossing 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. . . . 

Editorial Reviews

Scott Simon
“I try not to say, ‘If there’s one novel you should read this summer..’ but Crooked Heart tempts me to say it.”
Boston Globe
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Evans’ exceptionally engaging “Crooked Heart” brings effervescent wit and oddball whimsy to a venerable formula....The entire novel is a joy from start to finish: briskly paced, taut and snappy with humor and, ultimately, sweet.”
New York Times Book Review
“In ‘Crooked Heart,’ Lissa Evans’s absorbing and atmospheric comic novel, another quietly heroic orphan joins the canon….This is a wonderfully old-fashioned Dickensian novel, with satisfying plot twists….Both darkly funny and deeply touching….It’s a crooked journey, straight to the heart.”
Christian Science Monitor
“The most purely charming read of the summer…. The novel’s heart may be crooked, but it is completely in the right place. And if wanting a happy ending for this offbeat pair is wrong, I can’t imagine a reader on earth who would want to be right.”
“A heartwarming tale about a lonely young boy and a cunning middle-aged woman who find solace in each other.”
Margot Livesey
“With not a single combatant and only a few bombs, Lissa Evans has written a wonderful novel about the Second World War. Her two main characters are utterly irresistible, as is their unlikely alliance; I was cheering them on with every page.”
Nick Hornby
“At the crooked heart of this lovely novel is an odd-couple relationship reminiscent of Moses and Addie in the film Paper Moon, between an odd, clever, and lonely boy and a dodgy, desperate woman. Their reliance on each other is credible, touching and funny.”
Juliet Gardiner
“Beautifully written, moving, funny — just perfect. I don’t usually like novels about the Second World War—I think ‘what’s the point? The true stories are so good’—but this one, and Evelyn Waugh, are way up in a class of their own. Superb.”
Louisa Young
“I’m pretty sure that Crooked Heart shows the real, practical, opportunistic, Blitz spirit. The chaotic, semi-feral teaming up of Vera and Noel is as sparky and funny charming and touching, but then every now and again comes the vertiginous feeling of peering into something unutterably, dangerously sad.”
Boris Fishman
“In conjuring a vivid portrait of two lost souls — Vera Sedge, a petty criminal, and Noel Bostock, orphan and boy genius — who find an unlikely kinship amid the privation of wartime London, Evans has written a sensitive, intelligent novel that revises Sartre’s old axiom: Home is other people.”
India Knight
“I’m putting Crooked Heart on the shelf of my most treasured books, between I Capture the Castle and The Pursuit of Love.”
Alexandra Heminsley
“An absolute dream of a book … joyful and wonderful - I completely and utterly loved it.”
Sunday Mirror
“Deceptively complex and utterly charming.”
Daily Mail
“This autumn’s feel-good novel teams up two unlikely characters at the outbreak of World War II…. Evans has written an old-fashioned comedy of manners, which is heartwarming, without being mawkish, and extremely funny.”
Daily Express
“What will become of this fragile, touching pair? It’s a mark of how charming this novel is that you worry…. Even hard-bitten book reviewers occasionally feel a moisture around the eyes. I did.”
Marian Keyes
“Crooked Heart is tender, humane, funny, comforting and touching. Escapism in the best possible way. I loved it.”
The Independent
“Evans tidily unfolds a satisfying plot…. But it’s the over-arching development of the lost little boy and the harried woman’s affection and admiration for one another that really tugs the reader’s own heart crooked.... There’s great galloping joy in it.”
Jojo Moyes
“I loved this book. Lissa Evans is a wonderful writer; Vee and Noel are utter originals, and their journey made me laugh and cry.”
The Guardian
“Entertaining … The story starts in the London blitz, in a dazzling, tragicomic prologue…. Crooked Heart is a dark comedy, moving between drollery, pathos, farce and harrowing moments of tragic insight.”
Paula Hawkins
“Glorious. I loved every line of this book.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Meet the Author

Lissa Evans, a former radio and television producer, is the author of three previous novels, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Crooked Heart was also longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize); it is her first novel to be published in the US. Evans lives in London with her family.

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Crooked Heart 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lovely tale, at turns funny and thoughtful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quirky, but super story about displaced and awkward people who a thrust together and do finally make a good life for themselves
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
This unusual story opens with Noel living with his godmother Mattie, although I don’t think the book ever addresses how he came to be living with Mattie, what happened to his parents, or Mattie’s relation to his parents. However the bond between Mattie and Noel is evident. Noel is bright and inquisitive, and he possesses wisdom and understanding beyond his years. Part of this has to do with Mattie's unorthodox style of parenting. She is a bit of a "free thinker", and has always pushed Noel to question the status quo. I found Noel very likable right from the beginning. He is a brave and resourceful sort, taking whatever life throws at him and making the best of it. When WWII gears up and there is word of Hitler's troops heading their way, Noel is one of the 3.5 million civilians who are evacuated by train out of London to outlying areas deemed safer. Noel arrives in St. Albans, where he is taken in by Vee. Vee will do whatever she has to do to survive in life. She gets quite crafty, deciding to take in Noel who appears to walk with a limp, with dreams of financial assistance for doing so. Instead it turns to be Noel who has the mind for crafting "schemes" that keep the family housed and fed. Vee and Noel share a home with Vee's son Donald, who himself is thought to be disabled (but is really just spoiled) and Vee's mother. Vee is not initially very likable. She is dogged and tough, commits unethical acts to get by. Life has let her down, and she's never figured out how to pick herself up. Then along comes Noel, who is really the stronger of the two. He is the type of kid that is just plain odd. He's very bright and lives inside his own head. That means that other kids don't like him, and he tends to make most adults uncomfortable. But occasionally someone will take notice and see something else in them (I think his teacher Mr. Waring eventually did this with him). And Vee eventually sees it, too. This novel explores the difficulties of living in Britain during the war and The Blitz, with rationing and children being shipped away. It is a war novel without the war. You catch glimpses of the war, in the growl of an airplane overhead, the mention of a ration book, the blackouts, but in St. Albans they are relatively safe from the horrors of war. This is one of those quiet stories. It isn't rambunctious, exciting or edge-of-your-seat suspense. It's quiet and gentle. The writing is very easy to read, but it could get a little clipped at times for my taste. The relationship between Vee and Noel grows throughout the story, and in the end I think they sort of save one another. I love the imagery used throughout the story, particularly in the way that Noel looks at the world. My final word: Unadorned and restrained, there was something wistful about this story. It felt sentimental and at times a little morose. But I thought it was a sweet war novel. It is about friendship and what defines (or redefines) family. I would wholeheartedly recommend this one when looking for a quiet read with real characters.
bluekaren More than 1 year ago
As surprising as this sounds, this was a heartwarming tale. I know WWII Historical doesn’t immediately bring up thoughts of humor and a smile on your face as you finish reading, but Crooked Hearts did that. This very unlikely duo has stolen my heart. Ten year old Noel is being evacuated to a safe place. Due to bomb threats a lack of shelters, like many children, he is taken from the comfort of his home and placed with a foster family in a safe location. Except, Noel didn’t really have a comfortable home. Noel’s Godmother has just passed and the almost next-of-kin had no interest in another mouth to feed. Enter Vera, a woman with enough problems of her own. Widowed years ago she is now the sole caretaker to her mute mother and she is the mother of Donald, a listless man with no direction in life. When Noel witnesses a scheme Vera thought up to try to make money, Noel enlists himself to help her. Although they had nothing in common, their journey will lead them to common ground and a safety they create for themselves. I fell in love with Noel. Noel is a witty, charismatic boy with uncanny intelligence. The wisdom lent him by his godmother before she past has left him with a problem solving nature. He uses his first encounters with strangers to observe without interruption. This leaves people to think he may be slow or something. Noel is anything but slow! Vera, or Vee, is a bit hard to take at first. Once I learned her story it made sense that she would not welcome a strange child into her world. The two of them together is really magic. We get to learn a lot about Donald in this story as well. By venturing into places he shouldn’t, Donald gets himself into a whole mess of trouble. This was such a well written historical novel. Told entirely in 3rd person, I got a good look into the lives of these people. The places are described beautifully, not that they are exactly beautiful, but I got a real feel for the locations. Also, the language and customs were right on point. This story takes place in England during WWII, so the slang required me paying close attention. It might be a bit difficult for readers who, like me, aren’t used to it. Also, there were a few gaps in the story but mostly when we were focused on Vee, who was the type of person to just take someone at their word. I think the author hit on all the right points so we could picture the poverty and suffering that WWII produced. Through the characters journey I really got attached to Noel and Vee. I had a dislike for George, but his story was crucial to understanding Vee, I think. Also, George’s story talked about what happened to those boys that didn’t go off to war. The author injected black comedy into this story and it made me realize the scamming opportunities for those that were willing to bend the rules in this time period. I really enjoyed this read.
Twink More than 1 year ago
Oh, I'm telling you right up front that Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans is going to be one of my top reads for 2015! It's the height of WWII and England is on high alert. Ten year old orphan Neil Bostock is evacuated from London. He lands with Vee - a small time con artist with a good heart, but not great luck. Neil is educated, precocious and misses his suffragette Godmother Mattie terribly. Neil and Vee seem like an unlikely pairing. But 'war makes strange bedfellows.' And they might just have what the other needs..... Evans has created such tangible characters in Vee and Noel. My opinion of Vee changed as the book progressed - from dismissing her as a hustler, to getting to know her, to empathizing with her losses, and finally to cheering her on, hoping against hope that the ending I want would materialize. We get to know Noel slowly as he assesses his current situation and adapts as need be. I was immediately taken by him. Other supporting characters are just as interesting - I especially enjoyed the myriad letters that Vee's mute mother pens. Mattie makes only a brief appearance, but her presence is large in Noel's life and memories and we come to love her as much as he does. The wartime setting is also a character in Crooked Heart. The rationing, the attitudes, the bombings and more all shape, direct and change the course of Vee and Noel. Now, yes, there are sad situations, but.....Evans has a wickedly dark sense of humour that's quite appealing. Her sly wit is visible in a description, a look or a snippet of dialogue. Above all, Crooked Heart is entertaining. I read so many books and often find I can predict where a tale will go, or recognize a plot. I truly had no idea where Evans was going to take her tale. Initially, I took the moral high ground when confronted with Vee's scams. But, my opinion rapidly changed as I got to know Vee and Noel. I found myself soundly in their corner - and hoping they could scam the scammers. Evans nicely explores right and wrong through many characters and situations in Crooked Heart. And by the end, it's impossible to say that a little bit of wrong isn't a little bit right. I love books that speak to the human condition - life, love, death and everything that comes in between. This unlikely pair totally won my heart. I was sad to turn the last page. But satisfied, very satisfied. Crooked Heart is, well, heartwarming, heartbreaking and oh,so very good. Heartily recommended!