Their Finest by Lissa Evans (original title: Their Finest Hour and a Half)
I’ve had this WWII historical novel on my TBR list for a while and decided to read it before I see the recent film adaptation. I have a thing for stories set on the British home front during WWII. Their Finest offers a unique and entertaining take on this theme.
The narrative flips between a young script-writer, an older actor whose star has faded, a downtrodden seamstress, and a soldier suffering from PTSD, whose lives intertwine when they become involved in the creation of a propaganda film. This film- about two sisters who help rescue soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk- is meant to inspire Americans and sway public support for that nation’s entrance into WWII. However, it’s no easy task to create a successful film in the middle of a war.
Lissa Evans’ prose immediately drew me in. Her sentences are incredibly descriptive and paint a vivid scene of everyday life during this chaotic time. I felt thoroughly transported to the damp bomb shelters, busy film sets, smoky pubs, and buzzing offices. You can tell that Evans has both a great appreciation for and a wealth of knowledge of the period.
Their Finest is warm, humorous, well-researched, and well-written. I didn’t want to leave the characters Evans created or the world in which they lived.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Salt to the Sea tells the horrific true story of the largest maritime disaster in history. The German military transport ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was packed to the brim with civilian refugees fleeing the carnage of WWII when it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine. It’s estimated that 9,000 people lost their lives during the sinking, the majority of whom were women and children. Ruta Sepetys’ novel follows four young adults who find themselves caught up in this tragedy.
Overall, I thought Sepetys did a good job switching between point of views and providing depth to her main characters. Even though the chapters were short it didn’t feel too choppy or jarring when one narration replaced another. I didn’t find anything particularly noteworthy about the prose; it was merely serviceable and secondary to the tragic events.
Sadly this didn’t live up to the hype for me. I felt like something was missing that would have pushed it over into a great read. Although what that something is I can’t quite put my finger on. It might simply be that I don’t read much YA and so this felt a little off to me? I guess I was hoping for more depth. It didn’t land with the emotional gut punch that I was expecting based on the reviews I’ve read. The love story felt a little rushed but it did help to alleviate some of the novel’s bleakness.
I absolutely applaud Sepetys for choosing to tell this story. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a tragedy that is criminally overlooked. As harrowing as it is to read about, it is an important event to give attention to. I hope to learn more about this aspect of WII era history.
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
I love escaping to Regency era England, and Georgette Heyer is one of my go-tos for a good comfort read. Her works always manage to put a smile on my face.
False Colours contains a ridiculous plot, hysterical characters, and of course a sweet love story. When the Earl of Denville still hasn’t returned on the night before he is set to meet his fiancee’s extended (and formidable) family, his mother and twin brother are forced into a ludicrous plan. Kit will impersonate his identical twin until the Earl returns.
The meeting is successful and even Cressy, the Earl’s fiancee, is won over by Kit’s manners and charm. The only hitch is that what started off as a short term solution becomes an extended performance as the days continue to pass with no word on the Earl’s whereabouts.
Originally contemplating a marriage of convenience- as opposed to a love match- with the Earl of Denville, Cressy begins to wonder if her feelings are deepening. For his part, Kit is head-over-heels in love with his brother’s intended, and has no clue how he is going to get out of this crazy scrape. Will Cressy still care for him once he admits he has been misleading her and her family this entire time? And what could possibly have happened to his twin to keep him from sending even a single note to explain his delay?
I found the plot of False Colours farcical yet suspenseful enough to have kept me quickly turning the pages. Kit may not be my favorite Heyer hero, but he is intelligent, agreeable, and kind. I didn’t find Cressy to be as fully-formed as many of Heyer’s other heroines, and I wasn’t as invested in this romantic pairing. I loved the supporting characters: the twin’s silly, extravagant mother; Cressy’s opinionated, bold grandmother; and Kit’s no-nonsense valet.
This was a fun- if a bit repetitive- romp. Not my favorite Heyer by any means, but a lovely read nevertheless.
Have you read any of these Historical Fiction books?