Mini Reviews

This year has been a good time for reading books, but not a good time as far as writing reviews goes and I am way behind. This is the second set of mini reviews in an attempt to catch up with the backlog.

Give Unto Others by Donna Leon 3*

I read this because I’ve read just a few of the Commissario Guido Brunetti crime fiction novels and enjoyed them. This one is described on Goodreads as follows:

The gifted Venetian detective returns in his 31st case – this time, investigating the Janus-faced nature of yet another Italian institution. Brunetti will have to once again face the blurred line that runs between the criminal and the non-criminal, bending police rules, and his own character, to help an acquaintance in danger.

This is an unusual mystery, slow to begin with then gradually gathering pace, as Brunetti unofficially agrees to do Elisabetta Foscarini, an ex-neighbour a favour. She is worried about her daughter’s husband, Enrico Fenzo an accountant, who she fears is in danger. Brunetti enlists the help of his colleagues Griffoni, Vianello, and Signorina Elettra with his investigations. What they uncover is a tangled web surrounding a South American charity that Fenzo had helped Elisabetta’s husband set up, the Belize nel Cuore, providing a hospital and medical services to the poor.

It was entertaining and I enjoyed the descriptions of Venice, just opening up to tourists again after the pandemic. I thought it would have been better as an official police investigation. But it does give an insight into the way charities are set up and can be misused. And there’s a particularly disturbing picture of what dementia can do to a person.

Not Dead Yet by Peter James 4*

I really enjoyed this book, the 8th Roy Grace book. If you’ve been watching the TV adaptation this story was the last one they produced, as usual with adaptations, with several differences from the book. As I’ve said before I prefer the books and this one was very good. This is the summary from Amazon:

The return of a Brighton girl turned movie star spells nothing but trouble for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace in the gripping crime novel Not Dead Yet, by award winning author Peter James.

Gaia Lafayette has a movie to shoot back home and Grace is in charge of her security. Yet when a vicious gangster is released from prison and an unidentifiable headless torso is found, a nightmare unfolds before Grace’s eyes.

An obsessed stalker is after Gaia – and Grace knows that they may be at large in his city, waiting, watching, planning . . .

It’s fast paced, complicated and totally gripping. I loved all the details of the scenes of the filming in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and also the ongoing story of Roy’s missing wife. Now I’m looking forward to reading the 9th book in the series, Dead Man’s Time.

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks 2*

This is the synopsis on Goodreads:

1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and hides its face from the coming of another, SNOW COUNTRY is a landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope. In elegant, shimmering prose, Sebastian Faulks has produced a work of timeless resonance.

My thoughts:

I was disappointed by this novel, mainly because I found it quite dull in places, which I hadn’t expected from the synopsis or the 5 and 4 star reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. The best defined character is Lena, but the others seem rather flat – one dimensional and hard to distinguish. This may, of course, be down to me as I found it rather muddled and I had to keep recapping just to clarify who they were. So, I struggled to read it and eventually lost interest. But I did finish it.

My Friday Post: Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

On Thursday I went to Barter Books in Alnwick and brought home a pile of books – more about that later on. One of those books is Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks:

With its free peanuts and anonymity, the airline lounge is somewhere I can usually feel at home; but on this occasion I was in too much of a panic to enjoy its self-importance.

I can’t say I have ever felt at home in an airport lounge! I’m wondering what the narrator is panicking about.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55- 56:

My lodging was on the top floor – of course – with windows on both sides. The study was at the front, but the bedroom overlooked a willow and a stream, on which two young men were inexpertly rowing. Some lines from Tennyson – ‘By the margin, willow-veil’d …’ swam in and out of my mind.



On a small island off the south coast of France, Robert Hendricks – an English doctor who has seen the best and the worst the twentieth century had to offer – is forced to confront the events that made up his life. His host is Alexander Pereira, a man who seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does.
The search for the past takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally – unforgettably – back into the trenches of the Western Front.

This moving novel casts a long, baleful light over the century we have left behind but may never fully understand. Daring, ambitious and in the end profoundly moving, this is Faulks’s most remarkable book yet.


What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

Faulks on Fiction by Sebastian Faulks

I didn’t watch the TV series Faulks on Fiction but was interested enough to buy the book. It seemed a good idea to trace the history of the novel through a selection of fictional characters. To a certain extent Sebastian Faulks has done that, but the book is really about the characters and only touches on the development of the novel. Faulks, he reveals in the Acknowledgements, would prefer his book to be called Novel People, which I think would be better.

And if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know the plot don’t read this book, because Faulks gives these in detail. There are 28 characters, categorised into Heroes, Lovers, Snobs and Villains. It is a very personal book as Faulks himself features in his descriptions, telling of when he first read a book and what he thought on reading it and his impressions on re-reading. I liked that. He also discusses the way literary criticism has changed in that over the last twenty years the author’s life and its bearing on the works has become an issue:

The bad news was that it opened the door to speculation and gossip. By assuming that all works of art are an expression of the authors’ personality, the biographical critics reduced the act of creation to a sideshow. It has now reached such a pass that the only topic some literary journalists seem able to approach with confidence is the question of whom or what people and events in novels are ‘based on’. (page 2)

Accordingly, Faulks focuses on the plot and the characters rather than on the authors, although oddly enough he does indulge in some ‘based on’ descriptions, eg in his chapter on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair where he discusses whether or not the character of Sarah was ‘based on’ a real life lover of Greene’s.

Faulks is rather disparaging about monthly book groups where the topic is not the novel but a discussion about the author’s life and how it is reflected in the book, together with how this is borne out by the ‘readers’ own experience of such matters’. (page 6) His book aims to show how novelists ‘create – from nothing, or from imagination’. It’s hard to imagine that novels are so divorced from life!

However, despite this and despite not agreeing with all of his interpretations – it would be strange if we all agreed about everything – I enjoyed reading this book. I’d read the majority of the books he discusses and enjoyed being reminded of them – books such as Pride and Prejudice, although Faulks fails to see the attraction of Mr Darcy, who he places in the section on Lovers, describing him as a  ‘rude and gloomy man‘, a ‘manipulative, hypocritical, self-centred depressive‘ and considers that Elizabeth is his ‘lifelong Prozac‘.  I really must re-read Pride and Prejudice, because my memory of Darcy and Elizabeth is very different from Faulks’s picture of them.

Other books he discusses include Robinson Crusoe, Vanity Fair, Wuthering Heights, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Clarissa and Great Expectations, to name but a few.

I haven’t read Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and as I  want to read it without Faulks’s opinion in my mind I haven’t read the chapter on Count Fosco in the section on Villains.

As for the other books I haven’t read, which he describes, I think I don’t need or want to read them, such as Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, Money by Martin Amis,or The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingsworth. I also don’t want to read Faulks’s new James Bond book, Devil May Care, which he plugs in the section on Snobs. But maybe I’m being too dismissive, because as I didn’t agree with all his views on the books I have read, so maybe I should read the books for myself.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (1 Sep 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1846079608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846079603
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 3/5