Book Reviews

January 2022

Only time to review one book recently.

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks. Published by Hutchinson Heinemann 2 September 2021

1914: Aspiring journalist Anton arrives in Vienna where he meets Delphine, a woman of experience and deep secrets. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton comes to life. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with her mother in a small town has been cosseted and cold. After a few years of schooling, she encounters a young lawyer who spirits her away to Vienna. However, what she imagines to be love soon crumbles, and she leaves the city behind to take a post at the snow-capped sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Having lost many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton is sent to write about the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place, on the banks of a silvery lake where the roots of human suffering are laid bare, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and awaits 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 an epic love story of timeless resonance.

My Review:

I purchased an author signed hardback direct from the publishers. My favourite Sebastian Faulks novels are Birdsong and Charlotte Gray and my least favourite is Human Traces so I was a bit worried that the psychological thread which put me off in Human Traces would also be a strong factor in this novel. However, it is better balanced as this is a more rounded work based around two timeframes- one pre-first world war and one post conflict with an account of the lives of the four main protagonists : Journalist Anton Heideck, his lover Delphine, lawyer and idealist, Rudolf Plischke and Lena, from a troubled background. After the upheaval of the war years Anton visits a sanatorium at Schloss Seeblick where Lena works, to research and write an article. However, he soon admits himself as a paying guest as he seeks to resolve the issues which trouble him, especially the loss of Delphine. To complicate matters Lena recalls Anton from a brief liaison and her friend, Rudolf is keen for her to move in with him back in Vienna but she is attracted to Anton although he fails to recognise her. Without giving away too much I found the historical background very interesting and the way the various relationship dilemmas played out held my interest until the end. The highlight for me were the descriptive passages of the snow bound lake and austere building of the sanatorium. The inmates appeared as a shadowy background, like ghosts, as the action slowly unfolded.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 2021

This month I have reviewed two books by Somerset based authors:

Invisible Thread by Sophy Layzell

Killing the Girl by Elizabeth Hill

Both books were fast paced and engaging and have already gained excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. However, for me I felt that Killing the Girl by Elizabeth Hill was a difficult read because none of the characters were entirely believable and I could not sympathise or relate to any of them. For this reason I have awarded it 3 stars.

By contrast, Sophy Layzell’s Invisible Thread is deserving of 5 stars.

Held together by the fragile invisible thread that binds each family together, Catherine, David and Charlie must navigate life without Stella.

But what happens when that thread is stretched to its limit? Will it eventually snap? And if so, how will they find their way back to each other?

From her slumber under the earth, Stella responds to her mother’s call. Convinced she must help unravel the knots in her family’s relationship, she sets out to try and bring her family back together.

Sophy Layzells’ compelling new novel is about hope and love that crosses and transcends all worldly boundaries. Beautifully drawn and moving, Invisible Thread is about the certainty that even after the blackest of nights there will be a new day.

My Review:

I received an advance copy of this book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily:
The book is written from the different points of view of the parents, Catherine and David and Charlie, their teenage son, following the tragic death of their daughter Stella. Stella is able to reincarnate and travel between living things and even move inanimate objects. As the family grieve for Stella she can see all their actions and empathise with their struggles and suffering. All the family characters are realistic. Teenager Charlie has a fractious relationship with his father who has run off with Lisa. The family tensions and loss of his sister lead to an eating disorder and low self-esteem. Stella’s ‘invisible-thread’ tries to bind the family back together transmitting images of happy times in the past to counter the negativity. The secondary characters such as Gran, Anne, Louisa (David’s girlfriend) Bella (Charlie’s girlfriend) and Harry, the dog, provide the backdrop to keep up the momentum.
Living in Somerset I appreciated the evocative descriptions of the rural scenes and activities such as cider-making. Overall, this is a well-written novel based on the author’s experience of loss and relevant for many other families who have lost a loved one. The message is one of hope.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Killing the Girl by Elizabeth Hill. Published 14 April 2019.

Details on Amazon:

Killing The Girl has been recognised as a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honouree by IndieBRAG.

A perfect life, a perfect love – and a perfect murder.
Loving Frankie was easy. But Carol wasn’t the only woman Frankie charmed. When Carol’s obsession finally died, she killed and buried him. No other woman was to suffer from Frankie’s love.

Now his grave will be found and Frankie will rise again to haunt her.

As Carol revisits the past to justify his murder, she discovers that other friends lied. Will the truth free her, or will her revenge on those who betrayed her finally kill the innocent girl she was?

If you love dark, domestic noir, full of secrets and lies, then this psychological thriller is for you.

Read Killing The Girl and ask yourself what would you do if you had a Frankie in your life?

My Review:

I received an advance copy of this book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily:
An intense book with a cast of not very likeable characters. It breezes along narrated by Carol in two timelines: one set in 1969/1970 when Carol is a teenager and one set in 2016 when she is 60.

I found the first timeline believable and the descriptions ring true for the period. The teenage Carol becomes besotted by 20 year old student, Frankie who visits his Aunt Thora in the rural community where Carol lives in a council house. Frankie, from a wealthy family, lives in London and Carol instantly becomes besotted by him. Frankie is also very charming to several other girls including a girl in London and Sarah Butcher. Carol tolerates his bad behaviour because she thinks hers is the only true love. Despite her young age she is both precocious and naive. When her teacher, Scmidt, suggests extra-curricular lessons at his home to help get her into university she is quick to agree. But her studies soon get forgotten and she moves in with Frankie at Thora’s house when Thora (who is dying) goes off on a long cruise. There are many plot twists and complications but Carol is bequeathed Oaktree House from Frankie’s mother (who we thought was his Aunt Thora!) provided her son inherits nothing.

Things do not go well for poor Frankie, and I felt a bit sorry for him as so many of his wifes and most of the book’s men characters have grounds to kill him.

The second timeline is Carol looking back, haunted like Lady MacBeth, at what she may have done to Frankie whose body has been buried by boyfriend Perry in her garden. Although dead, he is very much alive, invading her dreams and Carol becomes a virtual recluse at Oaktree House which has been sold for redevelopment with a new road planned through the garden where Frankie’s skeleton rests. Carol is quite crazy by now, and resenting all the men in her life who try and control her. The one thing she cannot tolerate is being lied to and the end is a tense suprise. Overall, I found this a fast paced, well written book but it became increasingly unbelievable and over-complex.

My Rating:

Over 80% of Amazon reviews for this book are 4 or 5 star. I can see how it will appeal to many readers. My rating is:

Rating: 3 out of 5.