The color purple by Alice Walker

America, early 20th century. The black sisters Nettie and Celie grow up together until their mother dies and their father abuses Celie, the oldest. Celie flees into a loveless marriage with a much older man who beats her, leaving Nettie behind. When Shug Avery, her husband’s ex-lover, comes to town, the two women develop a friendship and Celie finally starts living. Then she discovers her husband has kept Nettie’s letters, who is now in Africa as a missionary, from her.

This is the most recent book from my Classics club list, written in the eighties but already considered a classic. It even has a Penguin classic edition, so I decided I could use it for my list. I always back off from reading books about racism. I can’t really explain why I find it hard to pick them up. But once reading I seem to find them quite fascinating. This was also the case with ‘the color purple‘.

This is a novel mainly consisting of letters from Celie to God. She writes in faltered English, which makes it not always easy to read. But I hadn’t a problem with that. It contributed to the story and the characterization of Nettie, who is not learned, a bit naive and learns about life the hard way. In the middle of the book, Nettie’s perspective is added to the story. She writes her letters in more perfect English to Celie from Africa where she’s working as a missionary together with another black family.

The book is as much about racism as about feminism. Apart from Nettie and Celie, there are some other black women that are part of the main cast. The outspoken Sofie, free-fought Shug and invisible Piep (whose real name is Mary Agnes). A lot of bad things happen to them, but this creates a strong bond between the women.

I enjoyed Celie’s perspective the most. It gave me an insight into the difficult position of black women in the south of America not even 100 years ago. Nettie’s story in Africa talks about the colonization, another heavy subject. So I would understand that you can feel a bit overwhelmed when reading this book, but I should praise Walker for having written a balanced book. There’s friendship, love and hope everywhere.

I understand why this is considered a modern classic and a book every woman should read at least once.

This is book 4/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read the color purple?

CC Spin #26: my result

Last week I made a list of twenty classics for the classics club spin. It’s my first participation, so I was excited to discover my result. And the lucky number is…. 11!

This means I’m going to read ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ by D.H. Lawrence.

I wasn’t expecting a particular book. I made a list of 20 random and not too bulky books. Lady Chatterley’s lover doesn’t seem like the most hard or serious book on the list. This book was banned back in the 1920’s because of explicit sexual language. I’m quite sure that will not be the case if you compare it to current standards (50 shades anyone?), so I’m eager to see what the fuzz could have been about.

I know this is not a high-rated classic or story. A lot of people dislike it. But I did enjoy the 2015 BBC movie with Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger. So that’s why it ended up on my classics club list. 😅 I don’t remember everything from the story, so I guess it’s a nice moment to start reading the book.

I’ll start this classic after finishing my current historical mystery ‘Rags of time’.

What’s your result?

Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell

In the middle of the night thousands of Danes land in the north of Mercia uniting under their new ‘king’ Ragnall Ivarsson, brother to Uhtred’s son-in-law. It’s still unclear if Ragnall wants to overthrow the lady of Mercia Aethelflaed or whether his eye wanders towards Northumbria. In the meantime, Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra is being besieged in Ireland. Uhtred now has to choose between his love for his daughter and his oath as a warrior to Aethelflaed.

This is already the ninth installment in the Saxon series and we meet a much older battle-hardened Uhtred now. The previous book, the empty throne, ended with a sudden surprise for me, so I was curious to see how the story would continue. What I liked about this book is that it offers a great balance between some terrific battle scenes and the rest of the story. Uhtred is always busy in this novel and I in particular liked his small adventure into Ireland. We also finally get an insight into Finan’s past. He’s by far my favorite side character.

Although this certainly can be read as a stand-alone as the story offers a lot of closure at the end (no big cliffhanger this time), I do believe you’ll enjoy it more when you’ve read all the books in the series. There are some characters from Uhtred’s past popping up and we do say goodbye to some of them (which was a bit of a surprise for me but it promises some new characters in the next books).

Another aspect I enjoyed is Uhtred’s relationship with his children which is a big part of the story. As is the constant strive between the Christian God and the old Gods of the Danes. In that regard, I was a bit disappointed by the fast end of the storyline in Mercia. I had hoped father Leofstan would become a bigger part of the story. I also guessed the truth around Mus, but she was a great addition to the cast nonetheless. It made the final battle actually quite funny. Nobody can write that kind of scene as good as Cornwell.

Warriors of the storm was another great read. In the next book, the flame bearer, Uhtred will return to Bebbanburg and yes, aren’t we all looking forward to that?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CC spin #26: the list

I’m going to participate in my first ever classics club spin! This is just too much fun and of course I’ve still more than enough books on my list left (current status: 4/50).

The goal of a classics club spin is to list 20 books from your CC list you still need to read in a random order. At the end of this week, a number is chosen and you have to read the book that corresponds that number on your list. In this spin edition, the deadline to read (and review) the book is the 31st of May.

I was already thinking about my next classic for April/May, so I’m sure this game will help me make a choice. This is my list:

  1. Utopia by Thomas More
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. My cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
  4. The fifth queen by Ford Madox Ford
  5. The trial by Franz Kafka
  6. The scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Tess d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  9. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  10. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  11. Lady Chatterly’s lover by D.H. Lawrence
  12. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  13. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  15. The remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  17. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  18. Far from the madding crowd by Thomas Hardy
  19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj
  20. The idiot by Fyodor Dostoeysky

Let’s see what we get on Sunday!

Amenable women by Mavis Cheek

When Flora Chapman’s husband Edward, one of the town’s most popular men, suddenly dies during a balloon flight, she doesn’t seem to grieve. Flora has always been a plain woman who lived in the shadow of her perfect husband. Between the notes on his desk, she finds an unfinished history project on the manor where they live that leads to Anne Of Cleves. Huscott manor was one of her residences after her divorce from Henry VIII. Flora decides to travel to Paris on her own to visit Anna’s portrait in the Louvre.

I had hoped this book to be an entertaining dual time frame novel. But actually it’s not. The story focuses on Flora who recently became a widow and by accident takes a large interest in the life of Anne Of Cleves. At Huscott manor her husband had found a stone with her date of death carved into it. But no one knows who left this mark 40 years after Anna’s death and why. She decides to leave for Paris to see Anna’s famous Holbein portrait in the Louvre to see for herself if she really was a Flanders’ mare.

There’s a second perspective of Anna her portrait. Yes, at night she awakes and tells her story to other portraits, such as Elizabeth I and Mary De Guise. It says a lot about this book if I tell you that Anna’s perspective was the most interesting part of this book. Too bad, the author didn’t choose for a real 16th century perspective of Anne Of Cleves. The whole portrait thing was a bit too far fetched for my tastes.

The problem with this book is that although Flora is a witty main character, I just didn’t seem to care about her life and problems. I cared even less about all the people in the town. I did find the parallels between Flora’s life and Anna’s not at all that big. And at times Flora and the other characters behaved as toddlers. Flora desperately wants the town’s solicitor to like her and tries to achieve this by out-arguing a museum guide. Her daughter Hilary isn’t any better as she dotes on her deceased father and needs to put him on a display in every sentence she says.

The other thing that really bothered me was the fact that the story tries to contradict the fact that Anne was plain and ugly. That she wasn’t a Flanders’ mare. While at the time some other historical women such as Catherine Parr and Jane Seymour are being called ‘a nursemaid’ and ‘dull’. I’m fine with a bit of feminism, but I don’t like one-sided feminism.

This book is more about the grief of a woman who lived in her husband’s shadow and now tries to find her own place in the sunlight than a historical book. If you love chick-lit or a light novel and you don’t know a lot about The Tudors this book might be something for you. If you’re a history lover like me, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

What’s your favorite dual time frame novel?

Flowers of darkness by Tatiana De Rosnay

Clarissa is a successful author who has just left her second husband and is looking for a place to stay. By accident, she gets selected for a spot in a new apartment complex destined for artists. This apartment is built in the new neighbourhood that has risen from the ashes of a terrorist attack on the Eiffel Tower. After a few weeks, Clarissa notices some strange things in her new home. There are cameras everywhere (except on the toilet), her personalized virtual assistant seems to know her deepest fears and at night her dreams are haunted with a strangely familiar voice. Together with her granddaughter Andy they start an investigation. Are they really being watched? And by who?

Tatiana De Rosnay is my favorite novelist. I always pick up her books, regardless of the topic. The premise of ‘Flowers of darkness‘ didn’t grab my attention at first as artificial intelligence isn’t a topic I’m used to reading about. But once I started, I discovered all the familiar De Rosnay elements are there. A mother recovering from a loss, a small family with their problems and secrets, a bilingual main character who’s also a writer, Paris…

Yes this is a story about the near future where Europe is recovering from a range of awful terrorist attacks, from the Brexit (not so science fiction), from the bee extinction and a sea level rise. It’s an awful future, where people are competing with robots. But not everything is so different in this story. There is love and there is loss. I loved the side characters from her first husband Toby, over her English father to the heartwarming neighbour who befriends Clarissa. And of course, there’s Andy, Clarissa’s angel.

A part of the story is also about Clarissa’s research into the lives of the writers Virginia Woolf and Romain Gary. And the parallels with her own struggles. The mystery element of the apartment is build up but open for interpretation at the end. I had no problem with that. You constantly wonder if Clarissa really sees and hears those things or if it’s just her imagination working.

I finished this book in two sittings. That’s very rare. And it’s just because I enjoy her writing so much. Reading De Rosnay is like wrapping myself in my favourite blanket. This might not be her best, but it still has much to like. I highly recommend to read one of her books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who’s your favourite novelist?

March recap

Hi there, I can’t believe it’s already April. I love spring, it seems like the world is waking up and I’m longing for a rather ‘normal’ summer. In Belgium, we are again in a four-week ‘lockdown’, but in the beginning of March I still managed to go to the office and visit the library, hooray!

Read(ing)

Number of pages read: 1.518 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell
Centuries visited: 10th century, 16th century, 17th century, 20th century and 21th century
Countries visited: England and America
Currently reading: I’ll finish Winter pilgrims by Toby Clemens somewhere this week
Next up: The mercies, I could finally get my hands on this one in the library

I finished the strange adventures of H at the beginning of the month and enjoyed it. I’ll keep an eye on any new books from Sarah Burton. Then I started Amenable women from my 2021 TBR, but it turned out a huge disappointment. Luckily, the adventures of Uhtred in 10th century England enhanced my spirits again. Warriors of the storm is the 9th installment in the saxon series, but every bit as good as the first one. I read the color purple for the classics club and finished it in less than a week. Such an important story to be told.

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • The boyfriend and I finally started the first season of The Crown. Late to the party, we know.

Added to my TBR

  • The flame bearer by Bernard Cornwell. No explanation needed here, I guess :D.
  • After having read so many great reviews of ‘Daughters of the night’, I want to try this series myself. And I’d start off with the first book Blood and sugar.
  • The damask rose by Carol McGrath about Eleanor of Castilië will be published in April.
  • When looking for Toby Clemens in the library, I came across Catherine Clemens’ ‘the crimson ribbon‘. A story set during the English civil war. I didn’t take it home this time, but I might during one of my next visits.

Links I enjoyed

What was your favourite March read?

Howards End by E.M. Forster

The middleclass sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel are living in London together with their younger brother Tibby. On holiday in Germany, the land of birth of their deceased father, they meet the Wilcoxes, a family rich by business. Back in England, Helen goes to live a few days with them at Howard’s End, the favourite house of Mrs. Wilcox. But things don’t go as planned. After a romantic affair with the youngest son Paul, Helen returns to London. At an opera show, she accidentally steals an umbrella of the clerk Leonard Bast who has a poor income. In the coming years fate will bring these three families together again.

I had already seen the most recent BBC/Starz adaptation, so I knew the story a bit. I love how everything comes together at the end and how Howard’s End seems to be an extra character in the book. The house is always there, looming over the events.

Howard’s End was published in 1910 and offers a pre-war perspective on European relationships. At times, it felt like a total different world out there. The book covers a lot of interesting themes: social class, poverty, prejudice, feminism and sisterhood. The three families are all part of a different social class. The Schlegel sisters are middleclass. They love art, poetry and culture and don’t need to worry about money. The Wilcoxes are affluent, trying to make even more money thanks to the right investments. They tend to value things over people. While at the same time, the Basts are struggling to make ends meet. Leonard wants to get higher up in life and starts taking an interest in books and art, a subject he enjoys discussing with the Schlegel sisters.

The main perspective was that of Margaret, the older Schlegel and not my favourite character. Margaret is sensible and thoughtful. She’s the perfect opposite of her impulsive and emotional sister and the rather dull and rational Wilcoxes. She’s the much needed conscience in the story, as many of the other characters appear rather flat and insensitive at times.

The writing is good, although I found it a bit difficult at times. There is some dialogue, but also a strong narrator perspective where Forster directly speaks to the reader. Some of these aren’t always that easy to follow. There are also some time jumps that can be confusing.

In the end, I understand why Howard’s End is considered a true classic. The unique atmosphere of Europe before the Great War combined with themes that are still highly relevant today make for a great novel. I also have ‘A passage to India’ from Forster on my classics club list and am looking forward to see if I’ll like it even more.

This is book 3/50 for the Classics Club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything by E.M. Forster? What’s your favourite?

About reading: author fandom

Whether an avid or a sporadic reader, everyone has some typical reading habits, pet peeves or TBR problems. So I wanted to share mine :). Today I want to talk about authors and how some readers tend to be a big fan of some authors or deliberate choose a certain book because of an author’s demographics or personality. Spoiler alert: I’m not that kind of reader.

In Belgium, there’s a big annual book fair where famous authors sign their books and people are queuing for hours. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I just don’t get it. You see, ever since I was a child I love stories. This means I always choose a certain book because of its story. The blurb should just grab my attention and I’m in. The only times that I really look at the author’s name on the cover is when I’ve already read something from him or her. Because besides the story, the writing is also important for me. When I’ve already enjoyed a previous book from a certain author and his newest book looks promising, I’ll add it to my TBR. When I didn’t like a certain book because of the writing, I’ll mostly decide that this author is not for me (sometimes I read a second book, if I’m not quite sure).

I honestly don’t know a thing about an author before I start to read his/her book. I have thought for some years that Sharon Kay Penman was a man (yes, I know her name is Sharon…) and I believed C.W. Gortner to be a women. Of course, it’s the other way around. I don’t know about their nationality or race. I’m just here for the stories.

I know some readers want to read more black or female authors, or pick their books according to someone’s country. I do understand that. Diversity is an important topic. But for me, the story will always come first, whoever the writer. And when I’ve found a certain author that writes great stories, I will add all his next or previous books to my TBR. That’s the closest I come to fandom.

I’ve tons of respect for an author. Without them, we wouldn’t have all these great books. But I just care more about the characters in the stories than about the person who wrote it.

Do you look up a lot about the authors you read? Or are you just a story reader like myself?

The queen’s dressmaker by Meghan Masterson

Versailles, 1789. Giselle is one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women and hopes to draw her own dresses one day. But revolution is looming in the streets of Paris and Giselle gets herself involved in a riot. She’s saved by Léon, a young revolutionary, and soon the two of them start to develop an intimate friendship. When things get worse and the king and queen are blamed, Giselle needs to choose between her loyalty to the queen and her revolutionary friends.

I was happy to get a chance to read ‘The queen’s dressmaker‘, a reissue of ‘The wardrobe mistress’, Masterson’s debut novel that already was on my TBR. It tells the story of Giselle, a wardrobe women of Marie Antoinette and is set in the final years of her life during the revolution.

Although I love French history, Marie Antoinette isn’t one of my favourite historical figures. I believe she wouldn’t be that famous without her dreadful end. As a queen she didn’t get a chance to change things. Or rather: she didn’t grab the chance for change.

What I loved about this story is that it also shows the bloody and fearful side of the revolution. The events of 1789 and the coming years are glorified nowadays, but it were uncertain times and the terror that followed the execution of the monarchs made many victims. You walk with Giselle through the street of Paris where no one is quite sure how things will play out as royalists and Jacobins can’t agree on the role of the king in their new regime.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of Marie Antoinette. You feel some sympathy for her, while at the same time she behaves herself as a snob not understanding the real threat of the revolution. But this is Giselle’s story, not Marie Antoinette’s. I liked her character and the fact that she’s constantly in between two conflicting loyalties. There’s also a heavy romance. And as you know, I’m usually not a big fan of those, but I did become quite invested in it this time. But for the wrong reasons. I didn’t think Léon deserved Giselle so I became quite mad at him sometimes 😅.

In the end, this book couldn’t really grip me as much as I would liked it to. The second part is certainly a lot better than the first but the ending is a bit sudden. I had hoped to know a bit more about what happens next to the characters. But this is a good read for anyone interested in the French Revolution and/or Marie Antoinette.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.