Treasure island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The young Jim Hawkins gets his hands on a treasure map from the old sailor Billy Bones. The map belonged to the feared pirate captain Flint and indicates the location of riches on Skeleton island. Jim sets sail to the island with a few friends, but the one-legged cook John Silver turns out to be an old shipmate of Flint and the crew turns against them.

This classic novel was my result for the 27th CC spin and I must admit that I was looking forward to reading it as I had just finished the Starz series ‘Black sails’, which can be seen as a prequel to this novel. I also do have a thing with pirate stories and novels that take place on a ship.

The book opens with Billy Bones coming to stay at the pub of Jim and his parents. He offers old tales of his life as a seaman and is scared of a pirate with a wooden leg. When he dies, Jim finds a treasure map in his belongings, just before a pirate crew can get hold of it. Subsequently, Jim and his friends from the town set sail to Skeleton island but mutiny looms around the corner and Jim has to use his wit to make it out the adventure alive.

I must start with admitting that this was not an easy read for me. I struggled with the language (I read it in English). A lot of words were unfamiliar to me and I had difficulties with understanding what was going on at times and who was speaking. This is a common critic on this novel apparently. Maybe, next time I should read it in Dutch.

But it is a classic adventure novel with a lot of imagination. It highly influenced how we think of pirates and it has a lasting impact on popular culture (Black Sails is a great example of that of course). The story did feel a bit outdated at times, and I expected more action. But still, I believe I enjoyed this one enough.

I in particular loved the opening chapters, where Jim and his mother try to outwit the pirates. John Silver proves the ideal villain, although I can’t help but love him too. It was a short and entertaining read but I had expected to love it even more.

This is book 7/50 for the classics club. And book 10 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this? Did you enjoy it?

Far from the madding crowd by Thomas Hardy

Sheep farmer Gabriel Oak falls in love with the outspoken and beautiful Bathsheba Everdene, but she refuses him. However, Gabriel stays loyal to her and becomes her shepherd when Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle. Bathsheba wants to govern the farm herself and attracts the attention of two new suitors in doing that. One of them is her neighbour farmer Mr. Bolwood, a quiet single man ten years her senior. The other is a soldier and womanizer who goes by the name of Frank Troy.

I was looking forward to discover Hardy’s writing, expecting a romance that would swoon me away. The story is set in the fictional county of Wessex in the 19th century and centers around Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors. When Bathsheba becomes head of a farm run by men, she wants to do things in her own way.

This is a difficult review to write. Hardy is a master writer. I loved his poetic writing. But I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy the plot at all. I’m no romance person in general, but I had too many issues with the unhealthy relationships that were a focus in this story.

I didn’t like Bathsheba at all. She’s impulsive, restless and can’t make up her mind. Her character evolves during the story, but still I find her selfish in her behaviour towards the men. She only seems to care about her own feelings. Her joke on Valentine’s Day towards Mr. Boldwood made my eyeballs roll out.

And then we come to the men. Mr. Boldwood comes forward as a pusher, or a stalker even. He expects Bathsheba’s love in return for I don’t understand what. And Troy is just the casual bad boy who has a nice talk but don’t takes it serious with any woman. The only character I really felt bad for in this novel was Fanny Robin, poor thing.

But luckily we have Gabriel Oak. Sweet and loyal Gabriel. Patient and trustworthy Gabriel. He always knows what to say or when to stay quiet. Gabriel is perfect. He never stinks. I’m just not into perfect characters. So yes, he is the least annoying, but I found him irritating nonetheless 😅.

I really appreciated Hardy’s writing and the humour in the discussions by the villagers in the local pub. They were fun. But I’ve again experienced that good writing isn’t enough for me. I need to enjoy the plot and this starts with having characters I can relate to.

I still have ‘Tess Of d’Urbervilles’ on my classcis club list, so I’ll definitely give Hardy another change. I really expected to like this one, as everyone seems to do. So don’t let my review put you off from reading this.

This is book 6/50 for the classics club. And book 3 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Have you read and enjoyed anything by Thomas Hardy?

The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

When Mrs Helen Graham and her five-year-old son Arthur move into the abandoned Wildfell Hall, she becomes the talk of the town. Her strange ways and ideas mark her from the other nobel families. Gilbert Markham is the only one to befriend the young woman who paints to earn a living. But rumours grow that Helen has left her husband, the father of her son. Wildfell Hall is a quiet sanctuary no longer when her secrets are to be exposed.

Anne is the last of the Brontë sisters of whom I hadn’t read a novel yet. Having both loved ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’, I was looking forward to discover her writing. So ‘The tenant’ became my first book for the classics club.

The tenant of Wildfell Hall is a Victorian epistolary. The novel is told from two perspectives. The first part is a long letter from Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law (who doesn’t appear in the novel, apart from just being the unknown receiver of the letter). He writes about the arrival of Mrs Graham and her son at Wildfell Hall and the reception by the other families. There is some irony about the elite in this book reminiscent of Jane Austen. But in my opinion Anne is more subtle and funnier (I especially loved Fergus, who’s sadly only a minor character).

I loved Gilbert’s perspective. You get to read the opinions of women on another woman from the point of view of a man who adores her. Gilbert is a bit naive, insecure and stubborn at times. But still he makes for a good main character.

Halfway, Gilbert receives Mrs Graham’ diary and we are introduced to her story. Here, the writing style changes and I needed some time to get used to it. Helen’s story covers some very serious themes that must have been taboo subjects in the 19th century. Alcohol addiction, mental abuse, adultery… The men in Helen’s story are vile creatures.

Anne has written a quite modern story, that maybe isn’t as upsetting anymore than it used to be. But it tells the story of a woman fleeing her unhealthy marriage for a safe haven. This story doesn’t need ghosts or a haunted house. The writing is extremely readable, it didn’t feel as if I was reading a 19th-century-book.

This doesn’t make it any easier to choose my favorite Brontë sister 😅

This is book 1/50 for the Classics club.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite Brontë classic and why?

The confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Frannie Langton is a mulatta slave at the Paradise plantation of Mr. Langton in Jamaica. As a mulatta and a house slave she doesn’t fit in, especially as she has learnt to read and write. When Mr. Langton wants to write a book about species, Frannie helps him with it and the two of them conduct some strange experiments. After a fire, Langton and Frannie leave Jamaica for London. Once there, he gives Frannie away to Mr Benham and she becomes a house slave again. She can’t remember anything when a few months later her mistress, whom she loves dearly, is found dead with herself sleeping beside the body. In jail, Frannie decides to write her story as it may be the only way to save her life.

I picked this book up at the library when looking for Bridget Collins’ ‘The binding’. Lured in by the beautiful cover and the promise of an original gothic novel, I immediately started reading it.

The story opens in London with Frannie in jail for the brutal murder of her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Benham. She can’t remember anything of that night and doesn’t believe she would be able to murder her mistress whom she loved with all her heart. So she starts writing her story from the beginning, when she was still a house slave at a Jamaican plantation.

I had expected much of this story, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. The story does have some gothic elements such as a murder, a household with secrets and some strange experiments, but I wouldn’t define it as the gothic novel I had hoped it would be.

The story itself is interesting enough, although I got the impression of having it read all before. There are a lot of predictable plot elements and some cliches. Frannie is a complex character and you don’t really get a grip on her.

What really put me off was the writing style. Collins writes in first person but it wasn’t always clear whether something was said in a dialogue or it were just thoughts of Frannie herself. I couldn’t follow what was said and done in some chapters. And especially when the trial begins, it all becomes a mess. Frannie appeals to a certain ‘you’, with which she means her lawyer and this strangely changes the whole narrative and style. There are some revelations at the end, but they couldn’t make up for the rest of the novel.

I must give Sara Collins credit for writing some beautiful lines about the importance of reading. The fact that Frannie has learned to read and can share that knowledge with Marguerite is an important aspect of the story. It makes her even more the outcast.

But in the end, I’m disappointed by this book. Yes, it has an original main character and it talks about slavery and racial debate, so in that sense it’s an important story to tell. But I couldn’t see past the messy writing style and had hoped that the crime aspect would take up a more prominent role in the book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite gothic novel?

Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark

Princess May Of Teck moves with her parents to Florence after they have fallen from grace within the English royal family. The serious May likes Florence and the company of painter Henry Thaddeus Jones. After their return to England, Queen Victoria wants May to marry Eddie, her grandson and second in line to the throne. Against all odds, Eddie and May become fond of each other. But when Eddie suddenly dies of the flu, May’s future becomes unsecure.

I must admit I didn’t know anything of Queen Mary’s life before I read this novel. My knowledge of the British royal family stops at Queen Victoria, apart from the current’s queen of course :). So Valhalla gave me a nice insight in the young May Of Teck and the formidable woman she would later become.

This is a story about love and duty. And the longing for freedom of a young woman not able to make her own choices. It’s about the sad loss of a prince and how it can torn a whole family apart.

I feel I now have a better understanding of Mary Of Teck’s young life, although some of the elements in the novel are fictional or only based on rumors (her love interests for example). Mary is often seen as an ice-queen alongside her husband George V. In this book you get to know the young couple and how they try to keep up appearances. I had hoped to learn more about Georgie’s character and the king he would be.

At first the writing style didn’t really grip me. I just couldn’t always follow who said what. Halfway the book, I felt a connection with May and I just wanted to know how her story would end. At that point, I was used to the writing and I enjoyed the book a lot.

The title ‘Valhalla’ is only explained in the last chapter. I believe it would have worked out better if it had been mentioned earlier in the book. Now it felt a bit artificial.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favorite book about royalty?