Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier

This is, unfortunately, my least favorite kind of book review to write.  I read Remarkable Creatures, I liked it, but there is little to nothing that I will take away from this book after reading it.  I hope that by the end of this review I sort out whether this is a problem with me or with the novel, because at this point I can’t be sure.

On the one hand, this is a completely unique tale that is fairly accurate to history (as far as I can tell).  The plot concerns the life of Mary Anning and her friend Elizabeth Philpot.  Mary has long had a talent for finding fossils on the beach of Lyme Regis in England in the 1800s, and Elizabeth, recently moved from London to the small seaside town takes an interest in the hobby as well.  The history of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot is interesting not only from a scientific point of view, but also because the exploration of women’s place in society during this time period is endlessly fascinating.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t occupy enough of the book.  I think that Remarkable Creatures could have been more interesting if it didn’t change narrators throughout – I found Elizabeth’s voice to be annoying and unnecessary.  A story told directly from Mary’s point of view would have been more interesting in my opinion, though I understand the technical reasons for including her.  I also thought that the book could have used pictures.  There are so many fossils described that I really would have appreciated photographs or drawings to accompany the novel.  Not only would that have helped me to understand better what was being described, but it would have made for a lovely edition of the book.

But the truth is that I kept reading this book and didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t particularly love it either.  It could have been so much more interesting, or at the very least 100 pages shorter.  I think that turning this story into a novel didn’t do much of a service to the story, other than bringing it to more readers.  I would have rather just read a non-fiction book about Mary and Elizabeth.  So is that a problem with this novel or with my general dissatisfaction for historical fiction?  I’m not sure.  A lot of people have really loved this novel and here I am left feeling so meh! about it.  I did enjoy that Chevalier included a bibliography at the end of the book and will probably be reading more about Mary Anning in the future.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Other reviews: Devourer of Books, Literate Housewife, My Fluttering Heart, Age 30+… A Lifetime of Books, S. Krishna’s Books, The Girl from the Ghetto.

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I keep telling you that I am not a mystery reader.  You know, “Blah blah blah, mysteries meh, but this one was really good!”  Okay, at some point I have to admit that I’m loving on the mysteries, even with all of the things about it that were really “mystery-y”; all the tropes, like formulaic plots, uncanny coincidences, etc.  But really, you try and read about Flavia de Luce and tell me you don’t like her.  It’s not possible.

Flavia and her family live on an old estate in post-war England.  It’s a picturesque countryside where nothing very exciting happens.  Until Flavia wakes up one night and hears her father arguing with an unfamiliar man.  The next morning, as Flavia is walking outside to begin her day, she finds that same man laying in the garden.  He takes a breath and says the word, “Vale!” and promptly dies.  As Flavia says, it is the most exciting thing that happens in her life.

There are so many things to like about this book, but the best part is Flavia herself.  Her one passion in life is poisons and using them to get back at her evil sisters.  When her father is wrongly accused of murdering the mysterious man, she decides that she is going to find out who the killer is herself to save his name.

As for the rest, I’ll let you discover it.  Just know that I have totally jumped on this bandwagon.

One of my favorite quotes:

“As I stepped to one side to peer in the window, I noticed a handmade sign crudely drawn with black crayon and stuck to the glass: CLOSED.

Closed?  Today was Saturday.  The library hours were ten o’clock to two-thirty, Thursday through Saturday; they were clearly posted in the black-framed notice beside the door.  Had something happened to Miss Pickery?

I gave the door a shake, and then a good pounding.  I cupped my hands to the glass and peered inside, but except for a beam of sunlight falling through motes of dust before coming to rest upon shelves of novels there was nothing to be seen.

“Miss Pickery!” I called, but there was no answer.

“Oh, scissors!” I said again.  I should have to put off my researches until another time.  As I stood outside in Cow Lane, it occurred to me that Heaven must be a place where the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

No… eight days a week. (58)

So go read this!:  now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: everyone and their mother.

PS: Is not Flavia an amazing name?

PPS: I’m totally going to start saying “Oh, scissors!”

Kage Baker’s unique fantasy “In the Garden of Iden”

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s a moment when you’re reading a book and you’re filled with a sudden joy.  That moment came about 40 pages into Into the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.  I was suddenly reminded of what it was like to read Harry Potter for the first time, or Ella Enchanted, or a Wrinkle in Time even.  It’s a childlike happiness that’s hard to describe or pin down.   What those books have in common, above all, is the idea that life is not what we make of it and, in some ways, there is an escape.  There is an escape to the fantastic and to the wonderful to beat out the mundane, even though all of those books eventually show you that there is no escape, not really, that even a magical life is one that we have to fight for.  In the Garden of Iden takes this escape to the next level in a mature, historical context that solidifies it as a science fiction classic.

Mendoza is a young girl during the Spanish Inquisition when she is recruited by the mysterious company Dr. Zeus.  They whisk her away to Australia and begin to operate, giving her the gift of immortality and a job as a botanist, to save all the rare plants that will go extinct in the future.  You see, Dr. Zeus discovered time travel, but only so they could prove that their formula for immortality existed.  Mendoza and her team are sent to England during the reign of Queen Mary to the rare garden of Sir Walter Iden.  While there, Mendoza does the unthinkable: she falls in love with a mortal.

What was most exciting about In the Garden of Iden was the prospect of what is to come.  Iden was not perfect and there were times when the story dragged a little, but if  this first novel is any indication of what the series will be like, it is all I can do to keep myself from running out to the library right now and pick up the second book.  The characters were believable and enjoyable to read about.  Iden manages to not only have a clever science fiction premise, but also seamlessly incorporate historical elements.  To top it all off, it’s a heartbreaking tragedy and a beautiful romance.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  Tragically, Kage Baker passed away on January 31, 2010.  Thank you Kage Baker for such a wonderful story, I’m only sad that we didn’t meet sooner.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Recommended by: bookshelves of doom.

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