Welcome to my library! We are all readers looking for the next fabulous book. In my search I have found many books that will just knock your socks off. Books that I have to share. So come on in and look around. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable; gently flip open the pages, the magic is about to begin.

My intentions for this blog are:

1) To have monthly author spotlights in which I will write about the authors themselves and give several reviews of their different books.

2) Biweekly book reviews. I will review one book but also discuss similar books of the same topic. Because one book is never enough.

3) Newbie writer alert will review books of new unheard writers whose work deserves to be heard.

4) I will endeavor to talk about Canadian writers and titles.

Book Hunt section where people can ask about books they would like to read and get suggestions. If you have read a great book that you want to share with someone else, please feel free to leave your comments.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Remarkable Creatures

My daughter has been sick with a cold and has kindly passed it on to me; families that share get to sit round together blowing their respective noses and watching Harry Potter movies.  As such, the review I had been working on is shelved due to extreme crankiness, and the strong possibility that the review will come out far more harsh then what I would normally write, for example loved half the book, the other half was sh…  I have decided to share with you a review I did a couple of months ago.  Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite authors.  The latest book is Remarkable Creatures and was released prior to Christmas in trade paperback.  This is a historical novel about fossil hunting on the beaches of the English coast and specifically about the lives of two unknown women who made great contributions to the field of paleontology.  Now this book brought back memories of my childhood spent with my sister Darlene and my best friend Tracey.  We spent many hours digging for dinosaur bones and Indian burial grounds in the woods behind my home on Glen Mountain.  Now, we never found anything of consequence other than rocks and petrified wood, but the time spent together in our imaginations was priceless treasure.  The urge to dig up rocks and other treasures has been passed on to my son Liam who has accumulated a vast collection of ‘interesting’ stones.  Shortly, the family and I will be off for a Caribbean vacation and some serious shell hunting.  If we find any dinosaur bones, I will be sure to let you know.

The Review of Remarkable Creatures             

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a quiet reflective fictionalized story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two very different women of different social backgrounds who shared a passion for fossil hunting at the turn of the century.  Chevalier gives a voice to these mostly unknown women whose contributions added greatly to the study of extinct animals, paleontology, in a time when men did not recognize a woman’s skill nor expertise, and had no qualms about stealing both the fossils and the credit of acquisition.

  This is clearly a well researched novel.  Chevalier evokes the settings of Georgian England, with both London and Lyme Regis, a coastal beach town, brought to life in fine historical detail and captures the sights, sounds and even, smells of everyday life.  The values and beliefs of the 1800’s are explored with regard to a woman’s place within the fabric of this society, as well as the religious vs. scientific beliefs of the time.  Chevalier weaves knowledgeable descriptions and details of the fossils and ‘creatures’ seamlessly into this remarkable story of friendship, in which, together, two women pursue a decidedly unladylike occupation as they strive for independence and fulfillment.

This story of unlikely friendship is told through the alternating first person point of view of Mary and Elizabeth. Each character is given a distinct voice with a completely different manner of speaking and language construction.  The reader can open the book mid-chapter and easily recognize either POV immediately.  The beauty of Chevalier’s writing is that it conveys the feeling that these characters are speaking directly to the reader and sharing their intimate feelings of their triumphs and frustrations, isolation and loneliness.  With both characters, but especially Elizabeth who is from a higher social class, there is a pervading sense of being watched and judged.  The uniting characteristic of Mary and Elizabeth is their well developed powers of observation that they both carry to the beach which allows them to find fossils and creatures where others only see rocks.  This power of observation is also brought to bear, especially by Elizabeth, in her acute ability to read people.  Elizabeth’s descriptions and inner sense of the people she encounters, both in the beach town of Lyme Regis and the city of London, adds greatly to the reader’s engagement in the story.

With no marriage prospects and little money Elizabeth Philpot and her two sisters are ‘banished’ to Lyme Regis following the death of her parents and the marriage of her brother.  Reduced to living in a small cottage with only one belligerent servant to attend to the household, Elizabeth misses her old home Red Lion Square, the city environment of London, not to mention, the society with whom she had grown up.   Lacking her usual entertainments, the well educated perceptive Elizabeth begins taking walks on the fossil strewn beaches finding a gold ammonite, and ‘succumbs to the seductive thrill of finding unexpected treasure.’  Secure in her situation as a spinster, and having no one she ‘wanted to impress with her femininity,’ Elizabeth takes up the hobby of fossil hunting; her specialty would become fish, as she is attracted to the delicate fan-like shapes.  At first resentful of her situation, over the years Elizabeth learns to appreciate the independence that is gained by living in the far off small village of Lyme Regis and gains much satisfaction from being able to dictate her own interests and activities.  The fossils open a world of thought to Elizabeth that is radically different from her Anglican upbringing and brings her into conflict with the local vicar.  Initially Elizabeth is concerned with how she will be perceived having acquired this hobby that people of society look down upon.  As Elizabeth acquires knowledge and hands on expertise, she becomes more and more comfortable with herself and gains more confidence in her interactions with the men of science who she encounters while fossil hunting.  Elizabeth’s sections of the book are very revealing of how women who were unable to secure a proper marriage were isolated and denigrated within the English society of the 1800s. 

Elizabeth meets Mary Anning when Mary is still a young girl.  Even though Mary has lived in Lyme Regis all her life, she is treated differently, not only for her particular fascination with fossils, but also because she survived being struck by lighting while she was a baby.  Claiming to remember the incidence that killed two other people, Mary believes that the lighting remains within her and helps her see better and locate the fossils and creatures that no one else can find.  Mary is a poor mostly uneducated girl whose home situation becomes desperate following the death of her father.  Her mother Molly struggles just to provide the most basic of necessities for her children and depends heavily upon the income from the sales of Mary’s fossils.  Despite the difference in age, education and social class, Mary becomes the teacher and educates Elizabeth with regard to how to find and clean the fossils, as well as, the importance of safety on the beach, schedule of tides and where to seek safety if faced with an incoming tide.  This unlikely friendship blooms over the years only to be destroyed when Mary, having discovered a skeleton of a previously unknown animal in the cliffs, attracts an unscrupulous man with whom she falls in love.  Mary’s sections of the book are a very sharp reflection of poverty and a desperate view of what happens to a family that loses a husband, father and provider.        

I have read all Tracy Chevalier books. Remarkable Creatures confirms she will remain on my must buy and read list.  Chevalier writing is as always soft, lovely and elegant.  Her evocation of time and place, as well as, her intimate characterizations, place the reader directly in the story.  I feel I know Mary and Elizabeth; they are more than just characters in a book.  Remarkable Creatures has given me an opportunity to acknowledge how far women have come in our society in terms of independence and self- determination.  Our independence in travel and ability to go where we want, if only across town, to be educated in a field of our choosing, the ability to seek an occupation of our own choice, and not to be overlooked, the ability to direct and obtain financial security are taken for granted by myself each day.  We owe a great deal to these early women who pushed against the barriers of sexism, allowing us, the women of the 21st century, the freedom we enjoy today.  I applaud Tracy Chevalier for rescuing these forgotten women from the annuals of time and providing them each with a voice to tell their remarkable stories.

Other Books by Tracy Chevalier:


  1. Thanks for your comment! ( : Glad you liked it!

  2. Very nice review. Thanks for posting. And get better soon! We just went through a round of illness instigated by our 1 year old, so I know how you feel. Life is tough when you're living with the incubus of the plague!

  3. The friendship and fossil hunting have me intrigued. This sounds like a delightful read and somthing i would enjoy

  4. Thanks for the post! If I liked science at all, but I dont, lol, I would love being an archeologist or something, fossil hunting seems pretty cool to me!
    I found your site through the making connections group on goodreads and am your newest follower!
    Hope you'll check out mine as well!!!

  5. I have The Girl With the Pearl Earring sitting on my shelf. It's been there for ages. I just can't muster the energy to read it because I hate the cover so much. After reading this, I promise I'll get to it sooner rather than later.