Enthusiasm

EnthusiasmEnthusiasm by Polly Shulman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this sweet little book. It’s a quick read about friendship, high school crushes, school activities, embarrassing parents, and other teenaged angst. The love story aspect is a little weak, but this is high school after all, and it’s G-rated, so okay for younger teens. I enjoyed the interplay between the two girls. I was the quiet bookworm among my more outgoing friends. I would have liked a take-charge friend like Ashleigh, but Julie seemed much too passive about everything. I probably was like that in high school, too. It takes time and experience to learn to be assertive and stand up for yourself. Not that Julie is bullied – it’s just that her agreeableness and fear of hurting someone’s feelings are bound to do more harm than good in the long run. The boys were far more charming and thoughtful than I remember any boys being in high school! Heck, I’m still looking for my poetry-writing, fencing and sailing enthusiast Mr. Darcy myself! I enjoyed the side-plot of the high school musical, and Julie’s relationships with her parents, the mother coping with unemployment, and her remarried father and the attempts (unwelcome!) of his new wife to ingratiate herself into Julie’s life. I might have rated this higher if I weren’t so far removed from my teenage years! Still, it was a nice bit of fluff in-between more serious reads, and I enjoyed the Jane Austen angle.

Book Description: Julie is a quiet bookworm. Her best friend Ashleigh, on the other hand, is an “Enthusiast.” As long as they have known each other, Ash has been obsessed with one thing or another. Now it is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which just happens to be Julie’s favorite book. Before Julie knows what hit her, she and Ash are decked-out in 19th-century garb, smelling like mothballs, and crashing the all-boys prep school formal dance. Their mission is to find their personal Misters Darcy. But when they set their sights on the same young gentleman, their journey into the world of proper English courtship looks like it might cause a broken heart or two.

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Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable CreaturesRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The “remarkable creatures” here could refer to the first discoveries in the early 19th century, of the fossil remains of extinct creatures, the Ichthyosaur and the Plesiosaur, which set the scientific and religious communities on their ears. Or it could refer to the two remarkable women, whose friendship helped them to thrive and survive in an age when women had no public voice and no recognition beyond motherhood. As Jane Austen so ably depicted, unmarried women, particularly in the upper classes, were a burden to their families. At least lower class women could become servants, laundresses, etc. and eke out a living. 10-year-old Mary Anning, the daughter of a poor cabinet maker and amateur fossil collector, helps to support her family by scouring the beaches and cliffs of Lyme Regis for “curies” which are sold in the family shop. Elizabeth Philpot, at age 30 and still unmarried, has been settled in Lyme Regis by her brother who cannot afford her upkeep in London. In that out of the way location, Elizabeth is able to pursue an interest in science and fossils. Because of her class, she is not really free to hunt for fossils on her own, but relies on Mary to find them for her. I loved how the two women learned and grew through each other. Elizabeth is envious of Mary’s “freedom”, while Mary is constrained by poverty. Elizabeth has the connections to bring Mary’s discoveries to the world, but she needs a bit of Mary’s boldness to step outside of the constraints of being a woman in a man’s world. It is remarkable that Mary Anning’s name is still remembered at all. I also loved learning about the early days of fossil hunting and seeing how these discoveries forced people to reassess the world and their place in the scheme of things, a reassessment that paved the way for Charles Darwin and his theories of evolution.

The story is told in alternating points of view by each woman. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by two different women. This really helped to bring out the cultural differences between the two women, and made me feel as if I were “there” hearing about the events and relationships through their eyes.

Description: On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: “the eye” to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man. Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.