Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father's museum, alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle.
One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River. The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor's apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.
With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times.

And here's what I thought:   I am a big fan of this author's books, so I had been looking forward to this newest one.   And, I wasn't disappointed (whew!) --- I thought this was a great book.  I already had some knowledge of some of the history of Coney Island, and so I really enjoyed that the author worked in a lot of realistic, historic elements into this book. Setting the story against a real backdrop, and working in events from history, Hoffman gives us characters who feel realistic, as well.

The story alternates with viewpoints, between Coralie and Eddie.  This means that you get some of the same storyline coming from different viewpoints, which is something I enjoy.  I liked Coralie, even though she's a bit odd at times, because I felt she was a sympathetic character.  I felt caught up in her story, and then, as Eddie's story progressed, I felt caught up in his life.  The fact that I worried for both of them at different times is an indication to me of well-written characters.

Like some of her other books, Hoffman works some elements into the story that feel somewhat magical, even if it's just something that has a slight tinge of magic.  I like this, because it gives it the edge of what I like to think of as "realistic fantastical" -- that is, the idea that perhaps our own world could have little bits of magic, if you're lucky enough to see them.

If you'd like to read more about Dreamland and Luna Park, this Brooklyn Museum page has information.   And, there's always Wikipedia, which has a few images, as well.

First lines:  You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.  I can tell with certainty that such things exist, for beneath the water thee are beasts as huge as elephants with hundreds of legs, and in the skies, rocks thrown alit from the heavens burn through the bright air and fall to earth.  There are men with such odd characteristics they must hide their faces in order to pass through the streets unmolested, and women who have such peculiar features they live in rooms without mirrors.


Jenni Elyse said...

Wow! This actually sounds great. I think I'd love it. Thanks for posting a review so I knew it existed.

Karen said...

This sounds so interesting and I love alternating pov's

Beneath Thy Feet said...

Great review. Sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I will definitely have to check it out.

guiltlessreader said...

LOVE the sound of this. I dont think I've read any of Hoffman's work.

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