Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Published By: Scribner
Publication Date: February 18, 2014
Page Count: 384
Source: ARC Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: YA, Adult/Historical Fiction

Let me start my review by saying that The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is both gorgeous and brilliant by definition. Gorgeous being defined as "very beautiful; very enjoyable" and brilliant defined as "extremely intelligent; striking, distinctive." Yes, I just busted out some Merriam-Webster. ;) And secondly, I'll say that the five birdie rating is 100% literal - I really couldn't put it down. Last week I revised my lesson plans to schedule an independent reading day for all of my classes so I could spend most of my day reading along with them. Trust me, it really IS that good.

I really hope invoking the dictionary doesn't seem pretentious, but this book is ALL of those things and more. Hoffman's story is beautifully crafted, enjoyable (which seems like an understatement), intelligently written, striking and surprising, and incredibly unique and distinctive. I know it's only February, but it's my favorite book of 2014 and I'm honestly not sure how anything else I might read in the next 10 months could top it.

The stories of Coralie, a young woman struggling with her independence and identity, and Eddie, a young man struggling to both escape and embrace his past, are expertly intertwined and told in alternating chapters throughout this piece of romantic historical fiction. And, as it is with all good historical fiction, as the two loners are drawn together by a young girl's disappearance, the early 1900's New York City setting begins to take on a character-like presence of it's own. Coralie's story is set against the backdrop of her exceptionally controlling father's museum, where he and his daughter share their home with numerous freaks of nature, both petrified and human specimens like the Wolfman. Eddie's lone wolf story is decidedly different and is an excellent contrast to Coralie's without appearing forced.

Hoffman gradually reveals her characters through a series of alternating flashbacks and present day vignettes, using specific and intelligent language that made me believe multiple times that no other word, no other phrase, no other writer, could ever describe a character or a setting in the same way. The passage describing a character's experience at the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was breathtaking and horrifying - and one of the most well-written pieces of writing I've read in a very long time. This was my first experience with Hoffman's work and I want more. I need more.

It may seem like the opposite wold be the case, but I always struggle when writing reviews for books I love. I want to balance giving enough away in a review that a reader will go pick up the book, but not taking away the surprise, excitement, and passion with which I read the book I'm going to stop there. Not because I don't have anything else to day, but more because I want YOU to have the same experience I had while reading this book.

Last Word: Trust me, READ IT. It really is that simple.

Summary via Goodreads

Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

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. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.


  1. Ever since I found out the Alice published her fist novel when she was 25, I've been curious to read some of her work...I just have no idea where to start ! Perhaps with this one ?

  2. Love the time period, and the cover is very eye-catching.


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