Tag Archives: Alice Hoffman

Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

03.06.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the museum of extraordinary things

***

Category: Fiction, Magical Realism

Author: Alice Hoffman

Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 372 pages

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9356-0

Pub Date: February 18, 2014

***

Summary from the Publisher:

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.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is as extraordinary as the contents of the museum it speaks of. And I don’t mean that as a pun. It’s a legitimate assessment. There’s enough in this book to draw from that will enrich any readers’ experience in reading it.

It is a dual story of Coralie Sardie, gifted swimmer and daughter of The Professor, ex-magician and current curator of the museum that showcases oddities and special wonders; and of (Ezekial) Eddie Cohen, former tailor and later errand boy of the streets, now a professional and passionate photographer.

The plot of the book is as intricate and intriguing as the number of people with gifts who are employed by the museum. While it is primarily a story of Coralie’s eventual rebellion and empowerment beyond the borders of her father’s ambitious and sinister control, as well as Eddie’s reconciliation with his Jewish Orthodox roots, poverty, the dichotomy between the working class and the wealthy, the death of his mother, and his strained relationship with his father—there is an underlining and haunting plot of search and rescue that stems from a fight towards work equality, and the advocacy against political and economical crime and injustice.

The narrative is richly engaging while able to stay real and genuine, even lyrical, which is usually expected with Hoffman’s wonderfully stylistic work. The depth in which Hoffman goes into revealing her characters’ histories and feelings, bridge a real connection, empathy, and likability between readers and the characters themselves. In reading this novel, Coralie and Eddie feel very much like personal friends even though they remain fictional ones.

Coralie Sardie, a young beauty, raised in isolation, is both a natural and gifted swimmer, drawn by circumstance and personal calling to the water, who becomes both by her father’s intentions and her own emotional landscape, almost a mystical creature of the Hudson River. While she has a predisposition to naive innocence, she slowly learns her own emancipation through her own, private rebellion, and the revelation of secrets behind the closed doors of her father’s study and workshop within the museum of extraordinary and sometimes frighteningly absurd things.

Eddie Cohen, an only son to an Orthodox Jewish elder, raised by a single father, to emotional grief and loss, hard labour, and an imbalance of work politics, becomes hardened by disappointment and the dichotomy between rich and poor, right and wrong. His emotional buoy is found in his discovery and fascination with the light and dark of photography. He inherits this vocation through Moses Levy, who becomes his mentor and his father-figure.

As the story unfurls, so does its mysteries: Eddie Cohen takes on an investigative role, a searcher for people and things lost. In doing so, he reveals the mystery of his own personal story, reconciling himself to his past, to his relationships, and to his faith, discovering, too, a chance at redemptive, romantic love.

The characters are as varied in the book as they are, interesting, even dual in nature, often misinterpreted or misunderstood.

The Professor, a shrewd businessman is also an illusionist driven by his compulsion to discover, recreate, and collect strange artifacts and even “stranger” people. His focus on deceiving his public as much as his focus to succeed financially and socially in the entertainment district, drives him to severe controlling tendencies and habits, irrational decisions, even unethical and immoral acts. The spiral in which The Professor travels downward, rapidly engulfs him in atrocious acts and a fervor that decapitates his mental stability, edging him further toward the path of madness.

Maureen, the obedient, but not docile mother-figure unravels a few secrets of her own, in the history of her facial scars to the irreplaceable bond she has with Coralie Sardie.

Mr. Raymond Morris, The Wolfman, while wild in physique, is highly educated in literature and the arts, and a gentleman of decorum and tenderness.

The Liveryman, ex-convict-turned-driver, has but a surprising decency and a natural love and gravitation to the language of birds.

Jacob Van der Beck, an abrasive Dutchman living on the outskirts of the city, a frustrated hermit, an avid fisherman and lover of the water, is wiser and kinder than his city folk counterparts, a witness, and an unexpected friend, able to consider and tame a wild wolf.

Mitts, a happy and loyal Pitbull, eager for friendship, trusting of strangers, and a hearty, good dog.

The theme of duplicity, of appearance demystifying expectations and stereotypes run throughout the novel from the roles the characters are expected to play to the people they really are, and the complexity of those lines, which often become blurred.

This book has not a little of everything, but a lot. While the characters are fully realized, the variety and complexity of who they are and their plight is highly creative and endearing. Though this novel reveals a sinister cruelty in its active and mysterious plot, the story at its heart is filled with drama, reconciliation, spiritual awakening, emancipation, and the conquest of love. Aside from its contextual richness, it really is a beautifully written novel.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is continual proof of Alice Hoffman’s unique gift for magical and complex storytelling.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - small

***

A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada on behalf of  Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

alice hoffman

To find more about Alice, you can read her biography here.

Links:

You can visit Alice’s Official Website.

You can like Alice on Facebook.

You can be a fan of Alice on Goodreads.

***

If you were to be included in a Museum of Extraordinary Things, what kind of special gift do you think you’d like to have?

If you’ve read the book, who is your favourite character and why?

Even though The Professor is a flawed character, do you as a reader, feel any sympathy or empathy towards him? Why or why not?

Have you ever visited a type of “Museum of Extraordinary Things?” What did you think?

Fashion Friday: The Dovekeepers. 07.13.2012

Fashion Fridays:

The Dovekeepers

07.13.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Fashion Friday is a weekly meme created by FireStarBooks in order for book lovers to post any fashion related idea or image that they think would be a great match for books on Friday.

Here are my fashion choices for the book, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman:

***

I chose fashion design items featuring linen.

Natural linen dress by EDITHandBERTHA on etsy.com

***

Grey blue cotton linen shirt by diaoquin ding on etsy.com.

***

Dark grey linen dress by Simpson Wang on etsy.com.

***

“Fit Many Moods” linen dress by Anny Schoo on etsy.com.

***

Linen dress jumper pinafore by Bonnie Harris on etsy.com.

***

Skirt linen pant by Inara Gauja and Ingrida Zabere on etsy.com.

***

Linen Lucky Brand sandal

***

Light beige linen bag by Polyvore.

***

Panama sand silk and linen scarf by Stanley Lewis.

***

What’s your favourite piece from this linen collection?

***

Top Ten Tuesday! 06.05.2012

Top 10 Tuesday!

06.05.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez /@ZaraAlexis

Today’s Top 10 Tuesday is Rewind, which means I get to go back in topic time and pick my own Top 10 list. This is my first time participating in this meme and lucky me, I landed on the day of ultimate blogger freedom (as memes go, anyway).

So, I’m going to go a little easy, dab my toe into the pond of Top 10-ish things and choose…

Topic #16: Favourite Authors

Yeah, yeah. Stop rolling your eyes, sighing, and mumbling to yourself, Borrr-rrring…

As readers, I believe it’s important to honour our writers. They are the ones who birth the words into print and give us our stories. Where would all the books we love come from if it wasn’t for our beloved scribes?

I weeded my list down to those I find are exceptional in the Canadian and American literary fiction and poetry genre—writers with a natural gift for the language and a true depth in storytelling.

I guarantee you that if you pick up a book written by one of the authors listed below, it is 98% most likely that the work is at the very least well written, if not brilliant.

And I don’t give my praise that easily. I’m not only a fickle reader; I have a background in writing (and editing), too! Uh-huh, I do. I’m no Billy Shakespeare, but I pride myself in knowing a little about literature.

Yes, tastes vary. But, there’s a great divide between good taste and bad taste. And well— like to eat.

Let’s compare lists shall we?

My Top 10 Favourite Authors:

***

1. Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

Her noteworthy books include:

***

Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into film of the same name. My favourite of her work is The Namesake, both in literature and the adapted film. (Aside from her obvious successful literary career, isn’t she just gorgeous, too?) You can read my review of Interpreter of Maladies here.

***

2. Mark Strand

Mark Strand

***

My favourite collection of his poetry is Blizzard of One, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. The style of his work is…stark. He is not a poet at heart—but a true poet, a scribe who is able to decipher the world of subtlety with the stroke of his pen—which is further solidified by his Pulitzer Prize.

BLIZZARD OF ONE by Mark Strand. Pulitzer Prize winner.

***

3. Elizabeth Hay

Elizabeth Hay

***

***

Her body of work has won acclaim and the great respect of Canadian literature enthusiasts in her award-winning book, Late Nights on Air, which won the Giller Prize in 2007. I also recently enjoyed her latest novel, Alone in the Classroom. You’re more than welcome to read my review here.

***

4. Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

***

***

The iconic Ms. Atwood has enough press. If you don’t know “Peggy,” you’re just not well-read. Sorry. but ’tis true. My favourite poetry collection by Margaret Atwood is her collection in The Door. And of course, I absolutely love her dystopian series: The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake. With an exhaustive body of work, it’s difficult to choose her most prominent and most beloved work.

***

5. Barbara Gowdy

Barbara Gowdy

***

***

I was privileged enough in university to be introduced to Barbara Gowdy personally by my poetry professor, Christopher Dewdney (who also happens to be her partner!) at a reading at Calumet College of her novel, The White Bone. She is as beautiful as she is gifted—and a woman of a quiet confidence and grace.

My favourite works by Ms. Gowdy are: The Romantic, We So Seldom Look on Love (a collection of short stories), and Mr. Sandman. 

***

6. Don Delillo

Don Delillo

***

***

The moment I opened up The Body Artist by Don Delillo, I knew I discovered another master of the language. His works are a great telling of the American culture and subculture.

***

7. Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

***

***

Yes, the film, The Kite Runner was wonderful—but it couldn’t be so without its originating novel by Khaled Hosseini. And though sequels tend to take the “back-burner” to their originals, A Thousand Splendid Suns was just as “splendid.” Khaled Hosseini is a writer at the height of his craft.

***

8. Michael Ondaatje

MIchael Ondaatje

***

***

I’ve been a devout fan of Michael Ondaatje’s work since I was a teenager, which was partially due to his sensual and thoughtful poetry—and I must confess—his eyes! Please don’t hold it against me. I’ve enjoyed many of his works and most recently, Divisadero and The Cat’s Table, which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2011. You can read my review on The Cat’s Table here.

***

9. Nicole Lundrigan

Nicole Lundrigan

***

***

I won an early review title of the book, The Glass Boys through the book database and social media site, Goodreads—and I’m so glad I did. The Glass Boys introduced me to a writer of taut creativity, sensitivity, and talent. Nicole Lundrigan may not have the accolades that some of her peers do, which only makes her a hidden gem of an author.  My review of The Glass Boys can be read here.

***

10. Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman

***

THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman

***

I was unaware of Alice Hoffman before my experience with The Dovekeepers, which now happens to be one of my favourite novels of all time. Yes, that’s a heavy attestation, but I stand firm in my faith in her work. The Dovekeepers had just the right poetic prose, drama, and historical fiction for the literary world to notice and for me to love. The Dovekeepers remains to me, a beautiful narrative of the empowered woman and the Jewish culture.

***

Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish, who began and continues to host the Top Tuesday meme.

How does your Top 10 Favourite Authors list compare to mine?

***

Doing the Dewey: Mini Challenge #6: My Favourite Trouble-Maker. 04.21.2012

Doing the Dewey: Mini Challenge #6:

My Favourite Trouble-Maker

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Of all the books I’ve read recently, I really love the book, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman

I’m a literary type and honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I wasn’t even aware of Alice Hoffman until I saw this book on Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo.

(Look at me, thinking I know all there is to know about books!)

And now, one of my all-time favourite fictional characters is Shirah in The Doverkeepers.

She also happens to be a wicked anti-hero, too!

And when I say, wicked, I mean awesome and wicked—well, not that wicked—but bad enough to make you raise an eyebrow. The other characters in the novel certainly did.

Why do I love this wonderful “trouble-maker” of fiction?

Well, as a woman, she’s a powerful one: in beauty, intellect, and spirituality. She’s a single mother who was a former temple priestess, educated in language and the ways of pleasing men, mainly the priesthood. She was exiled to finally end up in Masada in a dovecote as one of the dovekeepers.

She is sensual as much as she is mysterious. And she carries within her a wisdom of ancient magic and healing powers, much to the dismay and fear of the community around her.

But, rather than use her knowledge for herself only, she helps as a midwife, helping labouring mothers in secret—especially those of whom need their secret kept.

She is a triune of sensual woman and lover, protective mother, and powerful and scorned sorcerer and friend to a group of women, who themselves are ostracized by their community in breaking Jewish law.

Anti-hero? She’s more like awesome-heroine! And mine, at that.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading The Dovekeepers, I highly recommend that you do. And pay special attention to Shirah. She’s as ambiguous in character as she is, extraordinary.

***

A special thanks to The Fake Steph Dot Com for hosting this challenge!

***