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Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman


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

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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.


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?

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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Book Review:

The Dinner by Herman Koch


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the dinner


Category: Fiction

Author: Herman Koch

Format: Hardcover, 298 pages

Publisher: Hogarth

ISBN: 978-0-7704-3785-5

Pub Date: February 12, 2013


Summary from publisher:

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.


Book review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Dinner by Herman Koch begins deceptively reasonable in its act of “normalcy” by its introduction of one of the book’s characters, Serge Lohman, a cabinet minister running in an election, his wife Babette, and its talk of what many families and couples enjoy — a night out to dinner.

The first-person narrative shared by the main character of the book, Paul, is easily readable, intelligent, and brutally honest that readers can enjoy being pulled into the fabric of the story with ease and interest.

But as the story continues, the “horrific act” committed by both of the couples’ sons is revealed, and not only triggers a city-wide police investigation, but leaves the readers with the shocking anger of its injustice.

While not discounting the severity of the crime itself because juvenile delinquency exists in the everyday of community, the book does delve deeper in revealing an even more shocking immorality — the response and reaction of the boys’ parents.

And from there the book spirals into a gripping narrative of subversive violence.

While Serge Lohman is accused of a pompous, egocentric attitude; his wife, Babette, portrayed as a weeping socialite; Claire, an intelligent and doting mother; and Paul, a complacent father with deep-rooted insecurity issues — readers will be shocked to learn the true culprits and puppeteers of violence and immorality in the book.

I, myself, had to put the book down several times to take in a breath from my anger and disbelief. And yet, I was compelled to return to it in order to complete the book and discover its outcome.

The tension in the book coupled with its shock value as well as the fact that it’s so well-written and easily readable makes this novel a tough story to put down.

It will certainly make readers question just how far one would and should go in protecting those they love—and how far back the source goes in perpetuating acts of violence, as well as who is truly to blame.

The novel is an enjoyable read as it is a frightening, disturbing one; one that readers will abhor in its immoral compass and delight in, in its provocative and succinctly dark grip.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure (and the disgust) of reading the novel, The Dinner, by Herman Koch, it’s one you’ll want to add to—and devour from—your reading menu.


Characters:  4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Hogarth for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unpaid review.


About the author:

From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/
From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/


Herman Koch is the author of seven novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in 25 countries, translated in 21 languages including English, and has sold over one million copies throughout Europe. It is also the winner of the Publieksprijs Prize in 2009.  Koch is a Dutch writer and comedy actor who currently lives in Amsterdam.

(From back jacket and Wikipedia.)



Herman Koch Official Website

Herman Koch Facebook Page

The Dinner from Chapters-Indigo

The Dinner from Amazon.ca

The Dinner from Amazon.com

The Dinner from The Book Depository


 When and how do you think one’s moral compass can become so de-sensitized that it actually disappears?

In what ways can we ensure that violence and the acceptance of violence is not tolerated in the home and/or the community?

When is it “right” to take the law into your own hands?

Have you read the book, The Dinner, by Herman Koch yet? If so, what did you think of it? Which character do you think was the worst, morally speaking?


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