Book Report: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

It’s time for another Book Report to keep you turning the pages even as the winds rage on outside. This week’s title is a majorly anticipated literary fiction title that perfectly blends a little bit of reality-based magic set amongst real historical events – The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

What’s the buzz? You may be thinking the name Alice Hoffman sounds familiar – and for good reason. Her last novel, The Dovekeepers, won tons of accolades and fame for the long-time writer, and finding out what she’d release next has been a hot topic in the literary world. The book has been compared to beloved tomes like Water for Elephants and The Night Circus in part for its vaguely mystical components and charming yet relevant historical setting.

What’s the story? Set in New York City during the spring of 1911, the book is told in alternating perspectives (plus each chapter is also divided into a first-person and third-person narrative as well). The first is Coralie Sardie, the motherless daughter of a man named Professor Sardie, a former magician that now runs something of a freak show on the Coney Island boardwalk that serves as the title of the book. The museum is part reality, part fantasy; people with actual human deformities are hired as living wonders, while all manner of creatures living and dead, real and ‘crafted’, are displayed. From a young age, Coralie herself was trained to withstand the effects of being underwater, only to find out her father’s true purpose in doing so. Meanwhile the other half of the story is told from the perspective of a Russian Jewish immigrant named Ezekiel, who works in New York’s sweatshops alongside his father as a tailor, but eventually abandons his faith, his father and even his name (he’s known as ‘Eddie’ for the bulk of the book) to become a crime scene photographer. Hoffman borrows a real-life event – a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory – that Eddie photographs to spur the story along, leading Eddie and Coralie’s paths to cross as they both become involved in the disappearance of a young woman that was supposed to be at the factory the day it went up in flames.

Is it a Fantasy? Historical Romance? Crime Thriller? Family Drama? Examination of Faith? Truth be told, this book is all of those things and more. The fantastical elements aren’t quite as pronounced as in something like The Night Circus, as Professor Sardie’s museum is clearly identified as a fabrication or illusion, but Coralie’s underwater abilities do take on a tone of fantastical, as do several other smaller elements. In truth, the book is closer in feel to Water for Elephants, in that Hoffman has simply captured the everyday, real life magic of a particular setting – the carnivals and wonders that amused people around the turn of the century. The story is perhaps a little more literary-minded than the two I’ve mentioned, but it’s still very accessible and readable, particularly as Hoffman swaps genres and focuses from page to page to keep you on your toes.

You mentioned historical events. How does that impact the story? A key component of this book is its setting – not just a burgeoning New York, but the specific few months the ‘present action’ in the story follows. There are two major historical events that Hoffman has inserted her characters into, one of which is the aforementioned Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the other of which I won’t mention for fear of spoiling you. Either way, it’s a treat to read about this past vision of New York and to get an up close and personal view of two (fictional) people and how these events permeate their worlds (or not). All too often we tend to group tragedies into numbers and forget about the individual stories. For me personally, getting this intimate view, however fake, of a real life event through one person’s eyes is a very intriguing concept.

Who should read this book? Alice Hoffman has a distinct lyrical writing style. If you like her other works, you will no doubt already be walking to the bookstore to pick up a copy of The Museum of Extraordinary Things. If you’re unfamiliar, I can say that if you enjoyed the other two novels I’ve referenced in this Book Report, this book is in a similar vein, but with its own unique vibe and balance between fact and fiction (indeed, the titular Museum could serve as an allegory to Hoffman’s own book – a mixture of fantasy and reality). It’s not the lightest of reads but it is something that’ll keep you drawn in and inspired, particularly when the winter weather just seems too blustery step outside into.

Want to learn more? I encourage you visit the Simon & Schuster Canada website to get the full scoop on The Museum of Extraordinary Things. I’m pleased to let you all know that I have one copy of this wonderful book to give away, however if you’d like to purchase a copy of it for yourself, it’s available in booksellers across the land as of this week for a retail price of $31. Meanwhile, here’s how to enter to win this copy:

1) Tell me in the comments below by March 2nd, 2014 – why would you like to read this novel?

2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around March 3rd, 2014 to select the winners, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.

3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible for this promotion.

4) Bonus Entries: Option 1, like Simon & Schuster Canada on Facebook and leave a comment why you’re interested in reading this latest Alice Hoffman tome. You don’t have to mention the CGG, but you DO have to provide me a link to your Facebook post in the comments below so I can give you a bonus entry.

Option 2, feel free to add this book to your Goodreads to-read list, and link back to that list (on the same page as wherever the book is) to earn another entry.


62 Responses to “Book Report: The Museum of Extraordinary Things”
  1. Joan G says:

    This book sounds intriguing – love a good crime-thriller.

  2. andrea4444 says:

    I never need a reason to pick up a good book! It looks interesting!

  3. Annie Demill says:

    I loved the book, Water for Elephants and historical fiction is my favourite type of book to read. If I don’t win this great giveaway, I’m buying it! Thanks for the chance to win.

  4. mousecat says:

    I read Alice Hoffman’s book The Dovekeepers and I really liked it so I’m sure that this other book of hers will be a great read too!

  5. kittypride says:

    I really enjoy reading novels with lots of layers, the description sounds like it is sure to be a great read!

  6. cookie3 says:

    I’ve always loved a good historical novel & this one sounds like a keeper.

  7. Sadie says:

    You named a few of my most loved books from the last few years in your review – consider me intrigued to pick this one up too!

  8. Lori P says:

    Alice Hoffman has a large body of critically acclaimed works and this book sounds particularly escapist, which would provide a welcome adventure about now.

  9. Victoria Ess says:

    Alice Hoffman is a great author and I would love to read another one of her books!

  10. Chantelle says:

    I would love this book because I love to read and I’m always trying to expand my interests. Also historical fantasies are one of my favorites.

  11. ebookclassics says:

    I haven’t read one of Alice Hoffman’s book in years. She has an amazing gift for storytelling and creating the extraordinary. It would be really nice to rediscover her writing with this book.

  12. ebookclassics says:

    I haven’t read anything by Alice Hoffman in years. She is an amazing storyteller and has avgift for creating unforgettable characters. It would be so nice to rediscover her writing.

  13. Susan T. says:

    I am totally intrigued by museums with strange displays. I once worked in a store which displayed “The Merman” Lol! Alice Hoffman is an amazing author and I will read anything she writes!

  14. Lisa S says:

    I absolutely love Alice Hoffman and love to read. I have heard fantastic things about this book!

  15. Patricia says:

    Title caught me but I really like that idea of alternating perspectives .

  16. Christine says:

    Love Alice Hoffman — reading this book would be a real treat!

  17. photomum says:

    I love to read new Authors,and especially books that have something different to the usual crime/romance books.

  18. Pam says:

    I’m a big fan of Alice Hoffman.

  19. lucy says:

    this book is going to be on my reading list. looks very interesting hope I win

  20. GARRY S says:

    good writer

  21. beewbedard says:

    I love this author

  22. Anne Derkat says:

    Sounds like the kind of book I like to read.

  23. Tara B says:

    Sound like a well thought out novel!

  24. Emilia says:

    definitely would enjoy reading it

  25. Emilia says:

    I would like to read it for the romance, historical fiction a time of change and all the different characters. She is a brilliant author.

  26. Sandie says:

    I have never read a Alice Hoffman book and after reading your review I am puzzled as to why I haven’t. Any story to learn about our history and with an element of mystery will always keep me page turning and my wanting to discuss it avidly with others.

  27. i want to start reading more and this book sounds great

  28. I want to read it because it looks neat

  29. Marlene says:

    I love New York City – any era between 1960’s – 1930’s

  30. Marlene V. says:

    I need a new book to read! and this one sounds good.

  31. Quinn says:

    Alice Hoffman is one of my mom’s favourite authors, I’d like to win this so I could share it with her and learn more about what she’s like as a writer.

  32. Victoria Ess says:

    I’d love to read this book because I loved The Dovekeepers, and this Alice Hoffman is so talented.

  33. Jacquie Hess says:

    I like Alice Hoffman so I would be interested in reading this.

  34. Ali says:

    I like reading books with alternating perspectives.

  35. Rosemary says:

    I would love to have the chance to read this awesome book,its a book that I would share with my friends. I love mystery’s and thrillers. Keeping my eye glasses close by for this read.

  36. Jeannie says:

    Ive never read Alice Hoffman but I have wanted to read this one. In fact I have a hold on it at my public library. The plot sounds fascinating. I am a prolific reader and would love to get my hands on this one!

  37. Jeannie says:

    I liked Simon and Schuster on Facebook and commented ps://

  38. Alison K says:

    I would like to read this novel ‘cos you mentioned it has a mixture of everything – fantasy, reality, thriller & drama. Sounds interesting & would like to know how that works out.

  39. lyn212 says:

    I loved the Dovekeepers and I can’t wait to read this on.

  40. Angela Mitchell says:

    I’ve never read a book by Alice Hoffman but this novel sounds intriguing. It has all the elements that I love in a book including the historical aspect and a bit of mystery as well.

  41. Holly says:

    You have good recommendations for books and I like reading a variety of things

  42. Grace says:

    I love books that mix history and fantasy!

  43. Toby says:

    Looks like a fabulously entertaining read!

  44. tammy campbell says:

    I would like to read this because I need a great book to read when I go on vacation and im always excited to read an author that is is new to me.

  45. Anna W says:

    I would like to read this novel because I am an adult now and need to put down the magazines and pick up a good book!

  46. Jennifer R says:

    I would like to read this book because I love to read novels set in earlier times.

  47. julia g says:

    Like everyone else, I admire Hoffman’s writing. But the main reason I want to read this Hoffman novel is the luminous cover. The image seems to glow right off the jacket.

  48. julia g says:

    My Good Reads to read shelf:

    I did post on The S&S facebook page the the post disappeared into the ether before I could link to it.

  49. Susan says:

    I would love to read this book as it sounds as if it contains a variety of genres.

  50. debbie f says:

    I am a big fan of Alice Hoffman

  51. Megan says:

    I’d like to read this because it seems to unique and would be so much fun to read!!

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