Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

This is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the 20th 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 100 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 photographer, Eddie Cohen, is 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.  

New York itself becomes a character in this magic, romantic, and masterful tale well told by Hoffman.  The descriptions of New York City around 1911 are superb. And the two historical events that the fiction is based between (The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Dreamland Amusement Park Fire) were horrific happenings.  She also has a further reading list in the back of the book that gives you excellent supplementary information about Coney Island, the Lower East Side and Triangle Fire, and even further Photography references.  I know this book is going to resonate with me for a long time.

I also enjoyed her earlier book "The Dovekeepers," which was a tour de force of research and imagination concerning Masada, the ancient fortress on top of a rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman


Teddi Overman found a broken down chair on the side of the road in rural Kentucky, lugged it home, reconditioned it, and sold it for way more than she expected—and in the process found her life’s work.  She took other people’s castoffs and turned them into beautifully restored antiques and even managed to open her own shop in Charleston.  But Teddi has a big hole in that perfect life, due to the mysterious disappearance of her brother Josh and the shattered family relationships that disappearance left behind.  
There are so many different elements to this story.  It's a story about following your dreams, disappointing a parent, and severing ties to your childhood home.  There are little bits of wisdom woven through the story that are indeed quite charming.  "Never tie your happiness to the tail of someone else's kite."  "Maybe that's what love does--smooths the hard edges of life, giving us a gentle place to land when we fall and lessening our bruises when we do."  Or, "Sometimes it's not what we hold on to that shapes our lives--it's what we're willing to let go of."  This southern novel will appeal to nature lovers and romantics with its evocative use of descriptive language and its engaging and powerful story.  There is great authenticity in her descriptions of rural Kentucky and her understanding of family relationships is wonderfully displayed in her dialogue.  A very enjoyable read.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

This Junior Library Guild selection written by a woman who is a musher herself has a visually striking cover and a story that matches it.  Terry Lynn Johnson writes outdoor adventures for young adults and works as a Conservation Officer near Whitefish Falls, Ontario.  You can find out more about Terry Lynn Johnson by visiting her website where she has information about her books and articles as well as photos and links and a nice blog too.

Fourteen year old Victoria Secord (an Alaskan dogsled racer) is on a routine outing with her dogs when she comes across an injured "city boy" and gets lost in a freak snowstorm.  As the temperature drops and her meager food supply runs out, she realizes it is up to her to find a way to save them all.  Victoria is an independent and self-reliant young lady, and thanks to the excellent training she received from her father is fairly well equipped to survive in the Alaskan bush.  But she is carrying some extra emotional baggage of her own during this struggle because she still hasn't come to terms with her father's tragic death in that same unforgiving wilderness. 

The author does an excellent job of  weaving together a tale of wilderness survival, dog team lore, and a coming of age story of a girl with heart and backbone who by the end of the story has come to terms with the loss of her beloved father and finds within herself the strength and fortitude to not only survive, but thrive.  This has been called the female version of Hatchet, and her writing has been compared to Gary Paulsen, Farley Mowat, and Jean Craighead George; noteworthy praise indeed.

I highly recommend this suspenseful tale that is an intense page turner and makes you feel like you are mushing along with Victoria, Bean, Drift, and the others as they try to fight their way to safety through the Alaskan wilderness.

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