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.
An intriguing novel with a classic feel, featuring three vividly alive young sisters, an eccentric family struggling against the odds, and the slowly revealed story of a house with a past.
At the end of the world, near the border with Germany, stands a house as long as nine open arms. Half hidden behind trees and shrubs rises a wide brick wall, topped with two attic windows, each no bigger than a dishcloth. The walls have been whitewashed and the wooden floor is bare, as if the house is waiting. Waiting for someone to move in.
It is the summer of 1937, and it hasn’t rained for seven weeks when Fing and her family of nine move into Nine Open Arms, along with their handcart of meagre belongings. ‘The Dad’ is a man who does all kinds of jobs and none of them well, while Oma Mei courageously holds everything together, including the family’s history in her Crocodile bag full of pictures and stories. But as the year progresses, the family just gets poorer.
Meanwhile, Fing and her two sisters, wild Muulke and fearful Jess, begin to discover strange mysteries…a bed that looks like a tombstone, and an unmarked grave in the cemetery.
Nine Open Arms is an exceptional imagined historical mystery – the story of a very special home, the eccentric families who have lived within it, and the unexpected ties that emerge between the two..
Splendors and Glooms is a 2013 Newbery Honor Book and kind of reinforces my idea that the Newbery Award is not about books that kids would choose to read themselves. It is about books that adults think kids should read or need to read. Which means the books are generally not popular and are not going to be books kids will pick up on their own. Splendors and Glooms is a heavy book that deals with some very tough topics like child abuse, unwanted male attention, death and evil all the while set in Victorian England. It is a long read with a lot of descriptive language reminiscent of Victorian literature. It is a book that I would actually say is more geared towards older kids because of the situations and language (there are a couple of swear words).
Splendors and Glooms is the story of three children: Clara, Lizzie Rose, and Parsefall. Clara is a privileged girl who is the only surviving child of a cholera epidemic that killed all her brothers and sisters. Her house is one of mourning even years after the fact. Lizzie Rose is a child of the theater who was orphaned when her parents died who plays at being a lady. Parsefall is another orphan who was rescued from the workhouse, loves being a puppeteer and picks a pocket or two. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall live with Grisini the puppeteer. He doesn’t treat them very well, barely feeds them and makes them work for him. The three meet when Clara begs to have Grisini do a show at her birthday party. She disappears the next day with no trace. Then Parsefall and Lizzie Rose discover a new puppet who looks just like Clara and come to believe that Grisini is a magician who turned her into a puppet. Grisini disappears leaving the children on their own until they discover a letter from Cassandra asking them to come live with her. Cassandra is a witch who has visions of being consumed by fire because of the fire opal she possesses. Grisini tells her that a child must steal it from her in order to free her (thus the request for the kids). The kids arrive at her country castle and start trying to figure out what is going on and how they can get out of it.
So not my favorite book. The story was overly dramatic and gruesome at times for a children’s book. The ending was way too simple to be realistic and diminished the drama of the previous 400 pages. And the plot got a little convoluted and a bit boring to tell you the truth.
Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a prominent Charleston family and on her 11th birthday is given Handful as her own personal slave. Sarah doesn’t like being a slave owner. She is intelligent and wants to be the first female jurist. Unfortunately, her family doesn’t support either her ambitions or her feelings on slavery. Sarah grows up to be an old maid, a Quaker and an abolitionist, all things her family can’t stand. She heads off to Philadelphia and his followed by her sister Angelina. Together they embark on an abolitionist speaking tour around New England. Their views are radical and dangerous, but they persevere as two of the first women to speak about the rights of women and slaves.
Sarah’s chapters are interspersed by Handful’s story. Handful and her mother are slaves of the Grimke’s and seamstresses which make them very useful to the family. Her mother Charlotte has an independent streak and sneaks out of the house repeatedly meeting up with a free black man and eventually becoming pregnant. When she gets in trouble she runs away, is eventually caught by a slave stealer and sent to a rice plantation. Handful develops her own independent streak which lands her in the workhouse and lame. Eventually, after many years, Charlotte makes her way back to the Grimke house with her teenage daughter Sky. The family is more determined than ever to get free one day.
Sarah and Handful’s friendship crosses social and racial lines but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Sarah teaches Handful to read and Handful helps give Sarah the conviction she needs to find her own path. I enjoyed this story even more after I realized it was about real people. Sarah and Angelina Grimke are actual historical figures and Sue Monk Kidd tried to stay as true to their stories as possible. While Handful is a fictional character her story rings true as well. This is a powerful story and two women and their desire to be free.
The League of Seven is an alternative history steampunk adventure. It is 1875 and the world is much different from the one we are familiar with. The east coast of America is the United Nations: seven tribes united together (six of the Indians and the last Yankees). The old world of Europe has been lost to darkness. Everything runs on steam mainly because lektricity wakes the monsters. That’s right there are monsters imprisoned in the earth. The Septemberist Society keeps the knowledge alive even though most people just think of history as myths and legends. It seems the mangleborn feed of lektricity and every thousand years or so they break out of their prisons and destroy the world. It is up to the League of Seven to imprison them again. The League is always made up of seven heroes: a tinker, a law-bringer, a scientist, a trickster, a warrior, a strong man, and a hero.
Archie Dent’s parents are members of the Septemberist Society and have been brainwashed by manglespawn as have all the other members of the society. Instead of working to prevent the rise of the mangleborn they are working to free one of them. It is up to Archie and his two new friends Fergus and Hachi to stop the mangleborn and save his parents. Archie believes they are the new League of Seven. Fergus is the tinker, Hachi is the warrior and Archie thinks he is the hero but he doesn’t feel very heroic. Their quest takes them from the swamps of Florida to the streets of New Rome to the ruins of Atlantis under Niagara Falls and back again. They are fleeing from Thomas Edison, who is mad with the power of lektricity, and his evil tik tok ninja (think robot). They are helped along the way by Archie’s tik tok Mr. Rivet, Tesla (who is a Septemberist and quite mad) and a variety of other fun characters.
This was a great start to this trilogy. The world building is very comprehensive and wonderful. The steampunk is really well done with airships and aether guns and mechanical men and pneumatic tubes. I also thought the alternative history stuff was very well thought out. I love the thought of all these great societies rising and falling because of the mangleborn (Atlantis, Rome, Cahokia, etc.) We don’t learn why Europe has gone dark or who the other Seven are, but those things will probably get covered in the next books. The heroes defeated one mangleborn but there are lots more out there and they are going to need help. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Private Richard Sharpe remains stuck in India, and things could not be worse for him in the British ranks. Hakeswill lives, and is doing his best to get him lashed to death on trumped up charges. Worse, Major Dodd’s traitorous actions have allowed Sharpe’s enemies a chance to get their revenge on him. Luckily, the nastier things get, the more Sharpe is in his element. Soon, he is teamed with Colonel McCandless, tracking Dodd down.
India remains a wonderful setting for these military adventures, and Cornwell’s writing (especially when describing sieges) is second to none. He is meticulous in his research, and honest (in endnotes) when taking liberties with history. Revisiting this series continues to be a blast, even though I have to admit it isn’t for everyone.
Richard Sharpe is Bernard Cornwell’s most famous creation, a very flawed British war hero of the Napoleonic era. Following the wild successes of other Sharpe novels, Cornwell decided to jump back in time, and provide some of Sharpe’s back story, mentioned in bits and pieces throughout the series, but not fully fleshed out. This, then, became the “first” Sharpe novel, when he is less than twenty years old, and miserable within the British ranks serving in 1799 India.
For fans of the Sharpe novels, being reintroduced to those pivotal in Sharpe’s later life (especially the detestable Hakeswill) is a joy, and I found the writing nearly as effective as the core Sharpe favorites. India is a fantastic setting, even under horrific conditions during a questionable campaign. Sharpe finds himself in the usual mess, but this isn’t a bad thing, especially when armed with the knowledge of where it all eventually leads. This series isn’t for everyone, but a must-read for those interested in painstaking recreation of actual battles, handled by a master of the genre.
With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters — Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander….
For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….
Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.
Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.
‘Station X’ tells the true story, as it has never beeen told before, of the amazing achievements of the codebreakers working at Bletchley Park in the Second World War.
In 1939 several hundred people – students, professors, international chess players, junior military officers, actresses and debutantes – reported to a Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire: Bletchley Park. This was to be ‘Station X’, the Allies’ top-secret centre for deciphering enemy codes.
Their task was to break the ingenious Enigma cypher used for German high-level communications. The settings for the Enigma machine changed continually and each day the German operators had 159 million million million different possibilities. Yet against all the odds this gifted group achieved the impossible, coping with even greater difficulties to break Shark, the U-Boat Enigma, and Fish, the cypher system used by Hitler to talk to his generals.
‘Sation X’ is also the story of the people involved from leading codebreakers such as Alan Turing, father of the modern computer, to the female operators who intercepted the messages. Through interviews with surviving members of Bletchley Park, Michael Smith has discovered what life was like there. In this chaotic and isolated environment they found time for drama performances, music recitals, orchestras and love affairs.
Not only did these people shorten the war by several years – they were essential to victory in the Atlantic and North Africa and to the masterminding of the D-Day landings – ‘Station X’ was also the birth place of the world’s first programmable computer and the successful Anglo-American intelligence partnership.
David Warburg, newly minted director of the U.S. War Refugee Board, arrives in Rome at war’s end, determined to bring aid to the destitute European Jews streaming into the city. Marguerite d’Erasmo, a French-Italian Red Cross worker with a shadowed past, is initially Warburg’s guide to a complicated Rome; while a charismatic young American Catholic priest, Monsignor Kevin Deane, seems equally committed to aiding Italian Jews. But the city is a labyrinth of desperate fugitives, runaway Nazis, Jewish resisters, and criminal Church figures. Marguerite, caught between justice and revenge, is forced to play a double game. At the center of the maze, Warburg discovers one of history’s great scandals—the Vatican ratline, a clandestine escape route maintained by Church officials and providing scores of Nazi war criminals with secret passage to Argentina. Warburg’s disillusionment is complete when, turning to American intelligence officials, he learns that the dark secret is not so secret, and that even those he trusts may betray him.
James Carroll delivers an authoritative, stirring novel that reckons powerfully with the postwar complexities of good and evil in the Eternal City.
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
Review provided by Viking Penguin
A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.
The story opens on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.
Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
Josie lives in New Orleans in 1950. She is the daughter of a prostitute and has no idea who her father is. However, she doesn’t get along with her mom and lives on her own above a bookstore where she also works. Charlie, the owner, has been like a father figure to her. Charlie is now sick (with dementia or Alzheimers) and his son Patrick runs the store. Josie’s second job is to clean the house of Willie Woodley, the madam of the local whorehouse. Willie is like a mother to Josie; she provides for her and protects her. Josie meets a nice gentleman in the bookstore one day and has an instant connection to him. She dreams he might be her father. So she is disturbed when he turns up murdered. The police think her mom may have something to do with it. Mom skips town with her abusive mobster boyfriend Cincinnati. Josie also dreams of leaving town and going to college. She is focused on Smith after meeting a nice Uptown girl who goes to Smith. Josie tries to figure out if her mom really did have something to do with the man’s death and how she can escape and go to Smith.
Ruta Sepetys really has a way of making a story come alive. Once I started reading this book I was enthralled. I wanted to know how the Memphis man was killed and why. I rooted for Josie to get into Smith. Josie was such a well-developed character that you couldn’t help but root for her. She was a tad naive when it came to some things, but also very aware of the underbelly of New Orleans. I thought it was interesting that all the prostitutes who worked for Willie where shown as happy and healthy. It was a bit of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” vibe. They were all prostitutes with hearts of gold; they looked after Josie and tried to help her when they could. Really Josie’s mom was the only true whore among them. She was a murder and a thief, even stealing from Josie. I thought this book really brought New Orleans to live; it showed the fabulous parts of it as well as the nasty bits.
This is the story of Catherine Howard, the doomed 5th wife of Henry VIII. It is told from the perspective of her friend Kitty Tylney. Cat schemes and plots her way to court and then into the heart of Henry. Once there she brings her girlhood friends to court with her. Her schemes don’t end with becoming queen. She continues to scheme and fool around and basically doom herself by her selfish actions. Kitty is loyal to her friend Cat, but becomes disillusioned as Cat’s plots bring them closer and closer to destruction.
You know the ending of this story before it starts. You know Cat will not make it to the end with her head intact, but the journey there is an intriguing one. Anne Boleyn seems to be the wife that gets all the attention. The others all seem to fade into the background. It is nice to see a story about one of Henry’s other wives. This was a fun guilty pleasure type book. I had no idea until the very end whether Kitty was going to follow Cat to her end or not.
Another great read for fans of Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice. If you like both then it’s really great! Longbourn is the home of the Bennett family. Mr and Mrs. Bennett and their five daughters all of an age to start looking for a husband. But Longbourn is also the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hill (butler and cook), Sarah a housemaid, Polly a housemaid and James the new footman. The overall story line follows the same events as Pride and Prejudice but everything is told from the viewpoint of the servants. As well as writing the servants as complete characters with full lives of their own.