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The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel Audible – Unabridged

4.2 out of 5 stars 1,001 customer reviews

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Format: Kindle Edition
Turn of the 20th Century Coney Island. A young woman trained to impersonate a mermaid. A Jewish photographer, refugee from Ukrainian pograms, fleeing his own cultural heritage. A former mob boss turned horse-whisperer. A highly cultivated wolf-man, whose life has been transformed by Jane Eyre. A hermit with a pet wolf. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire. A mysterious disappearance. What more do I have to tell you to get you to reach for this book?

Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is an extraordinary thing itself. Yes, it has all of the above elements, any one of which would make me pick it up in a bookstore and think about making a purchase. What it also has is a rich storyline, with engaging, complicated characters, and a trio of narrative voices that leave one hungry for more.

The first two characters I mentioned, the mermaid and the photographer, provide two of the narrative voices. The third is a traditional omniscient narrator. Each chapter opens in one of the two character voices, then transitions to the omniscient narrator. In odd-numbered chapters we get the mermaid. In even-numbered chapters we get the photographer. And each of the three voices sings, distinct and true, creating a story that lets us move in and out of the hearts of its characters, seeing events from multiple perspectives.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things balances dark and light. It’s full of menace, but never becomes hopeless. This is one of those novels that’s worth purchasing while it’s still only available in hardback.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a very interesting book and semi-historical account, where the author has used a liberal amount of creative license and a great deal of personal research to create an intriguing story which will captivate most readers. Set at the beginning of the 1900’s on Long Island, NY, Coralie is the daughter of a sinister father who owns and runs a “Freak Show” on the Coney Island Board Walk. Coaralie, performing as a mermaid, is one of the acts in her father’s show. Along comes Eddie, a Jewish-Russian immigrant, who is a light-hearted artistic soul struggling as an apprentice to his father who is a demanding tailor. The unusual characters, original plot and subplots are beautifully interwoven to form, perhaps, one of the best new novels of 2014. Destined to become a NYT bestseller this year.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have really liked the other novels of Alice Hoffman's that I have read, but unfortunately didn't enjoy this one. It progressed too slowly, and the level of descriptive detail in the story began to feel indulgent or self-conscious in some way, rather than poetic or lyrical. To be sure, Ms. Hoffman brings 1911 New York alive, and I liked that she grounded the story in two real historical events - a shirtwaist factory fire that fueled the workers' rights movement, and a huge Coney Island fire. Her characters are also very well-wrought, from the Coney Island show 'freaks' that we get to know as real men and women, to a Jewish mystic from the lower East side Orthodox community, to the hermits in upper Manhattan, still living in the forest, before the city has fully taken over. But the compelling historical setting and characters didn't make up for the slow pace for me.

The story moves back and forth between the lives of 2 characters - a young woman with webbed hands who is featured as a fish-girl in the Coney Island museum her father runs, and a young man who has abandoned his Jewish Orthodox upbringing, now working as a crime photographer on the fringes of society. Each of their stories is told in part in first person as if they are reminiscing about their past, and in part through a third person narrator. We know early on that these two are destined to be together, but they do not actually meet until the 60% into the book (I checked.) That was much too long of a lead-in for me, and I had almost abandoned the book before this. To be sure, it picked up in the last 40%, and the last few chapters made it almost worth it. But even in those, the writing and level of detail began to feel like an obstacle. So unfortunately for me this was just so-so overall, with both good points and bad points.
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Format: Hardcover
The nitty-gritty: A magical history of Brooklyn, filled with mysteries and monsters, written in Alice Hoffman’s incomparable style.

Alice Hoffman used to be one of my favorite authors before I started blogging. I’ve read many of her books (although not all—she’s written over thirty!), but as book bloggers know, once you start accepting books for review, many of your favorite authors fall by the wayside. But when this one came up on Edelweiss, I knew it was time to make time for Hoffman again. And I’m so glad I did. Reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things was like a balm on my soul. Hoffman’s familiar writing style is so comforting, and even though this book lacked the magic realism that she’s known for, I found myself loving every word.

The story takes place in Brooklyn, New York in the year 1911, but flashes back to the early lives of the two main characters, as we get to know more about their family histories. Coralie is eighteen and has been part of her father’s Museum of Extraordinary Things as a sideshow attraction for nearly half her life. She is the “human mermaid,” forced to wear a fake mermaid tale and swim in a tank of water for hours a day. At night, Coralie practices swimming in the freezing Hudson River in order to increase her lung capacity, while dreaming of an easier life that doesn’t include being exploited by her strict father.

Parallel to Coralie’s story we meet Eddie, a refugee from the Ukraine who has become adept at taking journalistic photographs of crime scenes. When Eddie is hired by a stranger to find a missing girl named Hannah, Eddie’s and Coralie’s lives become linked through a series of events. As Hoffman reveals bit by bit what happened to Hannah, the paths of Eddie and Coralie slowly come together, before the mystery is solved.
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