A new novel by Alice Hoffman is always cause for celebration. The Museum of Extraordinary Things conjures up the sights and sounds of early 20th century, Gilded Age Coney Island and New York City. Hoffman’s many teen readers will appreciate the magical love-at-first-sight between her two young protagonists, and fans of The Night Circus will see echoes of Celia’s isolated upbringing in the strange daily regimens insisted upon by Coralie’s magician father.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival is Jennifer Chiaverini‘s 23rd novel — she is best known for the Elm Creek Quilts novels. As the author explains in her blog, Kate Chase Sprague was an historical figure and Chiaverini’s novel is based on Mary Todd Lincoln’s actual rivalry with her. This novel would make a terrific accompaniment to study of the Civil War or Lincoln’s presidency.
HOFFMAN, Alice. The Museum of Extraordinary Things. 384p. Scribner. Feb. 2014. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781451693560; ebk. ISBN 9781451693584.
Coralie grows up in a home that also includes her father’s museum of freaks and grotesqueries. She is barred from visiting until her 11th birthday, when she becomes part of his collection. Years of his grooming make it clear that because of her deformity, she is to be put alongside his sword swallowers and fat ladies. Hoffman also tells the story of Ezekiel, or Eddie, a freak in his own way. After escaping a Russian pogrom and ending up on New York City’s Lower East Side, Eddie rejects both his father and their Orthodox community. He becomes a “finder” of people and things in the underbelly of the city. His wanderings lead him to an apprenticeship with a photographer, another way to observe the world around him, gathering information and images. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire propels Coralie and Eddie together in a series of haunting encounters (and almost-encounters) until they finally collide in a scene that will leave readers wiping ashes from their eyes and clearing the smell of smoke from their noses. Telling her story in alternating chapters, Hoffman has crafted a thoroughly researched novel that evokes the sights, smells, and sounds of New York City and Coney Island in the early 20th century. She has also written an alluring love story that will appeal to teen readers of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) or Caleb Carr’s The Alienist (Random, 1994). The Museum of Extraordinary Things is strange and beautiful.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Public Library, NY
CHIAVERINI, Jennifer. Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival: A Novel. 352p. Dutton. Jan. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780525954286. LC 2013035542.
Attending a banquet at the White House in celebration of the new President, Abraham Lincoln, 17-year-old Kate Chase is certain that her father, Salmon P. Chase, should have been the man in that office. She is equally sure that she would have made a much better First Lady than that less-than-impressive Mrs. Lincoln. But while her father never makes it past the primary elections, he does become Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and advisor to the President. And so, while Kate may not be the First Lady when she enters the ballroom, she is in her element as the “Belle of Washington City.” Young, beautiful, and politically savvy, she remains at her father’s side throughout his political career. She is witness to—and participates in—the politics surrounding Lincoln’s rise to the Presidency, the breaking apart of the country, and the devastation caused by the Civil War. She falls in love with the dashing “Boy Governor” from Rhode Island, William Sprague, and their tempestuous relationship causes her as much grief as joy and love. Teens who enjoy reading about the Civil War will definitely appreciate this novel. Kate’s version of events gives a unique view of life in political Washington City during this tumultuous time in American history. While young soldiers die around her, she attends balls, plans her wedding, and lives an exciting life at the center of political power. Recommend this book to readers who like insight into life behind the scenes.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA