Tag Archives: vintage photography

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman

In the city of New York, 1911, many strange and unspeakable things are happening. A girl, Coralie, has lived her entire life in the small world of her father’s museum, obedient to this charismatic yet unstable man. Now, at his wish, she is nightly swimming the Hudson River in costume, breeding an urban legend he intends to cash in on. But it is impossible for the smart, headstrong, curious girl Coralie is deep within to remain demure and obedient forever, especially in the face of such injustices as her father puts her through. Across the same city, a young man going by the name of Eddie has fled the darkness and burden of his past: losing his mother to the Russian pogram, watching his father’s seeming cowardice, always being expected to quietly conform. Turning from the ordered Jewish life of his birth, Eddie has gained a measure of freedom, and even beauty through the lens of his camera, yet the past still seems to pursue him. When these two pained, disillusioned souls meet by chance one day, neither could have expected the consequences or the hopes born in that moment.

As with so many of her books, Alice Hoffman does something magical in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. She creates at the border between the real world and the world of magic, between the mundane and the wondrous. In this story, Hoffman honestly, with great historical detail, displays the harsher sides of life in New York in the early 1900s–people put on display or sold for a pittance, workers in brutal conditions for impossibly low wages, and worse. Yet still, somehow, there is a thread of wonder winding throughout the story. I suppose this is the sort of story that makes one believe amazing things are possible, even when life looks darkest. And that love is possible, even for those who are battered, worn, and disillusioned, afraid to even believe in the possibility of love. I would note that this book is fairly graphic in its description of both great and violent tragedies and of sexual and personal abuses–I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18, maybe even 21. For mature readers, though, I think The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a moving, mysterious story that is fascinating to read.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Author: Ransom Riggs

Ever since he was little, Jacob has been regaled with his grandfather’s stories of being pursued by monsters and finding refuge on a remote Welsh island with a bird and a collection of exceedingly unusual children–he even had seemingly impossible photographs to substantiate his stories. Of course, Jacob realized as he got older that the photos had to be fakes and the stories were figurative–a way of discussing the horror of being a Jewish child pursued by the Nazis and driven to find refuge in a foreign land. Still, when his grandfather dies suspiciously, Jacob finds himself haunted by the old man’s dying words–to the extent that he is driven to journey to his grandfather’s Welsh isle in hopes of discovering the truth.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an eerie, thrilling, eccentric story . . . something of a Twilight Zone meets Gakuen Alice meets Lovecraft meets Peter Pan, to be honest. It’s part chilling thriller, part whimsical fantasy, part WWII historical fiction, with some achingly sweet romance thrown in–a nice mix, if unusual in the extreme. The characters are well crafted and fit nicely in the plot; I found myself particularly drawn to the invisible Millard with his easygoing yet slightly OCD personality. The inclusion of numerous extraordinary old photographs–or one might say rather , the outpouring of the story from said photos–makes an already intriguing book quite outstanding. My one complaint is that it has a cliffhanger ending–you’ll have to read the following volume(s) to get any kind of satisfactory conclusion. Still, I think I’d generally recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to anyone who enjoys thrillers and who is okay with a fantasy element in the mix.

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