Hoffman displays an obvious affection for the city, as well as for those society would deem freaks, but readers looking for...

THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS

A young woman grows up in her father’s eponymous Coney Island museum at the turn of the 20th century in Hoffman’s (The Dovekeepers, 2011, etc.) novel.

Watched over by her beloved but acid-scarred family housekeeper, motherless Coralie lives a seemingly idyllic early childhood with her intellectual father above the “museum” he runs but doesn’t let her visit. Then, on Coralie’s 10th birthday, in 1903, her father not only escorts her through the exhibit for the first time, but he also puts her on display as “The Human Mermaid.” Born with webbed fingers, Coralie, an expert swimmer, spends her days in a tank wearing her mermaid suit. At first, she loves the work, in what her father staunchly denies is a freak show, and becomes close to other members of the exhibition, particularly the “Wolfman,” with whom Coralie’s housekeeper falls in love. But as business flags, her father arranges special showings, during which adolescent Coralie must swim naked for invited male audiences. By 1911, her father, a Fagin-like villain who hopes to milk rumored sightings of a sea monster, sends Coralie into New York’s waters at odd hours disguised as the monster. On one of her nightly swims, Coralie comes ashore, discovers a young man with a camera at a campfire and is instantly smitten. Eddie Cohen, the son of an Orthodox Jew, has left behind his ethnic and spiritual roots to become a photographer. Motherless like Coralie, Eddie has also been employed in phony magic, in his case, finding missing persons for a fake seer. Their love affair and Coralie’s rebellion against her father play out in a changing New York City as seen through Eddie’s photographic lens.

Hoffman displays an obvious affection for the city, as well as for those society would deem freaks, but readers looking for an evocative, magical take on the immigrant experience would be better served by Helene Wecker’s The Golem and Jinni (2013).

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9356-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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