Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
By Alice Hoffman
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781451693560, February 2014, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

Freak shows typically grab my attention but the oddities contained within these pages piqued my interest but failed to impress me.

The Rest of It:

The museum in question, is a Coney Island attraction run by Professor Sardie. Sardie is part magician, part scientist but mostly a con artist with a knack for finding wayward souls. All of his “attractions” are mainly people afflicted by some horrible disfigurement. If the affliction is not obvious enough to garner huge crowds, then he helps them “transform” into something that is.

This way of thinking applies to his ten-year-old daughter, Coralie as well. Born with webbed fingers, she is dyed blue and taught to swim long distances and to hold her breath for long periods of time so she can become the Human Mermaid.

As the surrounding area attractions become bigger and better, Sardie is forced to up his game and resorts to “after hour” shows which feature his daughter, naked. Yes, he is that kind of man. Their relationship is tenuous at best, but the forced humiliation of having to perform, naked, is not something she can ever forgive him for.

There is a lot of stuff going on in this novel but none of it seemed thoroughly developed to me. Hoffman piques my interest in a lot of places but none of it seems to come together all that well and that, ultimately, is what made this an okay read, as opposed to a riveting one.

I don’t know about you but I am fascinated by freak shows and oddities of nature so although this wasn’t a complete success for me, I still enjoyed it enough to want to read her work again.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Me Before You

Me Before You
Me Before You
By Jojo Moyes
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143124542, July 2013, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

Smart, funny, heartwarming and yes, a bit gut-wrenching. I was warned to not read it in public due to its sob-inducing content but it doesn’t really matter where you read it, as long as you read it!

The Rest of It:

It’s difficult for 35-year-old Will Traynor to accept his quadriplegic status. Prior to being struck by a motorcycle, he traveled all over the world living life to the fullest. But his days and nights are now spent reliant on others. Nathan, his primary caregiver, takes care of his medical needs, but when his family sees how despondent he is about his current condition and the fact that’s he’s attempted to kill himself once already, they intervene by hiring a secondary caregiver by the name of Louisa Clark.

Louisa (Lou) is a struggling 26-year-old. Having just lost her job, her prospects are slim and having to support her father, mother and sister forces her to consider jobs that she normally would not give a second thought to. When she’s sent to interview for a caregiver position, she gives it a go, not realizing what her true purpose will be, which is essentially to give Will a reason to live again.

Tall order, huh?

At first, Lou has no idea what her job is. She’s there to be a companion to Will and to watch him when Nathan is not around. Although she feels awkward around Will. she quickly realizes what she’s been tasked with and after a minor freak-out, she embraces it. Albeit, not all that confidently at first, but after getting to know Will and what he’s all about, she feels sure that she can sway his position on life in general.

I think the success of this book, has a lot to do with Lou as a character. She’s efficient but in a bumbling sort of way. Not perfect, but her flaws make for some entertaining reading. Her too tight skirts and odd sense of style are endearing but her genuine concern over Will is what makes this entire situation a bitter pill to swallow. Her dedication to him and yes, her eventual love for him prove to be very challenging obstacles, but ones that she is willing to push through in order to get the result she wants.

What makes this story even more special, is that it’s as much about Lou, as it is about Will. From the moment Will sees Lou, he knows why she’s there. Even though he’s chair bound, he realizes he’s in the perfect position to see that Lou (he calls her Clark) lives the life that he cannot. Through new experiences, some they make together and some Lou manages on her own, the two manage to add a little bit of adventure to their day-to-day existence.

Through it all, you can’t help but be reminded of Will’s precarious health. His inability to regulate his body temperature, his increased risk for infection and his drastic mood swings are all reminders of what they are up against. In the middle of happiness, comes heartache and it’s so incredibly difficult to understand how a life can change so drastically in such a short amount of time. The unfairness of it all will leave you shaking your head and if you’re the type to cry while reading, you will definitely well-up with this one.

This is the type of read that will take you through all of the emotions. I was happy, sad, disappointed and mad. There were times when I wanted nothing else but to curse Will’s mother or shake some common sense into Will, but all in all, the experience of reading this book was like spending time with dear friends. It took me forever to pick it up because I really considered it to be straight-up romance and it’s really, so much more than that.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must! The cost of care and the use and availability of assisted-suicide are some of the weightier issues included in this novel. Will is rich, so the cost of his care is not really an issue but I imagine it would be for a lot of folks in the same situation. My book club chose not to read Me Before You but I think we missed out on a good discussion opportunity because there is plenty to discuss with this one.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via a blog giveaway. Thanks Jean!
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

The Sunday Salon: Running, Singing and Lots of Sun

Sunday Salon

This weekend was jam-packed with fun but man, was it busy.

Friday, The Girl came down with some sort of stomach bug. Might have been a migraine, still not sure. We didn’t think she’d be able to run in Saturday’s track meet but it was a home meet, which gave us a little more time in the morning to assess things and since she so badly wanted to make-up for her spill during last week’s meet, she got dressed, loaded up on fluids and off we went. She’s a tough kid.

She made it through all four events and even with her throwing up the night before, she improved on all four events. But, it was another long day and it was very warm in sun so we were all grateful to be able to go home and rest for a little while. My nose looks a little too red even with the sunscreen I put on but it felt good to get a little sun.

After a bite to eat and some lounging, we headed out to see The Teen perform in the Jazz/Pop Concert that his choir put on. It was a great show and there were lots of hilarious moments. It was a treat to just sit in the dark and be entertained.

Today, I could not get anyone to go to church with me so I went by myself. It was a great service and it was nice to take an hour to just sit and reflect. I don’t get to sit down and reflect too often without something needing to be done or someone wanting me to do something for them. The music was great and I just tuned the world out. It was just what I needed.

Of course, my trip to the market afterward negated every good feeling in my body but I digress.

What am I reading?

Finished The Museum of Extraordinary Things. It was meh. Not horrible, just meh. I have about 5% of Life After Life left and I can’t wait to be done with it! I started The Cold Song. It has started off strong. Let’s hope it sticks.

What am I cooking?

Not a thing. I bought stuff to cook throughout the week but today, we are picking up roasted chickens and fresh tortillas from the Mexican market and we’ll nibble on fresh chips and salsa for dinner. Simple and perfect. Those tortillas are to die for! Actually, I am baking a chocolate cake for later but now I am wondering if The Girl will be able to have any. Darn it.

What am I watching?

We had a free movie weekend but there wasn’t a darn thing worth watching. Tonight, The Walking Dead. Man oh man, just two episodes left and I am dying!! So much has happened. I can’t wait to see how the season wraps up.

The Girl is still not 100% so we might throw in Working Girl and make some popcorn because everyone knows that popcorn with extra salt can cure many ills, including a stomach bug.

That’s all I have. What’s going on in your world?

Review: Dept. of Speculation

Dept of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation
By Jenny Offill
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385350815, January 2014, 192pp.)

The Short of It:

Dept. of Speculation is a glittery, moving entity that grabs the reader quickly with its sharp and lovely prose.

The Rest of It:

This novel is quite different from anything I’ve read before. Reading it, was like gazing into a prism. It dazzled me with its simplicity and had me rereading passages every time I turned a page.

The story is told by the Narrator, who later becomes The Wife. She marries, has a child and then when the marriage begins to fall apart, she quietly observes the destruction almost as if she is a stranger on the outside, looking in. Infidelity plays a large role, as does the exhaustion that comes with raising a child. But in the midst of the not-so-good, is the good. The smell of her baby’s head, the way her husband used to look at her, the fact that they’ve come this far, even with all of the angst. There is something to be said for working through your problems, and that is what The Wife does, in her own head, as she carefully weighs what’s important to her.

Before getting married, we possess a sense of self. We know who we are and most often, what we hope to be. But once married, that plan or that sense of self often doesn’t pan out or changes into something else. That is the case here. With marriage, comes experience and life lessons and when we have children, we learn from that experience as well and it changes us. It would be impossible for it not to.

This book captures that moment of when Me, becomes We and then back again. Don’t let the book’s length fool you either. It’s short but packed with meaning. There’s plenty to reflect on here and although it certainly deals with the struggle that lots of married couples experience, it’s hopeful and tinged with the promise of something better.

Dept. of Speculation is a lovely read. I highly recommend it. Oh, and if you don’t read it, I may have to stop talking to you. I just threw that in to see who’s paying attention.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances
By Steve Yarbrough
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385349505, August 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

An unraveling marriage, an illicit affair with a younger man and an online book club is what prompted me to read this one.

The Rest of It:

Earlier this month, Gayle hosted a book club for The Realm of Last Chances and seeing that it had all the finer points of what I look for in a novel (a crumbling marriage, dysfunction, dishonesty and secrets) I jumped on board.

Kristen, a fifty-something, loses her high paid administrative job at a California university. She, along with her husband Cal, move to Boston so she can accept a position at one of the smaller colleges in town. Still recovering from the shock of losing her job, they are both forced to make a new life for themselves, where neighbors seem to know your every move. But the move itself is a last chance of sorts. Their marriage has hit a dead-end. Communication is at an all time low. When Kristen takes up with a younger man, the situation is further complicated.

This was an interesting read and made for a good discussion, but it wasn’t a fave of mine. I think the most interesting aspect of this novel is that Yarbrough catches these people at the worst point of their lives. They are tired of having to hold it together. This is most evident in Cal’s actions. He’s the brooding type whereas Kristen is sort of cold fish. She’s more calculated and because of that, I liked her the least.

My main problem with this novel is that I just didn’t buy Kristen’s affair with Matt. He seems consumed by Kristen but between you and me, she wasn’t all that. She was so closed off that I had a hard time believing anyone could love her, much less a younger guy. Sure, a lot can be said for a physical attraction but I didn’t see much of that either. Had Yarbrough gone a bit deeper with Kristen’s character, everything might have been a little more believable.

However, Yarbrough’s take of a marriage on the rocks is pretty accurate. The distance between each other while lying in bed, the long silences and the quiet observation all add to the tension between Kristen and Cal. As a reader, you know something is about to happen but you aren’t quite sure what, and that is what kept me reading.

Overall, some gorgeous passages that stuck with me but I needed a little more character development for me to really get into the story.

If you want to read what the others thought, check out this post.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher for an online book club.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

The Sunday Salon: The Overflowing Calendar

First Meet

This post is coming to you a little late. We had a very full day at the track yesterday. It was The Girl’s first meet of the season and it was an away meet, at a school that happened to be hosting for the very first time. Let me tell you, the people were so incredibly nice but it went on for twelve hours!! My two-hour volunteer block stretched into nearly six hours because no one else showed up. And as you can see, by the end of the day, people left with their kids because it was just way too long of a day.

That is The Girl in front, doing her thing.

The upside, is that The Girl was awesome but had a little spill huge spill, during the 100m. At first, I didn’t think she was able to get up because she hit the turf full force at full speed, but she managed to pull herself together and finish the race. It was horrible to see! She was going so darn fast when she did it.

What you see below is just one of the injuries. She basically took out her entire left side and although she is somewhat smiling in this photo, she was definitely not smiling this morning. I am just so darn glad she got up and finished the race. The crowds in the stands, the stands were actually full for that race, stood up and cheered her on. I was so glad to see the opposing teams cheering her on too. I was so sure she was going to be carried out on a stretcher because when I say she hit the ground hard, I mean it.

Doesn’t she look like a little bad ass Daryl Dixon in this pic? The Walking Dead fans, will chuckle at that She is my little ass kicker.

Turf Burn

But after a day like yesterday, none of us wanted to go to church this morning because after twelve hours in the sun and heat, we just couldn’t think of getting up but of course we did. So we dragged our sorry butts to church and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Later this week, we have track practices, Jazz Pop rehearsals for choir, open house at the high school and that biopsy that I mentioned in a previous post which I am really, truly dreading. Wish me luck.

Sunday Salon

What am I reading?

I am not sure if I will ever finish Orfeo. It started off strong but it’s been painful reading a few pages every day, to just get through it. I may give it up. I started The Museum of Extraordinary Things which is pretty good so far. Still trying to get through Life After Life. Very slow but the story has picked up a tiny bit.

Oh, and I finished Me Before You. There are no words. I wish I had not waited so long to read it.

What am I cooking?

Today was one of those “hungry” shopping days. The weather has been glorious so we hit the market after church to pick up something to grill. We ended up with steak, salmon and chicken! Everyone wanted something different so whatever doesn’t get eaten, will be the stuff of salads later this week. We are also having baked beans, corn on the cob and baked potatoes! Yep, a “hungry” shopping day for sure

What am I watching?

Well, I had to stop watching Lost at lunch because The Girl wants to watch it with me now so all that I have been watching lately is The Walking Dead and Bates Motel. Both, too good to miss so my Sunday and Monday nights are pretty set. I wanted to squeeze Catching Fire in there this weekend but it didn’t happen, and won’t. I am about to crash on the couch for a much-needed nap and that is all I can think about at the moment.

What did you do today? Reading anything good?

Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, Hardcover, 9781250012579, February 2013, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

You know when you were in school and drew hearts all over everything to express your love for a particular thing or person? Well, if I could actually bring myself to write in a book, there would be hearts all over this one.

The Rest of It:

Eleanor, an awkward, “big girl” with crazy red hair, lives at home with her numerous siblings, her mother and her abusive stepfather. She’s poor. Poor enough to learn how to make do with what she has, and often, what she has is very little. Her crazy outfits make her the butt of everyone’s jokes and the morning bus ride to school is made worse by the fact that no one wants to sit next to her.

However, none of this goes unnoticed by Park. Park observes Eleanor from afar, before offering up the seat next to him. Half-Korean and in a circle of his own, Park is not popular, but not unpopular either. He’s able to blend, mostly because he grew up with these kids. There is a degree of respect for him, so once Eleanor accepts the next to him, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. Hesitant to talk at first, the two bond over comic books. When Park notices that she’s reading his comic books as they lay open in his lap, he begins to bring them just for her. What happens next is nothing short of magic. These two unlikely characters forge a friendship, which eventually becomes love. Through music and comic books, they come together and once Park gets close enough to know Eleanor’s true story, he does everything in his power to save her.

Sometimes, I think the success of a book comes down to how well an author captures a feeling. Reading this book was like living my high school years all over again and I mean that in a good way. Even with all of the teen angst, the high school years are the ones that stick with you. Am I right? Good, bad, ugly. It’s the stuff of memories and that is why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell’s ability to strip the characters down to their most vulnerable state is what makes this book so readable and probably why the characters felt so real to me.

I loved Eleanor’s awkwardness but I think I loved Park’s pragmatic approach to life even more. And his parents? So awesome. Loving, supportive parents who aren’t perfect. Sure, there was a heavy dose of sap when it came to the romance itself, but that’s how it is when you are young. You can’t wait to see each other and you do nothing but obsess about it until you do. Rowell captures it all beautifully.

One bonus to reading this book is that it’s set in the 80′s and the musical references are like whipped cream added to a sundae. Delightful! I grew up in the 80′s so that entire decade is near and dear to my heart but this book has a little something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 456 other followers