Why be ordinary?

I’m continually fascinated by an author’s ability to create a work of historical fiction. I can only imagine the extensive research that must go into the time period alone, not to mention the context and specific details of the characters’ story. I find that I devour the books that drop me into the middle of place and time from the past and immerse me in the world of story. The really good ones do it so well that you don’t have to think to yourself about when certain inventions came about or what other significant historical events may have been happening because all of that becomes woven into to the telling of the story in some way or another until you get a genuine sense of what it was like to live the life of the character. You are walking a mile in their shoes for 400 pages or so…

Book# 26- The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

Museum Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Freak of nature or living wonder? That is what you’ll find behind the doors of Professor Sardie’s Museum of Extraordinary Things in Coney Island, Brooklyn. In 1911, Coralie Sardie is among the living wonders in her father collection on display in the museum. Her webbed fingers, a deformity of birth, and her extensive training and cultivating, find her submerged in a tank of crystal blue water with a mermaid’s tale and an uncanny ability to hold her breath. She is in good company with the butterfly girl, the sword swallower, the wolfman and an ancient tortoise. Her father, the curator of these “wonders” is a strict and sinister man.  Intent of making his money above all else, he sends Cora swimming in the Hudson late at night to create the suspicion of a sea monster to draw a bigger crowd. Only she uses these swims as her opportunity for freedom and one night stumbles on a man she cannot forget.

Eddie, a photographer, wasn’t always in that profession. He started out as a tailor like his father, then took up work as a runner for a man who did underground dealings for the local Jewish community. Eddie was good at finding things. So after his father’s friends recognize him taking photos of the great Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, they employ him to find a missing girl. As his path collides with Cora, their journeys intertwine to draw them inexplicably together.

My Impressions: I’ve been a fan of Alice Hoffman since I saw the movie Practical Magic and learned it was based on Hoffman’s book. While much of her writing gets a little dark, it’s her ability to paint the emotion within the words that I so enjoy. This book did not disappoint. The historical topic was fascinating and unique. New York in 1911; all of the world changes happening, the differences in classes, the immigrant workers, the re-development of Coney Island, and the birth of the city as we know it. All of these are described beautifully. The character voices are also very well differentiated. There is a general narration to move the story along, but there is also narration from both Eddie and Cora that gives a rich perspective to their individual stories. There is real life, whimsy and human darkness to weave a story together; with themes of water and fire to create a metaphor for good and bad, oppression and freedom.

Why you should read it: This is such an interesting work of fiction, that tells a story wonderfully entwined with history and actual events. While there is an underlying romance, the real focus is self reflection and what is perceived to be true battling against what is unseen and unknown. This would make a fantastic book club selection!

Read if you liked: Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline), Blackberry Winter (Sarah Jio), The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

Book #26 in the bag!

“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.” ― Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader



How Bridget Got Her Groove Back

Finally reading a much anticipated sequel is like putting on your favorite sweater on the first chilly day of fall. It’s cozy and comfortable, it brings back fond memories but it’s ready to make new ones too. That’s how I felt finally cracking open Mad About the Boy!  This sweater didn’t fit quite like I remembered it, but once I broke it in, stretched it out and loosened it up and little, it felt good again!

Book # 7 Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding

bridget-jones-mad-about-the-boyRating: 4- Would Recommend to a Friend

Synopsis: If you didn’t fall in love with Bridget from her previous diaries (or the film versions), you can stop reading now. If you fell in love with the quirky, flighty, not-quite-together girl who just wanted to be loved for who she is, please keep reading and buy this book ASAP (before more spoilers get leaked!). It’s now nearly 20 years later and Bridget is a mum. She is still keeping track of weight, calories, alcohol units and cock-ups. She has married Mark Darcy and given birth to Billy and Mabel, who are school aged. SMALL SPOILER ALERT: Part of Bridget’s current struggles are about being a single mother after being widowed 4 years ago. (I realize this sounds major, but you learn this pretty early on, and if you’ve heard anything at all about the book, it’s probably this). Bridget decides she is ready to start dating again and with the help of some old familiar friends, Tom and Jude (sadly no f-ing Shazer), she learns how to put herself out there again. Of course their advice is wise as ever (this is where sarcasm needs it’s own punctuation). And perhaps the best part of Bridget’s modern antics is the advent of social media. Bridget becomes obsessed with Twitter and meets Roxter, a 29 year-old  too-good-to-be true “toy boy” who welcomes Bridget to Cougartown. Bridget and Roxter engage in flirtatious tweeting and texting that leads to dating and well, you know… So Bridget is trying to juggle her kids, her new relationship, a budding career as a screen writer and her crazy mother, all in traditional Bridget Jones style; messy! Billy even writes a paper for school about how strange he finds his Mum, embarrassing her in front of the hot new teacher that all the moms are crushing on, Mr Wallaker. In fact Mr Wallaker seems to show up just in time for all of Bridget’s most embarrassing moments around town- condom buying, unsuccessful tree-climbing, and see-through clothing. She can pretty much count on a judgy look or a snarky comment each time he pops up… Sound like someone we know?

My Impressions:  It took me a few chapters to warm up to the book. First I had to get used to the diary entry set up again and acclimate to Bridget’s succinct, notation-style narrative. Then I had to get over the loss of Mr Darcy.                    (Long pause required!) I mean, really, after all they have been through. After the blue food and the scary large undies and the reindeer jumpers and verbal diarrhea. After Daniel Cleaver. Bridget finally gets her happily-ever-after, and it turns out to be temporary. And heartbreaking. And damn it, probably the most real life thing that would happen to someone like Bridget, so okay, I get it. You, as the reader get plenty of chances to grieve with her, so I forgive Ms Fielding for not giving me the fairy tale I would prefer from my “chick lit” and providing instead a more true-to-life diary.  Then there’s the children. The very down to business Billy, and the ever anxious Mabel. They are a great grounding for Bridget, even if they can’t always manage to pull her head out of the clouds.

This is basically a story about Bridget reinventing herself after she becomes a widow. She is trying hard to be a better, more present mother, she is trying to jump-start a career as a screen writer. She is putting herself back out in the dating world and once again choosing wildly inappropriate men! But she still the same Bridget that we love! A bit of a mess, a little nuts, and just looking for her slice of happiness in the world.

Why you should read it: Well first of all this is just some feel good chick-lit! A rom-com worthy, “we met on Twitter”, warm fuzzy love story. If you loved Bridget from her first two books (or the movies) then go! Get your favorite sweater out of storage and curl up for a cozy read!

Book # 7 in the bag!

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” ― Henry David Thoreau