Hoffman, Alice (2014) The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Scribner. Coralie Sardie is the daughter of a sinister and self-proclaimed “professor”, owner of a Coney Island freak show. An exceptional swimmer Coralie is a mermaid in her father’s museum, one of his menagerie of living wonders, and he is now casting her as a waterlogged and furtive Hudson River monster. One evening as she emerges from the river she meets Eddie Cohen, a young photographer with his own dramatic past and demons, with whom she has an immediate and binding attraction. Set during the tumultuous early decades of twentieth century New York; the city is as much a character as the protagonists. A well-crafted tale of the ordinary and bizarre. Rating: 8/10.
Allen, Sarah Addison (2014) Lost Lake. St Martin’s Press. Lost Lake, Georgia, is a place of peace and enchantment that Eby is about to relinquish to developers. All that is left is is a once-charming collection of dilapidated lake-side cabins. In this final summer she receives an unexpected visit from her long-lost niece Kate and her eccentric daughter Devin. One after another others from Lost Lake’s past return to rediscover hope. Will it be too late? Atmospheric and entrancing, but not entirely satisfying. Rating: 7/10.
Patchett, Ann (2013) This is the story of a happy marriage. Harper. Ann Patchett’s new collection of non-fiction is a series of essays that reflect her utter commitment to writing, story and enlightenment. This book is about so much more than love, marriage or divorce, but “made from the things that were at hand” – caring for her grandmother in her late stages of dementia, opening an independent bookshop, training for the Police Academy in LA, the censorship campaign against her memoir of a beloved friend, and her devotion to her dog, Rose. Piece by piece we put together the story of Ann’s life. Compassionate and rewarding. Rating: 9/10.
Mones, Nicole (2014) Night in Shanghai. Houghton Mifflin. In the last days of Old Shanghai before the Japanese takeover in 1937, and the rise of communism, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to lead a jazz band of African-American musicians – the Kansas City Kings. He becomes the toast of the town in a city obsessed by money, pleasure and power. The tides of war bring him and bonded servant to a crime boss, Song Yuhua, together in a forbidden union. In this well-researched novel, based on true events and peppered with the lives and experiences of actual people from the world of politics, music, military, and government, Shanghai is the star. Illuminating, but without the magic of The Last Chinese Chef. Rating: 8/10.