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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

It's 1904 and the English Kitty is stranded on Coney Island. Her brother passed away and going to New York was his biggest wish. When he died Kitty and her mother made the journey in his honor instead. However, Kitty's mother is now ill and Kitty has no idea where she is or how to reach her. Her money and clothes are at the hotel she and her mother were staying in, but all members of staff pretend they don't know her. Kitty is completely alone and doesn't have any idea what to do, until she's being adopted by the Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet family. Zeph with no legs is the unofficial leader of the residents and Rosalind who's half man and half woman takes Kitty under protection. Kitty has to adapt quickly to the bizarre world of this crazy museum of oddities if she wants to survive. Will she ever be able to go home?

Kitty's mother isn't the only sick person on the island. More and more people are getting mysterious symptoms. Survival rates are low and something has to be done to prevent the illness from spreading. At Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet they're trying to deal with the situation, but there's no chance to get out of it unscathed. What will the destruction of this terrible outbreak be and can Kitty and her friends escape the horrors that are now taking place at the once so cheerful Dreamland amusement park?

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet is a wonderful mix of strangeness, terror and beautiful friendship. I was blown away by the dazzling setting. Dreamland and Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet are fascinating places to read about and the contrast between these fantastic buoyant locations and the events that are taking place is incredible. I was impressed from the start. I loved Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet and its quirky people. A leopard tamer, a mad inventor, an automaton with impressive skills and plenty of fleas, nobody and nothing are out of place at Magruder's. It's a fantastic dynamic museum and the perfect location for a story about a situation that snowballs out of control. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough to discover where this disaster-to-be would lead.

H.P. Wood is always perfectly in control of the chaotic world she writes about, which makes her story a true joy to read. She skillfully adds the most amazing suspense to her story, there are many unexpected twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat and the relationships between the main characters are each equally fascinating. I was constantly surprised and I love when that happens while I'm reading a book. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet is dark, twisted, shocking, hopeful, merry and very much alive in a time of death. It's an emotional rollercoaster that will stay with me for a very long time. I absolutely loved this brilliant book.


If you love historical fiction with a unique setting and main characters Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet is an absolute must-read.

About H.P. Wood

H. P. Wood is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. Instead of making things disappear, she makes books of all shapes and sizes. She has written or edited works on an array of topics, including the history of the Internet, the future of human rights, and the total awesomeness of playing with sticks. She lives in Connecticut with a charming and patient husband, a daughter from whom she steals all her best ideas, and more cats than is strictly logical.


Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter


1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

When I was a teenager, I thought that directing plays was the only thing I would ever want to do with my life, ever ever ever. Then I grew up and moved to New York and actually worked in the business for awhile, and it turned out to be a pretty brutal way to (not really) make a living. I started to think, you know what, I bet I could find something else to do if I really really tried… That thing ended up being book editing, so I did that for a long time. And I started to think, you know what, I work with all these people who write books, I bet I could do that if I really really tried. And that ended up being a pretty brutal way to (not really) make a living.

It’s been one bad decision after another, basically. But fun!

2) How did you come up with Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet?

I read a similar story in a book called The People’s Almanac—which claims to be factual but I bet this story wasn’t really true. But supposedly a young woman and her mother traveled to Paris for the World’s Fair, the mother got sick, and the hotel doctor sent the daughter out for an errand to get medicine. When the daughter returned, the hotel pretended not to know her and said the mother had never been there at all. Supposedly the mother had had the plague, and so the hotel made her “disappear” so as not to lose customers.

I wanted to know what happened to the abandoned daughter, but there was no way to find out. So I wrote a book about it instead. I wasn’t interested in writing about Paris but I have always been in love with Coney Island, so I moved the story and went from there.

I should also say that after Magruder's was published, I learned of other versions of this same general plot. The old TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, did a version of it. And there are several other versions, too. However I had no idea about any of that at the time. Which is good, because I would just gone and read one of those books, rather than writing my own! So I’m glad I didn’t know until it was too late.

3) How did you make the historical period you’re writing about come to life?

The story is set in early 1900s Coney Island, and luckily for me that period is extremely well documented in terms of photographs and even movies, which were just catching on at the time. So I looked at and read a lot of stuff from the period and just tried to imagine myself there. I’ve also spent a lot of time hanging out there in real life. Of course Coney Island has changed in a billion ways since the early 1900s but if you squint really hard, you can still see little remnants around the edges.

4) What’s so fascinating about the items and inventions at Magruder’s?

I don’t know, I just love weird, useless objects and the crazy people who collect them! I could spend my whole life just making up ridiculous objects to go in the Cabinet but alas nobody would read that!

5) If you could travel back in time to the beginning of the twentieth century, what would you do and where would you go?

Clearly I want to go to Coney Island and check out all the rides and restaurants and shows that I talk about in the book. Of course... maybe I don’t want to know how much I got wrong! So perhaps I’ll go to New Orleans when jazz was being invented instead!

6) You write about a terrible illness, how did you prepare for this?

A lot of the events and descriptions of the plague in Magruder's were inspired by true plague stories. For instance, Honolulu and San Francisco really did have plague outbreaks in the early 1900s, so I used that history to guide certain things, such as how the government reacted to epidemics. (Spoiler alert: not well. They nearly burned down Honolulu.)

Also Daniel Defoe wrote some amazing material about the Black Death in London. Obviously that’s a totally different period but I still stole a lot of ideas from that. For instance there were “plague doctors” who would set up shop on the second or third floor of a building, and the way you’d get “treated” was to stand under the window and shout up your symptoms. A basket would come down, and you’d put money in, and then the basket would be hauled up to the doctor’s window. Hopefully you’d get some (probably useless) medicine in exchange. But the basket was literally as close as you’d get to your doctor.

Parts of the country even went back to bartering for awhile, too, because nobody wanted to touch money that might have been touched by someone with plague. Pretty crazy stuff.

7) Creativity and love for magic runs in your family, how does this influence your stories and what makes a book magical for you?

I am not much of a reader of fantasy books, believe it or not. You’d think I would be! But my favorite kind of book is the kind that is extremely funny and then suddenly extremely sad. Or very serious and then all of a sudden very absurd. It’s very hard to make those really different flavors go together, but when it works, there’s definitely something magical at work.

8) You have cats, what do you like the most about these intriguing animals?

One of our cats went through a phase of catching birds and chipmunks and bringing them to our daughter, who was about 7 at the time. The cat would bring the corpses directly to her—they would never be just left around, they would always go to her. And if she couldn’t be found, the cat would leave them beside her bed!

A person who knows about animal behavior told me that the this is how cat parents teach their kittens to hunt. Apparently the cat viewed our parenting as unsatisfactory in that regard.

9) What are the key features of an interesting history story?

I think it’s important to remember that “historical people” were still people. I think sometimes we have a present-tense bias that leads us to think that we are all inventing things like love, hate, rage, regret, guilt, etc for the first time. Sometimes historical novels seem to take the approach that people “back then” had things all figured out, or didn’t get annoyed with each other or act like idiots or make dumb jokes, etc etc. I think it’s because people look serious in old photos—but that’s actually because back then, to get a good photo done, you had to stand still for a long time, not because people were actually serious all the time!

I like books that don’t only make the setting and time period come alive, but that convince me that the characters are living breathing people who I could relate to. That’s what I tried to do, anyhow!

10) What are your plans for the future?

Actually I have a book coming out called Fakers: An Insider’s Guide to Cons, Hoaxes, and Schemes. I did so much research on con artists when writing Magruder’s, I thought I should turn it into a second project! So this new book tells some of the true stories that inspired the novel…along with tons of other stuff, like fake aliens, Ponzi schemes, and how those guys at the county fair can guess your birthday.

Fakers will be published by Charlesbridge in October, and it is very kid-friendly (unlike Magruder’s). You can find out more about it here:

Meanwhile I am also writing another novel but I am SUPER SLOW.

Thanks for this opportunity to introduce myself to your readers!!


One very lucky reader of With Love For Books will receive a paperback copy of Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. It sounds very intriguing! I can't wait to read it. Great inter view. Lol, I love your cat!

  2. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet sounds like a compelling and quirky story and a snapshot of a unique time and place in our history.

  3. sounds like something I could get lost in!

  4. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet sounds fascinating, and almost jumps out at you, it seems so real! A great summer read!

  5. Your book sounds great! Thank you

  6. This sounds like a very intriguing novel that will no doubt keep the suspense high.

  7. Wow, this sounds a magical sort of book. Absolutely love the cover and can't wait to read the story it reveals.

  8. I appreciate unique. An attention getting cover.

  9. It's the perfect pairing of place and period!

  10. This looks like a book I would love to read!

  11. Wow, love the blurb! I'm so excited to read it.

  12. This sounds a really engrossing book

  13. Thanks for the great prize and competition. Good luck everyone!

  14. I love the quirky sound of the setting!

  15. This sounds really good! I going to add it to my TBR on goodreads!

  16. It sounds really wonderful, i'm always fascinated by vintage setting, whimsical, strange objects and curiousities, characters, and bizarre world. I am sure I would enjoy this book very much. Thank you for the review and giveaway, i would love to win this.

  17. Thank you Suze. You have this wonderful knack of describing the plot whilst giving nothing away!