A magical debut about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need
Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.
She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.
Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.
An upfront confession: I requested this book from NetGalley.com because of the enchanting cover art. Sometimes the cover will draw me in before anything else clicks about a book.
The House at the End of Hope Street, described as “Literature/Fiction (Adult),” seemed more fantasy as I started to read. Another confession I must share is that fantasy is completely outside my reading box. But I persevered, and soon I fell in love with this writer’s style and the characters who are so vivid and alive. Well, some of them are alive.
Alba Ashby, an odd little character for a variety of reasons, is at the bleakest point in a life filled with disappointments and a rather unlovable family. Alba has abandoned her degree at Cambridge and comes upon the house while walking down Hope Street. Suddenly, she notices a house she’s never seen before. That’s because this house is only visible to those who need it.
As the door opens to Alba, she is greeted by Peggy, the current landlady, who inherited the house and the role of the house’s keeper as the next in line in the Abbott family. Soon, Alba meets other residents, Carmen and Greer, whose lives seems as bleak as hers. Each woman has a special need, but can’t seem to see how to help herself. And they have only 99 nights at the house.
The house is as alive as its current inhabitants. Its walls expand and contract as the house breathes, and lampshades bow to the women as they pass by. Amazingly, the house senses the women’s needs and leaves notes of encouragement for them.
Alba is cast in the role of primary character and the story focuses on this young women who is brilliant and has the ability to see smells and colors. Additionally, Alba is an avid reader and fascinated to learn that some very famous women writers have also been at the house: Edna Ferber, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Agatha Christie, just to mention a few. Their portraits hang in the hallway and as time passes by, these women engage in conversation with Alba trying to help her see she can improve her situation.
The more I read this book the more I didn’t want it to end. Van Praag uses a strong literary fiction style, and the writer’s description of the house and its characteristics made me want to live there, especially if it would be possible to talk with all those wonderful women who have gone before me as writers.
Additionally, the characters are so realistic I came to feel as if they were friends or acquaintances. The realities of their lives despite being painful led to a universal theme of working toward solutions to problems which seem insurmountable, while receiving hope and encouragement from people who care what happens to you.
I highly recommend this book. I will read it again and again. It will stay in my Kindle library forever!
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Meet the Author:
Menna van Praag was born in Cambridge, England and studied Modern History at Oxford University. Her first novella – an autobiographical tale about a waitress who aspires to be a writer – Men, Money & Chocolate has been translated into 26 languages. Her first work of literary fiction, The House at the End of Hope Street, was inspired by an idea the author had to set up a house for female artists to give them a year to fulfil their artistic ambitions. Her next novel, The Little Dress Shop of Dreams, is set on the magical street of All Saints Passage where a scientist falls in love with a mysterious man who has a magical voice. All Menna van Praag’s novels, excepting Happier Than She’s Ever Been, are set among the colleges, cafes and bookshops of Cambridge, England.
(Image and bio from Goodreads.com)
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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.com in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Next up: A review of a handy writer’s resource, The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.