Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bookish Thoughts: The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag


The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag
Pamela Dorman Books, 2013
Fiction; 304 pgs
From the Publisher: 
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 Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, 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.

This book didn't pull at my heart strings and twist them as so many of my favorite books do. No, this book pulled at my heart strings and made me feel warm and good inside. This has to be one of my most favorite book so far this year.  I melted as I read it.  The author's writing is beautiful, and I was caught up in the magic of the house, a house that is very much a character itself.  To cavort with the ghosts of so many famous and admirable women!  This book was a dream.

The house at 11 Hope Street cannot be seen by everyone who visits Cambridge.  That's why Alba never noticed it before.  With nowhere else to go and nothing else to lose, Alba makes her home there at the invitation of Peggy Abbot, the house's caretaker.  The walls are covered with photos of past residents, each with advice to share should the present residents be willing to listen.

Alba has a sixth sense for things and can see sounds as well as ghosts.  Sounds come to her in colors, depending on their mood and intent.  I took to Alba instantly.  She is like the black sheep in her family, never quite measuring up to their expectations.  This even in spite of Alba graduating and pursuing her doctorate at so young an age.  Her mother, whom she loves dearly, is a mystery to her, lost in a depression Alba doesn't quite understand.  As the story goes, we learn more about Alba and her past as well as the secret from the present that is haunting her.  A secret that drew her to the house on Hope Street in the first place.  It is a story that is heartbreaking and at times cruel.  

Peggy is 82 years old and has been the caretaker of the house for most of her life. She gave up her life to take care of the house and the women who came to stay there.  She made the ultimate sacrifice.  The house has made it clear that her service is coming to an end, and Peggy feels a myriad of emotions.

Alba and Peggy are not the only residents of 11 Hope Street.  There are two other women, including a struggling actress, Greer, who has lost her way and Carmen, who is running from her dark past.  All of the women in the house are troubled and seeking answers to their situations, hoping the house will help them find peace and heal old wounds.

I loved the way Menna van Praag wove these women's stories together, each one separate and yet each one tied to the house.  I also really liked how music and words played such a big part in all the character's stories, particularly Alba and Carmen's.  This added to the beauty--and magic--of the novel.

As an added bonus, the author included a list of the famous women who once visited 11 Hope Street, including little blurbs about their lives.  This only adds to the strength of the novel.

The House at the End of Hope Street wears its namesake well.  It is full of hope--and charming too.  The women of the house have very real problems, and while I suppose one might think the solutions come too easily at times, well, that's just the kind of book it is.  I loved every minute of it. This is one of those books that left me smiling at the end--and still has me smiling now.

Rating: * (Outstanding)

You can learn more about Menna van Praag and her book on the author's website

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.


© 2013, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

24 comments:

  1. The cover of that book called my name even before I knew anything about it. You've convinced me that I need to add it to my wish list.

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    1. Kathy - I like the cover too. :-) I hope you are able to read it!

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  2. Hi Wendy, your review of the book is outstanding and got me reading. I like this house and I certainly like Alba. When I see this in the bookstore, I'll get it. I hope to get an invitation from the caretaker of the house.

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    1. Alice - Thanks, Alice! I would love to be invited to the house too! I hope you are able to get your hands on a copy. I really think you'd like this one.

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  3. This sounds a mixture of literary fiction and chick-lit, would that guess be about right? Admittedly it's the cover that's the main part of the chick-lit assumption. It sounds a good read and I like the idea of the past residents. There's just something wonderful about literary references.

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    1. Charlie - I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it chick-lit, but it's definitely a mix of literary fiction and women's fiction. I really enjoyed all the literary references. How I would love to meet the past residents of that house!

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  4. This kind of sounds like literary comfort food, with lots of good tidbits for bibliophiles, like references to great writers. I'll add this to my wishlist. :)


    Steph

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    1. Steph - That's the perfect description for this book! I hope you get a chance to read it. :-)

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  5. I really like Quirky's comment about literary comfort food. It sounds like it made you feel the way The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made me feel when I read it earlier this year.

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    1. Aarti - I like her description of the book too. That's exactly what this book is. I love the way it made me feel. I haven't yet read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but it sounds like I should move it up in my TBR pile.

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  6. I think we all could use a house like this at some point in our lives. Thanks for the passionate review Wendy. well done

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    1. Diane - Yes, I agree! I do wish we could. And thank you!

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  7. Sounds like a wonderfully unique story!

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  8. This sounds like such a sweet read. I agree with Diane, we could all use a place like this at one point or another in our lives. Great review!

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    1. Iliana - I think so too. Maybe right now, even! LOL

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  9. Lovely, lovely review of this one. You've made me want to read it like right now!

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    1. Staci - It is such a good book, Staci. I hope you like it if you do read it.

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  10. Loving the cover and such a glowing review, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for this one.

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    1. Tracy - It was such a delightful book. I hope you are able to read it.

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  11. I love the cover on this book and I'm so glad you liked it so much. I hope to fit this one in really soon!

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    1. Darlene - The story really touched me where I needed it to most. I hope you like it when you read it.

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  12. The cover makes me thing twice. Seems a little light to me, but what you said here sounds wonderful.

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    1. Ti - I didn't find the story to be light, not really. Although it wasn't heavy either. I think Steph said it best when she referred to it as literary comfort food.

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