Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: The House at the End of Hope Street by Meena van Praag

From the back of the book: 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.

When it comes to books, I'm generally not a fan of fantasy. But every once in awhile, a book comes along that walks the fine line of magical realism so well that I find myself getting swept away to another world, despite how improbable all the goings-on there may be.

For me, The House at the End of Hope Street (not to be confused with a Danielle Steele novel called The House on Hope Street) was one of those books. It was totally outlandish--I mean, it includes talking portraits of Virginia Woolf and Florence Nightingale--but at the same time, felt totally believable. Or at least, something that I'd like to believe in, because I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't mind living in a house that gives me exactly what I need, from famous quotes that drop from the ceiling, to ginger cookies, to a sewing machine, to fully stocked bookshelves of *exactly* what I want to read. When you add talking portraits of some of history's most amazing women? I'm along for the ride. 

This was one of those books that I just enjoyed, though I can't necessarily put my finger on why, though I can tell you that I liked the characters and came to care about them. I can also tell you that I thought the stories of the other women in the house were woven together with Alba's story well, and that the plot and subplots all made sense and were resolved pretty well. It was a little whimsical, a little fun, and full of magic. I enjoyed it a lot, and overall, I say:

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