The House at the End of Hope Street
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This was a nice selection for October. It involved some spirits and an old house but it wasn't creepy or scary. After reading the dust jacket and online description I was surprised to learn on page 1 that Alba is 79. She is the caretaker for a house and allows women in transition to live there for 99 days. Several weeks later as I look at my notes I see how confusing page 1 was. Peggy is the caretaker, not Alba. Alba is not 79! In the second paragraph it says she has "lived in Cambridge for four of her nineteen years" so apparently I missed the clue that she is 19. In the next paragraph it says, "She's always been so careful, ... , living like a very sensible seventy-nine-year-old...". Keyword: like
The book feels like Halloween with all its talk of personified houses and spirits however the story starts on May 1st and continues for 99 nights which goes to August 7th. There are also psychic and telepathic women and a ghost cat. It reminded me of the movie "The Sixth Sense" in the sense that when I got to the end and had a couple of light bulb moments, then I wanted to go back to the beginning, knowing what I now knew, and see if I missed a clue or if there was anything that would have told me the surprises sooner.
On a scale of 1 - 5:
Sex - 78 y/o man with Peggy - bedroom scene and reference to taking two little blue pills (p. 41 - 42) Scene p. 92 - 93 not graphic but very suggestive. List of locations where the act has occurred. (p. 100) Young woman pleasures herself with strong, somewhat humorous imagery. (p. 207 - 208)
Religion - I do not recall any mention of religion except maybe in regards to a funeral.
Gruesome - Nothing gruesome at all.
Suspense - This is one of those books that from the beginning you just feel like it is going to end happily ever after. So there really wasn't a lot of suspense about what was going to happen.
Morality - A 79 y/o with a "lover" (p. 14) bemoans the "archaic house rule of no overnight male visitors". Death by suicide off-pages. (p. 46) A girl feels unrequited love for another girl. "F-word" from women when a man is caught two-timing. (p. 221)
Aside from my late-discovered initial confusion from the first page, there were some other parts that didn't quite add up. On pgs. 31 - 32 it explains that Alba Ashby's parents were second cousins. They had three kids (Alba's older sister and two older brothers). Sometime after the third child Lord Ashby rented an apartment in London and carried on for ten years having affairs. Alba was born and the dad stayed home for eight years before he disappeared. It is a lot of convoluted math. And then when you throw in Zoe's timeline it gets more mixed. It does add up, but it was a brain teaser. Then there are little things like Alba having "full PhD funding at 18". (p. 2) So there are constant tidbits to give you a timeline but it really takes some mental math to figure it all out.
The main story is Alba and the sub-stories are Peggy, Greer and Carmen. They all live in the same house at the end of Hope street.
The House tells Peggy she has less than one year to live. For me, personally, this was the most intriguing story line. If you've read my blog you know that I feel like I've been told my expiration date. So I have a lot of thoughts on this topic. I would have been fine if the whole book followed this story line but it was really a side-story. For me though, it was the gem SPOILER ALERT of the book on page 270 when the House confessed that it told her she was going to die so she, "could realize how [she] truly felt and what [she] truly wanted. Impending death has a way of clearing the fog." That has really changed my outlook on my Date with Destiny.
Alba is finding out what love is about. Turns out, Alba is attracted to women. While I don't condemn those who do, same-sex relationships are not my preference. I think the majority of people prefer heterosexual relationships. So, for the majority of people it may be a little awkward or difficult to relate to Alba's feelings. Perhaps that is why there was no hint on the dust jacket or book summaries I read that there was homosexuality in this book. It felt like they were trying to sneak one by the average consumer and then once we'd already bought the book and gotten well into it - BAM! Surprise! I'm not saying I wouldn't have read the book if I'd known ahead of time, I'm just saying I would have liked to have known. I can see on one hand though how the pre-knowledge would affect one story line, but it wouldn't have ruined it. That theme could have played out the same way and it would have been just as tragic.
Tell about a time when you received not what you wanted but what you needed. (p. 9)
Alba and Stella talk about books. (p. 29) What are your top [three or ten] books of all time? Which books have changed you? How many books have you read in your lifetime? (p. 30)
What did you think were the lies Dr. Skinner told that drove Alba to Hope Street?
Who did you think Ella might be? (end Ch. 5) She appeared again when Elizabeth was in the hospital. (p. 198 - 199)
Now that you know who she was, did it make since that Elizabeth was looking for her?
Alba's dad had disappeared. (p. 55) What did you think happened?
Debate what are families for - push to greatness vs. unconditional love. (p. 63)
Did it seem right to read about Alba away from the house? Should she have been allowed to go home and then come back?
If ghosts are real, are they whole and healthy or still laden with their earthly afflictions?
What regrets would your ghost express to your child? (p. 77)
On p. 89 Alba remembers Lord Ashby telling her not to be a fool wasting time on things she doesn't have a talent for. On p. 90 Daphne du Maurier says to "be honest about the things you really want, and do them, no matter how fearful." What purpose does this contrast serve?
Do you agree with Celia, Greer's mother, "that sex complicates things, that it's harder to remain aloof, to hold on to your own heart, once you've been marked by a man. ... Even casual sex, she insists, has a way of tightening the strings." (p. 100)
What did you think was the secret Alba held about Dr. Skinner?
What did you think was, "the very bad deed" (p. 116) Carmen had done?
Why did Elizabeth's letters never reach Albert? (p. 120)
Were you surprised to learn that Greer's daughter, Lily, would have been Alba's age? (p. 139) A teenager. (p. 141)
Why can Harry see the house? (p. 168)
Why did Alba run away when she met her Dad? (p. 189)
Vivien Leigh advises, "Peace comes from conquering your fears, not running from them." (p. 191) Tell of a time when you had to conquer your fear. What difference did it make in your life?
What did you think was in Carmen's box? (p. 209) Did you think Tiago was dead? What did you think happened to Tiago?
Would you label the feelings with the same colors as Alba sees them? (p. 211) Poll the group for color choices before announcing what color Alba sees:
Greer wonders, "Is it right to give up on one dream in order to fulfill another?" (p. 217) Is it?
When Alba confessed her love for Dr. Skinner to her father, what surprised or confused you the most? (p. 232)
Do you think everybody wound up in the right place? Why or why not?
Serve hot chocolate with cream (p. 5) like Peggy served to Alba when she arrived at the house.
Serve a 3-tier cake with white chocolate icing decorated with flowers (p. 9) like for Peggy's birthday.
Serve pancakes, cream and cherries like when Alba met Greer, with Carmen and Peggy in the kitchen (p. 21).
Serve lemonade like when Carmen first saw Tiago.
Serve coffee and ginger biscuits like Alba had in the kitchen with Stella (p. 36) and the many other times throughout the book that ginger biscuits are served. (Note: Since the novel is set in England, the term "biscuits" refers more to what American's think of as a "cookie" as opposed to a "roll". Tea and ginger biscuits like the cook brought Alba every day after school. (p. 179)
Decorate with midnight glory like the residents buried things under.
Serve chocolate bars for Carmen. (p. 37)
Meet in the kitchen to soothe your soul. (p. 48)
Serve gingerbread cookies like Alba remembered baking with her mother. (p. 48 - 49)
Serve red foods, Alba's favorite from childhood. Include Strawberry Blancmange. (p. 57)
Decorate with honeysuckle, tall white daisies and midnight glory from Peggy's garden. (p. 64 - 65) Include a yellow tulip in the flowers for Alba's mom, Elizabeth. (p. 76)
Serve apple cake like when Liza and Albert met in the coffee shop. (p. 118)
Serve chocolate cake - Peggy's favorite breakfast. (p. 132) Serve a 3-tier chocolate cake like at the "picnic party to celebrate the anniversary of Greer moving into the tower". (p. 276)
Serve champagne to celebrate Carmen's song. (p. 254)
Serve "chocolate brownies with spiced cherries, elderflower truffles and ginger biscuits" like Elizabeth had been tasting at the market before she was called to Stella. (p. 264)
Bessie Smith (p. 66)
Nina Simone (p. 66)
Ella Fitzgerald (p. 66)
Mozart's 6th Quartet (p. 81)
Vivaldi - Four Seasons (p. 81)