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

HouseAtEndOfHopeStreetWEEK 15 BOOK 15 (Reading time for Book 15 was four days: April 20-24, 2013.)

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag. Released April 4, 2013. Published by Pamela Dorman Books. ISBN-13: 9780670784639

NOTE: Scroll down for the actual book review which begins just after the “From the Jacket” and “About the Author” sections.

From the Jacket: A magical début 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 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.

About the Author: (Source: Taken from Menna’s Goodreads Author Page.) 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.

Book Review: First impressions – LOVE the artwork on the cover. Final impressions – definitely a captivating read from the first paragraph. Fresh, vibrant writing about an old, magical house at the end of Hope Street that’s only visible to women during their time of need. Like walking through Hogwarts School of Wizardry, long-dead women authors and celebrated women in history come to life to give advice, make observations, even scold the women seeking refuge in the house.

Main character, Alba, stumbles upon the house after a heart-breaking experience that ends her career and wounds her spirit. The mysteries of Alba’s family and upbringing unravel nicely during the narrative, as do the storylines of two other women (Greer and Carmen) inhabiting the home during Alba’s stay.

Peggy, a captivating character and care-taker of the house, explains to Alba the rules: She can stay for ninety-nine nights but after that, she must leave. Peggy explains: The house may not give you want you want, but it will give you what you need. A nice development in the storytelling is the plight of Peggy as she confronts her advancing age and the fate of the house. Peggy is a delightful, spunky octogenarian that I wish had more time in the novel because as caretaker of this mysterious house, I was very drawn to her and wanted to know more about her and the years she’s spent in the home.

Two secondary characters, Greer and Carmen, confront demons (sort of kind of literally, sort of kind of figuratively) in their lives, but I found it challenging at times to separate the two and wondered if they should have been drawn as one character so that Peggy would have the space to shine more in the narrative?

There are lovely storylines between Alba and other characters in the book including a librarian and a ghost that appears in the kitchen sink and sits with Alba as she wrestles with problems and unresolved issues in her life. Alba’s family takes center stage with tragic characters and circumstances. The completion of Alba’s time in the home wraps up nicely and with pleasant surprises.

A refreshing read filled with sensory writing and synesthesia, lovers of both literature and interesting women in history will enjoy this book for the sprinkling of surprising appearances of famous women that have inhabited the house during its 200 years. Because the book employs intriguing magical elements, it is a captivating read that will hold your attention from the first page – to the last.

The use of synesthesia reminded me of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.

 

The Good Daughter by Jane Porter @authorjanep

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I’m so thrilled to feature The Good Daughter by Jane Porter as a paperback book giveaway now through Sunday, May 19, 2013.

 

About The Good Daughter:

Love was given to all, except herself…

Kit Brennan has always been the most grounded of her sisters. A Catholic school English teacher for seventeen years and a constant giver, her decisions have been sound—just not very satisfying. Her fortieth birthday is right around the corner, causing Kit to consider some wilder notions, like skipping right past the love and marriage to raising a child all by herself…

A girls’ weekend away is just the reprieve Kit needs from school, Mr. Wrongs, and life-changing decisions. It’s there that she meets a man who’s dangerous; a man who challenges who she thought she was, or rather should be. Kit wants to indulge herself this once, but with one of her students in crisis and the weight of her family’s burdens weighing heavy on her heart, Kit isn’t sure if now is the time to let her own desires take flight…

Register to win a paperback copy of Jane Porter’s The Good Daughter.

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The Good Daughter is the second of the Brennan Sisters Novels. The first book in the series, The Good Womanis also available for purchase from your favorite bookseller. A third book, The Good Wife, will be released September 3.

The Good Daughter by Jane Porter
Released February 5, 2013
Berkley Trade
ISBN-10: 0425253422
ISBN-13: 978-0425253427

 

Chick Lit Author Blog Hop 2013 (May 20-27)

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Chick Lit Author Blog Hop
May 20-27, 2013

“What’s on page 25?”

Twitter asks: “What’s happening?”

Facebook asks: “What’s on your mind?”

Chick Lit Author Blog Hop 2013 asks: “What’s on page 25?”

 

If a reader opened a book to page 25, what would she find? What’s happening in the story?

Find out on the Second Annual Chick Lit Author Blog Hop 2013 happening May 20-27 during International Chick Lit Month, hosted by Julie Valerie on this book blog, Chick Lit Chit Chat.

How to Hop & Win!

Visit Chick Lit Chit Chat anytime between May 20-27, 2013 to begin hopping. Simply click on a blog in the below blog hop list starting May 20 here on Chick Lit Chit Chat, and you will magically “hop” from blog to blog. You can hop for the sheer enjoyment, or you can hop to win a prize. Your choice.

 

As part of this hop, we are hosting a grand prize drawing so that one lucky blog hop winner* will receive a FREE Kindle Keyboard 3G, with Free 3G + Wi-Fi, and a 6″ E Ink Display. That lucky grand prize winner will also receive a “chick lit starter library” filled with great chick lit books written by the indie authors participating in the blog hop.

Here’s a tip on how to win that grand prize: As you hop along the list of 25 bloggers, have a scrap piece of paper handy. Write the numbers 1-25 on your piece of paper. Each blog post has a secret word embedded into it. When visiting the first blogger on the list, find that blog post’s secret word and then record in the #1 slot on your list. Then proceed to the next blog and do the same – when visiting the #2 blog, write that secret word next to the #2 on your piece of paper – and so on. Or, if you want, hop ahead to say, #18 on the list – so long as you record the secret word from the 18th person on the list onto your #18 you’ll come away with a 25-word sentence that makes perfect sense and that needs to be entered in order to win that grand prize.

*Due to prize transfer regulations, winner must live in either the United States or Canada.

** The Rafflecopter prize registry form will close at 11:59 pm on May 27, 2013. The winner will be selected by random drawing and notified by email the following morning.

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Catch a Buzz at BookBuzz NYC 2013

I’m super buzzed about the book buzz circulating in BookExpo America (BEA) circles. I’m attending the BEA Bloggers Conference on Wednesday, May 29, in New York City and I’m super buzzed about that, but what’s also got me all abuzz is the BookBuzz NYC 2013 Mix & Mingle planned the next evening (Thursday, May 30) at Stone Creek Bar and Lounge.

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BookBuzz NYC 2013
“Mix & Mingle”

Stone Creek Bar and Lounge
140 E. 27th Street
(between 3rd and Lexington)
May 30, 2013 from 7pm to 9pm

I plan to catch a buzz with a complimentary Pink Stiletto signature drink made with an event sponsor’s SHPILKA VODKA (which translates to “stiletto”) and delicious snacks sponsored by DIVERSION BOOKS.

But better than snacks and a super cool (complimentary!) drink is the company I’ll keep with these great writers who are offering promotional pricing and signed books as far as the eye can see.

It’s this list everyone’s buzzing about:

Samantha Stroh Bailey Finding Lucas
Meredith Schorr A State of JaneJust Friends with Benefits
Francine LaSala The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything,
Rita Hayworth’s Shoes
Cari Kamm For Internal Use Only
Heather Thumeier Falling for You, Catching Stardust
Lucie Simone Picture PerfectHollywood Ending
Jen Tucker The Day I Lost My Shaker of Salt
Eileen Goudge The Replacement Wife, The Diary

So what about you? Wanna catch the buzz, too? Come join us!

Follow this link to RSVP TODAY: bookbuzz2013@gmail.com

Book Review: I’ll Take What She Has by Samantha Wilde

I'llTakeWhatSheHasBOokWEEK 12 BOOK 12 (Reading time for Book 12 was about a week: March 28 – April 3, 2013.)

I’ll Take What She Has by Samantha Wilde. Published by Bantam. Released February 26, 2013. ISBN-10: 0385342675 and ISBN-13: 978-0385342674

Click here to read an Author Interview with Samantha Wilde.

NOTE: Scroll down for the actual book review which begins just after the “From the Jacket” and “About the Author” sections.

From the Jacket: Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.

Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet. (Source: http://samanthawilde.com/mommy.html)

About the Author: Born in Northampton, Massachusetts and raised in Williamstown and Nantucket, Samantha attended Concord Academy (I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS is set at a suburban Boston boarding school), Smith College (with a brief stint at Wellesley College), Yale Divinity School, The New Seminary, and the Kripalu School of Yoga. Before full-time motherhood, and part-time novel writing, Samantha taught yoga full-time and worked as a minister. She is the daughter of novelist Nancy Thayer. (Source: http://samanthawilde.com/bio.html)

Book Review:  I’ll Take What She Has by Samantha Wilde brings readers to Dixbie, a fictitious New England boarding school trying to stay relevant in a changing educational landscape, where the friendship between Annie and Nora is tested by want, jealousy and the arrival of Cynthia Cypress to campus. While Annie and Nora have been friends since kindergarten, their relationship suffers when both women endure personal struggles that leave them isolated from each other.

To complicate matters, rival Cynthia, a glamorous new faculty member, befriends Nora which places a wedge between Nora and Annie and their already strained relationship. While Cynthia walks into the novel as a representation of the perfect woman, she evolves during the story into a mysterious villan who manipulates secondary characters on the campus of Dixbie. To a large extent, her actions drive the storyline of the failing institution and the threat that is imposed on Annie and Nora should Dixbie close its doors.

Opinionated Annie, “a bit of an Eeyore”, is suspicious of Cynthia but cannot convince Nora that Cynthia should not be trusted. Annie is character with whom many readers will relate. She envies other mothers on campus who appear to live lives without the financial pressures Annie feels. While constantly defending her decision to stay home with her children, Annie is challenged by the rigors of motherhood and must work to quel her frustrations with her demanding children.

Nora, who is more sensitive and desperately wants a family of her own is fascinated, even awestruck by Cynthia’s over-the-top “perfect” life. Desperate to become pregnant, Nora also wrestles with the realities of her own childhood as lively family members including sex therapist, Elle, arrive at her doorstep and crowd her already tight living quarters with a husband that goes largely unnoticed by Nora.

Envy is a central theme in Samantha Wilde’s book. Nora desperately wants to become pregnant and envies both Annie and Cynthia for their seemingly easy entry into motherhood. While being swept away by the magic of Cynthia, Nora also confronts her unsolved feelings for an ex-boyfriend, David, who also happens to be Cynthia’s new husband. Thou shalt not covet!

Annie is conflicted about whether she feels jealousy or is just lonely after friend Suze returns to the workplace. Annie, whose approach to life and motherhood is humourously dry and frank, seeks the guidance of counselor Meg where she reveals the raw realities of staying home with children while financially strained by a man whose divorce to his first wife is not yet settled.

While reading Samantha Wilde’s I’ll Take What She Has I felt so bad for Annie and Nora I wanted to cry. Their feelings of insecurity, want, neglect, and anger were all so real I recognized a universal truth about women in their stories. Though subtle at times, the cumulative thoughts and conversations these women had led to a richly drawn narrative about the plight of women and our struggles to tame the monster of envy and want. Just like Annie and Nora, women need friendships to weather transitions in life and Samantha Wilde’s decision to write about the lonely isolation these women experienced when their friendship was strained added another layer of deep characterization.

Book groups will have a field day with this book discussing the many ways in which women interact with each other and themselves, our wants and desires and ways in which women “can be their own worst enemy”.

Loved this book for its richly drawn characters and themes of jealousy and want. As the jacket suggests, readers will come away feeling the grass might not be greener on the other side. It just might be greenest – beneath your feet.

 

 

Author Interview: Samantha Wilde

Author Samantha Wilde joins Chick Lit Chit Chat blog readers for a quick chat about her writing, her books, friendship and envy. Samantha’s second book, I’ll Take What She Has was the twelfth book I read on my way to reading and posting book reviews for 52 books in just 52 weeks. Click here to read my book review.

Welcome, Samantha!

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As a busy mother of three, how do you find time to write?

Sometimes, I don’t! Over the years, I have trained myself to use small amounts of time efficiently. I always write during nap-times (and on occasion they don’t happen). When I am under deadline or inspired or behind (which is almost always!), I write after the children’s bedtimes. I write quickly, without too much self-censorship. When I have a babysitter, and I have had years with no sitters and years with a sitter for 3-5 hours a week, I work diligently knowing that I am paying someone to write (that’s serious motivation). I let go of the household details, turn a blind-eye to the laundry and work late in the rarely quiet house. When I get frustrated about getting only crumbs of time, I remind myself of my full-time occupation as an at-home mother. In a very real way, my writing life is simply a modest cottage industry.

I'llTakeWhatSheHasBOokYour book, I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS, deals with issues of insecurity and envy which seem so prevalent in mommy culture. Why is that?

That’s a great question, and I see two ways to read it. Why is envy prevalent in the mommy culture and/or why does my book deal with that? As for the first question, envy seems native to the human experience. Women, for whatever reason, have it harder in this area. When I researched envy for the book, I found out that women’s experiences of envy can intensify around fertility. And then, of course, motherhood has become a place of inherent insecurity for most modern mothers as they constantly battle with the should have/would have/could have. Is this because we are given so many options? Is it like standing in the cereal aisle staring at the choices until you feel literally battered by the profusion? Or is it a cultural woe that we can fix with honesty, community, and kindness towards our selves? There are probably many reasons, and there are many cures. It is possible to mother without envy–to live without envy–to become, little by little, more content.

As to why I wrote about it…well, in the first place, my mother, novelist Nancy Thayer, gave me the original idea for a story about newlyweds and envy. It was her impression that everyone can relate to envy–and I would agree, although if you are not honest with yourself it may be harder to admit your little longings for greener grass. And what’s the verdict? Green grass is only a myth anyway –and as those who have the literal stuff know, it takes lots of work, water, money and weed killer.

Talk for a moment about the friendship between Nora and Annie. In what ways was it necessary for the friendship to become strained for both women to evolve?

I wrote about a lifetime friendship that contained a sisterly amount of tension. Anyone who’s had a friendship knows that enduring relationships often contain periods of strain, particularly around times of change. In some ways, the books is a coming-of-age novel. It’s about arriving at the age you dreamed of as a child as “what will I be when I grow up.” Only when you get there, it isn’t what you dreamed of. When a friend changes, the whole friendship has to readjust itself–or end. I think those lifetime friendships develop their own skills and that includes allowing space for the two people involved to mature, shift, change, and, ultimately, make mistakes. The friendship itself, because of its longevity, becomes invaluable, necessitates and demands forgiveness and in that allows for genuine acceptance grace. Growing up is still hard to do–even when you’re thirty, and Nora and Annie truly exemplify that truth!

Let’s take a moment to watch your terrific book trailer.

Tell us about THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME.

My first novel is about the initial nine months of new motherhood. It opens with the main character Joy overwhelmed by the demands and requirements of motherhood and mothering. Joy is angry and funny, rueful and confused in the all the ways a new mother can be. She says post mortem instead of post partem; it’s a book about the death that often happens for a new mother–the death of who she used to be, the birth of who she is. That can be a scary and unpredictable process. The book is also about what this transition does to her marriage. In the end, I think it is about the cost and the reward of maternal love, although it is, like my second novel, a funny book.

Are you working on a third novel? Anything you can share with us?
I’m working on five third novels! There is one I love, love, that’s complete and I hope will make it all the way to publication, but I have a few others in kernel form. I’m waiting to see what the world has in store for the next stage of my writing life. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is patience.

Thanks for stopping by to have a chat with Chick Lit Chit Chat, Samantha!

Blog readers, you can find Samantha at these locations:

Interview: Scarlett Rugers, Book Cover Designer

Guess who stopped by Chick Lit Chit Chat to say hello? Book cover designer, Scarlett Rugers! Scarlett made the long journey across the blogosphere from Australia all the way to the United States. Welcome, Scarlett. My, you sure travelled a great distance to visit with Chick Lit Chit Chat blog readers. So glad you could join us!

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Cover Designed by
Scarlett Rugers
Book Written by
Paige Kellerman

So Scarlett, tell us your thoughts on book cover design…

Book cover design is so much more than just an image or well placed text. Book covers have to do with the author’s confidence and self-esteem, it dictates to the reader what level of quality to expect to read, and it is about the professional identity of the author from now until they retire from writing (if ever).

What made you decide to start your own book design business?

I decided when I started my business that I want to be a key player in changing the stigma of self-publishing, to show that it’s a professional business and that there is really high quality fiction out there. My job is two-fold:

To be the interpreter for the book. I read the book to get the best insights into what will work for the cover. This will, more often than not, be symbolic or thematic rather than literal. To design a high quality cover that breaks the perception of self-publishing so we’re able to honestly compare work between self and traditionally published authors.

My second job is to inspire the author to be the best they can be. I work with my authors so that at the end of our project they feel empowered and are constantly growing their writing skill. To keep being better until they become that best seller.

By helping authors be the best they can be and inspiring them to continue learning more and more they will grow into magnificent, powerful writing beasts.

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Cover Designed by
Scarlett Rugers
Book Written by
Kathryn O’Halloran

I heard you offer a ‘redesign guarantee’. What is that and how does it work?

I love my job because I love helping authors. I know that hiring a designer can be a bit scary, and I also know the landscape I work in and how quickly trends can change. I offer a Lifetime Redesign Guarantee on my packages because you can’t truly test your product, or know how your readers will respond, until you’re out there marketing your book. So if in two weeks or two or twelve months you find that your cover isn’t working like you wanted it to you can come back to me and we’ll start from scratch and build you a new cover with your new goal in mind, totally free of charge.

I’ve also just recently, in the past two weeks, won two awards for top website for self-publishers! One is from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and the other from the Association of Independent Authors (AiA). I’m still so overwhelmed that I won them but honoured as well! I work really hard at my business and more and more I’m getting such positive responses. I’ve worked with Amazon for their traditional publishing house, designing paperbacks and eBooks on Kindle for Montlake, and now I’m in a partnership with Kobo to help their self-published authors as well.

WOW. Two top awards … one from the Alliance of Independent Authors and one from the Association of Independent Authors? Very prestigious!

That’s awesome.

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Cover Designed by
Scarlett Rugers
Book Written by
Davonna Juroe

So what’s next for you? 

What’s my ultimate plan? To provide the best quality services for self-published (and traditional published) authors. That’s the goal I have. For the Scarlett Rugers Book Agency to be the place to go for the best in the industry. And not just the best outcome such as editing or designing, but also for customer service.

I know people tune out when I say that because it’s business-lingo but I really do pride myself in giving all the writers I work with the best customer service experience they can have, so that by the end of it they feel like a traditionally published author.

I’ve also just finished the last rounds of editing for my current novel, Oscar and Josephine, and it’s now in preparation for publication, which I am really so excited about. I’ve been working on this for a year and a half and it’s finally ready. I can’t tell you the relief it is to get to the end of the project, though I’m sure you already know! I’ve already published 1001 First Lines but that was reference and there was no real creativity involved, at least not in the collection of it. I had some leeway designing it of course but now I’m going to have my fiction out there, so I got some jittery nerves happening!

My goodness, you’ve been busy! Can’t wait to read Oscar and Josephine

Before we end our little chat, what advice do you have for others in the field?

If I had one piece of advice for the authors and their cover it’s this: Don’t do it yourself. Find a way to hire a professional because remember: Your book cover dictates to the reader what quality they expect to read inside. If you designed your cover yourself, then your reader will expect you didn’t hire a professional editor either, or formatter, and that your story will be a mess of DIY. You want to show that you’re a professional, because you are. You’re a business now, and you need to give them the best product (i.e.: your book) that you can.

I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks for traveling all the way across the blogosphere to the United States to stop by Chick Lit Chit Chat, Scarlett! Here’s hoping you have a safe journey home to Australia. Cheers!

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About Scarlett: Scarlett Rugers is a professional book cover designer, from Melbourne Australia. She’s worked with both self-published authors and traditional publishing houses, dedicating her time to make authors feel like best sellers.

Her goal is to help change the stigma of self-publishing and show it’s a professional field of high quality. She does this by designing beautiful book covers and working together with authors to produce the best book they can, and to encourage development of their skills in writing and publishing.

She has also been writing since 1998, and has published 1001 First Lines.

You can find Scarlett Rugers here:

Website

Facebook

Twitter @thebookdesignr