Each lost woman may stay for 99 nights. That’s just enough time to heal a broken heart, face a demon or redirect one’s entire life.
A despairing victim of academic shenanigans, Alba Ashby finds herself rather inexplicably in front of a gorgeous house. Alba is gifted with the ability to see the colors of emotions, bubbles of laughter and sparks of love. The proprietress, Peggy Abbot, invites her into a most magical place. For nearly 200 years, the house has stood invisible to most people, dropping its enchanted veil only for women who have lost hope. It offers sanctuary, advice (in the form of cryptic messages dropped from above), gifts (everything from birthday cakes to pianos to never-ending wardrobes) and advice from famous previous visitors—including Dorothy Parker, Daphne du Maurier and Caroline Herschel—each of who speaks from her photograph on the wall. This summer, the house’s residents include Greer, a glamorous but failed actress reeling from her fiance’s infidelity; Carmen, a sultry Portuguese singer who has buried something dangerous under the morning glories; Alba, who must face not only her ruined career, but also her horrible family when she receives word that her beloved, but mad, mother has died. At the reading of the will, Alba is given a box of love letters written between her mother and Alba’s real father. Can she find him? Will Stella, the ghost in the kitchen, help her? And why does the house, with its magical bookshelves, force her to get novels from Zoë, the pixielike librarian? Peggy herself is troubled this summer. The house has informed her that today is her last birthday. Has she squandered her life helping other women when she ought to have married Harry?
Beguiling and bright, van Praag’s (Happier Than She’s Ever Been, 2011, etc.) third novel delights with deft writing and charming characters.