Enjoy Charming Magical Realism in Menna van Praag’s Novels
Menna van Praag’s stories, The House at the End of Hope Street, The Dress Shop of Dreams, and her newest novel, The Witches of Cambridge, all invite readers to a Cambridge where magic lurks around every historical corner. These three novels are not a series, although it makes perfect sense that an enchanted bakery, dress shop, and rooming house would all coexist perfectly with the tourists and academics of Cambridge, so readers can start with any book without confusion.
The House At The End of Hope Street might be my favorite. This is the story (or rather, one chapter of a long history) of a Cambridge boarding house that takes in women who need ninety days to transform their lives. When Alba, a brokenhearted and disgraced academic, becomes the newest resident, the house creates a library of fiction and perfect reading spots to take her mind away from her failed research. For Greer, a struggling actress, the house creates a costume closet for her, nudging her away from giving up hope and becoming a waitress. With the comfort of a snarkily magical home behind them, all the women of Hope Street begin to make changes in their lives. But, as the resident housemother warns, the house also has some terrible failures…
In The Witches of Cambridge, subtle magic exists in tasty bakery treats, with just a little extra courage or luck in them. I loved the subtle magic and complex relationships in this story (Wait, maybe this one is my favorite?). In The Dress Shop of Dreams, the perfect outfit can change lives, but not always in the way we expect. Each of these novels from Menna van Praag shows struggling human characters in an slightly enchanted world, and then shows us the wildly different forms love can take — magic or not.
The Witches of Cambridge is out February 9, 2016 from Ballantine Books.