When Alba notices the house for the first time, she has no place else to go. Cut off from her family, disgraced at university and on the verge of a breakdown, all she wants to do is hide under the covers and nibble on ginger biscuits, but soon she notices that among the house's odd assortment of residents, who are perfectly content to accept the house's magical properties without thinking much about them, she is the only one who can see certain ghosts. Alba's synesthesia also takes a distinctly unusual form: she sees the tone or intent behind the words that other people speak as different colors and can read them like an aura. While the house tries to encourage Alba to embrace these gifts, the portraits urge her to get out of her history books and into life.
We meet other residents along the way, including Greer, an aspiring actress with a talent for inhabiting characters so that she doesn't have to live her own life; Carmen, a traumatized musician running from her past; and Peggy, the house mistress who loves the house itself, chocolate cream, Sunday trysts with Harry, and old Mog the cat in nearly equal measure. There are also the non-Hope Street residents, like Alba's family (her siblings, her newly discovered father, and ghost mother), Blake-the-sexy-bartender, and Zoe-the-librarian, who has loved Alba from afar for years.
The book has a shifting third person point of view, which hovers over each character anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages, and I found it is a little frustrating that just as I was really warming to one character's story, the POV abruptly shifts to somebody else. Most, if not all, of the characters' fates will end up the way you expect, but despite the quirky predictability of it all, this book was fun to read and each day I anticipated the pleasure of putting away a few chapters at bedtime. It helped me out of my November reading rut and I would suggest it as a perfect palate cleanser to your reading if you've been living on a diet of dystopian fiction or heavier/darker literature.
NB: I read an advance reading copy that was given to me by my sales rep and this book will be published in the US in April 2013 by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Viking. I believe it is already available in the UK.