Cover Image: The Witch of Willow Hall

The Witch of Willow Hall

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THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL by Hester Fox 
Graydon House - Harlequin 
ISBN: 978-1-525-8 3301-4
October 2018

The story is told through Lydia Montrose’s viewpoint, first about an incident that happened when she was a child that marked her as different. And now the Montrose family flees Boston where rumors surround their oldest daughter Catherine. Her father moves his family into Willow Hall, which was to be a summer home in New Oldbury. Mr. Montrose is a very wealthy man who seeks to establish a cotton mill with another resident, John Barrett. Lydia does not have a cordial relationship with Catherine, and knows her older sister’s behavior forced this move. The youngest daughter, eleven year old Emeline, is thrilled with the Willow Hall and its surrounds and is soon talking about mermaids she knows exist in a nearby pond.

In New Oldbury Lydia finds her disturbing visions and accompanying strange events emerge again. She meets Barret while searching the woods in the rain for Emeline’s dog and feels a strong attraction to him that develops into much more for her. Barrett gives little away about himself or his thoughts, but with only two eligible men in the area, her sister Catherine stalks a husband, and is willing, even eager, to put down Lydia any chance she gets.

This story is certainly about a tortuous romance, but it much more. It is about love of family, even the members who aren’t so loving in return, and protecting them from the onslaughts of others. A horrible tragedy strikes which ultimately entangles the family in problems and leads Lydia to make many difficult decisions. Ultimately she learns who she truly is. The story is from her innocent and forgiving perspective and moves very fast, so readers will eagerly follow her story.
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I typically shy away from anything supernatural in books, but it wasn’t a major part of the plot.  For a debut novel, this really kept me reading and was enjoyable and light.  I found myself reading fast, just to find out if the main character would get the happily ever after she loved in all of her books!   There was a little taboo storyline as well that surprised me.  More importantly, this was my first netgalley book and I’m grateful to the publishers for giving me an early read.
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What an unexpected delight. If you enjoy a slow-paced read, with a hint of supernatural, a mystery and romance than  I would recommend this read to you. The novel opens in 1821 as the Montrose family has moved to New Oldbury from Boston under the cloud of a scandal. Mr. Montrose will be opening a mill with John Barrett, a young businessman with secrets of his own. Lydia, the middle Montrose daughter and protagonist is drawn to Mr. Barrett, but feels overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Catherine. Although the family's scandal centers around Catherine, Lydia's engagement to a Boston businessman has been broken in the aftermath. When tragedy strikes the Montrose family, Lydia finds herself drawn to Mr. Barrett, who has also dealt with family tragedy. Lydia also begins to discover she has magical powers inherited from an ancestor who lost her life during the Salem Witch Trials. As she begins to accept who and what she is, her life begins to unravel and she must decide to sacrifice everything she holds dear to safe those she loves.

While the main character, Lydia, discovers she is a witch, there is little magic in the book. The story is more about family dynamics, sisterly bonds and competition, and self-acceptance. Lydia's thoughts and feelings felt realistic to the times and situation. There is a slow build to climatic confrontation and conclusion, nothing felt out of place or overwrought. I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed du Maurier's Rebecca or gothic literature.
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Catherine, Lydia and Emeline are the Montrose sisters, formerly of Boston and newly of Willow Hall in the countryside.  The rumors that necessitated the move are still whispered about. Their parents are eager to find matches for the older girls, to see them safely married off for their futures.  Possible suitors are beset by both older girls, a competition hard at work.  And then, tragedy strikes. Once again, the Montrose family is the object of talk and whispers.  In the midst of it all, strange experiences are setting a stage for what is to come -- and witchcraft! You won't want to miss this.
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I was able to get an advance copy of The Witch of Willow Hall, by Hester Fox, thanks to NetGalley. 
This was a great gothic suspense book, I would not call it a gothic horror story, but definitely a suspenseful story. The characters were written in such a way that you felt like you knew people who were just like them. The story is about the Montrose family. After a scandalous event happens the family is forced to leave their comfortable home and life in Boston, escaping to their summer home, Willow Hall. The book is about relationships, mother/father, parents/daughters, daughter/daughter, and budding romantic relationships. There is also a focus on the relationship between the place, Willow Hall, and the family. The story unfolds slowly and beautifully, allowing readers to savor each little morsel to the end. And, at the end of the day I am a sucker for good tales that include witches and ghosts.
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Hester Fox’s The Witch of Willow Hall (Graydon House), is another story of witches that’ll get you in the Halloween spirit. In 1821, the Montrose family has been shunned by Boston socialites over rumors of a shameful family secret and they are forced to start over in New Oldbury, MA, in a home that seems to have an effect on all three Montrose girls. Lydia has possessed a peculiar power since childhood and since moving to Willow Hall, it has been amplified. She is seeing and hearing things that haunt the history of the land, all while her family seems to be falling apart. Unless Lydia learns to control her powers, she could either forever damage her family, or if used right, perhaps fix all that has gone wrong.
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A fast paced story that draws you in and keeps your attention. I would recommend this to many of my library’s patrons that enjoy this type of book. Overall, I enjoyed the plot, the writing, and the characters but I am still a little underwhelmed with the ending.
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So hard to believe this is a debut novel. Such an amazing read. The first half was good but more about the character development, but as soon as I hit the second half holy cow!! I seriously could not put it down! The night before the first day of school and I was up until after midnight finishing this book. 5 hours of sleep was worth it! This is a must read!
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I was looking forward to a good old Gothic witch novel, but, for the most part, this is a different sort of book. While I have no doubt many readers will love this story, it simply didn't wow me.

In the beginning, the author does a great job of capturing the eerie setting, giving us a sense of foreboding. But, also right from the start, the story is more about family drama, secrets, and budding romances than it is about witches. In fact, while there are a few subtle hints of the paranormal, there is nothing about witches or powers until about halfway through the story. Even then, the witch aspect doesn't really come into play until the last quarter.

The pace is slow. We spend a whole lot of time with Lydia while she obsesses about her sisters and a love interest. Oddly, she is far more worried about and obsessed with family drama than she is about the strange occurrences only she experiences. The story is written in first person, so we're in Lydia's head the entire time, and the repetitive drama becomes tedious. 

There is a great twist, though I think that aspect needed more exploration. I wanted to understand it better. I wanted to know how it came to be, how the secret got out, and how - or if - it altered the family dynamics. This is the kind of twist that demands scrutiny, yet it only served to add another layer of drama.

The action picks up in the last quarter, when the witch aspect finally comes into play. Still, the romance and drama remained the focus. If you take the witch and magic out of the story, not a lot changes.

If you enjoy historical romance, you'll probably love this book. If you're looking for something with a strong Gothic feel and underlying magic, this one doesn't quite get there.
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The Witch of Willow hall is a mystery set in the suburbs of Boston, Mass in the 1820's. Descended from the witches of Salem, Lydia is the middle child. She is the responsible one with little prospects because she is wholesome. Her older sister is a flirt, her parents are indifferent. The story picks up when Catherine's actions force the family to leave their home and business to sleepy Willow Hall. But the Montroses aren’t the only family with secrets. Ghosts plague Willow Hall and Catherine’s secret is posed to bury them all.

This is a dark story. Full of mystery and romance. The characters are all flawed. Every single one. From hubris to greed to neglect. But Lydia grows and finds strength in powers she once feared. The themes in this book reminded me a lot of Crimson Peak and Rebecca.

5 stars for keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout and for heroine who isn’t a Mary Sue.
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What an intriguing read! When the Montrose family was forced by scandal to uproot their lives and flee the city, I at first thought to myself that surely it could not have been that severe, after all what was not considered scandalous in those days? The scandal itself is a bit of a mystery, and there are hints that it may have been caused by Lydia or by Catherine, but either way I could not wait to find out what it was. Once settled in their new home it seems that gossip has followed them, and sadly a tragedy is not far behind. The relationship between the sisters held me spellbound. For having been raised by the same parents in the same home, they could not have wound up more different from each other. This was a captivating work of historical fiction with a gothic ghost story feel, complete with heroes to cheer for and villains that I took delight in hating.
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Just couldn't get into this title. It was not what I was expecting based on the description of the book.
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This book was okay! I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I think it’ll have a good appeal and it releases at a great time to appeal to the cozy, romance readers. I do think it was pitched a little wrong though and was a little more straight romance than paranormal like I was expecting. 

All and all not a bad read but I was expecting better.
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A very suspense filled Gothic tale that I enjoyed. I think young adult readers or new adult will find this an enjoyable book.  Historical accuracy could be fine tuned a bit. Overall a good read.
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This is a great debut by a first-time author that encompasses witchcraft, love, and tragedy in the early 1800s. This book is a great pick for fans of gothic novels, witches, and or historical fiction as it blends the three elements beautifully throughout the story.
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The Montrose family is one of the most prominent families in early 1800s Boston until the oldest daughter, Catherine, causes a scandal so atrocious that it forces the family to start their lives over in the small town of Old Newbury, Massachusetts. The Montrose family members have many secrets - even from each other - and they are determined to preserve their secrets while rebuilding their new lives in Willow Hall. Middle daughter, Lydia, immediately suspects that something is wrong with their new home. Like the Montrose family, Willow Hall has it's own share of tragic secrets. As Lydia delves into the mysteries of the house and the supernatural elements inhabiting it, she also unravels the secrets of her own family - including that her mother's family is descended from one of the women who was executed during the Salem Witch Trials and that she herself is a witch!

THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL is very eerie, and the novel is packed with suspense and a escalating sense of dread. There is romance, family secrets, blackmail, betrayal, and various family dynamics. The novel is beautifully written, and the storyline was very interesting. I was intrigued that the novel was written in the present tense. I'll admit that it was a bit jarring at first, and it continued to surprise me a few times throughout the novel. But, once I got used to the present tense, I found it very fascinating. Lydia Montrose is an intriguing character, and she becomes more and more appealing as she learns that she is a witch. The other main characters are interesting as well, and they all add something to the story. The "evil" sister, Catherine, works as a great foil against "good" sister Lydia. The ups and downs of their relationship added to the storyline, and caused some unexpected twists. Catherine is not a likable character, but her story will keep the readers interested. The romantic elements in the novel were also captivating. John Barrett makes a remarkable hero who is tortured by his past. 

My only criticism is that I would have liked to know more about the Montrose family's only son as well as their ancestor who was killed during the Salem Witch Trial. It also took a little too long to reveal the big family secret that drove the Montrose family out of Boston. Since the story is told in Lydia's first-person perspective, and she clearly knows about the scandal, it seems a bit unfair that she waits so long to pass along the information to the readers.
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Hard to believe this is a debut novel - it is really very well written.  I was totally absorbed in the story and didn't want to put the book down until finished.  There's a lot more to the story than witchcraft. The Montrose family flees Boston in 1821 due to scandalous rumors and moves to New Oldbury into a home called Willow Hall. Willow Hall has a history of tragedy. This is the story of what happens at Willow Hall and especially what Lydia discovers about herself and her history.  There is also a romance, blackmail and betrayal, incest, and a new tragedy at Willow Hall.  The witchcraft in the book is definitely there, but is somewhat understated.

My favorite characters were Lydia Montrose and John Barrow.  The characters were well-developed and interesting.  My least favorite character was Catherine - I would really hate to have her for a sister!  The book was atmospheric and gave me a sense of foreboding and dread.

I really enjoyed the book! Thanks to Hester Fox and HARLEQUIN - Graydon House Books through Netgalley for an advance copy.
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I had high expectations for this book but I really felt like it didn't live up to them. I'm also not sure why this was listed as a romance? It definitely does not have romance as it's main plot. 

The book kind of drags though the middle and does do a good job of having that spooky ominous tone but overall it was hard to keep engaged. I was also disappointed in the magic, there wasn't very much of it nor any explanations or elaborations on it either. 

I did really enjoy the writing though, her writing is eloquent and beautiful but I just couldn't get into the story.
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The Witch of Willow Hall is spooky, atmospheric, and romantic. It's exactly the type of Gothic story I love and it's a perfect read for fall/Halloween season. I made the mistake of reading it before bed and was definitely feeling chills once the lights were off. If you love stories about witches, ghosts and supernatural, The Witch of Willow Hall is for you.
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My thanks to Netgalley and Graydon House for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

I was excited to get into this book, and while I enjoyed it overall, the reading experience was a bit underwhelming at times. Let me start with a nit-picky gripe about the cover: this takes place in 1821, roughly 130 years after the Salem witch trials, but the cover says, "Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there's still one witch in Massachusetts, but she doesn't even know it." Hopefully the cover is corrected on the final copy, but that seems like a rather strange error and left me feeling a bit apprehensive about the research which went into the historical period. 
Lydia develops a romance with a Mr. John Barrett after the family moves into Willow Hall. This is down to personal taste and I know there are readers who won't mind this, but the romance is a bit too "love at first sight," which is somehow harder to buy than the witchcraft. I was also a bit put off by the fact that Lydia's feelings towards Mr. Barrett are essentially "How could this perfect man love little old me?" That dynamic is common in romance, especially YA (I'm not sure if this novel is intentionally written as YA or not, but it feels like a YA novel to me) and it's frankly a bit tired. 

My last issue was that the novel felt a bit meandering - family drama, death, romance, and Lydia's discovery that she is a witch all play a major role, but none of them felt like the main focus of the plot. It almost felt as if Fox were trying to cram two novels' worth of plot lines into one, and the end result was like a half dozen angry cats crammed into a sack. I would have liked to see a few plot points plucked out in favor of developing those remaining a bit more fully. 

That being said, I do see why people would enjoy this novel. The horror elements were deliciously creepy and spine-tingling. The slow reveal of the reason Lydia's family has fled to Willow Hall and the scandal they left in their wake kept me hooked. The sibling rivalry and family scandal combined with the supernatural elements of the story, and the overall effect was a slow build of suspense up through the end of the story. 

Lydia's relationships with her sisters were just as important to the plot as the romance, which is always nice to see. Despite some of my issues with romance itself, I did like that it wasn't the sole thing going on in Lydia's life; please spare me stories of women losing themselves completely over a budding romance. 

Hester Fox's debut novel is ambitious in what it's trying to accomplish. The end result is engaging and a bit Jane Austin meets Gothic novel meets YA. I'll definitely be watching to see what Fox writes in the future.
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