Cover Image: The Witch of Willow Hall

The Witch of Willow Hall

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Member Reviews

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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The premise of this book is very interesting and the Gothic tone works very well. The first-person present tense was slightly awkward to read. The vocabulary was too modern in several spots. The storyline had some good twists and turns, but by the end had become predictable. Unfortunately, it was more of a standard romance than the creepy Gothic tale of the supernatural that I had expected.
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How would you like to know something is different and yet you have no idea what it is? How would you like to be a witch yet have no training on how to control your powers? How would you feel to find out that your older sister was trying to get married because she was pregnant and when you find out who the father is it shocks the daylights out of you? Then to make matters worse you lose a very close loved one and that you accidentally due to your unknown & unlearned powers keep with you instead of sending her through the veil? Your mother is no help and is so far out of it that she is so fragile you are afraid that if she has to handle anything she will break into a million pieces, so you do your best to clean up all the family messes. Does not sound fun does it? To make matters worse the entire family is forced out of their home due to rumors (which will shock you when you realize what those rumors are) and to a back water small community where the rumors have followed you. This is what Lydia goes through with her sisters, Catherine (older) & Emeline (younger). 

Then to top it off the property that they live on already has ghosts and odd things that has happened to it in the past. Lydia does her best to handle things, but just when it seems all has failed and she must make the biggest sacrifice of all things are finally revealed to her and it work out. This book held my attention and was quite difficult for me to put down at times. I do recommend reading it.
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Reminiscent of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice with a gothic and dark twist. Creepy and romantic, I enjoyed it . Thank you publisher and netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.
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The Witch of Willow Hall has all the right bits to recommend it: family drama, a handsome and gentlemanly hero, a family secret (more than one actually!) and a heroine who learns about herself while trying to hold her family together.  The book opens on a day, a decade past, when our heroine, Lydia Montrose, finds herself facing off with the neighborhood bully who seems to get a sense of pleasure out of being mean and cruel.  When he goes too far Lydia sees red and sets out to teach him a lesson.  This is the event that should show Lydia she's different than other people; instead her mother insists they never speak of it and so Lydia never quite understands what it means to injure a boy yet never lay a hand on him.  It also means when her family moves from Boston to New Oldbury to avoid the gossips and stares of the Boston upper crust who have given them the cold shoulder since the rumors started about her brother and sister, Charles and Catherine, she is unprepared for the happenings around her new house.  She questions herself and doubts what she sees, hears, and experiences until her own ignorance has consequences for those she loves.

I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall enough that when I finally had the chance to really sit and really read it I breezed through it in one day.  I found myself eager to get back to the story to see what happens next and I flipped to the last few pages of the book to see just how things would turn out, something I only do when I really really enjoy a book and its characters.  (I know, I'm weird.  Go with it.)  It is a compelling story and as a first novel I definitely going to be watching for more from Fox.

My biggest regret about the book is we don't really see how Lydia goes from the timid, unsure girl at the beginning of the book to the woman we finally start to see at its conclusion and that's a tragedy because I'd love to have seen more of that in both her mundane life and the otherworldly one.  We get glimpses of the transformation and the incidents that begin to shape who she will eventually become yet I don't think we really see her go through the transformation.  I have a feeling this is something that Fox will get better at the more she writes.  

For instance, we see Lydia talking to spirits and experiencing her powers yet she never seems to understand anything about what that might mean for her.  Then suddenly it's as if someone flips a switch and she has this "oh THAT's what's going on!" epiphany.  I wanted to shake some sense into the girl on more than one page because it was like she was being willfully ignorant.  I swear even her ancestor wanted to roll their eyes at Lydia at one point... well, if they had eyes.  I also wish Lydia (and so the reader) would have learned more about her ties to Salem and the powers of her family.  

Even the more normal aspects of her life had a similar feeling.  She just. Didn't. GET. It a lot of the time.  It's clear to the reader Lydia and her crush have feelings for each other.  Yet again I found myself wanting to roll my eyes at her.  She's so good at comparing herself to her sister Catherine that she sees what she believes she should see.  I understand that her self-doubt is a strong factor in why she is as she is; much as with Lydia's powers I wish we would have seen more of the development of her finding her confidence. 

That said, these things don't ruin the book for me.  The characters are compelling, the backstory is interesting, and the book does have that creepy Gothic flair to it.  I'm glad I read it and when it come out I know a couple of people I think will enjoy it so I'll be recommending it to them.  Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House Books for giving me the opportunity to read this before it was published.
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I'm not sure what draws me to stories about witches and witchcraft. Perhaps it's because my family is from New England, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond was one of my favorite books as a kid. Or maybe it's due to my love for Harry Potter. Whatever the reason, I enticed by Hester Fox's The Witch of Willow Hall, recommended to fans of Alice Hoffman and Deborah Harkness. While it's not as historically rich as Harkness' series or as classic as Hoffman's Practical Magic, I devoured Willow Hall in two days, not willing to let it sit unread.

In addition to the magical aspects, Willow Hall will also appeal to fans of Regency novels and Jane Austen as well as the Bronte sisters' gothic tales. The overall tone more closely mirrors Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, but Austen fans will appreciate the romantic aspects and Lydia's introspection. Plus, a handful handsome men in riding breeches never hurt.
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Perfect gothic tale of suspense and romance with supernatural elements . Lydia is the main character who is special but does not even know it .Due to a family scandal there is a move from Boston to a small town ..  .. This novel is creepy , suspenseful , romantic. Add some history from Salem witch trials and you have quite the page turner . Perfect for fans of Daphne Du Maurier . I enjoyed every second reading this unique novel
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A good suspense,mystery romance with twist.
Lydia a her family were outcast from Boston and went to live at Willow Hill.Lydia was different from sister but doesn't know why until she goes to Willow Hill.There she meet MR Barrett and a romance begins but will they get their happy ending. Things happens that but make it impossible.
Very good story.
Voluntarily reviewed.
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I LOVE witch-y books. I love the atmosphere of them. Especially when they make me feel like it’s an October night even when it’s actually July. The Witch of Willow Hall achieved this, but I don’t think it’s a book that will stick with me.

I quite enjoyed Lydia’s voice. She seemed to be fairly level headed, but I definitely would not have stuck by Catherine the way she did.. Catherine was awful and just got worse and worse. I’m pretty disappointed that she never got what she deserved. She’s lucky she has a sister that is as devoted to their family as Lydia is.

I really enjoyed the romance in this! There’s just something romantic about how courting and dating used to happen. I like Mr. Barrett a lot. Cyrus was awful, but I’m glad he was dealt with.

Emeline broke my heart. I didn’t expect what happened to happen, but after finishing the book I realized I really should have.

It was a bit of a slow burn, but I feel like it went with the tone of the book very well. I have found that lots of historical fiction books are slower than contemporaries and I usually end up enjoying it.

The only thing that really disappoints me about this novel is that it really didn’t have much witchcraft in it. Tons of ghosts, but very little practice.

The ending was kind of perfect, though. It wrapped everything up nicely, if not a little quickly.

The Witch of Willow Hall is a decent book, just not amazing. I feel like it’s going to be one of those books that I won’t be able to remember the names of the characters or the plot a year from now.
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Opening line:
"It was the Bishop boy who started it all." 

I was sucked right into this story from the beginning. Scandal, secrets, ghosts, oh my! I found myself reaching for my Kindle time and again because I wanted to know what came next. But now that I'm done reading it and there is a few hours behind me, I'm not sure what to think. 
First off, the writing is great. The author knows how to create tension and hooks that kept me engrossed. I skimmed a little bit in the middle but not much. The beginning drew me in and the end of the middle kept me reading.
Second off is everything else. The characters were developed to a certain point and then flat lined. There was one, scarce mentor for the main character and the mentor doesn't show up for a long time and then just says cryptic things to her. Her parents don't do anything throughout the book (except maybe one time), the oldest sister is a B and jilted love interest needed to MOVE ON. 
There were a LOT of secrets. Everyone had a secret (except maybe the dad but that character was never fleshed out). All the secrets were found out with lots of anger except one and that was "well here is my deep dark secret." "Okay. That's fine." I think the keeping and revealing of secrets were my biggest disappointment. "Oh yes, by the way, you are not normal but it's okay." "Good to know." There is one secret I found very distasteful and it bothered me through most of the book.
The ending was happy but a little abrupt. I did not get closure with at least three plot lines. 
All in all, if you like ghost stories and being kept up reading late into the night, you'll enjoy this book. I hope Ms. Fox writes more and more books and hones her talents even more. She has a bright future ahead of her!

For the sensitive reader: there are roughly 10 swear words, ghosts, drowning, death, kissing passionately, suggestions of sexual romps, unwanted pregnancy, and incest.

Thanks to netgalley for the early read.
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The darker parts of this tale are hinted at repeatedly but not fully revealed until the second half of the book. Until then, we are left wondering what shadow hangs over this formerly-fortunate family. And what might save any of the members from some dark fate? Yet, it’s not a grim tale at all. Part historic fiction, part witchy-tale, part romance, there’s something here for almost every reader, if any of this falls in your wheelhouse. Author Hester Fox handles the time period well and her characters are engaging. This book is a quick read because it’s difficult to stop reading once you start.
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This book had me at “witch”. 

From the moment I got it I couldn’t put it down. I wanted nothing more than to stay up too late surrounded by its ghosts and promises of revealed secrets. 

At first I found the characters a bit clichéd. The protagonist is a little too good. The older sister is a vain, self-centered, bully. The younger sister is an annoying, yet endearing, 8-year-old. John is the classic stoic knight. The ghost is, well... why is there a ghost?

Then there is the tragedy. Oh the tragedy!

Then the scandal is revealed. Oh the scandal!!

It is positively bewitching. 

Haunting, compelling, and deeply gratifying, this is the perfect read for early fall when nights come earlier and cool breezes hint at a chill soon to come…

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
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Set in the 1800s, this modern take on the Gothic novel was a page turner. Lydia Montrose and her family leave Boston under a cloud of scandal. They take up residence in a small town where Mr. Monstrose is looking to build a mill in partnership with young Mr. Barrett.. Lydia, a kind and compassionate young woman is caught between her responsibilities to protect her family, especially sister Catherine and her  new found love for. Mr. John Barrett. Tragedies ensue, misunderstandings, threat of exposure to more public scandal over Catherine’s behavior in Boston, and a great dollop of witchcraft, a satisfying read all in all. My one criticism is the plot device removing Catherine from the local scene at the end. The solution the author provides to the problem of this character’s place in the family and society would certainly never have happened in that time unless she were to descend to life of the street and this novel didn’t set up that particular scenario.
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The Witch of Willow Hall was not so much a book about magic or witchcraft as it was about ghosts and sisters.  The story opens early in the 1800s on the Montrose sisters and their mother as they are moving into Willow Hall.  They are joining their father there as they fled from scandal in Boston.  Their brother Charles isn't with them, and we're not sure where he is or why he's not with the family.  The scandal involved Catherine, the eldest, and her improper behavior.  Lydia tells the story and takes care of the youngest sister, Emeline, as the mother is unwell thanks to the stress of the scandal and the ultimate move to the country.  Willow Hall is a lovely, large house on a sprawling bit of property that includes the titular willow tree and a small pond.  Emeline immediately wants to visit the pond and talk to the mermaids she is sure live just below the surface.  The girls fair pretty well considering what they left behind, until a quick trip to town uncovers rumors about ghosts inhabiting the house.  Emeline's dog, Snip, runs off and its while searching for him that Lydia meets John Barrett, their neighbor and their father's business partner.  What follows is a tale of devastating tragedy and secrets come to light.  As Lydia grows closer to Mr. Barrett she learns more about the past, herself, and her relationship to her family.  This was a great ghost story, well told and easy to read.  The Witch of Willow Hall is , not as fast paced or suspenseful as many I've ready but enjoyable nonetheless.  Its refreshing to read a book that is well written and doesn't rely on shocking gore or violence to tell a story.
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I love a good scary story set in a spooky haunted house, so I was very much looking forward to this book. Unfortunately there were too many things going on throughout the story and it bogged the narrative down. Witchcraft, ghosts, romance, incest, a pregnancy from that incest...it was too much. I think had the author chosen one or two to focus on rather than throwing them all together the book would have been more cohesive. None of it was BAD, exactly, it just didn't all fit together. Almost like certain plot lines should have been an entirely separate novel. As a result I never really felt any connection to any of the characters. I was disappointed.
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Lydia and her family have moved to Willow Hall after leaving Boston due to a family scandal. Lydia tries to forget the past, but she will soon discover that the past cannot be ignored, because secrets hold a power all their own, and they can’t be silenced forever.

The cover grabbed my attention, as did the description. However, the story just didn’t match up with my expectations. The ghost/witchcraft/creepy house angle was somewhat interesting, but there wasn’t a lot of tension or drama. Sadly, there wasn’t a lot of character growth, either. The story was very slow, particularly at the beginning, and it was really hard for me to stay engaged, even though things picked up a bit as the story unfolded. Catherine is a large part of the story, and I found it difficult to like or care about her. Some parts seem a bit too modern for a story taking place in the 1800s, and the latter half of the book is predictable. Based on the cover and description, I was expecting more creepiness, especially as the book releases in October. It fell a bit flat for me, however. 

This review was posted on Goodreads, and I'll post on Amazon after the book is released.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley, but I wasn’t required to leave a positive review.
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This book started out slow but left little tidbits that kept me reading. I LOVED the ending and the journey that Lydia goes on to discover who she truly is.
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I became quickly engrossed in the story Fox weaved. The twisted, gothic storytelling just sucks the reader in and makes it difficult to put this book down. I do have a problem with some of the chosen language because it seemed out of place for the time period/setting; I also felt the story seemed a tad bit rushed at the end. Overall, though, an interesting story that I would recommend to others inclined to enjoy romance/ classic gothic style fiction.

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for an electronic ARC of this work m, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
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The Witch of Willow Hall was a wonderful story. It reminded me a little of Pride and Prejudice. I haven't read anything in the style of  this era in a long time. Hester Fox does a beautiful job of weaving this romantic tale with a touch of mystery. Lydia is the main character and she is constantly in turmoil over something or another. Catherine is a very complex character with her own reasons for the things she does. She spends too much time worrying about what she does not have to see what she could have. The two sisters' constant animosity toward each other becomes more clear at the end. This was a great story for any fan of the Elizabethan era.
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I do love a good book about a quiet girl living in a haunted house, so naturally I was drawn to Hester Fox’s new book The Witch of Willow Hall.  Lydia (our quiet and reflective protagonist) moves from Boston to the remote hamlet of New Oldham after an unexplained scandal prompts the family to flee from their family home. 

The nature of the scandal is not revealed, but a sense of general unrest seems to follow the family to their new home in Willow Hall.  Lydia in particular is sensitive to disturbances of a peculiar nature, which in time reveal new insights regarding her own special abilities. 

As time crawls by in New Oldham, family members grow more restless or withdrawn.  Sisterly rivalries and disagreements disturb what little peace Willow Hall offers the Montrose clan, until at last the house gives teeth to its sinister nature when a terrible accident befalls a member of the household.

Hester Fox paints Willow Hall and New Oldham with a lovely dismal patina.  I felt a plodding sense of despair as Lydia and her sisters endured both tedium and terror.  The author also offers an ensemble of well-crafted characters, each of whom seeks to free himself from his own private trap.  Ms. Fox does well to communicate a distinct sense of longing - for attention lost, for a lover, for a former life. The Witch of Willow Hall is part ghost story, part family drama, and part old-fashioned romance.  And in the end, our quiet girl finds the right words after all.
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