Cover Image: The Witch of Willow Hall

The Witch of Willow Hall

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Member Reviews

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As time crawls by in New Oldham, family members grow more restless or withdrawn.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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I made it 35% of the way through this book and just couldn't finish.  Made no connection with characters or story.
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This book caught my eye immediately on Netgalley because I love witches and the 1800's.  The cover was so beautiful, I had to see what it was holding on the inside.  With Fox's writing, I was immediately transported to the world of Lydia and her family.  The dark, creepy, and Gothic atmosphere of this novel is perfection.  In fact, the atmosphere was my favorite thing about this book.  I also really liked the characters.  They were multi-dimensional and their relationships were so interesting and complicated, especially the relationship between Lydia and her sister, Catherine.  While I really liked and rooted for Lydia, Catherine was the most interesting character and I only wish we could have learned more about her.  The novel starts out with a secret scandal involving Catherine, which sets the mood for the rest of the story, and keeps you guessing as to what she could have done that was so disgraceful.  Their sisterly relationship is full of toxicity, and yet Lydia still feels a sense of duty to her blood.  The plot almost felt secondary to the characters and atmosphere.  It was pretty slow moving, and I expected there to be a lot more magic and supernatural elements.  We don't really get to see much of Lydia's abilities until the second half, and up until then there isn't that much action.  There was a lot of build up, and I didn't think the release at the end was big enough after how long we had waited.  I wanted more excitement and more magic.  The love story was sweet, and I thought the pace of it worked really well.  There were a couple plot twists and elements that I really enjoyed, but all of them seemed small and I wish we would have had a grander plot to go with the incredible atmosphere and intriguing characters.
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Thoroughly enjoyable Gothic rich in atmosphere and foreboding and dark family secrets. Definitely my cup of laudanum-spiked tea!
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A wonderful tale, woven together masterfully by Hester Fox. The tale follows Lydia Montrose, a young woman at the beginning of the 19th century, as her family moves from Boston to a country home in Massachusetts. Scandal follows them and causes many interesting turns in the story, and wonderfully developed characters. I was loathe to read something that sounded fairly benign, but the writing was wonderful, the story was amazingly thought up and the characters were multi-faceted and interesting. At times a ghost story, a historical fiction novel, a romance and a thriller, this is a wonderful book for fall and the lead up to Halloween. 
If you enjoy Philippa Gregory, you will love this!
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Lydia’s life is not easy. outshined by her beautiful and boisterous older sister, she has taken on the role of dutiful daughter. When her family is driven out of Boston by terrible rumors, the family moves to their summer home upstate. But the house is haunted by a terrible past, and Lydia’s powers as a witch finally come out. As she struggles to find out who and what she is, her family is struck by tragedy. Her ex-fiancé from Boston tries to blackmail her into marrying him so he can have access to her money, and her father’s handsome business partner one day seems interested in her and is cold the next. Lydia must come to terms with what she is before she can save herself and her family.
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I do enjoy a good scary read. So when I read this tagline for the book, I dove in: " Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it."

The Witch of Willow Hall novel is set in New Oldbury, Massachusetts. The odd name kind of makes sense, as the book's time setting seemed pretty nebulous. Part of the setting did seem 19th century, but much of the action came across as decidedly modern (young Lydia meeting alone often with her "gentleman friends," one character saying he shouldn't have "lost my cool," etc).

I had to cringe when the final sentence had the happy couple walking back to Willow Hall "and the future that 'lays' beyond." One reviewer said it well: "The Witch of Willow Hall is just a creepy book about boy drama and some serious family issues." Ha -- I would not disagree with that.

Now, don't let me put you off from reading this book if you think it would appeal to you, as most reviewers really enjoyed it. Maybe my tastes are just a bit too literary (that's happened before). I liked this description, near the book's beginning: "Not just the house, but the ancient trees, the watching insects, the stars and even the moon. But they have all lived without us for lifetimes that make our own look like the blink of the eye." Nice.

The story itself is of the Montrose family, and particularly its three daughters: Catherine, Lydia, and Emmeline. The family has been involved in some vaguely-alluded-to scandal and has been forced to move to Willow Hall. From there, things start getting strange. The author effectively uses cliffhangers and suspense, and I did read this book fairly quickly. There were several twists, which I also liked and which I usually didn't see coming. In short, overall the book kept me entertained. The writing wasn't anything special for the most part, and a few of the characters (especially Catherine) were so mean and stereotypically evil that they didn't seem very real, but perhaps the author was going for a type of fairy tale feel with the book.

Do you enjoy a romantic tale with some suspense and a scary theme? If so, The Witch of Willow Hall may be just the book for you.

**Thanks NetGalley for a review copy.
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This was marketed as Gothic and I really wanted it to be, but found it to be way more romance and that's just not my bag. DNF
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Lydia Montrose has spent her life trying to repress herself and blend into the background, a quiet bookworm shadowed by her older and outgoing sister Catherine.  When Catherine's behavior causes too much scandal for the family to remain in Boston, they move to the small town of New Oldbury.  Here Lydia begins to discover more about herself, her family, and the world than she imagined. She falls for her father's business partner, the enigmatic and brooding John Barrett, but believes he has eyes only for Catherine.  As Lydia discovers more of Catherine's shameful secrets, she tries to keep the family together and protect them from the world.  But when tragedy continues to follow the Montrose family, who will keep Lydia safe?

The Witch of Willow Hall starts off slow, hinting at secrets without revealing the truth for long stretches of time, but picks up as you go.  The dark, quiet menace and gothic brooding of Willow Hall are a tangible presence throughout the entire book- even more of a character than many of the flesh and blood ones.  As much as you sometimes want to shake Lydia into sharing her problems you feel sorry for her for not having anyone strong or caring enough in her family to share them with.  Lydia takes on far more responsibility for the family than she should have to, especially while she is trying to figure out her own life at the same time.  Mysterious visions and sounds that only she can hear- are they dreams or something more sinister? It takes the plain speaking of one of Lydia's ancestors to make her stop completely avoiding the truth, and though she spends most of the book in denial that somehow makes her eventual acceptance of herself and her abilities even stronger.  Most of the other characters are fairly two dimensional- her parents almost nonentities for most of the book, Catherine a vain and outrageously selfish girl.  Anytime you see a hint of a real person behind her shallow facade it's gone so fast you're not sure if it was really there or if Lydia imagined it.  John Barrett is a fairly mysterious and brooding character for most of the book, although when he and Lydia finally actually talk out their misunderstandings and secrets he turns out to be a strong man with a good heart, and one Lydia truly deserves after all she's been through.  Despite the gothic menace of ghosts it is an all too human menace that threatens Lydia and John and Lydia comes to learn that good and evil can be in all people- witches or not.

The Witch of Willow Hall follows in the tradition of the gothic romances that Lydia loves so much- a book full of secrets, ghosts, betrayals, and love, with a much needed and deserved happy ending.
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The Witch of Willow Hall is set in Massachusetts in the year 1821 and follows the Montrose family as they flee scandal in Boston and settle in New Oldbury.   Told through Lydia’s eyes, the considerable drama centers on the three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline.  Catherine, the cause of the scandal, is self-centered and petty.  The youngest, Emeline, is adventurous and adores Lydia, a naïve bookworm.  Enter Mr. Barrett, Mr. Montrose new business partner, and his friend Mr. Pierce and the drama amps up quite a bit.  Add to that ghosts, witchcraft, a heartbreaking tragedy, and a splash of creepiness and you’ve got a gothic romance in your hands.  
 
Despite the gothic elements, this is a quick and easy read.  Wide brush strokes are used to tell this tale, not intimate or gory detail.  It leaves much to your imagination.  It was more romance than I was expecting.  I thought the witchcraft would have played a bigger role since the gothic-ness of the novel is the focus of the blurb.   Perhaps, this is only the first novel in a planned series.
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I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this book. I'm not much of a reviewer, but it you enjoy mysteries, light romance, and a little paranormal mixed in, I have a feeling you'll enjoy this as much as I did.
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Set in New England in the 1800s, a family is forced to relocate from Boston after a horrible scandal involving the oldest daughter. We don't find out what the scandal is until the second half of the story and it's a bit of a surprise and more than a little disconcerting. Could be off-putting to some readers. The book also includes a mish mash of themes such as ghosts, witches, incest, romance, and family dysfunction.   I was surprised at how little the story focused on witchcraft since the word "witch" is in the title.
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Well written with a strong sense of time and place - those who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of magic will certainly enjoy this book.  Characters are well crafted and the storyline pulls you right in.  A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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I was expecting a story with spookiness, thrills and mystery...this book delivered! I devoured this book in 2 days. The story kept me guessing the whole way through. I was never sure if I was reading a ghost story, family drama or romance. I would recommend this book.
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Hester Fox’s The Witch of Willow Begins with a fight in 1811 between Lydia Montrose and a young boy that killed her kitten. Ten years later the Montrose family is shunned in Boston society due to a scandal and have moved to a small town. Catherine, Lydia and Emeline navigate their new living arrangements and meet local young men. The three sisters are drawn with their own unique qualities. They hold the novel together when the other parts fail to work. I want to like this novel for the characters sake but it lacks something. The sisters are the most complete part of this book.
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I gave up on this book about halfway through it. I thought there would be some mystery or thrills. Instead it focused on a family trying to escape rumors that would tarnish their name.
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This book was not my cup of tea, although I know it has proved very popular for most readers. I am not a fan of the dark, Gothic novel, the action was a little slow for me and I wanted to read more about the witchiness!
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I thought the premise of this book was excellent, but there were so many plot points, I thought it could have been longer. I have read a lot of historical fiction, and rarely come across novels from this time period in America. The dynamics between the family members were very interesting, and I loved the blooming relationship between Lydia and John. 

I felt that there could have been more about Lydia being a witch. it seems like that idea isn't quite sussed out all the way. The goings on of the family, and her and John's love story are enough, though.
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This book was dark and gloomy and even very sad at times. It had a slow moving plot, but as it progressed the intrigue and mystery increased and before long I could not put it down. I had to know what was going to happen next. I was enthralled. I was captivated by Lydia and all she was going through. I felt so deeply for her character. This is a book that forces the reader to feel. The reader will gradually realize that they are invested in what is occurring. I laughed with Lydia and I cried with her. I was shocked with her and at times I was angry for her. Yes this book has witchcraft in it, but the book does not revolve around the witchcraft. The family scandal is more center to the storyline, and what a scandal it was. This book is not for the younger reader, it is for a more mature, older audience, however it is a great read. Differnt from my usual, but as this author's debut novel she should be proud. I look forward to reading more from Hester Fox.
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First line: It was the Bishop boy who started it all.

Summary: After a scandal touched the lives of the Montrose family, they decided to move to a small community, New Oldbury. Sisters, Lydia, Catherine and Emeline, try to enjoy life in their new home of Willow Hall but it appears that sometimes you cannot escape your past. However, when spooky things begin to happen, middle sister, Lydia, starts to wonder if there is something about her that is different and maybe linked to their ancestor, a victim of the Salem Witch Trials.

Highlights: I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw that it was recommended for fan of Deborah Harkness. I love her trilogy. The cover is beautiful and the description sounded very enticing. I liked the spooky elements but there was not much of it. Sadly.

Lowlights: I felt like this was misbranded. It felt more like a historical romance than a gothic novel. There was a little bit of hinting at a paranormal theme but this did not develop until the last third of the book. More emphasis was placed on the sister’s relationship and the scandal that rocked their family. I just felt that this book fell flat and was too long. It could have been half the length and done a better job.

FYI: Has disturbing scenes including miscarriage and incest.
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