The Witch of Willow Hall

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

This was a wonderfully haunting and spooky read that is perfect for Halloween! I loved the writing! Everything felt eerie and suspenseful. I loved how well written the characters were. Some characters I loved while others I found to be unlikable but I didn't mind. There is some romance and it was cute. If you want something spooky and suspenseful then this read will be perfect for you! You'll have a haunting good time reading it.
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I received an ARC of this from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really wish I would have read this in the fall around Halloween because it would have been perfect. It's a period piece, a ghost story, and a romance all wrapped up in one.  There were some really interesting plot twists that I didn't necessarily see coming which is always a plus in my book. I got really wrapped up in the lives of the characters in that I have a burning hatred for Catherine, a soft spot for Mr. Barrett, and I adored Lydia (particularly when she developed a backbone). 

I really enjoyed it and I was completely satisfied with the ending. I would definitely read this author again.
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I have been picking up debut authors more and more this year! This one seemed like a perfect one to try because what’s better than a bit of a gothic romance about a Salem witch descendant to read before Halloween, am I right?

THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL captivated me from the very start.  The Montrose family has moved away from Boston after an incestuous scandal ruined their standing in good society.  They are living on a property that their father bought from his business partner, Mr. Barrett, on Willow Hall.  Emeline is the youngest sister, Catherine is the oldest and the one always getting (herself and her family) in trouble.  And our heroine, Lydia, is the middle sister.  The one who has to deal with being the responsible mother to her younger sister when her mother can’t handle it.  The one that has to clean up after her older sisters mistakes.  The one used to not getting what she wants.  Except, for once, she wants something.  Someone.  But Willow Hall awakens something long dormant inside of her and she has to face the reality of her past and the heartbreak of her future.

Everything about this book set the perfect tone for what I was expecting.  It’s atmospheric, with brooding characters and even some morally questionable situations.  I found the author gave us the right amount of balance between developing the plot, the romance and the witchcraft elements.  Nothing ever felt overpowering the other and I thought they all worked quite nicely to just give this book an eerie, spooky vibe.  Not scary.

But I have to mention the romance because it’s so adorable!  I loved Mr. Barrett and how stuffy he can seem.  I love how Lydia is tentative around him.  They were so perfect together and I loved every interaction and how their bond grows throughout the story.

THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL is a fantastic debut!  I can’t wait to see what Ms. Fox writes next.
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I love anything and everything witchy but was disappointment in the lack of magic.  There was also very little related to the Salem Witch Trials, which I had expected to see based on the books description. While I enjoyed the mix of fantasy, historical fiction, dark gothic, and romance, this book fell flat.  YA is saturated with witchy reads and this was a bland read that didn’t stand out.
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Fun! Very creepy and perfect for fall/winter.  The pages just flew by in this one; I knocked it out in just a few days!
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WHAT DID I THINK?
The Witch Of Willow Hall by Hester Fox tickles my need for creepy. I listened to this book in early December – instead of October. Still, it was a pretty decent time to give it a listen. When it is cold outside, I really enjoy books that are engrossing and that take me away to another time and place. This book is definitely an alternative history book. However, given that it is set in the past, I feel comfortable and happy putting it on this list.

So, this book, The Witch Of Willow Hall follows main character Lydia Montrose who moves with her family to Willow Hall following some scandal where they were living (involving her sister). Anyways, so Lydia is called by the hall. It is there that she discovers she may have powers. Meanwhile, the hall also has a negative call to her youngest sister, Emeline and well, the results are climatic. ALSO there’s a romance with this guy who is associated with the hall, John Barrett. It is absolutely the highlight of this book and they are a couple that I found myself actively rooting for.

On the whole, I can’t recommend The Witch Of Willow Hall by Hester Fox highly enough. It is so atmospheric. This book has really in depth characterization. Maybe the magic could have used more, but I liked being as in the dark as the characters. I think if you like Rebecca or Wuthering Heights, BUT WITH MAGIC, you would enjoy this book.

HOW’S THE NARRATION?
The audiobook is narrated by Lauren Ezzo who is new to me. She has a very gentle, old world sounding voice. Kind of like the opening of the first Lord of the Rings movie, if I remember correctly. I genuinely enjoyed listening to this book. I think that if you want a sort of quiet not loud in your face audiobook, this would be the one to pick up. The Witch Of Willow Hall is a great read no matter which form you decide to pick up.
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The Witch of Willow Hall is compelling and surprising, with a spookiness that caught me off guard.

The protagonist, Lydia, is a likeable character, and I enjoyed the witchy elements that she brought to the story. Catherine, the eldest sister, and foil for Lydia is a haughty, cruel person and reminded me a bit of Kate from East of Eden by John Steinbeck. (If you have never read East of Eden, Kate is the villain, and she is abhorrent.) Catherine’s motivation and actions, to me, where some of the most compelling in the story. Both Lydia and Catherine are developed in a way that the reader understands both why they are foils for each other and how their history has brought them to the point they are when the story begins.

Another strong point of the novel is the setting. Willow Hall is steeped in mystery and as Lydia is learning and discovering herself and her powers, Willow Hall provides a creepy, mysterious backdrop. The story is set in 1821 only a few years after the last of the Salem witch trial hangings, so that added an element of intrigue to the book.

I also enjoyed the love triangle that Lydia is involved in and observing Catherine’s coyness and cunning with the men in her life. The addition of the love stories gives the novel a bit of a traditional romance book feel, but because there are some heavier moments in the novel, the love component gives the reader something familiar to root for.

I have to say, though, I was SHOCKED by the scandal that forced the Montrose family to leave Boston. (I don’t put emojis in my blog, but geez, insert all the shocked-faced emojis here.) The scandal is pretty out there, at least for me. So, I did have a bit of a hard time getting past that. I definitely don’t think that it is a predictable twist, for better or worse.

Overall, I enjoyed this read especially for seasonal reading. There were parts that I felt were predictable (the love story–however it didn’t really take away from my enjoyment) and parts that I cringed a bit during–eek! (The scandal was disturbing for me. Period.) If you aren’t easily disturbed and like historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural. This is the book for you.
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**4.5-stars**

The setting and language of this novel are absolutely beautiful. I was surprised to learn this is a debut as the writing seems so experienced. I loved the gothic vibes that extend throughout the story. There is always an underlining feeling of menace just under the surface. In regards to witchcraft, it is subtle in nature, and I felt very well portrayed. It is by no means the bulk of the story but hints of it are sprinkled throughout with it becoming a more prominent feature in the second half.

The interactions between the sisters, particularly Catherine and Lydia, reminded me so much of Downton Abbey with Mary and Edith. It is not a warm and fuzzy sisterly relationship by any means and in fact, their constant battling provides most of the drama in the book.

There is also quite a bit of romance. I am so exhausted by the courtship patterns of this time period. I just cannot even imagine dealing with all that formality. No one ever seems to say what they feel! Honestly, it's a wonder anyone ended up with the person they wanted to be with!

Overall, I was very impressed with the book. It was a pleasure to read. All the drama, the overarching feeling of suspense, the subtle supernatural undertones, the hauntings, the domestic drama - soooo fun. I did take off a half a star just because there were moments where I felt the drama was repetitive and could have been shortened up a bit but that is very slight and 100% my opinion. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially if you enjoy things with a gothic atmosphere.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Graydon House Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I very much appreciate the opportunity and and am kicking myself for not having picked this up in October as I had originally planned. I cannot wait to see what Ms. Fox comes up with next!
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If you like scandals, this book is for you!

Especially if it is taboo scandals from the 1800's. Well...it is taboo in this day and age as well.

First I fear I should warn you, it has a slow start to it. Or at least it did for me. But it is worth the push through to say the least. Lydia is easily relatable and you can't help but feel for her. Especially if you happen to have siblings even more so if it is sisters. Their relationships were spot on in my opinion, you either want to disown them and never want to speak with then again or you'll do whatever you must to protect them. 

This is very much a ghost story with a touch of romance and sibling rivalry. Oh and a jerk named Cyrus.
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The Witch of Willow Hall is a classic page turner. It is beautifully written, evocative, and well-paced, reminding me of my favorite Mary Stewart novels. In the titular witch, Hester Fox (whose name could not be more perfect for this sort of novel) has given us a very relatable heroine. The main characters are fully realized, multi-dimensional human beings with complex natures and motivations. The book deals with several controversial subjects, but Fox handles them with a delicate balance of horror and resignation. Her deft blending of the fantasy/paranormal elements and the real world makes this book a standout. This is a memorable book, not one I will read and forget. I am eager to read more of Fox’s work.

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, author of The Antiquities Hunter (Pegasus)
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It's been two centuries since the famed Salem Witch Trials took place, but that doesn't mean a Massachusetts woman can't still be accused of conjuring evil.  Lydia Montrose should know.  Although the 18-year-old is quiet and serious, there's a restless itch inside her that sometimes grows into more.  It's whispers of a scandal involving her older sister, however, that forces the family to flee Boston.  As they settle into Willow Hall—their country home in tiny, isolated New Oldburg—both Lydia and her younger sister, Emeline, feel happier, especially thanks to their association with handsome John Barrett.  While Lydia falls helplessly in love with the only man who's ever really noticed her, Caroline, the eldest, only grows more self-centered.    

Despite its idyllic setting, Willow Hall is a place acquainted with tragedy and sorrow.  It's not long before its quiet darkness seeps into the sisters' souls, taunting them with a power that will take its toll on the entire Montrose family.  As the dormant force that lies asleep inside Lydia slowly awakens, she will have to harness what she doesn't understand in order to save everyone and everything she's ever loved ... 

The Witch of Willow Hall, a debut novel by Hester Fox, has gotten a lot of buzz this year.  And deservedly so.  Its bewitching (See what I did there?) backdrop, compelling plot line, and shivery Gothic vibe combine to create a read that is engrossing and entertaining.  Lydia is a sympathetic heroine whose bravery and kindness make her an appealing character to follow.  Her relationship with her sisters feels authentic, true.  While this is a sad novel, it ends on a hopeful note which, combined with its other appealing aspects, makes The Witch of Willow Hall a very satisfying read.  I loved it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and a little bit of Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman)

Grade:  B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Witch of Willow Hall from the generous folks at Harlequin via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!
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I enjoyed this book; however, we don't have a strong historical fiction YA readership at our library so I won't likely order it for the collection.
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Thank you NetGalley for sending me this ARC an exchange for an honest review .

The Witch of Willow Hall fell completely flat for me. 
I expected so much more. With the title the ‘The Witch of Willow Hall’ I expected more witchy content. The entirety of the book Lydia doesn’t know she’s a witch and discovers fairly close to the end she is when her mother confirms it.

This was more of a ghost story than anything. Lydia has several contact with the dead throughout the story. We see a lot of feuds between Lydia and her sister, Catherine, as well. I couldn’t stand Catherine’s character. She was spiteful and a brat. It drove me crazy. 

And the romance… I’ve noticed a pattern with many historical fiction books, there is ALWAYS romance (at least the ones I’ve read). I believe this is a big reason why I steer away from historical fiction. In ‘ The Witch of Willow Hall’ the romance was your typical ‘two men fighting over the hand of one girl’ feud. I’m so bored with these “duals”, they are so common. 

Overall, this book was not a favorite. If you are looking for a paranormal, historical fiction, romance novel, this is your book. If you are looking for witchy, dark, gothic novel this isn’t your book.
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Summary: The Montrose family has moved to a small mill town to get away from the scandals of the big city. Lydia, who considers herself the less attractive of the sisters, suffers from the rumors that her more beautiful sister Catherine has brought upon the family. She feels she will never find someone who will love her and take her despite the rumors. When she meets a handsome and mysterious man, she wants desperately for him to love her, but knows that it is hopeless. On top of those problems, Lydia is realizing that she may be more powerful than she believes – there have been witches in the family…

My Thoughts: I loved it. The romance was adorable, and on top of that, there was drama that added a lot to the plot. Highly suggested to anyone that likes non-smutty paranormal romances.
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In 1821, the Montrose family is forced to move from the city to the country.  They move due to scandalous rumors concerning the oldest girl, Catherine.  What are the rumors?  Lydia, and her younger sister Emeline love living in the country while their oldest sister Catherine hates it.  Catherinemisses all the activities that she participated in.  However all three sisters enjoy the new business associate, John Barrett.  Lydia starts to fall in love with John but then Catherine takes an interest in John and starts to flirt with him.  Meanwhile Lydia is seeing things and hearing voices that try to get her to do bad things. Will she do bad things?  Lydia must decide who she is and what she wants.

The author has written a suspenseful novel.  There is a menace in the atmosphere of Willow Hall with gothic undertones.  Dark twists in the novel held my interest and attention while reading this novel.  There vivid details in the descriptions of Willow Hall.  The story is also about the sisters relationships with each other.  Catherine isn’t an easy sister to live with but her parents don’t discipline her and never have.  The book has a historical and suspernatural feel to it.  It is a suspenseful mystery.
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Dramatic and atmospheric--a perfect October read!

Lydia Montrose's life swirls with secrets--the one that has torn her family apart and caused a permanent move from Boston; the one that her older sister is hiding; the one that involves a childhood bully; and the one that she and generations of her ancestors share, even if Lydia herself hasn't acknowledged it yet. When the ominous setting of Willow Hall--a dark place with secrets of its own--brings all of these secrets together in a potentially disastrous way, Lydia may be the only person who can save what is left of her family. But is it too late for her to figure out what she is and gain control of her latent abilities?

I honestly couldn't stop reading until I found out for sure!

Blended perfectly with all of the supernatural and family drama is a delightful romance, making The Witch of Willow Hall a novel that also made me smile and blink back happy tears, keeping me hopeful of an HEA even when things looked their bleakest. 

This was such a strong debut novel--I can't wait to see what Ms. Fox has in store for us next!

Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A-

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
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This is one that I wanted to love more than I did.

This was an atmospheric book, but it was more of a ghost story than a witchy read and I was looking for the witchy aspect. I almost wish the witchy aspect wasn’t included, especially since it doesn’t show up until the 70ish% mark.

That being said, I think if you know you’re not getting much of the Willow Hall Witch, you’ll find yourself enjoying this one, especially if you like historical fiction or period ghost stories.

The overall plot was pretty slow and character driven, but if you’re in the mood for it, it’s one that can be oddly hypnotic. This was also a pretty dark book. There was a surprising amount of death and violence in this book, especially for the bleak and melancholic tone this book had.

I think it just boils down to this one not being a book for me. That being said I did want to include one positive for the way witchcraft was portrayed in this book. While there are some parts that edge on the supernatural, there was also a lot of herb use and looking at the witches as healers.
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I was really excited for this book, I believe I read it around Halloween time when I was customizing my reading list for the month around witches, goblins, and ghouls. It was the perfect page turning fit. It was a great addition to the gothic romance section of my reading that I had badly neglected. I think this was a perfect break out book for the author and I can't wait to read more by her. This wasn't a spooky read, it was more creepy, which was perfect. I am a huge scaredy cat so anything to spooky tends to put me off but this one had just the right amount of creep to make it entertaining for my taste preferences.
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It starts off slow and kind of dense, but once the action begins, it's hard to resist the story as it drives forward. It reads as a true epic, one that makes you feel the world really has been reshaped as you read it. Would recommend.
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→ What I Liked:

The Romance
I enjoyed the connection between the main character, Lydia, and her love interest. Their interactions were by far my favorite to read and the romance was really what kept me going through this. I really wanted to know how things came together (or didn’t) for the two of them.

The Readability
While it took some time to gain my interest, this took on an unputdownable quality for me. It really turned into quite the page turner and I read the entire second half of the book in one sitting.

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Characters
Besides Lydia and, to some extent, her love interest, there wasn’t much depth among the characters. They all felt quite one-dimensional and were defined by one or two qualities that didn’t really change. I also hated the way the older sister Catherine was written -- she was a stereotypical catty teenage girl whose only purpose was to cause strife. I’ve been over characterizations like these for a while now.

The Lack of Subtlety
I was literally rolling my eyes at the beginning of this with how hard it was hitting me over the head with the witch stuff. There were plenty of “hints” about Lydia’s true nature, but they were so blatant that they may as well have been screaming off the page. It really drew from the story itself for me.

The Ending
There was so much stuffed into this ending that it felt very rushed to me. A lot of it just felt so very… convenient. And the focus was so much on the romance and so little on the witchcraft that I was left dissatisfied and with very many questions. I want a sequel to learn more about Lydia’s abilities and family history, but felt like the way this ended didn’t leave much room for that.

→ TL;DR:
~Romance was enjoyable
~Page-turner
~Side characters needed work
~Lots of eyerolls
~Ending was too rushed
~Would recommend, but think of this more as a YA romance with paranormal elements than a fantasy or horror with romance on the side
~Will pick up Hester Fox's next book
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