The Witch of Willow Hall

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

As a thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced readers copy. I shall give an honest review of this novel.  The novel begins with the Montrose family leaving Boston and moving to their country home. Unknowingly this estate has historical significance to their family and as the novel progresses becomes apparent. The family has experienced financial difficulties, so the appeal of Willow Hall is rather low. The highlight of this location must be its atmospheric setting and near by pond. There were moments that had me shook, and others that were expectant. The novels protagonist Lydia is the middle child of three sisters (Catherine, Lydia and Emeline). Their mother is reclusive, and their father has more presence in the storyline than their mother. The novels pace was an issue for me for about thirty percent in I could not sense what the author was trying to say. However around 40 percent was its efforts succeeding and one I could not put down. The notion of Witches is mentioned in this book but is not its primary focus. The novels strength lies in its ability to focus on the inner workings of the character and gives attention to what lies beneath ex. motive. The ability to focus on what was plausible compared to the supernatural events occurring made the novel enjoyable for me. I admit I would have enjoyed having the character know her history and identity as a witch earlier, but I can understand how the magical elements of the novel were not its focus but mainly a device to accent the characters strengths. Through identifying the character as a witch made her stand apart from the others and showed her inner strength or power. This inner power is expressed towards the novels end but is too late and not deserving. Overall, I enjoyed this novel and was entertained by this story. I recommend this novel for those who enjoy elements of fantasy and suspense. Also to those who enjoy historical fiction. I give this novel three out of five stars.
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This book was a little slow but had a satisfying ending. Lydia, the granddaughter of witches, slowly learns about her heritage as a series of tragedies strike her and her family. She struggles with trying to right the wrongs herself, only to find out that she needs to see to her own happiness before things will turn out right.
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The Witch of Willow Hall is Hester Fox’s debut novel. Its tagline drew me in: "Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there's still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn't even know it.”  

Three sisters (Catherine the eldest, Lydia the protagonist, and Emmeline the youngest) move with their parents from Boston to the cozy little town of New Olbury. Catherine was involved in a scandal that remains unspoken within the family and a mystery to the reader for many pages. Catherine is charming and beautiful; Lydia plain and studious; and Emmeline a spoiled child born in the mother’s later years. Of the two bachelors in the town, Catherine sets her hat at both. Lydia is attracted to one of the young men, John Barrett, her father's business partner in a chain of textile mills, while she is being pursued by Cyrus the cad who broke their engagement because of the aforementioned scandal.

Their newly-built house and the surrounding land houses secrets. Lydia sees ghosts and hears voices. There are witchly and ghostly happenings, and the sense of foreboding, impending doom, and Gothic horror are skillfully maintained by Ms. Fox throughout. There are some anachronisms that break the historical tone. This is less a Gothic horror novel than a slow burn 1820s romance which is fine, if like me, you’re really not into horror.
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This book was everything I didn't know I needed. It was dark, romantic, and completely enthralling. This was the perfect fall read!
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Title:   The Witch of Willow Hall
Author:   Hester Fox
Genre:   Fiction, paranormal, mystery
Rating:   4.2 out of 5

The Montrose family left Boston to escape the rumors claiming a family scandal. Now ensconced in their new country home, Willow Hall, middle daughter Lydia wants nothing more than peace and quiet, to take care of her younger sister Emeline, and no more family scandals.

At first, things at Willow Hall are peaceful. Emeline cares only about looking for mermaids in the pond, and Catherine can’t seem to make up her mind if she’ll pursue their father’s new partner, John, or his best friend. Reading sounds much better to Lydia, at least at first.

But soon Lydia hears a woman wailing in the night and sees a pale boy in the gardens. The oppressive air around Willow Hall closes in around the family, and darkness hovers, along with memories from Lydia’s childhood. Lydia will have to discover the truth about Willow Hall—and herself—to grasp peace.

This novel is almost Gothic, almost a romance, and all spellbinding. Lydia was a wonderful character. I loved her from the beginning. She cares so much about her family—even the horrible ones—and does her best to save them from themselves. She’s dutiful, but she’s not blind to the faults around her. I’d actually love to read more about her. The Gothic feel of this novel is well-done, without being overpowering or too creepy. Catherine was such an inconsistent character. Sometimes, I almost liked her. The rest of the time, not at all. A very enjoyable book that I read straight through!

Hester Fox is an artist and author. The Witch of Willow Hall is her first novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)
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My Thoughts...

The Witch of Willow Hall gave me some of the same feelings as Night Circus and The Winter Witch.  This is a story of discovery as well as a story of family.

I loved Lydia, but she frustrated me on several occasions.  Without using spoilers, suffice it to say that Lydia falls into the writing trap of problems only being problems because people don’t talk to each other.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  I do not like books whose plots depend on misunderstandings. 

Also, there is a point at which I was literally yelling at Lydia to not be so stupid.  When you know your sister is an evil hag who has vowed to ruin your life, why, oh, why would you take her word for anything?  In fact, at this point, I’m thinking you should assume Catherine is playing a perpetual game of opposite day.  Whatever she says, the opposite is true.  Words to live by.

Beyond those things, though, Lydia is a caring and lovely young lady who is dealing with extraordinary circumstances.  Her life is turned upside down by others decisions and she is trying to lie as well as possible.

I wish the plot had developed faster, and this book could have been edited more, but this is a good paranormal historical fiction read.  I really did enjoy it.
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My kind of creepy...The Witch of Willow Hall had intrigue, mystery, atmosphere and a witch, of course. Loved the world building; the time period, the ghostly occurrences, the house...every spooky detail. I will be looking for more by Hester Fox!
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A solid debut novel, and an author from whom I expect more great titles in the future. This intriguing gothic novel is rife with suspense and interesting family dynamics in 1800's Massachusetts. I believe that I would have given the novel 5 stars if not for the presence of one of the sisters as a narrator- in my opinion, the story could have benefited from being presented in a more direct way.
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I really enjoyed the atmosphere, concept, and execution of this title. I think the language got bogged own a bit at times, and the author needed to get out of her own way to let the story come through a little bit more clearly. Overall, however, I found it an engaging read and would recommend the author. I don't think it's a title that would necessarily do well in my library, but I found it enjoyable.
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When I was a teenager I was obsessed with reading gothic romance.  I devoured every Victoria Holt (Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr were her other pen names), Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart book I could get my hands on.  I also read Anne Rice.  And Dracula by Bram Stoker was my favorite classic that I read at the time.  As an adult I read Susanna Kearsley and any other gothic romance I can get my hands on.  Up until now, none of them have come close to being as mysterious, creepy, haunting and romantic as those I read as a teenager.  Hester Fox’s debut book, The Witch of Willow Hall is everything I love about gothic romances.  

The year is 1821.  Lydia Montrose and her family have recently moved to New Oldbury from Boston after a scandal caused by her older sister, Catherine.  Their house, Willow Hall, is large and opposing at it sits on the hill.  Lydia has a hard time sleeping in the house.  Who is the woman in the garden she sees out the window late one night?   Emeline, the youngest sister, is captivated with the pond and the young boy she meets there.  And Catherine is on the hunt for a husband so that she can avoid more scandal.  Her situation will soon no longer be a secret.   Mr. Barret, their father’s business partner, has become an interest to both Lydia and Catherine.  
What was the scandal that caused them to move to New Oldbury?  Why does Lydia feel uncomfortable in the house?  Will Catherine find a husband?   

There is mystery, tragedy and romance.  A great read for a stormy, cold afternoon by the fire (maybe not so much late at night).
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Old school gothic novel here. In the early part of the 19th century, the Montrose family finds themselves driven out of Boston by scandal. Moving to the small town/rural area where Mr. Montrose has a business interest, they settle in at the estate of Willow Hall. It’s not long before they find themselves beset by strange happenings. Lydia, the plain middle daughter, sees and hears ghosts. Emeline, the youngest, is obsessed with mermaids in the pond on the property. Catherine, the beautiful eldest, is obsessed only with finding a husband, preferably rich. Add to this cast of characters two eligible bachelors, and we have a bit- but not too much, thankfully- of gothic romance. 

Lydia is a good main character. Unlike all too many gothic heroines, she isn’t weak and fainty. She doesn’t hate the love interest at first, then realize she loves him (nor is it love at first sight). She’s sensible. Her main interest is taking care of Emeline. She has no idea that she has supernatural powers. 

The plot is decent. There are actually two main plot lines: Lydia’s, which includes Emeline and one of the two eligible males; and Catherine’s quest for a husband. She is one of those Center of the Universe people, and it turns out she has reason to act that way during the story. It’s a fast read (one evening) and kind of fun. I would have enjoyed it more if the supernatural element had been more prominent, and less time spent on Catherine. More witch, less b****. Four stars.
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THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL is an atmospheric, slow build. As the story progresses, a sense of foreboding grows until the pages are bursting with it. Readers who enjoy novels set in the 1820s will love the historical aspects of the novel; however, readers looking for more of a supernatural read may be disappointed. The supernatural elements are relatively light considering the witch in the title.

Family secrets are the focus of THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL. Lydia is a sympathetic yet mostly passive character. As is typical with YA novels, her parents aren’t much help with the mystery of the house, the signs of a possible haunting, or the impropriety of one sister and the creepiness of the other.

I enjoyed the moodiness of THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL. Not much in terms of plot happens until the latter third of the novel, but that doesn’t detract from what the novel has to offer. On a dreary day, curl up with something warm and enjoy a family drama with a touch of ghosts and witchy circumstances.
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I was hoping this would be more spooky and mysterious than it was but it was still a very good story! I felt for Lydia, especially when Catherine was around. I really didn't like Catherine, she was selfish and cruel. I thought Cyrus had no redeeming qualities about him. Poor John and what he had to live with in his life, it was very sad. I thought it was a good fall read.
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This made for a very good Halloween read! I was hungry for a good historical YA, and this gave me a paranormal twist. Not only was WILLOW HALL paranormal, but it was wrapped up in a mystery. The atmosphere is haunting, one that will stay with you like the story it encompasses.
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This book has been all over my social media this October. With the word ‘witch’ in the title, its hardly a surprise that it would be trending throughout the most ‘haunted’ month of the year.

Sometimes with books that receive so much hype, it’s hard to decide if it’s worth the read or not. I was intrigued by the combination of historical fiction and fantasy/paranormal.

The early nineteenth century isn’t really my favorite period, but I was interested enough in the mixture of genres that I was eager to read this one and find out of the hype was indeed worth it.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end (summary from Goodreads).

I was all geared up for this novel to be a little more like A Discovery of Witches…..more upbeat and light hearted if that makes sense. What I got was an atmospheric, spooky, and creepy novel that was actually very fitting for Halloween. I think that’s what surprised me the most, I love books that are moody and create a sense of foreboding throughout the novel. And this book had that in spades.

This novel has been marketed to fans of Simone St James (who I love by the way) and I would say Fox does have a similar style—-there is a spooky/suspenseful piece with a little romance and a lot of unsettling gothic ness about the story. I liked the romance and thought it struck a nice balance throughout the book. It was there without becoming the central plot.

Some other reviewers complained that this was basically Pride and Prejudice with witches—-implying that the romance eclipsed the witchy parts—-but for me I thought it was balanced ok. I went in thinking it was going to be more romance and instead it was more gothic and spooky so for me the romance was a nice touch but I was more surprised by the atmosphere because I wasn’t expecting it.

While there was a lot of atmospheric build up and some romance, there isn’t as much action in this book as I was expecting, or perhaps have come to expect from other witchy novels. While I still found a lot to enjoy, I just felt like this book moved a little more slowly that I had hoped. I still read it relatively quickly, but there were parts in the second half that drug a little for me.

So did this book live up to the hype for me? I would say yes. It was a solid story that fit right in to the Halloween spirit. It had a mystery, romance, some paranormal activity, and a moody feel. Fox writes with intense details and an eeriness I wasn’t expecting. While this is the perfect Halloween book, it could easily be read at any time during the year. I think readers will find this genre merging novel will provide spooky chills and haunting romance any time of year!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox 

Paperback, 368 pages
Published October 2nd 2018 by Graydon House
ISBN 1525833014 (ISBN13: 9781525833014)
Review copy provided by: Publisher/Author in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own
Recommendation: 4 out of 5
Genre: historical fiction, romance, pararomance, paranormal
Memorable lines/quotes
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It has been a while since I picked up any historical fiction, and I always forget just how much I like it. When I read the blurb for THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL, I was intrigued enough to add it to my TBR, although I did not really know what to expect. I mean, it was coming out around Halloween, it’s a historical piece, and there is some romance in there, so, why not?

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Author Hester Fox did a great job with developing these characters, giving them depth and writing them so that I became completely invested in their stories. The story was engrossing, and I found it hard to put down, drawn in by the hint of darkness and the gothic feel of it.

This book was extremely well done, and I really feel like, for a new author, Hester Fox is well on her way to making a name for herself. If her follow-ups are nearly as good as this book, I will happily read each of them, and recommend them as well. As it stands, THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL is an easy 4 stars for me, and no, it’s not just for Halloween time. If Gothic romance, with all of the requisite mystery and creepy edge to it, is your gig, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You will not be disappointed.
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tw: incest, unwanted contact 

This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be, which is both good and bad. I did enjoy this book though. I don't normally go for historical fiction in America. About the only thing I am interested in American history is their involvement in World War II and the Salem Witch Trials. I don't know why I don't like American history. 

Okay, I will start with the negatives, which are only two. One was that I couldn't get a feel for Lydia's personality. She was strong and brave but meek. I just couldn't get into Lydia. I liked her as a person though. I appreciated her dedication to her siblings, especially her littlest sister. I am a sucker for strong older sibling dedication, as I see myself in those characters. 

My other complaint is the ending. I'm not going to spoil it but it wasn't what I expected. The way the book was leading, I thought it was going to be darker. The Salem Witch Trials was a very dark time in American history so it felt odd to have a lighter ending. I mean, don't get me wrong, happy endings for things like this are awesome. But the way the book was going, I just expected something different. I don't know why it bugs me so much but it does. 

Speaking of the way this book was written, I liked it. I loved the description of Willow Hall and the areas surrounding it. It was spooky and creepy and just perfect for Halloween. I wanted to visit Willow Hall myself, although that wouldn't be the best idea. Willow Hall just reminded me of a lot of old places we have here in Iowa. I just really want to go ghost hunting, apparently. 

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this particular point but as a review I do need to point this. There is a heavy plot line involving incest. It's slightly descriptive. My stomach can handle things like that but I know it might not be agreeable with everybody so just a heads up.

Overall, this was a great book, even with my minor complaints and the plot line of incest. It was just what I needed to beat this reading slump I could feel myself getting in to. When this releases, I’d highly recommend picking it up.
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This was 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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Tapping into recent interests in Gothic fiction, Fox’s uneven debut focuses on the middle daughter of a wealthy New England family who doesn’t realize she inherited a talent for witchcraft. As a child in 1812 Boston, Lydia Montrose unsuspectingly calls upon her latent powers to take revenge against a cruel neighbor boy. Nine years later, she and her family are forced to leave the city following rumors of her older sister Catherine’s shocking conduct.

They take up residence in Willow Hall, a large mansion in the distant town of New Oldbury, where her father, investor in a local mill, hopes to make a fresh start. Lydia is close to her eight-year-old sister Emeline, and while they enjoy wandering the countryside, spiteful Catherine chafes at her forced isolation. As Lydia develops an interest in John Barrett, her father’s handsome business partner, Catherine’s jealousy asserts itself while she simultaneously flirts with John’s friend. Meanwhile, supernatural happenings at Willow Hall, which only Lydia can see, hint at its tragic past.

The story’s premise – a young woman coming to terms with abilities passed down from an accused Salem witch – is a clever one. Because the scenes focusing on this aspect are particularly strong, they should have been given greater prominence over the romance and toxic family drama. Fox is particularly skilled at conveying the creepy atmosphere when the dead emerge into the world of the living. The secondary characters, including Lydia’s mother and father, feel rather thin, and the early industrial New England setting could have been more sharply evoked through the characters’ actions and dialogue. The Montrose daughters’ attention to social proprieties comes and goes; maybe their odd conduct could be chalked up to lax parenting. Fans of historical horror may want to read the novel regardless, especially if they enjoyed Louisa Morgan’s A Secret History of Witches.
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The Witch at Willow Hall by Hester Fox is a wonderful surprise. Fox creates a suspenseful atmospheric story that weaves family drama, romance and the supernatural together.  The end result is an elegant novel that goes beyond being just about witches and ghosts.
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