The Witch of Willow Hall

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

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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Set in Massachusetts 200 years after the Salem Witch trials, this book is set in a haunted house, Willow Hall.  The Montrose family moves there after being chased out of Boston by a scandal.  Not only is the house haunted, but one of the girls discovers that she is a witch and attracts the ghosts who live there.  Part gothic mystery, part witch story, this is an interesting story of the family who lives there. And the girl who comes to terms with her powers with help from her ancestors.
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*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. A huge thanks to the publisher and Barclay Publicity!*

When I first found out about this book I was instantly intrigued.  The synopsis drew me in, and I just knew that this would be a book I would enjoy. The book’s description may be what caught my eye, but once I started reading, everything else about this book kept me hooked to the pages!


By the time I was just a few pages into The Witch of Willow Hall, I could already tell I was going to adore this book.  It was just one of those novels that had so much atmosphere. This such a perfect book to read so close to Halloween. It was filled with just the right amount of spookiness and mystery!

I absolutely loved the setting, too. I love reading about the 1800s anyway, but with the gothic atmosphere, I loved it even more!

The characters in this novel were so well done, too. I adored Lydia so much! She was such an authentic and relatable character. I loved the romance, too. It was perfectly paced and I really felt the characters’ connection.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Witch if Willow Hall! It was very well-written, so atmospheric, and filled with so many twists and turns. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction and is looking for a mysterious and intriguing read!
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I feel like this book is like at three and half star rating for me only because it was more of a romance than what I expected it be, a tale about a witch. The story has some scary stuff, like ghosts and our main character does some supernatural things, for which she has no explanation because she doesn't know she is a witch. I liked it overall and had I been expecting it to be more of a romantic story then it would be a strong four rating!
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What a great, atmospheric fall read! The Witch of Willow Hall really gave me all of the great gothic-style autumnal vibes I didn’t even realize I needed! Historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural thrown in; this book featured witches, ghosts, mystery, and a bit of good romance. 

The story centers around Lydia Montrose, the middle sister of the Montrose family, as she and her family have moved out to the country manor of Willow Hall escaping scandalous gossip in Boston surrounding her sister Catherine. No spoilers of course, but when you find out what the subject of the scandal is, it is indeed scandalous! Their new home is a sleepy estate on the edges of New Oldbury, a much smaller town than Boston. While most of the family is bored by the country life, Lydia feels a subtle menace about Willow Hall that she can’t quite put her finger on. As the daughters become further entwined in the house and its history, tragic events from both their past and the present emerge which could put the entire family in danger. Lydia must utilize talents she didn’t realize that she even possessed in order to protect her family and ultimately, herself. 

I ended up really being drawn to the character of Lydia and her remarkable strength in dealing with a family that is at best indifferent to their danger, and at worst, blatantly ignoring their issues. Lydia shows herself again and again to have a strong enough will to deal with her obstinate and selfish sister, while also trying to protect her family at all costs. It doesn’t hurt that deep down Lydia just wants to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like reading her novels and working in her herb garden, definitely striking some good points in my book! The relationship between Lydia and her family, especially her sister Catherine, is never truly good, yet she tries so hard to do right by them and maintain their confidence. All of these familial responsibilities are only compounded by the fact that now that Lydia is at Willow Hall, it seems she’s begun to see ghosts. And on top of all of that, she can’t seem to stop thinking about her father’s new business partner, Mr. Barrett.  

I’m not usually one for a lot of romance in my books, but the blossoming romance between Mr. Barrett and Lydia was done really well in this story and had me rooting for them through til the end. There were elements of this story that definitely evoked a regency romance feel for me, which I really ended up enjoying. 

Overall, I loved this beautiful little Gothic romance story that takes a strong look at the lengths we are willing to go to for family. It’s the perfect read for someone who wants to get in the fall mood, but doesn’t want to be spooked by too much horror.
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A deliciously dark and spooky witch tale set in New England. The period details are delightful and the writing does its best to emulate the Gothic tales that Lydia, the protagonist, so loves.
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I picked up this book from NetGalley based on a promotional line comparing it to a spooky Jane Austen novel set in the U.S. Well, as we know, about 95% of the time, any comparison to Jane Austen will both A.) lead to me reading the book and B.) leave me massively disappointed. While I’ve definitely read books that fared worse (for one, for all I can tell the only reason this comparison was made was because of the time period and the “manners romance” aspect of it…which, just stop it. It’s a historical romance. There are plenty of those, and they don’t all need to be compared to Austen), this book was a disappointment to me. Maybe not a massive disappointment, but a disappointment all the same.

Lydia, the middle daughter, has always known there is something strange about herself, ever since she mildly blacked out as a child when fighting with a local bully and re-awakened to find him beaten on the street. But at this point, any concerns about scandal she may bring to the family pale in comparison to the mess that her sister, Catherine, has gotten them into. Fleeing to the country, the family now find themselves closed up in a mysterious house with many strange rumors surrounding it. But on the positive side, they have quite a charming neighbor, a gentleman named John.

There were a few strong points of this book that I want to start by highlighting. For one, I’m always going to love a good historical setting. While there were a few anachronisms here and there, nothing was too extreme to really throw me out of the book in any meaningful way. Instead, I still enjoyed the general rhythm of language, emphasis on social callings, and historical setting that were employed. As long as an author doesn’t greatly mess these basic features up, they’re always going to come away with at least a partial win under their belt as far as I’m concerned.

Secondly, as readers of this blog know, Kate is the horror fan. While I’ll read the heck out of dark fantasy novel any day of the week, I tend to steer clear of straight-up horror. And this is probably one of the closest reads to that genre that I’ve wandered into for a while. Don’t get me wrong, horror fans will likely be underwhelmed by this book, since, let’s be real, this is definitely a historical romance at its heart. But I will say that there were elements of the story that legitimately creeped me out. It didn’t help that I was reading this book the one night my husband was out of town. But I think either way, there would have been some shivers.

The other positive note is that, alongside with these legitimately creepy scenes, the book didn’t shy away from going to some pretty grim places with the story. It starts out with a pretty rough scene dealing with animal cruelty and then continues in a story that insists that even main characters aren’t safe from harsh consequences. There was one scene in particular that was lead up to and the entire time I was partially rolling my eyes, expecting the author to pull back at the last minute. Instead, she went full throttle into it and I was honestly surprised and (in a very grim sort of way) pleased that she committed to this particularly story thread.

But, even with these positives in its favor, I still greatly struggled with the story. For one thing, there were a few twists that I found entirely predictable and the story took way too long to finally come out with the “mysterious” truth. And then when this secret does land, it didn’t really seem to have much of an impact. Not only did I already suspects this particular twist, but the revelation doesn’t greatly change the situation. The family is still disgraced; the mystery behind why doesn’t have much impact on the reality of that situation.

I also didn’t particularly enjoy Catherine as a character. As the focal point of said “twisty” family rumor, there was a lot of room to do something interesting with her arc. Instead, she is written as pretty much an awful person with no redeeming qualities. There are a few moments where I thought we would see some growth or some expanded depth of character revealed, but then in only a few short pages, she goes right back to just being plain terrible with very little else in the way of character development to support her. And with this being a fact of her character, many of Lydia’s own struggles are automatically undercut. I couldn’t sympathize with her indecision or naivete when everything that the reader has seen (and we’re only exposed to Catherine for a period of a few short months, when presumably Lydia has a lifetime of experience) would point to a relationship that has been not worth fighting for for quite a while. There were a few moments towards the last third, in particular, where Lydia’s choices are so incredibly stupid that I had to actually put the book down and take a deep breath before continuing.

This same problem, Lydia’s bizarre choices and fixations, lead to my not particularly enjoying the romance at the center of this story. And this is where the Austen comparisons are coming into play, as there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion at the heart of this romance to draw out the moment of happiness until the end. But the thing is, Austen created legitimate stumbling blocks and points of misdirection in her romances. We get why Elizabeth misunderstood Darcy. We understand why Emma didn’t recognize her feelings for Knightly. But here, we have a hero who is actually spelling it out for our heroine and she, instead, is choosing to believe the terrible sister who has mislead her and betrayed her at every turn. Or she simply gives in to crippling indecision and insecurity for no real reason whatsoever.

I have very little patience for these types of heroines or these types of plot points that aren’t based in anything other than an author’s need to follow a typical romance plot storyboard where the main characters can’t get together until the final scene. If you don’t have a legitimate, plot- or story-based reason for keeping your romance in suspense, you might just need to re-think the entire thing. Either flesh out your plot/characters, or just accept that your romance needs to follow a non-traditional path. This type of forced suspense not only kills any real suspense there might be, but also damages the characters at its heart.

In the end, I was ultimately let down by this book. I’m glad I got in at least one sort-of spooky book before Halloween, but it’s too bad that other than the creepiness and general historical setting, this book didn’t have a lot going for it. If you really love historical romances with a dash of creepiness, than you might enjoy this. But if you’re wanting any depth of character from your heroine, hero, and villain, you probably need to look elsewhere.

Rating 5: Some legitimate spooky scenes were let down by a plot and set of characters that were simply too weak to carry the story.
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Heartbreakingly enchanting story. Engaging and continued to keep my interest.. The Witch or Willow Hall was a perfect October read, however, it will be a great read for all seasons. Hester Fox, does a wonderful job of telling a story, building her characters so you become invested in the outcome of each person. This novel reminds me slightly of Pride and Prejudice, and since I love Jane Eyre this is a good thing. 
I recommend this novel for a light, entertaining read.
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After a scandal tarnishes their family, Lydia Montrose and her older sister, Catherine, and younger sister, Emeline, move from Boston to the country. Their father has built a fine new home, Willow Hall, in the area of a town called New Oldbury. It’s 1821, and he and his new business partner are finding success in building mills along the river.

As she struggles with Catherine and the secret her older sister has been keeping, Lydia finds herself falling for the young man who is her father’s business partner, but she is sure he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings. Catherine is the beauty, the sister who draws the attention of all the men. And Catherine is vying for the attention of not just the man Lydia is interested in, but also his longtime friend.

But there are other compelling concerns for Lydia. Not long after their move, she sees some strange things in the house and around the property, which she can mostly shrug off as her imagination. But there comes a time she can’t ignore that something is going on, especially after a tragedy occurs. Can she accept that she might have some particular gifts? And what can she do to use them to protect her family?

I had expected this story to be more gothic than it was; it kind of wants to be a few different things at once, and it mostly works, but sometimes it just seems all over the place. It’s about a young woman who has to come to terms with being a witch (which is slow to develop, and I wouldn’t mention that but for the fact it’s in the title); it’s an early-1800s love story with all the expected trappings; it’s partially a ghost story about past tragedies haunting the present. I enjoyed it but hoped for a bit more.
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At first I was kind of disappointed it got boring, I was like what feud? what is happening? where am I? I thought this book was about witches? but gradually it builds up and it gets so exciting. SO what I'll tell you is be patient and finish it because you will be surprised and I personally find this a good book and there is a deeper meaning to it !
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