Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was authors I read for the first time in 2018. Since I read more than just ten, I thought I’d highlight those whose future (or even previous!) work I’d like to read more of.
Instead of focusing on the less-than-stellar reads that made up my 2018, I wanted to highlight the five that made it great––which just so happen to all be written by women. (So freaking dope!!) I also thought that I wouldn’t have ten books to fill out a Top Ten Tuesday post but that was a huge miscalculation. Lol. Winnowing down this list was so hard.
- Graphic Novel/Comic: Brazen by Penelope Bagieu
- Fiction: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox (review)
- Middle Grade: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (review)
- Nonfiction: Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman (review)
- Young Adult: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (review)
Are any of my favorite 2018 reads your favorite, too? Let me know! To see previous topics, click here.
It’s taken me a full month to digest the seemingly innocuous Top Ten Tuesday prompt villains. (Please don’t ask why because I just don’t know.) Very few books I read have capital-V Villains, and I became bored scrolling through Goodreads trying to think of more than a handful or any one type. Since it’s so chilly/borderline cold in New England now AND it gets pitch black by four-thirty, I thought I’d explore creepy, chills-down-your-spine atmospheric thrillers instead – because sometimes a place itself can be the scariest thing.
- The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
- Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
- Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld
- What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
- The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Do you have your own favorite atmospheric thrillers? Let me know! To see previous topics, click here.
Did’ya know that I post videos on YouTube?? If not, check out my latest video below! The books discussed are:
- The Broken Vow by Scott Westerfeld (★★★★)
- Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit (★★★½)
- Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin (★★)
- One Day in December by Josie Silver (★½)
- The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (★★★★½)
- The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox (★★★★)
What did you read??
Title: The Witch of Willow Hall
Author: Hester Fox
Summary: 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 both Lydia and 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.
Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.
Do you ever read the summary of a book and think, “yeah, that sounds like something I would like”? That’s how I felt about The Witch of Willow Hall. Normally, though, books like this languish on my TBR list, something I can never quite find the time (or interest) to read once it’s been published. Months pass. Newer, more interesting books take precedence. I might eventually forget what the book was even about, only to re-read the summary years down the road and think, “meh.” And maybe (just maybe), I’ll take it off my TBR altogether.
Do not make this mistake. This book cleared my skin. It watered my crops. It set up a 401K and then invested in a robust stock portfolio.
I mean, yes, Hester Fox’s novel has its faults. Her characters can come off as overwrought and trope-y as hell: Catherine, the eldest sister, is not merely looking for marriage but scheming, using her hyper-sexuality to ‘trap’ an eligible bachelor. And Lydia – poor, good Lydia – is the naïve ingenue who is ‘blinded’ to reality and compares their sororal relationship as a catty no-holds-barred competition for the affections of the mysterious and dashing John Barrett. Then there’s the plot, which falls somewhere between historical romance and gothic horror but doesn’t convincingly meld the two until more than half-way through. We think Lydia is the witch referenced in the title but is there someone else? Does Willow Hall itself hold supernatural power? (So ~spooky, y’all.)
But listen. I started this book not expecting much, and I was so thoroughly surprised and delighted at the end result. Read during a week when the turning weather felt especially serendipitous, I felt literally and figuratively cozy – surrounded by the whistling wind and dreams of a crackling fire as Lydia and John got swept up in their own romance. At first pass, Fox writes everything so harshly that part of me wondered why a character’s behavior had to be taken to such extremes, why there was no gray between the black and white. But then, chapters later, an impulsive action would be re-evaluated or a character’s motivations would be explained and I would think, “oh, that’s why.” (Some readers will probably love the way the plot trundles forward but then others may roll their eyes at the heavy-handed foreshadowing. To each their own.)
I don’t think I can fully explain why I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall so much, not even to myself. Maybe it was the way the plot seduced me and I could think of no better activity than to keep reading. Or maybe that the stakes felt real, or that the characters were given agency, or simply that Willow Hall was so vividly realized I felt like I could drive there and visit. Maybe it was the tense, gothic elements or the acute remembrance of being eighteen and feeling everything so forcefully: the lows abysmal but the highs astronomical. Perhaps it was everything together, the sum greater than its parts.
Early in the novel, Lydia tries to articulate her feelings for John Barrett. “Suddenly sitting here beside him is not enough,” she narrates. “The empty place that I didn’t even know I contained is aching with want, trembling with fear that it may never be filled.” Same, sis. Same.