Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Title: The Witch of Willow Hall
Author: Hester Fox
Rating: ★★★★
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.

Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

TheRoyalWeTitle: The Royal We
Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face. Spanning nearly a decade, The Royal We is a richly imagined, emotionally compelling novel that examines, with warmth and wit, what truly happens after your prince has come.


Let’s just get this over with: The Royal We is pretty much rpf about Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Like them, our two protagonists meet at college (a prestigious English university, no less); Nick’s grandmother is currently on the throne, while his dad is second in line and his mum is out of the picture; Nick’s brother, Freddie, is a ginger-haired lothario; and the cover is even a pop art transformation of the couple’s adorable first public kiss on their wedding day.

And that’s okay, because I absolutely loved this book. (Like, it’s 400+ pages and I gobbled it up in about three and a half days.)

As stated in its summary, The Royal We follows Bex and Nick as they navigate their twenties as both friends and lovers, their private selves pit against their mandatory public personas. Cocks and Morgan explicitly write through Bex’s eyes – seeing, understanding, and communicating what it means to not only be an American in upper crust England, but also what it feels like to be third string in a game of first division all-stars. (I mean, this is the royal family we’re reading about.) We feel Bex’s pain and her joy, her embarrassments and her triumphs. We root for Bex and Nick to make it work because Bex roots for them to make it work.

And maybe we are her, too, just a little. Experiencing an entire world we always knew existed but couldn’t really fathom, looking into a fish bowl and then finding we have to swim, swim, swim – in circles, incessantly, as everyone now looks in at us.

The Royal We is a love story, and maybe that’s not for everyone, but it should be. Because the love in this story is terrifying and amazing and messy and it hurts. It’s the love between a daughter and her father, defined by thousands of miles and tradition. It’s the love between two sisters, genetic identicals who are both best friends and rivals. It’s the love you discover at twenty and the one you meet again at twenty-five, then thirty, then forty. It’s the love among friends that both inspires and destroys.

Although The Royal We is based on real events, it isn’t what really happened. But maybe that’s why I like it so much – because, in some universe, it could have.

Five Favorite: Books About Love

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Whether it’s romantic or sexual, reciprocated or unrequited, amorous novels abound in literature. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are my five favorite.

Just-Can’t-Make-It-Work Love:

Gargoyle

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

TheTimeTravelersWife The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Slow-Burning Love

ColdMountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Realistic Love

TheMarriagePlot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Idealistic-Most-Well-Rounded Love

MrDarcyTakesAWife

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

Have your own five favorite books about love? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!