The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
I'm not a big scary things fan, but this spooky Gothic novel has been getting a lot of positive buzz, and my library got it on release day (yay!), so I was very excited to make it my creepy read for the year.
The Witch of Willow Hall is the story of the Montrose family who have recently fled Boston to their summer home for permanent residency, running from a scandal involving their two oldest children, Charles and Catherine. Additionally, Lydia, the third child, had her engagement broken off because of the scandal. They are hoping to start over in a small town in rural Massachusetts and find some peace. Peace is far from what find them at Willow Hall, however.
Lydia is having trouble sleeping and begins seeing and sensing ghosts. She hears rumors that Willow Hall is haunted. She and her father's handsome young business partner, Mr. Barrett and Lydia form an attachment with one another, but when she learns of his tragic past that occurred at the site of Willow Hall, some of the hauntings begin to make more sense. Then the hauntings become more than just hauntings when they bring tragedy to the family. Catherine's great secret comes out and she tangles Lydia in it. Lydia and Mr. Barrett's romantic connection is tested. Someone from their past shows up again, bringing Lydia heartache and suffering in his wake. Is Lydia strong enough to fight against the tide on all fronts?
I have very mixed feelings about this book. The setting and the characters were fabulous. Fox pulled off the atmosphere of a classic Gothic novel wonderfully. However, the story tried to do too much, and ultimately, I think it fell short of what it could have achieved. Family secrets (of more than one family), thwarted romance that overcomes all, ghosts with unresolved issues, a girl discovering her own powers- each one of these topics could have accounted for an entire storyline, but mashing them all into one novel kept each of them from reaching their full potential. I was especially disappointed when Lydia started interactive with the ghosts- I think, personally, that ghosts remain creepier when interactions with them are kept to a minimum and their aura of mystique is maintained. Once you know what they are capable of, what their agenda is, they become much less frightening. Also, I don't think that one needs to be a witch to see or feel ghosts or sense evil presences. I didn't think that Lydia's powers contributed to the story in any way. I'm not against witch stories, I'm actually a really big fan of Paula Brackston's witch books, but I didn't think the idea worked well here. Anyway, the book is well-written, and if your expectations aren't too high, it may be a fun spooky romantic Gothic read for you this fall, but if you're looking for a great witch story, I'd encourage you to look elsewhere.