Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Graydon House
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Goodreads says, "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…






The Montrose family was once a well-respected family from Boston.  The year is 1821 and there's a scandal, which means they are pretty much banned from all reputable society.  So, the family departs Boston for the country to start over at a country estate, Willow Hall.  Her father has made an investment at the local mill and hopefully he, his wife, and three daughters can start fresh unless the gossip follows them.  This comes at a bad time for middle daughter, Lydia, though. Her engagement has been broken due to her older sister's scandal and now both older daughters look like they are doomed to be spinsters.  That is until their father's new business partner, John Barrett, enters the scene along with his friend.  Lydia knows that her older and more beautiful sister, Catherine, will probably steal the spotlight, but she can't help but start to feel things for Mr. Barrett. Meanwhile, strange things start happening at Willow Hall. Lydia hears voices, sees ghosts, and her youngest sister, Emeline, starts acting strangely. The more she learns about the history behind Willow Hall, the more she is worried.  The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox is a haunting debut for readers who enjoy a spooky and supernatural tale, but can't handle too much horror.

Lydia is a character that I was instantly rooting for in The Witch of Willow Hall. She is in her older sister's shadow and has resigned to this fact. Catherine, her older sister, is the type of overbearing and extremely egocentric character that I just couldn't stand. I wanted Lydia to stand up for herself, but she truly lacked confidence and was always reminding the reader that Catherine is prettier than her, more charming than her, etc.   It was also irritating to have Lydia let Catherine control her, because obviously she didn't have her best interest in mind.  Then there's the younger sister Emeline, whom Lydia is very close with.  However, since moving to Willow Hall, Emeline has been acting strangely from time to time.  Ultimately, this concerns Lydia, but what about their parents? Shouldn't they be concerned?

Speaking of Mr. and Mrs. Montrose, they needed to be more developed in The Witch of Willow Hall. Lydia's mother is an absent mother and that I found frustrating. I wanted her to watch Emeline more closely and actually parent her daughters, but she was often distressed. I do wish Fox developed some of the minor characters a bit more, because at times I wanted them to be more fleshed out and understand their back story.

When Lydia meets John Barrett, things change for her completely in The Witch of Willow Hall. She forgets the horrific scandal in Boston and actually tries to come out of her shell, but of course, Catherine is there to botch things up from time to time. Lydia and John's relationship reminded me a bit of a relationship out of an Austen novel. There's a slow burn, some miscommunication, but fireworks eventually.  I was definitely rooting for this couple from the get-go.

Fox writes The Witch of Willow Hall with a lot of atmosphere and I enjoyed the Gothic vibe to the story.  I really can't handle any books that are considered horror, so this was a nice "spooky" read to satisfy my desire to read a timely fall tale.  There's ghosts, an old house filled with secrets, tragedy, spooky voices, and supernatural events...the quintessential fall read!  I am so glad I picked up this debut as it ended up being the perfect companion to a hot drink, a warm fire, and a cool Autumn night.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winners (79)


Can't Wait Wednesday: The Lost Girls of Paris
Book Review: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike




This week I'll be sharing my thoughts on The Witch of Willow Hall, which is the PERFECT Halloween read! It has ghosts, spooky houses, family secrets, and more.







I Dig Bathtime by Brooke Jorden - Thanks to Familius
Lit for Little Hands: Peter Pan by David Miles and Brooke Jorden - Thanks to Familius




Vendetta by Iris Johansen  - Thanks to St. Martin's
Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman - Thanks to Simon Teen



 

Forget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser - Thanks to St. Martin's and NetGalley
Only a Breath Apart by Katie McGarry - Thanks to NetGalley and Tor Teen




Strong is the New Pretty: A Guided Journal for Girls by Kate T. Parker - Thanks to Workman




The winner of A Touch of Gold goes to....

 Nicky

Congrats! I hope you enjoy the book!

Have you read any of these books? Are they on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for visiting! This meme is hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Children's Books: Halloween Reads



I've shared my favorite Halloween and fall themed picture books before, but we have come across some really great ones in the past few years.  Here are some of the picture books that we have been enjoying that are specifically Halloween themed.

Picture Books:



The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine - My monster loving son really enjoyed this slightly spooky picture book by the author of Goosebumps.

How to Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace - If you have a child that thinks a monster may live in his or her closet, this is a cute book all about a little boy who befriends the monster that lives in his closet. It's a nice reminder that things aren't always scary!



 

Monster Academy by Jane Yolen - I am a fan of Jane Yolen, but this book was downright strange. It was really choppy and didn't flow at all. I was shocked that Scholastic would publish this. It has such potential with the idea of the monsters being in school and having to get along, but it just doesn't deliver. I wish I would have read the reviews before I bought it for my son.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley - This is a cute one if you have a child who is afraid of the dark or monsters in his or her room. This story literally gives you the control to make those monsters disappear!




Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting - I adore Eve Bunting's storytelling and her use of rhyme. I loved trying to figure out, along with my son, who the "monsters" were.

The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg - This has to be one of my favorite new-to-me Halloween picture books. Not only are the illustrations fantastic, but Chris Van Allsburg (known for The Polar Express) has such an amazing way of telling a story that so many ages can enjoy - even adults. I loved this story about a widow who stumbles upon a magical broom. Even the ending was just perfect!


  


Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kahara - This cute picture book can be appreciated by the younger crowd, especially since the illustrations are so vibrant. It's all about a witch who has ghosts in her house. What to do? She's got a plan!

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell - I really enjoyed this story as not only it goes over the "lifecycle" of a pumpkin, but also the story was heartwarming. I liked that it explained how pumpkins rot over time, which is a nice reminder to my son who pretty much wants to keep pumpkins up year round. 





At the Old Haunted House by Helen Kettleman - This is a fun read with very eye-catching illustrations. I liked that it reviewed numbers by counting the different spooky things throughout the house.

The 12 Day of Halloween by Jenna Lettice  - Can we all agree that any books inspired by "The Twelve Days of Christmas" need to be just over with? Who came up with this idea? It's a cute story, in theory, but after you get to the number five repeating all of those things gets seriously monotonous. I'd rather see some sort of twist on the traditional song.

 


Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson - We have been a fan of The Gruffalo for years, so I was finally excited to sit down and read this adorable tale. I was familiar with it, but it was the first time we read the story in its entirety.  There's friends working together in this story as well as a bit of adventure with a dragon. Halloween reading at its best!

Vampire Boy's Goodnight by Lisa Brown - A vampire boy goes out at night looking for children, because he doesn't believe they exist, but to his surprise, it's Halloween night.  This picture book was just an average read for me.


Chapter Books: 



Sleepy Hollow Sleepover by Ron Roy  - I was new to the A to Z Mysteries series, but my son liked this one. It's his first foray into the mystery genre, so it was fun to try to figure it all out. I appreciated the references to the classic story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.



Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings - This series is perfect for monster-loving young ones, especially before Halloween. I think the series is just average, but my son is a huge fan. It's all about a young boy and his friends and their adventures as they try to protect the town from monsters.



Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve by Mary Pope Osborne - I adore the Magic Treehouse series and this book in the series is the perfect read for Halloween.  Ghosts? An old castle? Spooky Adventures? Yes, please!


The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black - I read this series with my son and we both really loved it.  It's the perfect combination of adventure, spooky creatures, and magic. This would also be a great series to check out before Halloween.


What are some of your favorite Halloween themed picture books? Have you read any of these? Do you have a favorite chapter book that would be perfect for Halloween? Share your favorites with me in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Lost Girls of Paris

Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Pub. Date: February 5, 2019



Goodreads says, "1946, Manhattan - Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.  Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.  Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances."

I absolutely loved The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach and I have have read some amazing reviews for The Orphan's Tale, so needless to say, I am excited for Pam Jenoff's latest historical novel. Doesn't it sound compelling?  What do you guys think?  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Pages: 527
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Touchstone
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.  Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.  The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time."

Languoreth and her twin brother, Lailoken, are the children of the king, but things aren't entirely happy in their household currently as they just lost their mother.  Their father, being a 6th century king, is often gone for long periods of time, so the children find themselves at home with their tutor as well as druid who often takes care of them.  One day, Languoreth encounters Ariane, a Wisdom Keeper, who pledges herself to Languoreth. This is just what she needs as she has been longing for a female presence in her life.  Their world is unsettling as their are enemies are surrounding and consequently, the war brings many warriors to their home including Pendragon and Maelgwn.  There's also the issue of Christianity reaching their shores and challenging their Celtic old beliefs.  The Lost Queen by Signe Pike is an interesting start to a new historical trilogy giving readers a new perspective on the Arthurian Legend surrounding Merlin and his long-forgotten queen sister. 

Languoreth is a character I instantly warmed up to in The Lost Queen. I felt for her after the recent death of her mother and readers could really feel the absence of her on the page. Languoreth is surrounded by mostly men, so when she meets Ariane, I was happy for her as she really needs some guidance.  But Ariane is a Wisdom Keeper, so what Languoreth is in store for might not be what readers were initially expecting. Also, as the story progresses and Languoreth ages, she meets warrior, Maelgwn, and sparks fly. I won't give away too much, but things get very complicated.

I really liked the idea of exposing a new story surrounding the person who inspired the character of Merlin and his twin sister, who happened to be a queen that's forgotten by history. I love uncovering  stories in history like this, especially if the character is female. I thought that Pike really brought the Dark Ages to life in The Lost Queen and really illustrated the clash between the old Celtic way of life along with Christianity.  

My issue with The Lost Queen is that parts of the story truly dragged. There were various times when reading this novel that I almost put it down for good even though I truly cared about Languoreth.  I felt that the writing lacked that special something at various points that keep readers completely engaged. Once we got to more action, I felt the pace quicken, but it took quite awhile to get to that point. I also am perplexed by the comparisons of The Lost Queen to Philippa Gregory as well as Outlander. That is a reach. A big one. Other than the setting of Scotland what on earth makes this novel similar to Outlander

If you are looking for the start of a new historical trilogy give The Lost Queen a try this fall. I am not sure I will continue with the trilogy, but by the novel's end I was glad I read it nonetheless.  Have you read The Lost Queen? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. 


Friday, October 12, 2018

End of My Summer Kickoff and an International Giveaway!


Alright, I guess it's time to say goodbye to another awesome summer.  The warm days and sunshine stuck around for quite awhile here in PA (as did the mosquitoes!), so I was still reading my beach reads and in complete denial. However, now that Halloween is almost here, I think I'm ready.  Or as ready as I'll ever be.

So, to close up another amazing year of my Summer Kickoff Feature, I am hosting an international giveaway for the chance to win one book that I featured this summer. 



If I had to pick, I'd say my favorite Adult Fiction/Beach Read of the summer is a tie between The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams and The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. Hilderbrand's novels are hit or miss with me, but I will say I really, really enjoyed this beach read with a side of a murder mystery.  Of course, Beatriz Williams is always a hit with me! Needless to say, both novels were really absorbing and absolutely perfect for a day at the beach.





My favorite YA beach read of the summer goes to both Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett and Save the Date by Morgan Matson. I loved both of those books and they reaffirmed my reasons as to why I still read YA. 


So, check out my list below of all the beach reads I reviewed this summer and be sure to enter my giveaway for one of the books below. My giveaway is open internationally as long as Book Depository ships to your location. Please refer to my giveaway rules and thanks for another great summer!

August and Everything After by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
 Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner
 The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey
The Summer Sail by Wendy Francis
 Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Little Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone 
The High Season by Judy Blundell
The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable
Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
Sailing Lessons by Hannah McKinnon
Save the Date by Morgan Matson
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood
The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews
 Dreams of Falling by Karen White
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman 
The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand 



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Longest Books I've Ever Read

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the longest books we have ever read. The past ten years, I have really read some longggggg books thanks to the Outlander series.  Check out which books made my list according to my Goodreads account.




1.  The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon




2.  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas




3.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 




4.  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell




5.  A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon





6.  Middlemarch by George Eliot




7.  The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley





8.  Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon





9.  Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati 




10.  Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

What are some of the longest books you have ever read? I don't mind reading a lengthy tome as long as it's good. Do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments. This meme is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

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