book review

So I just read Winterset Hollow by Jonathen Edward Durham and…

I was sent a free copy by Jonathan Edward Durham in exchange for a review but all opinions are my own and true. Also this post will be split into two parts, the first being a spoiler free review and the second part will be a little more spoiler but I’ll let you know where the split is. 

I loved this book so much more than I expected to and I’m so glad I agreed to read it. When emailing me Durham said ‘tone-wise it lives somewhere between the wonder of Roald Dahl’s more grounded works and the ‘things fall apart’ chaos of a good Michael Crichton thriller.  Oh, and there’s a liiiiitle Stephen King thrown in there for good measure, but just a pinch.’ and if you know me you know this ticks so many of my boxes when it comes to books. I jumped down the rabbit hole and just kept falling. I feel like even now weeks after finishing it I haven’t hit the bottom yet. 

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends who travel to any book lovers dream, the island inspiration and late home of their favorite author, Addington. The magic continues when Eamon along with his friends Caroline and Mark discover that the characters they love aren’t just words on a page and are in fact real. Today of Barley day and our characters have been invited to have dinner with a loveable rabbit, a frog that is such a beautiful chef, a fix it up bear and a fox with a keen eye who’s an amazing shot. But all is not that they seem and soon a dream come true becomes a nightmare. 

It’s Barley Day … and you’ve been invited to the hunt. 

I love creepy books, something that makes me look over my shoulder all night, and this definitely fits into that while also feeling whimsical. The childhood book that brought them all to the island is mentioned throughout the book and there’s some ‘extracts’ from it and I definitely see what Durham meant when he mentioned the book feeling Roald Dahl esk, it also reminded me a little of E. E. Mills with the beautiful illustrations dotted throughout. 

I especially love Runny, Flackwell, Finn and Bing, the human-like animals and main characters in the book that brought Eamon to the island. I mean that is kind of to be expected when there’s a book with anthropomorphic characters but even without this I felt like Eamon, Caroline and Mark lacked personality. When things started happening I just didn’t feel sorry for them because I wasn’t attached to them but I did feel deeply upset and disturbed about the things that had happened to the animals. Especially Runny, it was just so heartbreaking to see things play out. I think this also maybe reflects why I preferred the more quiet moments over the action, I like the law of the story.

Foreshadowing is a huge love for me in books, especially things that are a little more subtle but still makes you feel uncomfortable because you know it means something. This book has loads of that and I will go a little more detail later after my spoiler warning. There’s also a lot of twists throughout the book and I love them… or at least most of them. I really didn’t like the twist at the end, it just felt like it came out of nowhere (unless I missed something early on in the book) and really out of the blue, I wish the ending had been left a little more open to interpretation letting us fill in the blanks. But again, more of that in the spoiler section. 

All in all I really liked this book to the point of buying my own physical copy so I could add it to my own bookshelf. Durham does a good job of making the animal characters interesting and really building the world in a really good way. I would 100% recommend it, especially for October, it’s a good amount of creepy with an emotion undertone. 

Ok so from this point on there’s going to be some spoilers so please go away now if you don’t want spoilers! 

First I want to talk about a small detail that for some reason has stuck in my brain since I read this book. When Eamon, Caroline and Mark first arrive on the island they find a maze and in the middle of the maze they find a cage surrounded by a number of chess boards mid game.. We later find out that Finn is amazing at chess and that Eamon’s dad really pushed his son to learn chess. This whole storyline was really interesting and I like how it leads into Finn’s ‘hounds’ and their names. I just… ‘chefs kiss’. This whole section was just amazing and I really love the whole hounds story.

It’s the same when we later find out about Runny and where his leg went and why his ear is so cut up and later when we find out the truth about Addington. I always find the idea of ‘you should never meet your heroes’ so interesting and this takes that to a whole new level, especially when Runny lets Eamon see into Addington’s office. 

The ending for me though was the main disappointment, I didn’t like the twist about Eamon and his father being related to Addington. This just felt like it came out of nowhere and I was left wondering by this had been included, just let the animals feel cheated and wanting to do to human kind what human kind had done to them. The story goes that the animals want to kill all of Addington’s family to make up for him killing theirs and to tempt Eamon to the island they had sent him the book and expected him to just feel a connection and want to come to the Island, it all just seemed a little farfetched and there doesn’t need to be a reason for people who feel cheated by the world to do awful things. I also wish Durham had left the ending open as I said before, the story would lend itself to just having the characters left on the island allowing us to make up our own mind. To have this be some kind of tradition for the animals where they lour a group to the island every year rather than it being a hunt for Addington’s family. 

Just… go buy this book. Just read it and love it as much as I do! 

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