Book Review

Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood

mistletoe

Leah thought Maitland Farm could give her a new life – but now old ghosts are dragging her into the past.

Following the tragic deaths of her husband and son, Leah is looking for a new life. Determined to bury her grief in hard work and desperate to escape Christmas and the reminders of what she has lost, she rushes through the purchase of a run-down Yorkshire farmhouse, arriving just as the snow shrouds her new home.

It might look like the loveliest Christmas card, but it’s soon clear it’s not just the house that needs renovation: the land is in bad heart, too. As Leah sets to work, she begins to see visions of the farm’s former occupants – and of the dark secrets that lie at the heart of Maitland Farm.

If Leah is to have a future, she must find a way to lay both her own past and theirs to rest – but the visions are becoming disturbingly real…

Leah is a fantastic character, and one who it is very easy to sympathise with.  Having lost her son and her husband in unfortunate circumstances, she leaves Manchester to renovate a small farmhouse in Yorkshire.  Her friends advise against it, but Leah is determined – it’s a project that her husband, Josh, was keen to pursue prior to his own death.  With Leah still struggling to cope with her grief, I got the sense that she wanted to take on the project – in reality more work than one person could reasonably take on – in order to feel close to him, and to undertake the project in his memory as well as getting away from her immediate past, even temporarily.

The setting is idyllic, although moving in shortly before Christmas, Leah is soon caught up in the adverse weather of the Pennines as heavy snow falls and settles.  Leah sought isolation away from the sympathy and pity of those who are aware of what happened to her family and isolation she gets as her nearest neighbour is a good walk away, and with no other properties in sight of her own.  Leah does meet her neighbours – Cath and her brother, Drew – albeit not in the best of circumstances, although that doesn’t stop a tentative friendship from forming.  I love Cath’s character – she strikes me as a no-nonsense individual, and her practical nature is absolutely spot on for someone leading a farming lifestyle.  It’s clear that Cath knows more about the history of Maitland Farm than she is prepared to share, and this adds to the intrigue of the novel as Leah pushes for answers which Cath continually tries to avoid.

Mistletoe has a sense of eeriness about it from the beginning, and while I never found it scary per se, there were definitely moments that made me distinctly uncomfortable, in a good way, of course!  It begins simply enough, with unexpected noises that Leah puts down to tiredness, stress, grief, and her imagination.  But these events build up, and Leah begins to experience visions of Maitland Farm’s past, which gradually reveal the history that Leah has so desperately sought out.  The weather and Leah’s isolation add to the creepiness as the past makes itself known.  It’s a fascinating story, and I loved the way in which Littlewood brings this history to life – it’s brilliantly done, and I found myself racing through the pages to see what aspect of the past would be revealed next, and how it might affect Leah.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mistletoe, and while there is a festive element to it, I recommend this creepy ghost story whatever the time of year.

Mistletoe is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available in hardback and digital formats now.

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