I recently discovered Jennifer McMahon as an author just this last fall/winter. I know that she has a number of fans but to be honest—ghost stories freak me out and I rarely read them.
However, during the fall/winter, I saw that there was an Instagram group that was reading her novel, The Winter People, and though I didn’t participate in the reading group, I was nevertheless intrigued by the cover of the book and summary.
So I ended up reading it and absolutely fell in love with her prose and plot. While I was honest to god scared while reading The Winter People, I didn’t think that it was so scary that I couldn’t continue but rather scary enough that I couldn’t put it down! As soon as I finished that book I ordered two more books. But I am waiting to read them until the fall because I think they will be more fun to read when it’s a dark and stormy night. Plus I knew I had this one coming up so I wanted to spread out my terror!
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home–wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks–she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day (summary from Goodreads).
One of the things that I love about McMahon’s books is the atmosphere and setting. I know that the author herself, lives in Vermont and her love and knowledge of the state show in her books. The entire time I was reading this book all I could think was how perfect Vermont was for a chilling ghost story such as this. The book’s gothic, moody, and chilling vibe drew it near to my heart as I love books that are full of atmosphere.
I am impressed with McMahon’s ability to write such terrifying novels but yet balancing the terror with tragic, interesting, and well constructed characters and secondary plot. The terror is always there, but she does a fantastic job giving the reader time to process and absorb the story without being too terrified to keep reading. The author also does a great job and weaving the past and present together and for people who like history, such as myself, this book was idilic.
I think my favorite thing about this book though was the over all concept. Who would build a haunted house from the ground up and invite ghosts in?! I know I wouldn’t! So instantly I was drawn in and wanted to know more about what would prompt someone to want to do that in the first place! Such an excellent concept and interesting way to tell a story!
While some people said that they didn’t like this book as much as The Winter People, I personally loved it! The Winter People will probably be one of my favorites because it was my first time reading this author, but I loved this book! I didn’t always love each of the characters, but in the horror and gothic genres, it’s fairly common for the characters to be unlikeable. In the end I went with a 4.5 rating.