Book review: Burntown

Burntown has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list since I heard about it. Already a big fan of The Winter People and The Night Sister, I knew Burntown would be worth the wait. I wasn’t wrong.

There is something that happens in a Jennifer McMahon book that I’ve yet to see replicated as well in others. She manages to marry mystery/thriller with the slightest paranormal in a way that seems totally natural. I’m not a fan of paranormal as a genre, but when it comes to McMahon, I’m all in.

Burntown begins with a scene from the past – a young boy watches while his mother is murdered. 

Then we jump forward. All grown up, Miles Sandeski has a family of his own. He makes things, builds things with his hands, including a machine based on Edison’s design to reach beyond the veil between life and death. Somehow, the machine works and he can hear his mother’s voice, which tells him her murderer – a man named Snake Eyes – is not gone. In fact, he’s watching Miles, waiting for another opportunity. The family is not safe, and then a flood sweeps in, washing away the Sandeski’s home. Miles and son Errol are gone. Miles’s wife survives for a short time, but then, it’s only their daughter, Eva. 

In an attempt to live some version of a cursed life in Burntown, the underbelly of Ashford, Vermont, Eva changes her name to Necco and lives in a car with her boyfriend. The murderer is now after her. The cycle continues. 

Though the main character is Necco, we also hear from two other women – Theo and Pru, who each have their own journey that intertwines with Necco’s. When these three finally team up, the pacing of the story quickens towards a resolution.

The Winter People continues to be my favorite of McMahon’s so far, but Burntown is special in a way that leaves me – if I’m being honest – a little jealous. McMahon is darn good. She knows how to craft a creepy story that’s totally bizarre and equally believable. Once the ball was rolling, I was locked in. We knew Snake Eyes was going to resurface. We knew the Edison machine was going to be important. We knew that Necco was going to succeed. BUT HOW? How does it all come together? 

You have to read Burntown to find out. 

Book Review: Island of Lost Girls

After reading Winter People and The Night Sister last year, I resolved to read all of Jennifer McMahon’s work. Both of those books were pitch perfect – suspenseful, spooky, everything I want in a thriller.

That’s why it pains me to say Island of Lost Girls will not make my Top Ten Favorite Books this year. Not even close.

The story begins with a kidnapping. Rhonda is sitting in her parked car as she watches someone dressed as a rabbit steal a child. She does nothing to prevent the kidnapping, which she regrets, particularly since her best friend, Lizzy, from childhood went missing many moons ago and here she is watching another child vanish. It is her guilt over her inaction that prompts her to help solve the mystery of who was underneath the rabbit suit.

About that rabbit suit. It was this detail that drove me nuts. Allusions of Peter Rabbit flood this story, which is equally annoying because the brother of Rhonda’s childhood friend is named Peter. There are references to Alice and the White Rabbit and collecting eggs on Easter, and so on.

I can’t recall a page where rabbits were not mentioned. It was so frequent that at one point I audibly said to an empty room, “Okay. We get it.”

The suspense was there, and in between the rabbit references was a real mystery to be solved. Who was underneath that rabbit suit? What did he do with the child he took? And what happened to Lizzy more than a decade prior? Are the two vanishings connected?

Honestly, when the mystery was solved, I felt underwhelmed. One of the people I already suspected was connected to the crime, and when the story fully fleshed out and everything had come to light, I was just glad to be done with the book so I didn’t have to read any more metaphors about rabbits.

Skip this one and read Winter People or The Night Sister.

Book Review: The Night Sister

the-night-sisterIn London, Vermont, there’s a small motel off of Route 6 that used to be the go-to place for travelers. But when the highway was built across town, the motel started to decline and it eventually closed. Charlotte, an Englishwoman, ran the place with her husband, who built a tower behind the motel so his wife could enjoy her very own Tower of London. Their cute and clever daughters, Sylvie and Rose, used to entertain and amuse the guests.

Amy, Rose’s daughter, grew up playing in the motel’s abandoned rooms with her friends, sisters Piper and Margot. However, one day they discover a suitcase the contains the belongings of her mysterious Aunt Sylvie, who went missing so many years ago. Rose eventually left too, unable to handle living in the old motel, leaving Grandma Charlotte to raise Amy.

Now, in present time, Amy is dead and stands accused of murder-suicide when her husband’s and son’s bodies are also found. Piper resolves to find out what really happened in the Tower of London, whether or not Amy lost her mind and killed her family, and what this strange family is really all about. She also cares for Amy’s only living child, Lou, who survived Amy’s supposed night of terror.

Again, Jennifer McMahon captured my attention immediately and I read this book in a day. This was after reading The Winter People, so I knew it was going to give me goosebumps. This writer doesn’t play. She takes readers all the way to the edge and then gently nudges them over.

Buy The Night Sister here.

Book review: The Winter People

winter-peopleThis book was so good I read it in two days. Then I found a second book by Jennifer McMahon (The Night Sister) at a used book shop and read that one in one day.

She is a phenomenal storyteller.

The Winter People takes place in the fictional West Hall, Vermont, over two time frames – 1908 and Present Day. In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found dead on her homestead just a couple of months after the tragic death of her daughter, Greta. The woman kept a diary, and over time the contents that diary made the rounds via town gossip.

A century later, 19-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s old house with her mother, Alice, and kid-sister, Fawn. They live as homesteaders with chickens, homemade goods, and no internet. Behind the house are the woods where no one is allowed to explore. When Alice goes missing, Ruthie forgoes calling the police and decides to piece together the clues that have popped up: two wallets in the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom, along with Sara Shea’s diary.

The mystery that surrounds Sara’s death and Alice’s disappearance challenge Ruthie in every area – what she believes about her family, her house, and herself.  When a stranger shows up looking for evidence about her dead husband, Ruthie realizes that the mystery is larger than life.

FIVE STARS. I couldn’t put it down, nor could I read it at night. Or while caving.

Buy Winter People here.