It's been quite a few years since a "ghost" story caused goosebumps to raise on my arms. I think the last story that did this was Ghost Story by Peter Straub so it WAS a few years ago.
"The Winter People" is the perfect blend of shivers, mystery, thriller and just plain old good storytelling.
The story is told in various vignettes, during different time periods, and by different characters. At first this is a little difficult to keep up with but the rhythm of the tale soon takes over and the story takes on a life of its own and soon I was flipping the pages quickly, galumphing through the story and trying to figure out all the mysteries of the spectral beings and the not-so-ghostly ones.
Fast paced with well-rounded characters, I enjoyed this eerie tale and will be looking for others by author McMahon.
on February 14, 2014
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is set in a Vermont town of "strange disappearances and old legends." Key to the plot is a mysterious structure known as the Devil's Hand. ("The Devil's Hand, people called it, the ledge of rock that stuck up out of the ground like a giant hand, fingers rising from the earth. Haunted land, people said. A place where monsters dwelled." p. 21)
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It is very readable, but I was put off by some plot points meant to confuse the issue that were never explained to my satisfaction. The text is nicely atmospheric and the mystery imaginative. There are some nice character touches; I particularly liked Katherine and her dioramas.
The book contains chapters from a secret diary written in 1908 by Sara (as edited by the author's niece years later and which is known to be missing key pages), chapters narrated in the third person with Sara's husband as the central figure, and chapters narrated by their small daughter Gertie. The 1908 sections alternate with sections set in the present day that are told in the third person about Ruthie, a teenager who lives on the same property as the family from 1908, and Katherine, a recent widow who discovers her husband was killed in a car crash after visiting that property. There are also chapters narrated by Sara in the first person and a letter written in 1886. All of the point of view changing was a little off putting. I wouldn't have minded so much if the diary sections were the only ones told in first person, or even if all of Sara's sections were the only ones told in first person. Also, the framework of an editor of a secret diary didn't really work for me, since the whole book was not told in diary format. However, I had no trouble keeping the various voices apart.
The Winter People reminded me a bit of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (which I also wanted to like more than I did). If you like a strange tale with touches of folklore and other-worldly mystery, you might enjoy The Winter People.
I read an advance reading copy.
This admonition repeats throughout Jennifer McMahon's novel, "The Winter People". A thriller/mystery that incorporates supernatural elements, this book is the best type of dark story - the events are improbable, but still the reader wonders if they just might be possible. The longing to "speak with the dead", to see an individual one last time, and to conquer death provide the impetus for the characters' actions. The overwhelming, obsessive love of a mother for a long-desired child also provides a motive for events. Further, McMahon incorporates the reader's childhood and adult fears - abandonment by parents; the death of a beloved child or spouse; and unexplained nighttime shadows and noises - to produce this gripping story.
Spanning a period between 1908 and the present, the narrative of the "The Winter People" is primarily presented in the third person. Only the secret diary of one individual - Sara Harrison Shea - is written in the first person. That diary provides the cohesive element that ties the different eras and characters together. It also personalizes the story and gives it more a authentic tone. Throughout "The Winter People" and as more information from this diary is revealed, the mystery deepens until the unexpected ending that shocks the reader and evokes sympathy for characters psychologically caught in the grip of the "sleepers" or charged with protecting others from a more horrific fate.
When reading "The Winter People", individuals should be patient. The events and action in this novel are not the type that hit the reader immediately. Rather, Jennifer McMahon builds the tension slowly as the characters continue to discover more of the pages of Sara Harrison Shea's diary. It took almost a quarter of the book before I became so engrossed that I did not stop reading until I had finished "The Winter People". Only the character of Katherine seemed extraneous. However, at the very end of the book, one could then see her character and situation provided a nice segue should McMahon decide to continue "The Winter People" as a series.
Readers looking for a well-written thriller/mystery that incorporates elements of the supernatural should enjoy "The Winter People". Characters are relatable, and their motivation understandable. McMahon does not resort to gratuitous sexual situations, violence, or profanity to move the story along.
In “The Winter People” (and we don’t find out the reason for the title until the book is nearly done), Jennifer McMahon spins a tale of horror, madness, and decay over two eras, with a tangled cast of desperate characters.
Chilly, morose, humorless (you might want to call it neo-Lovecraftian—the style is very different but the swirling mad terror is the same) it follows characters who are desperately seeking answers to murders, mayhem, arson, and disappearances.
The central point is the undead child Gertie, a “Walker” (think Golem, or Zombie with a touch of vampirism), who is brought back from dead by her mother Sara (she writes a journal about the whole think, and that turns out to be the McGuffin). She accomplishes this thanks to the secrets of a witch-woman and the child proceeds to wreak havoc both in 1908, and in the present day (the tale shuttles back and forth between the two eras—an old McMahon technique that she uses in almost all her books). In the present a new family occupies Sara's old house and . . . umm, but best not spoil.
If the above seems like a warning (and maybe it is), it’s also a rave. If you can stand all dying, all the blood and fire, and all the seeking, you’ll enjoy a tale artfully conceived and brilliantly written. If it all seems too much for you, I understand your reluctance. So all in all, I’ll just say: “recommended for some.” And presumably the “somes” know who they are.
on March 31, 2016
I tore through this book in only a few days. I stayed up way too late and read for way too long some nights, but it was worth it to get to the end of this. I had to find out the answers to all the building questions within the novel, and when I finally did get my answers, it was very satisfying.
The book parallels the past and present. In the past, we have Sara, whose story is told in diary form. Occasionally it will be from another character’s perspective (her husband or child) in the past, but the past is mainly told from Sara’s point of view. She is a grieving mother who experiences tragedy and legends about her live on even in the present day. In the present day, we have a family who has been living in Sara’s old house, located near a wooded area that contains a landmark called The Devil's Hand. They remain largely off the grid. One day, Ruthie (daughter) arrives home and finds her mother has gone missing but her 6 year old sister is still in the house. The third sub-plot is with a woman named Katherine in present day. Her husband met with Ruthie’s mother the day he was involved in a car accident and passed away. Katherine is just looking for answers and becomes involved in the plot.
The events occurring in present day are directly involved with the events of the past, as discussed in Sarah’s diary. The author does an amazing job of taking the story from the past to the present and back again without causing confusion. Each chapter draws you into the story a little bit more and leaves you with so many questions. This was the main reason I had such a hard time putting the book down, I just had to know why.
When you do arrive at the conclusion, it’s a satisfying round up of the book. All the questions that had been building up throughout are answered, at least for me they were. There were times the book frightened me so much that I considered putting it in the freezer! In total, I felt a large range of emotions with this. It’s a thriller, a mystery, contains supernatural elements and Native American folklore, many genres in one.
An excellent read and I would highly recommend it. It will draw you in immediately and you won’t be able to stop until you find out the conclusion to this intricate mystery.
Grief so paralyzing, so mind-numbing, and so soul crushing that you can't breathe? The one you cherished and adored has died. And, in the depth of your sorrow did you wish that your beloved could come back to you?
Sara Harrison Shea, living in West Hall, Vermont, in 1908 knows that kind of desperation. Her daughter, 8-year-old Gertie, has been found at the bottom of an abandoned and very deep well on their farm property.
In the present day, Ruthie and Fawn live with their mother, Alice, in the same farmhouse where Sara grieved so long ago. One day, Alice goes missing, and as the girls search for clues, they stumble upon an old diary hidden in the floorboards, along with a strange cache of other mysterious items. Do these things have any relevance to the reason their mother has vanished?
As Ruthie and Fawn try to find their mother, they also connect with two other women who are drawn to their farmhouse and the surrounding woods.
West Hall has long been filled with rumors of the "Winter People" -- the "sleepers" or the ones that died but now are sighted in the woods near a rock formation called the Devil's Hand. Is there any truth to the stories that claim that Sara's old Auntie had the power to bring the dead back to life? And that others knew the secret -- and could have used it??
As Ruthie and Fawn delve deeper into the mystery, they realize that they are connected to Sara and have a legacy rooted in what might be dark magic -- or is it just superstition and old silly folk tales passed on through the generations who might be trying to explain the unexplainable.
Fast-paced, creepy, and chilling -- I raced through the pages as the story is told in alternating points of view and shifts backward and forward in time from 1908 to present day.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys a little supernatural horror ghost story!
Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for the e-book ARC to review.
on April 26, 2015
I really can't believe how horrible the ending to this book was. McMahon had me completely invested until the characters started acting totally wacked out. You have people in the present and the past with unbelievable storylines converging at the same time towards the end, acting in ways that don't help the story. It really became dumb. What a disappointment. Spoiler: Really, Auntie would take revenge on an 8-9 year old girl because her father tried to kill her....so she comes back 20 years later to kill the daughter of the girl that she raised and loved.....STUPID. How was an 8 year old girl suppose to stop her father. And the whole book is based on this decision? Stupid and unbelievable.
The Winter People is overall a well written, intricate, tightly woven story. It held me throughout every page, so you might say to yourself, why only three stars? The three stars isn't because it wasn't well written, isn't because the characters were not well developed and not because it didn't hold my attention to the point of my reading with burning eyes late into the night. It's because toward the end, while the story is being brought to a close, details revolving around the actions of some main characters were just to inplausible for words. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into detail, however I will say that the decisions of Alice and her husband (Fawn & Ruthie's parents) were just too far fetched for me. It was too unbelievable, even for a story that in itself is unbelievable. Obviously, it's fiction and of the horror genre to boot, so one might say, what sort of realism can you expect to find in a story like that? Well, I expect that the fantastical will occur, however, the decisions and actions of characters should be believable in their response to the fantastical, at least in my opinion.
Am I unhappy that I read the book....no, I'm not. It was a real page turner and I enjoyed becoming engrossed in a story in that way, however, I do feel a bit let down by the unbelievable nature of the explanations given by one of the characters at the end of the book. Do I think that it's worth your time....I think you should be the judge of that. The suspence, the plot twists and turns, the unexpected and horrifying might just make it worth it to you, too.
on June 8, 2014
I enjoyed wondering what was going on with all the characters in different time periods. But when I finally found out what was going on, I thought, this is just another Zombie story. Had that been said right away, I wouldn't have wasted my time. And the character Candace, as soon as she enters the plot, the story really descends into stupidity. Disappointed, it seemed to have promise at first.
on February 6, 2015
I had a few problems with this book. The major problems were that the story jumped around strangely, which was sometimes confusing. Some pieces were written in first person, some written in third person, some in the present, some in the past. There were too many stylistic differences to offer any sense of consistency. Some of the dialogue was strange and stiff. Some of the interactions of the characters didn't make any sense.The "villian" at the end was just a laughable, throw-away character with no depth, and some very strange dialogue. All told the story had potential, like a great twist on Pet Sematary, but the telling was not good and subtracted from that.