Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5


West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara's fate, she discovers that she's not the only person who's desperately looking for someone that they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.


As paranormal fiction and horror are two of my favorite genres, I found The Winter People absolutely captivating. Only when her mother disappears and the old house starts giving up its secrets, does Ruthie realize that she is living on a cursed piece of land where a gruesome family saga played itself out about a century ago. Soon those who have lost loved ones, as well as those who want to become rich by selling the Harrison family secret, converge on Ruthie and her little sister.

Paranormal phenomena like vampires and werewolves don't scare me at all. Ghosts and things involving the dead rising, however, are the kind of tales that will make me hesitate to switch the light off at night. From pale things seen in the woods and the inexplicable smell of ozone, to mysterious disappearances and the feeling of being watched, this book is full of that kind of thrilling, thoroughly scary material. The frightening tales and legends woven round these incidents by the residents of the town of West Hall, just add to this incredible mystery.

As the story is written from different points of view, it is difficult to truly identify with one character in particular. Although Ruthie's part in the story starts off with her being a rather rebellious teenager who is extremely unhappy with living in a small town, she soon becomes more responsible when her mother disappears and she is left with the responsibility of her sick little sister, Fawn. That said little sister is rather secretive, and a bit weird, doesn't help either.

Other characters like the grieving Katherine who is looking for clues about her dead husband's last few hours and the mean, extremely greedy, trigger-happy Candace, are fleshed out and realistic.

The characters from the historic part of the story, however, were crafted even more believably. In the end I truly didn't know whether the mystical Auntie, Sarah Harrison Shea, her rather weak husband, or something far more evil were responsible for the death of the little girl, Gertie.

The author's brilliant use of the Vermont woods in winter, a little bone ring, a diary and a mysterious map, augment the spooky atmosphere of this book.

I highly recommend The Winter People to all who love a good, thrilling paranormal tale with more than a bit of horror.


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I was born in 1968 and grew up in my grandmother’s house in suburban Connecticut, where I was convinced a ghost named Virgil lived in the attic. I wrote my first short story in third grade. I graduated with a BA from Goddard College in 1991 and then studied poetry for a year in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College. A poem turned into a story, which turned into a novel, and I decided to take some time to think about whether I wanted to write poetry or fiction. After bouncing around the country, I wound up back in Vermont, living in a cabin with no electricity, running water, or phone with my partner, Drea, while we built our own house. Over the years, I have been a house painter, farm worker, paste-up artist, Easter Bunny, pizza delivery person, homeless shelter staff member, and counselor for adults and kids with mental illness — I quit my last real job in 2000 to work on writing full time. In 2004, I gave birth to our daughter, Zella. These days, we’re living in an old Victorian in Montpelier, Vermont. Some neighbors think it looks like the Addams family house, which brings me immense pleasure.

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