Thursday, 20 January 2022

The Winter People

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is another one of those books that I've seen around a lot but am not exactly sure where or who. I thought it would do quite nicely for the Book Bingo challenge I'm doing, under the category, 'Seasonal'.

 


It's 1908 and Sara Harrison Shea lives with her husband, Martin, and daughter, Gertie, on a farm near the village of West Hall in the mountains of Vermont. It's an isolated region, bleak and cut off in the winter snows but also the place is rife with rumours of strange, supernatural goings on. Especially in the area where Sara and Martin have their farm. The woods and rocky outcrops around are places where people just don't go and that includes Sara.

A hundred years later and 19 year old Ruthie lives on the same farm with her mother, Alice, and 6 year old sister Fawn. She's desperate to go away to college but her mother can't afford it so Ruthie is basically running a bit wild with her flying saucer obsessed boyfriend, Buzz. Getting back very late one night, Ruthie finds all the lights in the house on and her mother gone. Alice has always been a bit odd, insisting that the girls keep out of the woods at all costs, but Ruthie knows she would never willingly leave them like this. 

Katherine has just moved to West Hall. Her husband, Gary, died in a motor accident on the roads around the village when he was not supposed to be up in Vermont: he'd told her he was going somewhere else. Recently he'd become obsessed with some photos he'd picked up in a shop somewhere and was not at all himself. Katherine feels the only way to find out what happened to Gary is to move to the area where he died and investigate.

So, three women whose stories will eventually merge and the story deals with how that comes to pass. I have to admit that I nearly abandoned the book after the first 50 or so pages because Sara's story was so deeply depressing and gloomy. Then along comes Ruthie and although she too is experiencing some trauma the writing becomes more upbeat and the story picks up pace and takes off. A 19 year old girl and her 6 year old sister might seem like an odd pairing to be investigating a disappearance but it works a treat. Luckily, Sara's story then takes the form of diary entries which I found myself more able to cope with, especially as the book is then concentrating more on Ruthie and Fawn's problems and their delvings into the history of the farm.

The setting of Vermont in the depths of winter is beautifully depicted. The endless snow, the storms, the isolation, it all felt very real. I wasn't so sure about the supernatural element. I didn't feel like it was fully explained and the whole thing felt 'unlikely'. OK, I know that 'unlikely' is very much the idea behind a paranormal book but I just felt unconvinced about it all. And a decision made at the end of the book by one of the characters had me thinking, 'What?! No!!!'

So, all in all a decent read. I'm glad I didn't abandon it 50 pages in but the book is not without its frustrations in my opinion (yours may vary). But winter in Vermont? What's not to like?


18 comments:

Kay said...

Cath, I'm glad you decided to continue reading this book. I think it's a good representation of many of the books that Jennifer McMahon has written. They are mostly set in that Vermont/New England area, usually contain a bit of the supernatural or 'maybe' supernatural and are good mysteries. A little Gothic, a little psychological, and the setting is almost always very important. I haven't read all her books, but I've got all of them on my TBR. I need to go check which are unread at this point. Yes, seems like a good 'seasonal' selection.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

It's tempting me, even though the first 50 pages sound a bit difficult. I'll look out for it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Winter in Vermont is lovely - an inn and mystery books by a roaring fire watching the snow falling. Sorry this wasn't perfect but, I may try it as I have a copy.

Cath said...

Kay: I'm really glad I did continue with the book in the end. I also found your review so thanks for pointing me at that. I think I would actually like to read more by McMahon because I'm wondering what else she might've come up with. I have to admit that I'm also attracted by more books set in Vermont! We drove through part of the state back in 1996 and I'm wishing we'd stayed a bit longer.

Cath said...

Margaret: I think it's different enough that you might enjoy it. I'm trying to go for a few more unusual books this year so I feel like I've made a good start.

Cath said...

Diane: Oh my goodness, that sounds wonderful! If it weren't for covid I'd be packing my bags. LOL!

Lark said...

Yeah... that ending! It had me thinking about it for days trying to decide how I felt about it. I did like the Gothic creepiness in this one; and that Vermont setting is awesome. :)

Cath said...

Lark: I know. I felt very frustrated by that decision. I'm not surprised it had you thinking about it for days. I finished it yesterday and I too am still thinking about it... *and* that glorious setting!

TracyK said...

I always think a book is good if you think about it afterwards. And I usually am glad I finish a book even though the beginning 50 or so pages did not thrill me. I am not sure I would like this type of book overall, but it sounds like it worked for you in the end.

Cath said...

Tracy: I agree, and the book is still with me, at least the dark, snowy setting in Vermont is. This is definitely a book that's not for everyone but I do like a little supernatural mystery in my book diet.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I'm still in two minds about this book, as I just have such a backlog list right now. However, I don't like to be defeated by a book either, so I might just look at it as a personal challenge. The trouble is, I visited Fantastic Fiction and checked out Jennifer's other books and they all sound quite 'unusual' shall we say and a couple of them have cover art which is straight out of 'Carrie' territory!

I'm pleased that the storyline was strong enough to have you finish reading and hope that your next book is a little more inclusive! :)

Vallypee said...

Well done for your persistence, Cath. I don’t think I would have prevailed. Dismal story plus winter snow? No, not for me. Still, it sounds as if you quite liked it!

Cath said...

Yvonne: To be honest I don't think this is a book I would recommend to you. It certainly isn't Stephen King scary or horrifying but it is quite disquieting.

My next book is certainly far more inclusive, I'm reading The 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie.

Cath said...

Val: You made me laugh with your 'dismal story plus winter snow' comment. I tend to forget that not everyone loves a snowy story as much as me. LOL!

Sam Sattler said...

This one sounds like a bit of a struggle, Cath, and not one I'm in the mood for at the moment, but I am happy to see that you are off to a roaring reading-start in the new year. It's always nice to get that little burst of energy at the start of a new year, just something about drawing a clean line between two years seems to motivate most of us.

As for me, just a quick note to add that I'm putting Book Chase to bed for at least the foreseeable future. I seem to have run out of steam when it comes to reviewing and I think it 's finally time to go another way with my reading. I'll be around via comments on my favorite blogs. as always, and in your case, I'll be seeing you on Twitter. Happy Reading to you, my friend.

Cath said...

Sam: I think The Winter People is one of those booms that is either for you or it isn't. No inbetween. Yes, I certainly do find the start of a new year inspiring reading-wise, possibly more so this year than others, which is odd.

Your putting Book Chase to bed has surprised me rather. I must say though that I completely understand, I've thought about doing the same on many an occasion and often still wonder if it's all worth the bother. But goodness, you'll be missed! And I hope you might think about doing the odd update on your blog to let those know who, unlike me, do not follow you on Twitter, that you're ok and still reading. You take care and hope to see you occasionally still, commenting.

Susan said...

I'm glad you ended up enjoying THE WINTER PEOPLE. I'm a McMahon fan, but there are definitely books by her that I've liked more than others. I think THE INVITED is my favorite.

Cath said...

Susan: I'll look up The Invited in a moment as I think I would like to read more by her. Thanks for stopping by.