Review 1345: The Invited

cover for The InvitedHelen and Nate bought a piece of acreage in the New Hampshire countryside and are building their dream house, doing most of the work themselves. What they don’t know, though, is that 90 years ago, Hattie Breckenridge was hanged on their land as a witch. Since then, the property is said to be haunted, especially the nearby bog.

Next door, 14-year-old Olive resents the newcomers. Her mother ran off a few months before, and her father, Dustin, has gone off the rails a bit. He keeps renovated rooms in their house but not finishing them, telling her that her mother will love the house when she returns. Olive has been searching the bog for Hattie’s treasure, rumored to be on the neighbor’s land, something her mother had been doing before she left. Olive thinks Helen and Nate will get in the way of her finding it, so she has been stealing things from their trailer and work site, hoping to drive them away.

link to NetgalleyHelen gets interested in the story of Hattie. After she and Nate incorporate an old beam from the tree on which Hattie was hanged into their house, Helen comes to believe that Hattie is trying to tell her something.

Jennifer McMahon is known for her spooky thrillers set in New Hampshire. This one is fairly good, even though some of her others have been scarier. Although you are led to wonder about Helen’s sanity, I didn’t really doubt that there would be a ghost. More is going on in this book than that, however.

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Day 627: Mercy Snow

Cover for Mercy SnowBest Book of the Week!
On an icy Thanksgiving eve outside Titan Falls, New Hampshire, a school bus with children who had been to the movies in the nearby town plummets off the road, killing one girl and incapacitating the bus driver. Readers know that a car passed the bus at a dangerous place, causing the driver to lose control. Up the road from the bus, the sheriff finds the wrecked truck of Zeke Snow, a young man from a backwoods family of ill repute. No one knows exactly what happened, but the sheriff decides it must have been Zeke’s fault.

June McAllister, the mill owner’s wife, soon finds evidence that her husband Cal may know more about the accident than he’s admitting. Her reaction is to close family ranks. After all, the Snows have never been anything but trouble.

Zeke is hiding in the woods, but he has told his sister Mercy that he did not see the bus the night that he wrecked his truck. He ran when the police arrived because he’s known nothing but trouble from them.

Mercy knows that her brother occasionally shows poor judgment, but his main instinct has always been to protect her and their little sister Hannah. While eking out an existence for herself and Hannah and living in a battered old trailer, she decides she must somehow prove Zeke innocent. For her part, June is trying to drive the Snows out of the area, where they have returned to their grandmother’s property after years of a rough and nomadic existence.

This novel may sound like a mystery, but it is not. We know fairly early on what happened to the bus. Instead, the novel is an examination of themes like discrimination against the poor, the exercise of power, the complexity of people’s reactions to tragedy, and the close-mindedness of small, closely knit communities. It also includes a hint of the supernatural. The novel is disturbing and well written. Although I thought I knew where it was going, the novel turned out to be unpredictable.

Day 78: The Night Strangers

Cover of The Night StrangersIt’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a real creepfest, but The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian is certainly one. The book is a combination of a ghost story and a thriller, and I don’t want to tell you what else.

Chip and Emily Linton move with their twin daughters to a small New Hampshire town after Chip has been traumatized by a horrific accident. As an experienced airline pilot, he tried to make an emergency plane landing on a lake, only to end up killing 39 people. The family moves thinking that Chip will recover sooner if he is away from people who know what happened, but of course that is impossible.

The Lintons purchase a historic house that hasn’t been lived in for awhile. The house has some strange things about it, for one thing a door in the basement that has been sealed with 39 carriage bolts.

Chip becomes obsessed with the door, and then he begins seeing three of his dead passengers. To the reader, it is not clear whether the house is haunted or whether Chip is losing his mind.

Some local women, all herbalists, begin to befriend the family. Some of them show an unusual interest in the twin girls. Soon we become aware that the history of the house is unsavory–and involves twins.

The story is uneven. At some points it seems to be going one way, at others another. Our dread rises, but we don’t know exactly which of two possible horrendous endings will come about or whether the Lintons can escape altogether. But if you appreciate a good psychological thriller and all-around creepy book, you’ll probably enjoy The Night Strangers.