(3 stars) The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Why do I keep reading Jennifer McMahon books? They’re never terrible, but they’re never great either. But I keep picking them up!
Helen and Nate have decided to undertake a rather ambitious project. Quitting their jobs teaching high school, they move to Vermont to build their own home on a piece of property with a very dark past. Helen, obsessed with history in general and with the property in particular, does enough research to realize that a lot of people died under mysterious circumstances on her land. Meanwhile, during the process of construction, she and Nate keep having strange things happen — objects go missing, while others appear out of nowhere. Strange sounds are heard in the middle of the night. All of your standard haunted house stuff.
In addition to Helen and Nate, we meet a teenage girl named Olive whose mother has recently disappeared. Olive becomes obsessed with Helen and Nate, as well as the property they’re building on. She too has heard the legends about the place but her focus is on one thing in particular: she wants to find a treasure supposedly buried on that land.
I did like the concept of a haunted house being built, rather than a family moving into one. Helen incorporates pieces of lumber and other building supplies that come from well-known places around town. As she adds these to her brand new home, it’s like she’s inviting in the spirits associated with them. But it’s not a particularly well written story, and I found the ending to be predictable and disappointing. McMahon, I may have to quit you after this one.
(3 stars) The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Lucy and her mother-in-law Diana have just never gotten along. Diana seems cold and distant to Lucy, and while Lucy is desperate for a maternal figure in her life, she’s never been able to get Diana to like her. Five years after their first meeting, Lucy answers the door to find a police officer with some terrible news: her mother-in-law appears to have committed suicide. But there are a lot of suspicious details about the death, and it quickly becomes apparent that the police aren’t convinced it was a suicide after all.
“Someone once told me that you have two families in your life—the one you are born into and the one you choose. But that’s not entirely true, is it? Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t, for instance, choose your children. You don’t choose your brothers- or sisters-in-law, you don’t choose your partner’s spinster aunt with the drinking problem or cousin with the revolving door of girlfriends who don’t speak English. More importantly, you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.”