The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

I’m so excited because today, I finally get to review a Jennifer McMahon novel. She has been high on my list of to-read authors, and I just have never gotten my hands on one of her books. So, of course, the first one I read is a black hole that sucked me in immediately.

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Title: The Invited {384 pages}

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Publication Date: April 30, 2019

Summary:

In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home–wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks–she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day.

Review:

First of all, can you imagine dropping everything in your life and moving into the middle of nowhere in order to build your dream house? It’s insane, but that’s exactly what Helen and Nate do. They leave their teaching jobs behind and take off into the wilderness, living in a trailer while they build – from their own hands – the house of their dreams.

Of course, this is the perfect setup for a horror masterpiece.

Helen, a history teacher by trade and at her heart, decides to look into the history of their new land, and she finds some horrific news: Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who claimed to see the future, had been hanged in the bog next to the site of Helen and Nate’s house. In fact, they’re living on Hattie’s land, and she makes that fact known to Helen by showing up in Helen’s house every now and again when she has wants something.

Stop. I see you jumping to conclusions, because I was there myself. But this novel is called The Invited not The Uninvited.

Instead of the typical ghost story we’d see at this point – get off my land and all that nonsense – Hattie and Helen develop a respect for each other: Helen wants to discover what happened to Hattie and her descendants, and Hattie needs someone to help her. This causes some problems between Helen and Nate, because Nate thinks Helen has lost it, but he’s busy chasing a mystical white doe that no one else sees, so really, he has no leg to stand on.

Helen also has Olive, the kid from up the road, a girl with her own terrible backstory involving a missing mother and ghosts of her own. She’s scrappy and weird and sure of one thing: her mother would never leave her unless it was over something important. Olive knows that she only has to find Hattie’s treasure – a treasure that her mother and her had been looking for before her mother disappeared – and then her mother will come back home, and they can be a family once more.

Olive is just as important in this story as Helen and Hattie, and these three strong women combine their forces to solve the mysteries that link them together.

Jennifer McMahon can write a story with equal parts light and dark, sometimes in the same scene. You can feel Hattie sitting right next to you while you hear Helen hammering the final nails for her doors. You can see Olive getting closer to figuring out where her mother is while also watching her father fall apart around her. For most of the book, you’re stuck in this in-between world of holding your breath and letting it go, before grabbing it back and strangling it.

The Invited is a beautiful and tragic story of love, loss, and finding what family really means. I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to read a Jennifer McMahon book, but let me tell you: this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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