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Old 02-24-2012, 11:44 AM
9,237 posts, read 19,892,637 times
Reputation: 22343


Just read three of her books, Promise Not to Tell, Island of Lost Girls, and Don't Breathe a Word. The reviews of her books on Amazon are all over the map: some gush about her story-telling ability and how she crafts surprising twists, and some criticized her style and her characters (not really believable, not likeable, some two-dimensional).

But my biggest reaction after reading these three books, is that while the stories were enjoyable, she seems to be a one-trick pony, essentially writing the same book over and over again.

I'll try to do this with no actual spoliers, because the one thing the stories do have going for them is that you really won't guess the endings.

All 3 books take place in rural Vermont, in the same type of run-down town.

All 3 books jump back and forth between the present day and a one-month period in the past, when the main characters were children. Some people on Amazon complained about this, being hard to follow or annoying. I, on the other hand, thought it was an interesting way to structure the story, at least in the first book I read. But when I realized McMahon does this in all 3 books, it became very gimmicky. Like McMahon saying "this is my thing!"

All 3 books have a photo of a haunting young girl on the cover, that pretty much sells the book to people who never heard anything about McMahon or her books (it's what caught my eye).

All 3 books involve something hapening in the present that draws the characters back to a horrible event in the past that involved the disappearance/murder of a young girl.

In all 3 books, this past event has to be re-examined and secrets come to light, in both the past and present storylines.

In all three books, a father (or grandfather) molests/rapes a daughter.

All three books have a present day primary female character who is kind of annoying, makes bad choices, and is largely unsympathetic.

All three books have a figure from the childhood storyline who is a tomboyish young girl, who is a bit of a social outcast, but who is oddly charismatic.

In all three books, in the past/childhood storyline, there is a trio of three kids, two girls and boy who is the brother of one of them.

In all three books, the boy/brother is an object of attraction for an adult female main character.

In all three books, there is at least one family member with a mental illness.

All three books have an element of the supernatural: possible ghosts, possible fairies, or an creepy Easter-bunny creature. The only big difference between the 3 books in this respect is that in one book, the hints of something supernatural are disspelled and it was really a realistic thing that happened. In another book, it turned out that there really was something supernatural. And in the third, it is left up to the reader to decide if it was a realistic explanation or something supernatural.

All three books have recurring smells of "moist dirt" and "damp earth." I know that the sense of smell is the one that is connected most with memory, but the author seems to overuse this concept, and by the 16th time someone smelled damp soil, or loamy earth, I got a little weary of it.

All three books have the childhood storyline being about young girls on the border between childhood and adolescence (right before puberty or right at its onset). For me though, it got a little annoying because 12 year old girls were presented as a little too childlike. Two of the books had childhood storylines in the 1990s, and I found it hard to believe that 12 year olds in the mid 90s were into fairy tales and putting on plays about Peter Pan. In reality, 12 yr olds in the 90s were into a LOT more pop culture, like Beanie Babies, Billy Ray Cyrus, Nirvana, Maria Carey, Pearl Jam, watching Party of Five, and lamenting about the death of heart-throb River Phoenix. At 12, you'd expect them to be into makeup, boyfriends, and learning how to French kiss, not fairy tales and dressing up like pirates. I understand that these kids in the books were in a rural area, but there was certainly TV and radio in the 90s, but these are non-existent in the books. Oddly the one book with the childhood storyline taking place in the early 70s instead of the 90s has the most "mature" pre-teens. You'd expect there to be more babyish pre-teens farther back in time, but not in the 90s.

The brothers and sisters in all 3 books hung out with each other and were very close. Please, where are brothers and sisters aged 10-14 hanging out with each other as best friends? It seemed to me that McMahon had a strange concept of sibling relationships; maybe she was an only child and this was mere wishing on her part.

Anyway, the similarities go on & on, and are especially apparent if you read all three books in a row like I did. It's like she decided to write a book about a missing girl, going back and forth between past and present, and uncovering a horrible betrayal, and she couldn't decide which way to go, so she wrote the book 3 times, in 3 slightly different ways.

She has another book called Dismantled, which had also been released under another name--something like "girls in the woods." I have not read it yet, but I can certainly make a prediction about it (surprise, it takes place in rural Vermont). Then she evidently wrote a teen/YA book as well called "Tiki Girl" or simething similar. I'm not into YA, so will probably skip that.

Anyway, the books are for the most part enjoyable, you'll finish them in like 2-3 nights, and the twists and turns are a little better than the typical made-for-TV movie. But we're talking brain candy and not fine literature. I also agree with the Amazon comments about some characters being 2-dimensional and not fully fleshed out--This is mostly the men & boys. It's interesting in light of the fact that McMahon is a lesbian; so it kind of betrays a lack of understanding, or just lack on interest, in the inner workings of men and boys.

Please join in if you've read her books...
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Old 02-24-2012, 08:07 PM
169 posts, read 478,522 times
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I'd read Dismantled and Don't Breathe A Word. I like the concept of the stories, the twists and turns, but there's always something missing for me (i don't quite know how to explain) that just made the story okay rather than wow.
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Old 02-29-2012, 09:21 AM
9,237 posts, read 19,892,637 times
Reputation: 22343
Okay, I just read Dismantled. It was refreshingly different enough from the other 3 books.
It's odd that it's not her latest book (it came before Don't Breathe a Word), because it definitely shows growth compared to the other 3 books.

Yes, it also takes place in rural Vermont.
Yes the cover has a photo of a haunted looking young girl.

Yes, it does go back & forth between past and present, but it's not as contrived or artificial as in the other books, where it's one chapter- present, next chapter- past, next chapter- present, next chapter- past, etc. In Dismantled, the flashbacks to the past are more naturally embedded in the thoughts of the people in the present, as they go through present events.

It also involves events in the present drawing the characters back to a horrible event in the past that involves the disappearance/murder of a young girl (this time a young woman, not a pre-teen).

Yes, past events have to be re-examined in light of current events, as secrets come to light.

Yes, there is a primary female character who is unsympathetic (actually a narcissistic sociopath).

No fathers or grandfathers rape daughters.

No trio of kids, with 2 girls a boy who is a brother. The "past" storyline involves college-age "kids" and not pre-teens.

Yes, at least one person has a mental illness (actually more than one person).

No tomboyish young girl, but there is a girl who is a social outcast and somewhat charismatic, in that she influences one of the main characters a great deal.

No damp moist earth smells! That was sure getting old.

Yes, there is an element of the supernatural--possible ghosts this time. I won't give away the ultimate conclusions as to whether there's really a ghost or realistic explanations for the "haunting."

Also, the children in the story are not quite adolescents (age 9-10 instead). There is some prococity, but they are still pretty childlike in a lot of respects.

The characters are more fleshed-out, more three-dimensional. The reader gets to know them much better than any of the characters in the other 3 books. The primary male character is a real person, and you get inside his head, instead of having him be a cardboard cutout, like the males in the other books.

So the story was actually the best of the four, in my opinion, based on the departure from the themes that made the author a bit of a one-trick pony. The movement between past and present is smoother, and even "slippier," making it more compelling. The weakness of the book, however, was an annoying reliance on wigs and disguises, evoking memories of every single Scooby Doo episode, when someone has their mask pulled off ("and I would have gotten away with it too--if it weren't for you meddling kids!"). The scary elements could have been just as scary or even more so if the wig or disguise were not involved.
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