Book Review: Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

 

Genres: mystery/thriller/suspense; a little horror; a touch of paranormal

 

Why I read it: I really liked The Winter People, so when I saw Jennifer McMahon’s newest book on NetGalley, I had to request it, and was lucky enough to be approved for an e-ARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: Fans of her other books. People who like mysteries, etc., and magical realism.

Publication date: April 25th, 2017
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 304 ebook | 336 hardcover

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5 stars)

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention of all was the one that Miles claimed came from the mind of Thomas Edison himself–a machine that allowed one to speak with loved ones long passed. Smuggled out of Edison’s laboratory, the blueprints were passed down to Miles, and he’s been using them to protect Eva, her mother, Lily, and her brother, Errol, ever since.

Then, one night when a storm is raging and the river is threatening to flood, the machine whirrs to life on its own. Danger, it says. You’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows is waking up on the side of the river and seeing her mother’s grim face. Eva’s father and brother are dead, their house has been washed away and an evil man is searching for them both. They need to hide.

Eva changes her name to Necco–a candy she always loved–and tries to put everything in her past behind her as she adapts to her new life off the grid. But when her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears, she knows that the past is starting to catch up to her.

What really happened the night of the flood? As Necco searches for the truth, her journey unites her with two women who are on desperate quests of their own. And as the trio follows the clues to solving the mystery of Necco’s past, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.


Review:

I’m going to start with the bad/what I didn’t like about this book

 

There wasn’t much, honestly. I did have an e-ARC, so it’s possible that my complaints were addressed before publication (I haven’t had a chance to check a finished copy).

First, I think I’m going to stick with listening to Jennifer McMahon’s books, instead of reading them, from now on. I think her writing style is wonderfully suited for audiobooks, because it really paints a picture of exactly what’s going on. However, that’s not something I’m a huge fan of, generally, while reading. It’s a “telling, not showing” kind of thing, I think. I actually don’t mind some telling, but it was a little much in this book, and some of the descriptions of things went on a bit longer than I would have liked. This is a very small complaint and it’s probably just me being too nitpicky.

My biggest complaint was actually in the last few pages of the book. There was a slur (“It sounded like g***y music…”), which I find in books all the time. It annoys me, but I let it slide with older books. But these days, there’s not much of an excuse for that kind of thing to slip by because 99% of the time there are definitely other words that can be used to describe something. I won’t try to really explain in depth why it’s a slur, because I don’t want to speak for anyone, but here’s a very brief article on it to get you started, and a quick google search can show you more. Basically, no, it does not mean you’re “free-spirited,” or anything like that.

I am not a big fan of multiple points-of-view, and this book has them. It wasn’t bad, but it did slightly irritate me. That’s totally a personal preference thing, though, so if you don’t mind them in general, you’ll probably be fine with the way they’re handled in this book.

 

Now, on to what I did like, characters, etc.

 

The story of the machine was really interesting, and (I think) actually based a bit on fact. I haven’t dug into this to check out facts, but I’m pretty sure that Edison really did have plans and a possible patent to create a device that would–if successful–allow the living to contact their dearly departed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big feature in the book, even though pretty much the entire plot centered around it. Still, it was very cool to read about when it was mentioned.

The way the past and present and various character connections were woven together was interesting enough to keep me reading almost non-stop after about the halfway point. (It did take me a little while to really get into the story, but I think that was just my mood.) I’ll admit that I actually had everything worked out before the big reveals of all the twists, but I was fine with that and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I felt for Necco and Theo so much, and I liked both of them a lot. I think I might have enjoyed the multi-POV more if it had been just the two of them. Necco was such a strong young woman, and my heart kept breaking for her. And Theo, oh gosh. I related a little too much to her a few times, and my heart broke for her, too. I’m not exactly sure how realistic all of their actions and reactions were to the things going on, but it was at least mostly believable, I think. If a sequel to this ever came out, and Necco and Theo were in it, I would definitely read it to find out more about how their lives are after the end of this book.

Pru…well, I’m honestly not sure what to say about her. I feel like she was more and less fleshed out than Necco and Theo (I’m not sure if that makes sense, sorry), and I didn’t really end up caring much about her. I felt bad for her, and I was a little proud of some of her actions. She just wasn’t my favorite. But, the circus stuff was cool, and I‘m hoping she found a happy ending because I have nothing against her, I just never loved her.

The Fire Eaters were pretty great. I loved them and I would read a book just about them. I kind of wish we’d learned more than we did, but I’m also happy with most of their story remaining a mystery.

The personal mythology that’s going on in this book is fascinating, in my opinion. The way facts and lies and twisted truths are intertwined was really well done and kept me wanting more. The stories people told others and themselves, the lives they invented, etc. It was all really good, and made me think about my own and those of other people.

 

And now the things I didn’t love or hate, but still want to talk about

 

I won’t say much about the other characters so I don’t spoil anything, but I wish we’d learned more about the villain.

I still want to know the real, whole story about the elephant. I can make assumptions, but I want to know for sure.

There’s also something that wasn’t fully settled (for me, at least) that I’m really curious about concerning Necco, and Matthew’s family. Actually, there are a few things that weren’t talked about by the end that I wish had been, but I guess they’re not super important to the plot. There were just some loose ends I would have liked seeing tied up. I can’t say more without possibly mentioning spoilers, ugh. (I have a few of my questions in the spoiler tags on my goodreads review.)

Would I recommend it? Probably. I didn’t love this one, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it, and I mostly enjoyed it. It just didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped it would.


If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? Are you planning to read it, if you haven’t yet?

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

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