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My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon
Thriller

My Darling Girl

by Jennifer McMahon

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Quick take

During a fateful holiday season, eerie events begin to plague a Vermont family after their dying matriarch moves in.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Supernatural

    Supernatural

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Creepy

    Creepy

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Drug&AlcoholUse

    Drug & alcohol use

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MamaDrama

    Mama drama

Synopsis

Alison has never been a fan of Christmas. But with it right around the corner and her husband busily decorating their cozy Vermont home, she has no choice but to face it. Then she gets the call.

Mavis, Alison’s estranged mother, has been diagnosed with cancer and has only weeks to live. She wants to spend her remaining days with her daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters. But Alison grew up with her mother’s alcoholism and violent abuse and is reluctant to unearth these traumatic memories. Still, she eventually agrees to take in Mavis, hoping that she and her mother could finally heal and have the relationship she’s always dreamed of.

But when mysterious and otherworldly things start happening upon Mavis’s arrival, Alison begins to suspect her mother is not quite who she seems. And as the holiday festivities turn into a nightmare, she must confront just how far she is willing to go to protect her family.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that mention suicide and child abuse.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of My Darling Girl.
My Darling Girl

Thirty-seven years ago

“Ali Alligator?” my mother whispered as she crept into my room, slipped under my heavy quilt, cuddled up next to me on my twin bed. I was eight years old, a big girl, too old for mommy snuggles, but still, when she pressed her body against mine, I sighed with contentment and tucked myself tight against her.

We fit perfectly together, she and I. So perfectly that I wasn’t sure where I ended and she began.

“Are you asleep, my love?” she asked. “Or are you playing possum?”

I opened my eyes a tiny bit, enough to spy the numbers on the clock on my nightstand: 2:15.

My mother often worked late in her studio, sometimes stayed in there all night, painting. But every so often she’d take a break, come into my room, wake me up, so eager to show off her latest work that she couldn’t wait until morning. Some nights she’d wake me up and ask if I wanted to bake cookies with her, or drive to the all-night convenience store for ice cream and root beer to make floats.

Now she ran her fingers through my hair, down my back, bumping them along the knobby bones of my spine; my mother’s fingers, I knew without looking, were stained with paint. They smelled faintly of turpentine, like the rags in her studio—flammable, an accident waiting to happen.

She put her face up next to mine, cheek to cheek. “I know you’re awake,” she said, and then I smelled it, distinct from the faint turpentine scent. Her breath was thick with gin: a boozy evergreen scent that reminded me of a forest of Christmas trees.

Her fingers worked their way over the back of my nightgown, tracing shapes, making letters to spell out words. It was a game we played, she and I. A can-you-guess-what-I’m-spelling game.

I felt the familiar letters:

I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U

I smiled, wriggled back closer to her.

“I do,” she said, her words slurred in a way that made my stomach start to hurt. “You’re my perfect girl. Too perfect for this world. Sometimes I think . . .” Her words were thick and strange. “I think I should have spared you. Drowned you at birth, maybe, not let you suffer the things that are to come,” she cooed into my hair.

My heart pounded so loud and hard that I was sure she could feel it, ringing like an alarm bell.

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Why I love it

When I look at the stories that frighten me most, what they have in common is the idea that the danger is coming from within, that the threat can’t be excised from a vital relationship—person or place—without also destroying it.

Author Jennifer McMahon plays on this fear, calling on her talent for crafting deliciously creepy atmosphere and a deepening sense of dread. Also, let me just say that if you’re like me (a.k.a. someone who loves horror, but is also a bit of a baby about reading it), the reason why McMahon is one of my favorite writers in the genre is because her books rely on ominous, emotional suspense over jump scares.

In her new novel, My Darling Girl, artist and children’s book illustrator Alison has more than run-of-the-mill mommy issues. Growing up, her mother, Mavis, was tempestuous, cold, cruel, and downright terrifying. Alison has the literal scars to prove it. Now, as an adult, Alison is proud to have outgrown her complicated past. She has her own functional family—two daughters and a supportive husband. But when Mavis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Alison agrees to let her stay in their home. Has she just invited a malignant force in through the front door?

Jennifer McMahon takes an all-too-relatable idea—who hasn’t been driven a bit mad by their mother?—and deftly twists it into a tale of supernatural suspense and psychological thrills perfect for spooky season.

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Member ratings (3,637)

  • Deb C.

    Honolulu, HI

    Creepy holiday horror—you wouldn’t have to read this during the holidays but it’s set during Christmas. I enjoyed it & as with all the author’s books I’ve read, it’s just the right level of creepy!

  • Nate B.

    Clarion, PA

    Outstanding book. Perfect mix of horror/thriller. McMahon tackles the supernatural in such a believable way. Wish BOTM carried more of her novels! One of my favorites of the year! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Victoria K.

    Hawthorn Woods, IL

    I’ve loved McMahon’s writing for years—& this is no exception. I literally couldn’t put it down! Picked it up in the evening, & couldn’t sleep until I finished! Unsettling & creepy in the best way!

  • Ashley C.

    Huntsville, AL

    A thriller set right before Christmas, a perfect read for any horror/thriller lovers during December. All isn’t what Alison O’Connor thinks as she moves her ailing mother into her home this Christmas!

  • Kenneth E.

    Tazewell, TN

    Very unsettling and creepy! I didn’t like how Ali became an unreliable narrator towards the end, but I was very satisfied with the pacing and the pure levels of dread and tension. Excellent writing.

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