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Don't Breathe a Word

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2011)
On a soft summer night in Vermont, 12-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn't fear the dark and doesn't have bad dreams - who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam's hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed - a promise that could destroy them all.

463 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 17, 2011

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About the author

Jennifer McMahon

19 books8,933 followers
I'm the author of nine suspense novels, including Promise Not to Telll, The Winter People, and my newest, The Drowning Kind. I live in central Vermont with my partner and daughter, in an old Victorian that some neighbors call The Addams Family house.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,515 reviews
Profile Image for Jayne.
31 reviews106 followers
July 10, 2012
(from my book blog)

Uuuuugughghghghhghg I was SO disappointed by this book. Reviewing Sharp Objects a few days ago put me in the mood for a good, creepy book, and I thought this was going to be exactly what I needed. Just look at the plot description!

"Family secrets and fairy lore create a shifting reality in McMahon’s unsettling novel about the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl who longed to become Queen of the Fairies. Fifteen years after Lisa goes missing, her younger brother, Sam, gets a strange phone call that leads him and his girlfriend, Phoebe, to discover a book, supposedly written by the King of the Fairies, that Lisa used as her bible to cross over, and which prompts Sam and Phoebe to meet up with Sam’s cousin, Evie, to see if they can figure out what happened to Lisa. Nothing is as it seems from that moment on, and Phoebe’s longtime fear of a dark man in the shadows seeps back after she discovers, in true woo-woo fashion, that she is pregnant. McMahon alternates between the past and present with loads of portent and foreshadowing, creating a rural Vermont chiller with a Rosemary’s Baby vibe."

SOUNDS COOL, RIGHT? I downloaded a sample and loved it. I even highlighted the following passage, because I thought it was an indicator of things to come. Backstory: the protagonist, Phoebe, is talking about a nightmare from childhood, which is the reason she piles suitcases and boxes under her bed.

"When she was a little girl, she saw the trapdoor under her bed that only appeared in the darkest hours of the night. Heard the scrabbling, the squeaking of hinges as it was opened. And she saw what came out.

"And she knows (doesn’t she) that sometimes he’s still there, not just under the bed but in the shadows at the bus stop, lurking with the alley cats behind the Dumpster at her apartment building. He’s everywhere and nowhere. A blur caught out of the corner of her eye. A mocking smile she tells herself she’s imagined."

SpOOooOOOooOOOky! I was so excited. I thought I had a real treat in store for me. BUT NO. We better have a cut, y’all, because it going to get UGLY up in here. Also, WARNING: I’m going to spoil the shit out of it, so you don’t have to read this book.

Hold onto your butts.

So the premise is that Phoebe is dating Sam, who is the brother of the girl who disappeared (Lisa), supposedly taken by fairies. We follow her through the present-day story, and boy, do I wish we had someone else.

Phoebe suffers from TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) Syndrome. It’s a terrible affliction that is mostly found among old-school romance novel heroines, but Phoebe’s got it and she’s got it bad. If she was in a slasher movie, she would be the one who runs up the stairs instead of out the door to get away from the killer. If she was a news reporter, she’d be Brick Tamland. The author is dropping clues left and right, and Phoebe lets them bounce off her nose and keeps flailing around.

For example, she hears that fairies are repelled by cold iron. A few pages later, she remembers that her mother was found drowned in a bathtub, with a cast iron skillet. She wonders if it could be connected. Clearly, she hasn’t heard of the grease-fighting power of bath soap, which is why everybody does their dishes in the ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME OF COURSE IT’S CONNECTED.

Later, she finds a bunch of research on fairies that Sam has done on the internet (and printed out and stuffed in a backpack in a closet, because he, too, is a moron and has never heard of the “Delete History” button). She finds out even later that Sam, who has been a total asshole about her pregnancy and has said that he doesn’t want children, promised his firstborn child to Teilo, the King of Fairies. And then it is STILL several chapters before she turns to Sam and says “Wait, you actually BELIEVE this, don’t you!” Like this is some big revelation. BRB, hurling the book across the room.

And the writing! It is shit. McMahon belongs to the “tell, don’t show” school of suspense writing, and because she assumes that we’re all as stupid as Phoebe, she has to recap every little event. For example, she is shown a six-fingered glove by a child in pink. Much later in the book, somebody says that the King of Fairies has six fingers, and McMahon feels that it is necessary to remind us that Phoebe has seen a six-fingered glove that could possibly belong to the King of Fairies.

I knew I was in trouble pretty close to the beginning. Lisa (the girl who later disappears) is sitting at the kitchen table and asks a question about why her dad is sullen and silent after a hospital visit. Her mother says “Give him time, Lisa. He’s only been out of the hospital a couple of days. The doctors say the overdose didn’t do any permanent damage.”

I read that, and I was like, “Fuuuuuuuck.” There is a lot wrong with that, but the biggest one is that Lisa’s mother is saying that her father overdosed on something for the reader’s benefit, not Lisa’s. Don’t TELL us that he overdosed. Make us wait! Make us wonder! Give it to us in a few little drops and details, don’t just splash the whole bucket of it in our faces at once.

My favorite suspense/horror novels are sort of a slow burn - you get a little here, a little there, and then by the end everything’s added up and it’s so intense and you can’t stand it but you can’t put it down. I’m thinking of the aforementioned Sharp Objects, but also stuff like The Haunting of Hill House or The Shining. This book is not like that. There’s a lot of little events that happen one right after the other and the effect is less of a slow burn than of a chain of weak firecrackers.


The ending is a clusterfuck. There was twist upon twist upon twist to the point where I felt like McMahon was pulling some M. Night Shyamalan shit and popping out after every chapter with a big grin, saying “What a twist!” There’s babies and changelings and the six-fingered dude is actually Lisa and Sam’s cousin named Gene, who’s been kept in a basement his whole life and fed fish heads. He kidnapped Lisa and impregnanted her and for some reason, because they’re insane, Lisa’s mother and aunt didn’t stop it. Gene apparently is the son of Teilo, the King of Fairies, who is also the dark spectre who’s been haunting Phoebe. He steals Phoebe’s baby at the end and everybody thinks she’s going crazy. Womp womp.

Don’t read this book. I just finished it so I could find out what the fuck was going on and in the end I felt like I’d lost my virginity at prom: confused, bored, and totally unsatisfied.

Programming note: Sorry about the current lack of romance on the Romance Club, but everybody needs a change of scenery once in a while. My next book review will be urban fantasy (also dealing with fairies), and then hopefully we’ll get right back to your regularly-scheduled sexy books.
Profile Image for Mary Catherine.
232 reviews4 followers
March 21, 2011
Take a moment and stare at the cover. Really, just look at it for a few seconds. It’s a bit unnerving, isn’t it? This little child with wide eyes seems to be staring into your soul, seems to be silently daring you to reveal secrets you’ve kept for years. Do you suddenly feel the need to look away? Maybe you’re wondering why her face seems to show a mixture of despondency and maybe a bit of fear in the midst of inquisitiveness and uncertainty.

That’s what it will feel like when you read Jennifer McMahon’s newest release, DON’T BREATHE A WORD. Phoebe is the main character but the story truly revolves around three – Phoebe, of course, her boyfriend Sam, and Sam’s lost sister, Lisa. In this particular case, “lost” refers to the fact that when she was 12, she ran to the woods behind their house because she believed she would meet the King of the Fairies, Tielo.

Sounds a bit strange? Maybe a bit intriguing? It’s both.

As a lover of (almost) everything paranormal – and a fascination with fairies since I was a child – DON’T BREATHE A WORD caught my attention immediately. From the opening page, I was sucked into a world that I knew I would both love and fear. An excerpt opens the novel, an excerpt from THE BOOK OF FAIRIES:

If you are holding this book in your hands, you are one of the chosen. You must understand that with this privilege comes great responsibility. The knowledge contained in these pages will change your life forever.

It almost reads as a warning for the book itself which isn’t a far cry from the words that follow in the 400+ pages that describe a thrilling and suspenseful tale of fear, wonder, relationships, solitude, and the mind. McMahon has the uncanny ability to pull you into a world that may not be known and have it wraps its arms around you in a grip so tight, breathing becomes difficult.

The story begins 15 years prior to the present day where readers meet the characters and learn of the situation revolving around the missing Lisa. From there, readers are taken on a journey in flip-flopping chapters of the past and the present. While I’m not often a fan of this type of writing, McMahon does it in such a way that the flashbacks flow completely into the present day. What I find in other books is that the transitions are jarring, almost like they don’t belong where they are placed, but McMahon is flawless in her storytelling.

A mystery unravels and readers will be compelled to attempt to solve it before Phoebe and Sam do; it will be difficult considering all the twists and turns that occur – again done flawlessly and with ease. There is never a situation where one will think, “There’s no way that could happen” in the realm of reality and the insertions of the fairies is mind-boggling in that there’s never really anything out there, so to speak.

The characters are well thought out and Sam and Lisa’s views on the world and life are extremely balanced. While Lisa believes that fairies exist, Sam believes in the truth of realism and logic. As children, they are thrown into a situation that challenges both perspectives and will make any reader question his or her own beliefs. Phoebe is also a heroine who makes sense. She’s the regular, everyday girl in love with her boyfriend and filled with new emotions when she is suddenly thrust into a mystery that doesn’t seem to want to unravel. The great thing about these three (and the other characters that appear throughout the novel) is that I wanted them to succeed, I wanted them to overcome their fears and learn the truth.

A psychological thriller that may make sleeping difficult, DON’T BREATHE A WORD is a fantastic read and one of my top books of both 2010 (when I originally read it) and 2011 (when it releases on May 17).
Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews215 followers
July 2, 2013
I don’t always know what I want when searching for a creepy, scary book. Two things terrify me, faeries and psychotic minds. Naturally, I love Don’t Breathe a Word, because this book features both. Well, at least ONE of those things. Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe they are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to know which came first.

In many a review, I have used the word “haunting”. I always meant it. At the time, whatever I was referring to (the entire book or a passage), indeed felt “haunting” to me. This book, however, epitomizes the true definition of the word. The story didn’t pull me in, rather it catapulted into me. I was captured. I became invested. The tale stayed in my mind, like a catchy tune…..admittedly a creepy, terrifying tune; but unshakeable nonetheless.

Ms. McMahon has done amazing things here. I can give you a Book Review in the rawest sense, I don’t even have to delve into a summary or allude to the plot in order to entice you.

For starters, if this book should ever be made into a film, I will not see it. The depth and richness of the characters is such that I feel as if I know Bee, Sam and Evie. I sympathize, support and struggle to understand them. I accept the flaws that Ms. McMahon has given them and embrace the goodness, even when buried deeply inside of someone. I won’t have my images spoiled.

The intricacies of the characters’ pasts create and support the strong, unique personalities in this novel. Of course, spectacular characters can’t carry a book, and there is certainly no attempt to do so here. Instead, as Bee’s drama unfolds, the reader is kept guessing. There is more than one mystery to be solved here, but the book won’t be categorized that simply. Life lessons are learned, heart-wrenching decisions need to be made and loyalties are forcibly tested. Trust is established and broken. Inexplicable events in the past become decipherable, yet they become no easier to understand or accept. Supposed answers only lead to more questions, until there is really only one question remaining. What is real, and what is not.

Rarely do I find a book that, to me, has everything. Don’t Breathe a Word does have everything I hope for in an amazing book, yet I’ve read nothing like it before.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,376 reviews930 followers
November 15, 2015
Yay! I love winning books. Thank you Goodreads. :)


Okay first off? The summary of this book does not even begin to prepare you for the weird ass, beyond twisted little journey that the author takes you on. I spent the majority of this book so mixed up with trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on.

Bottom line? This book was one big:

Yep. That’s me. Reading this book. In utter confusion.

Now that’s not to say that this was bad of course; I really enjoyed reading this. The first ¾ at least. The author clearly knows how to write a fabulous mystery that grabs you by the shoulders, shakes you, and demands that you continue reading because you just need to know! I also loved how the author would switch back and forth from writing about the past and then to the present. It really kept you on the edge of your seat when every end to a chapter was its own little cliffhanger.


Yes. The inevitable ‘but’. But then the ending happened. If you can even call it that. It really fell apart at the end. Plus there seemed to be a few questions that were raised that weren’t exactly answered. Not sure if the reader is expected to come up with their own or if the author is anticipating writing a sequel? Either way the ending had me pretty repulsed.

But here are a few lessons I learned from this book:
1. Do not feed the fairies.
2. Making promises to fairies? NOT recommended.
3. Fairies do not look like Tinkerbell. Fairies are damn scary.
4. Make sure to pile immense amounts of shit under your bed.
5. That movement out of the corner of your eye? Yep. You guessed it. It’s a fairy.
6. Do not ask to play with the fairies.
7. And last of all? Whatever you thought was going on? You’re probably way off target.

Interested in more of my reviews? Visit my blog!
913 reviews409 followers
August 3, 2011
Is it just me, or was this book ridiculously poorly written? I felt like I was reading a book written for fifth graders. Choppy writing, nonexistent characterization, clumsy dialogue, children who didn't sound or act their age -- all there was was plot, basically, and even that was convoluted and confusing.

Lisa, older sister to Sam, disappeared at the age of twelve either to a supernatural world or as a victim of a sordid kidnapping. Fifteen years later, adult Sam's strangely dimwitted girlfriend Phoebe believes she can help him find Lisa. What follows is bombardment of people impersonating other people and the gradual uncovering of twisted family secrets. I never quite understood the whole thing, but I don't know how much of that is the book's ambiguity and how much of that was simply my own disengagement.

Other reviewers seem to have liked this more than I did, describing it as deliciously creepy and difficult to put down. I think the writing style ruined it for me. I just couldn't get into a book that read like Dick and Jane, no matter how suspenseful the plot tried to be.
Profile Image for K..
182 reviews724 followers
September 2, 2011
This premise sounded intriguing enough. I love it when fantasy crosses over into reality and you're never sure if the truth is really magic or something so disturbingly human. You're never sure which you'd prefer. Don't Breathe a Word does that exactly (p.s., I hate that title). For the first two-thirds of the book you're sure its fantasy and that this somewhat malevolent take on fairies is the explanation to it all. And then secrets are unraveled and what the blurg, there's a practical explanation for everything?! And then more twists and turns and you're dizzy.

I didn't really find this book all that frightening, which is a lot coming from me because I scare easy (which is odd as I have a fascination with anything peculiar and macabre but shh...). This, me, is a girl who spent all night with all her lights on after watching Paranormal Activity (but who is also a girl who has no problem looking up post-mortem photography at dead time). I kid you not. I am a walking oxymoron. Or I'm bipolar. The point is yes, it was a little creepy but nothing you can't get over just before bedtime. No nightmare-inducing moments here folks. Fear not.

But unfortunately, I was disappoint. Le sigh. It just wasn't anything great. I skimmed a little, cared a little. I'll admit, however, that the final third of the book is quite exciting. Not terribly so but enough to encourage me until the end. The end. It was abrupt. It left me questions. It sucked. There was no sense of closure for the characters; no punishment for the bad guys, no retribution for the victims. No real resolution or clarification on what the hell just happened. I think McMahon either got lazy or perhaps, she just didn't know how to pull it off. It could've been more shocking. McMahon could have, should have, written something that would've really sent my skin crawling. It didn't.

Anyway, I'm lazy and tired. This book was alright. 2 stars, 3 stars, its up to you.

Profile Image for Chara.
72 reviews6 followers
March 14, 2011
Captivating. Slightly creepy. Very different from what I expected after reading the publisher description. Spooked me in a way I haven't been from reading a book. Its like when you're a child and you run up the stairs, not looking behind you, because you're unsure if the boogeyman is really back there or not.

The ending was surprising. It was obvious that there two major ways the story could go. I was so drawn in to the story and characters and all the imaginative ideas and tales from the children of the story.
This is definitely my favorite book of the last few years! (maybe my favorite of the decade)
Profile Image for Mhgoblue.
107 reviews11 followers
August 23, 2012
Well, that was...not very good. Poorly written. There were a few parts that were legitimately creepy. But!

The book was all telling instead of showing. Every few chapters, the whole story would stop so the author could lay out some new character's backstory and personality in a perfunctory info dump. Lazy, sloppy, and boring writing.

The main characters not only didn't react to anything the way actual people would, but whenever they learned important plot points and clues, they got amnesia over them until four chapters later when the plot said it was time to bring it up again. I can't tell you how many times some idiot character went, "Hey, wait, I just realized this important thing that I actually learned forty pages ago and forgot until just now!" Again, either lazy writing or stupid characters. Or both, probably.

Plus, the last quarter of the book's plot was really convoluted and dumb and then, finally, added up to...so what. So what? The story just kind of stopped. I was thinking it must be just about time for the climax where everything is revealed and all the plot threads come together, but...no. By then I was so impatient that I didn't really care anymore and, anyway, there were no more pages left.

At least it only took two hours to read, so it's not like I wasted a lot of time. I can not even tell you how many times I rolled my eyes.

Two stars because, like I said, parts of it were creepy. So, sometimes, the atmosphere was kind of okay and I guess that's worth a star. The rest of the book was bad, though. So bad.
Profile Image for SHOMPA.
368 reviews164 followers
March 18, 2021
OHHH GOD! What a long winded mess this was!

The beginning of the book was full of many mysteries(quite promising). But since 72% the story has taken on a different basis with a strange shape, which was difficult for me to digest. And the ending was simply nonsense.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,234 reviews285 followers
March 8, 2017
“But if people believe in them so strongly, doesn’t that give them power, more power maybe than even the truth?”

This is my second book by this author, I thought I enjoyed the first one so much because it was an audio, but no, it seems I just like her writing style. One of the best things about this book is that it is very difficult to categorize - it could be fantasy or thriller, depending on how you interpret the story. It had me hooked throughout - because the author almost questions the validity of the fantasy element, it gets me to believe in it more. I was hooked from the first chapter, and really could not figure out what was happening and who was responsible until the end. I have just ordered all Jennifer McMahon's books, and will be reading them throughout the rest of 2017. I love the cover. If you enjoy fantasy and thrillers then this is definitely for you.
The Story: Fifteen years ago, tween Lisa Nazzaro disappeared in the woods behind her home. Before she disappeared, she told her brother Sam and her cousin Evie that she was going to meet the King of the Fairies, who would take her to the Land of the Fairies and make her his Queen. Lisa was never found, and her disappearance is still shrouded in mystery.
Profile Image for Megan.
418 reviews386 followers
August 15, 2011
Don’t Breathe a Word started off as a well written and creepy tale. Somewhere along the way the characters never became fully developed, and the crazy events spiraled a little out of control. The bestest book ever? No. Totally engrossing and entertaining? Oh yeah. This book reminded me of a really good Lifetime movie. (But I gotta confess I love Lifetime movies; the good ones, the bad ones and the ugly ones!) So this fluff-infused eerie and suspenseful novel is the perfect brain candy for me. Liked it and am looking forward to more by Jennifer McMahon.

Profile Image for Mike.
502 reviews378 followers
November 30, 2015
If you have read this book all the way to the end, you know the truth. We are here, walking among you. We are stronger, faster, smarter. We walk with silent footsteps. We can see into your dreams.

And we lie.

Always remember that we lie.
I have never been much interested in fairy stories (and judging by my GR buddies' books, there are A LOT of them out there). So some reason stories of the Seelie Court, or half-fairy chosen ones, or fairies secreting away the special main character for some greater destiny never did much to move my literary needle. As much as fairies have been a part of human lore, we often get this:


Instead of this:


I mean seriously, these are creatures that steal babies, replace them with sickly changelings, can appear and disappear at will, and possess magic beyond our ken. They should be terrifying in a Lovecraftian, elder Gods kind of way, with an alien, incomprehensible view of human and diabolical plans that we can never hope to understand, not pretty people who closely resemble humans in both outlook and appearance. We need more Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair and less Tinkerbells.

This book gets it. It doesn't present fairies in some child's story book kind of way, but something much more malevolent.
That it isn't like in all those cutesy little picture books - real fairies look like humans, only they're not. They're like our shadows... Dark magic. Here one minute, gone the next."
This book revolves around a tragedy: a little girl who went missing fifteen years ago. The narrative picks up when her brother Sam, now in his twenties, and his girlfriend, Phoebe, receive a strange message suggesting that she might be alive and the discovery of a fairy book in his sister's hand writing. A very strange and terrifying encounter in a cabin the woods later they are confronted with the possibility that all is not how it seems. They are plunged into a deep hole where dark family secrets are unearthed and the line between the truth and fantasy becomes heavily blurred.

This book had a lot of great things going for it. It very deftly walked the line between fantasy and human tragedy, constantly leaving me questioning if it was fairies or just depraved humans causing the trouble. Clues discovered pointed in both directions as the world of the fairy and our own seemed to blend together seamlessly. Was there a King of the Fairies who was orchestrating things form behind the scenes or was it humans who justified their actions by a delusional belief?

The characters were also quite strong. The two main ones, Sam and Phoebe, felt very real. They had each survived their own childhood traumas and had found something more within each other, making a wonderful home together until their world was torn apart by the events of the book. McMahon did a wonderful job with their relationship and their histories that perfectly informed why they behaved the way they did. They were nuanced and sympathetic characters that I could really get emotionally invested in.

The choice of how the story was told was also a great strength. Told alternatively between Phoebe's contemporary view point and Lisa's viewpoint from fifteen years before the story began did a wonderful job keeping tension high and foreshadowing events in both narratives. We can see, without being able to do anything about, the events that led up to Lisa's vanishing and how the events of that summer informed how the contemporary characters interacted with each other. The way she was seduced by the "Fairy King" was creepy as all hell and too realistic to be easily discounted.

All in all this was a great read and kept me in suspense the entire time. There were so many twists and turns that I could never pin down what was going on. Was it Fairies? Was it a simple human tragedy? This book kept me turning the pages and eager to discover just what had happened to Lisa and what the fate of Sam and Phoebe was going to be. McMahon did an excellent job of showing and not telling, creating a very paranoid atmosphere with me guessing about the motives of everyone one I cam across.
Profile Image for Jules.
1,049 reviews198 followers
August 12, 2018
An excellent read. Lots of twists and turns. I'd like to read more by this author.
Profile Image for Cat Russell  (Addicted2Heroines).
349 reviews200 followers
May 18, 2011

I really don't know what to say. Never has a story left me so unsettled.

Do I believe in fairies? No.

Am I now worried that there's a hidden trapdoor underneath my bed? Absolutely.

This is not your average fairy tale that inspires sweet dreams. This is a psychological thriller that is likely to give you nightmares.

"I don't believe in magic," she said.

"You will."
Profile Image for Cheryl.
Author 2 books71 followers
July 12, 2011

I chose to read this book because the cover caught my eye, a friend had read it, and it got a lot of good reviews. It was difficult for me to get into it, though, simply because of the premise. I mean, seriously, who ever heard of evil, murderous fairies? Everyone knows fairies are supposed to be good. (Like the fairy godmother who gave Cinderella everything she needed to go to the ball. And the Tooth Fairy. And let's not forget the Fairly Oddparents.) The very few times I was able to see past the ridiculousness of it, I enjoyed the fast-paced action, the creepy undertones, the psychological thrill, and the clever unfolding of clues to the story's mystery.

It was a huge disappointment, however, when I discovered that the book isn't about fairies at all -- instead, it's about some sadistic, incestuous family with a penchant for kidnapping and rape. Which changes the genre from fantasy to horror, and to some extent, realistic fiction. But it wasn't realistic enough. In fact, it was much like those B-movie horror films in which the acting sucks and the plot sucks more.

Phoebe, one of the main characters, is so hard to believe. She's supposed to be 35, but her actions, the way she talks, the way she thinks and even the way she dresses forced me to keep imagining her as a teenager. I mean, come on -- she has no idea how to take a home pregnancy test? Really? At 35? And she has an insane fear of shadowy bogeymen climbing through a trap door under her bed? At 35? I also found it very hard to believe, the way Phoebe is described, that a 25-year-old man would go for her.

It was frustrating for me that throughout the book I had a hard time visualizing the characters. The descriptions weren't rich enough or real enough for me to get that movie in my head the way we do when we are reading. And to me, if you can't visualize what's going on, the writing just isn't good enough.

The biggest disappointment was the last fourth of the book, when Phoebe and Sam uncover the real story behind all the fairyland mess. I enjoy a good plot twist as much as the next person, but I don't want to be hit over the head with it. And I don't think a dozen plot twists should be all jumbled together in a mishmash that doesn't make any sense, only to be explained quickly away by a secret diary the characters find. Ridiculous.

In the end, I felt quite cheated after investing time in this book.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
503 reviews786 followers
January 3, 2021
I can always count on Jennifer McMahon to bring the creepiness and she delivered. This book was a bit confusing at times but overall a good read.
Profile Image for L-J Johnson.
676 reviews4 followers
June 26, 2011
I wasn't familiar with this author so I had no preconceptions if the final reveal of this mystery was possibly supernatural or not. The first two-thirds were pretty good; fast-paced, atmospheric, fairly spooky, decent character development. Three children - Lisa, her brother Sam and their cousin Evie - play in the woods in the ruins of a deserted village and the two girls become obsessed with the idea of fairies living there and contacting them. Sam doesn't buy in. Lisa disappears one night after telling him she is going to live with the King of the Fairies. Fifteen years later, Sam and his girlfriend Phoebe reconnect with Evie, are possibly contacted by the long-missing Lisa, and generally have their lives turned upside down by a series of frightening events. The chapters in the book alternate between one from Phoebe's point of view and the next from Lisa's, 15 years prior.

So, in the last third of the book, the writing falls apart. At 450 pages, things had been going on way overlong (150 pages could have been cut from this book easily. Anyone ever hear of an editor?), but McMahon simply goes into overdrive and everything speeds up to a frenetic pace. Rather than reveal the story's mysteries with any realism, there is an extremely convenient diary found that explains everything, at least 3 but-wait-there's-more! false endings, and a final ending that is such a cheesy cop-out I was disgusted. Once again, I see all of these 4 & 5 star reviews and am mystified.
Profile Image for Bookworm.
1,004 reviews146 followers
April 30, 2021
This author is a master at blending mystery and horror. Her books always contain a supernatural element. In this story, it’s all about the fairies.

Legend has it that the king of the fairies frequents the forest outside of Sam and Lisa’s childhood house. As children, Lisa and her cousin Evie have been playing in and exploring the haunted forest for as long as they can remember. At the age of 12, Lisa goes into the forest to meet the king of the fairies and disappears. Fast forward to 15 years later, Sam is dating Phoebe when he starts to receive strange messages that Lisa is coming home from the land of the fairies. Sam doesn’t believe that Lisa was taken by fairies, but long buried memories are now starting to surface.

The plot alternates between Lisa’s POV when she was 12 and Phoebe’s POV 15 years later. The audiobook performance was just okay. The story itself was intriguing. Creepy, haunting and mysterious, i was keen to know what really happened to Lisa. The story ended with a bang. It was perfectly executed. I recommend to others looking for a supernatural mystery that is grounded in reality.
Profile Image for Kat.
1,092 reviews8 followers
October 3, 2011
Second creepy book of this weekend (the third one is The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, though creepy in a different way). It draws you in and keeps you in suspense for a good many pages and ufortunately I finished it. I so wish I didn't. What I liked about it at first was the class difference, so rarely touched on in the books I read, between the two protagonists, Phoebe and Sam, and the mystery of the disappearence of Sam's sister Lisa 15 years earlier. Lisa went off to the woods to join the faries in their kingdom, or so she thought. 15 years later she is apparently back and Sam and Phoebe try to figure out what happened, what is real and what is not. Unfortunately the resolution of the mystery is so psycholgically improbable I wanted to scream and to puke at the same time. I have to say that the author was quite skilled at keeping me in suspense as to whether this would turn out to be a fantasy book about fairies or a book about child abuse, so points for that, but the last 50 pages were just pure manipulation without any reference to what human beings are.
Profile Image for Sarah.
49 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2011
From the best-selling author of Promise Not to Tell and Harper Collins Publishers of New York city, comes a thrilling page-turner that pushes the limits of this world and that of fantasy, written by Jennifer McMahon.

Starting with the first chapter, the protagonist, a young woman named Phoebe proves to be unlike other girls her age, showing characteristics fostered by her absent father and alcoholic mother. Promiscuous at a very young age, the teenage Phoebe seems to have grown up far too quickly.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe has learned a few things over the years, most importantly to value herself.
But some things don’t change, and though Phoebe now finds herself in a mutually beneficial and healthy relationship, she still carries with her many of the fears from her childhood.

Though a woman in her thirties, Phoebe still fears the boogie man, a creature she believes crawls into her room through a trap door under her bed, and not just her bed, but any bed she ever sleeps in. Sam, Phoebe’s much more practical boyfriend is unaware of Phoebe’s dark, secret fears, but like Phoebe, he too has a hidden, well-repressed fear linked to the disappearance of his sister during their childhood.

When Sam and Phoebe receive word that Lisa, Sam’s missing sister has returned to their hometown, a lot of questions begin to unravel, including whether or not it were possible that Lisa may have been kidnapped by a king of the fairies. Soon the two reunite with Sam’s cousin Evie, and the three begin to retrace the summer of Lisa’s disappearance.

Though the premise may seem more akin to children’s fiction, I assure you this is not a book meant for young readers. One thing is certain, for those who love a good mystery and don’t mind slipping into the fantastical, this book is highly recommended. But a warning, this book is not perhaps recommended for before bed reading if you’re prone to nightmares.

For more book reviews, please visit www.theornamentedline.wordpress.com.
442 reviews17 followers
January 27, 2012
Weird and weird. It involves a kidnapping, a family with some serious issues slowly coming to light, and possibly the unnatural. The question is - was the girl kidnapped or taken by fairies. It continually bounces back and forth between making you think it's a realistic book with a creep who has the kids convinced he's the king of fairies, and a fantasy book set in a realistic world that does cross over with the world of magic. I'm of two minds on this book. It definitely kept me riveted, to see what really happened, but also I didn't have much respect for the main character's lifestyle, I didn't care for the occasional F word. There were some crass situations that really weren't needed. The ending was wholly unsatisfactory. You still don't know if this twisted conglomeration of people intent on pleasing the fairy king is just a bunch of sickos who lock up young girls and interbreed to get the "master race" (or whatever they're trying for) or if something in the realm of magic exists. Either way, a lot of perverted creeps come out of the closet in the end but are never truly dealt with and
the story doesn't really end.

Ugh and ugh. She's a good author as far as drawing you in, making you want to know what is going to happen even if you don't like the people or the story. But when it was over I just felt unfinished and sick to the stomach.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
August 13, 2022
I love a Jennifer McMahon paranormal fantasy novel. Ironically, I read this in broad daylight with my boyfriend playing video games and my big Bernese Mountain Dog on the other and yet I was still terrified.

Published in 2011, Don't Breathe a Word tells the tale of a missing girl, Lisa who goes missing in the Vermont woods. Years later, Lisa's brother, Sam and his girlfriend, Phoebe try to figure out what exactly happened. The novel goes back and forth between Phoebe in the present and Lisa in the days leading up to her disappearance.

Although the logical part of my brain knew that the novel would have a very reasonable explanation, I still felt myself swept away by in the tale of fairies. And the ending had my jaw dropping!

Goodreads review published 12/08/22
Profile Image for Katerina  Kondrenko.
498 reviews841 followers
January 6, 2021
9.5 out of 10

ревью на русском/review in russian

The kind of story in which you don't know even after it's over what the actual fuck happened. Mind games, dark secrets, old tales. Still not sure how antagonists managed to do everything they did, but they are sick and smart to the moon and back. Oh, and this time my unpopular opinion is not a meh among wows, it's vice versa)

I liked how the author gaslights the characters and the reader. Either crap is going on, or you are mad. This time McMahon exploits the faerie theme, and it turns out well. The present and the past are well-developed, you become attached to the characters, you worry about them. Meanwhile, everyone behaves suspiciously, so at the same time, you are afraid of them.

The final is more open than not. It could be understood in two ways, and I a rational explanation, so I pretend the epilogue doesn't exist.

7 reviews
February 21, 2014
As many problems as this book has, its biggest is this one: it is addicting. I could not put it down.

Whatever Jennifer McMahon hoped to accomplish with writing this extremely bizarre book, she certainly succeeded in the suspense department. I haven't been so hooked on a book since The Da Vinci Code. However, that does not by ANY means mean this book was good.

I mean, look at the cover. Look at the title. Look at the premise. It's stupid. There is no way anything like this could possibly not be stupid. On top of all that, the characters are idiots. Nearly every single problem in this family could have been solved by just one of the family members waking up to reality and turning on their brain.

What's even more, the plot, especially at the end, is convoluted and confusing. It goes back and forth on itself several times, and then ends in a place that seems to hint of a sequel (the problem with that, of course, is that I will already have lost interest in this cast of characters by the time a sequel is released). I understand that is the nature of a suspense novel, but after hyperventilating through this book I don't want to feel as though I've wasted my time. And this book definitely wasted my time. Very, VERY little payoff in the end.

So, in short - it's bad. But I must give it points for being addictive. If you're looking for a suspense novel, you should check it out - just don't expect to get much out of it in the end.
Profile Image for Gregandemy.
1,231 reviews
June 21, 2011
Another Goodread's giveaway win!! Thank you!
I was intrigued by the cover and the author's summary, but I must admit it I was expecting more of a fairy version of Chronicles of Narnia. That, this is definitely not, but I wasn't disappointed. I got hooked quickly into the mythical and creepy story. For most of the book I had planned to give it a 4 star review. It was so different and capitivating. I didnt want to put it down, well, atleast not until it was dark outside and then it got a little scary for a suspense wuss like me. After finishing the book though I decided on 3 stars for the reason that there was quite a bit of swearing in the last quarter of the book and I'm not a fan. I think writing improves when the author is able to portray strong emotions without the use of 4-letter words. Fun read though for the most part.

Update 5/31/11: My husband finished this last night and loved it so I'm combining our scores and changing this to a 4 star review. He didnt notice the language that bothered me. He was also drawn into the story and enjoyed the writing. We both agreed the author did a great job of keeping you guessing throughout the book. He loved the ending. I found it a little disturbing, but we both liked that its so unexpected.
Profile Image for Carole.
568 reviews39 followers
December 23, 2011
My friends and I call this "The Creepy Girl Book", which I love. When you walk past this book while reading it, you instinctively want to turn the cover face down because it's so...well, creepy. Honestly, I was uncertain about how to rate this book. There were so many twists and turns that it was difficult to keep it all straight and I'm still not sure I know exactly what happened, but I think that's how the book is intended. I don't read fantasy and when I was reading this book, I was back and forth. Is this fantasy? No, it's not. Wait...is it? I think so. No, maybe not. I do have to say that this book was a page-turner and I felt compelled to finish and learn what really happened to Lisa!
Profile Image for Josephine.
596 reviews7 followers
July 30, 2016
I read this as an antidote to Maggie Stiefvater's works, and boy howdy is it ever an opposite sort of work. Nothing twee here. Nothing simple. As with all the other authors whom I've never read before, I'm going to reserve judgement on whether I like McMahon's work as a whole, but Don't Breathe A Word certainly refreshed me after Shiver and Lament. Also, made me nervous in the night about shadows behind the closet door and noises under the bed...but no, I'll make you read the book too. No sense just one of us being scared.

Fifteen years before 'present day', twelve year old Lisa disappeared into the woods around her home town of Harmony, telling her little brother Sam that she was going to the fairies who lived in a nearby ghost town, Reliance. Sam has lived with this secret ever since, and the promise he made to "Teilo", King of the Fairies, at the behest of his older sister. Phoebe has secrets of her own; childhood nightmares of a Dark Man who climbed from a trapdoor under her bed have persisted into adulthood, combined with her mother's death in a tub filled with iron kitchen implements under the running shower, clothes turned inside out1, have left her with mental scars equal to Sam's residue from childhood. In 'now', Phoebe is living with Sam, now grown, and loves him for his very stability and ordinaryness, though not wholly espoused to his treehugger vegan lifestyle. Their life together starts unraveling when Sam decides to spend a weekend with his cousin and her husband, having not spoken since Lisa's disappearance. The catch? It's not his cousin...she's unmarried and trapped in her apartment by agoraphobia...or is she? Their stable life together in the present unravels as more past issues bob to the surface. In the end, Phoebe is forced to hide with the paranoid friends (in Colorado) of her paranoid friend Franny (in Vermont) in an attempt to escape...whom? Well, to escape whomever held Lisa captive all those years. We're just not sure who, precisely, that was.

If you're a fan of Maggie Stiefvater or Stephenie Meyers, avoid this book. If you're after a book that's unequivocally about the "faerie realm", avoid this book, particularly if you prefer the sweet ickle pixie type of Other Folk. This book is not for people who like simply structured books, as it alternates chapters between 'then' (events surrounding Lisa's disappearance) and 'now' (events surrounding her reappearance triggering a cascade of peculiar events) It's particularly not for people who like straightforward endings to straightforward plots; the ending to this one could be one of three things:
     1) the Fair Folk are real, and they're as frighteningly powerful as the warning tales would have us believe
     2) the whole story is something dreamed up as a protective shell for/by victims of some serious dysfunction that borders on Deliverance
     3) the whole story, frame and all, is merely one told by an extremely unreliable narrator.
To quote ZBS Media's "Ruby 2" radio play, "That wasn't a double cross! It was a triple cross!"

1this may serve as a summary of the issues with the book's ending: the mother's death was possibly suicide, possibly a bad case of DTs brought on by a lifetime of deep alcoholism, possibly a vain attempt to protect herself from the Fair Folk
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Katy.
118 reviews2 followers
October 1, 2011
I fell into this book and devoured the first two-thirds in mere hours, even though the writing left something to be desired both stylistically and structurally. And then I hit a wall that made me not care what happened. Unfortunately, that wall came right as the resolution or explanation started. I felt the intrigue it held drain out of me and I left it unfinished. It felt like the author was losing steam and that she had a tight grasp on where she wanted things to go until she got to the point of solving it all. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, which made the shift disappointing.
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