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Thursday, June 02, 2011

As With Fairies, So With McMahon: Stay Away. Far, Far Away.

(Image from Indiebound)

I've probably mentioned this before, but Jennifer McMahon's novels creep me out. From the freaky covers to the chilling plotlines to the haunting details - everything about them makes me want to dive into my bed, pull a blanket over my head, and chant, "It's not real. It's not real. It's not real." Seriously. Every time I finish one of McMahon's books, I vow not to pick up another one. Not to even look at another one. Because if there's one thing I've learned about this author, it's that if I so much as glance at one of her books, I will pick it up, I will skim the first page, and I won't stop until I finish the story. Even though it will give me nightmares for a week. That's how compelling they are.

McMahon's newest, Don't Breathe A Word, might just be the most compelling of all. It's my favorite of the three books I've read by her, not because it's less creepy than the others, but because it's got a clever bent to it that kept me guessing through the whole book. I love me a psychological thriller, even if it's one I have to read only in the daylight. With the doors locked. And the shades drawn. When I'm surrounded by people. Ahem. It's not real. It's not real. It's not real. Okay, moving on ...

Don't Breathe A Word takes place in a small Vermont town called Harmony. It's a green, peaceful hamlet that should be an idyllic spot for children to grow up. And it would be, maybe, if it weren't for the woods. In the middle of the trees sits the ruins of an old village, the inhabitants of which - it is said - were whisked away by the King of the Fairies in 1918. When, some 70 years later, a 12-year-old girl goes missing from the same spot, it confirms the rumors about the haunted woods. The fact that Lisa O'Toole Nazzaro told her younger brother she planned to step through a magical door in the woods that would take her to Fairyland, just before she disappeared without a trace, sounds crazy - except to long-time residents of Harmony. The ones who know about the woods. The ones who hear sounds out there, who see strange things, who stay far, far away from the forest and all its secrets.

Fifteen years after Lisa's disappearance, 35-year-old Phoebe is dating sweet, steady Sam Nazzaro. Although she's always been fascinated with the story of little Lisa traipsing off to join the fairies, Phoebe doesn't, at first, know about Sam's connection to the missing girl. When she discovers that he's her younger brother, the same boy to whom Lisa confided about the fairies in the woods, Phoebe's even more intrigued. She doesn't dare ask Sam about the disappearance since she knows he's determined to put the past behind him, but she wonders what really happened the night Lisa vanished into the woods. Does Sam believe the fairy story? He won't say. Even when a series of strange, unexplainable occurrences shakes the couple's world, rocketing the past right into the present, Sam remains tight-lipped. Maybe Sam doesn't believe, but Phoebe can't explain the eerie happenings any other way - if it's not the King of Fairies messing with their lives, then who is it?

It took me all of a chapter to be thoroughly spooked by Don't Breathe A Word. And a lot less than that to be totally and completely hooked. The whole fairy plotline makes this missing girl story different, lending it a dark kind of charm. I wanted to believe in Lisa's fairy world, so much so that I almost skipped the last, everything-is-revealed section of the book. I'm glad I didn't, though, because then I would have missed the book's final, brilliant scene, the one that made me question everything.

Intrigued yet? See what I mean about that darn Jennifer McMahon? She drags you into her macabre little stories whether you like it or not. I'm going to give you the same advice about McMahon that Lisa was given about the fairies: Stay away. Far, far away. And if you ignore this advice, beware - nightmares will ensue.

(Readalikes: Island of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Don't Breathe A Word from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. Thank you!


  1. Wasn't this one good? I went back and forth trying to figure out if there were actual paranormal elements or if there were just some very bad people. The little girl on the cover is disturbing in her gaze. The eyes follow you around. :-)

    I liked this one enough that I went and got the author's entire back list. I've read the first one. Still have two tucked back for another time. And I liked being scared, always have since a kid huddling under the covers. LOL

  2. Sounds very intriguing...
    I haven't read any of McMahon's books yet but this one sounds a good place to start.

    You have plans for your copy?

  3. Ha ha! I have this one on my TBR list and am anxious to get to it. I want to know if it will freak me out as bad as it seems to be freaking everyone else out. I even saw it Costco and turned it down, now I wish I hadn't

  4. Kay - That's what I liked about it - the story really kept me guessing as to the true nature of the fairies.

    And, seriously, how do the cover design people get innocent children to look so creepy?

    Tara - You are welcome to my copy. Bring your boys swimming sometime soon and you can grab it.

    Jenny - It'll freak you out. I can pretty much guarantee it :)

  5. Ok, you've sort of scared me with your review! I got a copy of this while I was at BEA last week and now I'm sort of scared to read it ... but I totally will. ;)

    Thanks for being on the tour - I loved reading your review for this one!

  6. Oh, I forgot to mention that I featured your review on TLC's Facebook page today. :)

  7. Love love love this review. I read Dismantled last year (but sadly didn't review it) and was completely creeped out. I'm staying away from her books for now, but if I come across this one, I may not be able to resist...

  8. This was the first Jennifer McMahon book I read, and all I could think was CREEPY!

    I have Island of Lost Girls to read too. If I can get into the creepy mindset.

  9. Wow this one looks really really creepy! But yet I have to get my hands on it! Thanks for the review :)


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