sneaky spoilers

The Sneakiest of Spoilers

sneaky spoilers
I think most of us find it frustrating when a review or discussion outlines a book’s entire plot without fair warning of spoilers, but what about the spoilers that aren’t really spoilers? You know, the the little bits of information that can change your reading experience without revealing the plot. What do I mean?

There’s A Twist!

This was actually a major discussion on an episode of Books on the Nightstand not too long ago. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue, usually depending on the hype of the book. I don’t mind if it’s just a blurb or jacket copy that mentions a twist, but if all the talk around the book begins to blow that out of proportion it will likely have an impact on my reading. I read We Were Liars several months before it was published, with little more information outside a few recommendations and the jacket copy to go by, and really enjoyed it. But I think I would have been really frustrated had I read it once hype began focus so much on the novel’s twist.

This Year’s (That Book)

Now, I think we all know that by this point calling a book “This Year’s Gone Girl!” can mean a dozen different things, but in some cases a comparison can enter the spoiler zone. Some read-alikes and recommendations are so close that similarities make themselves clear within a few pages and…well, you know how the other book ended, right?

The Unreliable Narrator

I’m a huge, huge fan of unreliable narrators, but I don’t want to know about them before I pick up a book. Where’s the fun? Instead of trusting the tale being told, I’ll turn my attention to picking apart the story. There’s a book that’s had quite a bit of attention lately and almost every mention touches on the unreliable narrator. It’s definitely made me shy away from reading. Does anyone really want to know their narrator can’t be trusted from the get-go?


This isn’t meant to be a post about the right or wrong way to blog, since those of us who do all have different audiences and purposes. Instead, it’s just curiosity about the tolerance of spoilers and what exactly we consider them to be.

So, what do you consider a sneaky spoiler?


  • I find it hard to write reviews without mentioning things that interest me about the book. I want to talk themes, unreliable narrators, etc but it does make it difficult to write spoiler free reviews.

    Let’s face it, if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read the reviews.

    • I totally understand the battle over sharing what you loved about a book without spoiling. I guess I just come from a place of wanting someone who picks up the book to have the same experience/opportunity I did.

  • It’s such a fine line, and it’s hard to find the balance between saying too much vs. not enough and coming across wishy washy and too vague. These are great points to think about… especially the unreliable narrator part. (Although, my Mozart in the Jungle review is basically ALL ABOUT THAT hahaha – but that’s nonfiction so, maybe it’s more forgiveable there.)

    • I always forget about nonfiction, but I do think it’s a little different since the information isn’t really unknown, if that makes sense?

  • Kelly TheWellReadRedhead

    Welp, I’m reading this on my phone (where I have an inability to update my blog), but you’re making me want to get out of bed and delete my entire review of Girl on the Train that’s scheduled to post in a half hour. Haha…

    As the previous commenter said, I struggle between wanting to discuss themes and narrative devices, and not giving spoilers. With some books, that feels like the difference between writing a review or just not posting one at all. I do always go back and reread a review before scheduling it, thinking, “Would this have ruined the book for me if I read it beforehand?” I suppose it’s hard to accurately say no to that when you already know what happens, but I don’t hit Post until I’m fairly confident that’s the case.

    • Oh, I wouldn’t want for you to change your review!! This is all just me, I’m sure we’ll see there are people who feel the total opposite ;)

      I definitely have that battle over reviewing certain books because of spoilers, too. I’ve not reviewed or mini reviewed in some cases, just because I felt like everything I wanted to say would have ruined things.

  • HA! This makes me laugh because I just finished your “unreliable narrator” example last night. That book was also compared to GG. And – I guessed the main plot twist well before it happened. Anyway – I’m with you on this entire post. I purposely didn’t read any reviews of “Unreliable Narrator Book” before reading it, but I’d already gotten too much info in the Goodreads blurb (sometimes I think even the publisher includes way too much info in their blurbs, but I get that they’re trying to sell books, so have to reveal some hook)! I’m actually planning to write a discussion with spoilers (and fair, fair warning) for this book rather than a review…not much to say about it without inadvertently spoiling things!
    Another book I thought was “inadvertently spoiled” by many bloggers was We Are Not Ourselves. I went in without knowing what Ed’s “issues” were. And I loved the suspense of trying to figure out what was going on. I feel like his issues were openly discussed in many reviews…referring to “a heartbreaking book about X and the affect on families”.
    Great post!

    • I think a discussion post is a great idea for that book. It seems like there are a ton of people who have already read it and I’m sure they’d love to chat it out.

      So agreed on We Are Not Ourselves! I wasn’t a huge fan, but trying to figure out what was going on with Ed was one of the only things that really pulled me through the beginning.

  • Wesley

    I hate the “this year’s (that book)” it almost makes me not want to read a book when people do that hype. Also, I hate unreliable narrators, so it cracks me up that you love them. But right, if you know theyre unreliable from the first go what is the fun?

    • Hype can be such a tough thing to navigate…it’s hard to find a balance between making sure people know you love a book and not blowing things out of proportion.

  • Yup yup yup. It’s a tricky subject, figuring out what you can actually say about a book (other than “it was really good”) that’s not going to somehow affect the person’s expectations and therefore their reading experience. Is there anything that’s safe to say? (This is one reason that I just don’t read reviews anymore; I like to go in as blind as possible. Even the publisher sometimes tells me more than I’d like to know.)

    I will occasionally do some of these things myself, if the book is already very much in the public consciousness and I figure I’m not going to be the first person to “spoil” such things for a reader… although there’s always the chance that I am, so maybe that’s not a great defense. But I do know that I’m much more careful about it when reviewing books that aren’t so well-known.

    • Totally agree with you on having a little more freedom when the book is more well known. I think even if I’ve seen a bunch of reviews of a book, I’ll feel a little more comfortable saying more.

  • Are the “This Year’s Gone Girl” and “Unreliable Narrator” books you’re talking about the same one? I think I know it.

    I don’t like when twists are blown out of proportion, either. It’s fine if the cover copy alludes to a twist, but when it’s all anyone’s talking about, I’m going to assume the twist is really fucking good — and the twist rarely lives up to the hype when I have such high expectations.

    I sometimes struggle with how much to give away in reviews; my general rule is to stick to plot points that are referenced in the cover copy, but it’s not a perfect guideline.

    • I didn’t really have a book in mind for This Year’s Gone Girl (I totally ignore that label now since it’s so watered down!), but it’s probably been given to the Unreliable Narrator one ;)

      I’m with you on sticking to the cover copy – that’s the rule I tend to use, too.

  • Amy Sachs

    Ah, guilty, so guilty in a recent post of pretty much everything here! I never thought about it as spoiling anything though. You definitely opened my eyes to being more aware of how I word things!

  • I so know what book you’re talking about with the narrator (and know that I was totally guilty of that sneaky spoiler) BUT there is so much more to the story and the characters that I promise you will still enjoy the read.

    • I’ve been pocketing most of the reviews I’ve seen and plan to read it once some of the hype has died down a bit – I’ll probably be the last blogger to pick it up ;)

  • Jennine G.

    Never thought of some of these things as spoilers, but good point. However, telling me there’s an unreliable narrator is more likely to make me read something (think I know which recent one you were talking about…that’s what made me want to read it)!

    But when a book is compared to another popular one, that almost never does me any good. It’s so subjective. (I think this year’s Gone Girl is also the unreliable narrator! Wow, they’ve really spread that campaign, haven’t they?)

    • I used to run toward the unreliable narrator books, too! Then I realized it really started to toy with my reading (a recent experience is part of what sparked this post).

  • Ashley Farley

    Ha. I’m reading this year’s that book now. So I will stop reading the comments until I’ve finished. Knowing that the novel has an unreliable narrator would only make me want to read it more. However, there are many things that can ruin a novel for me before I read it. I don’t like spoilers. I especially don’t like it when someone says it took them a long time to get into a novel. Great post!

    • Ohh, interesting! I usually mention if it took me a little while to get into a book because I hope people will hold on instead of giving up.

      • I agree…I always mention if it took me awhile to get into the novel. I think it is relevant information, because as you said, readers need to know if it is worth hanging in there. And of course, sometimes it’s not!

  • I’m definitely with you on several of these. I try to leave those things out of reviews but sometimes they’re hard to work around, for sure.

  • Sometimes this is a problem with the publisher, not anyone else. Yeah, they’re trying to sell a book by comparing it to a similar super popular book, but sometimes it really backfires. Similarly, I suggested a book to someone by saying, oh you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like this. And because of that, they guessed the twist early on and because they guessed, didn’t enjoy the book at all. I think just making that comparison will make people expect a twist, which is even more basic than an unreliable narrator.

    I sympathize with publishers who are trying to sell their books, but where’s the balance? On the other side of the coin, I’ve read cover copy that completely gives away the entire plot and it was so disappointing.

    • I can understand the tough spot publishers are in, too…but I really like many of the comps I see listed on Edelweiss pages and wish those were used more often in marketing rather than just one or two big name books.

  • I think in general I don’t read as many reviews for books I haven’t read, though of course I see a lot of book discussions on Twitter and suchlike. It’s hard to go into a more popular book completely blind. Alas.

    I would *probably* consider things like the We Were Liars “twist” being talked about in a review a “spoiler”, but I wouldn’t get mad about it too much at the same time. I do know that knowing those kinds of things in advance does affect my enjoyment of a book—usually in the negative. I read just a few weeks ago a book with a pretty large blogger fanbase that raves about the “unexpected twist” which I…was not shocked by. And I kind of wonder if I WOULD have been shocked if I hadn’t known there was a twist coming up, you know? Or maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever. I will never know.

    So I definitely think those kinds of discussions about plot events can be spoilers, albeit innocuous ones that a reviewer might not even think about. And depending on the genre, knowing the basic story outline will or won’t affect my enjoyment of the book. Though for mystery/suspense type books, it’s definitely not good for me, since a lot of the success of that plot depends on the reader being more or less unsuspecting of the conclusion. For isntance, I know I’m probably never going to read Gone Girl because I know everything that happens and doubt that I would love it. Likewise, I’m going to read We Were Liars soon, but I’m not sure how successful it will be, since I’ll be expecting some great twist the entire time.

    ANYWAY. I definitely think things like mentioning an unreliable narrator or a huge plot twist can spoil a book for some readers and for some books, even if they aren’t, strictly speaking “spoilers”. Some plots work best if they’re a complete surprise, and so knowing things in advance does nothing for you as a reader. This is why I’m careful of what reviews I do read, and probably why I should be more careful of the reviews I write.

    • Totally agree! I try to avoid traditional print reviews for books I haven’t read, but I know which bloggers I can trust to write reviews that won’t reveal too much. It really seems to be about finding a balance in recommending a book without ruining the experience for other readers.

  • Irene McKenna

    Great post! I hadn’t thought about things like “unreliable narrator” as being spoileresque, but that’s a fair point. This is the kind of thing I generally like to discover for myself.

    • I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, after reading a few books that had been billed that way and wishing I hadn’t known beforehand. But I do think it has the potential to change reading a bit.

  • Learning a book has a plot twist or unreliable narrator doesn’t really spoil a book for me. What I hate is when a key point is given away in the synopsis on the cover. I can’t think of a good example right now, but there have been many times when a crucial point is given away before you even start. I wish the publishers would be a bit more judicious when writing the blurbs!

  • Christy (A Good Stopping Point

    Depending on the book I’m reviewing, I sometimes feel like I’m half writing for people who haven’t read it and half writing it for people who have. It’s tricky.

  • We Were Liars was not that great a read for me because all anyone kept talking about was the twist. I saw it coming not long after I began the book so I was basically just waiting for the inevitable. Much less fun. :/

    • I definitely heard that from several people and think I probably would have fallen in that camp, too, if I had read it a little later.

      • Words for Worms

        I’m with Becca on this one. I had the exact same experience with We Were Liars and it made me all grumpy-like.

  • Anita LeBeau

    I also hate the review saying there is a twist, because honestly don’t all books have some twist, or something that makes a seemingly normal situation unique enough warrant a book or story? I don’t like book comparisons, this years X book either. I don’t even like when publishers or book stores use the comparison if you read and liked X then you should try Y.
    I did recently use the term unreliable narrator, and thinking on it, I should have perhaps said something else. I try to base my review or summary on what the publisher has given away, nothing more. I once heard an author say that they hated their publisher jacket copy and that it gave away a major plot line. Who knew! LOL.

  • I read pre-pub trade reviews for hundreds of books a week. So I think I’m sort of immune to this. I tend to only read blogger reviews of books I’ve already read, or books I plan to never read.

    I read We Were Liars very early, too, and I do think it helped my enjoyment of it.

    Publishers do tend to offer comparable titles based on plot, which is not what makes a book appeal to every reader; often, it’s style of writing as much as what happens. So when I do readalikes, I try to pick up on those factors and suggest titles that offer a similar reading experience, not just a similar plot.

  • Oh boy…I’m guilty of this and now I feel terrible because you have very valid points! Aaaand, I just did a review of the book that was being called this year’s GG and why I disagreed. Just hearing that it was this year’s GG and had an unreliable narrator AND a twist did make me go in expecting so much that in honesty it fell a tiny bit flat. I better go back a tweak the review a bit to warn readers. :) As always, you have such keen insight!

    • Oh, I don’t want you to feel like you have to change anything!! This was all out of curiosity…and it seems everyone has pretty different opinions :)

  • >>Does anyone really want to know their narrator can’t be trusted from the get-go?

    Me, I do! Not because I don’t trust myself to figure it out as I go along, but because I’m attracted to books with unreliable narrators. Hearing that a book has an unreliable narrator makes me more likely to pick it up, so for that reason I like to know about it. But you’re right that it’s also fun to notice it as you’re going along.

    • I used to seek them out, too…but then I had a streak of several where I felt like I wasn’t enjoying the experience because I was trying so hard to work everything out from the beginning. I do love a good unreliable narrator, though!

    • I used to seek them out, too…but then I had a streak of several where I felt like I wasn’t enjoying the experience because I was trying so hard to work everything out from the beginning. I do love a good unreliable narrator, though!

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  • I’m always cautious of the “there’s a twist!” thing because I consider that a spoiler and it affects my reading experience if I’m looking out for the twist the whole time. I was atually surprised by how well-kept the twist in We Were Liars were! I read it a few months after it came out and still had no idea it was coming!

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  • YES! I went into We Were Liars expecting a twist and then I guessed the twist really early on and it spoiled it. To be fair I probably would have guessed it anyway but I HATE it when such a big deal is made about a twist. I mean with something like a psychological thriller OF COURSE there is a twist so it’s fine to mention it but with something like a contemporary it totally counts as a spoiler. I tend to do spoiler free reviews and avoid too much detail but occasionally I might give a spoiler warning even if it’s not exactly a spoiler, just in case.

  • Chelsey @ Chels and a Book

    This is soooo true! The “Unreliable Narrator” is the worst. I spent the entire time reading and trying to figure out why I shouldn’t trust them instead of just letting myself enjoy the book and be genuinely surprised.
    A few weeks ago, my coworker was reading a book I was really looking forward to. When she finished, she was like “It was so predictable. I knew who the killer was on page 28!” We are both major bookies and she should have known better! I still haven’t read the book because I feel like she’s ruined the whole thing. Now I will read page 28 and over-read it, looking for the part that clued her in. Not fair!
    Loved the creativity in this post :).

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  • Nishita

    Whoops, I just did a post last week comparing a book to Gone Girl. I don’t know that I spoilt it for anyone though because the blurb in the back of my copy did the same comparison.

  • Carol Kubala

    I’d rather not know yet it’s hard for someone to recommend a book or discuss one without revealing a bit. Try to be careful when discussing plot as not to ruin a story for someone else. I really shy away from stating a book had a twist but have mentioned an unreliable narrator. I’ve said a book was devastating believing that’s a personal observation. Others may not find the same scenario as gut wrenching as I did.

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