Reading red lines?

spray paintEarlier this month I read a book that had scenes in it of a paedophile grooming a young girl.  They have haunted me since.  I keep flashing back to one scene in particular that made me squirm.  Even though I really enjoyed the book, there is part of me that wishes I hadn’t read it because I still don’t feel comfortable with what was written.

The other part of me though would still recommend the book – because it was well written and a good story.  Without the uncomfortable scenes it wouldn’t have been the same book (and definitely not as good).  My review mentioned that there were parts of the story that made me uncomfortable but I didn’t go further because it would have meant spoilers in the story.  I am now wondering if I should go back and be more explicit?

I know other bloggers do this and I have to say this has put me off some books, books which I think I might actually have enjoyed and I wondered what others thought about “warnings”?.  It’s a fine line I suppose, because we all have personal red lines, ones we don’t or won’t cross when reading books or watching TV.

Based on comments on some of my recent reviews, where there seems to have been a bit of a glut of books with missing children or children in danger, that seems to be a red line for a lot of parents (or at least parents of younger children).  They can too easily put themselves in the place of the central characters, imagine their own children missing.  Yet, as a parent myself, I can’t say I have that reaction.

For me, rape is a difficult one to read about.  When it’s mentioned in a blurb or review I tend to steer clear.  But then I read He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly not so long ago, where rape – and it’s aftermath – was the driver for the story and I was o.k. As with the book I read recently, He Said / She Said was well written and thought provoking as well as a great story that kept me wondering where the truth lay right till the last.

I’ve also found that I can no longer read books which portray violent or graphic scenes anymore (something I never batted an eye at a few years ago).  I used to be a big fan of the Graham Masterton Katie Maguire series, for example, but the fact that there always seemed to be at least one (and generally more) gruesome deaths – described in quite a lot of detail – meant I’ve had to stop reading them.

The problem is, how to do you know unless you read a book?  But if you do read it and your reaction to it is negative, have you done yourself any favours – especially if, like me, books stay with you for a while?  What are your thoughts – do you have reading red lines, and what are they? And would you prefer to know more or less about whether there might be something upsetting in a book?


This post is part of the 2017 Book Blog Discussion Challenge, linking in with Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon at It Start’s at Midnight.


Note: Designed by Freepik


  1. Though I am not a fan of some things I can still read them, but I do like it when the reviewer gives me a heads up that there might be something hard to deal with. I know some people give heads up to rape in case it’s a trigger for someone.

    I personally don’t want a book with a lot of gay love going on and I would like it if people would say if that is a part of it or not. I don’t mind gay characters but just don’t want to read about certain things. It’s my preference and I will skip over a lot of it and it will affect my rating. It might be the social norm now but I don’t want to read it.


    • I think I might give more heads up in future as I don’t now and I am starting to realise more that it does matter to people. I think I have been a bit to worried about spoilers. As for sex, maybe that should have been on my list too…I am not a fan of too much of that, gay or otherwise, in my books!


  2. I don’t shy away from topics about missing children, despite my many years of working with neglected and abused children…primarily because I have learned to step back and distance myself, just a bit.

    Which doesn’t mean that these issues don’t grab at me and remind me of real life situations.

    Thanks for sharing, and I do have some “red lines.” The graphic violence or gruesome death details do give me pause.


    • I think if missing children stories are done well then I am fine. Where there is abuse in there I am more likely to give pause. Gruesomeness now just makes me feel queasy and put the book down. I know what you mean about distancing yourself but they are the type of scenes that I can’t help but flash back to.


  3. this sound exactly like the kind of book I was mentioning in my last comments. Anything that involves something happening to children, especially sexual abuse gets me very anxious. BUT at the same time I feel I HAVE to read it because I guess I just want to know how those monsters operate. Like when I told you I don;t let me kids walk to school after I read Duggar’s book who was adopted waiting at the school bus stop. I do put warnings in my reviews when it comes to this kinda content because I know people react strongly. Great Post!


    • Yours was one of the comments I was thinking about. It made me think about how I can reading certain books but not others…so thank you for the inspiration. I do think I might start putting up stronger warnings where there is abuse. I think there is something about reading to learn but as I don’t know how much grounded in reality a lot of fiction is it might not be the best way but scare me more instead?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I steer clear of child sex abuse and domestic violence, like you I’m also avoiding graphic and gory violence. Unfortunately I feel the publishing world is going in the opposite direction as these seem to be increasingly common themes. Thankfully still plenty of alternatives.


  5. This is an interesting post, Emma. Yes – I do have plenty of red lines. I read to relax and unwind – and stories featuring children being abused or murdered I find profoundly upsetting. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, I’m also not a fan of the current taste in very gory murder mysteries and creepy psychological family-based thrillers. So, I don’t read them. Fortunately for me, there are whole genres out there that I love – but I’ve learnt the hard way that if I do cross my personal red lines, I’m liable to nightmares or days where I feel disturbed if I read something that I find too upsetting.


    • I think our reading does change with age. I wouldn’t knowingly read anything with child abuse either, though I think I would finish the book if I started (or have so far). The same with gruesome, as soon as I review says that I steer clear. I do wonder if I am missing out sometimes but, as you say, there are so many books and genres out there to read that it’s not like I’m struggling for books!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have thought about this topic a lot. I have a really hard time with graphic rape scenes or child molestation of any kind. It is simply not okay to me and haunts me for a long time. In light of that, when I am reading book reviews for books I am interested in reading, I appreciate it SO much when the reviewer includes a trigger warning. I do the same in my reviews. If there is something that I think might be a trigger for someone, I’ll put “Trigger: ___” at the end of my review. If the trigger is a spoiler, I’ll put it in a spoiler tag on Goodreads.


    • Graphic scenes are the hardest. I guess my struggle is I don’t want to put someone off reading a book because of my squeamishness- and I am quite squeamish!


  7. Warnings are something I struggle with. I think there are things that people would prefer to know going in – especially if there really isn’t a hint in the blurb but at the same time it very often goes into spoiler territory which I don’t want to do either. I have on my to do list to work on my coding so I can hide text but it’s a long way off. Usually the outcome is the deciding factor. Awhile ago I read a mystery where towards the end the MC and her little brother were kidnapped by the killer. The little boy (maybe 6) was very frightened and it was this horrific scene to read since I have a boy of a similar age but it was a short scene and everything worked out so I didn’t mention it. If the boy had died or it had been an extended scene I would have mentioned it in someway. My red line is usually anything involving children. I just can’t handle it anymore.


    • This is what I struggle with too – when does a spoiler become a spoiler is the question I suppose (another thing I struggle with). Children are definitely a red line for a lot of people and I can see why.


  8. I can’t really think of any hard red lines off the top of my head, but when I read something I dislike, or that bothers me or makes me uncomfortable, I tend to mention it in my review. I think it’s okay to do so; a review is a reflection of your subjective reading experience. I don’t usually feel the need to mention everything that might be an issue for others. There are reviewers who review with that goal and do it well, but that’s not my goal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!


    • Yes, I think I am going to be more clear in my reviews as I don’t tend to be because it is just my opinion. I don’t want to put people off a book they may well like.


    • It is. I don’t want to spoil things or put people off when their tolerance for blood and guts for example is stronger than mine but some subjects are triggers like you say so I feel I should say something.


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