Book Review: Her Little Secret

“I remember that first session with him, his calm confidence, his intelligence, his good looks; these things compelling enough on their own. But coupled with his need for help, he had me hooked from the start. But he lied to me.”

“Her Little Secret”, by Julia Stone

I’m delighted to join the Blog Tour of “Her Little Secret” by Julia Stone. Many thanks to NetGalley, the publishers Orion Dash and the author for organising the tour and providing an ecopy of the book.

Cristina Hughes has a great life; she loves her work as a therapist, acting in a local amateur dramatics group, and has a wide circle of friends she’s known for most of her life. But there is also sadness; she’s recently lost her father and although she is still a good friend (and sometimes lover) of her ex-husband Davy, she has never found a partner to share her future with…

When Leon contacts her to organise sessions to help him cope with a recent bereavement – the death of his married lover Michelle, who also happens to have been a former client of Cris’s – what starts as a professional relationship soon turns into something more. Cris’s carefully set boundaries between therapist and client begin to blur with her growing attraction to this sophisticated and intelligent man, along with her desire to help him cope with his loss. But as their relationship develops things take a darker turn, with Cris forced to keep more and more secrets from the people close to her. And at the same time she is forced to question – does Leon really want to be with her, or is his grief over the loss of Michelle an all-consuming obsession?

“Her Little Secret” is a great psychological thriller. Author Julia Stone has experience in psychology and psychotherapy herself, and this really shows in the way she understands the complicated emotions Cristina goes through as the story twists and turns. I knew Leon was trouble from the start (!), but the plot really kept me guessing, and the dramatic conclusion kept me turning the pages long after I should have been sound asleep! Although some of Cris’s actions had me longing to shout at her, I also found her a very a likeable and relatable character. The scary thing about this book is seeing how a sensible, intelligent person can be deceived and made to doubt themselves by someone they trust.

Keep reading for some special content from the author herself on how her own experiences shaped the writing of this great book!

Pages: 262
Published: 29th August 2021
Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈/5

How My Experiences Shaped “Her Little Secret”, by Julia Stone

“Her Little Secret” is a story of obsession. It explores how an outwardly successful professional woman becomes vulnerable to a suave, successful man’s manipulation. As a therapist and a friend I have seen this happen too many times. The love-bombing and romancing of the chosen victim can break down the defences of the most savvy person. Just as with financial fraud, we all think we would spot the signs, but experience suggests it could happen to anyone.

The marriage of Cristina’s self-doubts with Leon’s coercive control is at the heart of “Her Little Secret”.

Firstly Cristina and her self-doubts. Whatever our profession, there are times when we feel our best is not good enough. This is real life. Like many others, I have certainly felt this way at points in my career. Out of my depth, lacking in know-how, unsure that I’m capable of what is expected of me. Anyone can suffer from Imposter Syndrome – the feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing, that you could be exposed as a fraud at any moment. It’s that moment when the child inside us pushes to the fore and says, ‘You’re playing at being a grown up. All these other people are the real deal. They really know what they are doing.’

I wanted to show the human side of a professional therapist: her faults and vulnerabilities, and her life outside the consulting room with all its ups and downs. Cristina cares about her clients, but risks becoming too emotionally involved. She prides herself on her professional standards, but knows she doesn’t always achieve them. Despite her experience and training, she’s struggling with insecurity about her abilities, constantly challenging her own decisions and criticising herself.

Enter Leon and his artful manipulation and obsessional control. A current advert for Women’s Aid neatly illustrates coercive control. The strap line reads: “If your relationship doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.” From my own observations, I know how subtly these things can start. A pair of heels bought to replace your comfy Doc Martins. Comments on skirt length, your weight, the way you walk. Criticism of hair and make-up, how you paint your nails. Then certain friends are excluded, activities curtailed – far easier not to join in than to face an argument…

Cristina overlooks these gradual changes. She mistakes control for caring, swallows her opinions, goes along with things for a quiet life. And sometimes Leon can be so charming and loving when they’re alone together. Maybe one day – if she tries hard enough – he will change…

About the author

Julia Stone is a psychologist, trainer, coach, and psychotherapist. She attended Faber Academy in 2017 and in 2018 won The Blue Pencil First Novel award.

Julia has a background in psychology and psychotherapy and has a passion for writing and the arts.

She was born in London and has lived east, north and west but never made it south of the river. Several years ago she moved to the countryside and now lives in rural Suffolk with her partner and varying numbers of ducks, muntjac and moorhens.

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