Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale



Title: The Strangers We Know

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: December 1sr 2019, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

“Nothing is ever as it seems, is it?”

When Charlie Carter catches a glimpse of a man who looks like her husband on a dating app, she desperately wants to believe she is mistaken. Since their marriage eighteen months previously, Oliver has been the perfect husband…hardworking, attentive and loving, and she wants his unequivocal denial to be enough.

“You see, that’s the problem with trust issues: eventually you find you can’t trust yourself either.”

But it isn’t. To allay her lingering suspicions, Charlie sets a trap and is devastated when her worst fear is realised. Her marriage is over.

“And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.”

Fast-paced with some surprising twists, The Strangers We Know is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Pip Drysdale.

I really enjoyed the plot, and I’m loathe to spoil the surprises it offers. There is an unpredictability that is compelling, if not entirely credible, and I easily read it straight through.

Unfolding from Charlie’s first person perspective, Drysdale exploits the character’s profession as an actress in the structure of the novel, it’s easy to imagine this novel being adapted for the screen. It has a modern sensibility which will appeal to a younger audience, and a classic whodunnit twist to satisfy mystery fans.

Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, and unsure who to trust, Charlie doesn’t always make smart decisions, which can be frustrating, but her naivety is also relatable, which makes her an appealing character. She is indubitably the star of this novel.

“But here’s the thing with life: You have to get through it. There’s no choice. Eventually, even in real life, the heroine has to win out in the end.”


Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh


Title: The Diamond Hunter

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse


My Thoughts:

From a ramshackle, dusty miners camp in Southern Africa, to the green countryside of northern England, and the bustling city of London, Fiona McIntosh takes us on a journey of heartbreak, trust, betrayal, and love in her latest historical fiction novel, The Diamond Hunter.

Clementine is just six when her well-born mother succumbs to malaria on the plains of Southern Africa where her father, James, has brought them, determined to make his fortune during the 1870’s gold rush in Africa. With his wife’s death, James obsession to prove his worth grows and he stakes a claim in a nearby diamond mine, but haunted by grief and guilt, both the working of the claim, and the care of Clementine, is largely left to his partner, Joseph One-Shoe, a Zulu warrior.

Just as Joseph uncovers a large diamond that will ensure a secure future for them all, tragedy strikes, and Clementine has no choice but to return to England in the care of her Uncle to claim her birthright as the only legitimate heir of the wealthy Grant family.

Clementine is a wonderful character, as a child she is sweetly precocious, adoring both her father, despite his obvious flaws, and Joseph One-Shoe, whose love for her is achingly tender. Though still only a child when she returns to a life of privilege in England, as she grows Clementine remains grounded, and I found her to be an appealing heroine.

Joseph One-Shoe is also a delight, a Zulu warrior with a largely unpronounceable name, it’s is Clementine that christens him due to his preference of wearing just one shoe in order to remain connected to the land. In her Author’s Notes, McIntosh reveals she based his character on a young African man who was hired to care for her and her family while they lived in a gold mining camp in Africa during the 1960’s.

Reggie Grant, Clementine’s Uncle, is perhaps the most complex character in the novel, neither a hero nor a villain, he is both laudable, and deeply flawed. His actions are the catalyst for the questions that arise surrounding the death of Clementine’s father, driving her to determine the truth.

There is a touch of romance introduced to the plot when Clementine meets Will Axford, an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. While somewhat conservative in his thinking, Will is a good match for her, in that he is plain spoken and honourable, though perhaps to a fault. The unresolved nature of their relationship is unusual for McIntosh, and I wonder if perhaps the author has plans to return to this story.

As always, McIntosh’s deftly weaves historical fact into her fiction. The story is meticulously researched, and her descriptions evocative, particularly in terms of her depiction of the frenzy surrounding the diamond rush, and the settlement that grew around ‘The Hole’, which later became the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Kimberley. The author also includes some general insight into the diamond trade during the period, and alludes to Lloyd’s of London’s first steps in expanding beyond marine policies.

Beautifully written with authentic characterisation and detail, The Diamond Hunter is a captivating read from, as I’m quoted on the back cover, an extraordinary storyteller.


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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out


#NonficNov Review: Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee


Title: Eggshell Skull: A Memoir About Standing Up, Speaking Out and Fighting Back

Author: Bri Lee

Published: June 1st 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

In this searingly honest and revealing memoir, Bri Lee shares her personal journey as she pursues justice after reporting a childhood sexual assault.

After graduating from the University of Queensland with a degree in law, Bri is one of the lucky few to gain a year long position as an associate for a District Judge. The position involves the pair traveling between Brisbane and regional areas of Queensland to adjudicate cases in courts who do not have a full time Judge. Bri is excited for the opportunity, but with each case becomes increasingly disillusioned by the justice system which seems to be particularly weighted against women and children who are victims of sexual violence. The victims experiences resonate with Bri because she was molested as a child by a friend of her older brother.

Bri had never felt able to reveal the abuse, instead filtering her emotional pain and confusion through cutting, bulimia, and self-loathing, which increased during her time as an Associate. Despite witnessing the repeated failures of the system, Bri is infused with the courage to finally report her experience, in part recognising the advantages she holds as a complainant, a privilege she relates to the Eggshell Skull doctrine.

I’ve seen some criticism levelled at this book because of that privilege, however none of it negates her experience as a victim, or a survivor. Bri’s journey is intensely personal, as it is for all those who experience sexual violence, but she is in an unique position to highlight the justice system’s flaws and inequities, not only in relation to her own case, but also how that might translate into the cases of others.

I found Eggshell Skull compelling reading that stirred a range of emotions from fury, to despair, to hope, and admiration, and everything in between. There is still so much fighting to do.


“In Queensland an estimated 30,000 sexual assaults occur each year, yet in 2017, just 4751 sex crimes were officially reported to police. Around half that number proceeded to trial (2446 cases) but of them, only 835 resulted in a guilty verdict. Of the 835 perpetrators found guilty of sex offences in Queensland in 2017, roughly half — 44 per cent — were released straight back on to the streets with a mere slap on the wrist, such as a fine, a community service order or a suspended sentence….Perpetrators who did go to jail also received very brief sentences.” – Queensland is Australia’s worst state for sexual abuse survivors to find justice – Nina Funnell,, December 13th 2018


Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: Cry of the Firebird by T.M. Clark


Title: Cry of the Firebird

Author: T.M. Clark

Published: November 18th 2019, Harlequin MIRA

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

When World Health Organisation consultant Dr Lily Winters is asked to evaluate a murdered colleague’s unfinished project in South Africa, she jumps at the chance to return to the country of her birth. Supported by her husband Quintin, a world renowned violinist, Lily is eager to investigate the inexplicable clusters of illnesses and deaths recorded by her colleague, but as she grows closer to the source, she finds herself caught up web of corruption, greed, and revenge, and the unwitting target of a ruthless cabal who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Offering a multilayered plot that includes more than one thread of intrigue, Cry of the Firebird, is a fast paced and exciting thriller in which Clark explores several issues, among them drug tampering, profiteering, police corruption, AIDS, early onset Alzheimer’s, wildlife conservation (particularly with regards to flamingos), and displacement.

If I’m honest, the central intrigue of the book bothered me a little because it feeds the narrative of ‘big pharma’ conspiracists, and by extension anti-vaxxer’s. However after I finished the book I did a little research and I was horrified to discover that WHO estimates 1 in 10 medical products in developing countries are substandard or falsified.

I found the main characters of Lily, her husband Quintin, and San police officer Piet Kleinman, to be appealing and well developed. Lily is smart, dedicated and thoughtful, with a stubborn streak that ensures she won’t give up easily, even when threatened. I adored the relationship between Lily and Quintin, there is such a strong, supportive bond between them that I really delighted in. Piet is an interesting character, as a displaced Kalahari bushman (San) he has a fascinating background and unique skills that he uses as both a police officer and as a medicine man to help others, especially in the San settlement of Platfontein.

Somewhat curiously for a fiction novel, along with a glossary, Clark includes some notes she titles Fact vs Fiction in the books last pages. Here she comments on where her novel is based in fact, and where she has used creative licence for the purposes of her story.

A compelling story which offers adventure, suspense, and heart, Cry of the Firebird is a terrific read I’m happy to recommend.


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Available from HarperCollins Au

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Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic


Title: Resurrection Bay {Caleb Zelic #1}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: September 1st 2015, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

Resurrection Bay is the first book in a thrilling Australian crime fiction series by Emma Viskic featuring Caleb Zelic.

After Caleb Zelic receives a panicked text from his best mate, Senior Constable Gary Marsden, he is horrified to discover his friend has been savagely murdered. The police first seem eager to place the blame at Caleb’s feet, suggesting that the side work Gary has been doing for the security and investigation company Caleb operates with his partner, ex-cop Frankie Reynolds, is dodgy, and when that fails to pan out, instead insinuate that Gary was a bent cop who got in over his head. Caleb is determined to prove the police wrong and find whomever is responsible for the brutal crime, but in the attempt he, and the woman he loves, becomes the target of a dangerous criminal conspiracy.

Moving between urban and regional Victoria, Resurrection Bay is fast paced with plenty of action. Caleb suspects a link between Gary’s death and a recent warehouse theft, but before he can make much headway in his investigation his business partner goes missing, and Caleb is attacked, barely escaping with his life. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with the mysterious cabal seemingly always one step ahead, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Caleb doesn’t uncover their secrets. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story, which is tightly plotted, and includes a touch of dry humour, and even subtle romance.

Caleb Zelic is a compelling protagonist, in large part because he is deaf, having lost his hearing after a bout of meningitis as a young child. While Caleb is fiercely independent, skilled at lip-reading, interpreting body language, and seems to have an impressive memory, his impairment has both its benefits and challenges which I think Viskic portrays sensitively and realistically. Like any well developed character though, Caleb is a mass of contradictions, with strengths and flaws that makes him believable and relatable.

The book has quite a diverse cast of characters who vary in age, social status and race. Unsure who he can trust as he pursues the truth about his friend’s death, Caleb relies on his business partner, Frankie, and his ex-wife Kat. Though he trusts Frankie, a recovering alcoholic in her fifties, to have his back, it’s clear he harbours some concerns about her continued sobriety from the outset. Caleb is still in love with Kat, a Koori artist, and their marriage breakdown seems fairly recent, he is devastated when Kat is targeted to get to him.

Gritty, edgy and original, Resurrection Bay is an exciting read and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, And Fire Came Down and Darkness for Light


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Available from Echo Publishing

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Review: House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod


Title: House of Wishes

Author: Jenn J. McLeod

Published: November 19th 2019, Wild Myrtle Press

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy the author


My Thoughts:

House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod is a captivating stand-alone novel with loose links to two of her previous five novels, House For All Seasons and Simmering Season.

Moving between two timelines, set forty years apart, House of Wishes offers an enjoyable and poignant exploration of grief, love, belonging and redemption.

The narrative shifts between Beth’s journey to understand her late mother’s wish to have her ashes scattered over an unmarked grave in the rural town of Calingarry Crossing in 2014, and farmer/stonemason/handyman Don Dawson’s connection to Dandelion House, a home for unwed mothers on the outskirts of town, and the two young women confined there in 1974, Lissy and Irene.

McLeod’s characters are vivid and appealing. An actress and dancer, mourning the loss of her marriage, a pregnancy, and her mother in quick succession, forty year old Beth is at a crossroads in life when she arrives in Calingarry Crossing, unprepared to discover a legacy of life-changing secrets, and find romance with local farmer, Tom.

Don is a sweetheart, a hard working young man who grows besotted with Lissy and is desperate to build a future with her and her baby. When tragedy strikes he does his best to hold on to that dream, but it eventually falls apart, and Don somehow has to find the will to go on.

The plot touches on several sensitive issues, such as the historical stigma of unwed motherhood, pregnancy loss, sexual abuse, suicide, and addiction, but at its heart I feel this is a story about family. Through the experiences of her characters, McLeod thoughtfully explores the strengths and failings of the family we are born into, and the family we choose, or who chooses us.

Well crafted with engaging characters, a strong sense of place and a thoughtful plot, House of Wishes is sure to delight both fans and new readers alike.


Learn more about House of Wishes by reading this guest post from Jenn J. McLeod

House of Wishes is available from 19th November.

For more information and special pre-release prices on both print and ebook, visit

Also by Jenn J. McLeod reviewed at Book’d Out 

Guest Post: Jenn J. McLeod and House of Wishes



I’m delighted to welcome Jenn J. McLeod back to Book’d Out today to celebrate the release of House of Wishes.

You can read MY REVIEW  here.


A story for mothers, daughters, fathers and sons: about the choices we make, the connections that matter, the secrets we keep, and the power of a wish.

Dandelion House is ready to reveal its secrets.

Dandelion House, 1974

Two teenage girls—strangers—make a pact to keep a secret.

Calingarry Crossing, 2014

For forty years, Beth and her mum have been everything to each other, but Beth is blind-sided when her mother dies, and her last wish is to have her ashes spread in a small-town cemetery.

On the outskirts of Calingarry Crossing, when Beth comes across a place called Dandelion House Retreat, her first thought is how appealing the name sounds. With her stage career waning, and struggling to see a future without her mum, her marriage, and her child, she hopes it’s a place where she can begin to heal.

After meeting Tom, a local cattleman, Beth is intrigued by his stories of the cursed, century-old river house and its reclusive owner, Gypsy. The more Beth learns, however, the more she questions her mother’s wishes.

When meeting Beth leads Tom to uncover a disturbing connection to the old house, he must decide if the truth will help a grieving daughter or hurt her more.

Should Dandelion House keep its last, long-held secret?


Jenn J. McLeod

I confess to having a little trip down the Book’d Out memory lane before choosing my guest blog topic for today. When I found this very relevant excerpt from the 2013 House for all Seasons Q&A with Shelleyrae, my 2019 blog post was sorted.

In 2013, Shelleyrae asked this question about the setting in House for all Seasons:

Are Dandelion House and Calingarry Crossing based on real locations?

My answer at the time was . . .

I wish! Isn’t Dandelion House wonderful? It’s stuck out there in the middle of nowhere. The early draft did feature the house more, until the girls’ stories took over and the purpose of the house changed. Perhaps one day I’ll write a prequel that shows more of Gypsy and her life with Willow at the house, and her connection with Eli and people in town.
Hmm . . .
(I went on to write in that 2013 post) That’s got me thinking!

I’m excited to announce I finally stopped thinking and started writing book #6, House of Wishes, which means after four novels for Simon & Schuster and a fifth for UK publishers, Head of Zeus, I’m ready to take readers back to Calingarry Crossing and to Dandelion House with a third standalone story.

Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “Always leave them wanting more.” And I know readers want more stories set in Calingarry Crossing/Dandelion House because since 2013 I’ve been getting emails from people wanting to know the location so they could visit. For House of Wishes, I’ve had a blast reliving the mid-1970’s and I hope readers who are familiar with Calingrarry Crossing enjoy going back, while those new to my books—who enjoy their contemporary fiction with a backdrop of country life—will come home to the country and Gypsy at Dandelion House.

During the early stages of story development for House of Wishes, I would jokingly refer to the storyline as a sprequel. (i.e. not really a prequel and not exactly a sequel.) By the end, I’d written a loosely linked Calingarry Crossing story that no publisher was likely to want. I’d moved away from my original publishing house and no matter how subtle the link, no publisher would be interested in a novel connected to a previously published title. (That’s despite House for all Seasons being #5 top-selling debut fiction novel in 2013.)

So, I had a choice to make. Do I drop the story and write something on-trend, or do I stay with the book of my heart—as they say in the biz—and try self-publishing? While the latter would be risky and a huge step outside my comfort zone, you can’t score goals from the sidelines. Having watched author friends self-publish for years, I was keen to see if I could do the same, knowing the experience—successful or otherwise—would allow me to provide a more balanced view of publishing pros and cons to the aspiring writers I mentor.

As always, the hardest part is deciding to move forward, and while sticking my neck out on this occasion has been both daunting and enlivening, I could not be more proud of the end result. I also hope I’ve inspired others on the sidelines to give author-publishing a try.

Although I don’t consider myself a risk-taker, the last fifteen years has seen me make a few risky choices:

• I quit a cushy corporate career to buy a café in a small seaside town, even though I’d never worked a coffee machine. I mean, how hard could it be? (Okay, pretty hard!)

• I sold everything I own (and I mean everything) to downsize into 25 foot of caravan and hit the road.

• I’ve free-camp in Wolf Creek, driven The Nullarbor and Great Australian Bight (twice), swung across the Daintree rainforest on a zip line and snorkel with turtles and sharks on the Great Barrier Reef.

But THE biggest bucket list item by far—both daunting and enlivening—was taking a story idea in my head and turning it into a book in my hands.

As Shelleyrae points out in her reviews of House for all Seasons and Simmering Season, the themes in those standalone stories see characters making peace with the past in order to move forward. In a way, I’ve had to do the same with my writing career and whenever I questioned my ability to see House of Wishes through to publication, I reminded myself the turtle only progresses when they take a risk and stick their necks out.

It’s kind of fitting, therefore, that I’ve turned Myrtle the Turtle (my mobile home) into Wild Myrtle Press to bring another standalone Calingarry Crossing story to the world. A story about mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and about the choices we make, the connections that matter, the secrets we keep, and the power of a wish.



House of Wishes is available from 19th November.

For more information and special pre-release prices on both print and ebook, visit

Also by Jenn J. McLeod reviewed at Book’d Out 


Review: Up On Horseshoe Hill by Penelope Janu


Title: Up On Horseshoe Hill

Author: Penelope Janu

Published: November 18th 2019, MIRA

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

A rural romance with a hint of suspense, Up On Horseshoe Hill is Penelope Janu’s third novel.

Set in the general area of Dubbo, NSW, Up On Horseshoe Hill features farrier Jemima Kincaid, known as Jet. I love that Jet is a farrier, my late father in law was a farrier/blacksmith and it’s a profession rarely credited even though it is a quintessential rural occupation.

There is often something very childlike about Jet, which is not unexpected given her background. One of the main themes Janu explores in Up On Horseshoe Hill is the tyranny of grief, and the struggle to move on from loss. Having lost her entire family in a series of tragedies by her late teens, and then being further traumatised by another incident, Jet is emotionally fragile. In conjunction with her severe dyslexia, and the well meaning support from a few key friends in the close knit community, Jet has been able to avoid confronting her issues and never really moved on with her life.

I’m in two minds about the relationship that develops between Jet and Finn. I liked Finn mostly, his unusual occupation as a jet setting veterinary geneticist adds interest to the story, and though he is almost the complete opposite of Jet I could understand why she would find him so attractive. Finn is generally patient and thoughtful with Jet’s vulnerabilities, and the couple share some nice moments together, but Jet’s emotional immaturity in some of their interactions occasionally made me uncomfortable.

The specifics of the element of suspense in Up On Horseshoe Hill is somewhat unusual for this genre, linking as it does from a local crime to an international issue. I was quite intrigued by what I learnt about the matter.

I enjoyed Up On Horseshoe Hill, it’s a well written and engaging story.


Read an Excerpt

Available from Harlequin AU

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#NonficNov Review: Bush Doctors by Annabelle Brayley


Title: Bush Doctors

Author: Annabelle Brayley

Published: August 28th 2017, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

“Rural medicine was, and still is, a job for life. You grow with your patients; your life is intertwined with the twists and turns of country life” – Dr Ewen McPhee, President, Rural Doctors Association of Australia

Bush Doctors is a fascinating collection of sixteen stories that celebrates the doctors upon whom the residents of rural and remote areas of Australia rely for everyday and emergency medical care.

I live in regional Australia, some 350km from a capital city, so I have experienced some of the challenges related to accessing health care. The doctors featured in this book work in area’s that are far more isolated, like Yulara in the Northern Territory (1,950 km south of Darwin), Mallacoota in Victoria (500km west of Melbourne), and Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia (1800 km north east of Perth).

Providing health care to the rural and remote areas of Australia poses unique challenges and it takes resourceful, determined, brave and committed people to do so. These stories provide a glimpse into the life of bush doctors, and the invaluable work they do every day. These general practitioners often almost single handedly service a community of a thousand or more, spread over a large geographical area, with limited resources. They find themselves responsible for a diverse population, treating a wide array of illnesses and injuries, working incredibly long hours to meet their patients needs.

Not only should a general audience find this book engaging, I think it should be required reading for those involved in making decisions about rural health services, especially those “who think they have a gilt-edged right to make decisions about people they’ve never met, who live in places they’ve never heard of, in circumstances they make no effort to understand.”

Read an Extract


Available from Penguin Australia

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Also by Annabelle Brayley reviewed at Book’d Out


Review: The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen


Title: The Great Divide

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Published: November 4th 2019, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Echo Publishing


My Thoughts:

The Great Divide is a gritty Australian crime novel from L.J.M. Owen introducing Detective Jake Hunter.

Set in Tasmania, this is an atmospheric story portraying a small insular community, blanketed in the fog of winter, and shrouded in lies. It begins when the body of an old woman is found dumped in the overgrown grounds of a vineyard. While investigating her murder, Jake, a recent transfer to Dunton, learns some odd facts, and as the case progresses he begins to uncover links between both the current and historical crimes. While I did find it fairly easy to determine who was culpable early on, I thought the case was complex and interesting, though the details are quite grim and disturbing,

Finding The Great Divide well paced and compelling, I read it in a single sitting. I look forward to a sequel, and in the meantime plan to look up her previous works.

Read an Extract


Available from Echo Publishing

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