Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Title: Before You Knew My Name

Author: Jacqueline Bublitz

Published: 5th May 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

On the same day that eighteen year old Alice Lee stepped off a bus from Wisconsin into the hustle of New York City hoping for a fresh start, thirty six year old Ruby Jones flew into New York from Melbourne seeking the same. Barely four weeks later, Ruby finds the battered half naked body of a nameless young girl while jogging along the Hudson River. Her name is Alice Lee.

“Her body was found by a jogger. Such a famous line. Two anonymous women connected by just seven words. Just how close had they come to each other that morning? Close enough to change roles, play each other’s parts?”

Before You Knew My Name is narrated by Alice, whose spirit still lingers after her death. She tells both her own story and that of Ruby, two women who find each other by chance, or perhaps it’s fate. Alice’s voice is achingly poignant as she asks to be heard, to be known.

“…maybe you’ll wish this for every dead girl from now on. The chance to speak for herself, to be known for more than her ending. Wouldn’t that be something. After everything we’ve lost.”

Bublitz deliberately centers Alice in the story, not her murder, nor her murderer. Everyone can name a serial killer, probably a dozen, but few will remember their victims names, or anything but the barest details about them, except for how they died. Here Bublitz ensures we know Alice, a bright, curious young woman who, despite experiencing hardship and tragedy, has hopes and dreams for her future.

“She does not know how to be this other person. How to be someone who discovered a body.”

Ruby, already lost, is further disoriented by discovering the body. She finds herself reevaluating her own sense of safety. She relives her own shock and fear, and dwells on the horror of what she imagines of Alice’s last moments. She thinks about what sort of man could beat, strangle and rape a girl. And then, finally she begins to wonder about the girl. Helping to identify Alice, learning about her, gives Ruby the purpose, and connection she came to New York to find.

“There is no name to be spoken, but I am recognised by each of the women present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. I am their fears, and their lucky escapes, their anger, and their wariness. I am their caution and their yesterdays, the shadow version of themselves all those nights they have spent looking over shoulders, or twining keys between fingers.”

Much of the novel speaks to women’s experience, particularly of men. Not just how we are reduced by them, as Alice is by her killer, or how we choose to reduce ourselves, like Ruby does for her lover, but also how society reduces female victims of violence, designating some worthy, and others not. Both Alice and Ruby are women we recognise, in ourselves, and in others.

“I wanted to start over. I wanted to disappear. But that’s not the same as being forgotten. To be clear, I never, ever wanted that.”

An impressive debut, this is ultimately a story of a life, not a death. I found Before You Knew My Name to be eloquent, deeply moving, and insightful.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Title: Last Night

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: 1st April 2021, HarperCollins UK

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollinsUK/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“That night was the last night of The Past, and we had no idea.”


I sat down to get a start on Mhairi McFarlane’s newest release and turned the final page just as my husband put his key in the door. The house was dark, the oven was cold, and I realised I hadn’t moved for the past three hours or so. While I very much enjoyed McFarlane’s previous novels, If I Never Met You, It’s Not Me, It’s You, and Don’t You Forget About Me, Last Night just felled me.

Though both romantic and funny, Last Night is much more than the romcom it’s marketed as. It’s a contemporary, captivating story exploring friendship, loss, secrets and love, told with McFarlane’s distinctive blend of insight, heart, and wit.

It would be far too easy to spoil the plot, which is why I’m avoiding my usual introduction to a review, but I can say it centres around four best friends since childhood – Eve, Susan, Justin and Ed, now all aged in their mid-thirties, faced with a shattering event that challenges their comfortable status quo.

There’s an authenticity and nuance to McFarlane’s characters that just appeals so strongly to me, even though I don’t necessarily have anything in common with them. Last Night unfolds from the perspective of Eve, single (and secretly in love with Ed), with an unfulfilling job, but nevertheless content with her life, largely due to her close relationships with Susan, Justin and Ed. The dynamic between the four friends is enviable, though not without its complications, which are brought to the fore in the wake of profound tragedy.

I’m not claiming Last Night is flawless, nor will it appeal to everyone, but it was near perfect for me for so many reasons. The author has a talent for natural dialogue and great timing, and I love McFarlane’s sharp, dry wit, but it’s her ability to evoke a full range of emotions that ensures I become invested in the story. I laughed and shed a tear, sighed and held my breath.

It should be obvious by now that I adored Last Night, its going to be a favourite for this year.


Available from HarperCollins UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

Review: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird

Title: The Emporium of Imagination

Author: Tabitha Bird

Published: 30th March 2021, Viking

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:

After being enchanted by Tabitha Bird’s debut, A Lifetime of Impossible Days, I was delighted by the gift of her second novel, The Emporium of Imagination. The book arrived in a charming package accompanied by a veritable cornucopia of thoughtfully hand selected vintage treasures from the author herself, items which tie in beautifully with novel.

The Emporium of Imagination is a heartfelt, poignant, and whimsical tale of love, grief and magic.

In the small Queensland town of Boonah, an extraordinary store suddenly appears on what the day before was a vacant block of land. It declares itself as The Emporium of Imagination and its customers will soon learn that the magic is not just in its living carpet of wildflowers or ladybugs that turn into lollipops, but in its ability to grant wishes and second chances, encourage wonder and joy, and offer the grieving the chance to reconnect with lost loved ones.

“The Emporium is filling with wonders, with things necessary to bring healing or help others fulfil lost dreams or mend broken hopes. The Emporium has arrived to help….”

Before the store can open for business though, the custodian of The Emporium of Imagination, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, accompanied by an orange cat, must find a shopkeeper for its tenure in Boonah, and as his time is nearly up, he is also in search of a new steward. In the meantime, messages and trinkets are delivered to residents of the town in need of the magic the Emporium’ has to offer. Among them is Ann Harlow, who has returned to Boonah with her four year old son to be with her beloved, dying grandmother, and ten year old Enoch whose adored father has just passed away.

Crafted with sensitivity, compassion and Tabitha Bird’s particular brand of magic, The Emporium of Imagination explores grief, regret, love, forgiveness, and hope. Anyone, which face it is almost everyone, who has ever lost something – be it a dream, a relationship, a treasured item, or a person – will be deeply moved by this story, which reminds us, among other things, that redemption and salvation is always a possibility.

“Grief means we have loved. Would you really want to take away feelings of love?”

It’s a lesson Bird’s characters need to embrace. As Earlatidge’s time with the Emporium draws to a close, and parts of himself begin to disappear, he needs to confront the tragedy of his past. Ann needs to accept the inevitable and make peace with the decisions she has made, while Enoch has to find a way to forgive himself, and his father. I felt for all the characters in The Emporium of Imagination struggling with their various losses, and found myself alternatively sobbing and smiling as their stories were revealed.

“All you need is a little imagination. Broken things can still be made whole.”

Infused with creativity, wit and wisdom, The Emporium of Imagination Is a magical read. Let yourself believe.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Naked Farmer by Ben Brooksby

Title: The Naked Farmer

Author: Ben Brooksby

Published: 27th October 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia


My Thoughts:

Founded by Ben Brooksby on May the 12th 2017, what started as an Instagram photo posted in fun, has developed into The Naked Farmer, a worldwide social media movement aimed at breaking down the barriers, and starting conversations, about mental health, particularly amongst farmers.

Ben, a 5th generation crop/sheep farmer from St Helens Plains in Western Victoria, Australia began experiencing panic attacks in his late teens. He fought hard to manage his anxiety, and when a photo of him in the back of a grain truck, naked, with a pile of lentils covering his sensitive bits, went viral, he was inspired to use his new found fame, to benefit the agricultural community.

“By using the liberating combination of nudity and farm work, the Naked Farmer is starting conversations about mental health across Australia because at the end of the day it’s easier to talk about what’s inside once someone has bared everything on the outside.”

The campaign began in earnest when Ben organised a photo shoot and then the publication of a calendar, with the help of photographer Emma Cross, using locals from his region. Ben and Emma then decided to go on tour to raise awareness of rural mental health, meet some of his social media followers, and encourage their participation in the project. It’s largely from that tour in 2019 that the stories in this book, The Naked Farmer, are drawn.

The Naked Farmer includes personal stories from around 40 men and women of all ages, from all over Australia. These are tales of hardship and trauma, but also resilience and hope, told with courage, and a wish to inspire others to share their story, and begin their own conversations. While the contributors are all involved in agriculture, their mental health is affected by varying issues, including anxiety, injury, illness, eating disorders, depression, financial strain, and grief, just like those in the wider community, so you don’t need to be a farmer, or to get naked, to benefit from this book. You needn’t be one of the 45% of Australians to be affected by mental illness either, this book provides insight into the lives of our nation’s farmers, and makes a connection between consumers and where their food and fibre comes from,

“Above all, The Naked Farmer is a conversation starter. The stories you’re about to read are from individuals around Australia who all have one thing in common: they’ve started their conversation. I hope this book inspires you to do the same.”

You can support The Naked Farmer campaign by following them on Instagram or Facebook, or by purchasing this book, the annual calendar (2021 is available now), or making a tax deductible donation. As a non-profit organisation, all monies raised are donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Mental Health Unit, who have dedicated mental health professionals that visit remote towns and properties to provide treatment and support, as well as education about mental health issues for individuals and communities in rural and remote areas of Australia. And you can start a conversation…


Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Booktopia I Book Depository

Review: Dr. Karl’s Surfing Through Science by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Title: Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science

Author: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Published: 29th October 2020, ABC Books

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy BFredericksPR


My Thoughts:

Few a Australians would be unfamiliar with the multi-talented and slightly eccentric, enthusiastic champion of science, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. With degrees in Physics and Maths, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, and Surgery, he is a media host, an author of over 30 books, and a Fellow at UTS.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science is an informative, and entertaining, exploration of specific subjects within varied branches of science. With topics ranging from Coffee-Grinding the Perfect Cup, to Past Plagues and Coronavirus, from Black Holes Have No Size, to The Amazing Disappearing Anus, there is truly something for everyone.

Dr Karl’s enthusiasm for the subjects comes across, as does his ‘dad’ sense of humour, but without compromising the information. The text is well presented, providing concise explanation and details, with the minimum use of jargon. Sub headings help with organisation, and inset columns offer additional but still relevant information. The accompanying images and illustrations are clear and relevant. I found the large format paperback easy to handle, and the pages are a pleasing thickness.

Not content to wow his readers with science fact, Dr Karl has introduced science fiction into his latest book. By downloading an app and hovering over the title pages of each topic with a smartphone or tablet, a ‘hologram’ of Dr Karl appears and talks about some of the chapter’s key ideas. It’s a fun and unique element of the book that will especially appeal to primary school aged children. Question marks also appear on the screen, and tapping them leads to additional relevant information online, which will benefit teens or adults interested in further detail (I’ve included a short demonstration video below). This clever feature also allows Dr Karl to provides updates on the information in the book, if necessary. The only downside, as such, to the augmented reality feature is that it does require an internet connection and an up-to-date Apple or Android device (with minimum OS requirements) to access these interactive elements, though the book is perfectly useful and entertaining without it.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science would be a stellar gift for a budding scientist, or really anyone with a curious mind who might wonder are Murder Hornets – Lethal But Tasty?


Available from ABC Books and HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Consolation by Garry Disher

Title: Consolation {Paul Hirschhausen #3}

Author: Garry Disher

Published: 3rd November 2020, Text Publishing

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Text Publishing/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

Consolation is the third excellent, compelling crime novel by Garry Disher to feature Constable Paul Hirschhausen, a country copper in rural South Australia.

It’s winter in Tiverton, there is frost on the ground and snow on Razorback ridge and as Hirsch patrols the quiet streets in the freezing Wednesday dawn he is ruminating on the behaviour of the ‘snow dropper’ stealing the underthings of elderly women from clothesline’s all over the district. Arriving at the one-man police station that is barely warmer inside than out, a request for a welfare check first leads Hirsch to discover a severely neglected young girl, next he is called to calm an irate parent at the local primary school, and then made aware of gossip that suggests a local big shot is in financial trouble. Thursday, Hirsch’s regular long range westerly patrol is interrupted by an environmental control officer wanting an escort to inspect a local property, and an accusation is made regarding the exertion of undue influence against an elderly lady. On Friday, everything goes to hell, and Paul finds himself dealing with a manhunt, a stalker, a missing man, Irish conmen, a dead woman, all while managing two stations, and his relationship.

There is a lot happening in Consolation but Disher manages the multiple threads skilfully, connecting seemingly disparate people and events in a manner that feels credible where any single disturbance can create a ripple effect within a small community. There’s plenty of well timed action that drives the story at a fast pace but without sacrificing suspense, or emotion.

A country copper is more than just an enforcer of the law, Paul is often called upon to act, among other things, as a mediator, a counselor, a confessor, and a jack-of-all-trades. The various events in Consolation requires Hirsch to draw on all his skills to keep the peace within his community, and he is often worried he won’t be able to do it right, despite evidence to the contrary. Paul’s humility and integrity contrast with that of several of the visiting officers in the novel who are variously ego-driven or indifferent.

The setting is recognisably Australian, Disher’s prose effortlessly evokes the environment, character, and residents of Tiverton and surrounds. The laconic dialogue and dry wit is familiar and authentic.

This series has become a firm favourite of mine, Consolation is as deserving of five stars as its predecessors Bitter Wash Road (US title: Hell To Pay) and Peace. If I was pressed to recommend just one Australian rural crime series, this would be it.


Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Title: Honeybee

Author: Craig Silvey

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

‘Find out who you are, and live that life.’

Honeybee is a tender, poignant, and profound coming of age story from Craig Silvey, author of Jasper Jones.

Poised to jump from an overpass, fourteen year old Sam Watson locks eyes with an elderly man who appears to be contemplating the same fate. When Vic saves Sam’s life, Sam vows to save his in return and an unlikely bond forms between the two. Vic is the first person Sam has met who seems willing to accept him for he he is, even though Sam is not really sure who that is.

A character driven novel unfolding from the first person perspective, Honeybee explores the themes of family, friendship and self, as Sam struggles with his gender identity. Neglected by his mother, bullied by his peers, and beaten by his stepfather, Sam’s self-loathing is heart breaking as he he grapples with feelings of confusion, rejection, frustration, and isolation. Silvey’s portrayal of Sam is nuanced and compelling, thoughtfully expressing his complex thoughts and feelings.

Vic’s unexpected kindness becomes a lifeline for Sam, and introduces him to Aggie, and Peter, who in turn provide him with sorely needed support, even though he is often determined to refuse it. Self doubt leads to repeated self sabotage, and Sam makes a number of poor decisions, which puts both himself and Vic at risk.

Despite all the angst, and drama, there is also humour and joy to be found in the novel. Ultimately Honeybee is an extraordinary story of transcendence, of hope, of triumph, as Honeybee becomes she.

“And I’m not wrong, I’m me. And I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I want people to see who I am.”


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman (Translated by Neil Smith)

Published: 8th September 2020, Atria Books

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Atria Books/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


I don’t know how it is that Fredrik Backman can write such wildly divergent stories with unique characters that nevertheless have all managed to make me both laugh and cry. Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove was a favourite book in 2014, and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry in 2015. Anxious People may well be a favourite of 2020.

“This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that.”

Definitely not ‘only that’. Backman later adds this is also a story about bridges, rabbits, and love, about all of us doing the best we can, but really, truly, Anxious People is a story about humanity.

Life is messy, sometimes we make mistakes. In Anxious People, the bank robber’s first mistake is trying to rob a bank, and the second is (unintentionally) taking a bunch of people in an apartment hostage, though perhaps, as things go, that was not a mistake as such.

“The bank robber looked at each of them in turn for a long time. Then… whispered gratefully: “Worst hostages ever.”

The hostages are a motley, quirky collection of characters that initially perhaps present as irritating idiots but whom, by the time they are released, are endearing idiots, much as our first impression of the bank robber is of a dangerous idiot, but in the end is simply an overwhelmed idiot.

“They may not have had much in common, but they all knew what it was like to make a mistake.”

Anxious People is both wise and insightful, absurd and poignant. It explores a variety of themes including desperation, grief, compassion, relationships, capitalism, regret, connection and hope. It raises issues like divorce, parenting, religion, and suicide.

“We do our best. We save those we can.”

Anxious People is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery and a wonderfully told story.

“The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things…”


Available from Simon & Schuster US

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Also by Fredrik Backman reviewed at Book’d Out 





Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare


Title: In the Clearing

Author: J.P Pomare

Published: July 23rd 2020, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hodder & Staughton/NetgalleyUK


My Thoughts:

In the Clearing is an intense and unnerving read from J.P. Pomare, whose debut novel, Call Me Evie, won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel.

Divided into six parts and unfolding from two shifting perspectives we are introduced to Amy, a young teenage girl who knows only life in The Clearing, a tiny isolated community led by the charismatic ‘Queen’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Deity’ Adrienne; and single mother Freya, who is determined to provide love and security for her young son, Billy, in their riverside home on the outskirts of Melbourne, but is haunted by her past mistakes.

Examining the role of nature vs nurture in a manner that suggests we may never truly escape our past, Pomare draws inspiration from the doomsday cult known as ‘The Family’, active in Australia for roughly twenty years in the 70’s and 80’s. In the Clearing he presents a complex and unpredictable plot that is skillfully crafted and insidiously compulsive. From the novel’s first pages the author grows a sense of unease which intensifies as the story progresses. Though the pace is measured, Pomare builds to shocking twists, and yet never quite allays our anxiety.

I’m loathe to spoil the experience for readers, but it seems responsible to warn that In the Clearing has its dark moments, alluding to the abhorrent abuse of children, and the occasional explicit, but not gratuitous, description of violence.

Provocative, clever, and powerful, In the Clearing is a stunning and devastating novel which will be difficult to forget.


Available from Hodder & Staughton UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: Radio Girl by David Dufty

Title: Radio Girl: The Story of the Extraordinary Mrs Mac, Pioneering Engineer and Wartime Legend

Author: David Dufty

Published: 28th April 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

Radio Girl by David Dufty is, as the tag line says, the story of the extraordinary Mrs Mac, pioneering engineer and wartime legend.

(Florence) Violet McKenzie née Wallace, who later came to be known affectionately to many as Mrs. Mac, was born in Melbourne in 1890, married in 1924, and died in 1982. While her childhood in Austinmeer, south of Sydney, was largely unremarkable she went on to make an outstanding contribution to Australian society over her lifetime.

Radio Girl is a fascinating tribute to an amazing woman who deserves far more recognition than she has ever been given. I was quickly absorbed in the tale of Mrs Mac’s life, inspired by all she achieved, and frankly annoyed that I’ve never heard of her.

Some of Violet’s many accomplishments included becoming Australia’s first woman to earn a diploma in electrical engineering, owning and operating a successful store, the ‘Wireless Shop’, catering to amateur radio enthusiasts, and establishing the Electrical Association for Women.

However Violet’s most significant achievement was her contribution to the war effort. In 1939 Mrs Mac, as she was by then commonly called, created the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps, ultimately training around 3000 women in Morse code. She became the driving force behind the creation of the Women’s Royal Australian Navy Service in 1941, which employed as many as a third of ‘her girls’ during WWII, and also trained thousands of enlisted and civilian men, from more than half a dozen countries, in signalling.

Suitable for the general reader, as well as those with specific interest in Australian military history or womens history, Dufty’s narrative reads well, it’s detailed without being dry, and informal in tone. Progressing chronologically through Violet’s lifetime, Dufty includes a dozen or so photographs, which I always appreciate. While it is unfortunate though that Violet could not directly contribute to this biography as I‘d be interested in the addition of a more personal perspective, the story of the Radio Girl and her achievements is nevertheless fascinating.

Radio Girl is interesting and informative and I’d like to thank David Dufty for ensuring Mrs Mac, and her admirable accomplishments are recognised in the present day, and recorded for history.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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