Murder Book – Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

I’ve spent so much time watching, reading and listening to all things true crime and I’ve wondered at times if my interest is too weird, too morbid or too much. I love that Hilary shares my obsession.

In this graphic memoir, Hilary traces her true crime obsession, from members of her family whose obsessions sparked her own to the movies, books, TV shows and podcasts that kept the flame burning.

David Fincher’s Zodiac had a huge impact on Hilary, in part because she lived so close to some of the crime scenes. True crime even got her back into reading as an adult, first with Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac and then anything by Ann Rule.

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Hilary considers why the majority of people who watch, read and otherwise devour true crime are women. She also tracks how the types of true crime that have been written about have changed throughout the decades.

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Although this is a memoir, Hilary also explores some crimes that hold special significance to her, including the murder of Anne Marie Fahey and the murders committed by Ted Bundy. I never expected to see true crime explored in a graphic novel, but it worked.

The victims of crime are often practically invisible in their own stories but there was a focus on them here. I especially appreciated learning what their interests were. For example, Betty Lou Jensen liked art, school, studying and fashion.

I know I like to joke, but in all seriousness, a large part of the reason I love true crime is the hope of justice for the victims.

Of course, all of this talk about what started Hilary’s obsession got me thinking about my own. I think I can blame my Nan for planting the seed. Her father was the superintendent of ambulances in our state when she was growing up and he had plenty of medical books showing graphic injuries in the home. My Nan grew up reading these gruesome accounts. I grew up listening in awe as Nan regaled me with the stories in those books, always describing the accompanying pictures in detail.

When I was sixteen, the older sister of one of my childhood friends was murdered. She grew up around the corner from me and I had sleepovers at their house when I was a kid. The police officer who lived down the road from me told me more about the crime and subsequent investigation than they probably should have. Obviously I followed the case as it went to trial and the media appearances by her family over the years.

My obsession really took off at university, though. My favourite assessment was when my psychology class was given a murder scenario. Our task was to profile the murderer. I loved trying to get inside the mind of the perpetrator.

This assessment led me to John Douglas books, which only fuelled my obsession. I wanted to be a criminal profiler years before Criminal Minds premiered. Naturally, I was obsessed with that show (especially with Reid).

It’s only been recently that I’ve come across someone who shares my love of true crime and I personally blame them for my latest true crime obsession: Crime Junkie.

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Within a few short months, I’ve devoured dozens of episodes. I always knew but now I’ve had it drilled into me that it’s never a mannequin. I now answer “And I’m Brit” at the beginning of each episode. “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.” has become a new mantra.

If you’re a true crime junkie, you will find a kindred spirit in Hilary. If you know someone who loves true crime but you just don’t get the fascination, this graphic novel may help you understand what it’s all about.

There’s a lot more text in this graphic novel than most I have previously read. I had difficulty figuring out which order I should be reading panels on some pages but the majority of them were easy to follow. I enjoyed the artwork.

There’s humour, like this all too accurate description of movies that are ‘based on true stories’.

It’s the DRAMATIC, SEXY version of a REALLY HORRIBLE situation that you would never find sexy if it happened to YOU!

It’s relatable. Hilary’s ability to love true crime, Disney, horror movies and Peanuts simultaneously mirrors my own strangely contradictory loves.

It’s a graphic novel I definitely want to reread.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A humorous graphic investigation of the author’s obsession with true crime, the murders that have most captivated her throughout her life, and a love letter to her fellow true-crime fanatics.

Why is it so much fun to read about death and dismemberment? In Murder Book, lifelong true-crime obsessive and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell tries to puzzle out the answer. An unconventional graphic exploration of a lifetime of Ann Rule super-fandom, amateur armchair sleuthing, and a deep dive into the high-profile murders that have fascinated the author for decades, this is a funny, thoughtful, and highly personal blend of memoir, cultural criticism, and true crime with a focus on the often-overlooked victims of notorious killers.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Heather B. Armstrong

When you want to be dead, there’s nothing quite like being dead.

Heather B. Armstrong has lived with depression since she was a child but her experience in 2017 was more intense than anything prior. She spent eighteen months severely depressed, wanting to be dead but forcing herself to go through the motions, doing “All the Things Needing to Get Done”, because of her children.

It was during this time of desperation that Heather learned of an experimental study being run by Dr Brian Mickey. She was only the third person to qualify for and agree to participate in Dr Mickey’s study. About three times a week for ten sessions, Heather was put to sleep with propofol anaesthesia.

Dr. Bushnell would eventually clarify that they weren’t technically killing me; it was more of a really, really intense induced coma. They were just almost killing me.

Heather’s writing style is engaging, taking the reader on the journey with her: the good, the bad, the TMI, the scary and the funny. I met her family, some of her friends and the professionals treating her. I learned about the abyss and found the humour in Heather’s inability to recall what year it was when she was coming out of anaesthesia (1979 or 2012, every single time).

I particularly loved how candid Heather was in describing her depression, including the fact that she was able to hide its severity from many people for so long.

No one knew that I wanted to be dead. That’s how good I am.

Heather’s story not only showcases her perseverance and bravery, it also highlights how integral supportive family and friends are for people living with mental illness. I adored Heather’s friend, Stacia, who stayed the night with her when she didn’t have the internal safety to be alone.

However, Heather’s mother, Linda, and stepfather, Rob, were the ones who stole my heart. The practical and emotional support they offered almost had me ugly crying. They are everything you need family to be when you need help. I could have hugged Linda when she said:

“We have nothing else to do this month other than be there when you wake up.”

As I read, I kept thinking back to times when I’ve had suicidal ideation and the more I thought about it the more courageous Heather seemed. Regardless of how desperate I was, I don’t think I could have attempted a treatment option with a possible side effect (however rare) of death. That may sound absurd to you. Here I am saying I wanted to die yet I would have been too scared to try a treatment that might kill me. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted?

Well, yes and no. See, to submit yourself to an experimental treatment like Heather did, you would have to think that it’s the only or best option for you. But because it’s labelled as ‘treatment’ a part of you, even if that part is teensy, would hope that it might work. That’s the part that would have terrified me: the prospect of holding hope while knowing that hope could literally kill me.

It can be hard for a lot of people to ask for help when they need it. It’s especially difficult when your brain is lying to you, telling you that the people who love you would be better off without you. Heather’s recovery, with the help of the medical profession as well as her family and friends, will hopefully convince readers that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, disordered eating, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Author and blogger Heather B. Armstrong writes about her experience as one of only a few people to participate in an experimental treatment for depression involving ten rounds of a chemically induced coma approximating brain death.

For years, Heather B. Armstrong has alluded to her struggle with depression on her website. But in 2016, Heather found herself in the depths of a depression she just couldn’t shake, an episode darker and longer than anything she had previously experienced. 

This book recalls the torturous eighteen months of suicidal depression she endured and the month-long experimental study in which doctors used propofol anaesthesia to quiet all brain activity for a full fifteen minutes before bringing her back from a flatline. Ten times. The experience wasn’t easy. Not for Heather or her family. But a switch was flipped, and Heather hasn’t experienced a single moment of suicidal depression since. The Valedictorian of Being Dead brings to light a groundbreaking new treatment for depression.

Letter to a Young Female Physician – Suzanne Koven

Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better.

Although each essay in this book can be read separately, together they paint a picture of Suzanne Koven’s life, from her childhood recollections of her father’s orthopedic practice and always choosing to be the doctor during childhood games of Careers to her own residency and eventually her work as a doctor. Throughout, the reader witnesses Suzanne struggling to maintain a work-life balance, parenting her children, caring for her ageing parents and figuring out how to be the best doctor she can be for her patients.

I find my patients much more interesting than their diseases.

Although I was introduced to a number of the author’s patients, albeit de-identified and with some details changed, there were times I was holding out for a resolution that failed to come. I wanted to know what became of these people whose stories I was just becoming invested in.

For some reason I also became invested in the story of the white pine trees, where the infection of one may result in the infection of its neighbours. My biggest frustration with this book was not learning whether the two pine trees survived or not. Why do I care so much about this? Perhaps it was because of what those trees symbolised to the author. Regardless, I felt cheated by not knowing their fate.

My favourite parts of this book involved the author’s relationship with her mother and how it changed throughout her life.

The reflections on what it is that makes a good doctor would be particularly valuable for newly trained doctors, who are finding their feet in a world where having empathy for their patients can prove just as important as knowledge of their medical conditions.

Students worry about knowing enough. Patients worry about them caring enough.

Content warnings include ableism, attempted suicide, eating disorders, racism, sexism and sexual harassment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome” – a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s “Letter to a Young Female Physician” has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine.

Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and ageing parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.

Shining with warmth, clarity, and wisdom, Letter to a Young Female Physician reveals a woman forging her authentic identity in a modern landscape that is as overwhelming and confusing as it is exhilarating in its possibilities. Koven offers an indelible account, by turns humorous and profound, from a doctor, mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and writer who sheds light on our desire to find meaning, and on a way to be our own imperfect selves in the world.

Consent – Vanessa Springora

Translator – Natasha Lehrer

Every so often I read a blurb and just know a book’s contents are going to make my blood boil. This is one of those books.

In her memoir, Vanessa (V.) tells us about G.

G. is Gabriel Matzneff, a French author who, in his books, never attempts to hide his sexual assaults (he calls it love) of underage girls and his trips to the Philippines to sexually assault even younger boys. G. is someone who has won awards for detailing his crimes.

After they met at a party, G. quickly turned his attention to Vanessa.

I had just turned fourteen. He was almost fifty.

The fury for me came in waves, each time someone who could have (and should have) protected Vanessa failed to do so.

Her father is physically and emotionally absent; he doesn’t act on the outrage he feels when he learns of Vanessa’s ‘relationship’ with G.

Her mother allows it, even casually having dinner with her daughter and her rapist. Sure, her mother “consulted” her friends about him but none of them were “particularly disturbed”. This is the woman who made a deal with the devil:

Whatever the reason, her only intervention was to make a pact with G. He had to swear that he would never make me suffer.

The police are notified on a number of occasions but their efforts can hardly be accused of being an investigation.

Then there’s Emil Cioran, a philosopher and friend of G., who came up with this gem:

“It is an immense honor to have been chosen by him. Your role is to accompany him on the path of creation, and to bow to his impulses.”

I’m so glad that Vanessa has used writing to tell her truth, the very medium that her abuser used to distort her experiences with him.

This was a quick but difficult read. I spent a significant amount of time wanting to throw the book against a wall, mostly because the people who were infuriating me weren’t conveniently standing in front of me.

The fact that so many people essentially gave this man their blessing to continue being a serial predator astounds me. Because books are such an integral part of my life I feel justified in being personally offended that G. was encouraged to continue writing about his sickening behaviour, both by the French publishers who continued to print them and the people who actually paid to read them.

G. was not like other men. He boasted of only having had sexual relations with girls who were virgins or boys who had barely reached puberty, then recounted these stories in his books. This was precisely what he was doing when he took possession of my youth for his sexual and literary ends.

This is a well written book. Just make sure you have a punching bag handy when you read it.

P.S. This NY Times article has given me a glimmer or hope that G. may get to see the inside of a jail cell. Maybe all of his published books will be good for something after all: evidence.

Content warnings include domestic violence, gaslighting, grooming, mental health, paedophilia and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer – a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity. 

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older. 

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

A Promised Land – Barack Obama

“Politics doesn’t have to be what people think it is. It can be something more.”

Long before I wanted Jacinda Ardern to be my prime minister, I wanted Barack Obama to be my president. Other than a few standout moments, like Julia Gillard’s efforts in establishing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and our current prime minister’s poorly timed vacation while much of the country was burning in 2019, I couldn’t tell you a great deal about politics in Australia.

Billy Connolly taught me everything I knew about politics as a kid, with ‘The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one’ and ‘Don’t vote, it just encourages them’ recited on a regular basis in my home when I was growing up.

In A Promised Land, Obama mentions something known as the “What’s the point of voting if nothing ever changes?” syndrome, which pretty much sums up my political worldview as an adult.

[I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything that impacts me personally that’s a priority for politicians in Australia. My single attempt at getting my local member of parliament to mobilise any of their resources to help members of their constituent and the rest of the state in positions similar to mine (those who were being screwed over by changes to the Worker’s Compensation system, which had already resulted in several deaths by suicide by the time I met with them) resulted in an incredulous, ‘What do you want me to do about it?!’ and towards the end of the meeting, a more pointed, ‘You’re f*cked’ (actually, they said that twice during the meeting), before the obligatory, ‘Vote for my party in the next election if you want to see changes’. So, yeah. Politics and I aren’t exactly friends.]

To say that this book is outside of my comfort zone is an understatement. I never thought I’d voluntarily read anything classified as a political memoir. But it’s Obama and I was interested in what he had to say, even if I had to sift through politics that I previously haven’t either cared about or understood to hear it.

This, I was coming to realize, was the nature of the presidency: Sometimes your most important work involved the stuff nobody noticed.

I was surprised by how much I loved this book. I learned so much about the ins and outs of political decisions and the fact that I found the details interesting says a lot about the quality of the writing. But the human stories were what really sucked me in.

This is a book where a football is not a football, where Dr. No scrutinises all things ethical to avoid scandal (“If it sounds fun, you can’t go.”) and the president is the one who brings out the cake for people’s birthdays. Also, and I may be the only one who thinks this is kinda cool, although I’d hate it if anyone was paying that much attention to me, “Renegade to Secondary Hold” was Secret Service code for Obama going to the bathroom.

Make no mistake: this is a heavy book, providing in depth details of decisions relating to the financial crisis, war, healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, human rights and a whole bunch of other unfolding crises that wind up on a president’s to do list.

No one had nuclear war or terrorism on their minds. No one except me. Scanning people in the pews – friends, family members, colleagues, some of whom caught my eye and smiled or waved with excitement – I realized this was now part of my job: maintaining an outward sense of normalcy, upholding for everyone the fiction that we live in a safe and orderly world, even as I stared down the dark hole of chance and prepared as best I could for the possibility that at any given moment on any given day chaos might break through.

I found myself getting bogged down in the details of the financial crisis and for a few days I’d catch myself daydreaming about some of the books I could be reading instead. Everything after that, though, I couldn’t get enough of. Having read little else for almost two weeks, part of me feels like I’ve always been reading this book and another part of me is sad that it wasn’t even longer.

This is also literally a very heavy book and an awkward one to hold; I lay in bed the first night, when I hadn’t even finished the first hundred pages, trying to figure out why my hands hurt so much. It turns out that simply holding onto this book is its own workout.

Handy hint: If you rest the book on your body as you’re reading and use your hands to gently balance it so it doesn’t fall on your face and crush you, your hands will thank you for it.

The pages are also crammed with words so it felt like I was reading a lot more than 700 pages. I was curious to find out just how many words fit on an average full page of text. Because I’m me, I finally decided to count the words on one page – 430. I don’t know what a normal page count is but that sounded like a lot to me.

There’s a lot of serious in this book but that’s not to say there aren’t some smiles and misty eye moments along the way. I chuckled when the secure mobile communications system broke down at the wrong moment, necessitating a very important and very serious phone call being made instead on “a device that had probably also been used to order pizza.”

I lost count of the times I could have easily wandered into ugly cry territory: the outcome of the DREAM Act, when Obama visited soldiers as they recovered from injuries sustained serving their country, personal family moments.

The fuss of being president, the pomp, the press, the physical constraints – all that I could have done without. The actual work, though?

The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back.

There are probably over 700 reasons why I should never be president of anything, let alone the U.S. Here are my current top 5:

  1. The meetings. No one should have to attend so many meetings. I dreaded having to attend one team meeting each month at my last job. A coworker, who shared my disdain for meetings, and I frequently got in trouble for pulling faces at each other when everyone else had their serious faces on.
  2. Filibuster. Just reading that word makes me want to spit the dummy. That the opposition think it’s a great idea to do whatever they can to prevent the other side from winning anything, because it might make them look like they’re competent, rather than prioritising what’s best for the people they claim to be serving? That makes my blood boil.
  3. “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book”, A.K.A., the “President’s Daily Brief”. If I had to read about all of the possible ways the world might implode/explode every morning over breakfast, I’d not only forego the most important meal of the day, it’s highly likely I wouldn’t remain functional for very long.
  4. I wouldn’t be diplomatic enough. If another world leader was doing something stupid I would be calling them on it, probably in public, and would more than likely wind up causing more problems than I was attempting to solve.
  5. My priorities wouldn’t be overly presidential. My first order of business would be to get whoever had access to them to bring me the unredacted files relating to all things Area 51 and anything else Mulder might have a passing interest in. That’s what I’d be reading over breakfast.

I realized that for all the power inherent in the seat I now occupied, there would always be a chasm between what I knew should be done to achieve a better world and what in a day, week, or year I found myself actually able to accomplish.

When I was only about 200 pages in, I mentioned to someone that this book was really giving me a feel for the type of person Obama is. They asked me what type of person that is. My answer was something like, ‘He’s got values and acts in a way that is in accordance with them. He’s intelligent and likes to have a laugh. He’s a loyal and trustworthy friend and he absolutely adores his family. He’s the kind of person you’d want to know and someone I could see me being friends with.’

500 pages later and I can say with confidence that I still feel that way. My only cause for concern? The man doesn’t like sweets. That’s not something I usually look for in a friend but I suppose no one’s perfect. More sweets for me, I guess.

I’m wondering how it will be possible to fit everything else in only one more book as this one leaves readers in May 2011, but I’m really looking forward to reading the second volume. It turns out reading outside of your comfort zone can be a really good thing.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.

Try anyway.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making – from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency – a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorises Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective – the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organiser tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change”, and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.

The Choice – Edith Eger

“Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

Sometimes a book will find you at the very moment you need it. This is one of those books. I’ve previously marvelled at the resilience of some other remarkable human beings who survived the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel. Viktor Frankl.

Joining them is Edith Eger. A survivor whose courage both astounds me and gives me hope. A woman who will be occupying the space in my heart that she has made bigger with her compassion. A touchstone for the times I feel like I don’t have the strength to survive my own pain.

What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

It would be so easy to hear even part of Edith’s story and say to yourself that your pain is insignificant compared to what she has experienced but after reading this book I realise that would be a disservice to her. Edith doesn’t rank pain and would prefer your response to be one of, “If she can do it, then so can I!” For someone whose power was taken away in such a brutal way at such a young age, Edith’s message is that much more empowering and impactful.

I can’t begin to imagine how I would have fared if I had been in Edith’s place. What I do know is, like everyone, I have experienced pain and trauma. Through Edith’s story and those of the people she’s counselled, I gained insights into my own life. Light made its way into dark corners that are painful to look at and while there’s still plenty of work to be done, it no longer feels impossible. Now I just need to make a counselling appointment with Edith. 😊

I expected to ugly cry my way through this book and surprised myself when I didn’t. The tears came unexpectedly, when I started rambling about how extraordinary Edith’s story is to someone. I was doing fine, right up until I began to explain that Edith would not have survived had it not been for a loaf of bread. Then I lost it.

Any story that even lightly touches on the Holocaust is bound to include the depravity that humans inflict on other humans. What touched me so much about that part of Edith’s story was it showed me the beauty that can still live within people, despite the ugliness that surrounds them.

I loved the way this book was written. I often felt like I was in conversation with Edith, that I was sitting across from her in a comfy chair in a room with a fireplace warming us as she was telling me a specific part of her story. I ran the gamut of emotions as I was reading but the style itself felt very down to earth.

No one heals in a straight line.

One of my favourite takeaways is the way Edith explains trauma. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the long term impacts she has lived with and that alone endeared her to me. So often the message seems to be that once you have survived the experience it’s all sunshine and roses from that day forward. No, pain hurts and surviving the aftermath of pain hurts too.

Edith’s authenticity when she talked about experiencing flashbacks and nightmares decades after her initial survival spoke to parts of me I can’t even verbalise yet, but I know some of what I felt as I read those parts was a bubbling hope rising up within me. When I read her take on PTSD I actually stopped reading to cheer; what I have long believed was actually being said by someone else.

This is why I now object to pathologizing post-traumatic stress by calling it a disorder. It’s not a disordered reaction to trauma – it’s a common and natural one.

I can already see a time in the near future where I’m going to need to reread this book. Different things are going to speak to me at different parts of my life; I can feel it in my bones.

What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past.

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and be overcome by the need to book evangelise. Oftentimes it’s a wanting to shout from the rooftops, ‘Hey, you! Read this book! Then let’s talk about how much we both loved it.’ I also want to book evangelise The Choice but it’s coming more from a quiet knowing that this book can change lives. It’s a desire for people to get an infusion of compassion and empathy, to see in black and white what can happen when we don’t treat other humans like humans, and to make sure this never happens again.

We can choose what the horror teaches us. To become bitter in our grief and fear. Hostile. Paralyzed. Or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and curious part, the part that is innocent.

I’m in awe of Edith surviving Auschwitz at all. To see what she has done since, both in working towards her own healing and facilitating the healing of countless others? I don’t know enough words to be able to adequately convey the way that makes me feel. This is truly a remarkable woman and if you haven’t already, you really need to read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, eating disorders, grief, mental health, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1944, sixteen-year-old Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, Edith’s bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

In The Choice, Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since. Today, she is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD. She explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

Like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but exceptional in its own right, The Choice is life changing. Warm, compassionate and infinitely wise, it is a profound examination of the human spirit, and our capacity to heal.

Know My Name – Chanel Miller

You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.

Chanel Miller was raped on Sunday, 18 January 2015.

I was raped three days earlier (80 hours before Chanel was, if you take time zones into account). Once I saw that date in print and realised how little time separated our experiences, I couldn’t help but see her story personally. So this is going to be a different review than I would usually write. Feel free to skip the bits where I talk about me.

Chanel learned what happened to her at the same time as the rest of the world. She was treated in a hospital, endured the indignity of a rape kit and spoke to a detective who believed and didn’t judge her. This sexual assault gained worldwide attention but it was Brock Turner’s name we knew; Chanel’s identity was erased. The trial resulted in guilty verdicts on three counts but, in my view, the punishment did not fit the crime; it may as well have been a slap on the wrist.

The detective who ultimately decided I would not step foot in a court room reviewed my statement and asked me, “How is that even possible?!” They didn’t make contact with the man who raped me but did phone my psychologist to ask if I have a mental illness that would cause me to make up something like this and oh, by the way, the description I told the police matched the description I told my psychologist. I also privately reported the rape to two other relevant institutions in the hope that speaking up would prevent this from happening again. Those two institutions told the man who raped me what I had said; this resulted in two threats from him to take legal action against me. For telling the truth. In Australia, where defamation laws are beyond insane.

I didn’t follow the story of Chanel’s sexual assault in the media. Even still, I knew the words Standford, rape, swimmer. My introduction to this book was via a publisher’s emailed newsletter, which is how I learn about so many of the books I need to read. I wasn’t sure it was for me though, until I ugly cried my way through I Am With You. I needed to know more about this intelligent, creative woman.

Still, I waited patiently for my library to purchase a copy. I made it all the way to page 23 before I finally figured out I needed my own copy, one I could highlight to my heart’s content and return to as often as I needed. I don’t know if I’m more grateful or sad that I found this book so relatable.

This is Chanel Miller’s story.
Author.
Artist.
Daughter.
Sister.
Friend.
Girlfriend.
Survivor.
A woman who has experienced raped, but who is so much more.

This is an attempt to transform the hurt inside myself, to confront a past, and find a way to live with and incorporate these memories. I want to leave them behind so I can move forward. In not naming them, I finally name myself. My name is Chanel. I am a victim, I have no qualms with this word, only with the idea that it is all that I am.

Although our stories are vastly different, so much of Chanel’s story resonated with me. While I hurt for her and was furious on her behalf as I read about her experiences, I was also lifted by her strength, determination and resilience. I had trouble reading some parts, either because they reminded me too much of my own story or, oddly enough, because they didn’t. I needed to step away and distract myself with a children’s book or play with Lego at times, but my overall takeaway from this book is hope.

The hope of words reaching out to me and encouraging me to hold on when difficult times find me:

You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do.

The hope that comes in the form of a narrative that doesn’t sugar coat what recovery from trauma looks and feels like:

As a survivor, I feel a duty to provide a realistic view of the complexity of recovery.

The hope that therapy can offer:

It feels better when the story is outside myself.

Although I don’t know Chanel I feel like I got to know her as I read her story; this is a woman I would want to be friends with. I loved being introduced to Chanel’s family and friends, and want to personally thank every single person who has supported, encouraged and validated her. My heart grew several sizes as I read about professionals who exuded empathy and compassion. Sure, there were others I wanted to slap, but the ones who went above and beyond reminded me that there are people out there who can soften the blow when trauma finds you.

Chanel truly is a writer. She can paint a scene so vivid that I felt I was inside it. She took me on an emotional journey with her; I may have felt it more because I was revisiting my own at the same time but I think I would have felt the highs and lows regardless.

I want to recommend this book to everyone, but especially to those whose professions bring them into contact with victims of sexual assault, whose responses can either provide validation or add to the trauma.

This book does not have a happy ending. The happy part is there is no ending, because I’ll always find a way to keep going.

If I were Chanel I don’t think I would ever want to read another word written about me. I’m just so proud of her though. Chanel, if you ever read this, please know that I believe you and I am with you.

Although I’ve never attempted anything like what Chanel has accomplished here I have needed to write statements that include the details of sexual assault and know how impossible it can feel both to find the right words and to revisit memories with sharp edges. Chanel has done an incredible job and I’m really look forward to reading whatever she writes in the future.

Content warnings include mention of suicide and sexual assault.

If you need support or information relating to sexual assault, you can contact:

You can also search for resources in over a hundred countries at:

Please know that it was not your fault, you are not alone and I believe you. 💜

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The riveting, powerful memoir of the woman whose statement to Brock Turner gave voice to millions of survivors. 

She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral – viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways – there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humour, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Backbone: A Memoir – Karen Duffy

“Pain is intensified from trying to control the uncontrollable. Acceptance and resilience have made me stronger.”

This is a quote from Backbone: A Memoir but these two sentences alone epitomise my own experience with chronic pain.

Karen Duffy’s book is part memoir, part how-to guide for living with chronic pain, part lesson in philosophy and etymology, part ‘do you know this quote or cool fact?’, and part funny anecdote. I wound up loving the etymology and the information about philosophy in Karen’s book. I’m always on the prowl for new areas of interest to learn about and I can now add Stoicism to my list.

Having lived in chronic pain world myself for 7.5 years, I’ve read the books, become an expert at timetabling my medication regime, done the breathing techniques and the mindfulness, and honed my patience while waiting for specialists at the hospital. My social interactions mostly consist of doctor’s appointments, and all of the receptionists and pharmacists know me by name. I was the woman that upon stepping into my first pain management appointment and being told the name of the book their treatment plan was solely based on responded by listing what I’d implemented in my life as a result of my reading said book and gave a critique of what was unhelpful.

While I don’t have the same condition as Karen, haven’t lived with chronic pain for even half of the time that she has and doubt I understand the level of pain she lives with, I do know chronic pain. Because I have read the books, medical journals and news articles, Karen’s prescription for pain management wasn’t revolutionary. She covered a lot of the usual techniques – exercise, self care, medication, trips to the doctor and hospital, managing your symptoms, managing your friendships.

What Karen adds that was refreshing is an authority that I find lacking from even the most respected works on chronic pain. Because she’s lived it you can’t very well dismiss what she’s saying with a “Sure, that’s the theory but would you be asking that of me if you understood the pain I face every day?” or “How can I apply that to my life?” because she’s been there, done that, and has the practical examples of how she’s applied it right there in black and white. I don’t know about you but I find it much easier to hear someone who has lived what they’re describing. Karen also understands too well the isolation and uncertainty that come with chronic illness, something textbooks don’t deal with well, if at all.

Karen’s writing style is engaging and I felt like I was chatting with a friend, albeit one who couldn’t hear my responses. I initially found the lack of fluidity between chapters somewhat off-putting and the plethora of quotes distracting but I got used to both. While there were some things said in humour that I didn’t find funny, there was a lot that I related to and found really funny. The quirkier the story, the more I appreciated it. The descriptions of the fun medically based gifts she’s given her neurologist were priceless and I can only imagine that her doctors love having her as a patient, with her optimism and ‘will find a way around the problem’ attitude.

While I admire Karen’s resilience, optimism and penchant for making the best out of a truly awful situation, I equally respected that she is authentic in giving her readers a peek inside what bad days look like as well. What I got from this book above everything else was acceptance, hope and encouragement. One of the hardest things initially about living with chronic pain is the chronic part. While it may fluctuate in severity (even within the same day), chances are you may have it for the rest of your life, and that is an extremely difficult concept for you, your family and friends to accept.

What Karen gave me while reading is encouragement to do the best I can each day. Her attitude of focusing on what she has instead of what she hasn’t and her gratitude is a gentle nudge in the direction I’m trying to keep steering towards. Above all, the “me, too” moments reminded me that although I don’t see many people because I spend most of my time inside the house, I’m not alone and the comfort of that knowledge is everything when you’re surrounded by people who, as a specialist (not mine) told me last week, run rings around you.

I expect this book will be helpful to different people at different stages of their life with chronic pain. Some will read this book soon after their diagnosis and learn vital tools to help them manage their new normal. Had I read this book early on its overall positivity would’ve made me want to hurl it across the room. However, 7.5 years later I read it with appreciation for Karen’s experience and how well she deals with it.

I found I was able to reflect on how I used to deal with my pain (hint: not well at all) and realise that I’ve come further than I realised. I fought against chronic pain for years, pushing myself so hard to try to maintain the life I had before that eventually it all came crashing down around me and I wound up in the worst shape I’ve ever been in in my life. Once I finally learned to accept it for what it is, the pain didn’t magically fade away, but it became so much easier to coexist with.

I’ve been living with the ‘do your best at any given moment’ motto for a few years now but I was encouraged to continue doing that and to look for ways I can help others and to be a better advocate for my health. I am inspired by all of the ways that Karen finds opportunities to be a giver in life.

I adored the idea of your primary doctor being your ‘team captain’. My whole medical team are unbelievably caring, compassionate and resourceful, and go above and beyond all the time for me. I don’t know what I’d do without any of them. It took 1.5 years to find the right team captain for me but they are absolutely incredible and because that’s just who they are, I don’t even know if they realise how extraordinary they are. I had already been mentally writing letters of thanks to my superhero medical support team but Karen’s example has given me the courage to decide to finally put pen to paper.

My favourite sentence in this book is

“My Kindle is my electronic opiate.”

My second favourite sentence in this book is

“Researchers at the University of Liverpool have noted that reading has similar effects to the brain as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

I could’ve told them that if only they’d asked me but knowing the benefits of reading in relation to chronic pain is being studied makes my book nerd heart sing. I look forward to adding reading to my list of pain management techniques I rattle off to doctors when asked and citing this study if queried.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Over one-third of the United States population – nearly one hundred million Americans – is currently living with chronic pain, while another 133 million Americans live with some form of chronic illness. Half of the United States population suffers from these invisible illnesses where their symptoms are not always obvious to the casual observer. Among them is Karen Duffy, New York Times bestselling author, former MTV DJ, Revlon model, and actress: she suffers from sarcoidosis, a disorder that causes the growth of inflammatory cells on different organs of the body. In her case, her sarcoidosis is located in her brain, causing her unimaginable pain. For two decades, Duffy has managed to live a full life, despite living in a state of constant pain. In Backbone, a powerful, inspirational, funny, and important manual for surviving pain, Duffy draws on her experience as a patient advocate, trained recreational therapist, and hospice chaplain to illuminate gratifying methods people can use to cope with chronic pain. Backbone is for the massive population of sufferers who are eager to be understood and helped and sends the message that despite the pain, there is a way to seek a good life.