Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Publisher: Atria Books, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Date of publication: November 1st, 2022

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Contemporary, Adult, Book Club, Feminism, New York

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

This is not just another novel about a dead girl. Two women—one alive, one dead—are brought together in the dark underbelly of New York City to solve a tragic murder.

When she arrived in New York on her eighteenth birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe. She may be dead but that doesn’t mean her story is over.

Meanwhile, Ruby Jones is also trying to reinvent herself. After travelling halfway around the world, she’s lonelier than ever in the Big Apple. Until she stumbles upon a woman’s body by the Hudson River, and suddenly finds herself unbreakably tied to the unknown dead woman.

Alice is sure Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her short life and tragic death. Ruby just wants to forget what she saw…but she can’t seem to stop thinking about the young woman she found. If she keeps looking, can she give this unidentified Jane Doe the ending and closure she deserves?

A “heartbreaking, beautiful, and hugely important novel” (Rosie Walsh, New York Times bestselling author), Before You Knew My Name doesn’t just wonder whodunnit—it also asks who was she? And what did she leave behind?

First Line:

You will already have an idea of me. There are enough of us dead girls out there.

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

I am a huge true crime junkie. I listen to various podcasts, watch ID Discover, and read fictional mysteries/suspense/thrillers. So, when I got the Before You Knew My Name invite, I accepted it. No hesitation, I downloaded this book to my Kindle in record time. I am glad I did because I enjoyed reading this book a lot.

Before You Knew My Name was an exciting book. This was the story of Alice, an eighteen-year-old girl from Wisconsin who had traveled to New York City. Alice was murdered and left for dead on a rocky pier. She is determined to help the woman who discovered her, Ruby, find her murderer and get justice. But this is also the story of Ruby. Ruby, from Australia, had been stuck in a rut for a while when she decided she needed a new start. And for her, it means traveling to New York City. But Ruby is the one who discovers Alice’s body, and Ruby is the one who pushes the police for answers. Will Ruby find herself in New York City? Will Alice get her justice?

There are trigger warnings in this book. The trigger warning is underage sexual contact/situations, cheating, mentions of sexual abuse, suicide, child abuse, and drinking. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading this book.

Before You Knew My Name was a medium-fast-paced book set in New York City. It starts fast, slows down in the middle of the book, and then picks up towards the end. The pacing was perfect for this book. Any faster, and I would have had an issue keeping up. Any slower, and the book would have dragged.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Alice and Ruby when they were both introduced. Alice seemed like an unreliable narrator. At the beginning of her story, she glossed over a lot. Ruby was a hot mess, and you know what? I related to her.

  • Alice— As I mentioned above, I wasn’t too sure about Alice at the beginning of her storyline. She was very unreliable and kept glossing over her earlier years. But, as the book went on and she opened up about her life pre-New York City, I started to like her. I did think she was too trusting (mainly with Noah, but he ended up being a teddy bear). When the killer killed her, it did hit me hard. I was a freaking mess. Then I got mad and hoped the police would catch the killer soon.
  • Ruby—I liked her right from the beginning. She was a hot mess but relatable (as I described above). I wasn’t that shocked that she up and left Melbourne. She needed a new start. But her fresh start didn’t exactly go as planned when she found Alice. I loved how her character grew after finding Alice. She became almost obsessed with finding the killer, and she did have a great support system (a found family) in New York. My only quibble with her was Ash. He was like a drug to her, and she needed to let him go.

There were many memorable secondary characters in Before You Knew My Name. They each brought added depth to the plotline. There were some that I wished had more book time (Noah and Tina were two), and others (like Alice’s teacher/lover) needed less book time.

Before You Knew My Name was a combination of mystery and thriller. It fits perfectly into those genres. I think there could have been a tad more thriller, but that’s just me.

Alice’s storyline was poignant. But it also made me unbelievably mad during some parts. Alice had some awful things happen to her, but she dealt with them with a grace that I know I wouldn’t have had. But, once she arrived in New York with that camera and found Noah, she turned into a different girl. She began to see a future. And that is what made me so unbelievably angry when she was murdered. The killer snuffed out her light too soon.

Ruby’s storyline was just as poignant but in a different way. She needed a change. She was stagnating in her life in Australia. So, her going to New York City and starting over was good. And, in a way, finding Alice’s body was a good thing too. Because if she didn’t, she would have never gone to the support group. She would have never met Lennie, and she would have never joined The Death Club. She also would have never met Josh, Susan, or even Noah.

The storyline with Alice’s killer was interesting. The author kept his identity and motive under wraps until almost the end of the book. Ruby had a hand leading the detectives to him when she remembered something crucial about the night she found Alice.

The end of Before You Knew My Name was poignant. The author was able to merge all the storylines, and she ended them in a way that tugged at my heartstrings. From beginning to end, this book will make you think about all the John and Jane Does out there.

Three Reasons You Should Read Before You Knew My Name:

  1. It was a true mystery. The author kept Alice’s killer under wraps until the end.
  2. The book had a great pace to it. It made reading and keeping track of the different storylines very easy.
  3. The characters were very relatable.

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Before You Knew My Name:

  1. The trigger warnings.
  2. Alice being murdered. I was so angry about that (even though I knew it would happen).
  3. Ruby being a hot mess.

I would recommend Before You Knew My Name to anyone over 21. There is language, nongraphic sexual content, and violence. Also, see my trigger warnings.

If you enjoyed reading Before You Knew My Name, you will enjoy reading these books:

Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: January 18th, 2022

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Fantasy, Supernatural, Feminism

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Google Play | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.

There was blood in the water–a dull pink bloom–the morning Lila Sawyer heard about the first missing girl.

such a pretty smile by kristi demeester

I am going to be the odd one out with this book. Why? Well, I didn’t care for it. I know (ducking rotten tomatoes and hearing boos echoing across all the platforms I post to), it is not the popular opinion. I wanted to like this book and was pretty excited to read it after all the favorable reviews. Then I read it, and it fell flat for me.

Such a Pretty Smile did have an exciting storyline. The book centers around Lila and her mother, Caroline. In the 2019 storyline, Lila is a teenager dealing with a lot in her life. Her mother has a reputation for creating creepy statues made out of materials she found on her walks. Her father is distant, focusing more on her newborn sister, born premature and with a severe health complication. She is also dealing with peer pressure, a frenemy who alternately bullies and befriends her and questions her sexuality. To top it off, Lila has heard dogs bark, and there is a voice in her head telling her to do things that she usually wouldn’t do. Meanwhile, brutalized bodies of young girls are being found around the Atlanta area.

In the 2004 timeline, Caroline is under an immense about of pressure. Her father is in hospice, and she is drowning under the bills associated with it. Caroline takes a job teaching private art lessons to a homeschooled teenager to make ends meet. But, things are happening to Caroline that she can’t understand. She hears dogs barking nonstop, and she is having delusions. When she talks to her psychiatrist about that, she gets drugged, but that doesn’t stop it. Everything comes to a head when she finds out about her past, which ties directly to the current murders.

When Lila finds out about Caroline’s past, the storylines meet and she runs back to New Orleans to investigate Jazzland. What happens will send shockwaves in everyone’s lives and change them forever.

I did feel bad for Lila. She was smothered by her mother and ignored by her father. On top of that, she dealt with bullying and figured out her sexuality. She was a pressure cooker and was about to blow. Honestly, I was surprised that she waited as long as she did to freak out on Macy, her father, and her stepmother. I did wonder (when she started hearing the dogs barking) if her stress was manifesting. But it wasn’t until she was in the car (sweating her butt off) that I understood what was happening to her was paranormal.

I also felt bad for Caroline. She had a lot on her plate in 2004. She was solely responsible for her dying father’s medical/hospice bills. She was trying to get through art school and launch her career. She had to deal with a fiance who didn’t support her in anything. So, when she started hearing dogs barking and seeing things, she figured that it was because of stress. I wish that she could have had a break in that storyline. But it went from one thing to another when her father told her that she was kidnapped when she was a child. It was then that everything amped up. Her descent into mental illness and how the male figures in her life treated her were awful.

The horror angle of Such a Pretty Smile was well written, but it didn’t do anything for me. I was waiting for some epic battle or at least The Cur getting what it deserved. It didn’t happen. Instead, there was a rail against men and how women were expected to confirm (which we are, and yes, it is unfair). I felt a little let down when the author explained everything at the end of the book. I was left feeling meh.

I did like the solid feminist stance that the book took. But, I did feel that it was a bit much in places—one of the things that made me “meh” about Such a Pretty Smile.

I did enjoy the ending and seeing how Lila ended up after the events of Jazzland. I am glad that she met with people who understood what she went through. I also wondered, with how the final paragraphs were worded, if there was going to be a sequel. Maybe The Cur will get what is coming to it.

I would recommend Such a Pretty Smile to anyone over 21. There is sex, violence, and language.