Review: Innocence by Dean Koontz

Aah, smell that? That’s the intoxicating scent of another book finished and the percolating of a review… Mmmmm, percolating… just hold that thought – coffee run; be right back. <insert Muzak here>

All right, that other tantalising scent is a triple-shot long black (don’t judge me), but back to why we’re here: it’s review time! This is the ninth book I’ve read this year, which means I’m averaging two novels a month – not bad, considering the amount of work-related reading I do. Now, I know I have a couple of other reviews to get to, but I’m writing this one while it’s still very fresh in my mind.

Right then, onto Innocence. I was an avid reader of Dean Koontz as a teenager and through my twenties, but I hadn’t picked up a book of his for a long time. I’d bought this copy about six months ago – it was an impulse purchase; I’d gone looking for two specific books but couldn’t find them, and grabbed Innocence as, like I said, it had been a while since I’d read his stories.

The last four books I’d read had been fantasy and grimdark, so while Innocence wasn’t the next on my ‘to read’ mountain, I grabbed it for some straight out horror. Koontz’s work has always been a little hit and miss – there have been stories of his that I’ve loved (Watchers, Strangers) and some I’ve been most disappointed in (The Mask, Phantoms), so I was a little unsure what to expect.

Oh, incoming spoiler alert:



Innocence is the story of Addison Goodheart, a monster whose visage evokes terror and incites violence against him. From birth, others have wished to destroy Addison. His mother had saved him from the midwives but even she found it difficult to look at and be around her son – five times she’d tried to kill him as a child, but hadn’t followed through. At eight years, she packed him a bag and sent him on his way in the world – a child with no experience but that of the remote bushland in which he’d spent his early years.

The story is told from the tight point of view of Addison, and the reader is immediately transported in the “under” world of the city the now man (at 26) has found a haven. Addison had made his way here as a child and was saved by another man – who Addison refers to as Father – with the same affliction. Alone now, after the murder of Father, Addison’s is a life lived at night and away from the prying eyes of those who live and suffer above. For Addison, despite a life lived in darkness and without human contact, is happy, content. His is an outlook that really is out of place when taking into account the horrors with which he’s been saddled. Lonely, though he is, his quiet acceptance of his affliction and his understanding of not wanting to upset others by his face, eyes and hands, is one of a gentle soul.

Addison finds escape in books (which only endeared me to him), and it’s on a post-midnight trip to the library that he encounters the socially-phobic Gwyneth. While Addison doesn’t wish to be looked upon, for Gwyneth it is touch that brokers fear. The scene in the library where they set their boundaries has some beautiful prose, and one of the best lines in the book: ‘We hold each other hostage to our eccentricities.’

And that’s the thing with this book; there’s beautiful prose all the way through, evocative imagery set within a tale of woe and hope. Addison is the star here; his childlike wonder at the world and his easy manner despite all he’s endured means you can’t help but root for him.

innocence quote

I will say that at times I wanted to shake Koontz for not giving me a better description of Addison and Father – when Addison sees his reflection he can’t see the affliction that creates the horror in those who do see his face. It was frustrating, but I kept on because it had to be at the end of the book… and if it wasn’t… grr!

The storytelling moves from past to present and does so seamlessly – each trip into the past tells of Addison’s road to where he is now, of Father and how the two (and now him alone) survived and continue to survive. Little pieces of the puzzle, and puzzle-pieces they were.

Gwyneth is an enigma; a wealthy enigma who is bent on exposing her father’s killer – Ryan Telford (and what a nasty piece of work he is). She introduces Addison to her world, one of which he could never envision. He falls hard and fast for her, and it’s not until the end that we realise she’s also fallen for him – but as Addison says, with their respective ‘issues’, theirs can be a love only of the mind and heart.

There’s a lot going on in this book, many different players that while, when reading, seem characters set to only move the plot forward. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fleshed out well, but it’s not until the end that we see how everything’s connected. Not just the main and secondary characters, but the worlds that all the players live.

There’s supernatural here, too, and the ‘Clears’ and ‘Fogs’ (as Addison calls them), are interesting in the sudden appearances throughout the story. Again, it’s all tied up in the end, but I’d figured out what they were a little earlier than when it was explained.

quote innocence

Koontz does well in leading the reader through the story, leaving breadcrumbs here and there – snatches of news broadcasts; a character knowing of Addison’s ‘rules’ regarding his affliction when they shouldn’t; Gwyneth’s social-phobia not always present. And yes, while reading I was frustrated by the author’s holding back, but the denouement was well worth it.  When the revelation comes, it all falls nicely into place.

There’s a lot going on in this story, but the threads are woven very well by Koontz. It’s also a difficult book to shove into one particular genre: there are religious overtones, apocalyptic tones, supernatural, horror… there’s even creepy marionettes (don’t like puppets) a whole lot of different sub-genres, but I don’t think any of that matters. What you have here is a great story that holds you hostage as it drip feeds you what you need to flesh-out the story a little more, to give that little extra insight into Addison and Gwyneth, and makes you wonder how it’s all going to work out. If you’re struggling a little with this read, stick it out to the end, it’ll be well worth it.

While reading a book, I tend to have a star rating in my head, and while reading Innocence, I was looking at a three-star rating, but that denouement bumped it up to a four… or maybe four-and-a-half.  Yeah, four-and-half, because even a day on, I’m still making the small connections within the book, and that’s good storytelling right there.


Four and half stars


Art of the Tattoo

This post is about art. There are some who’ll believe this isn’t the case, but tattoos just have a different canvass, is all. I’ve heard all the arguments against putting ink into your skin: it’s stupid, a desecration, it labels you, is the latest fashion statement, you’ll regret it… I could go on but I don’t want to. For me and a whole lot of other people, tattoos are little (or big) pieces of art we wear that have special meaning and mark a particular time of our lives. It’s a choice we’ve made, and to have those choices derided by others (and it oft is), is not only rude and offensive – as most commentary is definitely not asked for – it’s also none of your damn business.

Am I angry? Damn straight I am. Tattoos were always going to be a part of my ‘art series’ posts (with a special shout out to my tattoo artist), but I’ve brought this forward because of some mainstream media coverage that specifically and unfairly targeted women and tattoos. This was brought to my attention by the lovely Maria Lewis via a Facebook post, and yes, she was just as pissed as I am about the gender disparity when it came to the reports. You can read Maria’s article here – I’ll wait why you do that….

Are you riled up yet? If not, you should be. As Maria rightly points out, at no stage did the mainstream media mention any stats with regard to men and their tattoos; at no stage was there a follow-up piece regarding men regretting their ink. But hey, that’s cool, right? Women and tattoos are a society no-no, aren’t they? Wrong, on both counts and on so many levels.

tattoo art

As much as I’d like to put on my ranty-pants, I think Maria has covered this issue really well, and my thoughts are pretty much going to be a mirror of her words, but I will add this: I’m under no illusions that I’m sometimes judged on my tattoos, but that speaks more to the person making those judgements than to me. What I find amusing (and yes, frustrating) is other’s belief that their opinion and words are going to make an impact on any decision I make with regard to MY body. When I’m asked ‘How will my tattoos look when I’m eighty?’ Awesome, is my answer. My tattoos will bring with them memories of that time and what they represent. They’ll grow older with me, my pieces of art.

So, now onto the art of tattooing, because it is an art-form; anyone who tells you different is kidding themselves. I currently have five tattoos – three very visible and two not. And yes, I said ‘currently’, I will be adding to my collection. Like the art I hang on my walls, I like art on my skin, too. Each has meaning to me; they’re a representation of who I am.

I’m extraordinarily lucky to have found an amazingly-talented artist in Ben O’Grady from Lighthouse Tattoo in Sydney (he’s inked my last three). When I went to see him with my last design idea he sat me down and said no, we’re not doing that – he was seeing too much of a particular section of the design around. So out comes the pencil and within moments, he’s sketched out something so outrageously good, and so very much me, I could have kissed him. It’s that kind of skill and understanding of your client that makes a tattoo artist, and why I wouldn’t go to anyone else except Ben.

tattoo 1

I’ve often heard it said that tattoos are the latest fashion trend, that ‘everyone has them’, but while there is a growing amount of society sporting ink, there’s nothing ‘universal’ about them – this generalisation never rings true. Tattoos are a personal thing, each with its own special meaning to the wearer, each tells a story. Each is as individual as the person who’s inked.

Ben’s artwork appears on my forearms, and I’ve had more people tell me they’re beautiful than I’ve had people mock, and I will pimp Ben anytime someone asks. You see, my tattoos have opened conversations with complete strangers who’ve appreciated the skill and artistry of my ink and me theirs. There’s a community within the tattooed that a lot of people don’t see; we appreciate good art, we understand there’s an addictiveness to them, and we discuss old tattoos and the ones to come. We share an experience, we share the unfair scorn and derision oft thrown our way, and we understand that no matter what others think or believe, more art will come.

So the next time you’re out and see someone walking around with artwork on their skin, don’t judge, appreciate the thought, time and skill that’s gone into producing something they’re proud to wear for all to see. And maybe, just maybe, strike up a conversation and discover the story behind the art.

 wing tattoo


Note: the featured image, designed by David Schembri, is another piece of art Ben has inked on my skin. 

Guest Post: The Gender Binary

My previous post about living as a woman in a world without fear garnered much conversation – always a good thing, as opening dialogue on matters that are detrimental to any members of society can only be a step in the right direction to a world filled with acceptance and kindness. The discussions I’ve had with my crazy-amazing friend, Elizabeth Wayne, are times I truly treasure; she has a unique view on the world, and I often wish she had a greater platform to reveal a mind that looks at the world and those in it on a truly global scale. So I’d like to provide a platform here, to offer another view of how the world ‘works’ through the eyes of one of the smartest people I know. As individuals, we can only look at the world through our own eyes; our experiences are subjective because we are individuals – that isn’t a negative by any means, but by reading views and experiences of others, we, as individuals and a society, have the opportunity to become more empathetic to those around us. So without further ado, I hand the floor, and the mic, over to Elizabeth Wayne…

The Ritualised Dehumanisation of Civilisation Through Labelling.

~ Elizabeth Wayne

**For this discussion, the use of the term gender is regarding the culturally dominant binary of male and female. I do not believe that gender identity starts and stops with the genitalia we happen to be born with.

Labels are a contentious thing. Stick one on a milk carton and you have all the essential information we need to know about what is inside the container (we hope). When it comes to labelling people, they, unlike the milk, might have other ideas about the labels you use. The convention of applying labels to people (a species that has managed to extend its average lifespan decades longer than our great-grandparents, giving us the prolonged opportunity to evolve our understanding of human nature as individuals within the greater community) undermines our ability to form a cohesive society built on equality, especially if you stop and consider how long we wear some of those labels.

label maker

The debate regarding gender inequality has generated heated discourse around labels such as feminist, masculinist, equalist and humanist. Everyone pointing fingers at the patriarchy, looking for someone to pin the injustice on — battlelines drawn, “Who’s side are you on?” While all this goes on, more research comes out speaking to the gender inequality against females in pay, media representation, sexual and domestic abuse, etc. The masculinists* go on the defensive, pointing out that they too are exploited in the work place (many of the people fleeing to western countries are male looking for work so they can support their family at home and are often abused by systems that exploits their vulnerability), they are also the victims of sexual and domestic abuse (one third of domestic abuse victims are male), and society is falling back on a new default position that if you are white and male you are ‘the problem’ in spite of any efforts to be part of the solution. The more the debates rage, the less room there is for intersections and the sense of ‘other’ is maintained.

All of the aforementioned issues are important. Any issue where inequality and prejudice exists should be addressed compassionately as a society. But that means pulling things apart. Things get messy. We often have to face hard truths — sometimes, we have to admit we aren’t just part of the problem, we are the problem. It starts with a baby.

Everyone on the planet knows a parent. Some of you may be parents yourselves. Did you find out the gender in-utero, or did you wait until the arrival? Either way, it usually goes a little something like this: “It’s a _______! <insert boy/girl here>.” Some of you may think ‘so what?’ That simple declaration makes gender the initial focal point of a person’s existence. This has a domino effect that will last a lifetime.


Take a minute here and think about that. If a person’s gender shouldn’t matter on a CV, then why does it matter when they are born?

The moment those words leave your mouth, a chain reaction starts. Chances are the child has a gender-based name. The cards, balloons and gifts arrive, reaffirming the gender of the child in both proclamations and colour association. Well-meaning friends and family will buy clothes, shoes, toys, linen, nightlights, pictures and cot mobiles with the gender in mind either consciously or unconsciously. Some parents may opt for a unisex name and their child’s room is gender-neutral with colours other than blue and pink (the current cultural association of genders), not wanting to define their child. But it’s only a matter of time before the dominant gender binary asserts itself.

Somewhere in those early years, the language used to describe your child will change. All babies are born beautiful, but at some point, young boys start getting called handsome. In the blink of an eye, the adoration makes room for the start of the dehumanisation process and young children are taught that emotions are a bad thing. ‘Don’t be a cry baby.’ ‘I thought you were a big boy/girl.’ ‘Big boys/girls don’t wet the bed/cry/misbehave.’ For many children, they hear such things before they walk into a school yard. We lie to them as though adults have got their shit together and we tell them that all the feelings that they experience are the domain for very young children. These barbs are often laced with gender bias against the so-called ‘feminine’ aspects; ‘Don’t be a sooky la la.’ ‘Don’t be a sissy.’ ‘Stop crying like a girl.’ Even if their parent isn’t the person saying it directly to the child, someone else might be, perhaps a friend, relative or another child parroting what they are told. Overt displays of emotions — negative or positive — are not to be done in public, and are often suppressed at home. If your child seems to be too much of anything, someone may recommend a trip to the doctor for a diagnosis and a new label (and possibly a prescription).

For those parents that fight to keep their child’s early years gender-neutral, by the time they get to school, the gender binary asserts itself for six hours a day. It could be as blatant as boys in one line, girls in the other, or something less obvious such as discouragement from things deemed to be associated with the opposite sex (girls playing with trucks, boys playing with dolls etc). If your child tries to move across the divide, the dichotomy is so ingrained even at this early age, the ridicule and shaming from young children, parents, care givers etc is enough to cause serious damage to your child. By this stage, terms like ‘boys will be boys’, ‘man up’, ‘that’s girl stuff’ and ‘drama queen’ are readily used. Naturally, as the children get older, the terms get more vitriolic. If a child attends every year of school, a child starting school this year in Australia will spend 13 years in this pressure cooker of an environment.

Somewhere in those 13 years, hormones kick in, amplifying every aspect of their lives. Any early natural gender identity association they felt goes into overdrive and they struggle to be true to those instincts. By high school most kids have some level of autonomy about their identity and they literally start to wear their heart on their sleeve. Those that cross gender assumptions are subjected to ridicule and physical assault. It could be as simplistic as long hair on a male and short hair on a female. Parents call it rebelling when their child starts to act and dress outside their perception of who they are — a perception developed in the gender dichotomy of male and female. The adolescent calls it being authentic. Unfortunately, authenticity isn’t valued as a character trait prior to adulthood. The early, formative years are reserved for conformity, and when it comes to gender identity, being authentic or even experimenting with things attributed to one sex or the other isn’t always a safe option. The suicide rates among teens that are facing gender identity issues and/or a sexuality that falls outside the heteronormative are staggering.


Many opinions, social structures, identities etc. have solidified into absolutes for many teenagers by the time they finish high school. From there, we throw them into the deep end — get a job, go to university, start drinking, vote and help decide your country’s fate, have sex as god intended, but don’t do drugs. Each year a new wave of teenagers are tasked with fixing the patriarchy, racism, economic disparity etc. Once upon a time, it was us. All of us raised under clearly defined ideas of masculine and feminine. All of us born to a fucked up version of society full of inequity, bias and hatred. All of us wanting to do our part to fix it. So we call ourselves feminists, buy dolphin-safe tuna and recycle, not realising just how much of the system we unconsciously perpetuate. We tell our children to treat everyone equally, but we set them up in a dichotomy the moment we tell the world what genitalia they were born with before we even utter their name. How do we expect society to dismiss gender as a barrier when everything we teach our children exists around a dichotomy that tells them gender identity is everything. If we don’t want gender to matter in the board room, then gender shouldn’t be an issue from the womb.

Add to this the other labels that often get applied at birth — ethnicity, religion, nationalism, in some cases political (the family that votes together, stays together)—  and you’ve got multiple ways to define people as ‘other’. I implore you to take some time and ponder who those labels serve and why. If those labels (and their inherent narratives grounded in fear) don’t serve us, then why do we still use them? If we are going to live in a global village, it’s time to break the label maker.

I say all of this with the gift of hindsight. My children were labelled by their gender when they were born, one with a semi-gender neutral name, the other gender-specific, both names reflect their grandfather’s heritage, they have their father’s surname even though they were born before we were married, they were christened in their father’s religion in spite of my own reluctance to christen them at all, the list goes on. Now they are young adults learning the hard way how it all works. I try to lead by example whenever I can and that means I spend a lot of time catching myself in all the little things I do and say that reinforce the gender binary. I encourage them to be smarter than me, to fight the good fight of equality with compassion, and to pay close attention for it’s the little things that keep us blind to the big picture.

Disclaimer: I am a Humanist. I do not refer to myself as a feminist because I believe that such a term only furthers the gender bias and conforms to the concept of a binary gender association when it isn’t a true representation of society. I stand for equality and compassion on all fronts. I think the time for grouping people by their differences must end. For kindness to win out, all it takes is a willingness to see ourselves in everyone around us.

I’d like to thank my dear friend and soul-sibling, AJ, for giving me the opportunity to share this.

*The use of the term here is to illustrate those that speak up for men’s rights.

*** If you or anyone you know needs support, reach out to friends and family, or contact crisis-support organisations in your area. You are not alone. ***