reviewed by staff member – Jessica Picken
But for whatever reason you have ended up on the “inside” you hold a rank from either bad to worse and anywhere in between.
Ironically the notorious Long Bay Gaol was built with the best of intentions for reform and initially only intended for petty criminals and drunkards. Boasting the first ever separate complex for male and female prisoners, it was of unique design with staff living quarters, electric generation and its own transport system, both tram and road.
So all good intentions aside of having these prisoners reform and return to a crime free life, Long Bay has been the accommodation and final stop for some of Australia’s worst and most heinous criminals.
The description of the gaol itself is haunting and lends a chilling look into the living conditions of being sentenced to a stint inside and possibly a death sentence in the Bay. As you read about the prisoners and the horrifying crimes they committed, it seems all too fitting that Long Bay gaol offers them nothing in return for what they’ve done. Nothing but misery anyway.
There is a code amongst crims, as they would say “honour amongst thieves”, but nothing is more despicable than a paedophile. Going into gaol as a convicted paedophile guarantees no safety amongst other prisoners. They are the lowest of the low and have to be segregated from the others, – and you may chuckle when you read the next phrase – ‘for their own safety’.
In the underworld of crime to be known as a ‘dog’ (a snitch or just a downright low life that can’t even as a criminal behave in a criminal like manner and breaks the code so to speak) doesn’t rate much higher in the scheme of things. These ‘dogs’ fear for their lives also and opt for what’s called protection. Ironically though, opting for protection can make you an even bigger target and put you in more danger.
Drug use, violence, corruption and smuggling of contraband including paraphernalia with some graphic retelling of certain crimes are all detailed in their own chapter, giving a grisly realisation that behaviour so despicable has been carried out by one human being on another.
The skin collector – Jeffery Deaver
reviewed by staff member – Fiona Murray
I have been a fan of Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme books for a number of years. This series started with “The Bone Collector” which was made into a movie (1999) starring Denzel Washington.
The latest addition to this series is The Skin Collector and when I saw it on the shelf recently I grabbed it and looked forward to the usual great read of the Lincoln Rhyme series. However I must admit to being a little disappointed with the latest addition to this great series as it goes over old ground from earlier books. While this in itself wasn’t a bad thing, especially for those who may not have read that story, it didn’t really add anything to the plot.
Lincoln Rhyme is a former police Detective who was injured while investigating a crime scene. Confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic Rhyme still finds himself in high demand from the NYPD and the FBI to help them solve some of their most gruesome and problematic crimes. Even before his disability Lincoln’s life had been about deduction, logic, the give and take of the puzzles/cases and “combat with thought – not with guns or karate blows.”
The Skin Collector is a talented tattoo artist, his skill and talent is rare and refined. However his art has a deadly edge to it and the people he is tattooing are unwilling subjects. He has taken his art to a new level, instead of using inks and dyes to make his statement he is using poisons that subject his victims to a painful, if quick death. Each of his victims are found underground and have been taken from places where they will be quickly missed. Lincoln and his team find similarities between the work of the Skin Collector and the Bone Collector. Could the Skin Collector be paying tribute to the Bone Collector, or is there something more sinister behind his attacks? Who will be next to fall prey to this killer or will Lincoln and his team be able to stop him before someone else dies for the suspects art?
While at times the plot of this book can seem a little disjointed and hard to see where it is leading it is still worth reading.
The never, um, ever ending story – Molly Meldrum
reviewed by staff member – Jacqui Smith
The book covers Molly’s involvement in the Australian music industry from the 1960s to today and is the ultimate exercise in name dropping!
As a record producer and music journalist in the 1970s, a chance encounter led to a job as talent co-coordinator for a new and ground-breaking music program called Countdown. Initially, Molly was not going to appear on camera, but a “no show” by a scheduled host launched him into the spotlight. The rest is history. The role propelled Molly into a household name both locally and overseas.
The story includes anecdotes of meetings and interviews with many prominent musicians (not all of them flattering!). In addition, it documents both Molly’s and Countdown’s roles in establishing the careers of many Australian and overseas stars.
The story is not really written in any chronological order, being rather a psychedelic journey through the past 50-or-so years, interspersed with colourful tales and quotes from those who have known Molly over the years, from Kylie Minogue to Jimmy Barnes, Debbie Harry to John Mellencamp, together with a host of record producers, entertainment managers, journalists and more. It’s a chaotic book, in the style of Molly’s own life.
If there was one disappointment about the book, it is that I had expected it to be more personal, but Molly’s private live takes a back seat to his public persona. There is little reference to family or childhood and not much insight into what experiences have shaped the man.
Despite that, the book is still a good read and would have a particular appeal to those growing up during the Countdown years. For someone once described by a journalist as having, “no obvious talent”, Molly has become a household name and much-loved Australian icon.
The troop – Nick Cutter
reviewed by staff member – Fallon
If you are in the mood for old school horror then this might be your book. The cover has a review from the renowned Stephen King: “Scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. Not for the faint hearted”, so you know you’re in for a thrill.
The title, “The Troop”, refers to a small scouts group that is taking their annual excursion on tiny Falstaff Island with their Scoutmaster, Tim, who thinks they will be spending a few quiet days earning some merit badges in the wilderness. Before they left the mainland all methods of communication had been confiscated, so the young boys and their scoutmaster have to use their wits against an intruder onto the island.
As the scout, Ephraim, Newton, Shelly, Kent and Max settle into a night of scary stories before they attempt sleep, the only adult, Tim, notices a lone boat pulling onto shore. Tim is hesitant whether this is friend or foe and is somewhat reluctant in deciding what the best course of action is, remembering he is an hour from the mainland. When he heads down to meet the person on the shore he is greeted with an extremely emaciated, sick .. man? As far as Tim could tell he barely looked human anymore. His body had been transformed and he didn’t look like he should be alive, but this man was fighting death and he was hungry, with a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied and an unknown illness to boot.
The author in no way shies from the graphic aspects of the story in this novel. Reading how swiftly this small group falls apart in crisis after their scoutmaster falls ill only adds to the horror which brings you to thoughts of “Lord of the flies” in the savagery and desperation these young boys display. To fill in the gaps the book is interspersed with snippets from the press, and interviews with the military from after the contagion has been neutralized; the book is fast paced, difficult to get through at times, but well worth it!
The fictional woman – Tara Moss
reviewed by staff member – Fallon Lawn
Tara starts this insightful novel with snippets from her childhood and family history, she is one of four children and at the age of 14 was discovered by European casting agents modeling at a fashion show in the local mall, and at the tender age of 15 Tara and her parents would travel Europe in the hopes of getting work, although this initial scouting trip was not entirely successful, a few years later after the death of her mother a fire would be lit under Tara and she would travel again to Europe and this time she was determined to make it, the early years were marked by job uncertainty and the novel highlights some of the dangers of modeling and Europe itself, soon Tara would become a house hold name.
When Tara decided to finally pursue her dream of becoming a writer this label of model would stick with her for a long time, critics thought a model couldn’t write, Tara even went to the extent of having a polygraph test to justify herself to all the disbelievers that a blond model could actually be intelligent and research and write her own bestselling novels – of which there are now nine!
The fictional woman by Tara Moss is only part memoir the other portion of the book is a social analysis on common fictions about women in society; the book is littered with facts and experiences (some of Tara’s own) that have lead others to label this as a feminist book.
Moss provides some surprising statistics regarding women’s issues in society; th
ese are often brought to life with Tara’s own recollections of incidents that have happened to her; including violence and several divorces.
The subject matter varies to include ageing and the bias against older women, gender equality and the difficulties women still have in employment equality, parenting and the bias towards the male role in parenting and the working mother that still exists, I have found this book an interesting and educational read highlighting the fact that gender inequality still exists today.
Ma, he sold me for a few cigarettes – Martha Long
reviewed by staff member – Jacqui Smith
This week, I have been reading Ma, he sold me for a few cigarettes, by Martha Long – the first book in her series of memoirs.
A very powerful story, this is a true account of Long’s childhood between the ages of four and eleven, growing up in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950s.
Long was born into poverty to a teenage, unmarried mother, a stigma in itself in their conservative, Catholic community. The description of her life is heartbreaking, as she lives through situations no child should ever meet.
In awful detail, she recounts the extreme poverty of her family, living on stale bread and tea if they were lucky, but often going hungry. Shoes and underwear are “luxuries” she seldom had. The family lived with filth, hunger and cold.
Her mother moves in with Jackser, the brutal man who becomes her stepfather and other children are born. Long’s physical and sexual abuse at his hands is related graphically. Sadly, her mother (and many other members of the community) turns a blind eye.
At a tender age, Long becomes the breadwinner of the family as she learns to steal and sell goods. Her mother, Sally and her stepfather are happy to condone this for their financial benefit. Long suffers from crippling anxiety that she will be caught and “put away”, but cannot stop for fear of Jackser’s vengeance against her and her mother and siblings.
Despite desperate circumstances, the young Martha bounces back from each unhappy event with optimism and hope for better things.
In some ways, this is a difficult book to read, because the events of the writer’s life are so painful. Having a small daughter myself, I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of such abuse of a child.
Nevertheless, I found the story very compelling and would certainly recommend it. I am now looking forward to reading the next book in the series. We have five of her books in the library.
Omens – Kelley Armstrong
reviewed by staff member – Fiona Murray
A friend came racing into the library recently with a book that she said I just have to read! At first I was a little reluctant to take it home, due to the large pile of books already on my reading list but something made me stop and think again. Later that night I picked the book up to have a quick look and quickly found I couldn’t put it down!
What is this book you ask? The book is called Omens and is by Kelley Armstrong.
Olivia Taylor-Jones had it all as the only daughter of wealthy parents. Until a secret her parents had kept from her was uncovered. In the matter of minutes her perfect life was turned upside down as reporters descend on her home and things get out of hand, soon running for her life. It turns out that the world wants to know about her now more than ever as her biological parents are actually notorious serial killers.
Olivia finds herself being guided towards a small town outside of Chicago called Cainsville. This small close knit town is not usually welcoming to strangers, but with nowhere else to go and a note from a strange old man in Chicago she finds herself a place to stay and a job. But even here things are not what they seem, the townsfolk know who she is.
Gabriel Walsh, a lawyer with ties to the town and who is morally ambiguous turns up with a proposition for her. While Olivia has no interest in Gabriel’s proposition to get the royalties from her birth mother’s books, Olivia at first uses him to gain access to her birth mother and then to help her investigate the crimes that her birth parents are currently in prison for.
This is the first book in a new series, and while it does have undercurrents of supernatural themes, both in the town and in Olivia’s ability to “see” omens, they can be easily overlooked in favour to the mystery and the drama that surrounds Olivia in her search for a safe place, herself and the truth.
Matthew Flinders cat – Bryce Courtenay
reviewed by staff member – Jess Picken
Having read some of Bryce Courtenay’s fantastic true stories before, I knew what to expect when I started reading Matthew Flinders’ Cat.
Once again I’ve been blown away by a moving story filled with scrupulous detail of characters and a recountof a story that makes it hard to believe it didn’t happen to Bryce Courtenay himself.
I have to admit the fact that the word cat in the title and the picture of a cat on the cover may have influenced my decision somewhat as well.
Matthew Flinders’ Cat is set four years before the start of the Sydney Olympics on the streets of Sydney. It is told from the viewpoint of Billy O’Shannessy, a homeless alcoholic, who sleeps on a park bench in Macquarie Street. Having had a massive fall from grace as a high court barrister, O’Shannessy was well known in the media for demolishing years of police investigation and arrests by releasing criminals from the grips of the justice system and gaol cells that would have had been their new home.
Billy’s park bench is adjacent to the window of the State Library, in front of which is a bronze statue of “Trim” the famous sea cat. Trim was Matthew Flinders’ second in command (although you could possibly believe that he was in fact the Captain) on his circumnavigation of Terra Australis and other expeditions.
The story of Master Trim and his significance to Billy unfolds further when Billy makes an unlikely friendship with a young boy called Ryan. Their friendship becomes extremely important to both of them and you get a glimpse into how this well-renowned high court barrister has ended up with a permanent sleeping arrangement on a park bench.
Ryan, after initially asking about the statue of Trim is taken on a journey through the high seas with Master Trim and Commander Flinders as Billy’s still extremely intelligent and creative mind tells the stories from the view point of the cat.
Throughout the novel you are led to a deeper understanding of the addiction that has plagued this well educated man for over 35 years of his life.
Still Alice – Lisa Genova
reviewed by staff member – Martina Schindler
Alice Howland is a fifty year old Harvard professor, wife and mother of three. She was well respected by her peers and worked hard to be the perfect wife and mother. Alice’s life was full of challenges, but there was nothing she could not handle, until one day started to notice she was becoming forgetful and just put it down to stress, lack of sleep or perhaps menopause. The day Alice got lost in her own neighbourhood while going for a run, she know it was something more serious. Alice’s perfect world was about to change forever when she is diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The author follows Alice’s journey over the next two years, through the denial, the fight to find a cure and finally the realisation that she is faced with slowly losing her mind and dignity to this crippling disease.
This is one of the best written novels I have ever read. Lisa Genova has a writing style that just takes you to the moment and makes you feel all the emotions of Alice, her family and colleagues. You will feel Alice’s confusion and frustration as she forgets names, events and loses her perspective on reality. This book will make you cry, but it’s also very uplifting. Because of the subject matter I feel many people may find this book hard to read, especially if you have had a loved one suffer from this disease, but the exceptional writing does give the reader great insight into their world.
Lisa Genova knows a thing or two about mental illness and how the brain works, with a degree in biopsychology and Ph.D. in neuroscience, she know what she’s talking about. Lisa’s other two books Left Neglected and Love Anthony are also a good read. All three books are available at the City Library.