Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: The Great Escape

The Great Escape                   by Kevin O’Malley

Publisher:                    Bloomsbury Publishing Pty. Ltd.

Picture Story Book

The Great Escape, by Kevin O’Malley is a funny modern day telling of the olden day children’s fable The Tortoise and The Hare.

Lever Lapin is the greatest runner in the world. He writes a book about his greatness and boasts about his ‘Hare Raising’ feats. People idolise him, he draws crowds where ever he goes. On the other hand, Nate is a quiet unassuming tortoise who can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Things come to a head when Nate is relocated from his table at his favourite restaurant to accommodate Lever. Unhappy with his new seat by the rubbish bin and tired of all the publicity Lever’s speed generates, Nate challenges Lever to a race.

The watercolour pictures in this book are outstanding and go a long way to telling the story on their own. Modern day humour jogs the story along and the ending is a clever play on words.

My only concern with this story is that the 3 – 6 year old age group this story is aimed at might miss the cleverness of the humour.

Reviewed by Jenny Eddy

Book supplied by Bloomsbury Publishing

Friday, November 11, 2011

Christ In A Lift

It had been a short, hectic day and I was glad it was over. There were some reports I had not gotten around to but that my manager said were “Time Sensitive” and of the “Utmost Importance.”
With her, everything was like that. Everything was of the utmost importance and everything was time sensitive. Nothing was ever under control, nothing was ever due when I got round to it and she never ever spoke in plain English like a human being.
I was considering why this would be as I got on the elevator and headed down and out.
On the 15th floor Jesus Christ got on and midway passed the 14th floor the elevator stopped. 
 Jesus Christ was 6 foot 1, had Greek features, hazel eyes, a beard that was cut so short that it looked more like a 3 day growth except for a goatee that grew an inch or two off the chin and he was well groomed.
“Oh man.” Jesus said as he fingered the G button impatiently.
“It’s stuck.” I said.
Jesus stopped hammering the button and dropped his hand to his thigh. He mumbled something under his breath which I’m pretty sure was, “ Why me, God?”
Jesus didn’t look at me but swivelled his head around scanning the inside of the lift, looking for a fault, I assumed.
Then he started to jump up and down on the spot, landing heavily every time, trying to knock the lift loose.
“C’mon, c’mon.” He said as he jumped.
“Whoa, man. Hey. It’s broke to begin with I don’t want to get stuck in a falling lift.”
“It’s just 14 floors.” Jesus said.
“Maybe to you, it’s a little more than that to me.” I sat down on the floor in case the lift came unstuck suddenly.
Jesus continued to jump.
“That’s not gonna help, man.” I said wishing he’d stop.
“God. That’s not gonna help, God.” Jesus stopped jumping and stepped toward the door, intending to pry them apart.
I grabbed his arms and tried to ease him away from the door. His arms were tanned and knotted up with the type of muscles you only got from hard, manual labour.
“Jesus, man. We wont be here for very long. What would you do once you got them open, anyway? Christ, just take it easy.”
Jesus let the doors go and started to move away but came back suddenly once I had gotten out of the way.
“What are you doing? You’re just gonna open these doors into an elevator shaft. We’re in a box in a tube. Opening these doors wont help.”
Jesus stopped forcing the doors and leaned against the back wall with a thud. “Whatever.” He said.
“Now that’s more like it.” I said relaxing a little but still standing between him and the door. “Let’s just relax for a bit.”
Jesus looked at me with tremendous disdain and said, “Relax.”
“Yeah. Relax. Take it easy. Hang out.” I said, trying to calm him
“Christ.” He muttered and let out a deep breath.
We stood in silence for a moment. I watched him and he watched the ceiling- not interested in me at all.
I noticed his shirt, which was white and had something written on it which I couldn’t make out. I came around to the front of him to make out what it said. As I did so, Jesus looked down at me.
“What’s your problem?” He asked.
“Your shirt, I was reading it.” I could see it now and I read it outloud, “’Religious Tolerance’, must be important to you.” I said, making small talk.
“It’s an oxy-moron. It’s got nothing to do with me.” He said finally.
I rolled my eyes and exhaled a lungful through puckered lips, “So…”I rolled back on my heels and cracked my knuckles in front of me.
Jesus pursed his lips and turned away from me, giving me the cold shoulder.
“What were you doing in this building, anyway?” I asked still trying to make conversation.
“There’s a real stubborn prick up on the 25th. He’s withholding some old lady’s pension” He said.
“Did you talk it out with him?”
“No.” Jesus seemed more impatient than angry.
“Is she gonna get her pension?”
“He will when frogs start flying out of his butt.”
“Is that just a saying or is that really gonna happen?”
Jesus didn’t answer.
“Oh.” I said. “Is that how things are done? With the state the world’s in, you help old ladies with their pension?” I asked. Wouldn’t God have bigger fish to fry?
“She prayed. The old and the desperate are the only ones We hear from anymore.” Jesus explained, bored. “I come down to sort her out and figured I might to take my body for a spin- you know, for a laugh- I’m on my way home and next thing you know I get stuck in this lift.”
I could tell he wanted to say, “With you,”but stopped himself.
As Jesus spoke he turned a little to face me and I noticed the slogan on his tShirt had changed. It no longer read Religious Tolerance but now God Is My CoPilot.
“Where’d you get the tShirt?” I asked pointing at the slogan.
“Heaven.” He said rudely.
I shook my head, “You aren’t exactly like they made you out to be.”
“What- from what you’ve seen in movies?” He asked, mocking me.
“From the bible.” I retorted.
“Listen-“ He paused abruptly then continued, “ That book was written a long time ago and I doubt you’ve read it.” Jesus said dismissively.
I squinted my eyes and pointed at him. “You don’t know my name do you?” I asked, offended.
“Look, mac, when I’m in this body, this damn meatsack, my motion is a little… limited.”
“So you don’t know my name.”
“So I have to catch the bus, so I get stuck in lifts, so I don’t know your name.” Jesus explained, then he added, “Excuse me if I don’t ask for your damn autograph.
We stood in silence for a minute.
His tShirt changed again to: 6.4 Billion Miracles is Enough
“Can you do any miracles?”I asked sheepishly?
Jesus tensed up and said through gritted teeth, “Do you think I’d be stuck here if I could?”
“What about back in the day- with the pyramids and Christmas and stuff?”I asked him.
“What about it?” Jesus looked puzzled for a moment then quickly looked exasperated, crossed his arms and turned away.
I wasn’t sure what his problem was at all.
Jesus restlessly turned back to the buttons on the lift and started hammering at them again. This time he noticed an emergency button and held it down.
A voice came from a tiny hole in under the number display, above the floor buttons. “Lift Assistance. What is the problem?”
“This lift is stuck.” Jesus stated simply.
“It’s showing operational on my board.” The female voice replied.
“Then your board is broken like this lift. Can you get someone to come and fix it, please?” Jesus said with contrived patience.
I saw Jesus shirt had changed again. This time to: What Would I Do?
“I can’t send anyone out there to have a look until someone reports a fault.”
“What do you think we are doing?” Jesus clenched his hands into fists.
“From the building’s management. We don’t accept reports from just anyone who pushes a button in a lift.” She replied matter of factly. It made a certain sense to me. There’s a lot of clowns out there pushing buttons.
Jesus squinted his eyes, “Are you gonna send someone down here or not?”
“Not until we get a call from your building’s management. You should call them.” The female voice concluded.
Jesus pointed his finger at the little black dot where the voice was coming from. “Do you know who I am?”
“Are you building management?” The voice didn’t skip a beat.
“No. I’m-“ I shook my head and mouthed the word No, at him. Jesus stopped abruptly, his shoulders drooped a little.
The female voice was not interested in who we were. “Call building management. Good day.”
And with that there was a 3 note ring that let us know this conversation was over.
Jesus stood there with his hands on his hips and looked at me, “Where’s your phone?”
“Where’s yours?” I asked defensively.
“What would I need a phone for?” Jesus asked.
“To call building management.” We both said together.
“Very funny.” Jesus said. “Where’s your phone?” He asked again.
“I left it at home.” I stated.
Jesus curled up into a little ball on the lift floor.
“Those things give you radiation.” I explained. “You can’t carry them around every single day of your life.”
Jesus remained on the floor in the fetal position with his eyes closed, hands cupped under his chin.
“Jesus?” I ventured.
“What?” He said into the elevators polished tile floor.
“What’s the point of it all?” I asked.
“The meaning of life?” Jesus opened his eyes and watched the floor.
“Yeah.”
“What do you care?” Jesus said and closed his eyes again.
“I don’t. It’s never really bothered me but I hear a lot of people ask and I figured I would be able to tell them the next time it came up.” I explained.
“Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.” He recited.
“Seriously.” I pressed.
“That’s the point.”
“C’mon.” I insisted.
Jesus sat up, “There isn’t any real point. That sack of meat you’re in doesn’t last very long at all- do you really think We’d attach any importance to it or anything you could do while in it?”
I didn’t understand at all.
Jesus’ shirt now read: Your Religion Offends Me.
“But what about all the Christians and preachers on TV? They seem to think there’s something to do.” I asked, still puzzled.
“You haven’t heard them. Christianity today is looking more like gangster rap- it’s - all about the bling.”
“Shouldn’t you look after your followers?” I got this not at all.
“They’re not my followers. And you bastards crucified me when I was trying to look out for you. Why should I give any of you a new car? Why do you want a new car?”Jesus asked the wall of the lift. He seemed just as puzzled as I was.
“Just to recap- Nothing we do really matters because we’re just passing through-“ Jesus nodded, “ and you’re not interested in your followers these days at all.” Jesus nodded again. “That’s about right, is it?”
“We still listen to prayer.” Jesus added.
“Old ladies and their pensions.” I remembered. Jesus nodded and let his shoulders droop a little.
“What’s going on, here?” I wondered outloud to myself.
“You tell me.” Jesus said.
The lift lurched back into life. Jesus stood up. The elevator descended to the ground floor and without saying goodbye we each went our separate ways.

Jeremiah Ganicoche

Curandero

When I was 15, I saw my familiar spirit.
My room was in a bungalow in the backyard and most nights around that age I would stay up writing. One night I stepped outside to relieve myself in the garden when I heard a voice behind me.
“Hey.”
I turned around and saw a huge black something. Big as a wardrobe and solid black. I wasn’t afraid, I didn’t even think it odd that someone was saying hello to me while I was relieving myself.
I focused my attention to my front to zip up and then turned back around. There was nothing there. There was nobody there and there couldn’t have been anyone there.
I took off. Ran straight inside the house to where my mum and my younger sister were watching Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
They asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t speak. I just stood near the heater for a long while, trying to warm myself and calm down.
“What’s the matter with you?” My little sister asked.
I couldn’t speak. What would I tell them?
My sister kept asking and I continued to say nothing.
My mother looked at me when Hey Hey had gone to a commercial. “What have you seen, boy?”
Struck dumb, I shrugged my shoulders.
“You’re as white as!” My sister said amazed.
“There was someone in the backyard. But they’re gone now.” I said pretty stupidly.
“What do you mean, like a burglar or something?” My sister asked, shocked. “We should go and have a look.”
“No, they’re gone. One second they were there and the next they weren’t.”
“Did they say anything to you?” My mum asked.
“They said ‘Hey,’ as if we were old friends. I said ‘Hey’ back, turned around and it was gone.” I explained.
“We should go and have a look.” My sister said.
“I’m not going anywhere. You can have my room. I’m not going back out there ever again.” I said.
“C’mon, let’s go.” My sister got up and so did my mum.
“It’s not there. It’s gone.” I told them, but they weren’t listening.
My sister led the way through the kitchen to the door. She tried turning the knob but it wouldn’t budge.
“He’s locked the door on the way through.” She told my mum as she unlocked the door.
We walked down the hall to the security door that led to the backyard. That was locked too.
“You came in so fast, how did you manage to lock both doors so quick?” My sister asked me.
“Nerves.” My mother said.
They walked around in the backyard while I went straight back to my room and turned on all the lights.
My sister and mum were satisfied that there was nobody and nothing there so they went back into the house. I followed them.
My mother picked up the phone and called her mother in Argentina. She told my grandma what had happened and then my mum said my grandma wanted to talk with me.
I had never spoken to my grandma before. I’ve never even met her. There is a photo of her holding me when I was about 8 months old but I don’t think that counts.
My grandma told me who it was I had met and what to say next time it came to me. I’m not allowed to repeat any of it. You’d think I was bullshitting you anyway.
From what my grandma said, I got the impression it was not for me. Someone down my family line had made some deal with something old in the jungle and it has followed my family’s blood from the jungle to the city and then across the oceans to me now. To it, I think we are an investment that hasn’t fully matured and when we do, it will collect.
The idea has lost it’s novelty after time, it’s just another responsibility. Something else I have to pass down to my kids along with my last name and my charisma. The only thing that worries me is the circumstances under which my child gets the same talk I got at 15.

Jeremiah Ganicoche

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book review: Sektion 20

SEKTION 20

By Paul Dowswell

November, 1972: Germany is in the middle of the Cold War, pitting people in the country’s East against those in the West. Teenager Alex lives in East Berlin during a time when it was illegal to read books, paint, sing and do anything else creative that isn’t seen as benefiting the governing dictatorship. Sick of the oppression and the way everyone suspects their friends and neighbours of being spies, he decides to speak out against what he believes is a pointless war and the heavy handed Stasi—the state’s security force. But when he goes too far, a Stasi agent is sent to make Alex conform, or kill him. Alex and his family realise their only chance to survive is in West Germany, but getting close to the wall that divides the country in two, let alone over it, proves to be virtually impossible.

It’s hard to avoid clich├ęd descriptions like ‘coming of age story’, ‘political thriller’, ‘gritty realism’ and ‘page turner’, so I won’t try. Lovers of historical fiction, especially alternate history, will adore Sektion 20. The narrative is immediate and thrilling; the setting realistic, compelling and well-researched. The result: a piece of historical fiction I highly recommend to mature Young Adults who can stomach the unsavoury aspects of the Cold War, and those who enjoy chapters with cliff hanger endings.

(The novel for this review was supplied by Bloomsbury)

Review by Emanuel Cachia