Fall (2023) reads

Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle kicks off this year’s second reading list. At 607 pages, the latter was not the easiest but I persevered and got to the finish line. Chronicle has elements of magical realism, postmodernism, and even some slight surrealism. There is a heavy mobilisation of dreaming as a plot device. This marked a return to form for me. Another Murakami novel followed. Kafka on the Shore is one of his most famous works. It did not disappoint, having metaphysical themes. I found it more accessible than Chronicle. Finally, Jeff Benedict’s LeBron is this list’s obligatory nonfiction crest. The book is a very detailed look into the current century’s most famous sportsman.

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Murakami). This read marks my fourth foray into Murakami. I started off with Norwegian Wood. I have since consumed Elephant Vanishes and Sputnik Sweetheart. As usual, this text is set in his native Japan. I have to admit that there’s a lot going on, hence the word chronicle in the title. Toru Okada’s feline has gone missing. Shame, as he recently quit his job. His six year marriage with Kumiko is disintegrating. He hangs out with a teenager, who calls him Mr Wind-Up bird. He then frequents this well in an abandoned house. On top of this, he’s receiving weird messages from an eager lady. She sounds very familiar.

The plot alternates between several viewpoints. There’s Toru, the resourceful and pragmatic protagonist. He uses his wits and a bit of fate to get out of sticky situations. He frequents this magical well, giving him a powerful mark on his right cheek. He views this as the bridge between the unknown and the physical world. There’s Kumiko, who retains her shell and mysterious aura. At one point, the couple even communicates through online chat. This is notable since the plot takes place in the early eighties. In addition, there’s May Kasahara, their neighbour. She reminds me a bit of Midori in Norwegian Wood. They’re both youthful, vain, and outgoing. Both also opted to write letters. The sisters, Malta and Creta Kano, adds some allure to the narrative. The latter calls herself, ‘a prostitute of the mind’. Creta’s proposal to elope with Toru to Crete gave my heart a flutter. Lieutenant Mamiya’s letters are likewise foregrounded. Though seemingly an anachronism, he has a good heart. I had to skip some of his words as they could be boring. Indeed, some of the book was too descriptive.

For your information, I first perused the ebook. However, after six weeks, I only read a quarter of the book. I then tried the hard copy. There was a time when I gave up on the book as the author’s prose seemed a tad full-on. Little by little, I whittled the book until I reached the very end. Having finally gone through this text, this was one of the most rewarding reads I’ve crested in a while. Concluding any book is an accomplishment. This one was originally written in Japanese, from a different time period, and a beloved author. Among my Murakami reads, I would rank this above the norm.

Rating: 4.05/5

2. Kafka on the Shore (Murakami). This isn’t a recent release, having been published two decades ago. However, the title is ahead of its time. Kafka confronts issues and themes that weren’t the deal twenty years past. For starters, Kafka tackles such issues as LGBT rights and emancipation. When should we leave school? When to leave home? Is killing a cat considered murder? Should we look down on the uneducated? Should we help a well meaning stranger?

The book’s title is typical Murakami. It is a homage to a fictional song that features heavily in the narrative. Norwegian Wood is a Beatles song. Dance dance dance was serenaded by the Dells, and so on. As with his other works, there are surrealist tropes. A secluded forest is a bridge to another realm.p, complete with undead soldiers and ghosts. Cats likewise make a sighting. This time, an old geezer named Nakata talks to these critters. Otherwise, he’s kind of dull but goodhearted. In a parallel narrative, Kafka escapees from his dad and ends up working at a library. Though only fifteen, he is wise beyond his years. Being a fitness nut, he looks older than his age. He searches for his lost mother and elder sister. He mostly functions as a lone wolf.

Kafka and Nakata’s paths would intersect, as the latter ends up in Nakata’s workplace. In between, there’s a lot to love here. Compared to Wind up, the language is much smoother. Although at times descriptive, I had to skip a lower amount of pages as compared to Bird. There are no meticulous chapters on WWII. I also noticed that the latter had about a hundred pages on Kafka. The inimitable way that Nakata speaks add a dose of humour to the plot. The inclusion of newspaper clippings likewise supplies colour. Only Murakami could come up with the Colonel and the stone. Upon researching further, I discovered that the book won some awards, which was rather well deserved. After Norwegian Wood, this is my next favourite Murakami title.

Rating: 4.6/5

3. LeBron (Jeff Benedict). Before browsing Apple Books, I had neither heard of this author, nor this book on the hoops great. Apparently, Benedict is the current crème de La crème of sports biographers. Previously, he has profiled Tiger Woods, the New England Patriots, and penned a book about the NBA culture. LeBron’s premise immediately caught my attention. That it was a NY Times bestseller added bonus points. In the title, Benedict dedicated about 150 pages to LeBron’s early years in Akron, Ohio. His biological dad never bothered and he was raised by his single mother. His stepdad, who was essentially his father, was incarcerated at one point.

‘What he didn’t see were the dollar signs in her eyes.’

LeBron though did not allow these hurdles to stop him. Initially, American football was his first love. He showed his mettle as a high school freshman. He was relegated to the bench for the whole year. However, he shone when his moment came. Too bad, it was the year’s final game. He chose a private prep school, St Vincent St Mary, over other programs. He seemed out of place in a sea of white kids. By his sophomore year, he was an all state selection. By the end of his junior year, he was being touted as a possible number one NBA draft pick. He had to deal with the usual temptations such as money, women, and drugs. His laser-liked focus never wavered. He only lost three games in high school. As a senior, he was consistently the best player on the floor.

The Cavs drafted him with the top pick in 2004. Unable to break through with a mediocre supporting cast, James departed Cleveland in turmoil and quickly became the sport’s villain. Indeed a book on LBJ was titled ‘The Whore of Akron’. In four years with Miami, he brought them to the Finals each season, teaming up with two Hall of Famers. He then returned to Cleveland, delivering a title as his biggest mission. There, he spearheaded the greatest comeback in league history. With his majestic play, he rallied the Cavs from 3-1 down to topple the Warriors. Cleveland fans have endured such heartbreakers as The Fumble and The Shot. LeBron’s signature moment was a Game 7 chasedown swat on Igoudala that would be remembered as The Block.

In spite of his fame, LeBron has a tight group of friends. They go way back from his high school years. This includes Rich Paul,who would set up his own agency. Likewise, Maverick would build his entertainment company. The latter was his high school teammate. Like Jordan, King James chose to endorse Nike. Both legends have an uncanny business acumen. Time and again, LeBron invested thru the right way. Thus, his being the first active billionaire sportsman comes as no surprise.

As mentioned, there’s a lot of detail here and yet it’s easy to follow. Unlike Murakami, I never had to skip large sections. Benedict probes into racial tensions and LeBron’s activism. He highlights LeBron’s missing biological father. He delves into James’s relationship with rapper Jay-Z. He tackles LeBron’s family, including his wife, Savannah Brinson. He unpacks the legend’s great work ethic. Finally, he analyses James’s incomparable basketball IQ. He can see the floor and predict the action way before others can. That said, Benedict glosses over full seasons in one paragraph. Ergo, this is much more than a basketball read; it’s a sociopolitical treatise, a riveting, multifaceted portrait of a basketball demigod. Easy to read, this reminded me of other excellent hoops biographies: Giannis, the Fab Five, and The Sixth Man.

Rating: 5/5

To be honest, I tried to read more than these three listed books. I’ve attempted other biographies and classics. Among them were Chatwin and Hemingway. Make no mistake: this trio are the reads that have enthralled me.

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Topher’s Faves

List your top 5 favorite fruits.

Eating fruit is vital to having a balanced diet. The benefits of meat like protein and iron are well-documented. However, science has shown us that meeting your adequate fruit intake is necessary in staying hale and healthy. The former is preferable over junk food and processed items. Their high fibre content could fight constipation.

For ages, I’ve been a fruit lover. I got this from my dad, who has a green thumb. He never has a meal without fruit. Often, we would masticate on fruits that he himself had grown. From bananas to avocados, sampaloc to apple guavas, dad knows how to grow. My predilections have changed through the decades. Obviously, there are different fruits in different countries. Picking my five fruit choices is tough, since there are many options out there. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are Topher’s favourite fruits.

1. Soursop (guyabano). If you read my penultimate post, I mentioned my science teacher, calling her Mrs Guyabano. She’s a bit more bitter than your average soursop. Soursop usually thrives in a tropical climate. Hence, it could be found in Florida, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Central American countries such as Mexico and Guatemela are the fruit’s primary producers. It’s normally a larger fruit with a green hide and black spikes. It looks similar to custard apple. Soursop has small, inedible black seeds.

Soursop could grow into 6.8 kilograms or 15 pounds. As such, the fruit is generally regarded as the second largest stone fruit, after junglesop. In the Philippines, the tree’s leaves are used at times to tenderise meat. It is also utilised for smoothies, sorbet, and ice cream. The fruit itself has a juicy flesh that’s absolutely delicious. It reminds me of a ripe jackfruit, only juicier. Living in Sydney, this is one fruit that I sorely miss.

2. Star Apple. (caimito). Another exotic fruit courtesy of the Philippines. A smaller, purple stone fruit, its flesh is similar in texture to lychees. However, it’s closer in size to an orange. The fruit originated from Panama, where it was introduced to Africa and Southeast Asia. Nowadays, caimito could likewise be found in Hong Kong and China. They are known there as milk fruit and golden star fruit, respectively.

The caimito tree could grow to 9.1 metres. As a nod to the fruit’s ubiquity, it is known by various names. Tar Apple, abiaba, Estella, and aguay are just some of the appellations thrown around. While lychees are nice, Star apples are less sweet. Caimitos are best served chilled. They are an ideal dessert after a ‘hard earned thirst’.

3. Tamarind (sampaloc). This is another stone fruit that I savoured while growing up overseas. Unlike the first two entries on this list, tamarind is sour. Its young leaves are often used in both Filo and Indian cooking. It is in stark contrast to caimito, which could be quite sweet.

The fruit is brown and elongated. It is reminiscent of deformed snow peas. Like caimitos, there are inedible round seeds. This fruit is also made into candy, where it is garnished with sugar. Thus, it has a sweet and sour taste. The fruit is high in sugar, B vitamins, and calcium. Another use of tamarind is for soups, where the sour taste is perfect for sinigang. Tamarind originated from Africa before being introduced in the tropics.

4. Cherries. This fruit has been a summer tradition. Once, I remember buying one big box of cherries for twenty bucks. Another time, I asked a cashier if they stocked jelly. She had trouble comprehending.

‘Cherry? Cherry?’

‘JElly’, I told her. I thought about showing her a cup of jelly to clarify.

Over the years, the price of cherry has kept going up. Mangoes, cherries, and watermelons are the most popular summer fruits. Cherries are quite sweet. They have many varieties, but could be split into two main categories: sour and sweet cherries. Turkey is the largest producer of the latter, while Russia exports the most amount of sour cherries.

5. Plums. This stone fruit is relatively underrated as opposed to the first three. In Western society, plums are far from a novelty. Chances are, you’ve just had them yesterday. I like how they taste, though. No secret that they are mostly aqua. If you’ve read through the others on this list, most of them are fleshy. Tamarind is the only dry fruit on this list.

Plums have a long history. It is said that they were the first fruit cultivated by humans. In other words, their past goes as far back as prehistoric times. Plums are likewise readily available. Even as a child, I was fond of plums. China is the largest exporter of plums, followed by Romania and Serbia. According to online sources, they could be converted into jams, wine, or even brandy. They are a good sources of vitamin C and bloom at different times across the world.

So there you have it, my five favourite fruits. Writing this post reminded me of the old days, where I would analyse my five latest reads. Posting about something other than reviews is a nice change. You might know some of them and like them as much as I do. Regardless of our backgrounds, eating fruit is part and parcel of healthy living. Make the change today.

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More Vignettes from My Memoir

For this week’s post, we dive into my first nonfiction title. I’ve attached a page from chapter three, ‘Writing 8.5’. As per the pic, as a high school frosh, I had a difficult teacher. She had her mood swings and, sometimes, she took it out on us.

Mrs Guyabano

My class would agree that there was absolutely nothing wrong with saying one oh one (101). It’s three syllables as opposed to five. Poh-tay-to, po-tah-to…no difference.

I likewise found it ridiculous that Mrs Guyabano put too much weight on one oh one instead of lauding my classmates’s long, convoluted solution. It almost seemed that she was making life harder for everyone.

Aside from this, other malapropisms discussed in the book were priceless ones like ‘basketball ball’, ‘pizza pie’, and ‘equipments’. I set out to change people’s mindset on common grammatical errors. To paraphrase Magic Johnson, you should ‘Know your grammar’.

Moreover, I unpacked other slippery phrases like ‘as we all know’, ‘as such’, and ‘you know’. The former was a colleague’s pet phrase. Every time I heard him uttering this, I had to stop myself from correcting him. He’s should’ve known better as he was a consistent honour student. Meanwhile, I singled out a schoolmate who uttered ‘killed dead’ during morning praise. One of my section mates said,‘He’s not just dead; he’s killed dead’. This was a rare brain cramp, as the former hosted many school events impeccably.

Alma mater

Throughout the book I went back to my roots. In many ways, my high school shaped me. I had great detail in sharing my story. My alma mater is a microcosm, the universe in miniature. My time there jumpstarted my writing odyssey.

Basket bull

I mentioned her further in a subsequent instalment. She confessed that my batch mates could afford gaudy basketball jerseys for the intersection wars. However, some of them have yet to pay their graduation fees. She proposed a forum on the matter. This was met with loud boos.

‘That’s it,’ she blurted. ‘The intersection games are cancelled until further notice’.

The guys took their grievances to Brother Ed (now Father Ed). At the time, he was the Assistant Principal for student affairs. On campus, he was also my biggest supporter. I’m certain that he was way more reasonable than Mrs Guyabano. He already had a lot on his plate: the graduation, the yearbook, and his post. He would act as emcee during the commencement exercises. See also: my throwback post titled ‘Losing Family’. This gives a more in-depth look at Bro.


Not long after Guyabano’s pronouncement, the games went on. I was away when this transpired. For the uninitiated, the matches pitted the five senior classes against each other. As usual, it followed a sudden death format. Whoever went undefeated would be crowned the champs. At the onset of the graduation practices, we were given a contract. This stipulated that we only had a set number of abscences. The class secretaries would check our attendance.

To be honest, I really didn’t see the point of allotting three weeks for song rehearsals. When I graduated from uni, we never had this conundrum. On the big day, a guy gave us a few instructions and that was it. As per Macbeth, it was ‘Much ado about nothing’. In addition, turning up to these hideous sessions was one thing. Getting accused of not singing was another.

Nonfiction debut

At 298 pages and twelve chapters, my book is not a lightweight. I spent four years writing, editing, and proofreading. This will always be my first foray into nonfiction book writing. Although an arduous undertaking, seeing my work makes all the huffing worthwhile. Not many people can say that they’ve written three hundred pages. Downplaying another’s flair is easier than besting the latter.

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A Mother’s Day Poem

Her presence is calming, her example inspiring

She will love her children come what may

Teaching and nurturing them is her mission

Adulthood, adolescence, or childhood

She’s a constant in your heart

Whether you’re sixteen or sixty one

Beside her or half a world away

She’s always thinking of you

Preschool, primary school; kindergarten or a double degree

She was your first teacher

Taught you how to eat, how to write, how to behave

She’ll defend you in your darkest hour and create your brightest dawn

Performing her duties is sure not easy

Yet seeing her kids grow into titans

Could be a parent’s most rewarding legacy of all

Young or old, tall or short, a genius or a commoner

We should give our mothers their due

They brought us into this world

They enabled our successes

Many have come before us and oodles will follow

There can only be one

For that we should be grateful

Others have not been as fortunate

Should you have both of your parents,

Make the most of it

Time ‘is a fickle friend’ after all

Tomorrow is a glorious day

Without night there’s no day

Without darkness, no light

Hold on to your memories and treasure your family

The most crucial lessons are often learned in your house

The mother is the light of the home

Every day is a blessing that God gave us

Get the most of your family

Make haste while the sun shines

You don’t have to look far; the answer is beside you

Reminisce the days of yore

There was never a dull memory

Strike a balance between work and play

So many words to describe her

Such a rosy exemplar

Nothing could encapsulate the good she’s done for us

Do good always to your mother

Never make her sad

She adores you like a rare diamond

All our mums ever do, all they ever achieve, is for us

They set the stage so we can reach our dreams

They jumpstarted the odyssey of our lives

Your lessons and advice: worry not as they will be with us

You supported us through thick and thin

You versed us in the ways of the world

You’ve always made our lives easier and fuller

So for all your goodness, ‘There’s no home like a mum’

To all the mothers, grandmothers, and mother figures, I would like to wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day. May you continue to educate, encourage, and inspire.

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From my memoir

Describe a random encounter with a stranger that stuck out positively to you.

Today I’ll share an excerpt from my latest release, Topher Wins. Said title is an autobiography/self-help volume that was self published last year. This excerpt appears on page 98, in chapter five. A brief conversation, it shows the encouragement that we can gather from outsiders.

‘While grappling with high school, I had a short but memorable exchange. I was stuck near Mr Donut, waiting for the rain to subside. I sat beside an older gentleman, who had the same idea. I estimated that he was in his late forties. After some pleasantries, I stated that I was a campus writer and I wanted to win. He urged me to keep at it. Just continue writing, he insisted, and winning will come easier. He repeated this a few times. He also mentioned that my school had some notable alumni. With the downpour subsiding, he was soon on his way. For a change, having a listening ear was nice. Years later, I would read of a similar tete a tete between a then Hollywood newbie (Kevin Costner) and Richard Burton, who passed away not long after.’

Topher Wins

My book has lots of these vignettes. Culled from years of studying and research across two continents, I have a plethora of stories to share. There are twelve chapters. Aside from this, there’s some front matter, an author’s note, and three appendices. By reading the attached blurb, you’ll have a rough idea of what my project is all about. The book is quite professionally made, as I hired both a designer and an editor. Beforehand, I even got some proof copies printed. Aside from telling my unique story, make no mistake. This book has some valuable insight on the IELTS exam. There are four lengthy chapters dedicated to the Test, one for each component. It took me four years, on and off, to create this manuscript.

The Good Samaritan

The guy didn’t need to say nice things. After all, he was just passing through. However, despite our lack of affinity, his opinion had weight. Even as a teener, I felt that he meant it. A few of my classmates would mobilise my help as it wasn’t a secret that I could write. When there was a group writing project, I’d be the go-to guy. After all, I was in the school paper. By my sophomore year, I had already penned the banner headline. By senior year, as detailed before, I became the associate editor. Occasionally, they would praise my ability. Other batch mates knew this too. I referenced my school experience extensively in the memoir.

Getting a compliment though from a stranger was quite rare. It’s one thing to win the confidence of your peers. While conversing with me, the hombre must have made a good assessment of me. From a small sample, I reckoned later that he was shrewd at evaluating people. Over the years, I’ve encountered many more new faces. Exceedingly, I came to understand that the guy’s assessing is a skill in itself. If only more people could judge others’ character as proficiently. To paraphrase Hannibal Lecter, we live in a flawed society. ‘Half-measures are the curse of it.’

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Summer (2022) reads

The following post catalogues my reads from December 2022 through to early Feb 2023. The usual three books, one nonfiction title and two novels, are included. I began with Desert Star. This ebook forms Connelly’s latest release. A taut thriller with twists and subplots galore, Desert once again reaffirms Connell’s status at the top of the crime game. As a nod to his breezy writing, I took less time to finish Desert. I tried to follow this up with another world beater, John Grisham’s Boys from Biloxi. I very rarely give up on Grisham but after half the book, it was time to try others. Picoult’s Mad Honey is somewhat better than the latter. Co-written with Jennifer Boylan, the book confronts pervasive social issues of our time. It’s got some long chapters. After three weeks of reading, I felt like I’ve crested a small mountain. The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith rounds out last season’s reads. The Chicago Tribune writer chronicles the volatile first championship of His Airness. This is perfect for MJ fans. Three reads, all ebooks, was what I devoured by February.

1. Desert Star (Connelly). Initially, this book seemed daunting. The ebook clocked in at close to six hundred pages. Desert contains fifty four chapters plus an epilogue. Bit by bit, I managed to crest this read. Harry Bosch returns, this time as a volunteer agent in the open unsolved unit. Detective Renee Ballard resurrected said unit with help from Councilman Jake. The latter has been seeking justice for his family, one of myriads of forgotten cases in the department.

Connelly has been fixated with the Gallagher case, where an entire family was murdered before being buried in the desert. This is his so-called white whale, the one that got away, the one that still haunts him. As usual, the novel is set in Los Angeles, although there is a Florida interlude. Cheap motels, fine dining, the surf and sun, and damning clues are all part of the plot. Aside from Bosch, there are five other members of the unit: all retired but looking to contribute.

‘Bosch almost told him he couldn’t be fired because he was a volunteer, and that any effort to charge him or Ballard would be laughed out of the DA’s office along with Hastings.’

‘Bosch knew that tracing a bankrupt bar with no name and no location six years or more after the fact would be like trying to trace bitcoin. Impossible.’

The book is garnished with Connelly’s attention to detail. He even fashioned out this hip bartender who, like Bosch, had served in Vietnam. Only he was one better, as he fought as a marine. Furthermore, his daughter, Maddie, is all grown up and is wearing a badge as well.

‘Bosch didn’t say that the Troubles were largely in Northern Ireland, not Dublin.’

This was the kind of book I needed, a title that offered an escape from the status quo. Aside from being easy to read, the plot is very relatable and you could easily get sucked into the Connelly multiverse. Another Connelly technique is Bosch sifting through the rubbish to find incriminating evidence. This time Ballard joins in the fun, donning a hazmat suit. As Professor Snape once said: ‘Reveal your secrets.’ To top it off, his hero has a close brush with death. The book’s apex is classic Connelly. No wonder then that Desert is one of his best-rated titles.

Rating: 5/5

2. Mad Honey (Jodi Picoult). This marks my seventh Jodi read. Like many of her titles, Mad Honey is set in small town America. This was more challenging than the rest, almost on par with Small Great Things. The plot is much more than boy meets girl. Asher is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Lily. His mother, Olivia, is the local beekeeper. She tries her best to protect her son and hires her only sibling, Jordan, to fight for him. The perspective shifts between Olivia and Lily, the character written by either Picoult or Boylan. The novel deals with spousal abuse, where both Lily and Asher’s mums escape violent relationships. Both of them move to New Hampshire to start afresh.

‘Even if he breaks your heart every time you hand it to him – that doesn’t necessarily stop you from loving him. The two are not mutually exclusive.’ – Olivia

Lily seems like the ideal girlfriend. She plays the cello, is a champion at fencing, very smart, and a good daughter. She goes out of her way to please Asher and they spend a lot of time in Asher’s treehouse. While the latter’s trial unfolds, Lily is revealed to be transgender. This shocks the courtroom and shifts the momentum against Asher. If he’s convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison. Jordan urges them that they just need to sprout some reasonable doubt against the state case. If even one juror disagrees, Asher’s name will be cleared. Throughout the trial, Asher is typecasted as the bad guy. The whole town evades Olivia, treating their family like lepers. Regardless, she does have the support of Mike, a former high school classmate.

‘She will stand in her pantry and her hand will close around that jar. maybe so much time will have passed that she won’t remember where it came from. But in all those years, it will never go bad.

It will keep, until she’s ready.’

Lily reveals how difficult it was to live as a trans woman. Upon outing herself, she faced the wrath of an entire school. Her father could not accept her transition (pun intended) and they had to leave him behind. Once, she even tried to take her life. She has the scars to prove it. Lily was once Liam, though she never felt at home with her former self. At seventeen, she became a post op tranny, though she had been taking estrogen since she was thirteen. The ending was typical Picoult. I liked her book from last year better, but this one’s a solid effort.

‘We are flawed, complicated, wounded dreamers; we have more in common with one another than we don’t. Sometimes making the world a better place just involves creating space for the people who are already in it.’

Rating: 4.1/5

3. The Jordan Rules (Smith). This was originally released in 1991, after the Bulls won their first ever championship. Smith was with the team the whole season as they chased that elusive chip. Thus, he has a front row seat to the action. At the time, the book was controversial as it painted an unflattering portrait of Jordan. Indeed, His Airness has refused to sign copies of the book. This was reminiscent of Scottie Pippen’s portrayal in The Last Dance (2020). Smith sketches key figures and nemeses of the Bulls’s rise, including their GM and Isaiah Thomas. Smith even describes the late Tex Winter and little known benchwarmers like Willie Burton. He uncorks Jordan’s win-at-all-costs mentality, which extended to his gambling. He likewise canvasses the strong relation between Mike and his father.

A few times, Smith takes aim at the Bulls’s collective spirit. According to the journalist, they weren’t tough enough or serious enough to win titles. Most of the roles players complained about their contracts or their minutes. The duo of Michael and Pip was only after one thing: to be at the centre of the offence. Their selfishness caused a fracturing of the team. Horace Grant was their enforcer, only he couldn’t accept that he was merely the third wheel in the offence. BJ Armstrong wanted to start at point guard, but John Paxton was more unselfish and willing to run the triangle offence.

Months ago, I purchased this ebook. It was my latest basketball-themed text. I recall that Smith had rare breaks between chapters, and these were long instalments. As a result, some of Rules were more challenging than others. One thing’s for sure: the scribe is an excellent storyteller. Hence, his book has trended on the Times Best Sellers. As per the blurb, this is a great complement to The Last Dance. I knocked back this one in early February. I would rank this as the second-best Jordan book ever, after David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps.

Rating: 4.55/5

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The Night Agent (2023) reviewed

Just yesterday afternoon, I was able to finally finish the aforementioned series. My barber was actually the one who recommended this show. He asked me if I was a fan of action/thrillers. I told him I was. ‘Try the Night Agent’, he said. Upon checking, I realised that it was the numero uno serye on the platform. For most of the past fortnight, I struggled to find time for the series. It seemed that there were not enough hours in the days for me to fulfil my commitments.

Based on the novel

In case you missed it, Night is adapted from Matthew Quirk’s eponymous novel. FYI, I never read the book. Gabriel Basso stars as Peter Sutherland. He’s the FBI agent who works the graveyard shift at the White House basement. At the onset, he prevents a terrorist attack on a train. He even tries to subdue the perp but the latter manages to scurry off. He does get a bird’s eye view of a snake tat on the bugger’s torso. Interestingly, when he tries to tell his story, no one believes him. His brass viewed his dad, a former officer, negatively. He believes his father was framed. He then makes it his mission to find out the truth about his pops.

He gets the distress call that Rose Larkin makes. She watches in horror as her uncle and aunt are shot dead by nefarious assailants. She’s able to hide but the episode clearly leaves her shaken. She initially doesn’t let her guard down but Peter’s actions convinces her. Rose was initially the founder of a tech startup – until things went sideways.


Both Rose and Pete yearn for answers. Why were her de facto parents shot down? She quickly learns that her relatives were government spies. Their carefully constructed facade was just as quickly unveiled. Meanwhile, Pete’s memory of his late father always gnaws at him. Why was the latter so suddenly turned ‘from hero to zero’? Likewise, he quickly turns into the enemy. For most of the season, the pair of them are on the run from the authorities.

The duo will end up getting more than they bargained for. The terror attack and the slayings unravel their world. However, they make quite a formidable team. As they say, ‘Two heads are better than none.’

Burying the truth

They approach good Samaritans but these kindhearted souls are almost instantly terminated after providing them their answers. Someone wants to bury the truth. In the same universe is Maddie, the Vice President’s daughter. While living in the dorm and attending art classes, secret service agents constantly shadow her. Her code name is Badger.

I could see the resemblance between Maddie and another Maddie (Hunter). In some angles, Sarah Desjardins looks very much like Indiana Evans of Home and Away. Maddie Redfield commences a passionate relationship with her art teacher. The latter was shot dead by his fellow dissident. The scene reminded me of Neil Harris’s unfortunate demise in Gone Girl (2014). As my friend said then, ‘They didn’t treat him very well in that movie’. Redfield lets her guard down and this costs her.

What I like

I liked how Rose looked for answers in the lib. When she needed an epiphany, the repository was her first choice. It was protected, full of answers, and had many potential witnesses just in case. After some time, she was able to decipher this royal coat of arms. Don’t underestimate Peter’s brains. He was the perfect compliment for Rose’s tech skills.

Another interesting storyline was Uncle Jim. The latter is Pete’s godfather. They used to be really close, going fishing together. Indeed, Jim gifted Pete his boat. However, their relations strained after Jim wrote articles regarding Pete’s dad. He works for the Baltimore Times. After all these years, when Pete visits his godfather, the latter greeted him like he was his long lost son. He welcomes the couple into his home. There’s a big buildup into the conclusion. This comes to a head at Camp David. The POTUS would conduct a meeting there with her top advisors.

Confusing but well-cast

I have to admit that the series is kinda confusing. There’s a helluva lot of names to keep track of, from the politicians to the assassins to the security detail. The villain’s true identity seems to update after each ep. Of course, you tend to recall the spirited performances. The two leads had chemistry and they played their parts with aplomb. You almost forget that Luciane (Rose) is Kiwi. She does a pretty good Yankee accent. Hong Chau was in form as the President’s Chief of Staff. So was Christopher Shyer as VP Redfield.

A month has passed since the series debuted on Netflix. The show is still going strong, trending at number three among TV shows in Netflix Australia. The ten episodes hover around the forty minute mark each. Fittingly, the show has earned a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not long after Night’s release, the latter was renewed for a second season. This would land next year. With an engaging plot and a talented cast, the sky’s the limit for this production.

Rating: 4.35/5

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The (not so) Secret life of Pets

What animals make the best/worst pets?

Not surprisingly, I believe that dogs make the best pets. I’m sure many others would agree with me. Canines have been known as ‘man’s best friend’. They are incredibly loyal and empathetic, come in all shapes and breeds, and could be trained. Their abundance of sizes cater to people of various backgrounds. They have a long lifespan as opposed to other domesticated critters. Unlike cats, they (mostly) behave when it comes to meals. Furthermore, the majority of them are low maintenance.

Cats and Dogs

An acquaintance once told me that he had to housesit his friend’s house and feed their cat. I told him that cats aren’t that useful. I guess the cat was fit for their purposes. As I mentioned some time ago, I grew up with pooches all around me. I never had an issue with any of them. Even when I went to vacay with my Ninang in Sorsogon, I took to her dogs. While we had three canines, my Ninang had about twenty. She loved each of them and treated them equally.

A dog’s world

Dogs are among the cleverest of animals. Their sense of smell has made them favourites at the airport. I remember once seeing a canine flush their toilet. I read that one owner has taught his dog five hundred words. Dogs are also the preferred guides for disabled people, including the blind. For a considerable number of breeds, swimming comes naturally. Some dogs, like the border collie, are known for herding cattle.

I watched this current affairs show. People have been complaining about this evil guy. Apparently, he wasn’t very reasonable. While being interviewed, he had this thin dog hanging around him. I thought that only his dog cared for him. It’s good that, despite his nature, his pet wasn’t snubbing him.

Dog years are different from human years. You can’t expect a dog to outlive an average child. They age quicker and have similar maladies as humans. Their body organs bear some similarity to humans. However, we stand upright while they walk on all fours. Obviously, we are the apex of earth dwellers. However, while not as smart, dogs function as a good complement to us.

Dogs have a long history with humankind. For instance, the chihuahua was spotted in ancient Mexico. They have likewise been featured on TV and film. Notable film franchises include Taken, Beethoven, and 101 Dalmatians. Marley and Me is another notable title. Many civilisations have flourished with the big help of a furry pooch.

Feeding your Pet iguana

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, is the pet iguana. They are big lizards of the gecko variety. Some people actually think that they make good pets. They’re wrong. Iguanas are very territorial. If they misconstrue your intents, chances are, you’ll get hurt. They also need a big enclosure, contingent on their size. A hungry iguana is a difficult iguana. You ought to remember that. Thus, you can’t afford to skip their meals, lest they turn into the Incredible Hulk.

You must maintain your distance, even when cleaning their cage. They have razor sharp teeth. The slightest movement of your pinkie can set them off. Since this is the case, one must weigh the pros and cons of owning an iguana. Yes, they’re exotic but you can’t cuddle them. They are belligerent by nature. In short, they’re an expensive experiment that yields little benefit. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a worse pet. They’re just like a mini crocodile: high maintenance with little value.

Pets come and pets go. They deserve every bit of TLC. They see happiness in small measures. Unlike humans, they don’t need a Hermes bag. Indeed, I saw a show some time ago. Apparently, there are more French pets among their youth than better halves. Since they could be picky, they treat their pets just like their hypothetical hubbies. When their critters pass away, it’s like they’ve lost their spouses. This might be an extreme example, but it shows the consequence and magnitude of a beloved pet. So let’s give these critters all the credit they’re due. They would light up your days.

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What is your favorite type of weather?

This is in response to a post prompt from Jetpack. Most Sydneysiders would pick sunny conditions as their fave. After all, summertime is all of three months. For most of the year, the weather tends to be colder. Summer then means swimming, surfing, and heading to the beaches. I notice here that peeps love to sun bake. Anything to get a good tan. While white skin is king of the Orient, Aussies prefer tanned complexion. Whenever the sun is out, there’s a steady stream of commuters and oldies, to name a few. Of course, the great outdoors are made for the clear days.

Rainy conditions

No one with half a brain would select rainy weather. When it rains, the cavalry takes cover. You wouldn’t chance on a senior going out and about. You wouldn’t see cyclists pushing their limits. You wouldn’t see cute women doing their morning runs. When the sun is away, the cats stay at bay. Rainy days bring back memories of chicken soup and spicy dishes. I feel nostalgic about the dozens of books I read overseas while I was in high school. The wet weather was the perfect excuse to binge read, most especially when class was cancelled. The Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, and Jurassic Park were but some of the texts I consumed during rainy days.

There are some sports where the action continues in spite of adverse conditions. Rugby and Aussie rules are the first ones that come to mind. Whether it’s the NRL ((National Rugby League) or the Rugby World Cup, ‘the show must go on.’ In the US, it’s even more impressive. American football matches are sometimes held while it’s snowing, as the calendar coincides with winter. I remember watching the OJ Simpson doco. They were playing in Buffalo in spite of the freezing conditions.

Rainy weather forces you to bring brollies (umbrellas). My auntie always has hers on her pack. ‘You neva know’, she says. Depending on the size of your brolly, it could be cumbersome. If you carry a golf umbrella, it’s another thing to remember. Meanwhile, a smaller brolly might be handier but it wouldn’t shield you as much from the rain. You must have the right getup. In autumn and winter, opt for a jumper and hoodie instead of a tee. Wear pants and not shorts. If possible, tread with leather shoes instead of canvas, suede, or synthetics. The former is commonly regarded as the best footwear material for wet weather.

My weather

For your information, overcast weather is my kind of condition. It’s somewhat middling, between hot and rainy. It’s as if the sun is deciding whether to come out or hide. I recall talking about the weather in a job interview. The interviewee told me that she prefers the sun. I responded by saying that I opt for cloudy conditions. A few years past, I shared this excellent result I normed for this college organ. It was the perfect morning for me, a cloudy one with a cool breeze.

The weather inspired me. That Saturday, I was able to write with a vengeance. Some of the entrants were probably wondering why I was scribbling so furiously. As it turns out, despite my brevity, I was the first to finish. I turned in my work well before time was up. I felt good about the end result. On Monday, the results were posted outside the paper’s office. I finished third out of sixteen examinees. Not bad for a frosh. The outcome impressed some of my classmates. They didn’t knew that I could write. Indeed, I bested some upperclassmen. One of my sister’s friends admitted that she was shocked. ‘Your brother seemed to finish in record time’.

Wind gusts

If you think many people despise the rain, most souls loathe the wind. I once overheard this guy Bret saying ‘Rain is my second least liked weather, after windy. If it’s rainy AND windy, that’s a double whammy’. It’s not just students and workers who are against the wind. Even tennis players are not fans. It’s hard to serve and land your ground strokes when the air keeps getting in your way. Once, I heard that Lleyton was once the tour’s best wind players. He promptly followed up this pronouncement by beating a much bigger opponent. They both contended with the wind.

Even in night matches in Melbourne, the wind plays a key role in determining the outcome. Commentators often comment about the impact of ‘the breeze’. If you’re facing the wind, chances are you’ll run into trouble. This is especially crucial when playing tie breaks. Every point counts. The best resolve is to win as much points before the change of ends after the sixth point. Recently, the rain has not been as worrisome to grand slams. Apart from the French Open, all centre courts now utilise a retractable roof.

Cry me the weather

Whether you prefer sunny or cloudy conditions, we breathe the same air and live in a slice of the planet. Many are against the wind and showers, as they limit our outdoor jaunts. When I visited Auckland and Melbourne, I came to appreciate the Sydney conditions more. While the former always trends on the world’s most liveable cities, the weather there could be unpredictable. Even my tour companions said that the climate was only ‘slightly better than London’. Meanwhile, I heard that it rarely pours in LA. The weather is often the same: sunny. Whereas the weather could be a good conversation starter in other areas, cars are more preferable in sunny Cal as the weather is constantly hot.

Thankfully, the sun was up today. From Topher to the world: Have a joyous Easter and a safe long weekend.

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The Prodigal Chum

I was thinking of titling this week’s post as Confessions of a Shopaholic. However, I decided against it as it was a girly movie. It didn’t receive favourable reviews and I don’t intend to watch it. Today I’m going to do what I do best: sharing a story. I know this guy, Pip (not his real name). I noticed that every time we meet, he keeps checking his phone. Why, I asked him. I’m following up the tracking details of my parcel, he replied. This seemed to be a regular thing. I often notice him rocking his new purchases. Here’s a recent inventory. He bought this leather watch from Myer. He also showed me a pic of his new pyjamas from Peter Alexander. Being a big Jordanaire, of course he had to grab this retro Chicago Bulls dad hat from Mitchell and Ness. That’s just the start of his oniomania or compulsive buying disorder.

Shopping = happiness

His friends and family have urged him to change. Save, his dad told him. His younger brother concluded that he has an illness and he needs to sort it out. His step mum told him to stop buying clothes as he already has too much. It will become a space eating nightmare, she warned him. I asked him why he didn’t listen to his family. He replied that ‘shopping gives me fleeting happiness. After this I feel empty and need to stock up some more.’

Even though we hung out, I didn’t recognise the warning signs. Pip seemed unhappy and malcontented even though he was buying the best stuff. As a result, his wallet hit a roadblock. His payment would be gone after a few days. He had to repay Zip instalments, his mobile plan, his Apple TV+, his credit card, his Uber One, and OnePass. That’s a lot of payables for a guy who wasn’t Elon Musk. He does buy items that he truly need but he’s the first to admit that they are ‘about less than half’ of his buys. I inferred that if it were only essential stuff, his extravagance would be greatly diminished.


My pal reminded me of The Prodigal Son. The biblical parable is a famous one about two sons who end up in different directions. The older son is wise with his money. He always saves for the rainy days. The younger one is more free flowing. The latter forces their dad to give their inheritance early. The older son stays with his father and takes good care of his cash. The younger one immediately leaves the family and blows his money on trivial stuff until he has nothing left. Penniless, he returns to his dad who welcomes him with open arms. The father orders his servant to cook the fattest lamb. This irks the older one as he seems to be taken for granted. He, in fact, chose to look after their elderly dad. The latter, being fair, said that he values both sons and that they should rejoice that his sibling has returned.

The main interpretation of this tale is that God will accept you come what may. If you erred and forgotten Him, He’ll always welcome you back to His fold. Returning to Pip, I did some searching recently, hitting up the term ‘shopping addiction.’ As per above, it is a real condition. Pip’s younger sibling was on the money (pun intended). Another term for this is being a shopaholic. It has similarities with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). What usually occurs is that the person buys a lot of unessential goods. A clock here, a jacket there. A pair of shoes here, a leather wallet there. A used CD here; an electric fan there. You get the drill. To them, everything they snap up is necessary.

All Regrets Policy

This compulsive buying is often met with regret upon purchase. It’s like a void that needs to be filled. The more you feed this vortex, the worse your affliction gets. In some cases, people get addicted to online shopping. This is usually a result of social anxiety. Since the offender is obviously not very sociable, they substitute face to face interaction with an inordinate concern to hoard everything. There is no bargains that they couldn’t have. They’re only marginally better than gamblers. Don’t be mistaken: shopping could be a vice.

I think my pal’s condition is getting worse. Before, it was only two or three items a month. Now, he’s topping up every other day. Before, he was shopping at Target. Now, he’s frequenting David Jones, the glitziest department store in the land.

An old malady

Shopping addiction is not new. It was coined as oniomania way back in 1892. The epic rise of the internet and online shopping has foregrounded the issue to the masses. To be honest, you can be forgiven for dismissing this malady as a first world problem, if not, as per Kevin Kwan, ‘rich people problems’. However, we must remember that this condition really exists. Instead of being dismissive, we must try to support those affected. Perhaps they need to see a counsellor or talk to a financial advisor to curb their urges. The first step is always acceptance and I’m glad that my friend has owned up to his extravagance.

The good thing is that my friend is willing to change. Like most addictions, it will probably be a gradual decline. As they say, ‘The journey to a thousand miles start with a single step.’ Me, his other friends, and his immediate family, are doing our best to aid him. Good luck, Pip.

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