Roselands Shopping Centre reviewed

My recent visit to Roselands will be the basis of this week’s post. Like Eastgardens, Roselands is out of the way. There is no train station nearby, so public transport is limited to buses. The similarity with Eastgardens does not end there, as some bus routes are not as regularly serviced. Like Eastgardens, the bus stop is adjacent to the mall. However, it’s clear that last week’s focus is larger and more complete than this centre, which is owned by Vicinity Centres. The group maintains such developments as DFO (Direct Factory Outlet) in Homebush, Bankstown Central, and part-owns the massive Chadstone Shopping Centre in Victoria. I recall the first time I visited this mall, in 2017. It was midwinter and the weather was freezing. Even with my down jacket, the wind gusts felt Baltic out there. When I called last week, the weather bucked the winter trend as it was sunny.

Sixty-five

Roselands opened in 1965. For years, the mall was the biggest in the southern hemisphere, although it is relatively minor by today’s merits. The centre currently has 61,417 square metres of retail floor space. Roselands also had the country’s first food court. The centre has hosted bigwigs such as Sinatra and Roger Moore. While many bus routes were diverted to include the mall, the centre was made for the automobile. This accounts for its distance to the railway. The mall also boasted a large Grace Bros. department store (rebranded as Myer). Furthermore, Roselands also included a cinema. In 2015, Roselands celebrated fifty years. Tenants would come and go over the years. When I first visited Roselands, it had a few anchors: Myer, Food for Less, Coles, and Target, plus JB HiFi. Food for Less has since been converted to Woolworths. I recall browsing at the Jeanswest store, a brand that used to be ubiquitous but has gradually been diminished.  

Expansion

Last year, the mall underwent a considerable expansion, adding a basement level. Fresh food and produce, dining, grocers, and entertainment were the priority. The basement’s additions included a new Aldi, a refurbished Woolies, The Reject Shop, a chemist, among others. The lower ground level featured a quintet of novel specialty areas, offering a disparate range of new produce. I read that three years ago, Vicinity was to give the mall a $650 million makeover. Apparently, it would add a new fashion block, together with both national and foreign labels, a Kmart, a multiplex, and an enhanced Myer. The additions would have annexed a further 34,500 square metres of floor area. However, they could not get the latter to sign on to the deal, paving the way for the more conservative, $90 million upgrade.

Food court

I’ve been here a few times since my first visit. Last year, I was able to purchase a replacement microwave. I also bought a tower fan here. In January, I got an air fryer on sale from Target. I’m sure I haven’t been back since summer. Since then, a few shops have closed and there are more empty stores. The mall has a retro feel that betrays its age. The food court is adequate, although more recent developments (more on them later) would create a void. At the moment, there is a Subway, wrap place, Turkish stop, sushi fix, burger option, Chinese takeaway, and a fish and chips shop. There is also a doughnut stand nearby.

The trip

For this trip, I decided to start off with Strandbags. I had a look around the store and their backpack range, before unearthing this grey pack. It was a lightweight with four compartments and two side pockets. At better than half-price, I decided to grab it. I then had a look at Best & Less. The prices were quite competitive, but they had plenty of stock left. Now is not the time to panic-buy. I then spent time at Myer. Here, I spotted a tee that I bought at Bondi in November of last year. The price I paid for the summer item was a rip-off compared to the one there. I doubt though that you could access that low price in season. The Myer scenario in Roselands was hardly any different than that at Eastgardens. Compounding the lack of foot traffic was the closure of the top floor, the designated clearance floor. Apparently, the new Myer CEO wasn’t a fan of the clearance mindset.

I strolled around Target, where I found the same $10 tee I bought at Eastgardens. The rack was brimming with unsold clearance pieces. Their bag range wasn’t very gaudy, their caps were overpriced. They still had a lot of in-season socks. With the chain getting phased out soon, you wonder if they’ll introduce summer socks. I went to the food court and was surprised to see both McDonald’s and KFC closed. Their website lists both options as ‘temporarily closed’, yet another two victims of COVID-19. With people using their cars less, the shopping and dining precincts would suffer. If even stores in the city centre would fold, spare a thought for those in Roselands. I ended up buying subpar Turkish food that made me appreciate burgers more.  

Departure

After this, I headed to the basement level and looked around. I bought some items from the fruit shop. I then surveyed The Reject Shop. I quickly deduced that the Eastgardens branch had better variety than this one. By the time I checked out, the other store was already closed. This conflicted with their trading hours listed at the entrance. I went to Aldi to do the groceries. Compared with other Aldi’s, it was laid out differently. Then it was time to go. The biggest shortcoming in Roselands’ line-up is the lack of Kmart. This is where the bigger redevelopment would’ve helped. The ‘temporary’ closures of key fast food outlets are also concerning. However, the centre offers more than enough if you’re there to do the groceries and some shopping.

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Westfield Eastgardens reviewed

Last week, I got my first-ever glimpse of Westfield Eastgardens. Since forever, I’ve shunned visiting this mall since it’s quite far. The centre is located at corner Bunnerong Road and Wentworth Avenue in the Sydney suburb of Eastgardens. There is no train station nearby, just buses. It would only make sense to go there if you have a car. Since I missed my bus, I waited about half an hour for a direct trip from the city to the mall. The bus trip per se tacked on another half-hour. My first impression of Eastgardens is that it is dated. Having been established in 1987, it has been around for a while. I read that upon opening, the centre was the largest in Australia. The title would be short-lived as Chadstone (in Victoria) added another hut. The Scentre group, which owns Westfield, manages the mall on a long-term covenant.

Nineteen Eighty-seven

Allow me to indulge in a brief history lesson. Westfield Eastgardens was concocted on the former Pagewood bus depot. Said depot became a car factory, where its closures cost a thousand jobs. The state government lobbied Westfield Group to build a mall on the site. NSW government rezoned and added crown land in their efforts to convince. There was some adversity from opposing landlords, and considerable public debate ensued. Westfield Eastgardens started trading on 19 October 1987. When it opened, it had Franklins, David Jones, a six-screen Hoyts cinema, Kmart, Target, and 180 other retailers. With the expansion (more details later), the centre now has 84,627 square metres of total retail floor area.

Food court

The mall has a decent food court. There is at least a dozen or so eateries, including the usuals: McDonald’s, KFC, and Oporto. Various cuisines are represented: American, East Asian, Italian, Portuguese, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, and Mexican (temporarily closed). If you’re into sandwiches, they’ve got you covered. If you like veggies, head to Sumo Salad. There are sushi and bahn mi, kebabs and gozleme, pizzas and cheap fish and chips. The price range varies from reasonable to dearer, as they house both economical and posh places. I noticed that KFC was a popular choice among diners. The chairs were set apart in line with the recommendations of social distancing.  

The stores

I had a look around before heading to Myer. I recalled at the entrance that Eastgardens has a few anchor tenants. For starters, it houses the three major supermarkets: Woolworths, Coles, and Aldi. Moreover, it has three discount department stores: Target, Kmart, and Big W. It likewise has a Hoyts cinema and a two-floor Myer. The centre underwent a redevelopment in 2002, annexing a new supermarket (Woolies), plus Big W. Thus, Eastgardens became the first mall in the state to contain three discount department stores. The midyear sales had just ended when I swung by. I passed by one of the retailers who were hawking 50% off the second item. I ducked in for about ten seconds, noticed that no one else was duped, then I left.

The centre is clearly a one-stop shop. Aside from the three majors, the Westfield is also home to meat shops, seafood stops, bakeries, an Asian supermarket, a butcher, and a chicken shop. There are alterations and drycleaners, nurseries, six banks represented, and a bookstore. The mall contains forty men’s fashion stores, for those on a budget to those who could splurge. Eastgardens likewise has the three primary telecom companies: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. There is also an EB Games for good measure. The centre has a florist and three foreign currency exchanges. Furthermore, there are six optical stores in the vicinity, from OPSM to Oscar Wylee to Specsavers. There are outdoor stores like Kathmandu and Surf Dive n’ Ski. I took one look at the former before shopping elsewhere. Moreover, Eastgardens has a Strandbags for your luggage needs. Among the men’s shoe stores are a Foot Locker, a Platypus shop, a Nike store, and an Athlete’s Foot. Kids could hang out at the toy store while grownups could have their items repaired at the shoe repair and key cutting booths.   

Browsing @ Myer

I spent considerably more time at Myer. As mentioned, there were no storewide promotions going on at the moment. However, I collected these socks that I ordered online. I got them a few days prior at forty percent off. While browsing, I saw this rose striped tee.  It was in my size. The original price was thirty bucks, but I got it for seven fifty. I tried on this olive-coloured tee with a distinctive design, but it just looked black. I noticed that all the good items were in the big sizes (XL and L). The rest had already been had. The centre’s ungodly location is the obvious culprit. There aren’t any Myers close by, so naturally, the giraffes will flock there.

I noticed that business was bad at Myer. With the chain closing down stores a year or two ago, this definitely seems like the next one on the chopping block. The branch seems destined to follow the fate of its Top Ryde iteration, which closed down a few years ago. Interestingly, David Jones was the original tenant, which Myer replaced in 2008. This is a similar scenario to Bankstown, with DJ out. I believed that I spent too much time at Myer, time that could have been better spent at more-reasonably-priced stores. Afterward, I headed to JB but learned that they did not have what I was after. I managed to get some tips though from the informed salesman. Before doing the groceries, I bought some grub for dinner. It was better to get in early when you had more options still open. I then went to Aldi to do the weekly shop. It was a lighter shop as it was impractical to carry too much.

Catch of the day

While I was packing my bags, I remembered this long-sleeve tee that I’ve been keen on for months. I first saw the long sleeves at Macarthur (more on that visit to follow) and have been coveting it ever since. I decided to check Target out. To my surprise, they had the shirt on clearance. After months of being full price at $25, the item was down to $10. What’s more, they had it in my size. I didn’t think twice about it and it was ticked off my list. It’s curious how upmarket Myer was out of sizes while no-frills Target had loads of stock. However, I must admit that Myer was the exemption; most of the other stores were well-stocked. Because of the time I spent browsing at Myer, I wasn’t able to get to Kmart anymore.

Musings

Being winter, it was already dark when I sat at the bus stop. As I left the centre, I thought about my visit. Apart from the groceries, I did make three purchases. Given the inaccessible location, it would make sense to make the trip if you were only after a particular item. Everything else in the centre could be accessed somewhere closer: the three grocers, Myer, the cinema, JB, Target, and Kmart. Only Big W isn’t as ubiquitous. Many shoppers would go to Westfield Bondi instead for these reasons. Not only is it bigger and more convenient, but you likewise have shopping and dining options other than Westfield. Also consider that Myer is not well-stocked. So, Eastgardens – while noteworthy – is good for a one-time look. Yet unless you live nearby, you’re better off exploring somewhere closer.

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Midwinter reads (2020)

Australia is currently in the midst of winter. This week has been pretty chilly, with heavy rain and wind gusts.  The mercury has plummeted south of double figures for most of the state. Meanwhile, since my last inventory four weeks ago, I have finished three more books. I started off with Criminal by Karin Slaughter. The latter was the sixth instalment in her long-running series. I proceeded to chip away at Unseen (Slaughter), the next book in the Will Trent series. Finally, I devoured The Sixth Man, a memoir by Andre Igoudala, the three-time NBA champion. Both Slaughters were above four hundred pages, while the basketball book was shorter. I’ve been looking forward to reading the memoir for a while and it lived up to the hype.

  1. Criminal (Slaughter). It’s been a while since I’ve tackled this series. See also: Broken. This novel is unlike all the instalments that I’ve read previously. All of them may be livewire thrillers that oscillate from one perspective to another. Moreover, they revolve around three major axes: Detectives Trent and Mitchell, and Dr Sara Linton. However, the infusion of race and gender politics make this one unique. Criminal tells the story of a callous murderer, one who quotes scripture but is a coldblooded butcher. The story shifts between two time periods: present-day Atlanta and seventies Atlanta. The three players still hold court for now, while rookie detectives Evelyn Mitchell and Amanda Wagner feature in the flashbacks. Mitchell is a new mother, while the latter tries to distance herself from her powerbroker dad.

The author did a lot of research to get the history right. From the cheaper fast food to the obsolete brands, the dime-a-call payphone to the bulky autos, the book is ‘a journey through time.’ 1970s Georgia was a time unkind to both women and minorities. Female law enforcers were expected to be subservient to their male counterparts. Harassment in the workplace was rampant. Even when the women solved cases, the men got all the credit. The two newbies entered during the state’s first black Commissioner and tensions were high. A matador was on the loose, a misogynist who was picking the force apart. While the bodies piled up, the partners were told not to go near the case. The two chicks would not be discouraged, ramping up their investigations and defying authority. They would head to the projects, mingle with blacks, and go to autopsies.

After all, since this is a Slaughter book, there’s sure to be a twist in the end. There is a final piece that would connect the present-day puzzle with the past. We would learn that the name Will Trent was not his actual birth name, but one christened by Amanda. We would also realise that, though fictional, the efforts of officers like Evelyn and Amanda paved the way for the policewomen of today. We would likewise grasp that good could come out of bad things. Moreover, the final twist conjures the unexpected: the guy everyone thought was blameless was in fact guilty. This was a middle-of-the-pack effort in the series, but one that is very pertinent to the climate of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter.

Rating: 4.25/5

  • Unseen (Slaughter). After summiting Criminal, it was time for another Will Trent sequence. As with other instalments, Unseen opens in style. An attempted murder in Macon, Georgia, is thwarted as the police couple fight back. Just as Lena is about to send her assailant to kingdom come, Will Trent stops her from crossing over to the dark side. Turns out he is working undercover but refuses to let Dr Linton, his girlfriend, know. He hides under the name, Mr Black, and fraternises with the enemy. Meanwhile, Lena loses her baby and scrambles to clear her name in the force. A few weeks before the spanking, Lena and her team stormed the castle, but they did not find any jewels. The raid left them with more questions than answers.

In the aftermath of the smackdown, Jared Long (Lena’s better half) is on life support. Long is the son of Jeffrey, who was Linton’s slain husband. Sara believes that Lena’s obstinate ways ultimately led to Jeffrey’s demise. Together with Nell (Jared’s mother), they claim that Lena’s recklessness contributed to Jared’s hospitalisation. For most of the story, Jared’s survival is up in the air. Perhaps more than her prior material, Unseen makes use of the past. Lena thinks that her carelessness caused the drama. However, we would later learn that this is not the case. The title may refer to two things: firstly, the fact that Trent operates unseen. Secondly, the puppeteer, the guy pulling the strings, is a masked rider.

Will’s refusal to open up to Sara strains their relationship. He has to balance his bond with Linton together with his undercover job, where he deals with shady figures. As with most Slaughter novels, the plot transpires within a short timeframe. Once again, the stage is set for a killer conclusion. As with book six, the face of evil comes from the most unexpected places. All this time, the kingpin is hiding in plain sight. Given the book’s content, the themes tackled in this one look like child’s play compared to Criminal. Slaughter has followed up a racially and politically charged thriller with a standard murder mystery. However, Unseen does just enough to hook you in.

Rating: 4/5

  • The Sixth Man (Andre Igoudala).

This memoir was first released as a hardback in June of last year. I bought the paperback edition after its June 2020 publication. Since last year, I’ve read a few sports books. I’ve finished Open (Agassi), Mamba Mentality (Kobe), Shoe Dog (Knight), Unbreakable (Jelena Dokic), and Relentless (Tim S. Grover). This read, my third sports book of the year, puts me on par with last year’s haul. On the surface, Sixth Man is a hoops read. Some have even asserted that there is too much basketball. However, I would purport that the book is a melange of sports, prevalent issues, and class struggles. In particular, the first few chapters shed light on what’s happening in Middle America. We would learn that Andre grew up with his large extended family. Discipline was instilled in him very early on, and he was always a model student. He comes from a city called Springfield in Illinois where the winters were chilly and the summers, intense.

Basketball was his ticket out of town. Even before his growth spurt in school, he was always a playmaking maestro. He became an Arizona Wildcat, where he was teammates with future Laker coach, Luke Walton. He cites his colleague, Salim Stoudamire as the best shooter he’s ever seen. He was drafted ninth overall by the Philly Sixers, leading them to multiple playoff appearances. However, because of his big contract, he was deemed ‘The Most Hated Athlete in Town.’ He channelled his frustration and disillusionment into his work. Throughout his NBA tenure, he’s worked with like-minded players with the same enthusiasm toward black culture and history. Chris Webber, Allen Iverson, Samuel Dalembert, and Wilson Chandler are just some of the names who share his passion. There are many instances where he goes into detail about the black experience. While admittedly heavier, these impressions give us a glimpse. This is especially true when told in a first-hand account by a celebrated sports figure.

He signed with the upstart Warriors before the 2013-14 season. In two years’, time, they became world champions. They also graduated from being an exciting ballclub to be the most loathed outfit in the land. It seemed that their resounding success soured people’s opinions. Dre makes it a point to show how the media manipulates players’ words to make a story. In most cases, Dre advocates that less is best. In one instance, Iggy was roasted for using the n-word and calling his coach, ‘master’. Apparently, he was just wrathful at the shoddy refereeing. In six seasons with Oakland’s finest, Iggy would make five straight Finals appearances. On three occasions, they would win the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, he believed that chasing the NBA-record 73 wins cost them the title that year. He also maintains that being a b-ball dynasty turns the officiating against you. This is a standout memoir from one of the league’s smartest athletes.

Rating: 4.8/5

So that’s the wrap for this list: three books. I conquered two novels and one non-fiction. That’s two authors for three titles. I close in homage to Stephen King. To the ‘constant reader’, keep at it.

Now reading:

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Remembering Harry

July 15, 2011. Almost nine years ago this weekend, the final instalment in the Harry Potter saga hit theatres around the world. I remember it like it was yesterday when my pal and I saw it at the cinemas. After the presentation, there was a smattering of applause around the auditorium. I also recall a chick gamely answering her friends’ questions while the credits rolled. This is not my first post based on Harry Potter. Three years ago, I likewise did a write-up about the boy who lived.  For that item, I focused more on the books rather than the movies.

The Franchise

There are eight Potter movies, with the last adaptation split into two to maximise profits. All of them were well-received and were box office hits. I saw at least five of them in the cinema. The creator immerses the viewers in the wizarding world, with potions, spells, and quidditch. Non-wizarding folk are labelled muggles, and owls are the preferred couriers. There are four Houses in Hogwarts, the premier wizarding school in the world. The institution is also where Harry attends class. There are giants (Hagrid et al), werewolves (Professor Lupin), goblins, house elves (see also: Dobby), dragons, and trolls. As I mentioned three years ago, I admire the author for holding the reader’s attention for seven books. While there was some overlap, she mostly uses fresh ingredients for each volume. The disparate titles alone attest to this. Through eight pictures, they assembled a who’s who of British cinema, including Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, Robert Pattinson, and Bill Nighy.

‘BFFs’

Hermione and Ron Weasley are Harry’s best friends. They are part of Gryffindor House, together with an assortment of brave lads and lasses. Harry plays seeker for his House. As a freshman starter, he was the youngest player to suit up in over a century. Quidditch is like soccer on brooms. It has a World Cup that various wizarding nations contest. The always-astute eye of Professor McGonagall discovered Harry’s broom-flying talents. Harry makes a lot of chums in Gryffindor. As His house’s star seeker and the founder of Dumbledore’s Army, he extends his reach to other Houses as well. His spell of choice is the Disarming Chant. By shouting ‘Expelliarmus,’ Harry is able to release his victim’s weapon. This enables him to rid his opponent’s wand and likewise make their spell rebound to them. With constant practice, he masters this spell and uses it against more seasoned warlocks.

SATAN

Harry has become the world’s most renowned wizard even as an infant. Though the evil Lord Voldemort made him an orphan, he was unable to annihilate the boy. Potter became known for being ‘the boy who lived.’ Harry and his lightning bolt-shaped scar were famous even as he lived with his difficult muggle relatives. Throughout Harry’s teenage years, the shadow of Voldemort lurks around him. The latter has wreaked such a reign of terror that wizards and other creatures are afraid to utter his name. They instead refer to him as ‘You-Know-Who’ or ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.’ For those who believe in the devil, he is Satan personified.

As a boy, he was known as Tom Riddle, born to a muggle father and a descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Despite living in an orphanage, he always believed that great things awaited him. He was said to have one of the brightest minds in wizarding history. Along the way, he enticed a cabal of groupies, code-named Death Eaters. These sadists each have a mark on them that prompts them to summon Tom. Riddle sees it as his duty to create a pureblood wizarding world free of muggles and muggle sympathisers. He is indeed the heir of Slytherin, who had the same goal. This is reminiscent of Hitler and Nazi Germany, committing genocide to reinforce their ideal of a supreme Aryan race.    

In the last book, Harry and his mentor, Professor Dumbledore, conversed. Here we learn that You-Know-Who coveted the Defence Against the Dark Arts job. He even talked to Albus Dumbledore about it. Upon being turned down, he put a jinx on the job so that no one ever lasted more than a year. Voldemort was a cold-hearted murderer. He disposed of Harry’s parents, he silenced even his followers. As a young worker, he killed his own boss. His wrath made him terminate his own dad and grandparents. Apparently, the Killing Curse leaves no trace. To the untrained Muggle eye, we would think that these hypocrites just dropped dead.

Progenitor

Harry is the poster boy of angst. He lost his parents, then almost loses Arthur Weasley, who was more of a father than his Uncle Vernon would ever be. Then, Sirius is extinguished, his godfather who Gary Oldman portrays in the film version. Though Sirius was missing in action for most of his life, he does buy Harry the Firebolt, the greatest broomstick ever. Thanks to Sirius, he’s able to snatch the House Cup away from Draco, his nemesis. Sirius died trying to defend Harry. Next to go is Albus, his teacher and his last and greatest protector. Albus introduced Harry to the Horcruxes, which was explained in detail in the sixth book.

DARK!

Horcruxes are the vilest of dark magic. A horcrux is part of one’s soul trapped in an inanimate object or living organism. In order to create one, the wizard must murder another. A young Riddle learned all he could about the horcrux after wheedling professor Slughorn. He then set out to create seven horcruxes since he is fond of the number. In order to do this, he ended up erasing seven earthlings. Tom Riddle’s diary is the first Horcrux to be destroyed. Different people eradicated all seven Horcruxes. The last Horcrux is the most puzzling of them all. I remember discussing the seventh book with an acquaintance. She had already read the tome. I tried to guess the final Horcrux but got it wrong twice. ‘It’s not Nagini,’ she said. Regardless, Harry’s early life bears a striking similarity to Riddle’s. Both are half-bloods, can speak Parseltongue, and were practically orphaned at an early age. However, in the second instalment, Harry is able to show that he is a true son of Gryffindor. Dumbledore avows that, ‘It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’

I recall viewing the last Potter film in 3D. It used to be the craze back then. These days 3D has pretty much gone out of vogue. Just this week, cinemas have begun to reopen in New South Wales. I’m fairly certain that they remain closed in the States. Some people have seen the brighter side, given that it’s school holidays and that we need a little cheer. The cinemas in turn have grovelled in their bid to lure some patrons. Personally, I can’t understand this rush to open cinemas. Like gyms, they are not exactly necessities. Almost a decade since the film series finished, the extent of Harry’s influence is huge. Words like quidditch have entered the dictionary. Others such as galleons have been redefined. Any attraction related to the Potterverse is sure to draw crowds.

Poise and promise

Harry Potter has seen kids become grown-ups. Rarely has it occurred that a film franchise works with a whole cast for a decade. When Richard Harris (Albus) met his Maker, they quickly signed up his replacement. They even got Ron’s height right, as the redhead was taller than Harry. The transformation of Emma Watson from curly-haired bookworm was also riveting. While the movies got darker, the imagery remained delicious. The films were also spaced quite wisely. The character that I empathised with was Cedric Diggory. Quick aside: valiant Neville Longbottom is a close second. Cedric was the rightful Hogwarts champion and gave Hufflepuff much-needed good PR. He showed poise beyond his years and so much promise. He competed for glory right till the end, only to be vaporised by the baddies. Due to his moral compass, his death was not in vain. As someone I knew once said, ‘There are many people who want to know the way he died, I want to remember the way he lived.’

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The Good Place (2015-2020) reviewed

After summiting Parks and Recreation, I was looking for a new series. Enter The Good Place. The show is a light-hearted take on the afterlife while also incorporating elements of philosophy. The cast features the talented Kristen Bell as Eleanor, William Harper as Chidi Onagonye, Jameela Jamil as Tahani, and Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza/Jianyu. I am biased towards Manny’s portrayal as he is from a Filipino background. Meanwhile, Ted Danson is loveable as the devil-architect Michael who has a change of heart. Good Place ran for four seasons and each one was well-received. Each year had thirteen episodes (last season had fourteen), and the instalments are about twenty minutes apiece.

Welcome to the Good Place

The story begins with the four protagonists being informed that they are in ‘the good place.’ This shocks all of them as their actions on Earth make them unworthy of heaven. In the beginning, Eleanor is reincarnated as Chidi’s soulmate. Eleanor is doubtful from the start as they seem to have little in common. Meanwhile, Chidi loves giving philosophy lessons and reading books. While reticent at first, Eleanor starts attending these classes in her conscious effort to be a better person. She is constantly envious of Tahani, their next-door neighbour. The latter lives in a palace and is a socialite. Eleanor even detests Tahani’s posh accent.

The Players

While Elanor loathes Tahani, the latter hates Camilla, her sister who could do no wrong. The sibling rivalry between the two often sees Tahani coming second-best. She cannot understand why Camilla is the peerless and most admired. Indeed, Tahani’s jealousy was what finally killed her. Jianyu is Tahani’s soulmate; he has taken a vow of silence. However, Eleanor learns early on that Jianyu is in fact Jason Mendoza. The latter was killed while on a job with his sidekick, Pillboi. Jason adores the fictional Jacksonville Jaguars and worships their star quarterback, Blake Bortles. Throughout the series, Jason may not be the smartest but still is the realest and perhaps even the coolest.

He reminds me a bit of Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) in Friends, the iconic 90s sitcom

While Chidi has the smarts, he is also incredibly indecisive. For instance, he has spent his lifetime writing his book. However, he has three thousand pages in limbo. In his childhood, he could not pick the best place to sit in class. Even selecting ice cream flavours is a tall task for him. In one storyline, Chidi works in St John’s University, which is now apparently in Australia. Here, he meets Simone, who shares many of his traits. The scene where Eleanor and Simone ask him questions was really cute. His lack of resolve carries over to the afterlife, where he agonises over which frozen yoghurt to choose.

A fresh perspective

The first season was a brilliant introduction. The concept was fresh, the characters and their stories believable. Throughout its run, The Good Place showcased fancy visuals. The first taste of these sights was a game-changer. Following the initial run’s blaze of glory, the succeeding seasons build on this highly original concept. For a while, the novelty wore off, but the series presents a robust second wind. One could also argue that the show pretty much utilises mostly the same characters. The Australian setting was nice though, and the backstories from different characters was likewise refreshing. The Mindy character serves as the middle place. While a temporary fix at best, Mindy reinforces the notion of a middle ground between heaven and hell. The judge also adds colour as the serious magistrate well-versed in pop culture. Marc Evan Jackson is evil personified as Michael’s nefarious boss.

Jason is infatuated with Janet (D’arcy Carden), the walking reference book who also functions as a guide to the Good Place. Jason and Janet navigate tricky circumstances as both find love in nirvana. Their relationship is an interesting one, as they appear to be polar opposites. The tables are turned: Janet isn’t supposed to feel emotion. However, she creates Derek as a rebound after things turn south with Jason. Janet has become more than just an exhaustive reference; characters turn to her for advice. When Eleanor has fears about Chidi’s memory, Janet comes to the rescue. ‘But that’s part of the fun right? If there were an answer, I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.’

Growth spurt

I might also add that there is a Bad Janet on the show, who thrives in the Bad Place. I must stress that all of the mainstays change for the better and grow as people as the series winds down. A flawed scoring system is a big part of the story. Michael and company are out to show that devils have been tampering with the points. Thus, Good Place is full of subterfuge and camouflages. The plot is replete with disguising devils and devious Janet’s. While Eleanor initially does good only to increase her rating, she eventually learns the merits of altruism. Chidi learns to trust others more, especially Eleanor. The series shows that the truth will always prevail, no matter the hurdles.

Right balance

I’ve pretty much gone through most of the show with only a couple eps left. I’ve seen a little of Bell’s work: in Heroes and her brief stint in Parks. I’ve also seen D’arcy in Barry; the rest of the main cast is new to me. Good Place has received 7 Primetime Emmy nominations, including five last year. The final season concluded on 30 January of this year. Michael Schur created the series. Rarely has the concept of the afterlife been explored so positively and extensively in a series. Upon viewing, audiences would have an enhanced perception of both good and bad place. The show had a right balance of serious, philosophical thought and light-heartedness.  

Rating: 4.8/5

St John’s
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The meaning of life

Life. We see it. We experience it. We feel it. When I was a senior in high school, my mentor (Bro) tasked each of us to write about the meaning of life. Every graduating student that year was allocated one page in the yearbook. My first effort (which I penned in class) got rave reviews from my peers. ‘Your meaning of life is so beauteous,’ one of them admitted. That I did this in one stroke, with no prior knowledge of the task, made it even more delicious. You see, the task started as an on-the-spot activity that evolved into a take-home exercise. I should’ve stuck with my initial response. At just two paragraphs, it wasn’t an exposition, yet it captured what I wanted to say. Furthermore, my first answer utilised simple language but meant business. Every sentence, every thought, had weight.

Guru

In the past, I’ve shared a little about my teacher. I’ve listed how he shared with our class new books, movies, TV shows, and new words. For reference, peek my post entitled ‘Losing Family.’ He gave us projects, but this meaning of life thing was the ultimate one. I wonder how he came up with this theme. Maybe he was knocking back a couple of beers while watching Monty Python before putting two and two together. I remember once in class, he suddenly asked us, ‘In the kingdom of the blind, who is king?’ Everyone in our section hazarded a guess, to no avail. ‘The one-eyed’, he wrote. I had this friend from another class who wanted to get the big answers. I fed him ‘the one-eyed’ retort given that they’d have Bro later. However, things didn’t go according to plan. When he gave his reply, and waited for the applause, Bro instead told him ‘You’re wrong.’

‘Did you wait a while before giving your answer?’

‘Yeah, I waited and everything.’

‘How did he say it?’ This was Jon, our other lunch companion.

‘I can imagine,’ Jon said.

The entries

When I got home, I started thinking. Perhaps my pal thought that I fed him the wrong answer? Regardless, while there were five classes, not many of them handed in stellar accounts. I remember my classmate Victor in particular. He made a really impressive effort, although there was one typo. A guy from another class also offered quality response. I recall the amount of work Bro did on those entries. He edited and proofread them; he followed up his lambs, trying to decipher their cryptic penmanship. When he needed more information, he approached them. He made sure that only their best accounts would make the yearbook. I know because I was there helping with the storm.

The one-eyed

That was many years ago. Over time, I’ve read up more on the topic. For instance, I dissected Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie the following year. I also tried reading The Purpose Driven Life. Three years after the blind question, I found out that my pedagogue stole the line from Minority Report. I must admit though that pop culture is peppered with references to that sentiment. At this time, I was going through a lot of books and managed to peruse Catcher in the Rye. While still a teenager, I got some material published. Furthermore, a while ago, I started bingeing Six Feet Under. That show is full of fabulous anecdotes about life. In one ep, Nathan Fisher has a dream where his deceased father visits him. This is not unusual as the slain Fisher patriarch often appears in flashbacks or other scenes. However, in this particular instalment, he promises his son that he would provide the meaning of life. Nate wakes up to find that his father, as in life, had bamboozled him.

 

‘The Meaning of Life’

A few weeks ago, I was at my chiropractor’s when I noticed this small picture book with the title The Meaning of Life. I borrowed the book from him. I still had a fair few novels to knock back, so the text sat unread. I finally gave it a chance just recently and found out that it was published in 2001. Did my mentor find out about this book? Or was it Monty Python all along? Regardless, I enjoyed every page of the short book and found it very insightful. The images were well-picked and were a fitting background to the words on the pages. The book opens by positing that the text would offer questions rather than providing answers. I have paraphrased some of the read’s brightest material.

The first two dozen pages offer many questions and points of view. Why are we different? ‘Life is a journey.’ However, the author argues that loving life is more important than any of these assertions. This is not romantic love, but the zest for life, the joie di vivre. Why are we here? We may have conflicting priorities and are rife with dubious cut-offs. Yet one’s biggest let-down is knowing you blew your chance at the thing you love dearest. So, what’s your passion? What were you born to do? In answering these questions, you’ll unlatch the biggest question. There are many approaches to solving this conundrum, although finding time alone to reflect is the surest bet.

Lessons learned

Through internalising the big matters and heeding your heart, you will find your destiny. A small voce – your conscience, guardian angel, your internal in-law – would never fail to set you free should you be prepared. Should you know your life’s passion, do not delay. Take a wild step forward then start galloping because the rest of your life starts today. Every nanosecond count; chase your dreams with vigour, or you might just as well see them fall down the drain. You can’t go to Taronga Zoo in two steps. Courage and dedication are necessary to mingle with the animals. Truth to be told, we are all blessed and are potentially great.

Footprints in the sand

Doing your thing is so important – so long as you’re truly happy. When you give your best shot at anything, you’ll feel like a winner already. In any endeavour, rejection is part and parcel of growth. You will face naysayers and doubters, people who will undermine your potential achievements. But should you follow your ambitions, worst-case scenario: you’ll tire yourself undertaking your heart’s desire. Getting the most out of life, cherishing every final bit, makes you feel like a different soul. Yet the best part of all, by completing things that ensure your whiskers would curl up in delight (assuming you do have whiskers), you’ll inspire others to likewise follow their dreams.

I am just another traveller who digested Mr Greive’s wondrous book. As per above, the writer sourced photos, rendering them in black and white. Often these stills function as conduits for the pages’ message. We should commend Mr Greive for what was surely a meticulous job in finding imagery that jives. In my post, I try to keep the author’s artistic license alive. I have culled photos that closely resemble the relevant pages in the book. In some cases, I was able to find the exact match – in full colour. Make no mistake though. The photos may be consequential in the book, but in my work, they merely supplement the real spirit.

Meaning is not the paradigm shift that would reveal the secrets of the universe. However, the book is not a deceiver like Nate Senior. I didn’t end up feeling hoodwinked or that I misspent my time. As noted, the book makes a number of convincing points. At 121 pages, I browsed it in an hour. The question has some deontological overtones. There may be many approaches to the query: absurdism, solipsism, even Foucauldian or Freudian outlooks. Someone once quoted a national hero: ‘We are like rocks in the meadow….’ Whatever viewpoint you take, we can concur that the search for meaning is an inchoate errand.

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June 2020 reads

Another couple of weeks have passed and the mercury in Sydney has fallen. I’m glad to have gotten some reading done. Since my last catalogue, I’ve dealt with Harry Hole number 5 and breezed through Anh Do’s memoir. Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning represents my latest addition. This past fortnight, I’ve tackled two thriller giants while slaying an award-winning bio. In chronological order, here is the list:

The Devil’s Star (Nesbo). This marks my third read of the popular crime series. The novel opens with a backstory about an apartment haunted by its past. A bricklayer named Andersen constructed the flat over a century ago. His ancestors were from Scotland. The site becomes the scene of a murder. Regardless, Detective Harry Hole is at the end of the line. Thanks to his vices and insubordination, his days are numbered. He initially wants nothing to do with the case, as his adversary, Tom Waaler, is heading the investigation. As the bodies pile up, the force believes that they are amid a serial killer. As the book maintains, this is a rare occurrence in Norway. There is a lengthy briefing among detectives as they try to dissect the murderer.  

Harry sees this as his way of going out in style. He keeps his vices and doubts in check and dedicates himself to solving the case. Meanwhile, the book’s title derives from the five-pointed star that the killer uses. This mark slips Harry in the first few crime scenes. Yet after a particularly resonant dream, he puts it together. He is also determined to catch Waaler as he believes the latter is responsible for his colleague’s death. The killer’s identity remains a mystery for most of the text. Harry is out for justice, ditto the matador. The team does not realise that slayer is in their midst, that he is doing this to spite a loved one. He’s hitting two birds at once.

Hole has a strong team, despite his flaws. His two trusted allies include his boss, Moller, and Oystein, a childhood friend. This ensures that he is able to move forward in spite of the obstacles. However, he has a love-hate relationship with Rakel, who he met in The Redbreast. His flakiness and apathy get in the way and his personal life suffers. However, his quick thinking proves invaluable for the case. Near the end of the novel, Hole is once again in a bind. His own workmates are against him as he tries to clear the case. Much like Harry Bosch, he has his own way of tackling things. The ending is pure Nesbo and only one party will remain standing. Furthermore, the conclusion justifies the opening salvo (apartment). The text comes full circle. One thing I noticed about Nesbo is that he likes to give a little background on things. Whether it’s the apartment, Waaler’s family history, or a sidenote on Jim Beam, he remembers to provide his faithful with context.

Rating: 4.55/5

The Happiest Refugee (Anh Do). I first heard about Anh’s biography many years ago. His memoir was received well enough that this became part of the student curriculum. I finally perused his work in early June. Anh is a great storyteller. He relates his tale with uncanny attention to detail. The whole thing is silky smooth and reads like a regular adventure novel. His prose too is timeless, and I could easily see this book being appreciated epochs later. Furthermore, he wrote this on his own, unlike others who hired a collaborator. The spacing inside chapters is well-balanced, with many breaks and sections.

Anh Do tells an incredible true story. He starts off when his parents met in Vietnam, just after the War. The hostilities took their toll on both his parents’ families and set the stage for an escape. Since his father facilitated the show-and-go, Anh had always admired his bravery. Later on, his dad, Lee, admitted that he was as scared as everybody else. His brethren’s journey was perilous. Firstly, they had to fit forty people into a small boat. Secondly, pirates robbed them twice. They awaited their faith in Malaysia before finally making it to Sydney. Throughout the book, Anh references his father’s wisdom – even though the latter left them when he was in Year 7.

They got all their clothes from the Vinnies op shop upon arrival. Money was always tight with Anh, his brother Khoa, and sister Tram. However, this did not stop them from lending a helping hand. Whether family or not, they welcomed others and did their bit. Anh’s mum is a devout Catholic, hence they did their primary studies in a Catholic school. After this, Anh spent six years in a private, all-boys school. While there, Anh once scored twenty-four points against D-level dribblers. All while wearing dodgy, worn-out shoes. He also tried cricket, with lesser success. One of his teachers convinced him that he could both write and act. He studied Law at uni and got offered a job at a big firm. He then realised that his heart belonged to stand-up. He met the love of his life at uni, although they came from very different backgrounds. They have three sons together.

The book has some anecdotes, highlighting Anh’s good fortune and the selfless people he met. For instance, his friend Phil lent him textbooks in high school. The late comedian Dave Grant likewise took him under his wing. Anh comes from a big family, his Dad one of ten children while his mother has seven siblings. The book foregrounds Anh’s perspective as a Vietnamese immigrant trying to make a name for himself. He flies the flag for us dreamers, the ideal torchbearer. Anh started out small and had hurdles. He was on Deal or No Deal, the first time I saw him. He became one of a handful to win the top prize, which went to a couple in need. After transitioning to TV, he finally bought a house for his mum. Heightened suspense is the book’s one flaw. There are a few cliff-hangers and revelations which make you want to finish it all. To quote Lee Do, ‘There’s only two times in life: there’s only now and there’s too late.’

Rating: 4.82/5

Fair Warning (Connelly). This is book 3 in the Jack McEvoy series. I read The Poet (1996) last year and The Scarecrow (2009) in April. Nice seeing Connelly returning to this series after an extended hiatus. The book takes its title from McEvoy’s current role. This instalment opens with a smash when McEvoy is accused of murdering a woman. He had a one-night stand with Tina and the five-ohs allege that he had been cyberstalking her. His ensuing actions further raises suspicions. As the body count rises and crosses state lines, McEvoy makes it his mission to find the matador. He uses his reporter skills to uncover the truth even as he’s accused of meddling.

His findings lead him to genetics, a very pertinent issue that is not regulated enough. He is able to connect the dots between the killings and stay ahead of the investigation. Through the saga, he is always wary of the scoop. Jack is very protective of his story, knowing the magnitude fully well. Though he encounters obstacles, he works in tandem with Emily, his co-worker. He also gets help from Myron, his boss. Later, he approaches ex-FBI agent Rachel Walling, his former flame. The latter contacts the FBI in turn, as the case becomes a matter of national consequence. Ironically, Fair Warning is the name of ‘a real news site.’ The author is one of the board members. Moreover, the protagonist’s podcast (Murder Beat) seems like a pun on the author’s version (Murder Book). Finally, there is a real Myron Levin – the editor of Fair Warning.  

The novel is a real page-turner, with twists and subplots that keep you hooked. Like his other material, this one pays homage to LA and is very well-written and researched. After all these years, Connelly is still writing at the top of his game. Seeing him take on key social issues is lovely. Like Scarecrow, he also paints a vivid caricature of the postmodern journalist. In the age of new media and fake news, Jack and company enlighten us about news in the big city. Meanwhile, just as sweet is his penchant for decisive endgames. Although this one’s conclusion was classic Connelly, the main thing is that it was a happy end result. The book’s styling was quite similar to The Scarecrow, offering the viewpoints of various characters. I’ve seen Connelly adapt this approach more and more in recent releases. Fair Warning has once again figured on the Times list. Becoming a Times bestseller is the pinnacle of authorial success, but to Michael Connelly, it’s just another day in the office.

Rating: 4.85/5    

That’s been the list for the first two weeks and change of winter. I’ve managed three titles so far, the usual two novels and one nonfiction read. That’s three different writers for three books. I admit that I had to winnow the Anh review quite a bit. I’ll soon get cracking on the sixth Will Trent book. Sydney may be amid a freeze, with snow even forecast in the ski fields. In line with the lifting of restrictions, travellers have booked in droves for the upcoming snow season. Meanwhile, I’ll be back in a bit to share even more reads.

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Ford v Ferrari (2019) reviewed

My last three posts have all been reviews. I started off by appraising a doco (The Last Dance). I went on to evaluate a TV series (Parks and Rec), before sharing my last three reads. This week I’m going with the theme; I’ll tackle the action blockbuster, Ford v Ferrari. The epic production was released into cinemas in mid-November of last year. Academy-award winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale headline the movie, with Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Noah Jupe, and others in supporting roles. Ford is a period film set in the sixties, dealing with the trials and pitfalls of assembling a world-class racing car. Oddly enough, I borrowed the DVD from the library almost three months ago. Repositories have started to re-open so I had to overcome my procrastinating. I finally finished the movie this weekend.   

Shelby

At the start, Carroll Shelby (Damon) is a high-flying car maker who is friends with Ken Miles (Bale). The Ford boss tries to purchase cash-strapped Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari bamboozles him. The latter exploits Ford’s offer and instead sells his company to Fiat. He also insults Henry Ford II and Ford Motors. This enrages Ford, who vows to build a car that would topple Ferrari off their perch in Le Mans. Thus, he enlists the help of Shelby, the erstwhile Le Mans champion who now operates American Shelby. Carroll then coaxes Miles, the temperamental and gung-ho British racer. He believes that Miles and his wits are made for the job. He finds a compadre in Lee Iacocca (Bernthal), the company vice-president, who aids his cause.  

Miles

The operation goes through various stages of failures, with Miles and Shelby finetuning the GT40. At first, the Ford cars could not even finish races. With careful tweaking combining various iconoclasts at work, the product slowly gets better. Regardless, Leo Beebe (Lucas), senior vice president, is particularly impatient and successfully orders Miles out of the picture. He contends that the latter is not an ideal representative of Ford on the track. Miles is forced to watch from the sidelines as the Ford team underperforms at the race. Shelby is convinced that Miles should run the show. After neutralising Beebe at the office, Shelby shows the head honcho the volatility of the GT40. He convinces Ford that they should go with Miles in Daytona. Should Miles win, Shelby asserted that Miles must race at Le Mans. The boss concurred with Shelby’s piece de resistance.

The race

Fortunately, Miles and his sportscar takes out Daytona, setting the stage for the 24-hour swordfight. Three Ford drivers lined up for the gruelling rally, which was as much as Ferrari displayed. Miles was off to a poor start as he had car trouble. In the opening moments alone, a multiple-car pileup revealed how hungry everyone was to have a slice of glory. All three Ferraris were ahead of him. Not long after, Mr Ford flew off via chopper and apparently had lunch. Ferrari’s pit stop was right next to Ford’s. Miles slowly but surely gained ground, until he was but two laps off the race-leading Ferrari.

In the middle of the all-nighter, the GT40 changed breaks. The Italians next door cried foul, as they reckoned this was against the rules. While having overtaken Bandini, the Italian blows his engine. The GT40 suddenly has a clear path to the finish line. Beebe then tells Ford that having the three cars cross at the same time would be a great scenario for the Ford company. Shelby is beside himself, but ultimately leaves the decision to Miles. For a while, Miles going solo first seems a certainty, until he acquiesces to the company’s demands. However, he is not declared the winner. The judges ruled that the other Ford car was behind on the starting grid and thus had to travel farther. Everyone knows that he was robbed of the victory.

Legacy

Miles lived doing what he wanted and died doing likewise. His wife was initially against his race driving, but a $200 daily pay swayed her to support his dream. Throughout the film, Miles was also a banner dad to his son. He brought him to his race car and valued his input. He showed him the ropes and took him under his wing. When he was in a tight spot, his son was the first to flinch. After years of fixing and scrutinising cars, Miles had a tremendous grip of the automobile. His knowledge was pooled with both Shelby and his father to create one of the finest American cars of any eras. The GT40 remains the only American-built car to win Le Mans, doing so in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969. Even in his demise, racing fans adored Miles and he was later inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Weightless

While the movie trended to be slow, the car chases more than made up for it. The dialogue could be dull, and I believe there is a surfeit. Do remember that this is a period film, with retro coke bottles, clocks, stopwatches, telephones, and cars. The glasses and suits were far different then. Ford uses a similar quote for the beginning and near the end: ‘There’s a point – 7000 rpm (revolutions per minute) – where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. 7000 rpm that’s where you meet it…. Who are you?’ Just as with life, the race car driver goes full circle.

World-beater

I did find Matt Damon’s Texan accent intriguing. James Mangold helmed the picture. I’ve also seen his efforts with Logan (2017), which I witnessed in the cinema. Ford was both a commercial and critical success. Apart from opening at number one, the film grossed 255M at the box office. Ford also competed for the Best Picture Oscar. The film won two statuettes: Best Sound Editing and Best Film Editing. One knock on Ford though is the lengthy run time. Critics may argue that it’s one of last year’s best; I admit that Ford is an A-level production. A final note: being an auto fan is not a requirement to enjoy this feature.

Rating: 4.5/5

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End-of-season reads

While putting together my previous reading list, I mentioned that I was already tackling Relentless. That was three weeks ago. I’ve since finished the nonfiction title, before trekking Nesbo’s 695-page Nemesis. In under a week, I’ve likewise knocked back Grisham’s latest. Winter is on hand, so here are the last few reads of the season that was:

  • Relentless. This book by a noted trainer was highly rated. However, upon starting, I concurred that many readers may have gotten it wrong. He equates many of his preaching to sports and stars. In particular, he uses a lot of basketball analogies and examples. The book tried to distance itself from self-help books but ends up being monotonous and boring. Central to this is the idea of a cleaner. The book spends an inordinate amount of time trying to define a cleaner, differentiating it to a closer and a cooler. He sees Michael Jordan as the ultimate cleaner, also mentioning Sir Charles and D-Wade as other models. He must know since he worked directly with these stars.

He talks briefly about his own family, who were migrants in both the UK and US. It was a true immigrant success story. He also discusses his rise. At first, the Bulls shunned him as their in-house trainer. Yet with time, he showed that he can make even Michael Jordan stronger and better. He navigated MJ to surpass the Pistons and win all those rings. Throughout the book, he repeatedly emphasises how his process is. Little is known about his regimen, but when he comes along, his clients sweat a lot. He talks about the sugarless diet and that this merciless programme is how he starts his spells. Personally, I’ve gone no-sugar before and it’s an extreme way of eating. Being committed is a common theme in this book. He argues that you would tolerate the pain if you want to achieve your goal. Relentless is just over two hundred pages long but seems like a hard slog. If not for the basketball bits to keep me honest, I would have given up.

Rating: 3.77/5

  • Nemesis (Nesbo). Redbreast, the author’s breakout novel, impressed me. Nemesis, the next Harry Hole instalment, was just as stellar. The book tackles two parallel mysteries: the murder of a Romani chick and ongoing bank heists across Oslo. The bird, Anna, is significant since she is Harry’s lover and he was with her the night she died. However, Detective Hole has no recollections as to the events of that night. Meanwhile, a downtown bank robbery sees a teller gunned down. Body cues indicate that the woman knows the thief, which they dub as ‘the expeditor.’ As Harry’s life unravels, the bank heists persist with unbridled savagery. For your information, the book is titled Nemesis since this was Anna’s last project. Featuring a tableau with three heads, she would go out in style. Beate Lonn, Harry’s colleague, identifies Harry as one of the heads. Lonn has the condition called fusiform gyrus, giving her a photographic memory.  

In an effort to contain the sadism, Harry works with the new girl, Beate, and interviews persons of interest. They find clues, dead-ends, and a trail that leads them to Brazil. In addition, Harry’s friend goes to Egypt just to help him. Detective Hole likewise visits Raskol Baxhet, Anna’s uncle, in an attempt to unmask the callous raider. The latter is an expert robber and imparts long stories that underscore the plight of the Romani people. He talks about his life story, Romani customs, and insists that a woman wrote The Art of War. He ultimately leads them to the alleged perp, but they may be too late. Nesbo makes sure to provide a few twists, although he reinforced stereotypes with the Romani as thieves.

We would once again see the darker side of Tom Waaler, Harry’s colleague. Hole becomes a pariah for a moment as Waaler frames him. A few times, Hole warns Beate about fraternising with Mr Waaler, but this falls on deaf ears. Harry’s rival may be pretentious, the parabolic wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing. However, we could all agree that Tom is a dead-eye and covers his tracks like a master. While a relatively minor player, the psychologist Aune is like a sage. He’s been a great help and uses his vast knowledge in profiling offenders. He also deconstructs Hole’s issues and they get on well. He functions like M in the Bond movies. There was a word on the cover, proclaiming that Nesbo’s ‘the next Steig Larsson.’ Personally, I get that they’re both Scandinavian and write in the same genre. However, the late Steig had way more description; Nesbo is more accessible.

Rating: 4.35/5

  • Camino Winds (Grisham). This is the master’s latest offering. Winds is a direct sequel to Camino Island (2017), taking place amid Hurricane Leo. The category four hurricane devastates Camino, with the residents evacuating the popular holiday town. The night before Leo strikes, Bruce Cable (Bay Books owner) organises a get-together to celebrate local author Mercer Mann. Bay Books was the last stop on her book tour; her semi-autobiographical novel, Tessa, was making waves in the literary world. In the end, only a few of the group braved the cataclysm: Bruce, Nick (his employee), Bob Cobb (a crime writer), and Nelson Kerr. The storm offers the perfect pretext for Kerr’s murder. Both the state and local authorities see it as an open-and-shut case. However, the three sleuths think otherwise. While the island recovers, both Bob and Nick get on with their lives. Meanwhile, Bruce liaises with Polly in the aftermath of her brother’s death. Nick believes that Kerr was killed by a hitwoman and not by Leo. He also purports that Nelson’s knowledge, laid out in his unpublished last novel, was why he got whacked.

This novel deals with a key trope of our time: whether to trust the big pharmaceuticals and their promises. We have been confronted with much bad press from nursing homes and their staff. Unfortunately for Kerr, his digging costs him. Fortunately, though, he had a few good pals that he could count on. One of these chums would part-pay for a firm to look into this miracle drug. Unlike in real life, the wheels of justice move smoothly here. Trite as it may be, this still offers a much better conclusion than The Associate. However, often overlooked is Bruce’s ruminations regarding his bookshop. After decades of giving so much to the writers and bookworms, he is at a crossroads. With Leo squashing his market, retiring early is the easiest way. We could all learn from Bruce, seeing him fight his weariness and inject new life to his calling. Grisham introduces some new characters in a very breezy read, which also has a twinge of humour. At 292 pages, this trade paperback only has eleven chapters to peruse. It’s time to bask in Camino Island.

Rating: 4.4/5

As has been the case, I’ve had two fiction titles and one non-fiction volume. I am trending towards novels these days, with only two nonfiction reads in my past seven. This is only my second Nesbo ever, although I am currently taking in The Devil’s Star. My list has three different authors: two thriller maestros and one fitness guru. I’ll be back in a bit to share even more reads.

Now reading:

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Parks and Recreation (2009-15) reviewed

Some time ago, I discovered this show named Parks and Recreation. I was searching for a new series to explore when I came across this talented office ensemble. Amy Poehler spearheads Parks as Leslie Knope, the perky deputy director. She also acts as producer for the show. Other players include Rashida Jones as nurse Ann; Leslie’s boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), and a slew of cuddly co-workers. Each ep focuses on a particular theme, and I tip my hat to the writers’ creative juices for coming up with fresh ideas each time. The show ran for seven years between 2009 and 2015. The ep’s running time varied from 22 to 42 minutes. Parks has a catalogue of over a hundred episodes, an impressive feat for a sitcom. The comedy premise, (generally) short running time, and mockumentary style, would be reminiscent of The Office. I have to admit though that I’ve never watched the latter. Earlier this Saturday afternoon, I have now finished all episodes of Parks. I have to commend the show for keeping me entertained right till the end.

The characters

Parks was able to fit ample cast members and storylines in a rather short running time. Throughout its run, the rest of the cast received similar screen time. While Leslie and Ann got star billing, others weren’t left out either. From director Swanson to flashy Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), Donna Meagle to Mark Brandenowicz to April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), the show recognised that their stories mattered. Even clumsy Gerry Gergitch had two episodes where he featured. Gergitch is notable for having the most appellations: from Gerry to Barry, Larry to Terry. At the end of the second season, Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) were added to the line-up. In terms of casting for a comedy series, you know that they found the best fits. Poehler was polarising as Leslie and Rashida was awesome as Ann. Aziz was delightful as Haverford and would soon star in his own successful series. The other fellows are below.

Dim-witted Andy (Chris Pratt) stole the thunder as he spoke his mind in his quest to be awesome. He evolves from being double fractured in his legs to getting a job as a shoe shiner with Parks. He was initially a bit player before becoming a mainstay following season one. After his relationship with Ann ended, he even finds love. He is also noted for his alter ego, agent Burt Macklin, whose mission is to save the damsel and the world. Later on, he moonlights as Johnny Karate, teaching the little ones how it’s done. The kids also take their talents on Barry.

Ron loves a good steak or hamburger. He despises vegetarians and is thorough in his work. He makes a great upholsterer. Though he has a tough exterior, he has a soft spot for his crew. He invests in Tom’s ventures and is like a father to Leslie. He likewise hires April. Ron may loathe the desk job, but he’s devoted fifteen years to his career. Tom is the resident prankster who, for the most part, has little luck with the ladies. He tries his hand in a number of enterprises, including Entertainment 720, Rent-a-Swag, and Tom’s Bistro. Though he rents clothing to up-and-coming athletes, he is hopeless at basketball. However, he manages to hang out with Roy Hibbert of the Pacers and even coaxes Detlef Schrempf to the telethon. As the show progresses, he becomes a more confident and dedicated worker who is less egotistic.

Meanwhile, April is noted for her deadpan humour and has been hailed as the breakout star on the show. While initially hating the whole Parks Department, she grows to love her job. She could be cold and mean to others and is a kid at heart. She transforms from a lone ranger to a valuable bureaucrat. Near the end, she even becomes Deputy Director before finding her calling in D.C. She has come a long way from being on the fringes of government work. She is also a pet lover and, like Ron, would fight for her friends.

Chris

Chris Traeger enters in season two as an auditor who becomes the acting City Manager, with Ben as his deputy. The former (my namesake) might be my favourite human on the show. While both entrants are extremely likeable, Chris’s healthy lifestyle and loveable outlook take the cake. Chris suggests that he believes he will be the first earthling to hit one hundred and fifty. He runs fifteen miles a day and hopes to dash the distance of the moon and Earth. He has the quirk of calling people by their full name. For instance, he utters ‘Ann Perkins’ or ‘Ron Swanson’ with a smile.

He meditates, eats fresh food, and always says the right things. However, when pitted against Ron, he admits that beef burgers are ultimately more delicious than vegan ones. He is also a wide reader. He goes for this book Limb-it-less, about a lady who tries to swim across the English Channel even though she was born without arms and legs. He is so kind and down-to-earth that people misinterpret his views sometimes. He values his time. Though he likes Leslie, he could be quite by-the-book and eschews office romances. Thus, Knope and Andy try to keep theirs a secret.

Pawnee

Pawnee, Indiana is a fictional town that could well be a microcosm of middle America. For the first half of the series, Pawnee was mired in a longstanding rivalry with neighbouring Eagleton. No one hates the latter more than Leslie. We would uncover that Knope was in fact born in Eagleton but remains Pawnee’s biggest advocate. Pawnee has been cited for being the fourth most obese town in America, a label that Leslie wants to change. For years, Pawnee’s biggest drawcard is a miniature horse named lil’ Sebastian. When the pony was brought to the office, everyone wanted to pat him. While rather pedestrian, Pawnee does have talk shows, a lake, and an answer to animated Ken Brockman: Perd Hapley.

While many denizens air their issue, few take the initiative in solving them. Leslie always had big dreams for Pawnee and ran for city councillor two times. She even enlisted the help of a local basketball star. She narrowly beats Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) in their face-off, the licensee of local confectionery manufacturer, Sweetums. Her term as councillor would be short-lived, as Eagleton native Ingrid de Forest (Kristen Bell) replaces her. Being faced with red tape and apathy is unfortunate for Leslie. Even as councilwoman, Knope realises that change requires more than some great ideas. While she enjoys a lot of success in the office, the political arena is a different story. With her binders, pros-and-cons, and upbeat attitude, there is no greater representative for Pawnee.   

A kaleidoscope of riches

The show’s wide breadth of settings also spices things up. Other comedies are stagnant since they remain planted to one or two locales. That’s not the case with Parks, which offers a wide variety of venues. The Parks office is like the hub, but characters are also seen at Leslie and Ann’s abodes. Ben’s rental has likewise some airtime. In addition, they are on the fourth floor, which is full of urban legends. Tom’s various businesses such as his entertainment base and bistro are also popular hangouts. They dine in at the local eatery, with Leslie always ordering her favoured waffles with whipped cream. As Parks employees, they trek the outdoors, going camping and fundraising. The hospital, Ann’s workplace, is another setting for the show. In season one, Ando frequents the infirmary as his doctor gauges the casts. The hospital is also highlighted as an outbreak overtakes the town. As the series wound down, expectant cast members visit to check their pregnancy.

In terms of out of town, there is the big trip to London over two eps. Andy makes a royal friend and stays over the pond for six months. Washington D.C. and the Lincoln Memorial also features, with some players moving over for greener pastures. There was likewise an interlude to San Fran, including a nice walk among big trees. Ron Swanson also goes around Europe, a place that he despises. He heads to Scotland and reads a wonderful poem that the national bard wrote. Tom goes to Chicago to chase a girl. There are also a few what-ifs, where the characters are offered amazing opportunities if they relocate. Both Ben and Leslie had to turn down these roles to remain champions of Pawnee.

Social issues

Throughout its seven-year run, Parks had its share of guest stars. Politicians such as Joe Biden and the late John McCain as well as Michelle Obama all made cameos. There was also a Bill Murray sighting with his portrayal of the departed Pawnee mayor. Furthermore, Henry Winkler (Barry) was a recurring character as Dr Saperstein. The show is a political satire, meaning it deals with key social issues. Some of the pertinent themes explored include gay marriage, women’s rights, parenthood, and animal rights. As the series hit the homestretch, most of the mainstays became parents. A couple even relocated to Michigan, which broke Leslie’s heart. Time magazine named Parks as the best show in 2012 on telly. Parks was also nominated for twelve Primetime Emmys. Parks is a series that has weight in every episode, a much-needed social commentary of the times. They may have messed up the signs in the ep, but the message is clear: Welcome to Pawnee!

Rating: 4.95/5

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