Spring (2022) reads

The past two months have not been as prolific, reading-wise. I believe that in that time, I’ve only crested two texts. The first leg of the tripod was finished way back, in late September. Lying Beside You was another top-notch thriller from Michael Robotham. Being the third book in his Cyrus Haven series, his characterisation and use of language remained sharp. Following this, I got my hands on the Chris Herring ebook. These past few months, Blood in the Garden was the book I’ve yearned to read and I managed to purchase the soft copy. Finally, I beat procrastinating and borrowed The Late Show ebook. The opening salvo to Connelly’s Ballard series, this is a much needed introduction to his latest protagonist.

1. Lying Beside You (Robotham). This instalment has the hallmarks of its earlier brethren. The setting is present-day England. Forensic psychologist, Cyrus Haven, and Albanian teen, Evie Cormac, once again headline the plot. There are a few new characters added for good measure, including Haven’s new beau. The story alternates between the two leads’s viewpoints. So far, this has been the case for the entire series. There is likewise much backstory provided, both between Haven and Cormac.

Cyrus’s brother is about to be released from hospital, where he’s been for the last few decades. This was the same hombre who murdered Haven’s whole entire family. There are some parallels between this crime and one that transpired decades ago in Sydney. The son murdered his parents and his older sissy. The latter had only dobbed him in as he was failing classes. In turn, his parents grounded him, removing his car privileges. ‘Gosh,’ my friend said after hearing of the crime. As usual, this being a thriller, there are a few dead bodies that turn up. Cyrus has to mobilise his great Sherlock attributes to bring the bastard to justice. While so doing, he would have to rethink his relations and thread the needle looking for clues.

Evie is a decent sidekick. She wants to be more than friends with Cyrus, who inherited the big house from his slain parents. She has little memories of her sad childhood, but cherished a black button. This was her only keepsake of her mum. When this gets lost, she grows an extra size in her attempts to locate the precious item. Cyrus tries his best to make her fit in, even enrolling her in a course. However, the pot mouthed Evie always gets in trouble. She does get a job as a bartender and dotes on her dog. Like before, her greatest asset is that she can tell if someone is lying. Robotham’s writing remains compelling. This is one burgeoning series to watch out for.

Rating: 4.4/5

2. Blood in the Garden (Chris Herring). This is his debut effort, but you wouldn’t notice it from the way he writes. Reading the ebook was a good compromise for the avid b-ball fan in me. Herring chronicles the 90s lives of the rough and tumble Knicks. That decade saw Jordan going six out of six in NBA Finals. What’s often forgotten was how New York (NY) made two NBA Finals. They were a collection of gritty, hungry veterans whose defence never rested. They were a product of super coach, Pat Riley, who moulded them into tenacious defenders. He went the extra mile, pushing them beyond their limits with overbearing practices.

The book was more than a homage to their vaunted defence. Herring describes the players who made it happen. He showed how the late Anthony Mason was misunderstood, how he bought his mum a home and never refused an autograph signing. He depicts John Sparks’s early career struggles, playing in the minor league, before breaking through with the Knicks. Herring likewise analyses Xavier McDaniel, who – as a lottery pick – had a swagger. The author also shares the tragedy of Charles Smith. He was denied thrice in a possession that all but sums up 90s NY basketball. Following his difficulty against the Bulls, Smith was never the same player again. Finally, he charts Patrick Ewing’s journey from Jamaica to Georgetown and then NY. Ewing admitted that he honed his automatic jump shots by hours of practice.

This is quite the cartography. Aside from the Knicks, Herring likewise pinpoints the era’s other great teams. He elucidates on their rivalry with the Pacers. Reggie’s theatrics against Spike Lee are posited front and centre. He also touches on the Houston Rockets, whose two chips the Bulls sandwiched. The author has great praise for Hakeem, whose first love was football. Herring concedes that NY’s greatest rivalry of the era was with the Miami Heat. Coach Jeff won three of four against his mentor, Riley (then the Heat’s bench boss). Often, there were fights, suspensions, and even conspiracy theories. At one stage, half the Knicks were levied for leaving the bench area. Moreover, he also talks about the change of ownership and how this impacted not just the team but everyone involved.

This is a worthwhile read since I know a lot of the central characters and squads. I still remember Ewing and his menacing scowl, even in his twilight years. I recall Marcus Camby’s swats and caught the last seasons of backup Greg Anthony’s minutes. Though Mason was no longer with the Knicks, I do remember watching him. He was even an All-Star while with the Heat, at the time the oldest such honouree. I caught Reggie’s ‘last dance’ with the Pacers. Still a deadeye from deep,he had clearly seen better days. I had the privilege of taking in his final game as a pro, where the Pistons bested them to advance to the conference finals. When he checked out for the last time, he got a huge ovation from the Detroit crowd, and the Pistons on the court joined in. Shame he didn’t get to win a ring.

Rating: 5/5

3. The Late Show (Connelly). The title is apt for this list, as it has been a delayed addition to my personal library. I’ve noticed this book when it was first released. However, the blurb didn’t convince me. I kept putting it off and have since crested the series’s middle three books. With the newest instalment getting released, I thought giving this a chance was worthwhile. This is where Renee Ballard’s story commences, where she is stuck on the graveyard shift in Hollywood. As a homicide detective, she works with Jenkins, her partner, in solving piles of deadly crimes. Her attention is brought to this tranny prostitute who was left for dead after a deal gone wrong. Ramona was unconscious but Ballard vows to find the guy who did this.

While trying to unravel this mystery, Ballard gets called out to a triple homicide at a joint. The trio, who had ties with the mob, were gunned down while at a rendezvous in a booth. The officers and technicians admitted that it was a very clean hit. We got to know that Ballard was bred by the sea. She loves wakeboarding, lives in Ventura, and sleeps on a shoreline tent. Perhaps her most loyal friend is Lola, her dog. True to form, Lola was rescued from an abusive owner. We learn that Renee filed a harassment claim against Olivas, her former boss. She was unnerved that Chastain, her former partner, did not back her up.

Ventura, California

Ballard eventually narrows in on Ramona’s attacker, a guy named Trent. She approaches him as a zealous client. Trent works in an auto dealership. By giving him a false name, Ballard is overly confident but this soon backfires. Renee learns that Trent had an ex-wife who hates him. He also has a million dollar house in a nice area. Eventually, Ballard will kill for the first time though she doesn’t regret using lethal force. There is a scene near the end where the protagonist blackmails a lieutenant who had been passing information about her case to the press. It was priceless.

This was a blazing hot introduction into another Connelly microcosm. Late Show had short but bitey chapters. The book was stacked from cover to cover; a lot was happening. The characters were well-made and the language, easy to follow. I could have read the trade paperback as soon as it was released. The ebook though wasn’t too bad, as this was another masterful effort from the king of crime fiction.

Rating: 4.7./5

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Black Friday 2022

25.11.22

Black Friday (BF) is in full swing here in Oz. The tradition, which originated from the US, marks the biggest shopping event in their calendar. This occurs during the weekend after Thanksgiving. Stores are known to significantly reduce their prices, so there are oodles of bargains to be had. In the last decade or so, Oz has adopted this tradition. Boxing Day (26/12) remains the headline act. However, BF is giving it a run for its money. Two weeks ago, there was Click Frenzy the Main Event, which had some lovely deals as well. Singles Day, the Chinese equivalent of BF, also sported a few sales. I ordered two Xiaomi chargers during Singles Day. I (mistakenly) thought that they could fast charge my devices.

This year’s weekend coincides with the men’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar. While Americans are drawn to Thanksgiving football, the rest of the world is tuning into the action on the pitch. Last Saturday, the Kangaroos routed Samoa to win the Rugby League Word Cup. It’s been three on the trot for us, while we’ve also extended our record number of titles to twelve. The Cup, supposed to take place last year, was rescheduled due to COVID. End of sports tangent.

FIFA World Cup 2022

Get in early

Before BF, there have already been some early bird offers. For instance, Myer One members previewed the discounts on Thursday or a day earlier. That day, I ordered a couple of items from them. Similarly, rival David Jones was likewise on the ball, with up to fifty percent off fashion on Thursday. They also had decent reductions on iPads and other gadgets. Furthermore, catch.com.au had an early start. From clothing to shoes, watches to bags, there was something for everyone. With Catch, I bought two items: cotton Mitch Dowd pyjamas and a raglan pullover. Both items have arrived already. Having my fifty-dollar Catch gift card came in handy. Speaking of pyjamas, there was this black Star Wars combo that was reduced to $36. By Wednesday afternoon, only the small size was left. I guess people still go for Yoda.

Changing times

While people should appreciate these bargains, the latter betray the signs of our changing times. For instance, a couple of years ago, Myer had a November VIP shopping night. They had forty percent off fragrances. That’s when I bought this Calvin Klein perfume. I ended up with no out of pocket cost as we were given two $25 gift cards. Moreover, Myer was giving these free green shopping bags. This year, my mum went to the event. The Levi’s blouse she purchased was forty one dollars, a mere thirty percent saving. Good thing she had $30 in gift cards. Additionally, the scents were now twenty percent off.

The bargain list

Aside from the aforementioned retailers, Chemist Warehouse is also hawking a further ten percent off. In addition, The Iconic has some nice reductions across fashion and accessories. EBay is currently having a massive sale, with further savings across eligible items. Discount department stores, Target, Kmart, and Big W, have also gone in on the act. The latter had an online preview starting Wednesday, with bonus Woolworths points on some purchases. Earlier in the week, Target had twenty percent off their linen range. Perfect for summer.

Last week, Jeanswest commenced their sale late, with 30% off store wide. This is much better than Cotton On, which only offers thirty percent off full-price. Medium sized chains like Tarocash, Superdry, and Yd have all partaken. Strandbags, Australia’s largest luggage store, has up to fifty percent off on bags. Larger retailers like JB Hifi have continued the trend. Apple has offered gift cards with select purchases. Even furniture stores are hawking ten percent price drops. The frenzy has even made its way to gastronomy, with Pizza Hut promoting some juicy offers. Meanwhile, Macca’s have been unloading their thirty days of deals for the whole month of November. You can bet that even premium stores and brands like Dyson, Lacoste, Fossil, Peter Alexander, and Rodd & Gunn are bucking the trend and seconding the motion.

Four-day shopping spree

As reported on the news, Australians are expected to spend $60 billion during the four day bonanza. To be clear, this coming week would begin with Cyber Monday, where the frenzy shifts online. For those who could wait, Boxing Day is the next big tick on the calendar. Regardless, expect significantly more traffic in store, with COVID rules relaxed and even discarded. Of course, there’s been rumblings of a fourth wave. Yet with about nine out of ten Sydneysiders being fully vaccinated, it’s been business as usual around town. Travel, both domestic and international, is slowly picking up.

This year’s sales would be a marked improvement over the past two years. If the Sydney Royal Easter Show is any indication, it would be bumper to bumper at the shops. Keep hydrated, go in early, and pack a lot of patience. You’ll need it.

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An Ebook Convert

In the past year, I’ve been devouring more ebooks. I started off with two last year. I was really keen on reading Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game. After all, many have labelled it as the unparalleled basketball read. I bought the book off Kindle and read it on my Mac. Following this, I feasted my eyes on the Jay Williams biography. This year, I’ve read even more basketball-heavy ebooks. If you’ve been following my posts, most of these reading lists included an Ebook. Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson was the first such featured. Others followed. Only two reads were not hoops related. Both Nick Joaquin and Albert Camus’s were literary pieces. Unlike last year, I’ve been doing the reading on my iPad.

The good and the bad

When undertaking any endeavour, one must consider the pros and cons. With the ebook, you don’t need a dictionary as you could look up words in the app. You also have more access to sports themed reads, something that the local library is lacking. Highlighting passages and annotating is seamless if you own your copy. Moreover, one could make the argument that ebooks are lighter and more expedient than physical tomes. This is especially true if you’re reading War and Peace. In addition, if you’re browsing multiple books, the tablet will do you more good. In general, the soft copy is cheaper than their physical counterpart. If you’re borrowing ebooks, you also save $$$ and shelf space in your study. Meanwhile, first among the negatives is eye strain. Tablets these days are made to be less straining, especially the ebook readers.

Some would also argue that the experience of holding a hard copy of a book is vastly different than that of a soft copy. See also: Infinite Jest, with all its end notes and tangents. Conversely, reading an ebook is the novel, high-tech way. Imagine all the classics, from Great Expectations to Vonnegut, dead Russian writers to Raymond Chandler. All of them are available at your fingertips. There’s no need to explore the library and browse physical shelves. This is how you move with the times. You could use your bookmark and pick up where you left off. You could view the same pics, just in a different manner. This is definitely helpful to those kids with massive packs. No more textbooks! No more hitting annoyed strangers with your bags!

The rundown

Aside from the aforementioned trio of ebooks, I’ve also consumed Steven Adams, Giannis, Fab Five, Golden Days, and (most recently) Blood in the Garden. Authors from various squads have penned these texts. Apart from Chicago and LA’s Jackson, there’s also Oklahoma City Thunder (Adams), Milwaukee Bucks (Giannis), Michigan Wolverines (Fab Five), Golden State Warriors (Golden Days), and New York Knicks (Blood).

All of these b-ball reads have a four star rating or higher. Indeed, all the ebooks I’ve bought sported such a rating. Otherwise, it would be a waste. I’ve crested some of these in a few days. Joaquin’s collection took me over a week. I’m sure the reason I’ve gone through them so quickly is that I am familiar with the terminology. More importantly, I yearn to read these books. Of course, I’ve had iPads before but I never utilised them for reading. Back when it was still called iBooks, I downloaded pdf files but not ebooks.

App central

Most of my forays into the digital version have been with Apple Books. Here, as mentioned, I’ve purchased the basketball reads. At about twenty seven bucks, Giannis was the dearest. Some of the books, like Fab Five, were older releases. Others, such as Steven Adams, were more recent works. Of course, Books is not definitive. I’ve used other ebook apps like BorrowBox. The latter requires a library membership, but once logged in, the rest is history. Sometimes, you’ll not find what you’re looking for. In that case, ditch the app and buy the hard copy. Or request it from your local repository.

At the moment, I’m working on another ebook. The Late Show is the first instalment in the Renee Ballard series. Late was released five years ago. I’ve read all the rest, save the fifth edition that came out last Tuesday. Should I finish the ebook soon, it’ll be on my latest reading list. There’s a chance that I’d consume the new Ballard book right after I’m done with Late. Regardless, I’ve got a few reads on the cards. Before, I posted about reading more nonfiction titles. Now, it’s all about the ebooks. At this rate, the only iterations left are comic books and audiobooks. Meh.

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The Age of 5G

In the last few years, we’ve been hearing about 5G more and more. This should come as little shock. After all, the latter is the latest in mobile technology. Three years ago, it was relatively obscure. 5G phones were selling for fifteen hundred dollars here. Even with a forty percent discount, owning that smartphone meant shelling out nine hundred bucks. As the technology grew more prevalent, 5G enabled phones became cheaper. Nowadays, it’s possible to purchase such mid range mobiles for over three hundred bucks. Of course, there are still premium Android phones that will break the bank. On the whole though, 5G models are more affordable.

Two-headed monster

So far, I’ve bought two 5G phones. The first one cost me $429 at JB Hifi. It had 8gb of ram, a 120hz display. Additionally, it had 128 gb of storage and a 30w fast charger. My previous mobile, a budget Oppo phone, only had an 18w charger. The former came in an azure colour way. I used a Vodafone SIM for the Realme. The latter’s 5G network wasn’t as widespread as its competitors. I only took advantage of their 5G when I was outdoors. Even then, it wasn’t always 5G-covered. Good luck with trying them in our area.

The next phone (my current one) was purchased at Big W. I took home another Oppo. This time, it was 5G enabled. Initially, I tried out Lebara. They utilised the Vodafone wholesale network. Sadly, I couldn’t make the most of the 5G as it wasn’t yet available in the areas that I frequented.

I met up with a friend who had a similar looking Oppo phone.

‘What’s your phone’s model?’

‘Uh. Oppo something something,’ he replied.

‘It looks like an Oppo A74 5G,’ I said.

‘Yeah, sounds right,’ he retorted.

Our new phones also has 128gb of storage, but just 6gb of ram. Furthermore, it has a 90 hz display with an 18watts charger. The battery is the same at 5000mah. I got the black colour, as I didn’t realise that there was another shade.

5G areas

I stayed about a month with my Aunt in Mount Colah. Interestingly, Vodafone had 5G in her area. It seemed odd that the inner city was still dreaming while the boondocks was hi-tech. I wasn’t able to take advantage of their 5G as my aunt utilised a 4g connection.

I have since ditched Lebara in favour of Aldi. The latter utilises the Telstra wholesale network, which supposedly covers 98.5 percent of Oz. They have a few prepaid plans. I’ve used them before, with my old iPhone 8 Plus. As expected, their 5G coverage is broader than Lebara. If I’m not mistaken, Telstra was the first provider to offer 5G. For a while, it was only the three big telcos who featured the new frequency. In the past years, other smaller providers had gotten in on the act.

In order to get the full 5G experience, you’ll need three things. Firstly, your must have a 5G enabled device. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve used two 5G smartphones. Last year, I had considered getting the latest iPad mini, which featured the novel frequency. However, most stores had ran out of stock. Secondly, you’ll need a 5G plan. Thirdly, 5G coverage in your area is essential as well.

3 + 4G

3G was a big thing when it came out aeons ago. Everybody thought the new iPhone 3G was the galaxy’s best phone. The maximum storage for this was 32gb, which is less than the minimum for most smartphones nowadays. A few years later, 4G came along. My old iPad as well as an iPad mini included 4G support. Moreover, a Motorola was my first 4g phone. In 2014 or so, 4GX was unveiled, supposedly much speedier than 4G. Meanwhile, Optus had 4G Plus.

Which leaves us to 5G. This frequency has become the norm with iPhones starting with the iPhone 12. You don’t have to stick with the iPhone ecosystem though. There are plenty of Android phones which offer good value at a fraction of the cost. Just like some items, you’re merely paying for the brand name. The telcos have 5g home plans that come with the appropriate modem. Meanwhile, the NBN is ubiquitous in homes around the nation. It promises exceptional speeds with lesser latency. 5G is seen as a viable alternative to the national broadband network. Whether it’s the latter or the former, mobile technology has come a long way since the iPhone’s advent.

iPhone 3G
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Halloween 2022

It’s that time of the year again. The end of October means Halloween. In my auntie’s neighbourhood, houses have evoked the scary theme, garnishing their fences with cobwebs. While not as celebrated here as in the US, the thrill mongers chip in when they could. It isn’t all about spider webs. There’s the carved pumpkins or jack o lanterns, complete with a lighted candle inside. There’s dressing up as figures, both historical and creepy. Of course, Halloween won’t be complete without trick or treat. Again, it’s not as widespread here as across the pond.

Scary movies

I like the terrifying pictures. When I was in uni, I had a blood and gore phase. I would go out and rent unpalatable DVDs. I saw all of the Hostel franchise. I watched the remake of The Hills have Eyes and Wrong Turn as well. They usually featured half man half monsters who become either cannibals or psychopaths. Take your pick. If it’s not the cold blooded, then it’s the foreigners. The gorgeous Eastern Europeans turn out to be gold digging, callous witches.

Every year for a decade or so, a new Saw film would be released at the cinemas. I wasn’t updated on the franchise but it was really prolific artistry. No doubt, the title of the biggest scary franchise belongs to Halloween. Through the decades, the instalments have become box office hits. A couple of years ago, I got my first Halloween tasting at the cinemas. This was a well received picture that topped the chart.

Not in Oz

This year, Halloween would fall on a Monday. For most Aussies, this would be another ho-hum day. There won’t be many pesky kids asking for candy. Most of us won’t bother with dressing up. For those who will, they must have been planning this for a while. Picking your antihero isn’t an easy decision. We will mostly leave our pumpkins and scarecrows alone.

In truth, Halloween does not have to be on a set date every year. For Aussies across the continent, it’s ravaged them already. The year started with bush fires and deluges, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous post. Indeed, some of the areas got inundated thrice in less than a year. By winter, the whole Sydney region was ground zero for torrential rain. It was one of the coldest editions on record. The threat of COVID remained, with strict rules in place. The signage and regulations were constant reminders of the past lockdowns.

Speaking of spooky, how about Nick Kyrgios? I remember talking about Tsitsipas.

‘Don’t you like Nick Kyrgios? He’s Greek-Australian.’

‘I don’t like his attitude,’ I replied. Fair enough.

I already dedicated about 2,000 words on a post about Wimbledon 2022. Basically. You’ve got two versions of Kyrgios: he’s either scary good or just plain scary. He’s either hot or cold, a great showman or a great disappointment. This altogether makes him a delightful watch. You never know which Kyrgios you’ll see: the showman or the pretender. They should make a Halloween tournament that features all the tennis firebrands. Nick must be the top seed.

In the Philippines

In the Philippines, Halloween isn’t really celebrated. FYI, the country was under American control. However, the US Halloween tradition didn’t gain much ground in the former colony. As trick or treat isn’t widespread in Oz, it’s very rare in the Philippines. Christmas carols are more prevalent. Indeed, the Christmas tradition begins as early as September. Chances are, the houses have Yuletide decors instead of webs. There are no pumpkins and scarecrows. With the huge typhoon hitting the islands, people are more concerned with rebuilding their houses than some obscure foreign tradition.

Gaudy and glittering

I recall once attending this uni lecture. Our professor showed us clips of The Exorcist. This was my first look at the original. The crucifix scene was disturbing. The head twisting take was likewise unnerving. However, the eerie male voice was funny. Ditto those backflips, which showed that she had mad skillz.

Halloween occurs on the eve of All Saint’s Day. I remember visiting our ancestor’s graves on 1 November. Like Holy Week, many Pinoys would travel interstate in order to visit their fallen relatives. So Halloween is like the prelude to the day of the dead. We must remember that the former is not just about the deceased. It’s a chance for us to celebrate the living and be thankful for our family and friends. The message may be tempered by dazzling costumes, gaudy blockbusters, and glittering candy. However, being appreciative denizens, it’s never about the cost. Rather, it’s dressing up and sharing for a cause. Count me in.

Happy Halloween!

Day of the Dead
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August-September (2022) reads

This is a bit of a late post. My last reads compilation was two months ago. Since then, I’ve managed to finish four books. As usual, I’ll only review three of them, with one nonfiction text. Golden Days by Jack McCallum was first. The book juxtaposes the 72 Lakers squad with the current Warriors dynasty. Basketball legend, Jerry West, acts as the bridge between these two eras. Next up is The 15th Affair by James Patterson. As per the title, this marks the fifteenth entry in his Women’s Murder Club series. The book provided a good change of pace and Patterson’s literary universe was a welcome respite. Finally, it took me a while and I had to stop and start but I finally managed to get through Upgrade, Blake Crouch’s latest. The work reminded me of this indie film with the same title.

1. Golden Days (McCallum). I try to read basketball books when I can, being a hoops fan growing up in a b-ball crazed country. You wouldn’t find them in the library; hence, I get the ebooks. As mentioned, Golden Days chronicles two great dynasties. It gave a blow by blow analysis of the Lakers’s 33 game win streak. This still stands as the longest run in American pro sports. Aside from West, we get acquainted with the other Laker greats, including Elgin Baylor, the late Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich. The fact that they played three nights in a row only mystifies this achievement.

The book though isn’t just about victories and jump shots. McCallum foregrounds the racial tensions in 70s America. He illustrates how the status quo still maintains remnants of racial discrimination. He asserts that the game has changed. He also looks at Coach Bill Sharman, the former Celtic great who fused all the Laker talent and turned them into a world beater. He also instituted the shoot around, which has become a staple in the association. Apart from the Lakers, he sets aside time for Oscar Robertson, the triple double machine. He pits the latter against West, a very apt comparison considering their shared timeline. He likewise dissects Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who would win five championships with the Lakers in the 80s.

By canvassing the Warriors, he unpacks the current crop of super teams. He talks about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. West became a team consultant to the Warriors, creating a winning culture. Together with owner Joe Lacob, the Dubs have become the premier team in basketball. McCallum also synthesises the tech mogul invasion, where Silicon Valley billionaires buy into the league. Throughout the book, the author uses clear and riveting language. I got hooked from the start. The profiles of gamers, owners, and big names only spices up a loaded read. This was a lovely treat for basket watchers.

Rating: 4.7/5

2. The 15th Affair (Patterson). This marks my first foray into this series. This instalment sees Detective Lindsay Boxer as she attempts to solve a triple murder in a San Fran hotel. While seemingly a routine elimination at first, Boxer and her adept team soon realise that this may not be a random slaying. She utilises the help of her other friends including Claire, the chief medical officer and Yuki, a District Attorney. As she tends to her toddler, her seemingly perfect life is unravelled. Her husband is hiding things from her and the conundrum has hit close to home.

I loved the twists and subplots. The author knows the tricks of the trade and utilises them well. The work is full of vanishing mirrors and stuff and action pervades every chapter. The author knows how to demarcate his storylines, with short but bitey chapters. He even manages to put an Oriental spin in the plot. Patterson managed to implicate seemingly all the important security agencies in the country and he does so admirably. He seldom strays from the correct working procedure. He even has a blonde bombshell doing the dirty work. I finished this 400 page book in six days. Once you pop some Patterson, the pages turn quickly. If I had a regret, it’s that I should’ve perused this series sooner.

Rating: 4.6/5

3. Upgrade (Crouch). I’ll be honest about this one: it was one of the more challenging books I’ve tackled this year. Other readers have felt the same way, as their reviews and ratings suggest. The main hindrance is that Upgrade deals with gene modifications. People could read more, remember more, and react quicker. Logan Ramsay has been chosen for an upgrade. Now, he can beat his daughter every time in chess. He can recall sensations and every word from ten years past. He can read dense books in hours. However, his increased intelligence makes him a target. Soon, he yearns to find out how this happened. He ends up being a prisoner and a Guinea pig for greedy scientists and government agents.

Soon, he learns that he’s not the only one upgraded. An evil genius from his distant past persevered to release the upgrade. She thinks that this was the only way to save humanity. However, her calculations weren’t entirely precise. The upgrade isn’t only a levelling up but it also brings some hideous side effects. Logan races against time to stop this, but the odds are stacked against him. The so called ends of humanity is at the core of this narrative. Would you be prepared to sacrifice so much to save your race? Would you be prepared to kill your loved ones, seeing them as collateral damage in your quest?

This is my second Crouch book, after Recursion. No doubt, I much prefer the latter. Upgrade was like Big Bang Theory on steroids. It was not a very pleasant experience. It took about a month to crest this and even then I had to digest it bit by bit. I thought a few times about quitting due to the dense language but I rarely read sci fi books. Once I’ve invested a hundred pages, it seemed unreasonable to just move on. Before I forget: the book had a surfeit of lists. Any avid reader of my site will know that I dislike them. Upgrade had too many ‘dandelions’ and some had like twenty items. As with other book genres: choose carefully and choose wisely.

Rating: 3.65/5

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‘True Story’

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a voracious reader. I would get my hands on anything in the library and at home. Even when I was no longer in school, I’d still borrow books. While grappling with tertiary education, I made sure to spare some time for John Grisham and Matthew Reilly. When I was younger, I’d devour encyclopaedias and Harry Potter. As I got older, I found joy in novels, magazines, and the newspaper. I grew up with Time, National Geographic, and Tower magazine. Once, my email was adjudged as the letter of the month to Handle magazine. Michael Crichton was one of the first writers that I followed. I fell in love with Jurassic Park, his dense scientific prose not deterring me.

Strictly fiction

Over the years, I discovered Stephen King, Dan Brown, and later, Michael Connelly and Jodi Picoult. The news had evolved for me. Instead of reading the daily editorials and sports reports, I read the news online. I did not read a lot of nonfiction. I recall knocking back sports biographies, but they were rare forays. Unlike my school days, I seldom bought books.

In recent years, this has changed. Since 2017, I’ve catalogued my latest reads on this website. That year, A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley represented the only nonfiction work I crested. The Oscar-nominated film version intrigued me, so I had to peruse the source material. Two years later, in 2019, I had conquered many more such titles. Last year, about thirty percent of my total were in this category. This year, almost half were nonfiction. I have finally come to parity. Mirin Fader’s Giannis biography was an outstanding product, perhaps even the year’s best such work. I’ve also managed to discover Jon Krakauer. I found out about him through Into The Wild. Like the late David Halberstam, he is a nonfiction specialist. He takes on difficult topics, democratising them to the average reader. Though I’ve only perused one of his books, he’s definitely my kind of writer.

Ebooks

Not only has the art of the news evolved for me; so has the medium of reading. I’ve had iPads for years now but this year, I’ve bought and crested more ebooks. From Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings to Jack McCallum’s Golden Days, from Giannis to Steven Adams, I get my hoops fix from Apple Books. I usually do so since most of these texts are unavailable at libraries, if not all. You have to be proactive.

My chiropractor told me that he downs nonfiction since he ‘learns something new’ while so doing. He’s right. I knew about the Fab Five and college basketball but, in his book, Mitch Albom went beyond the bald heads and baggy shorts. He vivisected social and racial issues that pervaded 90s basketball. I had the pleasure of seeing Jackson compare two GOATs, a guy named Jordan and his successor, the late Kobe. I began to understand what made Adams so damn tough and the power of his dreams. Giannis proved that poverty and racism are no match to a hungry basketball mind. In Golden, was taken back to the 60s and 70s, when NBA teams would play for three straight nights and yet still be battle ready for the postseason. The NBA was nothing like today. They had a hard time competing for coverage against college football. I had fun reading about the greatest win streak in the history of pro sports, a 33-game run by the eventual champions, the Lakers.

Halberstam

I’ve finished exactly two books by Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize winner. I read them fourteen years apart. Playing for Keeps was the first one I read, an in-depth account of Air Jordan. He touched on how ESPN’s smashing success could be attributed to Mike’s ascendancy. He also ties in Jordan’s image with Nike’s meteoric rise. Last year, I perused Breaks of the Game. People have singled out the book as the finest basketball title ever, perhaps the best sports book of all time. I could see why. His detailed analysis and storytelling were spot on. He tackles key issues that are out of bounds in normal hoops conversations: the salary cap, TV contracts, and injuries. He provides gripping accounts of NBAers and Madison Avenue. At the same time, this wasn’t a book that you’d conquer in three days; it’s an acquired taste.

There are other nonfiction books on my book shelf that I’ve yet to read. Last year, I purchased this David Wallace collection. This would mark his second such title for me but I’ve been unable to spare the time. I have works about Elon Musk, Bear Grylls, and comedian Nick Frost. I’ve had this Steven Jobs bio for a while but it seems redundant now that I’ve seen the film version. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall was the last book I got off my shelf.

Other media

While this post has focused on books, I’ve also had the same sea change with other media. Before, I binged on Parks and Rec, Cobra Kai, and Stranger Things, amongst many more. I was also watching Michael Moore DVDs. These past few months, I made it a point to discover more docos. In August alone, I devoured Athelete A, Bleeding Edge, The Most Hated Man. I’ve already started on Virunga and will go through the McAfee bio soon. These films are rawer than their fictitious counterparts. There is an element of added genuineness, an aura of truthfulness. Often, you won’t feel this while bingeing on Game of Thrones. While both shows make you think, the docos are definitely a more cerebral experience. Like my chiropractor said, you learn something new.

Born to Write

These days, I’m mainly a nonfiction writer. Almost all my posts on this site are based on true happenings. There is the occasional poem, but I haven’t written one in a year. To be honest, though I admire Krakauer’s work, I don’t want to be as one-sided as him. He’s written nine titles and they’re all nonfiction. The same with the late Halberstam. Recently, I watched The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I did some web-based research and found out that he’s written not only novels, story collections, and comic books. He’s also ventured into nonfiction. He utilises a fountain pen for all his first drafts. Bonus points for that. While Stephen King has dabbled in true stories, he’s mostly focused on fiction. I’ve been reading Murakami and he definitely intrigues me. He’s a prolific and celebrated Japanese writer and his texts rarely disappoint. He’s certainly on my short list.

The two pillars

Nonfiction presents at a different pace than its made-up counterpart. There is no magic and ‘silly wand waving’. There is no bezoar to save a wizard’s foaming mouth. No Harry Bosch or Hole to save the day and make the bastards pay. I’ve never heard of a seven or twelve-part true crime series. However, there are journalists uncovering lies in Hollywood. A magical orphanage in Haiti. Tips on how to become a better human. Interviews with key people in Kobe’s life. Victims telling their stories. Chuck Palahniuk offering wise words on authoring. Overall, nonfiction is more demanding. Yet when you’ve summitted the narrative, it can be that more rewarding. Most of the time, I conquer one nonfiction title for every two fiction reads. Like my chiropractor, I believe in growing my vineyard and this is something that nonfiction could offer.

As you can see, having balance is important not just as a reader but more so, as a content creator. Ten years ago, I would find it curious if someone told me that half my books would be true to life. Human progress is about adapting, about broadening our horizons. We should embrace the desire to go beyond our comfort zones.

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The Toilet Tandem

This past weekend, shocking news of a toilet incident surfaced. A pair of rugby league players were unceremoniously booted out of a Sydney toilet cubicle. A Queensland Maroon fullback and a his benchwarmer teammate comprised the unfortunate duo. The question remains: what was the inebriated tandem doing huddled in a toilet cubicle? I guess that’s what’s been bugging the public. Someone suggested that they were just ‘letting off steam’ after a hard earned thirst. By the way, other post titles I considered were ‘The Toilet Twosome’, ‘Boyz in the Cubicle’, and ‘The Love Seat’.

Highly regarded

The Origin representative is one of the most highly touted fullbacks in the game. Aside from representing Queensland, he also captains his home squad. This has been a trying year for his club as they underwhelmed all season, missing the NRL (National Rugby League) Finals. However, the victorious Maroons outfit during Origin was a silver lining for the chap. Since then, he has been ruled out for the season due to injury. He was originally from Western Australia but grew up in New South Wales. His parents are both Kiwis and his surname rhymes with Kalinga.

Not a landmark case

While admittedly surprising, this isn’t the first incident of its kind in human history. Using the time machine, we could step back to the 90s when Hugh Grant decided to hire a hooker. In LA, said lady gave him some car service before they were charged with flashing. I recall seeing Grant’s mug shot regularly on a billboard as I was on my way to uni. It was a far cry from his performance in Four Weddings. Liz Hurley, his girlfriend at the time, was very supportive and stood by her man. A happy ending wasn’t to be as they parted ways a few years later.

Speaking of flashing, a few months back, this chick made headlines for storming the field in her bra. The match involved the Parramatta Eels. I don’t know what was more troubling: the fact that she interrupted the game or her pear-shaped figure. Since I’ve began with the players, it’s only fitting to include the fans’ ‘contribution’. The next day, her boyfriend dumped her, writing that he can’t believe she was such an idiot. Clearly, she’s a massive attention seeker, probably a narcissist. The match was halted for some time as a result of this field invasion. If she was looking for her fifteen minutes of fame, she certainly got it.

Another notable toilet incident involved Sonny Bill and Candyce Falzon. They were both also in a cubicle and were caught in a compromising position. The former has played both rugby union and league, even suiting up for the All Blacks. He helped them win the 2015 Rugby World Cup. That year, I recall watching the action while downing some Heinekens. The latter was a major sponsor. Early in his career, Sonny Bill won a premiership with the Canterbury Bulldogs of the NRL. He is known for his knack for offloading the ball. The incident had little effect on Sonny Bill; the same cannot be said of Candyce. Eventually, Falzon would marry cricketer David Warner, with whom she shares three daughters. The dubious outing would follow Warner even to South Africa. Fans would taunt him with Sonny Bill masks.

More bad boys

He should’ve learned from his teammate. The former Rooster copped a seven match ban after kissing a woman and simulating a sex act with a dog. It wouldn’t take a genius to see that the guy was wasted. The punishment was a bit lenient. Who could forget that Aussie rules player who was caught in a compromising image with a canine. The next day he couldn’t even finish his statement before breaking down in tears. His fam were his only friends. The jokes reached as far away as Taiwan. Eventually, he packed his bags for Europe.

Invested

When something like this transpires, people would wonder what they were up to. Instead of a place in the Hall of Fame, they’re relegated to the Hall of Shame. Perhaps they will move on like Sonny Bill. The game needs number 9 and he’s a nice fit for Queensland. Jonathan Thurston spearheaded the Maroon’s unprecedented dominance. He also had his unflattering days, but all was forgiven. By the time he was done, he made good to bring the premiership to Townsville.

Bizarre though this may be, nobody ever mistook rugby players for choir boys. As the clubs invest on their young players, they know that they’d act up now and again. Indeed, barely a month goes by without an NRL player making negative news. So long as it doesn’t affect their output on the field, ‘boys will be boys’. Previously, someone even told me that he wonders how rugby players are so fit when they do their share of silly stuff. As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’.

Thurston
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Year of the Ape

I remember this story that my mum told me. As a child, she visited this family friend’s abode. The house per se was unremarkable, save for one difference maker. The family had a pet monkey. Not just for beautification purposes; they employed the ape to fetch them coconuts. Imagine this: a hairy primate climbing coconut trees, bringing them the fruits, and giving them high fives. Now, that’s progress. My mum inferred that the ape was trained. Even as a kid, she knew that primates didn’t just fetch cocos out of altruism.

In the media

She also has this primate sewing kit. The monkey head is really cute, until the zipper started acting up. Thankfully, we managed to remedy this hiccup. Anyhow, primates are well represented. Think of Marcel, Ross Geller’s pet in Friends. The former was a movie star and the latter adored him, even following him to San Fran. Ross even introduced him to his friends. He regards Marcel like another son. He tells Joey that apes are their ancestors. Big Bang Theory, another winning sitcom, had Amy doing experiments on this cheeky ape.

Going back in time, Congo was one of Crichton’s bestsellers and was adapted into film. I recall reading the book, before catching the movie on HBO. The novel, which featured intelligent apes running amok, was much better than the underwhelming feature. Of course, the book dealt with mountain gorillas (not monkeys). Congo was about the foreignness of the country. Rich in natural resources, the Congo remained a vast wilderness that westerners had only settled. The state hides as much as it presents and Crichton channels the strangeness through the merciless gorillas.

Speaking of gorillas, the Planet of the Apes franchise has consistently delivered. The reboot did a lot of good for them, which spawned hit after hit. The instalments not only won at the box office; they likewise scored well with the critics. While we’re at it, King Kong and Godzilla are exhibit A of what could go wrong with underfed primates and monsters. Hard to believe that the pair got the ball rolling even earlier than Planet.

The usefulness of pets

Going back to being trained, it would be nice to have a useful servant. Think of Dobby the house elf in Harry Potter. He may look weak and he may wear rags, but he’s a powerful critter who could do the laundry with a snap of his fingers. He’s extremely loyal and would protect his friends to the end. Even the Weasleys dreamed of having one. They had to settle for a ghoul in the attic.

Monkeys may have negative connotations but they remain highly intelligent creatures. You don’t have to be a Darwinist to see the similarities. They have been stereotyped as banana eating beings, but as per the aforementioned movies, they are also crafty.

Parables

There was this show when I was a kid. This kid had no respect for his elders. One day, his face turned into a monkey’s and he became the town’s curiosity. He regretted his actions and changed. Having understood the importance of good manners, his features were returned. Our teacher also told us this parable. The parents cooked and clean but the kids were insufferable ingrates. The parents told them repeatedly to wash their plates and cutlery but they never listened. One time, the parents got fed up as the dishes remained on the table. They looked for their offspring and found them playing outside. Enraged, they hit their kids with the utensils and cursed them. They grew tails and became the first monkeys.

Blank slate

I must admit that I believed that this week would be a blank slate. We were downing some coconut juice. My mum told me that some people didn’t like it.

‘It tastes like laundry water,’ according to white people.

She was about to pack the juice box away when I sighted this monkey in the container. Incidentally, we call this as buko juice or bj for short. As a Pinay comedian once intoned, ‘You’re right on time, doo.’

Her friend’s suitor had annoyed said actress.

‘Just come back next year,’ she told him.

Thankfully, that wouldn’t be the case with this week’s post.

‘Shamy’
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Midwinter (2022) reads

Around July of each year, the temps absolutely plummet in Sydney. At the turn of winter, it was already freezing but July is traditionally the coldest month. It’s the perfect time to catch up on your reading. I begin this list with another book by Murakami. Sputnik Sweetheart is not among his best rated works but it remains enchanting. I followed this up with Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five. A chronicle of the Michigan Wolverines quintet, the five freshmen starters defied the status quo and created a legend.Finally, Total Recall, Schwarzenegger’s dense memoir, rounds out this month’s haul. The biography, full of bodybuilding and politics, was so far the year’s most challenging read. It took me the better part of three weeks and even then, I had to read other books simultaneously. In the end, this was a very worthwhile book and well deserving of the time invested. Two nonfiction works and one novel. As Alex Compton intoned, ‘makes sense to me.’

1. Sputnik Sweetheart (Murakami). Like Norwegian Wood, Sputnik is mostly a love story. This involves the two female leads, Sumire and Miu. The protanist, Sumire’s bestie, is secretly in love with her. However, Sumire wants a strictly platonic relationship. He then spends his time bedding married women. He works as a schoolteacher. The two of them have an odd connection. They are very open to each other, maybe too open. Though they had attended the same college, the guy is much further along in his career. He can afford the finer things and both is parents are alive. Sumire’s mother passed away when she was a child. Thankfully, her stepmother treated her like her own.

Sumire is a frustrated writer. She has tried to write many books but has not finished any of them. Her bestie is her only believer. She often comes to him for answers, whether big and small. She believes that he should know everything. These exchanges are sometimes philosophical. When Miu, a sommelier and publicist, marches into her life, she becomes smitten. She now works as Miu’s receptionist, eventually turning up each weekday. Suddenly, she accompanies her boss to Europe. They like it so much that they extend their visit a couple of times. Miu then contacts the pal, only saying that he must fly to Greece immediately. Once he gets to this small island, he understands that Sumire is missing. Miu needs his help to find her.

Miu shares that Sumire was spending long days working on a project. This was a shock since she wasn’t able to write anything since meeting Miu. Sumire had simply up and left one night after Miu rejected her advances. She was in her PJ’s and slippers. All her things were left in her room. With some luck, the bestie manages to open her luggage where he finds two documents. It were like polished, extended diary entries. As usual with Murakami, there was a touch of magical realism. A 39-year old with white hair? An out of body experience? A splitting of souls? These are hallmarks of the great novelist. In the end, he even has time to unpack a moral question. Sure, some of his prose isn’t that easy but ultimately, this book is better than purported.

Rating: 4.1/5

2. The Fab Five. (Mitch Albom). I’ve read most of the author’s work. As I’ve consistently stated, his are the easiest books to read. Fab is one of his early works, back when he was a sports writer. The title chronicles The Greatest Recruiting Class ever. The eponymous five freshmen changed the game forever. At this point, getting a quintet of the best college prospects was unheard of. Eventually, all five players would start for Michigan. Fab has some shade of Halberstam’s Breaks. Fab doesn’t deal purely with basketball action. The book provides profiles. Whether it’s Bobby Knight or Mike K; forward Rob Pelinka or the Webbers; Carmichael Auditorium or Seattle’s Kingdome; there’s something for everyone.

Fab also deals with the highs and lows of a hoops juggernaut. When the five gobbled all the minutes, the rest of the team was relegated to garbage time. The freshmen were cocky even though they had won nothing yet. They loved to talk trash and to show up their opponents. Like the rest of the team, each had been the star player on their high school squad. Three of them – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Jimmy King – were the number ones at their position. As freshmen, they were notorious for their baggy shorts and bald heads. This later became a trend. Furthermore, their long black socks were also a hallmark of defiance.

Most of the quintet grew up impoverished, with Webber and Rose being local kids. Howard was from Chi-town and Jimmy and Ray Jackson were Texans. The five would lead Michigan to back to back runs in the chip match, only to come up short both times. They especially hated Duke, the one team they never beat. The Blue Devils were fundamentally sound, cohesive, and made the smart plays. For the Wolverines, they seemingly looked out for the outstanding move rather than the sure two. With Duke’s experience and camaraderie, the Wolverines proved no match. In year two, they got past some powerhouses, including UCLA and Kentucky. They played a close match against the Tar Heels before some brain cramps cost them in the end.

Fab talks about Sutherland hypocrisy of college basketball. Despite being household names, the fab five were unable to reap the rewards from their merchandise. Albom’s effort reminded me of Sooley (Grisham), although this was nonfiction. Michigan was the darlings of March Madness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grisham drew some inspiration from Fab. This was an easy ebook to read, taking me six full days to knock back. Moreover, the title was divided into ten parts, with mostly short chapters. The one thing going against it was the nineties publication date. This was the era before smartphones and social media. Imagine how much further the fab five would take off had the technology been there.

Rating: 5/5

3. Total Recall (Schwarzenegger). As mentioned, this nonfiction title is the third leg of the tripod. I started reading this 618-page monster three weeks past. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a while, purchased from Basement Books. Recall is the definitive look into Arnold’s amazing life. He talks about his humble beginnings in Austria, the second of two boys. His father was in law enforcement and Arnold took an interest in weight lifting. Soon, he’d be crowned Mr Universe, repeating as champ a record number of times. He would then move to the States, where he’d spend hours in the gym. While improving his physique, he studied in college part-time. He also became a real estate mogul.

After accomplishing all there was with bodybuilding, he set his sights on Hollywood. Initially, he was viewed as an oddity: the guy with the impossible surname; an imposing brick with an accent. After a flurry of box office hits, he gradually became the world’s biggest movie star. He teamed up with helmer Jim Cameron for Terminator, which is his most famous role. Arnold proved that he was equally adept in comedy as with action. In 1983, he became an American citizen. When he married Maria Schriver, he was part of the Kennedy clan. Over the years, he’s suffered his share of setbacks on set, which required hospitalisation. He was fortunate to meet the right people, who supported and nurtured his show biz career.

When a special ballot was announced for the California governorship, Arnold knew that he had to run. Eventually, he would have the support of everyone including his wife. This paved the way for a landslide victory. Before his win, he mentioned meeting Nelson Mandela. He was amazed that, despite being in goal for twenty seven years, the latter harboured no ill will. There are occasional typos in the book but is a solid effort on the whole. Be prepared for some dense prose; I had to skim a long chapter on politics. Arnold was a bit of everything. He was a champion athlete, a sharp businessman, a megastar, a model politician, a talented writer, a husband, and a father. Clearly, Arnold has the Midas touch. In the last chapter, the author urges his readers thus: ‘When someone tells you no, you should hear yes.’

‘So it’s not always obvious what you should celebrate. Sometimes, you have to appreciate the very people and circumstances that traumatised you.’

Rating: 4.1/5

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