Latest reads

Another few weeks have passed; it’s time to collate. I’ll be serving another dose of the usual: three books comprised of two novels and one nonfiction read. Once again, I’ve included two crime novels. The Silent Wife (Slaughter) marks my seventh read from her Will Trent series this year. This is also her latest release. Meanwhile, The Leopard is the sixth Harry Hole novel of the year. He keeps his instalments riveting by introducing new characters and themes. Finally, Mary Trump’s revelatory account rounds out the trio. Too Much and Never Enough is an enlightening portrait into the Trump family, a timely vivisection into the man currently occupying the White House.

  1. The Silent Wife (Slaughter). As mentioned in a prior post, this represents my seventh Will Trent read of the year. This instalment has the familiar Slaughter brushstrokes: a serial killer on the loose; women murdered; a dramatic opening; the GBI scrambling to contain the killings. There is also an unusual touch: the plot alternates between a turbulent past and bleak present. The narrative divides between Dr Linton’s two great loves: Jeffrey Tolliver (past) and Will Trent (current). Of course, other regulars such as Amanda Wagner and Faith Mitchell. Lena Adams and her lost notebooks remain the secondary antagonist.

A woman is murdered in the woods. Two more killings occur six months later. A man is incarcerated for the slayings. Eight years later, he offers the cops a deal. He points out that the murders have not abated since his imprisonment. Spread over eight years, there have been seventeen killings. The GBI is invited in to unmask the matador. The original case was a Grant County investigation, the area where Sara Linton grew up and where her ex, Jeffrey, was the chief. Having just divorced, they were not on good terms at the time. However, the former couple have to work together to bring the perp to justice. I recall Broken (Trent number four) as also being set in Grant County. This one varies from Grant County and Atlanta, with a Macon quick aside.

Slaughter uses a few interesting literary devices. Firstly, she has a curious way with words. She takes terms from popular culture and wedges them into the plot and dialogue. Secondly, she creates a weird habit in the early victim’s roommate: the use of question marks in every other sentence. Third, she does a Connelly in recycling olden technology to sell the feel of a bygone era. Of course, these are all in addition to the clever use of twists and side stories. She establishes the killer as someone versed in human anatomy, with access to a workman’s tools, unafraid of the spotlight, and who drives a van. The pacing was classic Slaughter and the matador’s identity remains a mystery until the end. The lack of progress in Will and Sara’s relationship is off-putting. For the last three or four books, it’s like they’ve been frozen. I guess the author needs this to buy more time for future instalments. The conclusion was disappointing.

Rating: 4.25/5

  • Too Much and Never Enough (Mary L. Trump). This is an eye-opening account from a Trump insider. Mary Trump, a licensed psychologist and the President’s only niece, sheds light on a turbulent family history. That Donald tried to block the publication of the book only added to its mystique. Although only 211 pages long, the title packs a lot. At times, it resembles a psychology reading – especially the prologue, last chapter, and epilogue. However, for the most part, the book is an easy, if sad, read. Mary argues that her family enabled ‘the world’s most dangerous man.’ To illustrate her point, she goes way back and provides a rare family history. She examines her grandparents and their children, debunking the myth that Donald was a self-made man.

She traces the Trump story from Germany and Scotland, the Spanish flu, and the Great War. She talks about the House, where the real Trump story unfolds. Mary even reminisces on her earliest memories in the House. The author scrutinises three main entities: Fred (her grandfather), Freddy (her since-deceased dad), and Donald (her uncle). Fred was the patriarch, the man who built an empire and put the Trump name on the map. In spite of his business sense, Fred was difficult – especially to his children. Though he was a very wealthy man with connections, Fred lived frugally. Unbeknownst to many, Freddy (being the oldest son) was being groomed to take over Trump Management, the lucrative family business. However, Fred’s narcissistic and overbearing tendencies precluded Freddy from ever spreading his wings. Though he became a commercial pilot, his father’s abuse led to Freddy’s alcoholism. Freddy died without ever having his family’s support.

Donald quickly learned from his brother’s failings and became his father’s favourite son. He benefitted from his dad’s largesse but had none of Fred’s business acumen. Mary’s revelations shocked me. Her family treated them like pariahs. They were cut out from Fred’s will, repeatedly told that they deserved nothing because their dad died with nothing. They had to settle for peanuts due to a gross undervaluing of their late grandfather’s estate. Even as Fred adored Donald, dementia marred his final years. Since he was now a liability, Fred was treated with contempt. In the final chapter, Mary makes her case as to why Donald is unfit to serve as the leader of the free world. He has been getting away with it for too long, she says. His responses to natural calamity, racism, and COVID-19 have cemented this claim in her eyes. It took Mary a while to finally act and call out her uncle. However, the end result is a polished work that provides much insight into the Trumps.

Rating: 4.35/5

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
  • The Leopard. (Jo Nesbo). Detective Harry Hole returns in the eight book of this bestselling crime series. After the events of The Snowman investigation, Harry decides to quit the force and intends on seeing volcanoes in the Philippines. However, during a stopover in Hong Kong, he decides that the place isn’t bad and spends his time betting big on the horses and eating glass noodles at a hole in the wall. His boss, Gunnar, sends a newbie cop, Kaja Solness, to fetch Harry as another serial killer stalks the streets of Oslo. This is an epic novel and at 740 pages (mass market paperback), is the thickest read of the year so far. Interestingly enough, the next-longest one for me was 695 pages, also a Nesbo work.

While most of the text is set around Oslo, a significant portion transpires in the Congo. The author unpacks noteworthy concepts such as trust, colonialism, and the third world. Like Nesbo’s other work, there is more than enough twists and turns to keep readers rapt. The mobilisation of new characters adds some spice to the thrills. In particular, the addition of overzealous Mikael Bellman is the perfect foil to Hole’s methodical ways. A mole is handing over information from Harry’s small team to Bellman’s outfit. Though this is revealed soon enough, the matador’s face remains a mystery. Like The Snowman, this one is set in midwinter, full of skis, snowstorms, and snowmobiles. There is even an actual avalanche in the middle.   

The title refers to the Leopold’s apple, a torture device that the slayer employs. Said device was bought off a Belgian in the Congo. The apparatus was responsible for the deaths of two women. The book sees Harry’s personal life in tatters. Rakel, his former flame, has fled the country in the aftermath of The Snowman crisis. His father, Olav, is on his death bed. His position in the force is again being scrutinised and the future looks bleak for Crime Squad, his employer. Early on, the killer’s clean crime scenes left them befuddled. Once again, Harry manages to keep his demons at bay and does not succumb to the bottle for most of the case. He also gets ample help from Katrine Bratt, who is battling her own demons. Like all good crime novelists, Nesbo makes sure to leave sufficient clues and suspects while keeping the reader guessing till the end. Unlike Michael Connelly, all of the chapters are titled.  

Rating: 4.5/5

Voila! Three books in three weeks. I currently have a true crime book from a retired Aussie detective. I also hold an older Grisham read from the Master of Legal thrillers. Anyhow, Jodi Picoult’s latest is my current read. The book is a challenging read with hieroglyphics and quantum physics, but any text by Picoult is worth perusing. Skal!

The House (Trumps)
Posted in Books, reviews | Leave a comment

The northwest nexus: Castle Towers

The recent addition of the Northwest (NW) Metro has democratised travel to the region. Castle Hill is one of the main beneficiaries. The eponymous Metro stop sits adjacent to Castle Towers, a large shopping centre that is the Northwest’s drawcard. I’ve been to the mall twice, both of them this past May. The first one was brief. After lunch, I left soon to travel over an hour to Macarthur Square. I was after my Tigers pair, of which only they stocked. I saw much more of the centre during my subsequent visit. Castle Towers has a wide range of shops, is well laid-out, and is an upmarket shopping destination.

Two ways

If you’re taking the train, there are two ways you could get to Castle Towers. Option A: change at Chatswood for the light rail to Castle Hill. Option B: take the Metro from nearby Epping. If you’re travelling from the city, Option A makes more sense. Our initial visit to Castle Hill was also my first commute on the light rail. The NW had been running for about a year by then. Epping marks the fourth stop from Chatswood. Cherrybrook is next, then Castle Hill. In short, the latter is the sixth stop from Chatswood. The Metro trains are driverless, with barriers along the platform to streamline the experience. My friend admitted that the concept and running of the service reminds him of its Singaporean counterpart. In particular, the seating plan and announcer bore a striking resemblance.

Food Court

Since the Castle Hill stop is underground, you’ll ascend one level, tap off, then pass through a short tunnel before getting to the mall. The station and tunnel were surprisingly windy even though there was nary a window around. Upon entering, The Reject Shop is the first store you’ll see. We bought a wall clock and some nuts on our initial visit. Aside from Reject, the ground-level food court is also near the entrance. The usual fast food is there: Oporto, McDonald’s and KFC. There is also sushi, Japanese, and Chinese outlets. Further along, there are a couple of joints. The seating area was closed during our first visit, owing to the pandemic. Apparently, this part of the centre (the entrance and food court) is new and was only opened last December. The area used to be a car park before being repurposed as part of a new development. The tunnel that connects to the station is part of this rezoning.

We found out that they had a second food court. Unlike its ground-floor cousin, this one only had two outlets open: a fish and chips shop and the venerable Indian option. Castle Towers is spread over three bright levels with generous corridors. The centre has both a Kmart and a Target. We browsed both department stores on our second trip, where I purchased a blue sweater from Kmart. Furthermore, the complex touts a Best and Less. I noticed in May that the retailer was a popular choice given the lack of sizes. I also bought this camel pant from Surf Dive n’ Ski (SDS), a steal at twenty-seven bucks. Apart from the pant, I looked at their belts, shirts, and bags.

Browsing

We checked at Just Jeans, where I tried on a couple of jumpers. One of their olive henleys was on sale, but the plain colour wasn’t very enticing. Further along from SDS, I was surprised that they had a large Uniqlo store. We had a quick browse. We passed by Lowes, where they had fleece pants for 14.95. I gave it a quick think, before we decided to look at others first. Two weeks later, while browsing in the city, Lowes had jacked up the cost to 19.95. For that price, I was able to buy two fleece pants at a discount shop in Bondi.

Gold Class

Castle Towers also has a bookstore, and houses both Myer and David Jones (DJ). During both our trips in May, Myer was temporarily closed. Shoppers likewise have the option of Coles and Aldi. Event Cinemas is on the upper level and includes Gold Class – the premium cinematic experience with reclining chairs and gourmet food delivered to your seat. I remember having an older classmate who was from the Hills district. She told her friend that she tried out the Gold Class cinema at Castle Towers, which was her first bite of the apple. The auditorium seated about thirty people. I’ve visited Gold Class in Bondi, Macquarie, and Parramatta. However, before the advent of the Metro, going to Castle Hill wasn’t practical.

Unrivalled

The scale and accessibility of Castle Towers is unrivalled in Sydney’s NW corridor. The Queensland Investment Corporation owns the complex, which opened in October of 1982. As of this month, there are 292 stores in Castle Hill, meaning there’s something for everyone.  As mentioned, the centre boasts both DJ and Myer. Moreover, it also carries three discount department stores: Kmart, Target, and Best and Less. In addition, the mall offers a multi-screen cineplex, which includes Gold Class. The current cineplex is a relative novelty, having been constructed in 2009. Coles and Aldi are also part of the story. The precinct houses pharmacies, two food courts, and a flurry of fashion destinations including Uniqlo, Cotton On, Country Road, Rodd and Gunn, and Yd. Techies can hang out at JB HiFi, Sony, Vodafone, EB Games, or Mobile Experts. There are news agents for bookworms, Shaver Shop for the vain, and the requisite bank branches.

History

As of last December, Castle Towers has a total retail space of 117,700 square metres. The complex likewise has parking for over 5,000 vehicles. Speaking of the car park, I recall my chap posting that he lost his bike. He thought that someone nicked his ride; he even alerted the authorities. Turns out the parking is massive and losing your bike is easy as. Anyhow, through almost forty years of trading, the precinct has undergone a number of expansions and redevelopments. When it opened in 1982, Kmart, Coles and the now-defunct Norman Ross were the anchor tenants. David Jones and Franklins were added in 1991.

In August of 1993, the cinema site was launched, and Target succeeded Norman Ross. September of 1999, a second cinema site was instituted, and 44 specialty stores were annexed in the new Piazza dining district. In April 2000, Target and DJ expanded with Bi-Lo and Food for Less unseating Franklins; 76 more shops were welcomed. In August of 2001, the final chapter was revealed with a two-storey Grace Bros (Myer) and 34 posh fashion retailers. January 2007 saw Dan Murphy succeed Food for Less. In June 2009, Myer appended a new lower-ground level, relaunching as a three-level store.

Onwards

Further expansion, which has since been approved, will see the centre ballooning to 150,000 square metres. This would make Castle Towers one of the largest malls in Australia. Meanwhile, both our trips to Castle Hill were during the height of the pandemic. The food court was barely operational, some outlets were closed, and shoppers were few. I doubt that this was the case even as late as summer of this year. Looking at the complex, you wouldn’t deduce that it is steeped in history. If you aren’t informed, you could be mistaken for thinking that the tunnel-shaped portal at the front has been there for years. As it turns out, it hasn’t even been there for a year. If you don’t dare, you’ll never know.

Sydney Metro Northwest
Posted in reviews, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cobra Kai (2018-) reviewed: the karatistas

A few weeks ago, I finished viewing Cobra Kai. The series, which continues The Karate Kid saga, was the number one show on Netflix at the time. Cobra Kai premiered in 2018 on YouTube. The series sees the return of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). The two archrivals teach a new generation of ‘karatistas’ while balancing the demands of family. The show blends elements of the 80s with the present, interspersing old shots with modern technology. Netflix acquired the rights to Cobra in June this year and the third series is slated to arrive in early 2021. In breaking news, the programme has been renewed for a fourth season.

The main combatants in this one are from rival factions: Cobra Kai and Miyagi-do Karate. Here is the line-up of the key players:

Cobra Kai

Johnny Lawrence. A down and out alkie, Johnny works as a repairman but is fired from his perch after a situation with a client. Apathetic, he lives alone in his apartment and has long ignored his ex-wife and teenage son. His Ecuadorian neighbour, Miguel, is his saving grace. Soon, he trains the latter but warns him not to flaunt his skills. He wants to educate Miguel in the right way, unlike his former mentor. Throughout the series, he battles to contain his demons, both the bottle and Kreese, his instructor. He encourages Miguel to address him as ‘sensei’. After Miguel’s karate moves went viral, the Cobra Kai dojo becomes a hit. Johnny can usually be seen shouting ‘Quiet’, when he’s not picking on the weaklings. While he still has the goods in the dojo, Johnny isn’t tech savvy in the slightest. He returns a laptop, until the shop assistant tells him to try the power button. When Daniel shows him social media posts, he is dumbfounded: ‘What’s a Facebook?’ He even asks Miguel: ‘What’s Wi-Fi?’ Ultimately, he urges his followers to show their opponents mercy. I didn’t realise that the role of Johnny Karate in Parks and Rec was based on Lawrence.  

Miguel Diaz. Lawrence’s first student, he is a quick leaner who initially sought out Lawrence for karate kicks after the latter defended him against school bullies. Miggy is awkward and shy in the beginning but, under the tutelage of Lawrence, soon becomes confident and cool. His elevation into a lethal weapon marks the turning point in West Valley High. The inept nerds unseat the popular kids from their throne. He begins a relationship with Sam, Daniel’s daughter. However, this would be short-lived as he connects on a wayward punch in his attempt to defend his girl. Though he tries hard to salvage the liaison, his efforts prove futile. When Tory, the new girl, enters the dragon, she gains his attention. Anyhow, he treats Johnny like the father he’s never had, and their bond exceeds that of student/teacher. He is close to his mother and his abuela. His work ethic and quench for learning put him at the top of his karate class. Thirty-four years after his sensei lost to LaRusso, Diaz becomes the All-Valley Tournament champion.

Hawk

Hawk. Just like Diaz, Eli/Hawk is a leper at the beginning. His circle of friends is negligible and his social life, non-existent. He decides to sign up to Cobra Kai after seeing Miggy make light work of the bullies. Lawrence taunts the kid, calling him ‘lip’ and picking on him for being soft. One day, Eli shows up with a mohawk ‘do and quite a bit of swagger. He thus transforms into a formidable warrior. At the All-Valley tourney, Eli comes one point away from setting up a meeting with Miggy in the finale. However, he is disqualified a low blow against Robby Keane (Johnny’s son). This early exit is reminiscent of the semis in the ‘84 edition, when LaRusso’s opponent was dismissed in a similar fashion. Hawk is no doubt the second-best shogun at Cobra Kai. While uber confident, Hawk graduates into the people he despises. He becomes a bully himself.

Tory Nichols. She arrives in season 2 and is an energiser bunny from the beginning. Even on her first day, she knows her kicks. Unlike Sam, she does not have a privileged upbringing. She bonds with Aisha and is quickly infatuated with Miggy. She also has the habit of swiping stuff, which enrages Sam. Due to their shared connections with Diaz, Sam and Tory start a rivalry, which gets out of hand at the end of season 2. Tory is determined and motivated. She listens to her teachers, but she can be temperamental

Aisha Robinson. Though her family has galleons, Aisha was a nobody in school. She was shamed for being herself. Sam was one of the few people who genuinely cared about her. Then she discovered Cobra Kai and was one of the dojo’s early tutees. Interestingly, Aisha was the dojo’s first female trainee. While Lawrence was initially against women in the gym, Aisha proved him wrong. She was then organising events and meeting new people. From being avoided, she was now recruiting people to join Cobra Kai. More importantly, she was standing up to the sadists. She hangs out with Tory.

John Kreese. Karate Kid fans will remember Kreese for being the mad sensei who broke Johnny’s second-place trophy. He is sometimes referred here as ‘sensei emeritus.’ A merciless tactician, Kreese demanded his students thus: ‘Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.’ While Lawrence adapted this mantra, he did so in a much tamer manner than his sempai. Kreese returns unwelcomed, but secretly desires to take over the dojo and instil his brand of karate to these new converts. He lies about his travails and his past victories in armed conflicts around the globe. He talks about brumation, about snakes rising from the desert and reclaiming their stake. Johnny takes offence to what he sees as Kreese’s medieval ways. Yet Johnny’s ‘show mercy’ suggestion might cost him the caucus, leaving the gateway open for Kreese.

  

Miyagi-Do

Daniel LaRusso. The protagonist of the first three Karate Kid films, Daniel-san is the foil to Cobra Kai’s plans to take over the world. With their dirty tactics, Daniel views them as the enemy. Now a successful franchiser of auto dealerships, the re-emergence of Cobra Kai puts Daniel on notice. While Daniel is a dedicated family man in the outset, he fast trades his car ads for his kata. He then spends more time with his mentees than with his wife. Though a self-made millionaire, he still reels from the loss of Mr Miyagi, his mentor. However, the sempai’s influence in his teaching method is alive, from doing chores to cutting bonsais. He makes it his mission to eradicate Cobra Kai as he is against everything that they stand for. LaRusso imparts the consequence of balance to his students, and that karate is not for showing off but more for self-defence. He makes it clear that they should strike only if warranted. For much of the series, he has trouble outshining Cobra Kai and has few converts.

Samantha LaRusso. Daniel’s only daughter was trained to fight from a tender age. She is part of the popular group, with friends that are heartless, hyperreal, and narcissistic. She can usually be seen radiant and with a smile. She starts being involved with Diaz, but the inadvertent blow costs him his chances. Daniel winning her a big octopus was one of their high moments. Unlike her dad, Sam grew up well-off, living a sheltered life of country clubs and fancy cars. After Miggy, she becomes linked with Robby. For most of the two seasons, she and Robby are the only ones at Miyagi-Do. Though she balks at first, she becomes committed to her father’s training regime. She spends a lot of time on her devices but, unlike her brother Anthony, she gives the bonsais a go.

Robby Keene. At the start, Robby’s a delinquent, intent on punishing his absentee father. His mother, who raised him, is likewise often MIA (missing in action). He initially approaches LaRusso to spite Johnny. However, as opportunity keeps knocking, he grows to love his job. After training with Daniel, he leaves his old life behind and embraces his new identity. Furthermore, he goes to live with the LaRusso’s, who are unaware that he is Johnny’s boy. When Daniel finally finds out, he is gutted. However, he forgives the teener, seeing the kid’s natural fighting skills. Daniel admits that he could see the similarities between them: being raised by a single parent in a bad part of town. Keane competes at the All-Valley, where he loses to an inspired Miguel in the championship bout. After a while, he softens his stance against his dad, having realised that his father valued him after all.   

There are plenty of reasons to tune in to this awesome series: the fight scenes, the laughs, the youth movement, even the rekindling of old magic. Being around half an hour in length, it’s also just the right length to enthral you. To complete the look, as mentioned, a number of vital cogs have reprised their roles. If luck has it, there’s talk of even more cast members returning for one last dance. As mentioned, Netflix has dangled 2021 as the next chapter in the Cobra Kai legend. Should you have witnessed the first two series, the follow-up couldn’t come soon enough.

Rating: 5/5

The All-Valley final: Miguel v Robby
Posted in movies, reviews, Sport, TV | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

September 2020 reads

This month’s reads are another mixed bunch. I started off with The Snowman, Harry Hole 7. The book was adapted into film and featured Michael Fassbender as the star detective. I followed this with a classic for a change. Lord of the Flies, published in 1952, is a literary piece that resonates to this day. While the work was short, Flies was the most challenging of the trio. Finally, I tackled Whistleblower (Susan Fowler). The latter marks my twelfth nonfiction foray for the year.

  1. The Snowman (Nesbo).

The book opens on an ominous note with a mother driving her son through the snow. The unnamed son tells his mum that ‘We are going to die.’ Following this, there’s the usual piling of bodies. The killings involve married women. Detective Harry Hole is entrusted to lead a task force into the murders, which a snowman always accompanies. In this instalment, Hole has a higher rank and graduates from his cramped office. For the most part, he leads a four-person team to unlock the slaying. This includes Bjorn Holm (forensics), Kattrine Bratt and Magnus Skarre (detectives). However, he is as isolated as ever. His trusty sidekick, Halverson, was killed in the prior book. His friend, the resident evidence expert Beate Lonn, is on maternity leave. Finally, his muse, Rakel, has moved on. However, he does have the support of his chief, Gunnar Hagen.

Throughout the book, Nesbo fights with his inner demons. He has to claw his way out of the dark side. Meanwhile, the stunning Bratt enters as a new detective. The book is notable as four suspects are apprehended at various stages. There’s a lot of second-guessing and curveballs to throw off the reader. It’s not until the final fifty pages that the true matador is revealed. They first arrest Filip Becker for his wife’s murder but let him go for lack of evidence. A doctor, a presenter, and even one of their own become caught up in what has become a PR disaster for Oslo police.

All this transpires as they fight a losing battle to fend off the media from the case. Hole even heads to Bergen (Norway’s second city) to find some answers. In his quest, he even ventures to a cabin on a fjord. Hole’s sleuth skills prove the decisive factory in unravelling the case, which the new forensic technology greatly aids. More than his prior villains, the matador is never more sadistic as he slices and dices his way while leaving no clues. Brace yourself for one helluva ending. Published in 2004, this one was released in the same year as Connelly’s Angel’s Flight. Like all his other works, this one is an easy police procedural. I also heard that it’s much better than the movie.

Rating: 4.4/5

  • Lord of the Flies (William Golding).

I’ve heard about this one for some time now but decided to check it out after bingeing on The Society. I first encountered Lord in an ep of The Simpsons. I recall the class being stranded on an island, crucifying Millhouse for gobbling all their food. The latter’s big gut was the tell-tale sign. They even staged a kangaroo court for good measure. Meanwhile, it’s been seven long decades since Golding unleashed his allegory. The novel takes place during a war; hence the kids are left alone. Despite all the years, the book’s themes of savagery, autonomy, and self-preservation remain pertinent to this day. As one educator noted, the times may have changed but human nature has not. Only 261 pages long, the text is riddled with unnecessary descriptions of the forsaken island. Every extended portrait makes me cringe and I fancy omitting the superfluous words.

There are many ways to dissect this text; it can mean many different things to disparate identities. Numerous characters populate the read: from Ralph (the chief) to Jack (the challenger), Piggy (the voice of reason) to Simon (the in-between). There’s also the littluns, passive and naïve; there are the twins, Sam and Eric. Jack is heading the hunters who promises a better world, dangling the carrot stick of fresh pork. Ralph reasons that he assembled the tribe when no one could and thus should be skipper. For the most part, he has their support until the blandness of eating fruit shifts the group away. Spearheaded by Jack, the island descends into chaos and the kiddos have to choose between a mad challenger and a moribund chief. Already dishevelled from lack of nourishment and grooming, the lot soon turns into murderous savages with painted faces and menacing spears. Ralph gave them order and an action plan; he instructed them to light a fire and be saved. Yet they mocked Piggy and his wise words and soon may turn on Ralph too.

Golding paints a miniature society, one where roles are assigned and must be followed. We could either be hunters, gatherers, or middlemen. In one haunting stroke, the author shows the worst of humanity. While evil can be shocking, what’s more repugnant is being irresolute while evil shows its face. Due to the number of characters in this one, most of us would relate to a few of them. We could all find parallels in these unique boys: confident and daring (Ralph), needy but determined (Piggy), fair like Simon or tough like Jack. Though it’s longer than necessary, you can glean many lessons from this text. I reckon all serious readers should try Lord of the Flies at least once.

Rating: 3.8/5

  • Whistleblower (Susan Fowler).

A pioneer of the #metoo movement penned this daring account. Before she toiled in Silicon Valley’s most valuable start-up, Fowler lived with her six siblings in rural Arizona. Her mum home-schooled them until one day, Fowler had to fend for herself. Her dad, a pastor, worked two jobs while being a polyglot. Fowler learned to play the violin at a tender age and brimmed with dreams as a child. Whether as a teenager, a college student, or as an adult, Fowler constantly had to prove herself. Despite her young age, she faced many battles. For instance, she dealt with rejection as an autodidact. When she was finally accepted, she studied many folds harder than her peers just to catch up with them. She even had to forget about her beloved violin due to a string issue. Meanwhile, just as she was commencing her studies at Arizona State, her dad passed away.

She ended up enrolling at Uni of Penn, ultimately choosing a double Philosophy and Physics major. Just like before, she had a lot of catching up to do. In the Ivy League school, being competent wasn’t enough; breaking even not an option. She had to fight and claw her way, and yet a tricky situation saw her losing her Physics degree. She then had to reinvent herself as a coder in the West. She joined Uber with high hopes in November of 2015. From her first day as a mid-level engineer, she was subject to sexism. When she wanted to transfer to another team, her requests were rejected. Many times, she tried to talk to Human Resources (HR), but they gave her various excuses: first-time offender; she was the problem.

Fowler confessed about witnessing a toxic, dog eat dog culture inside the start-up. As proof of this, the number of female engineers kept on shrinking. However, Fowler made some friends during her stint with Uber, lasses who suffered the same fate. Disappointed and wrathful, Fowler left Uber in December 2016. In February, she wrote a blog post detailing her time with Uber. Soon she would become a star, an embodiment of the movement. Being the exemplar is not all rainbows and butterflies: there is dissent, doubt, and chaos. While others try to discredit you, Fowler knew that she was fighting the good cause, that she was persecuted because she was right. The author, through her trials, encourages her readers to learn from their mistakes and grow as humans. Whistleblower was one of this year’s easiest reads, one that could realistically be summited in two days.

Rating: 4.7/5

So, there you have it. Again, three books. Once more, there’s one nonfiction read and two novels. However, for a change, this would be just the second week since my last catalogue. At the moment, I’m grappling with Karin Slaughter’s latest. The Silent Wife looks okay, but it’ll be my last Slaughter for a while. After going through seven straight Will Trent instalments this year, I’ve understood that I need more variety. While the next reading list might yet be pretty similar, I’m confident of change.

cable car in Bergen, Norway
Posted in Books, culture and politics, Literary, reviews, TV | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Manly-Warringah, NSW: Beachfront Opulence

Situated in Sydney’s upmarket Northern Beaches, Manly’s public transport options include the bus and the ferry. If you want a more scenic journey, opt for the harbour transport. It’s been ages since I’ve last been to Manly. I remember going there with my chums and we explored SeaWorld, which is adjacent to the wharf. We didn’t go any farther, which is a shame since Manly has a lot to offer. Recently, we were hanging around the pier when I suggested we go to Manly. We travelled by barge from Circular Quay, a trip that took half an hour. Unlike our jaunt years ago, the ferry wasn’t as packed. There was a breeze, a welcome respite on a humid day. Landmarks turned to buildings, which turned to sails and coastline. I even saw a floating lighthouse. While looking around the hull, I saw a couple with a furry canine. My friend admitted that they didn’t realise that dogs were allowed on board, as they are prohibited on buses and trains. Manly was the first and only stop, before the ferry turned back to the city.

Wrong Turn

The ritzy suburb was developed mostly independent of accessibility. Once we landed on the wharf, we realised that we had to take a bus to get to Warringah Mall. After being directed by a food deliverer, we hopped onto the first bus we saw, as it had ‘Warringah Mall’ as its destination. Turns out we took the wrong bus, and we were on a joyride around the area, with spectacular views of scenic Many Beach. I noted that the coastline here wasn’t as epic as Bondi. One of the beachgoers brought a tent with them as there were no cottages around. Indeed, there was hardly anyone braving the rips even on a gorgeous spring day. We also passed by a shop renting out surf boards. Humans ambled sporting shorts and flip-flops.

After the long bus ride, we finally set foot on the fringes of the mall. The centre was out of the way, far from Manly’s hub. Though it is called Warringah Mall, the centre is actually located in Brookvale. Warringah has 388 stores, including ten anchor tenants. There was a huge carpark across several levels that underlie the mall’s ungodly location. Upon strolling through, the part-outdoor setting was the first thing I noticed. Some of the shops were arranged in a piazza ambience, where you could see the sky. The use of plants and greenery was a deft touch. Target was one of the first shops we passed by, followed by David Jones (DJ). The latter was one of the last stores we inspected. While competitors were offering forty percent off, DJ was giving 25% off the second item.

Food court

We checked on the mall’s directory about the food court, before taking the escalator to get to McDo. The food court was striking as there was actual sunlight welcoming the diners. There were a few options: KFC, Subway, Mad Mex, Sushi. I was tossing between Mexican and McDo, but I ultimately ended up getting the latter. While we were sitting, my companion told me that they considered getting a sandwich but got a value meal instead. While dining, we noticed that two adjacent eateries have closed for good. At least it wasn’t like The Forum in Leichhardt. At least the big names were still operating.

Different design

After lunch, we walked round the mall. The centre wasn’t a straight line; construction took time and there were sections added later on. We saw a couple of fountains, something you wouldn’t see in malls around Sydney. I came to know that the central fountain was crafted by a local sculptor. We had a look at Myer, where business was quite bad. We thought that there would be more shoppers given their midseason sale. I tried on a few tees but settled on one by Mitch Dowd, an Australian designer. The striped Harry Potter tee had short sleeves and a badge on the chest. It was on clearance at nineteen bucks, down from about forty. This was a huge price drop. Upon paying for the tee, my companion noted that the tee wouldn’t even be enough to pay for an hour’s wage of the Myer sales assistant. They reckoned that this Myer would be next on the chopping block.

We had a look at this shoe store which had some good prices. However, I couldn’t find the shoe I was after. We then visited The Reject Shop, where we bought some chips and nuts. It was a smaller outlet and stock was low. We then visited neighbouring Big W. We purchased a killer book by a Holocaust victim. From what I’ve heard, this would be an easy read. We bought even more chips. After this, we dropped by H & M. By the lack of people browsing, you could tell that there wasn’t much there. We looked for ten minutes. I liked this plain black shirt, a steal at eighteen bucks. However, I already have a black button-up and I’ve used it only once or twice. There was one store next to Myer that had a big space. It was an iconic Australian retailer, but no one was browsing. The store clearly doesn’t know how to adapt to the times, almost like an anachronism. The shop was sadly emblematic of the stupor plaguing the centre, one hit hard by inaccessibility and the pandemic.

Some background

I noted that they didn’t have a Kmart. My companion observed that Kmart’s aren’t ubiquitous in Westfields. Warringah Mall opened to the public in April of 1963. At its inception, the centre was second only to Chadstone in size. The mall housed about fifty shops, including Woolworths, Franklins, and David Jones. In 1973, a new Grace Bros. store was added. In the 80s, a double Hoyts cinema was annexed. Also, in the 80s, a Target store was unveiled along with twenty other independents. Ownership transferred to AMP Capital in 1994. The mall has a total floor space of 131,605 square metres. The anchor tenants include Coles, Woolworths, Myer, David Jones, Target, Hoyts, and Big W. As a side note, my friend – a big rugby league fan – told me that he has visited Brookvale Oval. The stadium is home to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, one of league’s glamorous clubs. He knows all the players, having worked in the Northern Beaches.

 Stage 2 redevelopment took place in ’98, with a new food court and entertainment district. New stores sprouted along the food court. Aldi intended on joining the centre but was rebuffed. Westfield took a 25 percent stake in 2003, which increased to 50/50 in October of 2012. In light of the deal, the complex was rebranded to Westfield Warringah Mall. A $310 million redevelopment took place in 2015, with the aforementioned 5-storey carpark and a novel fresh food court. The completion of stage 2 saw a new and improved Myer, a refurbished food court, and 70 more stores, including H & M. Like Westfield Eastgardens and Macarthur Square, the mall is clearly a one-stop shop for all your dining, beauty, fashion, grocery, banking, and electrical needs. The centre’s breadth makes it the ultimate shopping destination in Sydney’s northern beaches.

North Head, Sydney

Return

For the trip back, we had the option of taking a direct bus to the city. We noticed that there was a long queue for the double-decker. We decided to take a bus to the wharf. This time I asked the driver if he could get us quickly to our destination. He said he’ll go around Curl Curl. No wonder all the people took the 199 bus behind, so we went with the flow. Sure enough, the journey was a whole lot quicker. Upon alighting near the wharf, we did our weekly shop nearby. Again, we checked the ferry schedule before having supper. We saw that we had two minutes to get on the boat. Upon rushing to the gates, the staffer told us that we had ‘plenty of time’, before flashing a smile. We arrived at Circular Quay and took the train.

Posted in reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

August (2020) reads

August has come and gone and it’s time for another list. This catalogue includes the usual trio of reads. I start off with a cracking good recommendation from Aussie Michael Robotham. I proceed to dissect the mamba’s biography. I finish with a familiar name to my reading lists.

  1. When she was good (Robotham). This mystery novel represents the second instalment in the author’s Cyrus Haven series. I read the first one last year and I was hooked. In Good Girl Bad Girl, we get introduced to Evie Cormac, a teener who refuses to talk about her dark past. She also has the uncanny gift of knowing when someone’s lying. We likewise meet Haven, the forensic psychologist who rises above his tragic background to adopt Evie. Like the initial salvo, this one shifts between Evie and Cyrus’s perspectives. This instalment is more of a road movie, with Evie becoming a fugitive. At the end of Good Girl, she stays at Langford Hall. This time, she dodges the cops and bad guys and uses her street smarts to outrun them. Robotham creates a believable universe complete with cats, an old man in a narrowboat, and a secluded Scottish grand hotel.

This is a top-notch murder mystery that has enough subplots and twists. You will be in attention from beginning till the end. This instalment is more of an origin book, with emphasis placed on Evie’s recollections. Expect flashbacks, not only from Cormac but also from Haven. The novel has a way of flipping the script: people are not who they seem. Evie has good memories of the late Terry Boland, though he was painted as an antagonist in the prior book. Redheaded Sacha is a great addition. She was the officer who found Cormac hiding beneath the wardrobe; here, she gets a major role. Sacha becomes Cyrus’s partner in the investigation by default. Though it took him much convincing, she becomes an invaluable part of the case. On the flip side, Cyrus’s surrogate mother, Lenny Parvel, has her role reduced. However, she remains a key player on the team.

I have to commend Robotham for his use of language. He always finds the perfect expression. For instance, he uses ‘a battered-looking hippopotamus’ to describe a teen’s stuffed toy. The narrowboat oldie was also a clever turn. He’s the ideal literary device to employ when there’s a damsel in distress. Towards the end, there was mention of a tabby who curls at the foot of Evie’s bed. Said feline also places his paw on her pillow to rouse her. Hey, I’m all for travelling in first-class. Sometimes it’s not just the metaphors and characters, but the exact words he uses. I thoroughly enjoyed this Robotham layover and I agree that it provided a welcome respite from the coronavirus.

Rating: 5/5

  • Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant. (Roland Lazenby) Released in 2016, I first glimpsed this ambitious biography while browsing at Big W (a department store). The book in question was a paperback with coloured photos. I decided to borrow it from the lib instead. The loan from the repository was a thick trade paperback that had 574 pages. Showboat was very detailed, filled with interviews from a multitude of personas. Serious Kobe basketball is not tackled till 200 pages in. His father’s hoops career, Kobe’s family history, and his childhood in Italy (where his dad played professionally), are all anatomised. In particular, his exploits on foreign soil and Kobe’s close family ties, were a joy to read.

Even as a kid in suburban Philadelphia, Kobe always had a chip on his shoulder. It was not until his junior year in school that scouts started recognising his game. Though he had the obvious skill set, NBA teams were wary of drafting him. The LA Lakers eventually got him by punking other teams. Even before stepping on an NBA court, Kobe was already an endorser of Adidas. As a prep-to-pro, Kobe barely got any playing time under coach Del Harris. Thrust unexpectedly to the spotlight, he shot four air balls in the win-or-go-home playoff game. Showboat analyses the rise of the Lakers to be crowned NBA champs. The read likewise explores Kobe’s disengagement of his family, choosing his wife over them. Lazenby also offers an unflattering portrait of Vanessa, Kobe’s spouse. The book considers his early playoff exits and his time as a most reviled athlete.

Showboat’s issue is its use of language. The book throws around a few themes which get recycled throughout the text. For instance, whether Kobe should ball hog or trust his teammates. Showboat carries an unhealthy preoccupation with Kobe’s being The Man. Likewise, whether he should defer to Shaq or trust Coach Phil. I believe the book could be shortened by 200 pages and be a much enjoyable read. Though it is already a thick book, the constant interviews and dense language make it an even thicker read. Lazenby spends excessive time on Kobe’s dynamic with coaches and teammates but we don’t hear nearly enough from these entities. He also glazes over whole playoff series while spending twelve pages on Kobe’s beef with a reporter. In the end, this is not really a basketball book. It’s more of a detailed background story on Kobe. However, this is a timely read that coincides with the late mamba’s birth month.

Rating: 3.9/5

The Last Widow (Slaughter). The novel represents my sixth Slaughter of the year, which accounts for more than any other author. I have to admit that by this turn, reader fatigue sets in. There is little variety in Slaughter’s universe, although she writes at the top of her class. Widow is another action-driven thriller that is so typical of Slaughter. There’s the dramatic opening salvo, where Michelle, a diseases expert, is dramatically snatched off. A month later, Dr Sara Linton is abducted while being a Good Samaritan near Emory University. Will Trent tries his best to save her, but his valiant effort comes short. There is a hodgepodge of medical terms in this one, as the profession takes a central part in the plot.

While Trent and his Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) workmates do all they can, the big guns get involved. However, for the most part, all these suits have no clue as to Dr Linton’s location. They retrace her steps and find clues, but her captors sure know how to lie low. Apart from the health profession, white supremacist groups are likewise key to the story. Attention then turns to a mysterious cult, the Invisible Patriots Army (IPA) that ultimately links to Sara. Turns out that they abducted her because of her credentials. They have been planning a big event for years. Slaughter takes great effort to portray the cult in a negative light. Deception, abuse, and manipulation are all normalised in the wayward setting.  

The novel does not shy from the abject, with cadavers, disturbing behaviour, unbridled wrath, and xenophobia. The author knows her trade, as there is no shortage of gore. In case you’re wondering, the title refers to Dr Linton. Dash, who heads the IPA, uses the phrase in championing her cause. Meanwhile, Sara’s parents blame Will for not doing enough and endangering their daughter. The parents to inspire Will to open up about his feelings and cement his resolve. Though the characters are mostly the same, Karin does have a few tricks up her sleeve. However, Angie, Will’s ex is missing here, and her absence is palpable. I enjoyed the previous one more than Widow. Regardless, this work is still a step up from Showboat.  

 

Rating: 4.15/5

As usual, my three books are comprised of two novels and a nonfiction title. Both novels were instalments to a series while the remainder celebrates the life of a basketball icon. Robotham’s work was the finest and smoothest read while Lazenby, the most detailed. Robotham is quite early into his series so his novelty is understandable. As for Slaughter, I have one more left to read (her latest) before I complete the sequence. Since summiting Last Widow, I am going through The Snowman (Nesbo). Being my fifth Nesbo of the year, I hope that I won’t suffer the same reader fatigue. So far, so good.

Posted in Books, reviews, Sport | Leave a comment

Memories of May: Macarthur Square

At the height of the pandemic, we went to Castle Towers, an upscale mall in Sydney’s northwest. We decided to browse at Hype DC, where I once again saw this Onitsuka Tiger pair. Apparently, they had run out of my size. Macarthur Square, in Sydney’s greater west, was their only remaining outlet in the state that stocked the pine/grey Mexico 66. After lunch, we commuted more than an hour to get to Macarthur. It was like end to end on Sydney’s transport network. Looking back, we should’ve just eaten on the train. Due to Coronavirus, malls were trading less hours than normal. A quick note: Aussies pronounce Macarthur as ‘Mack-ah-ta’. If you enunciate it as ‘Mack-are-tour’ no one here would understand you.

Macarthur

Macarthur Square is a large shopping mall south of Campbelltown. The centre opened in 1979 and Lend Lease Corporation manages it. There are 285 stores with 6 anchor tenants. These include a three-storey David Jones, Target, Big W, Coles, Woolworths, and Event Cinemas. In 2005, the mall underwent a major expansion which saw the floor area increased from 29,000 square metres to 90,000 m². The annex included an outdoor dining precinct dubbed ‘Kellicar Lane’. Above the latter is the food court that has substantial glass windows looking over the lane, Campbelltown, and the surrounds. Another redevelopment occurred in 2016/17, with the addition of H&M, a new and improved Coles and DJ, as well as 45 specialty stores.

In addition, an ALDI, ‘a fresh food hall’ and dining terrace were sprinkled in for good measure. These additions were done to concretise the attraction’s title as the foremost shopping centre in the Macarthur area. The centre is truly a one-stop shop for all your shopping, lifestyle, entertainment, banking, and gastronomic needs. I recall while doing a course overseas, we tackled World War 2 in History 100. My professor (since deceased) wrote Arthur, then Mac, before using an arrow back to Arthur. Of course, he meant Arthur MacArthur, but he was saving space (though there was a surfeit of it). Some students found it funny. Though situated over fifty kilometres from the city centre, Macarthur is one of Sydney metro’s fastest-evolving regions. Currently, the area has a population of about 310,00 humans. Interestingly, Macarthur is not named after Douglas Macarthur, the former U.S. Commander. Rather, the region gets its name from Elizabeth and John Macarthur, pioneers of Australian wool.

The shoe

From Castle Hill, we took the Northwest Metro (light rail) to Chatswood, taking a train to Central. From there, a direct service took you to Macarthur. The final journey should’ve just taken forty-five minutes, but we alighted at Campbelltown. From there we took another bus. When I asked the driver if he could take us to ‘Mack-are-tour’, he didn’t get it. I had to do the right pronunciation (‘Mack-ah-tah’) so he could finally understand. I would later learn that the mall was right next to Macarthur station. I should’ve checked Wikipedia. By the time we got there, we had about fifteen minutes before the store closed. I tried the pair and it was a good fit. It seemed a lighter shade than I thought and also had a heel flap that seemed superfluous. However, at 37 percent off, you can’t discount the savings. The Tiger seems like a relic. The trainers show little aesthetic difference since being release in 1966. The design is practically the same, with the stripes and the lack of a cushion. Regardless, buying the shoe seemed like a no-brainer.

Around the mall

After purchasing them, we had a quick look at the nearby Converse. In spite of the pandemic, their promotion was uncool, so we looked elsewhere for bargains. While walking around, we were surprised to find the large David Jones store. When my fellow traveller pointed it out, I thought, what was DJ doing here? Kathmandu was one of the first stores we saw. However, we were in a hurry. Furthermore, we knew that they were overpriced. Among its bevy of men’s fashion, the centre touts H & M., General Pants, a Cotton on Mega space, and a barren Industrie spot. The latter, with all their stores, concessions, and unreasonable pricing, seems destined to be the next line to vanish. My chaperone observed that the mall was well laid-out. Compared to other malls around Sydney, this one was better planned. She singled out the mall’s distance from downtown Sydney as the reason behind this. The extensive use of glass, the large corridors, and the orderly floor plans all gave the building a favourable impression.

Target

We then headed to Target. I made a beeline for their book section, where I found the biography of ex-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. I knew that they were selling it for $29, but most of the department stores around Sydney were out of stock. A week or so earlier, I enquired at the Dymock’s shop in Burwood. Dymock’s is Australia’s largest bricks and mortar book retailer. Since the departure of Borders a decade ago, Dymock’s has a tight grip atop the industry. Well, they were selling it for $42. No wonder no one was fooled. I also had a look at their menswear, where I saw this striped long sleeve tee. Though I liked the style, it was still full price at $25. Two months later, I would nab it at the clearance price of $10 at Eastgardens. Afterward, we debated on whether to go to Big W, which was still open. We decided to skip it for now.

Supper

Supper was disappointing as most outlets were closed due to Coronavirus. Only the Indian and the fish and chips shop were open. The Japanese store had closed for the day. KFC was closed temporarily during the pandemic. The wrap shop, the chicken stand…all closed. The food court looked more like the zombie apocalypse, with only a few other people in sight. When we visited Castle Hill, the same was true. Only the Indian and the seafood stand were open. In fairness though, the latter mall had two food courts: one on ground level and another on the upper level. The lower food court had a lot more activity. The views mentioned weren’t so grand as it was already night-time when we had dinner.

Redo

There are a couple of things I wished we did. Firstly, we should’ve gotten our lunch on the go and saved ourselves precious time. Instead of having fifteen minutes to browse the smaller stores (which closed sooner), we would’ve had at least an hour. Secondly, I needed to do more research on the transport. However, the trip was a productive one. We got my shoes and we grabbed the Turnbull book. As mentioned in prior posts, Target wouldn’t be around much longer. The similarities with sister store Kmart have been their undoing. They’re converting existing stores to Kmart’s while also closing the rest. Meanwhile, we were both glad that we tried somewhere new. On the trip home, as mentioned earlier, I discovered that Macarthur train station was right next to the Square.  

Posted in Books, culture and politics, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

Atlanta (2016-) reviewed

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been tuning in to Atlanta. Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino is the star of the show while also acting as producer. The award-winning first season was released in 2016, with Glover earning a Globe for his efforts. The follow-up was screened two years later. At first glance, the programme is a celebration of black culture. However, Atlanta explores themes that go well beyond racial tropes. This is especially true in the second season, which is darker than its predecessor. After the two-year gap before season two, fans will have to wait till 2021 for the third and fourth series.

Family

Family is central to the show. Atlanta tells the story of two black cousins trying to find their way in the world. Al aka Paper Boi is an aspiring rapper while Earnest (Earn) is his manager. Al has entered the dragon through his eponymous hit song. Everyone wants a piece of Paper Boi. He seems like the Pied Piper with fans swooning. Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) is Al’s best friend. They are often seen together. Darius is the source of much of the show’s philosophical musings. There’s barely an episode where he doesn’t offer some rumination. At times, he is nihilist; others, absurdist. Meanwhile, Earn struggles to provide for his family. His wife, Van (Zazie Beets), is disillusioned about the state of their relationship, in particular, Earn’s apathetic nature. The first season is fairly serialised, with eps that generally reconcile with each other.

Black culture

As mentioned, Atlanta is a study on black life. The dialogue is especially full of black American slang. ‘Respect.’ ‘Real talk.’ ‘Word?’ I did not get the meaning of that last one, until an online search pinned it as ‘for real?’ ‘Stay woke.’ ‘I feel ya, man’. ‘Bruh.’ In one episode, Al tells Earn that ‘money’s an idea.’ When you act better than other blacks, they’ll start treating you better. Darius adds, ‘yeah, coz otherwise you’re just another n….’ The show uses the n-word a lot, reminiscent of Tarantino’s films. The programme thus tries to reinterpret the word and diminish its negative connotations.

In one ep, there is also a wannabe named Zan. He talks black and acts black, but the only problem is he’s not black. When confronted by Al that he’s fake, Zan retorts that isn’t being a rap artist and getting airplay fake as well? Just as blacks squirm when they see someone acting white, the reverse is also cringeworthy. There is also an episode built around an interview on the Montague show. The presenter intersperses this guy who they term, ‘trans-racial.’ This means that he identifies as white though he was born black. In the same ep, an ad plays that features Ahmad White. ‘Most people don’t realise their chakras in another universe….’ Glover won a Globe for directing this episode, a subtle vivisection into African American ways.

Racism

In this climate of #blacklivesmatter, the series becomes even more timely. From the show’s beginnings, the stand against racial injustice is clear. Both Earn and Al answer to authorities after an incident. While the big-game rapper is released on bail immediately, Earn spends a while longer. Here, he becomes an observer into the predominantly white police force’s treatment of black offenders. Meanwhile, their black counterparts only want a memento of the artist. With Paper Boi as the main proponent, Atlanta encourages people to welcome their identities, to be ‘real.’ This is what Van tells her hypocrite friends: that she’s not compromising on her blackness. Being black means keeping it real, damn the private jets and room service.

In another episode, Earn faces discrimination as he tries to go on a night out with the missus. He cannot book a movie session and was being disrespected. Furthermore, he cannot enter a bar without his dignity being questioned. In the end, the strip club becomes the couple’s spot for their date. Racism and intolerance are very real. In America, it doesn’t just occur in the South; it’s apparent in the Midwest, where basketball player Dre Igoudala grew up. The race riots of Los Angeles also prove that no state is safe from racial vilification. If you’re reading this, it’s probably happening in a city near you. It’s a sad truism in life that, to this day, people are still being judged by the colour of their skin.

Second Season

The second season, also titled Robbin’ Season, is disjointed. While the first series portrays similar stories and has a unitary focus, the follow-up problematises more issues. The season is likewise notable for having various characters have star billing in each instalment. For instance, Darius gets top billing in an ep titled ‘Teddy Perkins.’ The ep resembles a horror movie more than a drama segment. The eponymous character is a scary black guy who adopts a white man’s face. Teddy has been most juxtaposed to Michael Jackson; he even has the feline voice to boot. Everything about Teddy is eerie. He does not allow light to enter his house. He eats a soft-boiled ostrich egg. He talks about how his father abused them. He abducts Darius and threatens him. The ending is pure Hostel. This was the perfect follow-up to ‘Barbershop’, which I’ll discuss next. There have been a few Teddy Perkins sightings since the ep aired, including at the Primetime Emmy’s. Aside from creeping people out, the showings have also inspired a lot of fun.

Barbershop is the fifth ep of the second season. The instalment is hands down the most riotous of the series. The ep was very original. The plot involved Al getting a haircut from his go-to barber, only for the guy to take him on a ride around town. Along the way, Bibby reprimands his truanting kid. They eat fast food leftovers at a white woman’s house. They run away from a situation with an Asian chick. All in a day’s work. Still, in spite of all that, there’s no one that could give Al a better haircut than Bibby. The ep reminded me a little of Rush Hour, with Chris Tucker chaperoning Jackie Chan around LA. Writer Stefani Robinson sure knows how to set people off.

Familiar faces

It also helped that there are some familiar faces. I’ve seen Donald Glover in The Martian. I likewise saw his work in Community. The latter had an interesting premise, but the lack of fresh settings worked against it. LaKeith starred in Sorry to Bother You. He is making a name for himself as a deep thinker. Zazie Beets was also in Joker, where she was Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest. She does a convincing job here as Earn’s long-suffering but loyal wife. In the episode ‘Helen’, Beets embraces her German heritage, even speaking the language. She reinforces her appeal as a tough woman and more than holds her own as the lead of the ep.

Highly recommended

I especially loved Robbin’ Season. It’s like TV by committee, a total team effort that showcases the group’s surfeit of talent. Before I forget, the show is also very creative with its logo. They usually superimpose the logo early in the episode. It could be like a tattoo on a woman’s torso, or over a moving vehicle on a road. It has shades of The Simpson’s long-running couch gag. Atlanta does not shy away from themes, both prevalent and dicey. This is true especially for the second salvo. The Internet is full of references and shoutouts to Atlanta; there are discussions dedicated to some popular eps. The show is a pop culture bonanza and is a critical and commercial success. Some outlets have even hailed Atlanta’s first season as the best of 2016. After years of being overlooked, Childish Gambino has finally graduated to being a bankable frontman. I highly recommend this mishmash of genres and exploration of pertinent issues.

Rating: 5/5

Posted in culture and politics, reviews, TV | Leave a comment

Leichhardt, NSW: a slice of Italy

Situated west of Sydney’s CBD (central business district), Leichhardt is an Italian-heavy suburb. It borders Haberfield to the east, Lilyfield to the north, and Balmain sits to its west. Two weeks ago, I visited this community for the first time. I recall doing a short course where I asked Fani, my Italian classmate, where she stays. In Leichhardt? No, she answered with a smile. I know Leichhardt’s where all the Italians live, but I stay in Pyrmont. I learned that Fani was short for Stefani. She was slightly older than me. We also spoke about the usage of ‘ciao’ in Italian. Later on, I gave her some tips on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). It’s a shame she didn’t take stock of my pointers as I’m in the know about that evaluation. I guess I should’ve mentioned my memories of the Test to her. Since then, I have written at length about my IELTS experience. I sat the exam as a teen for the first and only time.

Pyrmont Bridge

Norton Street and The Forum

Once again, I took a bus from the CBD. The bus wound through city streets before rolling along Parramatta Road. We were on the artery for fifteen minutes before being deposited to Norton Street, Leichhardt’s main thoroughfare. Upon alighting, we had a look at The Forum, which was near the mouth of the suburb. The ‘galleried walkaway’ takes you from present-day Leichhardt to the sights of Italy. The structure was built as a nod to the Mediterranean piazza. Shops and galleries used to line the courtyard which residential flats and terraces overlooked. It was a fresh concept and added a touch of history.  

We noticed that business was particularly bad here, with many boarded-up spaces and closed-down shops. Practically all the eateries, from the Thai place to the pizza stop, were gone. I believe there was only one diner that was operating. One store had a long space, but I doubt it was bucking the downward trend. A sports retailer right at the front was struggling, too. That’s just the stores; the units were almost universally empty, save for a few. We were sure that none of those remnants were tenants; they should all be the flat owners. The pandemic has clearly had this outlet by its tentacles.   

Market!

We took another bus in search of an unnamed mall that my companion has visited. Marketplace Leichhardt is on corner Marion and Flood Streets. It has a small food court, where we had our lunch. Tummies refilled; we had a look at Strandbags. I saw this bag that was forty percent off, down to $90. It was a larger pack that had a laptop sleeve. Having just bought a grey pack from their Roselands store, I decided against the purchase. Along the way, we passed by Woolworths. Signs along the centre proclaimed that MarketPlace has recently celebrated forty years as a pillar of Leichhardt. There are over sixty independent shops across its breadth, spread over two levels.

We had a quick look at Jeanswest but left shortly thereafter as they didn’t have any sales going on. We then entered Target. Despite being out of the way, the store did not stock the long sleeve tee which I bought at Eastgardens just a few weeks ago. With all their stock, heavy overheads, and the wages of employees, the future was looking grim for this Target store. I almost felt sorry for the pretenders working there. The mall had an Aldi and I intended to do the groceries there. However, I was searching for the library which was a distance away from MarketPlace. So, we ended up taking the bus back to Norton Street. The repository was actually located in The Forum. Though only occupying one half of the first floor, the library was fairly big. The fiction area was exhaustive and housed both big and fledgling authors. They also had a decent-sized DVD section.

Coles boy


Before browsing the lib, we headed to Norton Plaza. We had a look at Howard’s Storage World, where the prices are always inflated. We bought some bread from the bakery. Finally, we got some fettucine boscaiola. Upon consuming the pasta at home, our verdict was that it wasn’t that good. The dish didn’t even come with white sauce. There was a lot of room for improvement. After our trip to the lib, we had a look around. Most of the places were overpriced. We then had our supper at this Asian joint. It wasn’t Michelin stars, but it wasn’t bad either. After dining in, we balked at going back to Aldi and decided to do the groceries at Coles instead. This was our main shop for the week. Upon checking out, I surmised that our total would’ve been at least fifteen percent cheaper at Aldi.

Landmark

Leichhardt Oval is the home of the Wests Tigers of the National Rugby League. Though the stadium is actually located in nearby Lilyfield, the Tigers represent Sydney’s Inner West suburbs, which include Leichhardt. The ground is a popular choice for teams of various sporting codes, given its proximity to the city and public transport. The field is easily accessible via tram, bus, or bike. The Oval has a proud heritage that goes as far back as 1934, when the outfit was known as the Balmain Tigers. With a capacity of 20,000, the stadium boasts a record attendance of 23,000 in 1981. The A-league’s Sydney FC also call the pitch as home.

Italia

Though just five kilometres from the CBD, Leichhardt distinguishes itself for its village feel and Italian influence. The suburb has the three main supermarts: Woolworths, Coles, and. Aldi. There is a library for book lovers. It even has an overlooked Target. Dozens of small businesses and food stops populate its length. Aside from these, two food courts vie for your dollar. I noticed that while many shops were closed, others operated on a takeaway basis only. While Leichhardt lacks a train station, numerous buses transport people to nearby suburbs and the city. On the downside, the two malls are a fair distance apart. In some ways, Leichhardt reminded me of Balmain even though it is more complete. Ultimately, Leichhardt’s strategic location, Italian flavour, and a rich sporting history are its biggest drawcards.

Leichhardt Oval
Posted in reviews, Sport, Travel | Leave a comment

July reads (2020)

I have posted thrice on this site since my last reading list. Two of them centred around suburban Sydney malls while the last one focused on Melbourne’s covid-19 crisis. The final turn of winter is before us; allow me to share three more reads from my July catalogue. I started off with another Nesbo, The Redeemer. The book is the sixth in his famed Harry Hole series and is the best of the four I’ve read so far. I followed this up with another Slaughter. The Kept Woman is the eight of her Will Trent series. I’ve perused five of them this annum alone. Finally, I topped off the inventory with a helping of Philip Roth’s memoir.

  1. The Redeemer (Nesbo). There are a few reasons to love this one. Firstly, Nesbo uses short chapters and has many breaks scattered around. This enables the reader to pause and take stock of the action. Secondly, the plot is murder mystery par excellence; Nesbo keeps you guessing till the end. Thirdly, the novel is well-written. Though you’re bound to consult the dictionary, things materialise out of a clear sky. The plot is off to a flying start with a Christmastime murder at a concert in downtown Oslo, Norway. Since it is the silly season, the police force’s resources are spread thin and it is up to Detective Harry Hole to put two and two together. He has to do this minus his backer, as Chief Bjorn Moller prematurely retires. Gunnar Hagen, who was with the special forces, is the new head honcho.

Moller will not be the only ally that he loses as the plot unfolds. Throughout the book, Hole grapples with his alcoholism. Meanwhile, he becomes infatuated to Martine Eckhoff, who works at the Salvation Army. The Salvos play a big role here, as key players are employees of the organisation. The slain officer, Robert Karlsen, was attending a charity event, before he was gunned down. Redeemer tackles such themes as infidelity, greed, sexuality, and human folly. Largely set in Norway, the detective takes a detour to Zagreb, Croatia in search of answers. Through the course of five hundred pages, there are murders, chases, trysts, and questions. There is also a smattering of humour. For instance, there is this fugitive who features in the action. For most of the book, he is seen as the matador. Given that he is out of options, he resorts to sneaking into Harry Hole’s flat, drinking his coffee, using his shower, and sleeping on his bed. On another note, Magnus Skarre was a bit player in previous instalments. He seems destined for a bigger role hereon in. I enjoyed reading this, as I had the prior three in the series. They called him the Norwegian Larsson, but it should actually be the Norwegian Connelly.

Rating: 4.8/5

  • The Kept Woman (Slaughter). I’ve steadily been dicing and slicing the Will Trent series. This year alone, I’ve gobbled up five (or half) of the sequence. In typical Trent fashion, a woman fighting for her life opens the story. In the aftermath, the authorities converge on a murder scene. Agent Trent is convinced that his wife, Angie Polaski, is killed and she is taunting him from the grave. On closer inspection though, a mix-up seems probable and Angie may not be as dead as they think. Slaughter ensures that a few bombshells are scattered along the plot. For starters, Trent is on the hunt for Marcus Rippy, the basketball star dubbed ‘a younger Michael Jordan’. The player has been linked with a rape case. As it turns out, Rippy, his lawyers, and his sports agency are only part of the problem.

The Kept Woman does not refer to Angie, but rather to someone close to her. The latter has gone through great lengths in antagonising Will and his new partner. More importantly, this is the first time since Triptych (book 1) that we get an extended look through Angie’s psyche. For the middle third of the book, Polaski’s viewpoint dominates. Another bombshell in the book is the fact that many characters are actually related. Furthermore, Dr Sara Linton, Will’s love interest, is now the GBI’s new medical examiner. Finally, one of the villains is part of the force. Since Fallen was published, Will likewise moonlights as a sniper. How he could whack heads from two hundred feet even as he has trouble reading, is an irony made for fiction.

The finale of this one is as explosive as they get. More than the other instalments, this one is not for the squeamish. The Kept Woman (2016) constituted the first Will Trent instalment in three years. After Redeemer, this represents the next-easiest read of this list. Slaughter’s name came up in an exchange recently. The other party told me that her books are ‘pretty much the same.’ While I could see his inference, I should add that they’re similar and need shortening. It doesn’t make much sense to produce clones when they’re all over four hundred pages.Furthermore, I wasn’t too enthused about her long chapters. Regardless, the attention to detail kept me focused. Regardless, we should tip our hat to Slaughter for her prolific efforts. To paraphrase a fictional professor, the quantity of Slaughter’s words ‘is something we should all aspire to reach.’

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Patrimony (Philip Roth). This is a heart-warming memoir from perhaps the most acclaimed American writer of his generation. The book, which paints a vivid portrait of his afflicted father, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Patrimony offers insight into his difficult old man, who had retired in his sixties. One day, Herman Roth would learn of a large tumour in his brain. Apparently, the mass had been there for years but was only now starting to unleash its sorrow. While getting two opinions, the family is faced with potential solutions that are too risky for an eighty-six-year-old. Philip takes it upon himself to look after his ailing dad.

Despite his malady, the disease does not silence Herman’s zest for life. He recounts stories of his family from decades past. While being driven through New Jersey, he recounts the buildings and shops that preceded them. He recalls his earliest memories as an immigrant in Jersey up until his marriage with Bess. Upon retiring, he became more devout and visited the synagogue even more. He refused to settle down in a retirement community, opting to stay in his apartment instead. Philip grapples both with telling his dad about the tumour and the ‘living will’. The document stipulates against pulling the plug on his father’s death bed. Like his award-winning novels, Patrimony pays homage to Roth’s hometown of Newark. New Jersey (NJ). There are also scenes in Elizabeth, NJ, in Florida, and in Connecticut. His father spent some winters in Florida, while visiting them in his house in the latter state.

The book reminds me a bit of Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom). In particular, I note the passing of wisdom and the bond between men of two generations. Patrimony could also double as a Woody Allen picture, with the grumpy old man and his protégé. For the most part, Roth uses flowery language to get his point across. This is the main reason why I eschew from reading his texts, though I mostly write in the same genre (literary fiction). Thus, I have to take some points away due to the verbosity. The book only has six long chapters and is just over two hundred pages. I managed to reach the finish line in four days. In the book, he’s battled a heart condition for ages. Two years ago, Philip Roth, the great wordsmith, passed away. However, his legacy lives on.  

Rating: 4.05/5

About four weeks have gone by since my last reading list. In that span, I’ve tackled the usual tally of two novels and a non-fiction read. For a change, one of them (Patrimony) was an award winner. Both of the fiction texts were over five hundred pages, while Roth’s memoir was, as mentioned, a bit more succinct. While I’ve read other Harry Hole and Will Trent books, this was my first foray into Roth’s universe. When She was Good (Robotham) is my next read. This represents the second Cyrus Haven instalment, and the first one exceeded expectation. Hasta luego.  

Posted in Books, reviews | Leave a comment