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.

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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.  

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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

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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
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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.  

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The Second Wave

The other day, 5 August, marked a grim milestone in the national coronavirus pandemic. There were 725 new cases in Victoria, a new record. Of all the six states, Victoria has been hit hardest. Exactly a week ago, 723 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in that state. We thought we’ve seen the worst of it, until two days past. All this transpired while Victoria was in lockdown. Since the other week, masks have been mandatory across the state. Hefty fines have been promulgated to ensure that the public would abide. A state of disaster has been declared last week, and Stage 4 restrictions have been in place since Wednesday. The level four provisions represent the strictest measures yet in the country.

Victoria: some background

Situated south of the state of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria likewise shares a border with South Australia. The Bass strait separates Victoria from the state of Tasmania. The state, in particular Melbourne, is renowned for being the nation’s sporting capital. Melbourne is also the country’s fashion nexus, a food haven, an arts hub, and is a centre for higher learning. In 2016, I visited Melbourne for the first time. The metropolis is more laidback compared to Sydney. Our hotel was just across the road from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne’s transit axis. Trams were also the primary way of getting around the city centre and has been for a while. Meanwhile, the Emerald City has just reintroduced trams across downtown. I shared my story of visiting the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles. My friend and I also ventured into Bendigo, where we joined a tour down a gold mine.

The second tide

Human recklessness inspired the second wave in Victoria. People who were supposed to be in hotel quarantine blatantly breached these measures. They tricked and lied their way out of their bubbles, endangering public safety in the process. As with other states, visitors to Victoria were to be under fourteen days’ self-isolation. The premier, Daniel Andrews, underscored the quarantine fiasco on 2 July. The Victorian and New South Wales governments agreed to close their shared border on 6 July. At first, surges in infections were attributed to housing blocks. The state government subsequently locked down these premises. However, despite confronting the problem, infection rate continued to rise. Soon, entire suburbs were being secluded. The numbers of cases were getting out of hand.

On 19 July, Premier Andrews announced that the denizens of Melbourne were to sport ‘face coverings’ in public. This was to be enforced from 11:59pm on Wednesday the 22nd  of July. From 2 August, Victoria was under a ‘state of disaster’. July 30 saw the number of new infections climb to 723, toppling the prior single-day Australian record by over 190 cases. Just two days ago, a man in his 30s was one of 15 deaths. As per Mr Andrews, the casualty shows that the ‘virus does not discriminate.’ Whether you are here or abroad, young or old, the disease carries a sickle. For Melbournians, there has been a curfew between 8pm and 5am. To show that they’re serious about enforcing these tough new manoeuvres, the Victorians have called in the military.

Stage Four

With stage four restrictions, Melbourne virtually shuts down for six weeks. Most shops will close during the lockdown. Pictures of a deserted Federation Square and an empty Bourke Street Mall (the world-renowned shopping district) painted a thousand words. Reporters on the scene were sporting masks, with only the occasional auto. It wasn’t quite the zombie apocalypse, but it was close. Only a few businesses were open in this unprecedented time. Among them were supermarkets, bottle shops, pharmacies, gasoline stations, banks, and post shops. While big retailers and department stores did their best, they ultimately came up short in their bid to trade. There are some notable exceptions. For instance, hardware chain, Bunnings has closed their bricks and mortar stores but are open for pickup. While butchers remain open, only two out of three meat factories will operate. More importantly, residents are only permitted to travel around five kilometres off their homes. Just one earthling per household is authorised to do the groceries for the day. Since schools are closed, students must do their coursework at home. These provisos will be in place till 13 September.  

The kittens and their ‘mittens’

In spite of this catastrophe, some kittens refuse to get the memo. There was that chick who refused to wear a face mask even though this was required at Bunnings. She even made it a point to burn a few masks later on. On another occasion, some teenagers were confronted by police for not wearing masks. They were then seized, with the cops forcibly (and comically) putting the masks on them. In this pandemic, I guess any publicity is good publicity – even if it’s all of fifteen minutes. In another instance, three girls went from Victoria to Queensland. They lied and hoodwinked authorities and proceeded to leave their paw prints even as they tested positive for COVID-19. Even though these cats followed COVID-safe guidelines in their visits, they are facing charges for their lack of prudence. Their names will be etched as the kittens who brought their ‘mittens’ to Queensland.

The unrest…

The jury is still out on whether these steps are enough. However, the fact that the Victorian government and its constituents have tried are the first paces in a marathon. As winter draws to a close, we could but hope that the second wave does the same. Allow me to quote a line from a favourite film: ‘The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.’ The departed are footnotes and their demise only highlights our own mortality. We must focus on our respective paths and face our fears head-on. The state government has seen the scourge of the pandemic and, by doing damage control, is trying to curb unnecessary, peacetime deaths. While the state of Victoria hibernates, everyone wishes that spring would bring better returns. Give the Melbournians credit.

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Roselands Shopping Centre reviewed

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

Sixty-five

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

Expansion

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

Food court

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

The trip

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

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

Departure

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

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Westfield Eastgardens reviewed

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

Nineteen Eighty-seven

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

Food court

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

The stores

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

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

Browsing @ Myer

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

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

Catch of the day

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

Musings

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

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Midwinter reads (2020)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.25/5

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

  • The Sixth Man (Andre Igoudala).

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

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

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

Rating: 4.8/5

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

Now reading:

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Remembering Harry

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

The Franchise

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

‘BFFs’

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

SATAN

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

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

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

Progenitor

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

DARK!

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

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

Poise and promise

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

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