My updated reading list

Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the year’s reading up until that point. Since that post in early June, I have normed a further five books (all fiction). I will order the texts from the first to the latest read. Presenting, my second half reading list!

1. Camino Island (Grisham). At the time, this was his most recent release. Shorter than his other works, being around 300 pages long, and not as good. Yes, it involves theft of rare manuscripts at Princeton library. Yes, there are lots of action and suspense. Likeable characters abound and with a bookstore being central to the drama, it is a book about books. I borrowed the text in August, not long after its release. While I admire the shorter length, it wasn’t engrossing enough to hold my attention for extended spells.

2. American Assassin. An old book, I was lucky to chance upon a brand new paperback edition, released in line with the major Hollywood film. I never heard of Vince Flynn and his Mitch Rapp series, until I saw the trailer at the cinemas. I was initially sold on seeing the film adaptation, but the negative reviews put me off. Instead, I consumed the novel. Like most adaptations, the film couldn’t do justice to the original. The print version was a smooth read, and I suddenly had a thirst for reading more Flynn. The author’s demise from battling cancer was unfortunate, but he left us with lots of material. Assassin is book number one in the Mitch Rapp series, even though many others were released prior. If you want a gritty origin story, complete with badass fight scenes and spy games, this is the book for you.

3. Killshot. Having completed Mitch Rapp number one, I set my sights on numero dos. A week or so after concluding Assassin, I grabbed Kill Shot from what used to be my favourite library. I checked their catalogue beforehand and saw that they had the item in question. While passing by the recently returned items, I saw the old copy. Kill Shot is mostly set in Paris, when Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s choice weapon, is caught in the perfect frame up while assassinating a Libyan diplomat. At times, the book puts too much emphasis on place and description. This made me feel like walking through cobwebs at times. However, the book is no Dragon Tattoo (Larsson), a welcome sign indeed. There is a romance side story, and Rapp is a wounded beast trying to clear his name while fighting off the authorities. He contends with jihadists, French authorities, and even his own agency. Good thrillers never get old.

4. Inferno (Dan Brown). Once again, I was lucky to spot a fairly new paperback edition in my local library. Somehow, the fourth Robert Langdon novel slipped my radar. I read Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, but I found out about Inferno too late. With the movie released last year, I was fortunate that this new version came out. If you’ve been following Brown, several trends would appear. From the 48 hour time frame to the inclusion of a headstrong female sidekick, from various locations to foreign languages and symbols, readers have loved the bestselling author, in spite of those given peculiarities. There is often a twist at the end, the trusted ally unravelled as a sworn nemesis, thwarting the goodies’ plan. There were moments when Inferno was difficult, especially with some dialogue in Italian. I also found the descriptions to be drawn out. The brief portrayal of the Philippines was likewise tasteless. I finished the book within the standard borrowing period (3 weeks), all six hundred pages of it. Even with his wordiness and highfaluting vocabulary, the fast pace and history imbued in his fiction would pull readers of all ages, from my own chiropractor down to school kids. The queues for his latest alone would involve dozens. Make no mistake: Dan Brown persists to draw readers, despite his flaws.

5. At the moment, I’m currently tackling Origin by Dan Brown. After passing the first fifty pages, it looks very promising. Just like the Da Vinci Code, it deals with themes of religion and existentialism. Whether you’re an atheist, Catholic, Jew or Muslim, questions of science and faith know no creed or skin colour. I was fortunate to have borrowed the novel which looks brand new. The cover is so fresh that I look like the first one to borrow it.

Since June, I’ve finished four novels, which amounts to about one per month. With Origin the book of November, I am on track to devour my fifth text since that post. Moreover, I’ve consumed *MICHAEL* Connelly’s The wrong side of goodbye in June, something I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I made the mistake of confusing him as ‘James Connelly’. This time, my advice would be to be on the lookout for new material. You should likewise borrow from a few libraries, even simultaneously. With several holds across various repositories, your chance of getting that prized book sooner multiplies. With no hold fees, why not? You had me at the lib.

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The interpreter of dreams

Have you been dreaming? It’s hard to believe this but even Hannibal Lecter succumbs to the subconscious. Meanwhile, I’ve been dreaming a lot, which is nothing new. The recurrent theme of my dreams in recent months is that I try to catch a jeepney but always miss it. Just last month, I checked the dream thesaurus to figure out what this running meant. Apparently, the dashing implied going after something that is yet unattainable. That sounded like my situation. If I couldn’t think about it at daylight, then my subconscious is working overtime to remind me. 

Horror dreams

My dreams have also included people from my past, beaked shadows fighting for space thru my subliminal. There are times when I remember the loiterers upon awaking. However, even beautiful dreams could head to the recycle bin no matter how careful you are. Lately, I dreamt of a snake baring it’s fangs on me. Sometimes, the dreams are so eloquent that you regret that it was only made up. One of these moments was when I thought I won big at a scratchie. I rubbed the coin on the ticket before realising I won an impossible $3 million! Of course, you can’t win that much from a sractchie in reality, but it seemed so genuine. Add to that my grandmother saying ‘naka jackpot ka’. Other times they are so sinister you’re glad it’s just a dream. I remember a few times when I had this nightmare. On these occasions, I’d see my teeth fall off. The superstitious have opined that this is an ominous warning, and judging by past events, their concerns are warranted. 

Before, I used to talk in my sleep. I’d sound like an aswang huffing and puffing in the dark. One time I shouted, ‘Ano yan?’ I thought that someone was going to cut my tees. Another instance I said ‘Ang laway mo!’ I had no idea why, but I was probably tired of a loquacious school classmate. At times I would pounce on an enemy. I’d raise my voice and confront an imaginary foe, my subliminal being my alter ego in real life. Another recurrent nightmare involves me answering a complex PE exam in school. I’d keep reading the test paper until most of the class had turned in their work. For me, the questionnaire seems like a novel that couldn’t end, until I wake up.

The direk’s cut

If I do recall my dream, I’d head to this dream thesaurus, which is a director’s cut of dream interpretation. Most of these night time intrusions would leave us stumped, so it’s great to have an offline tool for checking those cobwebs. No need for Freudian analysis nor Nietzsche; aside from being heavy reading, they are likewise not definitive. You can’t expect to piece together most of your intrusions from their dense texts. With the thesaurus, I’ve been dialled in for a while now and it’s all good.

Sometimes I wonder, what do other people dream about? Would you dream differently if you’re of another faith? I guess we can mostly agree that Spanish speakers won’t dream in English. If you’re Mr Lecter, would you sleep soundly at night? You can bet some peeps only rarely dream; its only a matter of frequency. Know this: there are all kinds of dreamers; thrive in your uniqueness.

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The Last Suffer

This is not a rant.

What would you feel, to have a thorn stuck on your throat?

That thorn has been there all year yet nothing seems to get it unstuck

As Rizal once wrote, ‘Ang lipunan ay may cancer’

Hard to believe that his musings from centuries past

Are still so obvious so relevant today

While my hero contended with womanising stiffs and dodgy friars

I don’t believe he could imagine our world as it stands

 

 

I need not rehash what’s wrong with us; it’ll only feed the flames

Those close to me knows what I contend with every. Single. Week.

I’ve tried everything, but it is an itch that would never go away

It is that crap that you could never remove

No matter how long you try pushing it out

It is with you and yet without you

It is the smell of contraband lurking around

 

 

 

 

Everybody is turning a blind eye

They have the resources, the tardos who can be bought

They have time. Oodles and oodles. Of time.

But these suckers, can they still think?

If they listen, would they comprehend?

Anyone would know that their minds are full of mush

What is unfolding in that thick head of yours?

What’s next?

When you’re wicked you never stop

Your thirst for trouble never satisfied

You are desensitised and in your quest

For more infamy you become but a hollow shell

If every soul has a price, every evil thing has its end.

To quote someone insignificant:

Things we have done. All these will be gone.

Don’t be so sure that you could just fly under the radar forever

The thing that motivates me every second week

Is that you’ve bitten as much as you could chew

Wham! You’re gone

 

 

 

 

Divine intervention. Does it really help?

They say you’ve got to have faith.

To believe the unbelievable

To bridge the gap

But how many good men have fallen

To seek answers that would never arrive

And no matter how bleak things appear

I still hold out hope that someday somehow somewhere

There’s a time where I could live

In a world free of Eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no different to Dante and his vision

Journeying through

We are just passing by

And while inferno might seem endless

There is a day when the sky would brighten up

A day when all the fire and brimstone would dissipate

That time could be sooner than you think

The eyes. They are already showing signs of chinks.

Something is off; something is bugging the eyes.

And it’s something that no amount of exercise

Nor diet could ameliorate

It will feel trouble slowly and painfully

Just the way I like it.

 

 

 

 

All his empire would collapse the people immobilised

These are the thoughts that sustain me through hell

For what are your millions when you can’t leave the country?

For what are your lands if they are ticking on borrowed time?

You can’t fool The Good forever

Someday, It will bite the hand that feeds it.

You might think that you have all the power

But deep down you’re a powerless samurai

And they’ll put you to the sword

You’ll never see it coming but it will happen

You won’t see the knockout blow before you get hit

No matter how diabolical you are no one would fear you

All your lies, all your bite are just background noise

Did you see the face of that tokmol?

That’s the kind of message you’ll hear when you’re finally famous

You can bring your partner with you. And your entire family and hers.

Because that’s where you’re ending. Together

Banished and bleeding. In God’s time.

 

 

 

This is not really a rant.

 

 

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The Big Bang Theory reviewed

Over the years, there have been some sitcoms that have captivated audiences and stood the test of time. From Seinfeld to Friends, Modern Family to The Office, these shows have proven the continued relevance of the sitcom genre through the last few decades. Meanwhile, The Big Bang Theory has quietly turned heads since 2007. Now in its eleventh season, the programme is as consequential as ever, with enviable ratings and endless laughs.

Older eps of the Big Bang have been airing on Channel Nine for a while, with the occasional new episodes. While 9 had exclusive free to air rights, they now share this with Channel 7. The latter’s deal to secure Big Bang re runs have paid off big, proof of the sitcom’s marketability. The programme is also available on catchup TV, and for streaming online. At eleven seasons, Big Bang eclipses Friends in terms of longevity, and likewise surpasses How I met your mother (9 seasons). Throughout its run, the show has garnered a large following, critical acclaim and many accolades. Its cast is at the heart of this success.

As Friends demonstrated, having the right people is indispensable. Through a decade, the six stars had equal billing, and had perfect attendance. There is no doubt that Friends’s straightforward dialogue and plot helped its sustainability. I remember one peer at uni, who was still learning English. When we talked about what we watched, he said he was an old timer as he watched Friends. Don’t you watch Big Bang? I have trouble understanding it, he confessed. You could turn on the subtitles, I suggested. I don’t really get the things, he said. You know physics….He is not alone in that regard. Even Stuart, the comic book guy who is a recurring character, would stare blankly at Sheldon as he blathered.

Sheldon

The story of four scientists growing together is a novel one. The series has gone beyond merely a friendship chronicle, sprinkling it with their jobs, family and love life, zest for movies, comic books, and good food as well as their own struggles. Apart from being successful in their careers, they have unique backgrounds. We would know that Sheldon Cooper is the obsessive compulsive, difficult, self styled genius who never allows anyone to sit on his spot in their couch. He rarely apologises and often suffers from tunnel vision. When he’s locked in, it’s very tough to change his mindset. The little things also bothers him, like a pigeon camping near his window. Sheldon’s character has been so successful that the actor, Jim Parsons, has transitioned into the big screen. He even sung (or lip-synced) the hilariously freaky Man or Muppet, which won an Oscar. 

Howard and Raj

The other male members of the gang are Howard Walowitz, Leonard Hofstadter, and Rajesh Koothrappali. Howard is the only one of the four without a PhD, a recurring joke on the show. Until his mother passed away, he was a bit close to her. Their shouting at each other in the same house was both comical and unnerving. Later on he would meet his future wife, Bernadette, and she became part of the gang. In like manner, Raj is also tight with his parents. Even though they are in India, he would regularly Skype with them, leading to some awkward moments. Ideally, his parents would approve of his girl, showing their close family ties. 

Leonard and Penny

You could say that Leonard is the most likeable of the group. Though he wears glasses and has a high IQ, he is quite relatable, a consummate good guy. In a way, he is the Ross Geller of Big Bang. Aside from being incredibly smart with a desirable job to boot, his affable persona makes girls chase him. While not blessed with Ross’s towering height, he makes up for it with his genuineness and common sense. He is so good natured that he swayed Penny, the next door neighbour and aspiring actress. While they went on and off like Ross and Rachel, at least their relationship endured til the foreseeable end. 

Stifling?

I discussed Big Bang with an acquaintance a while back. I told her that the show is stilted, the predictability stifling. When I told her that the show’s banal location bothered me, she begged to disagree. Just the apartment? How about the laundry room, the stairs, the mailboxes downstairs? Have you forgotten the comic book store, the cafeteria, Howard’s place? Or Raj’s loft, Amy’s flat, and all the guy’s offices? They go to the movies, they went bowling and rock climbing, they drive around. In the ensuing years, more settings were employed, including Sheldon’s train ride. I guess I was wrong indeed; Big Bang is not short on venues to spice things up. 

No. 11

Very recently, Big Bang returned for an eleventh season. The show’s theme has evolved to include families, changing priorities, and parenthood while retaining its thrust of friendship, love, and laughs. This millennial show has revolutionised television, showing how four socially inept, Thai takeaway loving geeks could chase women, make viewers crack up, and sway award giving bodies. 

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Click and Collect reviewed

Woolworths store, George St, Sydney

Shopping online has never been easier. With Afterpay and various other payment options, sale on sale pricing, and endless mid season reductions across a myriad categories, the question should be ‘Why not?’ Adding to this ease has been this thing, Click and Collect, which is as simple as ordering online and picking up your item/s in-store. While there are a couple of iterations, we’ll review four stores, including Myer and Woolworths.

1) Click and Collect (Myer). Having been around for a while, this basically involves shopping online, checking for in-store availability, and purchasing your desired goods. Though appearing straightforward, it’s more complicated than you think. Sometimes, the stock check is rather faulty; you’d end up paying for your order only to get an annoying notice that your store has ran out of stock. Unlike other retailers, you’re at the mercy of floor stock: if they don’t have it in your pick up location, you’d stand empty handed. Over the years, I’ve collected a Lonely Planet guide, brush head refills, a merino v-neck jumper, etc. If they could improve the in-store availability where items could be shipped from other outlets, watch out.

2) Pick up (Woolworths). The retail front runner has rebranded their erstwhile Click and Collect service, but is the new Pick up worth it? The answer is a resounding yes. For a minimum of $30 for each pick up order, you get the woolies team to hand pick your items in-store. You order and pay for said item online, reserve your collection window, and you’ll be asking, ‘How you doin?’ in no time. Order before 11am and you can collect your purchases on the same day. The service is still being rolled out, but it’s available in our area already. I’m pleased to say that I’ve tried it a few times and it saves time and aisle counting. The only drawback is that some items could be out of stock. One look at the enquiries register (the designated collection spot) will tell you that more and more shoppers are opting for the quick and painless.


3) Collect in-store (Jeanswest). As I’ve detailed previously, I’ve done a bit of shopping from this store. Over the years, I’ve purchased clothes both from their physical stores and online. For instance, I bought a grey pullover in-store last year; I’ve likewise selected a green vest and a blue jacket for delivery last year. This annum, I’ve opted to use their free in-store pickup. Shopping online and the guarantee of collecting your items, regardless of store stock, is the best thing about this feature. No availability? No worries; they’ll send your chosen goods to your local store. Too easy. This year, I’ve picked up a blue merino jumper, a crew knit, chino shorts, and a pair of blue jeans. Unfortunately, they’ve been closing down their stores at an alarming rate. From familiar sites across town, there are now only a few left in Sydney metro. Given that I’ve grabbed a few things in their stores, it’s a real shame.

4) Pickup in store (Kathmandu). Same as the others, but with a catch: these days, you pay standard shipping costs for pickup. That’s $10, the same as having it delivered. I was lucky that wasn’t the case when I shopped their website mid-year. I bought thermal underwear and ski goggles, which I received in store free of shipping charges. Good for snow and active gear, but overpriced outside of clearance periods.

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Pickup may be hassle free but always read the fine print. Some of them are ideal, like Woolworths and Jeanswest, while others could be improved. Click and Collect is also not peculiar to these retailers, as others offer this too, including David Jones, Cotton On, JB Hifi, Coles, and Harvey Norman. Don’t forget to scrutinise their returns policy. Most stores might have at least two weeks, but make sure to get in there quick as they also keep your purchases for up to two weeks. Remember: returns delayed are returns denied.

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My grown up spy list

In recent cinematic history, action movies dominate. Whether it’s superheroes or buddy cops, mutants or fugitives our for blood, the tradition of dodging bullets ‘continue…for yet…ANOTHER year’. You have a spent John Wick rallying against the world, a generous bounty placed on his head. This week we look at some of the more noteworthy spy franchises around. Alert: there’s no superheroes this time.

1) 007. There are over 20 films to this brand, with seven actors portraying Bond over six decades. Scotsman Sean Connery was the original secret agent, with Brits assuming all iterations except for Aussie George Lazenby, who was Bond for a day. While the series can trace its origins to author Ian Fleming, the Cold War era was the main backdrop. Even though that epoch is mostly behind us, you have to give their producers credit. They’ve managed to expand the series through sustained globetrotting, high tech gadgets, and revolving nemeses. They’ve also featured a never ending cavalcade of Bond girls over time. I have to admit that I’ve only watched part of the franchise, mostly the last two Bonds. Decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, fans would have to wonder whether there’s still a place for the slippery, womanising, martini cocktail drinking assassin. 

2) Bourne. Like 007, Bourne was previously a protagonist in novels. Unlike many adaptations, which don’t do justice to the original, the Bourne films are infinitely better than the books. Once I borrowed Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Ultimatum, but the overwhelming amount of needless description made me surrender. It’s encouraging to think though that the film series is rather loosely based on those reads. While Bond is a suave terminator, Bourne is equally adept at hand to hand combat. The fight scenes in Bourne helmer Paul Greengrass’s movies, complete with swinging handhelds, set a trend in future action flicks. 

In addition, Bourne’s language skills are on full display, especially since he is every bit the globetrotter that 007 is. He’s cool enough that, as in Bourne Identity, he comes up with some perfect German while guards hound him in the still night. Catching them off guard, he puts them to sleep with well timed punches. He also knows enough Russian to say $$ while catching a cab, and some choice Spanish in Bourne tres allow him to slip away from the baddies. More than an enviable linguist and action star, Bourne is also an ingenious operator. There are numerous scenes across the series where he thinks on the fly, tipping the momentum to his favour. In all the cinematic spy universe, Bourne is the undoubted badass.

3) Jack Ryan. Again, based on the Tom Clancy books, this likewise involves the CIA. Unlike Bourne or Bond, Ryan rises through the ranks and becomes the Agency’s number two man. He is mostly not a fugitive, but rather a government sanctioned rifleman. Personally, I’ve only seen two or three Ryan movies, including one with Harrison Ford and another with Ben Affleck. A villain with a thick Scottish accent, as in Red October, is a disappointing watch. There are no splashy gadgets (like 007) and no surprising language skills (like Bourne). Indeed, as Bourne searches for his identity, Ryan conceals his own. The longevity of this series though, with sporadic offerings through three decades, is enough for third spot. 

4) Mission Impossible. If it’s from Cruise, it’s overrated. His best days as a movie superstar are all but over. To put things in perspective, Jerry Maguire was released the same year (1996) as Mission Impossible. That’s almost two hundred years ago. In fairness, the latter revolutionised the industry with its stunts and unsuspecting plot twists. Three sequels later, they’re not fooling anyone. 

Honourable mention: John Wick. I would have to include this because the first film exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen Keanu in Street Kings, and he’s just as sharp in this offering. Reeves’s character shows incredible resilience for someone who’s lost everything. The sequel, despite receiving glowing reviews, is an affront to the original. A super loud, overly serious production, the senseless gun battles make the drawn out film appear even longer than it already is. As a result, this chapter turned me off halfway through the slog. The lengthy wait for its release here was unwarranted.

So that’s my starter spy list, which might differ from yours. Whether scaling office buildings or speaking a foreign tongue, action is here to stay. Laters. 

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The land of the free(bie)

I need to clear the air about the post title. America is the ‘Land of the free’, but Topher subsists in the ‘Land of the freebie’. In a costly world, most of us trudging adults have a soft spot for something ‘priceless’. As they say, ‘The best things in the world are for free.’ We’re not talking about the Freeview ad, which reused that phrase to no end. Today we talk about free food and stuff, giveaways that brighten up our day and show the best of the human spirit. While there are many out there, I’ll give you guys a limited sample.

Free pizza at Dominos. Over one month, Dominos is offering 20,000 free pizzas over four instalments. There is a freebie each day for thirty moons, from free crust upgrade to complimentary 1.25L soft drinks, buy one get one pizzas to extra bacon. Domino’s generosity has been a big reason why they’ve blasted the competition away. They can count on continued success should they keep this up. Last I heard, those 5000 pizzas were gone after five minutes. Everyone loves a freebie (insert devil smile here).

Birthday freebies. This one is worth a whole article onto itself. Free birthday Boosts, free meals at Subway and Oporto’s, discounts at clothing retailers, free ice cream at Baskin Robbins, free burrito at Salsa’s…the list goes on. Some of these could only be redeemed on the day, while others are more lenient. 

Free burrito day at Guzman y Gomez. A few months ago this Mexican franchise had a free day where, for two hours during lunch time, you could grab a burrito for nil. As expected, there was a long queue. Regardless, I didn’t bother.

Free breakfast. I must admit this is almost unparalleled. Someone told me about this. A friend of a friend was apparently walking outside when she saw a table with pastries, sandwiches, and drinks. While others just passed by, she asked a few questions and learned that said tableful was free of charge. There were six food items there, and the friend tried a few, including the milk tea. It was very serendipitous as said friend had skipped breakfast. How cool is that? Upon seeing her eating, some of the other passers by joined in on the fun. One even did take away to the tram stop. I heard the volunteers were very helpful. In Melbourne, there is always a kind stranger.

Free block of cheese. Yep you’ve heard that right; not just a sliver of cheese either, but a quarter kilo of the good stuff. This took off last month. The New Zealand company, Mainland, was offering free blocks to the first 10,000 claimants. You had to register online with your email, and they’ll then send you a code which you can show at the counter. You could then take a pick of their range at the Kwik e mart, get your code scanned and voila! The block costs $8+, but I didn’t claim my code since we regularly buy Mainland cheese. Anyhow, the 10000 blocks were history after the second day of promotion. 

Of course, this is not to say that everything here is free. A more accurate pronouncement is that most things have a price, some of them may go down, but you have to practice utmost patience if you were to grab a free one. When there’s no out of pocket cost, you have to act quick. Many peeps would have the same idea, so shoot now, or forever hold your silence. If it’s not a race against time, please be prudent. You wouldn’t want to grab five sauce packs when you only need three. You’ll find out that mere weeks later, the free chicken sauces were free no more. So think before you whack, but don’t overthink. After all, you can’t be caught partying in two islands at one time.

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