The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

I’ve just finished reading The Twelve, by Justin Cronin. There are so many reviews of this book around that I’m not going to try and write another one. It’s a great read if you like this kind of story, the invasion of the world by a kind of mutants born out of twelve prisoners who have been injected a virus. In a way the plot is terribly similar to World War Z, the movie featuring Brad Pitt, recently released. The Twelve is the second instalment of a trilogy, after The Passage. I think I preferred The Passage, but The Twelve is good too. What confused me a little was the timing of it all, as one book doesn’t follow the other. The Twelve is both before and after The Passage. Go figure. But it still works. I particularly enjoyed the apocalyptic description of American citizens fleeing their cities invaded by the mutants (the virals). Quite something. One piece of advice though, read The Passage first.

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World War Z

Lots of hype for World War Z and I’m not sure why. Funnily enough I saw it as I was reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin, and there are lots of similarities. Except The Twelve is a good book and World War Z an average movie. It features Brad Pitt – many of my friends went to see it for him. It’s the story of a UN staff looking for a way to save the planed from a Zombie invasion/plague. Thin plot, and the zombies are not really scary. Too many glitches in the story for my liking and at the end of the day, not much happening. I should have watched it on a plane.

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Ballooning over Melbourne

A few companies offer hot ballooning over Melbourne. This is a fabulous experience. The only drawback is getting up very early (4am or so) to reach the taking-off site before dawn. The site varies every day and you get an early call to let you know where it’s going to be or if it’s going to happen at all! Because of the wind it gets often cancelled, so you have to keep trying. Having said that, it’s worth the wait and you won’t regret it. It takes a few minutes to be up in the air and from there the view over the city, the beaches, the bay and the suburbs is breathtaking. You don’t know where you’re going to land before you’re up because it depends of where the wind will take you. Quite an experience. I often get up in the morning to see a few balloons flying over our place, so I was happy to see our house from the air for once. Loved every minute of it! Certain companies follow the flight with a beautiful breakfast/brunch at one of the city’s international hotels. A real treat. Highly recommended.

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Mona Yes Mona No

We finally managed to make it to the Mona, the Museum of New and Old Art, in Hobart, Tasmania. There’s quite a bit of hype about this new museum Down Under, and it is certainly different from what we are used to in Australia. The museum is the baby of David Walsh, a millionaire  from Tasmania who made his fortune with gambling systems and owns a private art collection. He decided to give something back to the place he is from and built a museum to his image. The museum itself is quite different – the architecture is amazing and worth the trip itself. To get to the Mona you can drive, but what I reckon is the cooler way to reach it is by using Mona’s private boat, painted camouflage-style and with cool stuff inside – you can also enjoy food and coffee and the half-hour ride is very relaxing. Upon arrival, a flight of stairs takes you up to the museum. Watch out if you are going on a weekend, it gets very busy – both the museum and the boat, so book in advance. What I liked about the museum is: the eclectic art collection; the theme is definitely sex and death, but the variety and originality in the pieces of art is quite amazing; the architecture, as I mentioned before; the fact that it is in Hobart; and how everyone gets into it. There are however a few things that didn’t gel with me: the space is quite narrow, and when it is busy, it gets really hard to walk around and the atmosphere gets stuffy (it’s all underground too, very dark and with no windows); there is no signage next to the art: what you are supposed to do is use an App or your phone or get headphones (they are available) – the problem I see with that is that if you are with someone and want to talk about what you are seeing, you can’t do that with headphones, and you don’t necessarily want to listen to a recording; when I looked around I could see many visitors reading their App instead of looking at the Art; there is no other way to know what you are looking at and this is annoying; there is also no visible logic in how the art is exhibited; and finally, because it is a maze, you end up missing some of the art. It’s still a great experience. There are also bars and restaurants and cafes to relax and enjoy a glass of wine of the nearby wineries. There’s even a brewery. If you get there early, you may get a seat!

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Review of Inferno, by Dan Brown

Dan Brown uses the same formula for all his books, and Inferno is no exception: a search for something mysterious or dangerous based on symbolism, a setting in an Italian city, a mad chase, Robert Landgon the academic who is an expert in symbology, short chapters to guarantee a page-turner etc. Inferno features Robert Landgon, who is amnesiac and finds himself chased by dangerous individuals while trying to solve a puzzle. Langdon and a few other characters try to avoid the release of a plague, supposed to kill half of humanity – nothing else! The plot is all right, I suppose, although it’s more than unlikely. The need for certain individuals to use symbols (and complex ones) to hide simple messages is annoying – it feels too much like just a silly plot for the novel. This story is not as good as The Da Vinci Code, or Angels and Demons and the formula needs to change. It’s not new, it gets boring, and you feel like you’ve read it before. I’m not saying the story is painful to read, it’s a page turner after all and it is enjoyable, but you will forget it as soon as you’ve read it. The one thing that really didn’t work for me with this book is that Brown turned it into an Italian art lesson. There’s nothing wrong with that, except the way it’s done is just ridiculous. Picture this: Langdon is chased by a large number of people who want to kill him. They’re shooting at him, he’s seen them kill people, they involve the police, and what does Langdon do? He (constantly) stops in front of pieces of art or architecture to marvel at how beautiful they are, think of the artist who’s created them, tell their story to whoever he is with, and take his time to take it all in. Plain silly if you ask me! I believe Brown’s readers need a little more respect than that.


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The Infinity Pool at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

During a weekend in Singapore recently, we stayed at the new, much talked-about, Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I was interested to see it because on top of having the most amazing pool, its engineering design was done by the company I work for, Arup. I was a little disappointed by the hotel itself. The lobby is too big and nondescript and is really more a tourist place and shopping plaza than a lobby. The service is not great either (and when you know how much a night cost, you have the right to complain). Having said that, the rooms are very nice and spacious. But of course, most people stay there for the pool, at the very top of the building, across the three towers. It has to be one of the highest pools in the world, and it really feels like you are swimming in the air. Fantastic!

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Weekend in Singapore

Singapore belongs to those places where I could easily live. I love the place, its efficiency, its cleanliness, its people, its underground… Everything works. The food keeps getting better, and you now have the choice between hundreds of different cuisines. Singapore is a convenient stopover on the way to Europe from Australia but it’s also great for weekends. Having friends there makes it special for me, and between catching-up with them, eating out, and walking around, there was not much time left, unfortunately. A new reclaimed area has appeared since the last time I was there, and the city landscape keeps changing. I highly recommend the orchid garden in the botanical gardens. Magical.

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