Shattered – Dick Francis

2102647Gosh, I love Dick Francis mysteries! I know they can be formulaic, but they are still fun. I read this ages ago but had completely forgotten the story. I could imagine what the main street in Broadway was like as my sister and I had visited a few villages in the Cotswolds in 2014 (real village but we didn’t visit that one). Honey stoned buildings that would still look cheerful in mid-winter with twinkling lights coming through the windows. Like all Frances novels, they are either directly set in the racing industry or the racing industry features heavily in the plot. In this story, the main character is a friend of a jockey who dies early on and the story is the mystery the jockey leaves his friend to solve. His friend goes through the physical wringer but the mystery is solved and he leaves with his girl and new friends.

Aww! But it was exciting too! I had to keep reading to find out what happened. I started reading Dick Francis when I was in my early twenties. I was temping at a local high-school library and the librarian introduced me to Francis. And it’s official – 20 odd years after reading my first one, I still love the stories.

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The Hidden Web: Finding Quality Information on the Net – Maureen Henninger

2034122This book is going straight into the recycling! Not because it is bad mind you. This was published in 2003 – reprinted 2004  (this book is 13 years old) and a lot has changed in the world of www resources since then. The majority of the resources listed are defunct. Does anyone remember the Altavista search engine? That is the problem with this sort of book – which should never be a published book in the first place because the speed of change makes it almost obsolete as soon as its published. Some of this was a trip down memory lane. I was goggling at the old PubMed interface. Hehehe! Lists of resources – these used to be called subject gateways, have now been taken over by LibGuides software. And there has been some noises from library land about whether subject guides are actually useful. It is a fact of life that the majority of people will go to Google first if they have an information query – and hopefully one of these guides will come up in the list of answers! But probably not. Google was built on the CLEVER model developed by IBM which used link analysis (bibliometrics and scientometrics) – concepts developed by Eugene Garfield and his company Institute for Scientific Information (home of the citation indexes). That’s the one useful thing I learnt from this book and seeing that Eugene Garfield died recently, it is sort of appropriate. I have yet to finish reading this book (it is very hard to read it actually, it is very didactic with lots and lots of screenshots). I’ll test out a few more resources before it meets its recycling end.

The Days of Anna Madrigal – Armistead Maupin

18586505This is another book doing double duty across challenges – Nevada for my North American book tour and LGBT romance for Read Harder 2017. I didn’t realise when I chose this book for Nevada that it could also work for a challenge in Read Harder, so that’s a plus! I was going to read The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley for the LGBT romance challenge but that’s a read for another day (it’s very long!).

This is the final (maybe) tale in the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. I’ve not read any of the other books in the series but it was easy to get the feel of the characters. It’s a sweet tale about an aging transgender lady called Anna Madrigal, and her friends. Various love stories are woven around two trips to Nevada – one to the Burning Man Festival (a creative, radical sustainability festival – with art!) and a homecoming/leave-taking trip to Winnemucca where Anna grew up. The writing itself isn’t brilliant, but the story is enough that the actual construction of it doesn’t matter that much.

One thing to point out about this tale is that although Maupin is gay, you don’t get the feeling that that has anything to do with the stories and characters. It also avoids being political – there is no whiff of activism at all. There is no – see, we are human and have feelings too! People are just people who have love affairs, crushes and friendships.

Pole to Pole with Michael Palin

417406I bought this book at a second-hand book stall at a hospital I used to work at – all proceeds going towards supporting the hospital. This is a PBS edition – the Public Broadcasting Service of the US. I imagine that someone at the hospital on their way home from a conference bought this at an airport. So my edition has almost done the pole to pole itself! I saw the program when it came out in the early ’90s – that is a little over 20 years ago. Really enjoyed it at the time and I do have a fondness for Palin’s affable nature and curiosity. He is an engaging travel presenter and his documentaries are well worth watching. This book is a compilation of his diaries, notes and memories. During the last legs of the trip, the hotel staff in Lusaka failed to collect his bags from his room and they left without them. Horrors! One did manage to catch up with him though and so we have this book. It isn’t a print version of the series but a companion to it. It was an amazing trip – 5 months through 17 countries – some of which no longer exist. The USSR collapsed just after they had left – a day or two delay would have meant not being able to leave. I love the witty observations he makes : the gynecologist called Dr Satan; the saga of the wrong train platform; the tale of how the fish got to the country. Of course there illness to contend with and one team member contracted malaria. Palin didn’t escape either.

Travel is hard but this trip had its rewards. I think I’ll watch the series again.

Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance

7746554This book is doing double duty for this challenge as well as Book Riots Read Harder 2017 challenge – read a novel set in Arizona and read a book set over 5000 miles from your location. This novel is part of a series about the Walker family – law and order administrators working in Arizona. The thriller story set-up was good – would a mass murderer be caught before escapes to Mexico? It was let down by wooden characters and the introduction of too many of them. I didn’t connect to any of them and halfway through, I got two of the families mixed up. This novel can’t really be read as a standalone novel. For it to make sense and to have an overall idea of the families and the people involved, reading the series is advisable. I also found the absence of descriptions about people odd. There is a lot of background story for various characters which is description of sorts, but nothing like ‘she pulled back her long pepper and salt hair from her face with a headband’. The only descriptions I can think of is for one of the former criminals haunting a now middle-aged woman, the current murderer on the run, and a little girl orphaned. Lots of descriptions of night blooming desert flower however. And cars. Oh! And at the beginning of each chapter is temperature in fahrenheit – which for someone who uses celcius is annoying and distracting. Yes, and I am in Australia and thought hmmm .. 23c at 9pm in the summer? Try 35c!  Tohono O’odham is an actual tribal group, and they play a large part in this story. I don’t know if the tribal stories and traditions in this novel are authentic or not, but it does add a lot of colour and action to the novel. Without them, the story would fall flat.

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