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.

A Curious Indian Cadaver – Sharmini Flint

11486977I’ve read a few of the Inspector Singh Investigates mysteries and they are fun and lighthearted (even though they are stories about solving instances of violent death). Inspector Singh is in India this time, dragged there by his wife for a family wedding. Mrs Singh has a greater role in this story and curiously, she backs him up on many occasions (which makes him suspicious teehee!). The mystery centres on a runaway bride just before an arranged marriage is to take place.

I decided to read this for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – read a novel where all POV are of people of colour. Now, I have massive arguments about the use of the term ‘people of colour’. It is only used in the US and people from other countries who are doing this challenge are finding POC a challenge in itself as many people don’t think in that way. There was a lot of confusion so the people at Book Riot had to clarify matters. So what it really is about are stories where the characters are of the non-Western tradition. So – in this story we have two Singaporean Sikhs who are visiting family in India to attend an arranged marriage. There are also Hindus and Moslems, and some of the story is about the tensions between people of these two religions in India. Traditions clash with contemporary life and the life of the haves vs the slum dwellers. There is also tension in the family where the patriarch just that – the head of the family where everything must have his approval. But! There are moments of fun when Inspector Singh tries to understand what is supposed to happen. He is tempted to give money to beggars but is dissuaded and when he and his wife emerge from the airport, they are confronted with so many taxi drivers wanting their business! The most perplexing is the question “cool car or non-AC”? Turns out that the cool car is one with air-conditioning.

Close Range: Brokeback Moutain and other Stories – Annie Proulx

There is so much I liked about these stories. Brokeback Mountain is the famous one due to 1629the film (which I haven’t seen) and it is a sad raw tale about two men and their love for one another, their denial of desire and the grief that follows. My two favourite stories are Job History and Blood Bay – just fabulous stories with great endings. I love the sparse storytelling style which sort of puts me in mind of the Alistair Macleod short story collection I read some years ago. Both authors have no nonsense style of writing about people battling to build lives in harsh climates. The people are used to hard living and hard dying and all the hardness but loveliness inbetween. Proulx shows a deep emotional attachment to Wyoming in these stories, just as Macleod did with his stories about life in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I will be picking up the next volume of Proulx’s Wyoming stories soon.

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