Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book reviews!!

A week or so ago I received a very generous offer from a cheerful sounding woman in the Sourcebooks publicity department. Would I be at all interested in reading and, if I wanted to, reviewing on my blog or elsewhere, a couple of books from the Horses of Half Moon Ranch series by Jennifer Oldfield.

Well, she didn't have to offer twice! I'm a voracious reader, and for the last year or so I've been reviewing everything I read over at LibraryThing. I also read a lot of young adult books (I'm on the selection & review committee for the SDLA Young Adult Reading Program -YARP), and I've been devouring horse-related fiction for as many years as I've been reading. The stars truly seemed aligned on this one!

The books arrived very speedily, and I started with what seemed to be the earlier of the two, Wild Horses. It wasn't a bad book. Here's the gist of what I posted on LibraryThing:
Kirstie Scott, her mother and her older brother, with the help of a couple of ranch hands, run a small guest ranch in the Colorado foothills. It's a family business, minus Kirstie's father who's out of the picture with a new wife. Leading a string of dudes on ranch horses on a day trip through the hills, a sudden storm triggers a landslide that leave Kirstie and her horse Lucky stranded in a gully with an injured wild stallion. Can Kirstie convince the stallion to let her help him? And will she be able to save the injured animal from the rough rodeo-string horse-seller's plans?

The book's a bit thin, and so's the plot. The horse-related details are iffy in spots, as well. At 150 pages there's not much space for error if things aren't tightly written, and unfortunately, there are quite a few rough edges. I found myself wishing for the adventures of Gypsy and Nimblefoot or the plucky heroine of C.W. Anderson's Afraid to Ride. It's not a bad story, just not a great one, either.
So that was Wild Horses. Then I started Rodeo Rocky.... I almost stopped midway through. I came really close to throwing the book at something. I didn't - didn't want to hit the cats by mistake, but it was close. Here's my review:
Kirstie Scott has accompanied her family on a trip to the rodeo with the current guests at their dude ranch. While the rest of the attendees are cheering and clapping, Kirstie is stunned and appalled at the brutal treatment the horses receive - especially the wild horses trucked in for the wild horse race and bucking bronco events. One mustang in particular, a beautiful bay stallion, garners her sympathy, and when circumstances leave Rodeo Rocky to her care, she vows to make a ranch horse of him rather than see him bound for the sale barn and a short future as dog food.

Admirable. And completely understandable from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old horse lover who's completely unfamiliar with rodeo. But Kirstie has lived on a ranch in a ranching community for how long, and she's never attended a one? She's never seen steer wrestling or bronc riding? The rodeos are described as being regular events....

What is crystal clear is that the author a) knows very little about rodeo, and b) believes, or wants to give the impression, that anyone who participates in one is brutal, rough, and completely uncaring as far as the rodeo livestock goes. Okay, everyone's entitled to their opinion, and she's not alone in finding the sport violent.

But animal rights issues aside, there are major problems with the horse-related details in this book. Who turns a strange, wild, un-vaccinated stallion in loose with their riding horses, some of them mares, immediately on bringing him home! (And why not GELD him?) They've spent $2000 on him, but they're not going to pay the vet, (who's johnny-on-the-spot almost immediately, after the stallion kicks one of the other horses) to give him his shots until they've decided to keep him at the end of the book? Not to mention the "training" sequence that has Rocky proceeding merrily down the trail saddled and bridled in approximately a week.

Yes, it's certainly an emotionally intense story. It's just too bad that the author didn't pay as much attention to non-emotional details. Apart from the rest of the problems, the plot is tired, and overdone. The characters are flat - none of them every really get to be more than canned stereotypes, which is too bad. Since this is one of a series, it would be nice to look forward to meeting the characters again.

Final verdict? Not recommended.
I'd really hoped for better. There are too many other horse books out there geared for this age group that ARE well-written, accurate, and enjoyable to read.

Instead, try one of these: King of the Wind, Firehorse, A Horse Called Bonnie, Tin Can Tucker, Gabriel's Horses, or Summer Riders and see what you think.

In fact, here's a question for you: what was your favorite horse book(s) or series as a kid? And why? Do they stand up to what you know today if/when you were to read them again?

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