Sunday, January 4, 2009

Not-quite-Friday Book Review

I've been a bit lazy, and I've missed posting the last two Friday book reviews. Not so wonderful a start to the New Year! But here are two to make up for the lack.

One is older, one more recent - one for a younger audience, one is definitely adult, but both books are about fresh starts, self-discovery, and making changes, so in that respect they're perfect for the first reviews of 2009.

First, the old:

Saddles for Breakfast by Janet Randall
Robin Marshall is fed up with sharing everything with her brothers and sisters. She wants nothing more than the opportunity to spend the summer at her aunt Cora's riding stable. She envisions white fences and a sharply-appointed stable with gleaming-flanked horses, and herself, immaculately turned out in crisp breeches and boots, instructing scrubbed-faced smiling youngsters. When the telegram comes saying she's welcome for the summer, she's thrilled.

But the reality of Sycamore Stables is far more grubby and workaday than Robin pictured. Cora and her son Butch are operating the riding stable on a shoestring, and it shows. The jumping course is overgrown, the barns need paint, and the horses, while gleaming with good care and full bellies, certainly aren't elegant Thoroughbreds.

An unearned bad reputation haunts Sycamore Stables, and when an nasty accident followed by a barn fire strike, the outlook seems incredibly grim.
Hard work and heart, challenges and opportunities, and a young girl's coming of age - this story, set in the 1960's, lacks cell phones and the fast pace of today's electronic world. But despite that, the story itself endures. A good read for young horse lovers.
Saddles for Breakfast is fairly well packed with interesting horse tid-bits, as well. For instance, horses that cast themselves - our horses were never stalled, so the first time I encountered that particular situation was in Randall's book. When it happened to one of the mares at a show (her first time ever in a box stall) I couldn't help but flash back to Robin's panic at Tampico's thrashing. It's certainly scary enough!

I learned less of practical use from the next book, but had a good giggle in more than one spot - the new:

Horseplay: a novel by Judy Reene Singer
A masters degree and a job teaching high school English isn't doing much for Judy Van Brunt. But what puts her over the top is her husband's wandering eyes... and hands... and pretty much the rest of him. Fed up, she throws in the towel on teaching and her husband, and heads for greener pastures.

The pastures in question belong to a North Carolina horse farm run by German dressage trainer Kat and her two Jack Russell terrors - sorry,
terriers - and inhabited by an odd and interesting assortment of horses, grooms and stable help, Swedish and otherwise.

Judy's introduction to the eccentric realm of world class riding and the ubiquitous "What level do you ride?" question, as well as her misadventures on the farm - both romantic and otherwise - are a riot. This is Janet Evanovich (of the Stephanie Plum books), but with less hairspray and exploding cars, and more horses. Lots of fluffy fun for any rainy day afternoon. I don't know that there's a sequel planned, but I wouldn't mind reading one.
So there you have it - something old and something new. Both of them perfect for curling up with on the couch with a cat and a cup of hot chocolate while the winter winds howl.
Your choice: California dreaming... or North Carolina heat :)

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