Month: February 2018

by Lynn Hall

Another older horse story, one I\’m sure I must have read as a kid, borrowed from my elementary school library. It\’s a fictional account of a real horse, an Appaloosa mustang from the Sierra Madre mountains in Michoacán. Who was caught and brought into captivity to become a founding sire of the POA breed. This little book tells of his early life, years as a stallion defending his band, modes of survival. His capture and slow adjustment to a new way of life (the mares tamed pretty quickly in this story, which I found amusingly implausible but oh well).  For such a short book, it\’s a surprisingly satisfying read. Very well-written. I like how it shows things from the stallion\’s viewpoint- what he would have understood, his reactions and decisions according to various circumstances. There\’s vampire bats in this book too, which feed on the horses at night and sometimes endanger the newborn foals. In that area of Mexico the bats are still a common threat to livestock.

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1971

Wild Stallion of the West
by Rutherford Montgomery

An older book I picked up secondhand somewhere. It\’s about horses that live on a cattle range in the southwest. In particular, one fine black mare owned by the ranch but allowed to run free on the range and an old squatter living in a cabin in the high country who admires her. The mare sometimes mixes with a band of wild horses. When she goes missing the squatter is accused of stealing her. Things happen, the mare goes off on her own and raises a colt in seclusion. Later the mare dies and the young horse grows up on his own, eventually challenging the stallion of the wild band, drawing attention of a ranch hand who recognizes he must be the offspring of the missing mare. This guy determines that catching the young stallion and showing it to the ranch owner will exonerate the squatter- plus acquiring himself a fine horse. His plan to catch the wild black horse does not turn out so easily.

I was skeptical of this story at first, but it turned out to be pretty good in the end. While it has a lot of vivid descriptions of the scenery, weather and interactions of various wildlife, much of the animal behavior is exaggerated or downright inaccurate and had me rolling my eyes. For example, wolves don\’t hamstring their prey, and the mating behavior of bears described in here made me laugh outright, it was so ludicrous. It\’s obviously written to be exciting for young readers, with a lot of vicious battles between wild animals for survival, and sensational scenes. The young black horse fights off (at different times) wolves, cougars and a bald eagle, survives an encounter with a bear, and battles another stallion on the edge of a cliff. But then many depictions of how the wild horses live, elk in the rutting season, mule deer interacting with the mare and her colt, are very nicely done. I really found the final third of the book more interesting, when the young stallion had taken over the band but obviously did not know how to lead the mares, and had to face his human opponent.

I happened to like the ending, particularly because it had some unexpected outcomes.

Rating: 3/5                 274 pages, 1940

by Jean Slaughter Doty

I wanted this book because it\’s a sequel to Summer Pony– one I loved reading many times over as a child. I haven\’t written about the first book yet- last time I read it was long before I started blogging. Basically it\’s about a girl who gets her dream pony- which turns out to be an unkempt mare from a rundown pony-ride circle. Keeping Mokey is more hard work than she ever thought.

Winter Pony takes place after Ginny has learned more or less how to care for her pony through the summer, and made a small space for it in the backyard. She\’s looking forward to riding in the snow, especially when she finds out her friend\’s dad has an old (but well-kept) sleigh in storage. With the help and close tutelage of the stable hand (a guy who used to race in steeplechases, had to retire after an injury and now works in the stable- familiar character from other horse stories I think) she learns to harness Mokey to the sleigh and how to drive her pony. It is a very long process and Ginny often gets impatient. Finally they are able to ride in the sleigh, driving Mokey in circles around the property and across nearby fields.Then one day when they are unsupervised, the girls unwisely take the pony driving on a road and have a very close call with a snowplow.

That\’s the entire first half of the story. The second part is about Ginny\’s shock and delight when she finds out her pony is expecting a foal. She endures a long anxious time waiting for the foal to be born, and then is appalled when her pony doesn\’t react in a loving manner to the newborn. Once again the stable man teaches- coaxing the pony to accept her offspring, and instructing Ginny how to care for them both.

It\’s a nice horse story for kids, but somehow is rather lackluster compared to the first book. And mine seems to end abruptly, when Ginny happily goes to the house to get some carrots for her pony soon after the foaling. There are no endpapers, so I\’m not sure if my book is actually missing a few pages, or if it ends just so! I\’ll have to find a library copy and check.

Rating: 2/5      106 pages, 1975

by Jean Slaughter Doty

A horse story about show jumping. The young girl who narrates it has a scruffy pony she keeps in her backyard. She needs to buy her pony a new winter blanket, so takes a job at a nearby stable where more well-to-do kids have riding lessons. The stable owner is so impressed, she\’s allowed to bring her pony to work, and goes along to horse shows as an assistant. Where she ogles the beautiful, famous horses owned by wealthy folks, listens in on gossip, and finds out about a scandal revolving around some rich stable owner who discards horses by dishonest means, to collect insurance money. The girl inadvertently gets way too involved, and results are devastating for her. Honestly I was shocked when the tragic event occurred only two-thirds through the book. I wondered what could transpire afterward, but it had a tidy ending- a tad predictable, but overall I was impressed how the author dropped hints, subtly allowing the reader to figure out what really happened. Nice story. And very horsey. I don\’t know how accurate the details are about training methods, show conditions, shady means used to improve a horse\’s performance, etc- but it felt very realistic. Grimy underside to a world full of girls who love horses, and wealthy folks who want to show off with them.

Rating: 3/5         122 pages, 1976

by Peter Dickinson

This is the sequel to The Devil\’s Children, and I\’m glad to say the story more or less stands on its own. It\’s set five years after the Changes which made people in England revolt against technology (some kind of mental sickness) and flee the cities, living in small villages and farming communities while deliberating avoiding modern conveniences. A man from America (unaffected by the Change) who arrived on foreign shores to find out what is going on in England is attacked and stoned for being a \”witch\”. Two young people rescue him in secret. He\’s severely injured but they hide him in a shed and nurse him back to health with rough care. The kids are gradually becoming disaffected by the Change- the girl Margaret still feels uneasy around machinery but is curiously compelled to visit the empty city and explore. The boy on the farm, Jonathan, is intrigued by machines and good at figuring out how they work. Together they form a plan to get the injured man out of the country. It involves Jonathan manning an old tugboat through the canals while Margaret rides ahead on her pony to open bridges. It has to be secret because the locals are highly suspicious of anything unusual; even their maid\’s brother Tim, a gentle man with mental disabilities, is at risk of being called a witch and killed by the community simply because he is different. The plot of the rescue mission is really straightforward, what makes this book so much better is how well its characters are written. Jonthan is quick of mind and keen about solving problems, yet totally callous and dismissive of animals- when a pony balks at getting aboard the tug he just says \”I hate horses\” in disgust. Margaret for her part finds anything remotely mechanical confusing and avoids being around it, but is remarkably patient with the ponies and understands their behavior and needs very well. She\’s also pretty brave- getting chased by a pack of feral dogs, and baiting an aggressive bull as a diversion during the getaway. They make an interesting contrast and a good team. Too bad there wasn\’t more of the other characters in the story- the foreigner, the maid and her brother Tim are all interesting people as well. but play minor roles. It was a pretty good read. A few times it seemed like the kids made remarkably complex plans or conveniently drew overly quick conclusions, but I took it in stride to enjoy the story. The ending surprised me somewhat.

Rating: 3/5          189 pages, 1969

by Peter Dickinson

This one was a bit odd. It\’s apocalyptic fiction where humanity is seized by some kind of mass infectious horror of machinery. They smash cars and radios, go berserk in riots against technology and then flee cities en masse. Disease plagues spread and society breaks down with small groups of people surviving in isolation, wary of outsiders.

However most of the book isn\’t actually about that- it\’s only described briefly in the forward and epilogue, with a few instances where the main character herself is seized by a mindless urge of violence when she sees someone try to start a bus, for example, or hears someone talk about farm equipment or radios by name. She\’s ten or twelve, I was never sure of the age, and lost her family in a riot. She attaches herself to a travelling group of Indian Sikhs, originally immigrants. For some strange reason people of other nationalities were not affected by the madness against machines, only the English. The Sikhs let her join them as a kind of insurance, they call her their \”canary\” because she can tell them what kind of actions or conversation will trigger the rage of their English neighbors. They set up a community on abandoned farmland but then have to deal with nearby English group who have formed themselves into a feudal system. These neighbors are suspicious and afraid of the Sikhs, even rumoring them to be Old Ones or Fae. Most of the story is about the girl\’s adjustment to living among people foreign to her- I\’m not sure how accurately it describes Sikh culture but it depicted them as very honorable and relatively proud people. In the later part of the book, the girl takes a key role in their dealings with the English group, being a go-between and carrying messages, then later forming key strategies when it ends up in a battle. It seemed a bit improbable that a young kid would have such a leading role in strategies against the enemy, but what do I know. However I was doubtful enough that it kind of flattened my enjoyment of the story.

I got this book on swap because I acquired its sequel at a hotel, and wanted to read the series in order. Turns out this one was rather lackluster for me, but luckily the second one seems to stand on its own and I\’m already enjoying it more.

Nothing to do with the story itself, but I did really like the decoration on the cover and chapter headings, which has a medieval or celtic-looking pattern intertwining with gear cogs.

Rating: 2/5          187 pages, 1970

by Helen van Pelt Wilson

This is an older book about the specific cultivation of african violets as houseplants, written when they were new on the scene and wildly popular. It is easy to read having a friendly style, and quite informative in spite of its age. I learned for example, that foliage isn\’t necessarily damaged by water contact- only if it is a lot colder in temperature and of course keep it out of the crown. In fact this book recommends regularly rinsing leaves off with light spray, to keep clean of dust. I didn\’t know that violets could be grown hydroponically, nor that propagation can be taken from the same individual leaf multiple times by restarting each instant the new young plant is cut free of the petiole. The care instructions are very thorough, but I would look for modern methods of pest control. The chemicals and pesticides the author recommends sound downright dangerous. There are chapters explaining how to share plants and leaf cuttings through the mail, how to grow violets commercially in greenhouses, how to conduct judged violet shows, and the difficulties of describing and naming new varieites. Illustrations in linework are quiet nice and have a lovely detailed texture of fuzziness on the leaves. The actual color photographs are amusingly quaint. I\’m keeping this one around, and am now perhaps interested in acquiring a few more african violets myself. (I only have two right now, but am awful fond of them).

Rating: 4/5       247 pages, 1951

To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon
by Alan Tennant

After reading Peregrine Spring, I looked among my own shelves for some more falconry-related titles. I thought this one looked promising, in fact I had two copies of it among my unread-books, one picked up at a library sale and the other from The Book Thing. I guess it caught my eye twice for the same reason. It\’s written by a man who sometime in the eighties or nineties (my best guess) became suddenly gripped by the idea of following an individual peregrine falcon on its migration jouney- not just mapping its path on a screen via radio-tracking, but physically trailing it in a light aircraft. It sounds intriguing, especially for the time when little was known about peregrines, their exact routes and how juveniles fared on their first migration. But something about the book didn\’t quite work for me. The way the author apparently appropriated others\’ equipment for his un-sanctioned study kind of put me off. I thought the descriptions of flight in a small plane -akin to Saint-Exuprey\’s writing- would interest me, but it didn\’t. And actual descriptions of the birds are few and far between. They did learn some new things about how peregrines respond to certain weather patterns and their hunting styles, and there are some good observations from nesting sites in the arctic. Unfortunately most of the book seems to be about the travels, difficulties getting around regulations, encounters with loads of strangers, and effects of man on the environment -noticeable from the air- where the writing style just did not engage me. I found myself skipping around a lot to read the parts that actually described the peregrines. I probably missed a lot in the process and this is one case where I\’m rather disappointed in myself for not appreciating a book properly.

Rating: 2/5          304 pages, 2004

A Calvin and Hobbes Collection
by Bill Watterson

I lingered over this one because it\’s the last of my Calvin and Hobbes books until I find a few more volumes. More nostalgic stuff of childhood: decoding secret messages, imagining grand schemes. First half is a lot of christmas glory and social commentary (or criticism of his parents) presented in snowman artwork. Calvin\’s dad shows himself to be an avid cyclist and takes the family camping- which both Calvin and his mom resent. The kid for his part gets regular thrills careening down slopes on a sled in winter, in a red wagon during the warm months. I cracked a smile at how Susie the girl-next-door calmly thwarts his plans to clobber her with snowballs, water balloons or some other kind of ambush. Their attempts to \”play house\” together, shown in a different comic art style, are hilarious. The larger horizontal format does make this book awkward to handle in softcover and I don\’t know if it adds much to appreciating the artwork as there are rather wide page margins.

Rating: 3/5         175 pages, 1994

A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury 
by Bill Watterson

I thoroughly enjoyed reading more Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin speculates on the realities of Santa Claus, makes terrible faces for family photos, resists bathtime, fights the babysitter, teases the girl next door mercilessly, procrastinates doing homework, imagines he\’s saving the world from distasters with superpowers, or rampaging around as a dinosaur, and argues with his more level-headed best friend tiger Hobbes. I laughed through many pages. I had forgotten the episode where the family\’s house got broken into. In this volume he starts his club against \”slimy girls\” and makes his cardboard-box duplicator. Yeah, second half of the book was suddenly a repeat-read for me that I skipped over: it\’s the entire contents of Scientific Progress Goes \”Boink\”. With the improvement that this volume has all the weekend strips in full color. So now I know which one is immediately getting weeded from my collection as a redundancy.

Rating: 3/5         255 pages, 1992

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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