Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review: Karen Bush & Maggie Dana

Both the books I've reviewed in this post are ebooks: a new departure for me, as I don't actually possess an e-reader of any sort whatsoever, but the authors kindly sent me the books in a format I could read.

Karen Bush: The Great Rosette Robbery and Other Stories
Kindle: £0.86
Karen Bush's website

Karen Bush has written a lot of non-fiction; The Problem Horse, The Principles of Teaching Riding and The Dog Expert to name just a few.  She started her writing career with short stories for PONY Magazine, and then (there being a limit to the amount of short stories magazines can publish) moved to writing non fiction. She combines working as a freelance riding instructor with writing.  The Great Rosette Robbery is a collection of her short stories; there's a full length book imminent.

I hope to be pretty near the front of the queue for that book, Riding for a Fall. The short stories are mostly excellent: Karen Bush obviously knows her equestrian stuff, and effortlessly places her characters in thoroughly believable backgrounds. There are 8 stories in the collection, ranging from When Practice Didn't Make Perfect, about a new pony, bought as a jumping star but who flatly refuses to jump, to The Gift Horse, my favourite of the collection, in which pony-less Lucy learns something about friendship. This story explores the classic girl-gets-pony theme, but with a twist which is possibly unique. And which involves Picasso.

The stories have a mix of backgrounds; families who have ponies and who don't, and a good mix of male and female central characters.These are traditional stories. The pony book does like to inform as well as entertain, and there's some instruction mixed in, generally lightly. Dear Diary, a tale of how to catch a pony, told as you might expect from the title, in diary form, is perhaps a little too obviously didactic, but in the other stories the instruction is imparted without you being aware you're being taught.

This collection of stories is well worth buying; they're well-written and entertaining, and do the short story's job of painting a brief but compelling picture. Karen Bush is an author to watch.

Maggie Dana:  Keeping Secrets
Timber Ridge Riders, 1
Kindle: £1.92
Nook Book $2.99
Maggie Dana's website

Maggie Dana started learning to ride at the age of 5, but loathed it - "she hated it so much, she didn't try again for another three years. But all it took was the right instructor and the right horse and she was hooked for life." She's written a standalone horse book, The Golden Horse of Willow Farm, and an adult novel, Beachcombing. Her Timber Ridge Riders series is a re-issue and updating of a four book series originally published in the 1980s. Thus far it's only available in e-book format.

Keeping Secrets  is the story of Kate, who is living with an aunt. Her mother has died, and her father is more interested in butterflies than his only child. Kate has a secret: a horse she was looking after died, and it was her fault. Stricken with guilt, she can no longer face being around horses, but when she takes a job as a companion to a girl no longer able to walk after an accident, she has to face up to her past.

The book is an engaging and believable read. It has the requisite villain; the rich, beautifully horsed girl who loathes our heroine, but  who has a believable backstory herself. Angela's mother is one of those obsessive horse mothers, interested only in her daughter winning. Maggie Dana's depiction of a villain who has more to her than simple badness raises this book above the usual  horse story. Her heroines are sparky , and the story, with its themes of wish-fulfilment and wrongs righted, is a thoroughly satisfying read.

Maggie Dana is re-issuing the rest of the series as e-books, and if the rest of the series is as good as the first, they're well worth investing in.

If any other authors want to send me e-books, please do. A pdf is easiest for me to read on screen, but I am very happy to read paper copies if you want to send one of those.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Round up

My book is taking shape (at last - not helped by my decision to do a complete re-write of one section, hem hem). Frantic scribbling allied to my faithful winter friend, the chest infection has meant a failure on the blogging front, but I have been reading other people's.

Firstly, here's Susanna Forrest on  Totilas: money talked, but the horse wasn't listening.

Look! Flowers!  Seattle in Spring on Piccalli Pie.

The reality of life in sub-zero Britain.

More War Horse (I promise I will stop soon), but this pictorial review is too good not to share. Apologies if you've seen it elsewhere I've posted. Skip right on.

Have great weekends, people. Must go back out and do more yard clearance now.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Review: Angela Dorsey & Pippa Funnell

Pippa Funnell: Ask Pippa
Orion, £6.99
Pippa Funnell's website
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy

I've reviewed several of Pippa's Tilly's Pony Tails series. I've liked them, but said that I feel Pippa is strongest when writing about practical matters. This book plays to Pippa's strengths. It's organised into three sections: About Horses, About Riding, and About Pippa.  Each contains questions Pippa's been asked, and her answers. The questions vary between the real basics - Why is grooming necessary? to the more complex: "My horse is sometimes backward thinking. I can feel he is going to stop, but the more pressure I apply, the more he resists. What can I do to overcome this?"

There are always things you can learn about horses, and I certainly learned a lot from this book.  Pippa's answers are considered and put across well. Actually, it is full of gems. The description of having your legs "cuddling" the horse is one I hope will remain with me if I ever get back on a horse again.

This is the sort of book you're probably going to dip into, rather than read straight through, and there lies my one quibble with it. There's no index, and no subdivision of the questions, so if you remembered reading  a gem about lunging, you'd have to hunt through the whole riding section in order to find it.

I hope Pippa goes on to write more practical stuff. This one is very readable, and Pippa has the gift of striking the right note: authoritative but straightforward and approachable.

Angela Dorsey: Dark Fire, Desert Song, Condor Mountain
(Horse Guardian series 1-3, 2011)
Enchanted Pony Books, £6.99
Thanks to the author/publisher for sending me these books

Angela Dorsey's books were originally published by Stabenfeldt.  Their books could be bought only by members of their book clubs, but Stabenfeldt having now restricted operations and closed its US arm, the books are now available through Angela Dorsey's own publishing house.

The Horse Guardian books were originally published as the Horse Angel series. I freely admit I don't always take well to fantasy, and having an angelic, and presumably perfect, girl is a bit of a tall ask as far as character development goes, but I enjoyed these books; particularly once I'd got beyond book one. If you start at book one, Dark Fire, persevere. This book will jar to an English reader, as although set in England, much of the terminology is American: stalls for stables, grain for oats, and so on. Dark Fire is about Lisa, whose family have had to sell their manor house, and their horses, to a kindly man who has an evil and grasping nephew. He plots to kill his uncle and take over the estate, but is confounded by Lisa, working together with the horses and Angelica, the horse angel. The book establishes the formula used in all the books: narration shared in turn by the all-seeing narrator, Angelica, and the villain. At the end of the book, Angelica is "called" by another horse in trouble, which leads the reader neatly into the next in the series.

The plots in the next two books Desert Song and Condor Mountain, are much less far fetched, though still adventure-packed. Desert Song I particularly enjoyed, with its portrait of a girl rejected by her mother and sent from foster carer to foster carer until she can no longer believe that she will stay anywhere. This all fits in naturally with her decision to hide away an Arab mare in the desert, lest she be blamed for the mare being got in foal by a wild stallion. The character of Angelica is not sickly sweet: being an angel in a human world carries its own difficulties.

As good, escapist reads, with plenty of adventure, you could do a lot worse than these. I would never, in a month of Sundays, have thought of making a Condor the villain - well, not really the villain - Condors exist by eating meat and that's what these ones do - but Angela Dorsey has and made a success of it.

Snow and five minute crafts: the snow dog

Another in my (very short) series of five minute, impermanent crafts. This is snow dog. He took about 5 minutes to do, and lasted about 5 minutes, being wrecked young in his life by a labrador not looking where it was going.

This dog is entirely innocent.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Review: Victoria Eveleigh & Diana Kimpton

Victoria Eveleigh: Katy's Wild Foal  and Katy's Champion Pony
Orion, £4.99. Out now
Victoria Eveleigh's new website 
Thanks to Orion for sending me copies of these books.


Regular readers will know that I was a fan of Victoria Eveleigh's books in their self-published guise. She's now been taken on by Orion, and the books have been re-issued. They have had a bit of a re-write; the technology has now been updated (still no mobile signal on bits of Exmoor though) and the narrative feels tighter than in the books' original incarnations. The illustrations have mostly gone, to be replaced by chapter headings by Chris Eveleigh. I do like the new look; the cover photographs were taken by someone who had been well briefed, and are refreshingly free of glamour and sparkle.

The stories remain substantially the same, and I was pleased on reading them to be reminded only of how much I liked them the first time round. The background of Exmoor is outstandingly authentic: never are you in any doubt that the author knows Exmoor, and farming, like the back of her hand. Katy and her family are wonderful creations, and completely believable, as is the portrayal of their life. I particularly love the scene in the auction ring (which was a big favourite with my daughter when she read the originals). It is so well observed, and made me laugh out loud.

Katy is the daughter of a farming family, who are struggling to keep afloat. Her grandfather bred Exmoors, and the herd still live on Exmoor. On her birthday, Katy, who has to share her celebrations with the needs of the lambing shed, wanders off and finds a mare with a very new foal. She immediately decides this is the foal that she wants, and her father agrees, as long as the foal passes the inspection process to be a properly registered Exmoor pony. What can go wrong? The herd's offspring are always registered. Of course something does go wrong. How the problems are unravelled makes an entertaining and amusing story. The sequel, in which Katy has to face the fact her best friend is about to go off to boarding school and doesn't appear to be too sorry about it, is just as good.

The only disappointment I felt was that Orion have only issued the first two books, and it won't be until June that the third book in the series appears. Midnight on Lundy will also re-appear then, as A Stallion Called Midnight.

Orion have picked a winner, and I hope Victoria Eveleigh goes from strength to strength. Her next series will feature that endangered creature in the pony book: a boy hero.

Diana Kimpton: Dr Horse
Scholastic, £6.99
Thanks to the author for sending me this copy.

Doctor Hoof is a picture book for the youngest reader. It has a very simple story: Dr Hoof has set up in business, but is only prepared to treat horses. Of course, this approach soon runs into problems - the town only being a one horse town, and Dr Hoof being that horse. Dr Hoof gradually learns to open his horizons. There's a nice sense of progression and fulfilment in the story, and the illustrations are lively. My criteria for a really good picture book is whether I could stand more than 10 readings (both my children were strong proponents of the "AGAIN" school), and I'm not sure this comes into that category.