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review 2018-03-13 21:12
Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss
Falling from Horses: A Novel - Molly Gloss

Molly Gloss is an excellent writer, but this isn’t my favorite of her books. I loved Wild Life, and The Hearts of Horses is a lovely examination of a rural community. This one is a sequel of sorts to The Hearts of Horses, featuring Martha’s son Bud, who at age 19 takes off for Hollywood to become a stunt rider. Much of the book is about the difference between the real American West and the West as portrayed in cowboy movies, and about the dirty underbelly of Hollywood at the time: the frequent injuries and deaths of men and horses in stunts, the sexual harassment, the various tricks used to make everything in movies look more exciting than it really is.

And I think the best of this book is in its themes, in its examination of Hollywood and its contrast between the myth of a West full of heroes, villains and derring-do and the real world in which a hardscrabble ranching family does unromantic work and loses a child in a meaningless accident. It’s a very well-written book, and there’s a resonance to Gloss’s writing that more literary-oriented readers will enjoy. But I found the plot of this one a little lacking. It has a very long, slow start – half the book passes in Bud’s bus trip to Hollywood, initial attempts to find work and first job working for a stable that rents horses for the tamer scenes – which doesn’t leave much time for the meat of the story. Bud also interested me less than Gloss’s heroines; his friend Lily, a budding screenwriter whom he meets on the bus to Hollywood, is a more interesting and colorful character, but she isn’t the narrator and so we see less of her.

Overall, then, this book has a lot going for it, but my expectations for this author are very high. I liked it, but for most readers I’d recommend Wild Life or The Hearts of Horses first.

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review 2018-03-05 01:15
All the Pretty Horses -- Cormac McCarthy rawks
All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy

This is ostensibly a Western. I, ostensibly, do not like Westerns. I've never made it through any western film unless you count Native American stories, and I don't. I'll grant you that it's set in the Southwest. But this is no normal Western. While reading it, it actually feels like a saga, the word "sweeping" comes to mind. The boys ride wide open terrain, wild animals are always nearby; the weather is harsh, life can be harsher. It is so quintessentially American I can imagine some politician using it for his (yes, his) campaign. (Of course that politician and nobody on his staff would realize that many things about this book clash with their proposed platform.) It's deceptively simple and mind-bendingly complex. Characters speak in short simple sentences (save Alejandra's grandmother,) the meanings layer themselves one on top of another and before you know it, it's slipped from our grasp.


I could tell you the plot, but that's almost beside the point.


Riddled with death and grim reality, it retains a sense of purity and near-innocence. Our main character, John Grady, is moral, stoic and honest to a fault, a criminal and a man-child. On one level the book is violent and gritty, but if you flip it over it's a spiritual fairy tale of sorts. Is it a metaphor, a myth, a prayer, or as the writing would suggest, a lullaby? Do the characters make their own choices, or are they simply puppets played by the strings of fate? Think of every contradiction and this book could probably fit most.


It's fun to read all sorts of books. I see no reason for shame about a beach read or a comic book or a "genre" read like a western. But when it comes down to it, the reason I read is not simply to entertain or to distract myself but rather to find something between the pages that helps me understand and delve further into the state of being human in this oftentimes cruel and confusing world. That could be a particularly good YA novel or a book about a baseball game. All the Pretty Horses is one of those books - a book that defines the reason I read.

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review 2018-02-28 04:13
good book and characters
Must Love Horses - Vicki Tharp Must Love Horses - Vicki Tharp

Bryan has a prosthetic leg and lives on the large S ranch. Bryan lost his leg while deployed and in the service.  Bryan is basically in charge of construction.  Bryan has adjusted pretty well but there is still pain both real and phantom and some PTSD.Bryan dealt with the pain with painkillers and alcohol.  Sidney was trying to get a job at the Lazy S as a horse trainer. Her parents had been horse trainers before her but had abusive ways and were alcoholics and had been exposed for their abuse and they tainted the chance Sidney had of doing something she loved and she was good at. Bryan recognized the her last name.Sidney had her own horse Eli who was an escape artist and all he wants to do is be near Sidney. Bryan decies to hire Sidney even though his gut told him she could be trouble.  At first Bryan and Sidney don’t get off to a good start  but she does earn Bryan’s respect. Then there is an attraction between Sidney and Bryan but Sidney was afraid of Bryan’s use of alcohol and painkillers she didn’t need the problems after her parents. Bryan let Sidney know he didn’t do casual and Sidney threw out mixed messages.  Then there is some trouble with drugs being taking across the border.

I enjoyed this story but choked up at times. I loved Sidney’s horse Eli and felt he added to this book. I advise you to read the first book in the series so everything goes together and is understood. I thought it was foolish when Bryan and Sidney didn’t have backup when they went up looking for the lost horses. This did drag for me at times but not enough that I didn’t finish and enjoy this. I liked the plot. I felt this could be a realistic portrayal of issues our wounded warriors face. I did like Bryan and Sidney together once she decided to stop fighting their attraction knowing Bryan didn’t do casual. I like the characters and the ins and outs of this book and I recommend.

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review 2018-02-04 22:24
A Josephine Tey Double Dip
Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey
Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey,Carole Boyd
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey,Carole Boyd

Both Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair were on my 2017 Halloween Bingo long list, but so were many other books ... oh well.  Both of these are stand-out books, in that (1) they're not, or not substantively, part of Josephine Tey's Inspector Grant series (in Franchise Affair Grant appears, but only as a minor character; in Brat Farrar he doesn't feature at all), and (2) more importantly, even though the bulk of both books is told from a man's perspective, they feature several strong female characters who are head and shoulders above and beyond what was expected of a woman at the time of their writing (1948-49, respectively) even in ordinary life; never mind in times of adversity.


Brat Farrar is a Martin Guerre / Sommersby type of tale set on a manor and stud farm on the Southern English coast; the difference being here, however, that the reader (unlike the family) is explicitly aware of the identity and most of the prior history of the  eponymous allegedly "returned son and heir" -- in fact, we're unequivocally being asked to empathize with him, on the basis of his character as much as on the basis of his prior history, and take his side in opposition to his alleged younger twin brother Simon, whom (if the gamble comes off) he is poised to replace as the stud farm's new owner as from his 21st birthday, which in turn is -- obviously -- right around the corner at the book's beginning.  Both in the setup and in the resolution of the story (which I could see coming on pretty much from the word "go"), there is a bit too much reliance on coincidence for my taste; however, in between the bits of coincidence, Tey crafted a powerful, quiet novel, featuring both a compelling mystery -- above and beyond the title character's identity -- and engaging characters, in the  male protagonist, Brat, as well as in the two leading ladies, Bee (who has taken over management of the farm after the death of her nephew Simon's and his siblings' parents), and her niece, Simon's sister Eleanor, the farm's chief horse trainer (besides Simon himself).


The Franchise Affair is based on the true story of the 1753 disappearance of a servant girl named Elizabeth Canning, who had claimed to have been kidnapped by two women and held in their house for a month, which initially resulted in the two women's arrest and conviction of theft and kidnapping; but after a new investigation they were pardoned and Canning was instead convicted of perjury, resulting in a one-month prison sentence and her deportation to Connecticut.  Tey leaves no doubt that she considers the girl's story a complete fabrication; yet, for the longest time this is merely the personal view of her protagonist, the accused women's attorney Robert Blair, who battles against the one fallacy that also beset the defense of the real-life alleged kidnappers: proof where, if not being held captive by his clients in their house, "The Franchise", as she alleged, young Betty had been instead (in the novel, Elizabeth Canning becomes Betty Kane).  And, just as the real Elizabeth Canning case had resulted in an unparralelled pamphleteering and mudslinging campaign for and against Elizabeth on the one hand and the two accused women on the other hand, so, too, Tey's novel makes no bones about the destructive nature of the tabloid press, in words that evoke eerily familiar images and connotations, in the age of social media more than ever:

   "The Ack-Emma was the latest representative of the tabloid newspaper to enter British journalism from the West.  It was run on the principle that two thousand pounds for damages is a cheap price to pay for sales worth half a million.  It had blacker headlines, more sensatiional pictures, and more indiscreet letterpress than any paper printed so far by British presses.  Fleet Street had its own name for it -- monosyllabic and unprintable -- but no protection against it.  The press had always been its own censor, deciding what was and what was not permissible by the principles of its own good sense and good taste.  If  a 'rogue' publication decided not to conform to those principles then there was no power that could make it conform [...]

   And it was the Ack-Emma that blew the Franchise affair wide open.

   [...] He dropped the page, and looked again at that shocking frontispiece.  Yesterday The Franchise was a house protected by four high walls; so unobtrusive, so sufficient unto itself that even Milford did not know what it looked like.  Now it was there to be stared at on every bookstall; on every news-agent's counter from Penzance to Pentland.  Its flat, forbidding front a foil for the innocence if the face above it [Betty's photo]."


   "Today's Ack-Emma had not been calculated to have an appeasing effect on the mob mind.  True, there were no further front-page headlines; the Franchise affair had moved itself to the correspondence page.  But the letters the Ack-Emma had chosen to print there -- and two-thirds of them were about the Franchise affair -- were not likely to prove oil in troubled waters.  They were so much paraffin on a fire that was going quite nicely anyhow.

   Threading his way out of the Larborough traffic, the silly phrases came back to him; and he marveilled all over again at the venom that these unknown women had roused in their writers' minds.  Rage and hatred spilled over on to the paper; malice ran unchecked through the largely-illiterate sentences.  It was an amazing exhibition.  And one of the oddities of it was that the dearest wish of so many of those indignant protesters against violence was to flog the said women within an inch of their lives.  Those who did not want to flog the women wanted to reform the police.  One writer suggested that a fund should be opened for the poor young victim of police inefficiency and bias [Betty Kane].  Another suggested that every man of good will should write to his Member of Parliament about it, and make their lives a misery until something was done about this miscarriage of justice.  Still another asked if anyone had noticed Betty Kane's marked resemblance to Saint Bernadette.

   There was every sign, if today's correspondence page of the Ack-Emma was any criterion, of the birth of a Betty Kane cult.  He hoped that its corollary would not be a Franchise vendetta."


   "[I]t would be a miracle, if, after the correspondence in the Ack-Emma, The Franchise was not the mecca of an evening pilgrimage.  But when he came within sight of it he found the long stretch of road deserted; and as he came nearer he saw why.  At the gate of The Franchise, solid and immobile and immaculate in the evening light, was the dark-blue-and-silver figure of a policeman.

   Deligthed that Hallam had been so generous with his scanty force, Robert slowed down to exchange greetings, but the greeting died on his lips.  Along the full length of the tall brick wall, in letters nearly six feet high was splashed a slogan. 'FASCISTS!' screamed the large white capitals.  And again on the further side of the gate: 'FASCISTS!'"



I own and have read the paperback editions of both books; I also listened to Carole Boyd's stellar narration, which brings a dimension entirely of its own to Tey's storytelling which enhances it considerably.


I'll be using both books towards the "T" square of the Women Writers Bingo, as well as The Franchise Affair towards the Fiction from Fact chapter / square of the Detection Club Bingo (which is actually taken from the cover of this book's paperback edition).


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-01-28 20:10
It could only have been more perfect with more pictures
The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis - Elizabeth Letts

As I wrote when I started reading this book, I knew the outlines of the history.  I knew how the story ended, and therefore I didn't have to fear tragedy.  In anticipation of light, engaging read, I started turning the digital pages.


This turned out to be no child's breezy account of a miraculous rescue.  I had never seen the Disney movie -- had in fact more or less forgotten that there ever was one -- and I had never read Marguerite Henry's novel about the Lipizzan horses, so I was relying on the brief overview provided in her Album of Horses, which I still have.


The title is somewhat misleading, since author Letts never really addresses the perfection of any of the horses mentioned.  So set that whole notion aside.  The tale is more about the perfect horror of war.


The white stallions of the renowned Spanish Riding School of Vienna were not the only victims.  There were also the brood mares whose foals grew up to be the famed performers, and thousands upon thousands of other pedigreed horses in Europe, among them the Arabians of Poland.  All became victims, in one way or another, of the war.  A very precious few would survive.  That any of them did was a testament to luck and the steadfast determination of a very small group of men, some of whom would otherwise be enemies.


This wasn't an easy book to read; not all the horses survived, and the horrors they endured were, to put it simply, inhuman.  No, not inhumane.  One seriously wonders how beings that call themselves human could behave with such wanton cruelty.


There is also the suspense.  Even knowing more or less how the book ends, I felt the adrenaline rush of tension.


But it's powerfully written, with expansive portraits of the soldiers, riders, veterinarians, and horse-humanitarians involved.  Just be sure to have either a tight rein on your emotions or a healthy supply of tissues.  The ending is the same, but only after a pretty rough roller coaster ride.



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