Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Stabenfeldt Books Review Part 2

Finally got around to posting the second half of my review of Stabenfeldt pony books. As you may recall a while back I got a job lot of these books from America and set about reading, and reviewing them. If you read the first installment of my critique of the books you will remember I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the books, which were on the whole a lot better than the usual modern teen pony novels and certainly better than the meagre pickings left to us poor Brits.

To read the first part of the Stabenfeldt review please click here

In this second instalment, I was once more impressed with most of the books, although not all. So now lets look at a selection of them:

Angela Dorsey - Horse Angel series

SUMMARY: A 'series' of stand-alone stories linked by the character of Angelica, the 'horse angel' who is a mysterious girl who can communicate with horses, has supernatural powers and whose purpose is to help horses (and people) in trouble.

MY VIEW: From a brief glance at the description of the series you would be forgiven for thinking it was the usual teen fantasy fare. But when you begin to read the books it soon becomes clear that there is far more to them than that. In my opinion Anglea Dorsey is one of the best of all the Stabenfeldt writers and I think the reason is that she delivers the goods the market demands, but wraps them up within stories that have a lot more depth and characterisation than the norm. I have reviewed the Horse Angel series in depth on the ponymadbooklover forum so I am not going to repeat myself further here. Click here to read the full review

Angela Dorsey - Freedom

SUMMARY: Jani moves to a new house and finds that the barn on their new property is haunted by a ghost horse. The ghost seems to hate people and even tries to attack Jani. But when Jani and her friend Penny find out the truth behind the ghost they decide the horse needs to be helped to be set free.

MY VIEW: As with the Horse Angel series, Ms. Dorsey has also given the now common-place horse ghost story a face-lift. The ghost is far scarier than in most pony ghost stories and there is a general sense of menace in the supernatural episodes. When we learn the ghost's secret it is quite hard-hitting and the subsequent events are slightly gruesome: the story is reminiscent more of an adult ghost story. Indeed this is not a pony story with a ghostly element shoe-horned in just to make it more exciting. It is a true ghost story which just happens to have a horse theme. As with the author's Horse Angel series, the characters and themes have more depth than in most books of this sort. Again, an excellent enjoyable read.

NB - there two further sequels to Freedom.

Eleanor Jones - Circle of Blue

SUMMARY: Tina seems to have a charmed life: with her fabulous horse Phantom she has won a mass of trophies. Compared to her, Billy with his lanky frame and dog-like willingness to please, seems a bit of a joke. But then on the way back from a show she gets lost and when she eventually finds her way home everything is the same but different. Her world has been subtly changed and she is now the underdog with Billy the whizz kid showjumper. How can she get back to her former life?

MY VIEW: This is an interesting book. I haven't read any of Ms. Jones' other pony books but this one is certainly worth a read. Like Angela Dorsey's Horse Angel series it is horsy fantasy but with a bit of a twist, a horsy alternative reality story if you will - almost horsy sci-fi! But at the heart of it lies an old-fashioned morality tale. The heroine seems to have everything going for her, a brilliant horse, a string of wins at shows, etc, etc. But whereas in the more shallow teen horse stories the reader is expected to take that as a given and not question the win, win, me, me attitude, this book questions it's importance . This is what I like about Stabenfeldt books. Far more than most modern teen stories, in general they do manage to uphold the values of the old-fashioned pony book where loving your pony and being a decent person was more important than having a flashy horse, winning all the prizes, or wearing the most expensive brand of jods. In Circle of Blue, the heroine is a little smug at the beginning of the book and she looks down slightly upon the bumbling Billy, not nastily but not really seeing him as anyone as importance. When she talks about the mystery of his missing parents for example, she says that she didn't pursue the mystery, mainly because she wasn't interested enough. When she crosses over into a parallel world she finds that she and Billy seem to have swapped places and he is now the top rider. Through this experience she learns that the old Billy had better qualities and values and as such she learns to appreciate these values much more. We know that if she can get back to her own world she will become a much nicer and more enlightened person, and will no doubt find Billy much more appealing.
But the book is not all morality tale. The supernatural element is very well done, there is a slightly off-kilter note permeating the book that really makes the reader feel that they have entered the same alternate world as the heroine. The book is well-written and very readable and the heroine is likeable enough to root for. An unusual story which will provide a good read to anyone wanting something a little out of the ordinary. I am certainly going to try and find other books by this interesting author.

Sharon Siamon - Saddle Island Series

SUMMARY: Kelsie and her brother Andy have moved to a new home on the beautiful Nova Scotia coast beside the intriguing Saddle Island. Once there they fall in love with the place and become involved in the rescue of a number of horses. But at the back of their minds is that their father will not be able to find a job and they will have to leave their new home.

MY VIEW: Another series in which the title sounds slightly off-putting but proves to be better than expected. Well, actually I had previously read another book by Sharon Siamon and was pleasantly surprised to find it better than the average teen novel, so it wasn't a huge shock to find these books too were of a high quality. Ms. Siamon is, like Angela Dorsey, one of the Stabenfeldt stars. She is another great writer whose books are very readable and who also manages to give some depth to the stories and characters. What I really like most about this series is the relationship of the brother and sister which gives the book a sense of being more than just a pony series, but also about families and relationships. The setting too, on the beautiful Nova Scotia coast, is enjoyable. As with Monica Edwards' Romney Marsh series, boats and the sea play as important a part in the stories as ponies. The pony element of the story is primarily about rescue. In each story the children are rescuing a horse or horses, but there is also a backstory and a bit of adventure in each one too. Romance rears its ugly head but only marginally as the main character has a crush on an older boy, and also her brother and best friend have romantic feelings for each other. It is actually done quite well, especially the relationship of the brother and friend, and captures both the tentative quality of first love, and the struggle to know how to deal with it. Horses, family dynamics, romance and danger: again we have something for everyone in these well-written, fast-paced stories.

Gabi Adam - Diablo Series

SUMMARY: A long running teen series. In the first book Ricki falls in love with Diablo, a horse at the stables where she rides, and finds, to her horror, he is being abused by his owner. She risks her own safety to rescue him and in the later books in the series Diablo becomes her own horse. In the subsequent books, we follow various horsy adventures which happen to Ricki, Diablo and their friends.

MY VIEW: Yet another series and again well done, although in my view not quite as outstanding as the previous books. I have only read a few books in the series but they were all very readable, although the first was to my mind the best. The characters are very well drawn in this series and in particular we have for once a main adult character, with an important role to play in the stories.
Once again the emphasis is not on winning, looks, or success, but on caring for your horse. The books are big on denouncing ill-treatment of animals. The style of the books is perhaps a bit more workmanlike than the more eloquent writing of the previous authors, but this is perhaps a result of translation. Certainly they are very easy books to read. The books attempt to deal with various life issues such as jealousy and old age, and do so in a fairly capable manner, not using them for effect or glossing over them as do some books. There is a romance element but it is not at all mawkish or irritating, in fact it does not detract from the story much at all. The only real downside to the books is that they are a tad over-sentimental, with tears gushing and people hugging on every few pages. All in all though, a good solid pony series.

Anna Sellberg - Sara Series

SUMMARY: Another teen series in which a girl called (you've guessed it) Sara solves a number of horsy mysteries. This is more of a mystery type series than traditional pony series, with the emphasis mainly on solving the equine related crimes.

MY VIEW: There is a problem with these books which I think is mainly due to poor translation rather than the writing. These were originally written in Swedish and were translated into English for the American market. The first book in the series is very hard to read due to its poor (translated) grammar and clunky narrative and I doubt the translator knew much about horses either judging by some of the odd translations of horsy words (although this does provide the occaisional laugh). The story too was fairly run of the mill and there was no real depth to anything. The other books in the series did improve both in terms of better translation and better plots and it must be admitted that the heroine is a very likeable character. Perhaps younger readers will be less critical but it is a shame that a potentially good series could not have been served with a better translation.

Emma Raven - Twilight Mystery

SUMMARY: Salma has an exciting role as a stunt double in a beautiful haunted castle. But then people and horses start to disappear. Can she solve the mystery?

MY VIEW: This is the only one of the lot that I could not even manage to finish. I gave up about a quarter of the way through. I will not go into much detail as I feel its unfair to review a book you haven't read all the way through. It is part of a series which is set in the world of film-making and stunt riding. This was actually the last of the series and perhaps if I had read the others first I would have cared more about the characters and I would have enjoyed the book more. In my mind the book just tried to pack too many things into one story: the horse element, the ghost factor, the glamourous element of the film world, a mystery story. Sadly, I didnt feel interested in any one of these elements. EDIT - I have just got hold of the first book in this series so I am going to give it a go shortly. It will be reviewed in Part 3 of the Stabenfeldt blogs, coming soon!

So once again a general thumbs up for Stabenfeldt. I have read just about all the books now from the original job lot, but I will certainly be looking for more or them to read, especially by those authors I have enjoyed the most, and when I do will review them here.