Wednesday 9 February 2011

Stabenfeldt Books Review Part 3

If you follow my blog you will know that last year I started reviewing some of the books published by the Stabenfeldt company, a specialist in children's equine fiction which sadly does not publish in the UK. I have now read more books by different authors and some new books by existing authors and will be summarising and reviewing them below. If you have't read the first two parts of the Stabenfeldt review you can check them out below:

Stabenfeldt books review part 1

Stabenfeldt books review part 2

But back to this instalment. Once again a general thumbs up for this latest batch which include books by Eli B. Toresen, Emma Raven, Eleanor Jones, Angela Dorsey and Jane Ayres.

Dangerous Summer 2 and Dangerous Summer 3
by Eli B. Toresen

SUMMARY: There are three books in the Dangerous Summer series, of which I have read books 2 and 3. Each book contains two short novel sized stories about a particular heroine, so you are getting two books in one when you buy them, a bonus before you even start reading! The series, as the title suggests, has a thriller/mystery slant.

Dangerous Summer 2 contains two stories about Heather and her horse Caliban, her best friend Angelica and Justin the boy she has a crush on. In the first instalment, Heather finds the summer hols riding with her friends at the local riding school marred when she spots what appears to be a man burying a body in the local forest! But when she reports it to the police all they find is a bag of old rubbish. At first she thinks she may have made a mistake but then she begins to feel she is being watched and threatening notes start to appear.... In part two, money goes missing from the stable and Justin is blamed. Heather wants to prove him innocent but she has a terrible sneaking suspicion he could be the culprit after all!

Dangerous Summer 3 concentrates on non-pony owning Bethany who has to cope with fighting her envy when her best friend gets a horse of her own and with her dislike of her new step-father. In part 1 she forgets her troubles as robbery strikes. In part 2 a mysterious airplane drop begins a series of adventures which put the horse she loves in danger.

MY VIEW: Although the books don't contain much in the way of depth or character development they are however very good examples of the pony thriller/mystery genre. They are well written, easy to read and fast paced and keep the reader hooked throughout, wanting to find out more. The tension builds up well, with a few twists and turns along the way to prevent interest flagging. The heroines are likeable and easy to identify with and the characters all engaging and believable. The horse content blends in well with the thriller element, and does not seem a mere backdrop as in some similar types of story, although of course there is not quite as much horse content as in a traditional non-thriller pony story.
There is a 'teen' element in the books, especially Dangerous Summer 3, in which our heroine is madly in love with a boy, but this is handled well. It is clear that the girls put their horses first, as is only right!
The format of two novella sized stories in each book is ideal for the less dedicated young reader who may lose interest in longer books. I especially like the idea of including the same heroine in both stories, which gives the feel of reading a mini series. Because of the stories' shorter size, the writing is necessarily sparer in style than in some longer books, but the characters are fleshed out enough to make them three dimensional, even if not as fully rounded as in some more introspective works. Dangerous Summer 3 is perhaps the most interesting of the pair of books reviewed here because the heroine has a bit more depth to her as she struggles to cope with her emotions. Both books however were better than I expected, especially as the pony thriller is normally one of my least favourite types of pony story. Recommended for those who want a quick easy read with some crime and mystery thrown in for good measure, rather than anything too deep or meaningful, and especially good to introduce slightly reluctant readers to the pleasures of fiction.

Twilight Horses by Emma Raven

SUMMARY: Salma and her parents move into a large house with plans to turn it into a bakery and cafe. They employ a young chef, Tony, who Salma immediately befriends, and even better there are stables next door with lots of lovely horses and a gorgeous boy called Ryan to boot! Salma falls in love with a beautiful black horse at the stables called Luce whom she secretly rides one night. She finds out that the stables belong to a family who train horses for film work and stunt riding and she soon becomes involved in helping out. But all does not seem so rosy when weird things start happening around the house and stables and a menacing presence seems to be haunting the place. The horses become inexplicably ill and are not working well. And as phantom footsteps, slamming doors and worse haunt the bakery, Salma's parents are beginning to regret their decision to move here. But worse is to come. Salma finds out the history of the house and begins to suspect that Luce may be the focus for an evil force. Ryan's father decides to sell Luce and Salma is heartbroken. Can she prove that Luce is not the source of the hauntings and find a solution before she loses her favourite horse?

MY VIEW: This is the first in a 3 part series. If you have read my previous Stabenfeldt reviews, you may remember that I have already read the last one in the series. I could not get into that story at all and found I couldn't finish the book. I did however reserve judgement somewhat until I attempted to read the earlier books in the series, as I sometimes find it hard to pick up a story from the last in a series. I must admit, after now reading the first instalment, I have a more favourable opinion of the series. I found this one readable and quite enjoyable. The main character is likeable and the story is fast paced and has a lot of interest in it. Unlike the last book in the series, Twilight Mystery, it doesn't try to pack too much in, the book has a good central plot with which all elements of the story are linked to. The main problem I have with the book is that it is very 'teen' orientated with a lot about looks, boys and the like, which I realise is more off-putting to an adult reviewer like me! I think that younger readers however will like this element, which to be fair, is handled well and blends in with the story. And although she ponders quite a bit over her relationship with Ryan, it is still clear that Salma is more dedicated to the horse than his owner! The light, slightly chatty style will also appeal to teenagers as will the banter between the teen characters. All in all a good exciting supernatural story which is most suitable for teens. I am certainly now more pre-disposed to trying the rest of the series again now that I have a grounding in the characters and situation.

Dreams or Demons by Eleanor Jones

SUMMARY: Laura has recently moved to England from America and has become involved with a family of horse dealers who helped her buy her first horse, a neglected Arab whom she has lovingly restored to health and fitness. One day when out riding her Arab, Aladdin, in the nearby forest, the horse bolts and she is knocked out. When she comes to she finds a horse's bone and a strange bricked up cave. Later she persuades her friend Billy to come with her to explore the cave, but when they manage to get inside she feels a frightening sense of menace. Soon after she begins to have nightmares and Aladdin also seems spooked. When a girl called Penny comes to buy a horse from the dealers she spots Aladdin who is stabled there and recognises him as the double of an old portrait of a woman on a horse that is in her house. Laura and Penny become friends and start to piece together the mystery of the cave and the evil presence which seems to be haunting the woods.

MY VIEW: After reading Circle of Blue by Eleanor Jones, I was looking forward to reading more by the same author. This was again a very good read, although I don't think it quite matched the excellence of Circle of Blue, which was more innovative and had a more interesting plot and more in the way of character development. However this story was still a cut above the average ghostly pony story. The characters are developed enough to be three dimensional and the book is fast paced and well written. The sense of mystery and menace builds up well and when the reason for the ghostly presence is discovered it has a slightly more original explanation than the norm, as is the girl's solution to the problem! There is also a bit of a twist to the ending.
The problem of the 'Americanisation' of books set in England, seen in many of the Stabenfeldt books, is solved here by our heroine being American and her using American words and expressions seems natural.
The main quibble I have with the book is the poor editing. In one section a horse changes colour from piebald to chestnut in the space of a short ride! In another section (Page 106-7), much more noticeably and confusingly, the characters of Laura and Penny are completely mixed up. Laura fleetingly gains Penny's name, mother and dog! This really is a blatant error and should have been picked up on immediately. But, although it jars somewhat, it is not enough to spoil the story.
I have also recenlty read two more of the author's books, Echo of Hooves and Fears and Phantoms. Unfortunately due to time constraints I am unable to review those two at the moment, and may come back to them in more detail later. In summary they are also ghostly/supernatural stories and also above average, although I still think Circle of Blue is the best of them all. Ms. Jones is definitely in my top 10 of authors writing pony book stories today, and one of the best writing supernatural equine fiction.

Whinnies on the Wind Series by Angela Dorsey:
Book 1: Winter of the Crystal Dances
Book 2: Spring of the Poacher's Moon

SUMMARY: This is the newest series from one of my favourite Stabenfeldt authors, which adds a twist to the wild horse story. Evy lives in the wilderness of Nova Scotia with her artist mother and their horses and also the wild mustangs which roam the area. Not only does Evy love horses but she has a strange bond with them which enables her to feel their emotions and actually communicate with them in a rudimentary fashion! In Book 1 Evy is learning to come to terms with her strange powers which seem to cause more trouble than they are worth when it seems her attempts to communicate with a wild mustang mare has caused her death. Her guilt overshadows her as she attempts to help the herd through a bitterly cold winter and rescue an injured filly. She is also plagued by curiosity as to the reason for her mother's withdrawal from the world into a hermit like existance far from anywhere. In the second story, Evy saves a baby moose, but faces losing her beloved filly and faces danger from illegal hunters. We also find out more about her mother's past, although just enough to keep our curiosity alive!

MY VIEW: As with her previous books, Ms. Dorsey has taken a well-used genre - in this case that of boy/girl and wild horses - and given it extra depth and an added twist. The fact that Evy can 'talk' to horses is intriguing and draws you immediately into the story. The first book, as Evy comes to terms with both the good and bad sides of her talent is outstanding and was worthy of a much more in depth review than I can fit on the blog.

Read full review here

Book 2 has less depth but more excitement and adventure, being faster paced and packing more events in. I preferred the more introspective tone of the first book but I suspect younger readers will enjoy the elements of danger and faster pace of the second book. I did like the fact that the sub-plot of the mystery of Evy's mother continues, and and I am looking forward to reading more books in the series to find out the secret, as well as seeing how Evy develops her communication skills. Once again, Angela Dorsey has delivered interesting and exciting new stories which will appeal to a wide group of readers.

Zephyr of Wild Horse Island by Jane Ayres

SUMMARY: An old broken-hearted man shuns society and lives on a remote island with the horses he breeds. His pride and joy is a beautiful grey Arab stallion called Zephyr. When the man dies the horses revert to the wild, led by their stallion. But their peaceful existance is broken when poachers spot the stallion and determine to catch him. Zephyr is taken off the island but manages to escape. However he is left injured and alone, far from his herd. As he searches desperately for his home and his mares he is helped by three lonely people, whose lives he changes forever.

MY VIEW: Like Eleanor Jones, Ms. Ayres is a British novelist who is perhaps better known in America (certainly more published there) than in the UK. This is a shame as, like Ms. Jones, she is also an excellent writer. This story is quite unusual. It is structured rather differently from the normal modern pony novel, with both pony and human viewpoint, and is partly episodic. Both these elements are reminiscent of some of the very old pony books of the 1930s, where the main equine protagonist is taken from its wild home and ends up passing through a number of owners, but the author manages to make this seem fresh and modern. It also reminds me a little of DPT's A Pony of Sale, although in this case it is not how different people affect the horse, but how the horse affects the people. The characters are well-drawn and three dimensional. We really care about them. Having three main characters of different ages and sexes also gives the book a less 'teen' feel than many of the current pony books around, and adds depth and maturity. The book has slightly dark overtones, as all of the characters have loss, sadness and loneliness in their life. This is dealt with well. It is sad in places, but never maudlin. The theme, that of contact with a horse transforming a person, is archetypal in the pony book genre, but it is one of my favourites and never seems to get old or tired. In fact, in modern books it is seen less and less, as teen heroines seem to care more about winning or looking good than their horses. The book is very well written and easy to read. At times it has a slight dream-like quality which I noticed too in the author's book of short stories, but this is mingled with down to earth realistic episodes. The episodic nature of the book is tied up neatly at the end, which is somewhat unrealistic, but satisfying nontheless! All in all an excellent story which has many different elements, but which are expertly blended together to give an enjoyable and at times thought-provoking read.

The Horse on the Balcony by Jane Ayres

SUMMARY: The story begins with two girls, Jenni and Holly, devastated by two different tragedies. Both girls feel terrible guilt and find it hard to relate to other people any more. They are brought together by the fleeting glance of a beautiful golden horse on the balcony of a high rise flat. As the girls seek out the horse which they think may be in danger, they learn to move on from their troubled pasts and face a more optimistic future.

MY VIEW: This book was in my opinion the best of all the author's works I have read, and in fact one of the best of all the Stabenfeldt books reviewed so far, and I have devoted a full length review to it.

Read full review here

The book has two sequels which I have also read, although once again due to time constraints, I won't be reviewing in full at the moment. A slightly dark tone also permeates these two stories. They are also good well-written mysteries. However as with a lot of series, they don't quite capture the excellence of the first book in the trilogy . But as that was outstanding, it is not wholly surprising. They are still very good stories with interesting plots and as they are less introspective and intense they move along with a faster pace will suit more impatient readers. The whole series is far better than average and is worth reading for teens or adults.

Matty and the Problem Ponies by Jane Ayres

SUMMARY: This is the second in a two part series. Four pony mad girls, Matty and her three friends, have saved up to buy their very own pony. Unfortunately the mare proves untrained and rather unwilling, not to mention accident prone! And she has another shocking surprise in store for her young owners! Meanwhile Matty is hankering after Daydream, her boyfriend's ex-pony whom she loved and was heartbroken to see leave when he sold her. Her quest to find Daydream is hampered by the arrival of her glamourous German penpal and she also starts to worry that Mark is getting a little too close to the gorgeous blonde teenager. Can she find Daydream and find out if Mark really cares for her?

MY VIEW: This is a lot different in tone to the other books by Jane Ayres, it is more like her earlier book The Great Horse Rescue. It is far more light-hearted and is delivered in a chatty slightly irreverant style by the heroine. It also has less depth or character development than the others. The main character is however well rounded enough as to not be two-dimensional, and is is very likeable. The book, once you have got used to the rarely used present person narrative, is very readable. I also like the character of the problem pony who is certainly no dream horse, being cantankerous and accident prone. It's a nice change from the expensive perfect horses which tend to crop up in a lot of modern pony books, and reminds me of many of the naughty ponies of my youth, when youngsters were content with just about anything with four hooves and had never even heard of a Warmblood!

I do think reading the first book in the series beforehand would be quite helpful as there is quite a lot going on that is continued from book one and it takes a little while to pick it up. That said, the author does summarise what happened beforehand at the begininng of the book so you are not plunged straight in without a clue!

Matty and the Problem Ponies is much more of a 'teen' book than the others of the author that I have reviewed so far, with boyfriend issues and the like being more predominant. For an adult reviewer like myself, there is less depth in this book than in Zephyr or The Horse on the Balcony and less to get your teeth into. However I think it has just the right mix to appeal to teenagers. And even though it does have more 'teen' content than the author's other novels, at the heart it is still a traditional story about girls who love horses. Although not my personal favourites of Ms. Ayres books, I would still be quite happy to read the first in the series to find out more about Matty and her friends' adventures. Reading this book certainly shows that Jane Ayres is, if you will excuse the pun, no 'one-trick pony'. She can handle light-hearted chatty books just as well as those with depth and dark elements, and so provides something for whatever mood you happen to be in!

More on the authors whose books I have reviewed here can be found below:







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