Conagher

Title: Conagher
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages: 120
Reading Level: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Although I’d picked up several Louis L’Amour books here and there for super cheap – read twenty cents or less – I hadn’t read any of them. I decided that it might be wise to actually read a few of them to see if they’re worth money before buying any more of ‘em…

The Story.

Evie Teale’s husband, Jacob had just moved his family to a new home when he up and disappeared, along with the four hundred and twenty dollars that he was carrying with him to purchase stock. Evie is concerned – terrified even, but she is determined that if or whenever he returns, he will not find her idle. So she goes about cultivating their farm, earning money with her cooking, and defending her family from marauding Indians. Will her husband ever return? If he doesn’t, will she and the children be able to survive the harsh winter?

Conn Conagher is a tough man; his reputation isn’t one of picking fights, but once he lands in one, he is almost sure to win. And he’s just landed in one – the shady Ladder Five outfit is trying to steal cattle from his employer, and Conagher won’t stand for it! But can he convince his fellow ranch hands to join in the struggle, or must he fight this battle alone?

Praises.

Romance wasn’t a problem in this book. When the story begins, Evie is married to Jacob Teale, a man whom she respects if she does not love. But Evie understands her role as his wife is that of a helper who gives him aid, not one of wanting more attention or affection from him. When he brings her to an unsophisticated claim on the western frontier she is disappointed. But instead of accusing or blaming him, she thinks,

Drab it might be, barren it was, but to Jacob, a middle-aged man with years of hard work behind him, it was home. She warned herself that she must never forget that, and that she must do what she could to help him. [pg. 2]

And later,

She said nothing, for she had never complained; she never would complain. Jacob had thought of this too long, and he would need help, not complaints or arguments. [pg. 3]

I think that what I appreciated most about the two main characters was their maturity. Both Evie and Conagher are individuals who understand their duties and work hard to fulfill them. They don’t spend their time belly-aching over their wishes, wants, and desires, or complaining that no one understands them. Mind you, they are both lonely – terribly lonely – and they each wish that they had someone who did understand them, but this does not distract them from their life’s work. Evie works hard to feed and protect her children, and Conagher pours himself into his job.

I was surprised by this sentiment expressed by Conagher.

“A boy should know his pa – he needs somebody to look up to. A boy or a girl, they learn how to be a man or a woman by watching their folk.” [pg. 51]

He also says,

“A man who kills when he can do otherwise is crazy . . . plumb crazy.” [pg. 52]

I also thought that this bit from Charlie McCloud was interesting.

“A man can get throwed by his horse out there on the plains and he can die of thirst before he can get anywhere. That’s why they hang horse thieves, ma’am, because out here if you take a man’s horse you may have taken his life along with it.” [pg. 37]

This caused me to stop and think. I had always thought that capital punishment for horse stealing was an unbiblical rule because it was harsher than what is found in the Scriptures. Now, understanding the reason behind the punishment, it makes a lot more sense.

Cautions.

After Evie’s husband has been missing for six months, a good friend advises her to marry again. She agrees to consider the idea. In the end it is proven that her husband did in fact die, and she chooses another man.

As is natural for a western, there are several fights of a varied nature – fistfights, gunfights, etc. This scene, which I would consider to be the most violently descriptive passage of the book, occurs when a man deliberately picks a fight with Conagher.

Outside he threw it into position behind his saddle and was about to hang the coil of rope over the horn when he heard a step behind him. “All right, Conagher. This time it won’t be fists.”

It was Staples’ voice, and Conn turned on one heel, swinging the tightly coiled rope in a sweeping blow that caught the gunman across the face. It was a brutal blow; the coiled rope was like iron and it caught Staples across the mouth and nose, knocking him staggering into the hitching rail.

Coolly, matter-of-factly, and without hurry, Conagher swung the coil again, smashing him across the mouth as Staples clawed for his gun.

The gunman never had a chance. He had expected a gun battle or an argument – anything but this. Conagher stood wide-legged in front of him and, backing the gunman against the rail, he proceeded to beat him unmercifully with the swinging coil of rope.

No matter how Staples tried to turn, the rope was there to meet him. His nose was broken, his lips smashed to pulp, his cheeks and ears bloody, and when he finally got his gun out a sweeping blow with the coiled rope struck it from his hand into the dust.

At no time did Conagher seem hurried. He whipped Staples coldly, almost casually, as though it were of no importance. The crowd that gathered watched silently and in awe.

When Kiowa went to his knees, Conagher struck him one more swinging blow that knocked him into the dust, and then he said, “You better ride out of here, Staples. An’ leave that gun alone. You ain’t fit to handle one. And don’t you cross my trail again. I don’t like bein’ braced by no tinhorn.” [pg. 21]

When asked if he ever thinks about the hereafter, Conagher responds by saying,

“Not much. I figure it’s like the Plains Indians say – a happy hunting ground. Leastaways, that’s how I’d like it to be. A place with mountains, springs, running streams, and some green, grassy banks where a man can lie with his hat over his eyes and let the bees buzz.” [pg. 71]

Although presented as hardened, evil men, when they have Conagher at their mercy, the Ladder Five gang does the honorable thing and allows him to live. While I realize that this was necessary for the story to turn out right, I don’t believe a group of morally depraved men would hesitate to take out their greatest enemy when given the chance, regardless of how much they might respect him as a person.

In one scene, a man asks a very discouraged Conagher what he plans to do next. Conagher responds,

“Charlie, I’m going to get drunk. I’m going to get mean drunk and then sleepy drunk, and when I wake up I’m going to ride clean to Montana or Oregon or somewhere far off.” [pg. 116]

He thereupon goes to a tavern, but before he can start drinking a fight breaks out between him and a Ladder Five man.

‘Damn’ is used thirty-one times, ‘hell’ eleven times, and God’s name is used flippantly twice. Most of this cursing occurs in rashes whenever there is an action scene.

Conclusion. What one might call stereotypical Western fiction, Conagher isn’t a book for the ‘top favorites’ shelf, but it doesn’t deserve to get thrown in the trash, either. Although stereotypical, the writing was good, if a little too generous with curse words.

Sheltie Races On

Title: Sheltie Races On
Author: Peter Clover
Pages: 87
Reading Level: 7-9
Star Rating: ★★★

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Yes, this is a horse story. Yes, I purchased it on my own initiative. And strangely enough, I enjoyed it.

The Story.

Emma loves her Shetland pony. She loves brushing him, she loves training him, and most especially, she loves riding him! And although she’s dreamed of racing him in competitions, she never imagined that it would actually happen! And here she’s been invited to team Sheltie up with Carrie Palmer’s pony, Topper to race in the County Show! Of course, she won’t actually drive in the race, just help with the training, but still! How fun!

But when Carrie accidently breaks her arm just before the race, it seems that Emma will have to be the one in the spotlight. Can she stand the pressure? And will Sheltie and Topper behave long enough to win the race?

Discussion.

I was really quite impressed by how sweet this story is. I mean, it’s total fluff and practically pointless, but it was sweet fluff. Emma has a happy joyful spirit and she enjoys close relationships with her family members. When given the opportunity to participate in the race, Emma’s first action is to request permission of her mother. She also maintains a very sweet relationship with her little brother with whom she initiates playtimes. They often laugh together and comfort each other.

That said, the characters are entirely one-dimensional. Emma is sweet and only sweet. Carrie is sweet and only sweet. Their opponent is mean and only mean. He demonstrates his meanness by sneering at her and accusing her of theft. Because he is obviously evil and is punished at the end, I didn’t find his behavior disturbing.

The only theme that bothers me comes in late in the story. While Emma is feeling nervous, a woman points out a statue of Queen Boadicea and praises her for her bravery and fighting spirit. In an attempt to feel more courageous herself, Emma begins pretending that she is Queen Boadicea.

Conclusion. Like I said, a bit fluffy, but entirely sweet. Purchase your copy here.

Earthquake!

Title: Earthquake!
Author: Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Illustrator: Ronald Himler
Pages: 56
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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Another book set during the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

The Story.

Phillip can’t sleep. He probably could if silly Buster would stop barking and the horses would settle down. As it is, Phillip figures he’d better go check on the horses. After all, something might be wrong down there, and it wouldn’t due to have his father’s livery business damaged.

Phillip makes his way to the stables. Nothing’s wrong – the horses are just spooked. Wonder why that could be? And the mice are acting strangely, too, dashing around and out into the street like a cat’s on their tails. Only there’s no cat. Strange…

Suddenly, the world tilts. Nothing’s where it ought to be – the walls and floors are all breaking up and the screams of frightened horses are filling the air.

What is happening? Will the horses be alright? And is this affecting the whole city???

Discussion.

I thought that the family relationships in Earthquake! were excellent. Take Phillip’s little brother, Chester, for instance; he’s the tiniest bit of a scalawag and occasionally annoying, but Phillip never treats him meanly or thinks negatively of him. Phillip’s mother cares very passionately for her family. Instead of breaking down when her home is destroyed, she hugs Phillip and tells him “Remember, darling. We are all safe… Nothing – nothing – else matters.” [pg. 20] Phillip’s father prioritizes moving the family to safety, but trusts enough in Phillip’s maturity to leave him behind to protect the family business. Phillip bears this responsibility capably.

After Phillip spent a tense night with the horses, his father returned and informs him that the fire is so close that they must abandon the horses and seek to save their own lives. Having already risked his life to have stayed with the horses this long, Phillip vehemently disagrees with his father’s plan, insisting that they try to save the horses. It’s said in this scene that Phillip ‘screamed’ at his father, but it is unclear whether this is out of anger, or if that is the only way he can make himself heard due to the proximity of the fire. Phillip ends up freeing all of the horses, shooing them out into the street, nearly causing a stampede, and eventually herding them all out of town with his father.

To give the readers an idea of how tough one boy, Bobby Hunt, is, Phillip describes him as “the Bobby Hunt who used words like gad! and Jehoshaphat! right in school. The Bobby Hunt who tied broken glass to his kite strings to cut off everybody else’s kites in the sky. The Bobby Hunt who kicked the blind cocker spaniel when he thought nobody was looking.” [pg. 16] Although formerly uninterested in getting to know Bobby because he was so unpleasant, Phillip makes an effort to be friendly when he learns that Bobby’s parents died in a fire. They become half-way friends.

When the fire is almost upon the stables, Phillip says ‘Great Scott!’ I personally don’t have a problem with this phrase, but the writer said that by using these words he ‘cursed’. Just so’s you know.

After the earthquake, the stairs collapse under Phillip’s father. When it does so, it is said that he used an oath, but no actual words are given.

Conclusion. Good. While The Earth Dragon Awakes gave a taste of the wider panic and destruction of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Earthquake! describes its effect on one family. Purchase a copy here.

Stolen Pony

Title: Stolen Pony
Author: Glen Rounds
Pages: 95
Recommended Ages: 9-10
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Apparently Stolen Pony is a sequel to a story called The Blind Colt. We are supposed to know from The Blind Colt that the pony is blind and that the dog leads the pony around.

The Story.

The pony is enjoying a quiet night in his corral. The dog is off looking around the ranch as is his custom. All seems to be well on the farm.

But all is not well. Unbeknownst to the dog, a gang of horse thieves is making its way towards the corral. They’ve seen the pony from far off – don’t know he’s blind – and have decided to steal him and sell him. They have no trouble coaxing the pony into the trailer they brought and driving off. That’s when the dog catches on to what’s going on. He raises a racket and tears after the truck.

It’s a good thing he did, because when the horse thieves discover that the pony is blind, they decide he’s not worth keeping and turn him loose. It’s up to the dog to lead the pony back home. But several gates and fences block their way. Will they ever make it back to their ranch?

Discussion.

The dog exhibited much selflessness throughout the course of the book. Although he at any time could have abandoned the pony and made it home by himself, he instead stuck with the pony, knowing that it was helpless without him. He even undergoes physical danger and starvation in order to protect the pony.

The style of the story is unique. I can only remember having read one other story which was about animals in which the animals themselves did not talk. Although I was fine with this – I found it very realistic – this lack of dialogue may cause this story to be less interesting to children.

It is said that a man ‘swears horribly’.

Conclusion. An innocent story with some notable qualities.

Blitz: The Story of a Horse

Title: Blitz: The Story of a Horse
Author: Hetty Burlingame Beatty
Pages: 128
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Horse story. *gasp*

The Story.

Blitz was named for the white streak that zigzagged  like a stroke of lightning down his red brown nose. Born onto the idyllic farm of a horse breeder, Blitz spent his first three years frolicking and learning how to behave in accordance with human orders.  But it wasn’t until Sye Perkins purchased him at the county fair, that anyone realized how appropriately Blitz had been named. Teamed with Sye’s horse, Frank, Blitz could fairly fly! He and Frank begin serving together in the town fire department and together they rescued many houses from being burnt down.

But when an evil man plans to sabotage the fire department, will Blitz and Frank pull through to fight another fire?

Discussion.

Early on in the story, Blitz becomes frightened when his mother leaves him to go to work. He is lonely and insecure in her absence, but when she returns she

“only nickered softly to him as if to say, “Foolish fellow, don’t you know that all horses work?” [pg. 9]

I wasn’t quite sure what I should think about that one. Because it’s true – all horses do work, and it is Biblical that they do so. But every story about animals reflects human values. Still, I don’t think that Ms. Beatty was trying to subtly say that all human mothers should be working. She certainly wasn’t attempting to disintegrate family values; I know this because later in the story she wrote this passage.

Dr. Burns loved his son, and felt bad that he had so little free time to spend with him. A doctor, being on call day and night, does not have an easy life; but shenever something really special came along, Dr. Burns tried to take a few hours off to go with his son. [pg. 73]

Also this sweet passage.

Dave’s father was always glad at his son’s willingness to work for things he wanted. He never teased aimlessly like some spoiled kids. If he wanted something badly and his father couldn’t afford it, he was glad to work for it. It had been like that about the bow and arrows and the football. All summer Dave had worked for them, and Dr. Burns was proud of his son’s efforts. [pg. 76]

After they purchase Blitz and bring him home, Mrs. Burns does not question the wisdom of her husband’s decision. She instead jumps whole-heartedly into his new project.

Mary Burns had a soft heart too, and an inner fondness for the unlikely projects her husband and son were always getting together. She never knew what next, but certainly this was the worst project yet. Dr. Burns smiled fondly at her….

Dave and his father both came out of the stall and hugged her. Even though this was the worst project they’d got into, Mary Burns was as usual more than equal to it, and all on their side. She laughed and kissed them both. [pg. 85]

The only thing that concerned me about the story, was the way Blitz is treated during a portion of the book. In a rather Black Beauty-ish turn of events, Blitz is sold to a harsh owner who feeds him moldy hay and whips, kicks, and generally abuses him. This part only lasts for about fifteen pages, but the treatment is cruel.

Afterwards, Blitz is sold to a young boy who treats him well and nurses him back to good form.

‘Gosh’ is used once.

Conclusion. A fun story with a traditional happy ending. Purchase a copy here.

The Kitten That Won First Prize and Other Animal Stories

Title: The Kitten That Won First Prize
Author: Ben M. Baglio
Pages: 148
Recommended Ages: 9-10
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The Kitten That Won First Prize is comprised of nine short stories which all have the same characters but which record different animal related adventures.

The Story.

Nine stories, really.

1)      Sheepdog on Show in which Ken Hudson’s border collie, Tess, must compete against Dora Janeki’s champion dog, Whistler, for first prize at the local competition.

2)      Hamster on the Run in which Henry the Eighth, the class pet at Mandy’s school, has disappeared and the children must track him down.

3)      Pony Express! in which Dr. Adams has forgotten the serum necessary to treat Tom Hapwell’s cow, and the only way to get it to him is for Susan to ride Prince on a mad cross-country trek.

4)      That Horror, Houdini! in which Amy Fawcett is dreading the snobby Imogen Parker Smythe’s birthday, but it turns exciting when Amy’s pet goat, Houdini shows up for the festivities, too!

5)      Bravo, Blackie! in which a little puppy is drowning in Miller’s Pond and Jamie’s half-trained lab, Blackie is the only one who can possibly save him.

6)      Donkey Dilemma in which Dorian the Donkey is in danger of being sent to the slaughter unless Mandy can convince Mr. Nolan of Dorian’s value.

7)      Amber Takes the Prize in which Alex wants to enter her kitten, Amber, in the ‘Best Kitten’ competition at the fair, but must race to make Amber the proper costume.

8)      Bunny Trouble in which Imogen’s pet rabbit, Bubble, has disappeared and Imogen decides that John Hardy has kidnapped her.

9)      Mrs. Ponsonby’s Ghost in which Mandy and James must unravel the mystery of the swishing noises Mrs. Ponsonby has been hearing in the night.

Cautions.

The theme of one story has to do with a ghost – the ghost of Mrs. Ponsonby’s great-great uncle. In the end it is proved that what was making the noises she heard were a colony of rare bats that took up residence in her attic. A few of the scenes in the story are slightly scary, but not very.

It is said that a little boy sat down and played a computer game.

Conclusion. Not high quality literature, but innocent. Purchase your copy here.

Andy and the Runaway Horse

Title: Andy and the Runaway Horse
Author: Jane Thayer
Pages: 48
Recommended Ages: 5-7
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Written by Jane Thayer (author of The Puppy That Found a Home), Andy and the Runaway Horse is about a little boy named Andy and…. a runaway horse. ;)

The Story.

Andy and his mother are in town for groceries when Andy sees something that he’s never seen before except in picture books: a horse! The horse’s owner, Mr. Donkersloot tells Andy that her name is Alice. Andy watches as Mr. Donkersloot sells different odds and ends to people in town and marvels at what a good horse this Alice is. Why, she seems as much at home on the streets as the cars are!

But one day, when Mr. Donkersloot is napping, a car backfires, scaring Alice and causing her to run headlong down the street. Can Andy find a way to make Alice stop before she hurts someone – or gets hurt herself?

Cautions.

One a few occasions, Andy and Alice ‘talk’ to each other. Their conversations are not put in quotes, it is merely “Alice told him that he was a smart boy” etc.

Conclusion. A cute story; the illustrations are not exceptionally wonderful, but they are endearing. Andy and the Runaway Horse could be used either as an introductory reader or a read-aloud for younger children.

King of the Wind

Title: King of the Wind
Author: Marguerite Henry
Pages: 172
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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So, I’m not a big fan of horse fiction. At all. By horse fiction I mean books about little children (usually girls) who fall in love with a beautiful horse, can think of, dream of, and live with nothing else. This genre tends to be super repetitive.

But not King of the Wind. King of the Wind is in a different class altogether. It oozes of Arabian sand and high-blooded stallions. But before I get ahead of myself…

The Story.

Agba has lost his heart; lost it to the beautiful mare, the mare who lives in the Sultan’s stables. The mare is a lovely thing and she holds a tiny foal deep within her tummy. Tonight is the night it will come into the world.

Agba is worried as he tends the mare throughout the night, but the morning sun shines on a new foal, spindly and small in the sunlight. His name will be Sham – the Arabic word for sun – and he will race as the wildest wind, for on his heel is the tiny white spot, the spot of swiftest. A champion among steeds has been born.

One day at the Sultan’s command, six stable boys stand before his majesty. He commands that these six boys and the six most magnificent horses in his stable be sent as a gift to King Louis XV and France. Agba and his Sham are chosen. They journey over land and the sea till they arrive in this foreign land of France. King Louis XV uses Sham for a short time, but soon Sham is sold, unjustly sold; sold to a driver of wagons.

As Sham is passed from owner to owner, Agba wonders at this. Will Sham ever be appreciated for his splendor and speed? Will he ever be sold to a man worthy to own the King of the Wind?

Cautions.

King of the Wind was remarkably clean.

It is mentioned that a wild boar was kept at the stables to keep evil spirits from entering into the horses.

Sham has two markings – one a wheat ear on his chest, the other a tiny spot of white on his heel. The mark on his chest is thought to be a symbol of evil, the white spot an emblem of swiftness. Once or twice in the course of the story, the wheat ear is blamed for unfortunate circumstances.

Before the stallions depart from Morocco, the Sultan ties a bag around each horse’s neck. The bags contain “the pedigree of each stallion. They also contain amulets of great power, amulets that will prevent and cure the bite of scorpions and protect your stallions from evil spirits.” [pg. 66] Agba is later very distressed when Sham’s bag is stolen from him.

When Sham is being passed from owner to owner, some treat Sham with more care while others are harsh. None are cruel, but extremely sensitive children might be sad until Sham is back with a good owner.

Conclusion. An inspiring fictionalized biography whose setting ranges from the opulent magnificence of a Sultan’s palace to the cramped stables of an English Inn. Its adventurous story and historical instruction will thrill its readers – especially those who love animals. Or horse stories. =) Purchase a copy here.