Mountain Pony series // by Henry V. Larom

  • Mountain Pony
  • Mountain Pony and the Pinto Colt
  • Mountain Pony and the Rodeo Mystery
  • Mountain Pony and the Elkhorn Mystery

//published 1946//

I’ve collected these books over the years, but had never actually sat and read all four of them together.  Elkhorn was a very recent acquisition, so I had actually never read it at all, and the other three hadn’t been read in years.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well these stories held up from my childhood memories.

// I now have the Famous Horse Stories edition, but originally I had this one, with Andy punching the villain in the face! BAM! //

Once again, these were published as Famous Horse Stories.  Larom is definitely one of my favorite authors from that collection.  While his stories are still kind of outlandish, they’re great fun and the characters are drawn well.  These books focus on Andy, a teenage boy who is from New York but has traveled to Wyoming to visit his uncle, who owns a ranch in the mountains.

While the main players are done well (Andy, Uncle Wes, Sally), the background characters are very background, and some of them don’t even exist – for instance, we never meet Andy’s parents – not in four books!  In many ways this book is more about the setting than it is the people, and there is a real sense of time and place – the wilderness of the Rockies in the 1930’s, when things were still a bit wild west-ish.

//published 1947//

Andy is quite the “dude” when he first arrives, and within a week he recklessly purchases a horse because the horse’s current owner is abusing it.  Luckily for Andy, Sunny turns out to be an excellent purchase, and the little sorrel cowpony is as important a character as any in these stories.

//published 1949//

While Sunny is quite intelligent, he is still a horse, and I liked the realistic feel of these stories.  Andy makes plenty of mistakes throughout the tales, but he grows and matures as well, and isn’t afraid to admit it when he does something stupid.  Each book covers a different summer, and by Elkhorn, Andy has actually purchased his own ranch – albeit a small, ramshackle one.

//published 1950//

Sometimes these books got a little bit ridiculous (especially Rodeo Mystery, which spiraled a bit out of control credulity-wise), but overall they actually read well, and were just enjoyable, wholesome tales that made me yearn to buy my own ramshackle ranch in Wyoming.

While these aren’t immediate classics, they are definitely books that would be enjoyed by fellow horse-lovers, or by young’uns who love cowboys.  Overall, a 4/5 for this series, and one that I’m glad to keep on the shelves.

November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

October Minireviews // Part 2

In an attempt to get you all caught up on all the reading I’ve done this month, I’m cramming all of my reviews into minireviews…

Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak

//published 2015//

This was a freebie Kindle book that sounded fun.  Jill, aged 29, is confident that her life is going the right direction.  On the verge of becoming a partner in the law firm where she’s been working, and confident that her live-in boyfriend is going to propose any minute, Jill considers her life ‘together.’  Unfortunately, instead of getting promoted, she gets fired.  And when she comes home early, she finds out that her boyfriend is actually having an affair.  So Jill moves back home to the small town where she grew up, back into her old bedroom at her parents’ house.  There, she comes across a list she wrote in high school of 30 items she wanted to have done by the time she was 30 years old – and she has only done a couple of them.  With the help of her long-time best friend and high school boyfriend, Jill starts getting things done on her list, and of course discovers who she truly is and true happiness along the way.

I was hoping for just a kind of happy little chick lit sort of vibe, but this book was just too ridiculous and poorly written to deliver even that.  The whole thing is first person present tense, so that was already quite aggravating, and the further into the book I got, the worse the story was.  Jill doesn’t read as 29-year-old at all, as she was just so immature and ridiculous at times.  There were really stupid scenes, like her walking in on her parents “doing it” and then I had to go through like an entire chapter of her being “so grossed out” – like yes, that’s extremely uncomfortable, but you’re an adult now, so I really feel like you should be able to move on – like how exactly do you think you arrived in the world….???

But the worst part was that one of things on Jill’s list was something along the lines of “learn to live without a boyfriend” or something like that – and it’s the one thing she never does!  She realizes how she was depending on her old boyfriend so much that she never really was herself, but she launches straight into a relationship with her old high school boyfriend.  So even though I liked that guy just fine, I was never able to really get behind their romance because at the end of the day Jill still just felt like she “needed” a man to live her life.  So 2/5 for being boring, pointless, and having an overall rather negative life message.

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

//published 2010//

When I read a children’s biography of Patrick Henry a while back, I was really inspired to learn more about this particular founding father.  And while Lion of Liberty was interesting and had some more information about Henry, I overall felt more like I was reading a condensed history of the American Revolution/founding of Constitution, with a side focus on Henry rather than the other way around.  There is only one brief chapter on the first 24 years of Henry’s life, and throughout the rest of the book we are only given pieces of Henry’s personal life in very brief (and sometimes weirdly snide) asides.  Rather than making Henry more personable and accessible, Unger gives us a picture of a man’s accomplishments rather than the man himself.

In a weird way, I realized about halfway through the book that it just didn’t feel like Unger really liked Henry.  I felt rather like he was rolling his eyes at many of Henry’s dramatic speeches, and some of his comments about Henry’s personal life came across as downright uncomfortable.  E.g. – “…from then on, whenever Henry returned home he made certain that if his wife was not already pregnant from his last visit, she most certainly would be by the time he left.”   ???

Still, there was enough of Henry in this book to remind me why he was one of my childhood favorites.  His passion not just for freedom from Britain, but from big government in general, his love for everyday people and preserving their independence, his emphasis on the critical importance of strengthening small, localized governments – these are all themes that still resonate with me today.  I especially loved Henry’s passion for the Bill of Rights, and his strong stance against the Constitution without them.  Even more interesting is to see how so much of what Henry predicted has happened – in events that lead to the Civil War, and again today, with an ever-closing noose of interference and heavy taxation from a centralized government ever-distanced from the people it claims to serve.

For Lion, 3/5.  A decent read for the political overview of Henry, but I would still like to get a hold of a biography that focuses more on him as a person and less on him as a founding father, and preferably without the snide remarks about how much Henry liked his wife.

Indian Paint by Glenn Blach 

//published 1942//

In my effort to read/reread all the books I physically  own (and there are a lot), Indian Paint was next on the draw.  One of the Famous Horse Story series, this was a simple yet engaging tale of a young American Indian boy and the colt he has chosen for his own.  This wasn’t really a book that bowled me over with its intricate plotting, but I was surprised at how interested I became in the fate of Little Falcon and Shadow, especially since the fates seemed quite determined to keep them apart.  While there were points that were a bit overly dramatic, the story held together well and came to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have several of Balch’s books still on the shelf and am looking forward to tackling them at some point as well.

The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins

//published 2015//

So this is one of those books that I had heard SO much about that I actually braced myself for disappointment.  In the end, I was close to a 4/5, as it was a compulsively readable book that drew me in almost immediately.  I appreciated the fact that while Rachel wasn’t a reliable narrator, she was still likable.  I felt like the book was paced quite well.  Frequently, books that rely on date/time headings to let the reader know where we are quite annoy me, but it worked well in this instance, and I liked the way that we got the backstory from one narrator and the present story with another.  The ending came together well, leaving me overall satisfied.  While I didn’t find this to be an instantaneous classic that I would want to read again and again, I can still see why it has been a popular thriller since it was published.

I have read reviews of this book on multiple blogs that I follow (with a variety of views from “THIS WAS AMAZING!” to “eh”), including Reading, Writing & Riesling; The Literary Sisters; Rose Reads Novels; Chrissi Reads; Cleopatra Loves BooksBibliobeth; and probably others I’ve missed!

Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West // by Rutherford Montgomery

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//published 1940//

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Grosset & Dunlap published about 40 books, written by various authors, under the label of “Famous Horse Stories.”  My understanding is that most of these books were already in print at some point (most were from the 1940’s and 50’s originally), but G&D brought them together in a sort of collection.  Several of the authors were quite well known at the time, like Thomas Hinkle, Glenn Balch, and Henry Larom.  Most of the books have a western/ranch setting, although I have come across some set in other “horsey” surrounds, like Dorothy Lyons’s horse show books.

Because I loved horses and horse stories so much when I was a kid, I collected these whenever I came across them.  Back in the day, before the internet was the thing that it is now, finding an out-of-print book that fit into a collection was really a bonanza.  Nowadays I just get onto eBay and type in what I’m looking for and can nearly always find it, even if I’m not willing to pay the price.  But in my teen years, most of my book collecting was done by sifting through piles of books in musty antique shops.  Oh the joy when I found a Famous Horse Story, or a book by Albert Payson Terhune, or a Judy Bolton mystery!  And then the agony – was it really worth $5 or $8 or $13??  (Here is a tip for used-book shopping: you see the book you want on the shelf.  Place your hand on the book.  And then, before you open it or check the price, tell yourself what the maximum amount is that you would be willing to pay to add this book to your permanent collection.  Then check the price!)

At any rate, as part of my (very slow-moving) goal to read/reread all of the books in my personal collection, several of these Famous Horse Stories have come up in my lottery drawing recently, so you can expect to see them on the blog over the next few months.  I own maybe half the titles published under this label, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever read all the ones I own.  And it’s been a very long time since I have read the ones I did read, so if I end up particularly liking an author, it may be a chance to invest in some more of his works (via the easy, eBay way).

And so, on to the actual book for which this review is being written!  Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West.  And already I’m going to start rambling again, because I’ve been struck by how many of the titles from this era employ the [Name]:[Description] style.  Plain old Midnight just isn’t good enough!

Rutherford Montgomery is best known (in 1950’s horse-story circles) for his Golden Stallion series, seven titles revolving around the same horse/characters.  I own several of those, so I’m sure we’ll get to them eventually.  Midnight, however, appears to be a stand-alone, although I have another book by Montgomery, Crazy Kill Range, that I believe may be a loose sequel (as Midnight takes place in Crazy Kill Range), so I’ll be reading that soon.

Montgomery’s books definitely fall into the western/ranch category, and Midnight in many ways is not so much a story as it is several vignettes of western mustang life.  The book opens with Sam, an old prospector, quietly enjoying life on the porch of his cabin.  He lives alone and, we later find out, built his cabin back in the day when all the land was open and public.  Since then, the property has been purchased by a rich rancher named Major Howard, an “Easterner” who doesn’t really understand the culture of his new home.  However, he allows Sam to continue living in the cabin because Sam isn’t really hurting anything.

Major Howard raises cattle and finely-bred horses.  One of his mares, Lady Ebony, likes to graze near Sam’s cabin.  Sam has become very attached to the horse and offers to buy her from the Major.  Major Howard doesn’t want to sell Lady Ebony as he intends to race her.  Sarcastically, he tells Sam that he can buy Lady Ebony for $500, confident that Sam doesn’t have a twentieth of that to his name.  But little does Major Howard know!  Sam actually has a secret little vein of gold up in the hills that he mines from time to time.  He’s kept it quiet so that other people don’t horn in on the region, but he knows that if he spends a couple of weeks up there he can get the $500.  So he packs up his bags and heads for the hills.

While he’s gone, Lady Ebony gets swept up into a band of wild horses.  Their leader, a vicious chestnut stallion, is heading over the mountains for the winter, and takes Lady Ebony with him.  So, when Sam gets back with his money, Major Howard accuses him of stealing the mare and Sam ends up getting arrested.  The rest of the story isn’t really about Sam all that much – instead, we follow Lady Ebony as she is part of the chestnut’s band.  Eventually she breaks free of the herd and returns to the pasture near Sam’s (now abandoned) cabin.  She has a foal from the chestnut, a black colt named (you guessed it) Midnight.  Throughout the book, while we mostly focus on Midnight and his adventures, we also get little snippets of updates of the falsely-accused Sam, pining away in prison, yearning for his freedom.  (I’ll leave you to guess whether or not he is eventually freed, but here’s a hint: it’s a children’s book.)

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jim Kjelgaard’s works.   It was really a story about wilderness life and survival.  And despite the fact that this is a children’s book, so we end up with happy endings for Midnight (and Sam), the story doesn’t shy away from the fact that, in the wild, only the strong survive.  There is a lot of death in this story, but it isn’t really portrayed gruesomely or for dramatic effect: it just is.

One of the animals that is involved in Midnight’s story is an old buck deer.  He is described as being crafty and intelligent.  But eventually, he is overtaken and killed by a pack of wolves.

The end of the monarch was the destined end of all wild dwellers.  The end of a life of struggle and constant alertness.  The law of the wild was fulfilled.  While youth and vigor gave him power and speed the buck lived and went his way, but when that strength slipped from him he went down before the gray killers.

While I didn’t love Midnight the way that I love a lot of Kjelgaard’s books – it somehow lacked the warmth and personal touch of his works – Montgomery’s story was a good one nonetheless.  I feel like so much of children’s literature these days focuses on feelings, and making sure you understand your feelings, and don’t hurt anyone else’s feelings, and remember – your feelings are what define you, and how you feel is what decides what you are, and it’s honestly just plain ridiculous.  I’d much rather have kids read books like Midnight – because somehow his story about how the strong survive also comes across as a reminder that the strong must care for the weak, or the weak will not make it.  He writes a story about balance – the circle of life, if you will – how every living thing has its place, not in a touchy-feely now-we-should-all-be-vegans kind of way, but realistically.  Every living thing has its part to play.  This is a story with a lot of grit and a lot of death, but also a book that is positive and hopeful, because death is also a natural part of life.

And despite all the death, Montgomery’s book still comes across as one written by someone who loves the wilderness about which he’s writing.  His dedication is to “Earl Hammock, who knows the value of the lonesome places” and I feel like that really summarizes a lot of what this book is about.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough.  A decent and interesting read, especially if you like horses or western wildlife, and I’m looking forward to delving into some more of my long-forgotten Famous Horse Stories soon.