Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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‘Only My Horses Know’ Rides Tall

Only My Horses Know

By Cinda Jo Bauman

Middle Grade Fiction

Setting: Montana horse ranch and vicinity

Kylie Hannigan is being held prisoner by a secret. It’s a secret she only shares with her horses.

Once upon a time, the twelve year-old and her horse trainer mom dreamed of starting a rescue horse ranch. But that dream has gone up in smoke as Mom’s behavior has become so erratic, Kylie barely recognizes her. She doesn’t understand why her mom’s acting so weird. It’s embarrassing.

When Mom quits taking an interest in the horses, Kylie knows something is wrong. Something big. But what? How can she find out? Who can she talk to? Or should she?

Kylie can’t even talk to Joey ”the human vacuum cleaner” McLagan, her neighbor and best friend since childhood. But if Kylie doesn’t speak up to another person, who’s going to help Mom? How long will fear and shame keep Kylie captive? As Kylie’s life begins to spin out of control, she wonders if she’ll ever feel safe again. Will her life ever get back on track? How?

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‘Read Aloud Stories With Fred’ Charms Audiences Young & Old

Read-Aloud Stories With Fred (Editor-911 Books, 2021)

By Fred Olds

Children’s Fiction

Looking for uplifting, thoughtful stories you can read aloud to the kids or grands that are both enjoyable and engaging? Check out Fred Olds’ Read Aloud Stories With Fred.

Stories begin with a question for the reader and/or listener to ponder as the story unfolds. Each tale also includes an age-appropriate message and is hemmed with themes like kindness, honesty, or friendship.

Stories are lively and relatively short so as to keep the interest of little ones and not over-tax young attention spans. Vivid imagery and colorful illustrations combine with expert pacing and edifying themes to communicate specific, positive character traits or virtues.

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Redcoat & Rebel: Worthwhile or Red Light?

Kimber, were in a reading rut” Mom says the other day. “We need something new.”

And that’s how we wound up with a bunch of new historical fiction from The Reading Place. We’ll get to two recently read titles in a min. But first, I have a question: Why is so much “historical fiction” set during major conflicts? Ever notice that? Like, there’s enough HF set during WWII to sink a battleship.

So we looked around for a different historical setting. Someone who shall remain nameless recommended a couple new books. The first is Redcoat. The second is The Rebel Killer.

Here’s our take on both:

Redcoat

By Bernard Cornwell

Setting: Philadelphia, 1777

Things aren’t lookin’ good for George Washington and his rag-tag Continental Army. In fact, Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, has just fallen to the lobster backs.  Families and fortunes are split on both sides of the war. Between loyalists to the British crown and patriots fighting for their independence. Anything could happen. And it does.

Told from both British and American points of view, the story unfolds through the eyes of Sam Gilpin and young Jonathon Becket.

Sam is a British private who joined King George’s army along with his twin brother, Nate. They’re as different – and sometimes as alike – as day and night. And that could get one of them killed.

Jonathon is a patriot from Philadelphia who rides better than he walks. He’s also desperate to free himself and his sister, Marlene, from the clutches of his loyalist uncle. There are also lots of Hessians and Hussars. Sons of Liberty. Brandy. Fog and smoke. “Camp followers.”

As the city settles in for winter, Washington’s army teeters on the verge of collapse. He retreats to a frozen refuge called Valley Forge. As the freezing months wear on, one side dreams of victory and the other of liberty. Meanwhile, Sam dreams of a forbidden love. Who will win, and at what cost?

This is a well-written story with sturdy, three-dimensional characters. The author’s expertise with the subject matter and all things military and strategic is impressive and immense. A fast-paced, action-packed historical fiction novel, Redcoat is also full of surprises. Just about the time you think you know where the story’s headed, the author drops in a U-turn. You better hold tight for the next plot twist. It’ll keep you hopping from start to finish.

There’s a lot of intriguing Revolutionary War history here and a lot of action to keep readers engaged. But Mom found the graphic accounts of savagery and sadism (Hi, Sergeant Scammell) too much to swallow. The needless use of profanity got old pretty fast, too. Hand over the Pepto!

***

OUR RATING: 3.0

 

The Rebel Killer

Jack Lark, Book 7

By Paul Fraser Collard

Setting: Mostly Virginia, 1861-62

Forget the Pepto. Hand us some industrial strength Dramamine. Or Nauzene. Because. Barf.

The main character in this revenge soap opera is Briton Jack Lark. He fights his own internal battle as the U.S. Civil War rages around him. Consumed with hate, this bloodthirsty automaton is “a mercenary; a man with nothing in his heart but a cold, remorseless desire for revenge.” Think Edmond Dantes comes to Virginia. On steroids. Cuz Jack is a “hardened, lonely killer” who’s “better at hating than he was (is) at loving.

Be still my heart. Pardon us, Jacko, but you’re hardly the kinda of fella we want to spend any real time with. Certainly not four hundred+ pages. (At least Martha Joseph was a pleasant reprieve. Coulda used more of that.)

Oh, and Jack is also a consummate fake. He’ll impersonate anyone and do anything to extract revenge on the Confederate major who killed Rose. So Torquemada Jack sets out on an “epic journey” across the Confederacy disguised as a Confederate captain. This after he ran from a prior battlefield disguised as a Union officer. Before that he was a Redcoat. And so on.

The narrative, though crisp, is savage. Dripping with butchery and brutality. It’s enough to gag a camel. Probably worse is the cruelty Jack the Jerk inflicts on animals.

So done with you, bub.

The Rebel Killer is historical fiction that you’ll either really like or really won’t. The title has a double meaning. The author exhibits a masterful command of military history. The story is briskly paced and there’s plenty of action. If you can call killing people every twelve seconds “action.

The U.S. Civil War wasn’t a garden party. Got it. No need to beat us over the head with it. Or continuously drag us around bloody battlefields knee-deep in carnage.

Bottom line: This book isn’t a party, either. If we’d known going in that its mountains of violence and profanity push the outside envelope of “R,” we wouldn’t have bothered. Not our cup of Kool aid.

OUR RATING: 2.0

 


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WOOFWorthy! Why “Aslan: Running Joy” Isn’t Just Another “Dog Book” (and we oughtta know!)

Aslan: Running Joy (CrossLink Publishing, 2021)

By Kristin Kaldahl

Christian Fiction/YA

Mom and I can’t wait to tell you about Aslan: Running Joy. It’s super woofworthy. But first. Watch P!nk FLY!!

Basic Plot

Recovering from a kidney transplant, Krissy’s health is delicate. She’s always been about horses and dogs. The 14 year-old Oklahoman sold her mare cuz she’s afraid she’ll get hurt riding. But Krissy’s more afraid of dreaming and failing. Again.

Horseless, Krissy sets her sights on dog agility competition. The sport is intense and demanding, both mentally and physically. Are Krissy and her “totally-wrong-for-agility runt,” Aslan the Shetland Shepherd dog (Sheltie), up to the challenge? Will they rack up enough Qs to earn a shot at the Big Dance? Will Charlotte ever shut up? And what’s up with Krissy’s used-to-be bestie, Violet? Or her sulking big bro, Peter?

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What Do ‘Sanctuary’ & Secretariat Have in Common?

“Okay, Mom. Close the pages and step away from the book,” says I, Kimber the Magnificent. You know. The one with sense. Cuz it’s like, the middle of the night. And Mom’s buried in a book. Again.

Well. You know Her Momness.

“In a minute, Kimber,” says Mom. “Just let me finish this chapter, okay?” In a voice that never means an actual, real minute. Then she gives me The Look.

Insert eye roll here.

Cuz Mom said “in a minute” two hours ago. She also said “finish the chapter.” Thirty-one chapters ago. So why is it the wee hours and we’re both still reading Sanctuary? I’ll let Mom fill you in:

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4 Reasons Why We’re World Champion ‘Book Bailers’

Book Bailer-Outers Extraordinaire!

Did you know Mom and I are World Champions? Well. We are. We’re World Champion Book Bailer-Outers. In fact, Mom’s getting to be a world class book bailing sprinter! The number of minutes it takes Mom to determine whether or not she wants to invest any more time in a particular book is getting shorter and shorter. It used to be six to eight chapters. Or one hundred-ish pages, depending on the book. Now it’s about half that. (We don’t need to chow through an entire garbage dump to know that it’s rotten. We can tell by the smell. Usually a mile off.)

Ya see, Mom and I? We get scores of book review requests every day. We accept about half. And we just don’t have time to read junk. As defined by us. Our blog. Our rules. Hence the sprint thing.

4 Cases in Point

Four recent Book Bailing cases in point? Gabriela Marin’s Made of Pixels and Jasper Fforde’s The Constant Rabbit. Kathleen and Michael Gear’s People of the Canyons, and Ruth Ware’s One By One. Here’s the 4-1-1 :

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Fantasy Reveals Truth in ‘City of Snow & Stars’

The City of Snow & Stars (New Degree Press, 2020)

Cities of Wintenaeth Book One

By S.D. Howard

Fiction/Fantasy

“There is no such thing as coincidence.”

This book grabbed me in the first chapter and reeled me in. The author’s expert use of fantasy and imagination undergirds a serious message that’s both subtle and powerful. Sturdy writing, a solid plot combined with well-crafted characters and prodigious world-building skills round out the theme.

Main Characters:

Trinia: A young woman on the run, fleeing her abusive father – who’s also king. Her Gift is the ability to duplicate herself. But her father wants to exploit her Gift to create an army for his own nefarious purposes.

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Kick Back With 3 Fun Fiction Reads

Ever want to take a break from heady literature? Kick Back. Put  your feet up. Dive into a book that’s fun and frothy but No Great Brain Strain Fluff Stuff? Well. I’ve got a deal for you. Three, actually. They include werewolves, a family camping trip gone south, and a town where children are disappearing and no one knows why. Like this:

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Discover One Woman’s Road Back to Real in “The Girl I Used to Be’

The Girl I Used to Be (Bookouture, 2021)

By Heidi Hostetter

Women’s Fiction

All that glitters is not gold in this delightfully captivating of story of one woman’s inner search for and journey back to her true self. There are plenty of pitfalls along the way. Lots of obstacles to navigate. Like a full-time jerk who’s a part time hubby (to put it charitably). Lost friends. Fake “friends.” A humble past Jill ‘s been told to not just forget, but to erase and be ashamed of. Also enough tangled webs, betrayals and duplicity to make Shelob look like a piker.

But in the end, friendship, solidarity, personal fortitude and a refusal to be pressed into someone else’s artificial, pre-fab mold win out. Lots of intrigue and unraveling along the way.

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LONG WALK HOME Serves Up Hope & Dreams

Long Walk Home (Bookouture, 2021)

By Ellyn Oaksmith

Romance/Women’s Fiction

Home, no matter how long it takes to get there, is worth the struggle.

Lola Alvarez has a dream.  She wants to stand on her own two feet. “Make her mark on the family business.” Step out of the shadow of her older sister, Carmen. One way of doing this is adding tiny cabins to the family’s Blue Hills Winery and restaurant. Throw true love into the mix and she’s good to go. But it won’t be easy as past and present collide in this gentle romance about family, forgiveness, and courage.

Standing in the way of Lola’s dream are her overbearing restaurant manager and sister, Carmen. Gordon Ramsay wannabe “Horrible Neil,” Aka: Chef Jerk on Steroids. An overprotective father, Juan, who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. And a choice between two men: steady, respectable Hidalgo Ruiz of Ruiz Construction and Gus Weaver, newly released ex-con, master carpenter, and Lola’s high school heart throb.

After his release from a ten-year prison stint, Gus is hired by Hidalgo to build Lola’s tiny cabins. This, while the relationship between Lola and Hidalgo heats up. Catch: Lola hasn’t exactly come clean to anyone about anyone else, the building project, or the tangled web of the past. And when Lola fires Chef Jerk on the eve of Carmen’s wedding, which he was going to cater, and Gus and Hidalgo square off, can disaster be far away?

Set in the stunning beauty of Chelan, Washington in the shadow of the North Cascades, Long Walk Home offers a mouth-watering menu of simmering romantic tension, familial friction, heart break, confusion, and intrepidity in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. It’s tightly written and reads quickly, with each chapter flowing seamlessly into the next.

Pro tips:

  • Keep an eye out for Daisy, Lola’s faithful Australian Shepherd mix. Scene stealer!
  • Don’t read this book when you’re hungry. The descriptions of cooking and meal prep inside the Blue Hills kitchen will have you drooling!

Possible Turn-offs:

  • The male protagonist’s name. “Gus.” Not Joe or Ethan or Blake? “Gus”? Seriously?
  • Perhaps unwittingly, the author repeats the same phrases, running on redundant. (“Your lack of empathy is stunning,” etc. We got it the first time, okay?)
  • Repeatedly lower casing the “g” in “God.” Yeah, we noticed.
  • Carmen’s future in-laws, the Hollisters. Cardboard caricatured much? Barf.
  • The 27 year old Drama Queen thing gets old. Fast.
  • The ARC, at least, could benefit from another proofread.

Even so, Long Walk Home is well-written, expertly paced, and packed with (mostly) memorable characters. This is a sweet and gentle read. If you’re hungry for bright and nimble fiction flavored with romance, forgiveness, rugged natural beauty, delicious food, family, and robust word pictures seasoned with hope and humor, take a bite out of Long Walk Home.