Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Location, Location—Well, You Know

Warning: This post slightly resembles a book review.

I recently read one of a plethora of pony books, which all seem to have a talented teenage girl rider, a good-looking slightly older guy, and some sort of evil/crime/danger involved. (I bought this particular book at Goodwill for 75¢.)

I would have loved this book when I was thirteen—a teenage girl and her pony ride all over a wild and remote island accompanied by a hunky local guy on his gorgeous horse—and solve a mystery. The girl, an expert rider with a talented pony that can run for hours and jump anything, wanted to stay home with her pony and practice for a cross-country competition. However, she is on the island because her father, an author, wants to research the legend of a mystery horse who survived a shipwreck 150 years earlier while he (the stallion, not the author) and four mares were en route to Kentucky. When you're thirteen, you don't quibble about pesky details—such as location, characters' motivations, punctuation, etc.

Within two days of being exactly a half-century past thirteen, I find this book doesn’t do much for me. Here’s why:

Punctuation: (Warning: this is my suppressed English teacher coming out) Whenever you begin a sentence with an introductory adverb clause, put a comma after said clause. (See? I just did that.) Not doing so makes for a lengthy unreadable sentence. This book is full of introductory adverb clauses sans commas.

The ambiguous location: I couldn’t figure out where the thinly populated small island of Morvona is. It had everything: cliffs, a bay, a beach suitable for swimming, forests, streams, a cross-country jumping course, bogs, moors, a woodland where a species of wild orchids grow, electricity, cellphone access, wi-fi access, harsh winters (luckily the story takes place in summer) and apparently a place to land a plane (because the professor father of the college girl who did all the dastardly deeds could fly there in a matter of hours). Much of the island is unreachable except by horseback. Luckily there are lots of shortcuts the horses can take.

I was puzzled by the electricity that the remote farmhouse (as well as the even more remote cottage) has. In none of the lovely illustrations is there a hint of power lines. Ditto for the cellphone tower. And the characters could get cellphone service all over the island!

I was further puzzled that a ferry connects the thinly populated remote island to the mainland (wherever—and whatever—the mainland is). The ferry is also capable of carrying a car towing a horse trailer. And there’s taxi service from the ferry landing spot to the remote farmhouse. (The early settlers of the island were farmers.) And how—and where did—the plane land? Is there an airstrip? Must be—the professor arrives by plane.

Partway through the novel, I figured out that the setting isn’t America. The girl refers to her riding helmet as a riding hat. The island farms are referred to as crofts in a couple of places; moors are mentioned, too. (Plus, there’s the matter of the horses going by sailing ship to Kentucky.) Eventually I Googled the author and found she lives in the UK. So, maybe the island is somewhere off the coast of England?

The University students: Six of them come to the island to study botany (the rare orchids, you know) Nowhere is the University identified by name or location—just University. The six students—two guys and four girlls—live in the "old stable" at the farmhouse. The old stable has been converted to a guesthouse. (Apparently the island has no hotel.)

Now, gentle readers, use your imagination about what might happen if unchaperoned students—even botany enthusiasts— of both sexes are turned loose on an island and share close sleeping quarters.
~~~~pause here to imagine~~~~

Finished imagining? Well, the things you just imagined didn’t happen, unless you imagined that the spoiled rich girl (with the archeology professor father) so covets a ring (that the girl with severe horse phobia had gotten cheap) that she uses nefarious means to steal the ring from the girl’s finger where it is securely stuck. Oh, and she makes herself out the victim of the others' hostilities.

The two main characters (she a good-looking young teenager, he a slightly older extremely good-looking hunk) are alone for hours in remote areas—including, but not limited to, secluded beaches and dark forests. They strip down to their underwear (she notices—and admires—his muscular build) and swim their horses in the ocean. But they never so much as kiss! The hunk does smile at her a lot and does pull her hair playfully on a couple of occasions. Having taught middle school, high school, and college, I can assure you that these healthy, well-built young people who are attracted to each other don’t exhibit typical teenage behavior.

The cover: The artwork shows the two teenagers swimming with their horses through the raging waves. The boy’s horse sports a figure-8 caveson. But the artist left out a bottom strap on this caveson. Without this strap, the caveson would flap around loose. Also, the front of the caveson doesn’t pass in front of the bit the way it should, so it wouldn’t do its job even if it had a bottom strap. (Note to my two or three non-horsy readers: A figure-8 caveson is designed to keep a horse’s mouth closed. Not all horses require one.)

I did enjoy the book’s many passages about riding. The descriptions of the horses’ movement over jumps and through the trails were well written and compelling. But overall, I just couldn’t willingly suspend my disbelief at the other parts to enjoy the story.

Had the book been published 50 years ago, I would have been enchanted with it. But it wasn’t, and I’m not.



Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

I don't know how you got through that thing!

9:29 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Well, the riding descriptions were wonderful. The rest—ehhhh.

I like to read an occasional, er, less-than-good book every so often. makes me appreciate good writing even more.

9:57 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

I sometimes read bad books for the same reason. And then I feel bad because I don't have a bad book published. Certainly I can write as poorly as that person!

8:24 AM  

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