Amy Brown: Jade and the StrayHarperCollins, New Zealand, 2010
book two (Jade at the Champs) is available on Kindle. Jade and the Stray doesn't appear to be buyable in the UK.
Information about the author on HarperCollins
Linda Chapman: Dreams
Puffin, 2011, £5.99
Linda Chapman's website
I am ashamed of how long it has taken me to review these books, particularly Amy's which sank without trace in my office, - to be accurate, not completely without trace, as it resurfaced when I had an reorganisation and major tidy up recently.
It wasn't intentional, but I found the books I planned to read for this review both give their main character the same basic background: relocation after the death of parents. Ellie's parents are dead, and she has had to leave her home in Australia and come to England to live at her uncle's showing stable. Jade's mother and grandmother were killed in a car crash caused by her father's speeding, and she has come to live with her grandfather (though still in the same country - New Zealand) while her father is in prison.
I was left puzzled by Amy Brown's Jade and her reaction to her father. I can believe that she'd forgive him for causing the crash, but I'm surprised that the only thing that worries Jade once her father returns is where they're going to live: if it's back to town, she'll have to give up her pony. Wouldn't there be at least some conflict of emotions there? Jade has been left motherless through her father's lethal stupidity. Surely she'd at least think about it occasionally, and it would cause her more problems than it appears to? On a Google search for information on the book and author, I came across some teaching materials prepared by HarperCollins on the book. It's rather telling that there's no suggestion that the book's readers discuss how you cope with the fact your father has been responsible for the death of your mother and grandmother. Maybe this theme is developed in the next book in the series.
Jade's initial sense of bewilderment and loss is touched on at the beginning of the book, but once she spots the pony, and rescues it from the pound, it's as if the author breathes a sigh of relief and concentrates on what she really wants to write about: ponies. That said, I enjoyed the pony elements in the book. The author is obviously a keen fan of the pony book, as several (including Ruby Ferguson's Jill) get namechecks. Jade's pony Pip is well drawn. The book follows the usual plot of girl getting pony and being taught how to care and ride for it, with several ups and downs along the way. Where this author scores is in the care she takes with putting over how to care for your pony. She doesn't fall into the trap of beating the reader around the head so that she feels shell-shocked with instructions rather than immersed in the story. The information the book has to share (and there's a lot) is lightly imparted. As a conventional pony book, the story succeeds: it's a pity it doesn't explore more deeply what is going on in its heroine's psyche but maybe that's yet to come.
Linda Chapman's Loving Spirit series is now two books in: I reviewed the earlier book last year. After reading the first book, I admit I approached number two with trepidation, wondering how, or if, the proto-romance between Ellie and her cousin Joe was going to develop. If it concerned you too, worry not.
Linda Chapman's heroine comes from a similar background to Amy Brown's, but Linda Chapman does touch on her heroine's grief throughout the first book. It's not left out in the second book, but we can see that Ellie is beginning to learn how to cope. The author has a sure touch with her teenagers: I didn't for a second find what they did unbelievable. I am still intrigued by the relationship between Joe and his father; Linda Chapman hints at there being a cause to the distance between them, which I hope is going to be developed in book three because I am itching to find out.
Dreams is I think Linda Chapman's best book to date. I love the showing background; I enjoyed the plot, which looks at the stresses and strains of surviving when showing is your livelihood. The yard's sponsor has bought a splendid new horse for Ellie's uncle to produce, but although Lucifer behaves well initially, his behaviour deteriorates, with dramatic and tragic repercussions. The interplay between the characters is always interesting; they're deftly drawn and I get the impression the author enjoys them.
My one quibble is Spirit, Ellie's horse. They can talk to each other, and Spirit gives Ellie advice, although in true and pigheaded teenage fashion she sometimes misinterprets it and sails off down her own path. In the first book, Spirit emerged as a real horse; in this it's as if Spirit's words of wisdom have become the only reason for him to be there. He seems to have lost what makes him a horse in this book. Ellie's talks with Spirit tend to start with her going to visit him in his stable: it's almost as if she's visiting him in his temple. Maybe Spirit needs to get it wrong sometimes, or be jealous, or perhaps kick someone. Just be a horse.
That said, the advice that Spirit gives Ellie on how to cope with horses (look - listen - learn!) is absolutely spot on and I was mentally cheering Ellie from the sidelines as she wrestles with helping the horses on the yard. Whatever the origin of the advice, the way it's worked out is entirely believable. Roll on book three.
Thanks to the author and publisher for sending me these books.