Two in one today as these two books are the final two in a five-part series and follow on from one another without a gap. By the way, this pile is looking pretttttty good now: all that’s left are the Sagas, the Earlene Fowlers and one Indriðason. So the TBR shelf has receded a little, but the Pile is practically gone!

Jane Smiley is famous for writing each book in a different genre, and she’s worked her way through the campus novel (“Moo”), the unreadable Icelandic saga (“The Greenlanders”), romance, Shakespeare re-workings, all sorts. She did one about racehorses which I really liked, then started on YA pony books – and of course, being YA pony books, you can’t just have one, you have to have a series, so she did one. As I’ll explain, the blurbs don’t really fit the books, but they’re good reads for the more serious pony book fan.

Jane Smiley – “Champion Horse”, “Star Horse”

(7 April 2017)

The final two of her Abby books and a nice read, although the puffs on the front and back covers would likely leave more excitable readers a little disappointed. On the first, we’re asked whether Abby can tame this feisty horse, and on the second, told that she is offered opportunities away from the family farm, which isn’t the whole story by any means. The horses on the covers are also surrounded by stars and sparkles, whereas a nice thing about Abby is that she’s resolutely ungirly and not bothered about all the high school fuss. Anyway.

The books are written in the somewhat flat, plain tone of the other novels – which is fine, as Abby is a plain thinker herself, and this works as she negotiates High School and its changed priorities (suddenly you have to select a special hairstyle in which to present yourself, for example), as well as her horsy responsibilities and her religious family (this last is presented sympathetically although with pity, as the world slips from easy distinctions and rules).

In “Champion Horse”, she has trouble getting her own horse, True Blue, to jump, but does well with friend Sophia’s Pie in the Sky. But why is Sophia not riding her horses herself? The eating disorder theme in this book is treated wisely, with the effects on the person’s friendship group and family looked at and a tentative but not fairytale solution shown in the margins of the story.

In “Star Horse”, Gee-Whiz, an ex-racehorse, comes to the ranch and Abby uses some of the techniques she’s learned with Blue (and rejects others even though they’re presented by an expert, with support from her friends) to teach him to jump. She also has to face saying goodbye to Jack, the surprise foal of an earlier book, when it’s time for him to start his racing training.

There’s a lot of detail about training horses here, including descriptions of lessons and practice sessions, which I found interesting but would probably bore a non-horse person. Especially in the last book, the modern world – pop records! Vietnam! – start to intrude into the family’s world. And then … it just stops. But good reads.

I’ve read two more books since these so be prepared for more reviews. Two cracking ones up next! What are you reading? How ARE you?