Saturday, 12 October 2013
Review - Angels of Clover Farm by Virginia Shirt
British rescue/mystery story set on a horse sanctuary. Sally and husband Adrian run Clover farm, although soft-heated Sally has turned the place into something of a sanctuary for abused and unwanted horses. A group of pony mad kids spend all their spare time at the farm, helping out and riding the ponies. The farm has money problems and the story starts with Adrian urging his wife not to buy another pony from the auction she and the kids are going to. Not surprisingly however she can’t keep her promise and ends up bringing home a neglected and sickly skewbald filly whom they christen Angel. The arrival of the pony sparks off mystery and danger for Sally, Adrian and the children. What is the secret behind Angel’s pedigree? Who is the mysterious stranger lurking around the farm? And will solving these mysteries be enough to save the farm from financial ruin?
The blurb for this book advertises that it has been “written for horse lovers by a horse lover.” This hits the nail right on the head. It is indeed a story for those who love horses, rather than seeing them as a ticket to winning prizes, or some sort of social status symbol – a vibe which sadly seems to come across in many a modern pony story. However this book goes back to the heart of the true pony story - the relationship between people and ponies. The characters care deeply about horses and are prepared to make sacrifices to help them. They also care about each other and empathise with each other’s respective problems. There are plenty of good messages and role models here for young readers to absorb.
Although lacking the style and polish of some of the more experienced pony book authors around at the moment, I feel it is far more sincere and heart-felt than most. If you want a book which gives you a feeling of faith in the goodness of humanity, or one will which simply leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, then this is book for you.
I really like the main character Sally who comes across as sympathetic and believable. As an adult reader I identified strongly with her and her problems. Having a mixture of adult and younger characters and their various issues gives the book more depth and ensures it will appeal to adults as well as children. However, because this obviously is a story aimed at children, I am not sure that having the main viewpoint from the adult perspective is wholly successful. I wonder if younger children would have a little trouble relating to some of Sally and Adrian’s issues. I also think that the children in the book were not as fleshed out as the adult characters. I feel that making one of the children in the group the main protagonist rather than Sally herself may have perhaps worked a little better in terms of it being a children’s story.
But there is still a lot for children to enjoy here. As well as being a rescue story, this is also something of an adventure/mystery and there is plenty for young readers to get their teeth into, with mysterious strangers skulking around, nefarious plots to uncover and stolen ponies to rescue. The author has blended these excitements into the rescue/pony care side of the story, making the plot fast paced enough to hold the attention of easily bored children without losing the underlying message of caring for animals.
Some older teens and more demanding younger readers will perhaps find the story-line and characters a little simplistic. People and issues are black and white with no shades of grey. There are ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ here and nothing in between. There also don’t appear to be any teen characters for this age group to identify with. Of course this means our story line is not bogged down with many of those tedious teen plot stalwarts such as mawkish romances and the like which can sometimes detract from the plot if not handled well. And as the book appears to be aimed at the younger end of the teen and pre-teen market this is not a huge problem.
All in all, the book is a pleasant, fairly undemanding read for those who like a traditional pony story with a bit of adventure thrown in. It will suit a good range of readers, although I think will appeal best to younger teens/pre-teens and horsy adults who dislike the current crop of ‘style over substance’ teen pony stories. I’d also recommend the book to parents who are a bit wary of the possible unsavoury content (drugs, sex, etc) which seems to be creeping insidiously into even pre-teen pony books nowadays. There is nothing of that nature in this book. It is wholesome enough for the most stringent parental scrutiny without alienating its young readers by being preachy or dull. Unlike many modern pony stories we also have important male characters here, both adult and child, so this is eminently suitable for young male pony lovers too.
I would rate this book as 3 horseshoes (GOOD)
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