Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
I’ve thought long and hard about this review, and I still don’t know what to say about it.
The book starts off with a prologue that has seemingly nothing to do with the next 2/3 of the book. A cowboy appears by magic on the day of the Summer Solstice [oddly, the same day I started reading this book]. Then in chapter 1, we’re suddenly on a farm somewhere in Canada.
So the family dynamic is a bit unique. There’s Mom, Dad and Daughter, which isn’t as weird, but then the grandmother – who the son hasn’t spoken to since he was a young kid – arrives from the Ukraine with her huge, man-eating dog in tow. We also have the less-than-typical family at the next farm – siblings and their grandmother. They’re also Ukranian. [Note: 3.8% of the overall population of Canada, and 14.8% of Manitoba are Ukranian – I looked it up.]
The daughter, Zo, has just been given a pet rabbit, Susie, and is teaching it to do hopping courses. The grandmother is hell-bent on chasing it around the house with a broom and shouting about vermin in the house. Which adds color, but…
Let me stop. The book is a bit weird and jumps around from thing to thing. A few things you’ll see in this book:
Family relations, including the dynamic of Zo’s grandmother trying to be a human being, which she mostly fails at. There are several instances where you just want to slap the bitch. Pretty much every time she’s in the book.
Lots of stuff about animals: the hopping course, sheep-hearding by dog courses, the Calgary Stampeed, the grandmother’s psycho crazy dog, etc. As a side note, though, I don’t know how Canada works, but in most countries, bringing a dog in would result in the dog being quarantined for six weeks. I would assume Canada is much of the same, though, but my google-fu tells me that only certain dogs don’t have to be quarantined and I’m not sure this dog fits that description.
Ukrainian everything – which is both good and bad. The author chose to use more Ukrainian spellings kevbosa instead of kielbasa, etc. I don’t care. There’s a glossary in the back if you get confused. But she italicized everything every time she used such a word. If a normal book talked about having kielbasa for dinner, they wouldn’t have italicized it, so why Jean thought she should here is beyond me. It was distracting and annoying and something a good editor would have pointed out. Another thing, the mysticism and Ukrainian stuff was interesting, but for somebody with absolutely no background in it, there were a few things I would have liked explained better. The magical aspects of the book, though… I wasn’t sure where the Ukrainian stuff stopped and the magic began or how intertwined they really were.
Some other concerns – I never felt a good voice for the author or the characters. Transitions were weak – sometimes there were entire paragraphs that should have been there for transitioning that weren’t – and Zo was in high school but sounded about ten. Also, serious climactic scenes didn’t feel any stronger than any other scene, and there were a few (especially in the last third of the book) that should have felt heavy while I read them. Zo living with her friends, for instance, felt about as serious as a slumber party.
I don’t at all buy that a five foot nothing size two woman could pass as a guy in the rough and tumble world of rodeo. Not without a lot of hazing.
I could tell that the author was really into animals. The descriptions of the dogs/cows/bull/sheep/bunnies were all great.
Sentence structure/grammar/that sort of thing were good.
So rating. I don’t know that I can give one to this book that I won’t want to change tomorrow. (I really have spent an entire day trying to figure out how to rate this book) It’s a decent showing for a first novel, but there are a lot of things that need tightened up. I think it would do better as YA than an adult book for sure. But I think it’s appeal – at least with the book as its written now – is small. So I think if you’re really seriously into Ukrainian things or the Calvary Stampede that you’ll want to read this book, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to you if you don’t.
July 19- Edit to add this note: The author read my review and sent me a letter, explaining the background of the book. *ahem* Now, while I did discover that the book was meant to be YA (apparently I didn’t know this going in), it doesn’t change anything else I said. Because the truth is that most readers find books by accident. We find them in libraries and bookstores and yard sales. And even if we find them online, we generally don’t get more than just the back cover blurb.
Besides, most of what I said above stands. Knowing that the book is about Ukranian Mysticism (which, incidentally, I did know) doesn’t make it any more clear if you don’t know what Ukranian Mysticism is. It also doesn’t fix the problems that I had with the book.