Book Review – Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
Jean Stringham
Paperback
2013

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.

Writer Wednesday – Jean Stringam

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…

Jean Stringam counts her characters among her list of friends and solves plots during breakfast, lunch, and dinner; however, recently she has been impressed with how numbers describe life – and we’re not talking just the bank balance.

The number five currently figures strongly in her life since she has recently published five books, has earned her living in five different careers, has lived in five countries, and has five sisters, five children, and five university degrees.

Perhaps a few lists would be helpful:

    Five different careers – Professor of literature, piano teacher, actor (member of SAG), secretary, choir conductor/opera chorus pianist/church organist
    Five countries – Canada, France, China, England, United States (but she’s only been a citizen of two)
    Five sisters – learned more than she thought possible
    Five children – learned more than she ever wanted to know (about love)
    Five degrees – Ph.D. University of Alberta, B.Ed. University of Calgary, M.A. & B.A. Brigham Young University, ARCT Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
Now that I’m retired, I no longer write academic essays and articles. My fiction for young adult and middle grade readers include the following:
Solstice Magic (A Calgary Stampede Adventure, #1)
The Hoarders (paperback & Nook e-Book)
Balance (paperback & Kindle e-Book)
How Not to Cry in Public: A Novel (paperback & Kindle e-Book)
The Wise Men: A Christmas Adventure (Kindle e-Book only)
Regrets Tree on Fire (for release in summer 2013; projected as paperback & Kindle e-Book)

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m looking for a good illustrator for a Early Reader series, for grades 3 and 4. Have five of the stories written and another ten sketched.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I have written about this on my website under “About Jean Stringam.” It’s called “The Chicken Story”

What are your three favorite books?
It changes very rapidly depending on what I’m reading. Over time, however, I’ve tended to enjoy O.S. Card.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I’m reading Wool. I like to immerse myself in an author’s world, so I rarely read more than one at a time. I write several of my own books at the same time, though.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Defy the world to continue turning.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Always re-read what catches my interest

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Certain friends have impeccable taste and I take their suggestions. I listen carefully when anybody gives an opinion about a book because their reasoning patterns, or lack of them, interest me. Doesn’t mean I rush right out and buy the book they’ve told me about.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very. That’s what I’ve spent my professional life doing.

What do you look for in a good book?
An author who is wise, has poetry in his/her heart, and knows that a story has to have a resolution. If the author can’t figure out what the characters learned or how they changed, I wish them well, but please stop writing and find another profession.

Why do you write?
I want my life to have made a difference.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I’ve worn a lot of hats thus far in my life. None of them appeal to me long-term. I will write until I’m dead.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I read copiously, watch people intently, and love unreservedly.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That an individual only sees a small slice of the truth.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They’re just about over trying to decide who’s who in the characters, which is a relief. They’re beginning to accept that my characters are not stolen from real life (except for the ones that actually are)!

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Tons of stereotypes. The biggest lie is that alcohol and drugs enhance creativity. They don’t. It’s a miracle that any talent leaks out of those people at all.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The money. Always the money. Whether trad published or Indie, it’s the money.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Wrote a whole novel without knowing how to resolve the conflict. Wrote it a second time and still couldn’t figure out the ending. That’s 900 pages of wasted effort! Grr!! Hisss!

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yes, but until things happen, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to advertise hopes and maybes.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Sometimes I do author visits in schools. Sometimes fans write to me on my website, FaceBook, or GoodReads.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That there really is a learnable technique for not crying in public, that I can do it (usually), and that I am still in the habit of carrying sunglasses with me everywhere just in case I can’t.

Anything else we should know?
I write songs for my books, and for a lot of other occasions, too.

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