Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Book Review of "Roped" by Dom

                                    by Laura Crum

            As those of you who read her blog, (A Collection of Madcap Escapades--listed on the sidebar) know, Dom is a talented young horse trainer and a fine writer and photographer. She recently had the misfortune to be working with a horse that had some severe issues. The horse reared up and went over backwards with her, breaking Dom’s leg very badly (required surgery). As with many young horse trainers I have known, Dom is not covered by insurance, so the medical bills will be hard on her. Not to mention the loss of income, as she cannot walk for ten weeks. Along with others, I am contributing to her recovery. If you want to help, she takes paypal at this email address.

            I have to say, this is the sort of cause I like to contribute to. A hard working person who gives a lot to the world has been hit by misfortune, and I can make a real difference by sending her a little money. So different from writing a check to a “charity” and wondering if any of it really goes to helping people/animals, or if it is all eaten up by “administration.”

            All this said, Dom has a lot of time to read right now. She recently posted a review of my fourth mystery novel, Roped—a review I just loved. Yes, I loved it because it was positive, no I had not contributed any money to Dom when she wrote it. I am not guilty of buying good reviews(!) Those who know Dom will know that she will always say what she honestly thinks, so I’m pretty sure I couldn’t buy a good review from her if I tried. And she knows a LOT about horses. If I had made any mistakes in the horse related details of this novel, Dom would have called me on it. Politely and kindly, because that is the way she handles things, but she would have let me know.

            Anyway, I am going to post her review of Roped here because I just love all the details she picked up on. It is fun to have such an insightful reader. For those who are reading the series in order, Roped is the fourth book. The order is Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped. The first two books in the series, Cutter and Hoofprints, are currently 99 cents as Kindle editions. Roughstock and Roped are $2.99. Click on the titles to order.

            So here is Dom on Roped. 

It should come as no surprise that I started reading the next Laura Crum book pretty much the second I was done reading Roughstock. The fourth book in the Gaily McCarthy mystery series is Roped.

I knew from the get-go that this book would be heavily western themed and I was looking forward to learning more about disciplines I'm unfamiliar with. What I wasn't expecting was for the book to open in the midst of tragedy. In the opening scene, Gail has to euthanize a horse with a broken leg. It turns out the depressing scene is a reflection on the state of Gail's life in general. Time has lapsed since the close of the last novel and not all is right with the world. I'm glad to see an accurate depiction of real life, with its ups and downs, but I'm saddened by the opening. I realize how attached I've become to Gail and her sorrows echo deeply with my own. I find myself angry at the character behind the betrayal, as if I knew either of them personally. By the end of the first chapter, I'm already involved in the story line.

Despite the noticeable time lapse, I feel like the introduction of the book really fills in some gaps in Gail's past. I learn more of her background and before long, I feel like I have a good insight to Glen, a character who is just making his first appearance in the books.

It isn't long before Laura tackles some hard-hitting issues in her book. In the midst of a roping competition, two animal rights activists make an appearance. I groan out loud when Gail spots them in the crowd, but am thrilled when Gail voices her thoughts about them. We seem to be on the same page about animal cruelty and the nut jobs who would rather set animals free to starve to death in the magikal wild than see them 'held captive' as pets. Laura doesn't mince words in her description of the wide spectrum of animal activists (ranging from the normal people who oppose dog fighting, etc. to the weirdos over at PETA) and I am tickled pink that she doesn't take the politically correct way out to save feelings and, heaven forbid, insult readers. A believable character has to have steadfast opinions that aren't going to please everyone... and Gail certainly has that.

I don't know about you guys, but I love having someone to hate in a book, and right off the bat it looks like Roped will be full of those characters. Even before I know what the mystery aspect of this book is, I find myself making a mental list of suspects (and then quickly reminding myself that whoever I guess will probably be wrong).

As usual, I find myself in Laura's amazing ability to describe things... from houses to weather to people. I don't know if it's just me, but the descriptions seem to get better from book to book. Even though it's a blustery day and the wind at home seems to come through the walls, I can feel the heat described in the May setting in Roped. I may be shivering under a blanket with Herbie huddled beside me, but I can taste the heat and sweat as if I were living it.

The one thing I'm grateful for is that this description doesn't extend to the death of one of my favorite characters. SPOILER ALERT!!! Blue, Gail's old dog, had to die some time, and I had a feeling that time was coming. Laura handles his passing with grace and without gory detail. I am grateful for the way she handles his death because I find it hard enough to take without reading it in infinite detail. Herbie is now huddled closer.

As I immerse myself in the opening chapters of the book, it becomes clear that this mystery is going to be different from the others. The other novels in the series have started with a dead body or an outright murder. But this novel starts with an old acquaintance seeking Gail's help with something fishy that she can't quite prove or pin point. Right from the start, I'm dying to know how this mystery is going to unfold.

While the mystery unfolds, Gail finds herself in a bar with some people she knows. Her relationship woes leave her feeling nostalgic and we get to learn about people from her past. Laura's descriptions of how people have aged and changed (or not) really hit home with me and I begin thinking of people I've watched age over the years. Her character descriptions are as vivid as ever. I don't know if it's that Laura's writing grows stronger from book to book, or if my attachment to the characters is just becoming more real, but I find myself intrigued with all the people around Gail. I feel as though Laura did a fantastic job tackling the passing of time without resorting to super-obvious tactics like flashbacks.

What follows next is a scene in which Gail gets to confront the animal rights activist and voice her thoughts on animal cruelty, specifically certain rodeo events. I find myself practically cheering out loud as Gail hits the nail in the head, as far as I'm concerned. Her points echo my own feelings on horse keeping, the treatment of livestock, and even the wild mustang issue. YES, YES, YES!!

As the confrontation wears down, I find myself back in the reassuring lull of Gail's interactions with those around her. There's something so familiar and comfortable about the way Laura describes the flowing conversations, even though it's a scene quite different from anything in my own life. I'm still having a hard time reconciling with Gail's new vulnerability... and over a man! I'm almost mad that a character that I like and look up to can get so unhitched over a man, but before I have time to get too mad, the conversation drifts back to horses and I find myself relating again.

I take the time to chuckle about the fact that my moods shift with the characters in the book, but I'm not chuckling for long before the action unfolds! Man, every single one of these books puts me on an emotional roller coaster and I LOVE it.

The scenes that unravel are delightfully dark and have a feeling of a world very different from mine, very... western. Dark bars, dirt roads, Spanish cowboys with straw hats and blue shirts. I'm totally fascinated by it.

I'm equally fascinated and enamored by  Gail's house. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd like to design my own house in a similar way. I'm heartbroken that Gail has put it on the market. Everything seems to be changing, and I am shockingly saddened by the whole turn of events.

What really impresses me is the way Laura mixes subtle details with grand descriptions of big events to create a believable world. Everything from bar fights described in explicit detail to the fact that the pick up truck in the driveway has a nickname make for a world that is very real to me, despite the fact that it's nothing like the world I actually live in.

But perhaps my favorite scene of the book is the big cattle gathering. The description of a perfect day, a mix of relaxing and exciting, the smells, the sights, the way the cattle move, all had me completely wrapped up and more than a little jealous (what with my broken leg and all).

My joy in this western world is cut short, however, by a crime so garish I can barely stomach it. Thankfully, Laura is quick with the comic relief, using a pair of personable Queensland terriers to take my mind off of the discovery Gail and her friend make.

It should come as no surprise that the comedy is short lived. Very soon, Gail is back to dealing with some pretty serious relationship woes. Without giving too much away, I just want to say that I cannot understand why she's with Lonny. I haven't liked him since the get go and I definitely don't like him now. The more I read about their seemingly failing relationship, the more my hackles rise. I do feel sorry for the bastard, but really, what did he expect? I'm rooting for my favorite vet-detective to keep her independence and just walk away from him.

Of course, Roped features some of Gail's work stories. One of the things I truly enjoy about this series is the description of day to day equine vet calls. Laura does a brilliant job describing various patients, from high strung horses who try to kill the vet, to steady older patients who mind their manners even in the worst of times. Gail's thoughts and feelings on each patient are realistic and often leave me in stitches. By now, the reader has become acquainted with some of the 'local horses' and some familiar faces appear in the daily rounds. It's just another thing that makes these books so believable.

But perhaps what Laura does best is lull me into a false sense of security. This book is very different from the previous novels in the series in that there is no dead body at the beginning. The nature of the mystery is different. The author seems to have a great time toying with that. Even with some excellent foreshadowing that leaves me with the promise that something is about to go very, very wrong, I find myself totally absorbed in the every day... the roping, the western dancing, the ins and outs of Gail's tumultuous relationship.

The other thing that's great about this 'different sort of mystery' is that Gail tackles it differently than the other books. There's no way to involve the police because there's no real evidence... only a strong suspicion. There's a lot of wait-and-see and the suspense is delicious.

Of course, it isn't long before the action builds, and despite the fact that I've been well warned and expecting it, I jump when it finally happens. Again, without giving away any spoilers, let me just say that the bratty little dog in this novel brings me to tears as the drama unfolds.

One of the things I loved about Roughstock was the involvment of the horses at the end of the novel. I was delighted to see the animals play even more of a role in Roped. As Laura describes Gail riding blindly in the dark on a quiet, young horse, I'm brought back to Vermont with Rayzer in the summer of 2011. Best of all, Laura manages to write the animals into the story line without being cheesy like some books tend to be. I feel like all the animals in my life are such an important part of my own story line, and it's nice to see that reflected in a novel without being over done.

And then, the mystery that has been so quiet and strange all along takes center stage with a crash and I am stunned at the violence, even though I had the right suspects in mind for once! By this point in the series, I have come to expect a dramatic finish, and this book didn't disappoint. For all my sleuthing and guessing, I was close, but not quite. As usual, the book got my blood pumping, and I wasn't convinced it was over until it really was.

Laura certainly knows how to keep a reader hooked. Between the suspense, the action, the mystery, and the fact that there are unanswered questions about Gail's relationship, I will definitely be back for more.

...and did I mention that the last page of the book had me blubbering like an idiot? Because it did.


Dom said...

This book was very different from the first three in the way the plot unfolded. I totally loved it, and the character development gets better and better with each novel!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Dom! And may your leg heal quickly. I look forward to reading many more horse training adventures on your blog.

Horseyhabit said...

Great review! Hope your healing process goes smoothly & fast, best wishes there! Will you be unlocking your blog again at all? I was a long time reader, & bummed when I couldn't access it the other day. :( Love your stories, Dom, you are a great writer!


Laura Crum said...

Jamie--I think if you email Dom at the address I gave in my blog post and ask to be invited to join her blog, it is possible that she will do so. Thanks for the comment.

Dom said...

Yes. I am sending invites :) I just can't have it public any more. Too many nasty people out on the internet.

Horseyhabit said...

I will do that, thank you!

I'm also going to look for your books too, Laura. I have a Nook though, & sadly, no good book stores close to me, so I need to get myself to the library! :)


Laura Crum said...

Jamie--I've been told you can download the free Kindle app and read Kindle editions on your computer or other devices. Also, my last four books ARE available for Nook. Nothing wrong with a library, though. Not all of them have my older titles, but some do.