Horse whispering and horse murdering roil an intrigue-drenched race track in this atmospheric young-adult mystery.

Yes, there’s manure-shoveling, but 16-year-old Kelsey Kelley finds many consolations in her summer job as a stable hand on the quarter-horse racing circuit. One is the gorgeous, blonde-maned stallion Tomar El Oro she tends and bonds with; another is Blaine Carthege, the dreamy security guard at Derbyrun Downs racetrack in Colorado. Then skullduggery erupts as if from the starting gate. Kelsey overhears conspirators scheming to bribe a jockey to throw a race, Tomar gets sick, another horse dies, possibly with the aid of battery acid, and the track is quarantined after an outbreak of vesicular stomatitis. During the 30-day lockdown, Derbyrun Downs seethes with rumors of a horse-killer, insurance fraud and vendettas between rival trainers. As she guards Tomar from unknown perils, Kelsey is suspicious of everyone—even Blaine, despite the tingling feeling she gets when he’s around. When Kelsey’s father shows up with his new wife, just five years after he abandoned her and her mom, she feels torn between extreme pique—“You are just a no good rotten lousy sleazy adulterer!”—and curiosity at the change her dad’s newfound Christian faith seems to have wrought. Despite this mounting tension, the ensuing mystery never gets a good grip, even though it embroils Kelsey in kidnapping and homicide. Plot devices feel more perfunctory than suspenseful, and characters who seem guilty from the start just keep getting guiltier. Fortunately, Off keeps horse-lovers entertained with a vivid panorama of the racing world and lots of equine lore, from the animals’ skittish behavioral quirks to their complex diets to the thrill a rider feels when her mount breaks into a gallop. Kelsey is an appealing, spunky heroine, even as readers watch her try to keep from being thrown by a lurching storyline. The suspense plot pulls up lame, but horse-obsessed teen readers will enjoy the novel’s engrossing equine milieu.


Pub Date: March 30, 2010

ISBN: 978-1615799497

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Xulon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2011

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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