The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (J)

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

Walter Farley (Juvenile Fiction)

The tramp steamer Drake—loaded with coffee, rice, tea, oil seeds, and jute—was pushing its way from India and heading to New York City.  Aboard was young Alexander (Alec) Ramsay, who had just spent two months in India with his uncle.  Also on board was a wild black stallion picked up in an Arabian port.  Alec knew enough about horses to be intrigued by the magnificent beast, but also wary.  This was not an animal to be underestimated.  But one night, the Drake encountered a fierce storm which would ultimately spare only two passengers:  Alec and the stallion whom he called “the Black”.  Can these two possibly form an alliance in order to survive their harsh and uninhabited island home?

The Black Stallion, published in 1941, is the first of twenty books in The Black Stallion series written by Walter Farley.  The twenty-first book, The Young Black Stallion, was co-authored with Farley’s son, Steven, and published shortly after the author’s death.  At the time of the book’s publication, the news was dominated by the war in Europe and so this book not only served as a respite from the ensuing turmoil, but was also a reminder of the good still inherent in humans.  The Black Stallion is a wonderful story about the importance of trust, loyalty, and devotion to each other during the most trying of circumstances.  Today’s young readers may find this story’s text to be a bit hokey given its multiple uses of the words “gee” and “swell”, but this book is an excellent example of how far someone can go when they not only have faith in themselves, but they have the unified support of those closest to them.  Alec is surrounded by loving and encouraging adults who do not treat him as an idealistic child, but rather as a competent and trustworthy peer.  Modern juvenile fiction often pits the young protagonist against skeptical parents, jealous schoolmates, or crotchety neighbors—anything that presents an obstacle that our young hero or heroine must overcome.  The Black Stallion instead focuses on positive relationships and the rewards that come with perseverance and good old-fashioned hard work.

The unlikely relationship between Alec and the Black garnered much awe and attention from all who witnessed it.  One such observation came from a ship’s captain and his first-mate, Pat.  After the captain marveled at how gentle the Black was in the presence of Alec, Pat replied, “Yes, sir,” he said, “one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.  I wonder where it’ll take them?”  Lucky for us, it took them on many, many unforgettable adventures that would span twenty-one books and an incredible forty-eight years.  Enjoy.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Mystery)

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler (Adult Fiction Mystery)

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

Philip Marlowe is thirty-eight, single, and makes a living as a private detective charging clients $25 per day plus expenses.  It pays the rent.  Then a case arrives involving a very wealthy General Guy Sternwood.  The general is being blackmailed (again) and he wants Marlowe to handle the matter “personally”.  Over the next five days, Marlowe becomes embroiled in pornography, gambling, missing persons, and murder.  It’s just an average week in the life of Philip Marlowe.

The Big Sleep is a gritty, edgy crime novel where the skirts are tight, the brandy is served cold, and cigarette smoke permeates every square inch of a room.  Chandler’s writing is sharp and crisp and the similes and metaphors fly around faster than bullets: “He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.” or “Her whole body shivered and her face fell apart like a bride’s pie crust.”  Chandler wrote this book about fifty years before the introduction of “girl power” so readers shouldn’t be surprised at seeing women being objectified, marginalized, abused (they tend to get slapped around a LOT), and vilified.  But it really wouldn’t be the same book if some blonde-haired Trixie kept pulling Marlowe out of tight fixes.  Would it?

Chandler entertains us with a book that’s as humorous as it is dark.  The only downside is his penchant for overly describing everything.  True, we know exactly what a character looks like (down to his sock pattern) or how a room is laid out (as well as the color of the wallpaper), but the momentum of the story is dragged down by the weight of these excessive details.  Still, this is a small price to pay considering Chandler gives us such gems as, “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”  It’s good to be Philip Marlowe.

Reviewer’s Note: The version read was published in 2011 by Thinking Ink Media and should be avoided due to numerous editing errors found throughout the book.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com