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Lady Joe Paperback – August 4, 2015
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Lady Joe is a keeper
Read the first paragraph of Lady Joe, then try to put it down.
I love good fiction, but from experience I am leery of books that cross my desk with horses' names in the titles and horse trainers as main characters. So I was not prepared when Lady Joe, by Mark Saha, grabbed me on the first page and held me until the buzzer. It was quite a ride - no less than 78 points on my scorecard. [80 = a perfect score in cutting.]
Aspiring young trainer Lee Estes never has to look for trouble because it always seems to show up like a stray hound. This time it finds him in charge of a Quarter Horse ranch while the owner is in Europe on business. One misadventure follows another, as Estes enlists the help of his hapless buddy Jim Harrison.
Lady Joe's broad appeal lies in the charm of her characters and the resolution of Lee Estes' dilemma. But cutting veterans will relish Saha's portrayal of their sport:
"The brindle had more tricks than a gambler with a crooked deck and played every card."
"The following week, Lady Joe took on a cow from some other planet to win at South Point with a 231."
"They wanted to know what it feels like on the hurricane deck of a cutting horse when she gets down in front of a cow."
-- Sally Harrison, Official National Cutting Horse Association News
There is romance, there are horses, there are people with too much money and not enough sense. ... All the places of note (that are explicitly mentioned and detailed in the writing) are places in Central Coast country California. I found this endearing and it helped draw me in because T is from Santa Barbara and we hang out there some time, so driving through places like SLO, Paso, Los Olivos, Goleta, I totally can imagine these places. The cutting scenes are pretty exciting and I know nothing about cutting except yeah it involves cows and quarter horses!
-- Viva Carlos
My knowledge of the cutting world is basically this: really good cow horses try to keep a calf from going back to the herd. I don't know the nuances or how the competitions work but you get the feeling from reading this book that Saha does. Or at least he did his research. I thought the competition where they ran Mary Jane under the name of Spooks pretending she's Lady Joe was particularly well done. Saha managed to explain how a cutting competition worked without just dumping exposition on the reader. The story continued to move and, for those uninitiated in the cutting world, managed to educate the reader.
Mark Saha's contemporary humor novel, Lady Joe, follows two friends as they attempt to pull off an impossible stunt; one out of sheer desperation and the other out of loyalty to a long-term pal. I loved the Mid-Coast California setting for the story and found myself watching YouTube videos of cow cutting to see exactly what Jim and Lee were up to. Horses who are gifted cow cutters seem to have well-developed senses of humor and play and show delight as they nimbly dodge and feint with the cows they've cut from the herd.Watching the videos made Lady Joe's story really come alive for me. I could visualize the competitions and empathize with the two unlikely champions as they travel the circuit. Lady Joe is a heartwarming novel that is a joy to read. Saha's writing is as down to earth as his two lead characters, and his plot is inspired. Lady Joe is highly recommended."
-- Jack Mangus for Readers'Favorites
"Growing up in Italy I've actually never heard of horse cutting (I mean I knew the sport, but didn't know its name), so thanks to this book I've learned new things about the horse world and this sport. The language is quite simple so I didn't have any trouble comprehending what I was reading. Talking about the story: I loved it! I found the book funny and so interesting. Lee is my favourite character because I can relate to him, I can definitely see myself losing a horse. Jim is a lovely cutie pie, Francine is a great woman and Sally... well I didn't like her at first, but she's good too. In the end I have to say that this book is perfect for every reader, so go and read it!"
About the Author
Mark Saha grew up in cotton country along the Texas Gulf Coast, earned a BA at the University of Notre Dame, and attended film school at UCLA, where a collection of his short stories won a Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award. That resulted in offers from Hollywood agencies and led to many years of writing scripts for film and television. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
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Top customer reviews
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If ever there was a story that ought to be titled, "What could possibly go wrong?", this is it. Almost-ne'er-do-well Lee Estes manages to get dumped from champion cutting mare Lady Joe on a ride in the California foothills just before she's to be sold to a rich Texas lawyer for an astronomical price. When Lee climbs to his feet and finds her gone, he has to come up with a plan to hide his carelessness from his judgmental boss. He enlists a reluctant sidekick, good-hearted tag-along Jim Harrison, to set up what one chapter calls a "three-horse monte" to deliver the money and cover his sins. This sweet tale is both comic and heart-gripping, with each chapter punctuated with OMG moments as the guys twist and turn to extricate themselves from mess after mess.
Neither of the women in the story are as well fleshed out as Jim and Lee (or for that matter, as are the three horses involved). At one point, Jim's wife Francine has to go along with a part of the scheme, and I had to suspend a bit of disbelief to buy that she would be so agreeable. Later, I learned why she was willing to indulge her husband, but at the time I had to let go of my skepticism to move on.
Among the perks for me was an introduction to the cutting-horse world, which I've only seen occasionally on television. The development of connections between riders and horses and the ballet of the cutting itself are described with an understated lyricism that grants full credit to these horses that Saha so clearly understands and loves. The book ends with a gentle disquisition on horses and the people who make a place for them in an increasingly indifferent world. This book is almost short enough to be read in one sitting on a vacation day. So find a sunny spot and a comfortable chair and drop the reins for the ride!
At the very beginning of Huckleberry Finn, Huck tells the reader that what Mark Twain wrote about him in Tom Sawyer was mostly the truth, but he may have stretched it a little in places. Then he adds that he never knew anyone who always told the truth, except for his Aunt Polly and Mary. This straight up warns the reader that there may be some stretchers in the tale that follows. I couldn't help thinking about Huck when in the first pages of Lady Joe, Lee Estes never even considers telling the truth about how he lost his boss's prized cutting horse. Instead he concocts a deception to save himself which involves his best friend Jim Harrison. Lee is as good as Huck was in devising schemes to get out of trouble, but it seems each stretcher leads to a complication which then leads to more trouble. The hilarious tale is told with Twainian humor and warmth as well as a bit of nostalgia. It left me wanting to read about Lee and Jim's next adventure
The trouble starts on page one, and the author continually ratchets up the tension from there. The fact that he's created some very likable -- if imperfect -- characters adds serious stakes to the building pressure. Great dialogue makes this a true joyride. If I didn't have the daily tasks to to deal with, I'd have read Lady Joe in one sitting. Thanks!
Never mind that I now know more about cutting horses than I ever did, I was mightily entertained by the straight talk of this fine writer.
I loved this novel and hope to read more of Saha soon.