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on December 12, 2016
Review of Lady Joe, by Mark Saha
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!
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on September 6, 2015
Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave

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
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on December 12, 2016
Great book for everyone- not only for those interested in the sport of cutting but also for those who love a good romance and an intrigue-filled mystery. The author captures the dreams and aspirations of those who love cutting horses; those who haul thousands of miles to numerous weekend cuttings; those who " come out of nowhere and start running up statistics on a horse nobody had heard of." The reader quickly relates to Jim Harrison's desperate shot at saving his marriage by participating in the crazy scheme of his best friend, Lee Estes. "It was the crazy ones who saved the horse. What they did went against self-interest and common sense and deprived them of the opportunity for a normal life, but they did it anyway because they fell in love with the animal and couldn't live without its companionship. National Cutting Horse Association members will identify with the anticipation of riding into the herd for 2 1/2 minutes of adrenaline rush which Saha captures with expertise. But this book appeals to more the NCHA members. This book highlights much more than the cutting horse industry. It reveals the human spirit and the individual's quest for succeeding in life.
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on August 12, 2015
This book is outside my normal tastes. I tend towards either historical fiction or dark, spikey noir tales of blood and chaos. I was most pleasantly surprised. It’s a buddy tale of two twentysomethings, a good guy going nowhere and his fast talking high school pal, a screwball petty hustler. It’s a silly caper that goes wrong by degrees and a tale of them both growing up a bit. The characterizations were excellent, especially the internal monologues. The pacing was fine and the writing enjoyable. It’s not complex enough to rate a five but it’s a most enjoyable four. Content is suitable for younger readers while being mature enough to hold my aged self’s interest.
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on December 11, 2016
Lady Joe is a fast read-- an engaging story of two buddies who get in over their heads with a caper that takes on a life of its own. Along the way, you'll be exposed to the sport of "cutting," something I'd heard of, but never experienced in life, nor in literature. Recommended!
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on August 20, 2015
This little book packs a big kick. Like most good novels and films, it's a people story; this one happens to be set in the corrals and competitions that are home turf to cutting horses.

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!
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on August 22, 2015
They say there are no dull subjects, just dull writers. Neither this subject nor Mark Saha's treatment of it were anything but fascinating.
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.
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on September 12, 2015
...can be hazardous to your health. I love it when an author puts me in an unfamiliar setting. These are horse-people in horse country, and Mark Saha clearly knows what makes them tick. His characters ring true--two best friends, still in their twenties, who grew up in these surroundings, both horse-savvy riders. Lee, still single, is brash and outgoing, a risk taker. Jim is more laid back and low key and a devoted husband, married since high school. When Lee loses his employer's prize horse and comes to his buddy with a high-risk cover-up plan, Jim reluctantly agrees to help him, and we're off on a bumpy, highly entertaining ride involving three look-alike blue roan mares, a good bit of horse-switching, and a cutting-horse contest with real cows in which Jim competes on Mary Jane, his wife's horse. Their ride is both amusing and touching as Jim talks to the mare non-stop, telling her of his deep love for her mistress and fear of losing her and asking Mary Jane to put in a good word for him. The episode becomes a turning point in his marriage and his life, as horse and rider click and perform brilliantly.
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on August 11, 2015
I'm not a horse person, so Mr. Saha's book has both entertained and enlightened me about cutting competitions that pay homage to working men and horses of the past. I particularly enjoyed the philosophical observations about the changing role of the horse through the centuries. Not native to North America, the first horses were introduced by Europeans. As animals escaped captivity, great wild horse herds bred, leading to a golden age for the Indians. Eventually Native Americans were decimated, but the horse survived to become the bulwark of transportation, commerce, and communication. When automobiles displaced animals, horses became luxury items, and those who know and love them... well, you ought to read the book. Lee and Jim are memorable characters, and you'll root for them to somehow find their place in a world that doesn't particularly value their special talents.
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on May 13, 2016
I bought this book because i have owned and shown horses since the 60's so I always enjoy a good horse story. Unfortunately this isn't one. The story line is pretty far fetched and the writing is never going to win any literary awards. Characters are poorly developed and therefore it's difficult care about them or what happens to them. A lot of the talk about horses and their training is unrealistic but wouldn't bother readers who aren't horsemen. It was a quick read.....thankfully.
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