Opal Dreaming, by Karen Wood

‘WOOHOO!’ Jess slid down the front stair rail, her arms out wide, and landed expertly on the driveway. ‘Today’s the day!’
For the first time in weeks, the sky was a clear blue, and the air was still, not a breath of wind. The sun was warm on Jess’s face and everything about the day seemed perfect. She skipped to the feed shed, hauled out some hay and threw it over the fence. ‘Come on, Dodger, it’s time to go and get Opal!’
Dodger nickered to her and began snuffling at the hay. Jess stepped through the fence and gave the old stock-horse a big hug. ‘Eighteen months we’ve been waiting,’ she said, running her hands through his shaggy brown coat. ‘I can’t believe I can finally bring her home!’

Jess has been waiting for her new foal for so long, even before she was born and finally the day arrives. But a storm on the way home starts a whole chain of trouble for Opal. No matter how she tries, Jess cannot help but see what everyone else can see – there’s something wrong with the little filly. But as time for droving comes, no one can work out quite what the trouble is. Jess refuses to give up, even when it seems there is no hope. Meanwhile she gets a chance to join the drovers with her friends, even if it’s only as assistant camp cook and washergirl. It’s wonderful being out in the bush, droving the cattle and proving that she’s as good as the boys, but Jess can’t stop thinking about Opal and whether she’ll survive. Even when there are distractions like Luke…

Opal Dreaming is the third in the Diamond Spirit series and the second in Jess’s voice. The middle novel, ‘Moonstone Promise’ is told from Luke’s point of view. All the characters have grown and matured in the two years that have passed. Jess is just as horse-focussed as she was in ‘Diamond Spirit’, but her world is growing. She still longs for her ‘once in a lifetime’ horse, but she’s beginning to be aware of the personalities around her, their challenges and struggles. She’s always liked Luke, but from afar. Now’s she’s getting to know him properly. Lawson’s mare Marnie is mother to Opal, and technically Lawson still owns Opal. Jess and Lawson seem at loggerheads, and Jess begins to realise that he’s not just being difficult about handing over Opal. He’s concerned for her too. There are themes of family and trust and connection with land. The aboriginal characters in Opal Dreaming are not caricatures or conveniences, and help to communicate their deep connectedness with the ground. Recommended for secondary readers and anyone who loves horses.

Opal Dreaming , Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373171

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews

Moonstone Promise, by Karen Wood

Last one!’ yelled Tom, as he sent a bale of prime lucerne tumbling off the back of the semitrailer.
Luke let it fall to the ground end-first. It bounced, then toppled onto its side with a thud. He stabbed his hay hooks into it and with one last surge of energy heaved it up to the top of the stack, where Lawson was arranging the bales tightly in a crisscross pattern.
‘That it?’ yelled Lawson.
‘Yep,’ Luke shouted back, hanging the hooks onto the beam that ran along the wall of the shed. He was dripping with sweat, itchy from the tiny stalks and dust, and his muscles ached, but he felt great. ‘That oughta keep their bellies full for a while,’ he said, looking up at the mountain of hay.
Lawson scrambled down the side of the stack like a mountain goat and brushed the loose green leaves from the front of his shirt. ‘Eight hundred bales, I’m knackered!’

Fostered teenager Luke loves living with Harry on this horse property. He loves the horses, the open space and the fact that Harry seems to actually like him and want him around. But Harry is sick. When Harry dies, and tempers flare, Luke flees the place he’s called home. He heads north in search of brumbies and work and a place to belong. He finds the brumbies, he finds learning and peace in the great outdoors. But there’s unfinished business back at Coachwood Crossing and it won’t leave him alone. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to return, even after the moonstone promise he made to Jess.

Moonstone Promise is the second instalment in a series from Karen Wood. The first instalment, Diamond Spirit introduced Jess and her horse-filled world. It also introduced Luke. Moonstone Promise is his story, and begins where Diamond Spirit finishes. But it could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Luke struggles with the demons of his past as well as uncertainty of his future. His meeting with Bob and two of his friends leads to a connection with and reading of the land that provides strength and direction. Wood’s portrayal of Gulf characters is at once playful and insightful. Luke’s journey is more than physical although you’ll have to read the novel to discover where he finds his home. Recommended for secondary readers and anyone who loves horses.

Moonstone Promise, Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373164

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Diamond Spirit, by Karen Wood

‘Hey, Dimey, you’re going on a holiday!’
Jess ran a soft brush over Diamond’s sides, making her gleam. The pony was a picture of health. ‘You and Rocko together, eating yourselves stupid for three whole weeks!’ Jess swapped the brush for a comb and began untangling Diamond’s thick black tail. Speckles and dots blanketed the pony’s Appaloosa rump and three distinct silver diamonds trickled down her hindquarters like falling stars.
Her phone buzzed and rumbled in her jeans’ pocket.
Shara: S^
Jess grinned and looked to the top of the driveway, where Shara stood waiting. she gave the tail a few more quick strokes and then pulled the pony’s lead rope from the fence. Shara was her buddy, her bestie…

Jess and Shara are best buddies, competing as a duo in local pony club events. Then Diamond has a terrible accident and Jess’s whole world starts to fall apart. Shara won’t tell her what happened. In the space of a day, Jess loses her beloved pony and her best friend. Gradually she makes new friends, and realises that it might possible to love another horse. But the pain of Diamond’s accident and Shara’s betrayal don’t fade quickly. There is a mystery around her pony’s death, and Jess is determined to solve it. She needs to understand before she can even think about owning another horse, or riding again.

Diamond Spiritis Book One in a new ‘horsey’ trilogy set in rural Australia. Jess has suffered her first big loss, or really, two losses. Friendships are very important, particularly to young teenage girls like Jess, but they are also very fragile. Karen Wood explores the world of horses and those who work closely with them. She explores themes like hatred, forgiveness, honesty and trust. There is also an exploration of connection with land and the idea that not all things can be explained scientifically. Readers who love horses will immerse themselves in familiar language, in a familiar world. Other readers will enjoy the themes of friendship and adventure. Recommended for upper primary to lower-secondary readers.

Diamond Spirit (Diamond Spirit Trilogy)

Diamond Spirit, Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373157

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.