Shoot the Horses First

Fiction - Anthology
238 Pages
Reviewed on 07/13/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Kathy Golden for Readers' Favorite

Shoot the Horses First by Leah Angstman is a well-written and engaging collection of short stories. The stories vary in length and the subjects covered, but each is filled with rich imagination, and it was wonderful to read about characters so vividly portrayed, emotionally, mentally, and subtly, in certain aspects. I was glad to see the drawings of the horses right at the beginning of each story. Images and drawings in collections like these are one of the things I appreciate most. I especially like that different stories were introduced with varying parts of the horses. This particular feature indicated the individuality of each story and that the reader should expect something new and different and possibly unexpected as they embarked on and entered into each new drama.

In Leah Angstman’s Shoot the Horses First, the most captivating aspects of these stories are the meticulous attention to detail and how a reader is drawn into a given story so that they would never want that story to end. Yet, end it does and, depending on the story's nature and its emotional impact, the reader might be inclined to laugh, cry, contemplate, or wish that things might have turned out differently. Yet, I don’t think that anyone reading this collection could finish it without feeling that they have been privileged to know what it’s like to enter into the short-story world of a master storyteller. Thank you, Leah Angstman, for giving us such a compelling collection.

K.C. Finn

Shoot the Horses First is a work of fiction in the historical, short story anthology, and sociocultural issues subgenres. It is best suited to the mature adult reading audience owing to the grim and brutal nature of human history, including many gory, violent, and sexual references. Penned by author Leah Angstman, this uniquely-placed anthology consists of sixteen tales of varying lengths, each of which gives a poignant snapshot of American history with none of the veneers of nostalgia. As soldiers, women, children, disabled people, and slaves all suffer in their own ways, the social and psychological approach to anyone even slightly ‘other’ seeps through to show the vicious side of the American way.

Author Leah Angstman takes history by the horns and really shakes things up to reveal a sinister underbelly in these tales, and I, for one, found them deeply truthful, realistic, and engaging as a result. There are many tales that feel like parables or moral stories, much along the lines of folklore, fairytales, and oral history, which only lends credence to how emotionally invested the reader will get in each character and the struggles they have. If the struggle is a major central theme, then so is the approach to diversity and showcasing the history that gave us both our current-day triumphs and many of the mistakes we’ve yet to fully rectify. Angstman knows how to deliver a visceral narrative with plenty of emotional stimuli. Overall, I’d certainly recommend Shoot the Horses First for fans of history, short stories, and especially cultural issues fiction alike. A stellar read indeed.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Shoot the Horses First, an anthology of fictional tales by Leah Angstman, reminds us that history can be pieced together from snippets of stories and snapshots of things that once happened. There is a right way to do everything in life and one young lad, content to be the best person around to clean and care for the upper class’s precious adornments, knows that it’s always best to fold items of clothing, washed and clean, “corner to corner and end to end.” Another young lad, swept off the streets to board a train bound for a new home in the western lands of North America, fears the prospect of becoming a slave, as that is what happened to many of the homeless children rounded up for adoption and shipped via the Orphan Train. Then there’s an interesting interlude in the American Civil War when soldiers instigated a snowball fight to relieve the tensions of the battles all around them. Many such stories have shaped our lives, our communities, and our world. Stories that reflect society as it was, both in the distant past and in more recent times.

Leah Angstman has a passion for history and has written novels and short stories that reflect the past in the hopes that life will improve. Her recent collection, Shoot the Horses First, covers many eras and themes, including racism, bad parenting, poverty, PTSD, Confederate viewpoints, misogyny, patriarchal systems, slavery, sexual situations, homosexuality, and other controversial issues. These difficult topics have always been there and they are what made us who and what we are today, for better or for worse. As Jodi Picoult deals with controversy in our era, Angstman addresses this from a historical perspective. The stories are presented using multiple points of view. The lad who cleans items of clothing for the rich tells his own story, showing his knowledge of the work he does as well as his pride in doing such a simple job so well. This is a fascinating and powerful collection, illustrating the author’s penchant for weaving a magical tale out of something so simple as laundry or a snowball fight in the middle of a war. “I wanted to show how our lives are shaped beyond our control by the time and societies we’re born into.” Life is history and history is a wonderful and compelling compilation of stories.