book reviews, reading

Book Review: “The Invincible Miss Cust” by Penny Haw

I am always on the lookout for horsey books that don’t feel too juvenile, which is an area literature is hugely lacking in if I do say so myself. That’s why I was so excited to stumble upon “The Invincible Miss Cust” in my Bookbub newsletter. It was under a historical novel sale, which is also right up my alley. It follows the life from childhood until the end of Miss Aleen Cust, the first woman veterinarian of Great Britain and Ireland.

To cover the expanse of someone’s entire life seems daunting but the author did a great job of making me feel like I knew Miss Cust personally from all the detail, while skipping over the years that were routine as usual. I never felt like I missed out on something important.

I loved Aleen Cust right off the bat. To say we share a common interest is putting it too mildly. Obsession might be closer to the right word. Horses. She had the childhood I always dreamed of, flying across the fields on the back of a horse all day with siblings and friends. The book touches on the struggles between Ireland and Great Britain at that time, and that is why Aleen’s family had to relocate back to England when she was ten, leaving behind her dog and horses. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking that would have been.

I can also relate to Aleen in feeling drawn to a profession by my very heart, an unconventional profession that many screw up their faces at when I said I wanted to do it. For her, it was to become a vet and take care of animals. For me, it was to write books. Of course, I haven’t had to face any of the bigotry she faced throughout her four years of college. She even had to work illegally for more than twenty years before the association would let her sit her last exam and give her the certificate stating she was officially a veterinarian. To work so hard at something, be so good at it, and still have society tell you that you can’t do it is insane to me, but they were different times, her childhood starting in the late eighteen hundreds, her school from 1900-1904, and finally being able to practice legally in 1922.

The whole book does not center around horses, of course, though they are always a huge part of her life, along with her dogs which she bred for a time. But the scenes describing her gallops across town to reach an emergency satisfied my horsey cravings in literature. There is romance involved, as there is in most lives, but it doesn’t dominate the story or hinder the real message in the least. She was an unconventional woman, so it only made sense her love life was unconventional as well.

I highly recommend this book for animal lovers, equestrians, historical lovers, and just plain readers in general. You won’t be disappointed by Miss Aleen Cust’s story.


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