What a year for horse books!

I’m so excited, I have to blog about it.

Today two of my favorite authors announced they have new books coming out this fall. And another favorite of mine just dropped the latest in a fast-paced serial which has “next weekend’s read” all over it. While there are always awesome new books to read, I’m really excited that these titles are all equestrian fiction.

How did that happen, anyway? Five years ago equestrian fiction as we know it did not exist. There were plenty of thrillers with horses in them, and lots of younger reader-to-young adult titles. But what we have now goes deeper than “a story with horses in it.” We have amazing and talented equestrians writing for equestrians – of all ages – with a modern contemporary voice and realistic, relatable plots.

I’m so excited. Did I say that already?

Anyway, now is the time to catch up with these authors before their new books come out. Here’s what we are looking at:

Mara Dabrishus is releasing the sequel to her gorgeous Saratoga story, Stay the DistanceIn case you were wondering what a perfect book cover looks like, it’s this one:

From MaraDabrishus.com

From MaraDabrishus.com

Wouldn’t this look great on merch? I’m thinking tote bag. Tote bag, Mara! Let’s make this happen!

The next one I’m psyched for? Mary Pagones’ Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion, a sequel to Fortune’s Fool.

Pagones Tweet

From Mary Pagones’ Twitter today!

I’m not surprised this cover is totally unique — so are Mary Pagones’ completely original approaches to equestrian fiction. I am so excited to get back into Simon’s head. I wonder if he still listens to The Killers all the time. I have so much respect for his musical taste.

(And this title is amazing.)

If you haven’t read Fortune’s Fool or The Horse is Never Wrong, I have a review of these books here.

So all of this to get excited for, and I’m still pumped for this weekend when I’m going to spend some quality time catching up with Loxwood, the delightful eventing series from British author Grace Wilkinson. I haven’t reviewed Loxwood or A Perfect Stridethe first two books in the series, because I’m behind on everything… but I can assure you they’re fantastic. Her new book, Between the Flags, picks up on a cliffhanger from A Perfect Stride. Let’s do this, weekend!

The latest from Grace Wilkinson promises more eventing delights.

The latest from Grace Wilkinson promises more eventing delights.

I know this isn’t even close to all the new horse books for the second half of 2016, but all of these coming at me at once have me kind of giddy! So if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of reading to catch up on…!

Book Review: Wanderlust and laughter from “The Road to Little Dribbling”

The Road to Little Dribbling

The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson

For Bill Bryson fans, Mr. Bryson can do no wrong. And you’d better believe I’m a Bill Bryson fan. His travel stories are the perfect blend of grouchy internal monologue and “oops did I say that aloud” less-than-internal monologues. As a grouchy internal monologue super-user, I identify with Bryson every time the human race does something dismaying.

Even within the close confines of that small island of Britain, there’s plenty of room for the human race to do something dismaying. Our favorite globe-trotting grouch encounters morose barkeeps who turn away dinner patrons from empty rooms because the kitchen is slammed, witnesses a total lack of English grammar in the land where English grammar was born, and a poster of Jeremy Clarkson being judgmental (also without grammar). It’s enough to make a person weep for the future.

Luckily, he also finds views. Marvelous, marvelous views.

The Road to Little Dribbling is filled with descriptions of views. The view from the top of a hill, usually. Sometimes the view from a cliff, for a slight change. Sometimes a view of a lake, or an ocean, or more hills. I’ve never been so raptly fascinated with the concept of showy landscape. I reached a point where I was Googling each place Bryson visited, so that I could take it all in right alongside him. I now want nothing more than to go tramping through the most unknown, under-appreciated corners of England, following the so-called “Bryson Line,” taking in all those magnificent views.

Along with those views, there is also a little bit of melancholy — again, a staple element of a Bryson trip. So many things gone, or teetering on the edge of being gone… buildings, livelihoods, shops, and yes… perfect landscapes. They’re always on a precipice of being lost, whether from a lack of funds, a lack of thought, or a lack of foresight.

Bill Bryson’s latest book makes me long to go to England, not just the England he’s tramping through today, but the England of two hundred years ago, the England of two thousand years ago, and even further back than that, because, as I’ve newly discovered, Britain is unimaginably ancient.

Until I can get there, I’ll just reread his book, laughing out loud in public and sighing over those longed-for views.

The Road to Little Dribbling will be released in the US on January 19, 2016.

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New Horse Book Review! “Something Royal” is Something Delightful

Something Royal

Something Royal, by Maggie Dana

Eleven books ago, when Kate came to Timber Ridge Stables and became Holly’s companion, we could all see this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. And it has been! Through horse shows and horse camps, blizzards and summer storms, film shoots and crime scenes, Kate and Holly have been through it all together. They’re true BFFs. So nothing could ever come between these two best friends, right? Especially two best friends who are now sisters!

Sure, there are small things. Kate does not understand what Holly sees in make-up. Or clothes that can’t be worn for barn chores. Or flaking out over boys. (Okay, Kate has some very slight interest in boys… or one in particular). Holly is at a loss for why Kate isn’t more interested in dolling herself up, but honestly? Holly isn’t much of a worrier. Worrying is Kate’s hobby, and she’s fantastic at it. (I strongly identify with Kate in this, as in many other things.)

But these girls are tight, and these problems are tiny. What could come between them?

Well, something royal this way comes.

Mutual friend Twiggy (Flying Changes, book 10), is coming to visit Timber Ridge Stables. Twiggy is a European princess who trails drama in her wake. Holly adores her. Kate, less a fan, just adds the upcoming Twiggy drama to her list of worries. Doesn’t she have enough problems, without coaching Holly through a royal visit (or coping with Holly’s hair, makeup, and wardrobe obsessions)?

Kate, as she sees it, has some very real problems. Including, distressingly enough, wondering whether her beloved Tapestry is enough horse for her hopes and dreams. I’m with Kate — princesses are all good and well, boys are very nice for someone, and clothes are for rubbing off horse slobber on — the real problem in this world is making sure the horse you love and the horse you need are one and the same. Sometimes, it can be impossible to know for sure.

Something Royal is a delightful read, full of twists and subplots (I didn’t even mention there might be a stalker!) with lovely horses and the passionate barn-rat kids who love them. Watching Kate and Holly test the bounds of their friendship, while they each grapple with very different dilemmas, makes this series continue to surprise and delight with every new installment.

P.S., love the title!

Find Something Royal at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo – or visit TimberRidgeRiders.com

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Two Winners: Equestrian Fiction from Mary Pagones

Here’s a rare experience for me: reading a book so intensely personal, I was literally nodding my head “yes, yes,” along with the narrator’s internal dialogue. Here’s a rare experience for me: finishing a book, reading the teaser of the follow-up book on the next page, and immediately downloading that book so I could continue the journey I was on. Here’s a rare experience for me: the next book was completely different in every way, from voice to characters to motivation, and it still affected me as much as the first one.

Pagones THINWI’m talking about the work of Mary Pagones here, an equestrian writer who Gets It. She’s one of those rare breed of writers who can get inside the head of a horse-person and lay bare our hopes and dreams, our ambitions and fears.

And she does it in a clever way, too.

Pagones starts her two-book (so far?) equestrian series with The Horse is Never Wrong, a totally non-conformist Young Adult horse story. (When I think about this book and how far we’ve come from The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred, I am just amazed and grateful for the gifts of independent publishing.) Narrator Heather isn’t impressed with her Asberger’s diagnosis — a crutch her teachers seem to love pinning her social anxieties and occasional academic blunders upon, but which might not actually exist, since Asberger’s has been folded into the Autism spectrum. All Heather knows is, everyone else is weird, and she is just doing her own thing. What’s wrong with that?

Heather discovers riding and riding is good for her… but it isn’t a Cinderella Goes To The Olympics story. Heather as a character is beautifully written — she narrates without self-pity, without (intentional) humor — she’s a just-the-facts-ma’am reporter. Her voice is unerringly true to herself. Not particularly flowery, even stilted at times, and always pretty sure something is going to go wrong. Here, Heather sums up her biggest challenge in life: dealing with herself.

“I’m just going to have suck and up and deal with the me I have been given, just like I have learned not to complain about a horse’s behavior. Change your behavior; it’s not the horse’s fault, I’m told.”

I got Heather. I totally understood Heather. I felt an almost alarming connection to Heather — she took me back to ninth grade (which was not a place I particularly wanted to go, but… I did some good riding that year, and I met some cool people at the barn to make up for the people I didn’t even remotely understand at my high school).

And that’s what makes Fortune’s Fool so interesting.

Pagones FFSimon, who makes his first appearance in The Horse is Never Wrong, couldn’t be more different from Heather. It’s several years in the future and Simon has gone from the local barn’s resident bronc-buster, that teenager who will get on anything, to a high school senior about to embark on his life’s dream. He’s going to be a working student at an eventing barn (clearly inspired by Tamarack Hill) and take life by the horns. He’s going to make a living as an eventer. He’s going to ride horses forever and ever and no one can stop him.

Simon is brash, arrogant, proud, hot-tempered, know-it-all… and yet he’s totally lovable. He listens to 80s punk and New Wave, worships The Killers, and is dying for a pair of Doc Martens if only they didn’t cost as much as a new pair of paddock boots. No one can tell Simon a damn thing… Simon knows best, thank you very much, especially about his riding, especially especially about his hell-for-leather cross-country style and his possibly-psychotic horse, Fortune.

Oh boy, did I get Simon.

If Heather took me back to my awkward “only my horse understands me” freshman year, Simon took me back to my post-high-school “I’ll sleep/earn money when I’m dead” years. (I’m still kind of in those years, except I give in to sleep way more often. I still don’t really earn any money, though. I write horse books.) But seriously… listened to 80s punk and New Wave. wanted a pair of Doc Martens but couldn’t justify the cost. knew that my parents and my teachers and life and everyone were wrong — there was no need to waste time on so-called intellectual pursuits, not when I could ride a horse, take care of a horse, clean up after a barn full of horses…

As truthful to writing from Simon’s perspective as she was from Heather’s, Pagones does a total 180 shift in her writing. Simon’s sentences are jagged, his observations are hyperbolic, his language is very, very salty. Simon cusses like a sailor, but what 18-year-old working student doesn’t? I used to boast that I only spoke English but thanks to fellow working students and foreign grooms, I could swear in five languages. (I don’t remember them anymore.) Simon thinks in bursts of emotion and long moments of introspection; what some people see as editing misses are more likely the workings of his mind. No one thinks in perfect sentences.

The aching truth behind Simon’s rough swagger is that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen and that’s scary as hell. He doesn’t have money, just talent. And he’s just as plagued by thirty under thirty lists as I’ve always been — of course, now my pet peeve are forty under forty lists. Could people stop being so accomplished, please? Here’s Simon, telling it like it is:

The sense of motionlessness is particularly strong when I read about about someone my age winning an international event. This seems to confirm everyone’s opinion that I’m making some sort of horrible mistake with my life.

He’s eighteen, he’s in a state somewhere between elation and panic about the future, and he’s in very deep waters, not just professionally, but romantically.

Been there.

What it all comes down to: The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool are not your average horse books. I’ve never read two books by the same author that were written so differently, and yet so genuinely. I’ve never identified with two characters so completely opposite in every way. These books are challenging in structure and story, completely honest to the equestrian life, and by turns both soft and gritty. Non-traditional and utterly readable, these are wonderful new entries into the growing equestrian fiction niche.

Click to find The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool at Amazon in Kindle ebook and paperback.

 

Thanks for the reviews!

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to the readers who have taken a few minutes (or more than a few minutes, judging by the length and detail of some of these things) to leave reviews for Show Barn Blues. You are so, so appreciated. I don’t even have the words.

Mary Pagones called it “a must-read for hunter-jumper riders.”

Kate Lattey said “I couldn’t put this book down.”

Other nice things readers said:

“damn good writing”

“You are one of a very few authors that ‘get’ what makes horse people tick.”

“I loved this book!!! The author developed the characters very well.”

“silly book.”

Okay, the last one wasn’t particularly nice but I just want to be up-front with the criticisms as well as the raves.

book reviews

It’s true.

There are also stars and reviews on GoodReads, whose users I have always found to be a very tough crowd, so the scattering of 5-star ratings there is deeply appreciated.

All I can say, again, is thank you, and I’ll keep writing to bring you a new book as soon as possible. I couldn’t write these books if it wasn’t for you, and your reviews are what connect new readers to my books. Writing books takes time, having time to write takes money, yet books make very little money. It’s a conundrum writers have been facing for as long as we’ve been putting stories on paper.  When you leave a review and convince people to try my books for the first time, you’re giving me a few extra minutes to work on Pride, or whatever new title is in production.

Thank you!

I should also let you know that the paperback of Show Barn Blues is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CreateSpace, and it’s absolutely beautiful. So if you prefer a book you can touch and put on your bookshelf and admire, pick up a copy! If you think your local tack shop should be carrying my books, get in touch with their contact information and I’ll reach out to them.

And if you haven’t joined us at Horseback Readsplease make sure to like our Facebook page and keep in touch on Twitter! We’re going to have more equestrian writing and content to keep you up to date on the latest horse books from our authors. If you’re looking for new authors to try, Horseback Reads is the place to start.

That’s all for now… I better get writing!

Great Equestrian Books: Keeping The Peace by Hannah Hooton

Part of my Great Equestrian Books review series, this post was originally published at Retired Racehorse in 2013.

I have a fabulous horse racing romance to share with you this week! It’s one of the most fun, suspenseful, and horsey romances you’ll ever read.

Keeping the Peace by Hannah Hooton

Keeping the Peace by Hannah Hooton

Keeping The Peace is the first of a series built around a National Hunt racing stable. I’m utterly in love with the main character. I’m just going to say it: this book could be called Bridget Jones Goes to the Races and it wouldn’t be far off the mark. Luckily, I love both Bridget Jones and racing, so this was a match made in heaven for me.

Sweet, lovely, and impressively creative with bad language when she’s pissed off, Pippa Taylor is going through the motions. She’s got a job, she’s got a flat, she’s got a sort-of actor boyfriend who is just bound to get discovered one of these days. She has the requisite bad-girl best friend, she has the requisite lost dream of being an artist — she has everything you need to be a another cog in the machine.

But nothing throws a machine out of whack like a horse. They’re pre-Industrial Age, they defy all logic, and we love them without reason. And while Pippa is no horsey girl, when she inherits a pair of Thoroughbreds from her uncle, she’s struck by not just the inherent promise in a horse, but by the dream that her uncle had for one of them.

That’s Peace Offering, and like every horse, he comes with baggage. His racing history is rubbish, for one thing. His trainer is a bad-tempered Horse Racing Ken Doll, for another. Peace Offering immediately starts changing Pippa’s life in all sorts of crazy fashions, as horses do.

Hooton’s evocative imagery and crisp writing sets this story apart from the competition. Here’s Pippa meeting a yard of racehorses for the first time:

She stopped at the first stable and peeked inside. Suddenly, half a ton of horseflesh came hurtling towards the door, teeth bared, ears pinned back. Pippa gave a startled yelp and jumped out of harm’s way. She yelped again as she collided with a neat cutlery set of pitchforks and spades leaning against the wall.

I loved the National Hunt racing setting. Like most Americans, I know about Cheltenham and the Gold Cup and the King George V in a sort of abstract fashion: they’re steeplechases in England. I know that… that… um… well, they happen. I’ve sat up at odd hours watching the jumps racing and I absolutely love it… riding a steeplechasing course is definitely on my bucket list. (Some might say it ought to be the last item on my bucket list.) I know about Kauto Star. If pressed I would say Haydock is a horse and not a place but I’d have to Google it.

Despite holding an exercise riders’ license, when it comes to jumps racing, I’m kind of a Pippa:

“Who’s Virtuoso?”

Jack shook his head helplessly.

“We won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with him earlier this year. Won eight Grade Ones on the bounce. He’s a bit of a celebrity.”

“I know Cheltenham!” Pippa cried, excited that she knew something to do with horseracing.

The new-to-me setting gave this book a particular charm, especially the very thrilling racing scenes. Thrilling, terrifying, you know — just think how stressful you find it watching your favorite horse (to say nothing of your own) running a six furlong race. Now imagine a three mile race. I wonder if Americans as a society would even survive if we were suddenly forced to watch NH instead of flat racing. Our poor over-taxed hearts would just give out after 2 minutes.

Imagine poor Pippa urging on her horse, only to see a horse fall on the other side of the fence, right in their landing path, that Finn, the jockey can’t possibly know about.

Peace Offering stretched higher and wider to clear the yawning ditch and wall of spruce. Pippa could almost see the surprise register in Finn’s body language when he caught sight of the fallen horse on the landing side.

“Please God, help them.”

They touched down a stride away from Corazon. Peace Offering took half a stride and took off again, hurdling the half-risen faller.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Pippa babbled. She wondered how many other repented sins God would allow her. Another fifteen fences’ worth?

Fifteen fences. At this point I’m sweating and I’m just reading the book.

But that’s one of the many pleasures of Keeping the Peace. With exciting racing scenes, a slow-burning romance, and the delightfully creative swearing (yes, two mentions in one review) that the British have truly mastered, Keeping the Peace is one of my favorite reads this year.

Visit Hannah Hooton Books: http://hannahhootonbooks.blogspot.com/

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Interview: Equestrian Author Mara Dabrishus

I recently had the pleasure of reading a new racing novel by equestrian author Mara Dabrishus’s Stay The Distance. This is the story of July Carter, her racing family, and one tough summer in Saratoga.

Stay The Distance - Mara Dabrishus

Stay The Distance – Mara Dabrishus

It’s a coming of age story, but not the one you’re used to. July is in that pivotal summer between high school and college, and she isn’t sure just what’s next. She’s been riding for her father, a successful trainer on the New York circuit, for so long, it’s become the path of least resistance, even while her best friend is encouraging July to move to into the city, go to college, and live a real life for a little while.

But who can turn down a summer in Saratoga, even for a taste of real life? Or even to get away from a pain-in-the-arse two-year-old and his equally pain-in-the-arse (maturity-wise) young owner?

I wouldn’t be able to say no either, July.

Author Mara Dabrishus was lovely enough to answer a few of my questions about the inspiration and writing behind Stay The Distance, along with her own equestrian background. Here’s my interview with Mara:

Stay The Distance is filled with tension, not just at the races, but inside the main character, July’s head. She isn’t quite sure that she wants to devote her life to horses, but it seems like the decision has been made for her. Did you draw on personal experience to create July and her mental crossroads?

Sometimes I think the only thing July and I have in common is hair color. Her life and her personality are so very different from my own, which I think was why it was so much fun to write about her. That said, I think a lot of people go through that What am I doing?! stage, especially after high school. I experienced that after I graduated college. I really still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and ultimately I chose what I knew – libraries, books, writing. For July, the horses are such a constant part of her life that deciding anything other than horses is so huge it’s paralyzing. As for me, I just went to grad school.

You set this book on the New York racing circuit, and the sections set at Belmont Park are particularly detailed. Tell us about your background in racing – did any of it take place in New York?

My background in racing has always been that of obsessive spectator. Growing up, the closest major track was Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and getting there required nauseatingly twisty driving out of the Ozark Mountains on a road called the Pig Trail. So that happened exactly once in order to see Behrens win the Oaklawn Handicap. (I’m dating myself. I’m dated now.)

Much later, nothing was going to stop me from getting to Belmont Park to see Curlin narrowly lose to Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes. For someone who grew up with the Thoroughbred Series, it was like living fiction. What I think struck me so much about Belmont is how awesomely huge it is. It takes up so much space where space is at a premium, and you have to love how grandiose that is.

Then there’s Saratoga. Last year I spent a week leading up to the Travers Stakes sitting in a lawn chair by Saratoga’s saddling paddock and was thoroughly thrilled the entire time. It’s such a gem of a track, and one of those places where you can feel totally comfortable asking Jerry Bailey which of his mounts was his favorite when he randomly shows up next to you. (Cigar, of course, is his favorite.) That’s just the sort of thing that routinely happens there.

It’s refreshing to read a racing story that can easily weave horsemanship and post-race training into the narrative. Do you ride now? What discipline? Any OTTBs in your life?

Stay The Distance - Mara Dabrishus

Mara Dabrishus

I’ve been riding dressage when I get the chance, and have been for about seven years. Currently I primarily ride a little Quarter Horse mare who has this adorable, big personality. Coincidentally, we both started to learn dressage at about the same time, so we’ve improved together. (If my riding instructor is reading this, she is probably snickering herself sick right now.)

When I was just starting dressage, I rode this big, black, permanently fluffy OTTB called Diablo. In his earlier days he lived up to his name, scaring the basics into students. By the time I came along, he was the barn’s grand old man. He was such a character. Unfortunately he passed away a few months ago, but he was well-loved.

Books tend to come in threes nowadays. Will we see more of July and Beck?

Stay the Distance was initially designed and written to stand on its own. That said, bringing July and Beck back for more shenanigans with Lighter and Kali is definitely in the cards. If not for a trilogy, then definitely for a sequel. I don’t think Lighter’s character will allow anything less! 

Author Bio:

Aside from her Texas beginning, Mara Dabrishus spent the first two decades of her life in the Arkansas Ozarks. She pined for a horse and never received one, so she settled on writing about them. The Black Stallion, the Thoroughbred Series, every horse book you can imagine was dutifully consumed. For the past several years she’s ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight.

Stay the Distance is her first novel. Its prequel short story, Whirlaway, was published by the Thoroughbred Times.

Contact Mara:

Website: www.maradabrishus.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maradabrishusauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marawrites

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