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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New Book Review at my Disney blog!

Good news if you’re looking for a good read over the holidays. How about slipping away to Disneyland?

I just finished Kate Abbott’s delightful Young Adult debut, Disneylanders, and I am here to tell you and anyone that will listen: it’s a wonderful read for all ages.

You can read the full review at my Disney blog, ThatDisFamily.com.

And while you’re there, give it a bookmark or subscribe for updates. I’m switching away from the how-to Disney blog and moving into travel narratives. Get a taste of the new style with my Fort Wilderness walk, posted last week. I’m toying with the idea of a collection of Walt Disney World stories at the end of 2015!

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from my full review, posted to GoodReads. Are we friends on GoodReads? Click through below and be sure to add me!

DisneylandersDisneylanders by Kate Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disneylanders takes on a big topic–when are we too old for Disneyland? Is it crazy and childish to be in love with a theme park? Are we foolishly surrounded by fake bricks and fiberglass facades, or does our love for this place of dreams still have a valid role in our adult lives? And in the midst of a budding first romance and the need to get away from our parents and strike out for freedom, don’t we still all belong together, as a family, while we’re at Disneyland?

Casey is on vacation with her parents–the same Disneyland vacation they have taken year after year, but this year, things feel different. She feels pressure to grow up–possibly into a person she doesn’t really like, as her (former) best friend has done. Her parents seem more annoying and overbearing than ever before, and when she meets a teenage guy named Bert (a delightfully dorky reference to Mary Poppins that they both get), Casey finds herself embarking on her first act of teenage rebellion. There are worse places than Disneyland to do that sort of thing, I suppose.

As you, the reader, follow her characters through a tumultuous two days in Disneyland, you feel every emotion, see every land, even smell the churros and popcorn. No opportunity to examine the way that Disneyland makes us feel is ever wasted.

From ThatDisFamily.com

View all my reviews

 

 

New “Ambition” Review Hones in on Main Character

The main character of Ambition, Jules, is a prickly young woman with a chip on her shoulder. Not the most endearing of characters, right? I was really worried about how Jules would be received by readers.

After all, there were plenty of readers who told me that they wanted Alex, of the Alex and Alexander series, to be tougher. To know all the answers. To never feel weak.

beware horsewoman

Jules in a nutshell.

And while I can understand the appeal of having a heroine who knows all the answers to look up to, that’s not the kind of stories I have been trying to tell.

There are so many of us brought up in the horse business who constantly feel that we are in over our heads, that we are facing insurmountable odds and disadvantages, that we are too tired to go on, but we always go on… that’s reality. The question is, how do we shove through these fears and weaknesses, how do we get the energy to go on, what spurs us to continue the struggle to be the best, whether we are riding, or training, or breeding?

And that’s the story. Not having all the answers, but slowly, slowly, figuring things out. Hopefully, some will be able to draw inspiration from Alex’s struggles, as well as Jules’, and take heart that they can figure it all out, too.

Jane Badger, who runs Jane Badger Books and is the author of Heroines on Horseback: The Pony Book in Children’s Fiction, wrote about Jules and her flaws and promise extensively in a recent review at her blog.

“However brilliant Jules is with horses, she is blindingly hopeless with people. She’s one of those who, because they’ve been hurt so much in the past, bites first and asks questions later. She treads, wilfully, all over anyone who dares to come near her…

“Despite Jules’ desperate, tearing ambition to get somewhere, she seems intent on sabotaging herself. She simply can’t believe that anyone can approach her simply because they like her, and not because they have some sort of ulterior motive. The dreadful irony is that Jules spends her life sorting out problem horses, but she’s the least sorted out person in Florida.

“The brilliance of Natalie Keller Reinert is that she makes you stick with this difficult, prickly, downright unlikeable girl. And if you, like me, do need to find at least something to like in a main character, stick with this book. I promise you you will not regret it….

In Jules Natalie Keller Reinert has created a barbed wire heroine who still, despite her arrogance, and her pathetic inability to see the good in people, still has something about her that catches at your heart.”

Bringing Jules to life was important to me. Sharing her was hard. Reading reviews like this and having conversations with people about why she is real and why she matters — that’s amazing.

Thanks so much to Jane Badger for her assessment of Ambition and Jules, and thanks to all of the readers out there who are making Ambition the top horse book at Amazon. I hope we make a difference to someone who didn’t quite think they could make it.

Read the entire interview and see more about Jane Badger Books here: http://booksandmud.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/review-natalie-keller-reinert-ambition.html

And don’t forget to enter to win a copy through Monday at midnight!
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@ Retired Racehorse: Horse-Crazy Doesn’t Look at a Calendar

Turning on a Dime by Maggie Dana

Turning on a Dime by Maggie Dana

This book review is posted over at Retired Racehorse, where I have been posting equestrian reads for years now. But for all my new readers, here is my latest review, for Maggie Dana’s outstanding Turning on a Dime:

I’m often struck by how much we share with the equestrians of the past. Our tack, our boots, the very way we sit our horses — whether we ride English or Western, we are very much in contact with our riding roots every day. Horsemanship is horsemanship, and, by the same token, the deep genetic need the truly horse-crazy feel to keep horses close to them probably hasn’t changed much in the past millennia or two, either.

But in Maggie Dana’s powerful new drama, Turning on a Dime, we’re asked to stop and consider what the modern horse-crazy life might look like in another time — one that isn’t quite so pretty and permissive as today.

Sam might be vying to become the first African-American member of the United States Equestrian Team, but really, race is the last thing on her mind. The horses don’t notice, and neither does she.

Caroline is too busy ducking away from crinolines and corsets to worry about her future role as a Southern Lady. And the war with the North is getting close to home, certainly, but as long as she can sneak out for a gallop on her mare, life is good enough.

They’re one hundred fifty years and a world of prejudice apart. But Sam and Caroline have a lot to learn about one another — and themselves — when one turn of a dime throws their lives together, and they learn how deeply their fates are entwined.

What happens when you throw a 21st-century teenager — who happens to be African-American — into an 1863 plantation house? Well, you’d think nothing good. Luckily, Caroline has a good heart, and a definite interest in Sam’s 21st-century toys. Every teenage girl wants an iPhone, even if they have no idea what it actually does. (That’s design for you.) And that iPhone will come in handy. Because Sam and Caroline are about to find out that there are more important problems than just getting Sam back to her own time, and sometimes video proof is all a person will believe.

In Turning on a Dime, one truth becomes clear: horsemanship has nothing to do with the date on the calendar, or the roles society has granted us. For those of us who proudly bear the title “horse-crazy,” horses are in our blood, and no silly laws or rules can change that. Our horses come first — everything else is just details.

Visit MaggieDana.com for more information, or pick up Turning on a Dime right here in paperback or ebook!

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