The Scorpio Races ~ Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races
By Maggie Stiefvater

“It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.” ~GoodReads Description

Brittney Joy’s Review ~ I’ve had “The Scorpio Races” on my to-read list FOREVER because I continuously hear such great things about Stiefvater’s writing. Plus, a fantasy book with horses? Yes, please. Here’s what I discovered — I found a new favorite author and I will be devouring every Stiefvater book I can get my hands on!

The Scorpio Races was not exactly what I expected. I wasn’t sure what a “water horse” was or what a “scorpio race” would consist of. What I found, was that water horses are a mythical creatures that come from the sea, eat meat, and will kill you if you turn your back on them. Yikes! And, the Scorpio Race is a “horse” race in which the winner takes all and you might not make it out alive. This was not my normal warm-and-fuzzy-horse-book read. In fact, there’s only one real horse in this Story (Puck’s horse, Dove) and I was continuously scared for her life. Still, even using mythical creatures, this story shows the strong, intuitive connection between human and horse — even when that “horse” has the capability of being a monster.

This book kept me on the edge of my seat, especially towards the end. Once the actual race started, I knew I was not capable of putting the book down and I had to finish it — to see what happened. From the very beginning of this book, I had a sense that Stiefvater was the type of writer that was capable of “killing off her darlings.” In other words, I didn’t know which characters would make it to the end of this book and the fear of that kept me glued to the story. Basically, I was worried for everyone.

Also, Stiefvater writing is hauntingly captivating. The setting (an island) comes to life on the page. The horses (real and mythical) are written as characters (not background) and it became obvious to me that Stiefvater is a rider herself. Futhermore, The Scorpio Races is written in dual point-of-view…my favorite! I loved the rotating perspective between Sean & Puck and I was rooting for both characters in the race. The dual POV made the race extremely intense… because there’s only one winner, right?

One of my favorites. I’d definitely recommend to all fantasy readers.

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
— The Scorpio Races (one of my favorite first lines ever)

Sweetbriars, Leaving the City: British Equestrian Book Series ~ Hollie Anne Marsh (age range: 9-12 years)

“Welcome to the yard! Come and meet the girls... Cate, Tabby and Violet and their beautiful horses. Cate is uprooted from life as she has known it. Along with her family and her gorgeous palomino show horse Odette, she moves to a charming farm deep in the English countryside.

Cate is torn. Upon moving to horse heaven, she had to leave behind her best friend Beth and her beloved horse-riding instructor Bridget. On the other hand, she has fallen in love with Sweetbriars, the farm her family has bought to make their dreams come true. Setting up an equestrian centre at Sweetbriars is fun to Cate, but settling into a new school and having a stern Pony Club riding instructor that teaches dressage is less so. At school, Cate makes friends with Violet, who is confident and wacky, and through Pony Club she gets to know Tabby, who is sweet and popular, but hides a family secret. When the eccentric neighbor Sophia becomes a regular 'drop in' to the farm, Cate begins to learn about acceptance and what friendships really mean. The girls’ lives will be intertwined in ways they could never have imagined thanks to their shared passion for horses and Cate’s determination to make Sweetbriars a success. Will Cate ever settle into living in the countryside?” ~Amazon description

Brittney Joy’s Review ~ I enjoyed this romp through the British countryside and would recommend Sweetbriars for any pre-teen (9-12 years) horse-crazy reader! Sweetbriars is a good, wholesome story filled with lessons for any horse-lover — for beginner or advanced riders. I really liked how Marsh was very detailed in the barn and riding scenes and explained horse terminology, movements, etc. The main character, Cate, is very knowledgeable concerning horses and her two friends, Tabby & Violet, are as well. However, there is a Sophia character that doesn’t know anything about horses and I really enjoyed seeing Cate teach her things - like how horses shed in summer and get thicker coats in winter and how you don’t need to brush a horse’s teeth, but they do need dental work because their teeth keep growing.

This book also shows how riding isn’t easy and it takes hard work and commitment to get better. I also love that this book features dressage. I don’t run across many fictional books that feature a dressage rider (Cate) and the author did an amazing job of describing her lessons and tests (at the horse show). This is a wonderful start to a middle grade series and I’m curious if the next book will continue to follow Cate or if the sequel will follow Tabby or Violet — two of the other girls in the friend group.

Some other fun facts about Sweetbriars:

  • The cover features a real young rider and her horse! Isn’t that cool?! The Sweetbriars cover star is a thirteen year old rider named “Faye” and the palomino photographed with her is her pony, Gigman Boy George.

  • The back of the book contains an “Ears to Tail Glossary of Horses” which is a horsie dictionary! This is amazing because young readers can learn even more about the terminology used in the book. Horse colors like chestnut, buckskin, and bay are defined as well as tack such as girth, head collar (or halter), and crop. And, more advanced riding terminology is defined as well — such as counter canter, diagonal, hacking, and forward (or impulsion). This is something I haven’t seen before in equine fiction and I think it’s just marvelous and such a handy learning tool for young readers! Bravo, Marsh!

  • A percentage of each book sale is donated to a wonderful equine charity - RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) :)

Witch Hearts: A Novella (Magic and Mage Series Book 1) ~ Angharad Thompson Rees

"The mysterious Cheval triplets live a peaceful life in a secluded cottage on the edge of the Mystic Wood. Yet when their mother’s illness creeps her closer to death, the three sisters, Morganne, Amara, and Fae must leave their quiet sanctuary in search of a rare cure within the darkened forest.

But they are not the only ones lurking in the midnight shadows, so when fiendish witch hunters capture the sisters, their search for a cure turns into a desperate escape attempt. Their only hope rests with the exhausted, worn out horses pulling the cart to the witch trial, and the secrets the sisters keep locked in the deepest chambers of their hearts.

When they unleash the truth will it set them free, or send them closer to the burning witch pyres?" ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ I'm so happy I stumbled on this novella because Angharad and I have two of the same loves: horses and magic! When I saw Witch Hearts' beautiful cover, I was immediately intrigued, but then I read the synopsis and downloaded it right away. Captured sisters must discover their magic before witch hunters burn them at stake? And their escape lies within the horses that pull the cart leading them to the witch trial? Yep. Sign me up for this story.

Angharad's novella reminded me of the Grimms' fairytales - a dark premise with evil lurking in the shadows and villains that are creepy and cringe-worthy. This is not a light and fluffy story, but the dark beginning makes the ending that much sweeter.  I loved the three sisters (triplets) and watching them discover their magic and then fight the bad guys. The last half of the story is full of action and Angharad's writing is vivid and flowery. It was easy to picture the fight scenes and to see the magic as the sisters discovered it. Not to mention, the type of magic in Witch Hearts is horse-related. My favorite kind!

This was a quick read and was full of beautiful descriptions. And, there's two more novellas in the series. Perfect for fans of Grimms' fairytales or Once Upon A Time.

A quote from my favorite scene:
"Her hands pulsed, ice blue and gold swirling to form globes within her palms, and she flung the energy spheres toward both horses. Like blue fire and glittering lightning, Amara's energy and love and hope reached out to the horses."

Cowgirl Lessons ~ Rae Rankin (age range: 2-6 yrs)

"For every kid who loves horses. Cowgirl Lessons is a charming story of a girl gathering her gear to head out to the farm and take her weekly riding lesson. From her exasperated mother digging her lost boot from her laundry mound to driving to the barn to see the horse she loves, this story paints the picture of one girls devotion to horses. Cowgirl Lessons is inspired by a real girl, Duchess the horse, and all the little girls who took their first riding lessons on the sweetest horse ever." ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ If you are looking for an adorable gift for a pony-crazy kiddo, look no further! I bought Cowgirl Lessons for my four year old niece for Christmas and I can't even wait to read it to her. The story is super sweet and the illustrations are cute-as-can-be. Any little girl that is learning to ride or is dreaming of her own pony, will be ecstatic to read this book ... over and over and over again!  

kiddo book.jpg

Summer Circuit ~ Kim Ablon Whitney

"It’s the summer before college. Hannah Waer is on her own at the seven-week summer horse show circuit in Vermont. Her father wants her to learn independence and responsibility so she has to take care of her own horse—which might not be a problem if she’d ever picked out a stall, or prepared a horse for the ring. It also doesn’t help that her horse won't jump. When Hannah crashes (literally) into gorgeous and accomplished grand prix rider, Chris Kern, on her first day at the show, she’s certain her life is over. In fact, it’s just beginning. The summer becomes one Hannah will never forget—a time of first love, of hard choices, and of learning that life is what you make of it. " ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ Okay,  I'm hooked! After reading Summer Circuit, I'm excited to see where this story goes next and there's 3 more books in this series! When Summer Circuit starts, Hannah is the kind of horse person I usually can't stand -- someone who has a trainer and does none of the "grunt" work herself. However, her dad basically "cuts the purse strings" at the beginning of the story and Hannah has to learn to take care of her own horse, Logan, whom she honestly doesn't even like. She learns to clean his stall, to feed him, to groom him, to clean his (often pooped in) water buckets, and she slowly learns how to ride him, how to figure him out. And, she grows to love him... I appreciated watching her grow as a horsewoman and as a rider and I quickly grew to like Hannah as a character! I teared up in the last scene of this book, watching her and Logan together (no spoilers here... but it was a great ending!). 

The other major plot line of Summer Circuit revolves around relationships -- boys and friends and watching Hannah find herself as a young woman. I really enjoyed this too and was rooting for Hannah throughout. Well I'm not certain Chris is the perfect person for her, I was wide-eyed and flipping pages through the ups and downs of the relationship drama. And, the end definitely leaves me wanting to see what happens between Hannah & Chris in the second book!

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay on the circuit...and I'll be picking up book 2, Winter Circuit!

P.S. - just a note that this book does contain mature content. It is categorized as young adult, but probably teeters on the side of new adult (just my opinion and wanted to throw that out there).

A New Beginning: A Short Story: Shade Break Farm Series Book 1 ~ Nicole Moore

"Sarah has dreamed her whole life of owning her own horse. When her trainer rescues an off the track thoroughbred from slaughter and gives him to Sarah, it seems as if all her dreams have come true. But does the quirky bay have what it takes to be a champion? Or will his checkered past ruin their future forever?" ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ What a fun start to a new equestrian series! Nicole Moore's novella, A New Beginning, is just eleven chapters and a quick read which introduces readers to the characters of Shade Break Farm. I immediately fell in love with Flynn, the off-the-track Thoroughbred rescued from the kill pen, and Sarah, the fourteen-year-old horse-crazy girl who comes to live on the farm, to learn and to work. Both Sarah and Flynn have baggage - issues that were forced upon them, but they both seem to want to overcome their hurdles together (pun intended!).

 I'm a huge fan of an underdog story and I was rooting for both Sarah and Flynn from the second I met them on the page! This series seems like it will be a fun, feel-good ride! And it's obvious that Moore is an equestrian herself as the horse-terminology, descriptions, and equine personalities are spot on. I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the series brings!

Trail of Secrets ~ Laura Wolfe

"Spending three weeks of her summer in northern Michigan at the elite Foxwoode Riding Academy should have been one of the happiest times of sixteen year-old Brynlei’s life. But from the moment she arrives at Foxwoode, Brynlei can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. Then she hears the story of a girl who vanished on a trail ride four years earlier.

While the other girls laugh over the story of the dead girl who haunts Foxwoode, Brynlei senses that the girl—or her ghost—may be lurking in the shadows. Brynlei’s quest to reveal the truth interferes with her plan to keep her head down and win Foxwoode’s coveted Top Rider Award. To make things worse, someone discovers Brynlei’s search for answers and will go to any length to stop her. As Brynlei begins to unravel the truth surrounding the missing girl, she finds herself faced with an unimaginable choice. Will she protect a valuable secret? Or save a life?" ~Trail of Secrets, Dark Horse Series, Book 1 (http://www.authorlaurawolfe.com/)

Brittney Joy's Review ~ After reading Laura Wolfe's Trail of Secrets' (Dark Horse Series, book 1) description, I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this story. What I found could be best described as Canterwood Crest meets Friday the 13th (minus the gore)! Trail of Secrets is a fun and creepy read! It is set at a summer riding academy and I happily absorbed the summer camp environment -- sleeping bunks filled with haughty girls, campfires, ghost stories . . . and riding lessons and trail rides! I immediately liked the main character, Brynlei, as she has a deep passion for horses as well as an abnormal emotional sensitivity -- which means she deeply feels/connects with others (animals & humans). Her sensitivity also makes her prone to the secrets hidden in the riding academy's past ...  *cue creepy music*! 

I thoroughly enjoyed this equestrian-themed mystery and would recommend it to anyone looking for a suspenseful, yet light read. Take it with you on vacation or read it around the fire at summer camp! 

In The Reins ~ Carly Kade

"Cowboy McKennon Kelly was the last thing Devon Brooke wanted to focus on after finding herself suddenly single. Looking for a fresh start to life, city girl and journalist Devon just wanted to go back to her country roots and focus on building a relationship with her newly acquired equine partner, Faith. 

Devon finds companionship in handsome bull riding ranch hand JD and delicate Green Briar horse farm owner Sophia, both who advise Devon to keep her distance from McKennon and "mind her p's and q's" around the quiet and eerily peaceful stables. Devon thinks it shouldn't be too difficult to avoid the Adonis cowboy, but after noticing his skills and expert ways with training horses, she figures it couldn't hurt to get to know him a little bit ... right? 

Devon follows the guarded cowboy to a horse show, where she is unprepared to learn she may not be the cowgirl she thought she was. After a near-tragic incident, Devon begins to realize that the more time she spends with McKennon, the less she really knows about him (or horses, for that matter), and his mystery just keeps getting bigger. Who is he really, what is it that everyone doesn't want her to know, and why is this tight-shirted, spur-jingling, weather-eyed cowboy all she can think about now?" ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~  Spurs be jinglin' with this one! In this story, the main character, Devon, goes back to her horsie-roots after a bad breakup. She buys a horse she's in love with but not quite ready for -- which makes for some cringe-worthy situations and a few deep ego-bruises. But, it also made me root for Devon. I wanted to see her succeed, to learn, to grow. And through her experiences with her new horse, she learns more about herself - as a rider and as a person. 

I also greatly enjoyed the western world of this book. There aren't many western horse books on the market so I was excited to get lost in a world filled with two hunky cowboys, a sassy (but naive) cowgirl, boots, buckles, horse shows, country bars, and lots of flirting, banter, and swooning. And, I've actually never read a book that specifically revolved around western pleasure. I grew up showing this discipline so it was fun to read about those specific references ... Quarter Horse Congress even plays into this story! 

I'd suggest adding In the Reins to your beach bag or throwing it in your trailer to read and unwind after a long day at a horse show! I spent a few evenings on my deck, wrapped up in these characters, and sipping on a glass (or two) of wine. :)

Midnight Sky ~ Jan Ruth

"How can we harness the future if the past will not set us free? Opposites attract?: Laura Brown, interior designer and James Morgan-Jones, horse whisperer - and Midnight Sky, a beautiful but damaged steeplechaser. Laura seems to have it all, glamorous job, charming boyfriend. Her sister, Maggie, struggles with money, difficult children and an unresponsive husband. She envies her sister's life, but are things as idyllic as they seem? She might be a farmer's daughter but Laura is doing her best to deny her roots, even deny her true feelings. Until she meets James, but James is very married, and very much in love, to a wife who died two years ago. They both have issues to face from their past, but will it bring them together, or push them apart?" ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ I was in the middle of a flight and the middle of this book, welling up with tears and wiping my nose with my sleeve. I thought I was being discreet with my sappiness, but the woman next to me (who was also reading) noticed my sniffles and offered me her napkin. I then proceeded to gush over Midnight Sky while patting my eyes with a tiny cocktail napkin ... yes, it's that good! And, I'm certain the woman next to me purchased her own copy as soon as she got off the flight. 

This is my first Jan Ruth novel and I found myself engrossed in her writing and her characters. The majority of this story is set in the English countryside (at a stable) and many scenes involve horses, but you don't have to be a horse person to love this story. The true jewel of Ruth's story is the honesty in her writing. Her characters have true thoughts, feelings, and reactions -- even those that you are not "supposed" to have as a wife, a mother, or a sister. Her characters were flawed, yet beautiful and the honesty and hardships of relationships truly touched me. They resonated with me to the point of tears and the joy of laughter. 

Furthermore, I thoroughly enjoyed the dual point of view. Midnight Sky rotates from the point of view of two sisters: Laura & Maggie. This helps to reveal the full story and shines light on multiple women's issues: marriage, pregnancy, raising children, body image, x-wives, depression, insecurity, death, love. I mean, there isn't much that this story doesn't touch on! My only complaint is that the last chapter is a bit of a cliff hanger, but I guess that means I'll be reading the sequel (Palomino Sky)!

Some of my favorite lines from Midnight Sky

"The words had just fallen out of her mouth, glad to escape because they'd been there for such a long time."
"He followed her into the dining room and pushed the door closed. The muffled hum of laughter and music was still discernible from the sitting room, and Laura thought it somehow epitomized the last few months of her life, that feeling of being on the wrong side of a closed door."
"Outside, the horses moved like ghosts between the trees in the dark fields, and there was a pale moon in the sky."
"'Don't you think I know that?' he said, and the brooding anger in him took her right back almost to the first time they'd met, as if all the feelings in-between had been wiped out or never existed."

Ambition ~ Natalie Keller Reinert

"Jules Thornton didn’t come to Ocala to make friends. She came to make a name for herself. Young, determined, and tough as nails, she’s been swapping stable-work for saddle-time since she was a little kid - and it hasn’t always been a fun ride. Forever the struggling rider in a sport for the wealthy, all Jules has on her side is talent and ambition. She’s certain all she needs to succeed are good horses, but will the eventing world agree? 

On her own at last, Jules is positive she’s poised to become eventing’s newest star, but soon finds she’s making more enemies than friends in the close-knit equestrian community. Little mistakes cost big -- her students are losing faith in her; her owners are starting to pull their horses. And then there’s the small matter of Peter Morrison, the handsome, on-the-rise event rider who keeps showing up when she least expects him. 

Jules is convinced that all she needs is good horses -- not friends, not romance, not anyone’s nose in her business. But it’s just the beginning of the long, hot, Ocala summer, and as Jules tumbles through the highs and lows of a life with horses, she might find she’ll need help after all to weather the coming storm." ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ I 100% understand why Reinert titled this book "Ambition." I couldn't think of a better word to describe the main character, Jules, who is a broke, insanely-hard-working horse trainer trying to make her mark on the eventing industry. Jules drinks Diet Coke like a fiend, has a working student that doesn't respect her,  rides through lightning storms so she can get all her horses worked, and vows to never date a horse trainer because she's certain he'd just tell her how to ride her horses. Yet she's making it work. Well, kind of. Jules is hard-headed and set in her ways and sometimes I wanted to give her a little shake to let her know she was being an idiot, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching her story unfold (along with her antics). Actually, I loved watching her story unfold -- the good, the bad, and the ugly were highly entertaining.

Something that really surprised me about Ambition -- a major plot twist involves a hurricane and this was probably my favorite part of the story. Growing up in the Midwest and now living in the Northwest, I've never experienced a hurricane and, after reading Ambition, I hope I never have to. I cannot imagine the horrors of a hurricane as a horse owner, but Natalie does an amazing job of describing the preparations, the fears, the destruction, and the emotional rollercoaster before, during, and after the storm. I was choked up over and over, fearing for the characters (human & animal).

Furthermore, I thoroughly enjoyed the I-don't-want-to-like-him-but-I-really-do-like-him relationship between Jules and Peter and was delighted to have this weaved in as a major story line in the second half of the book. I was rooting for Peter all along. :)

By the end of the book, the stubborn Jules completely warmed my heart. She learned her lesson -- but you'll have to read the book to find out what that lesson is.

Looking forward to reading more of Natalie Keller Reinert’s books!

Staying The Distance ~ Mara Dabrishus

"July Carter’s world is perfect from the back of a horse. From the ground, everything is a complete mess: her jockey mom ran off for California years ago, her dad always seems more interested in the horses than in her, and the horse July wants for herself will never be hers. 

Even though the New York racing circuit has taught her not to get attached, July can’t help connecting with Kali, a hopeless filly that refuses to run when it counts. When bankruptcy rumors start swirling around the barn, the future is murkier than ever. July can’t stand losing one more thing, and Beck, the barn owner’s son, knows more about the rumors than anyone else. July will get the truth, even if she has to pry it out of him, for Kali’s sake and her own." ~Amazon Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ I'm a book hoarder ...  I have stacks of unread paperbacks and rows of unread e-books just waiting to be flipped through and I can't seem to get to them fast enough (that dang thing called life gets in the way). So, I've had Staying the Distance on my e-reader since this summer and after reading a few short pages, I wondered why the heck I hadn't started it sooner! I loved ... loved, loved, loved! For the past week, every time I picked up my e-reader, I felt like I was going to visit old friends. I adored every single character in Dabrishus's book and that rarely happens for me. July ("Juls") is a witty, hard-working, overly organized, die-hard-horse-lover and her thoughts and one-liners cracked me up. If I was seventeen again, we'd be besties! And, Beck . . . swoon. He's my favorite kind of love-interest -- sarcastic and mildly-cocky! And he can ride ... swoon again...

Not to mention, horses are heavily ingrained in this book -- which is set in the racing world. And, I'm wondering if the author had real-world experience on the track or if she's just a really good researcher. The details about the races, jockeys, barns and training was very interesting to read and I even learned some new terminology. Actually, I want to work at Blackbridge after reading this book. ;) Furthermore, each horsie-character has its own personality. The horsie body language, personalities, and experiences are spot-on and Dabrishus is OBVIOUSLY a horse-girl! I wanted to kiss Diver, ride Kali, and watch Lighter from a distance (while someone else rode him). Actually, crazy Lighter made me laugh out loud ... chipmunk! You'll get the chipmunk reference after you read the book.  

The mix of horses, a sweet love story, and family dynamics/drama kept me wanting more and I was sad to leave the characters after the last page ... good thing Mara is working on a sequel! 

Wildwood ~ Jadie Jones

"In Wildwood, the third book of the Moonlit Trilogy, Tanzy’s journey races toward a final battle within the Unseen world. Tanzy Hightower has crossed the veil and entered the Unseen world to fulfill the destiny she has at last embraced, to either seal or destroy the veil between the Seen and Unseen. She is the only mortal in a land teeming with creatures who want her dead. To stay alive long enough to stop Asher, the most powerful of the Unseen, Tanzy accepts his marriage proposal and seeks refuge inside his palace.

On the Seen side of the veil, Tanzy’s allies are fragmented and lost, without leadership. They must gather forces and train an army of candidates to defend their world against unfathomable predators poised to strike should the veil holding them at bay dissolve.


While Tanzy has accepted her own inevitable death in fulfilling her destiny, her closest friends refuse to stop searching for the impossible: a way to save Tanzy’s life."  ~GoodReads Description

Brittney Joy's Review ~ "I don't believe in lies or secrets. They turn into weapons." This line from Wildwood basically sums up the series . . . and, Wildwood provides a lot of "weapons" - both figuratively and literally! I was privileged to receive an ARC of Wildwood and very curious to see how Jones wrapped up the Moonlit series with the third and final book. What I didn't expect was to have the last piece of this story laid out before me through multiple character's eyes ... I loved this! The multiple POV made me even more invested in the story as I saw the secrets, lies, and battles from different views. And the ending ... wooza! Jones can certainly weave a serious action scene! 

I would recommend Jadie Jone's Moonlit Series (Moonlit, Windswept & Wildwood) to the fantasy/paranormal reader who also wants a twist of equestrian!