Feb 5, 2015

Author Interview With Tudor Robins

Yay, another interview! After reading and reviewing Appaloosa Summer, I was very pleased to get to talk to the author, Tudor Robins...

First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada, and I think I must have been born loving horses and books, because the only time my nose wasn’t in a book was when I was begging for riding lessons. In fact, my best friend when I was about ten or eleven, was a girl who lived on a farm and had horses and a ton of great books. I’d go stay with her and we’d ride and read – it was heaven!

I moved around for school and work, and wherever I lived, I would also ride. After my second degree, I moved back to Ottawa and now I’m really lucky to live in an outdoor-friendly city where riding, running, hiking, and skiing are easy to do.

I’m married, with two boys, and we spend as much time as we can on Wolfe Island – often called “the first of the Thousand Islands” – where my parents live, and we have a cottage. We love the island for its scenery, river, wildlife, and people.

I can – and do – write anywhere, but the island is my favourite place to write.

What got you interested in being an author?

That’s a good, and difficult, question. Difficult, because I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I recently found a nearly full notebook containing a “novel” written when I was about ten years old.

So, I was always writing, and wanted to be an author, but didn’t really know how. It’s much easier if you want to be a teacher, or a lawyer – there’s a set process to follow. Being an author is very different.

I studied English literature first, and enjoyed it, but eventually realized that wasn’t really about writing. Then I applied for, and got accepted to, Journalism school. Now that was about writing, and it was hard work. There were strict time deadlines and word counts to meet. Everything needed to be factual, and grammatically correct. And, it all needed to be interesting. Oh, and, in general, the shorter the better.

So, journalism school was a great start in really tightening my writing, and getting me ready for the realities of being a writer – accepting criticism, being reliable, meeting deadlines – etc.

After that, it was feeling my way through. Trying to figure out how I wanted to be published, and the best ways to get there. My first novel, Objects in Mirror, was traditionally published, and I’m now an indie publisher and loving every minute of it.

What was the inspiration for your books?

It’s pretty simple, really. As a kid, I read lots of books I really loved. Like most readers, there were certain authors I absolutely adored and, of course, those authors can never write enough to satisfy their greatest fans. At some point, you’ve read all their books and you want more.

So, really, I think part of my aim was to write more of those kinds of books for myself.

I had stories in my head, those stories just kept developing, and it seemed like I might be able to turn those stories into books that I’d enjoy writing, and other people might enjoy reading.

More specifically, of course, there are real-life inspirations in my books. Like Grace in Objects in Mirror, I struggled with anorexia. Like Meg in Appaloosa Summer, I fell in love with summer life on an island. Like the characters in my upcoming ski-themed book, I’ve skied all my life, and even raced a bit as a kid. Those are my more direct, practical inspirations.

What's your approach to writing a unique horse book in a market full of similar stories?

I’m going to refer back to my last question and say, first of all, while reading all those stories I loved as a kid, I never thought of them as similar. The Black Stallion series was very different from My Friend Flicka, which as very different from the writing of Jean Slaughter Doty, or Dick Francis.

So, to start with, I never thought of horse books as being universal, or similar.

To be honest, it was only when I started reading reviews of Appaloosa Summer – reviews that said things like “not your typical horse book” or “I normally don’t like horse books” – that I began to realize there was a perceived formula, or sameness to horse stories.

I guess I’ve just admitted I don’t have an approach, or a strategy. I write the story that’s in my head, and try to be true to my characters. I think quite a bit about character motivation, and, also my editor is very good at asking “Would he / she really do this?” and so maybe, in that way, we avoid some clich├ęs.

I think everybody’s experience / background is different, and the stories in everybody’s head must be different, so it stands to reason each book should have unique elements to it.

What are you working on right now?

I think my workload is pretty typical of most writers – especially indie-published writers – because the main word is “multi-tasking.” So, here’s my current to-do list:
  • Publish Appaloosa Summer sequel, Wednesday Riders. The book is currently with my proofreader. As soon as I get it back from her, I send it to my book designer for her to do the print layout, and I start doing the eBook formatting. Anticipated publication: March 2015.
  • Send my ski-themed novel – working title Cold & Sweet (you heard it here first!) – to my editor so I can begin the above process, and hopefully have it out late summer 2015.
  • Write the sequel to Wednesday Riders. I have the outline, and I have the motivation – I just need to get the above two books moving before I can write it.
  • Finish any of the approximately three other books I’ve already started / start any of the approximately ten books I have ideas for.
  • Record the podcast of Appaloosa Summer which will be free to my readers. I’m going into the studio next week!
  • Promote, market, strategize. Reach out to readers, bloggers, and writers. Try to help people find my books so they can tell their friends about them and I can keep financing writing more books!
As you can see, the work is steady and it goes in cycles. I may be writing the first draft of one novel, while the last draft of another one is being proofread. It keeps me on my toes and it keeps my work really, really fun!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Just do it. Seriously, that’s the best advice I can give. It applies on many levels:
  • Just sit down and write. I hear lots of people telling me “I wish I had more time to write,” or “I want to write someday.” Now, I’m not one to say everybody has to write, but I will say, if you sit down, and think about it, and decide writing is a priority for you, there’s no point in thinking about “someday.” You need to get started – even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes a few times a week.
  • And, if publication is important to you, then I would say don’t be afraid to just do that either. We’re writing in a very lucky time when we don’t need other people / companies to publish us. If seeking publication from a traditional publisher is very important to you, then, by all means, pursue that. However, there’s no need to do that. There’s no need to send out dozens of submissions. There’s no need to wait for long months for the process to move forward. You can set your own goals and deadlines and work toward publication on your own terms if you like.
Finally, share some of your favorite horse books, and favorite books in general!

When people ask me this, I always think I’m going to give the short answer, but my head starts working on the long answer!

From a very young age, I adored Jane Austen. Seriously, I first read Emma when I was about nine. I think that’s weird, but I remember at the time thinking how funny the writing was. And, of course, still is.

Of course Jane Austen books aren’t horse books, except for the fact that traveling by horseback / coach set the pace for many of the stories. There’s possibly more scope for misunderstanding, tension, etc. when your news comes via horseback messenger, instead of your Twitter feed.

As to books that were more definitely horsey, I got hooked on Dick Francis at a very young age and, since he was such a prolific writer, he kept me going for a while.

And there was always Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, and anything by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, and I adored Jean Slaughter Doty.

And, of the classic kids’ mystery series, I always liked Trixie Belden better than Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys because the Bob-Whites of the Glen were always riding horses.

Of course, there are lots of great writers bringing out new horse books all the time. Rather than make this answer even longer, I can refer readers to the Horse Lovers Blog Tour I hosted in the fall of last year, to see the authors featured there.


Tudor Robin's website

Tudor's Amazon page

Tudor's Facebook page

Review of Appaloosa Summer

Thank you Tudor for the interview! Be sure to check out her website and sign up for her newsletter. Looking forward to Wednesday Riders!

Jan 13, 2015

I'm sick of winter! Here's Appaloosa Summer

Appaloosa Summer
Island Trilogy # 1
by Tudor Robins
June 2014

Sixteen-year-old Meg Traherne has never known loss. Until the beautiful, talented horse she trained herself, drops dead underneath her in the show ring. Jared Strickland has been living with loss ever since his father died in a tragic farming accident. Meg escapes from her grief by changing everything about her life; moving away from home to spend her summer living on an island in the St. Lawrence River, scrubbing toilets and waiting on guests at a B&B. Once there, she meets Jared; doing his best to keep anything else in his life from changing. When Jared offers Meg a scruffy appaloosa mare out of a friend’s back field, it’s the beginning of a journey that will change both of them by summer’s end.

The Cover:
Not gonna lie, I judge books by their cover. I really like this one, simple, a little YA cliche if I wanted to waste some snark on it, but really pretty and feels warm and comfortable, which sums up this book very well.

The Plot:
We open up with Meg having a reoccurring nightmare of her horse Major dying under her in the show ring, leaving Meg with a nasty concussion and an extra large helping of grief. Struggling not only with that, but the knowledge that her best friend is leaving the country in the fall for university, selling her own horse and leaving the sport in the process, has Meg reeling and looking for an escape. As luck would have it, friends of the family offer her a job for the summer at their Bed and Breakfast, and Meg, not really wanting to spend the summer showing on another horse, unsure if she really wants to show at all again, agrees.

On the island she settles into the job and living alone in her family's summer cottage. She doesn't throw the typical horse girl "I'll never love another horse / I never what to have anything to do with horses" nonsense out, as she quickly becomes familiar with all the local animals as she goes out jogging every morning. Along the way, she also becomes rather familiar with one handsome young man, Jared.

Striking up a friendship / flirtation with Jared, she ends up talking about Major, he in return shares his own grief over the death of his father, his fear of leaving the island, etc. Their romance is very sweet and natural, and as Jared wants to help Meg, he takes it upon himself to find her a new horse, an appaloosa mare by the name of Salem.

As Meg works with Salem, she comes to terms with her grief over losing Major. She finds a young protegee in Jared's cousin Lacey, and at the end of the summer it's Lacey who takes Salem to the big show, and ultimately it's Lacey who ends up owning the mare. Meg and Jared confess their love for each other, and make plans to see each other after the summer ends. The novel ends just beautifully.

Points of Interest: 
  • Meg is just a fantastic character. Her heartbreak feels real, her grieving process and her character development are so natural, and even the romance just feels so normal that it kind of threw me for a loop. Granted, the last book I read involved body swapping, so maybe my "normal bar" is set pretty low right now...
  • This book has so many beautiful, quiet moments. The one that most sticks out in my mind is one where Meg rows out into the bay and leaves a braid of Major's mane that she's been keeping the whole book. As the owner of a few such braids myself, I found myself tearing up over it.
  • The fact that Salem wasn't an abuse case, wasn't wild or broken or any sort of cliche was so damn refreshing. Meg loves Salem, and ends up selling her to Lacey. It's only slightly bittersweet, mostly it just feels really good.  
In Conclusion: 
I read this book in a single day. It's not short, it's just lovely enough that I didn't want to put it down. I bought the physical copy of this book and I'm glad to have it on my shelf. The second book has not yet been listed on Amazon, but you can bet I will be getting it the moment it's available. Really can't recommend this book enough guys, go read it!

Dec 28, 2014

Author Interview With Brittney Joy

Lookie here, another author interview! This time I got to interview Brittney Joy, author of the Red Rock Ranch series. I mentioned these rodeo circuit based books back in my post on Recent and Upcoming Horse Books.

Brittney with Stella
First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, first and foremost, I’m horse-crazy. Always have been, always will be. I didn’t come from a “horsie’ family, but was always attracted to animals … dogs, cats, goats, anything of the soft-and-cuddly type. Because of that, my parents decided to sign me up for a horse summer camp when I was ten years old. Although, I’m not sure they knew exactly what they were getting into when they did that – as I never looked back! I started taking lessons not long after and began working on that ranch when I was twelve. I adored being around the horses and I didn’t care what I was doing in order to make that happen – scooping poop and sweeping the aisle was a privilege. Eventually, I wore my parents down and they got me a horse for my fourteenth birthday. Best birthday present ever.

Basically, every major decision in my life has been motivated or inspired by horses. I chose a college with a very strong equine program and minored in equine science. A good chunk of my college courses included horses – riding them, caring for them, and learning about them. I put myself through college by training young horses for a local equine veterinarian who raised quarter horses for reining and warmbloods for jumping. Then, after college, I took a job in sales for a company that manufactured equine grooming products - and I still work in the equine/pet industry via sales. And, I met my now-husband at a trade show for work … my husband sells equine stalls, feeders, etc. ;)

PLUS, I have always enjoyed writing … so, naturally, I wanted to write about horses.

Brittney with her first horse, Austie

What got you interested in being an author?

I. Love. To. Read . . .  I love to read all types of books – equine fiction, chick lit, mystery, thrillers, young adult, etc. etc. But, when I was a teen, I adored The Thoroughbred Series! I remember my best friend and I used to devour the books as they were released and then beg our parents to drop us off at the barn so we could shorten our stirrups and go racing through the pastures … just like Ashley. And, I had a really fast horse … I knew when I started writing that I wanted to create an equine-fiction series like the Thoroughbred series so I could give teen girls the same joy I received – especially those girls that don’t have the opportunity to have a horse of their own.

And, I’ve always loved to write. English and Literature classes were my favorite classes in school. When I was sixteen, my Mom gave me a journal for Christmas and I started writing pretty regularly about my teenage feelings and experiences (under lock and key, of course!). I figured out I really enjoyed writing and it was a release for me. Ever since then, I had a life goal of writing and publishing a novel. Now, I’ve published two and I have lots more ideas bouncing around in my head for more.

Brittney and Cheli, her Friesian cross

The setting of your books is the road less traveled in horse lit. What inspired you to write Red Rock Ranch?

I enjoy and admire all the different disciplines of riding, but I grew up in the western world and that is what I know best. I spent my teen years competing in western pleasure and blazing trails through the countryside. I dabbled in reining in college. And now I compete in Western Dressage. I just can’t convert to breeches … I love my wranglers, bling, silver, tooling, and cowboy boots way too much!

What are you working on right now?

I’m planning to write a third book for the Red Rock Ranch series, but I haven’t quite decidedwhere I’m going to take the story/characters in a third book so I need to let the plot “simmer” in my head for a bit. In the meantime, I have an idea that has been playing in my head for some time now (in one form or another) and the characters are just begging me to write their story. I’ve decided to pursue these characters and see where they take me … it’s a fantasy with an equine-twist and two very strong female leads.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

I think everyone follows their own path to writing, but my humble advice would be – just start! If you want to write, to become an author, just do it. Everyone has to start somewhere. Write for yourself and be honest in your work and you will find readers that enjoy reading your stories. The hardest part for me has been to start each story, but once I do, this magical thing happens … I think about my characters and my plot all the time. I try to write every day when I’m writing a first draft – even if it’s for fifteen minutes. Because, if I can write a little bit every day, the story stays fresh in my head and I come up with ideas when I’m doing other things – washing dishes, picking stalls, driving to the grocery store. Your subconscious is a powerful tool – just feed it.

AND – read, read, and read some more. Read everything you can get your hands on from multiple different genres. Study how each author describes characters or keeps your attention. Learn from other people’s successes.

Finally, share some of your favorite horse books, and favorite books in general!

I have so many… as for favorite horse-books, I adore Karen McGoldrick’s The Dressage Chronicles. There are currently two books in her series and she is working on a third and they are fantastic! They are completely written for riders-that-are-readers … she’s very technical in her riding scenes and correct with her horse language. Plus, the horses in her books are main characters too -  she gives each one of them distinct personalities, which I love. Her books will make the horse-obsessed laugh and cry and root the characters on!

I also adore The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. This book is written from the perspective of a sixth grade girl, but the story itself is very adult. Kyle’s writing is simply haunting and her words have stuck with me years after reading this book. I very rarely read a book twice and this is one I could read over and over again.

Other equine-faves – The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards, and Cut & Run by Amy Elizabeth.

Non-horsie-faves – The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, Liliana Hart’s Addison Holmes Mystery Series, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.

Brittney Joy’s Pages:
Amazon Author Page: 




Thank you Brittney for the interview! I look forward to reading your books!

Dec 25, 2014

It all began with A Horse Called Wonder

A Horse Called Wonder
by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1991

Ashleigh wouldn't care about anything, ever again.
Ashleigh Griffen swore she'd never give her heart to another horse -- not after a terrible disease wiped out her family's breeding farm, along with Ashleigh's favorite mare, Stardust.
Now the Griffens are starting over as breeding managers at Townsend Acres, and Ashleigh's sure she is going to hate living there.
Then a small, sickly foal is born -- a beautiful copper filly that looks like Stardust. No one thinks the foal will live or that it's worth trying to save. No one but Ashleigh.
Can one girl's love alone work miracles?

There's not much I can say to add on to Mara's old review. If you're reading this blog, you've most certainly read A Horse Called Wonder, so you don't really need me rehashing the book. But since it's Christmas, and I'm feeling nostalgic (and it's cold out and I'm not ready to venture out to clear stalls yet) I thought it was the perfect time to look at the very book that brought us all together. Not really a review, just me rambling about some old book that somehow caught all our attention.

I don't remember how old I was when I was gifted with this book along with volumes 2-4 and a small number of Saddle Club books, but I'm fairly certain is was a Christmas gift. I ignored the Saddle Club books, instead devouring the four Thoroughbred books in about five days. I am now a full grow adult with the entire collection on my shelf writing on a review blog built on the back of this silly series of books.

Reading through this book after having read through the entire series is really something. Who remembers when Ashleigh had serious balls, standing up to the man who controls not merely the fate of the horse she loves, but her entire family's livelihood? The determination and guts she portrays in this book reminded me of why, as a child, Ashleigh Griffin was my hero. I pretended to be Ashleigh, raising Wonder, training her, racing... It's really quite amazing the way her character, more than any other in the series, was freaking neutered and fed stupid pills as the later plots demanded. Guys, go read the book again, Ashleigh is awesome.

I don't need to go over the plot for you all, you know it. Girl falls in love with a weak foal, saves her, etc. It's not a unique plot, it wasn't even really that unique when it came out. And really, not that much happens in this first book, but it sucked me in, as I know it did others. It founded a series that we've all loved, hated, and loved to hate. I honestly intended to write up a proper review, and maybe for the others I will here and there, but I find it hard to take off the nostalgia goggles on this one. Maybe it's that sappy Christmas spirit, but my snark well has dried up. It's a Christmas miracle, ya filthy animals...

Dec 18, 2014

Author Interview With Maggie Dana

Today I give you an interview I got to do with the very gracious Maggie Dana, author of the Timber Ridge Riders. Rather than putz around trying to write a decent intro, I'll get get right to it. Huzzah!

First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up on the outskirts of London, and I learned to ride at Pinewood Studios, England’s largest movie complex. Back in the day it was famous for Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; more recently for Superman, Harry Potter, and the James Bond films.

Nowadays, it’s hard to believe, but many years ago there really was a riding stable at Pinewood, complete with a demanding trainer who made us jump without stirrups—and reins, if he was in a really tough mood. Sometimes he made us ride bareback.

 Maggie riding Smokey, her New Forest pony … bareback!

Besides horses and ponies, the stable also owned a bad-tempered cow, two evil sheep, a promiscuous pig, and a never-ending flock of chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

The studio would often borrow animals for scenes in whatever film needed them, and us kids had to get them there. My turn came with the cow. I dragged her, reluctantly, onto a sound stage where she promptly pee’d on the concrete floor. I was eleven years old and horribly embarrassed, but everyone else—the stars, technicians, cameraman, and director—thought it was the greatest joke, ever.

Several years later, I got a job at the studio and worried that people would remember the cow incident, but nobody did. After that, I worked in television, became an airline stewardess, and then moved to the U.S. where I got married, raised a family, got divorced, bought a Morgan mare for my horse-crazy daughter, went back to work … and began writing books in my spare time.

Maggie riding Whippoorwill Siskin, her daughter’s Morgan mare

What got you interested in being an author?

In 1979, I was working for a children’s publisher (Weekly Reader) and my boss had very little work to give me which meant that I sat, bored out of my mind, in front of a typewriter all day with nothing to do. When I begged him for work he just told me to “look busy.” He didn’t care what I did.

“Write letters, a shopping list,” he said. “Write a book.”

So I did.

On their time, their typewriter, and their paper. And then, sweet irony, I sold it to them, and my first children’s book, The Golden Horse of Willow Farm, was published by Weekly Reader Books in 1981.

Maggie’s first book with Weekly Reader
 (Note horse’s similarity to her daughter’s Morgan mare!)

What was your inspiration for Timber Ridge Riders?

You’ve probably heard of R.L. Stine who wrote Goosebumps, right? Well, back in the middle 1980s, his wife Jane Stine, who runs a children’s book production company, connected with me via my agent and asked if I’d like to write a middle grade series. Jane said I could write whatever I wanted with the caveat that the series be called “Best Friends.” I asked if she was okay with horses. No problem. So we tossed a few ideas around and chose Vermont as the setting so that other sports (skiing, skating, mountain biking) could be featured as well. For inspiration, I pulled on my memories of being in Pony Club as a kid and riding with my friends.

I wrote four books in the Best Friends series and it was published by Troll (now part of Scholastic) in 1987. When the rights reverted to me a few years ago, I decided to rewrite (totally) and republish the books under a different series name, and thus Timber Ridge Riders was born. Those first four books have now grown into eleven . . . with more to come.

There are a lot of horse series out there, how do you keep yours unique?

I don’t know about “unique,” but I think that what sets my books apart from the others is “point-of-view” (POV). Most, if not all, of today’s middle-grade horse series are told from first person POV (the “I” method), which means the reader only gets to experience the story through the main character’s eyes. They don’t get to see it from anyone else’s.

With Timber Ridge Riders (told in third person POV), we get to see the story through two sets of eyes (Kate’s and Holly’s) instead of just one (as in first person POV), which gives us a wider perspective on the story. When Kate’s in a snit about a boy (or something else) and we know why she’s in a snit because she’s told us about it from her POV, I can then switch to Holly’s POV in the next scene and we find out how she feels about Kate’s snit, which is often quite different from the way Kate feels about it!

This makes for some spectacular clashes between the two girls, and because the reader knows both sides of the story (more or less), they will have a better understanding of the girls’ behavior—good and bad and, often, incredibly stupid! But hey … they are teenagers. They’re allowed to be stupid. It’s all a part of growing up.

As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to each POV method and I enjoy writing them both (writing a book in first person POV takes less time, by the way!). I wrote my horsey/time-travel novel, TURNING ON A DIME, in first person POV and had a blast doing it.

Two girls from two different centuries and the horse that brings them together

Writing TURNING ON A DIME was a very different experience from writing the Timber Ridge books. First person POV allows you to dig deeper into a character; it can also be limiting in the whole “big picture” thing. In the end, authors have to choose which POV best suits their story and their characters.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just started working on Timber Ridge Riders book #11, HORSE CAMP, where Kate and Holly come back from Beaumont Park in England, only to discover that Mrs. Dean plans to turn Timber Ridge into a millionaire’s playground. Much mayhem will ensue.

Sneak preview of new cover design for TRR #11

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

My advice to anyone who wants to write is always the same.

Read, read, and read. Devour all sorts of books—whatever takes your fancy—and then read in the genre you want to write in. Immerse yourself in it. Learn all you can from authors you admire. Educate yourself about voice, character, and pacing. Make sure your grammar and spelling skills are top-notch. If not, take steps to improve them. But most of all, learn to tell a good story. That’s what readers want.

Finally, share some of your favorite horse books, and favorite books in general!

As a kid, I could never get enough of Mary O’Hara’s books: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming. I also gobbled up anything with a horse on the cover, and being in England, I had a lot to choose from. England has lots of great pony books! Here’s a link to get people started:

Recently, through writing the Timber Ridge books and joining online horse forums, I have discovered some absolutely fabulous horsey writers. Here are my favorites, in no particular order (you can find their books on all e-book retailer sites):

Natalie Keller Reinert (adult fiction about horse racing and three-day eventing)

Barbara Morgenroth (Bittersweet Farm series — YA horse fiction)

Kim Ablon Whitney (middle-grade and YA horse fiction in the hunter/jumper world)

Tudor Robins (YA horse fiction set in Canada)

In general, I enjoy reading non-fiction. History, mostly. But point me at a good horse book, and I’m unable to resist.

* * *

NOTE: Book #1, KEEPING SECRETS, will be available FREE on Amazon from December 24 to December 26, here:



Timber Ridge Riders web site

Timber Ridge Riders Facebook page

Maggie Dana’s web site for Turning on a Dime

Maggie Dana’s Amazon author page

Keeping Secrets (Timber Ridge Riders #1) on Amazon

Turning on a Dime (a horsey time-travel adventure) on Amazon

I strongly encourage you all to check out the first volume of Timber Ridge Riders, you can't argue with free! I myself have plans to check out Turning on a Dime in the (hopefully) not so distant future. The first four TRR books have been reviewed by Mara, listed here:

1. Keeping Secrets
2. Racing into Trouble
3. Riding for the Stars
4. Wish Upon a Horse

Huge thanks to Maggie for taking the time to do an interview! We look forward to reading more of your awesome series in the future!

Dec 14, 2014

Is Headed For the Win heading towards the trash? Well...

Headed for the Win
by Rachael Eliker
July 2014

Nadia Wells has spent her life trying to convince her parents that horses are a necessity but despite her best efforts, they see them only as an extravagant luxury. After landing her dream job mucking stalls in exchange for riding lessons, a wealthy philanthropist recognizes Nadia’s talent and decides to invest in her. Purchasing a mare nicknamed Winny, Nadia is sure she’s bound for equestrian greatness but on the cusp of their most challenging three-day event yet, Winny bucks Nadia off in front of a crowd of her peers. Humiliated and fuming, Nadia makes a birthday wish that she could better understand her horse. The next morning, she wakes up to discover she has four hooves and a tail swishing between her legs: she and Winny have switched places! If life as a teenage-girl-turned-show-horse wasn't hard enough, Nadia has to figure out a way to tell the dashing Mike how she feels or risk losing him and the competition to the talented, gorgeous and spoiled Gretchen. Will the pair concede defeat or work together to overcome the impossible and be headed for the win?

The Summary:
I don't know why more authors don't write the book summaries for their books. They tend to be 100% accurate, because hey, they wrote the book. Shock and awe.

The Cover: 

Kindle books tend to lean towards using real pictures of horses because most authors can't afford to hire any artist worthwhile, and they like their own work too much to employ the likes of later Thoroughbred artists. This cover gets bonus points for depicting a horse that looks much like the one in the story, though were I to nitpick I'd point out that the fictional horse has three white stockings. No big deal though.

The Plot: 

Meet Nadia Well, your more or less average horse loving teen who, like many, was cursed into a family that supports her love but cannot afford to buy her a horse of her very own. Her parents land her a job at Stoney Brooke Stables as a working student, cleaning stalls and caring for the horses in exchange for lessons. She finds a kindred spirit in her employer Danika, and immediately falls for the other stable worker, a young man named Mike who doubles as a farrier because that's a part time job that you work around shoveling shit and not a full time profession. 

We also meet Gretchen, a rider Nadia's age who has her own horse and perfect blonde hair and her life is just perfect and she has everything and appreciates none of it and don't you just hate her guys. Hate her. Do it! Nadia never shuts up about how awful Gretchen is, so you know Gretchen is a terrible person. If for no other reason than she keeps dry humping Mike, and that's Nadia's not boyfriend, dammit!

Anyway, Danika decides that Nadia will have a horse of her very own, because after a few weeks worth of riding lessons it's clear she's Olympics bound. Danika introduces Nadia to her old riding instructor, Ms. Deiderich, who has nothing better to do with her time and money than buy dumb teens horses. Nadia actually faints from this news I shit you not.

So off we go to look at horses, during which we hear a long boring story about how Danika used to have a best friend named Helena, but they hated each other at first because they competed against each other both at shows and over the handsome young lad, Chuck. Helena married Chuck and later died competing, leaving Chuck to crawl into a bottle for a while. They arrive at Chuck's farm and buy a horse off of him, Headed for the Win, or Winny for short.

Winny is a blood bay mare with three white stockings and a star, underweight with a scar on her flank that she doesn't like touched. Turns out she was abused and sent to a kill buyer auction where Chuck saved her. Before long Nadia and Winny are jumping four foot fences together because of course they are, then they're off to their first level one show. I will hand it to the author, Nadia fucks up her Dressage test due to nerves and doesn't place.

The next stop is the Gallant Meadows show some months later. Where Nadia will be completing at the Preliminary level. If you need to walk away for a bit to come to terms with that declaration, please feel free. I'll wait...


Back? Okay. So as Nadia is schooling Winny, she gets frustrated as her horse decides to mare up like every show mare ever and whips her hard on her scarred flank, getting bucked off for it. Nadia is fully prepared to sent Winny to the glue factory, being a pissy shit for the rest of the day. Well, until Mike shows up late at night with a cupcake because it's her birthday. Her wish? 

"I wish I could understand Winny."

A wish that should have delivered Dr Doolittle plot instead results in her waking up the next day having swapped bodies with her horse, Freaky Friday style. Finally. 

Now we get to the surprisingly boring meat of the story. Winny has no problem passing as human, she explains to Nadia her abusive past and flirts with Mike on Nadia's behalf. Folks, you know you're a loser when your horse is trying to get you laid. But, oh no, Gretchen is still around trying to flirt with Mike! 

No time for that nonsense though, it seems Winny is in fact really terrible as a rider. But sneaking out at night riding around for hours causes the two of them to form some sort of bullshit spiritual connection or something. They are ready to compete!

On the day of the competition, Gretchen randomly tells Winny that her family is a hot mess, since her mom is dead, her dad is an alcoholic, and her grandmother is all mean and shit. Character depth in our antagonist? The devil you say! In spite of their newfound sympathy, Winny and Nadia are determined to beat Gretchen because winning is the most important thing.

They get through the Dressage test and the cross country, with Nadia spooking and near shitting a brick over a plastic bag, a judge's hat, the shadows in the woods, and a creek. At this point they're tied with Gretchen for the lead, but they come across Gretchen dry humping Mike again and it pisses Winny right off. Telling Nadia she deserves better she proceeds to be a real shit to Mike. Wingman to cockblocker in an instant, this horse.

Nadia manages to sneak out of her stall that night and finds Mike bumming around, being a pouty lamewad. He tells the supposed horse that he really loves Nadia, but he doesn't know what to do about it. He also says he thinks of Gretchen as a sister and then kisses horse Nadia on the nose. It's really uncomfortable to read borderline bestiality.

The next day, Nadia's family show up to watch the show jumping. Chuck shows up to drop exposition, turns out he's Gretchen's drunk dad! And Ms. Deiderich is her scary grandma! And then Gretchen shows up with Mike in tow. Gretchen immediately starts dry humping Nadia's older brother Peter, because turns out she just thinks of Mike as like a brother. Bully for all!

While warming up for the jumping, a Friesian stallion runs wild and kicks Nadia right in the shoulder. They decide to compete anyway, numbing her leg with cold water and jumping clean, resulting in a jump off with Gretchen. Gretchen goes clean, so Winny and Nadia have to beat her time. Over the last jump, I shit you not, they get struck by lightning, somehow cross the finish line, pass out and wake up switched back. And they won, because fucking duh.

So Nadia makes out with Mike a bit, gets a trophy, becomes sort of friends with Gretchen, who owns Peter now so she's all about helping Nadia get laid, and has an all new perfect understanding of her horse. And at last, I am done with this fuckery.

Points of Interest: 

  • Nadia is a hard character to sympathize with when she's constantly pointing out how Gretchen is spoiled and rich and has everything Nadia ever wanted when some rich bitch just bought her a horse of her very own. Seriously Nadia, you have a very valuable horse and a ridiculous amount of gag worthy "natural talent" so shut your pie-hole.
  • Likewise, Nadia frequently refers to herself as "just a lowly stablehand." No one looks down on her for it, not even our antagonist really. Once we see Gretchen ask Nadia to take care of her horses for her, the rest of the book Gretchen grooms and cares for Isis herself. The only thing Nadia has to do is feed and clean stalls. You know, stablehand things.
  • I don't think the author really wanted Gretchen to be the antagonist, but Nadia paints her as one the whole book until the end. It's very interesting to see the author and the main character at odds, but it makes Nadia come across as a brat.
  • This author owns a Thesaurus, occasionally her descriptions get pretty over the top. Mike's eyes are not blue, they are bachelor button blue, with a ring of green around his pupils like stalks of grass and leaves.
  • Considering I bought this book solely based on the premise of a horse and person swapping bodies, I was thoroughly perturbed that it took 'til Chapter 12 to happen. Also, Winny's easy transfer to acting human was very disappointing. We ALL wanted to see Winny - turned - Nadia running around half naked, screaming and pooping as she went.
  • Why is Nadia still able to understand humans as a horse, but Winny can no longer understand horses?
In Conclusion: 

I don't think this is a terrible book in general, especially not for an author's first. I would have like to see more polish. Why did it have to insist Gretchen was an antagonist, when really Nadia was her own worst enemy. The book didn't need a bad guy. I had a hard time dealing with how easily everything came to both Nadia and Winny, especially Winny adjusting to being human. And I really didn't care about the romance, though I will give props to the author for what felt like a genre savvy moment where Nadia questions why she gives a shit about Mike when all she's ever cared about was horses. I don't know if it was intentional, but considering most main characters in horse books are complete neuters, it made me smile watching Nadia's confusion over her nethers tickling.

I did have a good time reading this book, even as I facepalmed. I'm now following the author, and I see a lot of potential for a second book, especially if she gets an editor to really help tighten things up.