The usual review disclaimers: I review stuff I like. Not paid, not sponsored, not saying nice things just because someone is a friend. If I don’t like something, I don’t do negative reviews…I just don’t talk about it. So if I’m talking about it, that means I liked it and want to pass that along. Bonus points if whatever I’m reviewing is connected to a friend, and I can help send some interested parties their way.
I am a voracious reader. Always have been. When I got in trouble at school, it wasn’t because I was talking, or causing classroom shenanigans…it was because I had my nose in a book and wasn’t paying attention. I grew up in the era of when bookstores were still a thing. Larger bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were just coming onto the scene, and being surrounded by that much reading material was a little slice of heaven for me. I read a variety of books, but my favorites were always the young adult horse series. Thoroughbred and The Saddle Club were always my go-to favorites, and of course anything penned by Marguerite Henry was an automatic favorite (still the case today) but I’m pretty sure I worked my way through just about anything out there that had a horse on its cover. Some were better than others.
Faster forward 25+ years, and I’m still that same voracious reader. My bookshelves are still constantly overflowing beyond capacity, with a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction offerings. And apparently I still have a soft spot for young adult horse fiction, because when my friend Claire Eckard told me about the book series she was planning to write, centering around the story of a young girl and the horse she shares a special bond with, pursuing the sport of endurance riding, I couldn’t wait to read it.
While the print version of the book isn’t out until later in September, the e-book version of the first book was just released today. I pre-ordered my print copy a while ago, but I was too impatient to wait for it…so I downloaded the e-book this morning.
The print version (signed copy!) can be purchased directly from Claire’s website and a portions of the proceeds will be donated to the Western States Trail Museum.
If you’re like me and impatient, the Kindle version is available now, and a portion of the proceeds from the Kindle version will also be donated to the WST Museum.
From the website:
The gripping journey of a young girl and a foal who are raised together in The Valley of Hearts Delight.
Gallant and Gracie have a special bond, rarely seen between a human and a horse.
Separated by a bad accident when Gallant is five, each gets a second chance of happiness pursuing the long-distance sport of endurance riding, neither knowing they are leading parallel lives.
Will Fate bring them together again?
Gallant’s arch nemesis, The Almighty Flash, threatens to destroy all that Gallant has worked for. His misguided ambition and greed, developed at the hands of an abusive owner, has created a darkness in his soul that turns to blind fury when his endurance career is threatened.
I was glued to my computer screen from page one, and didn’t get up from my desk until I had closed the figurative cover. Any horse-crazy girl, young or old, who has ever felt like they’ve had a particular bond with a special horse will appreciate this story. It tugged my heartstrings in all the best of ways. I don’t want to give away too much, but I really enjoyed how the horses themselves are their own characters, and some of the story is told from their perspective.
From an endurance rider perspective, I love how the spirit of endurance is captured. There’s a disclaimer in the beginning that some “artistic liberty” has been taken with some of the technicalities/specific rules of endurance…but this isn’t a “how to ride endurance” book. This is a book about the possibilities of endurance riding, how it makes one feel, the joy of sharing the trail with an equine partner, and the many life lessons that can be learned along the way.
I love how many cameos, tributes, and hat tips are included. The character of Gracie is inspired by Julie Suhr, and anyone who has read her autobiography (Ten Feet Tall Still) will recognize some familiar names along the way, and the character of Gallant is based on Julie’s beloved HCC Gazal, who still to this day holds the record for most number of Haggin Cup wins (three).
Additionally, and this one personally grabs all my heartstrings and yanks them along for the ride, the “bad guy” of the book is The Almighty Flash, based on none other than….yep…that Flash.
My favorite badass. The fact that the real life version is the most cuddly, goofy, snuggly, big-hearted caretaker under the mohawk’d war horse exterior makes reading about his evil alter ego rather entertaining.
The illustrations in the book, by Phylicia Mann, also remind me very much of the Wesley Dennis style of art that featured in so many of Marguerite Henry’s books, so anyone who grew up on the ‘Misty’ books will feel an immediate sense of familiarity and homecoming.
The intended audience might be of the young adult age bracket, but I truly think anyone who is horse crazy, and has experienced a bond or certain connection with a special horse, will find something to relate to in this book, and I would highly encourage folks to pick up a copy. This is the first in what will be a trilogy, and I cannot wait for the next two books to come out. Because apparently, it doesn’t matter how old I am, there’s a part of me that’s still that same girl who used to sit on the floor in the bookstore and dive right into the next book in my favorite horse series.