I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to the readers who have taken a few minutes (or more than a few minutes, judging by the length and detail of some of these things) to leave reviews for Show Barn Blues. You are so, so appreciated. I don’t even have the words.
Mary Pagones called it “a must-read for hunter-jumper riders.”
Kate Lattey said “I couldn’t put this book down.”
Other nice things readers said:
“damn good writing”
“You are one of a very few authors that ‘get’ what makes horse people tick.”
“I loved this book!!! The author developed the characters very well.”
Okay, the last one wasn’t particularly nice but I just want to be up-front with the criticisms as well as the raves.
There are also stars and reviews on GoodReads, whose users I have always found to be a very tough crowd, so the scattering of 5-star ratings there is deeply appreciated.
All I can say, again, is thank you, and I’ll keep writing to bring you a new book as soon as possible. I couldn’t write these books if it wasn’t for you, and your reviews are what connect new readers to my books. Writing books takes time, having time to write takes money, yet books make very little money. It’s a conundrum writers have been facing for as long as we’ve been putting stories on paper. When you leave a review and convince people to try my books for the first time, you’re giving me a few extra minutes to work on Pride, or whatever new title is in production.
I should also let you know that the paperback of Show Barn Blues is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CreateSpace, and it’s absolutely beautiful. So if you prefer a book you can touch and put on your bookshelf and admire, pick up a copy! If you think your local tack shop should be carrying my books, get in touch with their contact information and I’ll reach out to them.
And if you haven’t joined us at Horseback Reads, please make sure to like our Facebook page and keep in touch on Twitter! We’re going to have more equestrian writing and content to keep you up to date on the latest horse books from our authors. If you’re looking for new authors to try, Horseback Reads is the place to start.
Well, it’s been almost ten days since my last post here — the one where I promised I’d write more, remember that? What happened in the meantime? Well, a little writing, and a whole lotta life…
The goal was to get up every morning and write write every morning before I did anything else. Tea and writing, instead of tea and Twitter, basically. I actually had a really good start! For a few days, I was hammering out a few thousand words on Pride instead of thinking “I should really be working on Pride.”
Of course, during this time, I was going to work in the afternoons — sometime between noon and five PM. For me, any time I’m working in the evenings, I feel like I have limitless potential to achieve things in the mornings. Writing, reading, errands, you name it, I can accomplish it all and still have a nap before I head to work.
This past week, though, everything changed. I’m training for a new position and my life has turned into morning shifts. Suddenly, I went from a 3 AM bedtime to a 6 AM alarm. I was sleepwalking through the days. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have the strength of character to wake up an hour early to get some writing in. Who knows what nonsense would happen in my dream-state? I’d probably have Jules riding a chestnut unicorn through the underworld to rescue Pete from a Transformer or something.
So, the week has been a little light on word count. Things will shake out in the next week or two, though.
The other fun things happening around Natalie’s world…
-The paperback of Show Barn Blues arrived. It’s gorgeous and looks great with your other horse books! You can now order it through Amazon — I believe Barnes & Noble and other bookstores will take a few more weeks to add it to their catalogs.
–Show Barn Blues has four 5-star reviewson Amazon. It’s made it as high as number 16 on the Amazon Sports Bestseller list, which I think is as high as any of my books have gotten on the Sports list — but much sooner than any of my other books have made it! Horses and Equestrian Sports are the sub-category of Sports where I list my books. The “pages read” reports on borrowed copies is also at record highs for my titles. If you have Amazon Prime, you have access to Kindle Unlimited – that means you can borrow my ebooks for free!
-I’m part of a new author’s co-op called Horseback Reads. Our website is at horsebackreads.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re a group of equestrian writers who hold ourselves and our writing to the highest quality standards, so you’ll always know you’re getting a thoughtfully-crafted, edited, and well-produced book from us. Our social media outlets will be a great way to keep up on new equestrian titles you’ll want to read.
This is a good thing because any sort of writing inspires more writing. Once you get back in the habit of typing away about your entire life and all your inner thoughts, it’s very addicting. I used to blog daily on multiple sites — in fact, if you’re new to NKR fiction, you might not realize that The Head and Not The Heart was born out of the massive daily readership of my first serious blog, Retired Racehorse.
Well, that’s the news from Celebration. I’m still on the lookout for new reviews for Show Barn Blues, so if you enjoyed the book, my name is Natalie Keller Reinert and I’m on Amazon and GoodReads, and if you didn’t enjoy the book, my name is a secret and you’ve never heard of me. Have a great week!
This summer has not been my best for writing. As I blogged the other day, I’ve been working slightly insane hours, and when I’m not at work, I would really rather go to the pool/go to a theme park/go to sleep/do anything besides think about what the characters inhabiting the recesses of my brain are up to. I would prefer they stay in the recesses of my brain until I have more energy to deal with them.
Then I get another urgent email asking me when the sequel to Ambition is coming and I look at a calendar, realize I am six months behind schedule, and start panicking. (I don’t start writing, necessarily. It’s much easier to panic.)
I’m really, really good at panicking.
Somehow this summer I managed to finish Show Barn Blues, and the consequential lift in mood and energy that comes from publishing a book at last, from not having to open that damn file anymore, from having fresh new words to look at, is pushing me to really make a commitment to my writing. I need to do better. I need to do more.
I need to finish Pride.
So, I’m trying to get myself back into the writing habit by opening up my computer and editing a chapter of Pride every morning.
Obviously this is not as easy as my current morning routine, which is plopping onto the couch and looking at Twitter for an hour. And, in what is probably a surprising twist only to me, it’s actually more entertaining than looking at Twitter for an hour. I don’t even know what I’m looking at on Twitter most of the time. Theme park news, random pictures of racehorses steaming in the morning sunlight, a funny gif of a dog… seriously, what have I been doing with my life?
It’s more entertaining, writing a novel, but it requires infinitely more effort than the couch/Twitter combo, and sometimes most of the time I just don’t feel like I have the energy or the brain power to write anything of consequence.
Well, if the past two days are any indication, I actually do have both the energy and the brain power, so I have to keep at this morning writing challenge until it stops being a challenge and starts being a habit.
Of course, next week, I work at 8 AM every day, so I’m not sure how this is all going to hold up when I’m leaving the house at 7:30. Do I have any energy and/or brain power at six in the morning? I have to tell you, the outlook is not promising.
The Internet is overrun with motivational blog posts informing me of illustrious writers who set their alarms for 4 AM every morning and write ten thousand words before breakfast, but maybe those illustrious writers are morning people with an extraordinary sense of vision and purpose who also don’t have Twitter? What about the rest of us?
Keep your commitment small to avoid anxiety that fuels resistance.
I’m very talented at anxiety.
It’s easier to honor your commitment early in the day, before your decision-making capacity is depleted. Do what you say will do as soon as you can; that way, you can enjoy the satisfaction and self-respect for the rest of the day.
That feeling of satisfaction and self-respect goes a long way, especially if I encounter a person later in the day who would like to make me feel like I am less than important. Excuse me, rude person, I wrote part of a novel this morning. What did you do? Move along.
Give yourself a small reward when you honor your commitment. At the very least, acknowledge and celebrate the fact that you are honoring the commitment.
I’m going to reward myself with an egg sandwich. It’s very simple positive reinforcement: you write, you get breakfast. Good job, Natalie.
My newest equestrian novel, Show Barn Blues, is now available at Amazon! This ebook edition is part of Kindle Select, which means Amazon Prime members can can borrow it for free.
I’m so excited to bring Grace and her horses to you. Set in central Florida, Show Barn Blues explores barn politics, the business of horses, and what happens when a once-rural community changes around a thriving equestrian center. If you’ve ever spent any time in a boarding stable, you’ll feel right at home in Grace’s beautiful barn.
Show Barn Blues is also connected to the Eventing Series, which continues later this year with book 2, Pride.
Like my other equestrian fiction titles, Show Barn Blues features adult characters, not teenagers — but you’ll find it’s a suitable read for all ages.
From the back cover:
Grace has built her life on show horses. It’s been a good life, too — she mounts her wealthy students on European warmbloods, competes her horses on Florida’s rigorous A-circuit, and runs the nicest barn in the neighborhood. Then, suddenly, it’s the only barn in the neighborhood.
As Grace’s country town becomes a sun-drenched playground of pools and golf courses, she vows that no bulldozer will ever touch her farm. With her neighbors selling their farms and moving to more isolated corners of Florida, she finds herself fighting off land-hungry developers alone — until Kennedy comes along.
Kennedy is everything Grace doesn’t want around her bustling show barn — a pleasure rider who would rather wander in the woods than tackle a show-jumping course. Kennedy might make for an unlikely sidekick, but she’s just the inspiration Grace needs to fight back against the developers who want to bulldoze her corner of Floridian wilderness — and, eventually, against the wilderness itself.
If you’re waiting for the paperback of Show Barn Blues, good news! It should be available in the next two weeks.
It’s been a long, hot summer, readers — or has it? I’ve been working so much this summer, it went flying by like one of those particularly deranged dragonflies that goes right past your nose and scares you to death and you shriek and wave your hands in your face and everyone turns around and stares at you and you say “did you SEE that thing?” but nobody did…
Oh wait, that was me the other night at work.
I’m telling you, that thing was HUGE.
Anyway, it’s been busy. Working at Walt Disney World by day (well, really, by night) and working at my computer by night (usually by day). It’s a wonderful balance, when it works — working at Disney lets me get out from behind a screen and chatter with people from all around the world, and working at my computer lets my voice (and my brain) recover from eight hours of all that chattering.
It’s great, but summertime can be challenging at one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations… long hours, late nights, and a newly rediscovered penchant for sleeping until 11 AM can all take their toll on one’s writing goals.
However, I set myself a goal of finishing Show Barn Blues by the end of August, and I’m happy to announce that I’ve achieved that goal! Fully edited and ready to go, all we need now is the final cover design and internal formatting, and we will have ourselves a new novel!
I’m excited to bring you this story, which has some characters and horses I just love, including Grace Carter (her name might be different in previous blog posts, this has been a long process), who is a been-there-done-that barn owner; her sassy gray stallion, Ivor; a former dinner show/hunter princess named Kennedy; and a cast of grooms, working students, and boarders who keep life interesting.
One challenge that I’m having with Show Barn Blues — how to categorize it on Amazon. You might notice that on Amazon, the books in a series will show up on the same page. Look at Turning For Home’s page and you’ll see the other novels in the Alex and Alexander series right on the page, listed numerically. Nice, right?
Well, Show Barn Blues is technically part of the Eventing Series, which begins with Ambition. The Eventing Series was plotted out as a trilogy, and the next novel, Pride, will follow Ambition. So that’s logically Book 2.
However, we’re going to meet the characters from Show Barn Blues in Pride. They’re important to the story. They just don’t fit into the trilogy. They’re like a bonus novel. Does that make Show Barn Blues “a novel of the Eventing Series,” perhaps?
It’s a shame that Amazon doesn’t allow “1.5” as a volume number, because I would just use that — but I’ve already tried that particular scheme before and it doesn’t work.
Other than that conundrum, the writing life is good. I have all the tools I need for my final draft of Pride. Barring work insanity, I should have the next Jules novel to you by the end of the year. I’m rereading Ambition to make sure I have her snotty voice in my head, although Jules is softening… a little. She’s still prickly, but life with Pete is starting to sand down those rough edges… a little.
Maybe it shouldn’t take me two years to bring out the sequel to a book as popular as Ambition, but it really does take me that long to write a book. I found notes the other day for Turning For Home, and they were dated 2013. I released TFH in 2015, so there you have it — that’s just the way I write!
So get ready for Show Barn Blues. I’ll have it out for you soon!
Good news for Amazon Prime members! After much consideration (and lots of great feedback from readers), I’ve decided to put my books in the Kindle Select program at Amazon.
This was not an easy decision. Kindle Select requires an exclusivity sales contract that isn’t my favorite thing in the world. As a Nook owner and long time Barnes & Noble devotee, I was happy to have my books in the BN.com fold.
The reality, though, is that BN.com’s search engine is just not good enough. As an indie writer, I need search engines to work with me. I need categories, tags, and metadata to do their thing so that readers can search for “Equestrian Fiction,” or “Horse Books,” and actually get proper results.
Finding my books on BN.com unless you are specifically looking for “Natalie Keller Reinert” is statistically just not happening.
Meanwhile, over at Amazon…
Not only does Amazon.com provide actual fiction titles under an “Equestrian Fiction” search, it shows you the categories where you can find these titles. Children’s Sports and Outdoors. Equestrian Sports. Horse Riding. Teen and Young Adult Equestrian Fiction. Not adult fiction, yet, but I have my hopes… this is a growing category!
There are a lot of solid marketing reasons to go with Amazon, but the fact that they provide a working search engine, and are willing to create new categories that evolve and specialize as we writers evolve and specialize, is the most compelling reason for me. I want our category to grow and thrive. I want more quality equestrian fiction for children, teens, and adults. I want those “What’s Your Favorite Horse Book?” lists on Goodreads to stop exclusively including things like “The Thoroughbred Series – I loved those when I was a kid!!” and instead, list off current, relevant titles that address the issues that we face today as equestrians.
Oh, sorry, bit of a tangent there.
Anyway, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can now borrow any of my titles for free with the Kindle Lending Library. Feel free. Read them. Review them. Recommend them (if you so choose), and help raise visibility for all of the writers who are in this together, telling stories that you can relate to, exploring the equestrian world the way that you see it, not the way that the outside world sees it.
You’re supposed to decide what you’re going to write, write it, edit it, and release it, right? Simple. For normal people.
Here’s what I decided to do instead.
Write a novel.
Write another novel, using characters from the shelved novel.
Decide I still really liked the shelved novel.
Edit the shelved novel to publish first.
Plan on changing second novel to make room for changes based upon the shelved novel.
DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?
Of course it doesn’t.
I’m a writer and I don’t have to make sense.
I know, I know, excuses, excuses. But this way you get two novels out of it, so I’m not sure what grounds anyone has to complain…
So here’s the deal.
I’m working on Pride, the sequel to Ambition, featuring characters and plot lines from Show Barn Blues, a stand-alone novel that I wrote last summer but didn’t publish. The thing was (as I wrote at my blog back in May), there were events and sequences in Show Barn Blues that I simply couldn’t replicate in Pride. The sub-plot of developing farm land into golf courses, and what drives a trainer to continue in the business long after the thrill has gone, were too big to wedge into Pride, which is really about giving up control. Those two things don’t blend at all.
I wanted to release Pride first because so many people have asked for it, and I respect that, but Show Barn Blues really has so much to offer. Grace Carter, a middle-aged hunter/jumper trainer, has given her life to the show business, trying to escape a childhood nightmare that never would have happened if she had stayed in the arena as she’d been told. At the same time, she is preserving her grandfather’s old farm, the scene of her happiest memories. She’s caught in the middle, trying to save the land that she wants nothing to do with. As developers circle her farm, Grace is trying to somehow salvage her future while accepting her past. Meanwhile, a new trail-riding boarder, Kennedy, is determined to change things for Grace and her arena-bound students.
This is a sample of Grace’s point of view:
The next day, Colleen cancelled her Sunday evening lesson to take Bailey on a trail ride with Kennedy. I was already furious when Missy Ormond showed up to ride in a pair of jeans, which was strongly discouraged — I liked my students to have a professional appearance at all times — and I nearly spit nails when, while wiping off her tack after her riding lesson, she suggested that we all have a group trail ride in a few weeks.
I had been mulling over a new cancellation fee for all riding lessons. “What’s that?” I snapped, but Missy was so excited, she didn’t notice my tone.
“With a barbecue,” she went on enthusiastically. “We could use that old fire-pit, and roast marshmallows. Or make s’mores.”
“What old fire-pit?” I knew exactly where my grandfather’s fire-pit had been dug and bricked, but nobody else knew about it. Rather, nobody else had known about it. Was Kennedy going to dig out all of my skeletons and parade them around in front of me? I put things deep into closets for a reason.
Missy didn’t notice my sudden tension. She hopped down from Donner and ran up her stirrups. “It’s out by the lake,” she explained. “We could all ride to the lake and maybe the grooms or anyone who doesn’t want to ride can take out supplies and wait for us with the Gator. It’s an easy ride. It’s practically a road. Did you know there’s a road out there?”
“It’s an old Indian trail,” I muttered, and everyone in the tack room started clamoring to see it, unable to believe I had denied them the opportunity to ride on a real live Indian trail. “That lake has gators in it,” I added. “And moccasins.”
“So does all the water in Florida,” Missy said, cocky after a good ride. She’d gotten Donner around a three foot nine course without any dirty stops at all — Donner was known for dropping his shoulder when he did not feel that his rider was paying sufficient attention, sending said rider tumbling into the fence while he went the other way. “I might not have lived here my whole life, but I know that. Have you been to Gatorland Zoo? I held a baby gator there. It had its mouth taped shut.”
I had, but when I was ten or eleven, not when I was forty-four years old and the mother of three. “The gators out at the pond will not have their jaws taped shut,” I reminded her. “And horses don’t like them.”
“Oh, they’ll swim away when we come,” Missy laughed. “Kennedy says they’re afraid of horses.” She turned and led Donner back to the barn, his hooves ringing on the concrete pathway, the one we’d constructed over a perfectly good pathway of sand so that the boarders could keep their boots clean. I’d gone to insane lengths to provide affluent equestrians with a picture-perfect equine utopia, and now they all wanted to do was mess around in the woods and look at alligators. One had to wonder what the point of anything was.
This latest equestrian fiction tale is uniquely Floridian, and uniquely equestrian (as I hope that all of my stories have been). Whether you’ve devoted your life to horses or you’ve been an enthusiast, you’ll recognize Grace, Kennedy, and the cast of boarders and students who make up the show barn at Seabreeze Stables. And if you’ve ever seen a “coming soon” sign go up in front of beloved woodlands, you’ll be ready to fight alongside Grace to save the farm and everything that it stands for.
And I promise you, once I’ve finished Show Barn Blues and you’re all distracted reading about Grace and friends, I’ll finish Pride. Grace meets Jules. Oh, the fireworks.
As I prepare to launch a new title, I’m arguing with myself about just where I ought to be selling it.
The majority of my readers come from Amazon, which makes sense — Amazon is easy to navigate, has a great search engine, includes useful categories like “equestrian fiction,” and delivers pretty much everywhere in either a few days, or instantaneously if you’re downloading an ebook. And yes, the majority of my readers are downloading an ebook.
Last year at Equine Affaire, I did a booksigning with Taborton Equine Books, who carry my titles at their mobile bookstore. They set up at expos and large horse shows around the country, so it’s a fun way to get my paperbacks in front of equestrians. I mentioned to the owner that I’d love to see my books sold in tack shops, even though, of course, anyone could walk into their local bookstore and order a copy there.
“Well, yes, if they have a bookstore,” she pointed out, “and most people don’t.”
I didn’t realize this, coming from Brooklyn at the time, but local bookstores really are becoming a thing of the past, especially in rural countryside where my equestrian audience would tend to live. I mean, look at Orlando. I’ve lived in a fairly urban area in Florida for all of six months and already one of the two large bookstores within an easy drive has closed down, which makes me wonder how much longer I’ll have access to a bookstore at all.
So if I can establish that most readers are buying their books online, the question is, where are you buying them from? For me, it looks like my readers go straight to Amazon. Most of my ebook and print sales are from Amazon. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Scribd trail way in the dust.
Here’s why it matters: I’m thinking about enrolling my new book (and possibly others) in Kindle Select. This means that the books are sold exclusively on Amazon – no B&N, no iTunes, nothing. I don’t love that. But, if it helps more people find my books, and if Amazon members can borrow them at no cost, enjoy them, and tell their friends to read them, then it seems worthwhile.
After all, anyone can download a book from Amazon and read it on the free Kindle app, even if they don’t have a Kindle.
But what do you think, readers? Where do you buy your books? At a bookstore, at the tack shop, from Amazon, from BN.com? I would love to know!
Setting up a training calendar is easy, right? You pick a horse show date and you move backwards, working out a nice hypothesis of where you’ll be in training each week running up to the show. Nothing to it, because predicting how quickly and how competently your horse will pick up your training (to say nothing of staying sound and keeping on his shoes) is just easy-peasy. Right?
Of course we know that’s nonsense. Horses look at calendars and laugh. They observe our ambitious plans and then they go out and look for a nice, innocent stick that they can use to injure themselves in astonishing and previously unbelievable ways.
In the game of planning for horse shows, the beginning is easy to see, and the end is fun to predict. It’s the middle part that’s hard.
Writing a book can be an awful lot like setting up that oh-so-charming training calendar. I like to outline, because I know my book’s beginning, and I know my book’s intended ending, but the middle part always bogs me down. You know, all that stuff that makes up the story? Moves the plot along? Gets the horse from green-broke to jumping courses? Yeah. That can be challenging.
Every book I’ve written since Other People’s Horses has had an outline, and every subsequent time I write a story outline, I find myself a little more dependent on it. That’s because my desire to wander from the set course never, ever wanes. Like a horse bound and determined to lose his shoe before the schooling show on Saturday, I am absolutely hell-bent on diverting from my intended story with wandering trail rides, unplanned-for barn drama, and completely unpredictable bucking incidents.
And while this sort of convoluted wandering story process seems to work for some writers (George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame comes to mind), I really don’t want to write 500 page door-stops that are meant to be set during one fateful summer in Saratoga, or wherever. That’s why I have to force myself back to the outline. Because every wandering trail ride has to expose a new question in the plot, every unplanned-for barn drama has to be resolved, and every unpredictable bucking incident has to involve sorting out what set off the horse, and how to fix the horse’s problem.
That’s a lot of extra writing for me, and a lot of meandering “what happened to the plot?” for you, the readers.
So funny story, haha, you guys are going to love this, I wrote a masterful outline for Pride, which is the sequel to Ambition.
Sidebar: Originally Ambition was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I’ve gotten so many requests for a series that I had to cave to pressure. Readers have power! When you like something, say something!
Anyway, I wrote this wonderful outline for a book which can stand up as the second novel in a trilogy about Jules, Pete, Lacey, Becky, and of course Dynamo and Mickey, plus a host of new riders and horses. It was here to make my life easier, this outline. To keep me on track and stop me from taking three years and half-a-dozen drafts to write, the way that Ambition did.
And I got midway through Pride, to about 45,000 words, which when you consider Ambition is about 111,000 words, you can see is that all-troublesome Middle Part that confounds both trainers and writers when we are making our plots and plans… and I started to wander. I quickly realized I was inventing some barn drama which was good, but which would need to be resolved or things were going to get way off track. I decided it was time to consult my written outline, since at this point I’d just been writing off memory of what I’d planned.
This was when I realized that I had lost the outline.
Well, I stumbled about for a little bit, figuring I could find my way through without the outline, but the thing just started keeping me awake at night. What if I had lost my way? How was I going to fix this? What was the best use of my time? I’m on a tight deadline to get Pride finished and my work schedule outside of house is about to ramp up considerably. If I let this plot wander too much, I was going to be months behind.
Something had to be done.
I knew the ending still (that horse show date that I had selected months before, right?) and although my middle part had changed a little bit, that’s just what horses do. It was time to be agile. I sat down, opened my writing program, and started creating chapters.
In Scrivener, which is the program I use, each folder becomes a chapter. And there’s a little box where you can type out a synopsis. I’d never used it before, but there’s a first time for everything. I typed a synopsis for each chapter I had yet to write, creating a little guide-map to every single folder, so that no matter when I opened up the manuscript to write, there would be no excuse — the next step in the story was right there, ready to be fleshed out.
I created fourteen chapters in all, assuming that each one would balance out at about 2,000 words, and then on the edit/rewrite I would elaborate on them until they had more substance. Then, I started work on the first one.
That chapter stretched out to 5,000 words.
Outlines. The more detailed they are, it would seem, the easier my job gets.
It reminds me again of that training calendar — on a good day, I can look at the calendar, assess where my horse is vs where I thought my horse could be, and then reassess. Once that’s done, I can see what I want to do for the day, then get out there and make it happen… much more successfully than if I’d just mounted up without a plan, wandered out to the arena, and started trotting around waiting to see what would happen next.
That’s good news for me as a writer. It’s good news for everyone waiting for the sequel to Ambition, too. Hold on kids, Jules and Company are coming back for more!
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 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:
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.