Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Mister Moonfeld's Colors of Wonder by Mister Moonfeld

by Mister Moonfeld
Illustrated by Natalya Efremova
Empowered on Books
Children's Fiction
ages 6 to 12

What if an elementary school principal had to return to the age of her students to regain her sense of wonder?

Principal Grace Sensible wakes up to a world drained of its color. But when a sprinkle of magic from the mystical groundskeeper, Mister Moonfeld, transforms Grace back into a 10-year-old, she begins to see the world in a way she had long forgotten.

Guided by Mister Moonfeld's ageless puppy, Sunny, young Grace embarks on a quest to rediscover her true self before sundown.

This heartwarming tale celebrates the power of wonder and the importance of staying true to oneself, at any age.



A touch of whimsical magic steers this into an enjoyable read about the value of staying true to ones self at every age.

Principal Grace Sensible arrives at the school to find it drained of color. Only greys and whites remain...and she has a pretty good hunch who is to blame. When she finds the groundskeeper, Mister Moonfeld, he's intent on driving a point home and transforms her back into her 10-year-old self. Grace isn't thrilled, but she's left with not choice and follows Mister Moonfeld's puppy on a path of rediscovering who she truly is.

Mr. Moonfeld is a lovely character with that wonderful hint of magic and quirkiness to make him shine. His lack of evil intentions comes across from the very first page, although Grace's frustration is also very understandable. Add the clever puppy and there's a lot to enjoy on every page.

The text fits very well to those readers, who have a good grip on their words but aren't necessarily ready for sheer middle grade quite yet. The book is sold for ages up to twelve but this will connect better with the younger end up to age nine. The tale flows smoothly, and it keeps the reader in the pages the entire way through. And the colorful and playful illustrations, and it is a fun read. 

There is an obvious message but the magical fantasy keeps it from coming across with preachiness. I would have enjoyed more children characters involved, since Grace, despite being a kid for much of the read, doesn't really leave the adult zone completely, which made her a little difficult to fully connect with. Still, it was a fun tale and I'm eager to see what Mr. Moonfeld will be up to next.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Mr. Lepron's Mystery Soup by Giovanna Zoboli

Today's read gives 'story time' vibes and promises to draw in with beautiful illustrations. And who doesn't love a good soup? This one has already been a favorite since 2022 in Italy (and other countries) and comes from a popular, Italian kidlit author, but  it will be appearing for the first time in English the beginning of October.

by Giovanna Zoboli
Illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Candlewick Studio
Picture Book
48 pages
ages 4 to 8


Stunning artwork from the acclaimed illustrator of The Midnight Fair illuminates a sweet cautionary tale about a rabbit whose fabled soup-making gets away from him.

Mr. Lepron is a rabbit who lives in a cozy burrow with many offspring. Every year on the first day of autumn, he reaps vegetables from the farmer’s garden—carrots, onions, celery, beans, aromatic herbs, and much more—and makes the best soup on earth, adored by his family. As it simmers, he dozes and dreams of being a famous cook, hosted by kings. And sure enough, his soup is so good that it starts drawing creatures from all over—until one day a factory springs up in the woods, with Mr. Lepron presiding day and night and soup cans for sale in all the most renowned shops. But as demand rises, Mr. Lepron’s dreams become fretful, and soon he starts hearing complaints: his soup is not as good as it was. Has his recipe changed—or has Mr. Lepron? How can he recapture the joy he once shared with his family? Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s exquisitely detailed artwork appears lit from within as it captures the pastoral setting, a range of expressive forest animals, Mr. Lepron’s fitful dreamscapes, and the palpable sense of peace as he rediscovers what truly matters.



With gorgeous illustrations, this is a meaningful tale with characters to adore.

Every year, Mr. Lepron cooks a soup with the many vegetables he's harvested from his garden. Then, he invites every neighbor and friend he knows to enjoy it with him. Everyone looks forward to the day, especially since Mr. Lepron's soup is the most delicious one around. Everyone always wants to know his secret, although he claims there isn't one. When others start coming from near and far to enjoy a bowl of his delicious soup, he decides to start up a factory to keep up with the demand. He even needs to start charging for each can to pay for everything. His soup is soon found on every store shelf and enjoyed by many...or maybe not. As his business grows, the soup no longer carries the same delicious flavor, and Mr. Lepron isn't sure why.

This is a read to snuggle down with for a story time. The text is a longer than usual picture books, although it still works great for the intended age group as a read-aloud. For those, who are sure of their words, it can be read alone. It carries a more traditional story flow, beginning with the wonders of Mr. Lepron's garden and it's lush vegetables before heading into the ever-growing crowd, who enjoys his soup. The plot moves along steadily as Mr. Lepron's success and then problems build one step at a time. The ending message brings a sense of family and community, and feels like a happy sigh.

The illustrations are gorgeous and make the book worth picking up just to flip through them and enjoy. The details draw in and offer something new to be discovered with each read. The mix of both animal characters and humans adds a nice touch, adding to the imaginative atmosphere. 

It's a delightful read with traditional charm, and carries a message which never loses its importance.

Monday, July 22, 2024

Greenhouse of Horror by Liv Livingston

 I'm starting the week with a little fun...and a few spooks? Today's read is the third in a graphic novel series for chapter book readers. Nope, I haven't read the first two, but when has that stopped me from diving into an interesting read? I really don't know what to expect with this one, so let's just find out what it holds!

Spirited, Book #3
by Liv Livingston
Illustrated by Glass House Graphics
Little Simon
Chapter Book Paranormal  /
Graphic Novel
144 pages
ages 6 to 9

Liv’s class visits the greenhouse and encounters some strange plants in book three of the Spirited graphic novel chapter book series.

Liv’s science class has a new botany finding the plant that best represents them. Mrs. Arber, the ghost caring for (and haunting) the Gloomsdale Botanical Gardens, comes in to give a helping hand. In a town full of ghosts, Liv isn’t even sure she knows who she is, but when she meets a new ghost friend, she discovers that maybe she’s not the only one feeling like the odd-ghoul-out.

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Ghosts and gloomy plants pack tons of surprises, which are sure to delight more than just paranormal fans.

Liv is the only 100% human girl in Gloomsdale, a town of ghosts and a few other paranormal creatures. To say she doesn't really fit in is an understatement, and it gets to her sometimes. Since she's still somewhat new to the town, she hasn't really found her place and wonders if she ever will. The ghosts, while fairly friendly, still enjoy poking fun at her inability to do anything ghostly. And having them 'accidentally' float through her is just plain awful! When the teacher announces the annual gardening class project, she's sure things will end with a new disaster.

This is such a sweet read! There's a lovely balance between spooky creepiness, school drama, and enjoyable humor, which draws in. The nod towards darker gothic adds a hint of creepy possibilities, but instead of heading into spookiness, the setting creates unexpected and unique situations to bring more than a few smiles. Still, this read addresses problems many readers face in their own lives and will have them rooting for Liv the entire way through.

There are messages surrounding friendship and embracing your own uniqueness mixed into the ghostly surroundings. These are clear but drift right along into the story as Liv discovers more about the interesting town and its residents. It stays very much at the level of the intended age group and brings across enough familiar aspects to let readers settle right in. 

Bright and bold graphics carry the tale, while the text offers just enough difficulty to push readers' skills a teeny-tiny bit while letting the enjoyable atmosphere of the story still capture with every scene. It's an enjoyable story which promises tons more fun to come.

And here she is...

Liv Livingston likes cats, hot drinks, and walking through the woods with her friends that may or may not be ghosts. Unfortunately, she cannot walk through walls. She lives in New York.

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Jesus Made A Way by Filip Radichevski

 Happy Sunday! Today, I actually have a fitting read...I really need to get more of these to highlight every week. Anyway, I loved the cover (so joyful!) and decided to give it a go. After all, we could definitely use more encouragement and reminders of who is really in control in our lives.

So, without further babbling, let's jump in!

by Filip Radichevski
Illustrated by Karina Kulikova
Picture Book Religious
30 pages
ages 4 to 8

Discover a delightful and heartwarming journey that introduces children to the wonders of faith in a way that is both fun and easy to understand. "Jesus Made a Way" captivates young minds with engaging stories and colorful illustrations, bringing the message of God's love and goodness into their everyday lives.

Through relatable subjects and interests, children will see how the ultimate source of goodness is always near, and present in their daily activities and interactions. From sharing toys to being productive and helpful, this book encourages positive behaviors and nurtures a spirit of gratitude and kindness.

"Jesus Made a Way" provides comfort and encouragement, helping children feel safe, loved, and connected to a higher purpose. The spontaneous and joyful narrative fosters a deep sense of faith, making spiritual lessons accessible and enjoyable for young readers.

Join the adventure today and let your child discover the beauty of God's love in their own lives. Perfect for bedtime stories or family reading time, "Jesus Made a Way" is a treasured addition to any child's bookshelf. Share the joy of faith and goodness—order your copy now and inspire your little one to contribute towards a world of love and kindness.



Joyful and full of hope, these pages radiate good vibes while diving into a wonderful sense of secureness.

The message of this book is pretty clear from the title—Jesus guides and watches our paths through life. Flowing with rhyming verse, much of the read takes a more general swing to build atmosphere and ring with emotions as it guides readers through various moments, which many can easily identify with. For the most part, this read steers away from specifics to stay in a more general direction. The illustrations are the same way. Packed with color and artistic flair, they invite with a sense of imagination and fun. These also change into more distinct scenes as the book continues and settles into the main message surrounding the care and watchful eyes we enjoy from our Savior. 

The text fits the age group nicely. The book makes a lovely read-aloud or can be explored by those readers, who have a good grip on their words, alone. The cheerful atmosphere is more than enjoyable and molds well with the message. It does work well to open up to discussions or as part of a theme. While reluctant readers might loose a little interest thanks to the more general flow, others will enjoy the calming atmosphere and reassurance it provides.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Keith the Croc That Lost His Teeth by Harry Fabler

Today's read seems to be a perfect fit for those readers, who are facing the loss of their baby-teeth. I find it a great fit, since my own household has been doing dentist visits this past week...although not for baby-teeth. I know my daughter wishes one of her teeth would just fall out so I new one could take its place. Too bad it doesn't quite work like that for us older peeps.

Anyway, let's take a look at this crocodile and see what the dentist might tell him. 

by Harry Fabler
Illustrated by Tincho Schmidt
Picture Book
24 pages
ages 4 to 8

We all love crocodiles, right?
And we all know that they have strong, spiky teeth, right?
Well… not always…

Keith is a young croc that lost his teeth as he grew up….
But he never gave up!!
Embark on Keith’s wonderful story to find out more!

Funnimals is a new series of children stories, lovingly crafted to celebrate friendship, embrace diversity, and boost self-confidence!



Keith is a crocodile to cheer for and, actually, sympathize with as he hopes to get his mighty teeth.

Keith is very proud of his lovely teeth. So when they start to fall out, one-by-one, he's ready to jump into panic, but a wise animal friend insists there's nothing to worry about. Not that Keith is convinced. After all, what's a crocodile without his teeth? 

This is a lovely read for those readers, who are in the process of loosing their baby-teeth and waiting for the adult ones to take their place. While they may not love their teeth as much as Keith does, his fear and anxiety is easy to understand and sympathize with. It almost makes a reader want to give him a hug. Especially the support of the other animals adds a wholesome flair, and there's a teeny, tiny touch of humor to keep things light and enjoyable. It's pretty clear where the plot is going, but the enjoyable atomsphere and message remains encouraging all the same.

The illustrations are colorful and carry a gentler tone to match Keith's disposition. After all, he's not a scary crocodile. They flow right along with the tale. The book is written in rhyme, which flows fine. It works as a read-aloud or can be read in a more individual, it makes a lovely gift for those anyone who is facing the loss of their baby teeth.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Wages of Empire by Michael J Cooper with Giveaway

 I was excited to get my hands on this one, especially since my homeschool daughter and I hit this time period (WWI) already this year. We did make sure to delve into the situation surrounding the Ottoman Empire and the division of the states as influenced by Europe. So, this will be a treat to read and see how it reflects the various situations we learned about (although I'm more than sure she won't be nearly as excited to grab up this one as I am). 

So, let's just dive in and take a look!


In the summer of 1914, sixteen-year-old Evan Sinclair leaves home to join the Great War for Civilization. Little does he know that, despite the war raging in Europe, the true source of conflict will emerge in Ottoman Palestine since it's from Jerusalem where Kaiser Wilhelm II dreams to rule as Holy Roman Emperor. 

Wages of Empire

by Michael J. Cooper

YA Historical Fiction

Grand prize winner - 2022 CIBA Dante Rossetti Award for YA fiction
First place honors - 2022 CIBA Hemingway Award for wartime fiction
#1 Amazon Best Seller—Jan 2024—Historical World War I Fiction

In the summer of 1914, sixteen-year-old Evan Sinclair leaves home to join the Great War for Civilization. Little does he know that, despite the war raging in Europe, the true source of conflict will emerge in Ottoman Palestine, since it's from Jerusalem where the German Kaiser dreams to rule as Holy Roman Emperor.

Filled with such historical figures as Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, Faisal bin Hussein and Chaim Weizmann, Wages of Empire follows Evan through the killing fields of the Western Front where he will help turn the tide of a war that is just beginning, and become part of a story that never ends.

Masterful storytelling will keep you furiously turning the pages of this compelling (historical WWI) novel. A winner!”–Andrew Kaplan, New York Times Best-Selling Author of Blue Madagascar and the Homeland Novels

The characters, historical and fictional, come to life on the page as the storyline drives relentlessly forward. Bravo!”–Matt Coyle, bestselling author of the Rick Cahill novels

A beautifully written tale...exhibits seamless research in illuminating unforgettable historical and fictional characters...a tour de force!” –Professor Ronit Meroz, Dept of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel-Aviv University, Israel

This superb historical novel is a must read...directly relates to issues we face today.” –Rizek Abusharr – Emeritus Director General of Jerusalem International YMCA

Cooper has made this period of history come alive. It is a treat to read.” –Rabbi David Zisenwine, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Education, Tel Aviv University

A Young Indiana Jones–style adventure.” –KIRKUS reviews

Story is gripping and the characters that he describes come alive through his skillful writing. I couldn’t put it down!” –Rabbi Gordon Freeman, Ph.D., Rabbi Emeritus, B’nai Shalom, Walnut Creek, CA

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History comes to life as the intricate weave of power plays, hopes, dreams, and oaths knot together in the thorns of war.

This tale takes a look at a sixteen-year-old, who desires to fight for all that's good in WWI, but it also goes way beyond this single character's aspirations and struggles. The author has clearly done his research and offers a solidly based dive into the time frame. The leaders, families, and leading influences in Europe during WWI seep into the problems surrounding the dissipation of the Ottoman Empire and create a tight knit tale, which hits personal and emotional levels while still incorporating the political and cultural difficulties these areas faced. Well-known figure heads of the time add a solid foundation, while fictive aspects glide in between to add excitement, tension, and, for all things, heart.

While the factual side will draw in history fans, the story fills in the important human aspect, which is so often forgotten in dryer history books. Especially the relationship between the father and son stabs the heart and creates a close connection with the story. The vast array of individuals involved (from political heads to sworn protectors of their religious beliefs) presents a detailed landscape. This also means that it takes a little more thought while reading this novel than a lighter, quick read might. But for more engaged readers, this tale promises richness and so much more.

While it is sold as a read for the young adult audience, I do see adults enjoying it as well.

And here he is...

Michael J Cooper writes historical mysteries set in the Holy Land at major turning points of history—all the while subtly promoting the notions of coexistence and peace. His books have won multiple awards and include; Foxes in the Vineyard (winner of the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest Grand Prize), set in 1948 Jerusalem, The Rabbi’s Knight (finalist for the CIBA 2014 Chaucer Award for historical fiction) set at the twilight of the Crusades in 1290, and his current novel, Wages of Empire set at the start of WWI in 1914 and winner of the CIBA 2022 Grand Prize for young adult fiction as well as the Hemingway first prize for wartime historical fiction. A sequel of Wages of Empire, Crossroads of Empire, will be published in the fall of 2024, and the unpublished manuscript has already won first prize honors in the 2023 CIBA Hemingway wartime historical fiction category.

A native of Berkeley, California, Cooper absconded to Israel after high school and spent the next eleven years studying and working there. He lived in Jerusalem during the last year the city was divided between Israel and Jordan, studied at Hebrew University, and graduated from Tel Aviv University Medical School. He returned to the US to specialize in pediatric cardiology, and after 40 years of practice, he continues to return to the Middle East for biannual volunteer missions serving Palestinian children who lack access to care. Otherwise, he lives in Northern California with his wife and a spoiled-rotten cat. Three adult children occasionally drop by.

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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Anonymoose by Shawna J.C. Tenney

 One glance at today's title and cover, and I was hooked. While I'm pretty sure what the general gist will be (not really hidden, is it?), I have a feeling this one could mean all sorts of fun. Ready to see if this moose is as sneaky as it might be?

by Shawna J.C. Tenney
Beaming Books
Picture Book
32 pages
ages 4 to 8


A humorous, heartfelt story about shyness, blending in, and the courage it takes to step out and speak up when it matters most.

Ana Moose feels most comfortable when she is hiding. Hiding is much more fun than knowing what to say or being picked last for the team. She enjoys being "Anonymoose"! Until one day, when she sees her classmate Peter building a fort. A fort could be a very good place to hide! But also, Ana starts to feel a connection with Peter. Will Anonymoose have enough courage to come out of hiding to make a friend?



A secretive, barely seen moose and her super sneaky hiding antics make every page a fun adventure to explore.

Ana Moose is shy. More than shy. While the other forest animals know she exists, they never see more than her hoof, whenever she hands them a note from her clever hiding places. She's a master at staying invisible. When one of her classmates decides to build a fort, she's ready to offer assistance...well, as much as she can from a very hidden location. All works out well and their odd friendship blossoms and blooms until something happens and Ana's friend truly needs help.

I couldn't help but smile through this entire read. Ana is quite the hider, and her massive attempts to remain anonym are guaranteed to bring more than a couple giggles and smiles. The illustrations make each moment a delight as readers witness her clever and creative attempts to stay out of sight, while the rest of the animals play and move around her. This keeps an extra, lively atmosphere as the scenes switch in size according to the pacing of the plot (full two-page spread to several smaller ones on each page). It gives the tale a bit more action and energy, while allowing the moments to keep a nice, understandable flow. This also makes it an easy book for those listeners, who want to explore the tale on their own even if their reading skills aren't quite up to par yet.

The text fits the age group very nicely and uses font and sizing to emphasize the situations as necessary. It adds impact, keeps the tale interesting to even more reluctant readers, and creates it a fun read-aloud. 

Of course, there's a clear message about friendship and going beyond the comfort zone, which is pretty easy to see coming. This slides right in with the fun and leaves with a nice impact, which doesn't feel preachy but rather will have young listeners wanting to peek into the book again. 

And here she is...

Shawna J. C. Tenney was once a shy kid who felt most comfortable hiding in her room, drawing. While she outgrew her shyness (mostly!) she still tucks herself away from time to time to write and illustrate stories she would have loved to read as a kid. Shawna is also the author and illustrator of Pirates Don't Dance and Brunhilda's Backwards Day. She lives in Utah with her family.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Curse of the Crummy Mummy by Thomas Tosi

by Thomas Tosi
Illustrated by Meaghan Tosi
Dooney Press
Middle Grade Contemporary
274 pages
ages 8 to 12


Miss Sorenson's fifth-grade class at Green Hill Academy is going to make a movie... a mummy movie!

Brilliant but awkward Bernard Gawain is thrilled his crush, Bridget Matsumoto, has been cast as the leading lady, and he will be playing her hero. But this dream come true unravels when his domineering mother becomes the class substitute teacher and the film's tyrannical director.



Fifth-grade Bernard just wanted to hide the 'C' on the quiz from his mother but realized too late that flushing it down the toilet probably wasn't the best idea. His mother's disappointment and seemingly unreachable expectations aren't the only thing to deal. School life isn't a joke, either. But when his teacher decides to do a class project and make a movie out of one of his favorite series, things start to look up. That is...until his mother gets involved. 

Bernard is a fun kid in so many ways. He's not the greatest student, but he does try...he simply is distracted by other things and not a real study-bug. He's got a good heart, friends, and is humorous, too. From the toilet mistake onward, it's easy to want to be his friend even when it's clear things won't always go quite as planned. But then, it's exactly these silly twists which make the read fun.

The tale is quick-paced and entertaining, making it easy to stay in the pages and see what will happen next. There's quite a bit of character arc as Bernard has to work his way through the different situations and friendships...and for all things, his mother. While there are some clear messages, there's more than enough unexpected situations and humor to keep seriousness from bogging down. It creates a fun tale, which grabs from beginning to end.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Snake Milker and Other Animal Jobs by Stepanka Sekaninova


by Stepanka Sekaninova
Illustrated by Jakub Cenkl
Albatros Media
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 6 to 9


Explore 28 extraordinary animal careers in this ultimate job guide for animal lovers, sparking young imaginations and laughter with fun, empowering content for budding animal enthusiasts.
From the intriguing role of an Animal Stomatologist to the whimsical task of being an Ostrich Babysitter, this non-fiction book takes children on a humorous exploration of unconventional occupations connected to animals. Set against the backdrop of colorful pages and adorned with playful illustrations, the book serves as a captivating guide for kids who are curious about the diverse and extraordinary ways humans can interact with creatures big and small.



Several well-known and a few unique animal professions brighten each page and are sure to make readers smile.

This is a bright and energetic guide into the world of professions surrounding animals. First, there's a short, one-page introduction to get readers into the theme, and then, the parade of professions begins. Each page (and sometimes, two) holds the name of the profession at the top, a one-liner to grab attention, and then a couple paragraphs, which describe the basics of the job and it's purpose. Surrounding this are a few fun phrases and a bit of humor to guarantee smiles.

This is a fun and informative book, which will grab more than just animal fans' attentions. While there are some familiar jobs (dog walker), there are also ones which will surprise such as Baby Ostrich Sitter. It expands horizons in an entertaining way and will probably have some readers running off to share some of the information with others. The illustrations add to the atmosphere and also help with clarification.

It's an enjoyable book which balances humor and information in an entertaining way.

And here they are...

Štěpánka Sekaninová used to work as a TV reporter and in the production of children’s programs. Now she is a writer and a editor-in-chief, living in the Czech Republic.

Jakub Cenkl was born in 1982 in the hilly part of the Moravian-Silesian region. Having enrolled as a student of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, he soon discovered that this was a blind alley, so he transferred to teacher-training programme in art education. There he discovered his passion for graphic design, which he began to teach himself in his spare time and has become an established freelance illustrator. When not sitting in front of his computer, he is most often found in the hills, where he goes to clear his head by indulging his other passion, running.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Sneak Peek: No Horsing Around by Shannon Kennedy with Giveaway

 Today's read is for all those horse-lovers out there...and I mean teen ones. I was thrilled to see a series surrounding horses for the young adult reading level. Usually, this theme hits chapter books and middle grade readers more. I'm expecting a bit of drama, crushes, and other teen problems, too.

Let's see how this one does.


It’s a drama-rama summer at Shamrock Stable.


Shamrock Stables, Book 6

by Shannon Kennedy

YA Teen Contemporary

When the school year ends, Sierra and her friends plan to have a horsy good time riding their horses, teaching summer day camp, and helping their favorite riding instructor arrange a wedding to the local animal-control officer. Difficulties arise before they even pass their final exams. Robin wants to work at the vintage car lot with the beautiful, classic Mustangs she loves. However, her parents are sending her to horse camp whether she likes it or not and she doesn’t!

Meanwhile, Vicky intends to train horses. Does her dream job mean she can’t spend time with her boyfriend before he leaves for college? Horse camp brings in much needed income to the McElroy’s Shamrock Stable, so how can a talented athlete like Sierra tell her family she wants to join the high school basketball and soccer teams at their training camps instead of teaching little beginners again?

After a stunning performance in the spring musical, will Dani ever be able to let her glory-hungry parents know she’d rather be at the barn this summer, not on stage in a theatrical company in Oregon? Catch rider, CeCe worries she won’t be ‘emancipated’ and allowed to remain with the people who offered her a ‘real’ home but are her new friends too busy to help when she needs them most?

It’s a drama-rama summer at Shamrock Stable. What will the five of them do to stay together and ensure each girl’s dreams come true?

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Chapter One


Marysville, Washington

Wednesday, April 17th ~ 5:30 pm

Chores done, I offered my rescue horse, Twaziem one last carrot. He considered it for less than a heartbeat before he did the ‘crunch, munch, gone’ routine. Okay, so he wasn’t the bay skeleton I’d saved from starvation last September, but he still had food issues. Maybe, I should sign him up for a horsey shrink, not that his sessions with my older sister, Felicia when she was home on spring break from Washington State University did him much good.

He didn’t like it when she tried braiding his mane the way she did her humongous Appaloosa’s although she’d fed Twaz horse cookies from the feedstore the whole time. Twaz preferred the chunks of organic apples my boyfriend, Bill Petrie brought even if it meant he had to earn them by doing the horsey stretches the massage therapist taught us. She said Twaz needed to build up his muscle tone and flexibility if I wanted to ride him this summer. I didn’t.

I hadn’t rescued him because I wanted to ride him. I just wasn’t leaving him to starve to death. I didn’t make a secret of the fact that I only brought him here to teach my horse-crazy family a lesson when they decided I should follow our Gibson tradition of choosing purebred horses on our sixteenth birthdays.

Not me. I wanted the presidential blue classic 1968 Mustang I’d dreamed about forever. I’d even talked the owner of the vintage car lot down to fifteen thousand cash, but my parents totally didn’t understand my passion for old Fords. Luckily, Bill did. He gave me the hulk of one for Christmas, a frog-green body without an engine or tranny. I’d been restoring it for the past four months and figured I’d be driving it this summer.

I’d painted it over spring break, going for the shade of deep blue I preferred. Luckily, it went well with the saddle brown and white interior. When I’d saved Twaziem, I warned him I wasn’t into horses like everybody else who lived here. I wasn’t a ‘keeper’ kind of person. He’d be moving onto a good home when I found him the perfect owner. I’d use the money I got for him to finish fixing up my car. Next on the list was tires and those were super spendy.

My best friend, Vicky told me to be prepared to give the cash to my dad who paid ‘beaucoup’ bucks to return Twaziem to reasonable horse status. Dad might claim to want repayment for the veterinarian, the chiropractor, the massage therapist, the farrier, the trainer and the unending feed if or when I sold Twaz, but I could talk around my father. I wasn’t his spoiled rotten youngest daughter for nothing.

Blonde, brown-eyed, five feet, six with a great figure, I made friends easily, and I insured everyone wanted to hang out with me. Of course, I had an ulterior motive. People who say they don’t have agendas are lying. I don’t. Truth may hurt. Too bad, too sad. Get over it. If somebody doesn’t want me to use him or her, then walk away.

My dad, the accountant who tracked down every cent and my mom who aided and abetted him in his penny-pinching ways only allowed me a certain number of animals. It meant I needed to find homes for any extra dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, ducks, snakes, sheep, goats – well, that was the idea and I did the ‘go along to get along’ dance. I’d done it for years, so my friends knew if I started the charm routine, I was hunting a home for something with paws, claws, hooves or webbed feet.

All cowboy in jeans, boots and a western shirt, Jack came up behind me. Twazeim promptly glared at my tall, dark-haired older brother, stomped his hooves and pinned back tulip-shaped Arabian ears. “Wow, he still hates me, and it’s been seven months. I’d think I’d get credit for feeding him and mucking his stall on a regular basis.”

     “I do it most of the time.”

     “Yeah, but who do you think picks up the slack when you have practice or a track meet? I don’t feed the rest of the critters and skip him. Come on, Princess Robin. Dad will freak if we’re not on time for dinner since the tax season ended and he’s not burning the midnight oil anymore.”

     “I’ll be right there.” I took the carrot he handed me and held it out to my horse. “Here, you big baby. It doesn’t have Jack cooties, so you can eat it.”

     Twaziem tossed his brown head with a shake of his black forelock, eying the long, skinny carrot suspiciously. He sniffed at it one more time, then gobbled it up when I started to take a step down the barn aisle toward Jack’s off the track Thoroughbred. Nitro wasn’t one of my faves, but he didn’t bully my horse when the two of them were out in the pasture together. I had to give him that much credit even if I thought it was too bad Jack hadn’t brought home a ‘real’ horse when he and Dad did the sixteenth birthday, male bonding trip.

     Two gold and white collies met us on the way to the house. They must have had doggie business to take care of since the mom, Lassie usually hung out in the barn with me and her youngest son, six-month old Zorro always kept us company too. They knew the rules about staying in the mudroom, an inside back porch area during meals. I gave them each a beef chew stick, homemade treats from my friend, Dani who lived in an exclusive gated community with one of Lassie’s daughters.

     Another rescue. I’d found Lassie and her litter of tiny puppies at a cross-country meet last fall. Zorro was still here, but his brothers and sisters had gone to homes with the closest members of my posse, Vicky, Sierra, and Dani. The other two were with members of my track team. I had a feeling that CeCe, a ‘catch rider’ at Salmon Pond Stable might take the last of the pups once she settled into a permanent home, but that was still up in the air since my older sister also loved him dearly. Sooner or later, CeCe would share what she wanted with me and if it wasn’t a half-grown puppy, I’d keep her on my list of potential adopters.

     In the kitchen, Mom turned from the counter when she heard us. I smelled meat, tomato sauce and cheese. Yum, it was lasagna night which meant she’d stuffed a frozen casserole in the oven because she never had time to make it from scratch and my control-freak father hated it when she served supper later than six pm.

I suspected she’d been conditioning her Arabian for one of their extra-long competitive trail rides, but I didn’t need to ask since she wore cowgirl clothes, faded blue jeans, a western shirt and laced up Ropers. She’d tied back her strawberry blonde hair and a smile lit up the bright blue eyes. “Wash up first. Finish the salad and set the table for me, Jack. Robin, your cats are giving me the heebie-jeebies tonight. Feed them in the pantry please, then get your dad. He’s in the study.”

     “Why? Didn’t he file all the taxes for his clients by midnight?”

     “Yes, but that doesn’t mean all of the e-filing went through.” Mom swung back around and began cutting into the lasagna again. “He spent most of the day on the phone with the IRS and now he’s re-sending the forms they claim not to have received.” She heaved a huge sigh. “It’s the same every year.”

     I didn’t say they should plan for electronic snafus. I had in previous years and been lectured for my crappy attitude too many times. It was the same every April, August and October when the deadlines fell due. Dad would send in all the paperwork, then battle with the government to accept the forms without penalizing his clients and the other agents who worked for him. He said it was why he got the ‘big bucks’, but personally I thought he enjoyed the challenges.

Mom claimed his hang-up about everything starting and ending on time was just a personality flaw and nothing to get in a dither about. Of course, she was the one who said no animals, no TV, no IPODs or cell phones at the table. We had to talk to each other like civilized people or she’d make us wish we had. I lived with two total control freaks for parents and Felicia and Jack were pretty much the same way.

While we ate, Mom talked about the upcoming endurance trail rides she planned to compete in this summer. She and her purebred Arabian mare, Singer usually topped out at fifty miles in a day. I knew all the details about them covering the ground in twelve hours and successfully passing the various vet checks at each and every event. I’d certainly heard them often enough. Even if they were considered one day contests, they weren’t really. Mom and our neighbor, Linda generally hauled out the Friday morning, spent most of the weekend wherever the ride would take place and hauled the horses home on Sunday or Monday.

Jack went off about the gaming competitions. He’d already been accepted to Washington State University for the fall semester and intended to take Nitro with him. If they scored highly enough at the various gymkhanas, he’d be able to join the western equestrian team at college. He was a valued football and basketball player at our private high school, but he only played for fun. Although he didn’t say it a lot, we knew his passion was for his art classes and then for writing poetry.

He’d had his share of offers to play ball at different universities, not just in Washington State, but turned down all of them. He was going to W.S.U. to study business and then applying to the law school in nearby Moscow, Idaho. He and my B.F.F., Vicky had plans to eventually open their own stable after college, but my brother was super smart about everything he did. He’d said everybody thought horse people had ‘deep pockets’, were extremely rich and would try to take away what they had. His law degree would protect him and Vicky.

After Jack finished, it was Dad’s turn. He shared his own plans of team roping on his Quarter horse, Buster. I liked the big solid horse. He was quiet in the barn, always looking for extra hay in the manger or crumb of grain in his bucket, but he went from zero to zoom when he saw the calves in the arena.

Finally, they all looked at me. I reminded them that I had a track meet on Friday afternoon, work on Saturday at the car lot in Marysville and would shadow Dr. Larry, the premier veterinarian from Equine Nation on Sunday after church when he went on emergency calls. That took care of my business.

Mom and Dad shared a glance, then she said, “Rocky was here to work with Twaziem today. He’s turning three this month.”

“If you think I’m throwing him a birthday party, get over it,” I said. “I’m not Sierra who makes everyone come to the barn and sing to her horse on New Year’s Day before we can have cake and ice-cream. Twaz isn’t the sentimental sort and neither am I.”

“Sierra’s great. She helped Bill and me hide your car at Shamrock Stable last Christmas,” Jack said, “and I know Tom assures everyone she walks on water.”

“Okay, so she’s a real hero who helped save Twaz when he had colic a few months ago. I’ll tell her that she has to hostess a party for him and I love all of you, but this family is way too gaga about their horses.”

Another long look between my parents before Mom said she’d order in a cake from the local bakery, chocolate with custard filling and there’d be chocolate ice-cream in the freezer for the two-legged guests, but I’d be in charge of the organic carrots and apples for my horse as well as the other four-legged wonders in the barn.

“Rocky brought the summer camp applications I wanted.” Mom pinned me with a steady, blue gaze. “We need to discuss which weeks you’ll be at Shamrock Stable this year.”

“No way!” I nearly dropped my fork on the table. “I helped set up a peer-counselor program for her tween students so I wouldn’t have to go there to help with Pee-Pee camp.”

“It’s Pee-Wee camp.” Dad leaned back in his chair. “Be specific, Robbie.”

“I am. I spend all day taking the little piddlers back and forth to the bathroom. They always ‘have to go potty’ when it’s time to brush their ponies, clean the hooves, lead the ponies around the ring. The only time the kids don’t ‘have to’ use the toilet is at snack time when I barely get to drink water because I’m watching them to be sure they eat their sandwiches before their goodies.”

“I thought the little kids only came for a few hours in the morning or afternoon.” Jack barely hid his smirk. “You’re exaggerating. It’s not that bad, is it?”

“It’s worse. Yes, the first bunch leave at noon, but before I can finish my lunch, I have to ‘meet and greet’ the afternoon group. And of course, the first thing they have to do is ‘go potty’ before they can even put on their helmets.”

“All right then.” Mom pushed her plate far enough away to fold her hands on the table. “We’ll sign you up for the weeks in June, July and early August when Shamrock isn’t offering Pee-Wee Camp.”

“Hello! Are you even listening at all? I’m not going there this year. Brenna says she’ll increase my hours at the Mustang Corral. She’ll let me do the tune-ups and oil changes on the cars she buys. I’ll be able to get ‘real’ tires for my car, new ones at Les Schwab, not have to go to the salvage yard for pull-offs.”

“For safety, new tires are a must,” Dad said. “I agree with you, Robbie.”

“Great. I’m glad somebody’s finally hearing me.”

Dad held up his hand. “Here’s the deal. I’ll put good tires on your Mustang, but you’re going to Shamrock for at least six weeks this summer. You need to build your skills so you can ride Twaziem and stay on him. Young horses make mistakes and falling off him isn’t an option.”

“Dad’s right,” Jack agreed. “If you teach him that people, go ‘splat’, he’ll figure that’s what you want, and he’ll dump you six ways from Sunday all the time.”

Tears burned and I shoved back from the table. “You people never freaking listen. I told you on my birthday that I didn’t want a horse and you all ganged up on me until I brought one home. Now, you think you’re making me ride him. And it’s not happening!”

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Shannon Kennedy lives and works at her family business, a riding stable in Washington State. Teaching kids to ride and know about horses since 1967, she finds in many cases, she's taught three generations of families. Her life experiences span adventures from dealing cards in a casino, attending graduate school to get her master's in teaching degree, being a middle and high school teacher, and serving in the Army Reserve - all leading to her second career as a published author. She recently retired from teaching school and plans to write more books for Fire & Ice YA, the Stewart Falls Cheerleaders realistic fiction series and the Shamrock Stable series about teen girls and their horses. Visit her at her website, to learn about her books.

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