A gripping account of an underdog partnership that made racing history.


A woman and an anxious horse take the racing world by storm in Jagoda’s debut memoir.

Magna Terra Smoky was a frightened Arabian colt whose chances of becoming a winning racehorse seemed slim. However, despite his general mistrust of people, he went on to become a racing legend. The author’s memoir opens with her impulsive but life-changing decision to acquire the Colorado horse as a racing prospect in 1988. Neither of them had experience on the track, but Smoky still won his first race the next year. As the bond between the steed and the author grew, Smoky gained self-confidence that would drive his decadelong career. Refreshingly, this memoir isn’t a formulaic story of a horse and rider beating the odds. Unlike other, similar books, it doesn’t focus solely on the animal, and the author’s own story is just as compelling. Jagoda writes with a richness that makes the work read like a novel, building suspense and delivering unpredictable twists. The pair raced at top tracks from California to Delaware, often confronting entrenched politics and sexism. In 1990, the author says, racing officials underreported Smoky’s winnings, which robbed him of his right to the prestigious Darley Award. Readers also learn the toll that the racing industry can take on one’s personal relationships, financial stability, and health. After the author had two accidents involving other horses, which resulted in two broken arms, Jagoda persuaded a friend to saw off one cast so that she could keep training Smoky. At one point, she helped the horse heal from life-threatening injuries—one of which left the animal disfigured and disadvantaged as a racehorse. Still, Smoky retired with 50 wins in 120 starts, and in 100 of them, he placed in the top three—including his final race. Crowned the “richest racing Arabian of all time” in 1994, Smoky was inducted into the Arabian racing hall of fame. Black-and-white snapshots, letters, and old news clippings lend a homespun sweetness to a book that will appeal to young readers and adults. Hollywood, if you’re listening: This could possibly be the next Eighty-Dollar Champion.

A gripping account of an underdog partnership that made racing history.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4907-9185-2

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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