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 slim, somber classic.


Didion (We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006, etc.) delivers a second masterpiece on grief, considering both her daughter’s death and her inevitable own.

In her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the much-decorated journalist laid bare her emotions following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The same year that book was published, she also lost her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, after a long hospitalization. Like Magical Thinking, this book is constructed out of close studies of particular memories and bits of medical lingo. Didion tests Quintana’s childhood poems and scribblings for hints of her own failings as a mother, and she voices her helplessness at the hands of doctors. “I put the word ‘diagnosis’ in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a ‘diagnosis’ led to a ‘cure,’ ” she writes. The author also ponders her own mortality, and she does so with heartbreaking specificity. A metal folding chair, as she describes it, is practically weaponized, ready to do her harm should she fall out of it; a fainting spell leaves her bleeding and helpless on the floor of her bedroom. Didion’s clipped, recursive sentences initially make the book feel arid and emotionally distant. But she’s profoundly aware of tone and style—a digression about novel-writing reveals her deep concern for the music sentences make—and the chapters become increasingly freighted with sorrow without displaying sentimentality. The book feels like an epitaph for both her daughter and herself, as she considers how much aging has demolished her preconceptions about growing old.

  A slim, somber classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26767-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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