EXCERPT and GIVEAWAY
by Courtney Vail and Sandra J. Howell
Angels Club is recommended for children ages 7 to 14. You can get it for only $0.99! This book blast and giveaway is brought to you by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.
Hola, Cuties! I’m Jacinda Gonzalez, almost twelve. Although I think I’m pretty nice, not to mention way cool and one of the most knowledgeable people in all things horse, I just can’t make any friends in my new school. The only things flying my way are totally rude insults.
The horseback riding therapy farm where I volunteer becomes my perfect escape from mean bullies. And when Angel, a scrawny, muddy American Curly, shows up as rescue, no one but me can see her potential and lovableness, so I take her on as a project horse to get her ready for sale. But, the thing is, I don’t want them to sell her. She’d be so perfect for therapy. So perfect. Now, if only I could prove it.
Anyway, Angel’s sugar-candy personality inspires me to be sweet in spite of bad things happening to me. So, of course, I can’t resist the urge to make the world a whole lot brighter. Come on in and see how I do it!
Horses are my passion and have been for all of the eleven years I’ve been dancing on this earth. I love, love, love them. I pretty much live and breathe for them, as anyone with the stomach to handle my little sister’s tornado mess can tell with one glance in our shared room. Horse figurines and posters are everywhere. So the major—and I’m talking major—bug out of Emily’s green eyes as I looked down at her in her wheelchair from my perch on the rust-colored saddle of my favorite horse, Ginger, had me shaking my head as though I couldn’t solve a riddle. What in the world! How could she not want to kiss the face off of this loveable cupcake? Ginger’s the smallest, sweetest horse on the whole farm with eyes like chocolate pudding. Emily got the prize pick right here. She’s the most requested horse, especially by the younger kids, because she’s not too tall or peppy.
The jittery ten-year-old with cerebral palsy had already spent two Saturdays here at Sunnybrook Therapeutic Horse Farm, grooming the horses, feeding them carrots, getting to know all nine of them so she could choose her favorite of the lot. If she couldn’t find the courage to let her red curls bounce around for a bit during a little ME-led stroll, she should be ready to at least sit on Ginger. Come on. It’s no big deal. Saddle up, chica! It’s not like you’ll be galloping through the fields solo. Emily looked like Merida from Brave. She just needed to find some inner bravery herself.
My neck itched from impatience. I scratched it and gazed around the massive indoor riding ring. All the other kids were already being led around on their horses and were clamoring with cheer. Even those with balance issues, who had instructors walking along side, were riding proud like cowboys.
In the four months I’ve been volunteering here, Emily’s definitely not the first skittish person I’ve seen. But I honestly can’t remember anyone taking so long to get up on a horse.
“I’m scared, Jacinda,” she said, her voice creaking. Her fingers twisted together in a tight ball.
“It’s no big deal. Watch.” As I picked up the reins, I clucked and prodded Ginger with light touch of my leg to urge her around the ring one more time. Hopefully, this would show Emily her gentle nature and reassure her that she was a super easy horse to ride.
When Ginger stopped in front of her and blew through her nose, the timid girl hesitantly reached up and stroked the mare’s silky mane. Emily seemed to warm up to her, as the mare stood quietly, waiting. Even Ginger wanted to get on with this and show her she wasn’t some big, bad beast to fear. I actually think this mare, or, all the horses here really, understood the importance of the job they have because they stayed so quiet and patient around the kids.
“See, Em? It’s super fun and easy peasy. Ginger’s such a sweetie pie. I told you she’s the best one for you. Are you ready to climb up?” I swung off the saddle and jumped down onto the dirt floor beside her. “Don’t worry. I’ll be leading the whole time, and Miss Jane’ll be right beside you, holding you steady,” I reminded her. “So there’s nothing to be afraid of. I know you can be brave and that you’ll love it once you’re up there.”
“Maybe. I want to. I just can’t stop shaking.” She clenched her eyes, as well as her hot pink shirt, for a moment and nodded. Her eyes were still as large as saucers when she looked back at me. “Okay, Jacinda. I think I’m ready. If kids much younger than me can do it, I have to at least try this time.”
“That’s the spirit! Hey, Miss Jane.” I called and waved the instructor over to help Emily get up. “She’s still nervous, but she’s ready to mount.”
Miss Jane hustled over. Miss Carol too, because Emily would probably need a double-lift.
Emily has gotten some leg mobility back since her last surgery, but climbing the steps and lifting her leg over was going to be tricky. They helped her gingerly up a three-step mounting block and then hoisted her up onto the horse. I was so proud of Ginger, standing so still and calm, like she was aware of the nervousness of the rider now straddling her back.
Miss Carol left to help another boy, and Miss Jane and I aimed to make sure Emily was comfortable. We adjusted the stirrups so Emily’ brown boots with the pink lightning bolts could slide in. “See, it’s okay, Emily,” Miss Jane said, rubbing her calf. “I knew you could do it.”
Emily puffed up a red curl that fell in front of her eyes. It flopped right back down to where it was, but she didn’t budge her hand from the saddle horn to fix it. She was holding on so tightly, her forearm muscles strained and her knuckles turned white. “Wow! Oh my word! This is so high up in the air. I’m used to being much closer to the ground.” She swayed a little to get a feel for leather seat beneath her and looked all around the ground under the horse’s feet.
“It just takes some getting used to,” I said. “But you’ll rock it in no time.” I swept the stubborn curl out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear, then picked the reins up for her to hold. “Let go of the saddle horn and take hold the reins. You’re going to be okay.”
Emily let out huffy breaths.
Miss Jane said, “Are you going to just sit here for today, Emily? Is this enough? That’s fine too. You don’t have to ride.”
“Ride a little bit. Come on. You can do it, Em.” I said, taking the lead line in hand. “See how sweet this girl is? Touch her between the ears. She’s such a cuddle monster. She loves that. Neck hugs too.”
Emily freed at least one hand from the horn. She leaned forward and softly stroked the black hair between Ginger’s ears. “She is so soft.”
“I know,” I said. “I love the way they feel.”
She took the reins from me but quickly brought them down in her fist to return to the double grip.
Miss Jane said to Emily, “Are you ready to take a few steps? I’ll stay with you until you feel comfortable and I know you can ride securely on your own. That won’t be until next week or two, probably. But when I see you have good balance, you won’t need me to walk along side.”
Emily sat up, let out a slow breath, and nodded.
Miss Jane gave me a thumb’s up. “Okay, Jacinda, let’s just walk a little bit and see how Emily feels.”
I chuckled to myself because she was still trying to crush the horn. I led Ginger to the right five steps and looked back to make sure Emily wasn’t gonna pass out on me. Seeing she was fine, I turned my attention back to the horse.
“Ginger, you’re such a good girl,” I said, stroking her face. “I have special treats for you back at the barn. A nice, shiny apple. And, guess what! I found your favorite brush.”
Miss Jane said to Emily, “Have we gone far enough? Do you want to stop?”
I stopped and looked back to find a huge smile instead of a rectangle cringe. I guess that meant Em forgot all about being scared just moments ago. A desire to stop wasn’t likely.
Even as she was still hanging onto the horn for dear life, she cried, “No, no, I want to go a little more. It’s not so bad.”
“Okay, Jacinda.” Miss Jane said, motioning to keep going. “Let’s do a walk around.”
I started leading Ginger around the ring and scratched her neck to tell her how proud I was of her.
Emily was so thrilled, she started giggling, and that filled my heart with a fuzzy-mitten warmth.
“Yeah, Jacinda. You were right! This is a lot of fun. Can we do three more laps? I think I can do it myself, Miss Jane.”
“No, no. Not quite yet. I’m glad you’re feeling good, but I need to stay with you to make sure you can sit up on your own without holding onto the horn and you demonstrate to me that you have good balance. Maybe next time. We’ll see.”
“Oh, goodie. My tummy’s still somersaulting, but this isn’t as scary as I thought. I feel like such a baby for freaking out.”
“No biggie,” I said. “We all get scared sometimes.” But I bet anyone walking in my cowgirl boots would have butterflies dancing in their belly too. I just can’t, for my life, make any friends at my new school. Mami, my little sister, Tia, and I lived with Abuela Rosa, the sweetest grandmother in the whole entire universe, after my parent’s divorce two years ago, but Abuela died in May, so we moved into a five-room ranch right down the road from Sunnybrook with a massive kitchen that seems like it was accidentally put in the wrong home. Friends flock to my sassy six-year-old sister, who does crazy things like stuffing my shoes with grape jelly. While, I, the nice one, always have to eat lunch alone. It’s embarrassing and so unfair. As if I didn’t have enough on my humble-pie plate, meanies are always making me feel like a slug. I haven’t been punched or anything, yet, but my neck is always prickly and my shoulders tight. I’ve had almost a month to scribble names on my birthday party list, but it only has Kat, my out-of-school BFF, on it. But, when I’m with horses, or Kat McKinley—whose family owns Sunnybrook—or my family, even though it’s a little broken, none of that matters. I come alive.
Aaahh. This is the life! Did I mention I love horses? Even this slow walking rang as music to my ears. The soft steps on dirt or steady clops on cement filled me with glee. Ginger’s smooth walk now, that was only very gently rocking its rider, made me smile so big. It was amazing to me how these horses instinctively knew to be extra gentle and easy with the kids who came for therapy. Not that they suddenly went crazy or buck-wild or anything with more experienced riders, but there was a definite difference in stride and demeanor.
Sunshine flooded my heart and made me beam when Emily completed all three circles without flipping out or begging to come down. She laughed and chattered like a cartoon bird the whole time.
That was it for her lesson today, and she did awesome. I was so happy she found the courage to get up there and that she had fun, just like I knew.
Ginger did awesome too. Love her to bits!
Miss Jane helped Emily slide off Ginger and into her wheelchair, then took the lead line from me and led the brown horse to another boy for his lesson.
At the end of the day, that sweetie’ll definitely get the treats I promised her.
Emily was still chirping with excitement when we exited the barn.
As I helped her wheelchair over roots in the ground, the rumble of a diesel truck and the clacking of a horse trailer fired an arrow of delight into my chest. I looked over my shoulder and shrieked when I spotted the towed treasure trove being backed up to an empty paddock. “Oh my goodness! They’re back!” Kat, whose family owns this farm, had gone with her dad to pick up a new prize. I bopped Emily’s upper arm with the back of my hand. “Come on! Let’s go check out the new horse Kat and her dad snagged today! I am so psyched, you just don’t even know. I bet it’s a beauty. I’m sure it is. I mean, every horse is beautiful in its own way, right?”
She nodded, but I could tell she wasn’t as absolutely certain of that fact as me.
Emily’s chair was motorized, and she zipped over there, keeping pace with my lanky legs, which took up almost two-thirds my body. Clapping her hands and hooting like an owl, Emily was clearly just as thrilled as me to meet the new addition to the farm. She’d turned horse lover in one brief flash of fearlessness. We were soul sisters now.
As Mr. McKinley opened the trailer, I jumped up and down, squealing, then went around to greet Kat and discuss their hot find.
She flung open the truck door. She was so excited to see me, she slipped on the truck runner when she stepped out and nearly fell on her knees. But I caught her and saved her skin from the sure scrapes the jagged gravel would have given her. It must’ve been a long, hot day for them because Kat’s blond hair was a wreck. Frizzy pieces stuck out of her hair tie, and it was starting to poof and fuzz out on top. She always pulled her long, bushy hair back in a tie or braided it. Otherwise, it looked like a squirrel’s nest, especially whenever she sweated. Even though I can usually understand her speed talk, today, all her words about the massive rescue farm they were just at jumbled together like a ball of tangled Christmas lights.
She’s as horse-crazy as I am, but that’s pretty much where our common ground ends. We look nothing alike. She’s a bitty peanut, currently sporting braces. She hates her metal mouth and envies my perfect smile. And although I can be very nutty, I’m no little nut. I’m a totem pole with caramel skin, brown eyes, and long, dark brown, pin-straight hair. Because of my height and summer-grown curves, people often think I’m fourteen. She hates being a short pretzel stick, and I hate being tall and older-looking, especially in my new school of pipsqueaks. I hate the way boys are always looking at me, and the stares and whistles I get from older ones when I’m at the mall or whatever. I tend to keep my head down and eyes lowered and walk fast so I don’t have to look at anyone. Mami’s always reminding me to hold my shoulders back and be proud of the way I look. She says I’m unique, but I feel like an ogre. And Papi, whom I stay with on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, teases me with, “What are you looking for? Pennies? Lift your head up, , which means "Beautiful” in Spanish, so you don’t fall. If you don’t look forward, you might miss something.” Papi always calls me Bella.
Kat was jumping up and down and finally said something that didn’t pretzel twist my brain. “Wait ’til you see what we brought home. You won’t believe it! We got two.”
Her dad, dressed in his typical flannel shirt, jeans and John Deer cap, was out of the truck, and I jumped up and down as high as I could to get a better look inside. I saw the rump of a black horse and the rump of a smaller, big-question-mark horse. The shorter one looked to be predominantly white, but it was so hard to tell. I’d never seen a horse this scuzzy. It looked like it had been jerked out of a mud bath. Both were whinnying and stomping their hooves, anxious to get out into the fresh air.
Mr. McKinley walked around to the back of the trailer and slid the bolt back. Now I could see them better. Oh my gosh! I gasped. Horse trailers were large with tall sidewalls separating each horse. I could already tell the black one on the right resembled Black Beauty. Mr. M hopped up and in and released the black horse’s pin from the rail. He unhooked the trailer tie from the black horse and clipped a lead line on its halter. Then, he slowly backed it out and down onto the ground.
Kat took the lead line from him and brought the eye-popping stunner to the side of the trailer while her dad went to back out the white—well, kinda white—horse as well.
“Wow. You are so unbelievably pretty,” I said, patting Blackie’s neck and stroking its sleek back. She felt so silky. “ You take my breath away. Can’t wait to ride you.”
Kat said, “I know. Isn’t it gorgimous? Wait ’til you get a better look at the river-rat one. What a major yuckfest.”
“Aw, no sir. The poor thing. Is it a mare?”
“She just needs better care than what she obviously got, that’s all.” My eyes stung and I almost sobbed when Mr. M. turned her around and I saw her boney sides and flanks. She was stomach-twistingly scrawny, and there wasn’t a spot on her that wasn’t filthy. Large spots of mud looked to be plastered on her side, and a bushy, tangled mane, crusted with dirt, hung over both sides of her neck. A long forelock dangled over its eyes and almost covered the long, curled, white eyelashes. I’d never seen such a sad-looking creature in my life. It stood quietly next to Mr. McKinley. He handed me the lead line, and I walked the pathetic thing to the side of the trailer next to Kat.
She walked beside me, gentle as a lamb.
I said, ‘Whoa,” and brought her to a halt while I waited for Mr. M to tell me where to take her. I spoke quietly to her. “There you go, sweetie. You’re out now. It’ll be okay. You can frolic in the fields, eat to your heart’s content, and just relax and take it easy.” She smelled like wormy rain puddles, strong horse urine and dung, but I didn’t care. I continued to talk softly to her and she appreciated my attention and nuzzled me with her soft nose. I reached up and pushed some of the mane away from her eyes. That was when I got my first good look in its deep, mesmerizing pools of hot fudge. Her large eyes pulled me right into her soul and we made a connection. Oh my gosh! I fell in love in that moment.
Very cool premise! Love the characters, Jacinda and her friends are fun and lovable! The fact that the Angel Club members are facing many of the same obstacles as today's pre-teens, but overcoming these challenges and learning to love their differences by drawing strength from their friendship and interests is wonderful!
I believe young teens will gain not only enjoyment but valuable lessons when dealing with negative attitudes and situations! Engaging and lively dialogue, a great book for middle school readers :)
About the Authors
In addition to writing quirky, twisty books for teens and adults, Courtney Vail works from home as a graphic designer and book formatter. She’s married to a should-be-famous comedian and has three kids who make her house LOUD and messy and do things like turn her veggie garden into Jurassic Park, but she thoroughly loves her life. She’s a member of Authors Selling Books in Western Mass.
Courtney is a major sports junky and loves to run, visit amusement parks (and ride all the roller coasters first), skate, cook, and watch standup or anything that cracks her up or makes her heart race or neck tingle.
Angels Club is her first novel for kids. It was a blast to write, so maybe her crazy brain and fancy purple pen will find a grand adventure next time.
Sandra J. Howell is an avid horse enthusiast and was the first breeder in Massachusetts of the rare American Bashkir Curly horse. Her lifelong passion for Curly horses led her to write two Equine novels, Spirit of a Rare Breed and Saving GiGi. Howell, a college professor, has been a contributing writer, featuring the American Bashkir Curly horse, for Equine journals and magazines. She has been featured on television, radio talk shows and news media, and has received numerous letters from Native Americans thanking her for promoting and advocating for their favored steed. Howell is a founding member of Authors Selling Books of Western Mass and is a member of the Independent Publishers of New England. Her novels are showcased at the New England Equine Affaire and promoted through many Equine organizations.
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