ARC Review: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

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There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

review4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Some reviews take a while to write, not because the book was a struggle, but because there’s too much to say too soon and it wouldn’t do the book justice to spit out a review for the sake of time constraints. This review has been a long time coming and hopefully worth the wait. 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a Middle Grade book. The last time I’d read one of those was probably when I was MG age…apart from Harry Potter, of course. But when I saw Megan Shepard, I had to have it-she’s one of my go-to authors.

Don’t be scared of the MG label, this book is stunning, truly and utterly beautiful, whimsical, and full of this dazzling hope in a world of tragedy. 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill will enchant and bewitch you. You know that giddy, magical feeling you get when you feel something wonderful is on the verge of happening? The entire book is made of that feeling. If you love The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, The Golden Compass, or even Spiderwick add this to your TBR stat.

The horses are like a secret-glorious and majestic, they flit through the mirrors playful and observant, taking sneaky sips of tea or peaking around corners. Curiosity and anticipation reign as Emmaline scrambles to uncover their true purpose and convince the rest of the too serious children that they are hiding in reflections, just out of sight. Who are they, why are they in the mirrors? Questions will plague you and keep you guessing as the mystery and an epic quest pops up. 

Megan Shepard is insanely skilled at blurring the lines between historical and fantasy. The world is seamless and fits so well together it’s crazy because it really shouldn’t. There’s a World War going on, bombs are on the horizon, and the children grow more sick everyday. These are real circumstances that actually happened and if you’re into history you’ll feel that hunger to learn and research. Read the notes at the end, it’s fascinating. 

Emmaline is adorable. She’s suffered so much, lived through horrific events, and yet, that childish wonder is stronger than ever. She can be spiteful, she can be mean, but she has so much heart and this multidimensional personality makes her all the more real. 

Friendship, loss, and hope when all seems lost and the world is fading as the darkness of death closes in-that’s what this story is truly about. Magic is found in the darkest of places and the bleakest of times. I don’t have children, but when I do, I definitely plan on reading this with them.

Some parts were a little predictable, but overall it was certainly an adventure. 

The cover. OMG. Seriously, I’m taking down that name because it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Magical reading, 

Jordan

Release Day Blast & Giveaway: A Cold Legacy-Megan Shepherd

Pub. Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins
Pages: 400
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After killing the men who tried to steal her father’s research, Juliet—along with Montgomery, Lucy, Balthazar, and a deathly ill Edward—has escaped to a remote estate on the Scottish moors. Owned by the enigmatic Elizabeth von Stein, the mansion is full of mysteries and unexplained oddities: dead bodies in the basement, secret passages, and fortune-tellers who seem to know Juliet’s secrets. Though it appears to be a safe haven, Juliet fears new dangers may be present within the manor’s own walls.
 
Then Juliet uncovers the truth about the manor’s long history of scientific experimentation—and her own intended role in it—forcing her to determine where the line falls between right and wrong, life and death, magic and science, and promises and secrets. And she must decide if she’ll follow her father’s dark footsteps or her mother’s tragic ones, or whether she’ll make her own.
 
With inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this breathless conclusion to the Madman’s Daughter trilogy is about the things we’ll sacrifice to save those we love—even our own humanity. 
A COLD LEGACY excerpt
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Montgomery stopped the horses outside a tavern. He came to the carriage door, opening it just a crack to keep the rain from drenching us. “I’m going to ask directions. We can’t be far now.”
 
We watched him saunter over the muddy street as though he didn’t even feel the bite of freezing rain. A face appeared in the tavern window. The door opened and he spoke to a woman in a wool dress for a few moments, then stomped back through the mud. “This village is called Quick,” he told us. “The manor’s only five miles from here.”
 
“Did you hear that?” Lucy murmured to Edward, still stroking his hair. “We’re almost there. Just hold on. Everything will be all right once we arrive.”
 
Montgomery’s eyes shifted to me. Neither of us wanted to remind Lucy that the prospect of Edward’s fever breaking—and the Beast’s reappearance—was almost more frightening than the fever itself. Delirious, he was less of a threat.
 
“Let’s go then,” I whispered to Montgomery. “And quickly.”
 
He closed the door and in another moment we were moving again, passing through the rest of Quick. Then all too soon the village was nothing but fading lights. The storm grew and the road became rougher, and all the while Edward’s eyes rolled back and forth beneath shuttered lids.
 
Thunder struck close by, and Lucy shrieked. Montgomery whipped the horses harder, pulling us along the uneven road impossibly fast, trying to outrun the storm. I twisted in the seat to look out the back window at the pelting rain. A stone fence ran alongside us.
 
“We must be getting close,” I said.
 
“Not soon enough,” Lucy breathed. “We’re going to crash if he keeps driving like this!”
 
The road widened, straightening, letting us travel even faster. Lightning struck close by, blinding me. The horses bolted. Lucy screamed and covered her eyes, but I couldn’t tear mine away. The lightning had struck an enormous oak tree, twisted from centuries of wind. The oak took flame, blazing despite the rain. A smoking gash ran down the trunk—the lightning’s death mark. I watched until the rain put out most of the flames, but it still smoldered, billowing hot ash into the night.
 
The horses pawed the earth, and I grabbed the window to steady myself. At this wild speed, just hitting a single rock at the wrong angle would send the carriage shattering to the ground. It was madness to go so fast. Couldn’t Montgomery calm the horses?
 
Just when I feared the carriage would careen out of control, it stopped short, throwing me against the opposite wall. I tangled in Lucy’s limbs as the chains around Edward’s body clinked. Balthazar grunted, jerking awake at last. We scrambled in the bottom of the carriage until the door flew open.
Montgomery stood in the pelting rain. I feared he’d say we’d broken another strut or the horses had gone lame or we’d have to spend the night in the harsh storm.
 
But then I saw the lights behind him, and the night took shape into a turreted stone manor with bright lamps blazing and gargoyles on the roof vomiting rain into a stone courtyard.
 
Montgomery’s eyes met mine beneath the low brim of his hat.
 
 
“We’ve arrived,” he said.
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Hello!  I’ve been many things, like a professional exchange student, park ranger in Montana, and LOST enthusiast, but what I am now is a writer.
 
I think it’s fair to say I was born into it. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, raised behind the counter of my parents’ independent bookstore, Highland Books in Brevard. Ah, so many free books. But I never thought being a writer could be a real career. After college I thought I’d end up as a foreign service officer somewhere dashing and exotic, like Canada. I studied French, Spanish, German, and Russian and still speak a few of those. Then I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Senegal, where I learned a few more languages I’ll never speak again and lived in a mud hut with no electricity or running water. You can probably imagine how that experience went, but if you’re curious, here are the dirty
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It wasn’t until a chance aquaintance read something I wrote and said, “have you ever considered being a writer?” that something clicked and I realized it was possible. My husband encouraged me, and I quickly fell head-over-heels in love with writing and children’s literature in particular. I started out writing articles, which have appeared in Faces, Appleseeds, and Calliope magazines, and stories for younger children. I soon realized I wasn’t sweet enough to write fiction for that age and found myself writing young adult literature instead, which doesn’t require nearly as many tender moments and includes a lot more cursing.
 
When I’m not writing, I can usually be found horseback riding, day dreaming at coffee shops, or hiking in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. I love to hear from readers, so please drop me a line!
 
I am represented by Josh Adams of Adams LiteraryAuthor Photo by Kristi Hedberg Photography
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1 winner will receive a signed copy of A COLD LEGACY and swag! US Only. Ends on February 6th at Midnight EST!

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Happy reading,

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Review: The Madman’s Daughter-Megan Shepherd

4.5/5 Stars

The Madman’s Daughter (The Madman’s Daughter, #1)- Megan Shepherd

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As a surgeon, blood had been his medium like ink to a writer. Our fortune had been built on blood, the acrid odor infused into the very bricks of our house, the clothes that we wore. To me, blood smelled like home.

Plot: Where to begin…The Madman’s Daughter was an expedition in reading experience. Part Frankenstein+Lord of the Flies meets Something Strange and Deadly+Heart of Darkness, and all around creepy, The Madman’s Daughter begins with Juliet sweeping puddles of blood off the floor of a medical school. Juliet use to be a girl of breeding and wealth but that was before the scandal. Now she’s on her own and the best job she can get is as a maid at the university, just one step up from poverty and prostitution. Juliet is a victim of her father’s reputation. Once a famed London surgeon turned butchering madman, Dr. Moreau’s medical experiments were the things of nightmares and no upstanding member of society would deign to socialize with the descendant of a such a man. These past six years, Juliet believed her father to be dead but one night, upon a chance discovery in the operating theater finds evidence that may prove otherwise. Following a lead to an inn, Juliet is drugged and thrown into a hotel room. She wakes to find Montgomery, her former servant and a deformed man. Montgomery informs her that her father fled to a remote island in the Pacific. Juliet is determined to find out if the rumors about her father were true and why he didn’t rescue her from devastation. Upon arrival to the island, Juliet makes grotesque discoveries that leave her questioning everything she thought she knew about her father, life, science, love, and reality. It is clear that her father’s experiments have turned into something much more sinister as half human multi-part animals roam the island eager for revenge against their maker.

PROS:

  • The unhinged descent into madness is a dizzying and exhilarating process for any reader.
  • Graphic gore and violence descriptions may leave the faint of heart queasy.
  • The disillusionment of the protagonist, her torn feelings between what the heart desires and what the mind refuses to believe is something that everyone can identify with.
  • Mysterious plot elements evolved into startling revelations that you will IN NO WAY see coming.
  • Juliet’s identity crisis, namely, her struggle to sift through the nostalgia for her past and the promise of the future is a psychological process that everyone should experience and may leave the reader questioning their own idea of self.
  • The relationship between father and daughter is heartbreaking. Juliet’s inability to condemn her father because of the pride she feels for his brilliance and inherent daughter bond, don’t give her the capacity to believe anything but the best of her father even when confronted with the truth.
  • The startling and beautiful examples of humanity within the monsters.
  • The doctor is a lot like Frankenstein. This is exemplified in his God complex-use of his own commandments for the monsters, the way they worship him through fear. The doctor’s terrifying ability to create and bring life out of death is mystifying and it is because of how unbelievable his success is that his madness is all the more frightening.
  • Genuine terror. Many scenes will leave you breathless, on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, and all in a good way.
  • Love triangle. Teasing, tantalizing kissing scenes, and passionate moments of confusion and yearning.
  • The sheer knowledge of anatomical, surgical, nautical, environmental, and how everything is expertly detailed is impressive in itself.
  • Bravery. Juliet’s determination is admirable.
  • The exploration of temptation and the darkness within ourselves is brilliantly written and reinforces Juliet’s strength of will.

CONS:

  • The ending. 

As an avid reader, I’ve often found that the books ranted and raved about don’t measure up and you get so sick of hearing about them that when you do read said books you’re almost always disappointed. The Madman’s Daughter is definitely an exception to this rule. Seriously check it out.

-BB