Thursday, 1 September 2016

BLOG TOUR: Horse Flesh - Tina Sugarman

I recently read the epic saga that is Horse Flesh and you can read my review below, after the guest post.  From the stunning cover to the high octane thrills inside, it really is a fascinating book.  I am delighted to be the first stop on the blog tour and have a guest post from Tina Sugarman about the characters in Horse Flesh.


When my youngest daughter went back to school full time after being home schooled for a few years, I suddenly had time on my hands. Driving around the neighbourhood, stories came into my head. After I wrote a scene where a horse named Harmony Light was ‘buzzed” with an electric cattle prod in Tom “Cowby” Larson’s barn on a bitter cold night in Ontario, I knew this wasn’t just a short story. It was a book. I realized immediately if I was going to write a novel about a close knit community, that having only one character tell the story would make no sense. So there are at least a dozen key characters in HORSE FLESH, both human and equine, and about thirty others who make up the supporting cast. Sound complicated? It isn’t.

I thought about how many books I had read where many of the secondary players were difficult to distinguish from one another. I found I often forgot who was who. I didn’t want that to happen to readers of my book. However, there were so many larger than life characters to inspire me in the world I had chosen to write about – a world I knew so well: breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, veterinarians, blacksmiths, feedmen, drivers and last but not least, the horses. And of course most of the characters did not stand alone. They had friends and families, too. My solution was to let the reader travel in the shoes of the major players for a while as each one takes up the story, telling their part in it in their own way, revealing thoughts and feelings in a personal and sometimes highly charged fashion. I reasoned that once a character had opened up to the reader in this way, they’d be difficult to forget. Though I had a vague idea about the story I wanted to tell, it was the characters who sprang to life before I even thought about the intricacies of the plot. By then, the characters were firmly in charge, always authentic, never sounding a wrong note, driving the plot along.

And what a crew they are! A stunning race mare, Heart of Darkness, the dam of Harmony Light, a brutal trainer of young horses, Jim Mercer, his daughter Evie who is made from a different cloth, a brilliant, charismatic young driver, Theo Vettore with a drug habit, who destiny is closely linked to the high strung, delicate Harmony Light, the mysterious individual known only as the Scorpion, who flits in and out of the pages, lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings, a Director of Racing, Al McTavish, who prides himself on being a reformer, with a shaky marriage, a loyal daughter and a best friend, Phil Harman, who has his own agenda, Dr Jay Winterflood, a veterinarian with a mystical connection to horses, whose mother is a member of the Cree tribe, but whose father is a mystery, a low life groom named Crawfish Brown who plays a crucial part in the unravelling of the plot, a Mountie, Campbell McClaren, who gets involved with surprising consequences, a young trainer whose dreams of fame blind him to the truth until it is far too late to turn back. There are minor characters too numerous to mention but still memorable: Stinker the groom, Jeremiah Hostetler, the blacksmith, Walter the cat, Midnight Madness the runaway horse. As for their motivation and behavior, most are just doing their best to survive, to hang on in challenging circumstances where the prospect of redemption is always present - and that includes the horses.

In the end, this is a book full of hope.

About Tina Sugarman

Tina Sugarman has been involved with Standardbred horse racing in Ontario for nearly two decades, spending summers on a horse farm a few kilometres from Mohawk Raceway, the premier harness racing track in Canada. She lives in Poole, Dorset with her husband and their maine coon cat, Juliette and enjoys driving their hackney mare, Mango, in the New Forest. She still takes a keen interest in the sport. HORSE FLESH by Tina Sugarman (published by Clink Street Publishing September 1st, 2016) is available to order from online retailers including Amazon and to order from all good bookstores.

About Horse Flesh

Enter the highly competitive world of Standardbred horse racing, in this exhilarating debut from an insider. The story, however, goes far beyond that and touches on universal themes that every reader will recognise.

You’ll be thrust into the front car on a roller coaster ride, through triumph and disaster, that begins on page one. You’ll feel every twist and turn of the story in the pit of your stomach. You’ll laugh and cry with the rough, tough guys who put on the show, rain or shine. You’ll empathise with the women who give this world a heart. You’ll meet the cheaters who use horses as pincushions, who want to win at any price. You’ll get to know the equine athletes who give their all, whatever challenges life throws at them. Last, but not least, you’ll feel the overwhelming sense of community that pervades this world, despite the sharp edges of a highly competitive sport. If that’s not enough, there’s a backstory that will keep you on the edge of your seat, which takes you on a journey from Ontario, Canada to the Rockies, the US, the Caribbean and even the UK. The icing on the cake is an ending full of surprises that will leave you feeling well satisfied.

The characters leap off the page: a brilliant harness horse driver whose drug habit risks costing him everything, his cousin, a trainer who refuses to compromise her integrity, a mysterious individual known only as the Scorpion, lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings, the Director of Racing trying desperately to clean up the industry, his mentor and best friend who has his own agenda, a low life groom who knows too much for his own good, the Canadian Mountie who inadvertently gets involved, with unforeseen consequences, a veterinarian caught between two worlds, young horses unaware of what’s in store for them and trainers whose livelihoods hang by a thread, who face a Hobbesian choice if they are to survive. These are just some of the players in a story where passions run high and where the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, is always blurred.

Fascinating, fast paced and with shocking twists and turns until the very last, HORSE FLESH is a breakthrough debut novel set to entertain not only horse and racing enthusiasts, but fiction fans looking for a fresh next read.  

What did I think?

My family has always had a love of horse racing for as long as I can remember.  My Great Uncle opened a successful chain of betting shops in the North East in the 1960's and my Uncle even had a stint as a jockey until his career was cut short through illness.  I have fond memories of my Nanna studying the racing pages for hours before choosing her horses for the afternoon's meetings.

I've always considered horses to be such majestic beasts and marvel at the power they show when racing round a track.  They don't call it horsepower in Formula1 for nothing!  One race I can't watch, however, is the Grand National.  I don't like to see the horses so bunched up together and too many horses have died after falling at this famous race.  I guess I'm too much of an animal lover to enjoy horse racing and my anger and disgust at the treatment of horses whilst reading Horse Flesh confirmed this.

What an absolutely epic story.  Horse Flesh is an absolutely huge and weighty book at 703 pages long, but at no point did I feel like it had been padded or could have been shortened.  I read it at a galloping speed and experienced a weather map of emotions - from stormy moments of shock and upset to rumbling thunder anger and feeling the first morning rays of sun coming out at the end.

As you would expect from the title, it is all about the monetary value of Horse Flesh not the health and wellbeing of the animals.  There are trainers who will do anything to win, even putting the health of their horse at risk.  They give the horses massive quantities of baking soda, bleach or caffeine before a race to improve their performance.  They even go so far as to coat a bit with cocaine and what is just as shocking is the disclaimer in the front of the book:

However, what happens to the horses, as depicted in this novel, is real.

There are some great stories in this book, although there are a lot of characters so I think it would have been beneficial to have a list of characters at the beginning.  The story centres around the Iroquis Downs Raceway in Canada, where Al McTavish is the Director of Racing.  Al has a love of horses and wants to stop the injecting or tubing of illegal substances before a race.  It's not just the horses he needs to look at; lead driver, Theo Vettore, is addicted to cocaine and has gotten himself tangled up with The Scorpion.  The Scorpion is a mysterious, almost mythical man, and he seems to have eyes everywhere.  He's pulling all the strings behind the scenes but with an undercover Mountie snapping at his heels perhaps his time is running out.  Will this Mountie get his man?

I absolutely loved some of the chapters when the horses were allowed to just be horses.  It is an absolute stroke of genius when the stallion Night Raider gets out of his stable one night and impregnates half of the mares at the farm.  The resulting ponies all named with the prefix Harmony have unbreakable links to each other and even though they get separated they never forget each other and their joy when they do meet is heart-warming.  The Harmony horses are the common thread running through the whole book and they made me laugh and cry but like they never forgot each other, I will never forget them.

Horse Flesh is a stunning epic and an absolutely magnificent debut.  It gallops along at such high speed that the day turns into night and you still can't bear to put the book down.  A must-read for not only horse racing fans but also anyone who loves a gripping thriller.

I received a copy of this book from Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

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