While I decide what to do about it -- if this series had box sets, it might make my goal a little more manageable, but alas... -- I am going to scribble down my impressions here before the mere fact that I've thought them makes the unearthed memory shrivel and disappear when exposed to consciousness.
I am suddenly glad that I kept all the ones I ever owned, even though they're in the attic. I have repeatedly considered getting rid of them during my book purges, because I never thought I'd want to revisit them...but suddenly I really want to dive back into this world. I probably won't, but I am comforted knowing I have the option.
9. Pride's Challenge
I am listing this out of order because this was the first one I ever read, purchased from a book fair in elementary school. I was just starting to be big into horses -- I don't remember the exact age I started, but it says it was published in May 1994, so [after a LOT of thinking and date-comparing, I believe I was 8, almost 9, and most likely encountered it later that year, after starting third grade..
I loved the picturesque farm and its kindly/indulgent owner. I loved Samantha, I loved that goofy colt Pride, and I loved being horrified by petty rich snob supervillains Brad & Lavinia (the name "Lavinia," which I couldn't even pronounce at first, was forever after associated with snooty richness). I really loved Samantha though; because I started here I never quite fully connected to original star Ashleigh the way I'm sure a lot of readers did. She always felt like The Older Girl to me, while Samantha was the real center of the series.
Oh! And I totally renamed one of my model horses "Lord Ainsley" after Brad's colt. I made his personality snobbish and kind of unruly, too. He was a dark bay Cleveland Bay Grand Champions stallion released in 1996, to be very specific. (thanks to this ID site!)
2. Wonder's Promise
One last group out of order, because after the above book, I got 2-4 all at once as a set. I feel like it was for my birthday -- yes! they were from my friend who lived across the street; Mom just confirmed mentioning that gift idea to said girl's mom. So it must have been my 9th birthday.
ANYWAY, ABOUT THIS BOOK, I guess I did warm up to Ashleigh pretty quick, despite not having any context for her background besides the quick recap at the beginning. I know I grew fond of old Charlie immediately. (aaaand I just remembered that he has a heart attack -- and dies? at some point in a later book. Possibly book 9, so at least i knew not to get attached).
3. Wonder's First Race
I love the cover on this. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking when she's hurt and has to be carefully tended for proper recovery.
4. Wonder's Victory
I don't really remember much about this, but I think it was a good cap to Wonder's arc before she retired to be a broodmare.
1. A Horse Called Wonder
The copy I read was a wrinkled-cover paperback borrowed from my best friend, who also loved this series and thought it was nuts I still hadn't read the first one. It still feels the way the first 3 seasons of The X-Files feel to me -- almost a prequel, not truly where it all began.
5. Ashleigh's Dream
FLEET GODDESS!! (whose name I just realized I probably mistakenly mispronounced when I didn't realize "fleet" was an adjective; I always put emphasis on the first word) I remember how excited I was to get this one, and it's still one of my favorite covers. The super dark bay filly is GORGEOUS, and I loved that even though the book shifted away from Wonder as the star, I loved this outsider filly just as much. She's still one of my favorite horses in the whole series.
According to the summary, Ashleigh gets injured in this; I just had a sudden memory flash that I think I remember a very vivid description of that and probably having my jaw hang open, wondering if she would be okay. Also, I have more sympthy for Samantha' dad now, whom I previously considered a Grade A Jerkass (in more age-appropriate terms) for forbidding his daughter from riding, lest she follow in her mom's fatal accident footsteps.
6. Wonder's Yearling
The first book to really focus on Samantha (and Pride, coming into his own!), and it sets up her books really well.
7. Samantha's Pride
I don't remember much of anything about this one, but I know that I own both 7 and 8 in mass market sized paperbacks rather than the trade size of the others.
8. Sierra's Steeplchase
I remember not liking this one as well because it wasn't about flat racing. I also didn't know what to make of Tor. I wasn't really old enough for romance in books. But I probably thought he was an okay guy. I am really interested to give this one a second look, because more positive associations with Tor's name are blooming as we speak and I have no idea why.
10. Pride's Last Race
I don't remember this one too well either, beyond it being another good showcase for Samantha and Pride and their bond.
11. Wonder's Sister
OH GOSH. I know I felt a really strong, specific way about the focus on the crippled little girl. I just can't remember if I found her annoying for pulling focus, or cute. That said, I think I did like the title horse, Shining. And wait, OMG, Wikipedia just reminded me about her beloved fat pony Butterball! BUTTERBALL IS THE BEST.
12. Shining's Orphan
Hello Cindy! The whole "orphan runs away from foster care to horse barn" storyline resonated with me well. I've been looking for / dreaming about similar stories ever since. The Cindy stories aren't quite as good as Ashleigh or Samantha's, but they're still preferable to The Next Generation.
13. Cindy's Runaway Colt
Ah yes, the old "secretly take care of, maybe steal to protect, a neglected horse you find in a back pasture" chestnut. Who among us has not had that fantasy?
14. Cindy's Glory
Glory is such a beautiful horse on this cover -- gray with black points -- and I remember biting my nails off during the auction scene, terrified they were going to lose him. This was one of my favorite Cindy books.
15. Glory's Triumph
I don't remember much about this, but the summary mentions Townsend Princess. I loved that horse!
16. Glory in Danger
CHILDREN'S THRILLER. This is where I first learned about drugs being used on racehorses, and other shadowy things about the racing world. I also remember studying/tracing the cover a lot to try and draw rearing horses.
17. Ashleigh's Farewell
*reads title* Nooooo! Actually, all I remember was being mad about Ashleigh having a stupid baby and not being able to ride while pregnant. (side note: I am only just now realizing how much this series is like a soap opera -- not in a bad way at all, though it does have some OTT drama, but in the sense of how well it worldbuilds. How characters are allowed to age, have full life experiences -- there is something really wonderful and comforting, now, in knowing that I can go back to read the Ashleigh books knowing where her life will go into adulthood)
18. Glory's Rival
GLORY VERSUS SHINING. Samantha versus Cindy! I remember loving this one -- also, weird memory flash but, I think I got this in my Easter basket! The pink and purple logo border was very thematic.
19. Cindy's Heartbreak
Oh god. I think the horse dies in this one. Of EIA? I seem to remember crying a lot. Who gave you the right! Horse books are supposed to have happy endings!! But I still remember this one being really, really effective in its emotional pummeling, and I have only positive thoughts about its quality.
20. Champion's Spirit
I think I got this in that Easter basket too, 1997. I very strongly remembering it being spring when I read this. I also studied the cover a lot to draw rearing horses. Loved the story of Cindy trying to tame this unruly colt.
21. Wonder's Champion
Looks like a standard Big Race Focused book, so I don't remember much, but I'm sure it was fun.
22. Arabian Challenge
Haha, I remember this weirdo departure from normal racing to go race in Dubai. Because why not. (not sure I own/still own this one, though)
23. Cindy's Honor
I love Honor! I just don't remember anything else. I do remember thinking for a while that I was going to stop reading the series here, and for more reasons than one, it does feel like an ending. Albeit not one carefully planned as such -- after 21 would have been a better place to switch. These last two are like the last two episodes of Stalker -- an obvious finale has aired, but you still get a couple early releases from a new season that never came to fruition.
24. The Horse of Her Dreams
This is where Wikipedia tells me there was a sudden time jump of at least 10 years, and the focus switched over from Cindy to Christina. I'm trying to remember how I felt about Christina. It's a weird realization that she is Ashleigh's daughter. This is one of the reasons I want to reread the series; I am desperately curious to see how Ashleigh comes across as a mom. I really wonder how it felt for me reading it age 12. I can feel the dimmest memory of it being a strange perspective shift, but still sort of recognizing her as Ash despite the Mom Tone.
Anyway...I do know that this is the last Thoroughbred book I ever bought, and I am not certain if I kept it. I continued to read the series, but I was 12 by that point, and probably had many other priorities for presents than books I could get from the library.
25. Melanie's Treasure
THIS COVER, YO. Pirate's Treasure, the first jet black horse to grace the series, is a jaw-dropping stunner and I have never forgotten him. Wish I could remember how I felt about Melanie, and whether or not it was my disinterest in these specific girls or the fact that at this point in the series, 6th grade/going into 7th, I was probably starting to outgrow it, that this is where my memory becomes super patchy and my commitment to the series began to struggle.
26. Sterling's Second Chance
27. Christina's Courage
28. Camp Saddlebook
29. Melanie's Last Ride
I know I read them because the covers are familiar, but I have LITERALLY ZERO MEMORIES. And honestly, I am not positive about reading Camp Saddlebrook.
30. Dylan's Choice
WHO IS DYLAN??
31. A Home for Melanie
The only part of this that sounds familiar is the pony named Trib. There has never been a pinto on the cover of this series and never will be again.
32-35: Did I even read these?? Some of the names in the summaries sound familiar, like Kevin Maclean and "trainer Mona" and possibly even Parker Townsend, but I'm just not certain.
36. Without Wonder
OH MY GOD. THEY KILLED WONDER. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO COPE. It's realistic, she wasn't young, and I actually really want to read this to see what happened exactly, but... but... WONDER!! THIS ENTIRE THOROUGHBRED SAGA WAS GROWN AROUND HER. If I read this, I clearly repressed all memory of it.
37. Star in Danger
Another "Brad is a horse-ruining tyrant" story?? Anyway, I think this one was a decent adventure.
38. Down to the Wire
No memory of this.
39. Living Legend
LMAO I remember nothing but my early 9th grade reading list says I gave it 1 star out of 5. Way harsh, Tai.
40-41: I don't remember these and can now verify via my own records that it is because I did not read them.
42. The Bad Luck Filly
Another gorgeous black horse on the cover!! (Perfect Image) Also I am a sucker for "troublemaking horse just needs the touch of a young girl" stories, so I know I read this one. I remember liking it, but my reading list says only 2.5 stars, meaning it was just a little disapointing/lacking something and not quite a satisfying read. :(
43. Fallen Star
On the other hand, I gave this 1.5 stars. I don't remember it, but ouch.
44-45: Nope, didn't read.
46. Racing Image
I have absolutely no memory of this, but according to my reading list history, this is the last book I ever read: January 2002, age 15-going-on-16. I gave it 2.5 stars and called it a day, probably not for any conscious reason so much as that by this point, I had truly outgrown them and was only swiping them off the library shelf as easy supplements when I hadn't found enough other options to fill my reading quota. Between being surrounded by classic vintage horse books in my school library (all of them higher quality) and my increasing interest in YA, there was simply no longer a need to return to this well.
The series goes up to 72 (unclear if it was a deliberately planned or closure-providing ending), several of which appear to be "throwbacks" where a now-adult character (Samantha! Cindy!) finds an old diary and tells a long-lost story. Those intrigue me quite a lot. Getting my hands on them will be a bit of a trick -- my home county has purged the whole series, but I can probably find them in other libraries around the state, maybe even garage sales still.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE. I thought that list was missing a few important features, and it turns out those 72 books do not include the "super specials" or spin-off books, which are p. important parts of my history, so let's talk about those too:
1. Ashleigh's Christmas Miracle
Ashleigh Griffen and Mike Reese are expecting their first child right after the New Year. But on Christmas Eve, as Ashleigh makes the rounds of the stables at Whitebrook Farm, handing out Christmas treats to all her favorite horses, a stallion's kick puts both her life and the life of her baby in jeopardy.
I'M SORRY WHAT, WHAT WAS THAT, ARE YOU DUMPING A+ HURT/COMFORT: PREGNANCY EDITION, RIGHT HERE? Right in front of my horse book?? I love you! I don't remember what I thought about this originally -- I think I read it, because I think I remember the details of the Christmas treats lodging in my memory -- but I guarantee you I want it so much more now and am mad that I do not own this one.
[November 2018 edit: HA-HAH! Guess what showed up in the library's book sale area the second they put out their "Christmas books" display? I didn't even have to look for it. It was just right there in front, facing the doors as soon as you walked into the building. Waiting for me.]
2. Ashleigh's Diary
THIS BOOK THOUGH. This book is amazing; I do not remember if I own it [ETA: PRAISE, I DO!] but I loved it as a kid more than a lot of the regular books; it's a fantastic prequel to the series -- but it's also just freaking devastating, because the series starts in a sad place in order to get happier. I gotta copy the whole summary here:
In the attic of her parents' home, champion rider Ashleigh Griffen discovers an old diary she had kept as a girl at Edgardale, her family's first breeding farm. Ashleigh is transported back in memory to the year she turned eleven . . . Painfully she recalls the devastation she felt during her struggle to save the horses she loved from a deadly virus that swept through the Edgardale stables. And Ashleigh relives all the happiness and tragedy of knowing Stardust - her very first horse, who was taken from her much too soon...
3. Ashleigh's Hope
I feel like this was the least exciting of the three, because of the setting at a Snooty Rich Riding Academy. [ETA: oh man, I own this one too]
4. Samantha's Journey
But this one, this one rocked as far as filling in Samantha's backstory about the loss of her mother.
[2019 edit: I'M WAITING, UNIVERSE. Bring me a copy to buy.]
Thoroughbred: Ashleigh's Collection
(I have no idea how Ashleigh ties in except for marketing purposes, as they seem to be stand-alones, but I'm guessing through equine bloodlines?)
Star of Shadowbrook Farm
I don't remember specifics, but I do recall this cover -- a good story about winning an abused horse's trust.
An unforgettable title, though the plot is hazy.
The Forgotten Filly
ALL THE TEARS. The best of the 3, a classic "my favorite pet died giving birth and her newborn offspring is STUPID and I HATE IT (but eventually learn to love it just as much)" story that made me cry. I just love the cute black filly on the cover, too.
The Ashleigh Series
Awww, it's a prequel series about Ashleigh on the farm where she grew up, prior to the events of Ashleigh's Diary! I only ever read a couple of these (4 and 8, I think; the former was far better), but I am glad to know this exists so that if I ever miss her too much, I can dive back into an origin story. With lots of stories. The first two of which are written by Joanna Campbell herself! ...although Wikipedia says they have some continuity issues, so that's distressing.
Peeking Into The Thoroughbred Books I Never Got To
[beware the spoilers now!]Courtesy of Spoilerpedia, mostly because of this:
Cindy's Desert Adventure and Cindy's Bold Start, volumes forty-seven and forty-eight, are two "lost diary specials" published within the regular series in an attempt to explain the missing characters and continuity problems created by the ten-year gap which occurred between Cindy's
Honor and the New Generation.
Me: Oh that sounds nice.
These books detail how Ashleigh miscarried her second pregnancy, the fate of Wonder's Champion, and Cindy McLean's travels to the United Arab Emirates, New York City, and finally back to Whitebrook Farm.
EXCUSE ME. HOLD UP. HOW ASHLEIGH WHAT? Why! Why would you do that! Also noooo do not make me live through the death of Wonder's progeny too.
Similar to the "lost diary specials", Samantha also had a two book special, volumes sixty-five and sixty-six, published within the regular series. These books, Bridal Dreams and Samantha's Irish Luck are not distinguished with a separate title indicating their "special" status within the series, but are generally regarded as such and were included within the regular series also in attempts to explain Samantha's story during the ten-year gap created by the New Generation. The books detail Samantha's marriage to Tor and their subsequent relocation to Ireland, Samantha's shifting focus from horse racing to eventing and show jumping, and the birth of Samantha and Tor's children.
THAT'S MORE LIKE IT. Also brb, gotta make sure I love Tor.
Other upsetting spoilers I have learned from Wikipedia's character list:
Jilly Gordon Avery was the jockey of Ashleigh's Wonder. After marrying Craig Jilly moves to California and gives birth to their daughter Allie. Jilly eventually dies from leukemia.
OH, WELL, OKAY, THAT'S COOL, TOTES WILL NOT TRAUMATIZE ME TO REVISIT HER IN THE EARLY BOOKS, THEN. Also defintiely won't bother me to learn that Craig dies two years later so that Cindy can scoop up their orphan daughter via adoption!
Though on a more positive note, Cindy apparently marries some Arab guy from overseas, and I am suddenly Very Interested to meet him.
In The Distant Future: I remember how