Title: Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse Book 1)
Author: Laura Wolfe
Published: 18th August 2019 (first published in 2015)
Format: Ebook – 209 pages
Hello Hello! How are you today?
Today’s post has a special place in my heart, it is my first ever author request through my blog and I couldn’t be happier to bring you this book review. I was so happy when Laura reached out to me a few months ago to ask if I was interested in reading and reviewing her book and I was so glad to get a chance to read it! Thank you so much, Laura, for asking me to read and review your book and sending me a review copy.
I don’t tend to read YA mysteries very much and I haven’t read a book about/with horses since I was a child, but I gave it a shot and it was such a great surprise! Keep reading for my full review of Trail of Secrets by Laura Wolfe.
Sometimes people vanish for a reason…
Spending three weeks of her summer at the Foxwoode Riding Academy in northern Michigan should have been one of the happiest times of sixteen-year-old Brynlei’s life. But from the moment Brynlei arrives at Foxwoode, she can’t shake the feeling she’s being watched. Then she hears the story of a girl who vanished on a trail ride four years earlier. While the other girls laugh over the story of the dead girl who haunts Foxwoode, Brynlei senses that the girl–or her ghost–may be lurking in the shadows.
Brynlei’s quest to reveal the truth interferes with her plan to keep her head down and win Foxwoode’s coveted Top Rider Award. To make things worse, someone discovers her search for answers and will go to any length to stop her. As Brynlei begins to unravel the facts surrounding the missing girl’s disappearance, she is faced with an impossible choice. Will she protect a valuable secret? Or save a life?
Trail of Secrets is the first book in the Dark Horse YA mystery series by Laura Wolfe. In this first book, we follow Brynlei, a HSP (high highly sensitive person) teenager with a love for horse riding. After 6 years of begging her parents to let her go to the renowned Foxwoode Riding Academy in Northern Michigan, her parents finally cave and pay her a 3-week stay. As soon as she arrives at Foxwoode, she gets strange feelings like someone is watching her and they just get worse when Alyssa, another girl at the riding camp tells a ghost story about a girl who went missing from Foxwoode 4 years prior. This is a fast-paced, third-person narrative, YA mystery perfect for people who love a bit of suspense, things that go bump in the night, passionate characters and animals.
The whole book takes places at Foxwoode Riding Academy in Northern Michigan. We meet Brynlei as she is on her way to the camp. I really liked reading about a summer horse riding camp, as I have already said, I haven’t read a book with horses since I was really young, and even then I’m not sure that it was specifically about a camp. So this was really a first for me.
The setting really intrigued me, the camp was quite atmospheric, especially when Brynlei thought that someone was watching her. I liked all the descriptions we got when the girls would go on a trail ride and even all the technical descriptions about their training, when they were tacking the horses up, etc.
I actually really like books set at camps now and I’m going to have to keep an eye out. It was actually quite a nostalgic experience because it gave me High School Musical, Camp Rock vibes and I liked for once reading about a setting that wasn’t a fantastical world, space, a city, etc.
There were quite a lot of characters in this book, it had a solid cast and all the characters were very well built, they were all relatable and very realistic, I’m just going to talk about a few of my favourites or some who were important to the plot.
Brynlei: She is the main character of the story. Right from the start, I knew that I would really like her, she comes across as extremely mature for her age, she is 16-years-old, but because of her condition (HSP), she could definitely be described as an “old soul”. She is very compassionate and has an enormous love for animals, especially horses. I had no problem at all relating to her, she was a very kind, caring character and I loved to see her evolve, she was always trying to do the right thing and when she got hold of something, she couldn’t let it drop. I’m so excited for the next books in the series, I really want to see how Brynlei grows and evolves over the years.
Anna: She is one of the first people that Brynlei meets at Foxwoode and the pair become firm friends. At first, I didn’t really know what to think of Anna, but as the story progressed, I could see that she was just as kind and determined as Brynlei. I feel like her character used a bit of sarcasm now and again, but it didn’t bother me, it just made me wonder if Brynlei could trust her or not, but in the end, she turned out to be a great friend to Brynlei.
Bruce: He is the barn hand at Foxwoode. I initially thought that he was maybe 40 or 50 years old, but around the middle of the book I realised that he was actually 25 years old. He is described in a bit of a vague way, he seems old and dishevelled, but he is obviously very young. Throughout the whole book, it’s very hard to decipher who he actually is and I was always wrong with my assumptions. I really liked how he came across as the person you didn’t know if you could trust and I feel like we got to know him a lot more at the end. I still don’t really know whether I like him or not though.
Caroline: She is the girl who went missing from Foxwoode Riding Academy fours years prior to Brynlei’s summer stay there and she is the “ghost” of the camp.
I found that this book had a lot of things going for it and there were quite a few themes that overlapped throughout, these were some of the most present and ones that I appreciated the most.
Friendship: When Brynlei leaves for Foxwoode, she feels very lonely because her best friend Rebecca has also gone to a summer camp and the two won’t be able to see each other or even speak for 3 weeks. When she first meets Anna in the cabin, their friendship isn’t immediate, but you can see it grow throughout the book. I think that although Brynlei is a very independent character, she also needs a bit of friendship and I really loved Brynlei and Anna’s relationship and can’t wait to see more of their adventures in the next books!
Sensitivities: Brynlei is very sensitive, she saw a deer get run over a few years prior and she suffered from that experience so badly that her parents had to take her to see a psychologist who diagnosed her with HSP. She is described as having heightened sensitivities and almost a sixth sense, she feels like she is being watched a lot, she needs downtime to recuperate, all the noises and sights are more intense. I thought it was very original to have a person diagnosed with this condition because most of the time you see people with depression, anxiety, OCD, but those aren’t the only conditions, so I really appreciated having something a bit different for once and it was handled by the author very well!
Love of animals: Brynlei and all the girls at the riding camp love their horses they get to ride, but I think because Brynlei doesn’t have a horse of her own at home, she forges a very strong connection with Jett (the horse she gets to ride at Foxwoode) and this was lovely to read about. I used to own a horse and ride so I can really appreciate the connection that she had with Jett and the duty she felt when one of the horses gets injured at the end, this was such a lovely addition to the story and I can’t wait to see how her relationship with Jett evolves.
Mystery: You don’t really get the impression from the first couple of chapters that this book will be a mystery, but I really liked how the “main theme” of the book came along slowly. There is a little “spoiler” on the first page when the story travels three weeks forward, but it doesn’t really give anything away, I really liked this because when I saw it again towards the end of the book, the suspense levels seemed to go up! I really liked following Brynlei and Anna as they tried to work out the mystery of Caroline’s disappearance and I feel like this was also done really well by Laura, I really enjoyed this part of the book. I can’t wait for the next mystery, book 2 even seems spookier!
Trigger warning: domestic abuse, sensitive person, animal death, animal injury, blood/gore, there might be some more that I missed, they aren’t very present but I thought I should mention them just in case you struggle with these types of themes in books.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
I have to admit that when Laura reached out to me, even though I was excited to try her book, I was a tiny bit sceptical about the horse element. The mystery part of the synopsis really drew me in, but I was worried that all the horse bits would put me off or bore me, but actually, they didn’t bother me at all. I really loved all the times when Brynlei was tacking up Jett or riding him, how everything was described and when she explained the connection between her and the horse. I was surprised by just how much I remembered and I found myself imagining that I was tacking up a horse too, so that was quite funny and quite a surprise because I was convinced that I hadn’t retained anything from my horse years.
I haven’t read a YA mystery before I don’t think, but now I know that I really like this genre and I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for more in the future. If you have any good recommendations, tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear what your favourite books in this genre are!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this book and it was a great experience. I gave it 4 stars because I would have liked it to be a tiny bit longer or maybe for the mystery to be drawn out a little bit more. The relationship between Anna and Brynlei was really nice to read about and I also really liked how she got on with Miss Jill. I didn’t really like Alyssa and sometimes I got bored by her character but she was very realistic and I have known quite a few Alyssas in my time so it was funny reading about her.
I really did enjoy this book so much and it was a lovely surprise. If you like books with animals, some mystery, a touch of suspense, good friendships and strong characters, then this is the book for you!
Thank you, Laura, for sending me this book, I really loved working with you and I can’t wait to do so again in the future, I think this book will stay with me for quite a while to come!
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed this post, see you soon, stay safe,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – LAURA WOLFE
Laura Wolfe writes mysteries and psychological suspense for adults and young adults. Her YA mystery Trail of Secrets, was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards – First Novel category. Her second novel, Barn Shadows, was shortlisted in the 2018 Chanticleer Paranormal Book Awards. She is an active member of multiple writing groups, including Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America. Laura is a lover of animals and nature who enjoys living in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, two kids, and one spoiled rescue dog.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK (affiliate link) – Amazon FR (affiliate link) – AbeBooks (affiliate link) – The Book Depository (affiliate link) – Waterstones – Amazon US – Scrib’d