Sweet & Bitter Rivals (1) (Saddlehill Academy)

Sweet & Bitter Rivals (1) (Saddlehill Academy)
Age Range
Release Date
May 30, 2023
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From the author of the Canterwood Crest series comes the first book in a middle grade series about an equestrian boarding school following a girl who struggles to keep her eyes on the prize while receiving anonymous threats.

Abby St. Clair can’t wait to start another season with her elite riding team at her boarding school. She has something to prove after literally falling on her face during the biggest competition of the year the previous season. And she could really use a win after her mom left her family, her dad remarried, and Abby’s new stepsister, Emery, proved to be a strong rider and stiff competition.

Abby wants to return to some semblance of normal but is hiding a secret: she accidentally cost her biggest rival, Selly, a chance at team captain. Then Abby begins to receive anonymous messages, threatening to expose her unwitting sabotage and a video that makes it look like she’s trash-talking Emery. With an important competition on the horizon and the knowledge that someone in her circle knows way too much about her, the pressure is on.

Abby tries to put on blinders and have the perfect meet with her horse, Beau, but she’s about to find out the hard way that secrets don’t make friends at Saddlehill Academy.

Editor review

1 review
Drama and Horses at Boarding School
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Rising seventh grader Abby St. Clair has been through a lot of changes in the past year. Her mother has been gone for a while, abandoning the family without explanation when she was seven. Her father is always very busy at work, but has recently married Emery's mother. Emery, who is a year younger and has never had a father, is also going to be attending Saddlehill Academy, a boarding school that is outside Boston and has a lovely campus, strong academics, and an equestrian program that is superb. Abby has her own horse, Beau, (A Dutch Warmblood) on campus, and is excited to train and compete against rival Canterwood Crest. Abby is okay with all of the changes, but a tiny git apprehensive about how much time her father is spending with Emery. She's also not thrilled that she is in the same house with Selly and Nina, who are both incredibly mean to her ever since Abby made a mistake at a competition that caused Selly to do poorly. When Abby gets a video on her phone from a mysterious source that makes it look like Abby was saying terrible things about Emery, she's devastated. She reaches out to Emery right away to tell her it isn't true, and starts to investigate the sourse with her friend, Vivi. Emery is understanding, especially since she sees the effort that Abby is going to to try to figure out who made the video. Of course, there are also classes to attend, horses to ride, and the occasional cute boy around, so Abby is plenty busy. Selly continues to say mean things to her and tries to undermine her confidence by befriending Emery and telling Abby that Emery is a much better rider. When the true identity of the video poster comes to life, will Abby be able to remain friends with Emery?
Good Points
There is a lot of appeal to vicariously attending a boarding school while living safely at home. And a boarding school where a decent amount of time is spend riding, and around other kids who ride? Perfect. Saddlehill is a very posh school, and students can have pizza delivered and hang out at the pool, so for my students, this is a great fantasy novel! I absolutely adored that Abby really wanted to be friends with Emery even though she had to fight with her feelings in order to do this, and I can't wait to see how they resolve their issues in the next book. There are plenty of details about riding and caring for horses along with the drama, making this an excellent choice for middle school readers who want the full vicarious boarding school experience!

If you can find the Canterwood Crest series, it will shed some light on some of the issues in the school, but its not essential to read it before starting this new series.

Horse books are always needed, since there is still an interest among middle grade girls in equestrian pursuits. This will make readers of Terri Farley's Phantom Stallion series or Eliott's Bea and the New Deal Horse very happy!
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