Dec 31, 2008

Wildfire: Did you ever think cotton candy would make a fashionable hat?

1.9: The Party

Oh my God, this episode was hilarious. It managed to tackle racial identity, family dysfunction, and suicidal thoughts during a teenage keg party. Who ever thought that was possible? Who ever thought that was possible for this show? Not I.

Anyway, the premise is this: Jean and Ian are going to a horse show and will be gone from the farm for twenty-four hours. Jean is trusting Mike and Ashleigh to take care of the house for this piddly amount of time, and of course they can't manage this (or, I should say, Mike can't handle it) because Brad comes along and convinces Mike that he should really let him throw a party at "Casa Reese" while Jean is away. Mike, being stupid, allows Brad to talk him into this idea and before you know it Brad has ordered a photo booth, a cotton candy machine, and has started to invite girls with added requests to bring their bathing suits despite Casa Reese not having a pool. Mike points this lack of a pool out to Brad, who then has to point out to Mike that he's an idiot. It does not matter, you silly boy! Girls, bathing suits, alcohol...apparently Mike is the most responsible irresponsible teenager ever because he doesn't get it. Of course, he could be asking what's up with the cotton candy machine. Brad actually had a good reason for the photo booth: "If any of our friends become celebrities we can sell our photos of them." It's a remarkably brilliant, if ridiculous plan. The cotton candy machine really has no purpose, unless Brad was going for some carnival theme, which is weird because these are teenagers and since when do keggers really have themes? Non-Halloween keggers, anyway?

Meanwhile, Ashleigh is studying for her GED, and when Brad invites her to the party she has to take the moral high road and decline. Brad assures her that he knows she'll show up, and without fail she does, if only because she looks out the window and sees her long lost friend, Win (who does not have a Thoroughbred equivalent, so he is just Win) show up at the house. She rushes to the house and throws herself at him, introducing him to Brad and Mike, who look appropriately threatened, as her "old old old friend." They rush off to talk about their matching star tattoos in the photo booth, and she discovers that Win has bruises that his father put there, instigating a whole talk about how he lost it on his dad, who is pressing charges on him, and immediately Ashleigh selfishly reprimands him about her own parole, etc. Everyone looks very shell shocked, and Ashleigh rushes out of the booth to notice Brad being mauled by a crazy blond girl who is trying to blackmail him into showering her with attention so she can make someone else jealous.

THEN (this episode was packed with plotlines, which is further astonishing given that it's all packed into a keg party) we have Bobby threatening Mike, who is not shockingly late on payment, yet again. Dude, stop gambling. Your stupid addiction is starting to piss me off, Mike. Bobby, because he's actually trying to cut Mike some slack, decides to play poker in the kitchen and use cookies as chips. Any profit he makes will go toward Mike's delinquent fund, which Mike should be happy about, but all he can think about is being all moral about not taking the money of some unwitting morons without realizing that he willingly throws his away. And then the cookie jar bites it.

THEN (yeah) we have Dani and this guy named Evan. Evan is black, so first he has to get all offended because Dani asks him what sports he plays. Evan plays calculus, bitch. Then he makes some crack about her self-esteem, which inevitably leads them to a journey of platonic self reflection in Mike's room, or something. Who knows. Dani is broken up about her mom, Evan wants to be a doctor, not a lawyer, oh cry me a river, people. Anyway, Mike shows up and forces them to leave so he can have a moment alone to wonder why he's so stupid, probably.

Before you know it, everyone is running around with cotton candy on their heads (including Mike) and Ashleigh finds Brad so they can troop right into the photo booth and kiss and try to figure out why they are doing what they are doing. Brad tries to say he has feelings for her, and Ashleigh says they aren't good at this whole talking thing...they should make out more. They're good at that, you see. So they commence kissing some more, and then Ashleigh's all "but what about Mike?" and Brad literally says, "He wouldn't fit in here." I actually really liked this scene. It was very Brad and Ashleigh...which is ironic considering this show wasn't based on Thoroughbred fan fiction. Anyway.

Moving on, the blond girl somehow winds up with only underwear on. And there's some insane game of Twister that involves dancing and a paint brush. And people actually have the audacity to spray paint on the walls...which must be some teenage level of stupid because usually most keg parties end with random items being stolen. Like cabinet handles and empty CD cases. Drunk people are weird. I don't know.

Getting back to the Win and Ashleigh situation, Mike finds that Win has a gun on him and he reverts into morally upstanding and manly on him. Ashleigh saves Win and drags him out to see Wonder, and then he tells her that he somehow was the one that caused her to wind up at juvy in the first place. Ashleigh is pissed, and this lead to Win trying to kill himself. Mike appears and throws his fists around a little, and Ashleigh tries to reassure Win that she doesn't hate him. Then Mike goes and actually cuts up Win's gun.

The party eventually ends. Win goes home with Ashleigh's friendship still intact, and then the three start to clean up the trashed house. Brad has to build a bookcase from Ikea that Ashleigh winds up helping him with after he completely loses it and starts cursing the Swedish. She fixes the bookcase and then he blurts out that he thinks he's in love with her after a conversation about how men are all dogs. Brad, for all of us who may be curious, is a Jack Russell. This was actually sweet, despite my recap not giving it any justice. Ashleigh tries to tell him that he doesn't even know her, and she doesn't even know him, but he's persistent, saying that Jack Russells are very determined and they'll get to know each other. Then Mike comes along and accidentally breaks the bookcase, like we all knew he would.

Jean returns home, is upset that the cookies are gone, and never knows about the party. Then Mike finds the photo booth slip of Brad and Ashleigh not only making out, but staring at each other longingly, and he stares pensively. Poor Mike has been losing in serious fashion for weeks now and he never even knew. I don't feel sorry for him.

Next up, this other female jockey comes along and causes chaos for everyone. I have not watched these episodes yet, but I imagine her Thoroughbred equivalent is going to be Cindy.

So that's it for 2008, guys. See you all in 2009!

Dec 29, 2008

It's another book I must decline ripping to shreds.

The Perfect Distance: A Novel
by Kim Ablon Whitney
Published: 2005
Sometimes Francie Martinez feels like she's hovering between two worlds. Her father is Mexican, and her mother -- although she doesn't really count -- is American. Francie spends hours mucking stalls with the other Mexican grooms, but when she mounts her horse, Tobey, she is a determined, talented rider, just like any of the other girls at West Hills. At school, she's known as "the horse girl," but in the ring (and to Rob, one of the best trainers in the country), she's not the girl who wins -- Tara is.

Now Francie is ready to secure a place for herself in a world where she knows she belongs. It's always been her dream to win the Maclay Finals in New York City, and this year -- her last year -- she has to win. Francie can't imagine her life without horses; she's serious about riding, and this is her final chance to prove it to Rob (who is so busy praising Tara that he barely notices her), to her father (who has been collecting college brochures for the past six months), and to Tara (who's sure she's going to win). And then there's the new boy, Colby, who is becoming a distraction just when Francie needs to focus more than ever.

In this deftly told coming-of-age story by the author of the critically acclaimed See You Down the Road, Francie faces more than the ring as she tries to figure out what kind of rider -- and person -- she wants to be.
You know, horse books seem to have fashioned a bad reputation for themselves. They're formulaic, and if you read this blog on any sort of regular basis the formula has probably slapped you in the face pretty much every day you've read it: Amazing girl or boy. Amazing horse. Snobby antagonist. Sudden drama. Win win win! It just goes around and around like a vicious cycle of ickiness. This is probably why I can get so, um, vitriolic here. Someone write something new. It's all I'm really asking.

It's not surprising that horse books have a hard road to hoe when it comes to being taken seriously. Really, it's to the point where I think most people write horse books off as being general wish fulfillment fantasies aimed toward the female gender. People don't take this seriously, and that's fine really, because occasionally books like The Perfect Distance come along and blow me away.

Francie Martinez is a groom at West Hills, one of the best places to train in the country. She's also a rider, but the distinction is her father is the West Hills barn manager, with absolutely no money to pay for the kind of training one needs to make it to the Maclay Finals and onward to Grand Prix. Francie is good, but she's not as good as Tara, the great West Hills hope for their trainer, Rob. Rob is the equestrian version of God, and Francie spends most of her lessons scrambling for his attention the way he lavishes it on Tara.

It's pretty apparent straight off that Francie isn't exactly comfortable in her skin. Literally and figuratively. She's half Mexican, and she bluntly points out that there are no Hispanic riders in America. To make matters worse, there's the obvious distinction between groom and rider. Francie isn't a working student, and whenever she tries to break out of her confines to interact with Colby (who is gorgeous and funny and rich and a good rider in his own right) her father slaps her down because he's been there and done that with her nonexistent mother, and look where that wound up. She's having a hard time balancing being both groom and rider, and people like Tara make the distinction obvious whenever they can.

Then there's school. Francie is a public school kid, whereas the other kids at West Hills are either privately tutored (her best friend, Katie, and Colby) or they dropped out to focus on riding (Tara). But even at school, Francie has a hard time fitting in. She's always focused on riding and school work, therefore she's not around, leaving her very existence mostly a mystery to the rest of the local kids. This leaves Francie as eager to please, and a basket case when she's put on the spot. It's shocking she can handle the ordeals of a normal day, much less the pressures of a show.

Despite these things, it's obvious that Francie is a good rider, and she's justified in dreaming of beating Tara in the Maclay Finals. But the book is more than this. Unlike just about every other book involving girls, horses, show jumping, and the mention of Olympic dreams, it doesn't end like you expect, and it manages to hit a completely different note than the scores of other books that have meagerly tried and miserably failed at the same point. It makes the kind of note that doesn't blatantly say: it doesn't matter what personal growth this character makes because she's going to win anyway because she's irritatingly perfect and you can be too!

And that...that's all I really want, folks.

So you've obviously figured out by now that I'm not going to recap this whole book and I'm not going to really give up the ending or much of the plot. All I can say at this point is to go find it and read it. You'll be happy you did.

Dec 28, 2008

Inspirational tale or horse abuse? You decide!

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken

Tagline: The inspiring true-life adventure of a courageous young rebel who defied the odds...and won.

So the deal is this: either you like this movie, or you think it's an evil promotion of horse abuse. I guess this is a common occurrence with Disney, given that they tend to inspire love or hatred in everyone, but to truly get to the heart of the matter, one would have to really research horse diving. I don't have the time or patience for that, so I'll just chat about what I know after a cursory glance.

Horse diving. It happened. Lots happened, folks. People are easily entertained, and if a horse will willingly jump sixty feet into a pool of water, I guess this counts as entertainment. The thing is, this act was conceived in the 1880s and it took until the 1970s to legally bring it down. More to the point, it's still going on in a less severe form. I have read Ranch of Dreams, a book about an animal rescue farm and written by a preachy killjoy, about a former diving horse that wound up in an animal rescue after the act was shut down. The author was very snotty about horse diving, asking readers to imagine being trained to jump into a pool of water (amusing, considering professional divers have been trained to jump into a pool of water...hell, I have been trained to jump into a pool of water) and then be sold at auction when you're no longer auction where you could go to slaughter! Gasps all abound! Look. At least the horse had a job before people like that guy freaked out and made its job illegal, forcing the poor horse into auction where the kill buyers are looking for horses that have no purpose anywhere else. Good going, guy. That said, I don't think asking horses to jump sixty feet into water is a fantastic idea. It's certainly something I wouldn't be interested in paying to see. But if people are responsible about training the horse to do the trick, fine. Whatever. I watch horse racing, so I'm not throwing stones.

Now that we've resolved that, let's get to the movie. Sonora Webster and her sister, Arnette, are orphans living in Georgia. It's the Depression, and Sonora's an orphan living with her aunt, who is not doing too hot seeing as how they live in Georgia and it's during the Depression. In fact, Sonora's aunt is probably about ready to freak out, given that she's got too many kids around and for all we know she's a single mother. Sonora's inability to do anything other than stare at an advertisement for Atlantic City isn't helping matters, especially when she decides to chop off her hair in an attempt to appear fashionable. Her aunt flips out and smacks her around, then forces her to wear a paper bag over her head to school. Ah, tough love. Or no love. Whatever.

Sonora gets rid of the bag pretty quickly, and notices that the family horse is limping around in his paddock. She goes out there and removes a giant rock from his hoof, and proceeds to fondle him in a way only horse loving girls can. Then the classic horse story antagonist shows up, a girl who not only ridicules Sonora's hair, but puts down Lightning, the family horse. Sonora isn't having that, and starts to mouth off about how Lightning is the fastest, bestest jumper in the whole county! Well, horse story antagonist girl can smell that lie and dares Sonora to prove it. Not only that, she double dares her. You know things are serious now, so Sonora rips her hem off her skirt to fashion reins on Lightning's halter, leaps up on him, and heads him to a fence that he completely demolishes because he's a draft horse, for Christ's sake. The cows get out, and Sonora is late for school. She gets detention. Antagonist girl has the nerve to moo at her, and Sonora makes an attempt to pull one of the girl's braids before apparently deciding it would be much more satisfying to punch the girl in the nose. Sonora is suspended, but refuses to leave the school. Therefore she is ignored the rest of the day.

When she returns home, her aunt has discovered what has happened all ready, and has acted out by selling Lightning. Then she smacks Sonora again and tells her that she's sending her away to the state. She cannot handle this anymore, people. She is done. Sonora then makes the executive decision to run away, and does so after seeing an ad for diving girls in a local paper. So she runs off to a local fair, where Doc Carver has his diving horse show set up. There Sonora meets hot dog boy (I can't remember his name, but he later becomes important as Sonora's groom, ignored fanboy, and later the inventor of the motorcycle cage of death) before running into her true love, Al Carver, whom she saves by hiding his hidden ace right when some nitwits try to beat him up after rightly discovering he was cheating at poker.

She meets Doc Carver after Al indicates that the only thing fun in his life is gambling and whoring (oh, Al). Doc is not impressed with Sonora, and it's indicated all around during this meeting that he's not impressed with her because her breasts aren't large enough. Of course, maybe I'm reading into his lecture about strength, but when he points to the picture of his current diving girl, Marie, his pointer goes straight to Marie's much larger chest. And he looks flustered. Very flustered. Sonora refuses to go, so he picks up the chair she's clinging to and tosses her outside. She eventually finds Al, and guilts him into showing her around when she gives him back his ace. Then Doc gives her a job as stable hand and they go to Virginia, where Al gets a new horse from a poker game and convinces Sonora to help train him. Sonora names the new horse Lightning, and he's this gorgeous gray. If I'd bothered to screencap this movie, I would have been screencapping him constantly.

Eventually Lightning is trained, following classic horse story guidelines to romance while horse training (lunging together, check). Al eventually makes his move while they're swimming, kissing Sonora, and she freaks and swims off. Then Doc lays down the gauntlet, telling Sonora that if she can mount Lightning while he's moving, she can train as a new diving girl. After many, many, many falls, Sonora finally does it, all the while concerning Al to the point of flipping out at his dad, who smacks and then punches him. There is a lot of family dysfunction in this movie...way more than the normal amount. Anyway, Al decides to leave and tells Sonora he will write her. He does, but Doc burns all of his letters but one before Sonora can get to them.

Anyway, eventually Marie dislocates her shoulder and Sonora gets to be the diving girl. Marie quits in disgust at not being the center of attention, and Sonora is the main attraction for a while as they go from small state fair to small state fair. Eventually there are no more state fairs, given that the Depression is so bad and what all. Al comes back and miraculously saves Lightning from colic (or something like that), and asks Sonora why she never answered his letters. But, she did not receive any letters! But this doesn't matter. He has secured a contract at Atlantic City for the diving horse show, and on their way there Doc dies.

They arrive at Atlantic City. Al and Sonora get engaged, and then she has her disaster dive and hits the water with her eyes open. She hemorrhages and eventually goes blind, becoming increasingly pissy and annoyed with her life until Al decides to let her try to train again. It doesn't work out, and he gets Marie to come back to the show so they don't get kicked out of Atlantic City for breach of contract. But then Sonora decides to spend a night with Lightning, fondling him all over during a thunderstorm. I recall several years ago when I was watching this one day, that at this very scene my father passed by, paused, and asked me if I was watching The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. No. No, I was not.

Anyway, then the classic horse story kicks in full gear. Groom/hot dog/motorcycle boy locks Marie in her dressing room, switches the chestnut Marie normally uses with Lightning, and Sonora climbs up the ladder. Lightning is released just before Al realizes what's going on, and Sonora makes the jump despite being blind. Everyone is relieved and happy when both come out of the water unharmed. Then sappy voice over starts about how Sonora was a diving girl for the next eleven years and how she and Al lived happily ever after.

When Sonora Webster saw this movie, she indicated that the only thing true about it was that she dove horses for eleven years while blind, and she married Al. I guess she wasn't very much into the sentiment that this movie laid on pretty thick in places, but that's creative license for you. It's an okay movie, pretty typical Disney from that era. What I find the most interesting is that it's Michael Schoeffling's last movie, and I never realized that he was even in this until recently. And I just now realized he's the guy in Sylvester, another horse movie I loved when I was little (and there was teen sex in a stall in that one...I'll have to watch it again for sure). Apparently Michael Schoeffling lives in northeastern Pennsylvania and makes furniture now. This I find unfortunate, because if two of the ten movies he made were horse movies, imagine what he could have been typecast as. He could have been Brad Townsend. This saddens me.

So what's next, guys? I have a very impressive Netflix queue waiting me (141 dvds), but I can add new ones or send a specific title to the top of the list easily enough. More Wildfire? Another movie? What do you say?

Okay, so I'll finish this entry with a photo of real horse diving.

Dec 27, 2008

A Horse Of His Own just doesn't roll off the tongue.

A Horse for the Summer
Sandy Lane Stables #1
by Michelle Bates

These horsey summer books are endless, aren't they?

When Tom is left a prize-winning showjumper for the summer, things don't turn out quite as he'd hoped. Chancey is wild and unpredictable and Tom is forced to start training him in secret. But the days of summer are numbered and Chancey isn't Tom's to keep forever. At some point, he will have to give him back...

After reading a decent horse book, I have to stumble back into a book that hits every horse story cliché imaginable. It's just routine now. Luckily for me, I picked up the first in the Sandy Lane Stables series.

One thing that stands out about the Sandy Lane Stables series is it isn't solely aimed at the female demographic. Sure, most of the other horse books I've read for this blog include men and boys somehow, proving that men and boys do actually ride horses, but those books are almost always told from a female perspective, and are aimed at girls. Even Dylan's Choice was told by Christina. This series manages to indicate that boys do exist in the horse world, and can be more than just the main character's boyfriend (or horribly beautiful and awesome sort of antagonist, as the case may be).

That aside, I'm not exaggerating about how this book hits (and hits hard) every horse story plot device and contrived storyline ever dreamed up. I should create a list at this point. An abbreviated list could be:

1. Abused horse
2. Main character who takes matters into his/her hands, and is eventually rewarded for it because they are ultimately correct, and those who have every right to be pissed are ultimately wrong
3. Flat antagonist with little to no motivation for bitchiness
4. Miraculous change in said abused horse, suddenly becoming the most fantastic of horses
5. "The Horse of Her Own" storyline, wherein the main character receives a horse for free despite having little to no financial capability to take care of said horse, and everyone seems excited and willing to go along with this completely ridiculous idea.

I'll stop before I get too ahead of myself. This book isn't horrible, but it does fall face first into all of these problems. Luckily for it, I guess I was just in a good mood when I read it, and you can't really rip to shreds such a simple story and feel good about it afterward. Therefore let's move on to the plot.

Tom is super excited, you guys. His bratty cousin is leaving for the summer and she has decided to give him her horse, a "champion" named Chancey. This is falling at a good time for Sandy Lane, who has a lame horse and really needs another lesson horse to fill the void. Sandy Lane isn't exactly financially sound, and Nick and Sarah, the owners, decide to let Tom board Chancey at the stable in return for making him a lesson horse. Tom is thrilled by this arrangement, and goes off to be perfect and the model working student for the stable.

There's a group of working students (of differing riding talent, and Tom is naturally the best) that the series centers around. They aren't really important to mention in detail in this entry, but Alex is Tom's best friend and fellow male, so he's sort of around occasionally when Tom isn't busy being self absorbed with his new horse, who arrives with much fanfare, dashing Tom's hopes to tiny pieces when it turns out his cousin, Georgiana, has ruined him. Chancey is a nervous wreck who can't be trusted as a lesson horse, much to everyone's disappointment. Because of this, Nick goes against his wife's orders and goes to an auction with Tom, buying a somewhat neglected horse because he has an addiction to auctions and should really stay away. He can't, buys something, and then walks it home because they've refused to bring a trailer, thinking that if they can't transport a horse home easily that would dissuade him from buying something.

Nick quickly becomes obsessed with this new horse, and as a result he has little time to help Tom out with Chancey, who is still being a little crazy. Tom, who has promised Nick that he won't do anything stupid (ie. ride the horse alone), decides that the only way he can get Chancey ready for the summer shows is to ride him alone early in the morning, Cindy style. This is what Tom does, and Chancey starts to improve, tricking Nick into thinking he's actually just a preternaturally intelligent/talented horse. Only then Nick catches Tom in the midst of an early morning training session, and Nick is pretty pissed. Tom is sort of an asshole about this, figuring he was justified in his actions, right up to the point that Chancey dumps his ass and sprints off. Nick flat out tells him that the horse shouldn't have been trained alone by a novice (I grinned at this), and they find Chancey and all is well. Tom enters the local show on another horse, but decides to go along with Alex's plan to suddenly switch the horses out just before the show, because Tom is so right and Nick will magically understand what Tom's been doing when they break every rule Nick has set up.

I love these plot devices, because they are so irritating and impossible. That whole "we'll make so and so understand because he was just like us when he was our age" or whatever. It happens in almost every Thoroughbred book, and it happens here. So Tom winds up showing Chancey at the last minute, and wins the show, and because of this Nick actually says that he would have done the same thing. Tom has proved his point, and Nick is instantly not angry. Let this be a lesson to every young person: you can only get out of being punished for breaking rules if you are awesome and victorious always. If you can't win, you're going to get your ass handed to you.

So then Georgiana comes back to ride Chancey in the big summer show. This is apparently her only motive for coming back. She just wants to be a jealous bitch and throw her weight around, so Tom has to give up Chancey. Georgiana, for some reason, keeps riding Chancey at Sandy Lane, being bitchy and impossible while Tom reverts into total perfection mode. Georgiana rides Chancey at the big show, completely failing. Alex comes in sixth, and Tom has the audacity to think this is encouraging for him and the formerly lame horse, Feather. At this point, I always find it irritating when someone else does moderately well and the main character is all "oh, yay, perhaps I have a shot of doing well too!" We know you're going to win, Tom. So do you. And he does.

Moving on, Georgiana has to go be stupid again, riding Chancey out to the beach during high tide, because she's too stuck up and flat to pay attention to the tide sheet that Nick mentioned to everyone earlier. Tom, being perfect, realizes what she's done and goes out to rescue her. He rescues her, and then goes out to rescue Chancey, which involves swimming across a channel to the shore. Everyone is saved, except Tom falls off and whacks his head and falls unconscious. He wakes up at home, where Georgiana tells him out of the blue that she never really wanted to ride, and her father is tired of keeping the horse, so she's giving Chancey to Tom so she can take up ballet. Everyone has a collective yay! moment, and that's that.
  • Tom "crouches" over Chancey's withers during a canter. Not half-seat or two-point...crouching. I find this interesting, because if I tried that in front of my own instructor he'd ask me what I thought I was doing. And then I'd probably fall off.
  • Why is everyone talking about clipping a horse's winter coat when it's mid-May?
So, it's your silly, completely outrageous, not at all possible horse story plot. The usual. The next one is Runaway Pony, where Jess (of the working student group) takes the reins.

Dec 26, 2008

Hex: a mystery book rec

A Ruby Murphy Mystery
by Maggie Estep
Published: 2003

Like I said back when we covered The Alibi Man, I'm not one for mysteries or cop drama. But I bought this book and its sequel years ago. Go figure. Maggie Estep isn't exactly your typical mystery/thriller writer, so Hex has that going for it. However, it is, for all intents and purposes, essentially a first novel. So it's got that going against it. Let's take a look at the summary.
Having drifted through thirty-three years of life, Ruby Murphy has put down roots in a rootless place: Coney Island. A recovering alcoholic who is fanatical in her love for animals and her misanthropic friends, Ruby lives above a furniture store and works at the musty Coney Island Museum. One day, Ruby is on the subway heading into Manhattan when the train stalls between stations. An elegant blond woman with a scarred face strikes up a conversation, and a misunderstanding between the two women leads to an offer Ruby decides she can't refuse. The woman needs her boyfriend followed, and she thinks Ruby is the woman to do it -- and do it right.

Ruby's life has been flat and painful lately. The Coney Island Museum isn't doing much business, Ruby's live-in boyfriend has moved out, and her best friend Oliver is battling cancer. Ruby agrees to follow the woman's boyfriend, Frank, a man who works at Belmont Racetrack and seems to hang out in odd places with bad company. Ruby soon finds herself pushed headfirst into horse racing's seamy underbelly. This is a dangerous world where nothing is as it appears, and people and horses seem to have limited life spans. When Ruby finds herself staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, she beings to have second thoughts.

Only now it's far too late.
What's good about this story is it's mainly populated by a bunch of quirky characters, and Ruby is not at all a Mary Sue turned hard ass. She's mostly just an eccentric, who loves Coney Island, horses, and the piano. The book is told entirely in the first person, but it switches viewpoints between Ruby and other characters: her piano teacher, her friend with cancer, a groom at Belmont, an assistant trainer at Belmont, and Ruby's neighbor. So it's attempting to give you strings of the main plot through people who don't necessarily know what the hell is going on. The good thing about this is it saves Ruby from being a complete author insert, but it slows the whole thing down until the most interesting stuff happens in the last four chapters. You'll find yourself skimming through some of the extraneous crap, because try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to care that much about Ruby's neighbor's girlfriend's bad breast implants, which take up more of the book than I remembered.

Anyway, the book opens up with Ruby on her way to her piano lesson. The train is stuck on the tracks, and to pass the time a blond woman strikes up a conversation with a less than willing Ruby. To be a jerk, Ruby tells the woman she's a private investigator and wow, what a shock, this woman desperately needs a private investigator. Try as she might, Ruby cannot escape the woman's desperate pleas for help, even after Ruby levels with her that she is not anything remotely resembling a private investigator. This doesn't not dampen the woman's spirits, and before you know it Ruby is hired to follow around Frank, a possibly cheating boyfriend.

Is Frank cheating? Really, no one really needs a private investigator to figure this out. Ruby is of this mindset the entire time, so I appreciate that. Of course Frank is cheating. Frank is also a groom at Belmont, so in order to get Ruby closer to the action, the woman (Ariel, who has spent all her money on developing a hybrid orchid and is not at all mentally well) pulls strings and gets Ruby a job as a hotwalker for a trainer at Belmont. This should be your first tip that things aren't right with Ariel, but it's so subtle you'd never really see it until later. Ruby meets Ned, assistant trainer, and they begin dating eventually, but things turn horribly wrong when Ruby begins to suspect him of suspicious behavior after someone Frank was carrying on with dies at the track. Mainly this involves her seeing him with a gun after they've had sex. Ruby reacts badly. Things spiral out of control from there, revealing Ariel's real motives and Ned's real identity. The FBI come along, and things end with Ned (or Edward, as he is actually known) patching things up with Ruby, Ned calling in favors to find a crazy Russian woman who stole his kitten, and Ruby going on a wild ride on an ex-race horse.

Anyway, I'm not going too in depth on this one because that would ruin the suspense. It's a good book, although it gets stuck in places with characters that aren't exactly relevent to the plot. I think this is rectified in the sequel. The racetrack scenes are fantastic in this book, so that's mainly why I'm reccing it. And it's not totally ridiculous, and I like FBI agents. So, consider this recced.

This is a trilogy, Gargantuan and Flamethrower following Hex. Maggie Estep has another horse racing book coming out in May called Alice Fantastic.

Dec 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from the Whitebrook Farm crew!

Earlier this month, I received a Christmas card from none other than Elizabeth, Saddle Club contributor for this blog. Elizabeth designs these cards by hand -- really, she's very awesome about this. This year she just outdid herself, and I have to share her awesomeness on the blog:

The theme this year: Carole Hanson celebrates Kwanzaa. She gave me free rein to detail the card in colored pencil, but really, how can I destroy this level of brilliance?

Happy Holidays!

Dec 22, 2008

First annual toy review, just in time for the holidays!

I haven't actually found any sort of time to wander around the toy aisles lately, so it's good that I have other contributors on this blog who apparently set aside time to do just that. Today I got an e-mail from Elizabeth, Whitebrook Farm's Saddle Club correspondent, in which she shared two links to toys that astonished and delighted her (or just confused her, which was mainly my reaction). This inspired my perusal of other horse themed toys, which I haven't done since I abandoned My Little Pony. I thought I would share my finds here, for those who desperately need a last minute, horse-related gift for some ridiculously lucky child somewhere. Here we go.

FurReal Friends - Butterscotch Pony:
Price: $263.20 on Amazon

No one should have to spend $300 on a robotic pony covered in plush fake fur, but for those of us who genuinely want to spend this sort of money on amazingly spoiled children, there is the FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony. If your child prefers non chestnut ponies, there is also Smores, the black and white pinto pony. Apparently you can groom this thing and sit on it and it "reacts" somehow and honestly if this thing had existed when I was five I would have desperately wanted it. I'd sort of desperately want it now, if I didn't ride real horses. If you go this route, know that you're spending nearly $300 on a pony that does everything except have bowel movements and actually transport your child from point A to point B. So, if movement is what you're looking for, you want this:

Giddyup N' Go Pony
Price: $399.99 on Amazon

Yes. It moves. The webpage also actually instructs parents to watch both the child and the pony closely in case they wander off into steep territory. It also admits that the brake is not quick to use. Awesome toy! You might want to pitch in an extra few bucks for helmet, parents.

Do you not want to spend a shitload to make your kid happy? I completely understand that.

My Little Pony Crawling Newborn Pinkie Pie
Price: $9.25 on Amazon

I know. I KNOW. What the hell is this thing? Look, I was as happy as any other horse loving child who happened to be born in the eighties when Hasbro brought back My Little Pony, but this is pushing it. This poor thing looks like it was electrocuted. And it looks happy about it. Nevermind for a moment that ponies, even My Little Ponies, don't crawl. The baby My Little Ponies from the eighties were lightyears better.

Speaking of the eighties, this is actually awesome. It is the 25th anniversary of the My Little Pony (I am older than My Little Ponies, a fact that just depresses me), and they have reissued certain 1983 and 1984 toys.

My Little Pony Original 1984 Collection II
Price: $24.99 on Amazon

Maybe I'm only excited about this because I owned that purple pony in the middle there. In fact, I still have it. I still have every My Little Pony I ever owned. Except for those sea horses...those naturally didn't survive the mildew. Anyway, I can't criticize the original My Little Pony. They're too chubby and adorable.

Bratz Passion 4 Fashion Horse
Price: $16.99 on Amazon

I know almost nothing about Bratz besides the fact that they've apparently finished what Britney Spears started with the sexualization of young girls. And that Barbie just successfully sued them. Who knows. Perhaps Bratz will be no more, in which case maybe then they'll stop sexualizing horses. Please, won't someone think of the horses? What horse can reasonably expect to have a mane as glorious and super enticing as that? Look, I had a Lady Lovely Locks Silkymane back in, I don't know, 1986 or something, and that was a lot of purple hair, but at least that horse could stand up on its own. These...can't. Which should seem obvious considering the andalusian is only balancing on two hooves. Come on, people. This isn't rocket science. Okay, so obviously this is the toy to avoid. Just buy your daughter a Barbie horse and stick the Bratz doll on it. At least the horse will stand on its own. And it will probably be glittery. Hey, maybe it will have wings! What more do you really want?

So that's my 2008 toy review. Go and spend that money wisely, folks!

Dec 20, 2008

Wildfire: Matt's manliness was short lived, and yes, that's a relief.

1.8: The Track

It was only a matter of time before we come to the most natural horse racing plot imaginable: endangering a horse's life for personal gain and/or vengeance. So let's get started.

Ashleigh = Kris
Mike = Matt
Brad = Junior
Wonder = Wildfire
(For all of us just tuning in.)

Branching off from the last episode, where Ashleigh and Brad made out under the stars, we start this installment with Ashleigh and Brad in her trailer. They are not making out, but are in fact doing what I always imagined Ashleigh and Brad would do: they are discussing how Brad wants to talk and Ashleigh "doesn't see the point." Eventually he gets her to agree to a totally platonic dinner, despite Ashleigh insisting that they just do everything backward (They sleep together, kiss, and now dinner...what could be next? Introductions?). As she is pressed for time, Ashleigh says she'll go out with him and then runs out to Mike, who is on his motorcycle. They motorcycle their way to the track, where Wonder is in a race.

I will give the show high marks this time around for managing a consistent racing scene. Almost no show, or movie, has ever managed to depict a race in a cohesive manner. This time the announcer says Wonder is in yellow silks. And I spot the horse in the yellow silks. Grand! Next the announcer says Wonder is in front, and by God she is! Astonishing! Then she's falling back...and holy hell the yellow silks horse is in fact falling back! Then at the end of the race, as Wonder comes in last, everyone rushes up to the horse and jockey, who is WEARING YELLOW SILKS. !!! I know, this doesn't seem like that hard of a feat, but it actually is (you have to watch enough of this stuff, and I really have by now). The only place where they slipped up is when the announcer insists that Wonder is on the outside when she is in fact on the inside. I'm letting that slide for now, show. But you've shown me I can expect more from you, and I will now raise the bar.

Anyway, Wonder is having a fit, which is pretty classic Wonder. Ian (Pablo) grabs a hose and begins to rinse her off so she'll cool down, and a vet exam later diagnoses Wonder with colic. Somehow. Ashleigh and Mike wander around looking for suspicious things Wonder might have eaten, and find cattle feed in the trailer. Then they proceed to shake down everyone they can about the cattle feed, leading them to Carlos, a past employee of Whitebrook whom they had to let go during their financial crisis. Carlos is pissed that they just assume it's him, and then Mike's new bookie comes along and throws Mike around because he wants his five grand now.

This makes me quite pleased. Mike does stupid so well, it's nice to see him back in character. The bookie threatens Mike that other things will happen if he doesn't get paid, and Mike ignorantly asks, "What do you mean?" Dude, what do you think he means? *rolls eyes*

While Mike is getting his ass handed to him, Brad is washing his Porsche and appears to have made the wise decision to strip his shirt off and douse himself with water. This is totally gratuitous, as Ashleigh isn't even around for him to impress. So I'm going to give Brad tons of points for just being amusing. Ashleigh calls him and tells him dinner is off as Wonder is too sick, and Brad is disappointed and hides this emotion by saying he has a party to go to anyway, which he actually doesn't. In fact, he watches The Daily Show. Then he goes and throws away the roses he was going to give her during their totally non romantic dinner. Well done, Brad. Well done.

So everyone commences freaking out about Wonder, who doesn't appear to look all that distressed, but hell. Whatever. She's no better the next day, and Ian convinces Jean to try some holistic approach to colic. The next thing you know there's some guy massaging Wonder's face.

And Mike decides to sell his motorcycle after having "the talk" with Ashleigh about his gambling problems. He wants to stop! But he can't! And he likes his dad better than his mom, maybe! Ashleigh's all "I have total platonic faith in you!" And then they go on a last ride on the motorcycle. It struck me then that the area they're filming this is really very gorgeous. I just thought I'd say that.

Also Dani apparently had some pap smear issue, and Brad goes to find her at the hospital and is scared she's sick. So he puts his sister before Ashleigh, who has rescheduled their platonic dinner for that very night Dani has to go to the hospital, leaving Brad to pick her up instead of eating with Ashleigh. Brad shows up late at Ashleigh's trailer, and she's all pissed off, especially after he won't tell her the grizzly details of what he was up to at the hospital. She storms off and freaks when she finds more cattle feed! And Carlos's truck was, like, right there!

So Ian calls up Carlos to have a chat with him, and while Carlos is busy being all offended, Mike is sneaking around his truck, cutting into all his feed bags looking for the cattle pellets. As it turns out, Ashleigh catches Carlos's son putting the pellets in Wonder's stall and she tackles him and makes him admit his motives. It's your general vengeance scheme. No more, no less. Then Ashleigh sleeps in Wonder's stall and she's miraculously better in the morning. Dani arrives shortly after to tell Ashleigh that Brad picked her up at the hospital, and he's surprisingly not superficial. He's a nice guy, aka not a gambling addict. Go with the non addict, Ashleigh. Go.

This brings us to evening at Whitebrook, where Mike and Brad are watching female celebrity boxing. Ashleigh comes in and they quickly switch it to opera, and she's naturally suspicious of this, asking them what they were watching before. Mike begins his attempt at saying they appreciate opera and Brad just gives him that look. Mike quickly says something about getting ice cream and Brad is all for that, so Ashleigh sits down with Brad and she says she talked to Dani and they haven't kissed in nine days and they go to start making out right when Mike bounds back in with ice cream and they scurry away from each other like nothing was happening.

Then they presumably watch opera. Or female celebrity boxing. We don't know.

I liked this episode. Obviously I'm not going to get into the details of colic and holistic healing and why massaging a horse's face is going to help in this department, but let's just cruise right over that and be astonished that they managed to keep the silks consistent this time. And I like to see some character development, which I saw in this episode. Grand!

Next time in posts involving me and my television: Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. You guys want my take on the horse diving movie, so that's what you shall receive.

Wildfire: In which this show suddenly turns all Hey Dude on me.

1.7: Lost and Found

Well, where do I begin? This show is such a mixture of goodness and fantastic hilarity. Consider this episode. I was genuinely touched during some moments here. The rest of the time I was keeling off the sofa in fits of laughter. I can't figure out why it is that I like this show so much, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the way this show really attempts to be taken seriously during its fits of 100% pure grade CW angst. It's good stuff.

This is the episode where the writers, I believe, decided that it was time to make Matt manly. If they were trying before, they really fell short of the goal, because as I've said several times by now, Matt is STUPID. The poor boy. So to make up for this serious lacking, the writers have given him the gift of tracking. Surely this is manly and the very opposite of stupid (I refuse to say that tracking involves skill, and therefore requires some sort of knowledge, because if Matt can figure this out, a random city dweller should be able to accomplish it, especially when Matt admits to not knowing how he picked this up).

Okay, so now I have to get into why I'm talking about tracking. Therefore I've got to get into the plot, which is both good and remarkably silly at many, many moments. I also said that, for my own amusement, I'm going to replace these people with their Thoroughbred equivalents. So for this entry that is exactly what I'm going to do. Although for the sake of my sanity, I'm only going to do this with Ashleigh, Mike and Brad (Kris, Matt and Junior), and if anyone has suggestions for equivalents for the rest of the characters, I'm happy to open the floor in the comments. Suggest away. (And no, Dani can't be Lavinia, because that just violates several of my very strict rules. Dani will stand in as Brad's long lost sister, okay? Okay.) Oh, and for the hell of it, Wildfire is now Wonder. That's right. Just roll with it this time, folks.

We begin this episode with Ashleigh putting a random horse in a corral with other random horses, one of which being Wonder. While she's just standing there doing nothing, a herd of wild horses goes cruising by, upsetting the old horse she just stuck in the corral, as apparently the horse used to be a mustang. Never mind the fact that mustangs apparently don't exist in California. They do for the sake of TV, and as we all know creative license is all TV needs to explain itself. That and a bunch of people going "there are no wild horses here" while Ashleigh vigorously defends the fact that she has eyes and in fact saw the horses. Anyway, because Wonder is awesome, she jumps the fence and somehow, because she is awesome, lets the other horses out of the corral. They all run off with the wild horses and Ashleigh is staring open mouthed at this. She runs back to the farm house, where...Mike's mom Jean (roll with it, damn it) is recovering from a sprained ankle. Ashleigh goes on about the horses and after they're through refuting her claim to there being wild horses, Jean demands that they go after them and is up to, you guessed it, rummage around for food. Because that is what Jean does all the time.

While Mike and Ashleigh are readying their mounts for immediate pursuit, Brad drives up and inquires as to what's going on. Then he wants to come with because he's all in lust with Ashleigh. Ashleigh wants to know if Brad can even ride and he's all "yes" and they go off on their adventure.

Meanwhile, back at Whitebrook (haha) Jean and Charlie are trying desperately to make out at any opportunity. Although in an attempt at comedy the doorbell keeps ringing, interrupting their attempts at precious adult alone time. So just keep thinking of that, as it's like a continuous loop for about half the episode. The kids keep riding around, Mike making his serious non-stupid face all the time while Brad is back there mouthing off and attempting to be amusing, probably to keep himself occupied, as Mike is busy being dull and Ashleigh is busy being determined when she's not trying to fling branches back into Brad's face. They have some crisis moment over a cougar possibly existing somewhere, and then Dani appears because she was at Whitebrook, having interrupted Charlie and Jean to discuss where her brother is. And oh, yeah, two of the horses returned to the farm. Only Wonder and random important old horse are still out there with the wild animals. So they discover that the horses have forded the river they're next to, and because it's, like, maybe late afternoon or something they decide to call it a day and swim for a while.

These kids, they are so motivated. Like, wow. Anyway, they find a completely fake looking pit of water to swim around in and begin to tell secrets because this is just what they stumble into doing. Ashleigh reveals that she can't swim. No one is interested. Dani reveals that she tried to track down her mom, and Brad is all pissed about that. Mike reveals that he saw Charlie making out with his mom, and Ashleigh reveals that her mom always had guys around (yeah, so that's not exactly Thoroughbred equivalency). So they all climb out of the pool thing and wander around to make camp, setting up a heart to heart between Dani and Ashleigh about how Ashleigh has a "wire" with Wonder. Ashleigh asks Dani who she has a wire with, and Dani won't respond. Then she says something about how she knows Ashleigh isn't exactly the reason she and Mike broke up, but I honestly think she's mainly thinking her wire is with Brad.

Meanwhile, at Whitebrook, the doorbell rings again. Oh, hilarity! Actually, it's Pete (or Joe Lando, which brought back awful memories of Dr. Quinn), Jean's not at all forgotten ex-husband, there to give her $10,000 and attempt to win back her affection in Charlie's presence. This somehow leads to Charlie and Pete drunkenly attempting to make dinner before Jean makes it obvious to Pete that he will not be inserting himself back into her life, no matter if he's turned from "gambling to investing." (Yes, that was one of my fall over laughing moments.) So Pete slams the door, never to return! Or, I guess he does return. Five more times. Or something.

Back out in the wilderness, the kids are sleeping after a rigorous attempt at dancing to Mike's "music" which makes me wonder how Mike got that stereo out there and how he kept it dry during that river fording. All very mysterious. No one is actually sleeping. Mike and Ashleigh go out to get wood for the fire and remark that the stars are blah blah blah and then a stallion appears out of nowhere and Ashleigh sees it and Mike doesn't believe her again. Then Ashleigh wakes up again to go sit and stare at the stars and Brad follows her. He sits down next to her and tells her that her secret about her mom was in fact a real secret and that his is that he really sees her. It's all romantic and such, and Ashleigh completely falls under the spell of Brad and they start kissing. Only then the cougar has to come along and ruin this moment.

And then it's day again. I guess that cougar threat went no where? Well, anyway. Wonder shows up and takes them to the body of the old horse, who has died of simply being old. Then the show had to go get touching again, while Mike gets all manly and has to go tell his mom that the horse died. Brad and Dani have a nice moment while they stay with the horse's body, talking about their mom and how they wonder if she's dead or alive or what. Mike takes Jean back via truck and Jean says goodbye to her favorite horse and they start to dig a grave for him right there, while off in the distance the stallion from the herd rears in a field.

Really, it's not a bad episode. It's cheesy occasionally. Actually, this one really reminded me of Hey Dude. I half expected them to get lost and have to craft a giant SOS sign out of rocks so passing planes will notice them and alert authorities, but seeing as how Mike is manly now, surely he would have thought of something more updated. Like finding a cell tower for Brad's phone. Crafting words out of rocks is so circa 1989.

Dec 19, 2008

Willow King: There's a lot of talk about disabilities here that I almost completely ignore.

Willow King
by Chris Platt
Published: 1998

I always had the opinion that Chris Platt should have been an author on the Thoroughbred series, given that her background could have seriously helped add some realism to those plotlines. Instead, in true form for whoever was behind that series, she was put on the Ashleigh series...which never failed to confuse me. Author with jockey experience...stick her on a series that has relatively little to do with racing! Brilliant idea! It's this kind of thought process that never gets old.

The only reason I'm displaying a larger image of this cover is because of the denim outfit. I was in high school in the 1990s...I would have remembered if wearing all denim was fashionable...and I really don't think it was.
When thirteen-year-old Katie Durham learns that the owner of a neighboring Thoroughbred farm is going to destroy a newborn colt, she rushes to save him. Willow King's legs are badly twisted, but Katie fights for his life, begging for the chance to raise the foal.

Because one of her own legs is nearly an inch shorter than the other, Katie feels an immediate kinship with Willow King. Together they embark on a painstaking journey of training that becomes more harrowing than Katie ever expected. Yet, through it all, she remains determined to see this brave little colt grow into the beautiful Thoroughbred champion she knows he's meant to be.
So, I recall when this book was published. I actually remember telling Chris Platt I would read it back in 1998 (don't ask). Ten years later, I finally get around to it. Nicely done, me! The important thing is that I've at least read it, and I have every intention of reading its sequel...whatever it's called.

This book begins rather abruptly. There is no easing you into Katie's world. Instead we plunge right into the thick of it on the first page, because Willow King has already been born and his owner has decided to destroy him because his legs are crooked. As it turns out, Willow King is part of the first crop of Beau Jest, the farm's would-be-prominent stallion. Mr. Ellis, owner of the farm, isn't taking any chances with his stallion's future, and determines that the foal is a black mark on Beau Jest's remarkably small record as a producer. Katie, being a horse story main character, is not going to let this happen. Quickly, she slaps the foal with a name and rabidly defends his life. Everyone backs down when it becomes apparent the foal can nurse by himself, but Mr. Ellis still doesn't want to foal on his farm, so Katie cuts a deal with him. He can lease Katie's horse, Jester, for his daughter, Cindy, for three years. In return, Katie gets to own Willow King and pretty much singlehandedly raise him. The deal is done, King and his dam go off to Katie's property, and that's that.

So, this obviously makes Cindy our antagonist. She's a little more unpredictable than most flat antagonists in these sort of books, in that she's duplicitous and a bitch most of the time, and then will turn around and have some completely unexpected break through by admitting she's "a jerk" and then turns around again and acts like a crazed banshee for no apparent reason. This is either more in line with the reality of rich teenage girls, or Cindy is mentally unbalanced. I honestly couldn't tell. More on Cindy later.

Willow King grows up and Katie raises him with the help of Jason, our heartthrob for this book. It's worthwhile to point out now that this book has a lot of similarities to the first three Thoroughbred books. Katie is Ashleigh, King is Wonder, John is Charlie (he even has a felt hat and calls Katie "missy" more than once), Jason is Mike, Mr. Ellis is Clay Townsend. The only thing missing is a Brad Townsend. So, obviously that needed to be rectified. The major difference is that you can tell these characters aren't completely expecting some sappy fantasyland in which they can play around to their hearts content. That was sort of nice. Anyway, back to Jason. He's a year older than Katie, and she's got a crush on him like you would not believe. Because Katie has this physical disability, she figures she's totally out of Jason's league, but because Jason is basically Mike Reese, of course this is not the case. At one point she thinks he's figured out she has a crush on him, and miraculously he doesn't go tell the whole school. Only then he accidentally says he'd never be interested in a thirteen-year-old, which Katie totally is, and that results in hysterics. She avoids him for eons (in teenager time, which is like a month) and then he up and says he's moving to Oklahoma for a year. Katie is all stunned, and he moves to Oklahoma.

Willow King finally grows up, and they do this whole thing with a horse swimming pool, and honestly I think right about here there was too much technical garble. Blah blah swimming blah blah legs blah blah timers and minutes and wait, Willow King is drowning...okay, don't worry, they didn't drown the horse. Eventually Willow King's legs straighten out by themselves and Mr. Ellis has that my horse is actually good looking moment. And he tries to trade Katie back, but she stands firm, despite Cindy over there being a complete asshat with her horse.

One thing I didn't really buy was Cindy's riding ability. Let me explain. Cindy and Katie compete in the same classes, yet Katie is such a good rider she actually starts to give Cindy lessons in order to prevent Cindy from inadvertently ruining Jester. When I say Cindy is getting lessons, I'm not talking about relatively advanced, even intermediate lessons. I'm talking about beginner stuff, here. Cindy's having trouble mounting and she can't figure out diagonals. Which makes me wonder how the hell Katie and Cindy are even competing against each other in shows.

Anyway, King starts to train for races, etc. Jason comes back and he's all older and more manly and such, making Katie swoon as she watches him help break the colt to saddle. Mr. Ellis offers Katie the opportunity to train King at his farm, and she takes him up on the opportunity. John has her exercise the colt, leading to more jealousy from Cindy, resulting in completely deranged teenager antics involving Cindy trying to race King with Jester. Obviously that didn't turn out well, and that's the last we hear from Cindy for the rest of the book. Mr. Ellis grounds her and gives Jester back to Katie. For all we know, Cindy could have died.

Then we pick up a little bit of plot from Wonder's Victory. King runs in his first race and beats a two-year-old that had designs on the Kentucky Derby. The trainer of this other horse is not to be trusted, and he starts doing some crazy antics, ie. he laces King's grain with bute, causing him to be scratched when John finds the tainted grain, and then dumps moldy hay in King's stall, resulting in colic. But it doesn't matter. King is so fantastic that he still beats the other colt in the final race of the book, the big Portland Downs Futurity. Everyone is estatic, so Katie starts to babble about the Kentucky Derby before John can rain on her parade by saying you have to nominate horses for that race. You can't, like, just show up and stick it in the gate akin to the Thoroughbred series, people. Crushed, Katie decides she'll get over it and King will be great without the Derby, but then John comes back and says he nominated King anyway? Like, what? What was all that about before, John? Huh? But Katie is too thrilled to care that John killed her enthusiasm about the exact same topic about five minutes ago because OMG Kentucky Derby. Then she dances with Jason finally, because he's still there being patient and such.

  • Katie tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but he held her firm, steadying her like the wild colts she had seen him tame. I had to pull this out of the book, because it's so romance novel. Just imagine if that line had been in the Thoroughbred series. I probably would have died laughing.
  • Katie and Jan constantly call each other "friend" and "pal" and I didn't know what was up with that.
You know, this is a solid book. I could have lived without the evil trainer trying to fix the races, because that popped out of nowhere and added an unrealistic element to the story. Then there's the problem of Cindy. I liked her brief moment of coming close to apologizing for being a natural bitch, but the whole set up of perfect Katie giving flawed Cindy riding lessons and Cindy taking almost nothing from those lessons and still acting irresponsibly by the end just makes her too flat for my liking. It's just my opinion that if you're going to have an antagonist in a story, at least operate on the understanding that this person is also an actual human. I get so sick of this perfect protagonist who gets everything, evil antagonist who gets absolutely nothing crap sometimes.

Still, I wish Chris Platt and Mary Anderson had traded places.

Dec 15, 2008

In my defense, I did start skimming.

Picture of Perfection
by Kristin Gabriel
Thoroughbred Legacy #3
Published: 2008

The tag line here is: "How deep does perfection go?" Well? How deep does perfection go? I would say this is somehow relevant to the plot, but it isn't. So let's move on.
Veterinarian Carter Phillips wants answers. The scandal surrounding his employer's prizewinning horse has left Carter unable to clear Quest Stables' name or his own. But then Carter spies an exquisite painting of an unknown horse that could finally lead him to the truth.

Artist Gillian Cameron knows exactly who the horse is: he's her family's Thoroughbred, Picture of Perfection. But Carter's suspicions compromise the horse's future and that of her family. She knows she can't trust Carter's agenda, so why does she find herself wanting to trust him with a mystery of her own?
This series, for some reason, continues to intrigue me. However, what I find more disturbing is my new found ability to knowledgeably compare these books to other horsey romance novels. I...never wanted that ability, needless to say. But I guess we'll roll with it, because it's necessary to say that this book is channeling Karen Robards pretty hard. In a skimpy, Harlequin way that isn't exactly fully fleshed out. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. It's both hilarious and bad, but not that bad. Not Karen Robards bad.

So let's begin with our characters. Carter is Quest's vet, and is thirty-three. He's off at Del Mar for their meet, and intends to be in California for about two or three weeks. For some reason he starts off the book at an auction, where he runs into the most fantabulous painting of a horse that looks just like Leopold's Legacy, the often mentioned but never seen stallion with daddy problems. Stunned at this, Carter buys the painting, thinking that somehow this is key to discovering who the sire is of their bastardized horse. Conveniently, a meet and greet is scheduled between Carter and the artist, Gillian.

Gillian is messed up. No, really. She's off having nightmares constantly about the fire she was in when she was ten, which killed her parents and shuffled her off to her godfather, who proceeded to gamble away her entire inheritance somehow. So she's sort of poor, but not really because she has a racehorse called Picture of Perfection, which she is obsessed with and paints all the time. He is the horse in Carter's painting. So when Carter gets to the farm (called, appropriately enough, Robards) he and Gillian hit it off right before he lets her know about his theory that Picture of Perfection and Leopold's Legacy might have the same sire. Weirdly enough, Picture of Perfection's sire is listed as Apollo's Ice (no, I'm not making these names up), the same sire that was supposed to be Leopold's sire before the insanity happened, leaving everyone confused and pissed off. Gillian, using her skills of deduction, refuses to let Carter make off with some of her horse's blood and basically he's ordered off the property. Of course, this is all after they have their typical romance novel first meeting, in which they shiver and act all moonstruck and ponder about each other and why they are so interested, etc.

Oh, and Gillian is twenty-two. Of course she is. To Carter's credit, he thinks their age difference is inappropriate. This, naturally, does not stop him later. Much, anyway. Typical romance novel. It's so typical it's disturbing at this point.

Anyway, having ordered him away this does not stop Gillian from obsessing over him some more. Somehow Carter wanders back into her life the next day, or something like that, and asks her to this dance. They go to the dance and they're still all moonstruck and dopey about each other. And they kiss. Huzzah. But the kiss, you see, is too earth shattering, so Gillian slams on the breaks and demands to be taken home, where they will not have sex, thank you very much.

After this Gillian decides to do some hypnotherapy to get her brain in order about these lost memories of the fire. They angst about this a lot, at one point Gillian thinks she started the fire, then they think her godfather started the fire, and then it becomes obvious that someone else started the fire. Some blurry face she can't make out in her memories. During all of this, she's going to this local gallery, where her art is going to be displayed. The gallery owner does not apparently care that she only has paintings of horses, but eventually she starts this painting of Carter, of course, because her two passions have to be horses and this guy. There are no other passions!

Anyway, eventually Picture of Perfection goes into shock after receiving a tainted batch of bute. No one realizes this is the cause until well after the threat is over, but Carter happens to be there and gives him a shot of something or another and it works, but not before he's sent off blood work to a lab and ordered DNA tests. Oh, the scandal. He determines that he should do this because the horse might have some genetic problem, but you know he just wants to know who the daddy is. He doesn't tell Gillian about this, because that would derail her plan to sleep in the nearby stall so they can keep an eye on the horse. They sleep in the stall. Well, actually, they have sex in the stall. Apparently she's been carrying a condom around with her ever since their first kiss, which was like three days ago. Maybe less than that.

This sex scene made me giggle, I will just say that right now. Right around the point where he says, afterward, that he tried to resist her for as long as possible but had to give in when she started to lick him I burst into laughter. I mean, come on. They're practically naked and in a stall and he's still resisting and the only thing that convinces him this is a good idea is her licking him? On top of which, she was licking along the waistband of his jeans, which also earned a lot of laughter from me. Wow, sexy. Ugh.

Alright, so obviously the horse is okay and despite his going into anaphactic shock they determine he can still race in the Pacific Classic that weekend. Which is probably in two days, or something. I don't know. Anyway, then Gillian discovers that Carter ordered DNA tests and gets pissed off and tells him off and then she goes to the gallery. Where the gallery owner decides that he is insane.

Here is what happened: gallery owner painted Gillian's mom and decided they were in love. Gillian's mom was not enthused about this, so gallery owner tried to burn the house down and save her mom, only accidentally saved Gillian instead. Gallery owner changes his name and returns twelve years later so he can transfer his obsession to Gillian. They are so in love! Gillian disagrees, throws paint thinner in his eyes and tries to escape. Carter, somehow, arrives and beats up the gallery owner, who has a gun and is randomly shooting things. Then they tie up the gallery owner while people on the street ask them if they're doing performance art. That was cute, I guess.

And then Picture of Perfection wins the Pacific Classic, is actually the son of Apollo's Ice, Carter decides to leave Quest so he can become a professor at UC-Davis, and proposes to Gillian. They are so in love! The end.

  • You can't name a racehorse Picture of Perfection. That's 21 characters, including spaces. The limit is 18. I am not even going to get into the vet and racing stuff Kristin is going on about, because I don't have the time or inclination to care.
  • Gillian is poor, yet not. I don't understand how anyone is making any money here, especially when she has a racehorse and seems to do nothing but paint horses all day. Also, her great dream is to have a horse sanctuary at Robards Farm, which she should really think about because with a name like that it's probably likely that one of her horses is going to be violated and then brutally slaughtered at random.
  • Typos. I have never seen a book with as many misspellings and typos as this one.
  • I don't buy the notion that Quest is going to be banned from North American racing because one horse has pedigree problems. This is an industry where people who seriously drug their horses are merely suspended for a few months, if that. Come on, people.
So, that's really it. In the next book, the rich son of Quest gets it on with an office manager. Yay, gold digging!

Dec 14, 2008

Blood Red Horse: In which I link to Wikipedia a lot.

Blood Red Horse
by K.M. Grant
Book One of the de Granville Trilogy
Published: 2004

So, I liked the movie Kingdom of Heaven. Orlando Bloom is pretty, and there were all of these gorgeous horses and that's pretty much all you need to sell me on something. Plus, had they spun that movie in a slightly different direction it could have very easily become The Black Stallion. Only during the Crusades. How awesome would that have been? So when I come across Blood Red Horse, which is essentially boy and horse go to the Crusades, naturally I'm beyond happy to give this a try.

Two Boys. One girl. The adventure of a lifetime.

You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:

A warhorse.
A fair maiden.
A just cause.

Will has a horse—a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight. Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant—Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna. . . .

Yes, this is Kingdom of Heaven meets The Black Stallion. Only the stallion is red, and they mention this repeatedly. Right down to how the actual color of blood clashes with the stallion's natural red color, which would then bring into question the title of the book...but whatever. The Blood Red Horse takes place between 1185 and 1193, before and during Richard the Lionheart's stint with the Crusades. So the events of Kingdom of Heaven actually very conveniently occur right before the events of this book. But for simplicity's sake, we'll start at the beginning, in 1185, when Will, Gavin and Ellie are all annoying youngsters.

In 1185 everyone is happy. Gavin is sixteen and basically an asshole. William is 12 and pretty much perfect. Ellie is ten and plays the orphaned, absurdly rich, tomboy distant cousin to the two boys. Because Ellie is extremely rich, Thomas de Granville (father of the boys) intends to marry her off to Gavin, increasing the wealth of the already wealthy family. It's right around time for William to get his first war horse. Or Great Horse. Or destrier or whatever these things are called. Apparently these weren't draft types, so I just imagine a fairly big boned horse and leave it at that. Because Gavin has had his war horse for a while, a big bay called Montlouis, Will is eager to get his own big bay so he can be important and stop this being tossed in the water trough business that he brother likes to do occasionally. Catching his dad on a good day, Thomas says he can go down to the stud and pick himself a horse. Will goes with full intentions of getting another Montlouis, but instead he finds the son of his riding mare, a smaller destrier called Hosanna. Sparks, as you can imagine, fly. I guess chestnuts match just as well with twelve-year-old boys as they do with girls, because William's interest immediately turns to Hosanna and before you know it he's leading him back to the castle or whatnot.

Everyone is all "OMG this horse is tiny!" but William is not to be dissuaded. Hosanna is the perfect equine, and soon wins everyone over. He gallops like he's floating, he never tires, he jumps, he shocks and awes, and, more importantly, he makes Montlouis look all unimpressive and stuff. Yes, that's right. UNIMPRESSIVE.

Time drags by. At some point, Gavin randomly has a mental break and needs Hosanna in order to partake in a fox hunt that apparently lasts from one side of England to another. Seriously, I have no idea what came over Gavin here, because it's not explained all that well, but he loses it and tears England up with Hosanna in search of foxes. While he catches his second fox, he's busy flinging it around and screaming his head off while Hosanna literally collapses right next to him. Gavin shows almost no remorse over this because he's "just a horse," while everyone else has a fit because Hosanna is everyone's equine Jesus. Thomas decides to send Gavin "to the north" and Ellie is all disgusted with him, throwing this little dog statue he made at him and telling him to shove it (or something to that was 1185, after all). You see, Gavin quickly becomes the most interesting character in this book, as he is flawed and horrible for the majority of it. Naturally I began to root pretty hard for him, as William became more and more perfect to a painful point somewhere during the Crusades. So Gavin has fucked up royally and Hosanna is beyond help, so he's sent to live with the monks for a while.

I could get into this, but I won't. Essentially, one of the monks begins to treat the horse and by some divine coincidence Hosanna lives. He's returned to William, having converted a few monks from Christianity and into worshiping at his hooves. Basically. Then everyone goes to the Crusades, and they're happy to go. Everyone is sporting that classic YAY!WAR!OMG! thing before it inevitably turns horribly, horribly wrong. You know it will. It's the Crusades. People didn't go there and die of fevers and turn to cannibalism because it was fun. You'd think people would learn, but no. YAY!WAR!OMG!

So Gavin and Ellie are betrothed, confusing the hell out of poor little William, but he really shouldn't be that worried because I'm convinced that later on Gavin dies and William and Ellie get married and have fantastic children who ride Hosanna's fantastic foals. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Everyone has extremely unsatisfactory farewells, and Ellie is left alone at the castle and all the strapping men and boys ride off for the Crusades with Richard.

Predictably, everything starts to suck pretty hard, pretty soon. The voyage to the Holy Land takes a year, about half of their entourage die, nearly half of their horses die, and when they finally get to Acre their father, predictably, dies. After this event, Gavin and William have a collective hissy fit and decide that OMG! they hate Muslims! Or something like that. It makes little sense considering their father died of fever, and I'm not altogether sure he even saw battle. Well, anyway. They go take over Acre and that killing of 3,000 captives happens because Saladin won't pay the ransom. When this happens we get our second piece of evidence that Hosanna is actually Jesus: he refuses to move forward when all the knights charge the captives and slaughter them mercilessly in the desert. He just won't go. William gets so pissed off that he does his one (and only) act of imperfection: he smacks the horse on the neck with his sword. However, because of the horse, William is saved from the one act that would have tainted his gary stuness. So, honestly, I don't know what to think about all of this.

Meanwhile we have Kamil. Kamil is a poor, male, Muslim version of Will. He works for Saladin, and he's all vengeful because some Christian knight with a birthmark killed his dad. So Kamil is a bloodthirsty jackass. Essentially, he is Gavin and William combined, up until the end of the book, when he's basically a Muslim version of William. (If you are following me right now, I am shocked.) OKAY, so Kamil wants to kill lots of Christians while Saladin is all "it is right and honorable to not be cruel and blah blah blah." Kamil wants blood, and he wants it now. Then he goes and finds his father's killer and kills that guy's son, but "doesn't know why." Come on, really? Kamil was intolerable for a lot of the book, actually.

Anyway, stuff happens. Gavin whores around, and William is all "I am pure! Do not taint me with your sluts!" Basically. Gavin mocks him and whores around some more. Ellie, meanwhile, is learning to read and write, despite the abbot of the community insisting that women are worthless and should not learn anything because that's when society will decline and fall or something to that effect. Except there's some monk/priest or someone who doesn't think so and helps her anyway, resulting in hysterics and general 1100s craziness about inappropriate behavior, priests, and rich girls potentially getting it on in the middle of the forest. No, nothing actually happened in the forest, but Thomas's original helper guy is plotting to take over while everyone is away in the Holy Land, and he'd really like Ellie's money, so he's maneuvering to put himself in Gavin's place. The plan is to make Ellie look like a whore, step in to marry her (because surely Gavin won't, despite her money, which makes it sort of obvious what evil guy is doing, but whatever because everyone is an idiot and believes him, not Ellie, because Ellie has female private parts) and then rule all of the de Granville property. Ellie is not thrilled.

So the Crusades are, like, still going. They continue and continue. Gavin loses an arm, spurring him out of his asshole, whorish ways and into good, brotherly ways. Hosanna is stolen by Kamil, who has some crisis of faith and gets recruited by The Old Man Of The Mountain, whom I guess is a middle ages version of Osama bin Laden. The Old Man wants to kill Saladin, who has figured out this plot way in advance, making Kamil look like a moron. This all eventually comes to a point at Jaffa, during yet another battle, where Saladin has had enough of this and wants to fight Richard "to the death" despite the fact that this is obviously going to go nowhere again. Richard arrives at Jaffa with enough force to take the city back, but no horses, so Saladin is all wonderful and gives him horses. Saladin makes Kamil hand over Hosanna as payback for being an idiot. Then they all fight, and this culminates in Richard riding Hosanna around and accidentally getting the horse shot with an arrow.

Apparently once the king's horse is felled the battle ends? Or something? Or this is the third piece of proof we need concerning Hosanna actually being Jesus. Because Hosanna is shot with an arrow and everything comes to a standstill. We're talking about a giant battlefield, here. Not only does this happen, but Kamil, Richard, Gavin and William all rush up to the horse, throw religion aside and are all OMG! the pretty pony is all injured! I am not kidding. So they work together to try to save the horse, and eventually this includes William suggesting they figure out where Mecca is and pray to Mecca. I am not even kidding. Richard's all to hell with that, and walks off. But they all pray to Mecca for the horse's sake, and then miraculously Hosanna gets up and they usher the horse a full mile back to Jaffa. And then they send some groom to Saladin to ask for supplies to help save Hosanna, and he sends supplies.

So everyone collectively gets over their Muslim/Christian issues to save Hosanna. Hosanna is saved, and everyone has religious breakthroughs, mostly everyone visits Jerusalem on pilgrimage, some plot points are seeded for the sequel with Kamil coming to England, and then everyone goes home to learn that Richard has been captured by Leopold V. And that Richard randomly makes William the Earl of something, which effectively makes him outrank Gavin, the count of their original castle, Hartslove. Ellie greets them all and decides that Gavin really does need her, seeing as he only has one arm, and he's confused because he thinks she really loves William more, but she doesn't appear to be outwardly concerned about this. It ends on a good note, but surely more insanity is likely to happen, what with Ellie's would-be-almost-second betrothed running around trying to usurp power, and seeing as how Richard is in Austria against his will and all. More adventures to come, I'm sure.

  • Hosanna is everyone's savior in this book. Not only does everyone care about his health and general well being, they touch his forehead for good luck, and they include him in their random battle and religious mantras. Like: "For God, the King, and Hosanna." It's weird. Really, very weird.
  • Show, not tell. Seriously, seriously violated here. Most of this book was basically: "And this happened, and this happened, and while this happened, this had happened, and he said something about this, but everyone knew that this would happen if this didn't and this did." Because of this, all the action is glossed over and makes everyone in the book a stereotype. William is the perfect main character who randomly gets everything without trying, Hosanna is the main character's perfect horse. Ellie is the spunky girl they all leave behind, who has to forge onward by herself. Kamil is the burned Inigo Montoya character who learns that vengeance isn't as great as peace. Gavin is the jackass who pays for his sins and is rewarded with Ellie (maybe, I'm still not convinced he's getting a happy ending there). All other horses are not as good as Hosanna (at all). All evil or slightly evil characters are obvious and are always slinking places. It's all remarkably two dimensional. Actually, it's probably the most two dimensional book I've ever read.
  • Mary Sues. Oh, man. William and Hosanna make Ashleigh and Wonder look like giant flaws in the face of horse related literature by comparison.
  • Gavin. Gavin was awesome because he was literally the only character who showed any development whatsoever. Kamil...sort of showed development, but not at all in the way Gavin did. So I pick Gavin. I mean, after suffering through how randomly fantastic and, therefore, boring William was all the time, I have to pick Gavin.

This was a good idea for a book. I wanted to like it. Unfortunately, you know, it just wasn't great. It was sort of mediocre. It was too politically correct and shoved too much time (eight years) in 277 pages and no one was fully developed and Hosanna was way too awesome to be real. I think the Black Stallion was more realistic, and that should be saying something. However, I'm going to read the rest of the trilogy. Just because.

Dec 6, 2008

New Ebook Series: The Doubletree Kids

A few weeks ago I fell into a book called The It Girl by whoever the ghost writer is behind Gossip Girl. I picked it up because it had the two magic words in the summary: horse country. Unfortunately it was not a Gossip Girl scenario inside a horsey plot. It was just a product placement machine wrapped up in shitty attitude and the questionable morals of the elite teenager. However, ever since that epic failure I have been yearning for something along the lines of Gossip Girl meets Thoroughbred. (I don't know why, okay? Please don't question my weird needs.) Of course now I think I have found it. The series that combines the evils of wealthy adolescence with a seriously horsey background.

In my ongoing quest to find every new horse series I can, I bring you the series I am most awed by (currently). I give you The Doubletree Kids.
Becky Edwards wants to become a horse trainer more than anything else in the world. She moves to Del Mar and goes to the Doubletree ranch, looking for any kind of work that will include horses. She is befriended by Melanie Young, team leader and their trainer, Karen Evans and before long she's working with Karen. That doesn't sit well with all the team members and a whispering campaign begins.

Suspicious tongues start to wag when a valuable figurine belonging to Billy Martin comes up missing and fingers point to the newcomer. Although exonerated, Becky feels betrayed, and knowing she'll never really be a team member, she starts to pull away from Karen and the team.

A lucky twist of fate brings Becky to the barn early one morning and she finds Shievon Mahoney's mare, Megan cast in her stall. A combination of quick thinking and luck allows Becky to pull the little mare off the wall, thus making her a hero to the team and winning Shievon's undying allegiance.

That's just the beginning of her adventures along the road to fulfilling her dreams.
If that doesn't sell you, the second book involves pirates.

Unfortunately, these are ebooks, and I generally only read books I get for free. Well, that's my current rule. So, I will just have to live without Becky's poor-turned-amazing horsey pirate adventure/murder mystery.