Jun 3, 2008

Here is a book with a misleading title: TB #33 Racing Parker

Racing Parker
Dale Gasque
Originally Published: 1999

So, before I return to my unbearable run of reading horrible books I decided that I needed to review a book I actually liked or I was in danger of harming myself to stop the pain.

Cover: Upon a meticulous re-read, I discovered that this is actually a scene from the book. Unfortunately, dear reader, this does not make it a good representation of said scene. I'm not sure it's even possible to bend one's wrist the way Christina is in the picture unless you have Tyrannosaurus Rex arms, but if it is possible for a normal human being to achieve such a contortion, you most certainly would not want to do it on a horse. I think in this picture we may actually have a represention of a Thoroughbred, and both horses look drawn to the proper scale. That said, this cover looks like it was done as a piss-poor water color and the artist ran out of paint halfway through. And Christina's face! It's just one of those weird covers that came along right as graphic design was exploding, and TB just had to jump on the trend, didn't it? But at least their are chin straps, and saddle pads!

A Reckless Decision
Christina Reese is confident that her horse, Sterling, is ready for higher jumps. But Christina's trainer, Mona, won't let her move up to training level. Christina feels as if she and Sterling are being held back unfairly.

Then Christina meets Parker Townsend. If he can handle training level, then why can't she? Maybe Christina lacks experience, but Sterling has talent to spare. They're a perfect match! How far will Christina go to prove she's as good as Parker?
Oh boy, where to start? Clearly Mary Anderson read this book before writing Derby Fever, because here we see Christina getting an early start on the "no one knows my horse as well as I do and therefore I am the only one qualified to make decisions about how said horse should train and compete," thing. This said, the blurb manages to cover pretty well. I take issue with the idea that Sterling is better prepared for training level than Christina, however, seeing as Sterling has still only been off the track for a matter of months, whereas Christina has at least been riding in events for a year or two. I won't even bother going into Parker at this moment.

Plot: Here you have it, friends, the last enjoyable TB book ever written. After this one it was all pretty much downhill, as if someone had pushed a tractor with its parking break off down a mountain after aiming it at a field of kittens. Real bad. Let us pause a second to truly mourn before I continue on with my review.

Okay, with that out of the way, we open with a scene of Christina, Kevin, and Dylan all riding over to visit Samantha and Tor at their new farm, Whisperwood (which is supposed to be Tor's old farm even though that farm didn't have a name and you couldn't reach it by horseback from Whitebrook). The happy couple has just returned from Ireland, where they trained and rode eventers for a number of years. The history isn't really developed here, but don't worry, later writers would destroy Samantha's character even more than Bentley managed to in the lost diary specials written about her marriage to Tor and move to Ireland. But please, thinking about it too much will make me puke so I have to move on.

Everyone is really excited to see Samantha because she's been gone for so long. Whisperwood is kind of empty because they haven't gotten their fill of boarders yet, but everyone has time to oo and ah at Samantha's Irish Thoroughbred stallion, Finn. I like Finn. He sounds gorgeous and somehow Gasque pulls off a nice little interaction between him and Samantha. Samantha is planning on breeding Finn, and I support her decision, basically because he is pretty awesome.

After everyone is done paling around at Sam's, we switch scenes to Mona's where Christina is having a jumping lesson with Dylan and Katie. It is the most horrible lesson ever because Mona is making Sterling jump little itty bitty fences that she is already far beyond. As we all know, if Sterling is forced to continue training below her ability level she will hang herself from a rafter in the barn as soon as no one is looking out of depression, so we can all understand Christina's concern.

Now it's time for Christina and Melanie to go to a horse auction with Sam! She is looking for horses to add to Whisperwood's stable! Yay! I am sure nothing eventful or crucial to the plot will happen at this event! Except perhaps the introduction of two major characters. Christina and Melanie bum around the auction by themselves and see this, like, super gorgeous bay mare, former timber-racer who was imported from England. They are all, "Samantha, buy her," and Samantha is all, "Okay if I'm not poor." Of course, they see a mysterious stranger and his older patron admiring the horse too. Christina recognizes Clay Townsend, but she has no idea who his young companion is. Man, the suspense was killing me.

Samantha loses the bidding for the mare, probably the first time in the history of man that anyone associated with Whitebrook has ever lost anything. But don't worry, Foxglove is no two-bit character. Clay Townsend wins her and promptly awards her to his mysterious young companion, who OMG is his grandson, Parker Townsend.

Parker has spent his time in the giant TB series plot hole not in Arizona, but at boarding school in England, where he stole cars or something equally nefarious. He is pretty dashing, and Christina automatically feels the stirrings of passion within her loins, though she's too young to really understand what that is and also feels pretty guilty about immediately finding Parker hotter and more sophisticated than Dylan (who by the way was pretty cool and I resent the forced degradation/pussification of his character). Melanie, always quicker to catch on to anything sexual because she lived in New York City, which makes her god or something, is all, "Chris you want to bone Parker!" and Chris is all, "What does that mean?"

On the way home from the auction the two girls grill Samantha about Parker and the Townsends. It turns out that Brad was always trying to sabotage Wonder's training, and his favorite method of executing said action was to scare her with whips when she was first training. It's at this point that I wish we had never demanded the Townsends return to the series because if I have to hear this incorrect statement one more time I will scream. Which means I will probably be screaming some time in the near future.

Okay, now Christina, Melanie and Kevin all ride over to Whisperwood. While Kevin and Tor go off to be extremely manly and do something with wood, Christina and Melanie help Samantha clean up the farmhouse. As they're dumping some junk in the attic Melanie notices an old trunk which just happens to be filled with lots of super cool vintage clothing. These will be perfect to wear to the Hunt Club Ball, which by the way is coming up real soon. Christina is going with Dylan and Melanie is going with Kevin but you can bet Parker is going to show up and make Christina all confused.

Anywho, they run into Parker on their way back to Whitebrook (because apparently Townsend Acres is also now close enough to Whitebrook to ride to) and Christina admires the way Parker rides, because this is the only way to take the measure of a man. He is of course more daring than Dylan, and you know his seat is just perfect. So now Christina is even more obviously in love, because she already knows through telepathy that Parker is the only other human being on earth who will ever understand her desire to be completely and totally reckless on top of another living creature.

Now it's time for the stereotypical Symbolic Race Between Two Opposing Characters to Determine Who Will Come Out on Top in the Non-Horse Related Storyline. Before the Hunt Club Ball there are always point to point Hunt Club Races. Christina isn't riding because for once she is being sensible and decides it's probably not a good idea to race Sterling. But Melanie, Kevin, Dylan, and Parker are. Melanie and Kevin are riding in a flat race, and despite being the only one on a teeny tiny pony, Melanie of course beats all the horses because she is a superior jockey and no this is not foreshadowing in the least. Then Parker and Dylan race over fences, and Parker wins because, guess what, he is the more stupid I mean daring rider! Christina is so excited by his win she almost dies of pleasure and forgets to pay attention to Dylan losing. Everyone else, however, is really concerned because Parker is riding like a jack ass and they kind of don't want him or Foxglove to die. This irritates Christina, because no one understands how important it is to be reckless, you see.

After the races it's the Hunt Club Ball. As mentioned, Christina goes with Dylan, but all she can think about is Parker. He shows up, what a surprise, and there are some high jinx and then Parker and Christina dance and boy you guys, I think our little girl is finally becoming a woman. Dylan of course, being an intelligent human being, totally knows what's going on, but because he is supposed to be the lesser choice in a painfully obvious way, all he really does about it is mope. Curse you, Gasque. Every time you write Dylan you are deliberately ruining him.

By the way, during the dance Parker regales them all with tales of the mischief he engaged in while in England, but because he and Christina already have this amazing mental and emotional connection, she senses there is something going on underneath Parker's cheerful facade. I am sure it has nothing to do with his rich, snobby, ass hole parents. That would be way too obvious.

After the dance, Christina goes to ride with Parker in the hunter pace, a version of cross country only done in pairs. Because Parker is such a sly devil he convinces Christina to jump all the bigger fences. When Christina tells him about her problems with Sterling, Parker suggests that the solution is jumping Sterling over bigger fences because she is bored. Apparently this calms Foxy down all the time. Of course, Parker is completely right. Sterling goes great over the bigger jumps. The next time I am on an excitable green horse, I will keep this suggestion in mind. Oh yeah, and Christina was supposed to ride the hunter pace with Dylan until he went out of town, so Dylan is all super pissed because he pretty much knows Christina is going to do Parker before she does.

Then there's an event, and Christina learns that Parker is going to ride Foxy in training level. Well, that just won't do. Clearly Christina is as good as he is, and besides, she is tired of Mona making her do things that are completely perfect for both her and Sterling's experience level. So she is all sneaky and enters training level too, without telling anyone. You can bet Dylan and Katie are pretty pissed when they eventually find out, especially because Christina will be walking the cross country course with Parker instead of Dylan, but Parker is thrilled. He probably knows by now that he is going to do Christina. But yeah, while they're walking the course Parker sees this huge barn jump thing and pitches a tent over it, while even Christina the Wonder Rider tells him jumping it would be a very bad idea. As we all know, he will definitely listen to her advice.

Event day comes and Ashleigh finds out Christina entered herself in training division instead of novice. Man, she is pissed, but instead of punishing Christina she makes up some excuse about "the rider in her" and lets Christina continue to compete if she promises to ride the cross country course at a novice's pace. This is perfect because now Christina will be able to save Parker after he almost kills himself and Foxy. Boy would Ashleigh feel silly if she grounded Christina and that happened.

To everyone's surprise, Parker tries to jump the barn jump, and Christina of course witnesses it. She rushes over and keeps Foxy from trampling Parkers' brains out until the EMTs arrive, then finishes her ride at the event. Afterward she and Ashleigh go over to the hospital. Parker has some injuries, and so does Foxy, but the worst thing is that, as a result of this, Parker's parents will be sending him away to boarding school and away from horses forever.

Christina does not react well to this news, but unlike her mom she decides to tell the Townsends that they're just totally awful people. She storms into the waiting room and basically tells them that if Parker is sent off to boarding school away from horses he will kill himself. He only does stupid things because he wants mom and dad's attention. Clay Townsend is there, and watching Christina grow balls he suddenly remembers that he has his own and for the first time ever tells his son he's a dumb ass and makes sure that Parker will say in Kentucky and continue to ride horses. Later, to prove how different he is from his parents, Parker refuses when Mr. Townsend offers to buy him a new horse to ride while Foxy's recovering (clearly standing up to Brad exhausted Clay so he immediately had to make up for it by trying to spoil his grandson). Also he will train at Samantha's. And because Christina is always right Mona tells her that she was ready for training level and that she has been overprotective and now Christina will train at Samantha's too. The end.

Points of Interest:

  • Apparently exercising racehorses pays well. Who knew.
  • Christina doesn't care if Mona is an expert horse woman and best friends with her mother. She is totally being an unreasonable bitch by attempting to keep her from ruining Sterling by learning from her mistakes.
  • Once again, Ashleigh did not ride Wonder in the Kentucky Derby.
  • Apparently Clay Townsend carries thousands of dollars of cash around in his pockets. I think he is probably a drug dealer.
  • Apparently Parker was fat when he was a young child. That's probably the real reason Lavinia sent him away.
  • Okay, here is an evil thing Lavinia did: When Christina knocked over a glass of milk (?) at a banquet she made some comment about Christina needing to stay home with a babysitter. Ooo, that ice cold bitch.
  • Melanie is very concerned about her dress riding up when she lifts her arms for a slow dance. I am very concerned about the kind of dresses Melanie is wearing.
  • Tor's house is filled with five generations worth of crap. We are supposed to believe that's how long it's been in the family...but only if Tor and his father brought all of it with them from Virginia when they moved to Kentucky because that is about how long they've lived in that house. Or they're really, really old.
  • Brad and Lavinia are really snooty and really snobby and in case you forget it's mentioned on every other page.
  • What is the obsession with velvet? Velvet is an ugly fabric and no one wears it except every girl ever in the TB series.
  • Christina wonders, "It is bad to like two boys at the same time?" Well no, not if you're cheating whore.
  • Christina and Melanie spend a night at Whisperwood watching scary movies with Sam. Tor walks in and leans down to give Sam a kiss, and she freaks out and punches him in the face. Neat!
  • Mr. Townsend and Ashleigh arrive at the scene of Parker's accident in...a Jeep!
And that, my friends, is it. Now back to torturing myself.


Mara said...

Tor walks in and leans down to give Sam a kiss, and she freaks out and punches him in the face.

Awesome. It is a comical version of the scene I always wanted to see.

And the whole minor/major refusal by parents that degenerates into allowing the kid to do what it was going to do anyway thing just pisses me off to no end.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book, it actually had some horse-related stuff in it that made sense! Although, I am RATHER skeptical that a Thoroughbred trained by a 14 year old could go in a training-level event only months after coming off the track.

Is this after "Camp Saddlebrook"? That was my favorite! Only to be horribly ruined by "Melanie's Last Ride"...

Anonymous said...

i always thought that Melanie's vintage outfit sounded awesome, whereas Christina's sounded like something an old maid or a substitute teacher would wear.

it always bothered me that Parker was able to jump right into training level. as far as i know, in eventing you are not allowed to skip levels or rush your horse. you've got to prove that you can compete at a lower level before you can move up to the next one. of course, i could be off on that but i'm pretty sure that's how it works.

i loved this book...i think it's probably my favorite of the NG. i especially loved when Sam punched Tor. it was like she had a personality again.

Monique said...

I loved your take on this one, Claire! I to enjoyed racing parker... it kind of was like the big bang before crap like On the Track was published...