Aug 31, 2008

Book Rec: Another Kind of Cowboy

Another Kind of Cowboy
by Susan Juby
Published: 2007

I'll state first that I liked this book. If ever there was a book deserving of a serious recommendation, this is that book. In fact, I'm not sure I can come up with a suitably snarky review for the blog, and I don't really even want to give up spoilers. What is wrong with me?

Well. Here's the summary:

For Alex Ford, dressage is an oasis. In the stable, he can slip into his riding pants, shed the macho cowboy image, and feel like himself for a change.

For Cleo O'Shea, dressage is a fresh start. She's got a new boarding school, absentee parents, and, best of all, no one to remember her past. . . .

They're an unlikely pair. Cleo's looking for love, but Alex has a secret he's not ready to give up, and a flirtation with Cleo is the last thing on his mind. But you can't find romance before you know real friendship, and sometimes the last person you'd ever think of as a friend ends up being the one you need the most.

If this was a Thoroughbred book, Christina would be having an aneurysm. The whole thing is about dressage, obviously. Alex has been obsessed with it since he was a kid, and Cleo spent her first jumping lesson sobbing. I appreciated that, actually.

The brief rundown is this: we've got two main characters. The book skips around between Alex and Cleo, telling Alex's story in third person and Cleo's story in first person. It sounds a little weird, until you start reading it. They're both sixteen. They both live in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Alex because he's always lived there and Cleo because she was sent to a girl's boarding school centered in equestrian sports. Cleo is filthy rich because her parents are movie producers/directors, and thus leave her alone for vast quantities of time while they're off shooting movies in exotic locales. Alex's mom abandoned his family and his dad is a budding alcoholic living in an RV in front of their house. He's got an aunt and two sisters, twins, making sure things get done rather slowly around the house as Alex's dad spends all his time sleeping with a balding woman who is the island's most prolific realtor because her face is most commonly seen plastered all over areas destined to become strip malls.

Of course, they've got problems. Alex is struggling with his sexuality, which is to say he's a sixteen-year-old gay kid and horrified by the idea of having to tell anyone. Cleo is rich and selfish and lazy, but she's also dealing with the fact that her parents basically dumped her in Vancouver when her actions lead to their massive house in L.A. being stripped of all its expensive televisions, vases, and other possessions. She has no friends, and because she rides dressage and most of the girls at the school don't, that leaves her with one other girl who is a friend by proximity.

They both have horses. Cleo's parents bought her a ridiculously expensive and talented mare called Tandava. Alex has an elderly paint named Turnip that his dad won in a poker game. In a twist of fate, they both start training with Ivan and Fergus, dressage coaches recently retired to the area. Initially Cleo is interested in Alex, but when she tries to kiss him he just winds up screaming "gay!" at her.

And other things happen. I'm actually not inclined to spoil this book, because it's actually good. In the many books I've read for this blog (sure, many of them were Thoroughbred books, but they damn well count) I have learned that stumbling across a good horse-themed book is a miracle, so I'm treasuring this moment. Another Kind of Cowboy is a fun story. It's well-written and the characters are hilarious in a realistic way. It even makes dressage sound interesting. You'll probably like it. So run over to the library or the bookstore and grab a copy. Posthaste. As in now. Go.

Aug 25, 2008

You can't tame what wants to run into a tornado and die.

Taming the Star Runner
by S.E. Hinton

As requested by Kerry, I decided to pick up Taming the Star Runner. It's by S.E. Hinton, who is using the ever popular replace your first name with initials so readers won't know you're a woman method, because little boys everywhere are too afraid to pick up books written by women because it's not manly to read books written by women. What's with that, little boys?

Well, anyway. You too can request a book for us to read. It's very simple. Just run over to the requests page and ask away to your heart's delight. We're slowly, but surely, trying to comply with the demand here at the Whitebrook Farm Blog.
Travis is the epitome of cool, especially when he's in trouble. But when he's sent to stay on his uncle's ranch, he finds that his tough attitude doesn't make him any friends and his city survival skills are no match for the unforgiving land around him.

He does find friendship of a sort with Casey, who runs a riding school at the ranch. She's the bravest person Travis has ever met. She's crazy enough to try to tame the Star Runner, her beautiful, dangerous horse that's always on edge, about to explode. It's clear to Travis that he and the Star Runner are two of a kind -- wild creatures not meant to be tamed.
This blurb is going along normally until that last sentence, when whoever wrote this summary decided to smack me in the face with the very obvious fact that the Star Runner and Travis are two of a kind. Hey, summary writer, I kind of got that to begin with. You could have said something else instead, like, how Travis learns that it's not okay to be a narcissistic asshole, but no, we just get a promise that he's going to remain "wild" for the entirety of the book.

Okay, everybody, meet Travis. Travis is a troubled sixteen-year-old kid who wants to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. Basically, this means that Travis is a prick. Notice how I could have said that Travis aims to rise above his problems and become the next Great American Writer before succumbing to alcohol and then collapsing at a relatively young age. No, Travis is just a prick. You see that "epitome of cool" line at the beginning of the summary? Travis genuinely believes this.

So the deal here is that Travis has this stepfather, Stan. Stan is your typical evil stepparent. He slaps around Travis's mom, refuses to have any photo of Travis's dead dad in the house, and randomly burned some of Travis's manuscripts because he thought it was clutter and, of course, you burn clutter. In front of your stepson. Of course you do. So, unnaturally evil Stan basically sets himself up for a fight, and Travis doesn't hold back, which lands him in jail. When he gets out, his mom decides to defuse the situation by sending Travis to her dead husband's brother's ranch in Oklahoma for the school year.

In Oklahoma, Travis is plagued by suddenly not being cool and not being able to drink whiskey at home. Life is so, so hard. He's also forced to hang out with girls all the time, because Ken, the uncle, has a barn that he leases out to Casey, our resident horse loving girl. Casey is trying to figure out this Star Runner horse, who is not wild so much as mean. Travis describes Casey as good-looking, if she were a guy. I don't know what to take from this. There's also a hoard of other girls -- Kristen, Kelsey, Jennifer, and Robyn. Jennifer is the pretty one, and Robyn is the insane "fat one." By insane, I mean she spends most of her time snorting coke and walking around shirtless because she's "good at taking her clothes off" because she's been strip searched so often.

So the book continues on about how Travis thinks he's cool and how everyone in Oklahoma doesn't understand his coolness. Then he gets the notice that his book is being accepted by a publisher, and he decides it's time to party until he gets sick. Being sixteen, this would be a problem. Fortunately for Travis, Ken keeps some Crown Royal around and he more or less downs that and manages to slip unnoticed into a bar that you get the distinct impression isn't cool enough for Travis (at least, according to him). Only then the owner finds out he's not 21 and flips out and fires the bouncer and the bouncer kicks the living crap out of Travis. All the while Travis is drunk and convinced that he'd be able to "take" the bouncer if he was not drunk. However, seeing as how I once worked with a bouncer, I really highly...HIGHLY...doubt that this is possible. I also dislike this whole scene. Sure, no one likes underage kids in bars because mainly they're annoying, but no owner is going to flip out to that degree. Just escort the kid to the sidewalk and get on with your life. Who the hell cares?

Anyway, Ken picks Travis up and Travis is all self-important about being drunk while Ken is not impressed. Neither am I, really. Later on, Travis, through his hung over haze, kills a water moccasin and earns Casey's respect in doing so, only then he hears from his mom via phone that evil Stan is up to no good and wants to read Travis's book before they sign any contracts. You see, he wants to make sure he's not in the book. Travis flips and throws the phone, narrowly missing Ken's toddler. Ken briefly thinks about kicking Travis out because Ken's soon-to-be-ex-wife doesn't like it when phones are thrown at her toddler. Travis cries, and all is well because when main characters cry everyone seems to magically understand their plight.

At this point, the editor from the publishing house comes along and gets Travis talking about books and reading and whoa if that wasn't fun for Travis and boring for me. Travis admits that he tried to read a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald that involved sipping sherry and he didn't get it, giving all readers a chance to feel superior to Travis. The editor talks about cleaning up the language in his book a little and end scene. Travis skips along, thrilled that he's being published. His mom takes back what Stan said about reading the book, and all is well.

But then there's this horse show that goes on and on forever. The Star Runner dumps Casey and she cracks a rib, but rides the next day and wins, of course. Travis takes this opportunity to kiss her, because he randomly fell in love with her after he decided she was good-looking if she was a guy. Casey discourages any relationship, but acknowledges that Travis somehow knows her better than anyone. They are so alike...and...stuff.

Now, apparently Travis left a bit of a power vacuum back in whatever dirty city he came from and his friends fell in with this guy named Orson, who had them all robbing houses. He discovers this after the horse show when Joe, random dirty city friend, calls him up from the local gas station to inform Travis that he hitch hiked all the way to Oklahoma and had to jump out of a moving vehicle when the driver started to get a little squirrelly. Travis and Casey pick him up and Travis breaks out the Crown Royal and Joe tells his sob story about how Orson, "the twins" and he were robbing houses. Only the twins did a job by themselves without giving Orson anything, and Orson went insane and shot them point blank. In the head. With a twenty-two. Ken, being a lawyer, dumps Joe off with the authorities and they all drive back home in what appears to be one of those massive storms I so anxiously remember back when I used to live in tornado alley.

So this tornado comes along and they try to get the horses in, only the Star Runner gets out of his paddock. So Casey and Travis jump in her car and try to chase the Star Runner down. In so doing they very vaguely drive straight into the tornado. I guess the Star Runner gets away, or maybe dies, or something. S.E. Hinton got heavy on the melodrama at the end, so who knows. There was some reference to burning flesh, and Travis is deaf for a few days, and Casey is fine, but no longer interested in Travis, so Travis transfers his affection to Jennifer and starts to write his next book.
  • They were flying, skimming the road, the Central guys left behind long ago, and nobody, man, nobody thought he'd get the car back down. Here, Travis oohs and ahhs us with his fantastic drag racing abilities while chugging beer. I guess they're going 115 and there's some question about if they can stop? I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but there are three ways you can get the car "back down." 1. Take your foot off the gas pedal. 2. Even more efficient, step on the break. 3. Probably less efficient, but no less effective, crash the car. All three work.
  • Travis combed his hair, staring into the mirror with fixed concentration. He was good-looking. Probably one of the best-looking guys in the school. He had dark brown hair, not so long that he looked like one of the dopers, not so short that he looked like one of the straights, the student council preppies. Five foot eight. Not bad for sixteen, and by the size of his hands and feet he hadn't stopped growing yet. Good eyes. Great eyes, actually. Gray-green and as cool as the Irish sea. He had read a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald once, and it said he had eyes as cold as the Irish sea. Travis liked that. He secretly liked his eyelashes, too, a black fringe, as long as a girl's. He had a good build, long-boned and lean and flat-stomached, and that was the reason he liked tight T-shirts. Kirk was taller, and had broader shoulders, but Travis thought his own build was as good as any in the school. A lot of girls thought so. A lot. I love this paragraph, so I had to transcribe it here in all its glory. I laughed, and laughed, and, oh, I laughed again.
  • On the plane, Travis takes his cat with him into the cabin and the guy next to him states his displeasure. Travis? "Yeah, well, I hear a lot of faggots hate cats."
  • Because Travis isn't popular at his new school (believe me, this is like the end of the world for him) he takes to smoking cigarettes unnoticed on the baseball field or "in the library." Call me crazy, but I think someone would notice if you were smoking in the library.
  • These damn suckers were making him doubt his looks. Travis notices, to his horror, that he has round ears and a pale face. He tries desperately to remember that he is a modern day Adonis...and I laugh and laugh some more.
  • "You must dress like your characters." She had it backward, his characters dressed like he did. Yeah, we in the business of being critical because we can call that self-insertion.
  • The editor asks Travis who he thinks would read his book and he replies: "Teenagers. Kids like me." He was sure they would because he'd read it and loved it. The fact that he's the author of said book has no bearing on this at all, I'm sure.
  • At one of Casey's horse shows, in which Travis accompanies her as a groom, he discovers that the rest of the girls (as, apparently, only girls ride horses at horse shows) think he looks like a "sleazy punk." Horrified, again, he runs to a mirror. Again. What does he tell himself? His hair is too long to look punk! What do hicks know anyway? He's so cool at home! Which is Cleveland, by the way. So...I wouldn't throw stones, Travis. I really wouldn't.
  • S.E. Hinton is obsessed with K's and hard C's. The names in this book: Kirk, Ken, Christopher, Kristen, Kelsey, Ms. Carmichael, Katherine Caroline Kencaide (Casey).
  • We get a lot of unwarranted comparisons between Ken and Achilles. Yes, Achilles from Greek mythology. I'm not sure where this comes from, especially since it's supposed to draw out this line of thought that Ken was young and pushed the envelope too when he was 16 and is now 37 (which means he is old) so he is therefore supposed to be the mentor to Travis's what? Patroclus? I really don't understand how Achilles could be anyone's mentor. He was insane. You know, with the rage?
Okay, the only reason I sort of liked this book is because I had the impression that S.E. Hinton was making fun of Travis along with me. Otherwise, I really wanted someone to walk up to Travis and kick him in the groin. Repeatedly.

Although, perhaps she's not making fun of him because, from her website:
S.E. Hinton on the book:
Taming The Star-Runner is a horse story, a love story, and a story of the different forms art can take. And some of the things that happen to Travis, who wrote his first book at sixteen, happened to me. But not all, Thank God.
Well, take from that what you will.

(In light of some pretty crazy rabid Taming the Star Runner fans -- who knew, right? -- I regret to inform you all that commenting on this post is now closed. If you want to take issue with my opinion, e-mail me. I know, I know, making anonymous, misspelled comments is cute and fun for everyone, but this is getting a little weird.)

Aug 21, 2008

Danger, Danger Christina Reese: Parker has a crush on you and his Dad has a crush on your horse.

Well here it is children, my last post before school starts. I'm not sure how many times I will be able to post during the school year, but I'm sure my dedicated comrades will soldier bravely forward and pick up my slack while I attempt to solve math problems, learn to speak Chinese, and lastly, graduate from college. In the meantime, in yet another attempt to prove my insanity, I bring to you Star in Danger.

Here we have yet another of these hideous faux-realistic computer generated covers, thankfully the last of its kind. There are a lot of things to nitpick here, both in terms of aesthetics and the laws of physics, but what has always bothered me most about this cover is that Star really, really is not bay. Otherwise, meh.

Will Christina ever see Star again?

Christina Reese is worried. She's been taking care of Wonder's Star ever since his dam, Wonder, died. Now Star has been sent to Townsend Acres, and Christina misses him terribly. She dreamed of eventing Star in the Olympics on day, but Brad Townsend has already started training him to race.

The only way for Christina to be near her colt is to work with Brad. But Star has changed since he left Whitebrook. The once sweet and gentle colt has become wild and difficult to manage. Can Christina save her beloved Star from being ruined?
Yeah....not really. Most of this little synopsis is basically inaccurate, except for that last paragraph there. What is does do nicely is sum up pretty much everything that is offensive about this book. I'll state flat out that it really is probably the best book Leonhardt wrote for the series, and that Christina's transition to racing is still kind of partly believable here. It's when Mary takes over in the next book that things fly off the handle for me, and I think part of that is that Mary just isn't as good of a writer. She had a spike of improvement toward the end of the series, but that's pretty much it.

This book begins six months after Without Wonder when, if we all can manage to collectively remember, Star was sent to Townsend Acres as a three month old weanling type horse, or something like that. The opening scene to this book always struck me as odd, as Christina and Melanie are monitoring Miss America in her stall from the farmhouse vis a vi the new "foal watch" system, which I gather consists of a closed circuit tv system in the broodmare's stalls. I still can't quite process that Whitebrook managed to overcome its technophobia and install the this gadget, though it never again made another appearance. This will not be the first time in this book that I state how much I hate it that the authors persist in presenting Whitebrook as a teeny tiny old-timey farm. It makes me fucking sick. Get off your fucking moral high horse so I can punch you in the face.

Anyway, Miss America actually is going to foal, so Christina notifies her mother, who is hovering in the background with a mug of some hot liquid. Ashleigh is reluctant to help with the foaling, however, as she is still incredibly traumatized from Wonder's birth. I guess points for characterization consistency, but I am not too impressed and neither is Christina, who rolls her eyes or something equally petulant.

Christina and Melanie go out to the barn to help with the foaling, but not before Christina spends some time musing about how often she visits Star at Townsend Acres, which is a poor substitute for having the colt at the farm. She also muses about how these frequent visits take time away from training Sterling. She is finally supposed to move up to preliminary level this year, but Sterling is nowhere near as fit as she should be, which is not good because they have an event coming up soon. Ta-dah.

So Melanie and Christina tromp down to the mare's barn to watch this foal being born, whom Melanie promptly dubs Miss Perfect (it appears someone had been reading On the Track). As they walk back up to the farmhouse through pouring icy rain, Melanie suggests that Christina ask her mom if they can bring Star home instead of broodingly moodily about it. Christina is reluctant, but Melanie is basically challenging her to grow a pair, so she decides too do it. When they get back to the farmhouse they find that Mike is home, so Christina decides to ask him instead, figuring he will be on her side. Except that Mike says no, informing Christina that her mother is still not ready. Well boo. I guess we know without a doubt who wears the pants in this family.

So Christina traipses off to visit Star, which gives her plenty of time to think about how Whitebrook's ridiculously sub-par facilities are clearly superior to Townsend Acres' perfectly believable modern and immaculate grounds (which are therefore inherently evil; cleanliness is next to satanliness). She runs into Brad, who takes this opportunity to rub in how awesome his farm is, of course, and to tell Christina they'll be putting Star in yearling training in a week. Christina freaks out because Whitebrook never starts their horses until the fall and therefore what Brad is doing is something akin to horse abuse. What I really wonder here is how Christina, who never has paid any attention to horseracing (to the point that she didn't know where Belmont was) knows anything about how to train a racehorse and feels she can tell Brad, who has been doing it his whole life, the best way to do it. I will state upfront that I really know absolutely nothing about training racehorses, so I can't tell you which one of them is right, BUT, the whole theme of this book is "Christina knows Star better than anyone else and therefore she is the only one on the face of the earth that can train him properly." This is something she tells everyone every day, and saving Star pretty much hinges on her ability to convince everyone else that this is the Absolute Truth. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Christina is really pissed, but she refuses to tell Parker what's wrong because she doesn't want him to fight with his dad. She does immediately go home to tell her mother about Brad's plan, but Ashleigh's response is to tell her daughter to STFU and to point out that Brad knows what he's doing. Poor Christina. The only solution is to cry. Then she goes off to her lesson with Sam, but she's incapable of actually thinking of anything but Star. When Samantha lectures her Christina decides this is the perfect opportunity to try and convince her instructor that Brad is an inhumane horse torturer. Except Sam also tells Christina to STFU and points out not only that Brad might actually know what he's doing, but that Christina already has a talented horse in Sterling and she will never make it to the Olympics if she sits around mooning over Star all day. Christina doesn't cry this time, but you can bet she wants to.

You know, here is a thought. Christina gave up Wonder's Legacy, one of Wonder's foals, for Sterling. Then she decides to give up Sterling for Wonder's Star, another of Wonder's foals. What the fuck? Seriously. But anyway.

Christina and Melanie go off to visit Star and find him isolated alone in the stall, covered in dried sweat and still tacked up with a lunge line tangled around his legs (or the lunge line thing might be later, but either way it doesn't really matter). This makes them both pretty confused and angry, and uh, me too. With the way Brad is always trumpeting about how expensive his horses are and how valuable they are, I doubt he is going to leave a yearling Thoroughbred racehorse in his stall with no water, tangled in a lunge line without even having cooled him off. Not to mention that I am pretty sure they don't lunge racehorses, though don't quote me on this because I know it is TB series dogma that, you know, this is how you train racehorses. Moving on, though, Christina is all furious but Ralph Dunkirk, Brad's fat and evil trainer, kicks them out. Not before Christina can scream at him that she will be back with her parents tonight to show them Star's condition. At this point I thought, "Didn't you read Wonder's Yearling? You should never warn the evil horse abusers ahead of time that you will be coming by to catch them in their evil horse abusing schemes. Ask your dad about that. He will give you a copy of Wonder's Victory so you can learn how to plot your success."

It's unfortunate Christina didn't heed my mental advice, because when she drags her parents back later Star is of course perfectly cooled out and groomed. Brad wanders down from a huge party he is throwing to show-off and taunt the Griffen/Reeses, and has Dunkirk bring Star out for them to see. Star is all prancey prance prance. Ever eager to prove Brad and Dunkirk are bent on waterboarding their horses into submission, Christina takes Star's high-strung behavior as evidence that he is being abused, and is disturbed to the point of epilepsy that Dunkirk is using a stud chain on him when he brings him out of his stall. Ashleigh and Mike, on the other hand, are impressed by how Star has filled but spend most of their time talking to Brad. Because he is awesome, Brad invites everyone to the party, knowing that Mike and Ashleigh, turned out in their requisite "we are poor and better than you" jeans, will be embarrassed and say no.

The Griffen/Reeses return to Whitebrook with none of Christina's problems solved to find Parker angrily waiting in the driveway. Unfortunately, Christina was so eager to catch Brad in the act of sticking hot pokers into Star's eyeballs that she forgot she had a riding lesson. She decides maybe it's time to let Parker in on her fears about Star, and he is kind of relieved that she doesn't hate him and promises to help her think of a solution while he keeps an eye on the colt. The next day they go on a trail ride, and Parker suggests that maybe Christina should become Star's groom. He tells her to think about it before immediately puking all over her shoes at the idea. Then he challenges her to a race, saying whoever loses has to buy the winner dinner and a movie. Christina, who apparently was born without a vagina or who just really isn't attracted to Parker, kind of freaks out about this and repeatedly insists that it will be just as friends. Parker, who obviously has a penis and is completely attracted to Christina, lets the subject drop and begins to act weird around her. Welcome to the b-plot, my friends.

Eventually Christina decides that it's a fantastic idea to be a groom at Townsend Acres, and I guess the fact that her parents own half of Star makes this a feasible option for her, as Brad agrees. Christina toddles over to Townsend Acres, and Brad is waiting to give her the grand tour in a shiny new pickup truck. I will back it up a little here. Brad? A pickup truck? What happened to the Ferrari? Or even the jeep? Okay, here's how I choose to look at it: Brad knows the only language Christina speaks is "poor people are superior-ese" so he is driving home his superiority to her by displaying his wealth in a flashy new pickup truck. This is a a brilliant move on his part. Anyway, Brad drives her all over the farm and Christina struggles to makes her four brain cells comprehend the fact that a well-off Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky has perfectly manicured grounds, lots of quality bloodstock, and well-trained employees who keep the barns meticulously clean and well organized. All this adds up to evil in her head, though she does allow herself to be slightly impressed and even acknowledge how um, sensible it all is. Also, she gets to see the pool. Boy, don't we all just love the pool. It is one of the few random plot points any of these authors will be able to collectively remember, so huzzah for them. It is also apparently the only horse swimming pool in all of Kentucky, if not the world.

At the end of the tour Christina is beginning to think that maybe Brad really does know what he's doing. She even goes so far to explain to him that Star is special and no one loved him but her blah blah blah. Brad goes on to say that Christina reminds him of Ashleigh then indulges in some self-flagellation and admits he was an idiot for not realizing Wonder's potential. Then he becomes all evil and sinister and tells Christina that he is not going to let that happen again with Star, and if she gets in his way, he will punch her in the face and turn her into horse manure. Well, not exactly, but you get my drift.

Released from Brad's overt evil supervision, Christina goes off to the training barn to work with Star. There she befriends Matt, Star's previous groom, who begins telling her about "the rules," a list of twenty directives that Townsend Acres employees must memorize and carry out to the letter or risk being thrown into the Townsend Acres tar pits. Christina decides the military atmosphere is silly, but that most of the rules make sense, except for the most important rule of all: don't treat the horses as pets. This absolutely does not fall into line with her planned training program for Star, i.e. treat him completely as a pet because no one knows him as well as she does in order to produce a Triple Crown winner.

Why anyone, including Brad Townsend, would allow 15 year old Christina to train a Thoroughbred yearling to race, especially when she hates racing and has no prior experience doing so, is mostly beyond me. But don't worry, this is all part of Brad's nefarious scheme. You see, he knows that Star will respond best to Christina, so he's basically allowing her to work with him to iron out all the kinks. Then, once Star is nicely starched, Brad will take over the training once again and viola, there will be a perfect happy racehorse.

Christina is pretty oblivious to this, but Parker is much smarter than her and tries to warn her about what's going on. Still afraid he wants to put it in her, Christina ignores him. Also by the way Parker is jealous of Matt, and I don't blame him, as Christina has more chemistry with him than she ever has with Parker, never mind the fact that Matt is probably 23. Alas, he rides a motorcycle, and knowing Christina's storied past with boys and motorcycles, we can pretty much bet that Matt is not going to come out on top in this situation.

Back to the Star thing. Training goes great other than the one time Star almost kills her, and off Christina goes to the Meadowlark event. She is afraid to leave Star for the weekend, and her worst fears are confirmed when Matt rides up on his aforementioned motorcycle to warn her that Brad is planning on backing Star that very day. So Christina drops out of the event and rides back over to Townsend Acres with Matt because she needs to save the day. Not that she really can, because Brad is Star's owner and her parents could care less about the whole thing at this point. So she negotiates her way into holding Star while Julio, our gnarl-fingered professional backer, attempts to climb on Star, even as Christina wails "no, no, he's not ready."

Ugh. Then Star rears up and falls on top of Julio because he is not ready, so Christina screams and cries and Parker shows up despite the fact that he too is supposed to be eventing and screams and cries, then Brad fires Christina and Parker moves out and off they both go to Meadowlark to find Christina's parents so that maybe THEY will save Star. First they stop on the side of the road and in one of the most awkward and forced scenes ever declare their love for each other and make out. Then it's back to saving Star.

Okay, so finally Ashleigh decides to listen to Christina about Brad's heinous horse training methods. Despite the fact that over the entire book every character has said outright that Ashleigh doesn't want Star at Whitebrook because he reminds her Wonder, she tells Christina that what she was REALLY thinking was that Christina wanted to turn Star into an event horse, and we just can't have that. Christina is all "What? Never!" even though she thought that all the time. But Ashleigh buys it so off they go to save Star. They march into the barn and Ashleigh stands up to Brad and he relents and even apologizes to Parker, but says Star has to win one of his first two races or he'll be back at Townsend Acres. Ashleigh, for whatever unknown reason, agrees to this, and we the readers are left hanging on the edge of our seats as a result of this incredibly unpredictable cliffhanger. But at least Ashleigh has had a completely unexpected change of heart in the last five seconds of the book, and will support her now reunited daughter and her pet horse. The end.

Points of Interest:
  • Brad is supposed to be some sort of fashionista (fashionisto?) but when he first appears in this book he is wearing a navy blue blazer with khaki pants, which in my opinion is one of the most hideous combinations ever. Might I suggest an Armani suit, perhaps?
  • When Christina acts horrified by Brad's training methods he says to her, "Young lady, how dare you tell me how to train racehorses?" Well, I suppose is is grammatically correct to end that sentence with a question mark, but I don't think it's required. Every time I read it I hear Brad's voice trailing up ridiculously at the end of the that sentence, as if he's a valley girl. Brad Townsend is not uncertain. Brad Townsend ends that sentence with a period.
  • Brought to you by Alison Leonhardt, here is our vocabulary word of the day: recalcitrant: obstinately defiant of authority or restraint.
  • Christina wins a race against Parker by completely cheating and he tells her she has the instincts of a jockey. This makes her mad, but I really don't think it's for the same reason that I am mad.
  • Do some breeding farms have 40 stallions? Anyone?
  • Okay. I am REALLY fucking tired of every author in this series having Ashleigh and Samantha wear baseball hats and jeans and then describing them as looking like "a kid." It's fucking old and annoying and also drives into the heads of millions of young girls EVERYWHERE that the only way to be attractive and cool when you are older is to look like a kid, giving them something else to worry about when they're not obsessing over being thin. Further, even if this unfortunate depiction of society's twisted value system didn't bother me, I am really quite upset at this now trope-like description and how it really betrays a complete lack of creativity on EVERYONE'S part.
  • I find it very strange that pages of this book are spent moaning about how creepily clean and well-organized Townsend Acres is, yet Brad doesn't care when Ralph Dunkirk spits a huge wad of chewing tobacco on the ground in the aisle of the training barn right in front of him.
  • Oh Brad. When Christina arrives to take Star back to Whitebrook, Brad tells her that if he takes him out of the stall he'll call the police and have Christina arrested for stealing. Really, she's lucky he didn't threaten to call in his mob connections.
You know, as crazy as this book is, I really do wish that "Christina Loves Racing and Star" books had continued in this vein. They wouldn't have been wonderful, but they continued to steadily decline, and after Ultimate Risk, well...that's when I completely lost every iota of hope. So until next time, my friends.

That Bonnie could never be trusted.

The Betrayal of Bonnie
by Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1975

My friends, we have reached the end for Bonnie and Julie. I know it's hard to accept, but in time I feel we'll all be able to move on and lead fulfilling lives.

Racing Luck

Bonnie just had to win the Marquesa Stakes and make her racing comeback. Everyone said she was good enough to do it. And it would mean everything to Bonnie's owner, Julie Jefferson, lying in a hospital bed after a cruel accident at the track. Yet Bonnie's return to her remarkable winning form did not end the run of bad luck for Julie and her trainer Monty Everett. For Bonnie was showing up positive in the track tests for drugs, and that meant trouble with a capital T! After all, what good was winning if you were accused of cheating and barred from racing?

But who would dope Bonnie? And how could the Deepwater crew catch the culprit and put Monty and Bonnie back in racing again...?

Well, I am remarkably less enthused about this installment. I think it's possibly because it's finally gotten on my last nerve that everyone loves Julie Jefferson to the point of worshiping at her feet. Also, Julie pulls a bit of a Cindy McLean in this book, and as we all know that's enough to set me on edge. Give me another seriously injured girl who won't shut up about winning races/seeing races/assisting the super special horse that needs her sublime presence and won't listen to medical advice to the point that she finds herself half-paralyzed and sprawled on a hospital floor...and I don't know what I will do. Probably start weeping as I hold the book to an open flame. Yeah...something melodramatic like that.

So, as we all know from several previous installments, Bonnie is the best racing filly that ever was. Julie is the most loved girl in horse racing, if not the world. Bonnie, however, has suffered some horrible luck and as a result got injured, suffered through some crazy breeding adventure, gave birth to twins, and is now back on the track looking at a come back. Everyone is thrilled except for Monty, who is simply cautiously optimistic. Monty is awesome, I have decided. He's really the only one who acts like he has a brain.

The book opens up with exercising Bonnie, and I guess she's training so well that Monty starts mentioning this Marquesa Stakes thing and this somehow leads him to a pancake house with Julie. They eat pancakes. I guess. I don't know...I read that part quite a while ago. I just know that this scene ends during a rainstorm and in the middle of the storm, while they're driving back to the farm, Julie sees "something alive" on the side of the road. Just guess what it is. Guess. I bet you will get it right on the first try.

It's another dog. Someone ran over it (while it was, like, not raining!) and left it to die. Yeah, poor it. I didn't really care all that much because all I was thinking was "Really? Another damned dog?" Monty is kinda thinking the same thing, proof positive for why he's awesome. Unfortunately Julie wears the pants in their non-relationship and insists that they take the dog to this vet and then she comes up with this idea that she'll open an animal shelter at Deepwater Farm and because Mr. T is rich he says sure? Something like that. And she keeps the dog. She names it Barney or something along those lines. She now has a Beagle, a St. Bernard, and this new dog, which is an Irish Wolfhound. How she manages this, I really don't know.

Moving on, Bonnie continues to be fantastic. Everyone exclaims on how fantastic she is. Oh, to be so fantastic! Then Julie kinda sorta gets squished by a crazy run away and injures her back. This is the END OF THE WORLD for everyone, pretty much. Because, as previously stated, Julie is everyone's personal Jesus in these books. So Bonnie's stakes race comes along and by that point there's been this long hospital drama I don't care to get into because there was all of that "but I have to see the race!" and more "like hell you do!" and more "but I really can walk! oh, wait... *collapses*" and then some "well, okay, but as long as you stay in your wheelchair..." and by that point I wanted someone to run a car over her.

But then Bonnie wins! Oh, bliss! She wins her race by seventeen lengths and sets a new track record of 2:01 and something which doesn't impress me. Everyone is thrilled. Only then they have to test her and a couple of days later they are informed that her tests are "cloudy" but not, yeah. Monty screams a lot and the racing secretary guy just sort of shrugs and since they are "cloudy" they are not disqualified? Well, whatever. It doesn't really matter because this means Julie has to immediately ask Monty why he did it. Wow, that's friendship for you.

Monty is suitably crushed. The girl he loves and wants to marry instantly suspects him of doping her equine soul mate. What is a boy to do? So everyone finally gets over Julie's super shininess to tell her she was being a bitch to Monty, and she's still determined to blame him because she figures he couldn't handle seeing her disappointed or some such.

Now, granted, Monty has been treating her like glass for five books now. I understand Julie's frustration because she's something like 22 at this point and I imagine she just wants to have sex already. Monty still sees her as a child, but really, it's just ridiculous. So then Julie finally realizes that this can't possibly be right. Monty wouldn't do such a thing because he's awesome.

So another race comes along. Bonnie wins by eleven or twelve lengths or something. She comes back with another positive test. Monty freaks again. Julie freaks. Everyone freaks. What's more, Monty gets suspended so they have to move Bonnie off to another trainer. Mr. T is NOT HAPPY. But because he's rich and therefore powerful, he pushes his weight around and gets Bonnie put in a stable to herself with 24/7 guard so she'll be under watch constantly. It is, theoretically, impossible for this horse to be tampered with. So what happens? Yeah, she comes back from another race (she wins it by ten lengths) and has yet another positive result. All hell breaks loose because at this point they're all questioning each other and so forth.

Mr. T has had it. He's ready to pull Bonnie off the track. But then someone comes up with the idea to send Bonnie to Cornell. Because they have some fancy lab equipment that they can put to use testing their horse to see if she'll randomly test positive for amphetamines. As it turns out, she does. So apparently she's just special and producing her own steroids? Well, whatever is happening, Bonnie is the source of all the drama because her metabolism changed after her pregnancy and no matter what she'll keep spitting out false positives.

I have no idea if this is possible. With people, kidney and liver disease will give you a false positive for well as diabetes...but I don't know how this works for horses. I have no interest in finding out, either. As it happens.

Anyway, everyone is happy. Monty finally asks Julie to marry him and she says yes.

  • Monty is as "hopelessly tongue-tied as a bashful lad out of the summer of 1875." Were lads especially bashful in the summer of 1875, or is this a reference I'm not catching?
  • "The other boys would have loved to beat [Sunbonnet]. I know for a fact the boy on Ruby Frump bet a bundle on [Sunbonnet]..." Yeah, that's not possible. Jockeys can only bet races through the owner of the horse they're riding, only on the horse they're riding, and only to win. Also, who names a horse Ruby Frump?
So, there's nothing else to say. Except that I think I'm going to try out a Nancy Drew book called The Riding Club Crime next. I may have been tempted to read it solely because the cover depicts a girl and horse falling over Niagara Falls. I couldn't help wondering how they get out of that one.

Aug 18, 2008

Genuine Risk

Genuine Risk

Typically, we're all books all the time here, but you can't ignore Genuine Risk. She was basically our Wonder, after all.

The oldest Kentucky Derby winner is now Alysheba.

Does flannel turn you on? Well? Does it?

Paradise County
by Karen Robards

Sure, I said I was going to read The Betrayal of Bonnie, but when it came right down to it, Karen Robards started to look all enticing again. I can't explain it, especially considering Karen Robards single-handedly inspired the books to avoid tag when I read Hunter's Moon. I think I was convinced this was the book for me when I went to its Amazon page and found reviews simply stating "ew."

Also, according to the Amazon page, Paradise County's "sensuality rating" is an eight. I didn't really know what this meant, considering Amazon has no guideline that I could find that lists what is to be expected from a book with a sensuality rating of eight. If this is on a scale from one to ten, ten being explicit sex on each page and one being accidental skin contact resulting in innocent blushing, Amazon doesn't say and thus I was intrigued enough to find out for myself.

So, one of the summaries I found that is shorter than having to type the ridiculously long (for this book) summary on the book jacket:

Grief-stricken at her father's suicide and struggling to cope with the collapse of the family businesses, photographer Alexandra Haywood travels to her family's thoroughbred horse farm in Paradise County, Kentucky. She cannot understand why her father would take his life, and her journey to Whistledown Farm is driven by her need for answers as well as the need to sell the farm. Sparks fly when she encounters farm manager Joe Welch, and Alexandra is yanked from the cold lethargy of grief that has gripped her emotions since her father's death. She doesn't want to be attracted to the handsome, difficult man but her hormones refuse to cooperate. Joe doesn't want to crave the gorgeous blond who intends to sell the farm and destroy his dreams, but he, too, has no choice.

The two have bigger problems, however, when a crazed killer whose heinous crimes have gone undetected in Paradise County for many years targets Alexandra. Before Joe can save her, his own son and her young sister may also fall victim to the madman.
On the book jacket, Alex is referred to as a "rich rhymes-with-witch." That's really the only thing I'd like to point out there. Also, the county isn't actually called "Paradise." It's Shelby County (Motto: Good Land, Good Living, Good People). People just love it so much they call it Paradise.

Moving on, Joe wakes up one night and suspects that something is wrong. Immediately he thinks this is parental intuition telling him one of this three children is off being unruly and/or disobedient. Thrilled with the opportunity to be a disciplinarian, Joe hunts down all of his children, shocked to find them all in the house. I deduce from this that Joe is not a very good father. Plus, what is it with Karen Robards needing to have main characters with tons of kids? Especially when the book has a sensuality rating of eight? (Whatever that means.)

So he decides that since he's up he's going to check the horses. This naturally leads to the discovery of a body, who happens to be his boss. And it's a suicide. Or so they think. Naturally, because they think it's a suicide, you know it's not a suicide. Especially when every so often a chapter comes along that's told from the viewpoint of "the predator." The predator slips out of the barn and is kind of annoyed because things didn't go according to plan, so he has to go taser some kids at a rest stop. Bully for him.

Anyway, we skip forward a few weeks to Alex, the dead guy's daughter. She's pretty much liquidating everything because her dad sucks at business and was going bankrupt. The farm is last on her list of things to deal with, and she wants to do it personally because if she brought her lawyers with her that would have probably gotten in the way of the potential sex she could have with Joe, the farm's trainer or foreman or only worker on the place. Now that I think about it. He's really the only one there. So she meets with Joe and he immediately doesn't like her and really doesn't like it when she basically fires him on the spot. Then he remembers that he has this contract thing that means he can't be fired until next December. Alex is not impressed because she has no money to pay him with anyway and essentially tells him to go to hell. But then her asshole fiance has to call so he can randomly tell her that he got married yesterday to someone who is richer than her. One cannot climb the social ladder with a girl who has a bankrupted, dead father, after all.

And then Alex's half-sister, Neely, magically appears from her boarding school to tell Alex what she already knows and that Joe is "sex on a stick." Neely, unfortunately, is going to be sticking around for the remainder of the book. As soon as the two girls decide to stay the night in the house, weird things start happening and Alex gets knocked over the head, resulting in a wild dash out of the house in the rain to Joe's house, which is conveniently located at the bottom of the hill. Because it's November, Alex is all wet and chilled and woozy. This, naturally, means they both have to get in the shower. This, naturally, leads to sexual awakenings. Although there is no comfort-turned-sex, thankfully. Instead he takes her to the hospital like a sensible person.
On the way to the hospital, she sees a person on the second floor porch. Joe thinks this isn't possible. Alex thinks it might be the ghost of her dead father. Or the person who knocked her out. Either way, they don't find it and the next day they have sex because...well, I don't really know why. They just do because it seems like a good idea and she doesn't want to regret not having sex with him, I guess. But then she sort of says her ex's name and he gets all pissy again. The mood is killed, so he tells her to get her crap together because the power is out in the house and she can't stay there without power and she refuses and then they wind up chasing each other around the house, which gets interrupted by Neely. So she does have a purpose after all, which is to save us from Joe and Alex killing each other.

Instead of staying with Joe, Alex hauls Neely off to the Dixie Inn. The predator is thrilled about this, calling the inn "ground zero," as I guess he has tiny cameras in each room. This would suggest that he lives there or owns the inn, which sort of kills the mystery of who the guy is. Anyway, Alex gets a letter the next day (she's been in there a grand total of two days) because the phones have been out for a whole day, making this letter (its existence possible only because the lines are down) the fastest delivered letter on the face of the earth. The letter is from Alex's lawyer, who tells her all about this story the papers are running in Philadelphia about how Alex's dad is a jerk, and tells her to stay in Kentucky for a while longer because reporters are camped out at her house in Philly. Like they don't know about the farm and can't camp out there? Well, whatever. She decides to stay in Kentucky, giving her time to go to a bonfire by way of wagon for the local high school's upcoming basketball game.

Meanwhile, Joe learns his ex-wife died. I didn't care.

So they get in the wagon and hay ride their way to the bonfire, where they discover that they should really take the next few weeks to discover if they can stand each other. They arrive at the bonfire with the kids, proceed to abandon the kids, and troop off into the woods. You know what this means? It's time for wilderness sex! On a picnic table. Who knows where that table came from. Anyway, they are interrupted by Neely and Joe's oldest kid, Eli, who are smoking pot in the woods and drinking beer. The world ends. Then Joe's dad manages to get completely belligerently drunk and makes a scene. The world ends again. Joe yells at Eli to take Neely home while he and Alex take his dad back to his house. Drama ensues some more as his dad keeps yelling and basically wrestles with the sheriff as they try to force him into the car.

Meanwhile, the predator is just having the best time of his life. He's at the farm house in Alex's room, setting up cameras everywhere. Only then Neely and Eli have to interrupt him. He's not so thrilled anymore.

As Eli and Neely are dealing with the crazy guy, Joe and Alex have determined that they are in love. More sex happens while Joe's dad sleeps it off in the other room. The predator takes Eli and Neely down to the basement of the farm house, where he has apparently set up shop with no one noticing, and shoots Eli. Yeah, don't worry too much. Eli just bleeds a lot, but fails to die. Neely puts up a fight, and inspired by a disembodied voice that sounds like her father, she takes off one of her socks and ties it around the neck of their cat, who I guess followed them down into the basement.

So, taking a break from the craziness for a minute, I had to wonder exactly what she expected the cat to do. Realistically. Fictionally, the cat ran back up to the main floor and alerted Alex to the insanity happening in the basement. Would a cat do this in the real world? Well, I've got a cat, and I decided to test the theory on her. This was the result:

So, this is Phoebe with a blue sock tied loosely around her neck. Notice her uncomfortable sitting position. This is what I call Phase One.

Phoebe protests the sock. This is Phase Two. Phase Two lasts a matter of seconds.

This is Phase Three. Phoebe plops onto the ground, looks uncomfortable, and glares at me. She's moved all of one square foot, mainly during her brief attempt to struggle, before deciding to put up with it and humor me. Don't worry, I took the sock off right after this photo and she's now busy grooming herself on the sofa. Perhaps she'll get some tuna later as a reward.

Having completed my experiment, I have determined that a cat would never allow someone to tie a sock around its neck with expectations that it would walk up a flight of stairs. Supernatural forces must have been at work. As it turns out, they are.

Alex find the sock, but can't do much because the predator emerges from a closet or something and attacks her. He hauls her into the basement and taunts her for a while before telling her his grand plan, which I guess was to lock her up in the basement and have deviant sex with her until he got sick of it and eventually burned her alive. Only then Joe shows up. Sensing that his plan has gone awry, the predator (who is the owner of the Dixie Inn, but we really don't care enough to take note of this) sets everything on fire and goes back to the inn. Only everyone escapes and lives and because the killer was stupid the police find him without having to do much work. It also turns out that the killer guy had killed dozens of people and was keeping their bodies stored in a passageway leading from the basement. You would think the whole house would smell considering there were twenty-four bodies in there, but nope. Then Joe and Alex get married and this horse that Joe's dad is all crazy for wins an important race at Gulfstream.

Also, Alex's father is now at peace and he can go float away to heaven now. Apparently he was the person she saw on the balcony that night. So he waves at her and Neely and then drifts off. Seriously.

Possibly interesting, but more probably confusing points:
  • Sucking on someone's tongue. Is this possible, and, more importantly, would you be turned on or disturbed if it happened to you?
  • Sucking on body parts through cashmere. Again, is this a turn on or weird?
  • Describing someone's weight as "a body bag full of wet cement" when they're on top of you...a turn on or disturbing? You know, just forget it. Please.
  • "Daddy Studmuffin. You did him. I can tell." Wow. I just don't have words.
  • The way to a man's heart was through his dick, and anyone who didn't know that didn't know crap about men. Really. I enjoy it when romance novels are as blatantly stereotypical as humanly possible. Karen is really good at this.
  • She actually used the phrase "rocked her world." And here is where I should stop reading. Of course, I'm not going to. However, for the record, I am skimming at this point.
  • Mouths in this book are always "hot and wet and demanding" or "hot and wet and devastating."
  • He was hot, sweaty, and his breath was stertorous in her ear. Okay, let's pick out the word that is most awkward in this sentence. Did you pick "stertorous?" Good! Now, pick up a dictionary. Stertor means "a heavy snoring sound accompanying respiration in certain diseases." I really don't think that's what Karen was going for. Even outside of pathology, it basically means the guy is snoring. Yet...he is awake? Joe is a mysterious man who may or may not have lung disease, I guess.
  • Everyone wears flannel at some point in this book, and Joe especially likes it because he wears it all the time. I haven't been more annoyed at the repetition of the word "flannel" before now.'s actually better than Hunter's Moon. But, you know, that doesn't say anything at all.

Aug 15, 2008

This book killed my ability to think of an interesting title. TB #34: On the Track

On The Track
Thoroughbred #34
by Lois Szymanski
Published: 1999

Well, clearly this is probably the most boring cover to come along since Shining's Orphan. Here Melanie shows us how not to lead a horse as she goes unsupervised. I guess she's just really thrilled by the prospect of possibly being trampled, but I've never seen anyone walk a horse around like that. On top of this irritating lack of fundamental horse sense, this cover is just ugly. Everything about it is horrible. From the yellow and black Whitebrook Farm sweatshirt to the background. The horse is the only thing that escapes being truly horrifying, only to fall into the category of boring.

Another tough choice...
Ever since Melanie Graham came to live with her cousin Christina Reese, she's had her eye on the track. She wants to be an exercise rider, and maybe one day, a winning jockey. With her aunt Ashleigh's Thoroughbreds. And she loves it. Finally, she's discovered her calling.
But Christina is jealous. She's been acting weird ever since Melanie began working with Ashleigh. Melanie desperately wants to continue her training, but is it worth losing her cousin's friendship?
I guess somewhere along the way, Melanie decided she wanted to be a jockey. This is proving to be a little difficult for her because, as we all know, Christina doesn't like it when her friends branch out. Being friends with Christina means you must be into jumping/eventing, and if you dare express interest in something else, however minor, forget it. She'll turn on you faster than you can blink. Unfortunately for Melanie, she's also got to deal with the fact that she's Christina's cousin and she's taking up Christina's mother's all time favorite love, horse racing. Because Ashleigh appears to have tried everything short of locking Christina in a jockey's room to get her to like exercise riding, Christina is even more livid about the situation, momentarily forgetting that she LIKES EVENTING. Say it with her: EVENTING. Thus she can be jealous of Melanie and pissed off that she dislikes racing so much when everyone else thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread.

So this is how our merry tale starts. Melanie gets the chance to learn how to exercise ride. She tells Christina about how excited she is. Christina demands to know why Melanie just won't settle for dressage and jumping like all her other friends she forced into line several books ago. Undaunted, Melanie persists in learning how to exercise ride, unwittingly being ostracized by Christina in the meantime. Because when Christina gets pissed off, she not only stops speaking to you, she cuts your group of friends out from under you also. She's such a lovely child, that one.

Because Melanie, like, rides one horse in the morning and appears to be doing nothing else that takes up her time more than it did previously when she was ponying with Pirate, she starts to miss out on things her friends are doing. Mainly because Christina casually "forgets" to tell her about any of these plans. When Melanie does get in the know thanks to Kevin, Christina further attempts to cut Melanie out of the group by changing the topic to shows and things that Melanie clearly has no say in. Lovely! Nicely done, Chris. Way to be a bitch.

Forlorn that Christina is being a heinous witch, Melanie forges on with her plan to super exercise rider princess. But then her dad has to call and send those plans spiraling. Ashleigh, for some inexplicable reason, didn't ask Will's permission to let Melanie ride race horses and Will is naturally a little peeved and forbids Melanie to ride until further notice. He tells Melanie to have Ashleigh call him...the stupidest thing a parent could ever say...and essentially gives Melanie the chance to procrastinate. Procrastinate she does, despite Christina's threats to tell Ashleigh. But then Melanie rides Pride's Perfection (just one of the really stupid names in this book) and Perfection stumbles and falls and scrapes Melanie up and everyone gets minorly injured and Melanie has to have some flashback to Milky Way.

Naturally this gives Melanie a chance to feel sorry for herself and mope. Kevin tries to cheer her up, but Christina isn't having it. She keeps hounding at Melanie and reinforces Melanie's belief that she's a walking accident. Melanie's low self-esteem, which usually cruises at a low altitude anyway, starts to nosedive. Just when Melanie can't continue with keeping this disapproval from Ashleigh, Christina tells Ashleigh anyway and Ashleigh is all pissed and has Will come out to Whitebrook to deal with his daughter. Ashleigh, you suck at being a legal guardian. Honestly.

So Melanie realizes it's all her fault and has a nice little heart to heart with Christina, who confirms all of Melanie's theories that Christina was upset that Melanie was hogging all of her mother's time and making her feel like she'd let Ashleigh down by not liking racing. Melanie admits to liking the attention. Will comes along and, in true Thoroughbred spirit, the kids come up with a plan to get Will to magically understand Melanie's true desires. Naturally, this plan is to saddle up the horse Melanie has worked with most -- Heart of Stone -- and work the horse from the gate, by themselves, totally without any consideration to the horse's training schedule. Because once he sees how fantastic Melanie is, he'll relent and let her do whatever she wants and because this is fiction, it works.


Did you think the book was over? Oh, sorry! It's not. We have two more chapters to get through, for some reason. So, everyone gets a chance to bond and eat and be nostalgic over Ashleigh's trophies. Then Ashleigh lets Melanie, Kevin, and Naomi do some mock race because it will be fun? Or something. Then they go to the "Keeneland Acres Yearling Sale" and sell some yearlings. Then they go home. Fun. Why those two chapters were there, I really don't know. The book should have ended at page 137, but I guess some editor somewhere screamed about word limits and reading levels and thus we got another twenty-five pages.
  • This book is set a few weeks after Racing Parker, but I am extremely confused as to what season we're in now (which is, finally, autumn, for all of us keeping track) because Melanie keeps checking in on this Perfect Heart mare to monitor her pregnancy. There are some nice indicators of what a mare is doing a week or so before birth, but considering this is, at the very latest, October, we are so far off the mark it's not even funny.
  • First Perfect Heart is in foal to Pride's Chance, and then I guess she's in foal to Wonder's Pride?
  • Kevin has a "deep voice" now. He is twelve. With all the adam's apples, broad shoulders, and deep voices running amok among twelve-year-old boys in Thoroughbred I'm beginning to wonder about our dear authors.
  • Wow, Christina is not letting go of that crazy Central Park ride from practically ten books ago any time soon, is she?
  • So what had made Christina suddenly act so cold and distant? I think the answer to this is that Lois Szymanski got really bad luck in writing assignments. Yeah...I think that's pretty much it.
  • "I heard Lethal Leopard is going to be running in this race." "Hmmm, where did you hear that?" Oh my God, it's the day of the race. WHERE could you POSSIBLY find ALL the entries listed in ONE CONVENIENT PLACE? Ian tells Ashleigh that he read an article where the owner of the horse mentions they're running her in a September maiden race at Keeneland (which means this is September? What the hell is up with that?) and this is where his knowledgeable opinion is based. Just...let me stick a fork in my eye repeatedly because that would be more enjoyable than reading this.
  • "Let Faith save her energy. Keep her on Leopard's tail and then, boom, pass her in the backstretch!" ...this exclamation point seems to indicate that Ian is excited by the possibility of this shitty idea actually working. Who makes a move in the backstretch like that and actually expects to win? Really?
  • Apparently horses first enter the paddock upon coming back from the race? What country is this?
  • Congratulations, Whitebrook. Perfect Heart gives birth in September or October, officially making them completely incompetent. Good luck hiding that foal until January!
  • The horse names in this book are beyond annoying: Perfect Heart, Pride's Perfection, Pride's Chance, Heart of Stone, Pride's Heart...
  • Ashleigh makes everyone promise to come see the kiddies ride their race or whatever and Tor bows out because he has to work on, even Lois, who wrote a grand total of one book for this series, keeps with the Tor's so busy trend. It's a little unsettling. It's like everyone got together, decided he was a cheating asshole, and decided to give him lots of opportunities to mysteriously slip away so he can be busy.
  • Because this book will not end, despite all conflicts and plot points having been wrapped up a chapter ago, the kids get into Ashleigh's trophies and scrapbooks or whatever. Ashleigh: "Oh, my, that was so long ago." Ashleigh, you are 36. Please start acting like it.
  • The 85th Annual Keeneland Acres Yearling Sale? There's a Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Where the hell this "acres" comes from I'm not too sure.
  • I guess Samantha stumbled into some serious money between Racing Parker and On the Track because she just went from bowing out of buying Foxglove for $6,000 to buying some unnamed and probably immediately forgotten filly for $15,500.
Anyway, I'm going to have to wait for Dead Heat, and since I don't think the public system has Without Wonder I believe I'm going to be forced to buy it. In the meantime, Bonnie and Julie are next. Then I'm sure I'll find something amusing to blog about while Dead Heat remains in limbo. Cheers.

Aug 14, 2008

Love triangles, Thoroughbred style! or TB #33, Racing Parker

Racing Parker
Thoroughbred #33
by Dale Gasque
Published: 1999

I don't know if I can shed much more light on Racing Parker, given that Claire did just a wonderful job the first time around. But I will try to point out a few more things in this book. And yeah, they might be totally Brad Townsend related. I'm not apologetic about this. Obviously.

These covers just don't get better, do they? This is a scene from the book, but it's taken completely out of context and makes Christina look like the wild one as Parker is left looking at her like she's lost it or something. Also, don't they both look remarkably pink?

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?
I've been reading Brideshead Revisited this week, unaware until I opened up Blogger that Racing Parker is the perfect Thoroughbred companion to Evelyn Waugh. Can't you just imagine Parker graduating from his English private school, going to Oxford, and then eating strawberries and consuming champagne while smoking Turkish cigars with other wealthy Oxfordites (who may, or may not, be obsessed with stuffed animals) before running off and sleeping with those wealthy Oxfordite's dysfunctional sisters? Yes, I think you can. Or maybe it's just me.

Well, anyway. Racing Parker is the Brad/Mike/Ashleigh love triangle that never happened. Usually I absolutely hate love triangles because most of the time the main couple is obvious and the third party is just a seductive smile and a crooked finger that lures one of them into unfaithfulness or something and it goes absolutely nowhere. Jean/Logan/Scott from X-Men, Bella/Jacob/Edward from Twilight, Marian/Guy/Robin from Robin Hood...I mean, honestly. What is so enticing about this besides the fact that I am always...always...rooting for the love triangle to break up the established pair? When does this ever happen? Never, that's when. Lucky me, Thoroughbred is here to answer my cry for mercy on my little shipper heart. Unfortunately it decided to do this about 29 books too late with a different set of characters completely. Damn it.

Racing Parker was big news when it came on the scene back in 1999. Samantha and Tor reappeared, Mona is (apparently?) marginalized (finally), and Parker (previously Ross, which makes more sense in a Townsend way given the fact that almost every person I've ever met who has a trust fund is named after their mother's maiden's like an illness) and Brad and Lavinia and Clay Townsend. It's like a giant family reunion where everyone squabbles at each other before some misfortune lands everyone in a hospital. So given all the returning characters, it's got to be good. Dale Gasque sort of lives up to expectations.

However, the book opens up again with Christina being all petulant about how she knows Sterling. Sterling is talented. No one understands Sterling like she does. Blah blah blah. Mona wants to keep her at novice for a while longer. The world ends. Blah blah blah. Then Parker comes onto the scene, and I've got to say I really liked Parker, which is unfortunate because I never really paid attention to him previously. He is definitely Brad Townsend's son in this book. Or, well, he's the son of Brad Townsend when Brad's busy being awesome.

Because Samantha is back in Kentucky and I guess living at Tor's old stable that now actually has a name, she's busy buying horses while Tor is busy being mysteriously absent. I do not trust that man, and I have a feeling most of the other writers don't either considering how often he's not around. At this auction, we meet Foxglove, Clay and Parker. Clay buys Foxglove for Parker, trying to get him preoccupied with something so he won't get bored and accidentally get himself kicked out of another private school again. Parker is appreciative, but considering he goes and rides a motorcycle through his school later on I don't think he's being very serious about this promise. That said, because he is just about as dashing as a fourteen-year-old boy fresh from England can be, Christina immediately starts blushing and goes tongue tied in his presence. Parker, with his dark hair and gray eyes, is just too much for her to resist.

But resist she does! Christina likes Dylan, despite still maintaining some sort of silly friend policy with him, easily allowing herself to slip away without feeling too remarkably guilty later. Despite her repeated assurances to herself that she likes Dylan, Parker keeps slipping in to whisper in her ear to the point that you have to remind yourself that Christina is twelve. Do that enough and this book starts feeling remarkably weird. Anyway, Parker has a horse now and he rides that horse like he was born to do it, and Christina is further smitten. Then Parker's asshole and devilish riding starts turning her on, so you know it's only a matter of time. Parker is succeeding fantastically in his seducer role without even having to try all that hard. Big bonus points for Parker.

Dylan, meanwhile, is losing to Parker in just about everything. During the hunt picnic, Parker beats him in their race thing. At the hunt ball, Parker gains most of the attention and cuts in on a dance between Dylan and Christina, winning himself a riding partner in Christina at some paired jumping thingamajig because Christina is too busy being flustered at falling into him to really think about what she's saying. Dylan is not thrilled about this development, but he's got to go to Ohio for a wedding and this leaves Christina free to jump with Parker at their event whatever it's called. Because Parker is reckless (which is probably why he's so blatantly winning Christina over), his attitude starts to rub off on Christina. Christina, who tends to let this crap happen to her far too much, takes after his example and starts to push Sterling again. The thing is, however, that Sterling is relishing the challenge. Perhaps Mona has been wrong all this time! (Which, at this point, is not remarkable.) Therefore at the upcoming event, Christina goes back on her form and puts herself into training level instead of novice. Everyone reacts with displeasure, but Christina sticks to her decision, blatantly uses her mother's past with Wonder in efforts to get what she wants, and succeeds.

Only then Parker has to go be reckless some more and wrecks into a cross country jump, bringing everything back to reality for Christina, who realizes how stupid she was being. Parker goes off to the hospital, Christina discovers how depressed and crazed for attention Parker is, and then confronts the Townsends about it. They react by deciding not to ship Parker off to another private school and Parker is determined to not be an asshat anymore by doing the right thing by Foxy, who is now going to live at Samantha's place while Parker heals up and works around the barn. The book ends with Dylan still in a tentative lead for Christina's twelve-year-old heart because he's been such a good guy, according to Christina. However, considering Christina finds him about as stimulating as an old stuffed animal, I doubt that's going to last long.

Points (which, yes, have mostly to do with Brad):
  • Gasque helpfully informs us, through Dylan, that Samantha wouldn't want to be around racehorses as her mother died because of one. Not like this fact EVER STOPPED HER IN PRE-GASQUE HISTORY or anything.
  • He seemed too self-assured to be one of the Townsend Acres grooms. ...what? Are all grooms naturally self-conscious or is this something Brad Townsend drills into them upon signing their W-4?
  • Brad Townsend was one of those trainers that looked like he'd never gotten his hands dirty. Okay, I have several issues with this statement: 1) if it looks like he's never gotten his hands dirty, it's probably because he's mainly an owner. 2) Just because he's clean we're supposed to dislike him? 3) Since when is Brad clean, anyway? He was always out on horseback before Gasque had to go Handi Wipe him to death.
  • He was one of Ashleigh's least liked people in the racing world. Yeah, but only in the racing world. Excuse me while I giggle at this.
  • "I don't know why he's always felt so competitive with Ashleigh." Oh, please. I've got a ton of valid theories, along with the ones that involve him secretly lusting after her and hating her for it, so I think Gasque could have gone out on a limb instead of doing the literary equivalent of a helpless shrug.
  • Brad had almost messed up Wonder's chances of winning the Kentucky Derby by overracing her in the weeks leading up to it. Uh, she ran three times before the Kentucky Derby. In the course of four months. I don't think it gets more normal than that.
  • I have waited so many books for Brad's return and his first line in this book is "That's the way, kid!" as he pumps his fist in the air. I so disagree with this line. Blah.
  • Parker is exciting and funny, but Dylan is as comfortable to be with as Rags. Christina's turmoil over the boys reaches a critical point. For all those not in the know, Rags is a stuffed animal. I don't know about anyone else, but I think when you're comparing a potential love interest to a stuffed animal, your mind has pretty much made itself up.
  • Dale Gasque is a little too obsessed with adam's apples. I mean, I'm as appreciative of male-specific human anatomy as the next...person who's interested in those things...but come on. Plus, considering adam's apples pretty much only develop during puberty, these are some freakishly fast developing kids.
  • One thing I love about this book is Lavinia's character. I always thought Joanna Campbell had it totally wrong when she had Lavinia exercising racehorses. I just didn't see that as even remotely plausible considering who Lavinia was. In fact, I'm dead positive it was just another way to pin unfortunate accidents on the Townsends and Lavinia was the most convenient way for those accidents to happen. Gasque makes it known that Lavinia has no respect for anyone in the lower levels of racing, including exercise riders, which I think is far more realistic in regards to how much of a bitch Lavinia is.
  • That said, I don't like how she handled Brad and Mr. Townsend. It's like the two have completely reversed roles. Brad was always the one that led Clay around by the nose, with extremely brief moments of lucidity shown on Clay's part. Brad actually acting like a shamed kid at the age of 38 or something is just not right. Clay Townsend acting like he actually cares about anything besides his work...just not right.
  • "What charm school did she flunk out of?" Precisely, Melanie. Lavinia really was perfect this time around.
So yeah, you know, I need to put an end note here or something. On the Track is next and then I think I'll finish up the crazy/insane adventures we have come to know as Bonnie and Julie's canine-ridden journey through horse racing scandal heaven.

Aug 13, 2008

Christian Reese's Doppleganger, Version: Penis

The Great Gymkhana Gamble
Short Stirrup Club #3
By: Allison Estes
Published: 1996

Well boys and girls, the reason for my silence on this blog is that for weeks I retreated into a self-imposed exile as a result of my fear of corn. That's right, children. Corn. I decided it was time maybe to read a grown-up book that did not involve female film stars prior to the 1940s, so I dug The Omnivore's Dilemma up off of my "to read" bookshelf and, well, read it. And holy shit, did you know corn is in everything? I mean that quite literally. Practically everything you eat is made of corn (and even if it's not some sort of artificially created food, like say, meat, then the animal you are eating was probably fed a diet consisting almost completely of corn, so you are still eating corn), and so are many things you don't eat. I'm convinced it's an alien species bent on taking over the world by making us all fat and extremely unhealthy. Seriously, corn is super bad for you. But it's still not as gross as chicken. Few things are as gross a chicken. Which are also made of corn. As is the book I'm about to review.

Welcome back to the world of Thistle Poop. These books are just terribly unengaging, so I'm not sure how helpfully informative and/or endlessly amusing this recap will be. I read this book at least two weeks ago, intending to review it for this blog, but was so unenthusiastic about the prospect of reliving that experience that I decided I would rather read about how the unnatural, unsanitary and inhumane industrial food chain is slowly poisoning us and our entire planet (ecologically speaking) to death. If that doesn't say something about how I feel about Thistle Poop and all its constituent denizens, then I don't really know what will.

Thankfully, or not-so-thankfully, the main character of this book is Max Morrison, Christina Reese Megan Morrison's twin brother. While Max is not as whiny and impudent as his sister, he is, in two words, ridiculously boring. He's the strong silent type, I guess, but he's also the bland, two-dimensional type. Don't worry though, there's still plenty of petty angst and self-involved egoism. Enough to (just barely) drive 130 pages of plot.

The thing is that Max has realized, just as recently as the last Thistle Poop book, come to think of it, that he has never fallen off a horse before. He also has a terrifying fear of somehow hurting his horse, Popsicle, while riding, something he can blame on Amanda (crappier Veronica diAngelo) for riding her pony through the mud like a robot and injuring him in a bad way. He's so worried about scenarios involving falling and/or injury that he has begun to have a recurring nightmare about said scenarios, which is pretty freaky I suppose one must admit. This means that he yells at Megan pretty much any time she does anything, because Megan is a daredevil, and in this book there are plenty of opportunities for her to show off her daredeviling skills.

You see, Perfect Pony Instructor Princess Sharon is preparing to ride her two horses in the Atlanta Olympics (rock on, 1996), and the Christina Reese Twins' parents have said that if they can purchase the (hundred million dollar) tickets themselves, then they will foot the rest of the bill for an Olympic visit. Max gets a preadolescent woody every time he thinks of Sharon, so this is like, the biggest dream ever, but neither he nor any of the other Short Shitty Rider Club have any idea how they are going to come up with this money. That is, of course, until Best Friend Probably-"Chunky" Chloe reads a book (apparently she does a lot of this) about gymkhanas, and everyone decides the thing to do is throw a gymkhana to raise money for the tickets. Megan is thrilled because this kind of riding will give her a chance to prove her metaphorical equestrian daredevil penis is larger than everyone else's, and Token 1990s PC Ethnic Character Keith is happy because he rides western, and I guess Chloe is happy because it's her brilliant idea. Pussy Pants Max isn't so thrilled with it, however, but, you know, Olympic tickets = Sharon in tight pants.

The children decide to practice a gymkhana baton passing event, using a crop as a substitute for a baton. Except Megan somewhere in this whole process throws a crop at Popsicle's face/ass and Keith falls off Penny trying to pass his baton because he is incapable of tightening his girth. That kind of hurts. Oops. Max throws a hissy fit about the irresponsibility of everyone involved, but still agrees to the gymkhana, so they go ask Shaman Jake, Sharon's husband, if they can use Thistle Poop for the gymkhana. They ask him, you see, because he is less scary than Sharon, but his response is to tell them to ask Sharon. My response to that was "haha, sucks for them." Then I realized it sucked for me because now Sharon was going to be involved in an actual scene in the book, which meant stammering-worship in person as opposed to from afar. Oh boy.

Unfortunately for Max, our Stupid Stirrup Club gang runs into Amanda on the way to find Sharon. Amanda is screaming up a storm because Prince Charming, her horse, is eating some grain and she can't get away because her hand is stuck in the halter. Yeah, I really have no idea if this was Allison's overactive imagination kicking into high gear, or if she was trying to demonstrate how infinitely dumb this character is supposed to be, but either way I was highly disturbed. Anyway, Max saves the day or something, and Amanda (who is 12 or 11 or 10) throws her arms around Max (who is also 12 or 11 or 10) and kisses him in front of the entire Short Slovenly Club and some other people, totally embarrassing the hell out of him. He runs away to the hay barn to quake in terror, where he finds some kittens. Joy. Here we learn that Sharon's Jack Russell, Earl, and the momma cat, Fancy, completely hate each other and try to kill each other at every opportunity. This is a plot point that will become important later on, so please make note of it.

Anyway, Keith finds Max and promises he won't ever tell anyone about Amanda kissing Max, especially Keith's older sister Haley, who is a gigantic bitch with a hideous haircut. This problem solved (unfortunately, I am not referring to the hideous haircut), the Squat Stirrup Club finally asks Sharon about the gymkhana, and of course she says yes, having no problem with letting four 10 year olds run a large event on her property. Excellent. She even agrees to supply tickets to the Olympics to the winning team. She is very endearing.

Off they all traipse to plan everything. Max is still unenthusiastic about this whole thing, and that night he has his terrible falling dream again. He wakes up early and bikes to Thistle Poop, determined to talk to Sharon because he is sure she will help him resolve his fear. She is getting ready to ride Quasar, her dressage horse that Max absolutely adores. Max is just about to ask her to help him defeat his personal demons when Megan shows up and interrupts, eager to get to work planning the gymkhana. Poor Max. While I don't necessarily emphasize with his plight, his sister really is totally annoying.

As opposed to doing any planning, Max shows his sister the kittens. Keith shows up looking very strange. Then Max gets to ride Quasar. Sharon sees him watching her train, obviously notices the giant boner he has for her horse, and decides she will let the 10 year old cool out her OLYMPIC HORSE. So she boosts Max into the saddle and then leaves him alone, unsupervised in the ring. Max is like, totally beside himself, except them Haley and her friend Taylor show up and start whispering ominously at ringside. Then Amanda shows up and his spidey sense really stars tingling. Sure enough, bad haircut and her boyfriend start taunting Max about Amanda kissing him. Turns out Keith told his sister. Bastard. Then, for absolutely no reason, Fancy and Earl decide to have a terrible fight right under Quasar. Max almost falls in front of his tormentors, but super Sharon saves the day. Max then jumps off and runs into the hay barn to sob and sob at the terrible plight that has befallen him. It really isn't an Allison Estes book unless someone cries.

Max wasn't the only one getting in touch with his girly side. Keith is also in the hay barn, hiding in a canoe. There's no way to explain that. He confesses to Max that he told Hayley and Max is instantly furious. I don't really blame him. He's totally pissy about it over the next few weeks while their team prepares for the gymkhana. Amanda comes to watch one day and laments that no one will be on her team. Yet another plot point. This book is heavy on the exposition. Anyway, one day Megan does a sliding stop in front of Popsicle, which sprays dirt all over his hindquarters. He spooks, Max almost falls, and at this point he's had enough. He quits the team.

Megan is not pleased. She calls him a chicken, then reminds him about the Olympic tickets, but he is tired of his friends/family disrespecting him, so he tells Megan to ask Amanda to be on the team, and then cries again. Megan takes him up on his dare and Amanda joins the Short Smarmy Club's team. Max goes to watch the gymkhana, and of course his old team is doing the best, despite the fact that Amanda is a terrible rider on a horse that she can't control. And, of course, their only competition is Tyler's team. Eye roll.

Then, during an obstacle course, Megan does something really dumb and gives herself a concussion. Oh no her team won't win the tickets. Except Max steps in and joins the team in her place, riding like a total daredevil, holding hands with Amanda in the final round and totally showing up Tyler to win the Olympic tickets. Joy. Then Fancy and Earl fight right under Popsicle and Max falls off for the first time ever, also solving that problem. Amanda gives him her ticket because her daddy can buy her one and now everyone can go to the Olympics. The end.

Points of Interest:
  • Max is the first character in the history of ever that actually thinks dressage is super awesome. Though this partly stems from his fear of doing anything remotely dangerous, good for him.
  • Sharon is the best rider ever and the best trainer ever and her lipstick is totally perfect and Max thinks to himself that if he were a grown-up he would think she was pretty. Clearly he doesn't quite understand yet the concept of lust. And also, why does this character have to be like this. I mean, why? I can remember hating her even when I was 11.
  • At one point Amanda says to Max, "I just knew you were a nice boy, even if you are a Yankee." Really? Seriously?
That is all for me with this series for now. It continues on for seven some books, but I don't know when I'll get back to it. Next up for me is Star in Danger. I am quaking in my boots.