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.


Lei said...

Ian would lead Faith into the starting gate.

What the hell was that shit? Did Whitebrook fire Ian, and did he, in a fit of desperation, take up ponying as a way to make ends meet?

Ugh.. Lois. She wins the biggest Thoroughbred FAIL in the history of the series, I'm sure. Dumbass woman.

Mara said...

The whole racing scene was ludicrous. Even all this talk about Faith being, like, their best runner and stuff which leads the story to a maiden race? I can't see how Whitebrook Farm operates day to day, much less manages to break even, in Lois's world.

Molly said...

I always headdesk at the RIDICULOUS names that show up in these books. Heart of Stone isn't TOO bad, I guess. But do they have to call him "Stoney?" So goddamn stupid. (But not as stupid as calling the MALE Calm Before the Storm "Callie.")

Though it's true that a lot of racehorses have stupid-ass names. My friend's one OTTB is "Our Manuscript," which...why? What? Huh?

Mara said...


This book really is the worst when it comes to the bat shit crazy horse names. Just the fact that three names involve the word Heart and two names involve the word Perfect just makes me wonder how much sugar this woman was consuming while she wrote this. It's awful. Our Manuscript, comparatively, is heads and shoulders above this crap. (And that's saying something, because Our Manuscript? What?)

Molly said...

yeah. he's a great horse (seriously, i've seen videos of his race, it's like he's sprung fully-formed from joanna campbell's head! he won i think EVERY race he was in, and i've seen at least two where he led wire to wire. he's even grey!) with a really dumbass name. but he still got off better than "pride's perfection."

sundae_mourning said...

once upon a time, i wondered why Lois only wrote one book for the series. i don't anymore.

Mara said...


You know, it kills me that Lois is the only TB writer besides Joanna that has a website. It further kills me that she apparently gives writing workshops.'s too much for me to comprehend.

Anonymous said...

Whitebrook is totally bizzare. Any horse that comes in worse than second is OMGRZ...needs more training! Racing, and only racing, must me loved. Wonder is the Lord thy God. Whitebrook is perfect. Farms that are technologically advanced abuse their horses.

Anyway...if Whitebrook's SO GREAT and has so many horses running and the fuck does the WBF circle get to every damned race, even small ones? Most trainers monitor races from home, but somehow Ash, Mike, Chris, Mel, Sam and others get to every friggin race without monitoring the farm.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked this book. But these reviews are hilarious.