by Alice Leonhardt
I was extremely reticent to move on to this book after Without Wonder, mainly because I can't really handle it when Alice Leonhardt writes Christina and she tends to turn Brad into a chaotic mess stuck somewhere between a serious, well-deserved power trip and drunkenness. I'll get to that later, because really, this book made me cackle out loud on several occasions.
I really dislike this cover for a multitude of very obvious reasons that Claire already pointed out in her review. Plus, it looks like Star is shying at the pot of flowers in the lower right corner. Like, holy crap, petunias! Unfortunately, this is totally in character for Star. He's a nut case.
Essentially: Special horse needs special treatment, but gets smacked with reality by dastardly, yet special, antagonist, thus the special horse prefers his special treatment that his special human deals out with special treats and specialness. Got it. After this book, I really am tired of the word special.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?
Okay, all that said, Alice should have stuck with Melanie. The last time she attempted Christina, we had Christina's Courage, and we know what a screwed up effort that was. However, I will say that Alice did a better job of it this time around, but it was touch and go there at the beginning because Christina is not willing to put up with this any longer, people. She wants her special horse back at his special farm now, and no dallying is going to placate her.
So we start off this installment yet another six months to a year after Without Wonder, or something like that. Really, all you need to know is that Christina is now 15. Parker is 17, Melanie is almost 16, etc. I guess I only mention their ages because I am always so shocked when the series skips years, given that it just spent twelve books on three months of time. More or less. I'm still desperately trying to adjust to these people actually being teenagers, and I've had a rather hard time of it. Anyway, it's March and everyone is eagerly anticipating Miss America giving birth to yet another foal that Melanie immediately names Miss Perfect, making me want to grab one of these authors and shake them repeatedly while screaming "Why do you name all your horses Perfect this, something's Heart or combine both words in some horrible attempt to sugar coat everything to death! WHY?" I'm really just waiting for someone to name a horse Perfeart, and the tragedy will be complete. Anyway, it's very obvious that Ashleigh is still shell shocked over Wonder and Mike is all "just drop it! don't upset her, for Christ's sake!" whenever Christina points out that Star might very possibly belong at Whitebrook. It's clear that they're all walking on eggshells, desperate to maintain a semblance of calm so Ashleigh won't flip out and do something they'll all regret. Whatever that may be.
So Christina visits Star at Townsend Acres and Brad is being all upbeat about his championship potential, calling him their next champion and next Derby winner and next Triple Crown winner and seriously, Brad, like whoa. You can bring down the cheerfulness just a little because you're wasting it on Christina, who is determined to be sullen about everything. Brad informs her that they are going to start backing Star and Christina immediately has a hissy fit right there about how it is ONLY SPRING. Holy hell. So she brings it up to everyone who is anyone and everyone agrees that Brad is awesome and Christina should shut up already. Okay, they obviously didn't say Brad was awesome. I said that. Because it's true. And Christina should shut up already. But Christina is not to be deterred, because she is a main character in a horse story, and we know their MO by now. She and Melanie go to Townsend Acres to check in on Star and nothing is well. In fact, everything predictably sucks. Townsend Acres is too perfect. Too clean. Too successful. Too heavenly. Clearly it must be spoiled and rotten inside the, um, hearts of all their employees and whatever, because Star is being abused. Of course. Here we go again, kids. Let's strap ourselves in, for this is going to be a wild ride.
So Christina pitches another fit and Mr. Dunkirk, Brad's trainer who is fat and good at his job but not good, if you get my meaning, is no help and Christina threatens that she's going to be back! With her parents! Later today! And, seriously, Christina, you don't say that. This gives them a chance to prepare. Any moron with a slightly functional brain would know to keep their mouth shut. Clearly Christina is challenged in this area. So she comes back with her parents and clearly the horse is just dandy, but clearly only Christina can pick up on Star's not being totally dandy. Personally, I got a huge kick out of this section because they arrive during some random party Brad is throwing at the main residence and this is what he has to say:
Coming up beside Christina, he put his arm around her shoulder. "What do you think? Are we taking good care of your baby?"Since he's been drinking what appears to be a lot of champagne, I can only conclude that Brad is smashed. That would really be the only way to explain this behavior.
Anyway, Mike and Ashleigh determine that Star is just fine. Christina does not accept this, and it takes Parker to explain to her that she's babied Star and he expects sweetness and light and doesn't really understand that life is not a boatload of rose petals all the time. Christina determines that it's all her fault. And, yeah, it might be Nana the goat's fault. God, Nana just won't go away. Parker then tells Christina that she should get a job at Townsend Acres as a groom and then he invites her on a private picnic, where they dash around on their horses and have this wonderful exchange that finally won me over a little more on the subject of Christina/Parker:
Christina: "That sounds like a date."And YES, I totally like this because he calls her Reese. Shut up. Parker then kills the mood by screaming whoowee, and then Christina totally does chicken out on the date and kills Parker's confidence, resulting in lots of confusion and annoying attempts to avoid each other.
Parker: "So? Are you afraid of a date, Reese?"
Christina: "No way." *dashes off on some race thing*
Christina then becomes a groom at Townsend Acres, getting the grand tour by none other than Brad himself as he carts Christina around in a truck while completely winning her over on the grand majesty of the farm. This results in this conversation:
Brad: "Why are you so interested in working with Star? Whitebrook has a lot of nice colts and fillies. Besides, I thought you and Parker were only interested in that eventing business."But just wait for it. Waiiiit...
Chris: "We are. But Star's special When Wonder died, my mom was so upset, she wanted nothing to do with him. I took over and kind of became his mom. I'm sure that sounds silly to a professional horseman like you."
Brad: "No. It sounds like someone we both know very well. She was younger than you when she fell in love with Wonder, but she was just as obsessed."
Chris: "My mom, right?"
Brad: "Right. I never had any idea what she saw in that crippled foal. I was pretty certain Wonder wouldn't amount to anything, and boy, was I wrong."
Brad: "Wonder's Star is going to be Townsend Acres' next champion. And no one is going to mess with that, especially not you."See, Alice can't get it straight with Brad. Nice, nice, nice...oops, too nice, let's swing all the way to evil! Brad isn't a psychopath, Alice. Please. Anyway, Christina learns all the military rules that Brad has suddenly decided to employ with Townsend Acres and Parker keeps delivering these ominous declarations of "he knows what you're doing all the time, Christina. he's watching you. he knows. he knows." Like, at this point I wouldn't be at all shocked if Christina woke up at night to find Brad sitting in the corner of her room, casually keeping tabs of her every movement and recording it all in a notebook entitled "Surveillance on the daughter of my arch nemesis/potential one time love interest."
Chris: "Wh-what do you mean?"
Anyway, so it becomes very apparent that Brad knows, you guys. He knows everything. He knows without even having a person there to witness things that may be going on. He is clearly a demi-god, or he's got some special super powers that I can't even begin to seriously ponder. And Christina has fallen under this spell, much to Parker's shock.
Christina: Maybe you never gave Townsend Acres a chance.The web of Brad! God, sign me up.
Parker: I should have known.
Christina: Known what?
Parker: That you'd get sucked into my father's web.
So Christina is all pissed about this, so she goes and long lines Star or whatever and almost gets trampled before Matt, random groom who is sweet and 18, comes in to sort of help her not get trampled. And Matt is cute. And adorable. And sweet. And Christina totally thinks he's cute, and then he takes her home on his motorcycle. And right here, right where she's clinging to his waist as he motorcycles her home, I started laughing. I didn't stop laughing for a while. Meanwhile, Melanie's all "Chris, you're dense." And Chris is all "Huh?" And Melanie smacks her head against a wall, or does the equivalent of this, probably, in private, and tells Christina that Parker is in love with her and she's motorcycling around with Matt, which Brad knows about because he knows everything? (Why does he care about this, is the grand question.) Christina, well, she just doesn't know. Then she does this Meadowbrook event with Sterling, but that sucks because she's not focusing on it and then Matt motorcycles out of nowhere to tell Christina that Brad is backing Star! Like, now! So Christina drops everything and Matt takes her back to the farm and she grabs his waist again and again I just die laughing.
Then the obvious happens. Brad is evil and is backing Star, but Christina demands that she help, resulting in Star flipping over and crushing the rider. Brad gets pissed at Christina for not controlling the horse...really it's just about everyone's fault at this point...and orders Parker off the farm when he comes to her defense. Then he orders Chris off the farm. Then Parker leaves in a huff, takes Christina with him and they drive back to Whitebrook and then back to the event, all the while having this "intense" (this is my "air quote" word for this conversation, not theirs, although I'm sure it totally would have been) talk about how much they like each other and then they start making out on the side of the road because it's so intense and their lives are so dramatic and Brad probably can see all of this happening in his super enhanced brain and is probably seething over it. Anyway, they get to the event after deciding to stop making out in the truck and Christina tells Ashleigh all about it and Mike tries to jump in to shield Ashleigh from the horror of having to deal with reality, but she stops him and they go off and save Star from Brad's handsome, long, wonderful fingers...yeah, I'm getting side tracked.
Okay, what really happened was Christina finds Star randomly still tied up with long lines or something, to the point that his nose is practically tied to his chest, something I really don't see happening at all, given that Brad sees and knows all and he's an amazing trainer given everyone's testimony and his singlehanded training job with March to Glory. I mean, seriously. So Christina cuts the lines and frees Star and Brad knows and shows up to defend himself or something and threaten her. Then Ashleigh comes in and everyone sort of goes still. At least I did. Brad and Ashleigh are interacting! My inner fangirl squees despite Parker over there being a downer with his "if you keep Star here you'll break his spirit, just like you did mine." And, you know, please. So Brad's getting it from all sides and he eventually just turns to Ashleigh and says, "She's your daughter, all right," which I find very weird. Like...what? Am I supposed to be reading into that as much as I did? So he also puts some conditions on giving Star back to Ashleigh. Like Star has to be phenomenal and win at least one of his first two races. Phenomenally. Or he's coming back to Townsend Acres. Ashleigh agrees. They pack up Star and go home to special Whitebrook to proceed with their training regimen of specialness.
- He was always polite to Christina, but whenever she saw him, she had a hard time being cordial in return. No freakin' kidding, Chris. Your overreaction to Brad being nice is legendary at this point.
- "Hmpf." Okay, Brad does not, under any circumstances, hmpf.
- On Brad and Wonder: "Didn't he try to make her lose one of her races on purpose?" Uh, no?
- On Ashleigh and Wonder: "I just remember what happened to Wonder when we pushed her too hard in training." Which was when?
- On Christina and Parker: She didn't know why one hug was making her feel so flustered. Chris, sweetie, you're fifteen. He's seventeen. If someone walked up and smacked her on the back of the head right now, it would be justified.
- On Christina and Brad: Would she have to call Brad "sir"? More important, would she have to do everything he told her to do? Oh, man, my brain went to a really bad place at this point. I am so ashamed.
- Christina has kissed many boys before Parker? What? Who are these many boys besides Dylan?
- Star rears and Brad immediately moves to shield his face. I couldn't help but think, "No! Not his beautiful face!" Yeah, I'm either pathetic or just that amused.