Oct 13, 2008

Well, we were due for another bad romance novel eventually.

Legends Lake
by JoAnne Ross
Published: 2001

I don't even have an opening statement for this.

In the exclusive world of horse racing, Alec MacKenna is known as a hardheaded trainer who cares more for an animal's welfare than the financial bottom line. After a public altercation with a callous owner leaves his career on the brink of ruin, Alec's only chance for redemption is Legends Lake, a thoroughbred with Triple Crown potential and a dangerous problem that could end both of their careers. Alec escorts the colt from the bluegrass hills of Kentucky to the emerald pastures of Ireland to meet the woman who bred him, in hopes that she may have the answers that will save them.

Kate O'Sullivan is happy to see her beloved horse come home, even under such disturbing circumstances. In spite of the irascible Yank who came with him, she has the feeling that something in her life is about to change forever. As Alec and Kate work to unravel the mystery of Legends Lake, they discover their shared concern for the troubled racehorse could turn into something extraordinary for each other.

We start our magical tale in Florida, where it's raining. Alec, our dashing romance male lead, does not like Florida, or rain, or lawyers. So it would come as a surprise that he's training horses exclusively for a lawyer, in Florida, in the rain. Apparently it's somewhere between January and March, given that we are told the name of a race (Orchid Handicap) that exists (really) despite all other real facts pointing to the overall surprise (not so much a surprise, but still) that Alec's filly should not be participating in this race given the fact that it's impossible. Despite this, Alec freaks out to the owner that he's not running the filly because it's raining and the race is going to be moved to the main track and the filly does not like mud because she has a mental block about it and the owner says "Tough. Run her." And Alec quits for no reason and the filly breaks down and dies. You might wonder what the point of all this is. I wondered also. I concluded that there are much better ways for someone to screw up their life. This was pretty lame.

Anyway, then we have Kate, who lives in Ireland (. . .) and she's a druid (. . .) and she sees gods riding glittery horses in the ocean (. . . yeah, I just don't know) and she's all freaking out because other Irish people want to remove this tree that is home to spirits. Spirits! See, I think I'm okay with this because it's so easy to mock. It's one thing to have Irish people talk about wee faeries, and it's another thing entirely for the Irish to genuinely have super powers and see immortals riding on waves and such. So Kate has two kids from her marriage that is going to be dissolved ASAP, which, in Ireland, is five years. Yeah, Ireland can cut its divorce ban out of its constitution, but it doesn't have to make it easy on people trying desperately to get out of relationships turned bad.

So Alec is off at his family farm that isn't his family farm because there are no horses there? Or something? I should say that Alec is part of some Scottish family that is obsessed with horses, but eventually his father became a drunk and accidentally killed one of their Secretariatesque horses, causing ruin and downfall for all involved. Until Alec came along and won the Triple Crown. Yes, that happened. With a horse called Go For Broke, possibly the stupidest name for a Triple Crown winner since Karen Bentley came up with Wonder's Champion. Thus the question is how much of a screw up does one have to be to take a Triple Crown victory and not be able to capitalize. Maybe poor Alec is just incompetent. Well, whatever, because he's being shunned now for punching his former boss (the evil Yankee lawyer, whom he shouldn't have entered an exclusivity contract with, obviously. . .dumb ass). But then this cute 90-year-old woman comes along with the most fantastical horse ever that will make everyone forget about Go For Broke and Secretariat! Ohmigosh! It's Legends Lake, a butt ugly horse who will clearly win the Triple Crown in...a matter of a few weeks! Despite being only in a claiming race earlier! And has some psychological trauma that makes him want to randomly jump the inside rail during a race. So cute old lady tells Alec to take the horse back to his breeder, Kate, who's all busy with this damn tree.

I should also mention that Alec has a stepdaughter, Zoe. He takes care of Zoe because her mom fell off a yacht and died. (This book is remarkably detailed, therefore allowing lots of room for mistakes.) He grabs Zoe and they go to Ireland with this horse, who has to win the Triple Crown so Alec can be put in the will for nice old lady's Kentucky farm. He meets Kate while she's busy singlehandedly warding off her soon-to-be ex-cousin-in-law from bulldozing the tree. She's wearing a dress and a cape with Celtic symbols on it. I think that's all we need to know there, except for when she summons lightning to scare the crap out of her legal and in no way significant relation. The tree is saved! Thank goodness. I didn't care.

Then we enter the period where girl/witch and boy/idiot dislike each other. This period always lasts for about a chapter and a half before one of them starts to accidentally fantasize or have erotic dreams about the other, thereby causing overreactions and more angst. In this case, Kate has the erotic dreams. I don't blame her really, as she's coming off an abusive relationship and is just now relearning that men can be worth while sometimes. Alec is unsure about Legends Lake getting any sort of help from Kate, and he's sort of peeved that Zoe is all amazed with Kate because Zoe is difficult and a teenager and has fuchsia hair or something and the last thing he needs is Zoe dabbling in witchcraft. Also, Kate spends a lot of time harping on pointless stuff...like spirits and how horses came to Ireland and how Ireland is SO MUCH BETTER than Kentucky, okay? She's like a textbook of irritating Irish facts. Naturally anyone not from Ireland would be all "SHUT UP ALREADY ABOUT YOUR DAMN IRELAND." I kept wanting Alec to launch into something like "o rly? Here's how horses came to America. And it's MUCH MORE INTERESTING, BITCH."

But this did not happen. In fact, after all of this I was pretty bored out of my mind. By about page 230, I more or less shut it down and skimmed very quickly to the end. So I did pick up the ever so important fact: Kate magics her way to understanding what's wrong with Legends Lake. His problem is that he was involved in a minor barn fire and was whipped before the fire, connecting the two events in his teeny tiny brain. This basically means he's afraid of whips. STUNNING. But blinkers are not enough to cure this animal of his fear. In fact, I don't know what cures him of it. He just sort of gets over it because he's in Ireland, where horses go to be cured of all their ills. Also, Kate and Alec have sex a lot. And Kate's soon-to-be ex-husband comes along and is threatening. Then he's murdered somehow. Then they all take Legends Lake to the Kentucky Derby and he wins. Then he wins the Triple Crown. And Alec and Kate procreate. And everyone is happy and successful and life is wonderful. Blah blah freaking blah.


  • Alec MacKenna was a gambler by nature and by choice. OF COURSE HE IS. All leading men in romance novels having to do with thoroughbred racing are gamblers. Way to not surprise me during your first sentence, JoAnn. I am so thoroughly thrilled now.
  • Page 5 is where I became convinced I would have to take extensive notes, because this is where JoAnn decided that her horse here, a filly named Lady Justice, is going to run in the Orchid Handicap, the Bourbonette Breeders Cup (there should be an apostrophe there, but she's not including it), the Apple Blossom, and then the Kentucky Oaks. You know what's significant here? IT'S CRAZY is what is so significant. The Orchid is a mile and a half race on turf for mares 4 and up, the Bourbonette is a Kentucky Oaks prep on dirt (at least, it was in 2001) at a mile, the Apple Blossom is a mile and a sixteenth on dirt for mares 4 and up. Besides the fact that this is impossible just by age limits and the fact that the Orchid is a turf race, all of these proposed races leading to the Oaks take place in late March/early April. How they're going to manage this schedule will probably include pumping that poor horse full of pain killers and hoping to God someone invents a time machine.
  • Not to mention, if it's somewhere between January and March, why is there a tropical storm hitting Florida?
  • Well, someone has seen footage of Go For Wand's breakdown. Lady Justice suffers the exact fate. To the letter.
  • She could have been a wee faerie sprite, performing a good-bye dance to the sea. How do people put up with this?
  • Kate helpfully informs us that she's not going to use artificial insemination at her stud farm, despite current industry trends. She's just going to keep doing it the traditional way because she's IRISH, damn it! Of course, she'd probably be dismayed to learn that artificial insemination isn't approved for thoroughbreds. YOU AREN'T SPECIAL, KATE. I DON'T CARE IF YOU CAN SUMMON LIGHTNING.
  • At one point Kate's ex-husband screams: "Tell me where she be off to, or I'll be killing you!" Oh, the Irish. They're even quaint when they're alcoholics in a homicidal rage.
  • Kate is upset that Legends Lake is a long shot for the Derby at 35-1. Knowing the Kentucky Derby, these odds are really really generous.
So that was some random supernatural crap in Ireland plus horse racing plus evil ex-husbands plus typical romance story. Naturally this didn't turn out well. I'm not even all that concerned with JoAnn's blatant disregard for facts, because that's just a given with horsey romance novels. Oh, and also, 'N Sync and Blair Witch Project 2 are mentioned. This didn't help matters. But what can you expect? This is written by a woman who admits in an author's note at the end of the book that she decided it would be way more convenient for the Kentucky Derby to take place during the Preakness Stakes in her book, because the IRISH HAVE FESTIVALS, PEOPLE. AND THEY ARE IMPORTANT. JoAnn, perhaps you should have realized that it was impossible for your damn horse to run in the Kentucky Derby anyway. Then maybe you could have, I don't know, had your characters attend all the Irish festivals they wanted and raced the horse in the Travers instead.

Anyway. I'm going to pretend this book didn't happen.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Haha, I had a really crappy day, and this review just made it so much better.

I do wonder if the Irish ever get sick of their "special magic" being hauled out for plot devices, as it seems to happen with overt frequency.

I remember two things about reading this book back in the day: 1) the two leads having graphic, mind-blowing sex about every 20 pages, including after a scene that would more likely have given the woman sexual trauma than the urge to do it, and 2) being kind of "wtf?" about the racing timeline, and the fact that no actual Kentucky Oaks and Derby prep races are adequately mentioned.

Whatever. I think JoAnn Ross must hate women, the Irish, and horses equally to have dealt with them the way she did.

Mara said...

I can only imagine the Irish just roll their eyes at stuff like this, or they're totally all about it.

Oh, yeah, there was some rough sex scene in a doorway or something that made my tilt my head and squint at it for a while. Mainly because this is a formerly abused woman who was apparently raped constantly, so I can't see how she'd ever suddenly decide that rough sex was okay. And Alec...ugh. He's way too "you're my woman now! let me beat up someone for you!" I don't get that appeal at all in romance books.

Plus, my one rule for horsey romance books set in the racing world is to follow the damn rules. You can't change the date of the Kentucky Derby for a festival. That's unprofessional in my opinion.