Feb 29, 2008

What does "financial deal" mean to you?, TB# 6: Wonder's Yearling

Wonder's Yearling
by Joanna Campbell
Thoroughbred #6
Original Publication: 1993

Thoroughbred #6 is another one of those unfortunately titled books. Wonder's Yearling. Yeah. Wonder gave birth, and that foal spent some time being a year old. What the hell does this have to do with Thoroughbred #6? Absolutely nothing. I will elaborate in a moment. But first, the cover:

I love this cover. It's my favorite Sammy cover, despite her irrational preference for denim and the whole riding school aspect of the background. However! It's got all the pretty beams of light and Pride looks precisely how I picture him in my head (despite him supposedly looking like Wonder and since Wonder never had a blaze the covers are technically all errors, but whatever). Still love it.

On to the summary:

Is this good-bye?

When Samantha McLean hears that her beloved horse, Wonder's Pride, is about to be sold by the owner of the farm where Samantha lives, she thinks her heart will break. But Samantha knows she has to be strong if she's going to save Wonder's Pride from the auction block.

The more Samantha finds out, the more hopeless the situation seems. It's not just Wonder's Pride, but all of the Townsend Acres breeding farm that's in danger of destruction.

Time is growing desperately short when Samantha turns to her friend Ashleigh Griffen, a legend in the Townsend Acres stables. Ashleigh is eager to help, but what can two young girls do to save an entire farm?

Okay, the great thing about this whole book is that the summary hints that Ashleigh and Samantha do something to save Townsend Acres. The thing is: they don't do anything. Well, if you want to count whining and/or freaking out as doing something, they do something. Otherwise the only person who actively saves Townsend Acres is Mr. Townsend, and what he does is never made clear. He just does something and presto! Saved farm! How easily it all falls into place when none of the main characters have to do much of anything at all.

In terms of plot, this one is pretty packed full of action:

#1. Townsend Acres is going to ruin. As it turns out, no one knows exactly why. It's left mainly to speculation, but one thing is for sure: Brad isn't helping. So, because the farm is going to ruin Mr. Townsend is forced to consider selling his interest in Pride and Wonder, which leads us to...

#2. Pride. Pride is like God in the form of a horse. Seriously, he's this seventeen hand giant with a "copper" coat and a "noble nose" and he does everything perfectly because he is the sublime horse and shows his amazing fantastical properties even before he's put to saddle! Oh, to be such a horse! So, anyway, everyone gushes on and on about Pride. Pride is going to be an amazing race horse, stud, and plans to author his own autobiography by the time he's three. If you're not gushing over Pride, you're plotting to buy him or sell him. Which leads us to...

#3. Brad! Oh, it's been too long. So, everything bad in this book either happens because Brad caused it or because Brad is somehow vaguely involved. He spends a lot of time pushing grooms around (this is like what he does as a favorite past time), driving around in his Ferrari, making poor hiring decisions, buying crappy racehorses because he "can't see talent" or something, glaring at Pride at every opportunity, and arguing with Ashleigh in private. Which could very well mean they're shagging like crazy in some dark corner. We don't know. It's Brad we're talking about here, so anything is possible.

Oddities:
  • Samantha has an unusually large role in Pride's training. As in she appears to be the only person involved in his early yearling training. This is a 14-year-old girl and a multi-million dollar racehorse here. Then it's justified by reminding us that Ashleigh "helped" train Wonder. Obviously the fact that she was only allowed to "help" after Wonder was cast aside as auction-bound was forgotten.
  • Since when does Hank have any opinion that counts? He's a groom. No one cares.
  • Townsend Prince dies, giving everyone the chance to feel sympathetic to Brad for about five seconds and reassure each other that they always thought Prince was "a nice horse" but unfortunately not as good as his half-sister. Never mind that Wonder isn't actually his half-sister. And wow, everyone is so full of crap in the first four chapters of this book.
  • Townsend Prince was turning into "one of their best" stallions. He's six years old when he dies, and if he went into stud at four that would mean his first foals are yearlings. You will notice that not one yearling or weanling on the farm is mentioned as one of Townsend Prince's. The horse should have over two hundred foals on the ground by now and not a one of 'em mentioned. How flipping great could he have been?
  • Pride is so great that even his nose is "noble."
  • *gasp!* Mr. Townsend wants to sell his interest in Wonder and Wonder's Pride. But, doesn't he understand she's a champion and the best mare on the farm? (Never mind she's only had one foal who is currently only two...does not a "best mare" make, in my opinion.) Why, yes! Yes, I think he does get that, Sammy. Hence why he's selling his share.
  • He'd "never sell" the stallions because they make so much on stud fees. Yeah. Because selling stallions is not a financial goldmine at all and is never done. Nope. Never.
  • Suddenly all of Wonder's earnings are in a trust fund. When the hell did this happen and how did Ashleigh buy Fleet Goddess if she didn't have access to that money?
  • Great. Now Wonder is the most valuable mare on the "East Coast" at around $2 million. Again, she's only had one foal, which has not raced. The facts astonish and delight me.
  • Okay, so let's tally the awful things that Brad has done in this book: bought two worthless colts for too much money and thus singlehandedly screwing his own farm, hired a mean/abusive breeding manager, gave said breeding manager a heads up when his work was to be inspected, which could be construed as simply making an appointment but is viewed as suspicious behavior by everyone, naturally. Wow, Brad's on a roll! Way to be needlessly, stupidly evil!
  • Ashleigh always assumes her opinions and plans don't count compared to Mr. Townsend/Brad's plans or the proposed new half-owner's plans. She owns half-interest, giving both owners equal control and she always acts second class. Perhaps that's why she has the problems she does. Step up to the plate, Ashleigh. Stop whining and put your damned foot down for once.
  • No one seems to really grasp the nature of foreclosure. Stuff happens, people. Stop whining about how it's not fair.
  • "Well, there's still a chance Townsend will come to his senses." How, Charlie? By magically making money appear out of nowhere?
  • Ah, Samantha's going on a date with Tor and insisting it isn't a date. Where have we seen this before?
  • Maureen asks: "Are you two talking horses again?" Yvonne says: "You have something against horses?" Maureen backpedals: "You know I like horses." I can just see Yvonne curling her fingers into fists and adding "bitch!"
  • Joanna seems to forget that Brad, as heir to the farm, owns half of Pride. Why would people say he wanted to sell the Townsend share in Wonder & Pride if it bothers him the "best" two-year-old is in "Ashleigh's and Charlie's hands"? He owns the freaking horse also. Get a clue, people.
  • Samantha tells Tor about how the Townsend Acres operation works, and he remarks that she knows a lot about it. She only lives at the farm. It's like being surprised when you ask someone where the bathroom in their house is and they actually know. This is first proof that Tor is a giant asshole.
  • *gasp!* Brad is showing Pride to a prospective buyer! The new guy is wearing a tailored "topcoat" and is wearing a gold ring. Wow, expensive things! This man is obviously wealthy, Samantha figures. I am knocked over by Samantha's superior skills of deduction!
  • Apparently no one ever, ever visits the broodmare barn at Townsend Acres.
  • Ashleigh can "feel the tension" between her and Brad. No kidding, Ash. I've been feeling it for six books now.
  • "Brad was obnoxious and arrogant, and liked to tell all the stable hands how to do their jobs." I feel like I just stumbled onto Joanna Campbell's character profile of one Bradley H. Townsend. Thank you for reiterating Brad's flaws on page 127 of book number 6, Joanna. Kinda knew that stuff already, thanks!
  • Ian: "It's no secret that Brad and I don't get along..." Really? Because I haven't actually seen them go at it recently...or at ALL.
  • So, I feel compelled to point out, Mike's got a foal out of a Secretariat mare. Yay. And because of these bloodlines he will be godlike and...oh, wait. Is this foal Sierra? Never mind.
  • Charlie, Maddock, and Ian team up and insult Brad all at once. Go team! Brad fires Ian! Drama ensues!
  • Pride is like the equine equivalent of a mood ring. Honestly, how freaked out can a horse get over a groom change?
It all turns out well in the end, of course. Wonder's Pride runs in his first race, as per the usual Thoroughbred ending, wins and gets a blown kiss from Samantha. Everyone wins (including Brad, if you tilt the plot a little and squint) and all is well.

In the end, Wonder's Yearling is the first book where the stage begins to shift over to Whitebrook Farm, moving the Ashleigh vs. Brad rivalry to a Townsend Acres vs. Whitebrook Farm rivalry. Only, it's still all about Ashleigh and Brad, because really Mike is only lucky to acquire the horses he gets through Ashleigh and Brad has unlimited resources. So I guess you could say the rest of the series is really about Ashleigh and Brad's unresolved "tension" and how hilarious is that?

Feb 26, 2008

DUDE, Where’s My Horse? - Ashleigh #3: Waiting for Stardust

Ashleigh #3: Waiting for Stardust
by Joanna Campell (with help from Mary Newhall Anderson)
First Printing: February 1999

So I’m actually tackling two books today. You see, Mitch was getting a little lesson in patience in the crossties, so I killed time by reading a book about a girl who gets a horse because she’s too “big” for her pony which is incredibly ironic considering I had a horse and now have a pony because horses are too “big” for me. So, onwards, snark-wards ho!

Can any horse replace Lightning?

Giving up Lightning was the hardest thing Ashleigh Griffen has ever done. Nothing can replace her beloved mare, and nothing anyone can say or do will make Ashleigh fell better. How can Ashleigh ever fulfill her dream of becoming a jockey without a horse to ride?

Even Mona, Ashleigh's best friend, has her own horse now. Ashleigh feels left behind and lonely. Is there a horse out there for Ashleigh -- one she can love as much as Lightning?

The Cover:
It’s a very bland, generic cover really. Firstly, we see a brown-haired girl in front of a stall, it’s Ashleigh of course. She seems to suffer whatever fate Thoroughbred series characters seem to suffer when it comes to their hair. First it was dark brown and kind of wavy, and then it was very dark brown and very straight. And now it’s sort of a chestnut-brown and slightly wavy. What kind of hairdresser does this kid have? Does Caroline secretly practice hairstyles on an unsuspecting victim like her sister? Secondly, that’s a very unflattering-looking horse. FHOTD candidate, anyone? The cats, well, the cats are cute, and obligatory because you know how there has to be cats around a barn to catch mice. In short, it’s a very blah and uninspiring cover with very little action. If it weren’t the fact that it’s a series book, it wouldn’t ever catch my eye.

The Big Picture Plot:
So it’s Christmas, and Lightning has gone, Ashleigh gave her away to the cancer treatment center for those kids to love and adore (horses are healing power!) and thus she only has herself to blame if she feels sorry for the fact that she doesn’t have a horse. Ashleigh and Rory go outside to ride Moe, and Ashleigh still feels sorry for herself because she’s riding a pony. And then, lo and behold, Mona gets a Thoroughbred for Christmas, and can’t help but rub it in. Ashleigh goes to visit the next day, and Moe gets hurt through a careless and selfish act of Ashleigh’s. This of course means that Rory hates her, he said so, and he even hits her (ah, fantastic, domestic violence from a 5 year old) Ashleigh has also lost her allowance because it’s going towards Moe’s vet bills.

And then Mona calls; fur flies and hot tempers boil over. And Ashleigh slams down the telephone (hurrah, ten year old drama, they’re just getting started, give them another 3 years and it’ll be even better) and now they’re both in a snit at each other. And it’s not long before Ashleigh throws herself into working around the barn, mainly because she doesn’t have a best friend to hang out with anymore. And this in turn means that she can now fix up a stall for a new horse. But who is this mystery creature?

Why, it’s a pretty half-Thoroughbred mare that Ashleigh decides she’s going to name Stardust. Except, she doesn’t get along so famously with this horse. Who apparently Does. Not. Like. Her. And Mr. Griffen gets the story; it’s another abusive person, but this time, a girl Ashleigh’s age. Hurrah! And they resort to the tool that every single Natural Horsemanship guru from Pat Parelli to Clinton Anderson endorses – the round pen! Double hurrah!

And then Ashleigh tries to ride Stardust because Mona talks her into it, and she can’t! So she yells and screams at Mona again (way to go Drama Llama!) so they aren’t talking to each other again. But at long last, Ashleigh gets to ride Stardust and together they save Rory from a storm. Hurrah! Stardust can stay! Plus, Kurt is leaving, and they get a new hired hand named Jonas.

Some Key Points of Interest:
  • Yet again, we have an example of Whips Are Very Very Bad™ only now, it’s a young girl about Ashleigh’s height and age under the direction of a trainer. Because clearly, everyone else is a lazy villainous slob who prefers to flog their horses to death to make them do what they want, when our heroines win equine hearts and minds through love alone.
  • Poor Moe. For the first two books, he was a Welsh/Shetland pony just under 13 hands (so hey, 12.3 hands – medium pony height) and now, he’s been regulated to an ordinary Shetland because everyone knows Shetlands are tiny little ponies, and what better way to make the reader feel sorry for Ashleigh than to put her on a Shetland.
  • Once again, we are reminded that ponies are the Evil Kiss of Death™ because Ashleigh is too “big” for her pony, and spends her entire time feeling sorry for herself because she doesn’t have a “real” horse. Off hand, I think this is part of the American culture, why settle for a pony when you should have a horse. In an almost freak contrast, it’s not uncommon in the UK and Europe to see grown women in their 20s and upwards riding the native ponies. Maybe the Brits and Euros are smarter than the Yanks.
  • Frisky is about 16 hands. But just for the sake of argument, let’s say she’s 16.1hh and Silver is 13.1hh. That’s a difference of three hands. That means that Frisky is roughly a foot taller than Silver at the withers. To put it all in perspective, a horse that is 16.1hh at the withers is about 64.4 inches at the withers. And their head is probably about another 6 or 12 inches higher. So, essentially, the horse stands 64.4 inches at the withers. I am 5-foot, 6-inches. I am roughly 66 inches tall, at the top of my head. I can barely look over the withers of a 16.1 hand horse. On average, a 10 year old girl is about 10 inches shorter than I am. How the hell can a 10 year old child saddle a 16.1 hand horse. Why is she even riding this animal? Send her back to the ponies post haste!
  • Speaking of heights, why are horses “over 15 hands” or “16 hands at least” in this book? I know Thoroughbreds are taller on average, but everything is either 15 hands and up making it a horse or 13 hands and under and is therefore a pony. Where is the 14.3 hand horse? The perfect size? Why do these kids complain about having ponies and wanting a “real” horse? They ought to take my little tank for a spin, he’s small, but mighty and moves like a warmblood. But on that score, who decides the sizes of these horses? Who measures them? Expert Village’s “expert” Sarah Stettner?
  • Ashleigh and Mona are extremely catty towards each other in this book. It doesn’t bode well for future installments if they’re already yelling and screaming at each other at this point of the third book in.
All in all, I did not like this book. Ashleigh was incredibly selfish, and needed the Waaaahmbulance far too often for my frame of mind. It just seemed like every single page we're being bombarded with how much Ashleigh's life sucks because she doesn't have a 15+ hand horse. Boo hoo for her. Mona's acting like a smug little 'tard to boot. They're freaking 10 year olds for god's sake, not high school drama queens -- not even middle school yet. They need to chill. Totally. But it is over! Ashleigh has a horse, we can all cheer and make noise now. Rah. And coming up: Death comes to Edgardale.

Dear Santa: I Can Has Horse Now, Plz? – Ashleigh #2

Ashleigh #2: A Horse For Christmas
by Joanna Campell
First Printing: December 1998

Will Ashleigh lose the horse she loves?

When Ashleigh Griffen first found Lightning, the poor mare was thin and sick. But now, because of Ashleigh's loving care, Lightning is a beautiful, healthy horse. Ashleigh dreams of all the wonderful things she will do once her family has officially adopted the mare.

But then the humane society announces that they've found another home for Lightning--and they're going to take her away right before Christmas! Ashleigh is frantic. How can she make them understand that Lightning belongs to her?



The Cover:

Firstly, I really wish I could find a copy of the full image of the cover art. It’s a real doozy considering you only see about half of it. But if you happen to be holding the book in your hands, flip it over, and check out the whole picture on the back cover. Fantastic, isn’t it? So just who is that blond child sitting on the horse? The brown-haired girl is obviously Ashleigh who looks far older than a mere 10 years of age, is child #2 Rory or some random kid that will pop up in the story like Kira, perhaps? Also, that riding helmet looks as if it was added after the fact, did some safety conscientious person scream in horror and flip their lid? (OMG, Teh Safetees!!!!) Never mind that there is no actual chinstrap on that helmet; if Ole Dobbin there (but wait, that’s Lightning, she wouldn’t ever hurt a fly) bucked, that helmet would go flying up and off before the kid did a faceplant into the ground. Secondly, you really ought to see the entire cover art; there is no saddle blanket at all, and from what I see, a cinch would be vitally important to keep that sucker on that pony’s back. Without it, the helmet will go flying, followed by the kid, who would then have the ignoble embarrassment of having a Western saddle dumped on top of them. Isn’t it wonderful?

The Big Picture Plot:
Ashleigh has saved Lightning from the horrible evil bad owner, and she’s been taking a lot of good care of her. Lightning has gained weight, put on muscle, and she’s really really pretty now (because of course, every little girl wants a beautiful white horse) and Ashleigh is already making plans to what she will do when the Humane society lets the Griffens adopt her. We’re told that Lightning is not a pure Thoroughbred, and Ashleigh thinks that just having a dished muzzle means she’s probably got some Arabian in her (but you can bet she’s really probably just a grade mare – nothing wrong with that, but why oh why do people automatically go for the Arabians and Thoroughbreds?) Mona comes over to visit, and of course there’s the usual speculation about how Ashleigh will ride in the Kentucky Derby when she gets older.

But all is not well in future-jockeyland, Ashleigh overhears some Humane Society people talking with her parents about a home for Lightning, and she worries about it while watching a horse race that one of their former horses is running in. Finally, after the race, she confronts her parents, and turns on the hystronics about taking care of Lightning. Kurt hints that there might be other people interested in Lightning, but brushes it off (it really builds the suspense!)

Ashleigh keeps working with Lightning, and they finally get her saddled, and finally ridden. But then some rich Society donors show up, and Ashleigh gets lippy with them, and worries some more. And then it’s off to the Keeneland Yearling Sales for the Edgardale yearlings to be sold. And then Ashleigh’s parents take her over to Hopewell Center, a center for children with cancer, and those people want Lightning too. Ashleigh meets a girl named Kira, and everyone goes crazy over Lightning, not knowing that she might be theirs. The Hopewell kids come to visit Edgardale, and at long last, Ashleigh decides to give Lightning to them. There’s a Christmas party, and she gives Lightning to them, wrapped up with a bow.

Some Key Points of Interest:
  • Did you know that Lightning stands just a little over 15 hands? Joanna tells us this multiple times. And yet Ashleigh has to stretch to put the saddle on her back, I think she needs to stay with the ponies for a few more years. Besides, what’s a few inches more or less between horse and pony size anyway?
  • Slammer, Wanderer’s black yearling who sells at Keeneland, is sold for (and I quote) “Slammer had gone for more than twice the price the Griffens had expected: two hundred thousand dollars. It was a breathtaking amount of money.” – I gotta ask, was both Coolmore and Godolphin conspicuously absent from Keeneland that year? I mean, $200,000 isn’t exactly pocket change, but it’s small potatoes in a multi-million dollar horse market known for some pretty intense bidding wars.
  • Once again, Ponies are the Kiss of Death™ because Mona says she "needs" a full-sized horse. Now, this is a 10 year old kid who’s pony isn’t exactly pint-sized. Silver is 2 hands shorter than Lightning. That puts her at 13.1 or 13.2 hands, and therefore in the medium-to-large pony range. If you ask me, Mona’s full of herself. And this is coming from a grown adult to rides a pony. Ponies are fun!
  • Go Gen’s filly sold at auction. We know she has a filly because we are told this on page #49. And then again on page #50. And on page #51. C’mon, Joanna, give kids some credit. I know TV and stuff has made it hard for them to remember things sometimes, but surely they can’t have forgotten that Go Gen has a filly so quickly that you need to repeat it three times in as many pages.
  • This book ends with a soft whicker and lovey dovey moment as Ashleigh gives up the horse she loves.
And thus ends Ashleigh #2: A Horse for Christmas. Except it was not Ashleigh who got the horse for Christmas, but rather the Hopewell kids. And now, tension shall build as Mona is surely about to get a real live full-sized horse while Ashleigh gave up the horse she could have had, and is stuck with Moe, the pony. Woe and angst full speed ahead in "Waiting for Stardust" which shall be read shortly. But in the mean time, I have a pony to pay attention to. Ponies rule!

Feb 20, 2008

The New Kid in Dullsville, TB #5: Ashleigh's Dream

Ashleigh's Dream
Thoroughbred #5
by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1993

Welcome to the first book post-Wonder. The series skips forward more than a year in Ashleigh's Dream, and we've got a new horse to worry about: Fleet Goddess. We've even got a new kid that takes the series for a bit of a test drive in this installment, although for the moment it's still more or less our neurotic Ashleigh holding the reins.

Here's the cover:


Yeah, it doesn't make any sense. The only thing really neat about it is that everyone of much importance (besides Charlie, who is old and therefore not on any book cover) is depicted. Wonder and her foal are in the background, Samantha (the new kid) sits on the fence staring all dreamy eyed at Fleet Goddess and Ashleigh, who inexplicably appears in her racing silks. There is no reason why she'd be wearing racing silks on the farm. Other thoughts: Samantha is wearing cowboy boots, Ashleigh's hair is suddenly dark blond/light brown and very big. Also, when does Samantha's hair become curly?

Anyway, sort of a hodgepodge of stuff going on there.

The Summary:

Can Samantha ride Fleet Goddess to victory?

When Ashleigh's horse, Wonder, gives birth to a beautiful foal, Ashleigh is thrilled. She's raising Wonder's colt, racing as an apprentice jockey, and she's even looking out for young Samantha McLean. Samantha moved to Townsend Acres with her father after her mother died in a riding accident. When Ashleigh buys a filly named Fleet Goddess, Samantha helps train the horse.

Samantha loves horses, but since her mother's death, her father has forbidden her to ride. Then Ashleigh is injured, and Fleet Goddess can't train. Samantha is desperate to take over. Is there any way she can convince her father to let her risk riding again?

Okay, that first question? The answer is no. No, Samantha can't ride Fleet Goddess to victory. Why? Because Samantha is thirteen. The rest of it is remarkably true to the book, which is either because someone actually managed to write a good blurb or because the plot of the book was basically to transition from book four to book six and introduce us to Samantha.

The plots:

#1: Ashleigh and Charlie are bored. Wonder quit racing in the spring of her four-year-old campaign, so given that she just gave birth to her first foal they've had a lot of time to twiddle their thumbs and work with claimers. So Ashleigh has all this money from the two races Wonder won while she co-owned her and decides, hey, she's going to buy a horse with some of this money. So she buys a horse. She and Charlie are no longer bored.

#2: Say hello to our next main character: Samantha McLean. Samantha is thirteen years old, with a mane of fiery red hair (that may or may not be curly). Her father is an assistant trainer, newly relocated from a relatively unsuccessful life in Florida to train at Townsend Acres. Her mother recently died, leaving a gaping void of angst over whether or not Samantha will be able to ride a horse. Because riding is dangerous, you see. Who would have thought running around on the back of a flighty animal might end in tragedy once in a while? So Samantha struggles with her father and wants to help Ashleigh train Fleet Goddess, but can't because she's been forbidden to ride. What's a rebellious teenager to do in this situation? She rebels.

Shockingly, Brad is not a big part of the book. He pops up to harass some grooms and manages to make Ashleigh's life inconvenient for a few minutes, but that's it. Really, it was not satisfying.

Oddities:
  • It took Ashleigh "a lot of thought" to come up with the name Wonder's Pride. I certainly hope she didn't strain herself.
  • What is it with the anti-whip obsession? You have one horse that's whip shy and I get it...really, I do. It happens. Now Charlie doesn't like to use whips on any of his horses. ANY of them. Apparently there are only two options available to a rider when training/riding a horse in the Thoroughbred series: beat the horse up with a whip or whisper loving speeches in its ear. Of the two, only the loving speeches work.
  • More fun with hair styles! Corey has "slicked" her short hair away from her face, and Jennifer has "piled" all of hers on top of her head. At least there are no combs to be found.
  • Jennifer is such the typical blond airhead. Currently she's planning on majoring in fashion design, but for some reason hasn't realized that one needs to take science classes to graduate from high school. That's Jennifer for you. A real go getter.
  • Some of the grooms don't think Fleet Goddess will do much. I'm all astonishment.
  • Brad's home from college for the summer! Brad's home from college for the summer!
  • "Frankly, I don't know why any girl would want to go out with him." "Because he's cute and he's loaded. And he's not all bad," Caroline admitted. "Can't convince me." If this conversation exists in different formats in every book for the past five books it isn't reminding people that Ashleigh thinks Brad's good looking but would never date him because he's an asshole. It's bordering on protesting too much.
  • Charlie is suffering from a mystery illness, one that even Ms. Campbell can't figure out.
  • Charlie's "got to be near seventy"? What? I always pictured Charlie being well past seventy.
  • Oh, Brad. Yelling at a groom because you don't like the way he's cleaning tack? Isn't there something else Brad could be doing with his time? Micromanaging grooms just doesn't seem evil enough.
  • So we finally get our first Brad and Ashleigh angry interaction on page 102 (oh, it's been too long) and while the problem was minor I have to say I agree with Brad. The farm is going to go into financial distress in the next book, something that has been hinted at all over this book, and Ashleigh's over there using the farm's exercise riders for a horse the farm has no interest in. Further, Ashleigh's only paying for Fleet Goddess's feed. And of course Brad is jealous of you, Ashleigh. He got stepped on in all ways possible in the last book and then found out he has to share Wonder and all her foals with you, whom he hates, for the rest of his life. I'd say the poor asshole has a lot on his plate. Hire your own freaking rider if you have enough money for two educations and a racehorse and can pay Samantha to groom said racehorse, then stop bitching! ...oh, that would negate the plot of the book. Oops. *shrugs*
  • What happened to Chad?
  • Finally, some trouble in paradise for Ashleigh and Mike. All's perfect before you throw in a horse the boy casually doesn't believe in.
  • Okay, so first Alydame is in a horse's pedigree and then she's suddenly running in the race. Hum...
  • The race calls in this book are just really bad. No one talks like that. No one has the time to talk like that.
  • And Fleet Goddess wins! Take that, Mike!
  • No whinnies of joy at the end of this book. Instead there's crooning and grinning and the like. I feel a little let down.
First thought: this book was dull.
Second thought: Ashleigh never reconciles with Mike at the end. She gives him the cold shoulder literally three pages before the end of the book and that's that. No one knows how to resolve conflict in this series.
Third thought: whips. They carry one all the time, but they hate them and only use them in case they have to which, for anyone interested, means only flicking the crop next to the horse's eye. In order to, you know, win the race they're riding in. If someone ever used a crop properly everyone would probably fall into hysterics immediately afterward.

So that's Ashleigh's last book, which is basically just a transition into Samantha and Wonder's Pride and more interesting plots. Financial distress, here we come!

Feb 10, 2008

*gasp!* Mara's Reviews on Hold!

Due to a rather sudden move across state, my Thoroughbred books accidentally found their way to my aunt's house (don't ask; it was very sudden and obviously disorganized). The problem here is I live in Pittsburgh. She lives outside Allentown. That, for anyone not willing to Google that distance, is five hours away.

So I will be putting my reviews on hold for a while and Lei and Monique will take over the entertainment for the time being with their Ashleigh Series and random book reviews. Or at least until I can get myself to a worthwhile library.

Ashleigh the Wonderkid Takes on Horse Abuse: Ashleigh #1

Ashleigh #1: Lightning's Last Hope
by Joanna Campell
First Printing: October 1998



Can Ashleigh protect Lightning?
Ashleigh Griffen thinks horses are the most wonderful animals in the world. She can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt a horse. So when Ashleigh discovers Lighning living in a filthy stall on a neighbor's farm, she can't ignore the horse's suffering.

Ashleigh knows Lighning isn't her responsibility. But Ashleigh is sure that Lighning's life is in danger is she stays with her abusive owner. How far will Ashleigh go to save the beautiful horse?

Hey all! I'm proud to be able to contribute to the project here, and have taken on the task of reviewing the the Ashleigh series. The Ashleigh series was a spin-off of Thoroughbred; of a time before Wonder, and Whitebrook Farm and Townsend Acres, and was something of a time bubble in which Ashleigh never aged past 11. The events that started Thoroughbred are never expected to happen -- and so we can expect our heroine will live in blissful contentment at Edgardale for the rest of eternity.

But first we begin with the story of Ashleigh the Wondergirl taking on horse abuse! Joanna Campbell returns from whatever black hole that life has drawn her into to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the case may be these days) and thus the Ashleigh series is born at the whim of the publishers who wish to capitalize off the original series' fame.

But before anything else, we must kick off with a look at the cover. It's a white horse! (After all, the horse hero of the book must surely be white, next to black isn't that color what every little girl dreams of riding when it comes to horses?) Now, one can draw a guess that Lightening (who looks remarkably well cared for considering she's "living in a filthy stall" ) must get her name from her color, and not the fact that she's fast. Also, one wonders at the genius who decides to sit on a horse presumably bareback without reins on the bridle. Not even a lead rope. That horse takes off, girl is toast. I can only draw the conclusion that it is meant to be some kind of romantic image of what owning a horse is really like, but yet fails to touch on why it would be any "last hope."

The Big Picture goes as follows:

After establishing our heroine as a horse-crazy girl with a pony named Moe, and an equally horse-crazy best friend named Mona, we find the two of them on a trail ride, where they discover a deer path in the woods. Exploring it the following Saturday, they come across a dilapilated farmhouse and barn (complete with junked out old cars that just screams Kentucky redneck) and a skin-and-bones horse who despite this still has "excellent conformation." But lo' before our heroines can abscond with the poor creature, the mare's seedy villainous owner arrives, and threatens them with a shotgun. (*gasp!*) and warns them never to come there again.

Later, Ashleigh has a dream about the horse, and it seems Mona does too (as if Lightning were the next Pet Psychic in Horse form), but when our intrepid girls can attempt a return to the farm, they are confronted with the seedy man whipping Lightning! (Oh noes ... whips!) They make several more visits to the horse, sneaking hay and grain to her. And again later, when Ashleigh returns alone, she finds the man beating the horse again. She finally spills the beans to her parents, and Kurt (the hired hand) brings the horse to the farm.

And everyone lives happily ever after, Ashleigh gets to go to the Derby to see a horse the family bred run on the under card, and dreams of owning a chestnut filly that wins the Derby (because we just have to throw in every single reference to the actual series after all!) Everyone is safe and sound and happy ... at least until the next time.

Some Key Points of Interest

  • Once again, we confront the fact that Whips are Bad™ -- because after all, everyone who uses them must be an absolutely evil person. Takes a lot, I'd say to flog a horse to the point of injury/breaking skin and bleeding sores. Lightning's owner had gray hair, and it sounded like he wasn't in the best of health. Makes me wonder how he'd manage to whip a horse, except that whips are of course evil, and somehow he manages to do it.


  • Ponies are the kiss of death. I mean, these girls have a wonderful home to live at, with horses right at their finger tips (even the townie friends keep their ponies at a stable) -- something your average girl (and most likely the reader of this book) can only dream about, and they spend half the time griping about how they can't wait to get a real horse.

  • Everything of course must be set up for a dramatic finale. Ashleigh won't tell her parents, but Kurt follows them, but doesn't get involved until the very end. Of course, if Ashleigh had told her parents right away, there would have been no story.

  • Lightning's owner was using her to pull a block-and-tackle to lift car parts. Why someone would pick a Thoroughbred/light weight riding horse to do this job rather than a draft or a draft-type pony, I'll never know. He also didn't seem to feed her very well, which meant he wasn't long on brains. By feeding the horse, it meant it has enough strength to do the job. But no .... he has to resort to the Evil Whip™

I still fail to see how this was Lightning's last hope in any way? It's all too neat and cut and dry to me. Ashleigh doesn't want to admit anything to her parents because she's afraid she'd get in trouble for being a "horse thief" but somehow repeatedly trespassing on someone else's property is A-OK. But hurrah, finally the police get involved, and Kurt just goes and takes the horse. And now she gets to live with Ashleigh. For now. On to book 2!

Feb 3, 2008

TB #24: The Horse of Her Dreams

While Mara works her way through the earlier books, I thought I'd take a crack at the first official New Generation book.

The Horse of Her Dreams
Thoroughbred #24
by Allison Estes
Original Publication: 1998




Will Christina take a chance on Sterling Dream?

Twelve-year-old Christina Reese is the luckiest girl in the world.She lives at the Whitebrook Farm with her dad, Mike, and her mother, Ashleigh Griffen, one of the most famous jockeys ever. And when Christina asked for a horse for her birthday she got Wonder's Legacy, the last foal of her mom's famous racehorse, Wonder.

But Christina doesn't
feel so lucky. Everyone expects her to become a jockey, but Christina wants to be an Event rider. All she needs is the perfect horse. Then she sees Sterling Dream, a beautiful gray mare who's being forced to race against her will. Will Christina risk everything she has to take a chance on a Dream?


Ok, um... is it a traditional thing for whoever writes these things to kind of gloss over the whole plot? I mean, really.

Summary

Basically, poor little Christina has outgrown her pony, Trib. She really wants to event, but as far as she is concerned, she will not get another horse due to the fact that she has ownership of Ashleigh's Wonder's very last (for now) colt. Christina's instructor, Mona (of the pre-TB fame), decided to let Chris ride her super event horse, Foster. During this time, we also meet Dylan, the 12-year-old love interest with a strange fetish for chaps. Christina also has the token best friend, Katie, who's only real purpose in this book is a reason for Christina to go on about Dylan and how, like, amazing he is.

Christina gets invited to some dance with Dylan and she also has her very first event coming up. But then, she decides on a whim to take her racehorse, Legacy, for a ride to see what it would be like to ride her very own horse. Legacy bolts with her (is anyone surprised?) and jumps over a fallen tree. Christina decides to jump him again and decides that he will never be a jumper, which is pretty silly, given the fact that any horse can be taught to jump. Anyway.

Her parents find out, get mad, but she goes unpunished. But then! She HAS to go to New York to watch Legacy race! And she will miss her event and the dance with Beau Dylan! Woe!

In New York, she hangs with her cousin, Melanie, who at this stage has more personality than any other TB character to date. Mel, the feisty girl, puts her country cousin on a wild horse called Kenwood and they go for a hack in Central Park. Kenwood tries to buck Chris off, Chris wins as she has riding skills worthy of the best Olympic medalist.

Then, at the track, she finds poor abused Sterling Dream, who hates racing and only wants to jump the railing, which she does in her race. Christina then finds that the horse is being treated unfairly and begs for her mom and dad to claim poor Sterling, as she is the horse from the dream she had! Which, in TB world, is as good a reason as any.

Sterling was, however, claimed by someone else! But Chris trades her highly valuable racehorse, the last foal of Wonder, for her without hesitation.

We end with a romantic gallop.

Yes, the plot sucks. Yes, Christina is a brat. But credit must be given to Ms. Estes, who actually can write a ton better than most TB authors. I loved Melanie so much and I was thrilled she would become a permanant fixture in the series.

Points of Interest

  • Christina seems to have little regard for the horses she rides in this book. She beats the daylights out of Trib and tries to make him jump something unsafe to beat Kevin in a race. She then forces Legacy out on the trails, even though the poor horse is terrified. She then hits him to force him to run. But she loves horses, yessir.
  • Dylan is an event rider who wears full western chaps. Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?
  • I was highly amused by the whole "Chrissy" nickname thing and how much Chris hates it.
  • Kevin is a friend Christina so does not deserve. He patched up her wounds and even put cream on it. How sweet, for a preteenaged boy.
  • The Terminator. The horse and his name were just plain funny.
  • Maureen Algretti was named after someone called Maureen Mack, who received a dedication in this book. Later, Maureen's surname changes to Mack in some kind of typical TB writers' confusion.
  • Gardener Farm is the most pathetic name ever. If they had to bring Mona 'back'(as she was never a part of the actual series), they could have at least thought of a nice name for her conveniently close farm.
  • Leap of Faith is a chestnut in this book. (she is just like Joseph with her technicolored coat!)
  • At least we could tell that Ms. Estes has actually been to NYC, bless her.

Feb 2, 2008

Brad vs. Ashleigh, Round 2! TB#4: Wonder's Victory

Wonder's Victory
Thoroughbred #4
by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1991

We finally arrive to a book with a sensible title. Wonder's Victory. Pretty clean cut, right? Maybe it spoils the reader a little (Okay, a lot. She's hefting a trophy on the cover and it's about Wonder's victory. This isn't exactly subtle.) But there's more to it than that! Honest.

Here's the cover:


What I find interesting about this cover is the fact that it displays a scene that happened in the previous book (The scene from the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby, indicated by the roses and all). Ashleigh's wearing that pants suit that was supposed to make her look older but instead makes her look like what I presume Laura Bush looked like when she was 14. She's also got some strange earrings that remind me of clip on jewelry my grandmother used to wear. And I don't know what's going on with the bow, turtle neck or weird bangs situation. It's just one ugly outfit. I can no longer look at it.

The Summary:
Ashleigh's determined to make her dreams come true...

In her second year of racing, Wonder, the Thoroughbred filly Ashleigh Griffen has helped raise, is the star of Townsend Acres Stables -- until the worst happens.

Just as Wonder is about to start training for the important Breeder's Cup race, Jilly, Wonder's regular jockey, is injured and can't ride. Wonder doesn't like any other jockey, and she won't perform.

Only one person can ride Wonder now, and that's Ashleigh. She's never ridden in a race, but she's Townsend Acres' only hope. Can Ashleigh's dreams and Wonder's trust carry these two unlikely contestants into the winner's circle?

What this summary fails to inform us of is the main point of the plot. Someone is deliberately spooking Wonder! Thus Wonder goes all nuts in most of her races and throws Jilly in the middle of the race and therefore forces Ashleigh to enter her jockey career a little early. Because Wonder's so freaking spoiled she can't fathom having a male jockey on her back. God forbid.

Other plotlines:

Brad! Really, he's like a secondary plotline in every book. Only now he's evil! Which is an extra bonus. However, the tension is still there with Ashleigh, and since we've added Mike into the equation Brad's reaction is pretty classic.

Ashleigh's budding sexuality. Yes, I said that. Mike is around a lot, and he's inviting her places, and wow if that isn't confusing for her. But no! He's just a friend! Or no, maybe he's not. Maybe he like likes her. Then you have Brad over there taunting her and asking her about her boyfriend while she pouts and says, "He's not my boyfriend!" It is torture. Also it has occurred to me that this looks like it could be a scene right out of Wildfire, only that show's rich jackass character gets more out of the deal.

Oddities:
  • Brad is wearing an "expensive" slicker. Where did he get this slicker? 5th Avenue? Is it made of gold? *ponders*
  • *snickers* Mike comes by after the Preakness to say hello and Brad makes some disparaging comment about Ashleigh giving her boyfriend free tours of the farm. What does Ashleigh do? She insists he's not her boyfriend. To Brad? Then they do some tit for tat snipping at each other. Really, if they weren't 15 and 18 I'd be yelling at them to get a room at this point.
  • Are there no bay horses left in Kentucky? Even Mike's horses are gray and black. Black. BLACK. Jazzman is the third rare black Thoroughbred mentioned in the series and we're only on book 4. *rolls eyes*
  • Sure, Mike wants Ashleigh to try out Jazzman on the training oval despite her not wearing proper footwear. Can we say liability?
  • I love how Ashleigh has to compare Mike's riding style to Brad's. This is becoming some sort of weird allusion that I am all about giggling over. Like a twelve-year-old on a caffeine rush, I tell ya.
  • Someone needs to inform Ms. Campbell that motels are not "fancy." No one pulls up to their motel in a limo. Especially not in New York City.
  • So, Brad is the only one acting like this is a personal contest, is he? One of Ashleigh's primary motivations was never to one up Brad, was it? Oh no. She'd never think of it.
  • The first instance of stepping all over real horses and real records! *so excited* Wonder wins the Belmont in stakes record time, does she? The stakes record is 2:24 set by Secretariat, which is also the world record for a mile and a half. Research, Ms. Campbell! Although, knowing our luck (and the series's own track record) she did research it and thought that was fantastic to include. Because all of Ashleigh's horses not only win big races, they set records, damn it! No one had best criticize them ever again! (And you might say, "But Mara, this is fiction! Perhaps Secretariat does not exist in the Thoroughbred Series!" And I will say, "Oh, you just wait. Juuuust wait.")
  • Yeah, there's a good reason to go with Mike to the Junior Prom. To rub it in other girls' faces. Go, Ashleigh!
  • "'Yay!' Linda and Caro bounced up and down on the beds." ...oh my God.
  • Okay, someone needs to lead Caroline away from the combs. If she's not using them in her hair she's inflicting them on Ashleigh. It must be stopped!
  • Now Mike is in a white suit. I'm sorry, Mike...it just doesn't work for you.
  • Why does everyone go on and on about Mike being popular and Ashleigh being this strange creature no one gets? She hangs out with Jennifer, prettiest ninth grader in school. Doesn't that make her popular by association?
  • So Brad takes a horse tearing around the trails and nearly causes an accident when his girlfriend breaks it off with him in public. Everyone treats Brad like the devil because of this. Caroline takes a car out and tears around on the road and careens into a tree after Brad merely shows up in her presence at a racetrack and everyone is all "oh, poor Caroline." Double standard, much?
  • Jazzman wins his first race and before Ashleigh knows it Brad is cornering her in the barn and asking her about her "boyfriend's colt" and something about free information Mike's getting around Townsend Acres. Ashleigh responds again that Mike is not her boyfriend. The sexual tension hurts. me. so. much. *smacks head against keyboard*
  • So Jilly witnesses this weird sexually charged (yes, I can read into it all I like, thank you) exchange and asks what it's all about. What Ashleigh said is glossed over and Jilly responds, "The only thing good that guy's got going for him is looks and a rich daddy...and he does know how to ride a horse." What the hell?
  • "She ended up pulling her shoulder and bruising her ankle the last time Brad rode her." "Yeah, but not all guys ride her like Brad." (Twelve-year-old me high on caffeine is giggling like mad right now.)
  • Two sentences that do not go together: "I sure hope they catch that guy and find out what he thought he was doing! Hey, before you leave, how about signing my cast?"
  • So says Craig of riding Wonder: "We're not connecting. She's a nice filly, beautiful movement, but she doesn't want to put out for me." (Twelve-year-old me is in hysterics right now, plus I think I'm now justified in reading into all the comparisons between Mike and Brad's riding styles.)
  • It's a sting operation, Thoroughbred style! (and I don't know how I feel about Mike and Charlie deliberately sending Ashleigh away for the whole thing. oh, the poor girl can't be in on it, of course. way to start a trusting relationship, Mike.)
  • Okay, kids. Here's the moral of the story: never gamble. You'll become a backstabbing tool for the mob if you do!
  • Clay Townsend doesn't know how he was so blind about Mr. Jennings' character. Clay, you specialize in not being able to judge character. If memory serves, you really suck at it.
  • The Daily Racing Form reporter already has his column written for a horse race in which Wonder is by no means the favorite, is being ridden by a jockey who's ridden in one race, and is kind of spooked enough to be a little crazy race time? Talk about a premonition or a waste of time.
  • Yes, Wonder beat Charade in the last book. Funny how her name was spelled Charad then.
  • After the Classic I can just see Brad stalking off to consume a whole fifth of whiskey.
  • More whinnies of approval!
  • And, just as an after thought, it's Breeders' Cup not Breeder's Cup. Because there's more than one breeder churning out Thoroughbreds for our racing pleasure.
I am a little disappointed in how Joanna Campbell treated Brad's character in this book. I know he's supposed to be this giant asshole, but really the guy isn't supposed to throw temper tantrums and stomp places like a pouting poor sport. That isn't Brad. Brad in a white suit and cheating on his girlfriend is the right Brad. Know what I mean? Anyhoo, otherwise I still enjoyed it. The four books do come together in a Lifetime Channel sort of ending that could have very well ended the series there. Of course, they didn't end there. They keep going. Brilliant.