May 30, 2008

Derby Fever (Rhoda hasn’t Got it!) - Ashleigh #7: Derby Day

Derby Day – Ashleigh #7
Created by Joanna Cambell
Written by Chris Platt
First Printing: November 1999

Ugh, here it is – the saccharine sappiness of Aladdin’s Derby. It’s just so sappy; obviously he’s not going to lose the freaking race, but oh no, we’ve got to throw more obstacles in his path and muck him up even more in the process. After all, god forbid any of Ashleigh’s Special Horses™ have a smooth and easy route to the Triple Crown. That said, I am glad that Chris Platt’s at the helm of this book. She seems to be pretty grounded in the reality of the racing world so to speak, and usually keeps things sane.

The Cover:



It’s hideous. The pinks and purples make me want to puke at the glaring florescence of it. Aladdin looks like a backyard pony with a too long unpulled unruly mane; and I grow continually more convinced that when the Edgardale mares go to other breeding farms, the frikkin teaser stallion jumps the fence and knocks ‘em up (and the other farm owners laugh all the way to the bank: “Hey Frank, that mare from that rinky dink breeding farm just got jumped by the teaser, what’cha say we let it go, and tell them our real stallion did the job. They’ll never know, hahahaha!”) Aladdin looks more like an Appaloosa trail horse than he does a racehorse with that weird pink mottled muzzle, and the mottling around his eyes. Ashleigh looks to be wearing a very unflattering salmon-pink sundress (oh barf) or else she’s committed the grave sin of wearing a hideously bright t-shirt in the winner’s circle of the nation’s biggest race. Also, Aladdin’s bit looks far to large for his mouth, and Ashleigh looks far too tall considering that Aladdin is “almost 17 hands tall” – so either she’s Andre the Giant, or Aladdin isn’t an inch over 15 hands in that picture.

(Note bene: The only picture I could find of the cover is pretty washed out and faded, the actual one is really much more florescent and eye-blinding)

Ye Olde Summary:

Gag! That said, the back cover blurb is pretty much dead on, if rather stupid. I think the less said on this, the better. So I’ll stop here before I start frothing at the mouth (rabid dog, rabid dog!)

The Big Picture Plot:

1) Aladdin’s Treasure: Apparently being sired by a fairly prestigious stallion, and owned by wealthy privileged folk, he’s still viewed as a jumped-up upstart who’s “got no place racing with these upper-class horses.” He was supposed to run dead-last in the Blue Grass considering his past performances, so everyone not connected to him throws a shitfit when he does win. So then during a “Breakfast with the Works” morning gallop, he gets body-slammed by a two-year-old brother of the mean-tempered Derby favorite, Star Gazer. Naturally, this involves him throwing his jockey, and bolts into the machine yard, thereby giving Ashleigh a heart attack that they’d have to put him down. Which of course brings us to …

2) Aladdin can’t settle down! OH NOES!!!! So once again, as soon as Ashleigh the Wondergirl extracts the colt from the machine yard, he’s off to Paradise Edgardale for some peace and quiet. Except he doesn't settle down there either. He still acts a little spooky, and a little jumpy, and freaks his jockey out, and once on a trail ride, he tosses her off -- and then she's forced to bail a second time. Of course, Ashleigh manages to sneak a little ride on him (again!) and finds out he's actually behaving perfectly, and she guesses it's his jockey being nervous which sets him off, and that means...

3) It's all Rhoda Kat's fault! Seriously, I know why... it's her name for christ's sake. Rhoda Kat. Sounds like some cheap 80-1 claimer at Emerald Downs. Hell, I'd be nervous and freaked out too if I was imagining myself in the post parade of the nation's most important horse race and heard my stupid name being called over the loudspeaker. Anyway, Rhoda's got this exclusive contract with the Danworths to ride Aladdin in the Derby, but after she gets thrown, and Aladdin acts up, she has her confidence shaken. So of course, it's up to Ashleigh to get her back in the saddle and confident by ...

4) jumping "Jessica's Jump" which is apparently some made up backstory about some girl who tried jumping a horse over a 10-foot gully and ended up in the hospital. So Ashleigh writes a note to Rhoda saying she's going to go jump the gully, conveniently leaves Aladdin's saddle and bridle in very plain sight in front of his stall in which the horse himself is penned up (yeah, doesn't it just scream set-up?) and gets ready to do the deed, but lo and behold, Rhoda arrives in the nick of time (as if Ashleigh really had the cajones to jump the thing anyway) and rides Aladdin real good. So she's not scared anymore. And so they ride in the Derby. Yay!

Points of Interesting Useless (or not so useless) Facts:
  • OK, Chris sorta has it wrong here, since she says the horse has to be nominated to the Derby when it's young (there's the whole issue of supplemental fees, but technically, it's cheaper to nominate horses early on) but y'know, props to her about horses running well and/or winning in the Derby preps. It's a breath of realism in a fantasy world. Sure, you're always gonna see owners who throw a no-chance horse in, but realistically, when they do well in the preps, it's just more evident to run them after all.
  • Aladdin's run 7 times as a 3-year-old. Then the Blue Grass and Derby make races #8 and #9. Holy cow, compared to today's modern Thoroughbred, he's a machine.
  • Y'know, I'm really happy to read how the Wortons have a 6-furlong training track where Aladdin works. It's cool, see. Way better than some giant one-mile track. I've seen aerial footage of Churchill Downs, and it really makes you realize how big the freaking track is. For any Thoroughbred farm (no matter how prestigious) to have a track of that size, they'd have to have a shitload of land.
  • And Caro's gift for Ashleigh's birthday was a peach-colored sundress. That means that the hideous garment Ashleigh is wearing on the cover is a dress. Ugh. It's awful.
  • Rhoda comes to stay at Edgardale between the Blue Grass and the Derby. She and Ashleigh go for a ride. Rhoda rides Stardust, and Ashleigh actually rides Moe again. So much for being too "big" for him. Suddenly he has value to her again because he's the only other ridable critter on the place.
  • Aladdin runs in the 125th Derby. And gets Gate 8 in a 16 horse field with fairly high odds. Gosh, Derby 125 brings back memories. Come to think of it, that was Charismatic's year, and he went off at high odds too.

And Aladdin wins the Derby. As if he'd lose, judging by the cover. Puh-leeze! So that's over and done with, thank you very much. I need brain bleach or something. And I think I'll try and review another non-Ashleigh series book right now to recover from the torment of Derby Day. I dug around in one of the cardboard boxes that my horse books are temporarily being stored in, and think I found a nice old one that should do nicely.

May 29, 2008

A Horse of Her Own: in which Joanna Campbell tests her theory of old man helps horse crazy girl equals championship gold!

A Horse of Her Own
by Joanna Campbell
Published: 1988

Today A Horse of Her Own arrived in my mailbox. (Yes, that means I purchased it, and yes I know I've apparently gone nuts...but just wait. It gets worse.) It's a remarkably short book -- only 118 pages -- but the story is fairly simple. There's not a whole lot going on, but there are a few things to take note of given how this book came out a few short years before A Horse Called Wonder.

Nothing to complain about, really. It's a horse. It's a bay. The girl's outfit doesn't totally offend my eyes, and the scene is relevant to the story. Moving on to the freakishly correct summary:
Making dreams come true

Penny Rodgers loves horses more than anything, but her parents say lessons are a waste of money. Penny is determined to ride, though, and asks a neighbor if she can work with his horse. Bones looks like a sorry old animal, but Penny knows what a lot of love and hard work can do.

Soon Penny is spending all her free time grooming and training Bones with her best friend, Jan. This is the best summer of her life -- until her parents tell her that once school starts she has to stop "playing" with Bones. Somehow, Penny has to prove to her parents that riding isn't just a game -- it's the most important thing in the world to her. Now she just has to do well at the end-of-summer horse show. Not only is the blue ribbon on the line, but her lifelong dreams as well!
Okay, to the plot!

Penny is your average 13-year-old horse crazy girl with way more motivation than she knows what to do with. Jan is her partner in crime. However, quite possibly for the first time ever, Jan is the more accomplished rider, having ridden since she was around eight, and takes lessons regularly. Sure, Penny might be better, but given that her parents don't have the money for lessons we'll never know. As it stands at the beginning of the book, Jan is the one who not only supports the main character with her friendship, she's instrumental to Penny's plans! No kidding. I was shocked also.

The book starts off with Penny wanting horseback riding lessons. So bad. But Penny's mom, who spends every free moment inspecting her check book, won't let her. She just doesn't understand Penny's giant ordeal, so Penny takes this opportunity to walk down the road to stare at the only horse in her suburban area of Connecticut. Connecticut must be lacking in horses, but that's besides the point. While she's staring at this nondescript bay horse, she decides that she's going to act on every single day dream she's ever had about this horse and ask its owner if she can "take care of it" and ride it and such. Luckily for her the owner, one Mr. Billings, is an old man who doesn't care what she does or how much times she wastes. He lets her have at it, while also warning her that the horse doesn't do much of anything and has never been ridden before. Penny, who doesn't know what she's doing, immediately enlists Jan's help. They clean the horse (whose name is Bones, which I do find absurdly cute) up and Jan finds some used tack for Penny to purchase, as well as acting as Penny's expert regarding all things horsey.

Between the two girls, they get Bones adjusted to a saddle in a matter of a couple of weeks and begin to get him used to a rider. After their first successful walk around the paddock with Penny in the saddle, Mr. Billings congratulates them in a way that seems a little too similar to Charlie Burke, and then tells Penny that he has a surprise for her waiting in the barn. What is the surprise? 100 pounds of grain! Yay! And in another really weird Ashleigh and Charlie moment, Penny comes rushing out of the barn to thank Mr. Billings, who's already walking back to the house and waving her off. So now she doesn't have to pay for grain and can pay for shoeing instead. Things are certainly falling into place for Penny.

Only then her parents start getting worried because now she's "too busy" and is getting behind on her chores. Her little brother decides to help her out a little by doing some of her chores in exchange for the use of her "cassette player and headphones" when she's not around. In any case, her parents decide to give her through the summer to work all she likes with Bones. But when school starts up again, she'll have to limit it to weekends. Naturally this is not acceptable to Penny, being horse crazy, so she's determined to improve and show her parents how much it means to her to ride.

Penny and Jan cook up their grand plan to convince Penny's parents that riding is all Penny wants to do: win the end-of-summer show! So they start training both Penny and Bones to jump, with the assistance of Mr. Billings, who's helping without being asked and trying to hide the fact that he enjoys it. Sound familiar? Penny is like the daughters and granddaughters he never had (not to say he doesn't have them...he's just disappointed in them).

Eventually reality starts to get shoved to the side and Penny is working at five foot jumps by mid-summer. She at least doesn't do this perfectly, so that's all I can really say about that. By the time they're clearing pretty good jumps, Jan works it out so Penny can exercise Bones over the jumps at her stable, but when they get there Bones doesn't perform. Instead he's reacting to all the other horses, being attention starved of horses for so long, and Mary Lou (our resident riding school bitch) starts to taunt them enough for Penny to ask Jan for her crop. Yeah, that's a few thousand steps away from normal for Joanna's books. Penny touches Bones on the shoulder with it, immediately gets his attention, and off they go...taking the course at the stable perfectly. I am pretty shocked by this development, I have to admit. The main character in a Joanna book asks for a crop, uses the crop responsibly, doesn't cry about it, and gets a positive result. Who knew she was capable of this? I certainly didn't.

The riding instructor at the stable suggests that Penny enter Bones in the Junior Advanced show, but she thinks that's pushing it and enters in the Intermediate. (Clearly I'm reading too much of Cindy because I expected her to take the instructor's advice for a minute.) But, a week before the show Bones gets a superficial cut on his leg! Gasp! He heals up and Penny takes him to the show and they win. And Jan wins (or, at least, it's heavily implied) her advanced class. And the antagonist wins her class (weirdly enough). Then Penny's parents miraculously understand how much riding means to her and allow Mr. Billings to give her Bones, with his help for board and feed. The end.

Oddities:

  • "Oh, go away, Gregg. You're such a pain." Normally this little piece of dialogue wouldn't be an issue, only it is because Penny and her friend, Jan, say it in unison. Unless this is like their prearranged plan regarding Gregg it is impossible.
  • "Well so are you two. All you talk about is horses - yuk." Well, our most prevalent theme has reared its ugly head in the first chapter. It makes me curious if Joanna Campbell had the same conflict with her ex-husband. I'm betting she did considering he traded Moe for that motorcycle. (WHY do I remember these things?)
  • Now, you'd think Gregg would become a major antagonist, but he doesn't. In fact, he disappears after proclaiming that horses are yucky.
  • Ah, finally. Jan tells Penny that she's a natural at riding and is picking it up faster than she did. Of course she did. She's the main character! They always have to be supernaturally good at this stuff.
  • Oh, man, Mr. Billings calls Penny "Missy."
  • Just as Penny starts getting super confident (on her first day of jumping, no less) she tries to go over a makeshift jump that's two and a half feet tall. Thankfully she falls and her ego returns to normal.
  • Wow, another antagonist. I didn't see that coming. Mary Lou rides at the same stable as Jan, and she's the kind of girl who "smiles snidely" at the mistakes of others. Then Penny takes to calling her Miss Boots because this girl is obsessed with her expensive riding boots. I find this odd. If only Joanna's other antagonists had strange nicknames. I can't help but wonder what Brad's would have been.
  • Again we have another scene involving a backfiring car. Penny doesn't hear the backfire, but "old Bones here sure must have." The whole exchange between Mr. Billings and Penny is directly from Battlecry Forever, or should I say it's the other way around?
  • "My money's on you in the show!" says Penny's brother. Penny replies, "Oh, Jimmy. You watch too much TV." I don't think she gets what he's saying. Anyway, that response comes flying out of nowhere.
  • Get ready for it: Penny uses a crop on Bones again! During the show she uses it to get attention. I really cannot understand what caused the change between this book and the Thoroughbred Series. It's like night and day.
  • For as often as Penny's parents worry about their lack of money, the ending, when Penny is given Bones, is remarkably irrational. Even if Mr. Billings insists on helping her out with board and feed.
You know, I'm actually not regretting the $4 I spent on this. Yes, Penny probably advances further than is possible given she's being coached by her friend, and yes the story is simple and ends rather unrealistically, but it's a horse story and the main character is actually nice and doesn't freak out at crops or use a crop and then cry about it. Nor does she obsess over winning. It's a nice little breath of fresh air before I finish up the Cindy books with another installment featuring scowling, whining, crying, demonstrating an irritating inability to listen to medical professionals, and shrieks of pain (from Cindy, and most likely myself).

May 28, 2008

It's Time to Call the Cops because it's Kaitlin's Wild Ride, TB #68

Kaitlin's Wild Ride
Published in 2004
Karle Dickerson

After my last two reviews I've decided that I'm officially on a mission to read the worst TB books ever. I'm sure I'll give up sooner rather than later because the thought of reading #45 literally gives me hives, but we'll see how long I can last. If you have any suggestions (other than Hoofprints in the Snow, because I despise Lyssa), please let me know. Now on to our review.

Cover: I think my favorite part about this cover is how Connor (I will explain our newest stud muffin in a second) resembles a young, blond, Jerry Seinfeld. Totally drool worthy. Once again we have a horse that looks out of scale, though really, I can't tell any more. Kaitlin's cowboy boots are driving me wild with jealously, and the way these two lovebirds are gingerly holding hands really screams future married couple to me.

Plot: I don't know where to begin with this book. I think a better title would have been Kaitlin's Stalking Adventure or maybe Kaitlin's Inability to Think for Herself. For those of you who don't remember any of these worthless minor characters, Kaitlin Boyce is the girl who leased Sterling after Christina sold her to Samantha. Like all our protagonists, Kaitlin is more obsessed with winning the (Olympics) than anyone else, and more obsessed with it than anything else. Except, as it will be revealed to Kaitlin and the reader simultaneously, penises.

I'm not really one to pick on loners, but Kaitlin spends the majority of the beginning of the book musing about how she's got no friends. At first this doesn't bother her, of course, because she's got her wonderful mare Sterling and she's going to ride in the Olympics one day, which means she doesn't have any time for friends because in horse world, horses come first. There's just one thing standing between Kaitlin and her goal: she's a bad rider. Seriously, in this book Kaitlin rides terribly pretty much throughout and I don't really know why she's allowed to ride Sterling, let alone event.

Anyway, after a bad lesson, Parker suggests that Kaitlin go home for the weekend and have fun to take her mind off of how much she sucks. Sam suggests the same thing. So Kaitlin, demonstrating early on her inability to have an independent thought, decides maybe they are right. After being totally made fun of by two snotty girls at her barn, who of course are totally popular but hate horses (they're only riding as a college resume builder, you see), she decides to go to a party they're attending to make new friends with people her own age!

After donning black pants and a "soft pink sweater," Kaitlin walks down the street in her terrible outfit to the mansion where a sweet sixteen party is being hosted. Millions of horny high school teenagers are running amok without any parental supervision a la something out of a bad MTV reality show. No alcohol is mentioned, but its presence is definitely implied. Kaitlin promptly sits down on the couch and eats popcorn all by herself, watching everyone have fun all by her lonesome until the birthday girl plops down next to her and demands that a passing hunky blond guy dance with Kaitlin. Later we will learn that he is not so random because he was totally crushing on Kaitlin in English class, but the way Dickerson writes the scene it plays like something out of Clueless, when Cher gets random guy to dance with Britteny Murphy's character. Really throughout the book I think Dickerson is going for a Sweet Sixteen vibe and failing quite miserably. Moving on.

Hey guys, are you ready for true love? Kaitlin dances with blond dude, AKA Conner, and falls in love the minute he mentions that he's ridden horses. Immediately she starts planning their wedding, which will take place over stadium jumps while they compete in a pairs class. Eventually they end up on the couch surrounded by Connor's drama club friends. He basically ignores Kaitlin but she thinks, "It's okay that he isn't talking to me! It's easier to listen." For some reason I get the feeling Dickerson really wasn't writing Connor to be a jerk, but that's pretty much all he comes off as. Also, we all know that TB cannon says any guy involved with acting is going to hate horses and be a dick, so seriously, what is Kaitlin thinking? Finally, grow some balls Kaitlin, or at least some self-respect. A guy ignoring you is not acceptable, it's obnoxious. He just isn't that into you. Anyway.

They exchange screen names, or as Dickerson calls it, an "AIM name," and Kaitlin goes home and falls asleep or doesn't, I don't really remember. But regardless she receives an email from an unknown sender after the party. Holy crap, who could it be from? Should she dare open an email from an unknown sender? It could be from a pedophile, or worse yet, it could be a letter bomb! But, Kaitlin decides that the perilous risk is worth it, and opens the email. OMG it's from Connor you guys! Because he didn't just ask for Kaitlin's email address and his name wouldn't have been listed as the sender so how could we or Kaitlin have possibly seen that coming??

Moving on, Connor sends Kaitlin a quote about horses, and Kaitlin immediately thinks, "He likes horses and he likes me too!" This book is full of so many great quotes it's astounding. Kaitlin responds with another quote then drifts off to Whisperwood, rereading Connor's two sentence email over and over in her head. I guess I forgot to mention that Sterling strained a muscle or something, so Kailtin can't ride. Not that she cares because for the first time the male gaze has settled upon her, and boy there's just nothing else more important than that. All she wants to do is "go somewhere and think about the interesting new guy she'd just met." Jeeze. Interesting.

Sadly for Kaitlin, three days come and go and she doesn't hear from Connor. She doesn't email him again because she doesn't want to look like a stalker, however. Um. She hears that Connor's sick, but fears he is blowing her off. That's okay though, because he looked at her and she will have that memory forever. Then Connor shows up at school, apologizes for not speaking to her for half a week (he must have had malaria if he was too sick to freakin' email) and asks Kaitlin to a BBQ.

Well now it's that the end all be all. Kaitlin goes to Whisperwood in a fog and has a terrible lesson because all she can think about is Connor. She's basically a drooling sack of potatoes on Sterling's back, but that's okay because Sterling has lost all personality since Christina gave her up and would be safe carrying an infant. After carefully contemplating some dirt clods, Parker calls Kaitlin on riding like a dipshit, but Kaitlin just gets mad and storms off to sit alone in front of her computer until Connor IMs her. As they talk into the night, she marvels rapturously that this is why everyone enjoys IM so much. Okay. I buy that she's shy and has no friends, but it's 2004 and she hasn't ever used IM? Really?

So stuff that I forget happens, then Connor shows up unannounced at Whisperwood and he and Kaitlin go on a trail ride. Connor acts like horses kind of disgust him, and after their ride he abandons Kaitlin to cool off both their horses. She of course, doesn't care, because she managed to steal a lock of hair when Connor wasn't looking and she will treasure it forever. Or something.

More dumb stuff happens. Kaitlin can't stop thinking of Connor, which makes her riding terrible, Connor keeps randomly showing up while she's riding inbetween intervals where they don't talk, which makes Kaitlin's riding even more horrible. Parker and Sam yell at her and Sterling continues to be boring. After being ignored by Connor, Kaitlin finally grows a pair and calls him, but Connor tells her to get a life because horses are obviously worthless.

Are we sensing a pattern here?

This is step two in Kaitlin can't think for herself phase. She hasn't even kissed this guy yet, but she decides he must be right, lies to get out of lessons, and starts hanging out all the time with Connor at a place called "Soda Jerks." This is so great until Sam catches her there as if she were catching a cheating lover, they have a big fight, and Kaitlin terminates her lease.

Now phase three of Kaitlin can't think for herself phase. Somehow she runs into Christina, who gives her shit about abandoning Sterling, completely forgetting that this is what she herself did a mere three years ago. But finally, after an unknown number of weeks spent building a shrine to Connor in her basement, Kaitlin realizes he is a jerk and "breaks up" with him, though I am not sure how that works if all you're doing is eating ice cream together at a place called Soda Jerks. Then she starts riding Sterling again. But because Connor is a stalker, he randomly shows up at Whisperwood and apologizes to Kaitlin for being a jerk, admitting he doesn't know anything about horses. He also promises he will start to learn about her interests. Kaitlin is blissful because now she can be a real girl and ride horses. I am so glad that everything was resolved so unrealistically because that means the book is over.

Points of Interest:
  • In this book, Tor actually appears for about two seconds at the beginning when he and Kaitlin go on a ride together. After that he is never heard from again.
  • Every horse in this series is beloved by whatever human is riding them. Perhaps a petty observation, but it sounds like a word my grandmother would use, and man is it used constantly.
  • I am starting to become really irritated by how everyone in these books is rich, especially if they're not a main character and especially if they are an antagonist. Seriously, I think all these authors are racist against rich people.
  • At one point Kaitlin bites her cheek to keeps from smiling. That sounds both painful and stupid looking.
  • When Connor responds to one of her emails/IMs immediately, Kaitlin's first thought is "I am good at talking if Connor responds right away."
  • This book is so high tech. Email, IM, and cell phones!
  • Here we are treated to the "my room is infantile and/or pathetic because it is decorated with horse stuff so I need to shove it all in my closet," trope. Whoopee. Though I suppose I went through a similar phase so maybe I shouldn't judge.
  • Wow. I forgot about the whole "famous horses" phase until this book. How unfortunate.
  • Sadly, by the end of the book, Kaitlin is no longer good at talking. "I say stupid things," she warns Connor when he tells her that he wants to give dating another go. Man, can we say self-esteem issues?
Well, now that I've tortured myself and put you all through the same pain, I'm going to see if I can pick a book that's slightly more enjoyable to read. Sadly, the problem with most of these is that they're just plum boring if not stuffed with creepy characters who are are freakishly obsessed with boys and completely unable to have a positive thought about themselves inbetween bouts of insane egoism, a great message to send young girl readers.

One book left! One book left! TB #22: Arabian Challenge

Arabian Challenge
Thoroughbred #22
By Karen Bentley
Published: 1997

I remember picking this book up in 1997 and scoffing at it. A Thoroughbred book called Arabian Challenge, I thought? It just had to be bad. I put it back. Right there I saved myself 201 pages of torture. But, being too curious for my own good I had to read it sometime and now I'm rereading it because apparently I just like to enrage myself. Anyway, here it is. The book that is endlessly worse than Glory's Rival. To the cover!

There isn't a lot to complain about here. In fact, it's easily Champion's best cover. The color scheme even works with the image, and that doesn't happen often. Cindy's smile is even somewhat convincing, although there is an air of annoying superiority in it that makes me wish she'd fall off the horse and then die in the desert of dehydration. I find all of this quite unfortunate considering Arabian Challenge is probably the book that most enrages me. At least of the Cindy books. I haven't read the majority of the New Generation, so who knows what's awaiting me.

Will Cindy win her biggest race as a jockey?

For as long as she can remember, Cindy McLean has longed to ride a Thoroughbred in a world-class race. And now that she's sixteen, Cindy's dream is finally coming true. She'll ride Wonder's Champion, the Triple Crown winner, in Arabia's Dubai Cup!

Cindy will have tough competition. She'll be racing not only against the best horses and jockeys in the world but also against her friend and teacher, Ashleigh Griffen! Is Cindy ready for the challenge of her life?

Don't you just love the "Arabia's Dubai Cup" line? It's exactly how you'd dumb down a more complicated phrase for a four-year-old. Sort of like "That's beer, and no you can't drink it" turns into "You don't want to drink the bad juice, it's icky." You know?

Plot:

We're skipping another year here, with almost no mention of what happened after Champion's Belmont Stakes because, hey, who needs all that pesky backstory? I'm sure Cindy moped about something and Champion won a few races and all was well with the world. We've got more interesting things to get to, like Cindy's apprentice jockey license! Which she's somehow applied for at the age of 15 because she starts off this book in a gate test, which she passes with flying colors and an extra handful of glitter for extra measure. Afterward there's all this talk about how much Ashleigh and Cindy understand each other now that you get this distinct feeling that Cindy thinks she's in some uber special girl jockey club with Ashleigh, which must mean their minds have melded and no one else can understand their super powers. Despite this, it is painfully clear to Cindy that she is only the lowly sidekick to Ashleigh's Wonder Woman, and she is desperate for Ashleigh's compliments and opinions. She'll learn to disregard these later, of course.

Immediately upon returning home, Cindy starts taking herself a little too seriously. If she's going to be a (top) jockey now she must devote all her time to her career, which would apparently mean sitting around on her ass thinking about riding in races because she sure as hell hasn't been asked to ride in any yet. Thus she alienates all of her friends in a mere two pages. This doesn't bother Cindy. They'll come around, she tells herself, and then frolics off to think about racing some more. However, because Ashleigh and Cindy are in the same super girl jockey club, Cindy gets home to Ashleigh offering her a ride on Black Reason! Yay! All her thoughts are now justified; she is a Real Jockey. At the age of 15, which one book ago was impossible (not to mention in this fabulous thing we call "reality"). Just as Cindy's riding her high of getting to race, Ashleigh brings her down by reminding her that it's not her entire life and thus Cindy concludes that Ashleigh takes her whole life for granted. Ashleigh will never understand her determination!

As it turns out, no one understands her determination. Cindy starts getting up at 3am every morning in preparation for her first race. As if riding one more horse every morning (bringing the grand total up to two horses each morning) will prep her perfectly for race riding. All she accomplishes is exhausting herself and developing these ridiculous flashes of anger at anyone who dares question her grand plan to super jockey stardom.

Of course, Cindy doesn't win her first race and decides it was that pesky problem of being forced to attend these public education facilities called schools that derailed her glorious vision of winning and being presented with roses and trophies and rapt attention from everyone. So she decides to cut everything out of her life, including her friends. Who needs them, anyway?

So the instant her friends and family start reacting to Cindy's putting them...oh, about last on her list of priorities, she's all with the drama, repression and pissiness. Anyone's attempt to talk her earth-sized head down to a diameter that will at least fit her through a doorway is met with antagonism and defensiveness, but while Cindy is causally driving everyone she likes away from her and secretly developing a very frightening jealousy over Ashleigh, she's getting everything she wants. A second ride on Black Reason, leading to promised ride on Champion in the Dubai World Cup.

Then, right in the middle of avoiding everyone (because at this point she's convinced herself everyone is against her), Cindy has her moment of enlightenment! Oh, it's like the pure joy of a thousand gleaming diamonds falling from the sun! Cindy decides that she's been focusing too much on herself and winning, not enough on her horses and winning. Or Max and winning...or something equally vague. Her moment of enlightenment isn't exactly as clear cut this time, but it has something to do with being less selfish, but still caring deeply about winning.

So she patches things up with Max and then wins her next race on Black Reason, so now she's all sparkles and happiness, with only occasional (meaning every two to three pages) completely insane glimpses of irrational envy, jealousy, overreacting to innocent statements, irritation and obsession.

When they finally get to Dubai, Cindy's convinced Ashleigh doesn't really want to talk to her. Which basically means Cindy's the one that doesn't want to do any talking. In fact, she turns her back on Ashleigh when she tries to talk strategy concerning the sand surface, and Cindy decides she needs to concentrate without Ashleigh, which means riding Champion at night on the track without anyone else around. Naturally this doesn't go well. The ride is a complete failure, and Mark catches her on top of it. No one is happy, least of all Cindy.

Instead of being forced to deal with the repercussions of Cindy's crushing stupidity, she gets everything she wants in the end, wins the Dubai World Cup, and Ashleigh forgives her. Yay. Sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies!

Oddities:

  • For as long as Bentley has gone on and on about this Very Important Fact that you have to be sixteen to ride a horse on any race track, Cindy says to herself in monologue on the very first page during her gate test that she's "almost sixteen." She just couldn't wait, could she?
  • After Cindy passes her gate test, Samantha congratulates her and looks "wistful." This is because Cindy has accomplished what Samantha never could, and obviously Karen has to take some time out to focus on how Samantha was just too tall and heavy and therefore just not as happy with her life as Cindy obviously will be.
  • Sometimes my life is just too good to be true! Cue sunshine and rainbows! Where are the butterflies, damn it!? We need butterflies here, stat!
  • Cindy knew that everyone at Whitebrook simply expected her to become a great jockey. Yeeeeah. I'm sure they do, Cindy. I'm sure.
  • Reason's great to ride, but he doesn't move like my Triple Crown Champion! You know, Karen Bentley probably thought she was being so clever when she named Wonder's Champion. I'm sure she was just tickled to death by all the annoying ways she could use the horse's name in a sentence.
  • Also, someone probably should have explained to Karen that "Arabia" and the United Arab Emirates are not the same thing. As a former editor, you'd think she would have caught that.
  • Oh, the infamous "the Nad al Sheba track is sand! I don't compute!" moment. All dirt tracks involve sand in some large quantity. The Churchill Downs track, for instance, is 75% SAND, 23% silt and 2% clay. Nad al Sheba has roughly the same percentages of the same stuff. Basically, it's like saying Ashleigh can train horses on Bluegrass but not Fescue.
  • Since when is an airport waiting room sterile? If anything it's one of the most disgusting spaces one could ever be so unfortunate to occupy for even a few minutes.
  • Again the word exquisite pops up twice on one page. Imperious is Karen's other favorite word, mostly reserved for Champion when he's feeling like a haughty jackass. It's just that every horse is exquisite and seriously what the hell is wrong with words like dainty, beautiful, elegant, graceful...fine-boned, even! For Christ's sake, crack a thesaurus once in your life!
  • Pathetically enough, Mark and Cindy have more chemistry than Max and Cindy could ever hope for. No wonder they were doomed.
  • You notice how Karen keeps calling Whitebrook's colors sky blue and white? Is she unaware that blue and sky blue are are entirely different colors or is she just a huge UNC basketball fan? Was she even looking at the book covers that were coming out before and during her writing tenure?
  • Ashleigh and Cindy visit the inner sanctum commonly referred to as the jockey's room. Ashleigh informs Cindy that she's riding later on, but she's here to keep Cindy company. Then, no more than two paragraphs down the page, Ashleigh jumps up, says she's going to go change, and proceeds to abandon Cindy. What is up with that? Not to mention, once Ashleigh walks into the jockey's room she's not leaving until her race is run. Like hell she'd be able to lead Cindy back out of the room and into the walking ring for Cindy's race.
  • Cindy comes in third in her race and immediately breaks into tears because she didn't win, thereby letting down everyone at Whitebrook. Or something equally horrendous because she will never win! She hasn't won and she never will! Why did she even bother trying! Black Reason doesn't deserve her! Cindy stops just short of breaking out a razor blade and slitting her wrists on the track.
  • Unfortunately Cindy pulls it together and decides to act professionally by congratulating the winning jockey. The winning jockey is about to tell her she did pretty well as Cindy then turns on her heel and walks off, because "pretty well" is not good enough! Screw this professional thing. Who needs it, right?
  • Oooh, not only is Cindy pissed off that she lost her race, she's pissed off because Ashleigh won hers with Champion. Ashleigh's won so much and Cindy has never won, therefore she can't find it in herself to be happy for anyone else's success. All of a sudden. Seriously, this kid needs to seek therapy. Possibly she should be on medication.
  • If all of this wasn't enough, Cindy convinces herself that Max and Laura are going at it behind her back. Those backstabbing whores! Cindy's going to go cry now and you'll all be sorry! You'll all be! (I'm getting a really odd vibe that Cindy's about two steps from becoming suicidal in the middle of this book...she's acting like a lunatic who's taken one too many anti-depressants.)
  • Ashleigh and Cindy go out on their trail ride, and switch horses for absolutely no reason other than it gives Karen another chance for Cindy to whine because Ashleigh can ride both Wonder and Honor like it's nothing and Wonder, like, slightly hesitates for Cindy which is OH MY GOD HORRIBLE! But then Ashleigh informs Cindy that she'll get the ride on Champion in the Dubai World Cup if she does well in her next race, and believe her, it's not a favor to Cindy. Oh no. It's because Cindy and Ashleigh are in their super duper girl jockey club and no one else can be trusted.
  • Cindy decides that if she wins the Dubai World Cup and beats Ashleigh everyone will take her seriously and stop asking her to, like, go to school and do homework and have a life. It totally doesn't cross her mind that people would write her off completely even if she won the Dubai World Cup because she happened to be riding a TRIPLE CROWN (sigh) CHAMPION. They could stick a potato to Champion's saddle and probably get the same result.
  • Heather and Doug have an "exciting" dinner for Valentine's Day. What were they doing? Espionage?
  • Well, finally Samantha hits the nail on the head: The way you act now, I'd think that all you care about is winning your races, rather than the actual horses...or any of your relationships. Cindy's reaction is disbelief and shortly replying, "I'll just stop talking about racing to you, then." You know, all of this would be interesting if Karen Bentley had any clue and had made Cindy at all likable in the many opportunities she had before this book.
  • Cindy cries to Honor, "Why didn't I win when I tried so hard?" Here's the thing. It's called odds making, and with each additional competitor your overall odds worsen. Even if you're riding an overwhelming favorite, there's still the chance you're going to lose. If you bet against the favorite, there's still a good chance you're going to get a payback. This is how the majority of gamblers make money. Cindy does not understand this, obviously. At her rate, I can see her playing the lottery and going into hysterics when she doesn't win because she picked her numbers with such care! Give Me A Break.
  • Cindy's a good ice skater now? Since when does she have time to practice that? Anyway, she and Max get into their little fight and he informs her that he's actually not seeing Laura. You know, for once in this series I would like it if their worries were actually justified. If Max had said, "Yes, I'm seeing Laura because I realized you're not interested" I would have respected Karen a little more because that would have been so cool.
  • Why don't they just homeschool Cindy? She's taking what looks like the whole of March off from school, which doesn't exactly work in the public system.
  • Apparently Cindy's been eating a lot of French food at tracks around the country, which surprises me given all she eats at racetracks is backside kitchen food, which I'm am SURE does not involve anything I would call French cuisine.
  • During a bit of bored skimming I ran over a sentence involving the words "Cindy" "Max" "hand" and "roaming" and nearly had a heart attack. Unfortunately, after a second read through, it was just a day dream about roaming around the desert while holding hands. I am so disappointed.
  • Cindy wins her next race and everyone lavishes her with praise. Praise such as "Your first win, and you're already practically in the record books" and, not to mention: "a win like this is good PR for Whitebrook." Okay. She didn't set a record and it's an allowance race, which is one step up from bottom of the barrel. What, pray tell, is so great about this?
  • Although I will say that having Cindy riding in the races is the best move Karen could have done for her race scene writing. Finally the talking stops.
  • Mark makes some innocent comments and Cindy completely flips out in inner monologue, accusing Mark of thinking she's a second-class jockey. Nooo, but I would say everyone thinks she's an apprentice. Which she is. Which is not any sort of class.
  • Nothing beats being a jockey! Cue sunshine and rainbows! Where are those damn butterflies?
  • Oh, man, fantastic comedy. Ashleigh and Cindy have some match race at Gulfstream, and Ashleigh deliberately pulls Limitless into Champion's flank to interfere with him. Then she speeds on to win. Cindy is so pissed off she actually expects an apology, and when Ashleigh just bursts out laughing (because this was supposed to be lighthearted, but as we all know Cindy doesn't do lighthearted.) Cindy goes back into "near tears from frustration" scene and thus we end the chapter with Cindy assuming Ashleigh is going to play dirty in the Dubai World Cup. Which is just so funny I cannot express my glee properly.
  • Welcome to Dubai! Within a page or two Karen compares a mosque to the Jefferson Memorial. So I'll just stop there with any possible discussion of what she thinks the rest of Dubai looks like.
  • Hey, everybody! It's Ben! I wonder what miracles he'll perform this time!
  • Now Cindy has it in her head that Ashleigh's not talking to her about training and then she has her second enlightenment, which is laughably wrong. Cindy discovers that Ashleigh isn't talking to her because she's afraid she'll lose the race if she gives Cindy any tips! How remarkably stupid. Just...no, stupid.
  • Yay. Clover's back, only now he's Al Sha'ar. Cindy's read all about Al Sha'ar but apparently she was too dense to figure out he was actually Clover.
  • I've never been so disappointed in anyone. Don't talk to me, Cindy. See, that is awesome. If only Karen had kept up the Cindy hate through the end of the book.
  • On the phone to Max, Cindy actually says that the worst part of the conversation was when Ashleigh told Cindy that Champion wasn't her horse. Yes, that would be the worst part according to Cindy. Facing reality must be very difficult for her. Far more difficult than having someone tell her that they're so angry they can't abide listening to her talk.
  • She supposed Ashleigh did have a right be frightened and angry when she saw Cindy and Champion out on the track. What? Kinda like she has the right to tell Cindy that Champion isn't Cindy's horse because he's, you know, ASHLEIGH'S? (And Brad's, but we won't get into that now because had Brad been at the track with Ashleigh he probably would have killed Cindy with the strength of his glare.)
  • Ah, Ben does have a purpose. He tells Cindy that she has to listen to Ashleigh's advice and not let it be a slight to her self-esteem. Or her giant freaking ego that probably has several satellites the size of planets by now.
  • Yeah, you know, kudos to Ashleigh for being the bigger person and approaching Cindy first before the race...but I would have been much happier if she'd let Cindy sweat for at least another book.
  • The way Karen writes the Dubai World Cup racing scene, Limitless should have won. The only explanation for Champion winning is his special bond with Cindy and his extra superdrive, or whatever, because if he's written as tiring enough to look it with a quarter mile left in the race with Limitless in the lead, he's toast. Easy as that.
  • How does Ashleigh feel about losing? Cindy wonders to herself. I can say, without a doubt, she doesn't feel like crying her eyes out and making a fool out of herself. Unlike some people I know....

Long story short? Cindy is insufferable. I'm shocked it took the publishers eleven books of this hell before pulling the plug on Cindy and Karen Bentley. Seriously, what was the point of this book other than learning you can be a bitch with no redeeming qualities and still get what you want if you push hard enough and then cry for added sympathy? Because that's what this book was throughout. A complete trainwreck.

One book left. One book left. One book left.

Heartland: If TB and Days of Our Lives Had a Lovechild...

I own all of the Heartland series by Lauren Brooke and I decided to put the fact that I spent all that money on them to good use. You have to bear in mind that I am not really for T-Touch and Join Up and all that stuff they promote with this series. In fact, I don't have much of an opinion on it at all.

Hold on to your seats as we have an in-depth look at the high drama and angst that is Heartland #1: Coming Home!


Amy calls Heartland home, and ever since she can remember, she's watched her mom instill trust and hope in horses that were once fierce and afraid. And Amy's inherited her mother's gift, the ability to listen to horses and understand what they need. But when a tragic accident changes everything, Amy must cling to what her mother taught her- she must truly believe miracles can happen at Heartland.
You know, Harper Collins should employ whoever wrote this to write the blurbs for their books. It doesn't really give much away and it is accurate. Wow.

The Plot

The book starts off with Amy Fleming watching her mother, Marion, work with a horse called Copper. The methods Marion uses are very much ripped off from Monty Roberts, but anyway. Amy and Ty Baldwin, the high school drop-out stable hand are clearly in lust with each other and will, no doubt, resolve this lust in future books.

Amy is having her fifteenth birthday soon and her big sister, Lou, cannot make it, as she is tied up in Big New York Things and is far too important to bother with her sister's birthday. We learn that Lou might be avoiding Heartland, as she was closer to her father, who had a bad accident years before. It is hard for Lou to be around horses. Especially Pegasus, the horse her father had the accident on.

Amy has some free time and she and Soraya go for a trail ride to check on this pony, Sugarfoot, who's owner is very frail and to see some neighbour's amazing horse. As it turns out, the neighbours have moved, leaving their horse behind. And so the drama begins! Amy feels compelled to help this stallion, as he is just so pretty.

Now, a storm breaks while Amy and Soraya ride home, but Amy insists that the horse must be helped now! So she convinces her mother to hitch the trailer up to go fetch the horse, inspite of the fact that the road they have to travel along is dangerous. They get there, load the horse up and leave. But, on the way back, a tree falls and they get into a terrible accident.

Amy wakes up in hospital to the news that her mother died in he crash. She had been unconscious for eight days and her sister was there. They had the funeral without Amy being able to attend it, which would also make me pretty upset.

So, Amy blames herself for her mother's death and there is much crying and angst over this. She refuses to get involved her her life at Heartland again, which is pretty selfish considering there is so much work to be done. Amy convinces herself that she is the only one that cares that Marion is dead, as the others are too busy with work to care.

But then Any finds out that Mrs. Bell, the old woman who owns Sugarfoot, is dead. So Heartland takes on the pony and Amy gets involved in his care. We meet Scott Trewin, the hunky vet. I have to admit that I am sort of in lust with Scott.

We learn that Lou hates horses becuase they alway cause heartache and pain. She blames them for her father's accident and her mother's death.

Lou clearly has no intentions of staying to help at Heartland forever. She has a boyfriend, Carl, in the city as well as a good job. This causes some more issues between her and Amy.

Matt Trewin, McVet's younger brother, is in love with Amy... but it is clear this is one romance that will never reach fruition. Alas... maybe Matt will fall for someone else... like Soraya. Seeing as she is so in love with him and all.

Sugarfoot's condition does not improve, in spite of Amy giving him herbs and stuff. She begins to doubt if she can help him without her mother's guidence.

Hearland also takes on a new horse, who is having trouble loading into trailers. This is kind of a problem, as his owner is a top showjumper. We can't be having those problems with show horses, now! Amy insists she can help him.

More fights ensure over Heartland's continued existance, as they cannot do the work without Marion. Amy gets upset... again.

Scott, aka McVet, asks Amy is they can take on Spartan, the horse that was in the trailer when they had the accident. Amy agrees... reluctantly.

Star, the showjumper, learns that trailers are not scary places and Amy proves she has her mother's touch and that they can still keep helping damaged horses. Yay!

Lou bonds with Sugarfoot and the pony makes a Miracle Recovery, only possible with love and song.

Lou decides she will stay and help Heartland for the time being.

All is well... until the next book, when Amy and Spartan have to face the trauma the accident caused!



Points of Interest:
  • Why is that the token best friend is never that much into horses as the main character in these books? Soraya can't hold a candle to how awesome Amy rides or how much she loves equines! Just once, I'd love the best friend to be a better rider than the main character. Just once!
  • Amy's sister, Lou, is very unlikeable in this book. She gets the reader to feel irritation for her in the first chapter!
  • Oh, of course Amy has a bad-ass pony that hates everyone else. Am I shocked? Are you? I'd bet money on the answer to that question.
  • A boy, Matt, likes Amy. Matt wants to be a doctor and he is a really nice guy, but this is not enough for Amy who states "I wish he liked riding more." I wonder if Amy is aware that men who like wearing tight pants are usually inclined to like other men too. At least, that's what I have concluded.
  • Sugarfoot the pony is worthy of TB... he only helps himself to one apple from the fruit bowl a day!
  • Can I just say here that Scott Trewin is hot? Scott Trewin is hot. I am done!
  • Amy needs to stop taking her anger out on other people... seriously. It's called therapy!
  • The Grants are Heartland's Townsends. Rich people who don't care for horses! Do we need any more reason to hate them? I think not!
  • Soraya is the funniest name for a best friend character... and she had curly black hair. I wonder what ethnicity she is! Seeing as such things have to be glossed over for the sake of being politcally correct.
All in all, this wasn't too terrible. But I can do without the melodrama and Amy's pissy attitude. Onward, to book 2!

May 27, 2008

We Will All Have to Abide by Dylan's Choice, TB #30

Dylan's Choice
Written by Dale Gasque
Originally Published 1998

Well, after torturing myself with Samantha's Journey, I decided it was time to see if I could find any TB book more boring, which, of course, led me to the New Generation. Since I am in no way ready to tackle any of the monstrosities written after #40, I picked #30, Dylan's Choice.


Well, this cover is kind of dumb, really. The author didn't seem to spend any time on anything but the horse, who looks terribly weird. Chris and Dylan are tiny, and I love how Christina is holding on to her supposed-boyfriend's waist with what looks like just a pinky. Again we are treated to helmets without chin straps, and why is Christina riding in Chucks?

Plot: So in this book there is a new kid named Chad, and everyone wants to blow him, especially Dylan, Christina's crush since she was unfortunately brought into the TB world in #24. But watch out, Dylan, because Katie, Christina's best friend, wants to blow Chad too. And, because gay people don't exist in the TB world, that means you will have to work extra hard to beat her in the contest for Chad's heart.

Okay, so the book probably would have been much more entertaining if the plot had detailed an epic battle between Dylan and Katie for Chad's romantic affections, but alas, it is not to be. Instead we are treated to a deconstruction of gender roles, TB style.

Christina is so happy that she and Dylan are in puppy love and they get to ride together everywhere yay! Unlike her unfortunate predecessor, Cindy, Christina is lucky enough to have found a boy as obsessed with horses and winning and being the best rider in the world as she is. Please note that this would have been completely unaccepable if Dylan was a girl, because our protagonist must always be the best female equestrian. Anyway, luckily for Christina, Dylan is also nice, funny, and pretty cute (even I think so), and it's unfortunate that the authors decided to write him out of the series...or off the face of the earth...because I actually liked his character.

Anywhoo, everything is going great until Chad appears at Mona's farm on his dirt bike, spooking all the horses and stealing Dylan's heart. Now all Dylan wants to do is ride on dirt bikes and play soccer, which Christina finds completely unacceptable. Why? Well, these two activities are distracting Dylan from riding, which means he spends less time riding with Christina, and what's even worse, less time training Dakota for an upcoming three day event. As we all known, this is grounds to be disappointed with any man.

As we delve deeper into Dylan's male psyche, however, we discover that Chad is teasing Dylan because he is wearing girly pants (breeches), therefore challenging Dylan's budding masculinity. What is a sort of pubescent boy to do? Injure his horse, that's what! First Dylan beats Dakota with a riding crop when he refuses a jump. Then he rides Dakota over a jumping course like he's barrel racing, snagging his foot on a jump standard and causing it to hit the horse in the leg. THEN he gallops Dakota over slippery grass during an event. The horse totally wipes out and slides across the grass on his side with Dylan's leg underneath him, but somehow they are both unharmed and no one thinks to beat Dylan with a crop for his repeated willful neglect. Except for Christina, who's been telling Dylan he's an idiot since page four of the book. Unfortunately, we all know that no one listens to Christina, especially when she knows best, though in this book she's actually right.

Finally, during the show jumping leg of the event, Dylan forgets to put on Dakota's galloping boots, so the horse cuts himself AND refuses a jump. Shamed by his neglect, Dylan dumps Dakota in a horse trailer and goes off the win the championship soccer game, probably earning him a romantic night alone with Chad. But it's a Pyrrhic victory, and Dylan apologizes to Christina for not listening to him when she told him he was maiming his horse, then says he is going to stop playing soccer to concentrate on said horse. Then he tells all the boys on his soccer team to stop making fun of his pants and all is well in the world.

Points of Interest:
  • All throughout the book Katie, Christina's supposed best friend, constantly dumps Christina to hang out with Chad. Christina doesn't seem really concerned by this though. She's too busy worrying about if Dylan is cheating on her with Chad.
  • Which brings me to my next point. The end of this book left me pretty disgusted. Christina spends the whole time agonizing over whether or not Dylan will quit riding, as if you can't speak to someone who won't ride because people who don't ride horses have leprosy. But then, when Dylan puts riding first again, all is well! I was always upset by how boy-centric the early NewGen books were, but I think this one just really drives it home. Christina is obsessed with Dylan and controlling his actions, and while he is acting like a dumb ass, her 1950s-style fawning is really off-putting. There is no B-plot in this book guys. This is all there is.
  • I will say, I enjoy reading the authors write Sterling. Even though she miraculously can compete in novice level events only a few months after coming off the track, she is a real jerk and constantly gives Christina hard time. That, at least, is realistic. Sterling's problems are not fixed right away, and Christina's inexperience often make it worse. Plus, the problems she faces, such as being afraid of water, are REAL problems, which is better than anything Bentley came up with.
  • At one point the author claims that Melanie isn't as serious about riding as Dylan and Christina...WRONG. While I'm stopping to admire this busted spot, I will add that I don't remember ANYONE being as driven as riding about Christina. I feel Dylan has probably undergone a sudden personality change to comply with the plot of the book...or Christina doesn't know him at all, making her even more of a creepy stalker.
  • Christina used to play soccer? What?
  • Ashleigh suggests that Christina takes her incredibly spooky mare on lots of road hacks to make her less spooky. Because after Sterling spooks and gets run over by a car, she certainly will be too dead to be scared.
  • At one point Sterling jumps a giant fallen pine tree on a trail at Whitebrook, therefore making her just as good a jumper as Sierra was. Because this is how we rate the success of all jumpers. On Earth.
  • Dylan is very clean - in this book Christina is able to smell not only his laundry detergent, but his peppermint toothpaste...in the middle of a trail ride.
  • At one point all the kids play chicken when they are swimming in the "river," and Christina is really excited that she gets to wrap her legs around Dylan's head. The end.
  • Ashleigh always seems to show up at just the right moments to play Yoda and give Christina the perfect Zen advice, no matter how bad they've previously been fighting. In this book, Christina so busy fighting with Dylan that she forgets she is more knowledgeable than Ashleigh and actually takes her mother's advice.
  • At one point Christina marvels at how wonderful Dylan's show attire makes his Adam's apple look.
  • Christina and Sterling place six in their event, and Christina is actually thrilled.
I hate to say it guys, but as boring and offensive as this book was, it was still better than anything written after Ultimate Risk. The NewGen was better before it was the NewNewGen. That said, I am glad no TB author ever tried to tackle the complexity of gender roles in children's sports ever, ever again.

May 26, 2008

Battlecry: give him a kiss and he'll kick you in the teeth.

Battlecry Forever
by Joanna Campbell
Published: 1992
Republished: 1998, 2007

I've been curious about the new edition of Battlecry Forever for a while now, so when I got it from the library I made sure to get the 2007 copy published through Stabenfeldt and printed in, of all places, Germany. It also has a new cover, which I have provided.

This is what we're used to. The old Paul Casale oil painting of the big black horse being ridden by someone who can't possibly be 5'3" and looks like she might teeter right off and into the water at any second. Frankly, I always loved everything about this cover besides the girl. She looks like she has just about as much experience as a friend of mine who once tried to ride a horse like she was sitting in a lounge chair.

Anyway, moving on to 2007...

New cover art provided by one Jennifer Bell. I have yet to discover the reason behind the new artwork, but I'm assuming it must have been a copyright issue considering how similar the covers are. Honestly, I almost like the new one better as the girl is at least attempting to ride the horse in a manner a racing thoroughbred would be ridden. I also like her outfit about 100% more than the horrible early nineties attire and cowboy boots (please, this takes place on Long Island) in the original cover.

15-year-old Leslie can have any horse she wants; her parents own stables where they train retired Thoroughbred racers to become pleasure horses. But the only horse Leslie wants is Battlcry [sic], a racer everyone else has given up on. "He's wild... untrainable," they tell her.

Leslie knows Battlecry is so much more than that. Beneath his unpredictable behavior is a spirited horse that would give his all to win races again -- for Leslie.

Finally Leslie's parents give Battlecry a chance to prove his worth. Leslie doesn't know that by entering him in a race, she'll risk losing him forever...
Yes, it would tell you the production quality of this company when they've got typos in their back cover summaries; there are typos in the text as well.

Here's the original summary:

"Battlecry is a loser."

Fifteen-year-old Leslie D'Andrea can have any horse she wants—her parents own stables where they train retired Thoroughbreds to become pleasure riders. But the only horse Leslie wants is Battlecry, a racer everyone else has given up on as wild and untrainable.

Leslie knows Battlecry is something more. Beneath his unpredictable behavior is a spirited horse who would give his all to win races again—for her.

Finally Leslie's parents give Battlecry a chance to prove his worth. Leslie doesn't know that by entering Battlecry in a race, she'll risk losing him forever...

So, plot wise? This one is pretty well done. Leslie D'Andrea lives on Long Island, almost right on the beach (hence our two covers), at D'Andrea Farm. The farm is unique in that it's a not-for-profit rescue operation on top of a thoroughbred training facility (not to mention an accidental breeding farm, but we'll get to that in a second). The book opens up at an auction in New Jersey, where most of the horses are being sold off to slaughterhouses. Leslie's father is looking to buy a few horses for the rescue operation, and there's Battlecry. Leslie immediately goes for the horse, but her father is a tougher sell. Battlecry is a known terror among New York racing circles, coming in dead last in all his previous races. In a last minute bid, they win the horse at auction for just over $400 and take him home to Long Island, where he's initially planned for gelding and retraining as a jumper, but mainly is interested in mares and proceeds to get three of them in foal by accident.

But, being in general a very blonde, blue-eyed version of Ashleigh Griffen, Leslie halts these plans in their tracks when it becomes apparent that Battlecry has some racing talent buried deep down. Leslie convinces her father to give her two months to turn the stallion around, and she manages to successfully train Battlecry to the point where he's able to race. His first time out in a maiden race he circles the field and sets a new track record (of course) and then he does it again in an allowance race at Belmont Park. So, two track records broken everyone starts to think big time. They enter him in the Nassau County Handicap at the suggestion of Nick Bates, who's been Battlecry's number one fan behind Leslie, and he races off to win and equal the track record. All of this, naturally, without the aid of a crop.

Then we have our two stumbling points in the story. The first is easily overcome: some famous racing family wants to buy Battlecry for $500,000. Nick Bates says no way. Leslie says no way. Leslie's mom says no way. So they don't accept the offer. Battlecry stays! The second is more difficult: Battlecry has to be scratched before the New England Classic because he's such a jerk in the gate that he injures himself.

Meanwhile, Leslie is having some friendship drama with Kim, who's off fraternizing with a college drop out. When it becomes obvious that the guy is a jerk who's mentally abused her and treated their relationship as an open one when Kim thought it was exclusive, Kim whips up to Leslie's house in her Jeep (obviously it's a Jeep, this is a Joanna Campbell book) and winds up getting into a shouting match because Kim is still disillusioned and Leslie is bitter because she's nearly lost her friend. They patch this up pretty quickly around the end of the book. ANYWAY.

Battlecry wins the Iselin Handicap, only he comes out of it exhausted and feverish. So he's all boring and blah for several weeks before he perks up again. Then they supplement him into the Breeders' Cup Classic and he wins that, only winds up collapsing after the race after a massive coronary drops him dead. I remember being devastated about this when I was eleven, so I'll give the book extra points for my very vivid memories of sobbing my eyes out and wishing I'd never read it.

Then the first of Battlecry's few babies is born -- Son of Battle, who is born in late December, and thus would have his entire racing career screwed unless Leslie's parents hid the foal's actual birth date from the Jockey Club. Although Leslie is somewhat happy again at the birth of the foal, so the book ends on a good note.

Oddities:
  • There is no antagonist in this book, although with Battlecry's antics I don't think one was really needed.
  • However, because there is no antagonist in the book, there is no serious second plotline. So the book is fairly dull. Battlecry is retrained, Battlecry wins the races he's entered in, Battlecry dies. Yay, suspense!
  • I really love Leslie's dad. He's just about the most realistic character Joanna Campbell ever wrote, despite his preference for saying "gee" in a serious context.
  • Again with the refusal to use a crop. Obviously it's more impressive for horses to win because they're encouraged with only a hand ride, but when does this ever happen consistently?
  • Two broken track records, and one equaled track record out of five starts. I don't think any more needs to be said.
  • I really love Battlecry's attitude. Out of all the horses Joanna Campbell ever wrote, she finally got a racehorse's most common personality right: absolute, priceless arrogance with no patience for sentimentality.
I always expected a sequel to this book featuring Son of Battle, but instead we got the crossover in Ashleigh's Dream, which is unfortunate because Leslie is probably a stronger character than Ashleigh & Co. In fact, if Battlecry Forever had been a series I definitely would have been obsessed with it and I probably would have wanted to see a whole lot more of Nick Bates.

Thus ends, like, the third or fourth review of the day.

It's TB Super Edition Samantha's Journey...to Cindification

Samantha's Journey
Thoroughbred Super Edition
Written by Karen Bentley
Published: 1997

So because I hate myself I decided it was time to read the worst super edition, if not one of the worst books of the original series, in TB history.

Cover: There's not much to nitpick here, other than the horse pictured is not the horse described in the book. In the book, Samantha rides Miracle Worker, who is black, to visit her mother's grave. That's right, black. There are six black horses in this book. I counted. I also really like the rose border on the cover. It really makes me think "Kentucky Derby," you know? And in the TB universe, this is a race we can never forget.

Haunted by the past...
Samantha McLean has a terrible scare when she sees Cindy, her adoptive sister, fall over Whitebrook's track rail during a workout. Cindy's accident is frighteningly similar to the one that caused Samantha's mother's death years earlier.

Cindy's accident brings forth a flood of troubling memories for Samantha. She begins reliving the traumatic years which followed her mother's death - a difficult time when she and her father, Ian McLean, traveled aimlessly across the country in search of a place where they could rebuild their lives. Will Samantha rediscover happiness at Whitebrook Farm? Or will she be tormented forever by the tragedies of her past?
You know, several things occur to me reading this blurb. First of all, I am really sorry Cindy fell over the track rail during a workout, but what was she doing walking on top of it anyway? That is the worst possible description of a horse going through a rail ever. Secondly, the book is not actually about Samantha trying to find happiness again after Cindy's accident. Sure there is some angst, which I will get to in a second, but all that present time line stuff is solved in two extremely truncated chapters. And finally, looking at the back of this book, I realize that the way the back covers were designed would give an decent graphic designer a heart attack. They might as well add Comic Sans to the whole thing and make it official.

Plot: I really don't know what's more offensive about this book: the way Bentley destroys Samantha's character, or how freaking boring the entire plot line is. TB fans clamored for years to read the story of Samantha's life prior to her indoctrination into the Whitebrook cult, and we were rewarded with this turd. In this book it becomes screamingly apparent that Bentley is incapable of writing any character other than Cindy. In Ashleigh's Hope we can see a similar affect had on poor Ashleigh. But because Ian won't allow Samantha to ride following her mother's accident, she can't become a Super Duper Rider from Outer Space. Instead, she becomes the all powerful Horse Healer from Another Dimension, saving broken down claimers from the slaughterhouse wherever she goes, in spite of her father's admonitions not to go near anything equine.

You know, it's really not necessary to give a blow by blow summary of the action because it's all part of the same recycled formula after Samantha's mother dies: Ian tells Samanatha not to go near horses, she tells him she won't, they move to a new track, there is an ill horse in dire need of love, Samantha betrays her father to nurse the horse back to health, Ian does/doesn't find out, repeat, adding a pinch of Samantha's experiences being the new kid at school as necessary.

Man, if you thought it was hilarious watching Bentley attempt to find new story lines for every book, you'll love watching as she tries to sustain action for a mere 195 pages.

Points of Note:
  • As many of you may remember, the book opens with Samantha running happily through the forest, exclaiming to all the birds and bees because she's just been given a position as a trainer at Whitebrook. It's like reading a scene from the next Disney movie. I was expecting her to burst into song at any moment, but fortunately for us (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) Tor interrupts her before that can happen.
  • Cindy Alert: Samantha muses, "Finding the next Kentucky Derby winner in an overlooked colt will be my specialty." In that one sentence Bentley manages to reduce all of Samantha's years of experience and knowledge to tatters. She is writing a 22 year oldish woman like a 12 year old. It has begun.
  • "Samantha thought [Tor] was the handsomest guy she'd ever seen." AW, SHUCKS.
  • Samantha muses that marrying Tor means they'll be together at Whitebrook forever. Except for that part about moving to Ireland then settling down at Whisperwood.
  • Dear Samantha: If you are about to become a trainer at one of the most prestigious farms in the country, it is probably not a good idea to yell at one of your exercise riders while she's on the track working a fractious horse. I know having Cindy's attention makes everyone all gooey and warm inside, but seriously, you are acting mentally-impaired.
  • The Cindy worship continues even when Samantha is not the main character! After Cindy's accident, Samantha decides she simply can't live now that she thinks Cindy's dead. I suppose she has a point. Without Cindy, how will the rational Whitebrook trainers ever come up with the out-of-the-box solutions necessary to train their insane string of horses?
  • Okay. So I'm going to take issue with Ian's character a little here. He has no problem letting a 12 year old girl exercise ride. Then his wife dies and Samantha's not even allowed to touch horses, he's so freaked out. But, apparently he's not freaked out enough to stick around and make sure she obeys him. He's so oblivious and gullible Samantha could be training the next Breeder's Cup winner and he wouldn't notice.
  • Okay. I have noticed that every horse Bentley writes is insane. This time it's Gulfstream Waves, the horse that Suzanne is riding in her accident. All the horses that are nice either die or are losers.
  • The makeovers. Dear god the makeovers. That's all I'm going to say about that.
  • Gulfstream Waves is a former claimer who has never raced in, let alone won, a stakes race, yet he still goes into the Donn Handicap as the favorite...wha?
  • Yay. We are treated yet again to the I - Feel - Embarassed - Because - I - Am - A - Stablehand - And - Wear - Dirty - Clothes - Unlike - Rich - People trope. Also, Dear Karen Bentley: No one, especially not the daughter and wife of the favorite's trainer, would wear their stable clothes into the paddock at a stakes race!
  • Okay. So basically Samantha causes the accident that kills her mother because she decides the best way to stop a bolting racehorse is to park her horse directly in his path. She really needs to stop taking tips from Cindy.
  • In this book, the solution to every horse's health problems, no matter how grim, is to groom them and give them carrots. Excellent.
  • Cindy Alert: When Satin Doll, the first horse Samantha nurses back to health is claimed, Samantha forlornly thinks, "Satin Doll was her horse in every way that counted." Except for the legal way that says who owns the horse, dumb ass.
  • Dear Karen Bentley: No one thinks a horse is the one to watch after it wins a claiming race, and reporters would not be taking its picture in the winner's circle unless it was on fire.
  • Cindy Alert: All of the mistrusting horses in this book immediately love Samantha. Perhaps she and Cindy wear the same perfume.
  • All the other trainers and grooms on the track are perfectly willing to let Samantha work with their dangerous racehorses even though they all know Ian forbids it. That seems like a pretty unprofessional thing to do to Ian, to say the least. Also, Ian is completely oblivious if he is unaware of his daughter's actions, which the entire backside staff are aiding and abetting. Also, isn't having a 12 year old girl running unsupervised around a racetrack with excitable Thoroughbreds a liability?
  • Why are people constantly wearing riding clothes to school? No one does that!
  • Within a matter of pages a horse Bentley invented goes from Dreams of Gold to Golden Dream. I'm sorry, but that's just sad.
  • I do not buy the Townsends hiring Ian after one win in one stakes race. I just don't. I know he is a horse whisperer, but if Townsend Acres is "the best farm in the country," I think they would go with someone a little more well-known.
  • Holy crap, Bentley gets it right. Jilly did ride Wonder in the Derby! But no, Honor is not Wonder's daughter, she is Princess's. Remember that time you created that scenario, Karen Bentley? Yeah, I guess not.
  • Oh Sammy, you silly girl. Ashleigh isn't important - she does whatever the Townsends say! And yes, of course, simply laying eyes on Pride entitles you to spend your life time working with him. I'm sure the first time you groom him he will grow wings. You are indispensable.
And so we return to the present, and Tor finds Sammy cowering in Shining's stall to tell her that Cindy has lived. Great, now Samantha has a reason to live again too! Then, we are treated to the best line in TB history: "Oh Sammy, kiss me!" Though this line, coupled with the use of the word "passionate," seems racy for a book aimed at prepubescents, we can all be happy and content knowing that Samantha is going to wed herself to a cheating jerk.

Grab a tissue, this one’s a tear-jerker: The Forgotten Filly

The Forgotten Filly
By Karle Dickerson
First Printing: January 1993
Re-printed as Ashleigh’s Thoroughbred Collection: July 1998

Ok, I admit it; I can’t read this book without bawling like a baby. I actually get teary-eyed just looking at the cover so I had it hidden on the bookshelf behind my Thoroughbred books. It’s just laden with sorrow and loss and those horrible things you never want to accept – like the death of a beloved horse that just breaks your heart, and it feels like the world will end. And I know, I’ve been there, done that. But in the end, there’s hope, there’s redemption, and there’s a future. So props to Karle Dickerson on a masterful read, it moves me each and every time. And when a book does that, it’s good. Sure, it’s not a classic like “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Oliver Twist” but hey, every book’s got a story, and this one just happens to be good.

The Cover:


It’s really quite adorable; a little long-legged black filly standing out in the gently falling rain while there’s some action in the background. It’s hard to find any fault with the cover; although I could swear on a stack of bibles that I’ve seen a photograph of a foal in the exact same pose – minus the rain and such. Plus, Southern Californian barns are much more modern than the classic red and white barn; they have those back east, but out here, you’ll find the pre-fabricated modular barns. But hey, how can anyone really argue with the cover, it just shows a little filly forgotten out in the rain. It fits!

Ye Olde Summary:
Joelle hates her new filly...

Joelle has a very special relationship with her Thoroughbred mare, Dance Away. Then Dancer dies giving birth to her first foal, and Joelle swears that no horse, not even Dancer's filly, will ever replace Dancer in her heart. But Joelle's parents insist she take care if the orphaned filly--it needs her help to survive.

Joelle does as little as she can to groom and train the foal. All she can think about is Dancer--that they won't be riding together in the big fall show where Joelle was sure they'd win a trophy. Joelle's convinced that Dancer's filly will never be a winner like her mother.

Then something happens that will make Joelle change her mind forever...
OK, OK … cheesy summary plot, but it gets right to the meat of the story. Girl loves mare, mare loves girl. Girl decides to breed mare, mare dies after foaling. Girl resents orphaned foal, and skimps on her care. But then filly does something that changes girl’s mind, and voila, instant OMG EXPLODING HEARTS AND STARS!!! Gotta admit it, whoever wrote the summary was spot on; it follows the book pretty damn well.

The Big Picture Plots:

Dance Away (.a.k.a Dancer): She’s this gorgeous black Thoroughbred mare that Joelle loves and loves with all her heart. And Dance Away loves Joelle back and it’s like the bestest bond in the whole wide world because they win big ribbons and jump and hang out together. And then Joelle wants to breed Dancer, and Dancer has trouble and has to be put down, so her loss figures prominently through the whole book. Joelle sighs, and cries, and mopes over her loss. And ignores the foal because she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her.

Jeff: He’s Joelle’s little brother, who was partially paralyzed after falling out of a tree so he has to stay in a wheelchair and get physical therapy which he hates. Part of the story really centers around him, and what happened and how it’s affected the family (and Joelle) and his part in the story has to do with the healing power of horses, and how much he loves Dancer’s filly, and the miracle she performed to save him.

Devin Butler: He’s the vet’s son. And he’s kind of a jerk. He’s sort of the male antagonist of Joelle the way Brad is to Ashleigh, but apparently Devin has a reason for being a jerk; his older sister was killed in a car crash so he started acting like an asshole to get away from the pain of missing her. But then, he turns away from the ‘dark side’ and starts acting good, and whoo! – not an asshole anymore. Fortunately for readers of the book, there’s no lovesick looks from girl to boy, and vice versa; they seem to be just ‘friends’ which is good considering they’re tweenies anyway. Plenty of time later for groping and kissing and that sort of thing. But then again, Joelle seems to be horse-mad, and horses kind of take precedence over boys a lot (dirty joke is … horses give you the better ride, har har) and Devin rides horses (which actually any smart boy who wants to get in with the girls will do … look at it this way – tons of girls, not very many boys, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.) But then, I liked Devin, jerk or not. My brother’s name is Devin. I have an excuse.

Midnight Dancer (a.k.a. Foal, a.k.a. Weanling, a.k.a. Midnight): Whoo, what a doozy Joelle put that poor baby through. Didn’t even give her a proper name until the last page of the book because of how much she resented the foal for Dancer’s death. Which certainly wasn’t the foal’s fault – but Joelle carried a chip on her shoulder for an awful long time. But the filly really shows heart, and saves Jeff’s life, which leads to Joelle loving her. I thought Joelle was a jerk for treating the foal the way she did when I first read the book, and it sure didn’t change with this reading. The story definitely tugs at the emotions, and it was easy to see how the foal responded to Joelle’s lack of caring compared to Jeff’s love, or anyone else’s.

Some Key Points of Interest:
  • Death is really a recurring theme in this book, first Devin’s older sister Valerie gets killed in a car crash, and then Dance Away hemorrhages and they have to put her down. But I’m not going to complain; it was nice to read a book that wasn’t all sunshine and roses and magikal Gypsy Vanner butterfly farts. It didn’t dwell on death and the sucktasticness of life, but rather faced reality, and the fact that one has to move on after a loss, and keep making life worth living for.
  • Dancer neighs softly after her foal is born. Now, granted, I've read that mares really do this, because it accustoms the foal to the sound of it's mother's voice, but Joelle in her youthful happiness interprets this nicker as "See? I did it!" This is not the only time a horse neighs or nickers or makes some kind of motion that indicates agreement.
  • I have to admit, I simply love the names that the horses in this book are given. Devin’s two horses are named Blade Runner and Megaton. I think offhand, a better name for the second horse probably should have been Megatron (yeah, unsubtle Transformer reference there), but they’re horse names that boys like. I like names like Soldier, and Valor, and Trilogy and Great Caesar’s Ghost. They’re cool horse names, but nothing stupid like Rainbow or Four Leaf Clover or pretentious like Wonder’s Champion. Just normal every day horse names, without sounding too unrealistic. But hey, I had a Flair, and have a Mitch, so maybe that’s what endeared me to these horse names.
  • After Dancer dies, Joelle makes like a tornado and rearranges her room up to and including: throwing her model horses in the closet along with Dancer's bridle, and putting away her ribbons. I always thought it was kind of strange when I read the book that she would completely de-equine her room like that, and then well ... I lost Flair, and did something similar. My ribbons are in my closet still (although I have the excuse that I'm redecorating -- they'll be out again soon enough.)
  • I love the Latham family. Dad, Mom, sister, brother – they’re just cool and together in the face of adversity and sorrow, and work together to make their riding academy business work. Kind of reminds me of my Pony Club instructor and his wife and daughter – before the sordid affair with the assistant instructor and divorce, of course. The chapter where the Lathams are out on the lake in a rowboat is wonderful. Very family-like, which kind of shows how much they really do care about each other. Even in the middle of a horse book, the author took time out to throw the family on a little non-equine-related side trip, which added to the story.
  • Can I just say how happy I am with the Pony Love in this book? Bluebell is an adorable and mischievous Welsh pony who helps Jeff in his therapeutic riding. And everyone loves him. Hooray for ponies!
  • There’s some apparent rivalry between Windswept Riding Academy and the swankier Oak Meadows Riding Club where apparently all the snobs ride. Even Devin rode there. That is, until he switched to riding at Windswept, and became part of the Cool Kids Club™ But it's like Oak Meadows is like Townsend Acres or something, and Windswept is Whitebrook Farm
  • OK, it’s incredibly cheesy, and sort of falls under the “Mother lifts car to save child” cliché, but Midnight pulls Jeff out of the flooded creek. The only thing I’d have to gripe about that is, I’d guess he was holding the lead rope, which was attached to the halter on the filly’s head. Dude, there’s ‘aint no way a horse is going to pull against that kind of weight with their head. But she does it, and yay, she pulls him out, and he’s OK! She’s a wonderhoss!
  • Dr. Butler is a wise wise man with his lecture on nature, and the pitfalls of horse breeding. ‘Nuff said.
This book gets an A from me. Maybe even an A+ because of the way it was written. Yeah, it’s got angst, and angst kind of runs the gamut of Joelle’s experience throughout the story, but hell, she’s a frickin 12 year old, she hasn’t learned life’s lessons yet. And admittedly, she had to face that cold hard fact of a beloved horse dying far sooner than I did. So I liked this book, and could find very little fault with it. Glug, time to move on to Aladdin’s Derby then. But hell, that can wait. It’s a holiday, and there’s a fat pony calling my name.

Risky Business... or not. TB #40- Ultimate Risk

Ultimate Risk
Thoroughbred #40
by Mary Newhall Anderson
Published: 2000

I am back on the bandwagon with a very random New Generation book. Dammit, I know I need some order in my life.

The cover:

I actually like it. The horses looks like horses and the girls are adequately dressed for a race. The goggles kind of amuse me. As does the expression on Gratis' face. Also, are there only five horses in this race? Hmmm? Ah, well. I will content myself with the thought that the covers only get much much worse after this one.

Just to nitpick, Chris's silks should be purple and green, but, as the book is purple and green I suppose I can overlook that..

The Blurb

A great opportunity...

Now that Christina Reese and her cousin Melanie Graham are jockeys, they want to ride as many horses for as many trainers as they possibly can.

When Christina is asked to ride a difficult horse for one of the best known trainers in Kentucky, she leaps at the chance to prove herself. But she'll have to race against her own horse--Wonder's Star. Is it worth the risk?

This is short and sweet and actually encapsulates what the book is about. I think that should go down in Thoroughbred history! Of course, the sad part is that she only finds out she will be racing against Star in the last few chapters, so the suspense is kind of killed dead.

Plot

Gratis: He is this unruly colt Christina really wants to ride. In spite of the fact that no one seems to think the horse is safe. After much sucking up and a few attempts made by other riders to get Gratis to go, Christina rides him. She has a hard time but, by god, she stays on! Am I shocked? No. Not really. So, Vince Jones, the trainer, gives Gratis to another jockey to ride in a race and he freaks out. It seems Christina now has another horse that will run for only her! (Star is more selective though. He knows his mum needs to ride other horses sometimes and goes well for Melanie when it suits him to.)

Melanie: She is all mopey and self-absorbed this book because she is not winning. Apparently, this is due to fear after a bad fall from Fast Gun in book 39. But, never fear! The solution is so clear. Mel rides Star and she starts doing better. Of course, in a TOTALLY unexpected twist, Mel gets to ride Star in the Futurity as Chris is listed to ride Gratis. She wins and is happy. Yay. Well, aside from the little fact that Kevin is giving her grief about riding or something and they break up.

Image: Fredericka Graber's filly is introduced in this book! Of course she is so pretty. She is related to Wonder! I should have known...

Points of Interest

  • I found a typo I never noticed before. At one point in chapter one, Rascal is referred to as the Rascal. Hmmm, I wonder if the Melanie and the Christina will fight over who rides the Star....
  • Vince Jones is soooo an attempt to reincarnate Charlie Burke from the dead.
  • Yeah, you know what? I am not buying the whole "let's jump over the fallen horse, my super 2 year-old colt" scenario.
  • Melanie should have a chat with Cindy about her seconditis. Cause, you know, Cindy never lost. She must have some uber-amazing secret that needs to be shared!
  • Christina and Parker need a normal teenage relationship NOW! With kissing and groping and all that fun stuff. But wait! This is Thoroughbred... and it's aimed at 12 year olds... sigh.
  • Yeah, Gratis, you bad-ass. No wonder you become Cindy's special horse later.
  • Why didn't I think of tugging on the reins whenever a horse acts up? It makes so much sense! Or, um... not.
  • "It's Been Lonesome in the Saddle Since My Horse Died" is a song that must be written!
  • Again... Ashleigh is stated as Wonder's rider in the Derby.
  • Ok, surely someone else would have picked up that Christina was riding two horses in one race looong before the draw took place? I get the whole suspense thing, but really.
  • Thank goodness Mel was doing so well on Star! And of course she's not riding him better than Chris! His times are just faster because he's getting better every day anyway!
  • The Magical Whitebrook Touch gets Gratis through his race, but of course nothing will help him beat Star! Though, I did like the fact that Chris did not win.
Ooook, I think I am going to go for a trip to Dubai next! You know the book I am talking about.