Jul 30, 2008

No Small Thing, Blah Blah Blah

No Small Thing
by Natale Ghent
Published: 2005

I picked this up a while back and just now got around to reading it. No Small Thing was short-listed for the Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year and the Rocky Mountain Book Award, so I guess this is what's called a quality horse book. Well, a quality horse book aimed to the 9-12 crowd in any case.

When twelve-year-old Nathaniel and his sisters, Cid and Queenie, discover an ad for a free pony, they can hardly believe their luck. But how will they afford to take care of it? And what will their struggling single mother say? Amazingly, she says yes. And so begins a year of discovery for Nat, who must deal with his father's absence, look out for Queenie, who is "different," and sort out his feelings about a rich, pretty girl at school. Life isn't easy, but Nat knows he has his very own pony waiting for him at the end of every day. Until a fire destroys the barn....
This is another one of those first-person stories told from the male perspective. Which is fine, really, and would be great if not for the fact that Nat is superbly dull. Granted, I didn't expect this to be a Judy Blume novel or anything, but honestly we've got a twelve-year-old kid who, upon being bestowed with his first kiss, starts to fantasize about marriage and babies? What? Well, we'll get to that later.

The novel starts out with the ad for the free pony. Nat and his sisters, Cid and Queenie, had ponies previously back when their life was splendid and the picture of domestic bliss. But that was before. When they lived in Illinois. I think. But then they moved to Ontario and their dad left and now their mom makes almost no money and they never have new jeans to wear. These people sound like prime candidates for pony ownership, don't you think?

When they see the pony they practically fall upon it like the pony-starved children they are. The people who are giving it away couldn't get their own kids interested in it, so Nat takes Queenie's bridle (she asked for a bridle one year, and thus got a bridle...despite not owning a horse at the time) and puts it on the pony and off they go. Oh, I should also mention that this pony is pretty much just how it looks on the cover, its name is Smokey and it is a stallion. That's right. A stallion.

They walk Smokey off back to town and once they are far enough down the road they start to ride it. Bareback. Without helmets. Once they stick little 8-year-old Queenie up there you just know something horrible is going to happen. I mean, really, this is just too obvious. So what happens, you may ask? A giant dog comes out of nowhere and attacks them. Bet you didn't see that happening, right? Well, either way, something was going to happen and Queenie falls off and everyone tries to kick this dog and Smokey runs away, but comes back. Only Queenie breaks her collarbone, which means their mother is going to have to know about this pony thing. So they stick Smokey in an extremely cheap nearby boarding stable and go home, where Nat's mom proceeds to slap him around before whisking Queenie off to the hospital. When she comes back she demands that Nat take the pony back, and he erupts into one of his "i hate you!" fits and runs away. To the barn. And because his mom is all shocked and dismayed that her son blames her for his lot in life, she lets him keep the pony so long as he keeps paying for it out of his paper route money.

But then one of the other boarders gets all snippy because Smokey is a stallion. Smokey is the most pleasant stallion around, but the other boarder won't have it and Nat glumly decides to cut off Smokey's balls. Poor, poor Smokey. Nat certainly disapproves of this, because he wouldn't want his balls cut off, after all. No, really. So they spend the rest of his money on gelding Smokey and Nat worries about whether or not Smokey will be the same. Of course, he's still the same. They proceed to ride him around bareback without helmets and then come up with this method of driving him around by attaching twine to his halter and making him drag their sled and if this sounds like some teenybopper fantasy, then it really is.

Eventually Nat probably starts having wet dreams about this girl named Cheryl, who gets all excited about Smokey. But this is not a Judy Blume book, so Nat bottles these feelings down deep and thinks about Cheryl's tight sweater and about how wonderful it will be when she's carrying his children or something to that effect. Cheryl kisses Nat, provoking all of these domestic feelings, but Cheryl is unfortunately rich and cannot be seen with Nat and inexplicably decides to start seeing this high school boy who can drive although she's only 13, so ew. Nat is suitably crushed, so he can stop worrying about his appearance and focus on how Smokey is living in sub par conditions. The owner of the barn has a horse he doesn't really take care of, so during a blizzard he really doesn't take care of the horse and this means a beam has to fall on said horse and break its neck.

This makes every other boarder leave the stable except for Nat and Smokey, because he can't afford to go anywhere else. Poor people, after all, can't be choosers. So he just waits around until the barn goes up into flames. Smokey is okay, but the barn is done. The owner of the barn suggests that they sell Smokey to these rich people who want to enter Smokey in some pony shows or whatnot. Now, I will try to completely ignore the fact that this drunkard guy with the worst stable in the city knows well-to-do people well enough to suggest a horse for their precious snobby boy to buy, but...no, I can't ignore that. Like hell the guy who's hardly been around in the novel is suddenly going to pop up and tell Nat that his rich friends want to buy his pony. Right. Anyway, right about here Nat's mom tells the kids that she has to sell the house. She can't pay her electricity bill, and has $5 in her account at one point that she spent on a Christmas tree, so the house has got to go. Nat and Cid freak out on her, but eventually come to their senses and decide to sell Smokey.

Only the snobby boy comes to pick Smokey up and Nat can't do it. He rides off on Smokey and fantasizes some more about living on the land with his sparkling fairy pony. Then a police cruiser finds him and he tries to outrun the cruiser and nearly runs over an old lady before being cornered and told that he has to, you know, go home. He goes home, and his mom tells him he can keep Smokey because the money they'll get from the house will cover his expenses. Although, given that I just sold a house, methinks someone is incredibly short sighted.

Thrilled that he can keep Smokey, Nat goes and takes a bath and ponders the meaning of the universe. Not surprisingly, Smokey is the center of the universe.

  • So, who is really sick of the we're-poor-but-we-can-keep-a-pony/horse-no-problem! plot? The whole point of No Small Thing is that Smokey is NO SMALL THING. He's big and important and should be difficult to take care of when you have $5 TOTAL. Then again, if you only have $5, methinks you probably shouldn't have a mortgage.
  • At the end, Nat just goes and takes a bath. No one stops to think about how they're going to pay for this pony's upkeep until the house is sold and they'll suddenly have this surplus of cash. Where is Smokey going to live? Their back yard?
Well, whatever. The biggest issue with this book is that very little seems to happen. Although, I will always be amused with Nat being all dismayed because he has to geld Smokey. That was pretty entertaining. The rest was a bit overblown, in my opinion.

Everytime I read Ashleigh's Diary I want to cry.

Honestly, I can't believe no one has reviewed this book yet. It just makes no sense to me. Therefore, I claim it in the name of...me. It's also the fist Joanna Campbell book I've reviewed for the blog, so that will make this a shockingly new experience all around.


Now then. I always have enjoyed this cover. We are told over and over how beautiful Stardust is, and god damnit, I believe it! Even if I don't know why. Maybe it's her name. I adore her name. So shut-up about it. And this picture doesn't disappoint. She is a pretty little chestnut mare laying in the most humongous stall ever. I also like the picture of Ashleigh. She's super cute, even though I'm not sure if she at all resembles her later incarnations on book covers. Maybe it's the bangs. And while I admire Ashleigh's dedication to her literary and equine pursuits, I do not think it's a good idea to have a kerosene lamp in a barn, resting on a pile of straw bedding in the middle of a stall that is also holding a horse too sick to stand. Also, I'm sure the paper in that diary burns, so there you go.
Ashleigh's secret diary...

In the attic of her parents' home, champion Ashleigh Griffen discovers an old diary she had kept as a girl at Edgardale, her family's first breeding farm. Ashleigh is transported back in memory to the year she turned eleven - reliving her love for Stardust, a beautiful chestnut mare, and for Black Night, the spirited colt whose birth she witnessed.

Ashleigh remembers her terrible sadness when Black Night was stolen by horse thieves, and how hard she worked to find him. Painfully she recalls the devastation she felt during her struggle to save the horses she loved from a deadly virus that swept through Edgardale stables. And Ashleigh relives all the happiness and tragedy of knowing Stardust - her very first horse, who was taken from her much too soon...
Okay, say what you want, but this book is good. Damn good. It is probably the least happy book in the entire series, in that really Ashleigh never catches a break, starting basically from day one. It's rich with fully-developed characters and beautifully descriptive scenes, and contains some of the most heartbreaking and memorable lines of any Thoroughbred book. I remember buying this book while on vacation in Pittsburgh when I was ten years old. At the time 241 pages equaled HUGE. But I HAD to read it all, I just had to, and therefore I stayed up the entire night reading the book in the hotel bath tub so the light wouldn't wake up the rest of my family. Truly, I love this book.

There is an interesting note, however, about this book. It's actually quite baffling when you consider how good this book is. For those of you with a copy available, please join me in flipping to the dedication page. Now, let's all read together: "A special thanks to Karen Bentley." That's right. Before Bentley took over writing the series she was actually an editor. Which still fails to make any sense at all to me, because how could she make so many mistakes if she was editing the books prior to writing them? Isn't an editor's job to catch and fix mistakes? Did she suddenly lose the ability to self-edit when she became an author, or is she one of those super heroes with one of those frustratingly narrow super powers, which allowed her only to edit other people's work? Sadly, we will ever know.

Now, I'm making a huge stink about this dedication because I believe both Bentley AND Joanna Campbell herself informed me that Karen Bentley actually helped write this book. I know. I was completely shocked too, especially considering how god awful weird Ashleigh's Hope is. They are like two different universes. But, reading the book with this knowledge, you can tell what parts Bentley had a hand in and what parts Campbell did. So we're going to play a game as this review progresses called, "Bentley or Campbell?" At the end the winner will get absolutely nothing. And, as this is a long book this will be a long review, assuring that plenty of points will be handed out.

This book opens, quite endearingly, during the present-day TB time line with, Ashleigh and her mother going through boxes of memorabilia at the Griffens' new breeding farm. Ashleigh is a 23 year old newlywed and successful jockey who now owns a farm of her own. She's sorting through all her stuff because Rory, also all grown up, will be studying abroad, so they have to make room for more of his stuff in the house. Part of the reason I love this book so much are the Prologue and Epilogue. In these two short chapters we get a glimpse into the lives of these characters that we've never seen. Ashleigh sorts through scrapbooks and finds fan letters addressed to the horses she rode, which still makes my heart turn to mush. She plays with the toy horses she unearths, and we are treated to a pleasing anecdote about an old stuffed toy, Blackie, destroyed by four-year-old Rory and a fork. Even the way Ashleigh interacts with her mother is beyond charming. Mrs. Griffen finds Ashleigh's old horse books and Ashleigh wants to keep them for when she has children (apparently in this book, which was written after Ashleigh's Christmas Miracle, Christina is not even yet a gleam in Mike's penis), and Ashleigh's mother absolutely freaks out at the idea of her daughter having sex. Because married people don't have sex. Awk-ward.

Eventually Mrs. Griffen decides she can't stand the dust bunnies and goes downstairs, leaving Ashleigh alone to tackle the memories. Ashleigh comes across an old blue brush that used to belong to her very first horse, Stardust, and then unearths her diary that she kept while at Edgardale. She's surprised at the strong feelings the mere thought of the farm provokes within her, and as she begins to reread her diary, she is transported to the past.

Okay. So now we were in the world of eleven year old Ashleigh, who has just found out the she is soon going to own her very own horse. Her parents have promised her Stardust as a present for graduating elementary school with the stipulation that she must pass all her classes with a C or better. This is kind of like blackmail, even though not really, because Ashleigh doesn't like to do her homework, least of all math. Ashleigh's aversion to school always totally endeared her to me. I looked up to Samantha, who got good grades, and therefore wanted to get those good grades myself. But I also struggled with math, and there is something so appealing about a character who had a flaw. Because the important thing here is not that Ashleigh's stupid, it's that she doesn't like to do homework and therefore doesn't do it. She breaks the rules. Something else I can still understand. Also, I hated math.

To get back to the story, Ashleigh is just thrilled. She'll be able to spend all summer going on trail rides with her best friend Mona and her Thoroughbred mare, Frisky. Even better, the farm's best broodmare, Wanderer, has just foaled. She chooses to do this during morning chores, of course, so every single person on the farm crowds around to watch her. Not only that, but Ashleigh and Rory go into the stall to pet the foal before he's even been licked dry. If you remember our little game, it's really impossible to tell who's responsible for this kind of unbelievable bit of fluff, but get ready because you're about to get smacked with walloping dose of Bentley. You see, Ashleigh is the first thing this little black colt ever sees and he immediately falls head over heals in love with her. He even thinks she's his mother. Also we're gifted with the name "Black Night," which I hesitate to pin on any one author because both ladies had a propensity for stupidly descriptive names. So I will just say that either way I do not like it. Black Knight, maybe. Black Night, punch me in the face.

Lots of frolicking with the foals and on horseback abounds. Ashleigh is way too busy having equine fun to study for her math final. She keeps putting it off and putting it off before realizing, holy shit, I'm kind of screwed. And yes, screwed she is because she flunks that test big time. As in doesn't even finish half the questions on the test. Yikes. Though I don't really blame her because 15 pages of equations for a fifth grade math test sounds a little heavy to me. Also, these math problems are crazy. Example: If a car goes fifty miles on three gallons of gas, then it goes how many miles on two gallons?. What? Does that even make sense? Aren't you missing a variable? Do you divide 50 by three? I mean...I would fail that question too.

Moving on from that baffling word problem (and my inability to solve it, which leaves me terrified that I will flunk math this semester), Ashleigh gets a big, fat "D," which means summer school and no riding until she's passed. Unlike say, Cindy, Ashleigh doesn't whine about it. She just sort of miserably accepts her fate and doubles down to study harder while spending every spare minute taking care of Stardust. Ashleigh spends a great deal of this book not riding, and she doesn't whine about it, at all. Clearly this is Campbell's doing, because if this was a Bentley character, Ashleigh would slit her wrists or hold her family up at gun point if she wasn't allowed to ride.

Despite not being able to ride, things aren't going so bad for Ashleigh. She's passing math thanks to her hard work. She's also spending a lot of time with Black Night, who has a totally creepy obsession with her. He's also the fastest foal in his playgroup, and is the dominant foal, of course. He's basically Champion without the bad attitude. It's quite clear he's going to be a spectacular horse, and Ashleigh spends a lot of time wishing her family could keep him, but she knows they can't afford it. She settles for going to the races to watch another of Wanderer's foals race. They bump into Townsend Pride at the racetrack too, a nice little shout-out to the later series.

Mona goes with the Griffens, but when they return home they discover that someone's stolen Friskey! Oh no. So, who can we blame this outrageous horse thievery on, Campbell or Bentley? Campbell is the one who came up with the whole Glory Was Stolen plot, but this whole thing also kinds of smacks of Bentley, so I give them both a point. Anyway, Ashleigh is so worried about Frisky that she decides the thing to do is ride Stardust bareback out into the woods during the early morning to look for her, even though she is grounded from riding and there may be dangerous horse thieves lurking in the shadows. For this I give Bentley a point.

Remember though, Campbell is also at the helm here, so thankfully Ashleigh does not stumble upon a marauding band of land pirates holding Frisky for ransom in some ram-shackle barn while they whip her to death. No, instead Ashleigh rides into a branch, falls off, and sprains her ankle. This means no riding until the end of August. Dude, dumb move Ashleigh. She knows this though, and just sort of bravely soldiers on. She also commiserates with Mona because now they both can't ride. I like Mona, you know? I just thought I'd say that.

After some more soldiering Ashleigh and her family, sans Caroline, go to the tack store to buy some supplies. Ashleigh finds a beautiful blue body brush on sale and buys it for Stardust. Honestly, at this point I was like, WTF is the big deal with this brush? But it actually matters later, so anyway. When the Griffens arrive home they find Caroline sobbing: the horse thieves have struck again, and this time they've stolen Wanderer and Black Night. This is pretty devastating, not only because Black Night can't possibly survive without Ashleigh and vice versa, but because they were the two most valuable horses on the farm. What can be done?

After a whole lot of nothing, Ashleigh and Mona decide to place an add in the classifieds asking people to report any suspicious behavior. This is probably where the Bush administration got the idea. For this I give Bentley a point because obviously it ends up saving the day - someone sees the add, thinks about their suspicious horse-dealing neighbor, and calls the police. Huzzah, all the horses are found and Ashleigh and Black Night are reunited in an uncontrollable burst of whinnying and tears of joy.

Okay, so now everything is perfect, right? Ashleigh can ride again, Stardust is hers, Mona has Frisky back, the horse thieves are going to fry in the electric chair, and Ashleigh even got an A- on a math quiz. Things couldn't be better. Ashleigh's mom is so happy she knocks on wood, an incident described in a journal passage that I always found rather horrifying because quickly thereafter all of the horses on the farm start getting sick. Always make sure you're not knocking on Formica, but actual wood, kids, always. Because apparently the Griffen's entire home is made of Formica, for Elaine can find NO wood to knock on.

It turns out the horses have equine rhinopneumonitis, a rather terrifying virus in which they get flu like symptoms and also become paralyzed, losing the ability to stand. They begin to drop like flies, a pun that is quite horrible but also accurately descriptive. Five of the broodmares get sick, including Wanderer, and the devastated Griffens allow their children to stay home from school to help keep the farm together. Ashleigh, heartbroken, wants to take back her earlier wish that she could skip school to stay at the barn.

Then both Stardust and Black Night get sick. This crosses the line for Ashleigh and she decides she's never leaving the barn again. In her mind, leaving the barn will surely cause the death of her two favorite horses. Stardust is the priority, and after untold amounts of time sitting in the stall with her, the mare actually recovers. Then Ashleigh switches her priorities to Black Night. She sits in the stall with him, telling him a story about what he's going to be like when he's a Triple Crown winning race horse, something I find to be just completely endearing. She eventually falls asleep, and when morning finally arrives she wakes up to find her family outside the stall. But Black Night is still warm, so she's sure he weathered the storm. Except then she realizes the only warm part of him is his head, which was in her lap, and she starts bawling and begging her parents not to take her away from him, because she won't be able to take care of him. Of course the colt is dead, and Ashleigh is taken away, sobbing, by her parents.

All told the Griffens have lost five broodmares along with Black Night, including the two most valuable broodmares, Slewette and Wanderer. There's no way they can recoup their losses, and they announce to their children they'll have to sell the farm and all the horses and find a job as breeding managers on another farm. They'll even have to sell Stardust because they won't be allowed to bring their own horses to someone else's farm. I could buy them not being able to afford boarding a horse, but is there some sort of ban on children's riding horses at Thoroughbred breeding farms in Kentucky that I don't know about?

Anyway, this is just too much for Ashleigh, so she runs off and goes on a wild trail ride with Stardust, wherein they jump a four foot tree without any training because in this series fallen trees are EVERYWHERE. Then the farm is sold and a distraught Ashleigh watches as the new owners pet Stardust while her parents pack boxes into the car for the move to Townsend Acres.

Thus ends the flashback, along with the diary. It's dark out now, and Ashleigh is sitting in the attic in the dark and the dust. She's still deep into her gloomy reverie when Mike appears and teases her about sitting in the middle of the dust. Then he mentions that he was looking at an old scrapbook while waiting for her downstairs, and asks her about Stardust and Black Night. Turns out Ashleigh has never really told him much about either of them, especially Black Night, which spoke to me a lot about how much the whole incident hurt her, and still hurts her. But she smiles and tells him, actually, Stardust is still alive, then promises to tell him more later.

He goes off to dinner and she sits there contemplating her toy horses thinking, "she'd outgrown them. Or maybe the idea of them had grown into something else: real horses she had bred, ridden, and loved." I absolutely adored this line, about growing into your dreams instead of out of them, because this is what Ashleigh did! It's such a positive message to send young readers. Then she thinks about how her failure to save Black Night was made up for when she worked so hard to save Wonder, giving us yet another insight into her character. Her zealous drive to keep Wonder alive seems to make even more sense, if she's working to assuage some sense of personal guilt over all the horses that died, even though it wasn't her fault.

Eventually Ashleigh decides to put away the past in the view of her wonderful new life. She picks up Stardust's old body brush to recycle at Whitebrook, which somehow seems poignant to me, as it points out how life really does go on. The brush is a symbol that Ashleigh has finally accepted what happened at Edgardale and is going to incorporate those experiences into her life, using them to further her newfound happiness and success at Whitebrook and acknowledging the role those painful events played in ultimately changing her life for the better. Then she stops and picks up Blackie, the ragged little fork horse she was going to throw away. She decides to take him with her too, and here we have the best paragraph, or concluding paragraph of the series EVER:
With gentle hands, Ashleigh took Blackie out of the trunk too. She stood there a moment longer, stroking his torn and dirty coat. He could be patched and made whole. Some things could, anyway.
Oh my GOD, how heart-wrenchingly bittersweet. This book is pretty hard to recover from, even though we know for Ashleigh there was eventually a happy ending. And neither Bentley or Campbell drops the ball on keeping that mood up to the very end. I don't know about you, but I feel for Ashleigh and the Griffens every time the virus hits and those horses start dying, even though I know Ashleigh is going to end up with Wonder and become Super Triple Crown Jockey Princess. This is probably the most death and devastation we see in the whole series, and what's more, even though characters like Black Night only exist for one book, we care about them. His pasture mates, Seattle Sound and Bandit, and their mothers, Slewette and My Georgiana, all became memorable too. All around, this was just a great book.

Points of Interest:
  • Why must Ashleigh and/or the main character ALWAYS have exactly three other friends at school, one of which is who maddeningly popular/pretty, but nice too. Why? I hate that character. Who cares who is popular? Really.
  • If you are looking at a fallen tree from stump to top, since when is the center the widest part? Most trees are wide at one end and not at the other, unless you're jumping a pine tree. But I don't care, really, because WTF is up with all these fallen trees?
  • For the movies Caroline selects to wear an oversize green top and matching leggings. I don't think we were rockin' this style in 1995, yo, but maybe Caroline was ahead of her time.
  • I'm sorry Ash but, Ashleigh Racing Thoroughbreds is the worst name for a barn. Ever.
  • I adore that Ashleigh and Mona type their classified ad up on Derek Griffen's computer, but they need a dictionary to make sure they spelled "suspicious" right. Perhaps this was back in the day before word processors had spell checks? If there ever was that day.
  • Ashleigh's family is friends with someone who owns a lake. An entire lake. Does anyone else think this is possible?
  • When the vet gives Elaine Griffen his diagnosis she exclaims, "Not paralytic rhinopneumonitis!" I just found this to be incredibly funny.
  • Even though there are no jeeps in this book, there certainly is a casserole!
  • When Wanderer dies, both of Ashleigh's parents cry openly, something that made me oh so sad, but was yet another little detail in this book that I loved.
Well, it was nice to actually read a good book for this blog for a change. This book may have some outlandish moments (i.e. all that horse stealing), but at it's core it's still a wonderful story with some heartbreaking moral lessons in it. This is what a meaningful children's book should be, and after being so well-written, I can almost understand why the publishers thought milking Edgardale for money was a good idea. Too bad none of the other books could even come close to farting in this book's general direction.

Jul 29, 2008

Bonnie and the Haunted Farm, or Why Dogs and Stepsisters are Evil

Bonnie and the Haunted Farm
by Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1974

If you're wondering to yourself if this book was published in October right in time for the holidays, then you would be completely correct. Yeah, it seems rather silly, but I'm not kidding. October 1974. I guess someone at Signet thought horse crazy girls everywhere would finish up their trick or treating and then read this book by flashlight in their darkened room because this book has it all: insane asylums, ghosts, murder...even implied incest! Yes, truly this was the Halloween book to buy in 1974.

Accidents, or evil?

When young trainer Monty Everett presented Julie with a new stallion, Cache, Julie's happiness seemed complete. Bonnie, her champion racer, was soon to be a mother, and now she had a second horse to call her own. Between training Cache, worrying over Bonnie, and befriending handsome Dirk Markham and his sister Alexis, the new owners of Croydon Farm, Julie found her days filled with excitement.

And then accidents started happening at Croydon: Julie was hurt in an inexplicable fall, Cache was injured, and Julie had to spend a terror-filled evening at Croydon, with only the ghost of its tragic past for company. Coincidence or campaign of terror? Was someone trying to scare Julie away from the Markhams and Croydon Farm? Julie could not know the danger her quest for answers would bring to her and her prized Sunbonnet....
This blurb is in the past tense, which for some reason really annoys me. It's like someone decided to treat it like a book report instead of a summary intended to sell copies of this book. Plus, Dirk Markham? What is this, Harlequin Romance all of a sudden? Julie gives Ashleigh Griffen herself a run for her money in regards to acting completely and irritatingly innocent, and we're going to throw a DIRK in her direction? This just seems extremely wrong to me.

Well, whatever. Dirk or no Dirk, Julie's nineteen now and she's going to have to learn about the wonders of sex somehow. If Monty doesn't get around to it eventually, Dirk is ready and willing. However, I'm getting ahead of myself. We haven't even met Dirk yet. Dirk. God, what the hell? For sanity's sake, I wandered over to www.babynames.com and discovered it's a German form of Derek meaning Famous Ruler, and that still doesn't help.

This book opens up with Julie going all crazy about this girl called Lisa Marsden. Apparently Deepwater or Fieldstone Farm (I am pretty sure this book takes place at Fieldstone Farm, Deepwater's breeding farm, but I can never be sure who's supposed to be where and why...it is very confusing) broke her horse for her because her horse is persnickety when it comes to bridles. Julie is all excited because Lisa is going to ride this horse in a show and yay, oh yay, let's all go and see this horse. Leon Pitt agrees, but not before Julie sees his newspaper and discovers that Croydon Farm has been sold. Croydon Farm is the neighboring farm that's been uninhabited for something like a decade because all these horrible things happened and Leon immediately delves into it because it's important to set the scene. Leon tells Julie that this young couple bought the farm and their kid managed to drown in a pond on the property. If this wasn't bad enough, the couple decides to adopt this orphan who winds up taking an ax to their heads when he's a teenager. Everyone is appropriately stunned and so the kid confesses to his best friend and is pronounced quite crazy and shuffled off into some state hospital where he's destined for shock therapy and padded walls.

Therefore Croydon Farm is evil. Moving on to the show. Julie meets up with Lisa, who's only purpose seems to be discussing why Monty and Julie aren't having sex. Only this is 1974, so she's asking why they aren't married already. Julie is embarrassed and tries to hide the fact that she's blushing and not thinking about having sex with Monty because oh my God she is 19 and he is 23 and what is the world coming to? Well, whatever, because she gets home from the show and there's Monty, complete with a new horse just for her. So she loses it and kisses him (which might be their first kiss, but then it might not be because the book is playing around with this relationship to the point of absurdity and Barbara van Tuyl is apparently extremely coy) and Monty is all pleased. The horse is a gray stallion...yeah, it's Cache. With a ch and not an sh, but Julie does not care so for all we know she spells it Cash.

Anyway, while Monty is home from the track we have to take advantage of this situation. The new neighbors arrive and Leon or Stash or someone tells Julie to bring a welcome basket over. Because that there's a woman's work. Julie drags Monty along with her because she's scared of the place and doesn't know what to expect. Apparently she wasn't expecting Paul Newman to answer the door, but believe me when I say that Monty is really annoyed about it. Dirk Markham is just a dream boat, who actually is described as a "young Paul Newman." How can we resist such a temptation? He's all, yay visitors! And Monty is all oh no. Julie is all, tell me all about your horses and your animals while I completely ignore the fact that you are staring at me while Monty glares at you! And then there's Dirk's sister, Alexis, who is basically the ice queen. Dirk wants them to all stay and visit for a while and Monty's trying his hardest to get Julie out of the house because he's the jealous type, and Alexis is thrilled to see them leave because she's also the jealous type and can we see the plot developing here? Okay, just checking.

Then we all begin the wait for Bonnie to give birth. While this happens, Julie's new dog, Pushy, a St. Bernard, injures himself and she has to take him off for some stitches while Stash and Leon (doing their best Dr. Holmes and Mr. Watson impression) go to Julie's cottage to find out why. Well, it doesn't take a lot of guessing. There's broken glass all over the kitchen floor, and they pick it all up and take it to the barn to reconstruct whatever it was that broke. This...must have been extremely time consuming. However, they manage to put it back together because there's this red paint on the glass (not blood, we are helpfully informed, because someone has read their Dostoyevsky and remembered that blood turns brown when dry). So, what's the broken object? It's a glass ax! But oh my gosh, this clearly is a sign because the Croydon murders were committed with an ax! Let's not tell Julie what's going on because, you know, that would just freak her out and ruin a giant plot point we can save for later. So Julie comes back and Bonnie has her twins (Deerstalker and Highland Tam), only the filly is all weak and the vet wants to kill her on sight because that's what people did in novels by Barbara van Tuyl and K.M. Peyton. Julie saves the filly, again doing her best Ashleigh Griffen impression, and Tam grows up all healthy but small and therefore will probably be no good at anything.

This is when Dirk makes his appearance again, causing chaos between Leon and Stash as Stash ruthlessly roots for Monty and Leon doesn't appear to really care either way. Dirk invites Julie to come see his crazy off track thoroughbred he's renamed Soul-searching. I hate horse names involving hyphens. I can't explain it. But that's besides the point. Julie starts coming over to Croydon all the time because Dirk wants to help her out with retraining Cache to jump. Or do something vaguely event oriented with. I don't know. There was so much technical jump/hunter/blah blah blah talk in this book I zoned out a lot when something evil wasn't happening. So then Dirk falls in love with her. He tells her so. Julie's response?
"I'm quite certain, Mr. Markham, that we'd better not mention the subject again until I've thought it out some."
Damn, I should have taken some pointers from Julie when I was her age. Anyway, determined to wait her out, Dirk then asks her a neighborly favor of feeding the horses and dogs (he's got a kennel of hounds for his drag hunting purposes) tomorrow while he's away. Julie agrees and thus he goes away. She comes over the next day, drags her own dogs with her (remember back to Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year, when I said you can make any plot work by giving your main character a dog? Well, keep that in mind) takes care of everything, and winds up with all 20 hounds running loose on the property. She keeps putting them in the kennel and they keep getting out and eventually she discovers there's a second door that's open and so once that's solved she sticks them all in the kennel and then her dog runs away. Seriously, Julie, put the dog on a leash. Nana looks responsible, but she's annoying as all hell.

Thus she winds up in the house, with her car dead, and somehow falls asleep in the den. When she wakes up there's a raging storm outside and she discovers that there's a giant bloodstain on the floor. So this would be the room where the ax murder happened back when, although Julie is not at all scared. She's all, well, great, I'll just leave now. But then the wind or something slams the door shut and she's stuck because the door is all warped and won't work. Now she's basically locked in the house's most upsetting room and this is when the noises start. Shuffling footstep noises and so forth. Then her St. Bernard appears in the window and she opens it up and he hops inside. It's pouring out, thus she doesn't want to go outside. Which I find stupid because, you know, I'm not good in potentially threatening situations where I'm cornered in a room. I'd rather jump out the window, but not Julie. Not even when the footsteps become banging noises out in the hall. Then someone throws a rock through the window. Julie takes this all in stride, like it's normal.

This keeps going and going until Monty, Leon and Stash show up and crawl in the window also. After she's been gone for hours on end I guess they decided something was up, and rather then go to bed they went after her. They manage to open the door and discover that the banging noise was that stupid BEAGLE who got her head stuck in a grease jar and was banging her head repeatedly against the wall. The footstep noise was Pushy, because he drags his giant dog feet.

Anyway, we discover that Alexis is really Dirk's stepsister. And Dirk is like 28. Alexis has been all rude or not around when Julie is at Croydon, which is supposed to imply that because she's actually not related to Dirk she wants his manliness for herself. Then Julie kisses Monty and Monty kisses her back and oh my God hearts and rainbows, only it involves coffee and awkwardness and the word "disengaged," which I hate. Absolutely nothing comes of this.

So then the following stuff happens:
1. Julie and Dirk measure a sequence of jumps. They go to tack up the horses and come back to the jumps, going through them as planned except the last jump has been moved. This causes Julie to fall off. Damn.
2. Dirk offers his saddle to Julie to test out, because his saddle is super awesome. She jumps with it and the stirrup breaks and she falls and twists her ankle. Damn.
3. Cache injures himself in this stirrup episode. Double damn.
4. Instead of putting pink antibiotic cream on Cache's injury, the containers get confused and merc-oxide blister gets put on it instead, causing a complete leg melt down and lays up Cache for six weeks instead of a few days.
5. Dirk invites Julie on a drag hunt, and her horse is all slow and then a "figure" spooks her horse and this is meant to freak her out or something.

This all takes a while, as you can imagine. I'm just being efficient at this point. In the middle of this, Alexis keeps telling Julie that she thinks there are ghosts on the property and Stash thinks Dirk is really the crazy guy who somehow escaped from his padded room and came back to exact revenge, or something. All of this culminates in a) Stash and Leon yelling at Monty to tell Julie he loves her for Christ's sake and b) Bonnie being stolen again. This is really kind of a been there, done that sort of plot. Only this time Nana comes to the rescue and finds Bonnie on Croydon's property. Dirk is all pissed off, so they take the mare back to Fieldstone Farm and Alexis is there and Alexis goes all pale and, as you have probably guessed by now, Alexis is our culprit because she wants her stepbrother and was all pissed off because he wanted Julie.

In classic fictional form, Alexis comes out with all of it. She planted the glass ax, which shattered because Pushy scared her. She did all the rest of it, and stole Bonnie, thinking that would at least distract Julie for a while until she could put Bonnie back on Fieldstone's property. So...yeah. Nevertheless, Dirk does not want to have sex with his stepsister, so she gets sent to the padded room. Then everyone muses about how they thought Dirk was the crazy ax murderer guy, and he says haha that's funny but actually I'm that guy's best friend.

And everyone sort of shuts up very quickly. So it turns out that the crazy ax murderer guy sort of went extra crazy and started saying he saw his dead parents, but twisted it around and said he killed them when he didn't. Dirk always believed that he never killed his parents, but no one could ever prove it, especially when the guy confessed. So Dirk bought the place thinking he could find some clue to prove the guy innocent. As luck would have it, Julie was doing some snooping before the drag hunt, and found the murder weapon under the previously stained, recently sanded floorboard. The murderer's prints are all over it because the guy was apparently stupid, and Julie told no one because no one tells anyone anything in these books. Because sharing important information is seen as "worrying someone unnecessarily." So they get the cops back and they find out that some crazy person who was not the couple's adopted son was the real killer and so now Dirk's friend is free to roam the Kentucky countryside. And, as it always happens in these books, Tolkov is there with job in hand for the previously crazy ex-lunatic. Because Mr. Tolkov is awesome and apparently has no standards.

  • Julie describes Monty as antediluvian. Which means "of or relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible." Poor Monty.
  • The end of the book is basically dedicated to the budding competition between Monty and Dirk for Julie. Here I thought we'd come to some closure on this topic by now, but no. We are treated to all sorts of talk about how Monty is a closer and Dirk is a front runner and how this race is going to come down to the wire. They have this grudging respect for one another now as they talk about tote boards while Julie's playing around with her dogs, completely oblivious to the fact that she's being treated like a prize. It makes me want to hit both of them.
So, that's it. One more book left in this series, because Bonnie is headed back to the racetrack in The Betrayal of Bonnie. To Barbara's credit, she does say rather point blank that mares who have been bred rarely, if ever, return to their racing careers. So she makes a point of stating that it's almost ludicrous to expect Bonnie to make a comeback. The only reason I can think of for this plot even happening is because she needs to get Monty and Julie together soonish, and Bonnie's foals are too young to provide much plot, therefore Bonnie is our dependable fall back plan. We shall see how it works.

the word is spreading

Want more recaps and reviews of Thoroughbred and various other horsey books? It looks like XTra Pony's Bookshelf is ready and willing to help fill the astonishing void the Whitebrook Farm Blog has been attempting to fill all by itself. We all need more fun horse book recaps, right? I'll be placing a link to it over in the links section, for further reference.

And really, are we this big already? Five contributors and 115 posts in half a year? Damn, I'm going to have to actually write an About Us statement and formally introduce everyone, aren't I?

Damn.

Jul 28, 2008

Yet Another Star-Studded Story

Star of Shadowbrook Farm
By Joanna Campbell
Published: August 1992
Republished as Ashleigh's Thoroughbred Collection: May 1998

Alas, the public library system has failed me. Well, not really. It's just that some requested books are still in transit, so it might be a few more days yet before I receive them. I was doing some non-horsey (even though technically the book has horses in it) extra-curricular reading, but while reading Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende, I just caught a pretty strong whiff of the ripe smell of Mary Sue. As it turns out, there's a girl character in the book named Isabel. And I'm gathering that as I progress farther into the novel, she's going to know exactly who Zorro is and is going to use a sword herself, and likely ride by his side to help him fight Eeeeeevil! HA! Don't get me wrong, I adore the story of Zorro -- I'm a California girl, he's like our version of Batman and Robin Hood all rolled up into one -- but I think for the sake of my sanity, I needed to take a very quick respite from the toils of Zorro: A Novel, and do a book review.



I have a confession to make. Are you ready to hear it? Really ready? Well, here goes... I am a lazy ass. I repeat, I am a lazy ass. Instead of making myself do a tough 5 or so minutes of scanning the cover of the copy that I have, did a quick Google search, found that monstrosity, and called it a day. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful cover, or it would be, were it not for the fucking huge monstrosity that reads: ASHLEIGH'S THOROUGHBRED COLLECTION. Just clutters the whole thing up. That aside, I'm muchly glad that my copy is from the first printing six years prior to this, and therefore doesn't look like a butt-ugly eyesore. I always liked the balance of color and motion on the page; although I've always wondered where they are, since there's so much space behind them, it's too large for a stall.

Can Susan ever ride again?

Susan has fallen off her horses before. After all, she's been riding since she was young. But this last spill was different. Susan only broke her wrist, but she knows it could have been a lot worse for her or the horse. And it was her own fault. Now, just thinking about riding terrifies her.

Then Evening Star comes to the horse farm where Susan lives. Star's elegant gait and graceful stride show he could become a champion jumper. But he was mistreated by his former owner, and as a result he trust no one in the stable except Susan. Susan knows that only she can make Star a winner, but she also knows that she isn't ready to ride again...


Here we go! The timeless classic tale of a horse-crazy girl who gets badly rattled by a traumatic fall, and it takes a very special horse to help get her back in the saddle. And of course, that horse was mistreated by his past (and I'll raise the ante because you just know he was whipped!) and she has to help him so he can help her. Bully!

So our story begins with Susan walking into the Shadowbrook Farm stable office to collect her hard hat so she can go teach an intermediate jump class. We're then treated to a whole internal monologue about how Susan hates teaching this class because of this totally popular little bitch named Tara Pendleton, who is, I suppose your usual arch-nemesis the likes of Diana Carruthers, and Veronica DiAngelo (y'know, popular, pretty, rich -- maybe -- all the stuff that our valient heroines are not) and how different Susan feels from her because Tara is being treated like a sex object by the boys in their class, and yadda, yadda, blah blah. So off Susan goes to her lesson, maliciously hoping that Tara has caught Dengue Fever or Syphilis, but sucks to be her because Miss Pretty Bitch is just fine.

Now, this always was a perplexing issue for me, but the majority of the students in Susan's intermediate jumping class are all in their teens, thereabouts. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but most teenagers seem to be of the rather competitive nature. To be taught how to jump by a girl the same age as them must really be irritating, yet apparently nobody (not even Tara the Queen Bitch if you're you believe Susan) has possibly whined to any parents who then flip out about a teenager teaching their Pwecious! I mean, yeah, obviously Susan has to help teach lessons, but can't she I dunno, take on leadliners or something? Little short stirrup up/downers. Someone to whom your average 7 year-old can look up to, instead of potentially raising the ire of parents who pay all this money for their kid's riding lessons only to have a girl their own age teaching them. Also, Joanna described Susan's students as having "been jumping for several months" which means they've probably just graduated out of doing trot poles, and threfore shouldn't be considered "intermediate" jumpers. But it's a minor quibble I suppose.

Anyway, Susan rides a green horse named Jocko in her riding lesson. The hell, what is this, karmic retribution or something? Remember the exercise rider in Wonder's Promise? What'd he do, die and be reincarnated as a horse? Now, I've never really seen an instructor in the saddle while on a horse, particularly in a group lesson, and most especially while jumping. I mean, what if some student of hers clips a rail and brings it down? There's a pretty damn obvious reason why instructors are usually ground-bound, which ought to be a no-brainer. But clearly, this reasoning fails Susan, and during the midst of teaching, Tara takes over with her !witty commentary, and this sends Susan into a towering rage that she screams at Tara to "Butt out!" (And this is why 14 year old children should not teach other 14 year old children to ride) and proceeds to demonstrate to the class how incompetent she is jumping a green horse.

Thus Susan breaks her wrist when Jocko goes ape-shit and throws himself head-on at the ring fence. There is much pain, and humiliation when Tara takes charge, and Susan practically wants to die on the spot. And there's much humiliation to follow when Tara manages to get Jocko around the jump course a week later. Susan just about has apoplexy, and bolts for the woods, whereupon she stumbles across a water jump on the rich neighbor's property just in time to see the rich snotty teenage neighbor ride a big gray horse up to the jump. Except the gray horse refuses, and naturally the rider does what she's supposed to do -- give the horse a smack with the crop. He refuses again! So Maxine (the teenage rich snob) smacks him again. Rinse, recycle, repeat. She's just gonna keep flogging him all day (clearly we're treated to Joanna Campbell's personal crusade against horse abuse and whips) because she is Evil and Bad, and therefore pre-disposed to horse abuse because we're supposed to hate her. So finally wearing out her crop leather, Maxine gets the horse over the water jump, and off they go.


A few days later, Susan manages to make it to school, Tara puts on a Fake Sweet Bitch act and humiliates Susan some more in front of her classmates. Susan does this withdrawing act, and just basically shuts down until she gets home where she finds her dad bought the big gray horse that she'd seen Maxine riding. He's four years old, and is a Thoroughbred named Evening Star. And at some point, he jumps out of the pasture, and goes tearing off into the woods where Susan chases after him, and they come across a girl named Whitney Duncan. She catches Star, they take him back to her place and call Susan's parents. And the two girls talk and make friends, and it's all cool and that jazz. So Susan's dad suggests that Susan groom the horse because Star practically wants to crawl in her pocket.

So Susan takes Whitney to school, and Whitney blows off Tara, and hangs with Susan, and gets the whole story of the accident from both Tara and Susan. Susan grooms Evening Star, and fusses over him while Tara goes on and on about how she's going to buy a horse. And then one night, Susan's father tells her that Tara wants to buy Star, so Susan vows not over her dead body, and goes on the horse. It's instant love match, oh yay! And Susan finds out how to help condition Star properly. And it works, and she rides him, and oh yay some more. Tara keep on bragging and bragging about how much Evening Star gives her a hard on even though she hasn't ridden him yet (and that just makes me giggle madly) and when Tara sees Susan on Evening Star, she flips out like ninja and Susan finally manages to find the cajones to stand up to her. Hurrah for Susan!

And with Evil Tara's plans for riding Evening Star like an 1888 Whitechapel whore foiled (because clearly Tara owning Evening Star would be the kiss of death) Susan and Whitney can now begin to focus on their eventing careers. Tara of course, sulks around for a bit, and then gets a hard on for a new horse named Dickens. Whitney cleans out her closet and loads Susan down with clothes, and cuts Susan's hair, and Susan goes to school where everyone practically shits their pants because "Whoa, Susan is like Not a Freak!" and then Whitney bullies Susan into going to the Christmas dance where they actually get Susan to dance with members of the opposite sex. Brilliant!

So along comes Christmas Day, and it snows. So Susan, her parents, and older brother of course hitch a horse up to a sleigh and drive off to the Duncans' home, and then it's back home for Christmas treats for the horses (something that Joanna apparently really likes being as it's appeared in several books by now) and Susan gets a entire new wardrobe of show clothes from her parents. And then after Christmas, Susan teaches a beginner class again, and there's general trashing of how Tara is riding her horse like an 1888 Whitechapel whore, and they talk about her behind her back. Susan manages to jump fences again thanks to Star, and then Whitney invites Susan to some show at Madison Square Gardens.

So off to New York, New York the two girls go, and they meet this cute boy named Ronny who totally loves eventing. So he and Susan chat it up. Some time passes, Susan and Star turn into a team, and then comes the moment when Susan falls off Star doing gymnastics, and she freaks, but one of the assistant trainers on the farm makes her get back in the saddle. Crisis averted. Then the weather turns, and spring arrives and so Susan and Whitney go out on the cross-country course, and return to see Tara throwing a temper tantrum about wanting to go out there too. Whatever!

Eventually, Susan, Whitney and even Pretty Bitch Tara go to a horse show. Tara apprently has a huge case of the "butterflies in the stomach" because she tacks her horse up way early and starts warming him up. Whitney and Susan go off to change and Susan is horrified that she has to strip off her clothes in front of other women (honey, you 'aint got anything those ladies haven't already seen) and as they're warming up, Maxine walks over to confront Susan. Evening Star practically shits his pants thinks he's going to be flogged again. They wait for their rounds in jumping, and Tara has to ride first. She goes clean until the last fence when Dickens pulls the rail, thereby giving our Dynamic Duo the opportunity to discuss her FenceFail. But that's fine because Whitney fucks it up even more and gets two faults. Which leaves it all up to Susan to go clean and win the damn class. Bully! But not before having a near meltdown, and begging her horse to help her, which of course, he does.

Susan and Whitney aim for the Winter Horse trials, and Tara gets a case of sour grapes and bad mouths Susan all over school. And then it's time for the Winter horse Trials, and so far, Susan is ahead after a clean run in cross-country and show jumping. She runs into Ronny again, and goes gaga over him. Susan gets second in her event, and Whitney wins hers. And then three weeks later, Susan and Star win, and the whole family starts thinking they ought to enter Star in Groton Horse Trials, which I always thought was a bit much to expect of a five-year-old horse.

Moving along, our Dynamic Duo lurk around the tack store where they see Tara trying on $300 dress boots, and they talk about her behind her back. But this is clearly OK because they are the Good Girls and Tara's just the Bitch. And thus, as Susan is schooling her horse over the cross-country course, he spooks, throws her and she probably fucks her wrist up again. Ooops. Well, turns out Ms. Maxine was on the other side of the fence screaming hysterically and going postal at her horse, so Star shat his pants again. Anyway, Susan sprains her wrist and can't ride for a month. But clearly something must be done because Groton is coming up.

However! In what shall become a very familiar plot to readers of the Annoying Riding Princess Death Match, Susan proposes that Whitney ride Evening Star at Groton. Or at least ride Star and keep him in training for the month that Susan can't ride. Whitney finally caves in to her bestest friend, and sets to work. Of course, before all this happens, Tara has to gloat to Susan at school about missing any upcoming shows. But naturally, she just happens to be at the stable to see Whitney riding Star, so she has another freak out attack.

School ends, and Susan and Whitney go with their class to some park along the Housatonic River where they go canoing, and Whitney stands up in the canoe, and they tip over. Hooray, wet girls! And Tara just happens to be right there to point and laugh. But at last, they get to Groton, and they settle the horses in. Maxine apparently must have some superior power of telepathy because she waits until Susan, Whitney and their parents are all busy the next morning before going to Tara and asking her if she could take a look at Star. This of course is part of her devious plan to psych out the competition (more than likely completely destroy) because it's something worthy of Brad Townsend's awesomeness. In doing so, Maxine manages to make Star shit his hooves, and whimper like a fucking pussy just by standing in the stall (unless of course she managed to flog him with a whip while Tara's back was turned.)

This of course makes Star a nervous wreck, and he bites Whitney and she cries like a baby, and begs Susan to ride Star instead. Which Susan does, even though she hasn't ridden a horse in a month. And since Joanna already established the fact that Susan and Whitney wear the same size back when Whitney gave Susan all those clothes, they have an easy way of getting riding gear for Susan. And while waiting for her dressage test, Susan swears to Star that she'll pull a Cindy and sleep in his stall to protect him. Which either happens or it doesn't because we time travel to the following day where Susan does well, and they tie with Maxine for first place. Ronny shows up again, and chats with Susan a bit before they go back to the motel, and Susan's wrist is hurting like hell. Whitney feels bad, of course, and gets ice.

The next morning, it's time for the show jumping round, and Susan and Star get a clean round, and then Maxine's horse pulls the very last rail, which means Susan wins Groton for her division, and then passes out cold in front of her parents. And we all live happily ever after.

Points of Interest:
  • Susan's father is named Mitch. Naturally this makes me giggle like a maniac because the only Mitch I can associate with the name is my golden boy.
  • Double You Tee Eff! Whitney's parents have a BMW and a Jeep Cherokee. Seriously, does Joanna Campbell have stock in Jeep or something?
So anyway, I think I'm finally ready to venture back into the adventures of that masked horseman known as Zorro now. I'll likely regret it though if the Mary Sue-ism gets worse. I heard that the author was supposed to be so good, but between the Sue senorita and the telepathic connection between Diego and Bernardo (I fucking kid you not) it's a bit much to expect. Ah well, c'est la vie!

The Saddle Club weird peripheral book: Just For Girls: Happy Horse Day!

Just For Girls: Happy Horse Day!
Bonnie Bryant
Published: June 1990

I'm jumping straight to the most hilarious and shameful Saddle-Club-related thing that Bonnie Bryant ever penned. It's a short story that was printed with a Fabulous Five short story (another book series for girls, attributed to Betsy Haynes) that was apparently supposed to encourage girls ages 6-11 to buy Jean Naté's children's cosmetic collection, Petite Naté, which is "just for girls" (get it?). It gets better:

Holidays are for good times and parties. But the best times are spent with best friends. The best times are
JUST FOR GIRLS

The Saddle Club
"Happy Horse Day"

Carole, Stevie and Lisa are throwing their own party on New Year's Day--with horses on the guest list! As the horses get groomed for the big event, the girls will be busy getting ready--the JUST FOR GIRLS way!
HAHAHA. I enjoyed the summary so much that I included the following quote about it on the Saddle Club Wikipedia page: "In the story, which is only 20 pages long, the girls plan to have a sleepover and use Jean Naté products, which strains credibility for anyone familiar with Stevie and Carole's personalities."

The actual story is only slightly less hilarious. It's late December, and Stevie's cousin's birthday is coming up. Stevie had a lot of fun buying her cousin a birthday present, because she found some bubble bath she liked so much she bought herself some, too. Oh, squee! Apparently all the horses at Pine Hollow have morphed into registered Thoroughbred racehorses, because Carole says they all have the same birthday: January first. Stevie decides they should have a birthday party for the horses.

That night, the girls have a sleepover at Stevie's house and Carole offers to take the first bath. This sounds like the start of a seedy fanfic. Stevie tells her to try some of her new bubble bath, because "It smells wonderful. It's sort of a light smell, not like a heavy perfume. And look at those neat beads floating in the bottle." I think one of BB's other personalities must have taken over and written this. Carole puts bubble bath in the water, "creating clouds of big, fragrant bubbles. It was warm and relaxing--just what she needed after their vigorous ride. Soon she was clean and sweet-smelling." Seriously, do we even need a recap? I could just stop right here.

When sweet-smelling Carole gets out of the bath, Lisa and Stevie are talking about Pepper, the horse Lisa normally rides. Lisa says he was cranky today; Stevie the Wise and Carole the Fragrant realize he's actually got colic. They run back to Pine Hollow, thereby undoing the effects of Carole's pungent bath. The vet, Judy Barker, says that someone has to watch him all the time, to make sure nothing happens and he doesn't have a bubble-bath-induced seizure.

Naturally, the girls volunteer. Judy thinks Pepper might be about to kick it. Lisa is agonized. Then he gets better by New Year's Day, just in time for the birthday party. Lisa is thrilled. Who'd have guessed?

The girls gussy themselves up for the horse birthday party, because of course before you go to a stable, you should "do something nice for yourself." Lisa shows off her Christmas gift from her aunt: "Shampoo, hair detangler, talc, bubble bath, after-bath splash--the works. Are we ready?" Stevie says they can "all wash our hair and then try new hairdos!" Carole tries the skin lotion, Lisa tries the talc, and Stevie tries the cologne spray. Carole loves having "soft smooth skin--better than horse hair!" This really isn't supposed to be funny at all.

We only hear about the birthday party after it's over and the girls are congratulating themselves over ice cream sundaes. Turns out it was a "smashing success." Pepper was well enough to participate. He had more fun than any of the other horses. He just dived into the water when it was time to bob for apples. He also did well at Musical Water Buckets and got first place in Pin-the-Rider on the Saddle. In Spin the Feedbag, some horse got to nuzzle Garnet, Veronica diAngelo's Arabian mare. Garnet got a horrified look on her face when she had to nuzzle poor old Patch. HUH? Is this all some kind of shared delusion on the part of the Saddle Club? Do Petite Naté products turn your brain into Swiss cheese? These horses make Whirlwind look like a Borg.

And, that's pretty much it. The girls eat some ice cream and reaffirm that the Saddle Club is the best club there is. And apparently, in this book, the most vapid.

Points of Interest:
  • The cover art is the art from the first edition of #1 Horse Crazy, with a purple background instead of a pink one. I admit that on the front and back covers, the title is just "Happy Horse Day" with no exclamation mark. But the exclamation mark makes it so much funnier.
  • By June 1990, the first ten books of The Saddle Club had been published. My guess, though, is that even though these stories were written in the spring, the book and the bath products may not have come out until the holiday season of 1990, which would fit with the New Year's theme.
  • For some reason Stevie's birthday has magically migrated to August (rather than June, as established by book #6 Dude Ranch), and Carole's has migrated away from December. All it says is that her birthday and Lisa's are "months away," which doesn't make sense unless BB means she's already had her birthday for the year. Then again, Carole's birthday isn't established in canon until book #31 Hayride, long after this one.
  • Lisa's Lhasa Apso, Dolly, makes an appearance, although not by name and has turned into a "he."
  • Whichever of BB's personalities wrote this, it must have skimmed through #4 Horse Power, because the story references the time Stevie tried a new hairdo on Lisa and she ended up with "little springy curls." Except Lisa actually ended up with huge boingy curls.
  • Stevie orders orange sherbert with all-natural strawberry topping, marshmallow topping, whipped topping, and a cherry. Mmm. Maybe she'll get colic next.
And that's about it. Savor this one, because there's no other Saddle Club book that is quite so unintentionally hilarious.

A Visit from the Ghost of Christmas Ugh.

Ghost of Thistle Ridge
Allison Estes
The Short Stirrup Club #2
Published: 1996

I should have made this post a few days ago, back when I was still filled with righteous anger. Well, I don't know how righteous it was, and it wasn't really anger so much as apathy. But here we go.



This book is dumb. I don't really think it's trying to be serious or intelligent. It's supposed to be a book that entertains and delights young readers by sending willies up and down their spines. Let's see. In 1996 I was 11, still young enough to be terrified of ghosts, aliens, and Satan from Fantasia. So I probably saw the title of this book and got willies up and down my spine, even if I knew better. I still believe in ghosts, but this book takes it to a whole new level of bat shit insane, and if it was trying to make any sort of serious point then, well, it's more dumb then I thought. Because I think you're going to be as enraged as I am at the thought that this book might be meant as something one should take seriously in any way whatsoever. And as I didn't remember any plot points prior to the reread, clearly my 11 year old self was not at all impressed by the crazy shenanigans of Doppleganger Christina Reese and her Motley Crew of Retarded Children.

When last we left Thistle Ridge or Thistle Creek or Thistle Poop, or whatever the name of this barn/town in whatever southern state it was that these children were relocated to, Megan Christina Reese had finally found a friend and Max Christina Reese's Twin Brother had finally come to terms with this huge traumatic move. Also, some idiot girl named Amanda Pathetic Veronica diAngelo rode like a robot and almost killed her pony because Rich Ass Hole Dad didn't want to save him, but that's okay because for some unfathomable reason Awkward Probably Fat Best Friend Chloe got to keep him. Also there's Keith. He's ethnic. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone.

As this book opens, the appallingly named Short Stirrup Club is playing horseback tag in one of the paddocks at Thistle Poop. This involves galloping wildly over hill and dale and also through the woods, which seems kind of dangerous to me. Further, one of those sudden southern thunderstorms is billowing in the distance, though really not that far and not that suddenly because you know, the kids notice it and keep playing anyway. Chloe isn't riding Cripple Pony Jump for Joy because as I just mentioned, he's a cripple. Instead she's riding the school pony Bo Peep, whom Adult Riding Princess Poops Gold Instructor Sharon has no problem loaning out to this girl freely to do with what she wants because she trusts Chloe. This sounds like no other school barn on earth that I have ever heard of, and I simply don't believe it.

Moving on, Megan is it, so she decides to let her pony, Pixie, find the other horses, and drops the reins to let her wander uninhibited. Pixie finds a deer, but instead of spooking and crazily galloping back to the barn she decides to follow the deer into the forest. Also, this deer has a fawn with her, which makes it even more inexplicable that she is not terrified of the horse/human creature she has suddenly come across. I suppose I can kind of buy this - I live in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, which are teeming with deer if you didn't know. They can be pretty nonchalant around people if they think you're not a threat. And when they spend so much time in populated areas, that = pretty damn nonchalant. What I find unbelievable about this particular scenario is that the deer and her baby lead Megan into the woods, where the deer begins hacking at a pile of stone with her hooves. After uncovering something totally sparkley she runs away into the woods, and when Megan investigates she discovers that she's found a locket with some initials on it and a giant diamond on the front. Totally normal. Then she sees her brother in the woods and they run off toward base.

At the tree all the kids are busy looking at the locket when the thunderstorm suddenly unleashes its heavenly furry and they all must gallop back to the barn, which for some reason means going through the woods instead of taking the most direct route through the pastures. Maybe they thought it was safer to be under trees than out in the open during thunderstorms. Unfortunately this doesn't really work for them, seeing as lightening strikes a tree, which then almost falls on Chloe and Bo Peep. These children certainly lead a charmed life, no?

Back at the barn after this highly improbable incident, i bambini remember the locket and Megan digs it out. She's able to open it because all the rain has washed away the dirt, and inside there's a picture of an old timey lady, and a small key. Just then Chloe interjects that you know, maybe someone might be looking for this precious object, so Megan reluctantly turns it in to Jake. He says they'll advertise it and if no one claims it in a week, it's hers to keep. This seems kind of, oh, I don't know, like a short amount of time to wait and see if someone is going to claim a locket with a huge diamond on the front of it. But oh well.

Luckily for us, our hearts and Megan's don't have long to mourn because it's off to horse camp! Hurrah! This being the 18 millionth horse camp book I've read for this blog. It must be some sort of law that every children's horse series must have a camp book or off with the author's head. Or maybe it's forced sterilization. Anyway, this horse camp resembles the horse camps I attended in that it's only a day camp replete with guided trail rides and hokey arts and crafts while the regular operation of the stables are not disrupted. Except at this camp I hope that leasers did not show up to find campers riding their horses when they were not supposed to be. Stupid bastards. This is something I'm still bitter about because those instructors were bitches and it's not my fault they couldn't read a schedule. But I should bring my personal life into this, as there is enough to rage at in this book alone.

Because our main characters are all the same age, they are in the same group in camp. And apparently they are also the only ones their age, except for Amanda, who is also in their group and inexplicably participating in camp. A lot of this book is inexplicable, really, which is why I keep using that word. Anyway, Amanda has a new horse, named Prince Charming, who is just way too much for her to handle. This horse is a general nuisance really, and enjoys running away constantly, especially after dumping Amanda. So it's no real surprise when, on the trail ride the group goes on, he runs into a blueberry bush. Amanda gets caught by her hair and when Prince runs out from under her she gets dumped on her ass and off the horse goes into the hills. Luckily Jake is there in his truck for some reason I can't remember, so he drives Amanda back to the barn and then goes to look for the missing horse while the non-snotty kids go riding in a lake.

This is just oodles of fun, but afterward they decide they'll try to help Jake find Prince Charming and ride off into the woods. They run across an old, old barn which none of them, including the instructor, have ever seen before. It is so creepy everyone almost pees themselves, and it's a good thing they didn't because that surely would have ruined their saddles. As they're riding away, Megan turns around and sees a tall white thing standing in the door. A ghost! Holy crap!

This causes great consternation among the Short Stirrup Club, as you can imagine, and it's made even worse during lunch when two older campers tell them a ghost story wherein the barn is haunted by a young girl who was killed in a fire. Terrified, the children decide the best thing to do is go to this barn after dark without telling any of the adults where they are going to see if they can find the ghost that Megan is pretty sure she saw. To prove that they were lying and are not scared, the two older kids agree to go along. Honestly, teenagers.

So off they go unsupervised into the woods, alone at night in a place they are not so familiar with. They manage to make it back to the barn, and one of the older kids drags Megan inside with him, where they encounter a tall white thing with glowing blue eyes who moans at them. This scares no one more than the older kid, who shits his pants and runs away. Megan follows suit, and it turns out everyone has run in different directions. Finally Megan bumps into Jake, still out looking for Prince Charming. He goes back to the barn after hearing her story and sure enough, the ghost is the horse. Well isn't that a relief.

Everyone is generally pissed that these children have gone off and done something so retarded, but despite that the kids decide the best thing to do is go on a moonlight trail ride back to the barn. The adults immediately capitulate, of course, having already forgotten how totally pissed off they were at these kids 5 minutes ago for doing what was basically the same thing sans horses. There is one stipulation: Amanda has to go with them because she is part of their camp group. This is really the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Everyone on the farm knows this girl is a terrible rider on a horse that is way too much for her, so of course they decide it's a good idea to let her go on a trail ride on said horse at night in the woods. No, I take that back. Not just a trail ride, an overnight. Fairy Princess Instructor Sharon may be a Mary Sue, but she is really not bright, and these kids are just as spoiled as any character in the TB Series. Hence, Megan Christina Reese.

So off they go on the trail ride to camp out at the old barn. Once there, Jake tells them a ghost story about how Thistle Poop used to be a plantation with slaves prior to the Civil War. This isn't really a shock, if you want to be historically realistic, but it is pretty amazing that a children's book not explicitly about slavery is directly mentioning this issue and even its brutality and cruelty. So points to Estes. Getting back to the ghost story, this girl had a pony she loved to visit every night, a little white pony just like Pixie! And she was Megan's age! Gasp. Then one night her parents left her alone in their house and lightening struck it and set it on fire. A slave tried to climb in the house and save the girl, but the cruel evil overseer thought he was trying to stage a rebellion (by climbing into a burning building?) and shot him. Hence the girl died and she roams the night. Sadness all around. Megan decides the locket she found probably came from the house, and then they all go to sleep.

Except, you know, the weather hates everyone in this book, past and present, so it decides to pour rain and everyone has to go hide in the barn. Where Megan promptly sees another "ghost" that is obviously Amanda in her nightgown, illuminated by lightening, but we're not supposed to grasp this yet, so don't tell anyone I let the cat out of the bag prematurely.

The next morning everyone awakens to find that Amanda and Prince Charming are missing and nowhere to be found. Sweet Jesus, not again. After checking all the blueberry brambles, they are still nowhere to be found. So all the children decide to go off into the woods, again without telling anyone, and this time bareback, to search for Amanda and the horse. They also decide to split up. Then Pixie bolts and jumps into a graveyard that has no gate. There Megan discovers a headstone marked with the same initials as the ones on the locket, and so now she knows that an 11 year old girl did live on the property. Then she tries to get Pixie to jump out of the graveyard but can't because something is howling under the stairs. Thankfully Prince Charming shows up and out they jump. And if you think this shit is whack, really I haven't even gotten to the completely crazy part yet.

Megan rides back to the old barn and climbs up into the loft, where she finds an ancient diary from 1849. Turns out it's the diary of the girl who died in the fire. The diary is almost completely legible, though some parts are water stained beyond comprehension. How this is physically possible and why this thing is in the barn are both a mystery, the secrets of which are never revealed because to rationalize this situation would make no sense. Anyway, the diary is locked, but Megan has the key in the locket, so if there was any doubt about the connection there certainly is none now. The diary details the girl's life, receiving the locket and her pony, and the hiring of the cruel overseer. Then we learn that this girl and her mother worked on the Underground Railroad to free the slaves. There is a trap door in one of the stalls in the barn that leads to a tunnel which in turns opens up under the stairs in the graveyard, which is why the place had no gate: to hide the secret entrance. The bad news is that when it rains the tunnel floods with water and everyone in it dies. Oops.

Then Megan realizes that Amanda must have fallen into the tunnel and crawled all the way to the other side, where she stood howling under the stairs. She races back to the graveyard on foot because both Pixie and Prince Charming have bolted. Then the horses show up just in time for Megan to climb on Prince Charming bareback with a bridle made from a halter and an old piece of rope so that she can jump into the graveyard. Then she has Prince Charming pull Amanda out of the flooding tunnel by the rope and they both bravely jump out of the graveyard on Prince Charming's bareback.

Sigh.

Later everyone goes back to look for the diary, but it's disappeared, of course. Everyone tells Megan she's crazy, but she looks out the window and waves at a tree because she wants everyone to think she's waving at a ghost so they won't send her to the loony bin. This was probably a stupid idea all around, but we should all feel better knowing the ghost of a girl who asphyxiated that helped free slaves is looking out for other girls who fall into trap doors and get caught in tunnels that have a propensity to flood and kill their occupants. The end.

I have the third book of this series, so I'll probably review it, too. I just hope there are no more ghosts. I don't think I could take it.

Sunbonnet: Most Scandalous Filly of the Year

Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year
by Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1973

Given how completely out of nowhere weird and awful A Horse Called Bonnie was, I walked into this installment with markedly less enthusiasm. Although, that could also be because I dislocated my knee yesterday and have been resorted to hobbling around as I wait for normalcy to return. I'm not too enthusiastic about anything right now, mainly because I'd really just like to bend my knee properly without wincing. Naturally, this is where the sudden urge to delve back into Julie and Bonnie's world presented itself. There you have it.

Anyway, this cover is really not normal for this series. Basically, it finally acknowledges that Julie is, in fact, blond. However, it's presenting her as a Barbie here, which is pretty far off the mark, no matter how ditsy she may act in the book. Also, one fact I simply must point out: Bonnie's jockey is black. I think the artist went for mildly tan here. Nice going, cover artist.

Foul Against Bonnie!

Though Sunbonnet (known as Bonnie to her young trainer Julie Jefferson) was favored to win the coveted prize in the famed Bridal Stakes, there was a long stretch duel and a photo finish, with a claim of foul against Bonnie. A vicious jockey and a tragic accident in still another race jeopardize Bonnie's racing career.

Julie finds herself involved in mysterious happenings which not only imperil her horse's life, but which threaten to shock and disrupt the world of thoroughbred racing....
Yeah, this tells you absolutely nothing about the story. It's really very impressive in that regard.

Okay, this book was printed in November 1973. It is important to take note of this, because Secretariat has come and gone by this point (you'll find out why this is important later, promise). The previous book was in 1971, and there's this dedication:

"This book is for Bev and Cindy, who asked, "What happened to Bonnie after that?"

I can only assume, then, that this series was never meant to be a series, and Bev and Cindy must have been really pushy about wanting more books. Only one author answered the call: Barbara van Tuyl. I have decided that Barbara van Tuyl was the talent in this operation, or at least the one who came up with more interesting plotlines (at least, more interesting than throwing your horse into a claimer and then being all shocked and dismayed when the horse is actually, God forbid, CLAIMED), which is a good sign. So I'll say first, before I get into the rest of this, that Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year is much better than A Horse Called Bonnie. In that I will not be screaming nearly as much as I did in the last Bonnie entry.

Okay. The deal is that Bonnie is awesome. She's like a filly version of Man o'War, because her stride is nearly as long. Yes, so she's just trouncing her competition coming up to the Bridal Stakes, but there is this other filly that is nearly as good as her, if not just as good, called Canary Feathers. During the race, some bumping happens, and the jockey of Canary Feathers lodges a complaint that doesn't stand. So Bonnie is the winner and the offended jockey basically says something like "screw this" and makes some empty threat that no one thinks much of. Until the next race, when he decides to pull a Jeremy Rose and starts to beat his horse until it veers across the track and rams straight into Bonnie. Bonnie bobbles around, but won't quit and comes in second. Of course, another complaint later, Bonnie is installed as the winner and the evil jockey gets the boot and a 20 day suspension.

Only the thing is Bonnie has shattered her sesamoid bone in her left leg, basically resulting in the end of her racing career. Or, well, someone says something about her being able to come back in a year or more, but Deepwater Farm won this fantabulous breeding to Greyhill Stud's Bothwell and why not use it, right? So they retire Bonnie and ship her off to Greyhill Stud. This, of course, makes little sense to me because if you don't want to board your mare at the stud of the stallion (and I see no reason why Deepwater Farm, which is apparently something like 5,000 acres and owns another huge farm simply to breed horses, would board any mare anywhere else), all you'd have to do is trailer the mare the day of the appointment, do the whole horse sex thing, shove her back in a trailer, and take her home. It's a two hour drive. I mean, come on. But whatever. Bonnie goes to stay at Greyhill Stud until they, like, get around to breeding her or something ridiculous like that.

Anyway, then Leon Pitt (Bonnie's former trainer from two books ago) comes along and gives Julie a Beagle puppy. So Julie is all overjoyed and names the puppy Nana because it "looks responsible." I have no idea where she gets this idea, but it comes out later that she named it Nana after the dog in Peter Pan. Anyway, Nana pretty much becomes the single catalyst for everything that happens in the rest of the book. Really. Writing a book? What something completely ridiculous to happen or be discovered and you can't figure out how to go about making it work? Give your main character a dog. Seriously.

So anyway, Julie keeps coming over to Greyhill Stud to visit Bonnie and the people at Greyhill are NOT HAPPY that she keeps coming over. They're all, what do you want? all the time and completely do not care that she owns the horse. It's really annoying. Anyway, Julie keeps bringing Nana with her and on one of these visits Nana gets out and proceeds to run away. Julie runs after her and winds up at the stud groom's house. Here we are presented with a completely random conversation that lasts about three chapters between Julie and the eccentric but kind stud groom, Pop. Pop, I guess, was a trainer or something and has this really creepy obsession with his crippled stallion that lives in his backyard. This stallion is chestnut, with "the look of eagles," and is basically Secretariat, only its name is Scotch Tweed, which they shorten to Tweedy. Get it? Subtle, Barbara.

So Tweedy is all crippled because he got caught in the gate during training and injured himself so severely he never got to race. Although we are assured that had he raced he would have been better than Man o'War. Pop is all demoralized because he never got to breed him. So demoralized that he's finally pulled together some more money to buy a nice mare to try him with. Good for him. I guess. Anyway, Julie goes frolicking home and discusses with Monty how crazy everyone is at Greyhill, and he promises to come over with her and check it out. During this trip, Nana again runs off and they chase her into another "barren-mare" barn, where they find all of these five-month foals stabled with their dams. Only the thing is...it's March! Holy crap! So they grab Nana and get the hell out of dodge.

Monty then has to go somewhere because he's a trainer and such, leaving Julie at Deepwater Farm, where she will no doubt get into more trouble. She does this, and goes back to Greyhill to talk to Pop about this whole foal issue. Only when she finally gets there (she has to drive through some back roads because the people at the farm have finally had it and won't let her in) she stumbles through the trees and sees Pop at his place with...Bonnie! Instead of running down there and clocking the crazy asshat in the face, she takes off and goes to see Leon Pitt, who tells her to go back and get Bonnie, like now. He gives her his old trailer and off she goes to get Bonnie.

This is where the real fun starts. She rolls up to the gate of Greyhill Stud, and by this point the guard is about ready to start crying because he's so sick of her. He tells her there's no way she's getting in. He doesn't care who she is or why she's there. Just forget it. So she tells him that she needs to test the intercom in the trailer, so will he kindly step inside. He does, and she locks him in. He flips out because he gets car sick, and starts going on about how she's kidnapped him and how he'll have a heart attack. Julie just keeps telling him that she's not doing anything of the sort and no, he's not going to die. So they're yelling at each other over the intercom and she's driving around like a bat out of hell on the farm, and finally on the way to Pop's house she somehow crashes the trailer. The guard is sure he's going to die of a heart attack, so she climbs back into the trailer and gets him out and he starts going on about his pills that make his heart feel better only they are for his stomach. Julie tells him he probably has an ulcer and they proceed to have this long conversation in which she essentially explains heartburn to him. Yeah...I'm not even making that up. So he's all thrilled that he probably doesn't have a heart condition and promises her that he'll go to the doctor and she gets Nana and continues on to Pop's place after the guard tells her he'll get a tractor to tow the trailer out of the ditch she drove it into.

Yeah...so she goes to Pop's and Nana again goes crazy and tries to bite Pop's new mare, Kimberley Gem. Gem goes nuts and runs off and somehow manages to wedge herself into a cave. Julie somehow gets her out of the cave and back to Pop's house. I really don't know why this was in here, I mean really. So she has this long conversation with Pop about why he's crazy, and he admits the whole thing. That he's all crazy in love with Tweedy and wanted the best for him and has been breeding mares intended for Bothwell to Tweedy instead because Bothwell seemingly out of nowhere started to produce untalented foals and Greyhill Stud decided to breed mares intended for Bothwell to other, better but less expensive, stallions because Bothwell had the highest fee. Why they didn't just jack up the fees on the other stallions and lowered Bothwell's is anyone's guess, but Nicholas Grey (the owner, who sort of has a Brad Townsend quality to him and would probably be really awesome despite his nefariousness) decided he wanted to screw up the racing industry a little and that was that.

So! Julie's all "you bred Bonnie to Tweedy, didn't you?" And Pop admits that he did because he, like, loves Tweedy so much. Julie tells him she understands that love will make a person go a little nuts. (Leon Pitt essentially said that Pop was crazy because he wasn't getting any...and I think I believe that a little more, actually.) Julie and Pop then decide that because Mr. Tolkov is awesome he will hire him on as a stud groom for Leon Pitt, and Pop can quit Greyhill and stop being morally objectionable. Pop is thrilled. They shove Tweedy and Gem in the trailer and go up and get Bonnie. This results in some dramatics between them and the staff at Greyhill, who are like part time bouncers. Only then the guard comes along and says that Julie is great and makes the bouncers let them go. The bouncers are upset about this, because one of them really wanted to slap her around. Especially after she told him he smelled like BO.

We end the book with Pop and Julie driving away from Greyhill, discussing how fantastic Bonnie and Tweedy's foal will be. There's also some indication that the new foal will be named Deerstalker.

  • Julie is eighteen and Leon Pitt pretty much starts to berate Monty about why he hasn't asked her to marry him yet. Monty is pretty clear cut about his stance that she's a kid, but no one really believes this. Eighteen is good enough for them, but Monty is not thrilled. Therefore he proceeds to be completely the big brother to Julie for the rest of the book, no matter how often they play flirt. It's a little uncomfortable.
  • "Good," said Mr. T, and shook hands warmly and went away to do some millionaire-style business on the phone before post time. See, the humor doesn't fall short in this book. Tolkov is also described in one instance as being "in France, buying something."
  • Julie keeps saying that they aren't going to retire Bonnie until she wins the Triple Crown, which is weird considering the book starts off in September when Bonnie is three. Monty remarks on this as being an inside joke because Bonnie missed the Triple Crown entirely, but I don't really get it. At all.
The next installment is Bonnie and the Haunted Farm, in which the back blurb starts out: "accidents, or evil?" I'm not sure about this, but A Home For Melanie still has not shown up and I need to put more ice on my knee, so I suppose I will do this while Julie Jefferson battles ghosts or something. Should be good times.