Oct 31, 2008

Spin number two on the Harlequin round robin.

Biding Her Time
by Wendy Warren
Thoroughbred Legacy Series #2
Published: 2008

So, here's a disturbing fact about me: I anonymously badgered my local library system, of which I am a fully functioning employee (because like hell I'm putting my name on all of these requests, you know what I mean?) to buy this whole series. Badgered like you will not believe. I'm not normally like this, so I guess I'll chalk up this irrational behavior to being a blogger. And a librarian. That's a pretty tricky situation, that. Anyway, I am pleased to announce that the system purchased the whole damn series. For me. And I am freaking thrilled about this for the fact that I have more silly horsey romance novels to throw away my time on.
How did Audrey Griffin - a blacksmith by trade - become a wine hostess? Sure, she's all about "seizing the day," but she's a tomboy, not a booth bunny. Granted, her makeover has transformed her into a hottie - but when you're working with a straitlaced Aussie god like vintner Shane Preston, a little fashion goes a long way!

Unfortunately, no-strings-attached doesn't work for Shane. Something about Audrey makes him want more from their fiery attraction - despite the fact that "commitment" leaves Audrey shakier than a horse on Rollerblades. Is she balking at love or simply biding her time?
So, look, I don't enjoy this, okay? It's petty and trite and ridiculous, but I'm reading it because it's called "Thoroughbred Legacy" and therefore why would I not read it? I don't like romances because women are commonly painted as independent while they're really aching to be dominated and men are displayed as heroic and supportive when they're one step away from being abusive, if they aren't obviously being abusive. It's not sexy, okay? Unfortunately for me, most of the romances I've read for this blog fall into this category. Men dominate, women love to be dominated (because it's somehow liberating?), blah blah yell yell kiss kiss blah blah babies! It's really tiresome. Imagine my surprise when this book totally exceeded my expectations.

By saying this, of course, realize that it's still a romance novel. My expectations were pretty low. I was expecting the usual story, and instead got this hilariously weird Harlequin version of the Thoroughbred series meets Sweet November. If that makes sense. Well, let's just get to the plot.

Do we all remember Quest and the Leopold's Legacy ordeal? No? Well, Leopold's Legacy was going to win the Triple Crown, but just before the Belmont Stakes the racing industry collectively decided to start acting like the Jerry Springer Show and had a fit about the horse's paternity. So Quest had to pull the horse from the race and all hell broke loose and Quest is going through some hard times. Quest is owned by the American Prestons. As opposed to the Australian Prestons, which also exist. Okay. That all said, Audrey Griffin is Quest's blacksmith. She's a tomboy and doesn't eat properly (her idea of dinner is popcorn covered in caramel sauce, if you wanted an example) and likes jeans. There's not much feminine about her, other than she is female. Then you have Shane, one of the Australian Prestons. I feel like I should develop a family tree to explain this, but he's the nephew of the owners of Quest. He's all suave and rich and whatnot. We begin our story in a bar, while Audrey is dancing around and watching him and trying to talk herself into being daring while he gives her a look and then proceeds to ignore her. That was kind of awesome.

So Audrey is left dancing with a jockey in a chaotic and unimpressive manner while Shane talks to his cousin about wine or something because that's what they do. He may be an Australian Preston, but he was the younger son and therefore not into horses, I guess. So he's dealing with his handicapped cousin, whose parents died in a tragic tractor accident that left her paralyzed. Shane has taken over the business and is desperately looking for a way to get her back on her feet in a literal sense. Later on Audrey and Shane discover each other at Quest, resulting in hilarity while Jenna, Quest's matriarch, demands that Audrey be Shane's "booth bunny" during their wine show/tour/whatever that was. Booth bunnies are apparently the wine world's porn actresses, or something, which means that Audrey is the last person Shane needs to come with him to this wine thing. But Audrey has always wanted to travel, and Jenna's all urging her to go so she won't quit because she needs health insurance because she was a cancer victim when she was a kid and could relapse at any time. Audrey's prickly about this, refusing to talk to anyone about her cancer ordeal, especially considering she might be relapsing at that very moment. She's just refusing to think about it, preferring to just live for the moment. Shane is the very opposite of this. Planning is a turn on for him. Seriously.

Eventually they work it out so that she'll be his booth assistant. I found it sort of endearing that their first kiss happens while she's splattered caramel all over her shirt (in a non-sexy way, if caramel can be sexy, which I'm pretty sure it can't be, but still) and somehow managed to smear it all over his sleeve. They manage to not have sex immediately, waiting until after they get to New York and after she decides it's time to cut her hair for the first time since growing it back after chemo. So she pretties herself up and Shane is all wow, you're even more of a girl. Astonishing! He tries to take her out to a fantastically boring dinner, but she demands that they go to Toys R Us instead and eat vendor food. I found all of this fascinating. Then they have sex. The non-disturbing kind that couldn't be construed as rape. All very wonderful. Unfortunately here I sort of dozed off. Wine is not important to me. It's just, you know, a beverage.

Getting through these wine shows quickly, we'll just say that they happened. Good. Audrey continues to get sicker, not wanting to tell anyone about her cancer ordeal from years past, but then it gets to a point that Shane's all, "look, tell me what the hell is going on" and she still won't, so everything implodes and she decides that now is about time to go see her mom, who abandoned her after her cancer went into remission for the first time. She goes out to visit for the first time, astonishing herself into understanding that she has a choice here: be healthy or sick, loved or not. So she decides she likes her blue jeans and that she has to get over everything and go to the doctor. They do the biopsy, and just before the results are announced Shane and his cousin show up. Actually, everyone shows up, and Audrey comes clean and Shane's all yeah, I know because no one can keep your secrets, you know. And it's such a romance novel at this point, only in a good way. He wants to marry her despite her probable inability to have kids (he wanted to have four at one point, as part of his grand plan, which I found pretty damn funny), and as an engagement present he has not a ring, but a horse -- this filly that Audrey loves called Biding Her Time (hello title of the book...they're all named after the horses, I guess). I found this fitting. Then the doctor announces that she doesn't have cancer, but does have some non-fatal virus, and needs to not eat caramel for dinner anymore. It's kind of sweet. Sickeningly so.

The horse scene is less prominent in this book, which is too bad because this one is a hell of a lot better than the first book in the series. The overall plot of the series progresses a tiny bit in that everyone outside Quest decides to blame Brent Preston (the breeder and/or trainer) and the vet. That's all there.
  • I like Shane. He is the first romance novel guy I have ever actually liked. And I like him mainly because people keep dirtying his clothing and he doesn't seem to care. And he doesn't act all possessive. And he's fairly laid back. And he lets Audrey take him to a Toys R Us store. And he brings his cousin ice cream and when she tells him she can't eat any because she ate too many cookies he says: "You can. Each carton comes equipped with its own miniature spoon" like this is the most amazing invention ever.
  • The sex scene is pretty tame by Harlequin standards. It's actually pretty tame by Joanna Campbell's standards circa 1981. This I also appreciated, because there is nothing like poorly written sex. In that it is horrible.
  • I kinda wanted Audrey to have cancer at the end, because in this instance the end was almost too sappy. I can take a fairly high level of sap and keep going, but this book's ending was definitely difficult for me to get through without rolling my eyes.
  • At one point, Melanie, random Preston daughter, tells Audrey that they might have to sell Biding Her Time to someone that would put the filly into "claiming stakes." This is clearly the worst thing that can ever happen to a horse.
  • Yes, I also liked Audrey. I liked that her first thought after screwing things up with Shane wasn't to run after him, but to fly out and meet her mom for the first time in ten years. And I like that she missed her jeans and came to her decision to choose life without having Shane present for that decision. It was weird and very non-romance novel.
So, I liked it. It still fell into the tired old romance novel concepts (especially the ages: Audrey is 24 and Shane is 34...that is about as romance novel as you can get), but it managed to not make me feel dirty simply by opening the book, and for that I give Wendy Warren a heartfelt thank you.

Next up, I venture back into Karen Bentley's world. By this I do not mean that I will review Ashleigh's Hope. But what else is there, you might be asking yourself. What else, indeed.

With that, Happy Halloween!

Oct 29, 2008

In which I answer anonymous questions.

Well, I guess it's time to empty out the tin of search queries and rummage through the mayhem. This time around we have less porn searches, and more ridiculous questions. Are we ready to be subjected to the interests of the public?

are the saddle club dead[carol,stevie,lisa]
In the interest of getting the absolute correct answer for this, I'd pass this one off to Elizabeth. However, I'm almost 1000% positive no one died in The Saddle Club. They're just not in publication, which I guess is a certain sort of death. More to the point, why would anyone end a children's horse book series by killing off all the characters? When has that ever happened? Am I being too logical here?

does stevie on the saddle club have downs syndrome
This is a very good question, and one I will refer to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, what say you?

i want to read no small thing
This might seem shocking, but telling Google that you want to read a book will not make the book magically appear in front of you. However, if you went to a book store and said this exact thing, something productive might actually result.

in the saddle club books carole wasnt black
I can't tell if this search has a point. Are they telling the internet their opinion and...expecting what?

is being a distance runner a bad thing
How bad can it be?

is hunter jumping dangerous
Riding horses is dangerous. Come on.

the reason of why wild mustangs are annoying
Um...

what problems do the rich have
I imagine it would be trying to separate their money into enough bank accounts so that it's federally insured. That and trying to remember how many houses they own. These might not sound like problems, because the rich have no real problems.

who has a crush on you - realistic
Are we talking about who would realistically have a crush on you or what?

why is it bad to love something too much?
It's called "crime of passion." Google that.


And then I pulled out two statements that I had to share:
  • he smokes pot and i don't
  • "brad townsend is batman"
Yes, that's right.

Upcoming Series: Saddle Wise

So, the news of the week:
Saddle Wise
Book 1: Rainy Day Rides
by Inda Schaenen

13-year old April Helmbach is not a horse girl. Ever since her parents were killed in a freak horsing accident, April has stayed far away from anything equine. That is until a horse involved in a terrible accident seems to need her. April immediately connects to this wounded Morgan, and when the Humane Society puts the horse up for adoption, April and her Aunt (with whom she has lived since her parents passed away) take him in and April names him Rainy Day. April and Rainy Day grow closer and closer, and when the rains in their town don't stop, and the river begins to rise and flood, April and Rainy Day become heroes by rescuing those whom vehicles can't (or won't) reach.

Rainy Day Rides by Inda Schaenen, the first in a series for kids ages 8-12, is a magical book about a girl horse whisperer.

INDA SCHAENEN is the author of All the Cats of Cairo. She is a writing teacher in the St. Louis Public Schools and mother of three children who, like their mom, take books seriously. Inda has written columns and essays for Salon, The New York Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and several other magazines and newspapers.
So, it took me a while to find the summary for the first book in this series. I hit pay dirt with the Laura Dell Literary Agency, only to discover that this is yet another series trying to fill the Heartland void. No cover art yet, as this one starts its run May 11, 2009. So mark your calendars, I guess. Interestingly, Inda Schaenen appears to be a real person, and her Salon piece from ten years ago sparked outrage concerning her censorship of reading material for her daughter. In that she altered texts to tailor them for the sake of giving her daughter a more sanitized existence, and then boasted in her Salon article that this is clearly excellent parenting. I am not a parent of anything, so I wouldn't know. But apparently this didn't go over well.

How many S words can you use to describe this show?

Wildfire
1.1: Pilot

I love how the cover for this DVD set proclaims proudly that this show is like "'Dallas' meets the 'O.C.'" I don't really see the comparisons to Dallas, and I never watched the O.C., but I suppose I gleaned enough information about that show simply by existing while it was in production. Wildfire is more like the Thoroughbred series meets the O.C., for reasons that will probably become obvious during the course of this post.

Starting out this episode, I briefly had a flashback to every Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown promo ever made. Dramatic shots of horses racing in slow motion? Check. Dramatic music? Check. The only thing we lacked here was some narration telling us all about the trials and tribulations and triumphs of the horses and their human connections. Anyway, the slow motion sequence segues into Kris Furillo being subjected to some drill sergeant yelling "left" at her as she aimlessly walks in a line in the snow. Kris is a juvenile delinquent because her mom is a drug addict and her dad abandoned them, causing Kris to enter the life of grand theft auto. So she's spent the last 16 months in "camp," or what would normally be called juvenile detention. She's now 18 and ready to show the world how well disciplined she is, right after a judge decides whether or not she's capable of doing that.

Anyway, the camp sends the girls to the police equestrian center several times a month or some such, where Kris has bonded with a failed racehorse named Wildfire. Wildfire is set to become a police horse, and Kris smuggles carrots to him during her visits. For some reason, Pablo, the head trainer for local thoroughbred farm, Raintree, is there frequently, and has taught Kris how to ride. I guess this is what Pablo does to give back to the community, as he was also a troubled youth and spent time in juvy. So he teaches the girls to ride, doing a really shitty job of it (beginners not wearing helmets, dismounting from the wrong side of the horse, being allowed to have posture that puts her back at a 45 degree angle to the horse's spine like this is normal and just dandy...it was really very distressing, but I digress), only Kris overcomes Pablo's horrible riding lessons and is a natural! You apparently can't teach the kind of rider that Kris is, which is to say she's phenomenal without really trying, so teaching is a waste of time. Pablo watches Kris dash around on Wildfire and decides to go to Jean, owner of Raintree, to tell her that he wants to hire Kris as an exercise rider, despite Kris being a delinquent and having no prior experience. Whatevers. Experience isn't required in these stories.

Jean is busy fending off the romantic advances of Ken Davis, who is basically Clay Townsend. Ken wants to help Jean out in her financial troubles, which means marrying her and merging their neighboring farms. Ken's farm is basically Townsend Acres to Jean's Whitebrook Farm. It is an observation that has probably been made before by anyone who reads Thoroughbred, but there you have it. Not only this, but Jean has two kids, Matt (the Mike Reese equivalent) and Todd, who has no Thoroughbred equivalent, but is basically a boy genius. Ken Davis has two kids, Danielle (who was seeing Matt before breaking up) and Ken Junior (the worst name ever). Junior drives a black Porsche and is basically the equivalent of Brad Townsend, only he could never aspire to being in Brad's league, unfortunately. Although he's weirdly nice, in an asshole way, but that was Brad to a certain degree, so ugh. All you need to know: Matt = Mike, Junior = Brad, Kris = Ashleigh, if she'd been more like Cindy. There you have it.

So, Pablo notifies the court of his intentions and Kris is released to work at Raintree. She first goes to the police center so she can show up a policeman who's trying to train Wildfire.

This results in Kris pulling an Ashleigh and giving Wildfire an encouraging speech as she brings herself to tears. Just stick it out, this is a new start, I'm totally talking about myself and not about you at all, but whatever. She's going to come back and visit all the time, etc and so forth. Then she acts all uppity to the cop and Pablo drives her to Raintree, where he tells her that she's going to want to work there or he's taking her back to "camp." He basically takes her attitude and shoves it down her throat, which I'm sure we all appreciate.

Kris arrives at Raintree, getting Matt and Junior's attention immediately. A girl! Both are smitten, and the show tries to spin things in Matt's favor because it's clear he's the "nice guy," but given that the longing glances start between Junior and Kris, Matt is clearly on the outs at the get go. Knowing how this story turns out, I am not surprised. They're actually both gambling twerps, but that's besides the point. Matt tries to gallop the horse there, Oklahoma Crude, and does not impress. So Pablo puts Kris up and tells her to go slow, but you know this situation is made for her to blow them all away with her super amazing skills, and there's no way she's going slow. I just want to point out here that she does this without a helmet, while wearing a knitted scarf. Fashion is important, damn it! Actually, helmets are scarce in this episode. I think Matt wears one once, but that's it.

While Kris is out there galloping Oklahoma, Dani and her friend, Amber, show up in their black BMW. They sashay over in their skirts...maybe they did this in slow motion at one point, I can't recall, as slow motion was used randomly and without regard for whatever was going on at the moment...and this gives Junior an opportunity to make Matt, his best friend, uncomfortable. Dani wants to go swimming, and Junior's all, maybe later. Matt has to break in his new rider first. Oh, Junior. You are so not as good as Brad. But he's scheming his hardest, and for that he gets points. He takes a picture of Dani at this moment and e-mails it to all their friends, driving the wedge of bitter disappointment between his sister and Matt. For some reason. You'd think he'd just want them to get back together so he can have Kris all to himself, but I guess he just relishes the challenge of beating Matt in the seduction game.

Anyway, Kris puts on a show for the four "friends" and Pablo gets all annoyed with her. No one cares. We get some "let's get to know each other" scenes with Kris and friends, some slow motion montages, some really awkward moments where I felt sure the show was going to launch into a music video sequence while Kris shovels strangely placed piles of manure, and then there's this:

Oh, Matt/Mike. You try so hard, and for this I find you hilariously diverting as you dunk your head in a water trough as Kris surreptitiously watches from behind the tree. Nicely done. Junior, your turn! I guess we'll have to wait on his response to this unexpected display of masculine wiles, but I'm sure he's cooking up something to one up this in enticing fashion.

Well, all of this basically comes down to a horse race. They are entering Oklahoma Crude in a "stakes" race at the local track against the Davis family's splendiferous horse, Avatar. Avatar is much more awesome than Oklahoma, and in fact everyone stops to stare, open mouthed, at the horse as he's brought into the walking ring. They get the horses all set to go, and they race, and Avatar wins by four lengths. Oklahoma Crude doesn't even place, much to Raintree's annoyance because their bank loan can't be extended and Ken Davis is all enthusiastic about a merger and Jean just wants a family farm, damn it! Why can't things be like back in the Great Depression, when one horse could finance an entire operation? No one bothers to point out that this is not the Great Depression. We have iPods and cell phones now. Things we NEED, Jean. One horse can't provide all of that.

In the backside, Junior romps down to say hi to Matt and Dani apologizes for their win and Matt is all "don't apologize" and I'm all "what the hell?" because they're all being nice and stuff. Like...unexpected. I am used to Brad saying something snide and Ashleigh completely overreacting as Mike gets the shifty eyes and wants desperately to react violently. Why is this show making the Thoroughbred series look bad? Anyway, everyone gets to talking about the festival that Kris should really go to with them, because it's great and there's a wine tasting and you're only 18, but whatever. Kris is reluctant to go before Amber opens her fat mouth and says something unintentionally rude about Kris's appearance, making Kris give her the look. Everyone gets uncomfortable, because the invisible line between the classy rich and the scrubby poor has been pointed out by the stupidest among them. Junior says something along the lines of, "Yeah, we're friends with Amber despite the fact that she's shockingly idiotic" and Kris is all, "Bitch, I am so going to that festival so you can be uncomfortable by my being poor." Then they all disperse, as Amber says "OMG, I thought she was going to hit me!" Or something. Then it ends. Totally random ending. I guess we pick up our next episode at the festival/wine tasting.

You know, this isn't bad. At least, it's not horrible. Not yet, anyway. I am minorly amused by these people being competitive and yet still be able to be best friends, which I'm sure goes to hell relatively soon thanks to Kris's appearance. The race scene was even somewhat well done and realistic to a point (I'll ignore that ratty saddle they were putting on Oklahoma, or chalk it up to Raintree being financially strapped), Todd (Matt/Mike's younger brother) is like a fountain of information that helps counteract the raging hormones and unrealistic qualities of Kris's existence, and I am totally waiting for Pablo and Jean to have wild sex in a stall. That all said, I liked the episode.

Oct 28, 2008

If women scorned are frightening, are lesbians scarier than the Russian mob? Let's find out!

The Alibi Man
by Tami Hoag
Published: 2007

Kelsey requested The Alibi Man, and here I am, aiming to please.
She was a vision. She was a siren. She was a nightmare. She was dead. Now he needed her to disappear. And he knew just how to make it happen. The Palm Beach elite go to great lengths to protect their own—and their own no longer includes Elena Estes. Once upon a time a child of wealth and privilege, Elena turned her back on that life. Betrayed and disillusioned by those closest to her, she chose the life of an undercover cop, the hunt for justice her own personal passion. Then a tragic, haunting mistake ended her career. Now Elena exists on the fringes of her old life, training horses for a living. But a shocking event is about to draw her back into the painful vortex she’s fought so hard to leave behind.

First she finds the body—a young woman used, murdered, and dumped in a canal. Not just a victim, but a friend. As Elena delves into her dead friend’s secret life, she discovers ties not only to the Russian mob but also to a group of powerful and wealthy Palm Beach bad boys known for giving each other alibis to cover a multitude of sins. A group that includes a man Elena once knew very well—her former fiancé, Bennett Walker, a man she knows has already escaped justice at least once in his life.

Finding her friend’s killer will put Elena at odds with her old life, with her new lover, and with herself. But she is determined to reveal the truth—a truth that will shock Palm Beach society to its core, and could very well get her killed.
I should say I'm not a cop drama person. Or a mystery person. This means, of course, that I will never review a Dick Francis book for this blog unless, you know, someone desperately wants me too and then, be assured, I will keep putting it off until I inevitably forget someone requested it. So please, just don't bother. Anyway, cop dramas. I don't watch them. I don't read them. Yet I am all about FBI drama, for some reason. Give me a disgruntled FBI agent and I am there with bells on. Because where a disgruntled FBI agent is, wackiness invariably ensues. Right? Naturally. I didn't watch all of those years of The X-Files and learn nothing.

So, The Alibi Man is a sequel to some book called Dark Horse. The events of Dark Horse are mentioned repeatedly, but are not important to this story so I will ignore them for this review. I have no idea where Dark Horse takes place in the timeline here, but it happened and people remember it and so forth. What we need to know is that Elena is our main character. She tells her portion of the story in the first person, so we can feel her angst and childhood trauma repeatedly. Elena is adopted (trauma ensues) by a rich family (more trauma) that never knew how to love her properly/blamed her for reminding them they weren't fertile (more trauma) before her fiancé raped someone and asked her for an alibi (more trauma) and she said no. Then her father, a defense attorney, gets her fiancé off even when she takes the stand against him (more trauma) and of course leads to her walking out of everyone's lives forever and ever. More trauma. THEN she becomes a cop, is promoted to detective, accidentally gets someone killed, is randomly dragged behind a car, and quits that career to move on as a horse trainer for her BFF gay friend named Sean. However, she does not appear to actually be training any horses during this book. That isn't traumatic enough for Elena, because mainly she's busy angsting about how traumatic her life is while trying to save humanity from the evil clutches of the elite and her father.

So, that's Elena. She's a boatload of fun, you see? I much preferred Detective Landry, who also gets some of the spotlight in this story in the form of third person, making this book a grab bag of conflicting personalities. Landry is Elena's sort of ex-boyfriend, in that they had sex a lot and then she dumped him when he wanted to have an actual relationship. Elena is no good at actual relationships, and Landry is way too good for her, so it works out. Only Landry doesn't know this yet. Eventually, I blatantly admitted to myself that I kept reading this book for Landry's portions of the story, because he's just hilarious in a bad ass detective way. For instance:

Weiss: "Where've you been?"
Landry: "Why? You want me to go back out so you can have a moment of privacy to whack off with a dead girl's underwear?"
Weiss: "Fuck you, Landry."
Landry: "Fuck yourself."
Weiss: "You were with Estes. Was she giving you a blowjob or what?"
Landry: "She was giving me information, dickhead. About the vic's movements Saturday night."

And this conversation would have kept going had a "relative" of the victim not called the apartment they were standing in, giving Landry the opportunity to talk to a crazed Russian who's going through the stages of grief as only a Russian can while basically not caring about anyone's emotions. It was a good move on Tami's part to break into Elena's angstfest with Landry, because I think it's obvious by now that I would have dropped this book halfway through if someone hadn't taken over the story from Elena occasionally.

Anyway, let's get to the actual story now. Elena's coworker, Irena, died and her body was dumped in the swamp in Florida. Elena, being the main character, finds the body while she's off riding one of Sean's expensive horses that seem to do nothing but eat and act bored. She calls Landry and he comes out there just in time to completely empty his firearm into an alligator that attacks the body. Although that doesn't quite do the job, so one of his officers runs up with a shotgun and that more or less does the trick. Anyway, angst angst angst for Elena. Get the hell out of my crime scene from Landry. Elena runs off and starts to snoop through Irena's apartment, and Landry knows full well she's doing this, but doesn't outwardly care. So Elena is off channeling all her cop rage into finding whoever killed Irena, angsting the whole time. It becomes apparent that Irena likes nice things, and Tami takes some time here to name drop about five designer names. Everyone's all, whoa, for a groom she's got a lot of Dior sunglasses. It must be the Russian mob! Or maybe it's just all the wealthy people around here. Or something. So Elena snoops, finds out about this girl named Lisbeth that works for this Brody person, and runs over there to traumatize someone else. She completely accomplishes this, and Lisbeth, who is from "Bumfuck, Michigan" starts her downward spiral.

Meanwhile Landry talks with some Russian guy who claims to be Irena's uncle, but is in fact Alexi, Florida's most ruthless mobster. Eventually, Alexi finds Elena, because she's the main character, and tells her that she's going to find the killer of his beloved Irena, who appeared not care about him, so I guess this is the fall out of his obsession. Whatever. Eventually Alexi totally loses it in a morgue after Landry shows him Irena's dead body, falls to the ground sobbing as Landry basically rolls his eyes and probably wishes he could pistol whip the stupid guy in the face. So that's Alexi.

Eventually we get into this Alibi Club, a group of men that cover their asses whenever someone gets a little too involved with a prostitute or cocaine or possibly murder. One of these guys is Bennett Walker, Elena's rapist ex-fiancé and another is Juan Barbaro, a nice polo player who is in the club but has some semblance of morals. Barbaro and Elena sort of hit it off, but she's all accusatory when he finally tells her the real story and that goes no where fast. Essentially, the real story is that Irena goes to this club for Brody's birthday, goes to an after party with the whole Alibi Club, gives every one of them a blowjob and basically partakes in what I suppose is a giant orgy. Barbaro wasn't present for the blowjobs and orgy, but he did see Lisbeth walking around outside the house. Dun dun DUN! Shocking! No one pays attention to this until the very end, however. Because everyone suspects Bennett Walker of being the asshole, and he is an asshole, and he was the one who dumped Irena's body because he randomly found her dead in his house. Alexi somehow becomes convinced without Elena's help that Bennett did the killing, shoves him in the trunk of a car, drives them both out to a warehouse, tortures Bennett for a while, gives Elena the opportunity to castrate him while unwittingly handing her a weapon that she uses against him, and he gets shot several times by the police who just happen to show up at the perfect time. Only while Alexi is busy totally losing it, he shoots Bennett in the head, killing him. So that's that.

Moving on to Lisbeth, she almost gets her ass handed to her by Bennett for "talking too much" because about halfway through the book Bennett genuinely believes he killed Irena and just can't remember, starting his downward spiral to the point where he kills a valet kid who's blackmailing him, right before Alexi shoves him in a trunk. Bennett tries to drown her in the swamp, but somehow does not succeed. So Elena finds Lisbeth while she's snooping around Lisbeth's apartment (she does a lot of breaking and entering, feeling justified the whole time), discovers her shaking and covered in mud and whatever else, and insists Lisbeth go to the hospital. Lisbeth doesn't want to go, but screw that. She's going. So Elena traumatizes her some more by grabbing her hair, yanking her to a car by her hair, and then backhanding anyone who gets in her way. Seriously. Then she traumatizes her some more by barking questions at her about Irena. Elena needs to be gaged and abandoned in a coal mine or something equally effective. She's not impressive, and I don't care how many daddy issues she has (which everyone knows about because she's constantly telling everyone how much her dad sucks). It turns out that Lisbeth is a lesbian (but not, because no one from Michigan would ever be a lesbian because they're raised all wholesome in Michigan) and was in love with Irena and Irena I suppose decided to have lesbian sex with her at some point or another, totally confusing things, and then when Irena got pregnant with Bennett Walker's kid (she assumes, anyway), she decides she's going to tell Bennett after this orgy and he'll divorce his crazy wife, marry her, and Lisbeth will be out in the cold. Or maybe Irena and Lisbeth can continue their thing and Bennett would watch, or something. While Irena is pregnant. Like...that's totally not going to fly for someone raised in Michigan. Lisbeth follows Irena to the after party, watches the orgy from a window, gets completely upset and then kills Irena when she comes out to have a cigarette, choking her with a leather necklace while she whispers "I loved you!" Yes, you've probably seen some version of this story before. We all have.

SO. Then Lisbeth can't take it anymore, walks out to where Bennett dumped Irena's body, although I frankly don't think she'd exactly know where the body was found, gets naked, slits her wrists, and wanders out into the swamp so the alligators can come kill her. Nice suicide, Lisbeth. Landry and Elena find her, but because Landry is awesome and Elena is insane, she breaks down into tears before she even finds the body, leaving the actual work to Landry.

Then Elena turns down offers to make her story into a TV movie, sort of might consider getting back together with Landry, and watches the sunset. The freaking end.

  • It occurred to me as I finished the book somewhere over Illinois, that Elena is almost exactly like Anita Blake the Vampire Hunter. You know how annoying that woman is? Just put another twenty years on Anita, give her a couple of morals, subtract the harem of long haired possibly gay, but straight for Anita men, and you've got Elena. This disturbed me, and makes me wish the whole snappy mary sue trend in these sort of books would end relatively soon. These people aren't sexy or interesting. They are self absorbed and have enough issues to justify serious psychiatric help.
  • This book takes place in the world of polo. So, you know, there was polo in this book. Elena is described as a horse trainer, but I think she's more of a groom because she's sure as hell not really doing anything else besides feeding horses and trying to solve crime.
  • And Landry is awesome. This book would have been better if it had all been in the third person, and if Landry had been the main character. At one point he shoots vodka, beats up a giant Russian guy, totally loses it, threatens a whole bar with a gun, throws up, completely turns on a woman, rejects the turned on woman, and gets what he set out to do. All in that order, in a matter of three pages.
If Landry is involved in Dark Horse, I'll read it. If he isn't, well, I don't think it's really necessary.

Oct 26, 2008

The Saddle Club #3: Horse sense and common sense are two different things.

The Saddle Club #3: Horse Sense
By:
Bonnie Bryant
Published: February 1989

The summary:

Stevie Lake, Carole Hanson, and Lisa Atwood are the best of friends and charter members of the Saddle Club, bonded together by their love of horses. But now the Saddle Club is in trouble! Stevie has been picked by Max, the owner of Pine Hollow Stables, to plan some games for its upcoming horse show. And Carole is too busy helping the vet care for Delilah, the mare who is soon to give birth to a foal sired by Cobalt, Carole's beloved stallion. Neither of them seems to have time for Lisa, who's been drawing up an elaborate constitution for the club, including rules for meeting attendance. Lisa is getting tired of being the only one at club meetings! Unless the threesome decides to stick together, there won't be any Saddle Club and no fun at Pine Hollow Stables. And isn't that what the Saddle Club is all about?

First off, I should say that this one is one of my favourites. I'm not really sure why. It's not particularly good, and Lisa is so ridiculous that I have to feel sorry for her.

So, Horse Sense kicks off the Saddle Club's endless summer, which stretches through book 10. The girls are riding every weekday at the stable's camp program, because apparently Max has no other classes, ever, except the intermediate class. There's a new girl in their class, Estelle, who comes from France.

The back of the book basically sums up the plotline: all three girls are involved in their own special projects, and the plot stems from how they come together, kind of like like horses meet Sex and the City. ("I couldn't help but wonder ...") Stevie tries to come up with the most interesting races ever for a gymkhana. These races may possibly involve Hula Hoops, drum majorette's batons, busted umbrellas, and Laser Tag. Carole is constantly hanging out with Judy, the vet, monitoring Delilah's pregnancy and tagging along on her calls for no good reason.

In contrast, Lisa's plot is downright snooze-inducing: she types up a constitution for the Saddle Club. Seriously. She comes up with a statement of purpose: "The purpose of The Saddle Club is to increase the knowledge and enjoyment of horseback riding for its members." Which is probably true, and would be great if she were writing up a strategic plan for Saddle Club University, but as it is, it's just funny. Lisa tries her damndest to meet with Stevie and Carole at TD's so they can approve all these rules, but they both bail on her one day, so she ends up hanging out with Estelle instead. Estelle:
a) was having trouble with Nero, the Most Ancient Horse At Pine Hollow Ever.
b) got a white stallion, Napoleon, as a gift on her seventh birthday.
c) has a country home in Normandy.
d) used to have a pony called Etoile who tried to kick her with her hind "foot" when Estelle pulled on her mane.
e) has never eaten marshmallow fluff.
f) used to go to boarding school with a princess.
g) once was thrown up on by Napoleon.
h) hurt her back and spent her seventh birthday in the hospital, which means she can never jump.
i) has no clue how to untack a horse.

Is it clear, where this is going? Poor, ridiculous Lisa. She just assumes that "riders must be taught differently and horses must be trained differently in France."

Lisa tries to round up Stevie and Carole for another meeting/Senate session, to approve the constitution. Unfortunately, Stevie accidentally feeds half her baton to a pony, and Carole tries to make four times too much bran mash for Delilah, so neither of them can attend the meeting. Lisa is so pissed off at them, she "ratifies" the "constitution" by herself and "admits" Estelle to the Saddle Club.

At Pine Hollow, Lisa proudly invites Estelle to be in the club and presents her with a silver horse-head pin that she's bought to be the official pin. Estelle has zero interest in Lisa and the club, which is probably for the best, since Carole and Stevie still have zero interest in her.

In the evening, Max meets with Carole, Lisa, and Stevie for some drill work. Then he leaves to give a private lesson on the trail. I guess he does have other classes, after all. Still, doesn't the guy ever do anything else besides work at Pine Hollow? Man, it's no wonder he doesn't get married for another 31 books. Anyway, so of course Red and Mrs. Reg are out too, and of course this is the time that Delilah decides to plop out a foal, which is coal-black, just like its father. It stands up and nurses right away, to some incredulous "Can you believe it? That baby is less than fifteen minutes old and it's nursing already" gasps from Carole. Um, I'm pretty sure horses are supposed to stand up and nurse right away. Oh well. At least she's twelve, not twenty-two like Ashleigh. Max offers to let Carole name him. She decided a long time ago that if it was a boy, she was going to call him Samson. Everyone laughs. This went right over my head when I was little, and in fact, it still kind of goes over head. Delilah was the one with the hair, right? Or was that Lady Godiva?

Afterward, the girls share a soda in the tack room (one soda? For three people? Seriously? Oh well, at least that'll keep their sugar intake down, and their cases of mono up) and Lisa has to admit that she invited Estelle to be in the Saddle Club. Stevie and Carole straighten out poor, ridiculous Lisa on all of Estelle's lies, including:
a) She's just never ridden before, which is why she couldn't handle Nero.
b) There's no such thing as a white horse.
c) Well, the country home in Normandy might be true.
d) Horses don't have nerves in their manes, and don't try to kick at riders when they're on their backs.
e) Has never eaten marshmallow fluff: True.
f) Lisa figures out that the boarding school princess was a lie.
g) Horses don't throw up.
h) She's just never jumped, either.
h) Has no clue how to untack a horse: True.

Anyway, Carole finally informs Lisa that horses and riders really aren't trained differently in France; horses don't speak English, and "there's no difference among good riders throughout the world." Both girls give Lisa an ultimatum: Either disinvite Estelle from the club, or they're both dropping out. Lisa confronts Estelle, who is having trouble tacking up Patch (aka Sweetest Horse Ever, Except Around Loud Sounds or Bright Lights) this time. Estelle insists that she has "studied riding with the finest instructors in Europe! But riding here is very different, and not nearly as good." She throws the silver pin back at Lisa and leaves Pine Hollow forever, which is nobody's loss.

Turns out that Lisa has eight bazillion ideas for gymkhana games, and none of them include Hula Hoops, batons, Laser Tag, or broken umbrellas. Lisa recognizes how ridiculous her idea about needing a constitution to make the Saddle Club a real club is, but she does give a silver horse-head pin to each of her friends, and it becomes their official Club pin.

Points of Interest:
  • As far as I can tell, there was only one change made in the 2007 reprint of this book: Lisa inputs everything "in a Word document" instead of "on the word processor." Right. I'm glad you spent so much time making that change, Dell Yearling.

  • This is the book in which the girls coin the term "high fifteen," as in a high five between three people.

  • Lisa -- assuming that is Lisa -- is wearing a truly hideous outfit on the cover of the book. Seriously. The jacket-thing isn't terrible, I guess, it's the kind of thing I might have worn when I was eight or nine. The pants are awful. The socks are those big bunchy push-down things, and the sneakers are a) not something you should wear around a stable, and/or b) way too white to have been wearing them around a stable. Also, why are sneakers on the covers of books always plain-white and old-lady? Is it really that hard to look down at your foot and draw, you know, an athletic-looking sneaker? Come on, Rob Sauber. This is rather heinous work, especially considering that his earlier cover (#2) was not awful, except for the peach-sorbet-coloured horse. And we've got another gem on the cover of #4. Just you wait.

  • This book was published in February 1989. I'm not positive, but I think this might have been the first Saddle Club book published after Neil Hiller's death, which I think was in 1989.

Oct 22, 2008

The Derby Stallion: a movie that unfortunately happened.

The Derby Stallion (2005)
The Heart of a Boy. The Soul of a Champion.

An alcoholic former horse-trainer perceives in a fifteen-year-old boy a unique gift of horsemanship and makes it possible for the boy to conceive his dream and pursue it.
Two things: Zac Efron and Horses. That's the driving force behind this movie, which never saw theatres and was a direct-to-DVD release after High School Musical made Zac Efron the newest craze among teenage girls everywhere. If the producers could have realistically called the tagline: Zac Efron rides horses!!!!, they would have. Zac Efron + horses = crazy girl meltdown. At least, that's what was intended.

The movie opens up with what looks like old clips of the Kentucky Derby. It's a packed racetrack, horses are running on a dirt track (this much is obvious) and then it tries to segue into sepia-toned new footage of a horse and rider racing over grass. All the while someone is talking about how he ran once in "the Derby" and won and something or another. It was amazingly garbled. In fact, there was a story in there somewhere, but all I caught was "the Derby" and "I won" before we meet our two main characters in present, non-sepia time.

Houston Jones (Bill Cobbs) is the man who won "the Derby." But now he's old, spends all of his time drinking something out of a flask, and imparting wise advice to Patrick (Zac Efron), who doesn't know what he wants to do despite being only fifteen. You see, Patrick's dad was a major league baseball player before being injured and becoming a full time dad who won't stop pressuring his son to be the major league player he wasn't. Patrick keeps deliberately skipping baseball practice to spend time with Houston, a fact that keeps worrying his parents because there's no telling what horrible influences Houston is having on their impressionable young son.

Meanwhile, we have Randy and his sidekick, who spend their time riding around on four wheelers, bashing mailboxes, and routinely destroying Houston's vegetable stand. Randy is the best steeplechase jockey in the county, although he always corrects everyone and says "best steeplechase jockey in the state!" Like this matters? County, state...you're in America. No one cares. Randy is sort of a blond version of what I think Joanna Campbell wanted Brad Townsend to be, and in that way I suppose she failed miserably because Randy's an asshole. For instance, I will let this clip speak for me:



Hell, why even bother with an entry at this point? Because Zac Efron is in this, rest assured that you can watch the whole movie on YouTube in ten minute segments. Nevertheless, I will continue. Anyway, Houston eventually buys this horse called Rusty and gives him to Patrick, who has decided he would really like to swap baseball practice for horseback riding. He quits the baseball team, much to his father's initial distress, and starts to work with Rusty instead. Houston quits drinking (he calls this habit "lubrication" and at one point refers to alcohol as "libations" so I sort of hate him), remarkably suffers no withdrawal symptoms, and starts to train Patrick to jump. Although his method is completely hands off. In fact, he sort of just stands there and mutters, "Good. A little better. *grumble grumble*" I don't see how this is helpful, but Patrick just blossoms and before you know it he's naturally skipping over four feet jumps. Although I should point out that he is totally not skipping over four feet jumps. Rusty the horse is a chestnut, so they keep showing shots of Patrick on the chestnut as he approaches a jump, and then the shot switches very suddenly to the bay legs of another horse doing the actual jumping. It's so noticeable I had to wonder what these people thought they were doing. After this they take Rusty to "the track" to "qualify" for the Derby Cup. Rusty qualifies and gets into the race and Patrick's father is excited because the winner gets a scholarship and I am so confused as to what this race is that I'm just going to ignore all of these weird details and move on.

So things are just going great until Houston has to confront Randy and his sidekick while they're routinely destroying his vegetable stand. Randy is obstinate as per the usual, and then Houston has a heart attack. Patrick and his sort of girlfriend find him, but Houston refuses treatment. They leave him in his house so he can pull out the picture of his dead girlfriend and die by himself. Patrick is crushed. They bury Houston to gospel music, alerting me for the first time that this movie takes place in the south. I think Zac Efron was even attempting a southern accent, but clearly that observation was a late one. Later on I finally noticed the track has a sign that says Atlanta, so hey. Atlanta. Who knew? At first I thought they were in Colorado.

Patrick goes through his stages of grief and refuses to ride Rusty. His sort of girlfriend gets pissed at him and goes to Houston's house to do something only to find that it is going to be foreclosed on by the county. I'm not sure if they meant foreclosed on by the bank or not, but whatever. So she goes into the house to get some things before the house is locked up and everything is taken to auction, finding a package meant for Patrick. The package contains Houston's old, but obviously completely new, racing silks. Patrick is touched and decides to enter the race! Only Randy has taken strides to make sure Patrick is not a problem and has sabotaged the truck. So Patrick's dad appears, fixes the truck, and off they go to the race.



And his blond sort of girlfriend makes out with him in front of his family. Nice. Then they rush up to the race official guy and she says that Patrick is "very qualified." Like, yeah. We know that, blond girl. Official guy lets them race and Patrick races and Randy tries to shove him off the horse but Rusty is too good for this and Patrick wins. Then Patrick puts the winning trophy on Houston's grave as we get more gospel music or whatever that was.

  • The Derby Cup. I have issues with this whole event, because when is a race ever named Derby Cup?
  • Rusty's name. It's a basic, plain horse name, but I love that all the other horses in the race have normal racehorse names except for Rusty. It made the race call pretty amusing.
That's it for this movie. It was...not good. The race scene was passable, but the rest of it was more or less ridiculous. Plus, I'm pretty sure this whole movie took place over something like three weeks, and do I really need to point out that a beginner is not going to be in a steeplechase within three weeks of beginning? Within a year of beginning? Or ever?

Oct 21, 2008

Saddle Club: In which everyone suffers realistic problems and I say bitch a lot

Saddle Club S.1.09 “Herdbound”

Ok, it’s a cross-country lesson at the beginning of this episode. Max has Lisa do the big jumps for the first time. Despite being nervous at first, she does well enough and genuinely enjoys herself. Yay Lisa. Max tells her she has real talent and is ready to join the jumping class.

Lisa tries to share her excitement with her bitch mom, who, in the spirit of being a bitch mom, acts like a bitch. Apparently Lisa has failed a Geography Test. Bitch mom points out that school comes before horses (yeah, right) and they are going home right now, dammit.

Lisa has to do well on her next project or she’ll fail the course. Being sorry isn’t good enough. She doesn’t practice her clarinet anymore. She’s being sent to boarding school next semester. She’s ruining her mother’s life and driving her off camera father to drink… Ok, I made that last bit up, but it is interesting that Lisa’s father is mentioned but never seen. My theory? Bitch mom has him so scared that he lives in a tent in the back yard and never sees his children. Yep.

Carole is totally Veronica’s stable bitch. Because she doesn’t want to see Cobalt neglected, she takes care of him herself.

Lisa tries to tell her mom how much she doesn’t want to go to boarding school, but bitch mom hears, “Please show me pictures of this awesome school with it’s awesome stables where I’m going to have an awesome time while you tell everyone you know that I’m dead because it’s too shameful for you to have a daughter that failed a test once.” And no, Lisa’s mom does not hear commas, call the grammar police.

At Pine Hollow, Veronica’s mom wants to see her ride her horse, considering that Veronica has a lot of expensive riding clothes, an expensive horse that has expensive boarding bills, and what I assume are fairly costly riding lessons. All rich mom wants is to see Veronica take an interest in exercising Cobalt. The nerve.

They see Carole exercise riding Cobalt over some jumps. Rich mom says Carole looks so graceful, and Max says Carole looks like she was born to ride that horse. This puts Veronica into a rage, She runs up to Cobalt yelling. I’m fairly amazed that Cobalt didn’t freak and kick her head in, but whatever. Carole is now banned from having anything to do with Cobalt.

Stevie and Carole come up with a ‘brilliant’ plan to help Lisa. This involves dragging her to Pine Hollow, which seems to have a kitchen, and making a model of Mount Everest out of cake.

Veronica’s discovering that having a horse is, like, work. I mean, really. She’s expected to, um, groom him, and clean up after him. Seriously, you guys. Did you know horses poo? And Max won’t even make Red do it, because he’s got other things to do. OMG, Veronica’s already at Pine Hollow twice a week for lessons, what more can she do? Come everyday? Seriously?

Kristi camped out to get tickets to some concert in hopes of getting Red to go with her. Veronica’s put out that Kristi didn’t ask her, but whatever.

Bitch mom comes home and finds Lisa’s gone. Melanie is gleeful that Lisa is in trouble. Mom finds Lisa at Pine Hollow with Carole and Stevie. They try to explain that they’ve made the best project ever. Unfortunately they left it in the oven too long, and it looks like Mount Everest after a volcanic eruption. Bitch mom says they’re shipping Lisa to boarding school next week. The girls have a hug and cry.

Carole sneaks some hay to Cobalt and Veronica acts like a bitch. Nothing new there.

Lisa’s packing and Stevie and Carole sneak in so they can hug and cry some more.

Kristi tries to ask Red out, but he mentions that he now hates the band cause they’re sell outs, blah blah blah. Kristi’s then stuck pretending she didn’t risk being kidnapped, mugged, or raped staying out all night trying to get those tickets. Nice. Red kinda sucks. Yeah, I said it.

Lisa cries that she doesn’t want to leave and bitch mom says she doesn’t like her tone. What the hell? At this rate, Lisa WILL be a cutter and drug abuser, and bitch mom won’t have any idea how it happened. Anywho, Lisa runs to Pine Hollow for one last ride on Patch. Bitch mom turns up and sees Lisa jumping with sad music playing in the background.

Lisa apologizes, Carole and Stevie beg bitch mom to let her stay, and Max tells her that Lisa has gained a lot of confidence riding at Pine Hollow. Bitch mom says boarding school wasn’t supposed to be a punishment, and she thought Lisa wanted to go. What? She does say that Lisa can stay on three conditions: she gets her grades up, Stevie and Carole don’t help her study, and she always tell her mom how she’s really feeling. Cause, you know, she is so deceptive, crying when she‘s sad. Who does that? Lisa asks her mom to promise to really listen (yeah, that’ll happen) and there’s a mother-daughter hug. I though mom might strangle daughter, but it didn’t happen. This time.

Veronica reaches the gross out line when she has to clean Cobalt’s brushes. I’m not sure why this is gross, but whatever. Kristi asks her to go to the concert, and she allows Carole to take care of Cobalt again. Yay. You know, Carole’s the only one to actually have a horse, but you rarely see her taking care of Starlight. She’s always working on some other horse. Whatever.

Bitch mom signs Melanie up for riding lessons. Melanie jabs that she might be in the same jumping lesson as Lisa. Unlikely that Max would have such different ages in the same group, so meh. Melanie annoys me. She and Ashley scamper off, and that’s the episode.

I liked this episode. There was no unrealistic crap, and although bitch mom was, well, a bitch, it was within the realm of believability. The girls cried, and their was no magical, asinine solution. And no Deb. And Veronica suffered the trials of horse ownership. So this episode gets an A. Woohoo! The next episode will make me cry, so look forward to that.

Binoculars...of doom!

The Adventures of the Black Stallion
1.8: The Big Fix

As episodes go in this series, this would have been one of the better ones. It had actual racing, actual training, actual relationships that seemed to make actual sense. At least, it did right up to the point one of the characters whipped out a super high tech pair of binoculars that make horses go insane. Considering the binoculars make their first appearance at the beginning of the episode, things went downhill remarkably fast.

But anyway. Alec and Henry are training the Black for some race. They are at an actual racetrack (this receives a point from me for attempting a believable setting), and they are training the horse on the actual track. All very amazing! Nicely done, show. Only then this woman pulls out her binoculars and starts to shoot supersonic or something beams straight into the Black's head, making him go mad. Mad! And he dumps Alec and runs off. After this, they stick the horse in a paddock and let him calm down, figuring the problem must be that he's an Arabian. Yeah, that's it. So, the Black calms down, only to have crazy lady reappear with her binoculars and makes him go all crazy again.

So Henry calls in the vet, thinking that the only thing that can explain this wacky behavior must be internal. Perhaps he is drugged! My God, a rational explanation! Henry is deeply scarred, you see, because one of his assistants from yesteryear got involved with drugging because he was young and stupid, and Henry just happens to be racing the Black against this old protege in the upcoming Very Important Race. The crazy lady is the sister of this guy's trainer, and she desperately wants her brother to win this race, and the only way to do that is to get Henry to scratch the Black.

A vet examines the Black, but he just attributes his wacky behavior to being an Arabian. So Alec is standing in the stall with the horse when crazy lady pulls a Christina and climbs up in the rafters to shoot her binocular beams back into the Black's head. Her goal here is not only to get the Black scratched, but to wreck Alec's self confidence and belief that he and the Black are the best friends of all time. She completely accomplishes this.

But Henry's old friend or whatever is suspicious, and after trying to get Henry to listen to him and nearly getting a fist planted in his face as the vet screams "the horse wasn't drugged!" he obviously gets no where fast. Then Alec gets his confidence back and they decide to race the horse, so crazy lady gets all upset and pulls out her binoculars of doom again, ready to screw up the race. Only Henry's friend is on to this and alerts Henry. They have to find the crazy lady before she does serious damage.

She prepares to do serious damage, only then Henry and his friend catch her and the Black goes on to win the race after Henry manhandles her a little and steals her binoculars. She appears torn between whether to pout or be seriously troubled by Henry's exuberance.

Here she just looks a little sick. Henry, well, like I said. Exuberance. Or, maybe that's just how he is in every episode, when he isn't yelling.

So the Black is victorious, Henry and his old friend decide to let the guy's youthful inexperience go so they can actually be friends again, and I guess the crazy lady and her brother go to jail, because that's where people who mess with horses go in stories like this. There is never a fine, or a slap on the wrist. There is jail. Unless you're Brad Townsend, whose awesomeness eclipses any judicial system.

Upcoming Series: Running Horse Ridge

I'm just overflowing with news!
Running Horse Ridge #1: Sapphire: New Horizons
by Heather Brooks

Emily Summers does NOT want to go to Oregon. Why would she want to leave her friends and Rhapsody, her perfect dressage horse, to move to a horse rescue ranch all the way across the country?

Then Emily discovers that at Running Horse Ridge she’ll be living her dream of riding and caring for horses 24/7. The ranch’s needy rescue horses and spirited hunter/jumpers are not the well-mannered dressage horses she is used to, but after she meets the roguish black stallion named Sapphire, Emily feels more at home. There’s just one catch: Sapphire is at Running Horse Ridge to be retrained and sold. Has Emily met the horse of her dreams, only to lose him?
No cover art yet. This disappointed me greatly. Anyway, Running Horse Ridge is the new brainchild of Harper Collins, which would then suggest that Heather Brooks was approached to write this or she simply doesn't exist. Either way, it hardly matters. Think Heartland plus "roguish black stallion named Sapphire." Aren't you just so excited now?

This one debuts January 27, 2009. The second book in the series, Hercules: A Matter of Trust, is also slated for release on the 27th. Then T.J.: A Friend in Need (June 2) and Hope: Show and Tell (July 29) . And no, I'm not making up those titles. That's genuinely what Harper Collins is going with. Oh, Harper Collins. How I've missed your poor decision making qualities.

Oct 20, 2008

Upcoming Movies: The Cup

I don't know about anyone else, but I loved the movie Phar Lap when I was a kid. How wonderful is it that the director of that movie is back for more with The Cup?
AWARD-winning British acting hard man Ray Winstone will play Irish horse trainer Dermot Weld in a made-in-Melbourne movie about jockey Damien Oliver's emotional 2002 Melbourne Cup win.
I guess I've been living under a rock, but he's also the person who brought us the horsey movies Flash, Bluegrass, and The Young Black Stallion. The Cup started production last month. Expect it sometime next year.

Oct 19, 2008

Overcoming stereotypes, while accidentally falling right into them.

The Adventures of the Black Stallion
1.7: Pony Express Ride

This is an improbable situation that genuinely means to be all socially conscious and forward-thinking while at the same time somehow stumbling into every cliche a show can stumble into. It's just expected, is what it is.

So, this is what happens. Alec is offered a ton of money to take the Black and recreate the last pony express ride. The local Native Americans are disgruntled about this because they know the truth about this last ride that the organizers have not been forthright about, and that truth is the last pony express rider wasn't white. He was a Native American, and we know this because his last name was Coyote. Alec heads off on this ride, totally against Henry's wishes because the Black is a racehorse and Alec is in an "authentic" cowboy costume, and it's just completely ridiculous. Alec doesn't care. He starts off on his ride, only to immediately run into trouble because someone is switching the signs on the trails. He gets completely lost. Then someone leaps on him and the crazy starts just after that when his assailant nearly falls off a bridge. Alec helps him, but the assailant decides to follow him because he also got lost. Which is pretty amusing because he was the one that supposedly knew what was going on, and Alec was supposed to be the confused, lost one.

The fun part about all of this is the kid who jumped Alec is a Native American, who is the great great grand nephew of this Coyote person. He tells Alec all about the treachery here, and Alec agrees with him. The kid (I forgot his name, because it isn't important) becomes Alec's sidekick as Alec puts his survivor skills to use. Nice going, show.

New Kid does provide matches, though, but that is clearly sub par to Alec's attempting to create fire by rubbing two sticks together. It is immediately clear who the manly man is here. Alec makes sure they don't starve, then he gives New Kid the special book that they're ceremoniously carrying to wherever, and they finish the ride. Alec tells New Kid to tell everyone all about the real story, but this is not important because the show goes immediately to credits before the New Kid can say anything of substance.

And that's it. I'm seriously thinking about skipping all of these pointless episodes, only the installment where high tech binoculars make the Black go into a homicidal rage is up next, therefore I cannot. Plus, we can't miss the candy bar episode, or the time Henry suddenly reveals he's illiterate. Right?

Oct 18, 2008

Saddle Club: In which I don't care about the plot because of a personal vendetta

Saddle Club S.1.08 “Star Quality”

Ok, this is my first official post as a member of this blog, so I wanna just give a little wave, mention that my profile has been added to the 'About Us' section, and if anyone has any questions or ideas as to how I can improve my reviews, please tell me. Ok, on to the episode.

The Saddle Club are out racing at the beginning of this episode, then showing off tricks they’ve taught their horses. Some lady is driving around looking for something, sees the girls, and follows them back to Pine Hollow. She introduces herself as Shoshanna Green, a location scout for the new Skye Ransom movie. Skye is some movie star god or something. Anyway, the girls pouty face Max into letting them use Pine Hollow for the movie, The Lone Rider.

At the Atwood house, Lisa’s little sister is annoying, and her mom thinks she’s just perfect. Lisa brags that she might meet Skye, and that there will be an audition for a small part tomorrow. Melanie wants to go and mom thinks that’s just great. Lisa is unhappy.

Enter Deborah, who I hate, for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Deb is a reporter for the local paper, and she’s doing an article on the Skye Ransom movie. And she’s really pretty, and has very nice hair. And she’s scared of horses. And she and Max meet and have a lingering glance thing as I fight the urge to yell “Bitch, step away from my man!” Yes, I’m ashamed.

The auditions are for one little line in the movie. All the girls completely lack talent except Melanie, who gets the part. Lisa is unhappy some more.

Veronica throws a hissy fit to Max about not getting a part, threatening to have her parents move Cobalt somewhere else. I’m thinking this is the most useless threat ever. However, to smooth things over, Shoshanna agrees to talk to the director about getting her another part.

Now we finally see Skye, who is less shiny and Godlike than I’d been led to believe. He’s unhappy because his agent has told the director that he can jump a horse, and if he doesn’t, he’s fired.

Veronica gets a line in a scene with Skye, “Thank you.” She’s very excited. Max is impressed because he’s never heard Veronica say that before.

The girls watch as Skye rehearses his riding scene on Comanche. He sets up the jump fine, only to panic and jerk the horse to a stop, sawing on his mouth. The girls are outraged, as is the director and his agent. The girls decide to teach him how to jump. They set Mrs. Reg on Deb, so the reporter won’t find out what they’re doing. Mrs. Reg then pushes Max at Deborah (like an adorable lamb to sacrifice, damn you old woman!) who tries to introduce her to the horses before Deb announces that she hates horses. That bitch!

Stevie demonstrates on Comanche, then Skye tries. Yeah, he’s still really bad at it, falling off at a smaller jump. He mentions that he also has to be able to make the horse rear up. So sad. Lisa takes advantage of his depression to woo him with a homemade milkshake and a sympathetic ear. Skye admits that he misses just hanging out and being ‘Bruce’ (his real name). Lisa admits to being jealous of her perfect little sister. Skye says Melanie should be jealous of Lisa, because Lisa is really cool. Lisa gets a much needed confidence boost.

Veronica brags to Red about her part, but he’s really not impressed. Max and Deb are talking when Mrs. Reg comes in. To prevent Deb from finding Skye, she makes her watch a tape of Max competing. Max is embarrassed, which I find cute… sorry. Yeah, anyway…

Veronica’s costume is scruffy and she has blacked out teeth. This amuses. She also is unable to say her lines, instead she just smiles silently into the camera. The director gets frustrated and cuts her scene. She is then kicked off the set. It was cool. Then it’s time for Skye’s scene.

Lisa and Carole watch as ‘Skye’ rides in, jumps the fence, makes the horse rear up (with dramatic whinnying, of course), ride around behind a wagon, and ride back out to pose for the camera. It’s a miracle. Actually, it’s Stevie, who apparently invented the concept of a stunt rider. She rode Comanche in the scene, and then switched with Skye behind the wagon. Brilliant.

Skye and the girls take a photo together. Skye kisses Lisa on the cheek before going to his interview with Deb. Lisa tells Melanie that she was great in her scene. Veronica pouts some more about being cut out. Max announces that he has a date with Deb (Nooo!) and gets teased by the girls.

Obviously I’m over-reacting to Deb’s presence, but that’s residual from my childhood when I got a great big little girl crush on Max. It doesn’t help that Max on the show has that awesome accent. But dang it, this gal just bugs me. Grr. Skye’s different somehow from the character in the books, but I really can’t tell you how. I just liked the book character more. I’d fail this episode for the introduction of Deborah, but I like to imagine I have more control than that, and it’s not such a bad episode, so I’ll give it a B.

As it turns out, love can cure everything!

Star in Danger
Thoroughbred #37
by Alice Leonhardt
Published: 1999

I was extremely reticent to move on to this book after Without Wonder, mainly because I can't really handle it when Alice Leonhardt writes Christina and she tends to turn Brad into a chaotic mess stuck somewhere between a serious, well-deserved power trip and drunkenness. I'll get to that later, because really, this book made me cackle out loud on several occasions.

I really dislike this cover for a multitude of very obvious reasons that Claire already pointed out in her review. Plus, it looks like Star is shying at the pot of flowers in the lower right corner. Like, holy crap, petunias! Unfortunately, this is totally in character for Star. He's a nut case.

Will Christina ever see Star again?

Christina Reese is worried. She's been taking care of Wonder's Star ever since his dam, Wonder, died. Now Star has been sent to Townsend Acres, and Christina misses him terribly. She dreamed of eventing Star in the Olympics on day, but Brad Townsend has already started training him to race.

The only way for Christina to be near her colt is to work with Brad. But Star has changed since he left Whitebrook. The once sweet and gentle colt has become wild and difficult to manage. Can Christina save her beloved Star from being ruined?
Essentially: Special horse needs special treatment, but gets smacked with reality by dastardly, yet special, antagonist, thus the special horse prefers his special treatment that his special human deals out with special treats and specialness. Got it. After this book, I really am tired of the word special.

Okay, all that said, Alice should have stuck with Melanie. The last time she attempted Christina, we had Christina's Courage, and we know what a screwed up effort that was. However, I will say that Alice did a better job of it this time around, but it was touch and go there at the beginning because Christina is not willing to put up with this any longer, people. She wants her special horse back at his special farm now, and no dallying is going to placate her.

So we start off this installment yet another six months to a year after Without Wonder, or something like that. Really, all you need to know is that Christina is now 15. Parker is 17, Melanie is almost 16, etc. I guess I only mention their ages because I am always so shocked when the series skips years, given that it just spent twelve books on three months of time. More or less. I'm still desperately trying to adjust to these people actually being teenagers, and I've had a rather hard time of it. Anyway, it's March and everyone is eagerly anticipating Miss America giving birth to yet another foal that Melanie immediately names Miss Perfect, making me want to grab one of these authors and shake them repeatedly while screaming "Why do you name all your horses Perfect this, something's Heart or combine both words in some horrible attempt to sugar coat everything to death! WHY?" I'm really just waiting for someone to name a horse Perfeart, and the tragedy will be complete. Anyway, it's very obvious that Ashleigh is still shell shocked over Wonder and Mike is all "just drop it! don't upset her, for Christ's sake!" whenever Christina points out that Star might very possibly belong at Whitebrook. It's clear that they're all walking on eggshells, desperate to maintain a semblance of calm so Ashleigh won't flip out and do something they'll all regret. Whatever that may be.

So Christina visits Star at Townsend Acres and Brad is being all upbeat about his championship potential, calling him their next champion and next Derby winner and next Triple Crown winner and seriously, Brad, like whoa. You can bring down the cheerfulness just a little because you're wasting it on Christina, who is determined to be sullen about everything. Brad informs her that they are going to start backing Star and Christina immediately has a hissy fit right there about how it is ONLY SPRING. Holy hell. So she brings it up to everyone who is anyone and everyone agrees that Brad is awesome and Christina should shut up already. Okay, they obviously didn't say Brad was awesome. I said that. Because it's true. And Christina should shut up already. But Christina is not to be deterred, because she is a main character in a horse story, and we know their MO by now. She and Melanie go to Townsend Acres to check in on Star and nothing is well. In fact, everything predictably sucks. Townsend Acres is too perfect. Too clean. Too successful. Too heavenly. Clearly it must be spoiled and rotten inside the, um, hearts of all their employees and whatever, because Star is being abused. Of course. Here we go again, kids. Let's strap ourselves in, for this is going to be a wild ride.

So Christina pitches another fit and Mr. Dunkirk, Brad's trainer who is fat and good at his job but not good, if you get my meaning, is no help and Christina threatens that she's going to be back! With her parents! Later today! And, seriously, Christina, you don't say that. This gives them a chance to prepare. Any moron with a slightly functional brain would know to keep their mouth shut. Clearly Christina is challenged in this area. So she comes back with her parents and clearly the horse is just dandy, but clearly only Christina can pick up on Star's not being totally dandy. Personally, I got a huge kick out of this section because they arrive during some random party Brad is throwing at the main residence and this is what he has to say:
Coming up beside Christina, he put his arm around her shoulder. "What do you think? Are we taking good care of your baby?"
Since he's been drinking what appears to be a lot of champagne, I can only conclude that Brad is smashed. That would really be the only way to explain this behavior.

Anyway, Mike and Ashleigh determine that Star is just fine. Christina does not accept this, and it takes Parker to explain to her that she's babied Star and he expects sweetness and light and doesn't really understand that life is not a boatload of rose petals all the time. Christina determines that it's all her fault. And, yeah, it might be Nana the goat's fault. God, Nana just won't go away. Parker then tells Christina that she should get a job at Townsend Acres as a groom and then he invites her on a private picnic, where they dash around on their horses and have this wonderful exchange that finally won me over a little more on the subject of Christina/Parker:
Christina: "That sounds like a date."
Parker: "So? Are you afraid of a date, Reese?"
Christina: "No way." *dashes off on some race thing*
And YES, I totally like this because he calls her Reese. Shut up. Parker then kills the mood by screaming whoowee, and then Christina totally does chicken out on the date and kills Parker's confidence, resulting in lots of confusion and annoying attempts to avoid each other.

Christina then becomes a groom at Townsend Acres, getting the grand tour by none other than Brad himself as he carts Christina around in a truck while completely winning her over on the grand majesty of the farm. This results in this conversation:
Brad: "Why are you so interested in working with Star? Whitebrook has a lot of nice colts and fillies. Besides, I thought you and Parker were only interested in that eventing business."
Chris: "We are. But Star's special When Wonder died, my mom was so upset, she wanted nothing to do with him. I took over and kind of became his mom. I'm sure that sounds silly to a professional horseman like you."
Brad: "No. It sounds like someone we both know very well. She was younger than you when she fell in love with Wonder, but she was just as obsessed."
Chris: "My mom, right?"
Brad: "Right. I never had any idea what she saw in that crippled foal. I was pretty certain Wonder wouldn't amount to anything, and boy, was I wrong."
But just wait for it. Waiiiit...
Brad: "Wonder's Star is going to be Townsend Acres' next champion. And no one is going to mess with that, especially not you."
Chris: "Wh-what do you mean?"
See, Alice can't get it straight with Brad. Nice, nice, nice...oops, too nice, let's swing all the way to evil! Brad isn't a psychopath, Alice. Please. Anyway, Christina learns all the military rules that Brad has suddenly decided to employ with Townsend Acres and Parker keeps delivering these ominous declarations of "he knows what you're doing all the time, Christina. he's watching you. he knows. he knows." Like, at this point I wouldn't be at all shocked if Christina woke up at night to find Brad sitting in the corner of her room, casually keeping tabs of her every movement and recording it all in a notebook entitled "Surveillance on the daughter of my arch nemesis/potential one time love interest."

Anyway, so it becomes very apparent that Brad knows, you guys. He knows everything. He knows without even having a person there to witness things that may be going on. He is clearly a demi-god, or he's got some special super powers that I can't even begin to seriously ponder. And Christina has fallen under this spell, much to Parker's shock.
Christina: Maybe you never gave Townsend Acres a chance.
Parker: I should have known.
Christina: Known what?
Parker: That you'd get sucked into my father's web.
The web of Brad! God, sign me up.

So Christina is all pissed about this, so she goes and long lines Star or whatever and almost gets trampled before Matt, random groom who is sweet and 18, comes in to sort of help her not get trampled. And Matt is cute. And adorable. And sweet. And Christina totally thinks he's cute, and then he takes her home on his motorcycle. And right here, right where she's clinging to his waist as he motorcycles her home, I started laughing. I didn't stop laughing for a while. Meanwhile, Melanie's all "Chris, you're dense." And Chris is all "Huh?" And Melanie smacks her head against a wall, or does the equivalent of this, probably, in private, and tells Christina that Parker is in love with her and she's motorcycling around with Matt, which Brad knows about because he knows everything? (Why does he care about this, is the grand question.) Christina, well, she just doesn't know. Then she does this Meadowbrook event with Sterling, but that sucks because she's not focusing on it and then Matt motorcycles out of nowhere to tell Christina that Brad is backing Star! Like, now! So Christina drops everything and Matt takes her back to the farm and she grabs his waist again and again I just die laughing.

Then the obvious happens. Brad is evil and is backing Star, but Christina demands that she help, resulting in Star flipping over and crushing the rider. Brad gets pissed at Christina for not controlling the horse...really it's just about everyone's fault at this point...and orders Parker off the farm when he comes to her defense. Then he orders Chris off the farm. Then Parker leaves in a huff, takes Christina with him and they drive back to Whitebrook and then back to the event, all the while having this "intense" (this is my "air quote" word for this conversation, not theirs, although I'm sure it totally would have been) talk about how much they like each other and then they start making out on the side of the road because it's so intense and their lives are so dramatic and Brad probably can see all of this happening in his super enhanced brain and is probably seething over it. Anyway, they get to the event after deciding to stop making out in the truck and Christina tells Ashleigh all about it and Mike tries to jump in to shield Ashleigh from the horror of having to deal with reality, but she stops him and they go off and save Star from Brad's handsome, long, wonderful fingers...yeah, I'm getting side tracked.

Okay, what really happened was Christina finds Star randomly still tied up with long lines or something, to the point that his nose is practically tied to his chest, something I really don't see happening at all, given that Brad sees and knows all and he's an amazing trainer given everyone's testimony and his singlehanded training job with March to Glory. I mean, seriously. So Christina cuts the lines and frees Star and Brad knows and shows up to defend himself or something and threaten her. Then Ashleigh comes in and everyone sort of goes still. At least I did. Brad and Ashleigh are interacting! My inner fangirl squees despite Parker over there being a downer with his "if you keep Star here you'll break his spirit, just like you did mine." And, you know, please. So Brad's getting it from all sides and he eventually just turns to Ashleigh and says, "She's your daughter, all right," which I find very weird. Like...what? Am I supposed to be reading into that as much as I did? So he also puts some conditions on giving Star back to Ashleigh. Like Star has to be phenomenal and win at least one of his first two races. Phenomenally. Or he's coming back to Townsend Acres. Ashleigh agrees. They pack up Star and go home to special Whitebrook to proceed with their training regimen of specialness.

  • He was always polite to Christina, but whenever she saw him, she had a hard time being cordial in return. No freakin' kidding, Chris. Your overreaction to Brad being nice is legendary at this point.
  • "Hmpf." Okay, Brad does not, under any circumstances, hmpf.
  • On Brad and Wonder: "Didn't he try to make her lose one of her races on purpose?" Uh, no?
  • On Ashleigh and Wonder: "I just remember what happened to Wonder when we pushed her too hard in training." Which was when?
  • On Christina and Parker: She didn't know why one hug was making her feel so flustered. Chris, sweetie, you're fifteen. He's seventeen. If someone walked up and smacked her on the back of the head right now, it would be justified.
  • On Christina and Brad: Would she have to call Brad "sir"? More important, would she have to do everything he told her to do? Oh, man, my brain went to a really bad place at this point. I am so ashamed.
  • Christina has kissed many boys before Parker? What? Who are these many boys besides Dylan?
  • Star rears and Brad immediately moves to shield his face. I couldn't help but think, "No! Not his beautiful face!" Yeah, I'm either pathetic or just that amused.
You know, I actually enjoyed this far more than I should have. Not because it was good, but mainly because it was just so damn funny. In fact, if all of the books could have been like this one, I wouldn't have complained. Or maybe it's just late and I'm in a ridiculously good mood for no reason. Maybe it's just that.

...

Maybe.