Jan 31, 2009

How much slowmo is too much?

McLeod's Daughters
1.2: Ducks on the Pond

It's shearing time! And in typical Drovers Run fashion they aren't exactly on the ball. Claire et al have a weekend to shear all the sheep on the station or they'll miss the truck or sale or whatever. In order to get the sheep sheared they've hired a few professionals, headed up by Marty, who has a history of sorts with Claire.

Marty doesn't exactly have what one would call strict hiring practices, and he's hired on an ex-con that has all of the girls afraid when they hear the rumor at the ex-con's family has reportedly disappeared. Not unexpectedly, everyone starts making up stories about how the guy killed his family while they all stare at him as he dutifully goes about shearing and minding his own business. Seriously, Drovers Run girls, top acting like twelve year olds.

This is sort of a silly pseudo thriller episode, which in my opinion is not a good choice for second episode of the series. You should still be establishing characters and story at this point, not throwing everyone into a mock horror movie. Anyway, because the ex-con is out there being an ex-con who may or may not have killed his family, Tess gets into a conversation with Claire about defending themselves and what constitutes the use of defense. Claire feels it's necessary to shoot anyone who happens to walk into her house uninvited, and Tess isn't exactly on board with that line of thought, but I guess she has no room to argue what with the ex-con and all.

During the night, Tess does another accidental viewing of things she shouldn't be viewing, seeing the ex-con getting into a fight with one of the other shearers. The other shearer doesn't appear for work in the morning, giving everyone reason to believe that he's dead in a ditch somewhere. Then Claire and Marty get into a sheep shearing contest, and Claire wins, which is sort of like a kick to the balls for Marty. In retaliation, Marty insists that Claire take him on as manager for Drovers Run and Claire insists that she's in no position to hire him (seeing as how she has no money to really pay him) and Marty goes balistic and hauls ass out of there, taking the shearers with them. So now the girls don't have to worry about the ex-con and having to go through more slowmo sequences involving the shearers ogling them. Now they just have to work around the clock to shear the rest of the sheep by themselves.

Only then the ex-con returns, scaring everyone out of their little minds. But he insists that Marty was wrong to just leave, and he wants to help finish with the sheep, i.e. he does not want to murder them. Everyone is relieved, and then the ex-con reveals his deep secret to Tess, head author of all the crazy stories we've been hearing about him since the beginning of the episode. The ex-con is GAY, you guys. That is why his family left him. Apparently he'd be more accepted in the city, but what would he do? Gayness is not a profession, after all. So there you have it. Maybe it's just me, but from this episode I got the distinct impression that being gay is the same as being a nice possible murderer in Australia.

Oh, and the other shearer isn't dead in a ditch. They just got into an argument. One immediately wonders what their argument was about, as it's suggested this guy is off running through the hills screaming about how gay the ex-con is...so...yeah.

Also, Tess has dreams, you guys. She wants to own a cafe, and considers selling off a bit of Drovers Run to do it before Claire finds out and hacks her dream to bits by guilt tripping her during a lovely gallop over the property. Claire had her first kiss by this stream, Tess. How can you not think that's important? Tess dutifully calls her lawyer and tells him to hold off on her dreams for a bit longer. Claire's dreams are more important for the time being, and Tess still has to prove herself worthy of being Claire's long lost sister.

And then Claire realizes that the sale/truck/whatever isn't until next week, making all their hard work pointless. Go Claire!

Next up on McLeod's Daughters: a good old fashioned, Australianized rodeo in which Australians line dance! And they wear those crazy western shirts and everything.

Jan 30, 2009

And this commences my Sweet Valley experience.

First Place
Sweet Valley Twins #8

Some people have all the luck...
Lila Fowler, the snobbiest girl in Sweet Valley Middle School, has gotten her own beautiful horse -- and she doesn't seem to care. Elizabeth Wakefield thinks it's not fair. Elizabeth absolutely adores horses, so much that she'll do all of Thunder's grooming -- just for the chance to ride him every day.

Elizabeth's behavior makes her twin sister Jessica furious. Jessica accuses Elizabeth of trying to steal her best friend away. And that's not all Elizabeth is doing! She's deceiving eveyrone at the stable and is making trouble for her closest friend, Amy. Just how far will Elizabeth go before she loses everything -- all for the love of a horse?

Okay, seriously? Who thinks Elizabeth is about two seconds away from whacking Lila in the head with that crop?

I was never a Sweet Valley fan, but when I read Lucy Takes the Reins earlier this month I knew I'd have to read First Place eventually. Now that I have completed this book, I can call my stint with this series complete and move on with my life.

Lila is the bitch of Sweet Valley, Jessica is mainly her minion, and Elizabeth is a volunteer minion because Lila has a horse, and is using the horse mainly as an attention getter. This whoring out of the horse ruffles Elizabeth's adorable indignant feathers, and she's determined to ignore Lila's attention whoring until she gets roped into seeing the horse and he is the most gorgeous horse ever.

Seeing as how Elizabeth appreciates horses and Lila doesn't, Elizabeth decides to do just about anything to keep in Lila's good graces so she can keep riding the horse. Jessica gets upset that Elizabeth is taking over her minion job, and Elizabeth is mostly disgusted with herself and everyone around her, but keeps doing what she's doing because she loves the horse so much.

Because Elizabeth rides the horse so much, she seems to be under some impression that everyone else at the stable thinks that the horse is hers and not Lila's. As if everyone has suddenly forgotten who the actual owner is because someone else rides the horse. I mean, I guarantee someone is paying the board and those checks don't have Wakefield written on them. Elizabeth, sweetie, stop thinking you're so important. Anyway, this owner's competition is coming up and Elizabeth wants to enter because despite just learning how to ride she's already clearing two foot jumps. Somehow. Like, she was cantering successfully after one lesson, so she must be on some amazing learning curve.

Anyway, at a Unicorns sleep over, Elizabeth spends her time not being thrilled by her invitation and Jessica broods over her sister having been invited. During a bit of gossip involving Elizabeth's friend, Amy, she explodes and tries to make Amy sound cool by divulging Amy's big secret -- Ken kissed Amy! Someone must think Amy is cool besides Elizabeth! Well, that was a mistake. The Unicorns start making kiss sounds at Amy (I find it amusing that a group of teen girls would obsess over boys, but would ridicule another girl over a kiss...I can't decide if this is insane or completely logical, which seems to happen a lot with teen girls). Anyway, Amy freaks out and accidentally discloses Elizabeth's secret about the owner's competition.

You'd think Lila wouldn't care, but she totally does and runs to the stable to insist that Elizabeth can't ride because she's not the owner! Of course, no one cares. Elizabeth convinces Lila that her horse would win, and thrilled with the chance to attention whore again, Lila tries to get Elizabeth to ride. Elizabeth refuses to whore herself out for the sake of gaining Lila more attention, but Ted is sooo thrilled to do that for her. He rides the horse in the advanced show and they win because Jessica shows up and Ted has a crush on Jessica, elevating his game to some super awesome level. Lila sells the horse to Ted, and Elizabeth is at first concerned about this until Ted assures her that she will still be able to ride. Because it's all about Elizabeth, and I guess this horse is so fantastic that lesson horses could never compare.

Random Points:

  • "I'm not skinheaded, either." Um, wait. Can we back up for a second?
  • Apparently the "greatest race horse of all" is Man-of-War.
  • Elizabeth admired the perfect slope of his neck, rising like a tree trunk from his forequarters. This doesn't sound like a comfortable horse to me.
  • Lila's "spare set of riding clothes" was nothing less than a Stetson, a wool challis shirt with a matching silk bandana, riding pants, a belt with a mother-of-pearl buckle, a buckskin vest, shotgun chaps, and custom-made calfskin boots. Really, do I even need to make a comment on this?
  • Apparently this local stable has the biggest collection of tack in southern California. Shocking! I had no idea people kept statistics on that...

Next there will be more McLeod's Daughters, and then I'm going to take some time to ponder Running Horse Ridge. Because I know we're all too curious for our own good.

Jan 29, 2009

Take the Reins: calling to the horse lover in every tween fashionita's soul.

Take the Reins
Canterwood Crest #1
by Jessica Burkhart

A few months ago I had a weird urge to find something akin to Gossip Girl meets Thoroughbred, and if this book was aimed toward young adults instead of middle grade readers, this would have been it.

Okay, here's the synopsis, because two previous posts including the exact same synopsis is not enough:

When Sasha Silver and her horse, Charm, arrive on the campus of the elite Canterwood Crest Academy, Sasha knows that she's in trouble. She's not exactly welcomed with open arms. One group of girls in particular is used to being the best, the brightest, and the prettiest on the team, and when Sasha shows her skills in the arena, the girls' claws come out.

Sasha is determined to prove that she belongs at Canterwood. Will she rise to the occasion and make the advanced riding team by the end of her first semester? Or will the pressure send Sasha packing?

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of The It Girl, the spin-off of Gossip Girl. Only it's not a product placement machine, because I'm pretty sure the goal of The It Girl is to make every girl who can't afford Manolo Blahniks by the time she's 15 feel ratty and poor. Canterwood Crest has one foot in this socially upscale boarding school world, and one foot planted in a horse stall. This series is the flighty, catty social structure of rich teens slamming into what's supposed to be the responsible and sentimental background of horse ownership. You'd think some serious issues would pop up because of this, but lucky for us horses and the social elite are well-versed in each other.

Sasha is the new girl at Canterwood Crest, recently plucked out of her public middle school because her local riding instructor determined that she had little else to teach her. Luckily for Sasha, Canterwood Crest is also rigorous academically, otherwise I'd think that her parents are easily led and all she wants to do with herself is ride. Sasha immediately starts off on the bad foot, letting her spooking horse (Charm, who I keep mentally picturing as a gray when he is actually chestnut, and I think I have the racehorse Silver Charm to blame for this) get away from her and cause an accident with Heather, the resident antagonist. Because of this mishap, Sasha has more or less painted a target on her back, and Heather is shooting for her big time. Matters are not helped when Heather finds out that Sasha is a fairly accomplished rider, and she feels threatened when Sasha makes the intermediate team with most of the other characters in the book.

Thus starts the pranks. Heather is sort of intense about being a bitch, and these pranks go from fake accidents to switching stalls to sabotage to mind games. All you need to know about how intense Heather is occurs when Sasha walks into Charm's stall and finds her friend Callie hunched in the corner of the stall whispering about how Sasha should really look after her tack. Because I guess Heather has a history with tack sabotage. Sasha has a lot on her hands here in terms of a girl antagonist, but now we will focus on Zac Efron.

There is a boy in this book, because you have to remember that this series is a hybrid. Our Thoroughbred characters never gave boys the time of day because they literally had no room in their brains to ponder anything other than horses. For books like The It Girl, there is nothing but boys, competition over boys, and family dysfunction that usually occurs because of a boy. For Canterwood Crest, there is room for both boys and horses. This might sound shocking, but dear Sasha is probably the most normal twelve-year-old, horse obsessed rich girl I've ever read about. She watches tv, she comprehends wearing clothes that are not ready made for barn work, and she gets the basic concept of a crush. And she has a thing for Zac Efron, so when a Zac Efron look alike comes bounding along she's stumbling all over herself. They have a film class together, and by the joy of arranged seats they get to know each other in a youthfully bashful sort of way.

The book reaches its climax with two events: a winter dance (wherein the Zac Efron look alike dances with Sasha) and the test for the advanced team. The results are the most predictable thing about the book; I don't need to repeat them here because if you've read a horse book you know what happens. However, the results for the seventh grade advanced team are a means to setting up the rest of the series. Catty girls have to mix with the responsible girls to become teammates...not friends. I'm actually more interested in the rest of the series than I ultimately was with this book because I think the concept of nice girl and the antagonist girl having to work together to produce a good team result hasn't exactly been done before (at least successfully) in a middle grade horse book. Typically, the two characters are always pitted against each other in a tired recycled plotline that leads up to a final show, and I have a hope that this will be a breath of fresh air in that if they're ultimately encouraged to act as a team then they'll focus their pissy relationship outside of the ring, which has to be more engaging at this point.

  • I've said it before about first time authors: expect craziness. This book was low on the crazy factor, in that there wasn't any definite plot point that felt sticky to me. However, there did seem to be an unnecessary amount of scenes. Such as the section when Paige's mom goes on and on about rearranging their dorm furniture, culminating in the decision to move their beds five inches to allow more space. It's like...well, yeah. You could press the beds right against the wall, but then why are we talking about this? What's the point? That was my main question for a few areas of the book.
  • A lack of pertinent description is probably my big question mark throughout. Much of the description is done well, but then when it comes down to action I'm left feeling little to nothing, leading me ultimately to rereading a scene to figure out what the hell just happened. Consider: before the lone horse show in the book, Sasha finds the groom holding Charm, who is not moving. Sasha has a little moment of panic about this when I was wondering what her deal was. Groom holding horse, horse not moving. Is the horse on the ground? What is going on? Lots of horses just stand there, so when Sasha runs up in a panic about things after a description of Charm standing still...I'm totally lost. As it turns out, Charm's mane was chewed up and his braids were ruined, resulting in Sasha simply buzzing his mane off in a rush. And that was it.
  • I like Sasha. She doesn't come off as totally superior to Heather in all ways imaginable, which is one of my big problems with horse books in general. Heather is given reasons to act the way she does, and while those reasons are slightly predictable, at least there are reasons. In terms of riding, they feel fairly equal to me on that front, which is another plus.
  • Equal character development. Most of the time, I always feel like horse books focus too much on the one main character and the horse. Jessica spends time giving character to Callie, Paige, and even the dorm adviser. I really appreciated this.
  • A few typos. Nothing hugely problematic, but noticeable.

Okay, to sum up: I liked it. I guess that's obvious when I don't post a full recap. As a horse book, it's better than a good portion of middle grade books out there. As a cliquey Gossip Girl sort of book, that isn't my area of expertise. The only thing I can say there is that it thankfully did not try to sell Manolo Blahniks to seventh graders.

That said, I'll be looking out for the next one.

Jan 28, 2009

McLeod's Daughters: Transplanting Australian summer into Pittsburgh winter.

McLeod's Daughters
1.1: Welcome Home

This morning it took me thirty minutes to hack the ice off of my car in order to go to work, because in Pittsburgh we don't stop for snow. Or ice, for that matter. Actually, we could put it this way: if the world suddenly fell into an apocalypse, everyone around here would be totally occupied with finding a clear path to work. I grew up in the South, so I keep hoping for a snow day...and they never come. Never. It's most unsatisfying.

Because of the crappy weather, I've decided to start my McLeod's Daughters marathon. It looks warm and inviting in Australia, which is a far cry from the northern half of the United States right now. McLeod's Daughters, for all of us unfamiliar with this series, is about two half-sisters who take over their father's ranch. Many episodes are not exactly primarily horsey, but they will be later, so that justifies my weird obsession with watching all the episodes. Australians seem to categorize this show as a soap opera, which I totally don't because I'm used to American soap operas, and I guess the best word to describe an American soap opera is incomprehensible. For instance:

No, really. Just watch that. And that's just one story arc among several. McLeod's Daughters, by comparison, is a primetime drama to me. Which makes me wonder what primetime drama is to Australians. Maybe it's all soap operas. Any Australian want to help me out here?

Anyway, this episode is pretty cut and dry. It opens up with Claire McLeod assisting her people (I guess they would be called drovers, but I'm definitely not going to use that word ever) in rounding up cattle. It's picturesque and wonderful, although maybe this is just me yearning for green scenery. Meanwhile, back in some nameless city (although it's probably Sydney, because out of like the five big cities Australia has Sydney seems to be the one everyone prefers), Tess McLeod gets a phone call about something that makes her grin and comment on how wealthy she is. It is the comment of someone who was poor about two seconds previous to the phone call. So she giggles and runs off.

Claire et al get the cattle into a holding pen and she proclaims that they will have lunch! And beer! Hooray! Only Tess has to show up while Claire is eating lunch and contemplating her cross word, asking an empty space for help on 16 down or something. It's immediately obvious that Tess and Claire haven't seen each other for a long, long while. Tess hasn't been to the house in twenty years, and her room is now a store room. Claire is put off that Tess is there, because there's lingering animosity over her father's second marriage and Claire's obsession with keeping Drover's Run for herself. Although according to the will, it's half Tess's. Claire proceeds to ignore Tess as best she can for about half the episode.

Then enter Alex and his helicopter. Alex's dad owns a neighboring ranch (can you sense the budding hostility?) and when he meets Tess it is blatantly obvious that they are going to have sex eventually. Be it in the next episode or eight years from now. It's going to happen. Claire is all annoyed yet again and Alex is all, "What? I'm a man, she's a woman." And Claire asks him, "Then what am I?" Apparently no one has ever looked at Claire. I don't really find this surprising.

Tess spends the night, but it takes the housekeeper to invite her. Everyone is uncomfortable. Claire starts crying in private, Tess is freaked out by the gecko that runs unchecked through the house, etc. Tess goes on a walk and accidentally lets the cows out. The next day, the hired hands are ordered to go out to round up the cattle again, otherwise they'll miss the scheduled truck and miss the sale. Because Drover's Run is predictably not exactly financially sound, Claire was depending on the sale. Then one of the hands crashes a farm truck (ute, whatever) into the herd of cattle and goes up into flames.

He miraculously lives, and everyone rides up to survey the damage. Alex goes running by with a fire extinguisher, which, you know, isn't going to do anything to a truck carrying extra gallons of fuel in the bed. But he sprints over there while Meg (housekeeper) tends to the injured guy's broken collar bone with a breezy scarf. Claire shoots a cow in the head and Tess reveals that she saw the hired hands taking the fuel after Claire discovers most of it missing, so Claire fires pretty much everyone and decides to work the ranch by herself.

Alex's dad has a hurrah! moment, because he is predictably evil. No lone woman can work a ranch by herself! Or possibly, like, hire new people to work for her or anything. Only they do not suspect that Meg, her daughter, the random delivery girl who is probably a slut, and Tess will volunteer to help Claire out.

The girls get on their horses, don their Australian trench coats (they probably have a name, but I'm not interested in finding it out right now) and cute hats, and gallop abreast into the green scenery.

A quiet episode. The background is, of course, gorgeous. I will watch more posthaste, because it's going to snow tonight, and I need more green scenery to offset the huge amount of awful that is more snow. I also have a ton of books coming my way from the library and Amazon (I'm serious about this...I don't know what I was thinking) and first on my list is Jessica Burkhart's Take the Reins. It's actually in my purse, because if I run off the road on my way home from work I'll have something to amuse me while I'm waiting for the tow truck.

Jan 27, 2009

Heartland: I just don't know about this one.

1.4: Taking Chances

This is the synopsis for the book Taking Chances:
Amy's life has drastically changed. She's found herself taking on the huge responsibility of running Heartland, the horse refuge that was her mother's life work. The one constant for Amy has been her friendship with Ty, Heartland's 17-year-old stable hand. But the arrival of a new hand, Ben, throws everything off balance. By the time Amy realizes she's taken Ty for granted, it could be too late.
Well, that's just vague enough to hit the main plot of this episode right on the money. What the synopsis totally fails at is mentioning the other constants in Amy's life being her grandfather and Lou. And maybe even Mallory. Possibly even Scott. And Spartan. Come on, synopsis people, 17-year-old boys are not the be all and end all of horse crazy girls. I mean, did we not learn that lesson repeatedly from every other middle grade horse book ever? We're lucky that Amy even slightly recognizes the budding lust here, because typically these girls are all "why do I feel so weird when we accidentally and very briefly touch?" They're adorably innocent, and their one constant is never the boy, okay? Now get back in line and stop trying to break out of the horse story mold.

Mainly, this episode is all about the new kid, Ben. He's the nephew of the owner of the rich/non-evil horse stable, and because his rich parents are divorced and his rich aunt is in Italy or something, he's been sent to be of no use at Heartland. Ben has a horse, a pretty chestnut named Red, which he's going to board at Heartland while he's supposed to help out. He does not help out, pissing Ty off to no end.

Ty has been learning how to ride, and this show takes great strides in continuing the trend of depicting absolutely beyond bad riding instruction. Mallory has named herself Ty's instructor, and she basically sits on the fence and grimaces as she watches him ride around in a circle. That pretty much sums it up. Then you have Amy over there insisting that Ty ride with a helmet designed for the purpose of horseback riding, and I can't help but think that maybe she should take her own advice.

Ben drives up and immediately makes a disparaging comment about Ty's riding skills and is generally a douche. The Heartland crew tries to be accommodating to Ben, but he generally goes about burning his bridges as fast as humanly possible. First he nearly runs over Lou while she's jogging and basically tells her to run somewhere else because he's "hacking" at a dead gallop every morning and plans to use her favorite running route. Then he insults Ty a few more times, and Ty continues to refuse to clean up Red's stall, totally blurring Ben's concepts responsible horse ownership. Then Ben beats up Red to get him to ford a stream, upsetting Amy, who does little to nothing about it, which is frankly very unlike her or any other horse story main character.

Eventually Ty witnesses Ben having another major episode with Red during some jumping practice, and he puts a stop to Ben's hysterics long enough to get into a physical confrontation that Mallory has to break up. Soon after, Ashley shows up to announce that Ben's aunt is always gone to Italy for months at a time, and this is how it's going to be at Heartland. Maybe Ty would like to come work for Ashley's mother, at which point Amy has a minor attack of blurting out information she shouldn't about Ty's parole, pissing him off all the more. He goes to look at Ashley's barn and appears to seriously consider Ashley's offer.

At this point, there's a minor plot point of a letter the girls' dad sent their mom seven years ago. Apparently he wanted to get back together, but the letter went ignored and the girls want an explanation. Jack tells them some traumatizing story about the pills and alcohol that their father got into after his rodeo accident, tearing the family apart to the point that their mother didn't feel like she could trust him again blah blah blah. Everyone is shocked and appalled by this information, I guess.

Moving on, Ben has another episode with Red at jumping practice, flinging the crop around to the point that Red bails and runs off. Everyone runs up to Ben, and for an amused second I thought Mallory was going to haul off and kick him in the ribs while he was down, but no...people are all caring about his well being. Ben's all "I just don't get it! Why did he run away?" Right here I wanted someone to say, "He ran away because you're a douche." But such directness apparently isn't appreciated.

So everyone runs off to find Red. Eventually Amy and Mallory find him, and they muse briefly about not returning him before returning to reality and walking back with the horse. Only they have to ford the stream again and Red flips out, dragging Amy off of Spartan and onto the rocky river bed. Um, Amy, here's where you should have taken your own advice about the helmets. Remember when you said that?

Red runs off, Mallory's horse bolts all the way back to the stable, and she rouses the troops and they go off to get Amy, who is unconscious by the river. Only then dear Dad (name: Tim) ambles along on his horse, because he works at the neighboring ranch, and sees what has happened. He rushes to cross the stream on foot, only to slip and start floating down the stream. Jack and Lou appear to save Amy, totally ignoring Tim, who shouts out Amy's location before saving himself, because no one really gives a damn about his life, I guess.

Ty finds Red and rides him back to the ranch. Amy goes to the hospital, comes back to find Ben all forlorn and willing to change for the good of his horse and everyone who has to put up with him, and when Ty points out the healed welts on Red to Ben he delivers the most fantastic line: "What? Do you have personal issues to work out with your horse?" Awesome.

So Amy agrees to help Ben with his personal issues, but Ty has had it and decides to leave for Ashley's rich/evil stable. End episode.

  • I watch these on YouTube, so occasionally I read the comments and the vast majority of them were "Ben is a douche, but he's so hot." Only in YouTube speak which is something like: "Beni s hott but soooo a asshole!!!" The second most popular comment was to the effect of "Whips and horses do not mix." This is great if you live in the land of Thoroughbred, but not so much if you don't.
  • I think I will also point out that Heartland Ranch has a website.

I think I have some McCleod's Daughters arriving today, so look out for that a little later this week.

Jan 26, 2009

I'm starting to wonder if any Thoroughbred's pedigree is correct at this point.

Ride a Dark Horse
A "Gusty" McCaw Mystery
by Lynn Hall
"Gusty" McCaw has a life many teenage girls can only dream of. Living at Tradition Farm gives her independence and the chance to work with the horses she loves so much. But her happiness is shattered when her father is killed in an accident that looks very much like murder. Then Gusty discovers that another horse is being bred in place of Tradition's valuable prize stud, Ambassador, and she realizes that something suspicious -- and dangerous -- is going on at Tradition Farm. Which horse is being switched with Ambassador for breedings and why? And how does her father's shameful death fit into the puzzle?

Gusty is determined to uncover Tradition's dark secret, but someone is equally determined that Gusty never reveal her knowledge and will stop at nothing -- even murder -- to keep her quiet. Stripped of her good name, unable to trust anyone, Gusty must solve the mystery alone, using only her sharp wits and her courage.
I like Lynn Hall, mainly because I feel she creates interesting main characters that seem firmly grounded in reality rather than flitting off in some sentimental "OMG did you just call that horse an animal?" mentality. Ride a Dark Horse definitely exhibits one of these characters. Gusty McCaw was practically born and bred on a horse farm, and she has no special horses that only respond to her attention, or crazy love works miracles policy. What Gusty does share with most of her other horse book main characters is the determination factor, which comes in handy for her as she winds up trying to avoid bodily harm while attempting to get her life back.

The deal is that Gusty's dad is recently dead, and Gusty is all alone in the world except for her connections at Tradition Farm. She's sitting outside at night and sees lights on in the breeding shed. This is typical, as Ambassador usually does his breedings at night. While this is happening she follows her dog to the stud barn and sees Ambassador still in his stall, making a mystery out of what was going on in the breeding shed. Later she discovers that the owner's riding horse, a stallion named Toby, would look like Ambassador if he was less fat. Gusty, because she's new at this whole suspicion thing, asks the stud manager, Jackson, why Ambassador was in his stall when they were in the breeding shed, and before she knows it she's been fired for selling information to other farms.

Gusty makes the executive decision to get her job back, so she goes on the hunt for clues about this whole stallion switch thing. A day in a library leads her to a farm called Wood Hill, which had a few stallions before a fire put a stop to that. While there she manages to make a few enemies, a few friends, and then, because of the enemies, she's fired for not being straight about who she is when she presented herself for a job. By that point, she's been asking questions there also about this former Wood Hill stallion, American Express. It turns out that one of the grooms is the nephew of someone at Tradition, creating a link that Gusty can't ignore. The groom realizes this, and decides to beat up Gusty, who runs out of there afterward. By this point, she realizes that Toby and American Express are the same horse and they're using Toby as a stand in for Ambassador.

She calls up the Jockey Club in hysterics, but the guy on the phone doesn't exactly sound like he believes her, so she goes into more hysterics and heads to Tradition to find the proof she needs: a little white dot on Toby's eye. When she gets there, the groom from before knocks her out and hog ties her in the breeding shed, where he has a meeting with his partner in crime, a rider from Tradition called R.B. Then Jackson comes along and tells them that he's had enough of this and they can't just murder poor Gusty. The boys don't like this, and all hell breaks loose just as the cops get there and the Jockey Club guy, Theo, takes Gusty to the hospital.

So, these stud switch plots never seem to have a realistic reason behind them, and I was interested to see how Lynn Hall explains this whole thing. The explanation? LOVE. Jackson was in love with the owner lady, who bought Ambassador after her husband died, only to have the stallion be a dud. Jackson loved her from afar to the point that he decided that they needed to switch out Ambassador for a stud more likely to be fantastic, but not too fantastic. Unfortunately, the stud they stole was way fantastic and everyone started to blackmail eachother to the point that, when Gusty's dad was transferred to the stud barn, R.B. had to spike his soda with vodka in attempts to get him to go along with the plot. Her dad was an alcoholic, so they hoped he'd just be too drunk to deal with anything and eventually would get fired. Only he fell over and died. Oops.

Tradition Farm folds, the appropriate parties go to jail, and Gusty is offered a job with the Jockey Club as an undercover agent of sorts. Gusty decides to take the job because she's (shockingly...like, I turned my head and squinted at this) got a huge crush on Theo, who is, like, forty. I was completely disturbed by this revelation, and then the book quickly ended, leaving me feeling a little uncomfortable.

But, you know, I still like Lynn Hall.

Jan 25, 2009

Talking about horse books with Jessica Burkhart.

Today I'm talking to Jessica Burkhart, the brand new author of Canterwood Crest. The first book in the series, Take the Reins, is available now.

Time for a quick synopsis!

When Sasha Silver and her horse, Charm, arrive on the campus of the elite Canterwood Crest Academy, Sasha knows that she's in trouble. She's not exactly welcomed with open arms. One group of girls in particular is used to being the best, the brightest, and the prettiest on the team, and when Sasha shows her skills in the arena, the girls' claws come out.

Sasha is determined to prove that she belongs at Canterwood. Will she rise to the occasion and make the advanced riding team by the end of her first semester? Or will the pressure send Sasha packing?

Okay, to the interview:

You've been an equestrian, but unfortunately had to stop riding. What motivated you to finally start writing about horses?

I’d been an equestrian for most of my life, but had a spinal fusion at thirteen for severe scoliosis. After surgery, I avoided horses for six years. I missed my old life with horses! I was always the horse girl and I’d lost that. I needed something to keep me busy, so I started freelancing for magazines. I wrote about everything but horses.

When I was nineteen, I heard about NaNoWriMo and wanted to try it. Great, but I had no ideas. Then, the idea for Canterwood hit. I was so scared to jump back into the horse world, but I went for it. As I started writing Canterwood, I fell right back into the groove of things. All of my equine knowledge was still there from the parts of the saddle to how to do a half halt. Writing about horses gave me back my passion and I’ll never go back to ignoring horses.

There are many, many horse books in the middle grade market. How does Canterwood Crest contribute in terms of fresh ideas?

Canterwood Crest is different because, to some extent, it takes the edge of The Clique novels and mixes it with the horse-centered world of The Saddle Club. Canterwood Crest isn’t just a horse series—it has other elements such as boys and friendship that will hopefully draw tween readers. I try to keep a balance so girls who didn’t like horses would still find the series enjoyable and entertaining.

Has any particular horse book or series influenced Canterwood Crest?

The passion that Ashleigh (from the Thoroughbred series) has for horses definitely influenced me. I put a bit of that in Sasha, my main character. Whenever I reread the Thoroughbred series, especially the early books, I love Ashleigh’s relationship with Wonder, Pride, Fleet Goddess and her other horses. I never wanted Sasha to use a horse as a prop or for riding to come off as an activity that only rich kids did on a weekend. Like Ashleigh, Sasha’s totally horse crazy and she’d do anything for her horse.

Your first attempt at writing a novel-length draft occurred during NaNoWriMo. What were your greatest challenges during that month?

The first challenge was the shock of keeping up with the frantic pace of NaNo. Now, it’s no big deal, but for a first timer it was SO hard. I was sure many times during that month that I wouldn’t make it, but I just kept going.

The other challenge was the carpal tunnel in my right hand that decided to present itself during the second week of NaNo. I’d never had problems with it before, so I didn’t know how to treat it.

Do you have any plans to go the YA route with a horse book in the future?

Actually, I wrote a draft of a YA horse book a couple of summers ago. It’s shelved for now, but it might be something to revisit in the future. Writing an adult horse book (something like Sara Gruen’s Riding Lessons and Flying Changes) would be great, too.

Lastly, what is your absolute favorite horse book ever and why?

My absolute favorite is the fifth book in the Thoroughbred series—Ashleigh’s Dream. A teacher at school gave it to me and she wrote a note inside about how I should follow my dreams of working with horses and writing. It was the first Thoroughbred book I’d ever read and I was hooked. I’m so grateful that I was able to combine both of my loves!

My thanks to Jessica for taking the time to answer a few questions! I will definitely be dropping everything when I read Take the Reins this week. For those who don't have their own copy, it's available now at Amazon.

Links of Interest:
Canterwood Crest
Jessica Burkhart
Jessica's Blog

Jan 24, 2009

Heartland: It's starting to grow on me, frighteningly enough.

1.3: Breaking Free

I finally found an image that I can use for my Heartland posts. So for those of us who don't want to watch the show on YouTube (or waste our time downloading torrents, which I would avoid with this one), we now have a handy reference allowing you to place faces to names. From left to right we have: Scott (the vet who is probably in love with Lou), Mallory (the annoying 12-year-old), Jack (whom I call Grandpa Fletcher, but does have a name, and it is Jack), Lou (who is the most awesome character on the show by leaps and bounds), Spartan (the horse, so that should be easy to figure out), Amy (the main character), Ty (whiny but hot!) and Flighty Dad (he probably has a name, but I don't recall it right now). That is the cast. Now let's move on with the show.

This episode revolves around an open house. Lou insists on the open house to get their name out there and show people what they do at Heartland. Amy, predictably, doesn't think it's a good idea. Seriously, what ideas are good, Amy? Instead of sticking around to have that advised family meeting with Lou, Amy is all worried sick over Pegasus, her mom's old gelding. Apparently he isn't eating, preferring to mope in his stall because his favorite human doesn't visit him anymore. Amy has the perfect solution: aromatherapy. Pegasus picks out his scent and she starts to dribble it into his feed, which he still wants no part of.

You know what I think? Perhaps they should take him out of his stall occasionally. That might be helpful. Anyway, Amy spends the night with Pegasus and her beauty sleep is interrupted by Ty, who is trying to be a nice guy by putting a blanket on her. How dare he!

So, right about here I can only come up with a giant blank. This is because I watched this late last night, and am now trying to piece together a recap of it fourteen hours later with no attempts to refresh myself on the plot whatsoever. We'll skip forward to this horse that needs help, because after that I happen to remember everything, and I don't know how to feel about that.

Grandpa Fletcher and Ty go to the fancy/evil stable to pick up a tent for the open house. While there, Ty sees a motorcycle he just has to go ogle, giving Ashley a chance to invite him to ride it because it's her brother's and I'm sure this will be fine with him. Right. So Ty jumps on and she asks if she can go, so she gets on also and asks: "What do I hold onto?" Ty says, "Figure it out yourself." And I giggled myself through the rest of that scene.

Amy and Scott go to this other fancy, non-evil stable and see Ty motorcycling around. Amy knows immediately that it's him, because I guess she's memorized every article of his wardrobe. She makes the look. They continue on to see a horse that doesn't want to be saddled. She's been labeled vicious by everyone who has tried to work with her, including the fancy/evil stable owned by our antagonist, Val. The owner of the fancy/non-evil stable asks Amy if she's a horse whisperer, and Amy pulls out her righteous outrage by saying: "I listen to horses." Except she lets her tone tail up in the form of a really pissy question. Amy says she'll work with the mare, and they take her to Heartland, where she runs back into Ty and asks him how his ride was. Ah, jealousy.

Meanwhile, Lou is off having a normal lunch with her normal pal from high school, and then she runs into her father and asks him to come to the open house. While this is happening, Amy goes straight to work on the mare, putting a saddle on the mare's stall door. Out of nowhere, the mare lunges at her and Ty happens to be right there to slam the door closed and pull Amy out of the way, resulting in teen swooning as they press up against each other and don't immediately remove themselves from this position until Ashley wanders in totally out of nowhere. Ashley puts down the mare and tries to get Ty's attention, but he rebuffs her and notices how uncomfortable Amy is, which I'm sure just warms...places of his body.

Anyway, the rest of the time Ty is off trying to put up this giant tent, giving Amy time alone with Pegasus or the mare. She gets nowhere with the mare, deciding to call in the mare's former owner, a blind kid that looked really freaky on first impression. Honestly, my first reaction was "wait, why is there a serial killer in this show?" That weird. Then he turned out to be blind and respecting of living things, so it was all okay. He tells Amy that he never rode the mare with a saddle. Or a bridle for that matter. He rode her bareback with a halter. So Amy's all OH. The mare has not actually been broken to tack, which would obviously be a problem. So she montages her way through breaking the mare to saddle, which takes about, oh, one try. And things are all spiffy immediately.

Then we have Pegasus. The friend Lou saw at lunch comes by and puts on Amy's mother's fringed suede jacket, which winds up making Pegasus very mildly excited. So they hang the jacket up by his stall and that seems to do the trick. I still say they should just take him out of the barn occasionally.

Then we get to the open house. Amy parades the mare around and delivers some speech about how Heartland is better than any ranch on earth, and Val decides to throw out a challenge: if Amy can jump her $100,000 jumper who won't jump, she'll be, I don't know, more willing to believe in the fantasy, or something to that effect. Lou insists that Amy shouldn't have to display her amazingness more than she normally does on any given day, but Amy accepts. She rides the horse and gets tossed about once or so, and then Grandpa Fletcher tells her that the horse is commonly jumped in front of a lot of people. And he's always trained to jump by having people stationed by the jumps and armed with lunge whips, for some reason. Amy immediately tells everyone to clear the field, because this will help somehow. And then she jumps perfectly.

So, that's that. The open house turns into a dance party/cook out, and Lou is sad because her father didn't show up. She dances with Scott, who is so in love with her. Little does Lou know, her father has arrived and is in the barn talking with Pegasus, only Grandpa Fletcher comes and tells him to get off his property. They talk about not wanting to fight "today," which means that there will probably be a glorious moment where they do come to blows. I cannot wait for this moment.

Oh, and Ty asks Amy if she was jealous when Ashley came on to him and she totally is not. But she so is, and he knows it.

Jan 23, 2009

Heartland: Storming off in a huff is better than resolving conflict.

1.2: After the Storm

Don't you sort of think it's amusing that Lauren Brooke is given a writing credit on this show? One thing that never gets old is her Wikipedia page, because as the so called author of Heartland she'd need to have a life, and the publishers have made one up for her. I love this. Seriously, couldn't they have just done the Thoroughbred route and said "created by *insert editor name here*" so all the books would stick together on a library shelf?

Anyway, in this episode Amy is going through some post traumatic stress related to the crash. Her nightmares lead to classic bolting awake episodes, which makes me wonder who really does jump and sit straight up when waking up from a nightmare. I'm not sure this is possible. Anyway, Lou hears her in the middle of the night, but waits until morning to point this out to Amy. Honestly, Lou is more concerned about running Heartland properly. She wants it to run more like a business, while Amy is insistent on stating that Lou's ideas are "not how it works," or something, while being completely unhelpful by not making it clear to Lou exactly how it does, in fact, work. Lou asks Amy how this horse, Swallow, is doing in training and Amy replies that he's doing great. She's not exactly listening because her best friend, Soroya, is back from Quebec, and she's rushing to meet her. Lou takes Amy's off hand answer to mean that Swallow is ready to be picked up, setting us up for conflict.

Amy and Soroya decide to go for a ride, while Ty notices that no one is going to help him muck stalls and gets whiny about it. Mallory, this kid who is always around for no reason, offers to help, but no one cares enough to acknowledge her. Amy and Soroya go on a ride while Soroya goes on and on about how hot Ty is. Hot and whiny. Soroya is apparently a show jumper, and so is Amy, I guess, so they make a plan to enter the circuit this year or something like that, and they will go to a neighbor's farm to practice their jumping.

Meanwhile, over at the place that is clean and upscale and therefore snobby/evil, Swallow is ridden by the blond antagonist (whose name is Ashley, I guess). Swallow freaks at a car and Ashley falls off, resulting in hysterics from the owners. Amy did not train Swallow correctly! Let's get in our SUVs and go act indignant at Heartland! They do that, making Lou and Amy appropriately sorry for having no communication skills at all. Amy blames Lou, Lou says she thought Amy meant the horse was ready, and now they're going to lose business because the first thing horse people do in these stories is talk bad about each other. When Lou thinks she's got another customer, Amy doesn't help matters by throwing a fit at the dinner table and storming off when she yells something to the effect of not being able to give a quote when she hasn't seen the horse. I think these people need to have a meeting, post haste, just to save me from seeing Amy storm off from the dinner table again, which she does two or three times in this episode alone.

Then we have Ty's parole officer meeting with Grandpa Fletcher about the paperwork he needs to sign if he's going to keep Ty at Heartland. Ty, of course, is shirking his responsibilities so he can help Amy with Spartan, who is also going through some post traumatic stress in regards to trailers. He will not get in them, ruining their attempt to trailer to the neighbor's to practice. Soroya is disappointed, but gets over it, while Amy is having a self-confidence break down. No one believes in her abilities, least of all herself. So when Lou comes along to try to apologize and smooth things over by saying no one expects her to be a miracle worker, Amy acts like a bitch and storms off again. When Ty dumps his chores to make her a jump course consisting entirely out of dead wood in their back pasture, is she thrilled about it? No. She just takes it as a confirmation that she's not good enough with horses to get Spartan into the trailer, so she acts like a bitch and storms off. Again. Dude, what?

So, by now I wanted someone to take Amy and shake her akin to some romance novel. She's got everyone in a fit...Ty is getting his ass handed to him by Grandpa for helping Amy instead of doing his work, Lou is having a crisis while trying to juggle work and the ranch, and then Amy has to have a dream about Spartan and the trailer, indicating to her that Ty is right -- Spartan thinks the trailer is like a jail cell. A moving jail cell that may run into a tree. So she decides to park the trailer in front of Spartan's paddock and open up the side door into the paddock so Spartan has to go through the trailer to get to his grass. This eventually works. Hurrah!

Also, Grandpa goes over to the nice/evil place to confront Val, the owner who has been making snide comments about Heartland behind their backs. And Swallow's owner decides to take the horse back to Heartland, and this new guy/awesome jumping star wants Amy to train his horse to not be afraid of dogs. And Lou and Amy finally apologize to each other and get on the same page. We end with Amy jumping Spartan over the course Ty made for her, suggesting that she's not so much of a bitch to ignore the fact that he made this thing entirely.

I would really like it if Amy stopped storming off. I hope she grows out of it, because if she's still doing this as a method of getting out of resolving conflict by the third season, I don't know how long I can continue with her. That said, I did like this episode more than the first.

Hotter. Deeper. Amazing...er.

Something to Talk About
by Joanne Rock
Thoroughbred Legacy #4

Well, I'm navigating my way through the racing world through Harlequin's eyes, an experience that by now I'm starting to have second thoughts on. Like...why the hell am I reading these? Why do I continue to read them when I inevitably start skimming two thirds through? Why do I do this to myself?

But then the answer comes to me: I have a blog. And I am its willing slave.

Widowed single mom Amanda Emory wants a fresh start—far away from Los Angeles and her troubling past. All she wants out of her new job is a secure income and a safe haven for her kids. But her matchmaking nine-year-old has other ideas….

Horse trainer Robbie Preston has never shied away from risks. And the sparks between Robbie and Amanda are definitely dangerous. Yet her past—and his reputation—stand between them. It will take some serious courting to change Amanda's mind, but Robbie is up for the challenge…even if it does give everyone something to talk about!

I'm going to keep this entry short and to the point, and hopefully in doing so I won't have an enormous tantrum over this book, which I have a feeling is some horrible romance novel take on the Oedipus Complex. Yes, I did say that, and yes, I think Robbie has been working through this stage of development for all twenty-eight years of his life.

Robbie is the youngest son of the Kentucky Prestons, and he was recently passed over on the head training job by his father, who has issues with Robbie's responsibility. I guess that was the issue, anyway. I skimmed through a lot of their internal angsting, which I think is a justified action. Amanda is a forty-year-old mother of two, widowed when her cop husband was killed in a drug bust. She's moved to Kentucky to become the Quest office manager, try to keep her family safe from possible gang related revenge, and sharpen her claws for possible cougar style seduction.

Okay, maybe she's not exactly a cougar. I hate that term anyway, but I can't help using it here because what the hell is up with this trend? I cannot take it anymore. Why can't people ever be interested in other people who happen to be about the same age as they are in these books? Why are they always (always) consistently ten to twelve years younger or older or...this just pisses me off. Especially here, because at all points in this book Amanda is described as maternal and it creeped me out in a big way. She also wears skirts with tulips on the hem, and her pajamas have ducky patterns. It is so many realms of not good.

Now that I've sort of gotten that off my shoulders, let's continue. Robbie complains a lot, Amanda tells herself not to be attracted to Robbie, the two can't stop thinking about each other as per the normal requirements of a romance novel. There is some suggestion that her dead husband was not that great of a guy (which is also a necessary point because in romance novels no other man on earth can aspire to being on the same level as the male lead, right down to penis size comparisons, and no I'm not kidding, although thankfully here we limit it to skill with weapons, preparedness, and smoldering ability). Amanda's oldest kid keeps trying to push the two together, not like this is really important, but I guess it works because Amanda gives in to the tingles and lets him come on to her.

Only to step on the breaks immediately! How does she muddle through her feelings about her dead husband and Robbie and blah blah blah. Okay, step back on the gas because those ducky pajamas are a real turn on for Robbie for some reason, but no! Step on the break! It goes back and forth like this for a while before she randomly decides to step on the gas again and keep going forward at a moderate rate. They have sex. There is more sex. There is completely unnecessary talk about "young studs" which I did not need. Then the random guy that wants to take his revenge on Amanda's family shows up, hauls her oldest son out into the woods, and Robbie appears to blow the guy's foot off with a shotgun. Hooray Robbie.

Later they confess their love and decide that instead of getting engaged immediately they'd like to act like horny teenagers instead.

- According to this book, Churchill Downs is not a pretty track because there are people there who smoke and gamble. So instead of going there for the day, they go to Keeneland. Granted, I agree that Keeneland is a quaint track that is actually nicer than Churchill Downs, but it's not like people don't smoke and gamble there. It's probably because, you know, horse racing exists specifically as a form of gambling in most countries. Shocking, I know, but it's true!

- There's this horse called Something to Talk About, and I think we all know what I'm going to say, but this name is impossible. Twenty-three characters...I think not.

- Can you tell that I skimmed this one? And it still took me three days to get through. Go figure.

Jan 22, 2009

Heartland: If Wildfire and Caitlin's Way had an illicit love affair in Canada...

1.1 Coming Home

So I'm going to start watching this show. On Youtube, I guess, because Canadian television is all, I don't know, caring about who watches their programming for some reason. Look, Canada, I get that this is a Canadian show and all, but if and when you feel like publishing a tween book series about horses set in your own country, feel free to hoard the resulting tv show for Canadian eyes only.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Canada. Or maybe it's just that I'm royally pissed off that this series gets a whole FREAKING TV SHOW and Thoroughbred didn't. Granted, Wildfire is basically a Thoroughbred fanfic, but that doesn't exactly count, now does it? So, I guess ultimately these entries will become giant rants about the unfairness of life and television. Hear me people that make these decisions: Thoroughbred tv show. You know you want to.

Okay, back to Heartland. I haven't read the books. I figure that I don't need to, given that Monique has laid down a solid primer and I really don't care. Let us watch the opening credits, because that's usually a good indicator of if a show is actually viewable.

So, damn it, I like the opening credits. They're actually way better than the opening sequence, which involves Amy and her mom stealing a horse from someone who is presumably abusing it, because they are morally superior to all other humans in the western half of the United States. Or Canada. Unfortunately for them the guy comes along and immediately shows some rage about the fact that this mother/daughter team has come along and decided that, you know, they'd really like his horse on grounds of their deciding he's an asshole. He rushes in and flips out entirely, deciding that the only appropriate response to this is to beat the horse more. Amy and her mom are shocked by his behavior, and the horse knocks him down. They tell him that they could call the cops, but they'll just take his horse and let him sit there on his ass and think about what a jerk he is, or something to that effect. They load up the horse and go, only to run off the road and into a tree.

There you have it. Horse and Amy survive, but mother dearest kicks the bucket. Amy's sister, Lou, is in a city that does not at all look like New York, and gets a phone call about the accident. She rushes home to be the pillar of strength that Amy can beat on angrily later, when she's feeling bitter and downcast about everything that life has thrown at her. When Amy gets home, looking pale but otherwise totally okay (her face was, you know, shoved into a windshield, so you'd think there would be some stitches, if not some serious bruising), she wanders around in a daze while the horse, a big black animal named Spartan, may or may not survive because he has been traumatized and the vet wants to put him down because of the trauma, I guess. It was one of those moments when a vet wants to put a horse down in a tv show, but has no realistic reason to, so they don't bother to state even a probable, yet fictitious, reason. I found this fascinating.

So Amy's grandpa says to keep the horse alive, and Amy continues to wander around and IM people as she holes herself up in her room. Lou learns that the bank is defaulting on their mortgage, and she goes to meet Steve, the crazy obvious Canadian banker, who so wants to go out with her that he does the natural thing and asks her out on a date if he can get the bank to approve whatever it is Lou is selling. Lou accepts.

Meanwhile, Ty has arrived, you guys, and according to Amy's friend Jen, he is hot. In a juvenile delinquent way. Because Amy's mom is an astonishing judge of character, she just happened to hire this guy before she died. I assume this will be explained later, because he has no experience, or clue. At all. Grandpa Fletcher tells him to stay the hell away from his daughters and then puts him to work.

Lou and Amy snip at each other in classic fashion, and Amy is forced to go back to school, where she suffers the advances of her boyfriend, Jesse, and the Classic Blond Antagonist Girl whose name I can't remember. Eventually they all go to a pool party, and this is where the plot probably deviates sharply from the book because there is underage drinking (from an American standpoint, anyway) and these kids couldn't possibly be older than 16. They can drive, so I guess I'll settle on that age. I could not tell what they were drinking, but I like to think they were drinking wine coolers. Just because.

So Jesse gets drunk and starts saying stupid stuff such as: "I drive really good when I'm drunk!" Oh, Jesse, you are so going to get beaten up. And he does, when Ty comes along and goes all Matt Ritter on Jesse's scrawny, drunk ass. At this point...right here...I wanted a Junior Davis to stand by looking bored by the stupid teenage shanigans, and there was no Junior Davis and I was UPSET about this. This show would benefit from the awesomeness of a Brad Townsend character, but that goes without saying.

Ty beats up Jesse and Amy has had enough of this stupidity, so she decides to walk home. Considering this is the middle of nowhere America, this is probably not wise because it's got to be a long walk. Ty finds her and apologizes and gives her a ride back, where they discover the rest of the farm hands doing Ty's work for him. Ty does not appreciate being found out like this, and when Grandpa fires him he has a melt down and Amy storms off after shouting at everyone and wow, teen angst. It is not as good as Wildfire. It's like a Thoroughbred book populated by drunk teenagers, actually. Hum. I would so watch that.

Yeah, well, during all of this Amy has discovered her gift of horse whispering and has whispered Spartan into being sane. In, like, a day. Go Amy. Lou finds out that the bank won't approve whatever she asked for unless she stays to implement her plan, so she has to stay at the ranch. Ty gets to stay because Grandpa Fletcher decides to be nice, I guess. And then Amy rides around on Spartan some more.

The Good:
This is a gorgeous show. Seriously, some of the scenery here is breathtaking. It reminds me a little of Wildfire in this aspect, because there were some scenes in that show's first season that really hit me as beautiful.

The Not So Good:
It's a general horse story. The formula is there, right down to the retraining a horse in a day thing. At least, it felt like a day. The way the shots were set up made it feel remarkably easy, when the dialogue kept trying to convince you that it wasn't.

The Appreciated, yet Hilarious:
The drinking. Okay, that wasn't expected because I had pegged this show to be majorly G rated, to the point of sugar shock. Yet all of a sudden there is this party scene where girls are running around in either bras or bikinis and everyone has red cups. The best part of this scene: when Ty threw his fists around. Not for the throwing of fists, but for the Classic Blond Antagonist Girl's gumption to actually tell him point blank that his hero routine blew up in his face. Nice work, show. Usually, no one bothers to point this out so directly. Ever.

Next up is After the Storm. I guess the first season borrows most of the book titles, but as you can see from IMDB, this stops rather obviously in season two with titles like "Divorce Horse" and "Showdown!" What, we couldn't think of some nice romantic titles? This is remarkably expected.

Jan 21, 2009

Wildfire: One season done, three to go.

1.13: Loyalty

You guys, prepare for some serious melodrama. Loyalty is the season finale (meaning there is only one episode on my new Netflix disc, which makes me feel pretty cheated right about now, and no, four deleted scenes do not make me feel better), in which the Townsend Acres/Whitebrook Farm rivalry is suddenly blown way out of proportion compared to every episode previous, mommy issues come to a head, Mike finally gets his ass handed to him, and sex is finally had (not that it wasn't being had before, it just didn't matter because it wasn't Brad and Ashleigh).

(If you're just tuning in, I have replaced all the Wildfire characters with their closest Thoroughbred series counterparts for my own amusement. Moving on.)

So, starting off this episode, Clay Townsend chides Brad for not getting Cindy for Townsend Prince in the Sand Piper. What is that boy thinking? The problem is he's too busy thinking with his dick -- um, he's too busy being in love with Ashleigh...yes, that's it -- to really care about who rides Townsend Prince. Clay is not having this, and demands that Brad offer Cindy the ride on Prince, including a bonus. Brad's all yeah whatever, old man. Clay scoffs at Brad's interest in the business while Brad basically rolls his eyes and puts up with it.

Meanwhile, Todd has come home to Whitebrook. Mike tries to help, but Jean isn't having any of that because Mike is now known as the screw up. He's been secretly gambling again, and in a big way. He's starts this episode down eight hundred, and attempts to bet him out of this hole only land him $16,000 in debt. Nicely done, Mike.

On the mommy front, Dani listens in on a conversation between Clay and her mother. They decide to meet secretly, and Dani decides to covertly follow them and attempt to get Isabella to talk to her. Isabella freaks and drives off, leaving a confused Dani in her dust.

Ashleigh and Brad are spending all of their time skipping around in flowery meadows and making out. They talk briefly about the race and how little it really matters as compared to their lovely time skipping around while holding hands. Only Brad does have to mention his father's offer to Cindy, and she just laughs at him. Then Mike has to show up and get all in Cindy's face about who she talks to, which pisses Cindy off to the point where she goes to Clay and forces him to up his offer, at which point she decides to ride Prince.

So Mike is being a class act asshole in this episode, culminating in Charlie finding out about the debt Mike owes when he discovers him trying to find out how to break into his trust fund. Charlie points out that he can't get money out of a trust fund without a parent's signature and he'll loan him money, but Mike, being an idiot, doesn't take this offer. Charlie tells Jean about his suspicions and advises her to tell her ex-husband about it, because Mike might actually listen to another asshole about this.

While this is happening, Ashleigh and Brad are making out in a field somewhere, about two seconds away from stripping all the way naked and having inadvisable sex on the ground. Ashleigh's all "wait, there's a rock digging into my back and we're kind of outside." Brad offers his house, which is not a logical option for Ashleigh, so before you know it they're all over each other in Ashleigh's trailer. And they fall off the bed and it's adorable and they have sex. Go them.

Only, because they've had sex and are being way too cute about it, you know they're going to break up soon. It's sort of the unwritten rule of television.

Cindy breaks it all off with Mike, because at this point she's getting ready to drop the bomb about her riding Prince. This leaves Mike in an emotional quagmire, which actually sort of resembles his emotional state in general, so it really shouldn't be that big of a blow for him. After this, Cindy drops her bomb off screen, resulting in Ian interrupting the Brad/Ashleigh post sex cuddling so he can tell Ashleigh that Cindy dropped the ride and it's all Brad's fault!

Actually, it's more Mike's fault for being a jealous twerp. So, there's that. Jean and Ian decide to put Ashleigh up on Wonder for the race, thrilling everyone. YAYOMG. But, because of the suddenly crazy serious rivalry between Townsend Acres and Whitebrook, the tension is ripping Brad and Ashleigh apart. Sure, Brad's family is a sham, but the Reese's are...kind of not? So Ashleigh starts crying and says she can't see Brad anymore because she can't let him leave his family and she can't leave Whitebrook for him.

After this, Mike gets beaten up because Bobby refuses to take his bets and he loses it. Sort of saw that coming.

Then Dani talks Brad into finding their mom. Brad does this and discovers the shocking revelation: the woman Dani has been chasing is Brad's mother, but she's not Dani's. Dani breaks out the scotch soon after, and Brad, disgusted by everything, packs his bags and walks away from it all.

The race! (God, finally.) Bobby finds Mike in the grandstand and threatens him with a gun, only to have Pete show up. Pete saves Mike, pays off Bobby, and then lets Bobby punch Mike because "that's how the game is played." I wish Pete had let Bobby really hurt him, just for my amusement, but Bobby only gets one punch in and Mike is still predictably annoying later with his "you should see the other guy!" I have news for you Mike, you look just as bad. Oh, yeah, and Dani kisses Mike while he mumbles "ow." Also, not only does Ian stare all knowingly at Jean, but Charlie is still front and center, and Pete is now going to move back and try to win Jean's love. And Clay wanted a piece of the action at one point also. Four men, one woman. I do not get the attraction, really.

So the horses go into the gate and the show ends right at the start, so you'll just have to wait until next time for the fantastic conclusion of the Sand Piper Stakes and Wonder vs. Townsend Prince, round one.
This concludes the first season of Wildfire. I think I might go watch some pieced together episodes of Heartland on YouTube until my next Netflix disc arrives, which of course must lead to me opening the floor to requests. Seriously, what should I get? A movie? McLeod's Daughters? God forbid, more Wildfire?

Phantom Stallion: Horse abuse is really not ok, ok?

Phantom Stallion 4: The Renegade
Terri Farley
HarperCollins 2003

The Synopsis
When an ambitious rodeo contractor comes to town, Sam worries. The woman wants to buy tamed mustangs from local ranchers, including Sam's dad, and doesn't seem to like taking no for an answer.
Then Sam spots the Phantom's herd- without him. She's sure he's been captured by the rodeo, but how will she find him? And even if she does, how can she set him free?
Oh lordy, the Phantom is in trouble again. It seems like everyone and their cat want this horse. But he's Sam's. You got that?

All in all, a fairly accurate summary, so not much else to be said here.

The Summary
The book opens with Rachel Slocum showing everyone what a spoiled little bitch she is by taking her father's horse, Champ, on a ride without telling anyone. Linc asks Sam and Jake to ride out and find her, which they do... on the floor and having a grand old tantrum. Sam gets all Jealous that Jake and Rachel get to share a saddle. Which is sort of cute, actually. I like how Terri touches on Sam's crush on Jake in this series. They have the classic love-hate relationship going on, which warms the cockles of my heart.

Linc Slocum makes mention about a rodeo contractor, Karla Starr, who is going to be buying some stock for her show from him, and she wants him to throw in a pale mustang to sweeten the deal. Oh, dear. What horse could this be, I wonder?

The next day, Rachel decides to try and coax Sam into teaching her to really ride, while not being upfront about the reasons behind this. Something about the "Best in the West" blah blah blah. She drops hints that the drought might be causing financial trouble for Sam's family and it would be in her best interests to cooperate.

Later Sam and her BBF, Jen Kenworthy, are out riding and find the golden fringe from a show jacket in the middle of the flats. Odd, no? Could Rachel and Karla Starr be connected somehow?

The Phantom almost gets hit by the school bus and Sam gets into big shit for saving him and risking her own life. She gets banned from riding the bus for two weeks, which is no biggie, as well as being confined to the ranch after school. Clever Sam cons Rachel into getting her driver to give both herself and Jen a lift as part of the riding lesson deal.

So, it turns out that Miss Perfect wants to win a Rodeo Queen competition so she can show her English brother, Ryan, that she's a real American cowgirl. So she also enlists Sam's help with finding the perfect horse for her. Joy. You can clearly see who our antagonist is in this series, yes?

Ace, Sam's little mustang gelding, has been escaping from his paddock and Sam begs to take him for a gallop. She and Jake go and we are treated to Sam's thirteen-year old mind's inner workings as she observes Jake ride Teddy. But, a storm breaks, releasing them of the drought, but causing the ground to go slippery. Teddy slips and falls and Jake breaks his leg. But he's all manly about the pain, so Sam is even more in awe of his awesomeness.

So, Jake is bedridden and Sam visits him on his birthday and gives him this bridle she bought him and some info she printed out on Native American trackers that she thought he'd be interested in. I have to say at this point that I really do like how their relationship is written. Terri really has a knack for characterization.

Sam's dad, Brynna and Gran go off to some fair to compete and Sam sneaks out to check and see if the Phantom is still with his herd. He is not and Sam ends up caught in a flash flood trying to save some stupid heifers who think drowning is the way to go.

Dallas, the wise and aged foreman, takes Sam to some local rodeos to look for him and then decided that the best event for him would be the wild horse race. But, no such luck.

Eventually, Brynna gets involved, being a BLM staff member, and they find the Phantom at some rodeo with some stock of Linc's and the shady Karla Starr.

He is released back into the wild and all is well.

Just a side note here, it is very clear that there is romance between Wyatt, Sam's dad, and Brynna. And Sam is not all that thrilled about it.

I like this series. There are some awesome lines and description that far surpasses any other horse series in the YA lit section. Plus, I like Sam. She's not little miss perfect all the time and makes some real human mistakes. And not everything is handed to her on a silver platter. Plus, we are constantly shown that she does not know everything there is to know about riding.

So, yeah. Not a bad book in the series, all in all. But it does get better as Terri settles into things and feels less need to explain the setting and characters.

Jan 20, 2009

Upcoming: The Horse

Okay, so it's not exactly upcoming or even new. It's been at the American Museum of Natural History since last May, but on February 28th it opens at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, where I happen to have super sekrit insider access. How awesome?

(Just as a note, my insider access usually just involves my badge opening elevators, only to lead me to getting lost in the basement. It's good times.)

Anyway, I'm going to wander around this exhibit for a while until it closes on May 24th and ships somewhere else. I plan to document the most fantastic things I find for the blog. So, for all of those living nearby, come and check it out!

Website: The Horse.

Jan 18, 2009

If Brad Townsend taught us anything, it's that being awesome trumps actually winning.

Willow King: Race the Wind!
by Chris Platt
Published: 2000
Thanks to the faith and hard work of Katie Durham, Willow King is no longer a newborn foal with badly twisted legs. After painstaking training, the Thoroughbred colt has finally gained the strength and heart to compete in major races -- and Katie is determined to prove to the world that he's a champion

Katie is just as determined to prove that she can handle anything on horseback. Born with one leg an inch shorter than the other, she has always felt as if people were doubting her physical abilities.

If only she could become a licensed jockey. Katie knows the profession is dangerous, but she's sure she can master it. Unfortunately, her new ambition will present her with the most nerve-racking challenge of her life: riding Willow King in America's biggest race -- the Kentucky Derby.
I already decided that Chris Platt's first novel was a compounded version of the first three books of Thoroughbred, if that series had taken place in Oregon and Ashleigh had been slightly handicapped. In this novel, Chris Platt comes back to finish the job, sending Willow King to the Kentucky Derby and putting her main character, Katie, on the path to super jockey stardom.

Race the Wind! starts off at the beginning of King's three-year-old season. Jason has somehow become the assistant trainer at Willow Run Farm, and Katie is a gallop rider. There's also a new jockey thrown into the mix, Mark, who is here to teach Katie how to be a jockey and also be her competition for the jockey job on Willow King...despite her being King's owner, which you'd think would negate all competition. Honestly. Cindy, the antagonist from the beginning, is also around being spoiled and loud, as per the usual antagonist routine. However, she's also got a third cousin, Camela, who is around at the stables, but she's blind, so she spends most of her time sitting around, refusing to speak, and then, when she decides to open her mouth, she quotes her Irish grandfather. There was a lot of quoting in this book. The quotes almost outnumbered the random exclamatory sentences, which are your normal horse book staple.

Mark shows up and is dashing and gorgeous and immediately Katie is smitten. Jason? Jason who? She stares at Mark in a daze and is eager to ask him to help her with "jockey lessons" despite her insistence that no one know about her urge to be a jockey. She winds up telling Camela about her desire to jockey, and Camela has some motivational grandpa quote to give her when she's feeling less bitchy and more receptive to discourse with other humans. So she eventually asks Mark for the lessons and he's happy to provide his knowledge, although at this point he's also gotten on Camela's bad side by being a) alive and b) accidentally being stupid and saying Katie is no competition for him in front of Camela, who has convinced him that she's also deaf and mute. This, of course, means he is antagonist #2.

Katie starts her lessons, which basically is her wrestling with a crop for hours on end. Meanwhile, King has entered to race in some Portland Downs thing and comes in last because his gate misfired and Mark didn't want to push him on a nearly frozen track. Katie almost has a fit about this, and is brought back to reality by Old John, the Charlie Burke look alike, who tells her Mark was being completely sensible. After this, King is worked with his younger brother, Destiny (a spoiled, crazy colt that is naturally going to be given to Cindy, because that's logical, right?) and that goes all to hell when Destiny causes a wreck and King gets a giant gash on his shoulder. Katie hauls King back to the barn, tries to get Camela to be functional and help her, but only winds up traumatizing her. At this point, Cindy comes in to tell Katie the secrets behind Camela -- that she was in some riding accident and went blind and now is scared of horses, but wants to be around horses, which is why she's been taking her to the barn, so stop thinking she's so selfish, Katie -- and blah blah blah. Seriously, did we need this blind girl? Really?

So King misses his next race, the Jim Beam, and aims instead for the Santa Anita Derby. By this point, Katie is ready to start training in the gate, and Mark has a brilliant plan, you guys. He wants to take Destiny, who has never been gate trained, and use him to train Katie in the gate. Brilliant. Katie goes along with this, and it takes Jason to tell them they're all being idiots to get Katie to see reason. Too bad they're already in the gate. Things go reasonably well at first, but in their last run through, the horse has had enough and goes ballistic, flipping over in the gate and nearly crushing Katie. Drama ensues, the boys nearly come to blows, but everyone gets through it without dying, so it works out. Then King gets out of his stall and eats the grass that the sick horses graze on before going down to Santa Anita. By this point, Katie has started to jockey and has gotten her two test races in, so she can ride King in the Santa Anita Derby. He comes in fifth. Then he gets strangles. He gets over that and then they race him again at Portland Downs, and Mark blocks Katie and King in and they come in second. And then they go Churchill Downs and Katie, who is convinced that Mark is right -- experience does count for something -- decides to let Mark ride. Only then Mark gets hurt right before the race, and Katie rides in the Kentucky Derby. Of course she does.

It just occurs to me that I can't remember if she's 15 or 16 when all of this happens. Well, whatever. Katie rides and at the 1/8 pole her stirrup snaps off. Due to all those Wildfire episodes, I thought we were in for some catastrophe, but not Katie. Katie keeps her balance, kicks her other foot out of the stirrup and rides Willow King to second place. Without stirrups. So while they didn't win, they get most of the attention for being freakishly awesome.

Oh, and Camela has some break through and can walk around without someone helping her. Huzzah.

  • At a certain point...between the injury and the strangles, I decided too much was going on in this book. How Willow King even got to the Kentucky Derby after all of that is fairly crazy (given that I'm not all too sure, in terms of graded earnings, he would have even gotten into the race), but I did like that he didn't win once in the book. It was a little amusing, actually, to see the main horse character suck that hard, but still be touted as the best horse ever.
  • Nothing happens between Mark and Katie (I guess her tingling sensations ceased somewhere along the way) and Jason/Katie remains in some strange are they/aren't they friends zone.
  • Cindy is more multidimensional than in the first book, so that's a plus.
  • The Jim Beam Stakes didn't exist as a stakes race when this book was published. Jim Beam ended their sponsorship in 1998, so in 1999 its name changed to the Galleryfurniture.Com Stakes (yes, it's awful, and I can see why Chris Platt decided to ignore this), then in 2000 it became the Turfway Spiral Stakes. It's now called the Lane's End Stakes.
  • Willow King runs in the 126th Kentucky Derby.
  • At one point, Mark tells Katie that she can't own Willow King and be a jockey at the same time because it's a conflict of interest. She'll have to switch the ownership to her mother. Katie has a particularly horse story main character attitude about this: NO! Her mother did NOT believe in and hand raise that horse like SHE DID. Do you NOT UNDERSTAND? In the long run, she switches the ownership anyway.
  • Willow King does not run for anyone like he runs for Katie! Although, frankly, he seemed to be doing just fine for everyone else, so I sort of think that theory is all in Katie's head.
It's better than the first book, and I would still read a third if Chris Platt puts out another book related to Willow King. I'm too invested now.

Jan 16, 2009

Wildfire: "Boys do things."

1.12: Impressions

This episode felt like filler to me, bridging the gap to the end of the season. Wonder (Wildfire) is getting ready for this big stakes race called the Sand Piper, in which she will meet Townsend Prince (Avatar), Clay Townsend's (Ken Davis) big horse from the pilot. Cindy (Tina Sharp) is still incredibly annoying and bordering on nymphomania, Ashleigh (Kris) is growing increasingly bitter over Cindy's presence, Mike (Matt) can't decide if he wants to be more stupid or less stupid, Dani (Dani) is still singlemindedly hunting down her mother, and Brad (Junior) continues to be awesome.

So, the episode starts up with Cindy hauling a television crew up to Whitebrook Farm (Raintree) so she can show them Wonder and prance around in one of those sateen tank tops, because those are so functional when working around horses. At one point, she also sports a pointless scarf. Ashleigh is not amused, nor is Ian (Pablo). Cindy points out that the television crew is there to spotlight Wonder and Whitebrook for "Horse Racing TV" and everyone grudgingly goes along with this, looking far from enthused by the publicity. If you think that this is going to be a quick shoot, you are so wrong. These people are there for days. Or what seems like days, but probably they are there for days. And Cindy is acting way too perky for everyone and the only person who seems to enjoy it is Mike, because I guess they've been having sex in abandoned basketball courts at night. Or day. You don't know.

Anyway, Todd, Mike's little brother, is back from somewhere, and has been declared fit for strenuous activity because I suppose he had a heart issue when he was a baby. He wants to learn how to ride, and Jean is immediately "the hell? absolutely not!" But because Mike is there, he teaches Todd how to ride anyway. And by teach I mean sort of puts him up there and watches him plod around while declaring "Great! You're a natural!" Face, meet palm. Jean appears soon after and has a complete meltdown, declaring that if Todd is going to ride he is going to wear a better helmet, wear goggles, wear Kevlar...and when Mike breaks in to be shockingly logical about how crazy she's being, Jean is all "does it look like I care about your opinion?!" I only discuss this because Todd winds up being important later. Weirdly enough.

Meanwhile, Brad invites Ashleigh to eat dinner with him, Dani, and his dad, who has appeared for the first time in a while. Ashleigh is at first hesitant, because she can probably see the family dysfunction she's going to have to put up with later, but after Brad appeals to her about how he wants her to be comfortable in his home, they make out more and she accepts. Then she has to go tell Todd how awesome he is because Todd has whipped up a website called wonderrocks.com. Then she makes the silly comment that the only thing more awesome than the website is riding Wonder. Oh, how you know that's going to bite her on the ass.

At the dinner with Brad's family, Clay grills Ashleigh about Wonder while Brad looks at him like he's grown a second head and Dani keeps tapping her knife against her plate until she beats it against the table and starts to scream about her mother, because she apparently can't handle more than one plot point at a time. Then she rushes off, leaving everyone wondering what the hell her problem is. Later she starts to call people frantically, and finally lands someone who she thinks might be her mom. Only to be hung up on. Oh, poor Dani. She's acting out Are You My Mommy? without even realizing it.

Then you have Mike and Cindy over there. Mike is trying to get Cindy to be less sex-crazed and settle for his romantic overtures. Cindy ain't going to settle for this. You know she just wants to have sex in a parking lot somewhere, so that he's wasting his roses and his champagne on her is really very like him. Eventually he tells her that he loves her, and she swats that down pretty quickly. Soon after he finds himself at Bobby's, and Bobby is gambling. Mike, meet your slippery slope.

Then Todd, because he's a boy, and apparently "boys do things" (according to Ian, which is hilarious to me because he's also the same guy who was all "you're wearing a skirt! omg you are so getting raped!"), he dresses up exactly as Jean wants and decides to ride Wonder. His foot slips out of the stirrup (which is how everyone falls in this series) and because he's not a natural at riding he jerks the reins back. Wonder rears and he falls. He winds up in critical condition at the hospital and no one can get ahold of Mike because he's gambling with Bobby. Good going, Mike.

And we are left with Todd in the hospital and shell shocked expressions on everyone's faces. Well, not for Ian, because he doesn't know how to do anything other than stare blankly or be moody.

That is the end of my disc. Look out for more posts over the weekend, as it's too cold to do anything and I have a pile of horse books waiting for me.