Feb 26, 2009

Someone get these people some psychiatric help!

The Light of the Moon
by Luanne Rice

Against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, and in the shadow of a mysterious family legend, one woman is about to discover that to find your way home, sometimes you must travel far away.…

An accomplished anthropologist, Susannah Connolly suddenly finds herself adrift in the wake of a failed love affair and the loss of her mother. Boarding a transcontinental flight on the evening of her birthday, she’s decided to give herself a long-deferred gift. Encouraged by her late mother’s magical stories, she is traveling from the Connecticut shore to the fabled French Camargue, to see its famous white horses and find a mysterious “saint” linked to her family’s history.

Amid the endless silvered marshes, she will find a lonely man, his wounded daughter–and a part of herself she hadn’t known she’d lost…until she realized how hard it would be to lose it again.

Before I begin this post, let's all view a video! (It's pertinent, I promise.) Behold:

Okay, so let's regroup. After viewing the video (if you failed to view the video, go back and view it, otherwise you're going to fail at understanding how insane a certain portion of this book is when you get down to really imagining what is going on...and you're going to want to imagine this to the point where you don't want to imagine anymore, so view the damn video), you will notice the Camargue horses and the Camargue. You'll also notice the prancing and the standing on the horses as they prance through arenas and marshes and whatnot. Prance, prance, prance...it's just magical, okay? Now, this is pertinent because every time someone says something about riding a horse in this book, they really mean what is going on in this video. This book reads like Luanne Rice stared at this video for a year straight, actually. So just keep that in mind, especially for the later part -- the portion of this book I can't get into now, because it's way too early in any review for that. Seriously.

Someone requested this book, and I decided that the best way to get through this was by forcing myself to pay attention to it by listening to the audio book version. I've got a long commute, so this worked out for the book, because I was forced to sit through every minute of the thirteen and a half hours this book took of my commuting time. I later discovered this book is 400 pages long, and there is no way I was going to be able to get through that without skimming vast portions. The stupid audio book made me sit through a lot I wouldn't normally sit through. That is not a plus, but let's just get to the story.

Susannah is a cultural anthropologist (cue lots of talk about cultural anthropology and cave paintings that I didn't want to know about...thanks audio book!) who has toiled through 42 years of life without the love of a decent man. That is to say, she's got the love of a man...he's just not the right man. This man is Ian, her study partner in grad school. He wants to marry her, but he mainly just wants to keep benefiting from her work. Susannah rejects his marriage proposal, but he keeps clinging to the hope that she'll do what he wants, pissing her off in a really round about and infuriatingly calm way. Susannah's mom recently died, resulting in angst ahoy for Susannah, who didn't make it back from Turkey in time to see her mom before she died, leaving her feeling guilty, despite knowing that her mom wanted her to go and not plant herself next to her hospital bed. Susannah angsts anyway and decides to go to the Camargue, because that is where she was going to go with her mom, and it happens to be where she was conceived due to some divine intervention of Sara La Kali. Susannah also has violet eyes. I think that's all you need to know about Susannah right there.

Anyway, Susannah arrives in France and immediately finds herself trooping through the marsh because that's a great idea, Suzie! Instead of running into the horses she runs into a whole herd of bulls and is saved by Grey Dempsey in heroic fashion (ie. he gallops in on a white horse, grabs her hand, lifts her onto the horse, and they gallop back to her car). Grey is an American and hated by the gypsy people because he married Maria, the very best of all the local gypsies, and tainted her by impregnating her, resulting in the thirteen-year-old tear machine, Sari. You see, five long years ago, Maria ran off and Sari pitched a fit and hysterics ensued and this inevitably resulted in Sari falling off a horse and breaking her pelvis. Maria went to Nevada and Sari has issues. Since the fall she is completely color blind and she cries or whispers something in a tortured voice every three pages. I would like to say I am kidding, but I'm just not. If there was any emotionally traumatized person you want to slap, it is this kid.

Susannah and Grey start the most tentative relationship ever and angst ensues. Sari cries, Susannah thinks about crying, Sari cries, Susannah's eyes well up with tears, Sari cries, Susannah cries, Sari cries some more, and Grey is surrounded by INSANE PEOPLE. Okay. So everyone is walking on eggshells around Sari, Susannah winds up being totally accepted by the gypsy community because their saint, Sara La Kali, caused her very existence, and Grey obsesses over wanting to do something with Susannah without upsetting Sari, who is going to be upset anyway because every day she gets upset over something, for Christ's sake. Eventually Grey and Susannah go diving in some cave somewhere and later Ian pops up in some ridiculous romance novel attempt at staking claim. Grey totally acts like he's twelve (I was thinking it, and Ian voiced it, and I snickered mercilessly) and tosses Ian in a harbor. Then they go on some moonlit ride that may or may not have involved sex in a marsh. I lean away from this, actually, because Sari has to interrupt them to scream about this yearling she accidentally let out of the stable. Oops.

So Susannah and Grey find the yearling in a pool of quicksand, and they manage to save it after several minutes of angsting and Susannah trying to not be turned on by Grey's naked torso. I guess the sexual frustration reaches a fever point during all of this, because the horse pops out of the quicksand and they start making out. Of course, then Sari has to show up and throw another fit. Susannah leaves after this and flies back to Connecticut, where she teaches cultural anthropology. Her mentor, Helen, hears all about these adventures and tells her that she should really stalk Maria. Fantastic idea! Susannah goes to Nevada and checks into Maria's ranch/circus/whatever. She discovers that Maria is pregnant (not shocking, although of course Susannah was knocked over by this development) and actually not a villain. She's, like, totally agreeable. Only then this girl has to find a book on Sara La Kali in Susannah's room, and in a fit of emotional turmoil after a call from her gypsy friends (who have steadily ignored her for 13 years, but have now gotten over it because Sari's insanity is starting to actually trouble people), Maria totally breaks into Susannah's hotel room and reads the letters to Grey and discovers Susannah's true purpose for visiting. Susannah finds her and proceeds to drive the point home to the hilt: blah blah Sari blah blah crazy blah blah motherhood blah blah help blah.

Turns out that Maria left because she thought it would help Sari out in the long run, given that the gypsies sort of cursed her (or not, I don't really know about that) and has longed to hear news about Sari. Since then she's wanted another kid to make up for the fact that she left her daughter, but suddenly she can't have kids. She knows that it is Sara La Kali punishing her for what she did, so she decides to give up riding (see: vaulting or whatever we were discussing earlier). The night she decides to give up riding, she rides (vaults) out into the desert with her husband guy. They ride (vault) their horses over the sand. She, of course, is wearing a shimmering silky dress. Then her husband guy jumps onto her horse and they decide, hey, let's sit on the horse instead of doing this standing thing. And then sex on horseback happens. Yup. I know. I will never understand the mechanics that go into this, but I can only hope they thought to slow the horse down to a walk or something.

Anyway, so then we skip forward about a month to this festival thing. Grey has worked out this plan with Susannah and the gypsies, including Maria. They're all going to meet at the carnival and reintroduce Sari to Maria at a hugely attended event so as to maximize the potential for melodrama, I guess. Sari is in the middle of pitching yet another crying fit when Maria shows up on Grey's horse. Automatically Sari shuts her trap and Grey puts her on the horse with Maria and two seconds later everything is not only fantastic, Sari's ability to see color comes back. In the epilogue, Sari goes out to Nevada to see Maria and presumably stops being so flipping annoying. Susannah decides to move to France to be with Grey. The end.

  • Publishers Weekly called the narrative in this book "maddeningly repetitive" and they are very right. Not to mention, Luanne doesn't just use one adjective to describe something. Oh no. Why use one when you can use three? And most dialogue begins with "Oh, Grey" or "Oh, Sari" or "Oh, Susannah," and maybe it was the way the woman on the audio book read that, but it drove me absolutely up the wall.
  • After Susannah and Grey kiss, they always always have to describe what they taste like, and whether or not their lips are hot, cold or the intriguing combination of both. That also drove me crazy.
  • As a librarian, if anyone in my field ever came up to me after I'd taken some strange trip to, say, this Bibliothèque du Cheval Blanc (I don't know if it's real, and I don't care), and said "How was your trip to the bibliothèque?" I would probably secretly hate that person.

The one thing I liked about this book was the suggestion that women don't have to pick and choose between what they want to do with their lives. There's all of this emphasis on picking between motherhood and whatever the hell else women might want to do, and being forced to give up everything for the fact that they are a mother. This resonates a lot with the Maria portion of the story, and how she eventually comes to the conclusion that you can have anything you want along with being a mother, etc. So that was okay. The rest of the book was way too long, way too repetitive, way filled with info dumps you never wanted to know or were never that important to begin with, and by the last chapter you have a sense that at least a chapter or two was cut because someone realized that this was getting out of hand. Publishers Weekly got it right. It's maddening and dull.

(But I still get to create that sex on horseback tag, so I'm pretty happy.)

Heartland: In which the folks at Heartland feel superior to yet another person.

1.6: One Trick Pony

Oh, Heartland. Why do I love you so much? Is it because all of your characters are constantly at each other's throats, consistently act holier than thou, and routinely fail to comprehend human emotion? Is it because I ultimately find it extremely disappointing that Thoroughbred was never butchered in such a manner? (Although, Thoroughbred butchered itself, so honestly a tv show would have been an improvement.) Come on, Canadians...give me a Thoroughbred tv show. You know you want to.

Here we are, moving on to episode six. Amy has a new horse that doesn't appear to need much help because it is not a) out of its mind or b) wild. The only problem appears to be the fact that it follows no formal commands. It will not stop, it will not turn, it will not go. It just plods around in a circle, totally ignoring Amy. Later on, Amy comes to the accidental discovery that the horse was totally trained with vocal commands. Whoa equals halt, get along equals some sort of moving forward motion, giddy up equals canter or something, I don't know. This becomes important later, as Amy doesn't yet know the background on this horse and has sent Scott out to rummage up some info.

Speaking of Scott, he is all morose because Carl randomly shows up at Heartland to sweep Lou up with his romantic investment banking lingo. Scott keeps his distance from the ranch, despite Jack's attempt to tell Scott that he needs to act like a man and just tell Lou what's on his mind. Scott never does get a chance to do this, because Carl is constantly around acting like a dick with his Bluetooth device thing and his WiFi and his jogging. He is displeased with this country life that Lou has immersed herself in, and has secretly set plans in motion to get her a new job in Chicago, where he will soon be moving. Mallory overhears these plans and ferries them to Amy, who immediately suspects that Lou has been plotting to leave Heartland without telling anyone. And then Mallory inadvertently steals the engagement ring Carl wants to give Lou.

Meanwhile, Scott has discovered the identity of the horse. He is a trick horse, and conveniently enough Scott also finds a trick saddle to give to Amy, because apparently you can't teach a trick horse anything normal? None of this made much sense to me. But whatever, because Carl wants to go on a trail ride and Amy, deciding that she should stop being a bitch for about five seconds, sets this up. She insists that Carl wear a helmet, and Carl is offended by this piece of safety gear. He also deems the horse she wants him to ride a nag, and insists that he wants to ride her horse, who also happens to be the trick horse. Why does she have the trick horse there? Well, you guys, it's time for some plot device! Are we all excited?

While Amy isn't looking, Carl climbs up on the trick horse and screams "yeehaw!" This happens to be one of the horse's commands, and it means BOLT. The horse gallops full tilt into the woods, and Amy has to go save him. We are then treated to an instance of Carl falling into a mud pit. Then he falls into the mud pit again. Afterward, Carl receives some medical attention and decides to propose to Lou during dinner. This is the absolute worst time for anyone to do something like this, because as we all know by now dinner is a particularly melodramatic time for everyone at Heartland. This time is no exception. Carl realizes in the midst of his proposal that the ring is missing, sending Mallory (who is always there...why is she always there?) running home so she can dig the ring out of the laundry. She arrives back to the ranch with the ring, only to find that everything has disintegrated over this Chicago job that Lou now knows about. Carl proposes, sticks the ring on her finger, tries to tell her how much he loves her and how happy they'll be in Chicago, but Lou decides that he's an asshole and replies, "I can't get this damn ring off my finger."

That is certainly not the answer Carl is looking for, but he accepts this and goes on his merry way to Chicago after Lou gets the ring off her finger. Then they all eat birthday cake to celebrate Jack's birthday. They are all laughing happily, totally amazing me because no one is suffering through a dramatic episode. Well, Amy probably was, but she was suppressing it.

We end the episode with some trick riding in slo-mo. Because Amy can trick ride, and she does it perfectly.

Feb 24, 2009

Ultimate Risk: This title makes little sense, but that's okay because this is Thoroughbred.

Ultimate Risk
Thoroughbred #40
by Mary Newhall Anderson

I never noticed this before, but Mary's name is misspelled in this book. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be Anderson, right? Not Andersen?

I like the action of this cover, and I like that it's different than all the others. However, Christina's silks are supposed to be green and purple, and she looks like a giant. That or Gratis is particularly tiny.
A great opportunity...

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

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

It's been about a month since I read a Thoroughbred book, but I am thrilled to report that Star is still winding his way through his hilariously incompetent two-year-old racing schedule. In the last book, I didn't touch much on this, but this time around I felt more compelled to do a few fact checks. Consider:

Living Legend takes place mostly at Ellis Park. Great! I love it. The problem is that Ellis Park isn't exactly a heavy hitter in terms of Grade I races, making it impossible for Star to complete the famously repetitive step ladder to Triple Crown fame (because all two-year-old horses in Thoroughbred are aimed to the Triple Crown, inexplicably enough). Ellis Park's biggest race is the Gardenia, a Grade III race for fillies and mares. You see Star's problem, surely. So in Living Legend he runs in the Debutante, which does actually exist and does live up to its name in that it is for two-year-old fillies. Amusingly enough there is a race simply called the Juvenile that they could have run him in, given that it's just for two-year-olds. These races are ungraded, $50,000 purses, totally confusing my expectations of what a Wonder foal should be participating in, but that's not the point. Because then Star runs in this big Ellis Park race called the Laurel Stakes. Which, as far as I can tell, never existed. But all of that is due to some nutty Alice Leonhardt plotting. Mary Anderson was released to play with these characters in Ultimate Risk, so let's take a look at what she does.

Mary picked up on the fact that Ellis Park has a set schedule. They don't just run horses there all the time...that would be silly! Or totally un-American. So she moves everyone over to Turfway Park, which happens to open up mid-September. Gasps abound, these people learned something and applied it to the books. The Whitebrook people are at Turfway, and it's mid-September. This is pretty much where the realism ends. I know, you can only have so much.

Melanie and Chris have apparently been living in a hotel room in Florence for weeks on end, working at Turfway and straining their relationships with their boyfriends. Melanie and Kevin have been dating since Living Legend, which seems remarkably impossible to me, but they are. Chris and Parker seem on the same page, content with kisses on the cheek and such things, despite Christina getting ready to enter her senior year in high school and Parker being in college, I guess? I can't tell what's going on with him.

Anyway, Christina is exercising Star on the track amidst what I know is Mary Anderson's attempt to impress us with her research skills. The problem is Mary is trying to convince me that horses tend to do slow works by the outside rail in a counterclockwise motion while fast works are done on the inside rail in a clockwise motion. Mary, I'll understand if you're dyslexic, but this just isn't right. Christina tries to merge in with faster traffic and predictably causes a scene with Steve Quinn, hated jockey, who is riding Gratis. Gratis freaks out at Star, plows into Christina's way, falls over, and Christina, who has obviously lost all control, can only jump over Gratis. And who is at fault? STEVE. Since Christina is still a godlike riding princess despite having no control over her horse. Afterward, the vet muses that she could have, you know, gone around Gratis instead of jumping him, and Christina is predictably offended. Christina, shut up.

But this run in with Gratis and his trainer, a blatant attempt at Charlie Burke (only wearing a fedora), Vince Jones, has the gears turning in Christina's head. She should ride Gratis! This will clearly earn her major points and push forward her riding career. Speaking of riding careers, Melanie has a serious case of seconditis, poor sportsmanship psychosis, and sore loser disease. Ever since she fell (which happened in Living Legend, although I can't at all remember it), she's freezing up and not taking any chances, losing races she should have won or making her losing mounts look worse. And she's not thrilled about it. She mopes and mopes and acts pissy at all opportunity. I would say this is annoying, but then I've been watching Jockeys and now know that moping and acting pissy is what lots of jockeys do about 75% of the time, especially when they aren't winning. Christina tries to cheer her up, but Melanie is insistent on talking with Steve, which Christina knows will surely upset Kevin because I guess Kevin is now a territorial, possessive jerk? Who knew that was likely? Well, he is. After races, everyone goes on a double date that is awkward. Christina is exhausted, Parker is clearly the best person sitting at the table, and Melanie and Kevin act like they're going to break up at any second.

Moving on, Christina makes friends with Fredericka Graber, owner of Gratis and Image, who has a little cameo appearance in this book. Freddy, as I will now call her because that is seriously a name I am not typing over and over, takes a liking to Christina and starts to stump for her cause. Eventually Vince decides to let Christina try riding Gratis, who at first acts intimidating before catching Christina's super magical scent and immediately calming down. I have no idea what exudes from Christina's pores, but I have a feeling it should be bottled and sold at tack stores everywhere. Or maybe it's just her body wash. Whatever it is, Gratis can't get enough of it, so they eventually make a fantastical team. Vince, however, still wants to put Steve up on Gratis for his next race, and Christina knows how this will turn out, and it's not well. Christina should look into fortune telling as a career, because Gratis freaks and is scratched before the race.

Somewhere in here Melanie and Kevin break up because Kevin thinks Melanie is boring. This is not shocking, because he sort of thought Melanie was boring back in Dead Heat. Melanie has a complete mental break, and Ashleigh determines that the only way to get Melanie back is to let her ride Star, who will challenge her so much she won't have time to think about freezing up. Christina, despite her immediate jealousy, goes for it. Melanie breezes Star for the "Breeder's Futurity" and does it an eighth of a second faster than Christina's time, which surely means that Star is just getting better! Yeah. Well, whatever. At least Christina justifies all of it by wanting Star to be better than a one-person horse, inadvertently dissing all the one-person horses before them, and making me smile.

So they go to this completely confusing post position draw for the Breeder's Futurity and somehow Christina is named to ride both Gratis and Star. I'm not getting into whether or not this scene is even possible, because it was so convoluted (I can't believe I even used that word to describe a Thoroughbred scene, but there it is) it's impossible to follow. Christina tears a page out of Brad Townsend's Super Awesome Book of Advice and Other Wise Sayings, and decides to ride Gratis because it's more beneficial to her career. Melanie should ride Star! It's all so perfect, until Melanie refuses to ride Star. Then she does decide to ride Star, because Vince Jones calls her a pussy. So they race and Melanie and Star win. Christina and Gratis come in second. Melanie and Kevin hug, which in Thoroughbred probably means they're back together, and Christina decides that everything is fantastic again. Joy!

  • Outside Kevin McLean was leaning against the side of the building, gazing up at the cloudless sky, his T-shirt tucked neatly into his black jeans, his red hair slightly wind-tousled. Parker Townsend stood nearby, wearing tan slacks and a button-down shirt, his suede jacket flung over one shoulder, his dark hair freshly combed. You can laugh at this. Go right ahead.
  • The "Breeder's Futurity" is probably the Breeders' Futurity Stakes, a significant Grade I race, run at Keeneland in October. There is no "Breeder's Futurity" run at Turfway.
  • Gratis's sire's grandsire is a son of Affirmed, and his dam is a granddaughter of Alydar. Christina take a moment to be awed by this breeding, while I roll my eyes. Then Freddy continues on to say that they bought Gratis's dam at auction, thinking she wasn't pregnant, only to find out that she was, resulting in Gratis. This, naturally, makes me wonder who they think Gratis's sire even is. It sounds to me like one of those freak accidents where a filly is bred during an auction. Usually you never find the sire in those cases.
  • Brad Townsend is badmouthed by Freddy, because he keeps wanting to buy back Townsend Mistress, which he sold to Freddy after a series of difficult pregnancies that convinced him she should no longer be bred. Of course, I read this and Freddy seems like the moron who decides to breed this mare multiple times, resulting in three healthy foals, despite concern that the mare might not be in the best shape. Maybe Brad just wants to rescue his mare from these idiots. Did you ever think of that, Thoroughbred?
  • Technically, I don't think Chris racing against Star is considered a conflict of interest. But it's pretty damn close.
  • Gratis shouldn't have even been in the "Breeder's Futurity." It is a very obvious plot device. Sorry, Gratis.

The writing in this book is still pretty choppy, still very early Mary Anderson. The dialogue is stunted, and most conversations don't really go anywhere, especially those between Parker and Christina. Those phone conversations between Parker and Christina probably would have been torture if they had been longer than three sentences. This one was ultimately a little tiresome to get through, but it wasn't horrible. As usual, I appreciate Mary Anderson's attempts at research. It's just that her writing is mostly flat.

Feb 23, 2009

How on earth did you get here?

I haven't done this for a while, but I thought it was about time to shuffle through the bizarre search queries again. Queries are in italics. My pondering is not.

a horse of their own by joanna campbell questions about the book cliff notes for the book

Just the fact that anyone thinks they're going to find CliffsNotes on a book by Joanna Campbell is amusing.

bonnie bryant why did you stop saddle club series?
Yeah, Bonnie, what were you thinking?

christina and parker get married in thoroughbred series
This is a really popular question. For the official record, the answer is no.

at pine hollow in real life is veronica mean/
Veronica is actually the least bitchy of them all.

christian book review of thoroughbred series
That should be a good time.

daredevil penis
Basically, I blame Claire for any and all search queries involving the word penis.

dream life make house make a horses get saddle club game for kids make a dream life with horses

i am going out with matt parker from woolworths
That's great!

in the thoroughbred series why does christina's hair change color
It's either laziness or stupidity. Hey, it might even be a mixture of both!

is phantom stallion related to flicka
This whole Terri Farley and Mary O'Hara collision is boggling my mind.

is whitebrook farm in kentucky real
is pine hollow from the saddle club a real stable
Reality television has clearly ruined the concept of fiction for an entire generation.

joelle is she a jerk
I love pasting these search queries right into Google. I'll have you know that Whitebrook Farm is the first hit concerning whether or not Joelle is, in fact, a jerk.

story about having sex while riding horses
I remember the first time I read a romance that involved sex on horseback. Okay, by "read" I mean casually picked up the book and opened it, landing on this disturbing passage that will forever be seared into my brain. One of these days, I'll find that book. And I'll review it for this blog. Perhaps I'll review as many sex on horseback romance novels as I can. Then I can have the excuse to create the "sex on horseback" tag. Oh, man, I've got planning to do.

which is better canterwood crest or chestnut hill
Canterwood Crest. But if you want to read the best boarding school horse stories ever, there is always Caitlin: A Love Trilogy, where the line between true love and rape is so adorably blurred.

Feb 22, 2009

Totally Horse Mad, and possibly certifiably crazy.

Totally Horse Mad
#1: Totally Horse Mad
by Kathy Helidoniotis
Published: 2003 (AUS), 2008 (USA)

I had a great idea. Maybe I could buy Princess. Then she'd really be mine, not just a horse I rode once a week ... I made up my mind. If it was the last thing I did, I was going to get my very own horse.

The only things that stand between Ashleigh Miller and the horse of her dreams are a whole lot of dollars that she doesn't have, parents who don't know one end of a horse from another and a city backyard the size of a shoebox.

Ashleigh can't believe it when her parents announce that she will really have a horse of her own, but at a price she could never have imagined. She will have to say goodbye to her best friend, Jenna, South Beach Stables and her favourite horse, Princess. Ashleigh and her family are leaving the city and heading for Shady Creek, a small country town. And that's where the adventures in this Horse Mad series really begin.

I have to say this first and foremost: if I hadn't seriously started skimming (like, picked up one sentence every ten pages) at page 165 in this 229 page book, Totally Horse Mad would have broken me. If I had gone on reading past the point of no return, right now I'd be huddled in a corner, sobbing and swearing off horse books for the rest of my life.

Now that I've blurted that out, let's discuss the book. Totally Horse Mad is an Australian series recently transported to us Americans. It's not Americanized in any way, and to help us understand you cute Australians, we're given a helpful glossary of Australian slang in the back of the book. Because I guess you guys have a lot to say about chooks and mozzies and such things. However, what sort of amuses me is the inclusion of words such as beanie, gymkhana, heaps and nag. It's not like this is a glossary for the stupid (or ignorant, or young, or American). It's definitely termed as a glossary of Australian slang. People, since when are gymkhanas specific to Australia? Granted, okay, American English sort of absorbs everything, but I am damn sure nag and beanie and heaps do not belong on this list.

So we've got another Ashleigh. She lives in a city somewhere, being all busy with her special Australian gymkhanas, apparently. Eventually Ashleigh takes it into her head to raise funds for her own horse, but because she is eleven she cannot legally work anywhere and is left with only one option: irritate the crap out of everyone and pester them to give her a few bucks for jobs she should be forced to do for free. At one point she tries to get a few bucks out of her teacher in exchange for cleaning off his white board. Seriously, if anyone had ever tried that with any of my long suffering teachers, they would have gotten their ass handed to them. Anyway, she and her best friend, Jenna, decide that their best option to raise cash is to hold a garage sale. Being a self-absorbed horse story main character, Ashleigh doesn't bother to sell her things. God no! She's going to sell keepsakes and things like autographed pictures of Mick Jagger...things owned by her parents, of course. When her parents get home, they appropriately have a fit. Ashleigh doesn't get what their problem is. She's just trying to spring clean. They should be thankful! Well, whatever. Things aren't working out very swiftly in her attempts to get a horse, so her parents have decided to step in and shove the plot forward by announcing they're moving to the country, and because of this she can have her damn horse.

Ashleigh is a little upset about this moving thing until she hears about the horse, and then she's so thrilled that when she announces this to Jenna and gets a completely stunned and hurt reaction she is totally confused. She would be, because she is that self-absorbed. But, she's getting a horse! Everything is right with the world! Jenna storms off and Ashleigh moves off to the country, where she immediately comes across this special riding club. She attempts to impress them by saying she's the "Under 12 Champion" back at the city, and in response the kids stick her on a horse they know will throw her. And then they mock her. I was so rooting for them.

Ashleigh slinks home and nurses her bruised mega ego. How best to heal such an ego? Horse shopping! The following is supposed to be comical: three horses are visited, all three are totally wrong. One is a Shetland. One is ancient. One is plain mean. Does Ashleigh want all of them? Yup. Does she get any of them? Nope. Does she whine about this? Oh, man. Great, comedy. I get it, I really do. I also get that she's excited about a horse, but it makes no sense because after this she looks online and is picky about which ads she should take seriously, totally contradicting her insane/eager previous behavior.

But then she randomly decides to buy a horse, sight unseen, off the internet and the horse arrives at their house to the complete surprise of her parents. Ashleigh again plays stupid. But she took care of it! She's responsible! Never mind that she can't pay for the horse in full, or anything. Her parents put their foot down and send the horse packing. What's more, they inform her that they're unable to finance a horse at this moment, what with real life pressures like a mortgage and job shortages and moving expenses, effectively ruining Ashleigh's life. OMG, she hates it here! Her parents suck! Her family sucks! They are liars and meanies and life is not fair. You know what, Ashleigh? Good for you. You've discovered the number one way to get a horse: freak out and blame everyone for everything.

So what happens? A horse! Of course there's a horse. On a trail ride with her local friend, Becky, they stumble across this neglected chestnut mare. Ashleigh falls in love immediately, but the vet has to warn everyone that the mare might not make it. They might -- horrors -- have to put the mare down. Cue crazy shrieking from Ashleigh. No! Absolutely not! What's Ashleigh going to do in order to make sure the mare isn't put down? She offers up the little stable on her property, totally sure her parents will let her have the horse, despite their earlier talk about how they can't afford a horse quite yet. And naturally everyone goes for this idea, the vet because she's apparently an idiot and her parents because they're clearly afraid their daughter might kill herself if they say no.

Who gives an eleven-year-old kid a starved horse? I was totally shocked by this development. What's even better, the horse does worse in Ashleigh's care and Ashleigh, scared that the vet will put the horse down if she says anything to anyone, says nothing. I don't even know what to say about this whole development anymore. I think we can all imagine appropriately enough. It was awful. For the first time in my history of reading horse books, the main character, due to being a total idiot, neglects an already neglected horse. I am not kidding. It was that awful.

But this is all explained away because the horse hasn't been dewormed properly, or something. Yeah, right. Whatever. Finally the vet comes back and drenches the mare, and a few weeks later she's doing swimmingly. Ashleigh names her Honey (Totally original for a chestnut! Just like it's so original to name a palomino Sunshine, or a black horse Midnight.) The vet gives her Honey's owner's contact information and tells her that the mare's real name is Argonaut. The hell? Honey is such a better name! I mean, Argonaut is like being called Sweet Missy Hee Haw or something completely awful. (As you can probably tell, this is where I started to lose it.)

Ashleigh calls the owner, who is awesome because he's all "Screw you, kid. Take the horse and never call me again." Sweet joy! Ashleigh has her horse! Blah blah blah. After this we can all focus on Ashleigh teaming up with Honey and focusing on kicking some major antagonist ass. I think they come in third or something. But rest assured those evil antagonists got theirs. Maybe. I don't know, and I don't care to know.

  • When Ashleigh is looking at the horse classifieds online, she types in "horses for sale" in some search engine and gets over a thousand hits. Then she types in "Australian horses for sale" and gets only 27. I just found that humorous. Mainly because I'm a librarian.

I have the second book in this series, but I don't know if I can convince myself to read it. So I guess I'm going to get rid of it. Which brings me to the other part of this post: book giveaway! You can be the lucky recipient of two free horse books: Totally Horse Mad and Horse Mad Summer (in which Jenna comes back and proves she's worth Ashleigh's attention by taking riding lessons). If you want to throw your name into consideration for these, just say so in the comments. I'll give this until the end of the month, and then I'll do some random draw or something. Winner to be announced on March 1!

Feb 19, 2009

Racing Stripes: Clearly someone didn't get the memo that flies are not cute or adorable.

Racing Stripes

His stripes made him an outcast. His heart made him a hero.

Because I do intend to honor requests made to the blog, I give you Racing Stripes. There seems to be some discussion out there that you can't be overly critical of this thing because it's a family/kid movie, and to point out how awful/unrealistic it is would be similar to kicking puppies for fun. Perhaps this would be the case if Babe failed to exist. Fortunately for us all, Babe does exist, and provides me with a perfect point of comparison.

Racing Stripes is Babe, only it's just painfully stupid. The stupid starts at the outset and it continues through to the end. It's a parade of stupid. If I had a child, I would not let them view this movie because I would be afraid it would somehow drag my child's intelligence down to its level of stupid.

This movie starts in Ohio, I think. A traveling circus is having some roadside issue and they're all scurrying around in the rain, trying to fix whatever issue they're having like they're being chased by wild wolves and if they don't get back on the road now surely calamity will befall them. This movie is stupid not because they're all circus workers, but because they are circus workers that are all dressed up as if they never wear street clothes. They stick their two zebras on the truck, pointedly ask around if they've left anything and then drive off, obviously leaving behind a baby zebra that is, for some inexplicable reason, sitting in a wooden box.

This is the best this movie can do in setting up its ridiculous premise. Can you just imagine the brainstorming the writers went through to create this piss poor attempt at plot? Well, anyway. Nolan Walsh drives up in his adorable old truck, saves the zebra, and brings it home to his thirteen-year-old daughter, Channing. Nolan was a Thoroughbred trainer before his jockey wife died in a racing accident, making him retire early and get rid of all his horses. Channing convinces him to keep the zebra because zoos are evil establishments that only keep animals in cages. OMG! So the zebra settles in and meets our other animal friends: Franny (the goat), Tucker (the pony), and Reggie (the rooster). You can pretty much ignore Reggie for the rest of the movie, because he's voiced by Jeff Foxworthy and delivers completely unfunny one liners. He also gets pooped on, which I guess was relevant somehow because this movie is all about poop jokes.

So three years pass and Stripes the zebra is now a dashing young colt that is obsessed with racing. However, because he is a zebra, his only taste of racing is by challenging the local mailman to a match race every day. I can't imagine how this started, but it's a long standing rivalry. Stripes is distracted by a white jumping Arabian and runs straight into a tree during his daily mailman race. The Arabian mare, Sandy, immediately takes a shining to Stripes and spurns the two Thoroughbred colts that desperately want to mate with her. Seeing has how she's in the same paddock with these two colts, I imagine she's probably already pregnant with one of their foals. Oh, wait, that's reality creeping in. In this movie she is Mandy Moore and her snappy come backs establish a boundary that they will not cross. Uh-huh. The two colts are Trenton's Pride and Ruffshodd, Trenton's Pride being the son of Sir Trenton, winner of the "Kentucky Open" which is just the Kentucky Derby if the Derby was run at Turfway Park on turf and was somehow an invitational to anything with four hooves.

Because Stripes is eager to prove himself just as capable of running fast as, say, Pride, he shows up at this moon race event, where it looks like all horses in Kentucky show up to reenact Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The goal is to challenge Pride to a race from one end of a field, around a giant rock, and back again. Stripes challenges Pride, and totally wipes out around the bend. Pride wins, people mock Stripes, etc.

Eventually the tractor breaks down, so Nolan hitches up Stripes and they plow the fields together because Tucker, who happens to be a race horse training pony, tells Stripes he has to be motivated and impress Nolan. Then this pelican comes out of nowhere, because he has a hit out on him from some gang in New Jersey (because pelicans are in gangs, and their "hits" involve getting pooped on...I told you this movie is all about poop jokes, and I am not kidding). The pelican goes insane and kills Channing's motorcycle, and then causes the truck to get a flat, which opens the door to Channing riding Stripes to her work at Turfway Park. Notice that Stripes has never been ridden before this moment, and he is perfectly tame enough to ride. Uh-huh.

At the track, Stripes wants to run on the course and Channing lets him, impressing a crusty handicapper and two horseflies, who yet again make mostly poop and farting jokes. Everyone's all astonished that Stripes can run a quarter mile in 23 seconds, but Nolan isn't going to train this zebra because it's insane he is deeply scarred from his wife's accident. Even when the evil woman on the "Turfway Board" invites Nolan to enter his zebra creature in the Open, Nolan is not swayed. At some point Sir Trenton tells Stripes that he is a zebra, and not a racehorse, so Stripes spirals into depression about his ability while Nolan changes his mind due to farm animal antics that result in him reminiscing over photographs of his wife. He decides to train Stripes and proceeds to plow a giant track through his suddenly fully grown field of corn. Field of Dreams references ensue. If you build it, Nolan, you can race your zebra around in it. I don't know how many people are going to come around to see that, seeing as how everyone of importance seems to be able to see this happening from various windows, balconies, and bleachers.

Unfortunately for him, Stripes is still all pissed off because he's a zebra and not a horse. He's just lion food, and no amount of tribal music is going to make him feel better! Enter Tucker to bitch slap sense into him. Stripes gets over it and learns how to enter Nolan's hand crafted starting gate that looks like two whitewashed outhouses connected by a fence. They train and train and Sir Trenton is not pleased with this development. So what's he going to do about it? He ambushes Stripes and Sandy while they are snuggling due to Stripes's inner wonderfulness that only she can see, bringing his posse with him. They beat up Stripes, leaving him unconscious in the mud with comical muddy hoof prints all over his body. You'd think that would be the end of things, but no. Magically he's okay and totally fine to race, but first they have to get Sandy away from Sir Trenton, who is holding her hostage...in her stall, in her barn, where he also happens to live, as they listen to Mozart together. Daunting. Tucker, Franny, the pelican, and the flies get Sandy out of her stall and escape. They also drive Sir Trenton mad by locking him in his stall and changing his Mozart to Walk This Way as performed by Run-D.M.C.

Stripes arrives at Turfway and they run in the Kentucky Open. Nolan makes this idiotic bet with the owner of Pride, indicating that if he wins he wants Sandy (who she owns for some reason) and if she wins she can have his farm. Like...dude, you're racing a zebra against Thoroughbreds. I know this is a family movie, but don't get too cocky. Thankfully she tells him that his land isn't worth her mare, so she alters the bet to making him work as her trainer again if he loses. Grand. At least he'll be making a living and won't be homeless in the event of a loss. The flies act as messengers between Stripes and Tucker the entire time, so when Stripes naturally starts to tire and fade to last, Tucker uses the wonders of reverse psychology to trick Stripes into trying a little harder, winning the race just narrowly over Pride. Pride turns into a nice guy and congratulates Stripes, the pelican poops on Pride's owner, and all is well.

  • I would like to point out that every one of those Thoroughbreds in the "Kentucky Open" was never once asked to run. They all had their heads choked back and they were going really damn slow.
  • No horrible sports movie would be complete without referencing Rocky IV. Stripes pulls cartloads of wood and Pride runs on treadmills and wears sauna suits. Pride is clearly a pussy.
  • The most awesome thing about this movie was that it was referenced in Flight of the Conchords.
  • I also can't believe this movie is 102 minutes long. Cut the pelican (who is a really horrible version of that duck in Babe) and most of the fly insanity and 80 minutes would have brought this movie out of BOMB territory and into a D- grade. Easy.

Honestly, this movie involved making a joke out of a fly eating crap. I fail to see how this is funny or even family humor. The whole zebra, girl, blah blah believe in me, I can do anything I put my mind to, blah storyline is fine and all, but the poop jokes. Oh my God, no. Just...no.

Feb 16, 2009

Ruby: I may or may not have picked this book up because of the cover.

by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton
Published: 2007

I realize I'm stretching here, but why not?

From the beloved author of Necklace of Kisses comes a modern-day fairy tale of a willful and intuitive heroine and a world of shocking realism and transcendent magic.

Francesca Lia Block, this time with co-writer Carmen Staton, introduces readers to Ruby, a Midwestern girl named for the jewel that is believed to ward off evil spirits. Ruby's special gift is a sixth sense that makes her at one with nature and gives her the ability to know her own destiny.

After growing up in an abusive family, Ruby escapes to Los Angeles and learns of her soulmate -- Orion -- a British actor. She travels to England, where she works at a potions and herbs shop, and through a series of coincidental circumstances, ends up nursing Orion back to health without confessing that she has been on a quest to find him all along. But just when she thinks her dream is becoming a reality, Ruby is stopped in her tracks by the violent demons of her past. Only by facing the darkness together can she and Orion finally fulfill their destiny.

As with Necklace of Kisses, Block, here with Staton, breaks the mold. In Ruby, readers will find a story about the power of our minds to overcome the past and ultimately change the course of our lives.

This is a pretty nifty, slightly insane book. It is, essentially, this: Ruby comes from an abusive background, sees Troy on DVD, develops an obsession with Orlando Bloom, travels to England to surreptitiously gain the trust of his family, and somehow cause him to fall in love with her as she battles the demons of her past. All with Francesca Lia Block's edgy fairy tale qualities spun throughout.

No, really.

Only it's not ever that easy. Although, I really do think Orion is Orlando Bloom, and I will now refer to him as such. Ruby goes to England and seeks out Orlando not because she's obsessed with him in a creepy fangirl way, but because she just happens to know a few things and why not her. I don't know whether to be amused by the simplicity of this idea, or take it up as my new life motto. Why not me? Indeed. Why not. Due to fiction's cute little conveniences, Ruby gets a job at the magic shop that Orlando's mother owns, and Ruby starts coming over to Orlando's parents' house for dinner, only Orlando is never there. Cruel fates. But fiction has to go be convenient again and reveal that Orlando has been there all the time, he's just in seclusion because he fell off of his horse and apparently broke his back in ways backs have never been broken. He's more or less paralyzed, but because the writing style isn't exactly explicit you're left to assume that.

Ruby has some ideas on how to fix this, so she magics him into wellness (and full body function) using paste and water. Magic paste and water! Orlando is all patched up and ready to go again. He takes a liking to Ruby, as we all knew he would, and eventually they decide to go riding together because he really wants to get back on his horse, Day. Simple name. I'm tempted to like it, if Day's brother didn't happen to be Night. Seriously, that wasn't so hot. Neither is the angry temper Night casually sheds upon meeting Ruby (only this is acceptable because Ruby's sixth sense is her connection with animals and so forth, and in this world it's actually possible). Nor is it that great when Ruby randomly says, "I'll take a Western saddle please" like she's ordering ice cream. And she is in England. I'm not sure how likely it is to just walk into a stable in England and say, "Western saddle here!" without having someone look at you like you're an asshole. Anyway, Ruby rides with Orlando Bloom through the forest and he shows her where he fell and why he fell (that guy with the leaves on his face, and that giant stag...totally would have freaked a horse out). Eventually they return to the stable and Orlando Bloom informs her that he has a new movie, etc. They have sex, Ruby agonizes over the fact that she's basically built all of this on a lie, so she writes a book about her life (this stunned me a little, because she kept saying she'd use this book as a cover for why she's really there, and I had no idea she was actually writing it in the end) and what led her to England and sends it to Orlando just as she leaves to go back to the States because her father died.

I can't even get into her father. That was a messed up situation that you know is horribly messed up all the way to the point where you're wincing and thinking "that's messed up" and Ruby is justified when she admits being scared out of her mind at the possibility that this guy would come back to haunt her (because in this world, ghosts are possible). Orlando comes back to help her through this experience, and her dad never comes back from the dead. Ruby is successfully over the trauma, and Orlando still loves her despite all that weirdness. Although I guess Orlando is used to it, what with his mom sort of being a witch or something.

The strength of the story isn't Orlando, or Ruby's trip to England to find Orlando, but the backstory with her family. It's...just really messed up. You want her to find the ability to move on and become a new person and shed all of that crap. It's also beautifully told in a minimal sort of way. A little too short, and you sort of don't care about Orlando given that he's hardly there and not nearly as important as the rest of the story. I liked it, despite some shortcomings.

And yes, it's so obviously Orlando Bloom.

Horses and feminism collide, much to the despair of the typical 1940s adult male.

Night Ride Home
by Barbara Esstman
Published: 1998

Night Ride Home and In The Presence of Horses were published around the same time. Unfortunately for me I read In The Presence of Horses first, which did a fantastic job of turning me off of horse books for a long while. Therefore, I never got around to Night Ride Home. Also, I might have ignored it because it looked just a little depressing and if you have read the horror that is In The Presence of Horses, you might swear off books after that encounter. Seriously, I hated that book. I'll have to read it again. For, you know, the blog. And stuff.

Nora Mahler leads a perfect life. With her two teenage children and husband, she thrives on running the family horse farm on the banks of the Missouri River until Simon is killed in a riding accident. Neal sends the horses away, and when Nora refuses his orders to sell the farm, he moves to Chicago, taking Clea with him. Soon after, Ozzie Kline, a horse wrangler who has longed for Nora since they were teenage lovers, helps Nora and her mother rebuild their farm. Alongside Ozzie, Nora finds a happiness she never knew with her husband and wonders if she and Ozzie have another chance with each other, until Neal returns to claim what he considers his.

You know, I could rip this summary to shreds so easily. Basically, it reads like a summary of the book as told by someone who was given the basic premise before being told to write a summary. Nora doesn't lead a perfect life at the beginning of this book. She leads what others might suspect is a perfect life, only they would be completely wrong. The book is told from a series of first person perspectives: Nora, Neal (her husband), Clea (her daughter), Ozzie, and Maggie (Nora's mom) all occurring after Simon falls off of a horse and hits a rock, dying immediately. Everyone unravels instantly: Nora has an emotional meltdown, Neal shoots the horse in the head, Clea withdraws completely, Ozzie takes off, and Maggie...actually, Maggie is the only one that sees sense.

Because Neal is a self-absorbed asshole, and medical practices back in the 40s were iffy at best, he decides that the best course of action for Nora's grief is to a) drug the life out of her and b) shock therapy! He also decides that, while Nora is in a drugged up stupor, that it's really for the best to sell the farm and move to Chicago. Because he can't sell the farm without the signature of Nora or her mother, this is put on hold, but absolutely nothing stops him from selling all the horses and spiriting Clea off to Chicago. Perfect life, right? Man, if only I can get me some of that.

As you can probably deduce from the summary, Neal's plan is foiled by those gosh darn women doing what they damn well please, thereby ruining his life because Nora is no longer running around making Neal feel better about himself (if she ever did, because I really don't think she ever did, which was one of Neal's sticking points and why he kept acting like a toddler in the midst of a tantrum all the time), or whatever the hell it was Neal really wants. I have a feeling he wanted a subservient wife who baked cupcakes all day, taking time out of her busy baking schedule to either "take care" of her children or give him a blow job. I really have no idea what he was going for, but Nora never resembled that image in his head, so really he just screwed himself over. Long story short on Neal: he's the kind of guy who pushes sex on people who may be, you know, asleep. Charming.

Anyway, you're not supposed to like Neal, and rest assured I didn't. Nora eventually gets up her nerve to divorce him after Ozzie comes back from gallivanting around Canada in attempts to ignore what's going on at the ranch. Ozzie, in comparison to Neal, is a sweetheart. He gets Nora back into the horse boarding business and finds a gray mare that can replace the one Neal randomly shot in the head. The two have a history, but because Nora's father never liked Ozzie their relationship did a nosedive when her father died. I don't necessary buy this logic, but it's suggested Nora dumps Ozzie for Neal after her father (another wonderful piece of trash) kicks it, like she was obligated to finally do what her dad would have wanted, after several years of going to extremes in pissing him off. Actually, yeah, I don't buy that at all.

Then there's Clea having a budding romance with some guy. I skimmed over her for the most part. And Maggie's sections basically involved her musing to herself over how different she is now, going from abused wife to outspoken woman, etc. She nags Nora about divorce until Nora agrees, giving Ozzie the opening he needs. Then there is sex in a stall. Only it's not exactly romance novel sex in that it's glossed over and didn't make me laugh out loud.

In short, it's not In The Presence of Horses. It's slightly depressing, there is a lot of time spent on backstory, yet again we're told how often and intensely men suck, but it's hopeful at the end. I did skim through a lot of it, though. So gripping it most certainly was not. Interesting...it sort of was. A must read? Probably not. You won't miss anything if you keep passing it on the bookshelves.

Feb 15, 2009

Jockeys: Yeah, I can't think of a title.

1.4: Losing Grace

I remember liking this episode, but oddly I don't have a lot to say about it. After serving as a supporting character in the first three episodes, Jon Court arrives on his motorcycle to shock and awe us with a truly impressive display of cursing that is, thanks to our adorable American sensitivity, bleeped out entirely. Although you know what he's saying, and it's stuff I don't even say. Normally.

Anyway, Jon Court tells us that he's extremely blessed (maybe, I honestly don't remember, but he probably thinks that so if he didn't say that verbatim, I'll gladly shove those words in his mouth), but he's never gotten to, like, the very pinnacle of greatness, so there's a little bitter spot in him that he's worrying over. He rides in some race that doesn't turn out well for him, so he flips and has that moment with the boots (making Garrett Gomez look a little disturbed). People assure him that he "rode good," and Jon has some choice words for the horses he rides. Jon, sweetie, it's in poor taste to bad mouth the horses you ride. But it's okay, I like you anyway.

Kayla wanders around looking for rides, Jon eats dinner with his family and has another one of those weird Jack and Coke moments with his wife, who obviously is not taking this staged drama well and decides she needs to go check on these cookies she's baking in a desperate attempt to get out of the shot.

There is some more Kayla drama as she finishes poorly in many, many races and the shots make the entire track look like they really care about her performance. Especially that guy in the white tank top. I really got sick of him, to be honest. Actually, I could do without seeing most of the people at the track. It also just occurred to me that the race calls are all redone for the benefit of the jockeys on this program, and this show makes a piss poor attempt to point out where the jockeys we care about are in the race. Like, hovering Kayla's name near a pack of horses doesn't exactly tell me where she is on the track. Not even if you make her name purple. Or yellow. It doesn't help me. These people need to discover the amazing helpfulness of arrows. And then Kayla wins a race, so we can all take a breath for Kayla and move on to Jon Court, who wins a race on Orthodox, an "up and coming two-year-old" who finished seventh in the Juvenile Turf last year. Jon Court is all smiles, and Joe Talamo suddenly comes out of nowhere to congratulate him in that irritating way of his, gaining a few points in my book. Jon smiles some more. Yay Jon.

Next time on Jockeys: Jockey/Mike's Girlfriend (aka Chantal) rides a horse! Also, if you just absolutely need to have the music featured in Jockeys (God only knows why) you can find the song titles here.

Feb 14, 2009

New Series: I haven't a clue if it's a series, actually.

Ripple and the Wild Horses of White Cloud Station
by Trudy Nicholson

Suzy, Alexa and Lucy live and breathe horses. But unfortunately for Suzy her allergies mean she is forbidden to have a horse on her own. When the three girls attend the round-up and action of the wild horses at White Cloud Station, Suzy falls in love with a curly-coated horse that she desperately wants to buy. However, things don't go according to plan when he gets sold to another bidder.

Summer With Horses
by Trudy Nicholson
Suzy, Lucy and Alexa are spending their summer holidays at the beach, enjoying the freedom of time alone with their horses. But a near tragedy involving Suzy's beloved horse Ripple introduces a new friend into their lives and gives Suzy the opportunity to revisit White Cloud Station.

Because every time I find new horse books with cover art posted and ready for my scrutiny, I get excited (no matter if the series looks good or not) and have to make a big announcement. New horse books!

This time they come to us from New Zealand. I honestly don't know if it's a series or just a book and its sequel. However, they sports covers I find suitable and if I must read about wild horses, at least they're wild horses in New Zealand (or Australia...or somewhere distinctly not America...I can only hope), giving the tedium of wild horse stories some slight measure of interest. Fantastic!

Both Ripple and Summer With Horses appear in Australia on March 2nd. They make their way to the American market on July 30.

Saddle Club: In which the Saddle Club turns to the Dark Side

Saddle Club S.1.13 “Set Up”
OK, we open up with a seemingly random montage of things at Pine Hollow. Horses running, getting groomed, being ridden, etc… The Saddle Club are talking about Max and Deb, how Max is crazy about her and stuff. Said couple drive past the girls in Max’s POS truck, and Prancer randomly hurts her leg at the fetlock. Max gets out to check her and Deb gets out to act like a pansy around the horses. Carole gets Deb to pet Comanche, who blows snot on her . Yay, Comanche! Also, Max thinks Prancer’s fine.

Anywho, seems Deb and Max had a date, which Deb now can’t go on due to the aforementioned horse snot stain. Max tries to help, which in typical guy form just makes things worse, and Deb gets all pissy. The Saddle Club worries that Max blew it with Deb. They feel he needs major help in the romance department. I feel Deb needs to cowgirl up or piss off, but whatever.

The girls hang out at Lisa’s house reading romance articles in girly magazines so as to help poor Max. Yeah, this’ll work.

At Pine Hollow, Veronica’s parents have a surprise for her. It’s a new horse, Garnet, who I think is very pretty. Veronica does too, until Kristi comes in and gives a lackluster opinion of her. Veronica caves to peer pressure and decides to hate Garnet in order to remain cool. Awesome. Veronica’s dad says he’ll try to return Garnet. Both parents are disappointed.

Max looks sad and tries calling Deb, but gets interrupted by Ashley, who can’t find Dime’s saddle. Max helpfully tells her to check the tack room. He goes back to his call, to be interrupted again by Red, who says the light in the tack room has gone out. Max gets a little pissy, saying he’ll deal with it later, and closes the office door.

Red tells his stupid friend Jake that the wiring is shot, and not to bother with the light anymore. Jake believes he can fix it. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think I’d call Dumbshit to fix the wiring in MY naturally flammable barn.

Max apologizes for his life being all about horses (WHAT?!?) and gets Deb to give him another chance. As this occurs, the lights begin to flicker. Max agrees to dinner and a play, but just as he’s setting a time, the power goes out completely. Of course, the call is dropped, because it would be ridiculous for Max to own a cell phone. Max is POed, walks out to find a smoking bulb socket and a miraculously uncrispy, but very sheepish Jake. Max says Pine Hollow is already bankrupting him, and he can’t afford more of Jake’s ‘help.’

The girls intercept Max before he picks Deb up. Carole picks flowers, Stevie washes his POS truck (including nasty old sandwich under the seat) and Lisa and Mrs. Reg make Max upgrade from old jeans and hay covered jacket to something that’s actually socially acceptable. After picking at him a little bit more, they finally let him leave, looking like he has a reasonable chance of getting laid. It would all be adorable if he wasn’t going to pick up Deb. Oh, well.

Veronica and Kristi watch Red groom Garnet, who Veronica nitpicks at for Kristi’s benefit before stomping off. Basically, who wants a crappy mare when everyone knows Veronica can only ride Magical Black Stallions.

The Saddle Club are staking out Pine Hollow waiting for Max to return, because in little girls minds a successful date still ends with a kiss at the girl’s door and goodnight, or something. Lisa comments that it would be adorable if they got married and procreated and their kids rode around on little Shetland ponies. Yeah, I kinda wanted to smack her a little.

Anyway, Max and Deb walk in, so the girls shut off the light to spy on them. Max can’t understand how Deb doesn’t like horses. Deb doesn’t understand how Max can get up at dawn to muck stalls. They hold hands and Deb says she likes Max, even though she could do without the horses. Max kinda laughs and agrees, saying the barn is falling into disrepair and it’s stressful. Deb kinda pushes at him to sell Pine Hollow, that maybe he’s outgrown it. Max seems to agree. Oh, noes! The girls hear this and start to evil plot against Deb, stating that if they were such good match makers, they can just as easily become match breakers. Hey girls, if you feel the need to send in a ninja assassin, my katana’s always sharp and ready to go.

The next day, the evil plan begins. Stevie and Lisa imply to Deborah that Max has several girlfriends, while Carole suggests to Max that Deb wants them to do a lot of expensive vacationing. Stevie intercepts a boarder about to take her horse, Pandora, out on a hack, saying Max wanted to see her about something important. Lisa stops Deb from going into Max’s office, where she see’s Max talking to the pretty boarder. Lisa then tells Deb that Max has a surprise for her. Lisa and Carole convince Deb that Max is taking her on a trail ride. (Side note: Deb apparently doesn’t believe in wearing a freaking bra on a date, which could explain a lot.) Stevie stops Max, who looks all darling in a snazzy suit, saying Deb thinks it makes him look like a country hick, and that’s why he hasn’t met any of her friends. Max. Is. Ticked.

Deb and Patch are not getting along. Deb gets off and lands in poop, which barely gets on her custom made high heel boots. At this point, she freaks out, and it appears that Max has been dating a grown up version of Veronica, except one who doesn’t like horses. Max and Deb have a nasty confrontation, and it appears that they break up. The Saddle Club exchange high fives. It seems the Dark Side really works for them.

Kristi watches Red brush Garnet, continuing to bad mouth the poor mare. Red finally disagrees, stating that Garnet is an awesome horse with perfect legs. Kristi goes and tells Veronica how awesome Garnet is, implying that she wants to buy her. Veronica reinstates her original happiness with Garnet, saying she’s not for sale.

Max is sad, camped out by the phone hoping Deb will call. Mrs. Reg and Red notice, and the Saddle Club feels guilty. So they plan to fix things. Lisa gets Max to agree to go on a trail ride with her. Carole gets Mrs. Reg to fix up a picnic basket. Stevie manipulates Deb into showing up just as Max and Lisa arrive at the picnic site. There, the girls fess up to their shenanigans, saying they didn’t want Max to sell Pine Hollow. Max and Deb both laugh a little, saying they were talking about Max’s crappy truck. Max and Deb are back together and the Saddle Club congratulate themselves on a job well done.

This episode was good. Good, not great. Veronica’s love, hate, love for Garnet was classic Veronica. The Saddle Club going over to the Dark Side was great. The fight between Max and Deb was well set up and executed. This episode gets a solid B. Not an A because, let’s face it, Deb is still annoying and she’s still around. Sorry. I do make the rules and am unwilling to change them.

Feb 13, 2009

Jockeys: It's all about the win.

1.3: At What Cost?

I cannot keep up with television on Fridays, and basically I have Joss Whedon to blame. Frankly, the man loses out to Friday Night Lights, but I have to watch Dollhouse, and then Jockeys gets shoved to later in the night, which is unfortunate because I actually really liked this episode. (And by "really liked" I mean I found myself cheering out loud for Brandon, and I think I cheer out loud at races about three times per year.) Clearly my life revolves around work, books, writing, and television. Yes, I am single. Yes, I own a cat. Shut up.

Okay! Let's talk about the new kid, Brandon. Brandon is twenty and from Chicago, where he comes from a long line of people involved in the racing industry. His dad is a jockey based in Chicago, and apparently not much of a father. Brandon's one great hurdle in life is overcoming his height...he towers to the astonishing five feet, six inches. I'm five four, the average height of jockeys at Santa Anita, I am helpfully informed by the ever wise narrator, so theoretically I've got a better shot of being tossed up on a horse than he does. Bob Baffert comes out of nowhere to hurl his cocky opinion at us (I'm sorry, I just wince every time that man opens his mouth) about Brandon's height, which shouldn't really bother people in the racing industry because Brandon, in one of those dramatic Coke and Jack moments (only this time over french fries...not wise, Brandon!), informs us that he throws up most of his meals.

Yes, weight management is at the forefront this time on Jockeys. Jockeys are weight obsessed; they'll do almost anything to shave off pounds, be it starvation to spending half their afternoon in a hot box. Weight, narrator guy says in dramatic voice over, should be kept at 109 to 112. Brandon, at 5'6", resembles a stick with arms. But it's okay! Brandon gets through this episode without having a camera follow him into the bathroom, and he manages to win a race. I was thrilled for him. The jockeys throw ice water and eggs at him in celebration, sending Kayla into emotional turmoil because, while she got second in her race she wound up being disqualified, leaving her still on the outs and searching for her first, well, anything. She's having a tough time.

Brandon calls his dad, figuring his father probably watched his son's race on the several screens at Arlington, only to learn that his dad forgot he was running in a race because he had a date. Brandon looks suitably crushed. That poor kid. Someone go buy him some sugar free chocolate! Or maybe, like, sugar free Jell-o or something. A ten calorie snack would cheer him up. A Diet Pepsi always cheers me up, Brandon. Go treat yourself. Brandon just ends the phone call with his dad and feels satisfied that he did something his dad never managed: won a race at Oak Tree.

So, let's go back to Kayla. The girl is having a hard time, and she managed to pull at my little heartstrings this time around because she got on her horse in the only race she's running for the afternoon and somehow manages to completely botch it, run up on the heels of another horse, and fall off. Then it looks like she got run over by at least two other horses. Kayla certainly is not going to get her freezing water and raw egg initiation after that.

Next time on Jockeys: we get to see if Kayla lives or dies! And Jon Court apparently has an attitude. That scene of the jockey knocking down all those boots? Totally Jon Court.

Heartland: Proving again that Lou has no people skills.

1.5: Best Laid Plans

Oh, Heartland. How I've missed you. The last I watched Heartland, everything was busy imploding with the addition of Ben, the boy who had personal issues and was way too involved with his horse. Amy was paralyzed with not appearing to care very much, Ty got sick of Ben's attitude, and he eventually abandoned Heartland for the evil farm owned by Ashley's mom, Val. Okay, let's go.

While visiting the cafe owned by Soroya's mom, Amy and Lou run into Ashley and her group of constantly squeeing friends. They are busy celebrating the recently made commercial (or, as Lou puts it, "promotional video" that just happens to be a thirty second commercial) for the evil farm, and more squeeing happens as Ty, who also happens to be there because Ashley apparently hopes that if she drags him around with her enough he might give in to her sexual harassment, looks annoyed and/or disgusted with his decision. Amy stares longingly at Ty, who tries not to stare longingly back, while Lou stares in awe at the "promotional video" and Soroya bitches that Ashley and her friends have only ordered water. Although, really, it's bottled water. You have to pay for that, Soroya, so why don't you concentrate on your other customers and stop trying to find fault.

Because of this promotional video/commercial, Lou is suddenly struck with the urge to make her own commercial for Heartland. She's going to get Carl (this never seen boyfriend) to talk to his director friend, and they will have a commercial before they know it! Everyone is predictably unenthusiastic. Seriously, this is the most downcast group of people ever. Everyone complains and bitches and argues and, most importantly, Amy gets all threatened by Lou's sudden scary motivation. Lou might change how Heartland is being run so let's all freak out and stomp on her enthusiasm! Lou is not to be dissuaded, and she starts ordering everyone around. Ben, move that manure pile! Mallory, sand and paint that door! Amy, look less morose! Come on, people! No one takes this well.

Eventually, the director pulls out of the project before even starting and then Lou hears that she's lost her big New York City job, which she proceeds not to tell anyone about. Instead she prefers to mope and act passive aggressive during dinner, the time that everyone gets together to air their grievances, which usually results in Amy storming off and failing to eat. Instead this time everyone manages to get through the meal, although Lou keeps complaining about the commercial and the complete lack of support that her completely worthless family provides. She says that the commercial would have been great, and all you naysayers are little jackasses who don't realize true potential! That commercial would have run right after the local news! Suddenly everyone's all...oh, we could have been famous. And Lou just rolls her eyes, probably.

I'd just like to break in here and say that if she wanted a commercial space right after the local news, she would be paying for it. Considering Heartland isn't that well off, I doubt this is possible, because networks only air unpaid ads when they have no other paid ads to run. This is the reason why you see so many infomercials for things like the Ped Egg right now.

Okay, so let's talk about Ty. Ashley keeps sexually harassing Ty, and he keeps taking it like sexual harassment doesn't exist in Canada. Eventually Jack comes along to tell Val about the paperwork she needs to sign for Ty's probation and she has a fit as Ashley never told her about his issues, and fires him on the spot. Ashley still invites him to her "field party" and he still goes, because I guess he likes the attention, although he really doesn't look it. Of course, Ben is going to the party in his Hummer, and he takes Soroya (who has a thing for Ben, despite Amy warning her that he has issues and is in a relationship with his horse) and Amy, who confronts Ty, blah blah blah. Teenage drinking ensues. I still can only hope that they're drinking wine coolers.

And then Lou's friend's wedding videographer husband shoots the commercial for them, suffering through Lou's completely freakish controlling behavior and eventually running them off the farm with only enough footage to piece together a completely unprofessional video (but somehow it is completely awesome, according to maybe three people, but because those three people are Amy, Jack, and Scott, I guess that means it is awesome because their opinion is the morally correct one always). Lou and Scott go out and drink, and Scott is so in love with her that there is an uncomfortable moment, and Lou deals with this by making it worse and telling him that she lost her job. Then they park in front of her house and she cries in his shirt.

In the morning, Amy is all frighteningly upbeat. Crap, she's weird when she's upbeat. Apparently everyone loves the commercial and they've gotten tons of phone calls and Lou is forced to agree that the commercial was good. Although it wasn't. I can't see how anyone would send a troubled horse to Heartland when the commercial involves Lou running from a horse and shrieking. Helpful training techniques indeed!

Then Ty comes back and tries to get a reason out of Amy for why he should work for Heartland. She just tells him she wants him to come back, ignoring any actual reason. This appears to be good enough, so Ty agrees to come back, and I'm sure some confrontations with Ben will come rolling down the pike immediately in our next episode.

  • Ty's fancy work uniform at the evil stable involves breeches and tall riding boots. I am endlessly amused by this, because his only function at this place appears to be mucking out stalls and tacking up horses. And being sexually harassed by Ashley. Although, maybe Ashley's making him wear those breeches for her own amusement. I wouldn't be surprised.
  • Val is being interviewed by someone from Canter & Gallop Magazine. Fantastic fictional magazine title! It's sort of like Horse & Rider, in a completely nonsensical way. I wonder if there's a Walk & Trot Magazine in their world?

Feb 10, 2009

The Saddle Club #17: Mystery at Pine Hollow!

The Saddle Club #17: Horsenapped
By: Bonnie Bryant
Published: August 1991

Stevie, Carole, and Lisa are best friends and horse-crazy members of The Saddle Club. The three are looking forward to the combined-training event at Pine Hollow Stables, when all riders will compete in dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. It's a horse lover's dream!

When snooty Veronica blames her bad performance on her horse, Garnet, and storms out of the ring, Carole follows, fearing Veronica's threat to give away her horse. But horse and rider have disappeared.

Later, when Lisa finds a $10,000 ransom note in the stall, the possibility becomes all too clear: Garnet has been horsenapped!

Who would have thought that The Saddle Club would ever feel sorry for Veronica ? The girls resolve to catch the horsenappers and soon find themselves in a daring escape that puts all their hose-riding skills to the test.

Some of you may have noticed my lack of motivation to keep snarking the early books in the series -- after all, they are sweet in a sort of 1980s, Bonnie-Bryant-hasn't-ridden-a-horse-since-she-was-ten kind of way -- so we're jumping straight to the good stuff: the later books. Well, not the really good stuff. The really snarkable ones are later, where there are people with names like Tiffani and Arab princesses and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or whatever was going on at the very end of the series. I can never keep any of those books straight, which is probably why I'm reviewing this one -- one that I read when I was little -- and not those.

So. It's summertime, and Max doesn't have enough to do with himself, so he's throwing a three-day combined-training event/competition/show at Pine Hollow for both the adult and young riders. Combined training includes three events: dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. Three events, three members of the Saddle Club. Get where this is going? I hope you're all following along.

The girls are looking forward to Alicia Downing, one of the grown-ups, whose horse is called Bodoni (like a Budyonny, get it, except that Bodoni is a Thoroughbred) and is a full brother to Cobalt, Carole's beloved horse who kicked the bucket when Veronica snapped his leg like a twig. Unfortunately, Alicia never turns up to ride, and Bodoni's gone. Same with Bill Feeney, another grown-up, who rides a Thoroughbred named Saturday's Child. In fact, the only person who does turn up is Donald, the new stablehand who is always rushing around like he has ADHD.

Then it's the girls' turn to ride. Stevie does wonderfully, and everyone's favourite Veronica diAngelo does abysmally. She makes a great big noisy fuss, blames the whole thing on Garnet, drops out of the competition (we should remember this from the back cover), and marches off. After Lisa and Carole finish their rides, they go to check on Garnet and find a ransom note stuck to Garnet's stall with bubble gum: "WE HAVE YOUR HORSE. IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN, GET $10,000 CASH AND WAIT FOR ANOTHER NOTE FROM US. DO NOT CALL THE POLICE OR IT'LL BE CURTAINS FOR THE NAG!"

The girls inspect Bodoni and Saturday's Child's stalls and find not only no horses, but bubble gum there as well. They conclude that all three have been "horsenapped" and of course they'd better not call the police, because how much fun would that be? They decide to investigate on their own first. Carole rides Starlight to Alicia and Mr. Feeney's houses, where she finds no horses there, either.

The second day of the event is cross-country, which is not as exciting as the next plot development: Veronica didn't answer the phone this morning, so the obvious conclusion is that she's been kidnapped too. After their cross-country rides, the girls figure that the kid/horsenappers must be hiding out in a farm in the woods somewhere, away from all the riders who are traipsing through the woods on the cross-country trail. They ride off to check it out, but before they can get very far they run into Donald the stablehand, who drags them back to Pine Hollow. The girls go to TD's to get some ice cream, where they run into -- guess who -- Veronica! Apparently she hasn't been kidnapped at all, and instead was at the mall buying garnet earrings (garnets, get it?).

The last day of the event is show jumping, which is also not as exciting as the eureka: Stevie realizes that she keeps seeing Donald, running around being all ADHD, and chewing bubble gum and leaving the wrappers around and tacking up ransom notes and selling it four for a penny (oh, no wait, that was Henry Huggins). Anyway, they ride out to the woods again, and find the horses and some horsenappers at an abandoned farm. Since the girls have been to Kate Devine's dude ranch twice, which makes them all professional cowgirls, they round up the three horses -- Garnet, Sat, and Bodoni -- and herd them back to Pine Hollow. Unfortunately, they are not good enough cowgirls to stop all six horses from running into the show ring while one of the grown-ups is doing her stadium jumping.

After the police come and arrest ADHD Donald and the other horsenappers, Max gives out ribbons. The girls each take a first, second, and third in one event, but Carole ends up as junior champion, which really makes no sense mathematically if all three of them have the exact same scores. The book denoues for a little bit while the police read out Donald's Exposition Rights and scold the girls for saving the horses themselves, and then the diAngelos make an appearance. Mrs. diAngelo shakes each girl by the fingertips and says nothing. Veronica says she didn't want Garnet back, because "the darned horse cost me a blue ribbon." Mr. diAngelo, to his credit, acts kind of embarrassed and announces that he's going to give the girls five hundred dollars as a reward (I hope that's each), and the girls decide to take it since it'll really piss off Veronica, and after all, what else can you ask for at the end of the day?

Overall, this isn't a terrible book -- it's early enough in the series that the horsenapping plot isn't old (get back to me after Mystery Ride and Western Star and we'll talk), and the girls mostly figure it out by prancing around in the woods, which is what they generally do anyway. It's also a very funny book. It's full of zingers, such as "I was actually referring to the fact that being kidnapped probably isn't exactly swell fun" (I totally need to use the phrase "swell fun" on a regular basis). In fact, it's kind of like an episode of 30 Rock -- it's a little crazy and unbelievable, but funny and full of one-liners along the way.

My real problem with it is that it doesn't really make sense in the context of the other books. Alicia, Bill Feeney, Bodoni, and Sat drop out of nowhere into this book and then are never heard from again. Donald was never introduced prior to this book, a sure giveaway that he's the evil-doer (see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conundrum" for another fine example of this crappy storytelling). Pine Hollow never sponsors a three-day event again (well, not until all those later books whose titles I can never remember), and I really don't buy Lisa as a good enough rider to take a second in dressage and a third in show jumping, although granted, BB never breathes a word of any other young riders except Veronica, who drops out.

Points of Interest:
  • Stevie orders a dish of vanilla ice cream at TD's, but what she actually meant to order was vanilla and pistachio with blueberry and pineapple topping.
  • Mrs. Reg tells no thematically relevant horsey stories in this one.
  • The cover art is by George Tsui, who took over from Rob Sauber and did the art for books 13-25. It's actually not bad, if you can overlook the dark and stormy night in the background, Carole's hideous chartreuse shirt, and the fact that Carole looks way more Hispanic, or even Mediterranean, than African-American. On the other hand, I guess her chartreuse shirt matches the design of the front cover (yet another reason they should never have dropped that horseshoe design). Also, I assume that's Garnet in the background. Is it me or is she abnormally small compared to the horsenapper?