by Mary Newhall Anderson
I don't mind this cover, even though I will never be a fan of this style, whatever you want to call it.
Has Star run his last race?
Christina Reese and Wonder's Star are about to race at Belmont, one of the most prestigious tracks in the country. Christina is confident that she and Star are going to blow all the New York horses away. But when the gates fly open at the start of the race, Star feels sluggish--something is wrong!
Christina takes Star home to Whitebrook, hoping that he'll recover in time for their next race. But Star's condition only gets worse. Faced with the possibility that Star may never race again--he may not even live--Christina doesn't find winning so important anymore. Will Christina give up her racing career to save the horse she loves?
Wow, this synopsis makes me want to tear out my hair for so many reasons. It's like Mary wrote it herself, and no offense to Mary or anything, but this isn't her best showing. In fact, of all the books I've read of hers, Fallen Star might be the worst in the writing department. (Derby Fever continues to hold on as the worst, period.) It's not that I don't appreciate Mary's enthusiasm, and her need to champion the wishes of the readers, but it's just that I maintain that the plotlines Mary wound up having a hand in creating were WEIRD and poorly developed, but then that's probably an understatement.
Anyway, the synopsis seems to think that a big plot point of this book was Christina deciding to scrap her racing career in favor of nursing her sick horse back to health. This isn't exactly what I'd call a Major Issue. In fact, I'd probably call it a non issue. We all know Christina's career is going to be just fine. I mean, she'd have to ride in a race drunk before she'd ruin her career. Moving on.
This book is the beginning of The Great Backstory You Maybe Wanted To Know But Wound Up Disliking And Wishing It Never Existed. Also known as Mary's delightful romp through Thoroughbred history, recreating things as she goes. In short, Cindy is back. Notice how she's not mentioned at all in the synopsis. Yeah, I liked that too. Anyway, we start this book at Belmont Park, because that is where Brad told Ashleigh to take Star, because as we have seen in the New Generation, Ashleigh is, for whatever reason, completely clueless. It's these little things about the New Gen that I love, I admit. Anyway, Christina goes rushing off to meet Star and frolics around with Gratis before Cindy's all, okay crazy lady, why don't you do some work and check in with Vince? And Christina is all with the "You are dragging my mood down! Why can't you see that frolicking and patting my pretty horse are more important?!"
But Cindy does appear to have a point, so Christina takes her attitude to Vince and learns about Rush Street, giant supposed competitor that is designed to take the wind out of her sails a bit and take the edge off of her freakishly giant mega ego in this book. Due to this plot development, Christina is set on defensive mode. Not a good mode for Christina, because she winds up verbally abusing a chipper reporter, who has taken it into his head to question Star's awesomeness by calling him a slacker.
I have no idea where this opinion is coming from. Why someone is always around trying to make an underdog of Wonder's foals is beyond me, because NONE OF THEM were underdogs. Ever. I can only assume that he's saying this to set Christina off and get some good quotes, because like anyone was doubting Star was going to the Derby. So Christina yells at the reporter, and Cindy is again "whoa, crazy lady, don't brag that much!" before she goes into a rapid display of namedropping and, obviously, bragging. Christina notes this and moves on to the race, which Gratis wins over Rush Street in a hand ride. So...that's another moment of speculative competition crushed.
Enter Ben al-Rihani! Cindy acts more frigid than usual, mutters to Christina that Ben is a misogynistic degenerate, and Christina points out that Ben's trainer is a woman and Cindy isn't having any of this logic. He must have changed! Grumble, grumble, etc. We're setting up for Cindy's Lost Diaries, if anyone is curious about this. I am not, so I'm going to proceed to ignore all of Cindy's Ben angst for this book.
Star loses his seven furlong allowance race and there is chagrin all around. Clearly something is wrong, because Wonder horses don't just lose like that. Of course, the horse next to Star is sick, but no one takes much consideration of this (besides, Chris, of course, because she is ever vigilant) until it's too late. Star is sick, comes home to Whitebrook, and all hell breaks loose.
By "all hell," I mean that Christina spends a lot of time saying, "You have to get well!" and "You are going to get better, aren't you?" It sort of sucks the desperation out of the story when the book essentially starts to spin its wheels. Chapters go by of the same thing: Cindy is surly because she can't ride due to her shoulder injury, Christina worries about Star, the vet comes to say something remarkably similar to the last chapter, Brad says something that irritates Christina, and Ashleigh says, "Don't worry, Chris." That's about five chapters, right there.
Eventually there are a couple of changes, because something has to happen before this book ends. Change #1) Cindy rediscovers her love for horses. Change #2) Brad decides Star is hopeless and sells him to Christina. I have trouble buying into either of these things, mainly because it's hard for me to see Cindy losing her love of horses. Becoming surly and bitchy, YES. Pushing horses around, no. Also, Brad just randomly giving Christina his interest in Star for some paltry amount seems...nice. Too nice. And random. Too random. The only good explanation that is given for this is his insistence that their insurance on the horse doesn't cover, what, death? So even this is stupid. I find this whole thing ridiculous, pretty much.
So Christina runs home, fresh from Brad selling Star to her for peanuts and his news that the horse that had been stabled next to Star has died. Star gets worse almost immediately, but Christina's vocal encouragement and tears of wonder and amazement gives Star the courage to fight a little bit more to, like, move his leg as he twitches and slightly attempts to fight off death.
Everyone cheers. The end.
Can I focus on Mary's inadvertently hilarious introductions for a moment? Take this attempt to insert the vet into the scene at the end of the book:
Chris: Star, can't you hang on? Do it for us, boy.
Ashleigh: Look at him. He's trying, Chris.
I think this is fantastic, because for some reason I keep envisioning him just popping up during this "touching" moment and singing "Hellllloooo!"
- Freddy is wearing a linen pantsuit in the colors of her farm. Which is purple and green. I'm pretty sure Mary didn't intend to make me think of the Joker, but unfortunately for her this is where my mind went immediately.
- After Christina spends the first chapter complaining to herself that she'll never have enough money to buy Brad's share in Star, she immediately has a flare of hope after Freddy gives her $4,000. Granted, I'd like someone to just walk up to me and hand me $4,000, but under no circumstances would I find this a life altering gift. Get a grip, Chris.
- After Christina completely freaks out about Rush Street, of course she beats him on Gratis with only a hand ride. How freakishly predictable.
- But Ben (al-Rihani) will be watching for Chris and her "clever strategies." Brilliant comedy. That is what this is.
- "We'll show these New York horses what a Kentucky-bred colt can do." And here is where I interject that most American racehorses are bred in Kentucky. Sorry to burst your bubble there, Thoroughbred, but your characters are not cute underdogs and they are not in the minority. Ever.
- I find Christina's confidence in this book sickening.
- Yes, because entering your horse in a seven furlong race makes tons of sense if you know he's a distance runner. I need Brad Townsend here, stat! He'll smack some sense into these people.
- Bad Writing Award! It officially goes to Mary Newhall Anderson for this book and her need to tell us that the horses on either side of Star in the starting gate are the three and the five when we ALREADY KNOW he is the four horse. God, Mary, redundant much?
- Today Brad is driving a shiny sports car, which I appreciate so much more than that blue sedan business from the book previous.
- Someone please tell me how a tweed sports jacket and beige slacks is supposed to be intimidating? I know this is Brad, and he intimidates everyone by just showing up, but when he insists on dressing like Indiana Jones in an academic setting I'm not sure if this works.
- "If Christina had been paying attention during the race, she wouldn't have missed at least a dozen chances. She got overconfident, and she blew it." As usual, Brad is SO RIGHT. And as usual, Christina "grits her teeth" because truth is so awkward! And then Ashleigh says something "neutral" that is not neutral at all. Oh, you guys. Don't ever change.
- "Are you saying I'm not a capable trainer, Brad?" Oh, for Christ's sake, Ashleigh. Given that Brad has apparently been telling you everything you need to do with Star for the past few books, I'd say Brad is pretty on the money.
- Does anyone else find it odd that the only treatment they're giving Star is stall rest and vitamin supplements?
Really, not a good book. Although Brad was awesome, so that's at least something.