Oct 31, 2009

It's Virginia and the Spoiled Brat!


Virginia's Run
2002

Tagline: Two sisters. One remarkable adventure that will bring them together.

This is another one of those movies that I like despite its sentimental, unrealistic core. If you're in this for faithfully depicted equestrian scenes, you need to put the DVD down and back away slowly, because you're too serious for this movie. If you're here to grin evilly and compare this to the Thoroughbred series for no reason other than you get a strange kick out of it, well you're in for an hour and forty-five minutes of joy!

It starts out normal enough: a girl with super hearing jerks awake because a mare in a pasture somewhere is having a foal during a thunderstorm. This mare needs her assistance! Virginia speeds out into the storm to save the mare and foal, because this mare used to be her dead mother's and naturally she would be attached to any progeny it might have. The mare dies, leaving behind the foal.

So, the story goes that Virginia used to dash around on horseback all the time before her mother fell off of the mare and met her end, which means that Gabriel Byrne has forbidden Virginia from riding or in any way associating with horses. He doesn't want Virginia to get attached to the new foal, despite the foal's owner coming by to give her milk because the foal has attached itself to her. The foal's owner is Blake Raines (think New Generation Brad Townsend, complete with cravat), father of Darrow Raines (think Brad Townsend, Joanna Campbell era), the resident jerk who is dating Caroline, Virginia's older sister, and has a weird antagonistic relationship with Virginia for seemingly no reason. It's like everything I could possibly want in a movie!

Virginia ignores her father and bonds with the foal anyway, naming it Stormy and spending probably every waking second with it as her father goes on his oblivious way. Two years pass, and Virginia has taken up speeding around on Stormy during the night, nearly getting hit by cars during her adventures in teenage juvenile delinquency. Darrow is still dating Caroline, inexplicably enough, but turns his sights on Stormy as his new endurance horse.

(Yes, the horse is two. I know, I know.)

Stormy and Darrow don't get along, giving Virginia a way to weasel in and accuse Darrow of being, well, Darrow. Darrow threatens to have the horse shot, but instead settles on selling him, which he tells Virginia all about later at school, giving her his winning smile as she reacts in typical horse story main character fashion, which would be to get on her bike and ride as fast as she can to the ranch, only to get there too late and burst into impotent sobs.

The Caroline/Darrow relationship keeps going, and is remarkably everything I wanted it to be. Darrow gets pissed off that she won't put out in the backseat of his car, so he takes out his sexual frustration in road raging, which sends the car into a telephone pole. Caroline breaks her nose, and Darrow proceeds to never call her, only showing up later at a town dance with another girl. Caroline takes a moment to man up and punch him in the face. This is the Caroline who embraces violence as a means to solve problems, and who is therefore awesome.

Meanwhile, Virginia has started to work at the Raines ranch because her dad believes this will shake her out of her funk over losing Stormy. Instead he just catches her riding, and breakthroughs occur that send him off in search of the horse, which he finds and gives to her for her birthday. Life is super fantastic. Stormy is living in the garage, Caroline punched Darrow in the face, their dad is sort of dating the ranch manager but not...and then comes along the endurance race.

While training for the race, Virginia has a run in with Darrow and his posse, because Darrow has a posse that follows him everywhere, be he on horseback or not. Because they have a weird antagonistic relationship, they immediately decide to have a match race right there. Somehow a train gets involved, and Virginia decides that she just has to beat Darrow and spurs her horse across the tracks and in front of the train, nearly getting them both killed.

Darrow and Virginia stare at each other across the tracks as the train goes by, Virginia looking like she just swallowed something very bitter, and Darrow giving her this look that I immediately associate with disbelief that the main character nearly splattered herself all over the train tracks, but the movie associates with rampant rage that she beat him. In my head, they are so having angry sex when they get out of high school.

Anyway, the movie starts making some dumb moves after this. Darrow steals Stormy on the morning of the race, Virginia finds Stormy just in time to enter the race based on the town mob insisting that she ride, Darrow is a little too obviously attempting to win the race at all costs because his father is being sort of super insane about winning, then Virginia wins after a prolonged Virginia/Darrow hate fueled match race in which they glare at each other a lot.

And it just occurred to me that I have no idea what that tagline is talking about. This movie is so not about sisters.

Points:

- Typically, Darrow gets all the awesome lines in this movie. And then the movie kicks him in the balls. Poor guy.

- Crimped hair! When was this allowed to claw its way out of the 80s?

- "Who would steal a horse in the middle of a thunderstorm?" Yeah, who? I mean, rain and thunder should be all it takes to dissuade anyone from doing anything.

- "Stormy was my horse even though he didn't belong to me." I am so tired of this line. Why can't we tweak it into something like, "I loved him and now he's gone and now I'm really freaking depressed about it." Granted, that may need some tweaking of its own, but at least it's sort of got some truth to it.

- "If Darrow is such a jerk, why hasn't he told Dad about you visiting the foal?" Good point, Caroline! The movie was trying at something interesting initially.

- I think Gabriel Byrne slept through most of this movie. He looks like he was just gently roused from a coma during all of his scenes.

- I don't know what's up with this endurance race, but everyone in this town takes it very, very seriously.

So, I guess you could say that I've got my own reasons for liking it. And mainly they all hinge on the antagonistic relationship that made me smile.

Oct 26, 2009

At least none of the characters were Irish.

Ride a Dark Horse
by Laura Moore
2001

Cassie Miller was on track to be one of the best equestrian riders of the sport when a terrible accident left her as the guardian of an orphaned niece and nephew. Seeking means to support the twins--now five years old--Cassie takes a job as a horse trainer at the prestigious Five Oaks farm where she finds not one, but two worthy adversaries--Orion, a bold, dark horse that has yet to find a rider it deems its equal, and local veterinarian Caleb Wells, a man whose startling good looks and quick wit leave Cassie unnerved.

As Cassie trains Orion for competition, Caleb, a partner in the farm, watches over their progress. A womanizer since his recent divorce, he soon finds his heart softening for this strong and gifted woman--and for her unconventional family. But as Orion's Hampton Classic competition looms, Caleb's vengeful ex-wife threatens to ruin everything Cassie and Caleb have worked for....



I continue to totally fail at reading romance novels. They just make me want to bang my head against the nearest hard object until I fall into a blissful state of unconsciousness. This urge takes over about a quarter of the way through the book, and to save my poor brain I make a courageous effort to understand the plot as I read one sentence every five to ten pages until I finish the book in five minutes and call it a day.

That's what happened here. Nothing against Laura Moore. I'm sure she's a nice lady. It's just that I've (sort of) read Chance Meeting, and I know what she's up to.

Let's all meet Cassie. Everything about her is sublime on every level you can imagine. Basically, Cassie is better than you. At the tender age of nineteen, she adopts her dead brother's infant twins, drops off the face of the earth in order to raise them, and for reasons that don't make a whole lot of sense, goes to Virginia to interview for their trainer position because everyone before her has predictably sucked. And where they have so routinely failed, Cassie will be vaguely awesome.

Her interview is essentially the sob story that is Cassie's life. Because backstory can't be subtly woven into a story, it must be smashed in your face and ground into your pores until you curl up into submission and wait for it to stop. Everyone is appropriately stunned by the news that life is hard, and Cassie gets the job, becoming the rider of the fabulously difficult Orion.

Now let's meet Caleb. Caleb is an oversexed asshole, and Laura is doing him absolutely no favors by having him be an oversexed asshole for about the first hundred pages. First impressions are everything, Laura! Your character? He's kind of a jackass. I wanted Orion to kick him in the face. I do not care that halfway through the book you made him a loveable, kindly veterinarian who sits by the bedside of a comatose dog all night. By that point I was skimming and I still wanted Orion to kick him in the face.

Anyway. Caleb learns that Cassie has been hired, and since she is only twenty-four to his thirty-two, he immediately has a fit about her being a baby, a girl, and a child. Yes. All of those things! After proceeding to meet her, however, this opinion changes rather swiftly. Why do you do this, romance genre? I will never stop being disturbed by your father figure issues.

Because Caleb is a jackass, he lays it on pretty thick with Cassie, who is instantly repulsed by his ridiculous behavior. This does not cause Caleb to pause and think to himself, "Hey, maybe I'm being a douche. If I want her to sleep with me, perhaps I should turn it down about a billion notches until I seem like a presentable man again." He just continues being a jackass until Cassie presents her mare, who may or may not have a strained tendon. And it is so super oh my god nail biting that Caleb, being a vet, finally latches on to his professional persona and finally levers Cassie's personality back into doe-eyed female who watches in awe of the strong, manly man who fixes everything by stating the fucking obvious.

And then three hours later he's trying to cover her face with his saliva in a bathroom, and because she's seen his professional side for all of two pages, this is a good idea...until it isn't! Just what the hell is going on here? Cassie is a lady!

Faced with reason, Caleb finally calls it a day after threatening her that they will indeed make love. Maybe not now, but he's (kind of) patient and you just wait. Oh, you just wait.

The next day Cassie goes running in the quaint Virginia countryside and somehow manages to bump into Caleb, who is all pissed off because she is alone and there could be rapists and molesters just waiting to pounce on Cassie at five thirty in the morning. This is totally likely! He tries to devour her face with his mouth again (I guess failing to see his own point), but a truck rumbles by and Cassie doesn't want the whole town of rapists and molesters finding out that she's easy, so she pulls away. And thus starts the three hundred pages of Caleb trying not to be an asshole, Cassie being vaguely good at riding, and everyone being rather boring as they try to establish an actual relationship built on friendship and trust before they have the aforementioned sex.

I kind of skipped most of those pages. But I did pick up on the following:

- Cassie has a brother, Alex, and Alex is the "if you hurt my sister, I will end you" type. Caleb picks up on this and instantly loathes him with a burning passion that left me cold. He's her brother, you asshole. So I kept up with the book mainly to see if Alex would punch Caleb in the nose.

- Somehow, the turning point in this story becomes Caleb's ex-wife attempting to give him a fake blow job in the middle of a stable. It's not shocking that this happened. What is shocking is how hurt Caleb is after everyone really believes that he's the kind of guy who would get a blow job in public. Caleb, may I refer you to the first hundred pages of this novel?

- I cannot believe how long this book is. Oh my god.

- Cassie talks like she's an elderly woman living in the 1950s. Based on every romance novel I've ever read, it is clear to me that none of these writers remember what being twenty-four is like.

- At random, Cassie's ex-fiancé shows up specifically so Caleb can beat him to a pulp. You have to love forced plot and one-dimensional characters! I know I do.

- Orion is awesome! And they win everything!

It's been a while since I've read a romance novel. I guess we were due.

Oct 23, 2009

The Georges and the Jewels


The Georges and the Jewels
by Jane Smiley
2009

Abby Lovitt has been riding horses for as long as she can remember, but Daddy hasn't let her name a single one. He calls all their geldings George and their mares Jewel and warns her not to get attached. After all, the horses are there on the ranch to be sold, and if they're not gone in six months, they're just a waste of time and hay.

But with all the stress at school (the Big Four--Linda, Mary A., Mary N., Joan--have turned against her) and home (nothing feels right with her brother, Danny, gone), Abby can't help but seek comfort in the Georges and the Jewels, who greet her every day with pricked ears and soft nickers. Except for one: the horse who won't meet her gaze, the horse who bucks her off every chance he gets, the horse Daddy insists she ride and train. Abby knows not to cross her father, but she knows, too, that she can't get back on Ornery George. And suddenly the horses seem like no refuge at all.

The only other book I've read of Jane Smiley's is Horse Heaven, a megalithic opus that I have a vague memory of liking despite what I always felt was a muddled and tedious storyline. I had no real expectations with The Georges and the Jewels, only that I desperately wanted it to be good so I could have another YA horse book to put in my steadily growing stack of good YA horse books. It's such a malnourished little pile of books, you guys. It needs a good writer to love and nurture it!

Well, Jane Smiley has a Pulitzer, so I don't think we can get better than this. The Georges and the Jewels is set in 1960s California. Abby helps her father with the family business: buying and selling horses. This feels like it used to be a fairly smooth operation, but Abby's sixteen-year-old brother recently left due to differences with their father, putting all the work on Abby, who is facing down Ornery George, the first horse she's genuinely a little afraid of. Abby's dad is determined to train all of their horses to the point where "a little girl could ride them," and Ornery George is light years from this goal.

Meanwhile, a new girl has arrived in Abby's small seventh grade class, creating drama with the Big Four, a group of girls that rule seventh grade with an iron fist. Abby is a girl who can only be described as nondescript. She keeps her head down and minds her own business, keeping silent when she sees things and ignored when she tries to bring anything up. Stella, the new girl, stirs up trouble without even trying, and drags Abby into it both as a buffer and a scapegoat, all for the attentions of a boy that finds wonder in discussions about bologna sandwiches. Abby just wants to get through seventh grade, keep the one friend she's got, and get a good grade on her Catholic mission model without her born again parents finding out and having a fit.

Oh, and she also wants to figure out Ornery George, who is a long way from help. The book does a nice job with Ornery George. There aren't any quick fixes to be applied to his character, and Abby is not the sole person responsible for his training. She's a good rider, but she's inexperienced and frightened. Not to mention, Ornery George has her number. The descriptions of the training they put George through are nicely done, and I actually followed a lot of it, which means I can give this book bonus points for making sense. Like I said, no wacky sudden revelations will be found here. Ornery George is a slow but steady student, and Abby is an easy kid who is falling into the business of buying and selling horses without really realizing it.

The one qualm I have with the book is what felt like a loose end regarding what happens when Abby's parents find out about the mission models the school is having the kids build. There's a string of religion in the book that abruptly comes to a frayed end, with Abby getting worried about her father Bible thumping one of her teachers as she looks on helplessly. I didn't expect the religion aspect to come to some great enlightened ending here, but there was something about it that felt unfinished.

The rest of it, however, finishes quite nicely.

Oct 22, 2009

The wildest horse race in the world.


The Last Victory
2004

Strap in, you guys. It's documentary time!

Okay, actually, I employed the fast forward button through a lot of The Last Victory, because I'm like that with documentaries. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I am easily bored.

The Last Victory documents the August 2003 Palio di Siena, or Il Palio (The Palio), in Siena, Italy. It follows the Civetta contrada (Little Owl district) in its quest to win the Palio for the first time since 1979. The only other contrada looking at a worse string of losses is Torre (Tower), which as of 2003 had not won since 1961. So, hey, at least they're not Torre. They should be happy with their lot in life, right?

We follow a few people in the contrada as they prepare for the Palio, stopping their normal lives and dropping everything to either talk about the Palio constantly, set up the local stable in which they will keep their randomly assigned horse, secretly convene with other contrada members and jockeys to determine secret things that most likely have to do with money, make banners and flags, cook a lot of food, drink champagne out of Dixie cups, and try not to get into any rivalry related brawling. It's all good fun!

When the draw for their horses finally comes along, everyone is besides themselves when Civetta is assigned Number Six, a nice little bay with a white star, who won the previous Palio. Everyone cries and drinks more champagne out of Dixie cups, because they have the best horse and they have a really good jockey, so this could very well be their year. They sequester Number Six away in a pretty awesome stable, where he is surrounded by photos of previous Civetta winners and cast in the glow of a chandelier.

The next morning dawns. Most of Civetta watches the Palio on a television they've hooked up in an alley somewhere, totally ignoring the festivities going on at the actual Palio. This sort of annoyed me, because when we could be watching Palio related festivities we are watching small children stare at a television.

In fact, we see almost nothing of the actual Palio. Mainly, we watch the people from Civetta cry while it appears someone from the documentary crew gets into the mass hysteria after the race and gets punched in the face. (As an aside, I was rooting for one of the grays, so I win!) It's a tough break, Civetta. In fact, Torre wins the Palio in 2005, leaving Civetta with the dreaded Nonna status, having not won the Palio in thirty years by the summer of 2009.

But luck has to shine on them eventually:



Good for you, Civetta. I assume this is how I will feel when someone, anyone, finally wins the Triple Crown.

The Last Victory kind of makes me want to read Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio by Marguerite Henry now. Perhaps this will happen.

Oct 20, 2009

The Hallmark Channel, you guys. Check it out occasionally.

A Horse for Danny
1995

Tagline: It's one great season on the racing circuit.

An eleven-year-old girl falls in love with a chestnut horse and success soon follows! Where have I seen this before? Let me think. It will come to me eventually...oh, wait.

You know, this movie isn't as horrible as I remembered it being. It's sort of like Dreamer with a young Leelee Sobieski instead of a young(er) Dakota Fanning. Danny is an orphaned girl living with her uncle, Eddie. They live in a trailer in the backside of Ellis Park, and young Danny spends most of her time spying on the work outs, using her findings to hone her handicapping skills. I couldn't help being impressed by this beginning, because I really didn't expect the main character to be an eleven-year-old handicapper. However, it gets a little out of hand, especially when she wins the Pick Six (yes, the Pick Six) in her efforts to raise enough money to claim the resident chestnut colt, Tom Thumb.

I do not like that name, but it's better than many things that have been thrown at me in the past. Regardless, Danny is smitten with Tom, and manages to convince her uncle to go to an Ohio track to claim him. This sets issues rolling all over the place. Once the colt is claimed, the owners have the nerve to be offended about it, launching a campaign to wow Eddie and Danny into selling the colt/giving up their nickle and dime public stable operation to work for them. Because Eddie and Danny are morally superior they initially turn them down, although Danny, in her penny pinching way, worries over the $50,000 check the previous owner gives her just long enough to cause some chaos.

Tom Thumb becomes quite the winner, but someone doesn't want him to keep up his splendorous ways. A hit man encased in black leather is dispatched to make sure the colt doesn't win again, in various ways that hit a high note with his beating an assistant starter unconscious and taking his Keeneland baseball cap and windbreaker. Then, black leather guy somehow weasels his way into the position of holding Tom Thumb's head before the break.

A lot of this starts to raise some questions. Namely, am I seriously supposed to believe the rest of the assistant starters wouldn't realize what's going on here? Also, would a racehorse allow itself to be held back at the start? Also, where does this guy think he's going after being so blatantly shifty about fixing a race in front of just about everyone?

Well, these questions are not answered because Tom Thumb bows a tendon despite winning. Danny pitches a fit, someone calls her a selfish brat, and this is all forgotten when they discover black leather guy getting paid off after he somehow manages to get back to the stables. The police come along, because this is Serious Business.

But, hurrah! They win and Tom Thumb is on his way to a speedy recovery.

  • The previous owner of Tom Thumb invites Danny to walk in her rose garden, implying the whole way that Danny may love horses now, but eventually she will grow old and only find solace in the silence of botanical gardens.
  • $50,000 is so not enough for Tom Thumb. Danny should have ripped the check up immediately.
  • Danny knows what a Pick Six is, but she doesn't know what a claiming race is. Bad writing. That's the only thing that can explain this.
  • Laptops in 1995 look like tackle boxes.
  • I love that Danny acts like a forty-year-old woman. No, Eddie, you cannot use the savings to go drinking at the bar! Don't you touch that envelope of cash, you worthless legal guardian! If not for Danny's surreptitious handicapping while she is supposedly supposed to be going to the local public school, your stable would be in tatters! TATTERS!

My overall opinion is that there is no reason for anyone to view this more than once. If you've reached that quota, you're good for life. Next up, I'm going to try watching more Heartland. I've also got The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley coming up soon. Then we'll get into Thoroughbred again, I promise.

Oct 17, 2009

Homestretch by Paul Volponi


Homestretch
by Paul Volponi
2009

Gaston Giambanco Jr. never figured himself for a runaway. But then again, Gas never figured his mother would be killed in a head-on collision caused by an illegal Mexican. Or that his poor excuse for a father would
actually go too far and beat him. So he hitches a ride out of state without a plan, only to find himself working at a racetrack stable alongside a family of Mexicans--exactly the kind of people his dad always taught him to hate, the kind of people who caused his mother's death.

What will Gas learn about himself, and the true meaning of family? And what will he do when his small stature causes an unscrupulous horse trainer to promise him glory and riches as a jockey, even if he can't ride well?


Review:

Paul Volponi is the namesake of the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, which you can witness beating out many fine racehorses here if you so desire, and correspondent for The Blood-Horse. I mention this because these qualifications hint at the rarely seen, yet undeniably powerful duo: racing knowledge and ability to comprehend grammar! It is like a balm for my tired soul.

Homestretch is short, sweet, and to the point. Gas lives in southern Texas, a hotbed of illegal alien activity if ever there was one, and his life is changed for the worse when his mother dies in the midst of all this activity. His father goes appropriately crazy, and Gaston suffers the alcoholism and beatings until he decides enough is enough.

This isn't to say that, although he is escaping his father, Gas hasn't picked up on his father's rampant racism. He has, although for the most part he keeps it to himself. Any outward sign that Gas is racist toward the illegals he winds up hitchhiking with is cut down to basic moodiness. The Mexican brothers he finds himself with in the back of a horse trailer probably chalk this up to teenage angst and collectively move on with their lives. Meanwhile, Gas rails to himself about "beaners" and abhores the notion of eating enchiladas and tacos while he mentally envisions his mother's car wreck. The horror!

The trailer drops off the boys at a fictional Arkansas racetrack named Pennington, near Hot Springs, where the very real Oaklawn Park resides. There, the Mexican boys are given jobs as grooms, and Gas is demoted to hotwalker when Dag, the "unscrupulous" trainer, discovers he has no idea what he's doing. Therefore the Mexicans are earning more than Gas, prompting another volley of internal racial angst. Eventually, Gas finds himself exercising the local crazy horse, Bad Boy Rising, and because he manages to hang on during the horse's careening around the track, Dag gets it into his head that Gas would make an excellent bug boy.

Gas is totally inexperienced, and should not be on a racehorse in any way, shape or form. Dag is very well aware of this, and intends to set himself up to win big as a result. If only Gas will play along.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Regarding the race issues this book spends the first hundred or so pages on, I'd say it's a little too short and to the point regarding their resolution. However, I liked the rest of the novel well enough that this didn't really bother me. Plus, it is a horse racing book set in Arkansas that I happened to read while in Arkansas. And the semi-love interest is a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a little detail I apprecate because I am totally easy to please in that way.

Perhaps I am biased? Perhaps not. It's not a bad little book.

The Black Stallion


The Black Stallion
1979

Tagline: From the moment he first saw the stallion, he knew it would either destroy him, or carry him where no one had ever been before...

I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen this movie, and oddly it never gets old. Going out on a limb, I'd say it's the best horse movie ever made, mainly because it is so visually stunning and all the characters spend so much of their time saying nothing. Honestly, so many horse movies are ruined the instant the main character opens their mouth, and considering this movie probably gives each character about a page of dialogue, we have little to no problem with ego and attitude from our characters. I love it.

Somehow, The Black Stallion doesn't fall into the all the worn out cliches. Alec doesn't fly into hysterics about how only he can understand The Black, and while The Black has inspired countless books and movies about horses that only love and respond to one person, The Black himself is understated. He's not the raging crazy thing you find in The Adventure of the Black Stallion, and it's certainly never stated outright that Alec is the be all and end all of The Black's existence. Because, through the entirety of the film, you have a feeling that he really isn't. The Black is wild first, and Alec is a good runner up. They certainly owe each other over their time on the island, and it's this beginning of the relationship that connects the rest of the movie, from shipwreck to match race.

Anyway, it's written by Melissa Mathison (of E.T. fame), and directed by Carroll Ballard. It was always going to be one of the best horse movies in existence, based on these two things alone. The Library of Congress agrees, having selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, calling it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

So, there you have it.

Oct 12, 2009

Rec: Bug Boy by Eric Luper



Bug Boy
by Eric Luper
2009

It is the summer of 1934, and even at the height of the Great Depression, money is no object for the socialites at posh Saratoga Race Course. The trouble is times are tough for everyone else, especially penniless track workers like fifteenyear- old Jack Walsh. When Jack suddenly graduates from exercise rider to apprentice jockey, or bug boy, he is an overnight sensation. Success brings him all sorts of attention, including that of a brainy blond beauty who is more involved with the gritty underbelly of the track than she lets on and a vicious thug who presses Jack to break his code as a jockey for a payoff that could solve all his family’s problems.

Set amid the rough backstretch of Thoroughbred racing, this edge-of-your-saddle read follows the course of a young athlete whose rise to glory in the most popular sport in America is accompanied by ever-increasing pressure to do something that could leave him trampled in the dirt.




Review:

We all know that I am a sucker for young adult horse fiction. Well, for good young adult horse fiction. My most dorky dream is that Sarah Dessen decides to write about a horse loving girl, and I cling to this dim hope in a slightly obsessive manner. To pass the time, I am on a neverending hunt for good YA horse books, and they are few and far between, my friends.

Yet, for whatever reason, the publishing world decided to sprinkle the market with YA horse fiction this year, taking a quiet breather from all the vampire books hoping to catch a ride on Twilight's super insane comet of crazy. Bug Boy by Eric Luper is one of these books. Set in Saratoga during a time when America was fresh out of Prohibition, but still suffering through the Great Depression, horse racing is at its height of popularity. Jack Walsh, exercise rider, is about to become New York's most celebrated bug boy. Thanks to a tragic accident, Jack is shoved into actually playing out what it means to live your dream. It may or may not be all that he had hoped.

Jack isn't what one might call a natural fit for the job. He's a tad too tall, a tad too heavy, and the ordeal of making weight is daunting, disgusting, and everything you'd expect it to be. The glitz and the glamour of 1930s Saratoga, however, is also what would make most people go through just about anything to be able to experience. He lands a girlfriend, a car, enough money to send home, but that dead monkey in his locker probably isn't a good sign, right?

No. No it is not.

I liked this one. The details were amazing, but Luper blends them into the story so that they don't feel like pointless trivia obtained to prove that there was some research going on here. Jack is a good, solid character, and I could never find myself wanting to throw something at him, which I find is my main reaction to most characters in most horse books. The only weaknesses, for me, were the great reveals in the end and the reactions to said great reveals that felt unbelievable or slightly forced. One reveal in particular felt like a moment where someone whips a sheet off the elephant in the room, and then having someone quickly cover it back up again. And most people never noticed the elephant, or the fact that it was uncovered, even briefly. Which made me question why there was an elephant to begin with.

I recommend this one, elephant or no.

Oct 1, 2009

I clearly didn't read enough Black Stallion books when I was a kid.

The Adventures of the Black Stallion
The Complete Second Season
Episodes 2.1-2.6
Sometimes I choose not to be productive, and this usually leads to a blog entry. Such is the case today, because I had this fabulous romp through the first six episodes of The Adventures of the Black Stallion, season two. This happened randomly, because Netflix just decided to send me this disc without much of an explanation. It certainly wasn't supposed to come along until later (as if there is a plan, or something!), but here we are and whatever.
Six episodes. I honestly thought they were all fabulous in a totally campy, hilarious way. Every single episode involves something nefarious happening to The Black, and in every single episode something totally convenient happens that causes The Black/Alec to escape the evil clutches of the villain of the week, and then someone has an even more illogical change of heart that ultimately leads to boy/horse bonding bliss!
They are also poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly produced. Everything you could possibly want! Also, they are filmed in France.

Consider:

2.1: Barn Burner
Nicole, the spunky French gypsy is introduced! Nicole wants to clean The Black's stall, but Henry says no in a repetitious way that has Nicole throwing empty cans at him in indignant fury! However, Nicole has other problems because someone keeps randomly lighting fires to horse barns in the area. At one point, she is actually in custody when one barn bursts into flame, but she is still held accountable! Oh, those French. Guilty until proven innocent is serious business there, but apparently developing police cars with doors that don't unlock from the inside is also an issue there because Nicole bursts out and singlehandedly saves all the horses except The Black, who kicks down the door and strides through the flames in super slo-mo. So who is the barn burner? The crippled ex-jockey, who, no joke, tries to run away from the cops. He gets about two feet before being slammed into the hood of a police car.

2.2: Diamonds
Arguably my favorite episode, in which The Black, Alec, and Nicole take on diamond thieves! When diamond thieves hide their diamonds in The Black's trailer in order to avoid police check points (although, quite frankly, that uzi is probably giving you away, guys), they are flummoxed and upset when they come back to discover their diamonds have predictably disappeared! (Nicole took them, hoping to finance her trip to America to find her wayward father, but that is not important.) In order to find their diamonds, they take Henry and his lady companion hostage while Alec is off vaulting on The Black, or whatever the hell it is he is doing. So Nicole and Alec ambush the thieves, which doesn't quite work because this leads to The Black being used as target practice. As an aside, the guy with the uzie really is a horrible shot. Nicole and Alec argue about some moral principles while The Black is getting shot at before Nicole finally gives up the diamonds and Alec plays into the evil thief's hands. Of course he's still going to shoot The Black! Hasn't Alec learned anything from all these other episodes? Only all that shitty target practice means the uzie is empty. The thieves turn on each other, and then somehow Nicole shows up in a carriage led by Friesians? Well, it happened!

2.3: Chateau Sauvage
The Black is kidnapped by a rescue group! I...have no idea why! And their aim is to send him back to the Arabian Penninsula, which I am sure is not a good idea. So Henry winds up getting shot with a horse tranquilizer, Nicole spends an hour clinging to the back of a horse trailer, and Alec is forced to prove that The Black loves him. The Black loves him.

2.4: Killer Stallion
The Black is doped! And because of this he goes stark raving crazy! And then someone hires a big game hunter "who likes to kill big animals" to track and shoot him! This one was actually a little forgettable, but I will always remember the hunter using his rifle scope to find The Black, when in reality the horse is about twenty yards away.

2.5: Machine Rider
Alec has a jockey nemesis! And this jockey knows he cannot beat The Black in a fair race, so he turns his whip into a cattle prod and uses it on The Black VERY, VERY OBVIOUSLY in a race. Nicole chews out France's most beautiful actor for being a poor father after she completely takes out the guy's toddler daughter in an effort to save her from The Black's state of pure crazy. Actor guy is suitably chastened, but the message doesn't sink home that he has to supervise his child until she somehow manages to wander out onto the track. The child stands in the grass, waves at the oncoming horses, and is then taken out by Alec as he sweeps her off the ground during the middle of the race. I will always remember the surprised shriek from the child as her legs go blurring off the screen. This seems to be what it takes for actor guy to promise Nicole that he will teach his daughter how to ride by himself, thank you. Lesson learned!

2.6: The Alhambra Zarr
Apparently there are four founding stallions in the Thoroughbred line, and The Black is now a Thoroughbred? Someone in America is not thrilled about this development, and has French people attempt to assassinate anyone who attempts to sanction The Black. Eventually his orders are to just kill them all. All of them! Yeah, that doesn't work. So The Black is headed back to America to race...apparently.

I honestly cannot figure out how this show was produced in France and New Zealand and the US. It totally boggles my mind.