May 30, 2010

Moondance Alexander

Moondance Alexander
2007

Surprisingly enough, this isn't a horrible movie.

I know, that's not exactly a glowing first sentence, but it's true!  At first glance, it's just another story about a girl and Pinto rising from friendless obscurity to compete against Sasha Cohen, who has inexplicably decided to ride horses instead of figure skate in the Olympics.  Random?  Possibly!

Moondance (and I will not pick on her name, because theoretically it's just as stupid as the name Crystal) is a lonely kid who has just completed 9th grade.  No one will sign her yearbook, because she does not wear skirts and is therefore friendless.  Fiona, resident antagonist, sticks her gum on one of the pages after pretending to be nice enough to sign it, leaving it very clear to Moondance that she should just stop trying.  Moondance gets the message and bikes her way to the local graveyard so she can cry at her dad's headstone.

She picks herself back up after a rousing speech to herself/her dead father, and goes to her delivery job, where she happens to run into a Pinto she promptly names Checkers and takes to her backyard.  She houses Checkers in her mother's art studio/storage shed, but this is short lived, as the horse has to go back to Tumbleweed Stables, from whence it originated.  Moondance is crushed, but not in a way that makes me want to roll my eyes and check out of the movie.  She's actually not a bad character in that the way she acts doesn't make me want to throw things at the television.

Strangely enough, a portion of this scenario happened to me when I was, like, nine years old.  Friend and I were walking through the woods and a horse came plunging out of nowhere, befriended us over the course of several days, and then acted all betrayed when we tried to climb on it.  A shoe string may have been involved.  Because riding a horse you don't know bareback without saddle and bridle in the middle of the woods without any supervision whatsoever is a FANTASTIC idea.  These things happen, people!  It's shocking we weren't killed, now that I think about it.  But, you know, we were nine.  This girl is fourteen.  What's her excuse?

Conveniently, she runs into Tumbleweed Stables anyway, strikes up a deal with crotchety Don Johnson, and gets to ride Checkers.  Sasha Cohen comes along to point out to her that Pintos are worthless Indian ponies, and saunters off on her warmblood.  Whatever.  Don Johnson catches her trying to jump Checkers after that, puts a stop to it just to give her an English saddle, and then stalks off to drink in his office.  Eventually he decides to help, and there are actually some training scenes involving lunging.  COLOR ME SHOCKED.

A competition comes along, practically everyone in town enters it, Sasha Cohen and Moondance have it out, and there are predictable results.  There's also more derogatory remarks about Pintos being unsavory in hunter competitions.  Pintos and mustangs are cut from the same cloth, apparently.

It's not a bad movie, mainly because whoever plays Moondance manages to not be completely annoying.  Except for maybe that scene in the backyard, and during the colic episode (because there is always a colic episode.)  Yes, love saves all.  Determination and spirit are all it takes.  Friends...aren't important?  Who needs them!  Give possible step-fathers and step-brothers a chance.  Antagonists are icky.  You don't have to wear skirts and lip gloss to feel okay about yourself.  Pintos are FINE horses, too.  Thank you very much.

Verdict: Okay horse drama.  Maybe not the best use of an hour and a half.

May 9, 2010

The Whirlwind is not a metaphor.

Whirlwind
by Alison Hart
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Sequel to Shadow Horse.

When thirteen-year-old Jas Schuler found her beloved mare, Whirlwind, dead in her paddock, she thought her heart would break. Now Jas knows the truth.

Whirlwind is alive.

Wealthy horse breeder Hugh Robicheaux faked the mare's death, collected insurance money on her life, then sold her to an unsuspecting buyer. And he's going to get away with his scheme, too. Unless someone can find Whirlwind. And that's exactly what Jas plans to do.

But hunting for Whirlwind is dangerous. Hugh has threatened to destroy everything Jas holds dear unless she stops her search. As she struggles with her desire to find Whirlwind without letting the people she loves get hurt, Jas must ask herself: Is all this worth risking for a horse she may never find?
I have heard repeatedly about the amazing Shadow Horse, Alison Hart's award nominated horsey mystery. For some reason, I never got around to reading it, even when I knew Whirlwind was right around the corner. After reading this, I'm making Shadow Horse a priority.

Because Whirlwind is pretty awesome.

Two months after the beginning of Shadow Horse, Jas is nearing the end of what is essentially court ordered house arrest. She's pretty obsessed with the idea that Whirlwind might still be alive, and so is the insurance company that Hugh Robicheaux has a history of scamming. Hugh, however, has no intention of being brought down, because people like him "always win." People like Jas have ankle monitors and live in mobile homes, like they're supposed to. Lucky for Jas, she's not about to accept anything that Hugh says, and uses just about every resource around her to marshal interest in finding Whirlwind.

Enter the insurance agency's investigator, M. Baylor. All of a sudden finding Whirlwind stops looking like a crapshoot and more of an actual possibility. Hugh knows it, too, and starts to threaten not only Jas, but Second Chance Farm. Hugh also knows more than he should, leading Jas to suspect there's a spy in their midst, but at a charity case rescue like Second Chance Farm, who could be feeding information to a man they all loathe?

There's illegal search and seizure, sexual tension, and murder.

There's even a hurricane.

It's awesome like that.

What I like about Whirlwind is that it's not just a horse book and it's not just a horse mystery. It's a young adult novel about a girl who's going through a lot, as well as trying to grow up. She's a barely fourteen-year-old kid taking care of her elderly grandfather, navigating a possible romance, and trying to take down the most influential man in town. It sounds like a lot for one girl and a rescue farm to tackle, but it's done with a gritty realism that had me immediately addicted.

Jas isn't a spoiled brat with horse ownership on the brain. She's human. She gets prickly and lashes out (usually at Chase, the boy she's in teenage love with, which never fails to amuse me), and she recognizes the need to apologize (usually to Chase, as it turns out) in order to remain a likable horse girl. And while she mostly lands in serious main character territory, she knows how to apply some humor into her life. She's also (dare I say it?) proactive. Nothing just randomly turns out in Jas's favor that she doesn't work hard for, something I think we can all appreciate.

Plus, she doesn't like Twilight. I mean, that alone is enough.

While this book does have a beautiful and satisfying ending, it leaves plenty of undeveloped plot for another sequel. I'll go ahead and say that I'm expecting this to be a second book in a trilogy. It may take another ten years to see it, but the potential is definitely there. In the meantime, Whirlwind is strong enough to stand on its own.

Overall: Totally worth your money. Go buy it.

May 6, 2010

Stop Sniffing Horsehair Before Bedtime, It Gives Me Nightmares

Wildwood Stables
#1: Daring to Dream
by Suzanne Weyn
First printing: March 2010

Taylor Henry loves horses, but her single mom can't afford riding lessons, much less a horse. So when she discovers an abandoned gelding and pony, Taylor is happy just to be around them.

But the rescued animals have nowhere to go, and Taylor is running out of time to find them a good home. Could the empty old barn on Wildwood Lane be the answer? And could Taylor's wildest dream -- of a horse to call her own -- finally be coming true?

You're in luck folks. Not only do I have time to write a review, but this book is practically hot off the printing press. It's barely 2 months old! I found it, and the second book while scoping out the children's paperback shelves at the public library. And they were very (very) quick reads for me. I've read both already. They were ... interesting, to say the least. Might even tempt me into trying to find the next two if I can.

What amuses me is that these babies are so freaking new, there's not even a single review on Amazon.com for them. Maybe I ought to be the first!

So, here we go. It's horselit, really. Your standard story about an adolescent female who has this whole dream about how horses will be the center of her life. (clearly she hasn't discovered boys and sex yet, but since I was never much impressed by the human male myself, I kind of see where this dream thing comes in ... horses give you a better ride -- har har, bad joke, bad joke!) Naturally, we need to throw in adversity of some kind. And an abused horse of course -- it's kind of expected at this point. And who can't forget that bitchy popular enemy. Hate to break it to ya, honey, but if there wasn't a bitchy rival I'd start to worry. But enough yappin', let's get to trashin'. (I kid, I kid.... mostly)

Meet Taylor Henry having this totally orgasmic daydream in the middle of her history/social studies/whatever class. She's totally riding a black Arabian stallion bareback in a field. It's brilliant, I tell you, brilliant! I'll even share it later on, and defy you to tell me it's not orgasmic. And then her teacher yells at her, and she (I kid you not) daydreams about falling off this magnificent horse into her chair and desk at school. Weirdo! She needs to stop sniffing Elmer's glue when they do Arts and Crafts.

Speaking of Arts and Crafts, Taylor was totally doodling a horse picture (I'm sooo guilty of this too, I draw horses on almost everything) and her teacher acts kind of impressed and asks her if that's her horse. Which is the perfect chance for her total rival, Plum Mason (who, besides Gwyneth Paltrow names their kid after a fruit?) starts up with a snarky comment which prompts some boy to make a snarky comment to her and the teacher is an ineffective loser who just lets them walk out when the bell rings except he gives Taylor an extra report on the horse being introduced to Ancient Egypt to write. And Taylor runs off because she's going to miss a bus. Oh yay, wouldn't that be fun.

On the bus, Taylor looks at a Dover Saddlery catalog (which is right about the point this book starts dating itself as freaking NEW) and drools over all the expensive stuff because Dover Saddlery's stuff is really expensive (but nice, sometimes... too bad their shipping costs are ridiculous) and talks to her best male friend, Travis Ryan, who is a total comic geek, and we are treated to a trip down Memory Lane about this old cowboy guy named Ralph Westheimer who owned a barn she took lessons at when she was 10 and only recently stopped riding because her parents broke up and her mom was single and poor. And then the bus passes Ross River Ranch where Taylor oogles the horses owns by some rich socialite and tells Travis about dressage and Thoroughbreds as if they're magical butterfly-farting creatures.

Finally the bus comes to a stop, Taylor gets off and starts walking home, but her mom's friend, Claire Black shows up and tells her she has to rescue some abandoned horse and pony in a barn, so off they go to find a horse and pony abandoned by a divorced couple over a week ago and the horse promptly tries to brain her. He's of course, freaking black (what is it about black horses, what? why can't they be a normal average bay?) This black horse tries to kill her, and we go through a whole monologue about some other abused (naturally) horse that didn't like people who wore cowboy hats because her other trainer had been a evil cruel cowboy-hat-wearer, and thus Taylor takes off her baseball cap and the horse suddenly turns into a puddle of goo who tries to eat her hair. Oh yay, you just know how this is going to turn out.

So some guy comes with a trailer, but because Ralph Westheimer got new horses, and is trying to make room for boarders (because apparently fewer kids are taking lessons because of this very real-life economy) and thus has no room, they take the horse and pony back to Claire's house, build some run-in shed out of tarp, and Taylor's mom shows up to take her home. Which of course is the perfect chance for Taylor to outright beg her mom to keep the horse named Albert and the pony named Pixie. Naturally, her mother, being poor, says no and Taylor throws a hissy fit.

This doesn't stop her from going to Claire's the next morning and freaking riding Albert bareback and without tack, and one of Claire's neighbors gets a stick up her butt and calls the police about the horses in the yard. So now they have to go somewhere or the sheriff will have to sell them at auction. And of course, auctions are bad juju. At school, Plum actually talks to Taylor because she wants Claire's phone number to get the horse, and Taylor tells many lies to avoid telling her because Plum is apparently a horse killer. (She's the rival, so she has to be bad, and she has to be so bad that it would be awful for her to own Albert.) Taylor does poorly on her report on horses and Egypt, and her teacher tells her about this old broken down abandoned stable he used to ride at.

After school, Taylor goes to beg her dad who apparently doesn't pay child support, for money and he says no dice, but he also talks about that broken down barn, and Taylor decides to go check it out. It's a dump, totally dead rotted old dump, but she figures a stall is a stall, and goes to get Albert and Trixie and bring them there in the dark. And when she gets there, someone shines a light in her face because apparently the place isn't deserted after all. The person is Mrs. LeFluer and she just apparently became the owner of the place even through that rich socialite chick, Mrs. Ross was trying to buy it. Taylor convinces Mrs. LeFluer to open up the barn again, Claire and Taylor's mom show up, and Claire decides that because Albert and Pixie's old owners are giving her ownership papers, she'll just give them to Taylor. So hoo rah, Taylor has a horse even though she's dead broke and can't work because she's only 13. Except maybe Mr.s LeFluer can use them or something, in exchange for board. Yay, everyone's happy.

So Wildwood Stables gets all fixed up and jazz, Mrs. LeFluer is burning through her bank account like wildfire, a girl named Daphne Chang is the "riding instructor", some chick named Mercedes Gonzalez shows up and is the Junior Barn Manager and she proceeds to be a bitch to Taylor who doesn't tell her that Albert doesn't like people with baseball caps (so freaking juvenile) and then they finally make up and traa la la la. They try and use Albert to give a riding lesson, but he only wants Taylor to ride him. Plum's mother calls Mrs. LeFluer and tries to lease Albert. Travis shows up with tools. Yeah, and then they have to fix up the old stables and stuff. And that's probably the second book right there. So, eh, to be continued.

Random Quotes:

Taylor Henry rode bareback across the cornflower-strewn field of tall grass on a glistening Arabian stallion. Clutching the creature's glossy black mane, she leaned forward, gripping with her knees and thigh muscles, in a smooth rhythm with the ebony horse beneath her. (orgasmic, I tell you, orgasmic!)

Random Thoughts:

  • I hate the people names in this book. They suck. I mean, Taylor Henry. Travis Ryan? Jake Richards. All sucky boring painful names. Don't even get me started on Plum Mason. No, just no.
  • Daphne's horse, Mandy, is "mostly a barb with a little quarter horse blood in her too" -- uh huh. That doesn't make a lick of sense once I got to the second book. But that's for the second book.

So there we have it. Standard fare for your average teenage-level horse book. Brand spanking new series. Oh bully!