Dec 21, 2012

Riding for the Stars

Riding for the Stars
Timber Ridge Riders
Book 3
by Maggie Dana
2012

A movie is being filmed at Timber Ridge Stables and one lucky girl is actually going to be in it. Of course, Angela Dean wants the part, but Kate McGregor wants it even more. With the money from the movie Kate can make her special dream come true--she can buy a horse of her own.

What will Angela do to stop her?

She's tried all kinds of dirty tricks in the past . . . but now a beloved horse is missing. Would Angela go that far?

I've stared helplessly at my computer for four months, and this innocent book has been sitting on its hard drive. Abandoned. Alone. And I just couldn't because the Irish. The IRISH. God, did I not swear off the Irish three years ago? How did that happen? Why do they have to be so alluring all the damn time? What the hell? 

But no matter. Let's get down to brass tacks. I like this series. It's spunky, and occasionally I feel like it's really trying to give its SUPER AMAZING antagonist a purpose, which is interesting because we all know horse book antagonists are just rich, jealous bitches. Who is Maggie Dana to come along and do something different? (Or, at least, if you squint and pay attention.) Just who does she think she is?

So Kate wants her own horse. She can't just keep riding Magician and Buccaneer all the time, although I wonder what is going to happen when her dad comes home or whatever. Maybe Liz will just formally adopt her, because it would really be easier for everyone. Holly is busy reading Moonlight, a book that is like the love child of Twilight, Saddle Club, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Look, it's complicated. The horse is a vampire, there's a portal, and the girl requires a lot of rescuing. Frankly, I wanted to read it while I was reading this book. Maggie Dana, write this book. I beg you. I will co-author, if that's what it takes!

For whatever reason, the production of the movie version of Moonlight will be occurring at Timber Ridge. The girls are thrust into competition for the stunt rider position for the lead actress, so now you know what must happen. Angela arrives in all her glory, determined to have the stunt rider position for herself. Of course, she's no where as good as Kate in terms of riding ability, but Kate has nothing on Angela in terms of sheer brilliance. It's stunning. Really, I'm in awe. She thinks ahead and cons Kate into bleaching her hair for the part by simply wearing a wig around town for all of an hour. This girl knows her enemy. Fear her.

But anyway, Kate still gets the part because Angela is too good as an antagonist and her plans blow up in her face. Then the main actor walks in, causing Kate a lot of horse story girl confusion because he is a) male and b) looking at her. There is so much to be flustered about! Angela notices this, and also notices that he is an actor and famous, and goes after him in a rather pathetic manner. I was disappointed. Then Magician disappears, and Kate has to find him in some crazy's back yard. There is much drama. A gun is involved. She has to leave a horse behind, which is probably for the best because I wouldn't take someone's horse when there's a gun involved. But she snags Magician and they all race back to Timber Ridge in time for movie production.

Movie production, by the way, involves zombies riding horses. The ZOMBIES RIDE HORSES. Picture this. I'll wait. Okay. Are you done having your mind blown? All of it was hilarious. The director kept saying, "It's a fantasy! It's not supposed to be real!" No kidding, director man. Kate rides Magician for the movie, making me happy because I prefer him to Buccaneer, frankly. And Adam is movie boy's stunt double, so Holly can swoon over him. Apparently they are dating. I think I missed this in the last book?

And then movie actor boy gives Kate his email address and Angela has to settle for his fan page. All is well in the world.

Tune in next time! I think Kate gets the crazy man's mare, and maybe Angela will finally admit that she and Kate should be best friends forever, and go on to dominate the show ring while dating movie stars and whatnot. Huzzah!

Aug 6, 2012

Faith in an Extreme Long Shot

Faith in a Long Shot
Thoroughbred #57
by Alice Leonhardt

Does Image have what it takes to make Melanie's derby dreams come true?

Melanie and Jazz couldn't be more thrilled when Image comes in second in the Florida Derby. This is just the kind of proof they've been waiting for -- Image is ready to race in the big leagues! With high hopes, they decide to enter her to race in the ultimate competition: the Kentucky Derby.

Image has proven she has what it takes to win against other colts. But her competition at the derby will be really tough. Image will be running against Wonder's Star, Gratis, and Celtic Mist. Winning is a long shot. Does Melanie have enough faith in Image to make her derby dreams come true?

This summary misses the main point of the book, which is People Be Jealous. Otherwise, I suppose it's accurate. The cover, on the other hand, is composed based on all those winning shots of Kentucky Derby winners past, but in that style that makes you want to walk up to the artist and yell, "Since when do black horses look gray. Since when?" I'm having a hard time understanding this style's ability to depict black correctly. It's kind of basic. Then there's that buckskin in the background, which does make me a little ragey, I admit. They are running in front of a crowd that is wearing a lot of orange, blue and green. It does a good job of indicating the attendance of the race, but otherwise the colors amuse me. And Melanie's silks. Music notes on a field of green must be very hard to remember or draw...either way, she most certainly is not wearing red and blue.

But moving on...because pointing out the flaws of the covers and summaries is often like shooting fish in a barrel, right? Let's focus on the book, because Melanie is insistent on driving Image to Keeneland for the Ashland Stakes. For all of us wondering, that puts us back in April. So, that means that the events of Derby Fever have already happened, but Cindy's Last Hope is currently happening, and Great Expectations will happen...in May. Those being the three books leading up to Faith in a Long Shot. (Don't get me started on Hoofprints in the Snow.)

So, Image is entered in the Ashland Stakes after coming in second in the Florida Derby. Melanie starts to sense some attitude coming from the Whitebrook camp when she finds out that Ashleigh didn't want to put Catwink up against Image in the Ashland, and so decided to enter her in a claiming race because "Catwink needs it." I don't know why, exactly, but there you go. Impetus for drama ahead! Image wins handily, spurring Jazz into making crazy-eyed comments to similarly crazy-eyed reporters that this horse is running in the Kentucky Derby. OOOOOMG, says everyone. And then Melanie gets all crazy-eyed angry that Jazz hauled off and told everyone when she wasn't prepared for that sort of...reality? I thought they were thinking Kentucky Derby since Florida, but apparently this is news to Melanie.

Back at the shedrow, some guy tells Melanie that she doesn't know what she's in for with the media. They are relentless vultures that she cannot hope to handle, because she is a) a girl and her horse is also b) a girl. Also? The other Derby entrants are boys. OOOOOMG girls vs. boys! It's the biggest headline ever, because sex battles are the best. Everyone knows this. Melanie brushes him off. Surely the media frenzy for the Kentucky Derby won't be that bad, she thinks to herself. Surely!

And then she discovers that Catwink was claimed, which is somehow Melanie's fault because no one can trust Ashleigh to make a sound business decision if her life depended on it. Dear Ashleigh: if you want to keep your horse, totally and completely, don't enter it in a claiming race. You're not cut out for that type of gamble. But anyway, now Melanie thinks this is all her fault. Racing Image in anything means that Whitebrook will get screwed over, and then she realizes OOOOMG I'm racing Image against Star in the Derby! What will become of us all?!

So then we need Jazz to step in and tell Melanie that when he got famous, all of his previous friends who couldn't handle it got all butthurt and jealous of his success. People Be Jealous, he says. But that's okay, we're better than them. Did he lose a lot of friends chasing his dreams? Yes. Tons of them. They dropped like flies. But don't let that stop you from being a special snowflake, dammit! Melanie tentatively takes this advice and proceeds with plans to run Image in the Derby, despite what she feels is an increasingly icy atmosphere at Whitebrook. So icy, she stops riding Image on the track because that is apparently where Christina spends every waking moment relentlessly racing Star against the clock.

Compounding matters is the media frenzy. Because Whitebrook employs two people and lets random passersby wander their paddocks, the farm is trampled by reporters desperate for interviews and photo opportunities. Ashleigh has a meltdown about Whitebrook not being able to handle the attention. They've never had to go through this before! Ever! (Um, yeah.) And it's all Melanie's fault for entering an unworthy filly in the Derby as a distraction! Melanie tells reporters that she wouldn't have entered Image if she didn't think she could beat all the colts, upsetting Christina's delicate sensibilities, and causing to deepen the rift. And then Christina nearly runs over a reporter with her car, crossing the line between innocent girl we should feel sorry for and assault with a deadly weapon (vehicular.)

At school, Melanie is told she sucks at chemistry, and so she decides that she will force Parker into tutoring her. Because apparently he is back from England, although I was pretty sure he was supposed to be training for Burghley. But whatever. Apparently he has time to skip back and tutor Melanie in chemistry so he can hang around Whitebrook and make eyes at Christina, who has suddenly taken an interest in clothing and proper hair care. She is dressing and blowing out her hair like this girl who has walked out of a teen drama, much to Melanie's consternation. Feeling slovenly and unworthy, Melanie slinks off to talk to Jazz on the phone, who tells her he won't be in town until Tuesday. OOOOMG. Or whatever. It's like a week from the Derby now, and Melanie just wants this over with all ready, except then some guy decides that jumping into Image's paddock at night to get a photograph is the best time to do this ever and causes another collective meltdown. Image isn't safe! There could be people with cameras hiding in her stall! Lurking in the bushes! Sleeping at her feet! (Wait, that's Melanie...) She has to get out of here!

ENTER BRAD TOWNSEND.

So, apparently Celtic Mist isn't getting the attention Brad thinks he deserves. So he listens to Parker's business proposal that they allow Melanie and Image to stay at Townsend Acres so that Parker can finally have sex with his on-off girlfriend, and hears instead that he should have Image live at Townsend Acres so he can get in on the media frenzy. He approaches Melanie about his proposition, and Melanie is of course a petulant brat at first before Brad employs his awesomeness and she is stunned into accepting. In a haze, she tells Mike and Ashleigh about Brad's plan, and of course they all say that Brad is awesome and she should clearly do this. Of course, this could just be them trying to get rid of her, but Image must come first! Horses, then family. Always.

Melanie settles into her gargantuan and exquisite surroundings at the Townsend Acres guest house, and Image settles in under the watchful security cameras and Brad's all knowing stare. Much to her irritation, Melanie loves it. She loves the manicured grounds, and the helpful groom that has to work for her or be kicked out on his ass, and the microwave that looks like a bread box. She loves it. So much that she goes to a formal event at Townsend Acres. She wears a dress. And it is tight, and mid-thigh, and low-scooped, and splashed with primary colors. Even Jazz decides that tonight is not the night for his all black ensemble, or his groom outfit, or his geek costume complete with pocket protector. Tonight is the night for no ties and no socks. Jazz cannot be contained. Nor can Christina. She waltzes in wearing a short blue dress and strappy heels.

For a second--a brief, almost horrifying second--I imagined this as a CW show. And it almost worked. I could almost see it happening. But then Christina opened her mouth and started to accuse Melanie of abandoning family for the enemy, and then I couldn't decide if that made this vision worse or better. Melanie insists that she did it for Image. It was all for Image! Only Christina doesn't believe her and flounces off, somehow managing not to break her ankle while wearing heels for the first time in her life. Melanie then overhears people talking about how little a chance they believe Image has, and because she is a Thoroughbred series character she seriously takes this to heart.

When derby day dawns, Melanie puts Jazz's new silks on and stares at herself in the mirror long enough to feel self-conscious when someone else walks into the jockey's room. It was just a loose thread! Ha ha! I wasn't just staring at myself, or anything. Christina gives her a look, and probably rolls her eyes. Then Wolf gets into a jockey war of words that is ridiculous, and Melanie has to break it up before they start calling each other jerkface and proclaim that the other will eat their dust. OOOOMG. Jockey fights are the best.

Out in the paddock, Jazz kisses Melanie for good luck and off they go. Admittedly, I was bored, so I skimmed through the race, but rest assured that the announcer said something stupid and all the horses are so evenly matched that they all tried to run in front together. Only at the very end of the race do Image, Celtic Mist and Gratis break free of the clump and race on to victory. Star, as fate would have it, got stuck behind horses, which is a phenomenal achievement when there are only nine horses in the race. Nice work, Chris!

But then, after the high of winning the Kentucky Derby, Image breaks her leg and falls to the ground. Melanie goes into shock and wakes up in a hospital bed with a broken rib and a bruised lung, which means she is just sympathetic enough now for Chris to make the effort to make up. Everyone group hugs, and Melanie decides to let Image die, which is probably the most adult decision anyone has ever made in this series, considering it's a series of completely ridiculous recoveries and declarations of "we must try!" Melanie just throws in the towel, knowing that Image is the second coming of Ruffian and isn't going to stand for a sling and will probably tear down her stall.


And thus Perfect Image dies.

Ha! No, wait. This is still the Thoroughbred series. Here's what really happens: Melanie goes back to Townsend Acres, under the impression that she will stay there for a few days with Christina and Parker and Jazz and this is okay with all their parents despite them being rowdy teens. They are rowdy teens in mourning, I guess, so whatever. Before Melanie can get to the guest house ENTER BRAD TOWNSEND who is all come, Melanie, allow me to show you my super awesome medical facility that is part of my super awesome Thoroughbred farm because I am so super awesome I can barely be contained. COME WITH ME. And Melanie, because she cannot say no and has no power against him, goes. Brad shows off the whole place, and forces Melanie to agree that he is awesome. Although she is suspect, because Brad is cheerful and chipper, and for whatever reason everyone in this series gives Brad the side eye when he's happy. Then he shows her the pool, and lo...there is Image treading up a storm.

Melanie falls to her knees, totally stunned, and Brad lets out one final, "Yes, I am this awesome" before he magically disappears before Melanie or Jazz can find and thank him. At one point, someone actually says they should thank Brad..."wherever he went."

Brad Townsend = Batman. I'm just saying.

So then Melanie jumps in the pool and swims out to Image, and it's heartwarming and actually an okay ending. So there.

Talking Points:

  • A lot is made of Whitebrook really depending on Star and expecting him to do well in the Kentucky Derby, but I'm not sure that's ever been the case. Case in point: see all the times everyone didn't want to race him after the virus. 
  • Ashleigh never won the Triple Crown, apparently. She just won "jewels," much like Julie Krone.
  • Also, Wonder never won the Derby after Winning Colors. 
  • Also, Champion never won the Triple Crown. Whitebrook has now "never had a Triple Crown winner."
  • Ashleigh, at one point, says that the farm isn't able to handle the kind of attention they're receiving. She waves her arms around and says, "Look at this place!" I think...I may be imaging some of it because I find it super amusing. But it's still basically what happened.
  • I highly doubt Ashleigh would act like that much of a bitch to her niece. Christina, yes. I mean, that's a given any day of the week for any reason at all, but Ashleigh never had it in her to make Melanie feel that unwelcome. I think there's always been an undercurrent of Ashleigh finding Image unruly and not worth the trouble, but this book takes it too far. And where the hell is Mike to temper this craziness? 
  • Brad has Melanie's dad and her stepmom ride some boat in some Kentucky Derby festival thing and they're all besides themselves because to ride this boat is reserved for dignitaries or whatever and I imagined Brad Townsend standing atop it, staring into the wind, being so full of awesome no one dare approach as the boat wins their festival race by daylight. 
  • And then Image won and Star came in last. I still can't wrap my brain around this. Years have passed and I am still awed and confused by this decision.
 Anyhoo. So that's the Kentucky Derby. Next up, the Preakness (wherein Star still doesn't win.)

Aug 2, 2012

The Head and Not The Heart

The Head and Not The Heart
by Natalie Keller Reinert
2011  
Horses have always been Alex’s obsession. Their presence has defined her life: all her choices, from her love-life to her career, have been made with horses as her priority. But the horse business isn’t for the sentimental, and it’s growing harder for her to tamp down her emotions and think about the horses with her head and not her heart.

When their racing stable suffers a loss, she and Alexander, her partner and teacher, slowly begin to fall apart. A chance find of a long-lost horse sends Alex alone to New York City, and she wonders if this is the sign she’s been waiting for. Is it time to leave it all behind and start fresh?
Everyone say hello to Natalie. She runs the Retired Racehorse Blog, a place where most of us could probably lose hours of our lives. Natalie is steeped in horses, so much so that her knowledge flows over in her debut novella, The Head and Not The Heart. Horse fiction realism, thy name is Natalie.

But let's get down to business. The Head and Not The Heart has a basic premise: horses. You love 'em and you hate 'em, am I right? They suck you in and keep you there, held hostage for years of your life, never able to do simple things to the point that you find yourself envious of people who have a three day weekend in which they do nothing but sit around marathoning Heartland all day (I am guilty. I am so, so guilty). So, how awesome would it be to break free and not be around horses all the time? Pretty freaking horrible, that's what. God, how can you even ask that question?

Equiholics are in deep. There's really no saving them.

So we have Alex. She manages the racing stable she shares with her older mentor/live-in boyfriend, when their favorite horse is injured and subsequently destroyed. This alone might not have been catastrophic, but it comes on the heels of the death of their absolute favorite, Red Erin, two years previous, and now they're really in a funk. Now her boyfriend is sequestering himself in his man cave and Alex can only dream of a future where she's forced to smell the gut-churning scent of lube mixed with manure forever. Being only twenty-five, Alex is starting to have second thoughts about her career choices. There's still time, Alex! Break free!

Dumb luck presents Alex with that option: television offers up the missing half-brother of Red Erin and she is quickly dispatched to New York to meet with this colt's trainer. While in New York, she is further tempted. She could be a writer. She could live in Brooklyn. She could hang out with hipsters and listen to indie music and be ironic all the time. But there would be no horses, and I don't know if anyone pointed this out to Alex while she was there but New York is fricking cold in winter.

Meanwhile, there is the new horse to consider. Will he be able to lure Alex back to an unforgiving horseman's life after she's sampled Brooklyn's nightlife and yelled at strangers about horses? Will Alex fall for him like a twelve-year-old with a chestnut horse and yell screw you and your bar scene, Brooklyn! as she hauls out of there with a horse trailer?

Well, I won't spoil you. But it goes without saying that this debut is bursting with realism that any equiholic will adore. The details are what make the book come alive and flesh out what is essentially a simple story about a young woman questioning her future. On the flip side, it is still a debut and it falls into a few common pits that debuts always seem to fall into. It repeats itself and waxes on in areas you wish it wouldn't, because therein lies the encouragement to skip to the good stuff -- the details, the action, the voice. These sometimes get lost in the fray of heavy inner monologue, which is common in first-person narratives. But it's 100% horses, and when the book turns on the detail no horse person in the audience (and I imagine they will all be horse people here) will care about the rest.

Solid little debut, Natalie Keller Reinert. Tighten up your craft and I'll be seeing you next time.

The Head and Not The Heart is available in print and Kindle at Amazon.

Jul 23, 2012

Heartland Season 2 Episode 2 - Letting Go

Basically, this episode be crazy. We get to see the continuation of the very clearly delineated Ty/Caleb/Mustang metaphor, all of which makes terrible sense, as I shall make clear in my recap. Basically, if you love something and it hates you, set it free so that it can run away and be with someone who is not you that it actually loves and then you will be alone and shame on you for trying to make it love you. Also, Lou moves forward with her plan to build a dude ranch on Heartland, but not without provoking the ire of Grandpa Mustache, of course. Amy gets a new horse from her dad because he wants her to love him. And Mallory hangs around and says some really cool stuff because she's great. But, before all of that, we get this:

Uhhhh...hello?
I thought this was a family show.

So Amy is outside chasing Ghost around, trying to make him fall in love with her or something. Mallory, who acts basically as the show's chorus, is watching and plainly states, "I don't think he likes you." No Amy, that stallion doesn't like you but he sure LOOOVES Ty. You should ask him what shampoo he uses. But no, Amy does not want to smell nice, she is just generally bitchy to Ty, as is her right, and Mallory totally backs her up on it, girl power. Then Amy storms off, as is her MO, and so does Ty, as is his MO, and then Mallory asks Grandpa Mustache what he's going to do about the Ty/Caleb situation, because Mallory is awesome. Lou also asks Grandpa Mustache if it was such a good idea bringing Ty back to Heartland, what with all the storming off, but Grandpa Mustache made a promise!!!!! And promises cannot be broken. It's up to the Men in Heartland's world to keep their promises (as well as police moral boundaries) or else everything will fall apart. Maybe he likes Ty's early morning underwear displays?

Uhhhh...gross?
I know one person who doesn't love Ty's budding Calvin Klein career: Caleb. He makes a point of following Ty out to the round pen and engaging him in some really tense discussion rife with sexual undertones. I'll put the subtext in italics, just to make it easier for you.

Caleb: I'm betting you're not much of a rider. What I mean is that you are unskilled in the sexual department.
Ty: Haven't done much lately. I haven't been laid in a while.
Caleb: And you obviously don't know much about horses. I am asserting that you are very bad with women, and perhaps also at sexually pleasing them. What brought you back here, the fresh mountain air? Are you here because of vagina? 
Ty: Yeah, that's it. Yes I'm here because of vagina. It's too bad, though, because all I'm smelling right now is a bunch of bull. Caleb, I think you smell like poop. Not vagina. 

Ugh, okay, what else. Oh, um. Amy's dad buys her a world class show jumper to make up for missing out on ten years of her life. I wish my dad would buy me horses to make up for his shitty parenting. I'd be running a breeding operation. The horse he buys her, Storm, is seriously gorgeous, and Amy is appropriately thrilled, though not sure that she wants to dedicate her life to show jumping/that she can find the strength to reject her father's outright attempt at buying her love.

Also, Tim gets the plans for the dude ranch drawn up professionally and Lou is very, very excited but because everyone else hates the idea they ignore her/don't care. But she has an MBA, damnit! Can't they see that? Grandpa Mustache won't even let her tear down the old bunkhouses that are rotting and can't be seen from anywhere and aren't being used by anyone. Lou's solution is to pop champagne and make an incredibly sarcastic toast to the idea that nothing should ever change and no one should ever support anyone else, and she does this, of course, at dinner. Then she goes to Maggie's and gets a job as a waitress and precedes not only to suck at it and get fired, but to disturb Grandpa Mustache so much that he gives in and lets her re-purpose the bunkhouses for, as he dubs it, her "Equestrian Restrooms Haven Cure." Because Grandpa Mustache is the best.

Meanwhile, back in the main plot, Amy is still trying to tame the mustang, even though it charges her while her back is turned and almost kills her. Scott the vet says, "Stallions don't like being bossed around by mares." Look. I know absolutely nothing about breaking mustangs, but is this sexist? Should I be incensed? Someone tell me if I should be angry this show keeps saying women can't break mustangs because we are smaller and smell like girls. Please. Because I feel like I should be angry but animals are weird and maybe it's true? Aren't stallions bossed by mares all the time in nature? I don't know and I'm too lazy to Google it so someone else please tell me.

At this point Ty is convinced that Ghost has a friend out in the wild that he is trying to get back to, but Amy is still all, "No, I will tame the wild beast."

Amy will never tame this wild stallion.
So Ty waits until Amy is not looking then lets Ghost go free and you know, yay Ty for making the right decision. But Amy gets even MORE pissed and is all, "NO TY BAD TY," and runs off to find the mustang with Caleb. Caleb thinks this is all the best because now that Ty has pissed Amy off for the millionth time perhaps Caleb can get in her pants.

So Caleb and Amy gallop around looking for this mustang, which is fine because the scenery is very pretty, and then they find him and guess what, Ty was right, he has a girlfriend! See Amy, if you set your stallion free he will run away to his pretty girlfriend...I guess. But oh no! Someone starts shooting at the two horses and then, starting what will become a habit, Amy gallops her horse toward the gunfire. Brilliant! Good thing it is only Grandpa Mustache and Ty, there to chase the horses off private land so ranchers won't come out and shoot them to death.

Then Grandpa Mustache schools Amy. He's all, "Look, I know you have this Ty/mustang thing all mixed up, just like you are supposed to because the show is making a metaphor even though at this point it really makes very little sense. But anyway, you've got to let it go or you'll squeeze the life out of it, and you don't want Ty to die, do you? Forgive him for being a giant dickwad or you won't be able to enter into an incredibly unhealthy relationship with him and also Caleb is like, 47 so that's not okay you have to date Ty instead because he's only around 32."

Amy decides the best way to take Grandpa Mustache's advice is to walk into Ty's room later that night without knocking.

Can't you see I'm busy not wearing a shirt, here?
She mans up and asks him why he just didn't call her while he was away and, because the writers couldn't think of any answer to this legitimate question other than "Ty's a giant dick," this is literally his reaction:

Uhhhh...I don't know?
So Amy storms out again, case not closed, next episode please.




Jul 21, 2012

Heartland Season 2 Episode 1 - Ghost Horse

Here we are, Heartland, Season 2. It's four months later. Will we ever see Ty again? Of course we will! What convoluted reason will the writers come up with to get him back on the show? I'm going to tell you very soon! How will Amy react? Poorly! What is everyone else doing with their lives? I'm not sure if we're supposed to care!

So yes, it's four months later and everything is very Heartlandy at Heartland. Amy is out riding Spartan before school or during school or in a dream, I don't know. She's riding him. And she sees this herd of wild mustangs galloping through the beautiful Alberta back country. One of these mustangs is a beautiful, silver, leopard Appaloosa stallion. I also don't know about this. Anyway, Amy is very captivated by this mustang because he is Ty. You'll see. While Amy is watching, another bay stallion comes charging out of the herd and starts beating up Ty Stallion. BAM! POW! Suddenly we are somewhere in some seedy city and we see Ty being chased by two biker guys. They are beating him up! BAM! POW! Back to Ty Stallion. Poor Ty Stallion is bleeding and runs away from his herd. SHABAM! Ty runs away from the bikers and locks himself in a construction site, but not before they warn him to get his dad to pay up "or else." So, you see, vicariously Amy was watching Ty fight for his life through the battle of the two wild stallions. Things aren't looking so good, though, because Ty Stallion got kicked out of his herd. Where is Ty Stallion's daddy? What will Amy due to save Ty Stallion? Foreshadowing?!??!

Back at the actual ranch, Heartland has hired on another farmhand to replace Ty. He is an actual, genuine, rodeo cowboy who rides the circuit with his horse Shorty to make an actual living or brutally injure himself. Either way. His name is Caleb O'Dell, but Ashley quickly dubs him Caleb O'Dellicious.

Why hello there, Mr. O'Dellicious.
Caleb is quite obviously meant to be Ty's rival. Despite the fact that this situation is so contrived that it kills any possibility of even pretend chemistry between Amy and Caleb, I like O'Dellicious. Kerry James is very good at being absolutely hilarious all the time, and the writers give him some great, pointed lines that make him and Mallory quite the dynamic duo whenever they turn up in a scene together. But right now he is super serious Ty Competitor, so we don't get to see a lot of the goofy because he is Super Seriously in love with Amy's magic vagina or something, I don't know. Also, if Ty is too old for now 16 year old Amy then 34 year old looking Caleb is DEFINITELY too old. Okay, maybe it's more like 26, but seesh, you are supposed to be a family show, Heartland. Get your ducks in a row.

Of course, we have other plots to attend to. With the help of her father, Lou has gotten a loan to build her Corporate Equine Retreat, or what is more commonly known as a dude ranch. This is an appropriate task for her, the show pounds into our brains, because she has an MBA and she's got to use it, goddamnit. So she is going to become the Martha Stewart of Hudson Alberta Canada or-fucking-else. Poor Grandpa Mustache. He is rightfully pissed that no one went and asked his permission to build a dude ranch on his property, but he decides to give in because A) Lou is really annoying about it, B) She has her MBA damnit! C) Amy points out Lou could come up with something even worse, and D) It can make extra money for Heartland. All of these things happen at dinner, of course, where Caleb is also invited to eat. Mallory is there too, scheming up ways to be granted permission to stay at Heartland for the summer while her dad goes on tour as a country singer. Spoiler alert: she gets to stay.

While a lot of explosive discussion occurs at the dinner table, a lot of important dialog also occurs at the kitchen sink, because apparently washing dishes is a big family activity at Heartland. I think this is maybe because they have no dishwasher, but I've lived plenty of places with no dishwasher and that fact did NOT bring us together, trust me. Anyway, I would just like to point out that there is always a washer and a dryer. But while the washer dutifully soaps up all the dishes, no on ever rinses them off and the dryer just dries off the soapy dish. WHY? This really bothers me a lot and it happens all the time. 

Anyway.

Amy keeps seeing the ghost mustang everywhere, so clearly it is looking for her. In fact, it shows up at Heartland and Amy convinces Caleb to help her rope it and put it in a pen. Now, remember guys, this ghost mustang is actually Mustang Ty, so what this mustang represents is the fact that Ty will always love Amy. However, Caleb informs Amy that girls can't break mustangs because of size and smell, and Grandpa Mustache warns her that she could ruin his chances to survive in the wild. So Amy may have trouble winning Ty's love because she is small and doesn't smell to his liking, and also she shouldn't break his wild spirit because then he won't be able to ride a motorcycle again. I don't know. Anyway, her troubled relationship with the mustang is an allegory for her troubled relationship with Ty. If you love it Amy, set it freeeee! And make sure you smell niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice! And maybe wear heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeels!

So then everyone has a surprise 16th birthday party for Amy and Mallory's cowboy boyfriend shows up:

Hello, I am Cowboy Jake. 
This guy has been stalking Mallory around with a creepy grin on is face for the last several episodes. He is very obviously and openly in love with her, and she has no idea what to do with him at one point telling him, "You're just so...short." To which his response is "I'll grow." And this is why I love Cowboy Jake.

Anyway, while everyone is partying down Ty is getting beaten to death in the rain by the aforementioned big biker guys. Somewhere in the middle of this beating he finds time to call Grandpa Mustache, who runs out of the house to save the life of his adopted son. Ty did the right thing too because boy do you want to stay on Grandpa Mustache's good side. These bikers are huge and at least twenty years younger than Grandpa Mustache and Grandpa Mustache kicks their asses singlehandedly a la Batman. 

Back at the ranch everyone is all, "Where is Grandpa Mustache?" Lou and Scott are covertly making arrangements to sneak off and have sex. I don't understand this show's attitude toward pre-marital sex. Lou can do it as long as it's not with Carl (at least while she's not at Heartland). But Amy? NO. I understand this while she's 16 and her suitors are 26 and 42 respectively, but eventually she's about 19 by the show's logic and STILL NO SEX. Are we going to have a big virginity episode? I hope not. I hope she's just doing it on the sly.

But yes, Grandpa Mustache comes back to the ranch and Amy runs up to the truck all, "We missed you Grandpa Mustache!" Then Ty gets out of the truck.

Uhhhhh. Hi?
Amy gets totally peeved and storms off without saying one word, as is her MO. Then again, I think she has a right to be pissed off that her 30 year old boyfriend kissed her than ran away for four months and didn't contact her once. That is worth some angry storming off. Suck it, Ty. 

Ty limps pathetically out to the barn and then sees ghost mustang aka HIMSELF in the round pen, and for some reason he feels compelled to walk alone into the round pen with this wild mustang stallion in the dark. But it's okay because THEY ARE THE SAME and Ty also must smell nice or something because the mustang loves him as much as it hates Amy. Amy, of course, witnesses this whole thing from her bedroom window and turns off the lights very angrily before Ty can see her standing there. And thus we have the beginnings of Season 2.


Jul 20, 2012

Heartland Season 1 Episode 13 - Coming Together

Guys, when I told you I love this show I seriously wasn't kidding. Not only do I love this show, I also have NOTHING to do with my life until the last week of August, which means these recaps are going to come fast and furious even if you're begging me to stop. There is also no excuse for you guys not to watch along - the show is streaming on Netflix, and it's available on both Amazon.com's streaming service, and through iTunes. If you email me, I would be happy to help you find this show online. Trust me, you'll love it.

Okay, now that I have convinced you to run out and watch this show as obsessively as I did, let's talk about the season finale of Season 1. We have finally reached what promises to be the climax not only of Amy's personal equine triumph, but also the much anticipated resolution of the burning sexual tension between her and Ty. Or have we?!?!?!

Uh...maybe?
We open with Amy competing in some small potatoes horse show so that she can get the points to compete in the Fall Finale. She and Spartan come in second, which somehow means Amy qualifies for the biggest horse show of the season, despite this being the only time Amy's competed this year, as far as I can tell. Far more remarkable than this mystery of math is the fact that Amy is actually THRILLED with her second place win. As Ty later points out during a romantic walk through the snow-covered pile of jumping logs he built her, he has always known she competed not to win, but because she loves the aforementioned "thrill." Isn't Amy weird, guys? What's up with her non-Cindy McLean attitude? I don't know if I can take it.

Anyway, Amy's rival, Ashley, happened to come in third because she botched the jump-off and knocked down a rail. Ashley's mother is PO'd, and pulls the classic, "I will sell your horse if you ever lose again, stupid daughter," routine. At this point I found myself wondering why TLC hasn't started a show about Horse Show moms. I feel like they could really bring in a whole new audience of traumatized equestrians. Maybe the horse show mom is also the mother of identical triplets riding identical triplet horses, all of whom compete in beauty pageants on the side and are also hoarders. I don't know, I'm not a television producer.

Back at the ranch everyone is freaking out because Lou went for a big job interview in New York and what in the hell are the going to do without her? She is the only one on the whole place that can do maths. But don't worry Amy, you have other problems to bother you. It turns out that Ben has convinced Ashley Apollo is inconsistent, and Amy's magic horse voodoo is the only thing that can help Ashley win the Fall Finale. So Ashley storms over to Heartland and demands Amy helps her OR ELSE something about taking jumps away, I don't know.

So Amy is basically being blackmailed into helping her biggest competition because without jumps she can't train. When she explains the situation to Coach Ty he becomes infuriated that Amy would dare help Ashley. Mallory backs him up on this one, but in this case I kind of see Amy's point - she can't train without jumps. The flaw I DO see is that Dr. Earth 2 is Ben's aunt, who owns the jumps. Seeing as Dr. Earth 2 is dating Amy's grandfather, I doubt she would take the jumps away. But everyone else fails to see this line of reasoning so off Amy goes to help Ashley. Turns out that Ashley gets nervous when her mother is watching her and fucks up the jumping, which prompts Amy to suggest that Val leave the arena when Ashley's riding. Ashley is actually thrilled that Amy's told Val what Ashley has secretly been thinking all along.

Here I would like to stop and say that, as easy as this solution is, and as quickly as Amy reaches it, props to the show. There are no problem horses, only problem riders, right? That's actually the case in most of the problems Amy solves. What rankles is that she is the only one capable of observing these issues even though she is surrounded by a sea of experienced horse people. So anyway. At least she doesn't get a big head out of it

At this point let's catch up on our sub-plots. Turns out the reason Ty's been so pissy is, um, two things. First, his probation is ending and that's making him all weird because what if suddenly he's still on probation? I don't know. It turns out his probation ends and this is how Ty shows his immense sense of happiness and relief:


But also making him pissy is the fact that his biological father tracked him down and is asking Ty to come visit him or help him or I don't know. The show never really makes that clear. Ty is still struggling with the fact that he loves Amy so much, and now he also has to struggle with his unresolved Daddy issues. He keeps trying to talk to Amy and she keeps saying, "Tell me anything you want!" And then he's all:


And she's all, "Yeah?" like she doesn't know he wants to ravish her, and then he's all, "Nevermind."

So off we all go to the Fall Finale, and everything is going great until Spartan's old owner shows up right before the jump-off and demands Amy return the horse to him because, oops, he is still the legal owner of the horse. Silly show. Lou does some fast-talking and convinces the guy to let Amy ride Spartan in the jump-off, which she promptly wins. Conversely, Ashley forfeits when her mother breaks her promise and watches Ashley jump. ALSO Val is the one who called Spartan's old owner, stupid horse show mom. But anyway, Lou lawyers the old owner out of taking Spartan and now Spartan is Amy's forever huzzah!

Back at Heartland everyone is having a party. Good times. Ty and Amy are in the barn and FINALLY they make out. Seriously. But then Grandpa Mustache wanders in and ruins it for everyone. Amy runs away in shame and Ty confesses to Grandpa Mustache that he wants to go help his real father. Grandpa Mustache is all, "You are like a son to me but I hate men who kiss and run." Ty is all, thanks, cries, and then runs away, leaving Amy a note under his cowboy hat. And so begins the prolonged pain that is Season 2, where the showrunners use every reason they can conceive of to keep Amy and Ty apart in order to keep the audience both hooked and infuriated.

And oh yeah, Lou didn't go to New York and she and Scott made out. The End.

Jul 19, 2012

Heartland Season 1 Episode 12 - Nothing Endures

Moving on from our last adventure in family togetherness, in this episode we get to experience a barn fire, because every horse series ever must have at least one installment with a barn fire. Did Thoroughbred ever have a barn fire? I don't think so. That's probably why it never got a television adaptation. Think about it - Saddle Club had a barn fire, The Black Stallion had a barn fire. I'm sure everyone else I'm forgetting also had a barn fire. Hence Heartland's barn fire, and coming quite early in the game might I add.

As we begin the episode we are greeted with what is essentially the ongoing b-plot that will eventually become the a-plot. Amy is training Spartan to participate in the upcoming big show that it is really important for her to win or something. Everyone who knows horse series also knows that we always have one of these events as well. In this episode, Ty has decided that the way to win Amy's heart is to be her show jumping coach, despite the fact that he can barely stay on a horse, which Ben so helpfully points out to us upon hearing this news. Not that Ben is the fount of wisdom on horses. In fact, he's transferred to Briar Ridge, which for some reason automatically translates to dating Ashley. But his shitty riding, combined with their shitty yet somehow top notch trainers, has caused him to be thrown from his horse and injured. Yay Ben. You're dumb and I'm excited for when you disappear from this show forever and I forget about your existence.

Anyway, despite the fact that Ashley is Amy's rival, she invites her and Ty to an school dance after party she is throwing, which I guess is her pretense for randomly showing up at Heartland a la Brad Townsend. Then off she goes in her awesome red Bimmer (Beamer is the BMW motorcycle, freaks. Look it up.), Ben in tow. There is some awkwardness involved with Ty then asking Amy if she wants to go to the high school dance and remembering his glory days as a high school dance crasher. Or maybe Amy asked him. I don't remember because I am really freaked out by how old Ty is supposed to be. It is never, ever mentioned, but he looks to be at least old enough to make their relationship illegal. I will assume for the sake of not creepiness that he is under 18, as he is still a ward of the state. So anyway, Amy makes fun of Ty being her jumping coach and he storms off all angry, which prompts Mallory to ask "Who peed on his pancakes?" Have I mentioned that I love Mallory?


At this point I will mention that Jack keeps seeing some creepy red truck sitting up on the road spying on Heartland, but he decides the best thing to do is mention it to Ty and then ignore it forever, which we viewers all know is the best way to approach creepy spying trucks in horse shows.

Plot progresses and now we are going to the dance. Lou and Scott are also going on a date, but I find their relationship to be awkward and weird, so I'm going to ignore it. Of course we get the moment where Amy appears all dressed up (she is not wearing anything made of velvet, thank god), and Ty stands there all slack-jawed, though who knows if it's a result of his normally gaping mouth or awe at her beauty. He does manage to stammer out, "I'll go get it warmed up - the truck." I like this clarification. It's as if he wanted to make sure everyone knew he wasn't referring to his penis or some sort of furious pre-dance masturbation ritual, which I'm sure absolutely no one was thinking until he made that clarification because of course he was talking about the truck. Creeper.

We skip the dance and go straight to Ashley's party so that Ashley can come over and smack talk Amy some more. Amy is actually the one least baited by Ashley. Soraya is all upset because Ben is dating Ashley and not her (Soraya has a great track record of dating men that she has been warned are dicks and then getting upset when they act like dicks). And also everyone is making fun of Ty for thinking he can coach Amy. Ty makes the assertion that show jumping is all about "strategies and angles" and actually yes, he is right. Other than knowing how to ride a horse very well and having an appropriately athletic animal, show jumping IS about strategies and angles. Ty makes the mistake of comparing this to billiards, an obvious past time of his because he is a juvenile delinquent, and that just blows his already non-existent credibility. Sorry, Ty.

Oh yeah, and now the barn is on fire! Everyone is gone so evil pickup truck guy comes down to the barn and sets it one fire. But oops, Grandpa Mustache is home and he rushes in to the barn and manages to save all the horses before bumping his head, which causes him to forget that he actually did see who evil pickup truck guy was. This momentary amnesia leads the fire department to believe that a space heater caused the fire, and this leads Ty to blame Mallory for perhaps leaving the space heater on, which leads Mallory to burst into  tears and run away. Everything is as it should be.

Because we have already established that Lou is the only one who can do anything related to paperwork, it is on her to contact the insurance company and she discovers that, because her dead mom was bad at these kind of things, the house was insured but the barn isn't. Heartland is poor, what will they do? Meanwhile, Grandpa Mustache is busy having crazy concussion flashbacks to when he was a kid and he promised his own grandfather that he'd never sell Heartland for any reason ever, even if selling off a small part of it means he would be able to pay for repairs to the barn. So Grandpa Mustache refuses to sell part of the farm to Ashley's mother because of a promise Ghost Grandpa Mustache made to Ghost Grandpa Mustache's Grandpa. Guys, I'm going to let you know right now that ghosts make more than one appearance on this show and everyone acts like its normal.

What are we going to do now guys? Thankfully, Grandpa Mustache passes out and hits his head again while trying to touch Ghost Grandpa, and when he wakes up he happens to see evil pickup truck man walking into the hospital, hands very visibly bandaged as if they'd been burned. Grandpa Mustache realizes that this man is the one he saw lighting the barn on fire. He just so happens to be Wes, the guy who got fired after Amy and Ty intercepted his mustang rustling operation a few episodes previous. Out for revenge, he decided to burn Heartland to the ground. Instead he ends up being violently tackled by Tim and carted off in a police car. Fun.

So that's all settled. When the crew gets home they discover that the entire town has pulled together to rebuild the burned down barn, donating apparently $50,000 dollars worth of material and labor. That is love, or something. Of course, in the shot of the finished barn it already looks incredibly weathered, a rare slip for a show with such high production values.

And we end on the family gathered around the fire playing board games because we have to make up for the lack of family meal in this episode. In conclusion, I present you with Ty's best gaping mouth face of the episode:

He's not in the middle of a word, you guys, he is just staring.
 Also, please maybe get a haircut. Your hair is eating your face.

Heartland Season 1 Episode 11 - Thicker Than Water

So, after a long hiatus, Mara has very graciously encouraged me to pick up recapping Heartland where she left off. This is extremely exciting to me because, full disclosure you guys, I absolutely love this show. Seriously, I went through all 5 seasons and the Christmas Special in under a month. That is passion right there. As you can imagine, I have lots of feelings about this show that I am ready to share with just about anyone who'll listen. I just hope I'm as amusing when I adore something as I am when I loathe it. And you guys, the first three seasons of this show are streaming on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to watch.

So here's the deal: if you like horses and girls and things involving horses and girls and also dysfunctional families and out of left field comedy and star-crossed lovers and some of the most beautiful scenery and production values you will ever encounter (much of it involving horses), this is the show for you. Like Mara, I've never read the books and have absolutely no interest in doing so. Why someone in Canada decided to turn them into a show set in Alberta is anyone's guess, but they've done a really good job of creating a wonderful piece of visual entertainment all its own.

In this episode, our plucky protagonist Amy is taking further steps toward reconciling with her (former?) deadbeat dad. I'll state outright that Tim is a blowhard and he's annoying, but the series does a good job of maintaining these character traits while also making him a somewhat sympathetic character as it progresses. He seems to be, in his assholery, very real, and its interesting to watch Amy and Lou come to terms with the giant, dickish part of his personality in order to make him a part of their lives and their family. Also, Chris Potter, the actor, does quite a fabulous job with him. They acting is actually pretty good all around, I think.

As we begin, Amy has invited Tim to Heartland to have lunch, because as Mara so helpfully pointed out, family meals are points of high drama in this series and I doubt the plot could move forward much without them. Conveniently, Jack (aka Grandpa Fletcher to Mara), who hates Tim and wants to beat him silly, has a date to take pretty rich lady from the cattle drive out fly fishing. Though known as Lisa on the show, she is played by the same woman who played the ambiguously evil doctor on the (unfairly) cancelled 90s sci-fi show Earth 2, so I will henceforth be referring to her as Dr. Earth 2. Anyway, this is Jack's idea of a romantic date, which everyone points out by mocking the amazing attire that goes along with fly fishing. Though during the sexy scene where Jack teaches Dr. Earth 2 how to cast her line, I learned that fly fishing actually can be erotic.

Jack, who I may henceforth refer to as Grandpa Mustache, because his mustache does at least 85% of the acting for his character (and a damn fine job, too) drives off with Dr. Earth 2, leaving Amy and Lou alone to have lunch with their dad. And Mallory. And Ty. Who insist on barging in because Mallory is incapable of giving anyone privacy or avoiding a moment when she could possibly blurt out something inappropriate or embarrassing about someone's past substance abuse and subsequent abandonment of his family. Ty tags along, I presume, because he wants to do Amy really, really badly, and she won't even talk about the possibility of wanting to do it with him so he has to settle for following her around like a puppy dog and stealing cattle to impress her.

I want to say something about Ty Borden right now. He is very, very hot, and despite his tendency to flee intense emotional situations, he is still one of the sanest characters on the show. His willingness to call out and attempt discussing the sexual tension between him and Amy is surprisingly mature, to say the least, especially considering the fact that their coupling has to be delayed for at least two seasons because this is how all main romances on television shows work. I think that's actually one reason I love this show - it has a tendency to call itself out on is own ridiculousness or adherence to tropes. I actually think that's the entire reason Mallory exists. But anyway, back to Ty. First of all, he looks so much like Stephen Moyer that I kept expecting a terrible Southern accent and fangs to pop out of his mouth. And speaking of his mouth, this kid cannot ever keep his mouth shut. It just hangs open like his jaw muscles are on strike:


See? This an image of him from the opening montage. His mouth is open so much that this was the best shot they could find of him for an otherwise gorgeous opening sequence. All the bad tasting things that must end up in there just while he's walking around. Anyway.

Plot. Yes. So lunch is awkward thanks to the fact that Lou is extremely jealous of the instant bond Amy shares with their dad over their love of horses. After Tim's accident Lou swore off riding, pretending to be afraid of horses as an excuse to keep her distance from them. She has tried to take some brush up lessons from Amy to impress Tim, but it becomes painfully clear when Tim brings Amy a horse to rehabilitate that Lou has no idea what she's talking about. Even Ty is more well-versed in the lingo of cutting horses.

Tim and Lou and Amy all truck Spartan over to the "arena," whatever that is, so that the show can drive home the divide between Lou and Tim as they all watch Amy take Spartan over fences. Because he is an asshole, Tim pushes Amy to take Spartan over jumps she doesn't feel ready for, and because Tim is a bully, he turns to Lou and says she should take Spartan over the fences instead, reminding her of her days as a championship jumper back when she was 12. He calls her a coward and that is enough to infuriate Lou into climbing on to Spartan (who, in a very un-horse-book-like fashion, is completely indifferent to who's on his back, an idea that Tim also actively mocked) and clearing a three foot jump quite effortlessly after who knows how many years of not riding at all ever.

Okay. Here is where I stop and say a lot of batshit crazy horse stuff happens on this show and you learn pretty quickly to just let it go. The writers manage to come up with problems that are actually easy fixes, and you wonder what kind of idiots are hanging around that Amy is the only one who comes up with the solution. Or the problems are so ridiculously implausible that you just forgive Amy for being a magic horse listener and go with the flow. All of Heartland is a fantasy world, including the horse mush, but it's just shot so beautifully, and it always keeps the horses' best interests at heart, and I almost always bawl during the moments of triumph and it's just easier not to care. For fictional horse things, Heartland does okay on the unrealistic scale.

Back to the plot. Lou is now super pissed at Tim, a mood she maintains throughout the rest of the episode, even calling Tim out on his abandonment of his family. This was a nice touch, I thought. Heartland's episodic plotlines tend to revolve solely around the problem horses Amy is dealing with, but it is actually a serial drama, and just like in life, Lou and Amy don't reconcile with their father immediately, and even after peace has been made, quarrels and old memories still arise. And Tim remains an ego maniacal dick, even though he loves his daughters and gains the ability to be brought back to earth when it matters. So points for the show again.

In other news, Jack's fishing trip with Dr. Earth 2 is going quite well. I can't figure out the attitude toward sex this show has, but it's nice that Jack gets to date Dr. Earth 2, and their is a nice joke about Jack's penis when Val Stanton, in a fit of jealously, claims that Dr. Earth 2 was going all about town telling everyone about the "size of Jack's trout." I didn't make that up. We have a penis reference.

So that's that. The episode ends rather peacefully. Lou is still pissed at her father, but she decides not to give up riding horses for pleasure - she's already let her anger at her father take that away from her for far too long. Grandpa Mustache has a lady, and Ty and Amy placated us briefly through many long looks and sighs and vague hints at their relationship through the metaphor or a cutting horse who is afraid of cows.

In closing, as someone who has ridden horses for many, many years, how do the women on this show keep their hair looking so damned perfect? I know you straighten your hair, Amber Marshall. I want to know your secrets.

Jun 26, 2012

Hoofprints in the Snow, TB #56

Hoofprints in the Snow
Thoroughbred #56
by Karle Dickerson

I honestly think that some of these books are little rewards for the round table of authors on this series. They slave away at writing characters they basically didn't create in a story they didn't create, and try desperately to insert things they have created to keep them interested. Like Jennifer Chu's California characters, Mary Anderson's Crazy Backstory of Doom, and Karle Dickerson's Lyssa. And they don't get any love for these creations at all, which is kind of sad. But then you have, well, Lyssa.
Lyssa Hynde knows the Wyoming winters are cold, lonely, and dangerous. But she wouldn't give them up for anything. There's nothing she likes better than to gallop her three-day event horse, Blue, through knee-high fresh powder snow. It's snow, okay?

One day when she's out for her morning ride, Lyssa follows a trail of mysterious hoof prints that take her high into the mountains. Climbing a snowdrift, she and Blue set off an avalanche that builds in force as it heads straight for her ranch.

Will Lyssa make it home in time to warn her family and save the other animals? The avalanche is not a plot point, and no one needs saved. Move on already. Will she find the mystery horse that led her astray in the first place? 


Frickin' Lyssa.

Here's the deal: it's January. For your reference, we were practically headed into May in the last book, when Parker went off to England and Christina had literally wedged herself into a corner to stare in fascination at her own fingers. We should be right on top of the Kentucky Derby at this point, but for whatever reason we have been hauled back four months in time to visit Frickin' Lyssa, who has not a) been accepted to train with USET yet, has not b) been to ROLEX yet, and c) has not met Tony yet. I think Tony was in one of those Parker books? Maybe I have a vague memory of this because he's introduced in this one. Whatever. The important thing to note: this makes no sense.

The cover...I have no feelings toward it. The cover artist really ramped up the Western outfit, but for all intents and purposes it fits the book. Lyssa does (sigh) ride Blue around a lot without a saddle, at least before she starts to take current events seriously.

So we begin with Lyssa. Frickin' Lyssa. She's bemoaning the price of supplements or something and basically has the same epiphany that Parker had in another book previously: she needs sponsors. Perhaps the feed store would sponsor her! But before she can feel that swift kick of disillusionment, she is distracted by a woman trying to buy a puppy. Naturally, this woman is suspect because she is not Lyssa and all animals in the world are at risk of being abused if they are not connected to the main character.

So Frickin' Lyssa adopts the puppy out from under the lady, who is peeved but gives up the dog. Lyssa, whose family is strapped for cash, immediately regrets this move, but hauls the puppy home and introduces it to her incredibly open minded family amidst chili and waxing poetical about the mountains and the fresh powder (ahem, snow. Just say snow already!).

Later on, Lyssa's friend Gabriela shows up to inform her that Mystic, the horse Lyssa found for her on one of those random trips teens take to California, is super lame and she's giving her up to Mrs. Peters, crazy animal lady down the road. Mystic will have a forever home and Gabriela is free to pursue boys. Everyone wins. Lyssa feels a deep sense of disdain and decides to ride Blue around in the powder for a while, coming across the school she doesn't go to (because she is "homeschooled.") There, a boy pops out of nowhere and insists that she leave. He is the security guard, you see. It is very important that Lyssa not trample school property.

Being a girl, Lyssa can't help but notice how pretty he is, which I would say violates her determination to judge Gabriela for liking boys and not Mystic, but naturally Blue isn't lame so whatevs. Like boys all you want, Lyssa.

Then there's a party that Gabriela drags Lyssa to so she can dump her by the punch bowl in favor of the new boyfriend, leaving Lyssa free to run into the boy security guard again. His name is Tony. They dance. I'm sure it was titillating, a Western version of the Samantha era's "haunting flamenco," if you will. But I digress.

Blah blah blah. Things happen. Lyssa insists on checking out the school again, and finds hoofprints leading into the mountains, where she assumes Tony has taken the horse to hide out, which is stupid because of the avalanche risk. But of course Frickin' Lyssa follows him up anyway, and just as it's getting a little too dangerous to be plowing around through horse-chest-deep high "powder", Blue flips out and starts an avalanche.

And then girl and horse outrace an avalanche.

So, hold on to your seats, you guys. It's going to be action packed from here on out.

Blue proves himself to be super amazing, runs all the way back to the ranch, and deposits a hysterical Lyssa on the ground. The avalanche missed the ranch entirely, detouring into a canyon somewhere, so everyone can be reassured that nothing awful will ever happen to these people ever. Her mom insists she stay home, but Lyssa can't just let Tony and the horse alone and is back out the next morning, with friend Mitch in tow. They find Tony, discover that he has Mystic of all horses, and listen to his story of woe (he is totally not a horse thief you guys...unless you take into account that he took someone's horse off their property without asking and has no intent of bringing it back. It's not stealing if you've got good intentions, right?)

He insists that Mrs. Peters is a fraud, and she sells her superfluous horses to the meat packers when things are getting tight. Lyssa is shocked, because no one has ever known Mrs. Peters to be anything but an animal hoarder, which is totally okay and couldn't possibly go wrong. She and Mitch are both suspicious of Tony's story, so they take Tony and Mystic back to Lyssa's ranch and Lyssa rumbles off in Mitch's truck to check out Mrs. Peters, only to discover that Mrs. Peters is the lady that wanted the puppy from the first chapter.

Le shock! Mrs. Peters only wanted the puppy because it's a purebred with papers and could probably get money for it...hmmmm, yeah. Totally reasonable. And then the meat packers helpfully show up, and Lyssa conveniently discovers that one of the horses with Mrs. Peters was on a stolen horse flier at the feed store. So Lyssa hides a bridle in her Thinsulate, gets it on the stolen horse, and tears out of there bareback as Mrs. Peters (I keep envisioning an old lady, for some reason) jumps in Mitch's truck and chases after them.

Frickin' Lyssa, because she's amazing, loses Mrs. Peters and heads straight for the police station. So then the cops swarm everywhere, take in Tony, Mystic, Mrs. Peters and leave Lyssa wondering why life is horrible. Now Tony will be arrested for stealing a horse and deported to Arizona, where everyone knows jerks come from. It's accepted in Lyssa World as fact. But, of course, that doesn't happen. Don't worry you guys, Tony rides back on Mystic and says he bought her for cheap and he'll fix her feet because not only is he a 19-year-old horse thief with a heart of gold, he is also a budding eventer and an awesome blacksmith who knows "techniques." Also, he's going to stay in Wyoming or Montana or whatever and train with Lyssa and work for her dad and work for his relatives in Billings because he has them. So now Lyssa can blissfully fawn all over his spotty teenage neck scruff all she likes.

Hooray. USET invites for everyone!

Jun 24, 2012

FLICKA 3: THE RECKONING

FLICKA 3: THE RECKONING COUNTRY PRIDE
2012

When Toby and Flicka are hired at a stable, Kelly, the owner's teenage daughter, quickly bonds with the wild horse. Despite her mother's disapproval, she hopes to break Flicka for an upcoming competition. However with the competition fast approaching, a dishonest rival trainer, and a growing fear they may be forced to sell the stable, Toby must intervene to save the day. 

IT HAS HAPPENED. YOU GUYS. YOU GUYSSSSS. LOOK AT IT. LOOK.

Okay, wait. Wait. Let's just take a calm, deep breath. So, I wandered up to a Redbox after some solid life drama that I need a vacation from experiencing. Redbox, I said. Entertain me! And what does it give me? It gives me freakin' FLICKA 3: THE RECKONING COUNTRY PRIDE.

And then I stumbled all over myself to rent it. I am the reason movies like this exist. It's something I've come to accept. So, let's talk about it!

As you may have guessed already, Flicka is back. Accept here is the set up: the ranch BURNED DOWN. YOU GUYS. How the hell did this happen? Are Carrie and Hank even alive? What does Katy think of all of this? Did she even take some time off from vet school to help out and give a shit? No, all we are told is that the ranch burned down and Toby (from Flicka 2) sprained his ankle. This is shocking. I...well, anyway. So Toby, for some random reason, decides to get another temporary job as barn manager at Cherry Creek, a local eventing barn where all the kids wear collared shirts under cashmere sweaters while they ride. Oh, and they're rebuilding the ranch so Toby has brought all the ranch horses that didn't, I guess, die. Or something.

Enter Kelly. Kelly's dad died, so now she doesn't jump, but she does...just in secret or something. You know how it is. So she's off jumping this horse that belongs to Stephanie Meyers (really?), her former best friend. But Stephanie is blond, and classically enough Kelly can no longer be friends with her now that hormones have come into play over Briggs McBride, fellow rider who is honestly too pretty to be real. Anyway, Stephanie sees Kelly committing this crime and freaks out, letting her mother go to town on Kelly's mom for allowing this to happen. The horror. Why, oh why.

But then Flicka appears, kicking and screaming like The Black Stallion she so clearly wants to be. She kicks some poor guy in the gut and then rears off a trailer, complete with shot of pretty black horse back lit by the sun. Kelly goes into awe. Flicka stops being a little jerk and moseys up to Kelly and does a face plant into Kelly's hands, because of course.

So Toby gives Kelly permission to ride Flicka, and the two forever bond while Stephanie, Briggs and nameless girl train for some team regional whatever some such event. Only one of their riders is hurt, leaving a hole in the team. By this point, Kelly and Flicka are all over each other, and for whatever reason Kelly decides to trick everyone into watching her ride Flicka for the team by insisting she's a new girl on...a horse that is obviously Flicka? Everyone discovers that it's her in about five seconds, but she's allowed on the team because suddenly Flicka is awesome at jumping. Who knew! That Flicka is remarkably multifaceted. (Actually, she insists on being trained in jumping by poking a jump with her hoof and then jumping three oxers in a row.)

And then there is a dance, and Stephanie gets all pissed that Briggs likes Kelly, so she shoves Kelly into the dessert table and ruins her dress. Then they have a collective meltdown and try to match race over the cross country course to predictable disaster. Stephanie falls off and then has another meltdown in the office, pulling the plug on riding for Cherry Creek just as the trainer of the barn up and leaves for Triumph, taking Stephanie and Nameless Girl with her.

Woe!

But Briggs won't leave, so between he and Kelly they come up with a team last minute and enlist Toby to be their trainer. Toby's like, "whoa, I wear cowboy hats!" But naturally he's a great coach despite not knowing what he's talking about. And then there's a really long eventing sequence wherein Cherry Creek actually comes in second to Triumph and Stephanie.

Did you hear that? The antagonist won. What sort of horse movie is this? My faith in horse stories has been shattered.

However, it doesn't really matter because the brilliance of Kelly and Flicka's show jumping round makes Stephanie see the light and the two apologize to each other and are super best friends again, despite hormones and conflicting hair color.

AND THEN. Because this couldn't get weird enough, Toby leaves Cherry Creek to go back to the ranch, which has been fully rebuilt, and he takes Flicka with him. However, in the meantime he's struck up this romance with Kelly's mom and decides to give Flicka's son, THUNDERHEAD, to Kelly. Because he's "two, and can begin training." Ha! Oh, Toby. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I'm pretty sure he doesn't own that horse. I mean, I can't remember who Toby was in Flicka 2, but I'm going to guess his title doesn't allow him the means to hand people horses for no reason.

And seriously, Thunderhead? Why couldn't this have been Thunderhead's movie? Isn't Flicka a little tired by now?

Nevermind. I'm finished here. Except, apparently, Flicka may not be through with us yet. The last lines of the movie are, basically:

Toby (after giving Thunderhead to Kelly): There's going to be more surprises.
Kelly's Mom: What do you mean?

Yes, Toby, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

(Well. All of that said and done, Flicka 3 is better than Flicka 2. Like, it's heads, shoulders, and a good portion of torso better than Flicka 2. Please, everyone let's all pretend Flicka 2 never happened.)

Jun 22, 2012

Riding Lessons (Or How to Be an Utterly Unreasonable Bitch)

Riding Lessons
Sara Gruen

As a world-class equestrian and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, the beautiful horse she cherished. Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father's New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenage daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables—and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl . . . and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.

But everything will change yet again with one glimpse of a white striped gelding startlingly similar to the one Annemarie lost in another lifetime. And an obsession is born that could shatter her fragile world.

 I am back from my long, horseless reading stint to bring you what is possibly the worst adult equestrian novel I have ever read. It doesn't help that I had pretty high expectations going into this one, as I loved Water for Elephants.


Annemarie is the most unlikeable character I have met in a long, long time. She makes me itch to slap her silly. She is selfish and so self-absorbed it is no wonder her daughter hates her and her husband left her. Just saying.


As for the plot... well most it revolves around Annemarie's need to prove a horse her old flame rescues is fully related to Harry, who died in the accident years back that put an end to her competitive career. She becomes totally and uncompromisingly obsessed with this horse that she allows her family's business to fall into disarray.


I wanted to see her grow as a character and realize that her accident and loss is not an excuse to be a crazy bitch. This does not happen. I was just as annoyed with her at the end of the novel as I was at the beginning.


The reviews quoted on the cover suggest that this book at least as some romance to it. Maybe something would have developed beyond what it actually contained if Annemarie could get past herself and her needs and her, her, her, her. This is not a romance novel, people. I would rather throw The Horse Whisperer at you if that is what you are after. A Dan Brown novel contains more feelings and affection.


There is this one scene that amused me far more than it should. Annemarie, a total moron in the kitchen, gets it into her head to cook a gourmet meal for the love interest and basically almost burns down his kitchen. Such is level of her arrogance!


Basically, the whole book is batshit crazy. So many bad things happen in the space of a few weeks it is implausible. Not that Annemarie doesn't deserve them. She does. She deserves every single bad thing to come her way and then some.


And there you have it. I hated this book so hard.

May 24, 2012

Just don't think. It's easier that way. TB#55: Great Expectations.

Great Expectations
Thoroughbred #55
by Karle Dickerson

Can Parker live up to the challenge?

Parker Townsend couldn't be more excited as he sets off for England to train for the Olympics, taking with him two headstrong horses and some very high hopes. At first he's thrilled to see the beautiful country estate where he'll be staying. But it's not too long before he discovers that the English do things very differently from what he's used to. Since he's a guest, he has to listen to whatever his trainers say, no matter how much he disagrees with them. Although Parker worries that this could jeopardize his Olympic dream, he's determined to find a way to prove to everyone, including himself, that he and his horses are Olympic caliber after all.

Maybe it's just me, but I fully expect that horse to do a face plant into the ground as soon as its hind legs ram into that jump. How it got to the jump in the first place with those front hooves is also very mysterious. They look like they were fashioned out of Play-Doh. Also, I'm sure someone with far more expertise can tell me what is going on with that bridle, but it looks odd to me. The drop noseband and the bit are not jiving visually or logically, along with everything else that is going on here. Perhaps this is just me, but Parker ceases to be cute on this cover. Actually, he is almost a complete duplicate of Wolf from the cover of Cindy's Last Hope. The only differences being Wolf is in a jockey's crouch and wearing a collared shirt and a worried, hopeless stare. The color scheme is duplicated as well, because according to this cover artist all men on book covers should wear tan pants and light green shirts. But whatever. We have a book to discuss.

So for reasons I can't remember, Parker is headed off to England to compete in Burghley. I think this decision was made in the cut chapter of Parker's last book, actually, making Thoroughbred that much more entertaining with its random fits of editing. Everyone at Whisperwood, plus Melanie and Christina (which amounts to like six people, max) surprises Parker with a going away party, during which Parker attempts to amuse people and small children are unimpressed. A little girl tells him to shut up and open his present, while Christina sits in the corner and stares at her fingernails in some state of emotional oblivion. These two, you guys. I don't even know what to do with them. If only they'd had some sort of break up sex scenario in the back of Parker's truck before he left for England.

...I am totally going to believe that is what happened from now on. Anyway! So, fresh from that ordeal, Parker gets on a plane headed for Heathrow and is subjected to the horrors of this blond girl who is messy and loud. Granted, I can feel Parker's pain here because no one wants to be stuck in a tube for over seven hours with someone who will not shut up about pointless shit you don't care about, especially when they start chastising you for not using proper British sayings. It is the WC in England, thank you. You Americans and your bathrooms. Go back to the colonies, yank!

Seriously, I would like to say that there isn't a lot of pointless chatter about British slang, but there is and it can't be helped. Upon arriving in England, Parker acts like he's shocked that England is its own country apart from the United States. They drive on the left hand side of the road! They say loo and cheerio all the time. Gasp! They have their own currency and their vending machines only take that currency. WHAT HAS THE WORLD COME TO.

Okay, look. I know there are stupid people in this world. People try to pay with foreign money way more than we logical people know, I'm sure. Hell, the turnpike in Ohio is all with the "Only US Currency" signs plastered all over, suggesting that more than a few people try to throw Canadian coins at the tollbooth workers. But the thing here is that Parker kinda sorta definitely lived in England for most of his formative years. And he's shocked that the cars are driving on "the wrong side" of the road. And that sentence even came with an exclamation point. Let's all feel smug and/or visualize smacking Parker right across the face. It's okay. He deserves it.

So, upon arriving in London, Parker is lured into helping blond girl find her errant passport and his ride presumes he died in flight and abandons him. So Parker tries to scrounge up a cab that will leave the greater London area, of which only one will deign to honor Parker's request. Somehow they pass by Big Ben on their way from the airport to the country, which is quite a mighty detour. It's like twenty miles from Heathrow to Big Ben. Anyway, so Parker meets up with the Chillinghams, who are hosting Parker as a favor to Lavinia. Don't worry, you guys. The Chillinghams are super sweet and way nicer than Lavinia, which Parker goes on and on about because he hates his parents with an intense passion that honestly worries me. Down at the barn, Parker instantly starts acting like a complete ass hat the second someone talks to him, because he is an insecure goob who can't talk to others like a normal person. No, not Parker. Everyone is trying to find fault in him immediately and no one will ever give him a chance to blah blah blah.

Basically, the whole book is Parker acting like an arrogant twat and people giving him the side eye, which only enrages him into acting more like an arrogant twat. Then some kids talk bad about him behind his back and that's the beginning of the end for Parker and England. Or so we'd all like to think.

So, his lessons go horribly because, well, Parker is an arrogant twat. I mean, really, what were we all expecting? Then he falls a lot and people point and laugh. And Parker won't listen to anyone's advice, naturally, because Parker is a non-listener of advice. It is like his chosen profession. So Dalton, guy who was going to help Parker in England before deciding that Parker's attitude isn't worth it, runs off to a clinic after saying Parker should enter Merebrook, a tiny competition to get his feet wet.

Bah. A tiny competition you say? Parker is better than that! Or whatever. I don't even know anymore. But he goes and he insists on taking Ozzie with him and then he's like why am I such an idiot? Ozzie can't even jump things, much less act stable for five seconds. This is the horse that spends a whole chapter gallivanting around England by himself. Good going, Parker.

Oh, yeah, and the blond girl is Fiona, the Chillingham's granddaughter, who is now staying with them. Parker is sure that she is out to ruin his life. Also, the maid doesn't like him. And the assistant trainer doesn't like him. And the kids think he's stupid and fake. It's SPLENDID.

At Merebrook, it turns out that everyone on the face of the earth is there. And then Foxy steps in a badger hole and is scratched, leaving Parker with Ozzie the Unstable. After a gloriously horrible dressage test (but that's always a throwaway event, apparently, because no one likes dressage), Parker says SCREW THIS and decides that after this event they will leave England with its bangers and mash and coin currency. COIN DOLLARS ARE STUPID, says Parker. He is OUT. But he decides to just have fun during cross country, and miraculously this is the key. Moment of enlightenment achieved! Parker can now progress on to the next round.

Show jumping also goes well, and by some miracle Parker wins the show. Only during all of this he runs into Alexander the Grape, an old school friend with a fondness for sweets, who tells him he's an arrogant twat and he has always been an arrogant twat. Also? So was Dalton! That's why the two never get along, or something. And then the assistant trainer calls Parker an arrogant twat, and Parker agrees. Then Parker tells Dalton what an arrogant twat he is, and Dalton accepts Parker's self-realization and decides to train him.

I am not sure how winning the show caused Parker to realize that he's an insecure moron with an arrogant streak, but it did. Now we can move on to other things, like oddities.
  • Great Expectations. Is this like satire? Just what the hell is this?
  • Parker cannot do math. At least, he can't convert inches into centimeters, which would be a sad day for the American educational system if he hadn't been taught in English private school
  • At one point, Parker hears someone speaking French and German during his walk around the course at Merebrook and later someone says that lots of international competition will be there this year. It's only then that he realizes, ah, those must have been international riders. OH. YOU THINK?
That's really it this time. I was just pretty astonished by Parker's massive display of stupidity in this installment. How he even clothes himself in the morning is anyone's guess.

Next: Lyssa. All glorious 172 pages of her.