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.

May 1, 2012

Racing Into Trouble

Racing Into Trouble
Book 2: Timber Ridge Riders
by Maggie Dana
2012
Ever since Kate McGregor arrived at Timber Ridge Stables, Angela Dean has been making trouble for her. Maybe she’s angry because Kate’s a better rider than she is, or maybe she’s jealous because Kate’s the only one who’s allowed to ride Buccaneer, the barn’s willful new horse. To further complicate matters, a new girl — Jennifer West — moves into the neighborhood and Angela sets out to impress her. But when Angela makes a fool of herself in front of Jennifer, things begin to go wrong and Kate gets the blame. Is Angela behind the trouble? Kate and her best friend, Holly Chapman who’s learning to walk and ride again, can’t be sure. But they do know one thing. If Angela’s on the warpath, Kate is heading for trouble, and fast.
Volume two shakes things up pretty dramatically in Timber Ridge Riders, which begins with a couple of new additions: the extra excitable Buccaneer and the newest rider at the barn, Jennifer. The resident antagonist, Angela, has high hopes that she will commandeer both Buccaneer and Jennifer for herself, but it's pretty clear from the get go that both Buccaneer and Jennifer are way out of Angela's league. Angela can only handle well-trained, push-button horses, which Buccaneer is definitely not, and Jennifer appears to be polite and has spiky hair and a nose piercing. Le gasp! Who is this magical girl who seems to have some sort of personal style that is not normally defined as "grubby" and dares to ride horses? And why can't there be more of them in horse books?

So anyway. Liz, Holly's mom and resident adult, determines that only she will ride and train Buccaneer, but when she sprains her ankle Kate steps up to pick up all the extra chores around the barn. Naturally, Kate and Buccaneer hit it off over a roll of minty Life Savers and Liz hesitantly gives her the go ahead to exercise him. Magician, awesome horse from the previous book, is probably wondering why no one loves him anymore. Poor guy. Kate romps around on Buccaneer, only to be seen by Angela and, in an odd turn of events, winds up accidentally allowing Angela to go careening off on the horse. This ends in disaster, and since Angela is not to be shamed for the stupidity she gets herself into, people are going to pay. People being, well, mainly Kate.

And so begins the truly awe inspiring campaign to drive Kate completely insane. Antagonists everywhere could learn at the feet of Angela, because she is something to behold. Granted, some of her actions are based on pure chance, but the girl knows how to capitalize. And because Holly and Kate are too afraid to tell Liz what is going on for fear that Angela's mom will fire her and kick them all out of Timber Ridge for being competent, Angela's campaign is a smashing success. Everyone loses faith in Kate, who is eventually fired and forced to garden for the rest of the summer. (Ha! I'm kidding...or am I? Dun dun dun.)

Seriously. It was like watching a plane crash in slow motion. It just keeps tumbling to the ground and you keep expecting it to pull up and it just...doesn't. It hits the ground. Angela is officially the horsey main character slayer. Long live Angela! (No, not really. I don't like horse book antagonists that much. I just wish Brad Townsend had been this effective. I would have laughed and laughed...but that's besides the point.)

Anyhoo, the other major development is Holly's walking ability. She's been battling through two books to get over her hysterical paralysis, determined to one day ride Magician again. For some reason, no one takes this girl to a therapist, but that's neither here nor there. We're just waiting for her to climb out of her wheelchair and insert herself in the sort of romance that may or may not be budding between Kate and Adam. Love triangle of doom is on, you guys. Prepare yourselves!

We end the book by officially declaring that no one likes Angela. No wonder she acts out all the time.

All said, this is a solid middle grade. The horse crazy tweens will lap it up, and that's okay by me because I'm again charmed by the fact that none of the main characters irritate me. There is crop usage (and visualizing smacking people in the face with the crop, so all is not perfect in main character land). And none of the horses act like special flowers waiting to apply themselves after the appropriate dosage of love and a well-timed, long winded speech. It's appreciated. Thanks Maggie Dana! I'll be on the look out for book three.

To get your own copy of Racing Into Trouble, head on over to Amazon or B&N. It's available in print, as well as being Kindle and Nook friendly!