Feb 4, 2013

Try not to yawn as much through this recap as I did through the book. Thoroughbred #60: Taking the Reins

Taking the Reins
Thoroughbred #60

By Jennifer Chu

August 2003

It's time for Christina and Melanie to make some big decisions.

Christina loves being a jockey. But a heartbreaking accident at the Belmont track forces her to reconsider veterinary medicine. Working with a horse that has Charismatic's bloodlines reminds Christina of Charismatic's amazing story—how he unexpectedly won the Derby and the Preakness in 1999, only to go down in the Belmont with a broken leg. It would feel pretty great to help horses in similar situations. But how can she turn her back on Wonder's Star?

Meanwhile, Melanie finds her relationship with her cousin strained when she decides to ride a horse for the very couple Christina holds responsible for her accident. For Melanie, her prospects as a jockey seem clear, but her future with the people she loves—Christina, Jazz, and even Image—is less certain. How will Melanie prove to Christina that she puts the people she loves first?

The Summary:

I will give it a generous 2/10.  Yes, there is a heartbreaking accident.  Christina goes on and on about being a vet (again).  Other than that, everything, including that entire second paragraph, is bullshit.  Their relationship is strained for, like, maybe half a page.

The Cover:

Um, the less said about this travesty, the better.  Are there even stirrups on that saddle?  Why does Christina look like she's riding a rocking horse?  Why is that horse's head a veiny mess?  (Though to be fair, if I were having a "heartbreaking accident," my face would probably be a veiny mess too.)  Also, let's note that the front-cover tag says "Will Charismatic's tragedy cause Christina to give up her dreams of being a jockey?"  Sorry, HarperCollins, not even close.

The Plot:

This book zips back and forth between Christina and Melanie, until it doesn't anymore.  So chapter 1 is a Christina chapter.  We pick up after the Belmont—literally right after; Christina's still standing in the winner's circle talking to reporters—when Christina runs into Patrick and Amanda Johnston, those annoying California people.  They ask her to ride one of their fillies, Noble Answer (Nobie). Christina and Parker get back together … right before he goes back to England and she stays at Belmont for the rest of the summer.  Yeah, that makes sense.

Chapter 2:  Melanie wins a race on Blue Streak for the Johnstons.  She talks to Jazz on the phone.  Jazz tells her that Image is doing well, but Brad's served them with a massive bill, shocking no one.  Melanie angsts about whether she should give Image's first foal to Brad to pay the bills.

Chapter 3:  Christina rides some horses for the Johnstons and agrees to ride Matter of Time (Matt) in the Suburban.  She goes out to dinner with Aaron, and tells him that she got back together with Parker.  Burn.  Aaron gets sick, and Christina exercises Calm Before the Storm (Callie).

Chapter 4:  Melanie and Jazz have a hot date that includes walking Image and eating turkey and ham sandwiches.  Damn, they rival Christina and Parker for Passionate Romance of the Thoroughbred Century.  Jazz says he wants to buy another racehorse.

Chapter 5:  Christina rides Callie in a race.  He stumbles.  She's not sure what to do, but he keeps running, so she lets him … until he stumbles again.  He goes down, shattering some bones and tearing some tendons.  They haul him off to the vet clinic, which I think is the same as when they tell us at the shelter that a cat went to "the barn program."

Chapter 6:  Melanie asks Cindy for advice about being a jockey.  I’m not sure that Cindy is the right person to ask about this.  Melanie goes to Whitebrook for dinner with Ashleigh, Mike, Ian, Beth, Kevin, Sammy, Tor, Cindy, Ben … Jesus, what is this, a Whitebrook reunion?  These characters actually still talk to each other?  You could've fooled me. Christina calls to tell them about the accident.

Chapter 7:  The vet, Dr. Reuter, tries to operate on Callie, but he has "no chance of a meaningful recovery."  His owner, Marisa, agrees to have him put down.  Christina asks to see him, but the vet says that "he's in too much pain to recognize anyone."  Ahh, not bad work here, Jennifer, 'cause sometimes this is true.  (I may be a little bitter about this trope, having recently reread Goodbye, Midnight Wanderer.)  Christina gets all self-flagellating (wow, that sounds dirty) and blames herself for Callie's death.

Chapter 8:  Melanie goes to Belmont.  The Johnstons offer her a ride on one of their horses, Enigmatic, if Christina doesn't take it.

Chapter 9:  Christina is nervous and insecure about riding.  She lets Charisma get away from her during a work.  She's called to an inquiry about Callie's death.  She wonders if the Johnstons rushed him back to the track before he was sound.  Christina declines the ride on Enigmatic, and Amanda tells her that they already asked Melanie as a backup.  Christina proceeds to flip out and wonder how Melanie could possibly consider riding for such awful people who would kill a poor innocent defenseless horse.  Honestly, even for Christina, this is a stretch.

Chapter 10:  Melanie rides Enigmatic.  The stewards have dismissed the inquiry into Callie's death.  Christina is all sulky and crap, until Aaron shows her a tape of the race and she can't see the moment when Callie first stumbled.  After that, she's still all sulky and crap, but tells Melanie she just needs some time, and that she wants to be a vet.  Well, that wasn't so bad.  Only a few books of angsting and moaning; we're making progress here.

Chapter 11:  Christina tours Dr. Reuter's Super Secret Outer Space Other Hemisphere Ten Way vet facility and is all jazzed about being a vet, but decides she has to keep her word to the Johnstons and ride Matt in the Suburban.

Chapter 12:  Jazz comes to Belmont.  He tells Melanie that he made a deal with Brad:  they'll breed Image to Celtic Mist, and Jazz and Brad will share ownership of the foal 51-49.  Jazz and Melanie agree to look for another racehorse.

Chapter 13:  Christina rides Matt in the Suburban.  She's overly cautious, and at first he's 15 lengths off the lead.  Then she decides to snap out of it, and eventually brings him in third.  And thus ends Christina's racing career (I hope).  Thank God.  I've been waiting for this since book 40.

Points of Interest:
  • This book is dedicated to "Barbara, Charlene, Cindy, Dominique, Marisa, and Patrick in honor of all our undergrad adventures," who all pop up as characters.  Barbara, Charlene, and Dominique are Melanie and Katie's friends; Marisa is Callie's owner, and of course Patrick is Patrick Johnston.  There's no Cindy, I guess because it would be too confusing with real!Cindy.  I can't decide if I find this sweet or annoying.
  • We all know that Jennifer Chu was a fan of the books before she ever wrote any of them, which I normally like, but she's very hit-or-miss about the little details she throws in.  She tells us that Cindy missed riding Honor Bright, which is correct; she would've been eighteen (and in Dubai, then New York) when Honor was three.  We also find out that Honor and Glory's daughter, Honor and Glory (how's that for creative?  They must've really been missing Cindy's magic touch with the naming there), ran third in the Derby the year Christina was ten.  However, Jennifer also feels the need to remind us that "Cindy had played a large role in March to Glory's training. The horse had set a record in the Breeders' Cup Classic and had been named Horse of the Year after his three-year-old season."  As if anyone could have forgotten (and believe me, some of us tried).
  • Also, Christina later rides March to Honor, another of Honor and Glory's foals.  I hope they didn’t have more than two; what would they have called it, March to Bright?
  • In a well-meaning but misguided attempt to comfort Christina, Melanie tells her, "You have to believe that Callie will make it, just like Raven and Image did."  Yeah, that helps a lot, Melanie.  So far, I guess the accident count is Melanie 1, Christina 2.
  • Whitebrook has a horse named Charisma, a daughter of Pride, not to be confused with Charismatic, who won the Derby and the Preakness in 1999 but broke down in the Belmont.  His jockey, Chris Antley, acted quickly to save his life.  Does that sound familiar?  I hope so, because that's your Famous Horsie reference of the book.
  • Melanie thinks that maybe "Enigma" would be a good nickname for "Enigmatic."  She really has  been spending time with Cindy.
  • Is it bad that I keep getting this book mixed up with Breaking the Fall?   Not on the basis of plot, just on the basis of title.  (Or maybe on the basis of plot after all; I think Breaking the Fall also features Christina and Melanie supposedly having a "fight" of some sort.)  I was always sort of glad that the Thoroughbred titling convention stayed far, far away from the Baby-Sitters Club-esque style of "Christina and the Broken Leg of Doom," but at the same time, it would be nice if the titles actually helped you keep the storylines straight.

Next up:  The hideously-titled Parker's Passion, already reviewed by Claire.  Next up from me:  I can't believe I'm about to say this, but in comparison to this festival of tedium, I'm almost looking forward to the Samantha Diary of Exposition.

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