By Mary Newhall
Samantha is in love and has finally found the perfect horse. But is her luck about to run out?
Samantha and Tor's month-long honeymoon in Ireland turns into a much longer stay when Samantha meets Finn, a massive sporthorse that is a descendant of Red Rum, steeplechasing's greatest horse. Samantha is enjoying such success with Finn that she and Tor settle into the idea that they'll be in Ireland for the rest of their lives.
Then Tor gets an urgent call to return home to Kentucky. With the Grand National just weeks away, Tor urges Samantha to stay in Ireland, but she still finds herself torn between her husband and her beloved horse. If only she didn't have such a nagging feeling about leaving Finn behind. She's sure something horrible is about to happen.
This is relatively accurate, and 100% reflective of the stupidity of Samantha's attitude in these two books. Who knew that getting married makes you act like a ten-year-old again?
Here we've got another brunette Samantha and another a veiny horse. Oh god, and another beribboned riding helmet! They are apparently racing in a steeplechase with the smallest field (read: nonexistent) in the history of steeplechasing. You can tell they're in Ireland because everything is green. And pink. Apparently it's a rule that you can't have a Thoroughbred cover without pink these days.
Samantha and Tor are standing in the nursery that Ashleigh et. al. cleaned out in the last book, wondering if it'll be big enough. I sure hope so, after you subjected your friends to a day of your tedious reminiscing. The gleesome threesome come back, this time to paint the room. Samantha goes down to the barn and runs into Kaitlin, who makes the mistake of asking why Samantha and Tor moved back from Ireland and how they got Finn McCoul the Wonder Horse (not to be confused with a Wonderpony). Samantha settles down for a long winter's nap, or at least a 136-page story.
So Samantha and Tor go on a month-long honeymoon at an equestrian bed-and-breakfast in Ireland, which is run by Jimmy and Hannah Hollis and their daughter, Ghyllian, whom you may remember from fine literary works such as The Price of Fame and Star's Inspiration. Apparently this is the real Celtic Meadows (which may explain why I was confused every time Ghyllian showed up to run her horses in Kentucky). They meet a beautiful weanling called Finn McCoul, a son of Red Rum, who "won the Grand National Steeplechase three times and placed second twice." Great. At least we got that over with. They go on a bunch of trail rides and buy sweaters and eat a lot and Samantha falls in love with Finn.
Back in Kentucky, Samantha is all mopey about missing Ireland. Going to a diner makes her think about Hannah's beef stew. For Christmas, she buys a "white wool fisherman's sweater for Tor and a coffee cup with a shamrock design on it for Tor's father." Okay, seriously, Sammy? You bought him a mug when you could go to Goodwill and get ten of them for a dollar? Next you're probably going to buy Cindy a pair of stonewashed jeans with shamrocks on them.
Then Jimmy Hollis randomly calls from Ireland to say that he wants to concentrate on flat-racing at Celtic Meadows, and do Samantha and Tor want to come over and handle the eventing side? Shocker! I can't believe it took 58 pages to get to that. So, surprising no one, Samantha and Tor move to Ireland (after dumping Whisperwood on Mr. Nelson and Shining on Mandy). Samantha decides she is the luckiest person in the world. I think she also said that in Samantha's Journey and Bridal Dreams. Let's hope it goes better this time, Sammy.
Samantha trains Finn for eventing and says he's "the easiest horse I've ever trained." Oh god, it's Storm's Ransom reincarnated! Someone better call Mulder and Scully! He must really be a Wonder Horse, because a mere one paragraph later, he is four years old and they are competing in the Badminton Horse Trials in England. Finn does well in dressage, but stumbles and bows a tendon during cross-country. The vet diagnoses him with pedal osteitis and says he doesn't know if he'll ever jump again. This makes perfect sense because it's "the same disease Red Rum had, and he still raced and won." I guess we're not done with the famous horsie references after all. A second vet also suggests that they stop racing him, but Samantha says he "love[s] to race too much to give up now." I can't decide if this is supposed to be one of those "unlikely undersized weakling foal who grew up to take blue ribbons at the National Horse Show" stories or just really, really irresponsible. I mean, because it's Thoroughbred, I know he's not going to die (unless he's Storm, or Wonder, or Black Night, or Midnight Wanderer, or … maybe I should stop). But in real life, I don't think people say, "Oh yeah! You love to race so much that we should just ignore that fractured cannon bone and turn you out on the track!"
Samantha walks Finn on the beach and exercises him in the water. The vet says he's doing great. I guess Ghyllian and Samantha have been talking to Leslie D'Andrea. Jimmy wants to prep him for a steeplechase. The vet says, "I don't care much for steeplechases—I think they're hard on the horses. But if you're going to race him, now's the time." WTF is wrong with these people?
Samantha jockeys Finn in a steeplechase at Punchestown and wins. They point him to the Grand National, until Ian calls to say that Tor's dad is sick and Tor needs to come home. Samantha decides to go with him, thinking it'll just be a short visit. At the hospital they meet his fiancée, Helen, a nurse, who tells them that it's more serious than they thought: he has cancer. Tor's dad tells them that they need to move to Arizona for the "warm, dry climate." Gee, I didn't know he also had the galloping cough. Tor and Samantha decide to stay in Kentucky and take over Whisperwood. (At this point we smack into Racing Parker, in which Christina is twelve, riding Sterling, and wants to switch to taking lessons with Sammy, because she is a "world-class three-day-event rider.")
They watch the Grand National on TV, and Finn breaks down while jumping over the last fence. Jimmy calls from Ireland to say he's torn a tendon and won't race again. This gives Samantha a chance to mope again (she should take lessons from Christina), only instead of missing Ireland, she misses Finn.
Tor asks her to accompany him on a surprise trip to the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York. Hey, I know where that is. I drive by there every time I go home to visit my parents. Tor tells Samantha they're there to look at a stallion he's thinking of buying for their breeding operation, who turns out to be, of course, Finn. I'm sure this is all very romantic, Tor, but number one, I would be really annoyed if my husband agreed to buy a horse without asking me, and number two, if Finn is just like Red Rum and all that, are you sure you want to pass on those weak pedal bones to another generation? I mean, let's not forget here that in TB-land, every colt is just like his father and every filly is just like her mother. It's a good thing Red Rum didn't have a superdrive. Tor tells Samantha that Finn will be in quarantine for a while and then will be shipped to Kentucky. So basically, you guys took an exciting flight to New York just so you could look at a horse's nose. Also a prudent financial choice, Tor. Samantha waxes eloquent about how lucky she is again.
We come back to the present, where Samantha is shocked to find that several hours have passed. Kaitlin is still patiently listening (I picture her looking like Marius in this hilarious scene from the Les Misérables movie) and thinking, "Oh god, why did I agree to get into this? Next she's going to start telling me how she met my mother." Cindy, Ashleigh, and Christina show off the freshly painted nursery, and Samantha and Tor tell them that—surprise!—they're expecting twins. I bet NO ONE saw that coming after all the hints people dropped in previous books.
Points of Interest:
- Samantha says, "I hope we get at least a few days of sun while we're here." Haha, nice try, Sammy. Maybe if you stay in Ireland for six years, you'll get summer on one or two days.
- We find out that Caroline is living out of the country with her husband, Mr. Presumably-Justin. Apparently this is the way to ditch any Griffens we don't like; Rory went overseas, too, after Ashleigh's Diary. (When we don't like Townsends, we just don't mention them, and I guess when we don't like the Grahams/Reeses, we just kill them off without ever explaining exactly how Christina is related to Melanie.)
- Cindy is conveniently not home for Christmas because she's in New York. I guess that means this is supposed to be set around the time as Cindy's Bold Start, which I don't think is right—if Sammy is 23, just turning 24, then Cindy should still be 17 and in high school, and don't forget, you have to cram Cindy's Desert Adventure in there somewhere (much as I would like to forget it). Oh well. The less I have to deal with Cindy, the better.
- Dress alert! Sammy wears an emerald necklace and a gold taffeta gown with a halter top and a full skirt. It sounds kind of prom-like, but no worse than anything Ashleigh, Christina, and/or Cindy have worn to the prom. Oh, and I should mention she wears this to a party or something. Not to an actual steeplechase, though I wouldn't put it past her.
- Samantha also wears an emerald-and-sapphire bracelet, which Ian apparently gave her on her wedding day. If you believe Samantha's Journey, they kept nothing of Suzanne's except her green dress and security blankie riding boots, but previous Joanna-authored books make reference to some of her other possessions, so it makes sense that they would have some keepsakes. I think it's also likely that Suzanne's parents still had some of her family mementos.
Next up: #67: Breaking the Fall and #68: Kaitlin's Wild Ride have already been reviewed by Claire. Next up from me: Melanie's Double Jinx, notable for the amazing cover art! You'll be wowed! Stay tuned!