Saturday, 29 September 2007

Review: DIANA - The Pennyfields

The Pennyfields is a slightly bizarre book. First of all, like The Boy and The Donkey/The Donkey Race this should be an slightly OT topic, as unlike Diana's pony books, they do not a pony. However the Pennyfields (Pennyfield being the surname of the family) do have a donkey, so this could be classified as a pony book, rather than something like The Battle Of Clapham Common which is obviously not a pony book.

The blurb reads:-

"Gosh! The pig!" cries Marie, leaping to her feet.

In a moment they were on the pavement in time to see the fat white sow dash down a side street. They ran after her. The onlookers roared with laughter, and school boys whistled derisively.

Marie, a fast runner, soon gained on the pig. Jennet was laughting so much she could hardly run at all. She told Soloman to head it, and Soloman, mistaking her order, nipped the pig's heels, causing her to run the faster....

The Pennyfields is a happy story, full of good fun.

I am not sure I agree with the last comment. Of all the words, I dont think happy is the right thing for a book. As for full of good fun.....

The basis of the story is that the Pennyfields want a pony, a canoe and rather bizarrely, a shotgun (if they cant afford a horse). This story is basically an account of them trying to get hold of the money, as they are fed up of being poor.

Well to be honest, I found this book rather boring. It takes place during the Second World War (it was after the third time of reading about the Black Market I finally cottoned on), which accounts for them being poor. This is Diana's third book, being first published in 1949. Albeit rationing did carry on until the 1950s in the UK though. It is the first time that I struggled to finish a P-T book, and to date, the only one. The blurb doesnt help much either, and is to be honest, is one for the true fan of the P-T books. Thankfully it is not an expensive book on ebay.

The Pennyfields carry out all sorts of bizarre tasks to get their money, including cleaning windows, but in perspective, I suppose during WW2, the men who would normally do these kind of things would be in the trenches, or in P.O.W. camps. The only men around would be too old, or too injured to do these things. Though, why would you want to clean windows, when they were blacked out at night and you couldnt see much through them anyway, with all the safety tape on them should they be in an area where a bomb would have landed. In most cases the things that they would be doing, most children I suspect would do them without pay, as part of the "war effort".

Although there are a few incidents, there is nothing spectacular about this book, it is not one that grabs you and unlike the pony books, isnt very interesting for any child. This is the first time I am struggling to say anything about this book. In the end, they do get the pony, though it is unclear (thankfully) whether or not they get the shotgun. Like I said, this is one for the true P-T fan.

Review: DIANA - Only A Pony

Only A Pony is the final book in the Augusta/Christina series. Interestingly, this is published much later than the earlier series, and like most of the P-T's later books, the first edition is a paperback. I Wanted a Pony was first published in 1946, Three Ponies and Shannan was published in 1947 and A Pony To School was first published in 1950. It is rather strange to think that Only A Pony was first published in 1980, some 30 years after the last offering. Perhaps Armada put pressure on Diana to come up with an new pony book (as apart from the Pony Seekers series, and The Long Ride Home) this was one of the last books she wrote. Or maybe Diana had some fondness for Christina and Augusta, and wanted to, albeit briefly, revive them? Maybe more was planned but as the gap had been so long between the rest of the series that people didnt share the same fondness for them and this was not the same success commercially as the previous books?

Maybe also it is a P-T trait (or even a twin trait), there is a gap of 15 years between Christine's Phantom Horse and the subsequent book in the series Phantom Horse Comes Home? Josephine did not suffer from that trait, although in her series there are a couple of gaps, nothing as long as those two.

This book is not illustrated. 

The blurb reads:-

"Who's there?" cried Christina.

Moonlight shone through the stable window, Lucifer gave a low growl and, trembling, I raised the poker. Then our hearts missed a beat. Staring at us with an expression of interest was a small roan pony.

Also hidden in the stable is Nico, a young boy who has run away from home to save his pony from a cruel horse dealer. Augusta and Christina agree to help him, but soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and heading for danger...

The book begins with Christina and Augusta being left alone, with the exception of Mignon, a sort of French help. However Mignon leaves them, which means that they are totally left alone. But that does not bother them, as they can cook on their own (Christina being the kind of person she was in Three Ponies and Shannan meant that she never had too cook). Why some people should not be able to cook their own stuff, in the 1980s I do not know, as unlike the late 1940s/1950s, servants are less commonplace. Also, the illogical time gap means that Lucifier, Christina, Augusta, Daybreak and Serenade havent aged, and certainly the animals would be dead by then (or the ponies extremely old!). Maybe this was supposed to take place in the early 1950s, but there is no setting (time wise) given in this book. But we'll ignore that. It is during their time alone that they discover Nico and his pony, who is called Rainbow.

It turns out that like the pony in the previous book, Rainbow needs reschooling and is being threatened with being sold by Nico's father, so to avoid this fate (Christina and Augusta boast of being able to reschool problem ponies), they agree to hide this pony. However he is later found, and there is a nasty incident involving a tower, and Nico behaves like a wild animal, frightened to get caught, because of what would happen to Rainbow.

But things, like most pony books do work out. There is a brief revisit to Augusta by her cousins and her aunt, who we first met in I Wanted a Pony. Although her cousins treat her with some disgust, there is a much better atmosphere and slightly friendlier attitude than the last time we met them.

All in all it is a enjoyable book. To me, it does not have the same charm as the earlier books in the series but still, that could be due to the gap between them. It is probably the easiest to get into, and one of the better ones. This should appeal to most people, though with the addition of Nico, there is an element of it being "of the times", when books in the 1980s were watered down, and with the exception of the P-T's, being poor quality. But it should appeal to most people anyway.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Review: DIANA - A Pony To School

A Pony To School is the continuation of the Augusta/Christina series, and is the third. I am not sure what colour Clown (the pony referred to the title), is as in my copy (an 1978 Armada edition) he is clearly pictured and described as being skewbald, but in earlier editions he is a grey. Whether the previous editions are wrong, or Armada (in some fit of insanity) changed the original colour of the pony, I do not know. Having only had this edition in my fair hands, I cannot confirm or deny this. But now, just having seen another edition (published by Severn House), which shows a brown pony on the cover, I strongly suspect that somewhere down the line the colour has been changed.

The blurb reads (taken from the Armada edition on the right):-

As we rode home, I thought of how Clown had cowered in fear when Ted Dunn had finally managed to catch him. I wondered if Christina and I would ever turn him into a well-schooled pony. Then suddenly I was determined to succeed at all costs, not because he was beautiful, but because I never wanted him to look so miserable and frightened again.

Then Augusta and Christina discover that the skewbald pony is a rearer - and if they cant cure him of his dreadful habit he will have to be destroyed...

The original book (illustrated cover) is illustrated by Anne Bullen. However the later edition (the one with the photographic cover) is not illustrated. 

Admittedly this book is balanced a bit more in favour towards Augusta than the previous series (and last week's) title Three Ponies and Shannan since this book is told by either Christina or Augusta, every other chapter is by one of the two. Interestingly, this is a similar style that is used in Diana's joint work Fair Girls and Grey Horses, but still, you cant help feeling that the emphasis is put more on Christina.

Christina is a more nicer and rounded character than the spoilt person she was in Three Ponies and Shannan, but this book does have a lot of an element of fantasy about it. With most of Diana's books, you can imagine that the events which do happen in them could have happened in the 40s, 50s etc (or whenever the book was set), but to give 2 young people, an rearer is not at all wise. As the sisters admitted in Fair Girls and Grey Horses, they learnt to automatically reject and definitely steer clear of rearers. Secondly, most rearers cannot be cured, unless you are fortunate enough to have one that was caused by a simple case of a badly fitting saddle (and are wise enough to sort out a proper fitting saddle). I am not talking about horses that have reared once because of genuine fright or ones that have been trained to do so on command. Clown is also a 5 year old, which is even more deadly. Even more, when Ted Duanne (Clown's owner) got them to take on the pony, he "neglected" to mention that he was a rearer.

Still there is a nice reference to a book called Equitation, which presumably is a reference to Henry Wynmalen’s Equitation, a book which heavily influenced all three sisters.

It is a good book, which seems to urging on the moral high ground that if something goes wrong with a young pony, it is best to start reschooling straight away. Which is what they do. The story is basically an account of what happens when they start reschooling, and the incidents which happen when Clown is ridden. However, they do start to discover the cause of Clown's rearing, which again, makes a good moral for this story, that a good rider/owner should always check if there is a cause for a pony's misbehaviour, too many riders say "the pony is a bad one", when a vet/saddler check or a course of lessons could stop it. Thankfully this book has a happy ending, and obviously the pony does not rear. There is a tragedy in the story though.

Incidentally, the subject of dangerous ponies is not a subject not forgotten about - the book Cassidy in Danger/This Pony is Dangerous is about a potentially dangerous pony too. I wonder if in Diana's pony schooling life, she always took on the "dangerous" ones?

I feel that this book is the second best (or even the best) out of the series, as it is a lighter and better tone (not to mention better written) than the others. If you can sit through Three Ponies and Shannan without giving up, then I can guarantee you will enjoy this one more. I also feel that this is one of the better Diana books too. The final one in the series is Only A Pony, which I will be covering next week. I will also be doing an extra review next week too, the book to be decided.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Review: DIANA - Three Ponies and Shannan

Three Ponies and Shannan is the sequel to last week's book: I Wanted A Pony. Unlike I Wanted A Pony, this focuses on Christina, who through a Pony Club camp, meets Augusta, the star of the previous book. Unfortunately, for some reason, that is the tone of the rest of the series (A Pony To School and Only A Pony). I have no idea why Diana chose to take that route, as now Augusta is resigned to be a secondary character (if somewhat minor) now. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that it is not in the same series as I Wanted A Pony.

This edition is not illustrated. 

The blurb reads:-


The barn looked romantic in the moonlight and the ponies seemed to be pleased to see me...but my knees knocked, my hands shook. Filled with despair, I crept forward. Did a drowned boy await me? As I gazed into the dark depths of the well, I could see no red hair, no grasping hand, nothing but the bubbles on the water...

Then suddenly there was a splash, and Terence appeared, desperately trying to keep himself afloat. His face was not deadly pale like those of drowning people described in books, but he appeared frantic and struck out widely with his arms, crying: "Help me. Quick, help me!"

Discounting the lack of Augusta, this makes an interesting story. Christina is obviously a rich girl, and in some ways, rather like Augusta's cousins. Her life is involved with nothing but shows, but to me, she seems richer than Augusta's cousins, having a butler (apart from a groom, Augusta's cousins have only a maid) as well as groom. There is talk of Lobster , which even in these days, are not cheap. Through a series of events, she managed to get a dog (that is where the Shannan bit comes from), though she has the three ponies already.

The book goes along quite nicely and nothing extraordinary happens (unless you count the incidents with Shannan, which make pleasant reading), until the camp. Apart from the aforementioned meeting of Augusta, she is forced, through Shannan's adventures to change herself (even falling into a pond at one point, and later, saving Terence), as previously she had been incredibly spoilt, not daring to look after the ponies herself (which is what the other characters of the story do). Her parents do spoil her, so much so, that she hadnt got to think for herself - even to the point it was a sin to get muddy. The gymkhana at the end makes a good end to the story.

It is a easy book to get into, and not too heavy going, unlike some of Diana's, but still for me, the shift of focus in the rest of the series onto Christina rather than Augusta, is somewhat of an annoyance. If this had been a focus on Christina, and the rest of the series had been equally on both of them (since Augusta turns out to be pretty important), then it could be forgiven.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Review: DIANA - I Wanted A Pony

I Wanted a Pony is the book I have chosen for this week.

It has a special place in my heart. Not only because this is Diana's first ever book on her own (it was published in 1946 - the same year as her joint work It Began with Picotee), but it was also my first Diana book. This edition dates from the 1970s, but it was bought second hand in the early-mid 1990s ( where I bought it from closed down in 1997). The original price is 20p, but I paid 40p (the price tag is still written inside). Also, this is the first book she wrote which is part of a series (the others being Three Ponies and Shannan, A Pony To School and Only A Pony). I will cover the rest of the series over the next few weeks.

Besides, at one point, we all can relate to the title, I am sure that 99% (if not all) of my readers are pony mad (is it possible to love pony books and not like ponies?) and of course, we wanted a pony at one point. Some of us are still waiting, whereas for some of it did come true.

This edition is illustrated, but the illustrator is not credited. However they do look like they are the same illustrations as in the first edition, which are by Anne Bullen.

The blurb on the back reads:-

"Dear Augusta - I shall be very greatful if you will accept this small present in return for so gallantly saving my farm from being destroyed....."

Fifteen pounds all for herself. Augusta cant believe her luck. Now she would be able to have her dearest wish - a pony of her own. Her three cousins, who think they are such marvellous riders, laugh at Augusta and her little grey pony. But she works hard at schooling him in preparation for the Stokely Show; and even though her cousins are very discouraging she has a surprise in store for them, for Augusta and Daybreak start winning prizes of their own.

If you can get past the fact that you can no longer buy a pony for £15, then this makes an interesting book and one I enjoy. I like the fact that it is told from Augusta's point of view, and the sheer bad manners (I get the feeling they never wanted her to live at their house) that her cousins show makes a good background for the story. They live in a place called Fledgewood, which is in Flintshire, which bears a bit of truth. As all of the PT's books are based in the UK (most of them England, though there are a couple of them in Scotland), there is a case of there being a real life Flintshire, whereas all the places they mention are completely fictional. I wonder if Diana knew that (and Christine, as one of her books also mentions a Flintshire too)? (I live in the county bordering the real life Flintshire by the way, and used to live 2 miles from the border.) Only in the real life Flintshire, there certainly isnt a Fledgewood (as mentioned in my first post, I am in North East Wales, and 99% of the places have Welsh names). Anyway, her cousins life revolves around shows, and one of them, Jill, even gets a showjumper in the book. The consequences of what happens when Jill tries out a potential purchase, Topper is a great addition to the book.

Anyway, her cousin, though not nasty, leave Augusta on her own, as there is no suitable pony for her (the last time they saw her riding was not successful, so they do not trust her with any of their ponies. However, as Augusta admits, she did improve after that, so she would have probably ok on their ponies), so at one point, she does a walk after her own, and this in turn, causes her to discover the fire, which leads to the fifteen pounds. As obviously the fifteen pounds let her buy the pony (though she did have to make a few personal sacrifices herself) that is how she got Daybreak (without her aunt's or cousin's knowledge). Although Augusta does have a few problems with Daybreak, these are soon sorted out, and you can tell she had fun.

It is good that she could prove to her cousins that she can ride and win rosettes, though how she got one of them would probably be banned today, in this modern health and safety mad world. Her cousins attitudes changes too at the end, though we will never know how much, as unfortunately her cousins do not feature in subsequent books in this series. All in all, a good book.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Review: DIANA - Janet Must Ride

Thankfully this is the last of the complaints about the people who have installed the central heating. They came on Tuesday, and finished on Wednesday. Everything is now put away, except for the books. A lot of the walls they had touched had rather dirty and my nice wall where the bookshelves were, was instead of being a nice "country cream", was a rather dirty colour. So consequently that wall had to be repainted, along with a few odd patches in other rooms. I am just waiting for the second coat to dry before I put the books back. Although for some reasons, they did steal a lightbulb from the hall (why I ask? A lightbulb isnt expensive. I mean, you can buy a couple from the poundshop and that particular one wasnt an expensive energy efficient one - though I do have those in my flat - it cost me 98p for a pack of two from Tescos). So once again, a random choosing.

Janet Must Ride is one of Diana's earliest ones, published in 1953. The blurb reads (taken from the picture with the photographic cover):-

A girl groom has a wonderful job.........

But Janet sometimes wondered whether she would be anything more than a dreary, horsy person, remaining a groom all her life, and never achieving her ambition to become a champion rider.

Then the accident happens, just before the Big Event. Miriam is injured - and Corrymeela riderless. The cry goes up "Janet must ride!"

"For a moment I sat quite still picturing myself in the dressage arena. Would I ride well enough to satisfy Major Fuller? Worst of all, would I let down the family, or their beautiful mare, Corrymeela...?"

Ironically, Corrymeela (albeit with a slight difference in the number of r's used) is a reused name, the same name is used in her collaboration with her sisters, in her first book, It Began with Picotee. I wonder if the sisters chose a name each, or left the name picking to Diana?

The photographic edition is not illustrated, however the first edition (the one with an illustrated cover) is illustrated by Mary Gernat. 

But putting that aside, again, I feel that this is an ok effort. I have no particular dislike or like for the book, it is a tale of Janet doing hard work. I feel that Janet is being unrealistic, very few grooms these days actually dream of becoming riders in their own right, but many do want to work for the top class of their field, whether it be the showjumping, eventing, dressage, or showing sphere of the equestrienne field. Even if grooms do dream, there is certainly the wrong way to do it. But this book could be a product of it's time, maybe things were different then? I dont know. I'll leave that up to the reader.

But this tale makes an interesting read, and apart from a few odd details, it is still got the same charm as it did when it was first published. It's fairly easy to get into, unlike some of Diana's other pony books (particularly the early years). The plot is good, and the blurb gives it away what happens, but it leaves a surprising twist at the end. An interesting and good read all the same, particularly if you like the kind of books that involve people that work for a living with horses, instead of it being handed to them on a silver platter.