Monday, 28 June 2021

Review: JOSEPHINE - Black Swift

Black Swift is this week's book. It was first published in 1991, and was the penultimate book she wrote.

The title causes some confusion, despite it's name it has nothing to do with the Black Beauty's relatives books which were published in the 1970s and 1980s. It has yet to be republished, so can only be found in this edition. However, like the Black Beauty's relatives books, it is told in the same style, which may or may not be a problem, depending if you like it or not.

The blurb reads:-

Born at Radstock Castle during the Civil War, Black Swift is the fastest filly in Sir Thomas Wakefield's stable. Taller and stronger then any horse in England, she is the first new breed with which her owner hopes to repair his battered fortunes. But before she can be put to the test, Black Swift is stolen by Bernard, Sir Thomas's younger son, and taken to the heart of the battlefield.

Written by the famous pony novelist, Josephine Pullein-Thompson this book brilliantly evokes the wild and lawless time that followed the war as well as the great spirit of hope that it brought forth.

Now I am not a big lover of pony point of view books as they seem to follow the Black Beauty stereotype. But I needn't have worried here. It follows the fortunes of Black Swift a mare during the English Civil War. Now living in Wales my school years history teaching were full of Welsh history and more modern history such as the Second World War and the Cold War. I am, it has said to be said a little bit lacking in the knowledge of the English Civil War. So I cannot comment on how accurate the portrayal of the War is in this book. 

It touches on the horrors of the war without being too bloody/violent. Certainly nothing to frighten you. But that doesn't glorify or gloss over the harsh reality: in the book both people and horses die. 

There is plenty of action in this book as barely a page goes by without some let alone a chapter. Though the main focus is on Black Swift it doesnt mean that the human characters are left out. Indeed, without giving too much of the story away they are indeed central.

All in all a satisfying book and the length is just right. I didnt get bored. The ending is somewhat bittersweet but satisfactory. If you're like me and don't generally like pony point of view books then I would highly recommend it. You  might be surprised. If you like history too then it's  a bonus. I think that to make what could be a borefest into an engaging and exciting book is down to Josephine herself as any of the lesser authors couldn't rise up to the challenge. The plot is generally quite good too.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Review: CHRISTINE - The Horse Sale

The Horse Sale was first published in 1960, the same year as Ride By Night. The image to the left is of the first edition, which contains lovely drawings by Sheila Rose. This cover by many is considered to be one of the finest covers that Christine's ever had. Although it has been republished, to me, the two subsequent republications are not as good as this one.

The blurb reads:-

HORSE SALE: April 20th: Wetford Market.

What was the real meaning of this notice and who was going to be affected by it? Olga found to her horror that her beloved gelding Crusoe would have to go; how could she live without him? And the Riding School decided to send it's newest horse, Jupiter. But apart from the inevitable buying and selling what was special about this sale on April 20th? What it to be a day only of broken hearts and empty paddocks?

"Everyone seems to be here," thought Olga, as she gazed at Crusoe for what was probably the last time. And everybody was there - some to buy, some to sell and some to watch. And the outcome...Well Christine Pullein-Thompson surprises us all at the last moment, and you are sure to be amazed at what happens at the end of that extraordinary day.

It is told from the perspective of several characters all of which are going to be heavily effected by the sale. The majority of the characters do not want the sale as the effects are negative on their lives. But Christine has done a few characters whose sale is a positive one. It's a wonderful telling of yin and yang for every negative there is a positive.

There's 12 chapters in my edition which is the first edition. The first chapter sets out the characters of the story which is well written and sets the scene. The majority of the story is all about the preparation of the characters for the sale which is as equally well written. The last few chapters are taken up with the sale and it's effects on the characters concerned both during and after the sale.

It's one of Christine's best works. It's one that explores relationships both horse and human but mostly human. Like all good books everything works out ok in the end but not in a predictable way. The only thing that dates it is one character tries to sell a fridge these days it wouldn't work as due to the way modern life is people wouldn't survive without at the very least a fridge. But we can forgive this little foible.

If you aren't bothered about edition this book isnt terribly hard to find. I urge you to try and read this for the description of characters makes it well worth reading.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Review: CHRISTINE - We Rode To The Sea

We Rode To The Sea is this week's book. It is Christine's first solo book, and was first published in 1948; two years after It Began With Picotee.

The red bound cover is rather a strange one, it is an Collins Crown Library edition. Nobody quite knows it's origin, but it is the only P-T book to have this treatment. Monica Edwards' books Wish For A Pony and The Summer of the Great Secret have these editions. However, this one is dated 1949, the same as the regular first edition. I thought it may be because it originally cost a crown, but my mother says that it would have been an extremely expensive book so that theory is out of the window. Especially considering that Britain had only just come out of the second world war only 3 years ago, and was still on rationing. One theory is that it was a cheap edition of the first edition. I cant tell you how much this originally cost, as mine has been price clipped.

Anyway, the blurb reads:-

The scatterbrained MacGregors set out with five horses and a dog for a riding tour in the Highlands. They lose maps, money and tempers and become involved in a chase after two prisoners. They camp in the glens, eat oatcakes in crofters' kitchens, and at last, coming down the trees, they see the open sea.

If you had not guessed, this book is set primarily in Scotland, a theme similarly replicated in her mother's book We Met Our Cousins (first published in 1937). Interestingly, all editions bar this one and the more commonly seen first edition, have an rather interesting introduction, which reads:-

"Come on," I cried with mad impatience. "What did you see?"
"I saw," said Duncan slowly, "two Germans riding two horses - our horses - Harvester and Landslide. Now can you understand my rage?"

The Macgregors were on a riding tour in the highlands. The war was just over; but food was rationed and escaped German prisoners lurked in the hills. Seven pounds was enough for a holiday for four people, a dog and five horses in those far off years when a loaf of bread could be bought for twopence three farthings. But Alister's wallet vanished and the map was lost and all their watches shopped, while the Macgregors pursued the Germans from glen to glen until they met at last, face to fact on the cliffs above the sea.

This was my first book. Life was different when I wrote it. Horses still travelled on trains in special trucks, and the carriages were full of soldiers and sailors and nearly everything was rationed. It is the book which made my name. I hope you enjoy it.

Christine Pullein-Thompson

It is the only P-T book (and certainly the only Christine one) that features an introduction. Even the Collins Pony Library edition (second picture) features that.

This is a general adventure rather like the later Ride By Night. It's told from the prospective of Hughneena Macgregor. They certainly seem patriotic with references to Scotland a lot throughout the book, with the term "By the blighted hopes of Scotland" used a lot.  It's perhaps the least horsey of CPT's books save her non horsey ones.

Despite this I enjoyed it. The Macgregors have a lot of misfortune including as the blurb suggested losing maps. It's an enjoyable read despite the lack of horsey action. What got me is the wonderful description of the Highlands despite never visited I felt as though I was there. This is due to the PTs excellent writing. Despite everything going wrong I never felt frustrated. This is a excellent read which I never found boring and would recommend to a modern reader. The only thing that dates it is the fact that horses travel by train in the beginning of the book. This is never done these days and thanks to Doctor Beeching there are fewer railway stations than the time that CPT was writing. If you don't like general horsey adventures and generally avoid this I urge you to read this: you may be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

REVIEW: Heroines on Horseback - Jane Badger

Heroines on Horseback is a book by Jane Badger. It was first published in 2013 by Girls Gone By.

The blurb reads:-

The pony book galloped onto the children's book scene with a flick of its rosetted bridle, and has remained a fixture ever since. Brave girls and nervous ones, scruffy ponies and ornaments of the show ring cantered through pony tale after pony tale, all fallen upon by an audience desperate to read anything that reflected their own passion for the pony.

Heroines on Horseback looks at the pony book from its beginning in the 1920s and 1930s to the glory days of the 1940s and 50s and beyond. The pony book expert Jane Badger writes about the lives and contribution of noted exponents, including Primrose Cumming, Monica Edwards, Patricia Leitch, Ruby Ferguson and the Pullein-Thompson sisters, as well as providing a wide-ranging view of the genre as a whole, its themes and developments, illustrators and short stories.

This book has a chapter devoted to the Pullein-Thompson sisters hence why it is on this blog. However I am not going to focus solely on the PT chapter, but a review of the book in general.

This book is ideal for anyone who is interested in the history of the pony book as it covers everything from the early days to the hey days of the pony book of the 1960s and the 1970s. It also covers major illustrators of the pony books. The book is also aimed at adults who want to relive their pony book days. It also covers British authors, which is not surprising as the author is based in the UK. However that's not to mean that the non UK authors are excluded, Elyne Mitchell (an Australian author) does get a mention.

I found it interesting and it gave a quick summary of some of the books without giving the plot away. The author has a knack of keeping the author interested without making the subject into a boring tome - something which could be easily done. The only downside is that it skimmed through the more modern stuff (1990s onwards), briefly giving them a mention. I felt as though they werent given the same time to the book. Perhaps the author simply ran out of room - after all you cant fit everything into a book. Though admittedly there are new pony authors coming out all the time. The major authors (Pullein-Thompsons, K M Peyton) are covered along with lesser authors such as Patience McElwee (though like modern books they arent all covered). Judith M Berrisford (who wrote the longest running pony book series) is another author who is barely covered. However the author has a superb website which is full of biographical information of many authors - I suspect that she didnt want to reiterate what is available essentially for free thus making the book redundant.

The Pullein-Thompson chapter is very informative and full of a wealth of information about the sister, including little known gems. It focuses on their works up until 1970, which means that later books such as the later Phantom Horse series, A Job With Horses (Josephine) are largely forgotten about. It also contains a review of the Black Beauty Family's series by Susanna Forest (author of If Wishes Were Horses).

It makes you want to buy many authors that you missed out as the author of the book has a knack of describing hidden gems.

There was a couple of things that I didnt like. Personally I didnt like the yellow on the front cover, I felt cream or something more neutral would have been more appropriate. Also I didnt like the fact that covers of pony book depicted internally where in black and white - I would prefer them in colour. I suspect that both decisions were taken by the publisher rather than the author however. The black and white does fit in however with the illustrations, of which they are plenty and sympathetically chosen to display what the author is trying to convey. Similarly the quotes of the various pony books are well chosen and fit with what the author is trying to convey well.

It is a well written book and definitely worth the money paid for it. Despite my criticisms, I highly recommend it. Heroines on Horseback is available through Amazon, abebooks, Girls Gone By, Waterstones (at least online, I dont know about their physical stores) as well as through the author's own website (link below). If you order through Jane herself she will sign it for you at no extra cost. (Mine is!),+jane&searchby=author&offset=0&fs=1

An interesting personal note is that I am mentioned in the acknowledgement section by name. Obviously I am not going to put my real name on a public blog, but my initials are DH. If you own such a copy you will work it out yourself.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review: CHRISTINE - The Best Pony For Me!

The Best Pony For Me! is the second book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1995, making it one of the last books she wrote.

Because of the short nature of the series (there are only about 46 pages) and the fact it is aimed at young children than most of Christine's books, there is a great difficulty in reviewing this book without giving away the story.

The blurb reads:-

When Sophie hears about the Horse Show, she begs to be allowed to ride Honey Bee, the best pony in the riding school. But instead of Honey Bee she is given a dull old plodder called Mousie. Sophie desperately wants to win first prize - but how can Mousie ever help her to achieve her dream?

Again, like The Doping Affair (to be covered at a later date), there is a spelling mistake, the blurb spells it Sophie, however for the rest of the series and internally, this book is spelt Sophy. This is the hardback edition, I do not know if it was correct for the paperback edition.

But anyway back to the story. To be honest, I much preffered this to I Want That Pony! It begins to show a little bit more of a human side, and less cardboard cut out  person. Though there are still limitations due to the short nature of the book, so we still don't see a great deal of depth to the characters. We are introduced to Claire, Sophy's enemy, and we get to see Mrs Mills, an riding school owner, both of which appear in subsequent books. Tabby, a kitten who we were introduced to in the previous book has now grown up to become a cat, proving that is there some sort of time line in the books, which the Candy series was lacking.

To be honest, there is a moralistic side to this tale. Sophy wins through because she puts in the practice and has determination. Which is I feel is what Christine is trying to portray. I feel as though she is making a good effort, but to be honest the "always be good" attitude is side tracking from this book. I dont feel it is strictly necessary, and to be honest is not included in her earlier books. In some ways it could be considered preaching, and preaching is not something which is great in a pony book. It doesnt stick in the back of your throat like The Boy Who Came To Stay (DPT) does, but it is not a great quality in a pony book. But DPT was after all, writing for a religious publisher.

I don't think this is Christine's greatest series. I think this was sold on the fact "because it's CPT and her books always sell" rather than it's merit. But after all, it is a brave effort because in the St James Guide To Children's  Writers (1999; fifth edition) she did admit that she felt out of touch with teenagers and that is why she wrote for younger children in her latter years. Rather than admit defeat and stop writing she simply changed her format. Which proved that CPT knew her market well, and hence we have these books today.

The book is illustrated. It is illustrated by Peter Clover, and an example of an illustration is below. In the book there is a mixture of black and white illustrations.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Review: CHRISTINE - I Want That Pony!

I Want That Pony! is the first in the book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1993, making it one of the last books she wrote. It is also quite a hard to find book, and is the hardest to find in the series.

Because of the short nature of the series (there are only about 46 pages) and the fact it is aimed at young children than most of Christine's books, there is a great difficulty in reviewing this book without giving away the story.

The blurb reads:-

Sophy is desperate to own Flash, the pony that lives down the lane. But Flash already has an owner: he belongs to Alison, who loves her pony very much, and would never dream of selling him. Who will win the battle over Flash?

Sophy is the ultimate 8 year old dream, although pony less, she is inevitably pony mad. She thinks she has it all, a pony who loves her, although she has it all spoilt by Alison, Flash's true owner.  Because of this I think it is more aimed at the average 8 year old who wants to read it alone rather than the pony book buying adult or the pony book collector.

Like the Candy series, there is not much depth to the characters due to the short nature of the story. We do see a bit more character in the main person than in the Candy series, but not enough to go into deep depths. A lot of it is due to the short nature of the books, and consequently of the series in general.

To be honest, I find this book hard to review. Why? Because of the ending. It feels like Sophy is being rewarded for doing bad things i.e. lying to her parents and also feeding another pony, which is an ultimate no-no.  She gets rewarded by having riding lessons, rather than being left to stew and reflect of her own actions.

Unlike the Candy series, there is a moralistic point of view across this book, and the whole of the series in general. However unlike the Candy series there is an enemy in the form of Alison, Flash's true owner, and without giving the book away (or indeed the series), there is an enemy throughout subsequent books.

I apologise somewhat for making comparisons with the Candy series, but I found this hard to review.  I find that comparison with the Candy series an direct, fair and accurate one, because they are both more firmly aimed at the same market ie children and not adults. They are both aimed at the 8 year old.

The book is illustrated. It is illustrated by Gilly Markew, and an example of an illustration is below. In the book there is a mixture of black and white illustrations. I find Gilly Markew's illustrations nicely drawn, well thought out and relevant to the bits of the story she is trying to portray.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: CHRISTINE - Sundance Saves The Day

Sundance Saves the Day is this week's book. It is one of Christine's latter books, as it was first published in 1997. It is not generally well known about, as it was sold only by Julip.

Julip is a model horse company, which has been going since 1945. (That is a year before the Pullein-Thompsons first published It Began with Pictoee). The first Julips were made out of leather, however in the 1950s, they changed their method to making horses out of latex. (Yes, Julips are always referred to as horses). In 1989, Julip started a new series called "Horse of The Year", which was made out of plastic, and these are the sorts of horses featured on the cover. In the 1990s, Julip must have asked Christine to write a book featuring the then current range, hence why Sundance Saves The Day exists. For those of you unfamiliar with the names of the horses: Sundance is the palomino on the cover, Jigsaw is the skewbald (brown and white) and Midnight is the black on the cover. There is a another horse which is not pictured which is featured, called Silver Cloud, which is a a grey horse (pictured below).

Julip have never sold their horses in major stores; though they had a store in London until 1996. They also must have sold horses in Hamleys and Harrods at one point: there are horses which come with special rugs emblazoning the company about. Until a couple of years ago, the only way to get Julip horses (and other stuff they used to sell, such as grooming kits for real horses, jodhpurs and even riding hats) was to order through a catalogue. So really, this accounts for it being quite a rareish book, because unless you happen to have a Julip catalogue, you wouldnt know about this. Here is an example of the advert.

Anyway, back to the book. The blurb reads:-

'Suddenly the others were all around Mandy and Midnight, throwing themselves off their mounts and saying things like "Oh no! How could it happen?" And, "Why didn't you see the hole?" And, "Is he going to be all right?" And, "What about you Mandy?" And Midnight was standing with his head down, a pathetic object who held up his poor, right foreleg as though it were broken.
"I think we need a vet," suggested Jack in a sombre voice.
"We're not having him shot, even if it is broken," cried Nicky, "Because breaks can be mended. We all know that."
Now they were all suddenly deadly calm, while their horses blew through their noses and warm steam rose from their backs.....'

Sundance, Jigsaw, Midnight and Silver Cloud arrive with their riders Sarah, Jack, Mandy and Nicky to take part on a 20 mile sponsored ride. They have all worked hard finding sponsors and they are raising money for needy children in faraway lands. Spirits are high. But after a few miles their adventures begin. Enthusiasm and excitement turn to panic and disappointment and a long gruelling day lies ahead.

The characters in this book are based on the Julip model ponies and their riders.

Firstly, whoever wrote this blurb is obviously not knowledgeable: Julips regardless of their size are never referred to as ponies.

The subject of sponsored pony rides has never been a popular one: I can only think of one other example which is Bobbie's Sponsored Ride by Justine Furminger. This book is aimed at a much younger audience than many of CPT's book, though it is meant for older readers than the Candy or Sophy series. I would suggest an 9-12 year old.

Though it is hardly one of CPT's best, all the blame must not be put on CPT however. The names are a bit clunky in places. However as CPT did not choose the names, but instead she based it on the (then) current Julip range. It is worth pointing out that all the characters (horses and people) with the exception of Mrs Spencer, Mrs Walker and Desmond were available to buy from Julip. 

Like the Candy series, or rather specifically Candy Stops A Train, there are no anti heroes, no real enemies. However unlike the Candy series there is drama, though it is not a great deal of depth. However Sundance Saves The Day is hardly one of CPT's lengthier reads: it only totals 92 pages.

For me it didnt set the world on fire, it is a pleasant enough read, but the lack of depth meant that there was no real warmness to the characters. This story didnt make me warm to them, I didnt really care. Midnight has an accident during the story (the single most important bit of drama to the story, which is given away by the blurb), I didnt show great empathy for the characters. Because it is a younger children's story I just knew that everything would be alright. Because CPT doesnt do death (DPT did) and because of the age range I knew Midnight would survive. Death is always harrowing in pony books, and because of this, it is never tackled in this age range. Quite rightly it should be harrowing, but I feel that (aside from the fact that CPT doesnt do 
death) CPT felt it was too much for the age range the book was aimed at to take it all in. Pony books at this age range are still supposed to encourage you with adventure, not the nitty gritty of life.  But that is all very well the single pivotal episode of this story was tinged with "we know that everything is going to be alright and Midnight will be not shot". 

Everything does flow along nicely though, and with the exception of the naming issue, is hardly jerky. In short, it is a inoffensive story, which is in the middle. Not one of CPT's worst books, but certainly not the best. Hats off it must be said to CPT, who has tackled, in what must be said a valiant effort a subject which is hardly written about much; that is the sponsored ride. It is also must be commended for having the spirit to tackle characters and ponies which she hasnt had to make up herself, in essence they were given on a plate, because she had to deal with characters and concepts which werent her own. I am not entirely sure whether or not that made CPT's life easier or harder. But commendation has to be said for Julip's owner for at the time, for getting a worthwhile and highly talented writer,  rather than a writer who I feel would not be up to the job because they wouldnt have had the sheer scope and history that CPT has (the only other author I feel would be up to the job - with the exception of DPT and JPT - is K M Peyton). For that has to be a high recommendation, rather than the owner going for a more modern and less than capable author. Pony books were going strong, and the amount of pony book author still around at the time was more numerous than today.

It is illustrated by Mark Smallman. The illustrations are possibly the worst out of all the CPT books, they are rough outlines. Consquently there are not much style and substance to them at all. They are simply lines, in some ways glorified stickmen. They are IMO, slapdash and a little amateurish.Not the best illustration to grace a pony book.