Sunday, 30 December 2007

Review: JOSEPHINE - Pony Club Challenge

Pony Club Challenge is the next book in the Woodbury Pony club series.

It was first published in 1984, but the picture to the right shows the Dean compilation which was first published in 1994.

The blurb for this book reads:-

"We've been given a challenge," instructor David Lumley announced to the Woodbury Pony Club. "To take on the Cranford Vale in a tetrathlon - swimming, shooting, running and cross-country riding. Who wants to start training?" James, Alice, Harry and the other members can't wait to compete against the brilliant Cranford Vale team. But will they be able to get themselves and their ponies into shape in only three weeks?

As for illustrations, there is a quick map on the first page. This map is not credited and there are no more further illustrations.

The book differs a little from the previous book: Jennifer Blacker on Sea King has now left the Pony Club, and there is a new boy called Sebastion Fuller (referred to as Seb) with a pony called Jigsaw (a name all 3 sisters chose to use). Sarah, has an additional new pony; Bowie and as she already had a pony called Chess, that means Tina is mounted for the majority of this book.

Anyway, this is a good follow up to the previous book. Again, like Pony Club Cup, there is full of useful information and titbits about schooling weaved into the story. But as they are competing in the Tetrathlon, it also gives (to a certain extent) information about how much rider fitness is equally as important as horse fitness.

The book is full of thrills and spills, not just horse wise, but when there is a nasty incident with the guns used for the tetrathlon, which annoys the local stud owner immensely. But when the members help him, he soon changes his mind. A lot of it is dealt with fund raising: the only bit that dates it slightly is when it says "Everyone felt much more cheerful at the sight of pound notes", as in the UK, we don't use pound notes any more (they were withdrawn from circulation in 1988).

But to some extent this is more adventurous than the previous one and the one thing that shines through is teamwork. Teamwork in order to make themselves a decent team for the Tetrathlon, teamwork for the actual fund raising and teamwork for helping the local stud owner. Seb makes an good and interesting character, and is more predominant and all round good character than Jennifer Blacker.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Review: JOSEPHINE - Pony Club Cup

Pony Club Cup is this week's book, and the first Josephine book on this blog.

It was first published in 1983, but the picture to the right shows the Dean compliation which was first published in 1994. The bad news is that for the next few weeks you will be seeing the same image, but fortunately each have their own blurb, which reads:-

The Woodbury Pony Club is not very successful. In fact it's the worst in the district. The neighbouring Cranford Vale team regard them as a joke. To make matters worse Woodbury are told they're getting a smashed up jockey as a new instructor. But they're in for a surprise. For under David Lumley's expert guidance the Woodbury members begin to work wonders with their atrocious ponies.

As for illustrations, there is a quick map on the first page. This map is not credited and there are no more further illustrations.

Just a quick note, which gets many people confused, this is a different Pony Club to the "Noel and Henry" one (also known as the West Barsetshire), and does not form part of the same series. The characters are completely different, though. (FYI, the "Noel and Henry" books are; Six Ponies, The Radney Riding Club, Pony Club Team, One Day Event and Pony Club Camp.)

I suspect this was a updated version of the Noel and Henry series, in a way this is a sign of a more modern times, and when injured (disabled) riders were more accepted outside the RDA. Although not as instructional as the Noel and Henry series (particularly Six Ponies), there is some useful riding tips in the books. I identify with them more than the Noel and Henry series, because this was exactly how I was taught, when I used to go riding in the riding school. Also, the introduction of Hanif (Harry) and his Asian mother is another sign; in the "Noel and Henry" series, the characters were white. The character of Tina, being a ponyless member, and frequently arrives dismounted, is another sign of the times; although Noel in Six Ponies did not have a pony of her own, she is introduced as being on a borrowed pony called Topsy, and is rarely (if ever seen) dismounted at a rally. Also, Tina's mother is single; this was never seen in the Noel and Henry series, as the main characters had both parents in a presumably, happy marriage to each other.

But dont let that fool you. It is a wonderfully good tale, with some fantastic incidents. I get the feeling that it is aimed at a slightly more younger age group than the Noel and Henry series, as the romance isnt quite so strong. It may not have the love and fan base as the Noel and Henry series, but something I feel isnt worth passing by. The combination of good turned bad, and how "disabled" people can change lives, given the right circumstances, and this makes a good, strong series. I like the fact that there are short character biographies, and the maps in the first page.

There is one slight bug bear though: Mrs Rooke. The comments are one thing that annoys me, and the way that she favours Sarah (her brilliant prizewinning daughter) is another. Sure Lesley (her other daughter) did not win as many rosettes, but she did turn out to have many other qualities otherwise. The comments are downright malicious; but I suppose Josephine put her there to give some perspective. Josephine herself was the Vis Commissioner and District Commissioner of a Pony Club, so I suspect Mrs Rooke was based on a real life person she knew.

All in all, like I said, a good solid firm start to a good series, although sadly not well thought of, as the Noel and Henry series.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Slightly OT: Primrose Cumming

This week I received 2 new pony books, and for once they weren't actually P-T books. They were actually 2 Primrose Cumming books, they were the first edition of Foal of the Fjords and the Fidra Books edition of Silver Snaffles. This makes 3 Primrose Cumming books I now possess, the other one I have is her No Place For Ponies, a book I bought rather cheaply on ebay.

I must admit that I have not read her books before, No Place For Ponies is something that I have had on my bookshelf, but due to the nature of this blog, the P-T sisters must come first (after all how are you supposed to write a review of a book that I have never read?), but Primrose Cumming's books are something that I would love to collect. Alas, I dont think that I will ever get all of her books; Rivals to Silver Eagle and The Deep Sea Horse are so hard to find, and therefore cost a pretty penny (if I could find them).

Silver Snaffles is one that I took advantage of when Fidra were doing their "buy three books and receive a £5 discount". As I wanted to read this book, so much I bought it anyway, the price was (I suspect it has changed since this reprint came on the market) at least £50 on abebooks, which I did not want to pay. At a more modest price, at least if I did not like this, it wouldn't be too bad as having paid a higher sum.

Anyway, I picked this up last night (only just had it yesterday) to look at the book, and flick through the forward, which Jane Badger wrote. But I did not stop there. I read it in one whole sitting, a book which I have not done before (unless you count Christine P-T's Candy or Sophy series, but to be honest, they could be read in 5 minutes). Jane brilliantly observes that "
Silver Snaffles still weaves its spell today", which is completely true. I fell in love with it, and it has been a long while since I thoroughly enjoyed a book.

Regarding Primrose herself, I am always utterly amused by this comment, every time I read it:-

Primrose herself was highly amused, one day in her later life, when her neighbour at a dinner party remarked, “I used to have a story called Silver Snaffles as a child, but I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it.” “Well, actually, I did,” confessed Primrose, whereupon her neighbour, she told me, almost fell off her chair.

I am not surprised the dinner guest was shocked, I would be too, if I found out that I was related to or sitting with a great pony author. The nearest I felt shock was when I received a letter from both Josephine and Diana earlier on this year, but it was a good one. I darent think what would happen if I found out I was related to them, but I fear I have more chance of winning the lottery than that happening.

But if you can, I do urge you to get Silver Snaffles. The price isn't that bad for the Fidra books reprint, and they are slowly being delivered out. Or, if you get some money for Christmas, then do that. To miss this book, I feel would be an injustice. I feel it is better written than Black Beauty.

Review: DIANA - The Long Ride Home

The Long Ride Home is this week's book, and also the final Diana book we will be seeing for quite a considerable amount of time. I am aware that I have left out Black Princess, Black Romany and Black Piper, but I do plan to do all the "Black" books at the same time, by all 3 authors. It was first published in 1996, making it Diana's last book (both pony and non pony). It is not illustrated.

The blurb reads:-

"Call granny if something really awful happens and you need help" says
Carey's mother. before leaving. "You can share Sandpiper with me," Carey tells Hannah. But Hannah hates riding and soon the cottage fills with her mysterious friends. Before long the medical problem, which has dogged Cary ever since an attack of meningitis, is being exploited by Hannah and her boyfriend Steve. Then her mobile phone, Carey's lifeline, disappears. Frightened, she leaves the Scottish island with Sandpiper and her collie, Tina, and sets out to ride to her Grandmother's cottage in Yorkshire.

This is the story of Carey's long and often terrifying ride with her two beloved and sometimes awkward animals, a story of treachery and pursuit with an surprising twist at the end.

To a certain extent, this is based on Diana's own long ride (for those of you who are unaware, she rode from Land's End to John O'Groats), however she does make an comment that this book is entirely fictitious, save for the warm hospitality that she received from the Scots. Whether that bit is true or not, I have never been to Scotland or have any Scottish relatives.

In some ways this is a more modern book than Diana's previous creations, the advent of the mobile phone is an obvious example, and the mentioning of the illness is another. Pony books dont generally mention the rider's illnesses, the nearest they get is an attack of the "needle" (whatever that may be; I suspect it is another way of saying nerves). Again Neighbours is a mention of another thing (the TV programme, not the people who live nearby), TV is rarely mentioned in pony books. Presumably, people in pony books are too busy having adventures to bother about things such as TV, or in the case of the early books, very few people had TV, because they were so darned expensive. I have heard countless tales of people in the 1950s having only one television in the street, and I suppose having 101 neighbours around (the real people this time) to watch your tv was guess tough luck if you wanted peace and quiet. Or if you didn't like your neighbours, I guess you had to be uber nice to them if you wanted to watch their TV.

Anyway, back to the book. The main part is given away in the blurb, and there is a lovely detail in the way she ends up. Her parents are away, so feeling downtrodden, she goes to her granny's on horseback. The people she meets on the way, and the threat is so real that she faces. It's like you are almost there. With some pony books you feel that it is unreal, that it could never happen, but this one, it definitely not like that.

The twist is suprising at the end and totally unexpected. I really like this book, and is of the same high quality standard that we expect of Diana. It should appeal to the masses, but it is not lost either. It's surprising that many people dont talk about this book, I feel it deserves better recognition than what it does.

Next week: a Josephine book.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Review: DIANA - Riding With The Lyntons

Riding With The Lyntons is this week's book. It was first published in 1956, making it one of Diana's earlier books.

The blurb reads:-

Suddenly we heard blaring car horns and the screech of brakes. Then the two ponies came clattering towards us down the wrong side of the road. The oncoming car didn't have a chance. Tyres skidded on the wet surface, there was a shrill whinny and then a dreadful, sickening silence...

Lesley can hardly believe her luck when she moves to the country and makes friends with the horse-mad Lyntons. But then she's blamed for the accident that ruins it all...

In some ways this book reminds me of last week's book Horses At Home & Friends Must Part, which is not surprising, as that book was Diana's last publication prior to this one. I guess that theme must have been fresh in her mind.

Like most of Diana's books, this one does have a morbid side to it, and it is certainly the most morbid of hers. It's not a cosy read. But don't let that put you off reading it, it is certainly worth taking a look at. The Armada edition is the easier copy to find, but it's not the easiest of books. A quick note: any edition published after 1982 has been revised. That particular Armada edition shown above does have quite a few illustrations: illustrator is uncredited. However I strongly suspect that they are the original which makes them by Sheila Rose.

The main element to this book is stated by the blurb and unlike the other books, it is not worth me going over it, as the best bits are above. However, it is wonderfully descriptive, the whole book is told by Lesley's point of view on everything. However, unlike The Pennyfields it is not boring. I feel it is slow to start, but worth it.

There is one tiny point that annoys me greatly; in the beginning (before Lesley discovers the Lyntons) when Lesley complains that she is bored (naturally being in a new area she doesnt know anyone), her dad calls her "a wretched little socialite". I think that it is highly unfair, as she didnt ask for her to move, and secondly it is not her fault she doesnt knows anyone. Thirdly, I feel it is down right nasty for her parents to call her that, and could be bordering on emotional abuse (perhaps in the 1950s it was acceptable for parents to call you names) and fourthly, living in the country is not everyone's idea of brilliance. Some people hate living in the country.

Like the Boy and the Donkey I feel it is better appreciated from an adult's point of view rather than a child's, and certainly not every single child is not comfortable with the death. Even for me, it threw me a little. It is more of an examinations of friendships and relationships with people, but done in a lovely, if somewhat morbid way. Not the most appealing of books in the whole; but again, I feel it is one of Diana's best.

Next week is the final Diana review for quite a while: it is The Long Ride Home. Two weeks time should see the start of Josephine.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Review: DIANA - Horses At Home & Friends Must Part

Horses At Home/Friends Must Part is this weeks book.

It is actually 2 short stories combined into one volume, I have never seen them printed separately. It was first published in 1954.

The first picture on the right is the first edition and the second picture to the right is an Collins Pony Library edition, but there is not a blurb on those. I like the Collins Pony Library editions, they seem to have nice illustrations on the cover. The first edition is illustrated by Sheila Rose, but the Collins Pony Library edition is not illustrated.

The blurb reads:-

When Nicholas's and Clare's aunt was suddenly rushed into hospitial, everyone wanted to know what was to happen to her two famous show jumpers.

Nicholas had a suggestion.

"But it would be so easy, and Aunt couldn't afford to pay all that money to have them kept in a livery stable. Please let us have them. Please. We'll be dreadfully careful."

Their mother wavered. "Alright then. I give up. We'll have them for a day or two and see how you get on." And the children set about making the HORSES AT HOME...........

Horses At Home is the first story: it tells the story of Nicholas and Clare's famous showjumping Aunt (called Gay), who due to an illness, means that they are left to care for them. They quite often find themselves out of control (overhorsed springs to mind here), which leads to some incidents. Fortunately nothing deadly serious happens, and they get their reward when Aunt Gay is much better. To me, this has elements of Pat Smythe's (the showjumper) real life, and to a certain extent her books, but it is still a lovely story.

Friends Must Part is the second: it tells about Andy and her relationship with her pony and the people who live across the road. She has a pony called Peppermint, but is later replaced with a pony called Gingersnap. Unfortunately when she goes to buy Gingersnap her sister, Brandysnap is for sale. The people across the road chose Brandysnap, when in reality Andy wanted her first. There is a feud over this, which isnt helped with the 2 ponies wanting to be with each other. Fortunately, this is solved towards the end of the book.

I personally think that Horses At Home is the better story: perhaps why this is first. But they are both great stories and one of the easiest to get into. It is a pleasant light book which should appeal to everyone: however being 2 short stories there are some bits missing, and could be better if it was 2 normal length books. Still this is one of my favourite Diana books.