Monday 9 December 2019

Book Review - A Riverdale Christmas by Amanda Wills


This is the latest in a pony series featuring Poppy, her Connemara pony Cloud, friend Scarlett and younger brother. In this instalment, Christmas is on the horizon. Poppy is eager to become part of the school showjumping team and is horrified when her nemesis Mrs. Jackson, takes over the job of picking the team. How will she ever achieve her ambition now? But when she becomes involved in a charity to help sick children run by a local celebrity she begins to realise that there are more important things in life than her own concerns.


First of all before I start the review I have to say that I am not really a 'Christmassy' person, in fact some may say I should change my middle name to The Grinch! So it takes a lot to make me feel the Christmas spirit. This book, however, I'm pleased to say actually managed it! This story is full of the real message of Christmas, which seems nowadays to be almost lost in all the commercialism and surface glitz: that of spreading love and joy to others. Young readers will absorb this message through the eyes of our heroine Poppy. But it's not by any means done in a preachy or unsubtle way. At the beginning of the story Poppy's main concerns, as befits a young pony-obsessed girl, involve being chosen for a show jumping team and the annoying fact that one of her teachers seems to be picking on her. It's only when she reluctantly takes part in a charity event to help disadvantaged children that she starts to question her priorities and the way she sees the world. This plot-line could have turned the book into a rather downbeat and dreary read but on the contrary the author also celebrates the fact that Christmas can still be fun and full of sparkle. The character of Gaz with his ridiculously over-the-top Christmas decorations, demonstrates that you can be both caring and have fun at the same time. The Christmassy feel of the book is further heightened by the snowfall and the traditional wintry activities such as sledging - and there's even an extra touch of festive magic with the inclusion of a real live unicorn!

As well as the Christmas vibe, there is plenty more for readers to enjoy in this fast-paced story, with lots of horsy action, excitement and some nice scenes between the family members, especially the flashbacks to a family holiday in which we find out a little more about Poppy's character. I also like the way that the author has managed to blend the modern with the more traditional pony story, so it will appeal to both youngsters and older readers. Instagram and media celebrities rub shoulders with a more old-fashioned pony-story atmosphere.

Our heroine Poppy is a very likeable character. She is a really caring and genuine girl but at the same time has her faults and moments of weakness, just like a real person. There are two types of pony book heroine/hero that really annoy me: the perfect 'has a special way with horses' paragon who sets my teeth on edge and, perhaps worse, the whiny kid who complains about everything and never takes a moment to appreciate anything they have or think of anyone but themselves. Thankfully Poppy is none of these, she's a real normal girl with good and bad points, whom we can all relate to.

The book is part of a fairly long-running series and, unlike many series, this one has not lost its freshness and become formulaic. The author adds something new in every book, this one included. The story will be appreciated to the full if you have read the others beforehand but can be read as a stand-alone. Perhaps a touch more general background information on the characters would have helped new readers of the series jump into the story a little more easily, but it's not a major requirement as most of it can be picked up throughout. So even if you haven't read the others, don't let this put you off this great festive story.

All in all I would recommend this as an excellent Christmas read for all ages!

I have rated the book 4 HORSESHOES (very good)

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Book Review - Midnight Champion Bucking Horse by Sam Savitt

Scholastic paperback edition dated 1972.


The book is a historical story set in the early 20th century based on a real life horse who was one of the most famous rodeo horses in American history. The story is told in three sections, each by a different narrator including the man who first caught and tamed the horse, his long term owner and the champion rodeo rider who locked horns with Midnight a number of times.


This was one of a number of books I have had lying around for ages which I'd never got round to reading. Although I'd picked up the book and perused the wonderful illustrations a few times, I'd never really been motivated to read it, partly because I wasn't sure if a story about rodeos would be interesting, partly because I am a little worried about the possible cruelty element in rodeos, which I must admit I didn't really know anything about. But the book happened to be at hand when I was waiting impatiently for my laptop to install some software and I began to read in order to fill the time. After a few pages I'd almost forgotten about the computer. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoying the book. First of all, Sam Savitt is not just a fabulous artist, he's also a pretty good writer. His first person narrative is written in an easy to read, colloquial style which is friendly and down-to-earth, but at the same time also quite polished and accomplished. He really makes you see into the world of the different characters, and feel their emotions. There is quite a lot of humour in the book too, with various amusing rodeo escapades and larger than life characters such as the gambler Twenty One Johnson who, in the words of Jim McNab, "had himself calluses...from patting his own back." (Page 20). I was also quite surprised at the emotional depth and moments of tenderness in the book, which I didn't expect at all in such a story.

The book is similar in structure to Diana Pullein-Thompson's A Pony for Sale, with three sections following the different eras of Midnight's life, each 'written' by a different character. I found the first section, 'Jim McNab's Story,' the most enjoyable. It tells of how Jim breaks in the horse, whom he originally wants for a cow horse, and forms an attachment to him. Although Jim tries to break the horse the old fashioned rough and ready cowboy way, this doesn't work and Midnight demonstrates his early bucking prowess in quickly depositing his erstwhile wrangler! Jim then gentles the horse in a more modern, almost Monty Roberts-like approach, and this in turn leads to a strong bond forming between the two. However Midnight's talents as a buckeroo tempt Jim into entering the horse for rodeos, which slowly severs their bond, and eventually he decides to sell him. Jim's growing depression as his equine friend grows away from him and his sadness at their parting make for very emotional reading, and we see that even a crusty old cowboy can be as broken-hearted at losing his horse as any pony mad teenager.

The second and third sections dealing with Midnight's career are interesting, especially the last, in which the top rodeo rider battles his wills against the top rodeo horse. However they don't quite have the emotional depth of the first part. If like me, you know next to nothing about rodeos, you will learn a lot about what goes on. The author seems to stress that, far from being cruel, the sport gives the top rodeo horses a great life in which the horse is very well cared for and only works a few seconds a week, as opposed to six or seven hours as a cow horse. I do suspect that the lower class of rodeo horse may not fare so well and there is probably some cruelty in the sport, as there is in almost all horse sports. But we don't see much of the unsavoury aspect of the rodeo world, except for one incident of doping. I think a moral exploration of the sport is perhaps best set aside whilst reading the book, with any concerns explored afterwards. Certainly there is no horrifying cruelty or distressing death scenes in the book. (I've read far worse in many pony books aimed at pre-teen girls!)

Midnight (or Middy for short) is no cardboard cut out horse either. His character is drawn as well as those of the humans. We soon find that he is far from being the cliched man-eating outlaw horse. Although he soon dispenses of his riders, he does so with rather more cleverness and cunning than an explosion of rage, with even a touch of humour at times, such as when he looks back at one of his defeated riders sitting in the dirt and "seems to be saying 'no hard feelings. chum, it's all in a day's riding.'" (Page 48). He can also be gentle and affectionate, as he is with Jim and Mrs Elliot, the wife of his second owner. When one day a rider falls to the ground and become unconscious the horse does not attack the prostrate man but instead nuzzles him gently.

The penultimate part of the book pits the wits of Midnight and the great rodeo rider Pete Knight. The last few pages chronicle the very few seconds the battle takes in an unusual but highly effective way, with one-sentence pages paired with full page illustrations. This makes for an exciting, countdown-like episode. I'll not give away who wins, you'll have to read the book for yourself!

The end of the book is again quite emotional as we see, after Midnight's death, that a monument has been erected to him with a poetic epitaph which finishes "if there is a hoss heaven, please God, rest his soul." (Page 95). It's obvious that Midnight touched the hearts of many people and he will defintely touch the reader's too.

I can't finish up without mentioning the absolutely stunning illustrations by the author. Not only are they full of energy, life and at times humour, we can also see the characters of the horses in their eyes and expressions, something which is surprisingly rare in many pony book illustrations. (Caney and Geoffrey Whittam are also masters of this, but not so many an equine illustrator who seems to forget that the horses should have as much character as the riders). There are also far more illustrations here than in the average horse story, even many full page and almost double page spreads.

In some ways the book is an oddity, it is written to appeal mostly to adults, but the lavish and numerous illustrations and the brevity of the text, make it almost like a young reader's picture book. But really this just mirrors the fact the book is quite different to the 'normal' horse story in a number of ways, from subject matter, to structure, to unexpected emotions stirred by its pages. I feel it is quite a unique book and I'd certainly recommend it to older children and adults.

In rating the book I have to give it a whole horseshoe just for the illustrations so all in all I will rate the book as 5 HORSESHOES (excellent).

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Monday 8 October 2018

Book Review - The Spooky Pony Mystery & Other Stories by Jane Ayres


In the run up to Halloween, here is a great spooky read to get you in the mood. The book contains one longish story and five short ones, all featuring different characters and situations, though all horse-themed.


Unlike many writers of full length novels who can't seem to get to grips with the slightly different art of the short story, Jane Ayres has already proved, with her earlier book of stories, Horses in the Gallery, that she is a dab hand at both. This new compilation is even better than her previous. The stories are all gripping and a couple have a brilliant twist in the tale - I defy anyone to guess the ending of Horsey, for example!

This is a great read for Halloween time, or for anyone who likes a scary horse story. I must confess I do love a good ghostly yarn. Having read the works of most of the great writers of the genre, including that master of the spine-tingling tale, M. R. James, I can honestly say that this book does not disappoint, especially as horses are added to the mix. For me it was a page turning read and it certainly sent a few shivers down my spine too!

There is a really good selection of stories here, from ghostly to gruesome to downright weird. Some are light hearted in tone, like Catching Midnight and others, such as Dark Magic and Midnight Riders, are quite dark and scary. The book will appeal to both children and adults, though perhaps not for the very young ones, as some of the stories might be too grisly. The only complaint I have with the book is that I was left wanting more!

So turn down the lights, grab a hot drink and a copy of this book and be prepared for some spooky fun!


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Monday 16 July 2018

Review by 'Tintin' - The Discontented Pony by Noel Barr


Younger readers pony story. Merrylegs is a little pony who lives on a farm. Knowing his grandfather was a racehorse, he longs for a more exciting life. When he sees a fair one day he thinks becoming a roundabout horse would be a great idea so he runs off to join the fair. However his experiences in the outside world teach him a valuable lesson about life. 


This is a ladybird book pitched at the very young and is probably more a book intended to be read to people. Brought out in 1951

It is unusual for me to review a book aimed at such a young audience, but it is a beautiful, unusual and perhaps flawed book

The book has the most beautiful illustrations by PB Hickling, they are so beautiful it is almost painful

It is impossible to review the book without revealing the story

Merrylegs (0/10 for horse naming originality) is a little bay pony, possibly an Exmoor, who lives on a farm. His job is to pull the farmer's trap to a nearby town where he sells eggs and dairy products. The pony's friends are a pig and a calf.

The pony's dam told him, when a foal, of his grandfather who was a race horse. This makes Merrylegs discontented. One day when he goes to the town there is a fair and he sees the roundabout horses. This is the life for him - popular and richly decorated (he does n't realise they are not flesh and blood horses and is upset when they ignore him)

That very night he runs away to the fair, but is caught by the rough gypsy types that run it. When he sleeps he dreams of being a roundabout horse - but, in his dreams the lack of rest and nausea inducing speed make him feel ill (the pictures convey this very well) He runs back to the farm and is happy again with his friends and the gentle farmer (who is a bit puzzled as to how his horse has acquired a new halter and lead rope)

The book is beautiful and elegiac, but as a pre-school child it made me so sad I used to cry inconsolably and my mother had to give the book away. I do think it is a bit too sad and deep for the very young children it is intended for. The farmer had a young son and I think there should have been a sequel where the pony could have gone to gymkhanas, shows and hunts and had a bit of fun with a lively youngster a bit like himself.

If it had only moderated the melancholy it would have been gold cup, the quality of the illustrations raised it from 4 to 5 for me


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Sunday 15 July 2018

Latest authors added to website

In the last few weeks I  have added a number of new author pages to the website. There are authors of both modern and vintage books from the UK. , the USA and Australia.  See below for names and links to their web pages:

NOEL BARR - Ladybird books author who penned The Discontented Pony 

Noel Barr web page

KIMBERLY BRUBAKER BRADLEY - Newbery Honor winner. Wrote The War That Saved My Life

Kimberley Brubaker Bradley's web page

JACQUI/LOUISE BRODERICK - Author of featured star book A Pony For Free

Jaqui Broderick's web page 

PETER DE COSEMO - Author of highly rated and unusual horse book Led by the Grey

Peter De Cosemo's web page

ALICE E. GOUDEY - Acclaimed children's book author of the 1940s and 50s

Alice Goudey's web page

CHARLES KEEPING - Author and renowned illustrator of children's books

Charles Keeping's web page

ERIC LEYLAND aka NESTA GRANT - 1950s prolific author of children's books

Eric Leyland's web page 

HELEN WEBSTER - Little know Australian author

Helen Webster's web page

AMANDA WILLS - Highly popular modern author of the Riverdale pony series

Amadna Wills' web page

Monday 5 February 2018

Book Review - A Pony For Free by Jacqui Broderick


Set in the Connemara region of Ireland. Horse mad Cait spends her time looking after the brood mares of the wealthy Danny. She longs for a pony of her own but her Dad is crippled and the family are too poor to afford one. She is also somewhat scared of riding! When Danny buys the beautiful pony Drizzle for his unpleasant son Colm to ride, Cait is envious and she is sickened when Colm and his father try to break in the pony by breaking his spirit. However Drizzle is having none of it and after depositing Colm on the ground, gallops off into the depths of the Connemara hills. Danny is enraged with the horse and tells Cait she can have the pony for her own if she can catch him. Cait is overjoyed at this news but soon realises that catching a pony roaming free in the wilds of Connemara may be an impossible task. And even if she did somehow catch him, how would she train him and learn to ride him and could she even afford to keep him? She decides she will try anway....


This was a new book from an author relatively unknown on the pony book scene, so reading this was a complete leap in the dark. However I was very pleasantly surprised and can honestly say it's one of the best new pony stories around at the moment, certainly on a par with the more experienced and popular pony authors such as Amanda Wills. It is well written and the characters are interesting and believable. The story has a very traditional, if not even old-fashioned, feel to it. Perhaps the Irish country setting, which seems to hark back to an older, simpler existance to modern life, adds to this atmosphere. Also the beautiful Connemara backdrop and the lifestyles of the people in the village bring an originality and a divergence from the run of the mill modern pony story. The plot-line of catching a pony in order to keep it has been done before, most notably in Elinore Haver's A Pony to Catch, but not enough times to make it a cliche or stock plot-line.

In fact, though traditional in feel, this book takes its own original slant on the pony story. Unlike many modern pony stories we do not have the rich bratty girl riding her posh pony and looking down her nose at the heroine. Instead we have the boy Colm who is a truly awful, almost evil character. His bullying of Cait and his dreadful deeds take this into a darker more interesting territory than the usual rivalry story-line. In fact the author turns the rich snooty girl rival theme on its head by introducing Victoria, who although rich and having two expensive ponies to ride, becomes Cait's best friend.

As well as being a pony rescue story, and focusing closely on the bond between girl and pony, there is also a fair amount of the competition element in the book, which will suit those who like to have shows and competitions in their pony stories. Even this element seems a little different to the norm, due to the Irish jumping scene being slightly unfamilar to most readers, and also with Cait's initial reluctance to jump her pony at the shows. The author certainly packs a lot of varying content into her book, making it appeal to a wide range of tastes.

In short, you don't need to take a chance on a new author by choosing this book:  I'm sure that Jacqui Broderick, if she decides to write more books in the genre, is a great pony book author in the making. Highly recommended.


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Monday 18 December 2017

Book Review - Forever Horse by Jane Ayres

This is a trilogy consisting of 3 shortish novels, following the same characters throughout the trilogy. At the present time the books are only available in this trilogy set as an e-book. If I find out when/if  there may be separate editions or print editions I will add this information later.

Summaries of the 3 stories as follows:

Book 1: ALWAYS IN MY HEART: Piebald cob Logan and his teenage owner Maz share a special bond. Tragedy strikes when Logan is stolen. As he tries to find his way back to his beloved Maz he deeply touches the hearts of two other girls, Sophie and Alice. 

Book 2: HEARTBREAK HORSE: Logan has at last found happiness, but a sinister figure from the past re-appears and puts him in terrible danger. Will the girls who love him lose him for good?

Book 3: THE FOREVER HORSE: Sophie has never forgotten Logan and wonders if she can ever fall in love with another horse. Then she meets traumatised horse Lancelot, who needs her special care and attention. She realised that she has at last found her 'forever horse' until circumstances force her to make a terrible decision. Will she once more lose the horse she loves?


This is a highly emotional and thought-provoking trilogy which centres on the themes of love, lost love and learning to love again. The love here is of girl and horse but it is about love in general, be it for animal or human. My favourite pony stories have always been those about the close bond between girl (or boy) and horse - and this book is all about that bond. It follows three heroines and their special love for their 'forever horses.' As with many stories the girls lose their beloved horses but unlike the usual pony book formula there is not a simple reunion with the lost horse. The author instead prefers a more complex exploration of the situation: what happens if you lose your loved one forever, can you recover from this loss and learn to love again? Can you give up someone you love for a higher purpose? The stories also touch upon jealousy and envy, and learning to let go of these destructive emotions.

The story does not only focus on the feelings of the heroines, we also follow the thoughts and emotions of the various horses in the trilogy, in particular Logan. The author maintains that the horses, as well as their owners, have a deep abiding love for their human companion. We will never exactly understand to what extent animals feel love, loss and longing. If you know animals at all you will not deny that they do feel these emotions, in this trilogy they are shown to have emotions as strong as those of their human counterparts, whether this is to heighten the tension and emotional impact of the story, or is the author's own take on how animals feel, I am not sure. (I tend towards the latter). There is also an interesting sub-plot about the relationship between two of the horses and their own feelings of jealousy and insecurities.

As well as exploring the complex issues of love and loss, the books have good, interesting stories/plots. The three books in the trilogy are actually quite different in style, despite following the same theme. The first book is seen more from Logan's viewpoint, a modern take on the old pony-viewpoint books in the Black Beauty tradition. The second book centres more on the human characters and is more of a teen adventure story with menace and danger thrown in for good measure. The last book in the trilogy is a gentler story about healing a horse and having to face a moral dilemma. The first and last books are the strongest, the middle story feels lighter and more of a filler story, though still a good read.

The three heroines of the story are all very likeable and sympathetic characters. Although they are normal teenagers who like doing normal 'teen things' and competing in various events, their main focus is always on their relationship with their horses and making sure their companions are happy and contented. Animal welfare is also highlighted, with an animal sanctuary featuring in two of the stories.

Anyone who has felt deep love and loss, whether for a human or animal, will find this a highly emotional read, and may find the odd tear or lump in the throat appearing! At times there is deep sadness, but the central message of the story is that the human heart can endure tragedy and loss and yet still learn to love again. It is a very life affirming message - and fear not the trilogy does have an upbeat ending, if not what you may expect when you begin reading the book!

A fantastic read for horselovers of all ages, especially those who have felt that special bond with their 'forever horse.'

All in all I would award 5 horseshoes to the first and last books in the trilogy and 3 horseshoes to the central story.


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