Thursday, 3 January 2008

Bargain of her best!

Apart from the Bobby and Shelta series, I have never been a huge fan of Gillian Baxter's stories for older children. Although her books are pleasant enough reads, for me they lack a certain something. (And I am ashamed to say, despite two or three attempts, I have never managed to get to the end of Tan and Tarmac!) However I had heard good things about Bargain Horses and the sound of the plot was intriguing so I thought I would give it a go.

I'm really glad I did. IMHO Bargain Horses is one of the author's best, perhaps the best since the Bobby and Shelta books. The plot centres around Gemma, a sixteen-ish girl whose mother has a strange habit of buying cheap horses, hoping that she can miraculously transform one of them into the next top eventing star. Her obsession has driven away her husband, used up all their money until they have to live in a caravan, and is now taking over Gemma's life.
What I love most about this book is the way it turns the usual pony book scenario on its head. Whereas we usually have a horse-mad heroine whose parents are constantly trying to get them to do more school work and have a life outside horses, this book is the complete opposite. Gemma is the one who wants to do well at school and is prevented by her mother who feels that school gets in the way of their training schedule! Gemma thinks that she may possibly like to have a career away from horses, it is her mother who wants her to become a top eventer. Unlike most pony book heroines, Gemma feels that horses are getting in the way of other things she would like to do: such as go to parties and have a boyfriend.

The book has a plot that keeps you reading (although I did guess the end!) and the characters of Gemma and her mother Mary are brilliantly drawn. Mary must be one of the most three-dimensional adult characters in any pony book. Sadly in this genre, the adults are often very sketchily drawn or simply caricatures, but not so in this novel. Gemma, too, is a multi-faceted character who is torn between her love of horses and her yearning to have a life of her own.

Bargain Horses is part of the series of pony books published by J.A.Allen in the 1990s, most of which are aimed at older teenagers and adults (as is this one). I have read most of the books in this series and they have all been excellent. They are particularly suitable for adult horse and pony enthusiasts, especially this book.

I have now completed a more detailed review of the book. To read it click here


haffyfan said...

I have just finished Tan and Tarmac after starting it on new years eve, i must admit it was a bit of a chore. I love bargain horses, it's brilliant, The team from Low Moor is great too and I am just about to start Stables At the Hamptons, so fingers crossed. I wasn't fussed by the Bobby and shelta books either, I actually think the Magic and Moonshine ones are her best even if for younger readers. Maybe it was a maturity thing but they are better written with more developed characters.

Claire said...

I absolutely agree with you that the Magic and Moonshine series are the best written. She definitely got better as she got older. I loved the Shelta series as a child but when I re-read them as adult didn't like them as much, but still her best pony books for older children that Ive read before Bargain. Havent read Low Moor or Hamptons yet am about to get them!

haffyfan said...

I am loving Hamptons, about half way through and am struggling to put it down.........would def recommend!