Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book Review - If I Won a Pony by Eve Paege


Leo is amazed when she wins first prize in a pony magazine competition – a real life pony! Instead of the posh, expensive ponies she is offered, she falls in love with a scruffy neglected pony at an auction. She persuades the magazine editor to buy No Name as she calls him. After cleaning and tending the pony she finds out he is good looking, friendly and a good ride. But if things seem too good to be true they usually are: when Leo finds out No Name’s true identity she realizes his life may be in danger and she sets off to rescue him at all costs…


From the 1990s onwards, traditional style pony stories seemed to almost disappear. For younger readers, fluffy unrealistic stories about magic ponies, unicorns and the like, dominated. For older children the scenario was even worse, as style over substance books with poor moral values and scenarios which were in some ways just as unrealistic as the fantasy pony stories flooded the market. It seemed that the traditional pony book had all but disappeared - these new books celebrated winning, looking good and having the latest gear rather than caring for your pony and your friends. Even drugs, sex and the celebrity mad culture seemed to be infiltrating this once-wholesome genre! However, I am glad to say in the last couple of years, traditional pony stories seem to be making a come back. (Why this is so is a matter for separate discussion, but it does gladden the heart of a reader brought up on them)

If I won a Pony is firmly in the mould of the traditional pony story. It contains all the stalwart plot strands of the old pony stories, from winning a pony in a competition, to rescuing a neglected animal, to saving a pony from the knackers. It also celebrates a lot of the good values that the older pony story used to expound: I like the way that the heroine chooses a scruffy unwanted pony rather than the expensive and glam ponies she has lined up in front of her. I also like the way she goes to a huge amount of trouble in order to save her beloved pony. Her rather naughty tendency to lie to people to get her own way is eventually punished, but her remorse and caring attitude are rewarded in the end. These are great messages to be passed on to young horsy readers.

Something that also really strikes me as being reminiscent of the traditional pony stories (and indeed the old holiday adventure stories of Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome and the like) is the independence of the child characters and the fact that they exist for the most part in a world without parents. This is perhaps not realistic in today’s society of ‘helicopter parents’ hovering over their kids night and day. But it does highlight the fact that children can be independent, can think and do things for themselves without relying on their parents all the time. Perhaps this is as much an alien concept for many of today’s kids as the fantasy worlds they seem to like reading about! Perhaps the freedom of the children in this story will only be seen as an escape for the young reader from what must be quite an oppressive atmosphere, rather than something they could actually aspire to. But it does show there is an option for thinking and doings things for yourself. Another good message which this book conveys.

It is quite a tricky proposition for an author to combine a traditional type story and traditional values with a style modern enough to keep today’s children interested. Eve Paege has managed to inject such a fast pace into the story that even easily bored readers will be swept along. There is plenty of horsy action and scenarios in the story from auctions, to schooling, to hacking, to competitions, to horse rescue, people rescue… and lots, lots more! The author has packed a lot into this book and again this will encourage easily distracted young readers to keep on turning the pages. For the older/adult reader this will perhaps be a little too frenetic and I must say all that galloping about the countryside left me a bit exhausted! I would have perhaps liked a little more character depth and development, but I realize this is personal taste, as I am always drawn to more introspective novels. And of course younger readers do not want too much soul-searching and the like clogging up their story line. The author has I think managed the mix of traditional and modern just right to appeal to her target audience.

I do really like the underlying humour of the book, which has some great comic characters such as the pink-obsessed journalist and the wig-wearing ‘PC Plod’ character, who reminds me a little of Mr. Goon in the old Enid Blyton mystery stories. This light-hearted tone again will appeal to the modern young reader.

In short, this is a good combination of traditional plot lines and values within the framework of a modern, light-hearted and fast–paced story. It will appeal most to children of the pre-teen and early teen age group, and is I feel especially good for encouraging easily bored and reluctant readers to pick up a book. It will also suit older readers who love a rollicking pony adventure story without too much introspection.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Book Review - There Must be Horses by Diana Kimpton


Abandoned by her feckless parents, Sasha has been passed from foster home to foster home, never fitting in anywhere. She is not surprisingly a troubled girl who finds it hard to express her emotions or relate to people. The only thing which seems to bring her out of her shell is her love of horses. After being thrown out of yet another foster home she is packed off to stay with Jo and Beth Turner for a temporary stay until a more permanent home can be found. She is overjoyed to find that the pair live on a horse rescue farm. There she also meets Meteor, an abused horse who has lost his trust in humans, and she feels a close affinity with the horse and his situation. For the first time Sasha has found somewhere she really feels she could belong. But she fears that her continuing emotional problems will mean that both she and Meteor will have to leave the farm forever….


Until now, Diana Kimpton was best known in the world of equine fiction for her Pony Mad Princess series. These are nice enough light-hearted stories and better written than the average book of this type. However as they are aimed at very young readers, they do not contain enough real depth to keep the attention of older children or adult readers.

However There Must be Horses, her first pony book aimed at older children is a completely different proposition; a more serious and darker story entirely. This really is an excellent read, which will appeal to all ages, and it is so well written that it just flows off the page. I would say I could not put it down, except I was reading this as an e-book on my laptop. (Someone will have to come up soon with the equivalent phrase for digital books !)

Unlike the lightly humourous Pony Mad Princess series, this story was much more serious, tackling some fairly gritty issues. Our heroine Sasha has been abandoned by her drug addict/alcoholic mother and has been passed from pillar to post until she feels she belongs nowhere. Equally, the book’s equine hero Meteor has been so abused and mistreated that he has ended up hating humans. Too many modern pony stories do not ask their young readers to think at all. However this story really explores what life must be like for a girl in Sasha’s situation. Thankfully most young readers will have loving and stable home lives, but this book portrays a different world and gives the reader a chance to understand this world and feel compassion for those trapped in such a situation.

Despite dealing with such important and weighty topics, Diana Kimpton has expertly avoided turning the novel into some sort of dreary morality tract or sermon. The story really is gripping. Our heroine may not be doing anything as glam as competing at Badminton or Wembley, but we are just as swept up in her world. Will Sasha ever get the loving home she deserves? Will Meteor ever trust humans again? Will the pair be parted forever? Because the stakes are higher – it is their life rather than just a question of whether they will win a rosette or not – this makes the story all the more powerful. I just had to keep reading to find out what happened.

Another reason we are gripped by the story is the character of Sasha herself. Diana Kimpton has created a superb multi-layered and also sympathetic character in Sasha. It would be easy to make the girl, with her behavioural problems and emotional coldness, unlikeable or unsympathetic, but as soon as we hear Sasha’s voice (the first person narrative was chosen wisely) we immediately care about her and feel empathy for her situation. And especially, as horsy readers, when we find out she also loves ponies we are bound to be on her side! Despite her faults, when we see her growing closeness to Meteor we know she is a good and caring person at heart. As an older reader I could not help feeling a rather maternal sympathy for Sasha and I think younger readers will feel a close affinity on a more equal level. Seeing Sasha overcome her very real problems may help youngsters cope with their own. After all, feeling that you are isolated, that no-one understands you and that you don’t fit in are common emotions experienced by teenagers.

This close sympathy with the heroine creates a strong emotional response to the book. There are plenty of ups and downs as Sasha (and the reader) are really put through the emotional wringer. This is quite ironic, considering that Sasha is dubbed as ‘emotionally frozen’ in that we feel with her the full gamut of emotions from joy and hope to misery and despair.

But this is not just a book about human lives and problems, it is at heart a real old-fashioned pony story. For me, the best pony stories have always been those which celebrate the bond between human and horse, and which show how this relationship has the power to transform lives. Sasha and Meteor’s close bond is integral to the story and it is indeed the love Sasha feels for the horse which changes her own life. The themes of horse rescue, and that of redemption of a character by their involvement with horses are certainly not new, but here they have been given a new slant in the way the author has drawn close parallels between the situations of both Sasha and Meteor. Because the reader can see the similarities in the situations of girl and horse, it can make one think deeply about how animals are treated, and how their problems may be a result of circumstance and abuse, rather than just a labelling an animal a rogue or a problem horse (just as Sasha has been labeled a problem child). I feel that youngsters will have a much more empathetic view of horses, as well as people, after reading this book.

In the main this is a realistic and quite down-to-earth novel. There are however a few times when suspension of disbelief is required somewhat. Meteor’s at times rather Lassie-like behaviour and his sudden (dare I say it meteoric!) rehabiliation were slightly unrealistic and melodramatic. But as this is a children’s book such plot devices are not out of place, and in fact they were also quite useful in heightening the emotional tension of the story. On the whole I felt the book had very few even minor flaws.

For me, this has to be one of the best pony novels I have read this year. It has all the ingredients needed for a superb pony story: a great sympathetic character, a bond between girl and horse, emotional depth and an intelligent exploration of deeper issues. It also shows a compassion for both human and animal which can be sadly lacking in many modern children’s novels and inspires good values without being boring or preachy. I really hope that the author will continue writing for this age group as I think she is making a real contribution to the genre.

You can read more and vote on the book on the chat forum

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Guest Blog by Tintin: Book Review - The Most Horrible Pony by Lynda Kelly

Thanks to our guest blogger 'Tintin' who will hopefully be reviewing a number of books on here in the future. Here's his take on the first book in the Amy and Clown series by Lynda Kelly - The Most Horrible Pony:

"It has to be said, before anything else, that this is a very accurate title. Clown is a truly dreadful horse and his misdemeanours are marvellously and vividly described. He puts off his rider, runs away, refuses to be caught and bites as well as being able to undo the bolt to his stall. He also does all these intermittently in such a way as to lead both reader and rider into a false hope that he might have reformed.

He is very like a horse in the Army before the war who gained himself such an infamous name by similar behaviour he was still being talked about over 50 years later. Like the military horse Clown also has the annoying habit of behaving perfectly when anyone important is about. Clown’s awful behaviour and the fact that he has been saved from the slaughter house makes it quite a shock to find he is only five rather than an elderly horse “steeped in vice”. It is quite original to have what s almost an equine “anti-hero”.

Amy, the young girl who is the heroine of the novel, is Clown’s exasperated, yet doggedly determined rider. She lives on a working farm with her mother and father, younger brother Liam (and his ever growing tribe of imaginary creatures), dog Tess and two cats. The farm and its work are nicely depicted as are the dynamics of the family which become even more interesting when an eccentric aunt comes to visit. There is also a nice crowd of riding school children and their ponies.

Amy has just received Clown when the story starts and all the ponies have more attractive characters than his (I particularly liked Gordon, the patient Highland Pony). Clown, however, does have an aptitude for mounted games.

The book has a truly memorable horse and interesting likeable characters. Not least among its charms are the sketch maps which help us to enter a complete and believable world. Well written and with good values (a central motif is about loyalty to, and understanding of, friends and family who can be annoying – not to mention a horse who can be very annoying) the book deserves to be popular with its target audience. The author has set herself a hard standard to keep up to.

With all this to praise it is almost superfluous to speak of the plot. The story is a variant of the missing race horse cliché, but because of the strengths described above this is carried off convincingly. The author also pulls off the difficult trick of starting the story by dropping you in the middle of the action.

Worth reading!"

You can read more  and vote on the book on the chat forum