Monday, 8 December 2014

Autumn Book Reviews

Hi all a round up of my book reviews from October and November. You can comment here or by visiting the link to the review on the chat forum where you can also vote for the books if you have read them yourself. The reviews all have a historical flavour and include a story about a firehorse in 19th century USA , an old-fashioned ranching story and an insightful but harrowing rescue story set in 1950s Dublin. 

Blitz by Hetty Burlingame Beatty


This is an American historical pony story. Blitz is a fire-horse who pulls one of the town’s horse drawn fire wagons. He soon becomes the fastest horse in the town. But after a shady businessman causes a fire to claim the insurance money, Blitz and his owner are injured and Blitz loses his nerve. Blitz is sold and ends up with some bad owners but eventually is bought by a kindly doctor and is restored to health and happiness. But can he regain his courage to save a life?


Told mainly from the horse’s viewpoint, this is a ‘Black Beauty-esque’ tale, but better than the average, with the added originality of Blitz’s unusual role as a fire horse. Well-written, at times sad, but overall heart-warming and life affirming. Although like Black Beauty, it demonstrates that Blitz falls on hard times through the greed and scheming of humans, yet it is also shows the goodness of mankind when he is helped by the Burns family. Not too cloyingly sentimental - which considering the subject matter it could have been. There is also a little more pyschological depth in this story compared to the usual book of this type, as it focuses on how Blitz loses his nerve as well as his outward physical comforts. The backdrop of the world of the firehorses and the firemen is fascinating and is the most interesting part of the book. All in all one of the better of the Black Beauty type stories and will especially appeal to those who are interested in history. Unfortunately I haven't come across any other of the author's books yet but I would certainly read more based on the quality of this story.


The Pony Express by Mairin Johnston


Nothing to do with the American Pony Express! This historical pony novel is set in 1950s Dublin and is the story of a young girl’s involvement with a real-life movement to stop the live export of horses from Ireland to the Continent. Young Katy loves ponies and the family own a mare called Amber. One day she witnesses a scene of cruelty involving some ponies and soon finds out the horrific truth about The Pony Express, the name given to the live export for meat of animals in terrible conditions. When Katy finds out that Amber’s mother Dusty is about to become the latest victim of the Express, she resolves to do something about it. In doing so, she also finds her true vocation in life.


The backdrop for the novel is the live export for meat of horses and other animals in 1940 and 50s Ireland. This was big business at the time, with a huge number of the country’s horses and donkeys being bought up by businessmen eager to make a quick profit. In fact so rapid was the turnover of the animals that the business became dubbed ‘The Pony Express.’ Not only were there objections on humane grounds to this practice because of the terrible conditions the animals had to endure, but also Irish farmers who could not use tractors were rapidly running out of working horses as they could not compete with the meat prices. This story is centred upon the real-life attempt to stop this cruel and greedy practice, with the young heroine being caught up in historic events of the time.

This is a thoughtful exploration of an important real life event in the history of animal welfare, rather than a traditional pony story. Although it does a very good job of balancing the story and characters with the history lesson aspect. Mairin Jonston is an author extremely interested in both feminism and social history, so it is not surprising that the book is also a study of the working class Ireland of the time, and in particular a woman’s role. Kate, as well as being involved with the fate of the horses, is also struggling to find an identity in a world where women become either wives or factory workers. She wants something more, to become a vet no less! But although it seems a hopeless dream, her efforts to help the horses ultimately reward her.

Another important theme in the book is that of facing up to sometimes unpleasant reality in order to do something about life’s problems, rather than just hoping someone else will solve them. Her mother advises Kate to forget about the plight of the horses because it will upset her, but Kate instead braves the truth in order to help them.

The story is, unsurprisingly considering its theme, at times quite harrowing, but it is also ultimately uplifting, not only in that so many people are willing to do something to help the cause, but also in the redemption of the unpleasant character Buck. Certainly not a comfort read, but it is an excellent exploration of important (if unsavoury) equine issues. Not really suitable for younger children. Adults and older teenagers will probably get more out of the story.

The book also includes an introduction with information about the history of the real life Pony Express and the efforts to ban it.


Peter's Pinto by Mary and Conrad Buff


This is an American horse story of the ranching/capturing wild horse persuasion written in 1949. Interestingly it is set in the Mormon community of Utah. Also of interest is the fact it was written by a husband and wife team, with hubby mainly doing the illustrating while Mary wrote most of the story content.

Our hero Peter goes to stay on his uncle’s ranch in Utah. There he soon learns to ride and has lots of fun riding around the ranch with his cousin Doug. But he longs for a horse of his own and keeps having dreams about a beautiful pinto stallion called Checkers. Then the children hear rumours about a mysterious wild pinto roaming the hills. When one of the ranch horses goes missing and a hunt for it is organised, Peter and Doug seize the chance to look for the pinto.


Although this is well-written it is in some ways not the most pleasant of reads. The cruel way Checkers is caught and broken in may reflect the norm on a ranch at the time but does not appeal to a horse-lover reading the book now, especially a fan of Monty Roberts and his ethos, such as myself! It is particularly galling as it is portrayed in the book as being the ’right’ way to do it. Another quibble is that the female characters are very much in the background, only fit for making and serving food, which is probably not surprising in a Mormon community, but which I don't think would sit well with most modern female readers! What makes this rather odd is that it was written by a woman, and a well-educated emancipated woman at that. I don't really know where the Mormon angle comes into things as I don't think either Mary or Conrad had any ties with the Mormon community, in fact Conrad was orginally from Switzerland, which is a ways from Utah! In summary this is more of a book for boys who long to be cowboys than for pony lovers, and the now totally hackneyed plot does not make it appeal much either. Very nice illustrations by Mr. Buff however. (Although the cover art is pretty awful).


Friday, 4 July 2014

Monica Edwards Q and A with John Allsup, creator of

We recently featured Monica Edwards as our chat forum 'Author of the Month' and I asked people to send in their queries and questions about the author, her books and her characters. John Allsup, creator of the excellent and comprehensive website , Monica Edwards afficianado and friend of the Edwards family, kindly agreed to try and answer them for us. So for everything you ever wanted to know about Monica but were afraid to ask please read on....

Characters - were they based on real people and if so who?
Many of the queries sent in were about who the various characters were based upon and yes many of them were based on real people, or a combination of real people.

Tamzin / Lyndsey - both heroines were based mainly on the author's daughter Shelley, with Tamzin expressing Shelley's more adventurous side, whilst Lyndsey the more introspective side. John Allsup thinks there was also a large dollop of Monica herself in there!

Meryon - The popular hero of the Romney Marsh series was according to Monica in an interview with Jill Goulder, based on a young man she knew named Maurice Watts. In John Allsup's mind the character of Meryon may also have included elements of another young man of Monica's acquaintance called Charlie Southernden, a good-looking fisherman. Sadly both these men died young, Charlie being drowned in the lifeboat disaster of 1928.

Rissa - Tamzin's best friend was based upon a friend of Shelley's called Anne. Like Rissa, her parents wanted her to be ladylike and prim but tomboy Anne escaped to be with the

Dion, Peter and Diccon -The boys were also based on real-life people. Dion was inspired by the son of ome friends of Monica, and the two younger boys were based on her son Sean,

A lot of the animals were also based on real life horses and cats.

What happened to Badger Valley when Monica died?
The valley beloved by the author is now protected by The Woodland Trust who make sure the valley cannot be sold or developed.

Who illustrated the first edition of Rennie Goes Riding? Was it Sheila Rose?
The first edition did not actually have illustrations, however the dustwrapper artwork is almost certainly Sheila Rose, though not accredited to her.

Did Lindsey ever get the polo pony she was supposed to be given as a reward?
This was mentioned in No Mistaking Corker but the polo pony never materialised. Possibly because the Punchbowl Farm series proper began with Black Hunting Whip when radical changes to the characters were made (see question below). Corker is in a way should be read almost a stand alone story without connection to the others in the series.

Why is Dion younger than Lindsey in No Mistaking Corker but older in the rest of the Punchbowl series?
It is assumed because Dion was to take on the role of 'farmer' in the series that as 2 years younger than Lindsey he would be too young for the role, this needed a more mature character. As  noted above the Punchbowl series proper really started with Black Hunting Whip and there was a lack of continuity between Corker and the rest of the series.

Did Monica Edwards realise how popular her books were or is the popularity only a recent thing sparked by websites and the internet?
Her books were actually very popular at the time they were written, if not as widely publicised as the likes of Enid Blyton's stories. Many of her books had a number of reprints and a lot were published by the Children's Book Club who only published well known children's authors. She won awards for her writing. Her book No Entry was dramatized for radio and some of her books were serialised in the Collins Magazine, a well regarded periodical of the time. Monica herself did not consider herself to be a great writer but she certainly knew that many children loved her books and that they were popular.

Which is the hardest book to find in the series?
Although the rarer titles are slightly easier to find now than a few years back due to Girls Gone By reprinting them in paperback recently, some of the books are still very hard to get hold of. The GGB reprints were not large print runs and some of the older ones are becoming elusive. The hardest to find title is probably The Nightbird, especially in a hardback edition. Storm Ahead and Hidden in a Dream can also be tricky titles to find. 

What is your favourite Monica Edwards book John and do you prefer the Punchbowl or Romney Marsh series?
John's favourite ME book as a teenager was No Going Back, but now he thinks it may be Summer of the Great Secret, however he finds it hard to pick a favourite as it depends on his mood which of the stories he likes to read! He does not have a preference for either series.

Many thanks from all the ponymadbooklovers for John's help in answering these questions and giving us all a deeper insight into the world of Monica Edwards and her books.

Please feel free to post any further questions you may have on the author or her books and I will pass onto John.

Visit John's excellent Monica Edwards website here

Friday, 10 January 2014


Hi all, a chance to beat the post Christmas blues and win a free book. The prize is The Pony Club Annual 1980 which includes an excellent story by Carol Vaughan (author of the Matilda series, etc) and also 2 other stories by Deborah Ghate and Denise Amos. It is in good condition with a dustwrapper.

The give away is open to all UK readers of this blog/users of the website and chat forum (apologies to overseas users - this is due to the very heavy weight of the book. There will be subsequent book give aways open to all so if you are outside the UK please come back and check the blog or chat forum regularly)

To win the book simply send your name and address to or if you are a member of the forum you can 'PM' details to me. Closing date for entries is 31st January 2014. The winner will be drawn 'out of the hat' on Feb 1st.