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.


Read more and vote on the book here

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Book Review - Pony Surprise by Patricia Leitch


Penny and Ewan are a ponymad but ponyless brother and sister. To their joy, their neighbour finds herself housing a friend's Highland pony for the summer in her field, and, knowing nothing about ponies herself, asks the pair to look after him and ride him. But when they meet Augustus the children's dreams turn into a nightmare - as he is the most unco-operative, grumpy and naughty pony imaginable. Despite this they attempt to train him and ride in pony club events, gymkhanas and the like, causing a string of disasters and mayhem as they go! But just as the children are beginning to despair of ever having a decent pony to ride, Augustus gives them a couple of surprises!


Although this may be considered one of the author's lesser works, and certainly has less depth/character insight than for example the Jinny series or A Dream of Fair Horses, neverthless it has a lot going for it. I'm awarding it 4 horseshoes, and at least one of them is for the character of the dog-loving Augustus, who has to be the most cantankerous, self-willed and truly awfully behaved equine in pony book history. But at the same time Leitch makes him strangely loveable. It brings back memories and a kind of rueful nostalgia for me of some of the terrible ponies I ended up riding as a child. A far cry from the expensive, well bred horses or ultra-talented ponies which appear in many pony books, but which most of us readers never have access to in real life. I think most of us have known an 'Augustus' sometime in our life. Although the viewpoint is mainly from the character of Penny, we occaisionally see into Augustus' head, which is quite a nice touch and adds to the humour and his character. I love his thoughts the first time we meet him:

"It was not the first time Augustus had met children with a gymkhana look in their eyes. In his long life Augustus had often had to deal with such children. He knew that the best place for a pony was standing in its own little field grazing and one of the worst places for a pony was dashing madly around at gymkhanas. In his well-ordered life Augustus has seldom allowed this to happen to him. He chewed a sweet mouthful of grass and checked again on the two children who were still staring so rudely at him. He didn't think he would have too much trouble sorting them out..."  (Page 13)

The moment we read this we get a delicious sense of anticipation that there are going to be all sorts of fun and games ahead in store for the children and for us, the readers.

As well as Augustus, I also really like the character of Penny who is very sympathetic. In some ways she is a similar character to Augustus in her stubborness. She has quite a will of her own and tries to pit it against that of Augustus. To no avail - but she keeps on trying!

Another real strength of the book is it's humour throughout. If you are feeling a bit down this is definitely one I'd recommend you to read. (Another one is JPT's Pony Club Camp) Most of the humour comes from Augustus and the mayhem he creates, but there are also eccentric adult characters thrown into the mix too, giving a mixture of pure slapstick and subtle humour.

Perhaps not a classic, but certainly a classic pony character in Augustus, and a real feel good read.


Read more and vote on the book: here

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Autumn Book Reviews 2017

Hi all a round-up of our latest book reviews. Books all reviewed by my fellow reviewer 'Tintin'. Please add any comments either here, or on our chat forum review section (link at the bottom of the review). Thanks as always to Tintin for his entertaining and thoughtful reviews.
If you haven't read any of our reviews before, we have our own 'horseshoe' rating system from 1 horseshoes (poor) to 5 horseshoes (excellent) with a special gold cup trophy to outstanding reads and the horse dropping booby prize to the very dire! Hope you enjoy the reviews.

Book Review by 'Tintin' - Three White Stockings by Moyra Charlton 

I do like a good horse biography, and this is distinctly above average

In the days of National Service it was considerably easier to get in the Army than out of it. One of the few methods was to be discharged as "temprementally unsuited to military service", the horse equivalent was terser "cast for vice" although it amounted to the same thing.

The hero and narrator of the book, Chum, a chesnut gelding with the three white stockings of the title was one such horse.

The book follows him from birth to late middle age as he recounts his life to a young colt while out at grass.

Chum has a tendency to be a little bit full of himself which the author gently brings out. He is literally headstrong and spends the best part of the Great War in the Remount Depot and is eventually cast due to his constantly evading the bit and unwillingness to stand in the ranks. The staff are firm, but never cruel with him, but eventually lose patience and let him go.

Prior to the war he had been being trained to be a hunter and he is fortunate to be bought by a lady (clearly the author - as the introduction alludes to) who hunts and point to points him.

All the action takes place in Southern Ireland and any Irish reader, or reader familiar with Ireland, who is at all horsey will have the floodgates of recall opened by the many places described or mentioned. There are some oblique references to the troubles (the distant sound of gunfire, a burnt out house, being stoned by youths)but the overall impression is one of gentleness and hospitality

There is a good cross section of horse life here showing both the similarities and differences with the modern day. Horse ailments and injuries, transporting horses and the problems of having to hack out and back to hunt and race meets in a day when motor horse boxes were very rare - although there is a useful description of riding in horse boxes from the horse point of view which is the only one I have ever seen. There is an interlude with the life of ladybird the Welsh Pony, whose life is even more interesting than that of Chum.

Comments on the book - a map of Ireland would have been nice to accompany the beautiful and spirited illustrations! Unlike most later pony books it is written for those with a pretty good knowledge of horses. Very good attempt to get into the mind of a horse and explore the differences to the mind of the rider/handler. Charming on the simple pleasures of a horse's life.

Rating - easily a 4 horseshoe book, well written, realistic, very descriptive and informative, likeable characters you care about. Interesting aside/health warning on the impact of personal taste on reviews - I think if I had been half as fond of point to point as the author I would have given it 5!


You can read more comments and vote on the book: here

More on Moyra Charlton and her books here 

Book Review by 'Tintin' - Bonny the Pony by Ruth Clarke 

Having touched on the subjective aspects of book reviewing on another thread this represents a very good example of its application

Not only is our taste in books and our preference for different aspects of horse life, or character of people or locale involved, but also our age, tastes and state of mind at the time we were first acquainted with the book and even who gave us it.

I was enthusiastically recommended this book by a very glamorous hunting lady who was quite emphatic, that after Black Beauty, this was the greatest horse story ever written

I feel an absolute churl at disagreeing, but that is not to say the book is a bad book.

Let us first look at what is wrong with it. It is all over the place, things chop and change and are swiftly picked up and put down again. An awful lot happens, it is very much like a cliff hanger serial as Bonny gets into all sort of scrapes. Also the writing style chops and changes and can be a bit odd. The setting and characters are very English yet constantly say "Sure" and "Gee" in a very American way. Was the author American living in the UK, or someone who naturally used American phrases? Also sometimes the author seems not quite sure of the correct word - I have never heard "harness" used as a term except for draught horses.

What is good with it? A great deal - it is a good hearted book full of genuine sentiment. The characters of Bonny (a gelding) and Frank his owner are delightful and they truly are best friends, they are both very bold and keep the reader on the edge of their seat with their scrapes. It is exciting yet does not stray into the realms of the fantastical. It is unusual in being a book from the austerity period of the late forties 1946(there are still land girls, far more books are from the 30's and 50's. It is a beautifully presented book with delightful illustrations and a handily sized type face. From the site it appears to be the author's only book, which is a great pity

I can well understand why my grand foxy friend loves the book so much, she likes the bond between horse and rider and the adorable character of Bonny (your love for him made more intense by the shameless, soap opera style, device of constantly placing him in danger) Also any horse mad child given this book at the right time, by the right person could n't fail to love it.

However, I can only give it 3 horseshoes because it very much needs the tautening hand of an editor (I am sure the sisters could have made 4 or 5 books out of this)Such loveable characters and location need a more patient and descriptive hand to flesh them out how they, and the reader, deserve. A good hearted, attractive book well on the good side of average. Like several books I have read recently would perhaps make a better TV series than a book


Read more comment and vote on the book: here

Find out more about Ruth Clarke's pony books here 

Book Review by 'Tintin' - A Ceremonial Death by Thomas Jenkins

Definitely a book for adults (warning SPOILERS)

Told in the first person by a private detective, who is definitely a gentleman.

Set in the modern day fictional "Prince Alberts Troop, Royal Horse Artillery" a mounted battery very similar to the real life Kings Troop RHA

The Troop take over public duties at Horseguards, Whitehall while the Household Cavalry are at their annual camp. Unfortunately someone cuts the head off the NCO of the guard just before the 4pm daily inspection.

This is extremely disruptive to the well ordered, even idyllic, life of the unit.

The civil police are called in to investigate, but the case is complex (theoretically almost all the guard could have done it)and the CID Inspector is obnoxious (typical of a certain sort of Met officer who knows everything and despises all other cap badges) The victim is also obnoxious. The men close ranks and clam up.

Fortunately, one of the officers is in the same club as the narrator and invites him to stay at the Mess. The detective also invites his nephew to join the party of Cadets on work experience at the barracks.

The life of the mounted battery is much more interesting than the rather squalid murder, but the two are interestingly interwoven. The Riding School scenes are brilliant. The author rides and hunts and spent some time fact finding with the Kings Troop and it shows.

The gunners are likeable and realistic, sadly the horses don't get characters. Because of the subject matter there is rather a lot of the seamier side of army life, but the good far outweighs it. Although there is no sexual content, there is some rather heavy sexual banter, which although typical, some people may find upsetting. There is not a lot of it though.

I found the book quite uplifting. 5 horseshoes, but very near Gold Cup for me.

Happily there are more stories of Prince Alberts Troop, but regrettably only this one in physical format.


Read more comments and vote on the book: here