Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Book Review by 'Tintin' - Katy's Pony Challenge by Victoria Eveleigh


A quick editorial before we get to the review by my excellent co-reviewer 'Tintin' from the Pony Mad Chat Forum. This is the fourth instalment of the 'Exmoor' series about Katy and her Exmoor ponies. Originally a trilogy, the three first books were later reprinted and proved so popular a fourth title was added. Book five in the series is due to be released very soon!

For more information on the series please visit the Victoria Eveleigh web page


This is a really good book which covers a lot of ground in a short space and doesn't feel in any way skimped. After having read "Jerry" (by Eleanor Helme) it was a pleasant surprise to be reading another Exmoor Pony story, albeit this time a present day one.

Both horses and people in this book are pleasing characters. The Katy of the title lives on a farm on Exmoor with two ponies (Jacko and Trifle) and a foal (Tinkerbell.) Trifle is dam to Tinkerbell.

The story involves the subjects of bringing up a foal, horse agility and being over horsed.

Katy's friend Alice has a new, highly strung competition pony called Viking. She succeeds very well on him but starts to stop enjoying her riding. There are interesting discussions on how you know something is not working and when to stop.

Of great interest to me was the character of James, a boy with autism, who makes great progress through his friendship with Katy's horses and participation in horse agility events. This was very interesting to me as I have spent a lot of my time in recent years helping a man with Aspergers and ADHD. James is convincing and his character is probably on the right place in the spectrum to be a convincing, but not depressing, introduction to the type of issues involved.

A very good hearted book about people overcoming everyday (but no less challenging) problems while having fun with their ponies. Straightforward enough for the young, but deep enough for the old.


You can read more comments and vote on the book here

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Book Review: The Runaways by Glenn Balch


Set just after the Second World War. Jan, a young Latvian refugee from a concentration camp, and his family have taken refuge on a ranch in Idaho, helping the rancher by doing farm work. When Jan accidentally breaks the law, memories of being incarcerated in the war terrify him and he runs away from justice to hide in the hills. But instead of escaping he becomes friendly with a herd of wild horses, feeling an affinity for their hunted status. He decides to stay and protect the foals from a wild cougar that is killing them.


As with many of the 'ranch' or 'wild horse' type stories published in the USA from the 1940s to the 1960s, this was firmly aimed at the boy’s market. It's focus on guns and killing will not endear it to some readers. For me, the boy’s hunt for the cougar takes up too much of the story. Less of this and more description of the actual life of the wild horses would have been preferable. It also seems a bit hypocritical that the boy is so angry with the cougar for killing the foals when he is doing the same thing in killing rabbits and other wildlife to feed himself. I must admit I feel a certain irritation when a cougar/mountain lion appears in this sort of story. I always feel its a cliche on a par with the gypsy in the British pony book. It is also what I like to call a 'bad press' animal, on a par with the wolf and fox. All three are almost demonized in so many stories and branded as evil ferocious killers, which is about as far from the truth as possible.

However back to the story itself. On the plus side, the book is well-written and the emotions of the central character are very well portrayed , especially his fear of being hunted and the envy he feels at the carefree easy life of his American contemporary Eddie. We soon realise that his anger at the cougar’s hunting of the horses is a transference of the impotent fury he feels about his family being hunted, first by invading soldiers and now by the game wardens. He can’t get rid of his own pursuers but he can try and kill the cougar. The reader will certainly empathise with Jan and what he has been through and will also want to keep reading to find out what happens to him.  There is the sense that Jan’s experiences have given him an insight into what the life of the wild horses - constantly hunted - is really like.

In summary certainly not a traditional pony story, it is deeply entrenched in the hard-hitting world of ranch life with no room for squeamishness and this will not be to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless it is a thoughtful portrayal of a boy trying to cope with his traumas and finding an unexpected affinity with the wild horses he encounters.


You can read more comments and vote on the book here

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Book Review: Noel and the Donkeys by Hilda Boden

As you may know I like donkey stories and do class them as 'pony' books. (I also lump unicorns, pegasuses - or is that pegusi? - kelpies and ghost horses under the equine umbrella so donkeys have definitely got to be included!) Anyway I like to find new donkey stories and this is one you may not have heard of before despite the author being a familiar name in pony literature.


Noel, alarmed at the prospect of living with an unpleasant great aunt after his father dies, runs away. He befriends young Sammy who is giving donkey rides on the beach whilst his grandfather is ill. Sammy's grandma offers Noel a summer job helping with the donkeys. But things don't go well: Noel's attempt to disguise himself comes a cropper and Rumshus, the other boy who helps with the donkeys, becomes jealous of Noel and tries to get him into trouble...


This is actually the first in a series about the young red haired boy Noel and his various adventures. It has a donkey theme although not really a huge amount of equine content. Although the book is aimed at younger readers with its shortness, simple plot and dialogue, older children and even adults can enjoy the book too due to a certain wry humour provided by the adult characters. In fact the adult characters, in particular the Grandmother figure, are the highlights of the book.

The book is lightly humourous throughout but unfortunately some of the humour is provided through an insidious racism which also runs throughout the story.

Rumshus the black boy is portrayed as lazy, greedy, selfish and resentful: all traits of that racial stereotype which the British Empire held of the African American at that time. Rumshum is very deliberately contrasted to the two white boys who have all the positive qualities he lacks. He is the butt of much of the joking and humour in the story and also provides the main threat to Noel’s happiness. That this racism is a product of the times and is lacking in any real malice, does not excuse it to the modern reader. I literally felt a nervous shock ripple through me when one of the characters said that Rumshus didn’t need to wash as much as the others as he didn’t show up the dirt!

Racism aside, it is a nice enough, well written story with a likeable main character. Although fairly standard stock in terms of plot, the backdrop to the story adds an extra element for we modern readers. It provides a snapshot of a very British tradition and era: that of the British beach holiday of the early to mid 20th century with its donkey rides, Punch and Judy shows and music hall type entertainment. It is very nostalgic reading now that this tradition has all but disappeared.

I would have liked a little more donkey content in terms of the characters of the various donkeys and they could have played more of a part in the plot instead of being for the most part a backdrop to the main story. However the author is at pains to portray the donkeys as happy and well-looked after. Sammy is very conscientious in caring for his charges, making sure they are well rested and not over-worked. When the unpleasant Great Aunt complains that they are poor downtrodden animals, he hotly denies this.

There are a number of further books which follow Noel’s adventures and I liked this one well enough to be happy to read any of the others should I come across them, though I am not sure if donkeys feature in any of them.


You can read more comments and vote on the book here

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.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review - Angels of Clover Farm by Virginia Shirt


British rescue/mystery story set on a horse sanctuary. Sally and husband Adrian run Clover farm, although soft-heated Sally has turned the place into something of a sanctuary for abused and unwanted horses. A group of pony mad kids spend all their spare time at the farm, helping out and riding the ponies. The farm has money problems and the story starts with Adrian urging his wife not to buy another pony from the auction she and the kids are going to. Not surprisingly however she can’t keep her promise and ends up bringing home a neglected and sickly skewbald filly whom they christen Angel. The arrival of the pony sparks off mystery and danger for Sally, Adrian and the children. What is the secret behind Angel’s pedigree? Who is the mysterious stranger lurking around the farm? And will solving these mysteries be enough to save the farm from financial ruin?


The blurb for this book advertises that it has been “written for horse lovers by a horse lover.” This hits the nail right on the head. It is indeed a story for those who love horses, rather than seeing them as a ticket to winning prizes, or some sort of social status symbol – a vibe which sadly seems to come across in many a modern pony story. However this book goes back to the heart of the true pony story - the relationship between people and ponies. The characters care deeply about horses and are prepared to make sacrifices to help them. They also care about each other and empathise with each other’s respective problems. There are plenty of good messages and role models here for young readers to absorb.

Although lacking the style and polish of some of the more experienced pony book authors around at the moment, I feel it is far more sincere and heart-felt than most. If you want a book which gives you a feeling of faith in the goodness of humanity, or one will which simply leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, then this is book for you.

I really like the main character Sally who comes across as sympathetic and believable. As an adult reader I identified strongly with her and her problems. Having a mixture of adult and younger characters and their various issues gives the book more depth and ensures it will appeal to adults as well as children. However, because this obviously is a story aimed at children, I am not sure that having the main viewpoint from the adult perspective is wholly successful. I wonder if younger children would have a little trouble relating to some of Sally and Adrian’s issues. I also think that the children in the book were not as fleshed out as the adult characters. I feel that making one of the children in the group the main protagonist rather than Sally herself may have perhaps worked a little better in terms of it being a children’s story.

But there is still a lot for children to enjoy here. As well as being a rescue story, this is also something of an adventure/mystery and there is plenty for young readers to get their teeth into, with mysterious strangers skulking around, nefarious plots to uncover and stolen ponies to rescue. The author has blended these excitements into the rescue/pony care side of the story, making the plot fast paced enough to hold the attention of easily bored children without losing the underlying message of caring for animals.

Some older teens and more demanding younger readers will perhaps find the story-line and characters a little simplistic. People and issues are black and white with no shades of grey. There are ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ here and nothing in between. There also don’t appear to be any teen characters for this age group to identify with. Of course this means our story line is not bogged down with many of those tedious teen plot stalwarts such as mawkish romances and the like which can sometimes detract from the plot if not handled well. And as the book appears to be aimed at the younger end of the teen and pre-teen market this is not a huge problem.

All in all, the book is a pleasant, fairly undemanding read for those who like a traditional pony story with a bit of adventure thrown in. It will suit a good range of readers, although I think will appeal best to younger teens/pre-teens and horsy adults who dislike the current crop of ‘style over substance’ teen pony stories. I’d also recommend the book to parents who are a bit wary of the possible unsavoury content (drugs, sex, etc) which seems to be creeping insidiously into even pre-teen pony books nowadays. There is nothing of that nature in this book.  It is wholesome enough for the most stringent parental scrutiny without alienating its young readers by being preachy or dull. Unlike many modern pony stories we also have important male characters here, both adult and child, so this is eminently suitable for young male pony lovers too.

I would rate this book as 3 horseshoes (GOOD)

Read more and vote for the book on the ponymadbooklovers chat forum review section