Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Reviews: Elaine Brown - Jackie's Pony Secret and Ponies at Penstorran

Elaine Brown: Jackie’s Pony Secret

Jackie’s Pony Secret opens with Jackie sitting on a train with the lady from social services, on their way to Devon, where Jackie will start a new chapter in her life after the death of her mother. She is to live with her grandfather and his new wife in Devon. Until she gets there, Jackie has had very little to do with the countryside, and even less to do with horses. However, her grandfather and his wife, Elise, have a farm. They keep their own horses, and the other stables are rented out to a riding school, which is of course absolutely ideal if you find you’re keen on ponies, which Jackie does. There are plenty of hurdles to be overcome, however, before Jackie can settle into her new life. 


The first of these is to overcome her instinctive fear of horses, and to learn to ride. If you read this book as a pony-mad child whose knowledge of ponies is limited you’ll absorb plenty of useful information. The instructional stuff is nicely done. Instruction can be difficult to do without it feeling sanctimonious, or breaking the flow of the story with wodges of indigestible facts. Generally, Elaine Brown manages to insert the information seamlessly, and still keep you interested in Jackie’s progress and in what she’s learning.

The story takes place against an interesting set of family dynamics. I particularly like the step grandmother, Elise, who comes over as a warm character, and I like the developing relationship Jackie has with her father, from whom she’s initially distant. Jackie herself is likeable, with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. The dynamics of her relationships at school, with all its ups and downs, are realistic. I felt that there are occasions the author doesn’t quite have Jackie’s voice straight in her mind: most of the times she speaks pretty much as any 12 year old would, but occasionally she comes out with something that sounds as if she’s considerably older.

Elaine Brown has a real feeling for describing horses and what they’re up to. I could see Tia, and Secret, and all the other ponies trotting around in my mind. She’s also really good at letting you know what a place is like – something authors can often skip over in their headlong rush to get on with the plot.

If I have a criticism of this book, it’s that the author leaves me wanting more. Because she is good at getting into her character’s feelings, I’d have liked to know more about what Jackie’s “aunts” – Grandfather and Elise’s children, who are younger than Jackie, thought about the new arrival into their household, and more of the back story of Jackie’s father’s new relationship. That said, there are a lot of relationships in this book, most of them new to Jackie, and the author does a good job of showing what it’s like to be an uncertain 12 year old thrown into a whole new life. Jackie’s Pony Secret is a good, traditional pony story which allies well developed characters to plenty of authentic pony action.

Jackie’s Pony Secret

Age of main character: 12
Themes: family break up, death of parent, bullying, false accusations


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Ponies at Penstorran
This is the second in the Pony Chronicles series, in which Jackie, Nicole and their friend Joanna are being shipped off to Cornwall for the summer. Jackie’s grandfather and his partner Elise are going to America on a lecture tour, so the girls will stay with Celine, Elise’s half sister. She is described as “quite eccentric and enormous fun,” and she sets the tone for the book. It’s a story of quite some energy, with adventure, ponies and villains. The girls contend with a dastardly developer who wants Celine’s land and buildings, and is prepared to stop at nothing to get them.


That isn’t all there is to the story. The girls have taken their ponies with them, so there’s plenty of pony action, with cross country and beach rides, as well as experiences with the multitude of other animals Aunt Celine has. It would have been easy to make Celine a caricature, with her broken French, but she isn’t. She comes over as genuinely warm (Elaine Brown has a real talent for writing decent adult characters). The girls’ friendships develop and Jackie learns how to tackle a cross country course, a skill she puts to good use. The characters’ voices are more settled in this story; having established them in the first book, the author seems to have relaxed and is able to enjoy them.

The action is believable, and it’s a good, rollicking, holiday read.

Ponies at Penstorran

Age of main character: 12
Themes: friendship, intimidation

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