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Showing posts from December, 2015

Christmas Day 2015

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Patricia Leitch died earlier this year. She wrote one of the best ever pony series with the Jinny books, and book eleven, Horse of Fire, has one of the most magical Christmas scenes in a children's book. This post is dedicated to Patricia with thanks for the many presents she gave the world through her books.

Jinny and Shantih are appearing in the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery by the rude disconnect between her dreams and reality, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement. 'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.' 'You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.' '…

Advent Calendar 24 - Catherine Harris: The Ponies of Cuckoo Mill Farm

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Catherine Harris' Marsham family crash through her series about them, and Christmas is no different. This Christmas they have to suffer the terrible (in their opinion) Forrest family, whose father has died. The initial meeting between the families did not go well. Mrs Marsham has to dole out some harsh home truths - but before she does that, she describes what Christmas Eve is like for her:


"I think Christmas Eve is the most beautiful of all nights," said Mrs. Marsham. She pointed towards the uncurtained window. 'Look how bright the stars are tonight. One couldn't help but know that it's Christmas night just by seeing them. And then there's a sense of silence somehow. I know we all rush about and make lots of noise and upset things, but beyond ourselves, the very atmosphere close around us seems so very still, waiting. It's the one night when I believe in magic.' Happy Christmas Eve.

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Advent Calendar 23 - Veronica Westlake: The Ten Pound Pony

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Veronica Westlake's The Ten Pound Pony is one of my absolute favourite books, and hopefully one of Susan Keith's, who suggested this, too. This excerpt is set on Christmas Eve (as is tomorrow's), and I really need to say nothing about it as it makes all the points it needs to perfectly well on its own.
We all went to bed for a short time after that, as later on we should be walking three miles into New Fratton (and back) to go to Midnight Mass there, and I think we were all in a strange, dreamy, unreal state when, with a slight shiver, we stepped out into the brilliant moonlight and started our long walk through a shining fairy-land of frost and snow. 

It must have been that queer trance between sleeping and waking that set me thinking and wondering about Colonel Mainwaring. Beastly as he had always been to us, incomprehensible in his headstrong rages, I yet felt sorry for him as I sat in the warm, glowing little church looking at the bright colours on the altar and heari…

Advent Calendar 22 - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Has Two Ponies

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I couldn't let Christmas pass without another episode of Jillish Christmas. In Jill Has Two Ponies, Jill gets an early Christmas present of two loose boxes. She gets her mother a splendid white cushion "from a shop that appeared to be the kind of place that furnished palaces," and both are delighted with their presents.
Jill's other presents more than make up for this bounty. They are presents with a theme.

"As for my other presents, by some strange trick of Fate they nearly all turned out to be handkerchiefs. As I opened mysterious parcels in the cold light of that Christmas dawn and more and more handkerchiefs fell upon my bed I began to think I was under a spell, like people in fairy-tales. Of course I could understand getting handkerchiefs from rather soul-less people like my Aunt Primrose and my cousin Cecilia (of whom you have read in my previous books) and handkerchiefs I got, six white linen ones of a rather dainty size with a white J. for Jill in the c…

Advent Calendar 21 - K M Peyton: The Team

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Jonathan Meredith is sitting watch his mother sort out the Pony Club files at Christmas time as she tries to work out which Pony Club members are possibles for the team.


"Jonathan heaved another half-hundredweight log into the ancient fire-place and watched an explosion of sparks spray across the soot-dark recess. It was snowing outside, a wet slow drift spattering the dusk. He was grateful for his privilege,sitting there with his knees close to the embers, feeling the warmth striking through his thin denims. He had been selling Christmas things in the Oxfam shop all day, and now didn't even have to go out and do his own horse for the night, for there was a groom to do it for him. Having been surrounded all day by posters of starving children, his own life suddenly seemed a bit odd, even pointless. He mother, for example, frowning over her card index. As if it mattered!  'There's Peter NcNair, of course, if he happens to have a decent pony when the moment comes. You c…

Advent Calendar 20 - Golden Gorse: Moorland Mousie

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Moorland Mousie is an even earlier pony story than Joanna Cannan's A Pony for Jean, and it's one of the best examples of the pony-tells-its-own-tale stories that were so popular in the early decades of the 20th century.

Moorland Mousie is an Exmoor pony, and the book tells his story from foalhood through being rounded up and broken, to his somewhat chequered career as a child's pony. Mousie and his companion Tinker have been left terrified of humanity after being rounded up. Fortunately Patience, the daughter of Colonel Coke, who bought both ponies, takes things very, very slowly, and provides an object lesson in how to treat a wild pony. By Christmas, she's made progress.

"From now on life became pleasanter. Fear is a terrible thing, and it is the greatest trouble of all horses. It was a wonderful thing to feel that there was at least one human being of whom we were no longer afraid.  By Christmas Patience had succeeded in getting us both haltered, and that witho…

Advent Calendar 19 - Wendy Douthwaite: The Christmas Pony

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Today's book is supremely well titled for this time of year: it's Wendy Douthwaite's Christmas Pony. Many thanks to Sue Howes for suggesting it, and also for providing the text. My personal collection of pony books stutters to a stop around 1980, so Wendy Douthwaite rather passed me by.




Sue has however swept to the rescue from the deepest South West. The Christmas Pony is the story of farmer's daughter Lindy, whose mother died. Her father has now remarried, and this is Lindy's first Christmas with her new stepmother, Susan. They don't get on, but the relationship improves over the course of the story, and Lindy ends up with guess what.... actually rather more than she bargained for. HUGE spoilers about to follow, so don't read on if you'd like to read the book for yourself and discover the surprise.

"The house was quiet, but all around Lindy could hear the gentle roar of the blizzard. It was a noise that she had never heard before, and it sent a s…

Advent Calendar 18 - Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Prince Among Ponies

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The Advent Calendar choice for today is Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Prince Among Ponies. Like Diana's I Wanted a Pony, this doesn't really focus on Christmas, although there is a mention. The whole glorious focus of this book is Adonis, the beautiful but wayward grey pony Patrick and Sara discover when they go and visit some family friends.


He is possibly the uber-pony gift (although there is of course Cascade, Tamzin's part-Arab pony in Wish for a Pony). Prince Among Ponies ticks all the Pullein-Thompson boxes - there's good and sensible riding set against the bash and point school, humour, and a good set of relationship dynamics.





Advent Calendar 17 - Ruby Ferguson - Jill's Gymkhana

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Many thanks to Vanessa Robertson for suggesting this book for the advent calendar. The advent calendar thus far has had only a cursory mention of Jill - or to be more accurate, Black Boy, and not even him, his day rug. The day rug crops up again here, because it's one of Jill's Christmas presents in the first Jill story, Jill's Gymkhana.

Some pony books shoot through Christmas at a rate of knots, but in Jill's Gymkhana you get an entire chapter titled Christmas. 

While writing this, I've changed my mind and am going to focus on a different bit of the chapter, as I have covered Black Boy's day rug every year I've done this calendar. Why? Why am I obsessed by this?


So, here is the scene where Ann says there are other things in life other than pony books. Ann, being super organised, has already given Jill a present (yellow riding gloves), and Jill is mortified as she had not even thought of giving Ann anything. However, Mrs Crewe comes to the rescue with a si…

Advent Calendar 16 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: I Wanted a Pony

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Today's book is Diana Pullein-Thompson's I Wanted a Pony. Many thanks to Kerry Newson for suggesting it.


I wonder how many of you spent the run up to Christmas wishing fervently for a pony, and whose Christmas lists to Father Christmas featured one thing, a pony? Mine certainly did, and I would usually be told to write another one because Father Christmas needed a few other things to go on in case he couldn't get a pony. Sadly, Father Christmas never did prove equal to the task of providing a pony for me.


I made do with other people's experiences, and Augusta, heroine of I Wanted a Pony possibly remains my favourite girl-gets-pony story. I love Augusta's feisty refusal to accept her cousins' view of her, and her dogged persistence in raising the money to buy Daybreak.

When I met Diana Pullein-Thompson we discussed the fact that she thought it one of her worst books. I asked her why, and she replied that she thought it was derivative. Derivative of what? I asked…

Advent Calendar 15 - Christine Pullein-Thompson - The First Rosette

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I've been trawling through my CPT collection to find a book with a Christmas scene - I thought the hunting trilogy would have one, but if so, it's passed me by. Let me know in the comments if you do know of anything and I'll try and include it.


Today's book is The First Rosette, the first in the David and Pat series. David is 10 when the story opens. He is the only one in his family who likes horses, and his parents want him to better himself. Horses, they think, are not the way to do it. David doesn't give up, and helps at a local riding stable. After rescuing the Master's daughter when she falls off her pony, David is given the opportunity to ride the difficult pony Sinbad.



Christmas comes, and it's a special one for David.

"They all opened their presents together at eleven o'clock. Further along the road they could hear the church clock striking. Outside the world seemed full of sunlight. David opened the parcel which said, from Mum and Dad, and…

Advent Calendar 14: Monica Dickens - World's End in Winter

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As promised, here is a regular winter favourite. This is another childhood favourite of mine. I loved the World's End series, with its family existing with virtually no adult input, in a ramshackle old inn (something of a theme emerging here - yesterday's book also features a rackety and dishevelled house) filled with the animals the Fielding family rescue.


This book does actually have the Fielding parents present. Jerome Fielding's brother, Rudolph comes down, with his wife Valentina, to spent Christmas. Jerome, unable to resist a desperate attempt to prove to his brother that he is a success, announces that a newspaper will print his book. This backfires terribly when Rudolph says that now Jerome is earning, they can pay rent for World's End.

Before this disaster, the Fieldings have their own present giving. Elder brother Tom has brought everyone animals, and for Lester, there is a cage of robins.

"Tom gave Lester a cage of Peking robins which he had seen in a sh…

Advent Calendar 13 - Monica Edwards: Black Hunting Whip

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The next two Advent Calendar books are hoary old favourites. I nearly went ahead and told you what tomorrow's will be, but you'll have to check in tomorrow to find that out.

Today's book is Black Hunting Whip. I loved this story when I was growing up, and I still do, even now I have traded in my trusty and very battered 1960s paperback Armada for a smart-ish* hardback. Black Hunting Whip is the first of the Punchbowl Farm series - to be truly accurate, it's the second, but No Mistaking Corker doesn't take place on the farm, and is a rather different animal to the rest of the Punchbowl series.



I have spent much of my house-owning life taking on houses no one else wanted because they were so vile (among my son's first words were "Be careful!" which he would mutter to himself as he negotiated the gaps in the floorboards and other traps that made for a house which was a careful mother's health and safety nightmare).

Punchbowl Farm is one of those house…

Advent Calendar 12 - F K Brown: Last Hurdle

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Today's Advent Calendar swoops across the pond, and is courtesy of my friend Christina Wilsdon. Chris introduced me to this book (in fact she gave me a copy). It's F K Brown's Last Hurdle, and it's the story of Kathy, her brother Ned, and her horse, Baldy. Chris calls him a work-in-progress, and that's exactly what he is.
It's a lovely, lovely book. I checked on the book selling sites, and it is, thankfully, reasonably easy to obtain over here. I can highly recommend it. Here's a lovely Christmas excerpt, which captures both the comfort and excitement of family tradition, and the bliss of getting a Christmas present that is so well suited to you it fulfils a need you didn't even know you had..




"Christmas Eve arrived in a blur of anticipation and happiness. She and Ned, after supper, stamped through the house carrying lighted candles and singing carols at the top of their voices.
'It came upon a midnight clear...' Ritually they walked into e…

The Pony Book Collectors 1

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I'm starting a new occasional series on people who collect pony books. I am also fascinated by other people's collections, because no two pony book collections are the same.

Today's interviewee is Fiona Williams from Canada. I sold several books to Fiona during my bookselling career, and also snaffled one from under her nose recently, as you'll find out.

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JB: When did you start your collection?


FW: My collection basically started when I was a child in the 1960s, as I've still got most of my pony books. I re-started it in the mid 1980s when I found some titles I didn't have going cheap in the second hand shops. Nowadays I do almost all of my book shopping on-line.


JB: Why did you decide to collect pony books?

FW: Nostalgia, really. I wanted to own some of the titles I'd always wanted to read as a kid, or had only read a library copy.


JB: Do you collect anything else?

FW:  Yes. I have an almost complete set of Georgette Heyer hardcovers, and an almost co…

Advent Calendar 11 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: A Pony for Sale

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Diana Pullein-Thompson's A Pony for Sale is the story of Martini, the pony who becomes a Christmas present that goes wrong. Broken in by Guy Beaumont, he sells her to the Cox family as an early Christmas present for their daughter, Pip. Pip is initially thrilled by Martini, a far cry from her outgrown patent safety pony, Rex, but Pip is nervous, and inclined to be influenced by others. She is too nervous of her parents to tell them that things are not going well with Martini, too afraid of her friend Tessa to tell her to ride sensibly and not hot Martini up, and too afraid of being despised to ask for help.



After a disastrous hunt in which Martini bolts, Pip finally plucks up the courage to tell her parents how badly things are going. They blame Guy Beaumont, and Martini is sold on to the brutal Lydia Pike. Pip gives up riding altogether shortly afterwards after a fall broke her nerve.




Martini goes on to have a truly terrible time at the hands of Lydia Pike, before being bought by…

Advent Calendar 10 - Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Plenty of Ponies

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Today's Advent Calendar book is Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Plenty of Ponies - the early Armada edition below, with the truly awful backward seat, is one I'm sure Josephine disapproved of tremendously. She and her sisters were both fierce advocates of Caprilli's theory of using the forward seat when jumping.
The Esmond family, heroes and heroines of the book, have been ruined by money. When they lived in a cottage and had to scrape round and do everything themselves, they were much nicer characters, Charlotte thinks. Now they have a large house, a pony each, a groom, and people to help in the house. The Esmonds decide to start a society devoted to improving their characters. and all of this is given impetus by what happens after Christmas Day.

Christmas itself went very well:
"The Esmonds were, as usual, all very gay and agreeable on Christmas Day; it was the only day in the year in which none of the children ever quarrelled. On birthdays they thought it permiss…

Advent Calendar 9 - Lucy Rees: The Wild Pony

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Lucy Rees' Wild Pony is today's Advent Calendar title, and is the suggestion of Lucy Bruckner. Wild Pony was Lucy Rees' first book, and she wrote it while she had her own riding school, which no doubt provided her with plenty of raw material on which to draw. Heroine Pippa and her parents move to the country (Wales) and Pippa, classic star-crossed, pony-less girl, dreams of having a pony now that having somewhere to keep it isn't the huge problem it was while living in town. 

As is the way of these things, lack of money means compromises must be made, and the compromise Pippa makes is buying a wild pony off the Welsh hills who is at times downright dangerous. This doesn't help her relationship with her parents. Christmas arrives, and Pippa spends some of it with her family, but sneaks off to see her friend Susan, and then to Ty Mawr, where live the bohemian family that fascinates Pippa. Pippa gives them possibly one of the most memorable pony book Christmas presen…

Advent Calendar 8 - Gillian Baxter: The Perfect Horse

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Today's book has been chosen by Sabrina Ferguson, and it's The Perfect Horse, by Gillian Baxter. It's the third in the Bracken Stables trilogy, which starts with Jump to the Stars, in which heroine Bobby battles with an unsympathetic school, and a worse than unsympathetic aunt to achieve her dream of working for stable owner Guy Matthews, and riding the chestnut mare, Shelta.

The Difficult Summer had what I would call a bit more than difficulties - an aeroplane crashes onto the stables and causes a fire.  Horses die, Guy ends up in hospital, and buildings are destroyed. All that has been overcome by the time of the The Perfect Horse.


Gillian's cousin, Ellen, reappears, asking Bobby and Guy to find her a horse she can event on - rather a surprising request for a girl who we feel rides because it's socially acceptable. The horse they find is called Minos, and he never puts a foot wrong. Ever.


Minos is the perfect, push button horse. Point him at a fence and he'll …

Interview: Katharina Marcus

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Katharina Marcus is a brilliant YA author. I first came across her when I read (and reviewed) her first book, Eleanor McGraw, a Pony Named Mouse and a Boy Called Fire. Her Boys Don’t Rideblew me away, and was my book of last year (in case you’re wondering, there won’t be an equestrian fiction review this year as I simply haven’t read enough to be able to comment). There are some great perks to working as an editor, one of which is working on books that you love, and earlier this year I worked on Katharina’s latest, The Boy with the Amber Eyes. It’s the sequel to Eleanor McGraw, and I am biased, but it is a great read. I’ve done links below the interview if you’d like to try any of the books.
I was delighted when Katharina agreed to an interview. So, over to Katharina... JB: Why do you write?
KM: Honestly? I have no idea. It’s a stupid thing to do. It doesn’t make any money; it makes you psychologically unavailable to your children, husband and ponies; it makes you pace up and down in …

Advent Calendar 7 - Diana Pullein-Thompson: Riding with the Lyntons

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Today's book is Diana Pullein-Thompson's Riding with the Lyntons. Heroine Lesley has moved to the country from town, and is, until she meets the Lynton family, lonely. The Lyntons represent a totally different world to Lesley. It's one with plenty of companionship, generally good-natured family bickering, and lots and lots of animals. Christmas occurs while Lesley and the Lyntons are still delighted with each other, and before the incident that drives what seems like a permanent wedge between them. The present she's given seems to represent all the liveliness of the new world she thinks she's a part of, and makes the later ostracism seem all the more brutal. "We had great fun pulling crackers and we made a lot of noise with the trumpets, whistles and rattles which we got out of them. Then Paulla and Jon disappeared, and returning a few minutes later, they said, "Shut your eyes, Lesley, tightly. Don't look or we'll never forgive you." I follo…