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Showing posts from June, 2014

PBOTD 30th June: Monica Edwards - The Wanderer

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I promised you more Children's Book Club, and here you are: the picture below is their version of Monica Edwards' The Wanderer, with probably one of the most unlikely equine conformations you'll ever see on a book cover. 

I'm glad I grew up with the far prettier Armada version of the book. The first edition, which appeared in 19  and was illustrated by Joan Wanklyn, is even lovelier.



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PBOTD 29th June: Gillian Baxter - Horses in the Glen

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Today's book continues my series on bad covers. I do wonder what influence a bad cover has on your opinion of a book. I wonder if I'd like yesterday's PBOTD, Janet Must Ride, more, if the first thing that came into my mind every time I thought of it was that cover. Perhaps that's a childhood thing: where you weld the visual into the imagination with a bit more certainty.

I read today's book Gillian Baxter's Horses in the Glen, as an adult as I couldn't ever find it in my pony mad youth. I liked the story, and when I think of it I do think of this cover, but it has no influence at all on what I think about the book. The edition above is the Children's Book Club edition.  It was copied directly from Mathilde Windish-Graetz’ The Spanish Riding School (1958).




The CBC only rarely used the original covers of the books they republished, and although some of their efforts are successes, a lot aren't. Keep checking in with the blog for the next couple of d…

PBOTD 28th June: Diana Pullein-Thompson - Janet Must Ride

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The next run of pony books of the day celebrate the depths pony book cover illustration can reach. Today's cover is the earliest Armada printing of Janet Must Ride. I had this particular edition myself, but I always hated this cover. With a lower leg position like that, I do wonder what will happen when Corrymeela lands. Janet Must Ride, but she's probably going to fall off first


It's not credited, but I think it's by Peter Archer. The style is certainly very similar to other Armada illustrations he did which are credited. . Below is the first edition, which Collins published in 1953, with a cover illustration by Mary Gernat, who was, ironically, Armada's other major cover illustrator. I wonder what she felt when she saw the paperback edition.


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PBOTD 27th June: Maggie Stiefvater - The Scorpio Races

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Today's PBOTD is a modern book, which only appeared in 2011. There are very few books I recommend to my family, bookaholics though they all are, because there's only so much horse they can take. This one, however, is different. It's the horse story you can read without betraying your anti-pony book principles.



The Scorpio Races was one of my stand out reads of 2011. It takes the water horses of Celtic legend, and sees what would happen if they were part of a more or less contemporary society. Humanity is far more likely to come off worse in encounters with the water horse, and the book opens in a way which leaves you little doubt about what kind of creature you're about to meet.
It's a dark and occasionally bloody and violent fantasy about a race of water horses who live off the island of Thisby. Sometimes flung up by storms, and sometimes captured, the water horses are raced by the inhabitants of the island once a year, in the Scorpio Races. The race is notoriously…

PBOTD 26th June: K M Peyton - The Right Hand Man

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Today's book is one of K M Peyton's historical novels. It's set in Georgian England, and is an enthralling read about Ned, who becomes a coachman. K M Peyton is just as good at writing male characters as she is female, and Ned is a brilliant creation.


Apologies for the brevity of this post - extreme lack of time, alas.

Review: Maggie Raynor - Finders Keepers

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Finders Keepers is the one of the first two titles for new equestrian publisher Forelock. I’ve reviewed the other one, One Good Turn, in another post. Like its fellow, Finders Keepers is a well-written story, full of decent characters and with plenty of accurate pony detail.


Kirsty is desperate for a pony, and has a pony fund. Her parents are not even remotely horsey, but her aunt, Tianne, is, and Kirsty goes to stay with her as often as she can. On a visit during the summer holidays, they go to Barrowby horse fair, where they find a neglected horse, tied up alone. He’s still there at the end of the fair, and so Tianne and Kirsty take him home. It’s a long, hard struggle, but they manage to restore the pony, Socks, to health. And then Kirsty wins a place on a reality tv programme. It’s a dressage makeover with top trainer Mark Kaspar.

Kirsty is thrilled, but she soon finds out that producing a television programme isn’t as straightforward as you might think, and she learns the hard way…

Review: Ruth Benton Blackmore - One Good Turn

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Forelock Books are the latest equestrian publisher, and they specialise in pony stories. Their first two titles, One Good Turn and Finders Keepers are just out (Finders Keepers is reviewed separately). I was intrigued to see what Forelock would produce, because the glory days when anything was published as long as it had a pony are well behind us, and the rise of the formulaic, part-of-a-series book has hit the pony book just as hard as it has every other area of children’s fiction.

So, how have Forelock done? Their first two books are solid and well-written. They’ve gone for character-driven pony stories, loaded with accurate equine detail, welded onto pretty conventional plots. If you want decent stories, crammed full of ponies, without any of the current fads that you find in the rest of the pony book market, these should fit the bill.




One Good Turn is my favourite out of the two. Bethany has moved to Cornwall, and is feeling isolated and lonely. You don’t get any build up to this: …

PBOTD 25th June: K M Peyton - Flambards Divided

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Today's PBOTD is a book that divides Flambards fans: Christina has already married Will, and Dick, and in this book, she ends up with Mark, having divorced Dick and seen him off into the arms of someone more suitable.


With Mark,Christina does come at last to a sort of peace, though a controversial one. Mark, in the earlier books, lost none of the characteristics that made him so spectacularly unsympathetic in the first. But a terrible war, which has left him badly wounded, has changed other things about him apart from the physical. There's a satisfaction in seeing Mark, if not reform, at least mellow, but whether you believe it or not is debatable.
There were plans to televise this book, and a pilot was made. What happened to it I do not know. The crew were based at K M Peyton's house, and the whole thing was exciting, though not conducive to a peaceful marriage.


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PBOTD 24th June: K M Peyton - Flambards in Summer

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The third book in the Flambards series, Flambards in Summer, sees Christina returning to Flambards. Now a widow, she is not the only one returning: Dick, the groom who taught her to ride, is back too.
The estate is badly run down, and Christina sets about restoring it. And she marries Dick.


In a romantic novel, this would probably be enough: at last the two sweethearts are together, but it's not like that in Flambards in Summer. Christina and Dick are very different people. The only thing that unites them is Flambards, and they have different opinions on what to do about that.



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PBOTD 23rd June: K M Peyton - The Edge of the Cloud

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This is another PBOTD which is not a pony book: not even remotely. There are no horses in it, but there are plenty of machines. Flambards, the first book in the series, saw Christina learning to ride, and hunt, and learn to love horses.

Set against the obsession of her Uncle Russell and cousin Mark for hunting is the obsession of her other cousin, Will, with aeroplanes.

At the end of Flambards, the world of the horse is sharply contrasted with the new world of machines: Christina and Will elope in a Rolls-Royce; Mark tries to catch them on his horse, but fails. It is a new world; one in which machines (and war) destroy Will, as Mark predicted. 
The Edge of the Cloud  is a heart-rending book to read. A lesser author would have had Will survive, but K M Peyton is not a lesser author. Neither is Christina a lesser heroine. She survives, and claws her way back to some sort of happiness.


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PBOTD 22nd June: Samantha Alexander - Crossing the Line

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Here's my Royal Ascot book - it's Samantha Alexander's Crossing the Line, which is part of her Winners series. Justina Brookes, the series' heroine actually wants to win the Grand National.


However, no one at Dolphin Barn, the stables where she works, seem to have any faith in either her or Murphy's Law, the horse she thinks can win the National. Nothing daunted, she decides to ride at Ascot for a rival trainer, Adam Valentine. Will this mean the start of a career in the rather more glamorous sport of flat racing?

The Winners Series
Racing Start
Crossing the Line
Breaking the Rules
Race to Glory
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PBOTD: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - All Change

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Today's PBOTD celebrates the life of one of our finest pony book authors, Josephine Pullein-Thompson. This feature is illustrated by the battered remains of my childhood collection of her books. They're creased, and covered with sellotape, because I read them so often they fell apart.

When you're a child, you don't think about an author's characterisation, or how good a plot line is, and whether the editing's all it might be. What you want is characters you identify with - characters you could imagine yourself commiserating with as yet again, you fail to catch your pony, chatting as you ride off down the lanes during long, hot, summer holidays. You want stories that you can believe in, and you want horses and ponies you can believe in too. You want, or maybe need, a world that is better than your own. One in which you can have the pony you know you'll never get in real life. One where you're taught to ride the right way, instead of one you know is hopel…

PBOTD 20th June: K M Peyton - The Last Ditch

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K M Peyton's The Last Ditch is the last of the Maybridge series. In the earlier books, Ruth gets pregnant and it nearly breaks her relationship with Patrick. There's more teenage pregnancy in this book: Jonathan's brief fling with Iris on holiday in Greece  has resulted in her getting pregnant, and Jonathan bolts.

Peter is also on the run. He wants to train one of his brother’s horses, Dogwood, for the National. They take the horse and squat in a large house, existing on Jonathan’s income from tutoring. Jonathan falls for a girl who helps them, and the horse does run in the National.
It's another brilliant novel about coping with huge, life-changing events.


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PBOTD 19th June: K M Peyton -A Midsummer Night's Death

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PBOTD for 19th June is another in the Maybridge series, A Midsummer Night's Death (and yes, I have missed out the Pennington books, Pennington's Seventeenth Summer, The Beethoven Medal and Pennington's Heir, because they have no horse, though plenty of piano. And Patrick Pennington, of course. And they do have plenty of Ruth - now horse-free). I always preferred the more buttoned-up, enigmatic, Jonathan and Peter to the brooding passion of Patrick.
Jonathan is to the fore again in Midsummer Night's Death - he's certainly someone to whom things happen.  Jonathan doesn't much like his English master, but when he kills himself, there's something about it that doesn't seem quite right to Jonathan.
He begins to have suspicions that someone else was responsible. It's another story about loyalty and what you do when someone you like and admire has done something terrible.

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PBOTD 18th June: K M Peyton - Prove Yourself a Hero

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Apologies for the shortness of this post, which in no way reflects how fond I am of this book. 
Today's PBOTD is K M Peyton's Prove Yourself a Hero. It's part of her Mayfield series, and takes Jonathan and Peter's story on from The Team.  It's not really a pony book, and so theoretically shouldn't be part of this series at all, but there's a bit of horse in it, and it's an excellent book and that's enough for me.

The book looks at what happens to a family when something extraordinary happens to it. Jonathan is kidnapped, and we see not only how it affects him, but his family, and friends. 
it is the Meredith parents, easy to write off as heartless, whose portrayal is most interesting. Jessica, Jonathan’s sister, describes what she thinks will happen when or if Jonathan is released:
“You know, even if he does come back all right, I think everything is going to be awful for a bit.! “How so? Great rejoicings all round, I would have said.” “Well, you kn…

PBOTD 17th June: K M Peyton - The Team

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The sequel to ­Fly-by-Night, The Team, appeared in 1975. It was a fill-in, written after Ruth’s fate with Patrick Pennington had already been decided in Pennington’s Heir, 1973.  The Team picks up Ruth’s story at the age of fourteen. She has outgrown Fly, and so has no realistic chance of getting on the Pony Club Team.  If she can manage to find a larger pony, she might.  The Team opens with a picture of the relaxed relationship between Ruth and Peter McNair, the Hollis’ family’s former foster-child. All this changes when Ruth goes to buy a replacement for Fly at a local horse sale, and finds Peter’s beloved Toadhill Flax, the one horse he wanted his father not to sell, and whose going precipitates his falling out with his father. Ruth buys Toad, and tells Peter, fully expecting him to share in her excitement that she has managed to find herself another pony, and Toad at that. But Peter does not.
“Ruth looked at Peter in the lamplight. He looked very odd, she realized, almost shocke…

PBOTD 16th June: Veronica Westlake - The Intruders

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I suppose there must be some booksellers who don't actually collect books: who do it because they've found a business model that works, but the thing they're selling happens to be books rather than super-widgets. I was not one of them. I am a collector, and one of the most tantalising things about selling books on your specialist subject is that you can't keep all those delicious books that you don't actually have in your personal collection. People often said to me "I don't know how you can - I'd want to keep them all."


I've always found that the need to pay the bills concentrates the mind wonderfully when it comes to deciding what to sell (the answer is, pretty well everything). And I have quite a few  books anyway, so if a paperback copy comes in of something that I already have a lovely first of, I'm not going to mourn its passing. There are other books I don't collect - generally American authors, because there are thousands of th…

PBOTD 15th June: Judith M Berrisford - Jackie's Pony Patrol

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PBOTD for 15th June is Judith M Berrisford's Jackie's Pony Patrol. One question I was often asked in my bookselling days was where I found books to sell. The vast majority of the books I sold I bought from collectors who'd either decided to sell off their collections, or sell their duplicates and books they'd decided they didn't want to keep. I liked buying large numbers of books at a time. It saved time, for one thing, as the alternative was to traipse round charity shops and boot sales endlessly and as anyone who has done that will know, you don't find enough books to stock a shop that way if you're a specialist.

The very first collection I bought was from someone living at the other end of the county, and came about because I'd been featured in Country Living as someone who sold pony books. The telephone rang a few days afterwards. Would I, the voice asked, be interested in buying her collection of old books? Her children weren't interested (as I …

PBOTD 14th June: Christine Pullein-Thompson - We Hunted Hounds

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PBOTD for 14th June is Christine Pullein-Thompson's We Hunted Hounds. I lost count of the number of times I sold off my copy. I must have owned at least five, and I sold them all to people who were desperate to get one. I've had it so often, I can never quite believe I don't have it. I had to borrow one when I wrote my book, Heroines on Horseback, and when writing this post, had to check I really didn't have a copy. I really don't. Still.
It's not a book I have a massive fondness for, but I do love the look of first edition with its beautiful dustjacket by Marcia Lane Foster. I love the use of white to delineate the horses, and the way the artist uses the spine of the book as part of the design.



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PBOTD 13th June: Ruby Ferguson - Jill's Riding Club

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PBOTD for 13th June is one of my bestsellers, Ruby Ferguson's Jill's Riding Club. Jill always sold, in any edition and in pretty well any condition. People wanted the editions they'd read as a child, and then they'd often come back looking for the hardbacks or the Armada paperbacks, with their amazing period illustrations (and full texts - the Knight editions were cut).





 For much more on Jill, see my website

PBOTD 12th June: Kathleen Herald - Sabre, the Horse from the Sea

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PBOTD for 12th June is Kathleen Herald's Sabre the Horse from the Sea. This is K M Peyton's first book, written (obviously) under her maiden name. It's another that got away. I really, really wanted this book. It was a beautiful copy, and I didn't have one. I gave it 3 months to sell. If it didn't, it was mine. It sold.

It's a wonderfully lyrical work.

K M Peyton was a horse obsessive from an early age. She finished her first book was at the age of nine, though it was never published. Neither were its seven successors. Her first published book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, came out in 1948, when she was nineteen. It appeared under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald, as did her next two books, The Mandrake (1949) and Crab the Roan (1953). 
K M Peyton’s actual riding experience as a child was small.  She says:
“I devoured technical horse books from the senior library -- Henry Wynmalen, Sam Marsh, Geoffrey Brooks, Faudel-Philips, R.S. Summerhays,  etc, so I knew a…