Back in October, Jane kindly sent me two review copies from her paperback and e-publishing initiative, Jane Badger Books, which is a vehicle for repubilshing out of print pony books, that lovely genre which I adore so much. There they were, sitting there, as I read the very good but non-fiction and thought-provoking “Difficult Women” and so I picked them off the shelf to read. Of course, being Patricia Leitch books, they aren’t particularly cosy or comforting, but she’s such an interesting author in the pony book canon. Very excitingly, “The Horse from Black Loch” also fills in a year on my Century of Reading – I’ve ticked a few of those off recently!

Patricia Leitch – “Dream of Fair Horses”

(20 October 2019)

You don’t read Leitch for comfort and this is an affecting and absorbing but also a bit distressing story (not in terms of animal cruelty, just in terms of having to let go of your dreams. And I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with having to learn about that, and Leitch writes so very well about it).

Gill longs for a pony of her own, as do so many pony book heroines, but she knows she’s not in a pony book and for just two amazing seasons the pony dream does come true, but we kind of know it surely can’t last. She encounters the marvellous grey Perdita and after a lot of hard work and the breaking of her spirit more than the horse’s, she gets to show her. Owner Mr Ramsay has a scarred face (we don’t get to the bottom of this) but his family is ugly inside and Gill has to endure some horrible behaviour from them. Gill’s family is the usual eccentric one but with issues larger than those of having a writer father and not enough money; they really don’t have enough money and nobody seems to be able to break away, except for Fran with her musical ambition.

We learn the hard lesson that you must do what is best for the thing or person you love rather than what will make you happy, even when it causes you pain, but it’s a harsh lesson unusual in a pony book (though as I said there’s nothing essentially wrong with that!). Gill ends by making friends with a boy and planning to go and live in a commune with him, which again is not a classic pony book ending (and doesn’t really give anything away). It’s not unremitting gloom: Gill’s family can be very amusing, with Guiding principles fleeing when you see an actual accident and prize money being gleefully frittered on fripperies.

Patricia Leitch – “The Horse from Black Loch”

(20 October 2019)

Not so many grim messages in this one, apart from those about taking responsibility and not being a sneak. It’s a wild and supernatural tale for which you have to suspend a bit of disbelief, but a lovely satisfying story where you can imagine the characters living on through time after the book.

Kay and her cousins are off to stay with yet more cousins at their ancestral home in the northern wilds of Scotland – where three brothers once lived and then fell out. Kay finds she’s not a beaky brunette after all but a strong carrier of the family look, and indeed is therefore the next guardian of the Horse from the lake. When the Horse is threatened, it turns into a more classic pony rescue / chase narrative, and I loved the friendship and bond between Kay and her cousin Jamie, as well as the rejection of fancy girl stuff at the local ball. One of Kay’s cousins turns out to be a feeble tell-tale and gets their comeuppance and it’s all very exciting.

This one has the original illustrations and an excellent excerpt of the piece on Leitch from Jane Badger’s own history of the genre, “Heroines on Horseback” which makes it a lovely collector’s edition.

A quick update on the April Readalong and book challenge plans:

  • I really enjoyed reading “Howl’s Moving Castle” with Elle and have reviewed “Difficult Women” though my two friends who are reading it weren’t hurrying to write a review for Shiny New Books so are still reading it.
  • I’m just finishing up “Queenie” (oh, my goodness!) which I could not resist reading as a few friends have just finished it, and next up is “My Antonia” to read along with a couple of people.
  • I am deep into “Hidden Figures” but it’s quite a dense book so I don’t imagine I’ll be finishing and reviewing it that soon.
  • I want to read Arthur Quiller-Couch’s “On Reading” for Simon and Kaggsy’s 1920 week this week, let’s just hope I can!

And a book confession. Reading the bits and bobs in the back of “Howl’s Moving Castle”, I realised there were two sequels, and couldn’t resist. So “Castle in the Air” and “House of Many Ways” which are both set in the same world, are now on the TBR and it won’t be long I’m sure. Aren’t they pretty, too?

On the doormat today plopped “Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers” edited by Kit de Waal – although this is on my wishlist and I’m keen to read it, I’m not sure EXACTLY why I felt I should order it now (and it came by Royal Mail, who I was trying not to burden – sorry!). Is it that I think they’re going to stop providing new books and therefore I need to buy up my wishlist (can we just recall I photographed my TBR the other day: I don’t think I’m going to be running out of reading material that quickly, esp as I’m still working very much full time!) or is it that I think I’m going to get ill and want to make sure I read All The Things just in case? I don’t know, but I am going to stop. Soon.

OK, the Queer Eye for the Straight Eye book arrived today too and I know why I ordered that although it doesn’t seem that logical – I had Tan and Karamo’s books and added Jonathan’s last week; I don’t want Antoni’s cookery book (sorry, Antoni!) and Bobby doesn’t have a book, so I wanted to balance out the love and royalties a bit. Hm.

I’ve also got Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance” on the way from Hive (the nice ethical online retailers; you can only order one book at a time from them as the wholesalers have made it difficult for them and independents, but a percentage of the price goes to your local nominated bookshop) because I was frustrated that I hadn’t managed to buy the paperback yet. I have all of Tyler’s in paperback so the new one will have to wait!

How are your book challenges and readalongs with me going? How many books have you bought since lockdown started?