Sunday, July 6, 2008

Julie's Review: Riding Lessons

Photobucket Summary: Like The Horse Whisperer, Gruen's polished debut is a tale of human healing set against the primal world of horses. The Olympic dreams of teenaged equestrian Annemarie Zimmer end when her beloved horse, Harry, injures her and destroys himself in a jumping accident. In the agonizing aftermath, she gives up riding and horses entirely. Two decades later, she returns to her family's horse farm a divorcee, with her troubled teenaged daughter, Eve, in tow. There, her gruff Germanic mother struggles to maintain the farm and care for Annemarie's father, who is stricken with ALS. Although Annemarie decides (disastrously) to manage the farm's business, her attention quickly turns to an old and ostensibly worthless horse with the same rare coloring as Harry. Her long-denied passion for riding reawakens as she tracks the horse's identity and eventually discovers it to be Harry's younger brother. She must heal both horse and herself as she struggles with her father's deterioration, Eve's rebellion and her attraction to both the farm's new trainer and her childhood sweetheart Dan. Impulsive and self-absorbed, Annemarie isn't always likable, but Gruen's portrait of the stoic elder Zimmers is beautifully nuanced, as is her evocation of Eve's adolescent troubles. Amid this realistically complex generational sandwich, the book's appealing horse scenes—depicted with unsentimental affection—help build a moving story of loss, survival and

Review: I can see why Sara Gruen's Riding Lessons: A Novel was compared to The Horse Whisperer but they really are vastly different books. The only thing that I thought was the same was the accident that happens while riding a horse but even the circumstances surrounding that are different. I read this book in 1 day because it drew me in right away. Honestly, it makes me want to take horseback riding lessons which is something I've never done. I've ridden horses bareback plenty of times but never had the formal training. The discipline it takes to become a world class equestrian rider is phenomenal and tiring.

Annemarie was on her way to being an Olympic star when tragedy struck and she walked away from her dreams. 20 years later she returns to her parent's farm and has to face the past she left behind. Coming along with her is her daughter Eva and let's just say she's a typical teenager who doesn't want to be there and can't stand her mom. Annemarie isn't perfect, in fact she's highly flawed but you do get to see her grown throughout the book. Her relationship with her parents is shaking and well her relationship with her daughter is pretty typical but she doesn't know how to deal with it. She's had her head buried in the sand for the last 20 years and through the course of the book begins to dig her head out.

She becomes obsessed with a horse that she believes to be Harry's brother and it consumes her for a great deal of the book. Her obsession is the bain of her existence and also the reason she starts to get on with her life.

While Annemarie can be whiny and self-centered at times, this didn't bother me. I found her to be true to life with as much as this woman had been through in life. I enjoyed all the supporting characters but my favorite was Highland Hurrah.

Ms. Gruen writes with such wonderful and vivid details that you feel that you are transported to a horse farm. I really enjoyed Riding Lessons: A Novel and look forward to eventually reading the sequel Flying Changes: A Novel at some point.

I do feel that Water for Elephants: A Novel (Julie's Review: Water for Elephants) was a stronger story and better written but I would definitely recommend this book especially if you've ever experienced riding a horse.

Final Take: 4.0/5


Mary (Bookfan) July 7, 2008 at 8:07 AM  

I liked this book AND the sequel ("Flying Changes", I think). I loved Water For Elephants. I put that one off too. Didn't think it was my type of book. Silly me.

Jeane July 7, 2008 at 8:18 PM  

I wasn't too keen on the Horse Whisperer, so I'm glad to hear this one is better! But I felt Water for Elephants was a bit lukewarm, so does that mean I'll like Riding Lessons less? Hm, I think I'm just gonna have to read it.

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