76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful story of broken families and broken dreams
AnneMarie Zimmer was a contender, destined for the high circuits of horse jumping, with her precious Highland Harry. But when Harry breaks a leg on a jump and sends AnneMarie to the hospital, paralyzed with a broken neck, her dreams, and her family's dreams, are shattered.
Years later, Annemarie is recovered, married with a 15 year old daughter, and has never...
Published on June 18, 2007 by Schtinky
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, but not in a good way
My wife and I had this book on CD for a long car trip. We picked it on the basis of availability and Gruen's Water for Elephants. We listened to the end only because it was all we had, and because we developed a fascination with how bad it was, wondering how the author could turn this self-centered, singularly unappealing character into someone sympathetic who grew and...
Published on July 21, 2008 by Charles Quimby
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76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful story of broken families and broken dreams,
This review is from: Riding Lessons: A Novel (Paperback)AnneMarie Zimmer was a contender, destined for the high circuits of horse jumping, with her precious Highland Harry. But when Harry breaks a leg on a jump and sends AnneMarie to the hospital, paralyzed with a broken neck, her dreams, and her family's dreams, are shattered.
Years later, Annemarie is recovered, married with a 15 year old daughter, and has never ridden a horse since the death of Harry. Then her life falls apart again, one-two-three. One, she loses her job. Two, her daughter is failing school and her husband announces he's leaving her for a mistress. Three, Annemarie discovers her vital father has advanced ALS. Broken and in shock, Annemarie returns with Eva, her daughter, to the farm where she was raised to see and help care for her father.
With Eva out of control at fifteen (getting piercings, tattoos, smoking, wanting to date, running away, etc), her father deteriorated to barely functional in a wheelchair, and her husband shacked up with a much younger woman, Annemarie loses control of her life. She takes over management of the stables and discovers her mother (Mutti) was right when she said Annemarie couldn't handle the responsibility.
But in the midst of the chaos of her life comes a ragged horse saved by veterinarian and old boyfriend Dan, a liver colored brindle as rare as Annemarie's beloved Harry. Annemarie adopts the recalcitrant horse, rescued from a slaughter pen, and begins to work with him. But when she finds out the one-eyed horse is none other than Harry's brother Highland Hurrah, pronounced dead by former owner to collect a cool million-plus in insurance, she fears that Hurrah may be taken away from her.
Sara Gruen is a talent to be reckoned with. Not only are her characters fully fleshed and unique, but they breathe with the life she has put into them. You'll feel like they are your own friends or neighbors, someone you know intimately. Annemarie is a person you can relate to, making mistake after mistake but always finding a way to deal with the problems, even if her resolutions are late at times. Eva is far from a perfect child, making her own mistakes and showing herself to be her mother's daughter.
'Riding Lessons' is a story of human triumph and defeat, of mistakes made and corrected, of real life slapping you across the face when you least expect it. The pains of losses are balanced by family, friends, and personal drive to become something before life passes swiftly by. Not to mention, the love of the great, beautiful beasts we call horses. When love overcomes tragedy, there are tears and smiles and sighs to experience. 'Riding Lessons' give us all of that and more.
I highly recommend picking up Sara Gruen's other book, 'Water For Elephants', especially if you liked riding lessons. 'Water For Elephants' has even more maturity in Gruen's writing, but this first book is an amazing accomplishment for a novice writer. I highly recommend 'Riding Lessons'. Enjoy!
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best new novelist I've read this year,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)Riding Lessons is so well crafted and written that it's astonishing to realize it's Gruen's first novel. The book is worth reading for the first breathless scene alone, but Gruen managed to keep me hooked throughout. I read it in two sittings (a girl's gotta eat), and it's now on my shelf of books that I look forward to reading again.
Annemarie's contemporary family issues ring painfully true, especially her relationship with her difficult mother and her rebellious daughter. But Gruen respects her reader and never resorts to typical solutions. Her father's illness is so poignantly rendered that I found myself biting my thumbnail as I read, aching for Annemarie. Gruen also manages a few deftly written comic scenes when Annemarie gets in over her head. The ending was perfect, no overwrought melodramatic scenes that first novelists can't seem to help, but a profound and moving, even elegant, wrap-up that left me fully satisfied.
I haven't been around horses very much, but the riding and stable scenes show that Gruen certainly has, and though the book appeals to everyone, horse people are going to absolutely love it. After a string of disappointing new novels on the shelves this year, Riding Lessons was a rare treat. Definitely looking forward to Gruen's next.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)This is just a very good read about very likeable people and their horses; their tragedies and their triumphs.
I found the story compelling and believable. Yes, as one reviewer points out, some of it seemed a bit of a stretch - but life IS like that - and people under stress Do do the strangest things.
I can easily see most any woman reacting in the very same ways. I know I can see myself trying to cook a dinner far beyond my abilities under the right circumstances - and taking the hair dye to the horse's hide - Yeah - I might have done that too, in similar circumstances.
The situation with the daughter, as well as the relationship with the Mom and Dad rang 100% true. So too, did the relationship with the vet and the Ex - and the horses - it all rang so true.
I was nearly moved to tears in the first chapter - just reading about the connection between horse and rider - the trust, the oneness that takes place, when it all "clicks." I never read a better description of what that feels like. And the telling of what its like to loose such an animal - that too, was done remarkably well.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, but not in a good way,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)My wife and I had this book on CD for a long car trip. We picked it on the basis of availability and Gruen's Water for Elephants. We listened to the end only because it was all we had, and because we developed a fascination with how bad it was, wondering how the author could turn this self-centered, singularly unappealing character into someone sympathetic who grew and learned by the end.
Well, it never happened. She never grew, never became more reasonable, never took an interest in others except how they reflected back on her. In a more mature writer's hands, this might've become a powerful portrait of a totally dysfunctional, tragic character.
At some point, we lost all curiosity about how the author would redeem this character, because it was clear she wouldn't. And because she was the narrator, we never learned much of interest about any of the other characters. Eventually, it became a challenge -- could we make it to the end?
We agreed if we were reading the book, we both would've tossed it across the room long ago. But we egged each other on, taking turns predicting plot twists and laughing uproariously at the heroine's self-absorbed descriptions of her trials.
At the end, we both burst into laughter -- at relief we had made it all the way and at the author's ham-handed romance novel descriptions. Unless you like bodice rippers, learn a lesson from our experience and run, run away from this book!
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but a good read,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)I like a main character that isn't perfect, but at times I lost patience with this main character whose flaws were so many and so persistent that at times I wanted to throw down the book and scream "get some therapy people!" The plot was engaging however and I ultimately would say it was a good escape read.
The horse details were confusing because some were very accurate, especially the physical descriptions of what a horse feels like, but some were so off. This author seemed to not know the difference between Grand Prix show jumping and eventing. This really bugged me. Also, the idea that any 16 year old would compete at Rolex (FEI 4star) is preposterous, given the number of years it takes to qualify at that level, she would have started eventing at what, age 8??? Like other reviewers I liked the fact that it didn't end with the typical "win of the big competition against all odds". I was also relieved that the author didn't have the main character spring in the saddle after a 20 year absence and take up where she left off. I spent one year out of the saddle and after my first time back I was walking like Ozzie Osbourne for four days....
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is GREAT reading and we need MORE of it!!!!!!!!!!!,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)I have read both of her books and as a horse owner and avid reader, I'll tell you they are GREAT!!! A very quick read, it only took a few days for me to read both of them. They are more realistic than most equine fiction and you really find yourself caring about the story and rooting for the heroine. Equine fiction and mystery need more books like this one and writers like Sara.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riding into my heart,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)RIDING LESSONS has to be just about the best novel I've ever had the fortune to read. It has all the aspects of good-quality literature: First is the fact that it is a story about a real-type person, and not just a glamorized success story of "How it Took Me 2 Seconds to Get A Gold Medal". Annemarie, the main character, is insecure in herself instead of just being bold and blazing past everyone and everything in her way to achieve great victories.
Next is the fact that author Sara Gruen makes you feel the emotions of Annemarie. You feel melancholy when she is faced with another heartbreak, share her excitement when she thinks she's made a new discovery, and experience her confusion as she attempts to decide what's best to do.
Last, the entire tone of the novel doesn't fall into the characteristic mold of most popular novels today (most of which I find dull and uninteresting), like Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events. This is one of the very few books I have read and wholly enjoyed. I like it enough that I've read it about five times, and I have never read any book over three times over. So all I have to say to all you folks at Amazon.com: BUY THIS BOOK!
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant, bittersweet, and wonderful,
By A Customer
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)The first, electrifying scene in this brilliant debut novel had me on the edge of my seat, or rather, my saddle. I was with the author on Highland Harry's back as she carried me through that relentless, breathtaking description of how it feels to be on top of a thousand-plus pounds of eager horseflesh approaching a five-foot jump and holding him in check until the optimum moment for take-off, much like inflating a balloon to its maximum and stopping a split second before it bursts or stretching an elastic band and letting go before it snaps.
As a horsewoman and avid reader, I'm always on the lookout for well-written fiction with an authentic equine background. This one filled my needs, and then some, with a cast of memorable characters and a likeable, believable heroine complete with flaws and a wicked sense of humor. Gruen's rhythmic prose, her impeccable command of the language--especially description--are exquisite. I recommend this book highly.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and emotional story,
This review is from: Riding Lessons: A Novel (Paperback)I had to shed a tear or two while I was reading "Riding Lessons" You wouldn't think that when by the title of the book, but whether you are a horse lover or have ridden on a horse, this story is a terrific written story. Annmarie Zimmer, an olympic equestrienne the main character, has her career come to an abrupt halt in a tragic accident that kills her horse and leaves her seriously injured. The story picks up twenty years later; her injuries have healed, but her emotional life is in shreds. Her: her husband has left her, her father is dying, and her rebellious teenaged daughter is causing her all kinds of problems. There are a lot of issues going on in this book besides Annemarie's messy life and since there are numerous reviews I won't go into detail. In summary, I thought it was wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read *In-depth plot discussion*,
This review is from: Riding Lessons (Mass Market Paperback)This is not a normal happy-go-lucky, come-from behind story. The main character, Annamarie, is not perfect and cheery. She is a vaguely unhappy woman who was involved in a horseback riding accident when she was 18. It was one of those awful accidents that people hear about sometimes in which the horse or rider or both don't survive. In this case, her beloved brindled horse Harry breaks many crucial bones and has to be destroyed. Annamarie is nearly killed herself, the principal injury being a broken neck that leaves her paralyzed. She eventually regains the use of her limbs, and life goes on. All of this happens in just a few pages.
Fast forward twenty years. Annamarie works in a job that she doesn't care for, is married to a husband that she is indifferent to, and has a daughter that can't seem to meet her eye to eye. In fact, they fight like cats. Then the hits start coming. Annamarie is fired from her job. She comes home and finds that her husband has left her for another woman. With nothing to keep her in her present place, she moves back to her parents' house and takes up a job working as the stable manager.
There are complications in this chain of events. Annamarie's daughter Eva is a 'typical' angry teenager with angst and attitude to spare. Annamarie's father is afflicted Lou Gherig's disease and is not the same Pappa that she knew growing up. Her mother offers nothing but disapproval, and her husband wants to keep in touch. Hurt and angry, Annamarie reacts badly to everything. Final plot ingredients - mix in an old flame, a new love interest, and a damaged brindled horse with an uncanny resemblance to her beloved Harry.
Annamarie's reactions to these things are initially not the response you would expect from a mature adult. She cannot approach her mother as an adult and can scarcely look at her ailing father. She fantasizes about cooking a perfect dinner for old flame when she has no practical cooking experience. Upon the arrival of the mysterious brindled horse, Annamarie embarks on a quest for information, obsessed with the new brindled horse. Before long, the stable is in dire financial trouble. This is all very depressing and exasperating for the reader, and it's supposed to be. What woman in her right mind would behave so utterly wrong?
The book slowly reveals further details into Annamarie's life. Her sick father was once a strict disciplinarian who forced her riding talent to come to fruition. It did just that, at the expense of her social life. Her memories included riding horse after horse and receiving very little approval from her parents. Once the big accident happened, she recovered physically but not emotionally. She shut horses out of her life and filed everything from that period away. As a result, she never really moved on into adulthood. Her decisions were made half-heartedly, and so nothing really made her happy. Annamarie's father's illness brought back her own injury in striking force, and it becomes clear that she never really dealt with it.
These details unfold as Annamarie recalls them, and simultaneously, they have relevance in the story. Incredibly painful memories and issues arise. Annamarie is forced to deal with her past because in part, it seems to be repeating itself.
A most positive point of this book is the way that Annamarie's life is slowly revealed. It kept my attention. The main character's steady descent into instability, fueled by the mystery of the Harry look-alike, was a fascinating touch, and one that has an original feel to it. The unpredictable nature of Annamarie, and thus the book, has the reader truly wondering if things can turn out in a positive manner. That is for you to discover.
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Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen (Mass Market Paperback - March 30, 2004)
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