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Riding Lessons: A Novel Paperback – April 3, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 401 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Riding Lessons Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When the main character in a novel is as annoying as a boil, an audio performer must be thrilled at the chance to portray someone who isn't particularly nice or competent. Maggi-Meg Reed's Annemarie shouts, cries, whines, cajoles and lies her way through escalating crises. Reed is superb. She does an equally adept rendering of the other characters, including Annemarie's mother, with her thick Austrian accent and tight-lipped stoic voice. Eve, Annemarie's daughter, is a perfectly petulant teenager, speaking to her mother in a strident and querulous tone. A local policewoman has such a perfect New Hampshire accent that one wonders why the other locals don't. Despite the unsympathetic Annemarie, Reed's stellar performance makes Gruen's 2004 debut novel hard to turn off. A Harper paperback (Reviews, Mar. 1, 2004). (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Annemarie, 18, is a world-class equestrienne who is sure to be a contender in the next Olympics. Then, a terrible jumping accident causes the death of her magnificent horse, Highland Harry, as well as severe injuries to Annemarie herself. Damaged as much in spirit as in body, she marries Roger, moves to another state, and gets a degree in English, vowing never to ride again. Twenty years of a more or less emotionally empty life go by until one fateful day when Annemarie loses both her job and her husband. With her defiant 15-year-old daughter in tow, Annemarie returns to her parents' riding school in New Hampshire, where her father is dying from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Suddenly, Annemarie is bombarded with all sorts of emotions and responsibilities, including the rekindling of an old romance and the discovery of a broken-down horse that looks remarkably like Highland Harry. Fans of Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer (1995) and Jessica Bird's impressive debut, Leaping Hearts (2002), will also enjoy this emotion-packed book, which is so exquisitely written it's hard to believe that it's also a debut. Shelley Mosley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Riding Lessons (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 387 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061241083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061241086
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (401 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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!
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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