First HarperTorch Paperback Printing: April 2004
(From back cover):
“As a world-class equestrienne and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, her beloved and distinctively marked horse.
Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father's New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenage daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables – and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl . . . and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.”
Let me start by saying that if you are expecting a book identical to Water for Elephants, you will be disappointed. Riding Lessons is Sara Gruen's premier novel, and, as such, is well written for a novice author. It is, however, a long shot from the well-written character development and plot advancements of Water for Elephants. That being said, let's leave the comparisons here and explore an exciting look into the life of a middle-aged woman, struggling to cope with her past and take advantage of new opportunities.
Gruen writes from the perspective of the protagonist, Annemarie Zimmer, who has experienced the traumatic loss of her horse Harry in her teenage years. Twenty years later she is dealing with an excess of dramatic changes once again. Annemarie feels as if her life is entirely falling apart, and in one swift flight is off to her parents' family farm, her grumpy teenage daughter Eva and rambunctious dog Harriet in tow. The focus that Gruen gives to developing the base of the story is remarkable, given her relative inexperience. I enjoyed how easily I was able to relate to Annemarie's frustrations because of all the details Gruen used to draw the reader in.
The story progresses into new scenery when Annemarie arrives at the family farm. I am pleased with the way Gruen transitions from the beginning of the story into the new location for Annemarie and the supporting characters. Throughout the story, the location changes back and forth between the origin and the farm, so I don't feel like I'm ever left “hanging” - as if one place was just a plot tool. Gruen uses each plot detail to its fullest, but doesn't detail things so much that you lose sight of the story itself.
One thing that many readers seem to be irritated by that I actually found myself enjoying was the frustrating nature of Annemarie. She repeatedly does things that make you want to pull your hair out and scream at the book. However unsatisfying this may be to the reader, I find that the best books are the ones that draw you in so much that you care about what the protagonist is doing enough to become frustrated with their actions. Every now and then, the reader may find themselves getting excited with Annemarie as she makes herself up for a date night, or feeling like a frustrated parent when Eva makes typical teenage mistakes. I am extremely fond of the way Gruen draws the reader in and really helps them connect to Annemarie, if only on a subconscious level.
Overall, as Gruen's pilot novel, I think she has done an outstanding job. As I said before, it's no Water for Elephants, but as a simple romantic horse story with the bigger picture revolving more around discovering oneself and how to make the best out of life, this book is incredible. Easily one of my favourites and one I pull off the shelf to read repeatedly.
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I was not paid or compensated in any way by anyone including publishers, other readers, or the author herself for this review. The opinions stated are solely mine and that of no one else. All characters, titles, and the like are property of their respective owners.
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