By: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Publication Date: April 2007
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: March 2009
Annemarie Zimmer is a talented young equestrian, and along with her horse Highland Harry, appears destined for the Olympics. But then fate intervenes and the pair suffers a devastating fall. Harry is euthanized, and although Annemarie survives, her life is changed forever. Thus begins Riding Lessons, a brisk ride through the world of equestrian sport, filled with lost dreams, dysfunctional families and teenage angst.
The third chapter of Riding Lessons picks up twenty years later. Annemarie is married, has a teenage daughter and a successful career in the corporate world, far removed from the realm of horses. Her comfortable life falls apart when her husband asks for a divorce the same day her out-of-control teen, Eva, bolts. When Annemarie calls her mother for comfort, she discovers that her father has ALS. With nowhere else to turn, Annemarie drags Eva back to her childhood home in New Hampshire, back to the farm of her youth, back to the place where many painful, unresolved relationships linger.
Sara Gruen has vividly portrayed life on a horse farm, but more importantly, created numerous three-dimensional characters who are fraught with turmoil. Annemarie is at times likeable, but frequently, annoying and self-absorbed. Her old boyfriend Dan, a kindly veterinarian is cautious around Annemarie as she is sometimes caring but often, short-tempered and mean-spirited. Why he puts up with her emotional rollercoaster is hard to fathom.
With a less talented author, the character of Annemarie would simply be a person to hate. But Gruen carefully shows how the actions of others, such as her mother Mutti, a cold, unfeeling matron who never showed an ounce of affection toward her daughter, affect the behavior and moods of Annemarie. Unable to face her dying father, Annemarie runs off to the stable time and again. Eva, the out-of-control daughter is downright nasty and would be enough to make many mothers lose their calm demeanor. Throw in a hot, sexy French trainer and Annemarie has a lot to handle.
Throughout Riding Lessons, Annemarie fights to break free of the stranglehold she feels others have over her life. Like her cold Austrian mother, Annemarie has shut the world out which prevents her from dealing with the problems in her life. But with the help of Hurrah, a mysterious horse, and Dan’s incredible patience, she slowly comes out of her cocoon. Pages will turn quickly as tensions rise and come to a head with the unraveling mystery surrounding Hurrah. One caution about Riding Lessons; there is a lot of action involving horses, so if you’re not the equine-infatuated type, sections of this book may bore you.
Quill says: If you love horses, mystery and romance, you’re sure to enjoy Riding Lessons.