Based on the true story of the life of Jeanette Walls’ grandmother, Half-broke Horses is the endearing tale of Lily Casey Smith, a woman born into poverty in the early 1900s frontier of west Texas. Intelligent, despite her spotted 8th grade education, Smith knows her purpose on earth is more than just breaking-in horses on her daddy’s farm and she sets off across the desert at age 15 to teach children in Arizona. Smith is scrappy and independent, clearly a woman before her time. In her early 20s when she learns that the traveling salesman she married actually already has a wife and kids, she puts her six-shooter revolver with the pearl handle in her purse and hits him with it, giving him a good “pistol-whippin’”.
Walls, the best-selling author of her own memoir The Glass Castle, tells her grandmother’s story in a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense way probably much in same way as her grandmother shared these stories with her. It can be shocking that Smith speaks of her best friend’s death in the same tone as she does of, say, playing a hand of poker, but it’s realistic a snapshot of the era. In her narration, Walls’ accent is a bit mottled a little southern, with hints of other dialects thrown in which can be distracting at times, but it also suits Smith, a girl from west Texas who had an Irish father with a speech impediment.
Smith does find true happiness with her second husband and eventually settles down (if you can call selling whiskey during Prohibition by hiding it under her baby’s crib “settling down”). But this heroine’s adventures racing horses, surviving flash floods and tornadoes, and playing poker will stick with you long after Walls has finished describing them. Colleen Oakley
"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls's no nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At 15, she left home to teach in a frontier town - riding 500 miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane. And, with her husband Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit.
Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix audiences everywhere.
©2009 Jeanette Walls; (P)2009 Simon & Schuster
"Lily Casey Smith is one astonishing woman...a half-broke horse herself who's clearly passed on her best traits to her granddaughter. Told in a natural, offhand voice that is utterly enthralling, this is essential reading for anyone who loves good fiction." (Library Journal)
Counselor with eclectic taste, I enjoy all types of fiction, dark, strange and twisted things, humor and explicitly.
Again I liked the story, not as much as glass castle but it was good. However I truly wish Ms Walls would stop already with the self narration her voice is so emotionless and flat. It is obvious she is covering her accent... why? I am not sure, all I do know is it makes her come off mono tone.
I loved The Glass Castle but only liked this book. Her grandmother led an interesting life, but the story seems contrived at times and Jeannette's perfect diction was a distraction in a story about someone from Texas. I would read this book vs. listen to it.
I liked My Antonia because of the historical information. This is similar and better because of the modern references. I recommend this to anyone who likes U.S. history in the 20th century. The author narrating is fine. Some didn't like it, but I did.
First, let me admit a real, but unintended, mistake on my part. I listened to this immediately after True Grit, thinking they would be good companions. True Grit is such a great listen that I now know it would be difficult for anything that follows to meet the standard it sets. Thus, my reaction to this book may be as much about when I listened to it as it is about the book itself.
This woman lived a very interesting life, and accomplished and survived a lot. I think her character is very much captured in the book -- but that same person, who takes everything straight on, just gets it done, no emotion, doesn't provide enough "story" for us. There are no details. There's no suspense. There's no joy or sadness. Things just happen. Not enough rain? I decided we should build a dam. So we got a bulldozer and built a dam. Done. Enough said. What's amazing is that she has so many of these stories that they can be linked together to give us an entire book.
Jeannette Walls' narration doesn't help. I wasn't bothered as much by her accent, or lack thereof, as I was by her overall reading style. She is a "down" reader (who reads without diphthongs, I might add). Inflection at the end of every phrase and every sentence is down. This makes the narration very matter-of-fact, with no anticipation at all, even in the structure of a single sentence. So everything is flat, a statement rather than a story. Combine that with a book that has no emotion and it's a rather dull experience.
When I read this book I was told it was rich in verbal visuals. What I didn't know was that I came home. Living 33 years in Flagstaff I felt like I came home. Beautifully written and I'm amazed at what most now consider hardship as being basic necessities. It was the time of my grandparents. A world we could only read about now. Wonderful book!
This book is a great book on it's own and is a wonderful compliment to her previous book. I listened while driving through this Northern Arizona area on my way to Northern Nevada. The old towns came alive with history and her life - as many of the pioneers to this area - was bigger than life. They don't make & seldom write about great characters like that today. I feel this book was very accurate to all the history and ranch life stories that I grew up hearing about.
I really enjoyed listening to this book. The story caused me to laugh, cry and inspired. Over all, a great story.
The story is somewhat interesting, though it did seem to drag on for too long. The real problem is with the audio version: the narration does not flow and is difficult to follow. The narrator inserts hard stops at commas, semi-colons, periods, and everywhere in between, so much so that it's difficult to keep track of where one sentence ends and another begins.
I enjoyed the first half of the story, but didn't want to finish it at the time because my book club meeting was several weeks away. I then made the mistake of switching to "The Help," which is a masterpiece in its own right and against which this narration doesn't even begin to compare. The best way I can describe listening to the second half of the book is that it was painful. The lead character became annoying and one dimensional and the narration only made matters worse.
Skip the audio version and read the book. Save your audio credits for something worthwhile.
We've been listening for a while. This rates up among our favorites....we like the first person narrative and Jeannette Walls' voice is right on target, as is her soul in this history of her grandmother and mother. We loved the book and have purchased and downloaded The Glass Castle also.
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