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)
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.
I enjoyed this as much as the Glass Castle. An interesting story that was well written. I think having it read by the author who knew her grandmother certainly lends value to the voice of Lilly. This is one book I'l be recommending to others without hesitation.
An interesting book describing ranching life in early Arizona, before air conditioning. Having previously read Glass Castle, I found this was an interesting look at the lives that shaped the author's mother, and gave a more sympathetic view of Rosemary. An interesting read or listen.
Having read THE GLASS CASTLE first...which was great ...I got lost in the family genealogy and felt confused until the end when it was reveled by Jeannette's birth. The rich details really took me to the West and I DID learn alot of history I had not known.
Just like her other book....this is a total pleasure and ends much too quickly. Her voice and style are so enjoyable I could listen to her all day. Wishing there were even more in this series but alas not. Her charm, delivery, stories, character, insight and honesty make this one of the best listens I've had in a long time. Sit back...listen....dream...and enjoy!
Just finished this book and really enjoyed it. I am often reluctant to buy a book read by the author, but Jeanette Walls did not try to put too much of herself into this. Great, strong character development without over dramatizing her. Nice.
I enjoyed Glass Castle a lot. I have tried two times to listen to this book and it has been painful both times. Sounds a if a sixth grader wrote it. The narration should have been left to a professional.
I am part of a small lunch time book club with some friends from work. We all agreed that this book was a great read. We (well most of us) had read and enjoyed Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls' first book, and were delighted when another novel by her came out. Excellent read. This book is a "true life novel" about her grandmother Lilly Casey, born 1901. Jeannette writes it in 1st person and she also narrates the book which really gives it a personal feeling. There is an explanation at the end about why it's a true life novel and not a memoir but the adventures of Lilly Casey are based on stories from her family, specifically her mother Rosemary, and other family. We all loved it and highly recommend.
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