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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle was "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly). Now, in Half Broke Horses, she brings us the story of her grandmother, told in a first-person voice that is authentic, irresistible, and triumphant.

"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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • Jen
  • Petersburg, KY, United States
  • 10-03-12

Full of truths on many levels

Would you listen to Half Broke Horses again? Why?

Written by a real horse person who understands horses and riding and the parallels with many life experiences. Based in history, well researched, not predictable but believable.

What other book might you compare Half Broke Horses to and why?

If you're a horse person who likes a thread of real horsemanship run thru a memorable and entertaining story, listen to "The Horse Dancer." Print version not available in the U.S. tho.

Who was the most memorable character of Half Broke Horses and why?

Lilly, she's real, honest, straightforward and opinionated.

Any additional comments?

The people who critized the reader should write their own books and read them, for pete's sake why be picky about someone's accent.....

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Very interesting book!

Interesting story of a woman from childhood to being a grandmother. I recommend it for anyone who would enjoy looking into an earlier generation in America.

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Wonderful story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend, however I wish she had had a professional reader do the audible version. I can sort of hear the woman who did The Poisonwood Bible doing it. I know that the author could hear her Mom's voice when she was doing it and it might have been closer to her true voice but I felt like she kept slipping into East Coast speak and the drawl seemed contrived so it jolted me in and out of the aural context of the story.<br/>

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great read!

after reading this book i had to go back and re-read The Glass Castle all over again. i wish Jeannette had more life stories to tell. well done!

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Jeannette Wall's Mother Vindicated

What made the experience of listening to Half Broke Horses the most enjoyable?

After first reading Glass Castle, the story of Jeannette Walls life, I wanted to learn more about the background of her mother and father to find out why they became such a dysfunctional couple.

What other book might you compare Half Broke Horses to and why?

This book compares to Glass Castle in style and story line.

Which character – as performed by Jeannette Walls – was your favorite?

My favorite was the grandfather who seemed to bring some normalacy to the family.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

While the book was interesting, it was not compellng enough to warrant listening to the whole thing in one setting.

Any additional comments?

It became clear that Ms. Walls wrote this book to explain the reasons behind her parents actions and life style Glass Castle. The book adequately explained the background and made her mother a much more sympathetic character.

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Story of a strong and colorful woman!

Where does Half Broke Horses rank among all the audiobooks you???ve listened to so far?

Jeannette Walls follows up the story of her childhood with that of her grandmother. Although it's not as moving as her own story in The Glass Castle, you can definitely see the family resemblance in the same colorful characters.<br/>

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Good, but not Glass Castle

Would you try another book from Jeannette Walls and/or Jeannette Walls?

I would definitely try another book by Jeanette Walls.

Would you recommend Half Broke Horses to your friends? Why or why not?

I'm not sure I would recommend this book necessarily because it doesn't stack up against Glass Castle, but it was interesting.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

The narration was okay. Normally I cringe when authors read their own work but this was okay. It certainly didn't hurt the story the way some other bad narrators can.

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  • Amy
  • EAGLE MOUNTAIN, UT, United States
  • 04-30-12

Tough lady!

Not my favorite. I think I might of enjoyed reading it more than listening to the audio. It was written in first person and so the audible was a little annoying for me.

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  • Rachel
  • AURORA, CO, United States
  • 04-09-12

Spunky Main Character

The main character is very likeable. I enjoyed listening to this book, but it didn't grip me like most novels do. An interesting story of a very unique life, but not a life-changing story.

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Wonderful!

If you could sum up Half Broke Horses in three words, what would they be?

A fabulous book

Any additional comments?

Very, very good. Jeannette Walls is a beautiful reader. She portrayed her grandmother's life and a bit of her mother's life in a realistic, moving and exciting manner.