• Half Broke Horses

  • A True-Life Novel
  • By: Jeannette Walls
  • Narrated by: Jeannette Walls
  • Length: 7 hrs and 55 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (2,894 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

2010 Audie Award Finalist for Narration by the Author

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 listeners say about Half Broke Horses

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A BETTER BOOK THAN "THE GLASS CASTLE"

This book was quite enjoyable, especially if you like memoirs or ranch life. It is a gritty and realistic story, with foreshadowing for "The Glass Castle." I wish I had been able to read this book first. The protagonist is self-sufficient, resilient and competent against all odds. It is a pleasure to read a book about a successful woman, without a political agenda taking it over.

40 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

wanted to like it

The story was somewhat interesting. But I found myself waiting for it to end so I could get to my next book, all-the while, hoping it would get better. One of the biggest problems was the narration. She sounded like a high school kid reading her report to her class, Boring! She made a book that could have had some potential into a frustrating listen. She should leave the narration to the pros and stick to writing.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good story about a fascinating character

This story is inspiring, and well-written, about a strong, independent woman who had a very interesting life. I wish I had bought the book to read instead of the audio version, though, because I did not enjoy the author's narration of her own work. She claims to have found her "grandmother's voice", but her too-perfect diction just didn't sound like a woman from Texas to me. However, I was able to enjoy the story on its own merits. It was almost as good as her previous work, "The Glass Castle".

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Ok, but slow

I found this book to be ok, but in was disappointed because I loved the glass castle and this was rather slow and a bit dull.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Not nearly as good

I looked forward to listening to this book but was sadly, disappointed. I found very little to like in the main character and for this reason had a difficult time finishing the story. With Jeannette Walls' next book, I'll save the credit and take it out of the library.

11 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

What a miserable story

What did you like about this audiobook?

I had to stop listening to ths story - after the failed attempt to raise great dane dogs I just couldn't listen any more - too depressing.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

agonizing

This is the story of the plucky but wise country girl who always lands on top and outsmarts every adversary, every time.

Every. Single. Time.

There is absolutely no drama. None. To make this even more boring, the author is a dreadful narrator whose voice rises with every sentence and falls at every hard stop. When she called her "no good worthless first husband" a "crumb-bum" for something like the one-dozenth time, I turned it off.

I couldn't finish it.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A more realistic little house on the prairie

Jeannette Walls writes the story of her grandmother, but since most of the material came from talking to her mother, and because she had to fill in some of the gaps with her own thoughts of what may have happened, she calls this a novel. Lily Casey Smith was born in a one-room dugout in west Texas in 1901 and later her family moved to a ranch in New Mexico. At 11, she was handling the workers, doing the hiring and firing. Her father had been kicked in the head by a horse when he was young and developed a slurred speech that was difficult to understand, but he was smart and read a lot and taught her much about the world. She learned to break horses, was a very good poker player, and became a school teacher. She rode her horse alone for two weeks across the desert to her first teaching job in Arizona and later as a mother of two, learned to be a bush pilot. It’s filled with stories of hardship and rough times, as well as the time when her father was carving a ham for Easter dinner in the dugout, a rattlesnake dropped from the ceiling onto the table, which her father quickly beheaded with the carving knife. She went to Chicago to get away from the rural life and worked as a maid. She met a man and eventually married him. He was a salesman who spent a lot of time on the road, but when Lily was hit by a car and was in the hospital, she found that he actually did not travel, but was married and had another family across town. When that marriage was annulled, she went back west to teach and met and married Jim Smith. She and Jim eventually managed a large cattle ranch for its British owners, but this was during the depression. She scrounged for everything they needed, making chairs and tables out of crates and they managed it well. Then the investors decided to sell the ranch to someone who would end up making it a sort of early dude ranch, and they didn’t fit the right “cowboy” image, so that had to leave. Jim went into business with a garage and gas station and they finally were able to have a real house with running water and a flush toilet. Her father, when he heard, said, “Why would anyone want to crap in their own home.” It just seemed so uncivilized. When they lost the business, they had to move out to manage another ranch with only a broken down house, without running water and she says that she discovered that many of the things that you think you need, are just wants, and when you don’t have them, you find that you don’t need them and get by just fine. Now, that’s a lesson for today. Very interesting book, in some ways reminiscent of “Little House on the Prairie,” but rougher, more realistic, and less idealistic; making it much better to me.  

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Loved Ms. Walls Memoir So Much More

This book was an interesting read (or listen) because of the fortitude of the main character. It was also historically interesting, in terms of the dynamic of the TX, AZ and NM land over the last century or so. I just couldn't help to compare it to the real, heart-wrenching story of the author and her own memoirs. They were so real, so sad, and so loving. I yearned for more detail about Jeanette's mother, Rosemary, and an explanation of how her childhood formulated her into the kind of drifting mother she was. I never quite found it. Also, would have really enjoyed another narrator. Ms. Walls read more with factually than perhaps someone who was reading the text to whom it was more novel.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Gentle Portrait of Hard Life - Arizona 1900/50s

The story is taken from the life of the author's grandmother, great grandparents, and mother and is largely non-fiction, although called a real life novel by Ms. Walls. The telling of the story, which begins in the early 1900s in a dugout home in the bank of a draw in Western Texas, is gentle and loving. The grandmother become a teacher in one-room school houses in the most remote portions of Northern Arizona but she and her family are also farmers, ranchers, artists, policemen, and Army flyers. The grandmother's strong character, her husband's kinship with a well-known Mormon figure, and the slow sweep of history - through the 1st WW, the depresion, and the 2nd WW is very engaging. Ms. Walls is both the author and the narrator and has the advantage of knowing her grandmother's speech patterns and character. A very enjoyable read.

9 people found this helpful