I don’t remember how I found Learning to Fall by Anne Clermont. BookBub, or Kobo Daily Deals? Either way, it cost something like a buck. I’m a cheapskate, but I hold dear the principle that life is too short to read bad books, so I looked it up. It got some decent reviews on Amazon, so I decided to give it a go.
Learning to Fall is the story of Brynn, a 23-year-old vet student whose father dreams of her becoming a serious competitor in the world of show jumping. Following his tragic death, the truth about her father’s finances is revealed. The training barn he owned and loved is swimming in debt. Where do her loyalties lie – to her father’s memory or to her own dreams of becoming a veterinarian?
The good: The author has potential. A great deal of it. I didn’t have to force myself to finish the book, which doesn’t always happen even with Big Six (or is it Five now?) novels. The premise of the book is interesting, a peek into the world of show jumping is intriguing, and the protagonist is humanly flawed, and therefore believable. The novel held a touch of nostalgia for me and made me miss the days when the Girl-child had her own horse. The relationship between horse and rider was tender, and the author reveals an intimate knowledge of this world.
The not-so-good: there is such a thing between knowing a world too well. There were few examples of the dreaded info-dump. Sometimes, though, I would have been a little lost if I hadn’t grown up watching show jumping on television. There are even a couple of things that I am still unclear on. “Rapping,” or hitting a horse in the leg with a pole to get them to jump higher is bad, but the author indicates the damage to the horse is psychological. I don’t know why except that she told me it’s bad. Why should a rider have been disqualified from a round for hitting the horse four times with a crop at a jump? I don’t know. I would like to, though. I wanted to read the book because I am nosy and want to know all the secrets.
Clermont skips parts, too. Important parts. We rarely get a glimpse of Brynn’s first round at a show, just the jump-offs, so a real opportunity to build tension and naturally fill in backstory is missed. Is it easy to get to the jump-offs? It certainly seems so because Clermont doesn’t feel the need to show us how we got there.
The copy-editing needs some work. Make sure you’re using the right form of the verb, and make sure that verb agrees with the subject. Editing isn’t terrible in this book, but the biggest demarcation between indie and mainstream publishing comes down to editing and attention to detail.
The downright frustrating: the villains are poorly-developed. Their dialog is clumsy and predictable, and the last dramatic encounter left me rolling my eyes so hard that I may have sprained them. In the last 5% of the book, I actually set down my e-reader none too gently and said “Oh, come on!” Had I not been so close to the end, I may have quit right then and there.
The story is rather predictable, as well. Predictability isn’t always a deal-breaker because comfort reads are a favorite category of mine. But I knew how it would end, mostly. The stakes are high, and the author reminds us of those stakes when she remembers to do so, as if she forgets and thinks we have, too. But the reader knows what is on the line. She needs to trust her reader the way the rider trusts the horse. We’ve been over it a dozen times. We know.
The inclusion of yoga is flat-out weird and out of place, but with a little reworking, another draft, it could have felt natural. Take us there. Don’t just tell me that Brynn did yoga. If it’s important enough to mention, it’s important enough to fully develop.
What would make it better – another draft. Tweak those characters. Flesh them out. Make the dramatic scenes less cluttered and more concise. Less running and yelling. More show, less tell, which is the trickiest bit of this writing gig. Build the drama naturally instead of telling me there’s drama. Polish the editing, be ruthless with the dialog. No backstory info dumps on characters.
Overall, the book was okay. I give it three stars. I finished it, and I don’t feel like I totally wasted my dollar. I might even re-read parts of it again. It was a quick read, too, so flaws are more forgivable. But with another draft, it could easily become a favorite horsey story.
What books do you recommend from 2016? New books, old books, new-to-you books?