The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

I can’t remember how long this book has sat on my bookshelves, in various homes, and not once been opened. When I was sorting through my stacks not that long ago, I put it in a “to read” pile and have only just gotten to it. I don’t know what took me so long, but let me tell you it will stay on my bookshelves.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is a heart wrenching love story. It follows the lives of Tatiana and Alexander, who are drawn together on the day that the Soviet Union enters World War II. Young Tatiana, age seventeen, can’t help but fall for the man whom her sister, Dasha, has already laid claim to- Alexander, a Red Army soldier. But they can’t help wanting to be together, so Alexander takes on a protective roll for Tatiana and Dasha’s family as they prepare and brace themselves for the war in Leningrad. As Tatiana and Alexander get closer, secrets are reveal, lies are formed, and their romantic interest in each other is put aside, despite their desire.

As the war goes on and the Germans get closer, Tatiana’s innocent optimism is replaced by the need to remain hopeful of survival. She supports her family, but her family treats her more as a servant than a daughter. When her own mother, in hushed tones, said that she wanted her son, Pasha, home safe instead of Tatiana, Tatiana runs off to the war front to try and find her missing brother and bring him home. When Alexander finds out, he gathers a troop of soldiers and leads them to the front to bring Tatiana back. After searching for her, he finds her buried under a pile of bodies, barely conscious but alive. After digging her out, he does what he can to help her, but she has a broken leg and is weak. The railroad systems back to Leningrad at the war front were bombed, so he carried her for kilometers on his back, overnight, to the nearest station and held her up until she was delivered safely to a hospital bed in Leningrad. Through all this, their bond strengthened deeper.

Even as Tatiana healed, she still doted on her family’s needs. Through the winter of 1941-1942 during the Siege of Leningrad, she bared starvation, cold, bombing, and thieves to gather the small rations available for her family. Alexander helped when he could, supplying the family with extra food that he could get with his soldier rations. Things got bleaker and bleaker, with millions dying around them from starvation, cold, and disease. Though terribly weak herself, when Dasha couldn’t physically stand Tatiana went out and sought help from Alexander. He managed to get them evacuated across the Road of Life on Lake Ladoga despite the dangers, but his love-triangle relationship with Dasha and Tatiana did more personal damage. He sent them off with Tatiana’s heart breaking, and Alexander didn’t know if he’d ever see them alive again.

When Tatiana and Alexander meet again, it is six months later. Dasha dies, but the ghost of her remains everywhere in the small refuge village with Tatiana. Tatiana and Alexander have to sort out their messy relationship, and though it wasn’t easy, they finally mend each other’s broken hearts. When Alexander returns to battle, Tatiana knows she can’t survive without him, and follows him back to Leningrad because she knows he needs her to survive as well.

As a hopeless closet romantic, this novel (all 900 plus pages) had me hooked. I had to know what would happen to Tatiana and Alexander. Would they survive the war? Would they be together? What happens if one of them dies? And there is plenty I’ve left out in this summary- sparing you all the great plot twists and turns. If you haven’t read this and you love historical fiction, love stories, Russian culture, or anything about WWII, then you must read Simons’ The Bronze Horseman.

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The Diary of a South Beach Party Girl by Gwen Cooper

Alright, so if you’ve already judged me for reading this, get out. (Ha ha just kidding, you can stay.)

I’ve been reading a lot of good, heavy hitting books (and watching a ton of drama-series reruns on TV while repainting my house), so I decided what I needed was a little fluff. So, while cleaning and sorting through my book stacks, I pulled out “Diary of a South Beach Party Girl”. I don’t know how I came to own it, and I don’t remember reading it before, but I figured it would give my emotions a break and be perfect for spring break.

I’m assuming this book is based partly on the life of the author, Gwen Cooper. Her main character is Rachel Baum, a Miami native to finds herself bored with her traditional life. So after quitting her non-profit job and breaking up with her long term boyfriend, she heads to South Beach to start anew. She moves in with fast friend Amy, who introduces her to the South Beach party scene.

Night after night, Rachel works her way up the South Beach social ladder, and eventually finds herself becoming the girl she wished she could be- sexy, frivolous, and admired by those around her…a social celebrity. As she mingles, she makes friends with Ricky, Mike, and Kojo, and they become a tight group that picks each other up when South Beach life knocks them down- through job losses, bankruptcy, and long strings of bad boyfriends. Rachel also finds herself hopelessly attracted to John Hood, local transient bad boy with a questionable criminal and drug history.

After a few years of living the life she thought she wanted, Rachel starts to see that South Beach isn’t a long term place for a girl like herself. So, she decides to take on New York City, where everything finally ties together.

Like I said, pretty fluffy stuff here. Even though it’s all drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll, it’s a pretty predictable book. Closet party girl wants to party, goes through transformation as a popular party girl, and then decides that she’s ready to move on from the party scene for something bigger and better. *Insert eye-roll here*. Oh, I should also note that it was written in 2007, but the story really takes place between 1998 and 2000, so there are a lot of references to people and songs that were a big hit in that time frame… which is a little funny to ready. *NSYNC anyone? So yeah…I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you were really looking for a pool side/ beach side read.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Oh you guys… here’s another good one for you! Another recommendation from my book-loving coworker, and she didn’t disappoint! I read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” bits and pieces at first, more due to being preoccupied with other things rather than lack of interest. But I found myself with some free time today, and polished it off… greedy word after greedy word, needing to know what was going to happen.

On page one, the reader immediately steps into the observant thoughts of Enzo. It takes a second before you realize that this narrator happens to be…a dog. A very sophisticated, brash, and intelligent dog at that. Enzo reflects upon his life, and in tandem, a significant era in the life of Denny, his master.

Enzo begins life with Denny as a puppy, and as he reaches adulthood, finds himself watching Denny marry a woman named Eve, and raising their daughter Zoë. But as Denny works towards a career in speed racing, Eve learns she’s got a terminal illness.  Leaving Zoë and Enzo in the center of the confusion and drama that follows, all Enzo can do is observe his humans as they struggle to keep their family together. When the illness finally takes Eve, Enzo also bears witness to the aftermath as Eve’s parents and Denny feud for custody of Zoë.

Woven throughout his story, Enzo philosophizes on the history and traditions of ancient dog, speed racing, medicine, and weather. He also gives the reader idioms to ponder such as “The car goes where the eyes go,” and “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” Throughout the novel, Enzo also refers to his human-like qualities, and how he hopes that at the end of his life, he will be reincarnated into a human to someday express these qualities; such as his ability to listen, his love for racing, and his compassion for mankind. He also hopes that someday, his human form will be able to reconnect with his old master and let him know that “Enzo says “hi”.”

It’s a heart wrenching story on so many levels. As an animal person, I love how Stein put the reader into the mind of a dog, and in my opinion did it well without overdosing on the anthropomorphism. I love how he displayed the loyalty and unspeakable bond between human and dog. And I love how at the end of it all, Enzo got his wish.

Definitely a must read.

The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer

My coworker friend who recommended “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” simultaneously recommended the book “The Poet of Tolstoy Park”. She brought both in to work with her, and as I stated, I devoured NWND, but I’ve been really struggling with the TPOTP. Not only has my mind be sidetracked by the spring temperatures, house projects, and other prior engagements, but I’ve also opened this book a dozen times, read a few pages, and then decided to put it away. As of right now, I’ve only made it to chapter three out of thirty seven.

It’s a very intellectual book, and written eloquently…but I believe this to be the hang up for me. I get bogged down in those words, the complex and eloquence make it hard for my mind to wander into the imaginary world that the author is trying to create. Maybe my intelligence isn’t high enough to grasp what Brewer is trying to create for the reader…maybe I haven’t read far enough into the story to be grasped. Either way, I’m setting this one on hold, in hopes that at some point, I’ll pick it up again and be able to lavish this novel as my coworker does- she’s read it a dozen times.

Have any of you out there read it? What are your thoughts?