Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed beingĀ  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

“She gave me a complicated smile. “You’ve heard the joke, haven’t you? Are you married or do you live in Kenya?“”

When my book-loving coworker suggested I read this novel, it didn’t take me long to reserve it at the library, nor did it take me long to read it. 350 pages, each one full of a romantic view of life in the 1920’s British East Africa as experienced by Beryl Clutterbuck. Though a fictional novel, Clutterbuck, who becomes Markham after her second marriage, is actually a nonfictional character, as well as the others described in the novel. When I finished reading, I couldn’t stop myself from doing some more historical research, trying to piece together the timeline and get better images of the people involved. I love when a book does that to me- inspires me to learn more.

Anyways, we are introduced to Beryl as a young girl living with her family in colonial Kenya. Her father is running a horse farm as a trainer and breeder of racing thoroughbreds, and Beryl wants to follow in his footsteps. When her mother and brother leave to return to England, she decides Kenya is her home, and she wants to stay with her father on the farm. As she reaches her teen years, she rebels against her father’s wishes to become a more suitable woman by taunting her new governess and running away from boarding school. She isn’t interested in becoming the expected civilized housewife. Growing up in the bush, she’s followed her best friend Kibii step for step as he learned from his tribe how to be a warrior. Matching his courage and skills, Beryl knows she can take on any man’s job with determination and hard work, and succeed. However, when she reaches the age of sixteen, the tables are turned when she learns her father’s business has gone bankrupt, and he must sell the farm and train at another stable, leaving Beryl to decide if she should stay on the farm, go work for her father, or become a wife.

She decides to marry Jock, a man who just moved to the colony near her father’s farm. The merge leaves Beryl with her father’s horses, but also with a loveless relationship. When it becomes obvious that the marriage isn’t going to work out, Beryl decides to separate from Jock to go work as a trainer on her friend and mentor’s farm. A turning point for Beryl, she becomes the first English licensed female horse trainer (at least in Kenya, maybe the world). As her reputation builds for her training, she also gains a reputation for being a nontraditional wife, if you catch my drift. Despite her successes at the racetrack, her personal life causes her difficulties in keeping clients. After some time, she requests a divorce from her husband. He isn’t willing to grant the divorce because he doesn’t want to be seen as a man who can’t control his wife, nor take a hit to his reputation. They fight- him by drinking and getting into physical altercations, her by holding her ground and occasionally another man. As her relationship with Jock flames out, a new one with Denys Finch- Hatton fires up.

While reading, not only does the personal drama keep things interesting, but the romance of living in such wild country in Africa draws you in. I loved imagining the red clay, the safari trips, the rain season, the flamingo flocks near where Beryl exercised her horses… all the imagery was lovely, even in terrifying moments. Because of McLain’s wordsmithery, I was living right with Beryl in the environment that she loved so much.

With so much depth and strength to the characters, the setting, and the overall complexity of human relationships, I’d recommend it to anyone, and especially for those with the additional interest in the female empowerment and equality. I’m amazed at what barriers Beryl broke back in the 1920/1930s, of how much has changed since pioneers like her broke traditional female roles, and of how we are still pushing to get through the glass ceiling today. “Circling the Sun” is a must read.

Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

I’ll keep this one short because I’m afraid if I say too much, all the plot twists will be revealed! Tatiana and Alexander is the sequel to The Bronze Horseman, one I didn’t realize existed until I started doing a little research after my last book review. I found it online and ordered it, and I think it took longer to ship the book than it took me to read it. It’s over 500 pages, and I couldn’t put it down for about three days.

Now, if you haven’t read the first book, stop right here. Seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Still with me? Okay. The sequel follows Tatiana as she figured out how to live without Alexander in America. She and her little boy, Anthony, take up residence on Ellis Island, and Tatiana becomes a nurse, aiding the sick who enter as refugees and captives of the war. All the while, she holds on to the nagging feeling that Alexander hasn’t left her, that he must be alive…. and though she doesn’t quite know it, he is. He’s narrowly escaped death not once, but a handful of times, and he won’t stop holding on to the hope that he will see Tatiana and their baby again.

It’s an epic love story novel, and if you loved The Bronze Horseman, you’ll love reading their final chapters in Tatiana and Alexander.

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.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn

Before I get too far into this book review, I just want to state two things.

  1. I am and will always be learning about culture, respect, and what it means to combine the two.
  2. I think Kent Nerburn did an amazing job at trying to explain how the walk the line between the two.

On to the plot summary…

Nerburn is contacted by an elderly Indian man called Dan via his daughter on the phone. She relays the message that Dan read some of Nerburn’s work, and wanted to speak to him in person. Not knowing what he was in for, Nerburn makes the trip to meet Dan. When he finds out that Dan wants him to write a book about what he’s observed over the years with his white and Indian eyes, Nerburn is unsure if he can write it in a way that allows Dan’s stories to be heard without the white polish that’s rewritten so much of America’s history. Together, they go on a journey to figure out how to share Dan’s wisdom.

Now, I feel that if I delve into my thoughts and what I think about this novel, it would almost seem counter-productive from what I’ve learned from reading the story of Dan. Like Nerburn, I want to see further too. So I’m just going to give you some eye-opening lines from a few of the chapters, and hope that I pique your curiosity.

  • On the top of the rock, insignificant to anyone who didn’t understand, some previous passerby had placed a few broken cigarettes…that person had placed the sacred gift of tobacco on the rude image of the buffalo, and in doing so had paid homage to the animal.
  • You have to love your own people even if you hate what they do.
  • You’re writing a story about Indians. But you’re writing it like a white guy. You want everything all neat. Put it all in. Just write it the way it is.
  • You took the land and you turned it into property. Now our mother is silent. But we still listen for her voice. And here is what I wonder. If she sent diseases and harsh winters when she was angry with us, and we were good to her, what will she send when she speaks back to you?
  • You’re learning. I can tell because of your silence.
  • Before you wanted to make us you. But now you are unhappy with who you are, so you want to make you into us.
  • You are trying to learn. White people like to learn by asking questions.
  • If you had listened to us instead of trying to convert us and kill us, what a country this would be.
  • Keepers of the fire cannot be cowards. They are carrying light.
  • You tell us we have to elect a leader to represent us, and he has to represent us in everything. He is supposed to be wise about everything because he is responsible for everything. Even if we don’t want him to speak for us on some matter, he gets to because it says so in the constitution you made us write.
  • “She’s not one to mess with,” Delvin laughed… “Should’ve sicced them on the white man. You guys would’ve gone home in rowboats.”
  • You must forget yourself. You are not here for yourself. You are not here for me. This is Wounded Knee. You are standing on the grave.
  • Perhaps we had to return to the earth, so that we could grow within your hearts.
  • We are prisoners of our hearts, and only time will free us. Your people must learn to give up their arrogance. They are not the only ones placed on this earth.

If any of these strike a chord with you, buy this book, borrow this book, check it out of the library… anything to get your hands on it, and READ. If they don’t resonate with you, then pay no never-mind…you wouldn’t respect and appreciate what Nerburn and Dan have done anyways.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Again, I know I’m behind the times reading and reviewing this book, especially since it became a bestseller and hit movie. But as we all know, the book is better than the movie, and I’ve seen the movie about a dozen times so I figured it was about time to read the book. What made me giggle is anyone who happened to see me reading the book asked if I had seen the movie! So anyways, since it’s so well know, I’m going to do another book/movie comparison, and keep this short.

  1. Character portrayals in the movie are well done, in my opinion, but I was surprised after reading the book that Hilly isn’t as thin in the book as she is in the movie. When the author was describing her, I was actually surprised enough to note it!
  2. Skeeter’s mom in the movie is much more tolerable than in the book. Movie mom is a little less rooted in her ways, less stubborn and proud. Book mom is a nightmare until the last 30 pages or so. And there was no regret from book mom about firing Constantine, as the reason for her being fired was much different in the book. Also, Aibilene is the one who tells Skeeter about that situation first, not the mom.
  3. Minny and Celia’s relationship in the book has more details that make the reader truly appreciate their special relationship. The movie glosses over the some of the big events that seal their friendship and respect for each other.However, I still think the movie did a good job in portraying their relationship.
  4. Celia knowing about “Two Slice Hilly” and the reason why a check was cut to her. This made me want to high five Celia.
  5. Skeeter’s personal growth and character development is so much stronger in the book. I think the movie did a good job, but towards the end of the book we see a strong, independent Skeeter appear, whereas movie skeeter was pretty independent to begin with. I liked the gradual growth in the book a little better.

Those were the big points that jumped out at me. Honestly, I really do think the movie did a great job sticking to the book. To have such an important issue discussed from so many different points of view, all with the purpose to generate equality still resonates with readers and watchers to this day. About 50 years separated the story’s year and today, and we’re still fighting for equality… anything that makes a reader think about current issues gets a recommendation from me.

Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

November is one of my busiest times of year. Usually, my family travels to Kentucky to visit for a week or so, my workplace holds a large event at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month, and Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of it all. Suffice to say, reading has been an afterthought. However, when my family came to visit me, they brought me boxes of my childhood treasures and my book collection from home. I knew I had a few books I hadn’t read stashed away. Digging through the boxes, I pulled out a small stack and dubbed Magnolia Wednesdays as the first to read.

This 400-plus page paperback kept me hooked- I didn’t want to put it down, even though I knew I had to at times. It follows main character Vivien Armstrong Gray, a journalist who rebelled against her southern belle upbringing. Fleeing the life she made in NYC with a lot of skeletons in her suitcase, Vivi finds herself sheltered in her sister’s home in Atlanta suburbia. Melanie, Vivi’s sister, knows this sudden visit is suspicious- her sister was never the family type and only made the occasional holiday appearance. Even when Melanie was in need the most after the passing of her husband J.J., Vivi couldn’t seem to handle sticking around for very long.

As Vivi learns to navigate the life of suburbia, she can’t help but let her journalistic nature get the best of her. Emerging herself in Melanie’s daily life, Vivi seeks out stories for her column and tries to find the truth behind her brother-in-law’s sudden death. While taking belly-dancing classes at her sister’s dance studio, she learns that there’s more going on in suburbia than she expected, and more complicated issues than her alias suggests every week in the paper. When things come to a head by the end of the novel, you can’t stop turning the pages.

I give this one a good recommendation for all it’s interesting plot twists and entertaining banter between characters. Though I did have a few minor issues with point of view changing abruptly and paragraph breaks inconsistently defining the direction of the story, it wasn’t something that I got hung up on long enough to distract me from the action.