Summer ReRead: The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons

Welcome to Summer ReReads! We love discovering new authors, characters, and couples. But there is also a deep joy and comfort in visiting a book for the second (or third or fourth) time and remembering why you went all crazy over it in the first place. Summer is a perfect time to dive back into some old favorites, or for us to make our top picks some of your new favorites.

bronze horseman

Grade: A

Doing it at: 73%

Catnip: Forbidden Romance; Russia; WWII; Historical; Hardship Porn; My Sister’s Boyfriend; Deep Dark Secret

Shame Scale: Maybe a tiny bit shameful just for the sheer scope of melodrama in this one.

Fantasy Cast:  Tyler HoechlinCara Delevigne

Book Description:

Called “a Russian Thorn Birds,” The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is a sweeping saga of love and war that has been a monumental bestseller all over the world. The acclaimed author of Tully, Simons has written a stirring tale of devotion, passion, secrets, betray, and sacrifice. “A love story both tender and fierce” (Publishers Weekly ) that “Recalls Dr. Zhivago” (People Magazine), The Bronze Horseman is rich and vivid historical fiction at its finest.


I first read the Bronze Horseman a year and a half ago, I lost an entire weekend so fully absorbed that I refused to cook and fed my kids pizza and then leftover pizza and then whatever snacks I could throw at them. “What do you mean you’re hungry?! Leningrad is under siege and Tatiana has no bread!” A discussion on hot young Joseph Stalin, and the subsequent erotica that could be written about him reminded me that I was overdue for a reread and a write up. If you’re a fan of big, dramatic, hardship porn filled tragic love you really owe it to yourself to read this. I love all those things and I have a fascination with Russia, so its no wonder I fell so hard for this book.

We open in the summer of 1941, in Leningrad, where summer nights are short and dawn comes at three am and Stalin has just declared war on Germany. For Tatiana, living in two rooms in a communal apartment with her entire family, her whole world is about to change. Not just because of the war but because she’s going to meet Alexander.

Tatiana is sitting at a bus stop, eating an ice cream cone in her best summer dress and her older sister’s high heeled red sandals. She’s supposed to be buying all the food she can find, because war has been declared and her parents have trusted their one-day-shy-of-seventeen, dreamy daughter with this very important task. But Tatiana can’t take it seriously, it doesn’t feel like war, it feels like summer and endless promise and sunshine. She is eating her ice cream and waiting for the bus when she spots a tall, handsome soldier watching her from across the street. He follows her onto the bus. He doesn’t get off and she doesn’t get off and they end up all the way at the end of the line together before both admit they weren’t even on the right bus. The handsome soldier is Alexander and he and Tatiana are having insta-love.

Alexander helps Tatiana buy food at the officer’s store and, with the help of his snake-y friend Dimitri, they carry the supplies back to Tatiana’s apartment. Tatiana is in swoon over Alexander in his uniform with his big hands and dark stubble and white teeth. Alexander is in swoon over Tatiana in her rose embroidered dress with her long blonde hair and freckles and green eyes. All is looking rosy. Until they get to the apartment and Tatiana’s older sister, Dasha- who’s kind of a skank lets be honest- exclaims over Alexander, how did he find her! This is the boy, the boy she’s been staying out til dawn with, the boy she’s in love with.

Here is where we step back and talk about Tatiana’s family situation, do we know our Russian history? In Communist Russia families lived in communal apartments, one room per family for sleeping, resting, living etc… with communal kitchens and bathrooms. As Alexander explains to Tatiana later in the book there is no privacy. In Russian there is not even a word that means privacy, it is a completely foreign concept. Tatiana’s family actually has TWO rooms (this is presented as a luxury) but in those two rooms reside Tatiana, her skanky sister, her twin brother, her parents, and her grandparents. Tatiana has nowhere to be alone. Her sister is seven years older than her and half jokes that she can’t get married because her sister sleeps in the bed with her where her husband would lie instead. Living right on top of each other there is no room for secrets.

Since Dasha saw Alexander first, and since Tatiana has some misplaced ideas of loyalty and guilt, she tells Alexander that he must continue dating Dasha, that they can never be, and that her sister can never know. Alexander puts up the very barest of fight against this. The very very barest. Even though the pair are sneaking as much alone time together as possible and being mega adorable during that alone time:

“Sometimes,” She said, “they call me Tatia.”

“You are very beautiful, Tatia,” said Alexander.

“Stop,” she said – inaudibly – as sensation left her legs.

He called after, “If you wanted to, you could call me Shura.”

Shura! That’s a marvelous endearment. I would love to call you Shura, she wanted to tell him. “Who calls you Shura?”

“Nobody,” Alexander replied with a salute.

The Bronze Horseman has been out for over a year, but I’d still like to preserve spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it, so if you’re a story virgin scroll from Hot Stalin to Hot Russian.

hot for stalin

Alexander keeps dating Dasha. He keeps dating her so thoroughly that he’s still having sex with her. In the bed where Tatiana and Dasha sleep while Tatiana has been asked to go sit on the roof and wait. You guys it was really hard to not fire burn hate Alexander. The historical details and hardship porn really kept me going on this one for the first half of the book. Alexander was being a jerk, but I’ve never been the type of girl who could resist reading about ration cards, bomb shelters, cities under blockade, and tending the wounded.

Alexander has to go to the front as the German forces encroach further upon Leningrad’s city limits, he comes back and PROPOSES to Dasha. At this point a whole lot of making out and secret groping and drama has happened between Tania and her Shura. Tatiana ran away to try to find her twin brother who was sent away to a boys camp (More googling is needed to understand why all the Russian boys went to camp every summer presumably paid for by the state), Alexander followed her and literally pulled her out from under a pile of rubble saving her life. Then he carried her on his back to safety for kilometers and kilometers.

I never doubted that he loved Tatiana and not Dasha, but where was that love when he was slipping it to her sister for months and months. This was the worst.

rusky

When Bronze Horseman opens, Tatiana is working at a factory that makes silverware, then she is putting bullets into boxes, then helping to assemble tanks, and finally nursing in a field hospital. She is described as being a sprite of a girl but she is tough as nails. She is literally the only member of her family who survives the long first winter of the war. I knew almost nothing about Russia’s role in WW2 prior to this book and the historical facts and tiny details in this are really educational. This is a romance but its a romance where you LEARN things. The siege of Leningrad really happened, the German forces destroyed and blocked all roads in or out of the city. There was no food to be had, people were literally piled in the streets, dead from starvation and bombings.

It is months of slow starvation before Alexander manages to sneak Tatiana and Dasha out of Leningrad and puts them on a transport vehicle headed to the country where there are fewer bombings and more food. But Alexander is a Captain now and can’t accompany them so he has to head back to the front lines and just hope that they are OK. He spends six long months not knowing if his darling Tania is alive before he gets furlough and heads for the tiny country village that he knows Tatiana’s grandparents were from. Alexander, exhausted and hungry, walks out of the woods and sees Tatiana. Alive and fed and beautiful.

Tatiana looked up, saw him, and covered her face with her hands. Alexander watched everyone get up and rush to her, the old ladies showing unexpected agility and speed. She pushed them all away, pushed the table away, pushed the bench away, and ran to him. Alexander was paralyzed by his emotion. He wanted to smile, but he thought any second he was going to fall to his knees and cry. He dropped all his gear, including his rifle. God, he thought, in a second i’m going to feel her. And that’s when he smiled.

Ok. More spoilers between the hot dudes for you peeps who don’t want spoiled:

tyler h

The entire village knows about Alexander, as Dasha’s fiance, see Alexander sent a VERY convincing love letter to the village addressed to Dasha because Tatiana asked him to keep up the pretense that he loved Dasha for as long as her sister was alive. Alexander doesn’t know that Dasha passed away from consumption well before they made it to the village. There was no need to keep up the pretense, but the letter came, everyone in the nosy little village read it and now they think Alexander has shown up looking for Dasha.

Tatiana gets VERY salty with Alexander about this letter and accuses him of lying to her, taking advantage of her (even though she’s the one who was always trying to get Alexander to dispose of her virtue), and playing her and Dasha both. I wasn’t feeling very sympathetic towards Tatiana on these points. She was the one who insisted they keep up the lie, and while it was super NOT OK for him to keep spelunking with her sister, it was kind of her fault.

Finally, FINALLY, these two make up and make love. It is really hard to get any privacy in this tiniest most insular village in all of Russia, so Alexander frees Tatiana of her virginity in his military issue tent in the woods. Its really romantic you guys, I’m not gonna lie it made me pretty squee-y for them.

After Alexander has had his way with her several times and Tatiana has proven herself an eager participant in all things, he rushes her to the nearest church and they get married. She wears her rose patterned dress that she was wearing when he saw her for the first time, its lovely. For the next month, while his furlough lasts, they stay in the tiny cabin that belonged to Tatiana’s grandparents. They make love, swim in the river, eat blueberries, make love some more, nap, play games, make love some more. Everything is washed in sunlight and they’re happy and in love. This is my very favorite part of the book.

tyler h 2

Alexander has to leave to go back to his post, breaking Tatiana’s heart all over again, but leaving a special little souvenir with her. The book ends on a cliffhanger and there are two more in the trilogy. This ReRead didn’t even touch on all the plot twist, and melodrama, and swoon packed into this book. There are secrets, blackmail, bloody battle scenes, and more. Its the total epic romance package. Please give yourself a few days and lose yourself in WW2 Russia with Alexander and Tatiana, you won’t regret it.

Check it out on Amazon:

Heaven, by V.C. Andrews. A Hillbilly Introduction

heaven 1 Heavencover2

Grade: A

Doing it at: No D in part one of our story

Catnip: Hardship Porn; V.C. Andrews; Rags to Riches; Evil Stepmother; This Shit is Bananas; Deep Dark Secrets; WTF

Shame Scale: It is impossible for me to be ashamed of my V.C., these books and all their nonsense are part of me.

Fantasy Cast: someone so 70’s and the blandest guy you can imagine for Logan Stonewall

Book Description:

Of all the folks in the mountain shacks, the Casteels were the lowest — the scum of the hills.
Heaven Leigh Casteel was the prettiest, smartest girl in the backwoods, despite her ragged clothes and dirty face…despite a father meaner than ten vipers…despite her weary stepmother, who worked her like a mule. For her brother Tom and the little ones, Heaven clung to her pride and her hopes. Someday they’d get away and show the world that they were decent, fine and talented — worthy of love and respect.
Then Heaven’s stepmother ran off, and her wicked, greedy father had a scheme — a vicious scheme that threatened to destroy the precious dream of Heaven and the children forever!


I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me some of the first really trashy stuff I read was V.C. Andrews. My friends and I discovered Flowers in the Attic (I wish I could remember who showed me the majesty so I could thank them!), passed it around and moved on to the other series. These books are what we spent our babysitting money on, the lift the flap surprise covers were doorways to insane plots and we LOVED them. I especially loved Heaven, which in my humble but completely correct opinion, has the craziest story. This shit is bananas B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Lets jump on in to Hill People drama and relive our formative shame reading years.

Our book is set in the Smoky Mountains, outside of a tiny town, in a little rickety shack much like the song Fancy by Reba McEntire. Only this family isn’t as classy as the family who had to pimp out their daughter to survive. The Casteel’s are hill scum, they’re eight people shoved into a wee bitty shack that may have seen better days, but probably not, it was likely always crappy and falling down. Heaven’s paternal grandparents live there, contributing nothing to their family because they aren’t aging well:

Granny was in her mid fifties. Chronic arthritis and various other undiagnosed aches and pains made life miserable for Granny, and the loss of most of her teeth made her seem twice her age.

but the older Grandpa grew the less he liked to fiddle and the more he liked to whittle

Heaven’s moody, shiftless, alcoholic, whoring dad hates her. I mean he isn’t particularly nice to anyone else in the family but he especially hates Heaven Leigh (we are just gonna roll with her name, it’s the least ludicrous thing going here). It hurts Heaven’s feelings to be hated by her daddy, until her Granny tells her the big deep dark secret of her life. Heaven doesn’t have the same mother as the other four Casteel kids! HER mama was a city gal, a not even old enough to drive pretty as a picture rich girl who abandoned her fancy life for Heaven’s handsome slick talking daddy. Angel. That’s right ANGEL mother of HEAVEN.Granny shows her a fancy city folk suitcase that’s been wrapped up and stored under the porch, in it are a bunch of fancy rich people clothes. AND a doll that looks just like Heaven, only with silver blonde hair. Heaven’s real mama came from a family who made fancy-ass expensive dolls, this is important to remember for later. How Heaven didn’t figure out that she had a different mother than the other kids, when her own brother is the same age as her and they aren’t twins, I do not know. Once Heaven knows that she isn’t pure hill trash (only 1/2, like me!), she hates her daddy even more.

To be fair her dad is kind of the worst human ever. When Heaven’s teen mom died, he brought home a new wife right away. A new wife who was conveniently already several months pregnant with his son. Pa doesn’t work, instead choosing to run moonshine across state lines for the distilleries. And the money he makes from that he spends on booze, and gambling and whores at Shirley’s Place down in town. Good old Pa also gives his second wife syphilis, causing her to birth an abomination

I could hardly accept what my eyes told me.

Shocking to see a baby with nothing between its legs.

But what did it matter that this child was neither girl nor boy when it was dead and the top of its head was missing?

If anything is appropriate reading for a gaggle of twelve-year-old girls with over active imaginations, it is surely V.C. Andrews!

This baby is the last straw for the much put upon Sarah, neglected wife of Pa. She leaves and never looks back. And the shock literally kills her granny. Leaving Heaven to mother her younger brothers and sisters with not much help from her invalid grandpa (who is in his SIXTIES but the years ain’t kind to the hill folk) or from daddy of the year. Her almost twin brother is steady and helpful, her next youngest sister Fanny is a twelve-year-old slut who is happily flashing her panties to boys in the cloakroom, the youngest sister is puking all the time for who knows why, and the smallest boy is fine but still another mouth to feed when they ain’t got no food in them there hills.

The school teacher in Winnerow, Miss Deale, tries to help the kids. When the school board refuses to let the Casteel kids take their school books home to do homework or extra studying (everybody knows those Casteel’s will just get the books filthy with their hill people dirt), she lets them take her personal copies. When she sees that they don’t have anything for lunch she tries to make sure they eat. And when she runs into them after church she takes them for a fancy pants restaurant lunch, where little Our Jane pukes everywhere. Little sisters ruining perfectly nice things with their messed up digestive tracts is one of V.C.’s tropes.

Pa starts coming home less and less and there isn’t money or food. And Heaven can’t get to town for school anymore as someone needs to run the house. She also can’t get down to see her town boy boyfriend, Logan, who is the human equivalent of Melba toast in a crew neck sweater. Heaven likes how clean, and sweet, and handsome he is. And Logan likes how pretty and PURE she is. They don’t know each other well, this is the romance of 14-year-old kids. In V.C. land the heroines always end up with their teenage loves eventually. So, if you plan to read this whole series (which I DO recommend) get used to spending time mooning over white bread. Logan’s parents would never approve of him seeing a Casteel because everybody in book land knows they’re the worst of the worst

In town and in school they called us hill scum, hill filth, and scumbags. Hillbillies was the nicest thing they ever called us.

Since they’re so universally loathed, and since there’s only so much one single, woman school teacher can do, no one steps up to see why the kids have stopped coming to school. And Tom’s attempts at stealing to feed his family end up with a burly man with a shot-gun outside their shack.

Pa’s run off, and Our Jane’s real sick, and they’re all going to starve to death. Things are bleak. The kids don’t have anything to eat but “lard scrapings and two dry biscuits”. In Flowers in the Attic when the kids start literally starving to death, Christopher Doll cuts his own arm and lets the others DRINK HIS BLOOD. Sadly, things don’t go so far in Heaven. Pa finally reappears and brings tons of food

two sacks of flour, salt, slab bacon, beans, dried peas, a huge tin of lard, bundles of tied spinach, apples, potatoes, orange yams, bags of rice, and lots more we’d never had before, such as boxes of crackers and cookies, and peanut butter and grape jelly.

I don’t know why I love a big long list of food, but I surely do. This is when Pa finds out that Sarah has left, and there’s much wailing about his plight before he tells the kids he’s going off to get cured of his bad disease — the syph — and that they should burn the bags the food came in and hope they never get the syph from sleeping with a bunch of town whores (I may be ad libbing that last bit). The cabin is cold, the wind blows right through all the cracks, and there’s quickly no more food to eat. The children are inadequately clothed and getting extra desperate when Pa shows up again.

On Christmas Day.

To sell off two of the kids to some rich people.

As one does; he sells the two youngest to a decent seeming wealthy couple. Then a few weeks later he sells Fanny (the slutty one) to the minister and his barren wife. Then he sells Tom to a man who needs help on his farm. And finally he comes for Heaven Leigh.

To Heaven he presents a choice: a staid older couple. Or a beautiful redhead and her handsome young husband. For his most hated child he’s found two buyers. Heaven picks that younger couple. Heaven picks So So wrong.

Read the rest of our review: Heaven: Living for the City

Check it out on Amazon: