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.
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 Hoechlin; Cara Delevigne
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.
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.
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:
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.
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: