Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons

Book Description:
This is the climactic book in Paullina Simons' epic trilogy that began with the international bestseller, the heartbreaking "The Bronze Horseman". This is the magnificent conclusion to the saga that was set in motion when Tatiana fell in love with her Red Army officer, Alexander Belov, in wartime Leningrad in 1941. Tatiana and Alexander have since suffered the worst the twentieth century had to offer. After years of separation, they are miraculously reunited in America, the land of their dreams. They have a beautiful son, Anthony. They have proved to each other that their love is greater than the vast evil of the world. But though they are only in their twenties, in their hearts they are old, and they are strangers. In the climate of fear and mistrust of the Cold War, dark forces are at work in the US that threaten their life and their family. Can they be happy? Or will the ghosts of yesterday reach out to blight even the destiny of their firstborn son? Epic in scope, masterfully told, "The Summer Garden" is a novel of unique and devastating emotional power that spans two thirds of the twentieth century, and three continents. "The Summer Garden" is for: love, for beauty, and for ever.

This was a great book.

I really loved the first two, The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana and Alexander, but this was even better than the first two. Emotionally intense, I was riveted to the story and what becomes of Tatiana and Alexander as they live in post WWII America. We follow them with their ups and downs in life, love, marriage and learning to live with their nightmarish memories of war and imprisonment in Russia. It was an amazing and exhausting journey - but so worthwhile!

A lot of this story is about the relationship between Tatiana and Alexander (Tania and Shura). They have this incredible love that has held them together, yet as a young married couple living in the '50's they face so much together. It's not easy for them. It's the story of their marriage primarily, infidelities - or supposed infidelities - having a young son who is insecure and coping with life in so many ways. I could really relate to them and trying to hold onto their marriage and just living day to day. Alexander is trying desperately to cope with life. He's been horribly scarred by what happened to him in a Soviet prison in Russia after the war where Tatiana rescued him in the previous book. She left their young son, Anthony, to go to get him in Europe and bring him back. She succeeds, but Alexander still suffers inside with his memories. He's just trying to live a normal life, to work, to get along, make friends and live the good life with his family in the post war boom of the 1950's.

Much of their life seems ideal on the surface. They travel in a trailor home all over the country, Alexander finds work where he can, and they finally settle in Arizona. But Tatiana is carrying around the burden of worrying what is happening to her Shura. She wants to keep him safe from harm, even though she knows the US Government wants to question him and debrief him about what happened to him in Russia, and the fact that his parents were Communists who moved there in the 1930's and were killed by the Soviets eventually. To say the least, Alexander has a lot of baggage to carry around yet he's still such an incredible guy - he's amazing - I love him!

He's tall, dark and handsome in every sense of the word. The descriptions of him are awesome and his love for Tatiana is amazing - their love for one another is amazing! Some might say, the sex scenes in this book are over the top, but I don't think so, I think they only enhance their love for one another. They're well done, and not that unrealistic considering all they've gone through. Sex is the one way they heal each other. I also really love Tatiana, she's a great heroine. Quiet strength and beauty. A determination that is indefatigable. Her love for Alexander is unswerving, except for one incident that happens, and it rips your heart out to read about how they get through it. Very well done, you are right there with them going through the hell they're experiencing. It's so emotional!

Those of you that have read the Outlander books are probably thinking - this sounds vaguely similar... it is! That's why I love these books so much! The Summer Garden spans 60 years. We see Alexander and Tatiana grow old together but there is so much more to this book than just that. Their son Anthony grows up and goes to Vietnam and is taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. Alexander, now 50 years old, must go rescue him. It's one of the most nerve wracking intense scenes I've ever read in a book, reading about Vietnam and the whole rescue! The whole scene is so well done and so reminiscent of when Tatiana rescued Alexander in the previous book. It's exciting and riveting and scary, I was on the edge of my seat reading it. There are some odd twists in the storyline concerning Anthony that were kind of shocking and unbelievable, but it just makes the book that much more interesting and hard to put down.

Over and over I was in awe of how well the author did her homework in writing about this time period and all the millions of little details she wrote about. Vietnam, weapons, nursing, building homes, living in a trailor home, lobster fishing, baking bread, the desert, there are just too many things to list, but it all sounded authentic to me and I took it all in. I loved reading about this period in America too, the baby boom years my parents lived as young marrieds having six children. I really enjoyed it.

Frankly, I'm still reeling from reading this book that left me breathless. The scope of it is still hard for me to grasp. I felt like I was living their life with them. The ending kind of went on for too long, I would have been happier with just a few epilogue-like pages instead of thirty. Lots of explanations and descriptions and details, though it isn't boring, except for maybe what seemed like the endless discussion on the SALT II talks and theory behind them during the 1980's between the US and the Soviets.

Still, this was a fabulous book, but to really appreciate it you must read the first two. This was, in my opinion, the best of the three. Not for the faint of heart either, it's over 700 pages long and a roller coaster ride to read, but I'm so glad I did. Plus, I've crossed off another book from my TBR Challenge.



Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

My daughter read this series last year and really wants me to read them. You've certainly peaked my interest. Might have to get them from her! Great review!

Blodeuedd said...

The book sounds so lovely, and I love the fact that it left you breathless!
I will certainly have a look out for this series

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Alaine - I agree with your daughte - read them! It's a great series, unforgetable!

Blodeuedd - I hope you can find them, the Summer Garden is actually kind of hard to find, but the other two are widely available. Definitely read them if you can!

Daphne said...

I loved the first two books but was rather disappointed with The Summer Garden. I think perhaps their lives became a little too "ordinary" after all the drama of their earlier years.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Daphne, I was afraid that might be the case before I read the book, but I was pleasantly surprised it wasn't. I thought if anything, there was too much drama in their lives! Between the worrying with the US govt. after they got back, then the problems with his job and that slimy guy he worked for, the other woman who had the obsession with her big breasts, and his dislike of Tatiana nursing and all their marriage woes, and then all the problems with Anthony in Vietnam - I was on a roller coaster ride! It wasn't the same sort of drama as in the other books, but it was still, to me, very emotional and gut wrenching to read about. But, we all have our different interpretations - LOL!

JulieW said...

I agree with your review entirely. I also think it's the best of the three. The characters stayed with me for months afterwards. I loved seeing how their 'post war' lives developed. The cookbook, 'Tatiana's Table', is also a great little read if you are hungering for a bit more T & A. It isnt just recipes but also little snippets from the story that are new.

Kristie (J) said...

I read and loved The Bronze Horseman when it came out. I have the second and third book and I'm waiting for a time when I can handle a totally emotional read - because I know that's what's in store for me with these ones. I highly recommend them also - well at least The Bronze Horseman - and there's no reason why the next two won't be just as good.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

JulieW - glad you agree with me, and I'll look up Tatiana's Table, for I actually really liked her recipes, especially the Prayer Cookies!

Kristie - yes, they're emotional, I spaced them out, it's been about a year since I read Tatiana and Alexander, plus the Summer Garden was hard to come by, not availabe everywhere.

Annie said...

Julie absolutely agree with you. LOVED LOVED LOVED this series! I so want to read it again after reading your review.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Annie, I know I'll read it again eventually, definitely worthy of a re-read, but I have to give it time, it's so emotional! I need a break, but I agree it's a great series and I loved, loved, loved it!

Lori said...

One of my favorite series, thanks for a great review. I'm actually re-reading this series at the moment, and happened upon your blog, always nice to find other Gabaldon fans out there! Love your Jamie *g*

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Lori, thanks for popping by, yes, it's a great series, exhausting - but great!

Jennifer said...

I've read the other two books in this series, and I absolutely fell in love with them! I haven't had much luck finding this 3rd book. I have it on pre-order through amazon in June, but would love to read it sooner. Any suggestions on how I might get my hands on The Summer Garden? Thanks!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Jennifer, I think I bought mine through Abe Books, but that was a long time ago, you might just have to wait until June, sorry.

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