My Favorite Reads – The Historian

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

From the inside cover: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters.  The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of — a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out.  It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.  Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself — to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world?  Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed — and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends?  The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from the dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe.  In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign — and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions — and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers — one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and confrontation with the very definition of evil.

My thoughts: I’m currently re-reading this book for The Historian Read Along, and even though I’m only a few pages in, I’m remembering just how much I liked this book, which of course is what led it to be my pick this Thursday.

It’s a slow book so while the description above may give the impression of people running fleetingly across Europe and dashing through the stacks at the library, no such luck.  It feels more like a running conversation with a meandering story told in between.  I don’t mean that the book is boring; it’s more a gradual build toward suspense than action.  The story itself is about research and the depths that historians go to for original sources.  If one is looking for the beginning of the vampire legend, one must look in dark places and both the father and the daughter do that here.

What I like most about this book is the almost hushed tones in which it’s told as though the whole secret cannot, and must not, be revealed instantly but unwrapped at an almost imperceptible pace that keeps the suspense building until the end.

Kostova is a wonderful storyteller and when the father sits down to tell his daughter his story, you feel as if you’re the daughter and his hushed voice is for your ears only.  It adds creepiness to the book that doesn’t ever leave as though you must vigilantly look over your shoulder each time you leave the house.

While bits of the story might feel rambling, I’m not bothered by it.  I patiently wait it out until I’m once again pulled in.  The language can also be somewhat flowery and over descriptive at times and can make the story feel heavy but it also fits with the dark backdrop.

If you’re interested in a vampire story that’s not all about bloodsucking hoards but a more a dark mystery, this one could be it.

The Historian – A Read Along

Coffee and a Book Chick sent me a note that there is going to be a read along of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  I read The Historian years ago and loved it so I thought why not read it again.  Besides, every time I go to put something back on the shelf, I keep coming across this book.  A sign maybe?  I think it is.

It’s going to be read in chapters averaging about a 100 pages a week so a very doable pace that means I won’t have to drop anything else I’m reading to play along.  More info is at On the Ledge Readalongs if you want more details.

A New Challenge of Sorts – Diana Wynne Jones Week

There are authors and books that we all have good intentions of reading but sometimes, for reasons completely unknown to us, we never get to them. For me, I’ve always meant to read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. The book has lingered on my long list of books for, well, let’s be honest, forever. I have no idea why I never picked it up.

Jenny of Jenny’s Books is a huge fan of Jones and is hosting a Diana Wynne Jones Week August 1 – 7, 2010. To participate, one has to read one of Jones’s books and post a review during the week. Jenny has even been nice enough to post lists and descriptions of her books. You can find her lists here and here and here. My only problem, there maybe to many good ones to pick from…

I was going to read Howl’s Moving Castle — and still intend to —- but I have somehow managed to add a few more to the list:

Deep Secret

The Dark Lord of Derkholm

Power of Three

A Sudden Wild Magic

A Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Have you read any of her books? If so, any recommendations?

And, Jenny, if you’re out there, any suggestions?

Lord of the Rings Read-Along – The Return of the King Mid-Month Check-In

The LOTR Read-Along is half way through the last book, The Return of the King. I finished the book but thought I’d take a few minutes to answer the questions. I tried to stay away from spoilers but, well…don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you’re still reading, skip the last two questions.

Maree at Just Add Books is hosting The Return of the King this month.

1) Where are you in your reading? Are you still with Bilbo and Smaug? Just starting out? Or have you finished already and are tapping your fingernails on the book cover, waiting for me to catch up?

I’m finished with the book but waiting patiently — no tapping of fingernails here.

2) If this is your first time reading LOTR, how are you finding it? Are you falling in love with Middle Earth? and Legolas?

See question 3.

3) If you’re a repeat offender reader, like me, how are you finding the return journey? Are you loving it just as much as ever? What little treasures have you found in ROTK that you never noticed before?

I’m a repeat offender reader. It’s been at least five years since I cracked the spines on these books and it was fun getting to know everyone again.

I didn’t remember as much of ROTK as the other books so it was really nice getting into this one. I’d happily be reading and then all of sudden realize that what I thought happened in this book actually took place in the movie. I’m glad I re-read this one because it brought all of the story back to me. It was like finding a long lost friend. I also reaffirmed just how much I like this book. Now, I love all of them but there was something about this one that was really fitting. After all the fighting and death it was nice to see some of my favorite characters find peace.

4) How do you feel, when you close the end of the last part; after Sam’s words on the last page? Are you sad it’s over, nostalgic? Looking for your next read already?

Nostalgic, definitely. I was happy to finally come to the end and see the hobbits home but sad that it was over.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I love that Sam has the last word — “Well, I’m back.” I don’t know why but it’s just perfect for me. While I have several soft spots for characters in the books — Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to name a few — Sam is by far my favorite character. He’s a true friend and someone everyone can, and does, count on. He’s strong when needed and gentle when called for.

5) What’s your favourite scene in ROTK?

The Scouring of the Shire. I love how Frodo, Sam, Pippen, and Merry incite a riot and get all the hobbits to take back their homes. It’s so fitting. While it’s a bit sad that they did fight for all the men and none came to help them out, I like that they stand up and take what’s theirs. (OK, really my only complaint about the book. Can’t anyone be bothered to help out the hobbits that saved their butts?! Oh no, it’s the time of men, busy, busy, busy.)

Lord of the Rings Read-Along: The Two-fer Edition

I’m going to combine two Lord of the Rings Read-Along posts this week because I’m way behind on my posts and my reading and I want to catch up and this is the way I’m going to do it. 🙂

First, thanks to Teresa at Shelf Love for hosting The Two Towers discussion in March and to Maree at Just Add Books for hosting The Return of the King this month.

Here are the final questions for The Two Towers:

1)The last half of The Two Towers covers fewer characters than the first half. For some, this makes Book 4 slower than the rest of the book; others love the intense focus on Frodo, Gollum, and Sam. Where do you stand on this question?

I’m in between on this one. I understand why it was done (at least I think I do) but it’s odd when you’re reading. Yes, the fellowship is now on two separate quests and writing it as two stories only heightens that reality but it does sometimes make me wonder why they don’t seem to think about each other and how they’re doing.

2)If you’re a first-time reader (or even a rereader), what surprised you most about this half of the book?

I starting feeling very different about Frodo. I tend to think of him as sappy but I think that’s more a movie impression since Elijah Wood always looks like he’s going to cry in the movie (just my two cents and not meant to be mean-spirited). While reading, I started to remember that Frodo was a bit tougher than I really gave him credit for and I liked that.

3)Are there any specific moments that stand out as favorites or least favorites in this section?

I don’t think I have any least favorite moments but I really enjoyed meeting Faramir again.

4)What are some themes or ideas in this book (or the trilogy as a whole so far) that stand out to you?

Sam’s undying, unwavering friendship always stands out for me. He’s so loyal and true that I always want to hug him for just being who he is, not apologizing for it, and not feeling sorry for anything he does to help Frodo.

5)And the obligatory movie question: Many LOTR readers take the biggest issue with Jackson’s treatment of this part of the trilogy than with any other? Did the changes bother you? Are there any ways in which you think the movie was more effective?

I don’t think of the movies as more or less effective. It’s just a different medium and somethings that work so well in the book just don’t translate on screen. I like to think of them as separate but connected entities. So, no, I don’t think there was anything in the movies that was changed that bothered me intensely enough to mention here. I walk the middle line on this question. I like the books. I like the movies.

Here are the intro question for The Return of the King:

1) We’re coming to the end of the quest. Where are you in your reading?

I’m on chapter 4, The Siege of Gondor. Not all that far yet but I plan to catch up this week.

2) Have you read LOTR before? If so, what are you anticipating most re-reading in ROTK? (er … try to avoid spoilers, although I suppose that question makes that a bit tricky)

I have read the books before and I’m really looking forward to the refresher on ROTK since I don’t remember much from this book. Yep, that was a smooth avoidance wasn’t it. 😉

3) Who’s your favourite character in ROTK?

Aragorn. Just cuz he’s hot. 🙂

4) Favourite scene?

There is a speech that Aragorn gives to the gathered armies that starts, “Today is not the day…” I really am hoping that I’m not remembering something from the movie and not the book here but I have this very Julius Caesar/Marc Antony, Shakespearean like, speech vision in my head and I am starting to wonder where I remember it from…I hope it’s the book.

5) How do you feel about the overall series now that we’re getting near the end?

I’m feeling very nostalgic about the whole thing. I’ve read these books a few times and have very fond and different memories of all of them. Re-reading the books now has brought back some wonderful memories.

6) Have you seen the movies? Have they coloured your reading of ROTK?

Avoidance tactic two — yep, saw the movies. Yep, like the movies. Nope, not hurting my experience.

Man, this movie question just won’t walk on in to the sunset will it?

7) Does reading the books make you want to watch the movies, or run screaming in the other direction?

Uh, see 6. I’m planning to re-watch the movies when I’m done reading to see what was different. I’ve convinced the hubby to go along with me and he said, “What, so we’re planning to do nothing for the whole month of May but watch movies?” We only have the extended versions on DVD. So, if no on hears from me for a while…send popcorn.

Have any thoughts about the Lord of the Rings?

Lord of the Rings Read-Along: The Two Towers Progresses, Rather Slowly I Might Add

First, thanks to Teresa at Shelf Love for hosting The Two Towers this month. She put together a few questions to help in our discussion for the mid-month check in.

1.Where are you in your reading? Are you finding it slow going or is it a quick read?

2.If you’re a rereader, how does this reading compare to past readings? If you’re a first-time reader, how has The Two Towers met—or not met—your expectations? What has surprised you most in your reading?

3.In Book 3, we visit lots of new places and meet lots of new characters. There’s Fangorn and the Ents, the riders of Rohan, Saruman at Isengard. Which are your favorites? Least favorites?

4.Have your opinions of the main characters from Fellowship changed at all in The Two Towers?

5.Are there any scenes that strike you as particularly memorable? Anything you could do without?

6.And the obligatory movie question: If you’ve seen the movie, has it affected your perception of The Two Towers? If so, how?

For some reason, it’s slow going for me. I’m just about done with Book Three but where I had trouble putting the first two books down, I now have trouble picking this one up. I read a chapter or two and put it down and then I get sucked into another book and don’t read it for several days. I hope it’s not Middle Earth fatigue?! No, I think it’s that I’m a one book at a time person and reading only a few chapters throws me off. I enjoy the story when I’m reading, but I think the idea of reading only a bit at a time has been the wrong approach for me and I will be sitting down to finish the book in the next few days.

Update – I moved on to Book Four last night. I unexpectedly got some extra reading time in thanks to the start of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament. I came home to see that my husband had The Setup going on which means he had both laptops on the coffee table in front of the TV watching three different basketball games at once. He was quite proud of himself. I never got a chance to post this but instead got to spend some quality time with my book which worked out just fine for me. 🙂

I’m a re-reader and I was surprised to find myself annoyed with Gandalf this time around. He comes and goes, offers some vague advice when he blesses people with his presence, moves on, and comes back when he has the time. He’s like this in the other books as well so I’m not sure why it’s bothering me here. Also, and this has been mentioned by others, the master/servant thing with Frodo and Sam. In past reads, I’ve been able to ignore it for the most part but this time it’s troubling me.

I love the Ents and Fangorn. The Ents are the most amazing creations and I love the way that no one can really describe them and in a way are just as amazed by them as I am. And while I know Fangorn is supposed to be this forbidden place, I always want to know more about it because it sounds so fantastic. As for least favorite, I wasn’t so much interested in Helm’s Deep. I always have trouble reading battle scenes and this one was no different. Although, I did enjoy the battle count going on between Legolas and Gimli. The relationship between the two is one of my absolute favorites in the series.

Other than feeling put out by Gandalf, no, I don’t think I radically changed my opinion of any of the characters.

The scene that I enjoyed most was the chapter Flotsam and Jetsam. I loved Merry and Pippen’s welcome to the group and the reunion of part of the fellowship. I also liked the way you got caught up with this group without having to re-live anything. It all fit together nicely for me. I am finding it odd though that there hasn’t really been any mention of Frodo and Sam by anyone. I know they are dealing with their own problems — battles, orcs, Saruman,etc. — but it seems like no one is even giving them a second thought. I get what Tolkien is doing and why he breaks up the story but it’s odd for me this go round.

Yes, I have seen the movie. Honestly, the battle for Helm’s Deep worked better in the movie for me and the entire time I was reading that chapter that’s all I pictured. I think the sea of orcs vision I had in my head, which is courtesy of the movie, at least gave me something to grasp when reading. I’m looking forward to more of Book Four and catching up with Frodo and Sam. Sam was and is a favorite character of mine and I miss him a bit.

Any thoughts about The Two Towers you’d like to share?

Lord of the Rings Read-Along: The Fellowship of the Ring & The Two Towers – A Final Look Back & A Look Forward

I’m going to combine two Lord of the Rings Read-Along posts this week otherwise that’s all you’d be reading about here. Wait, all Tolkien all the time…how can that be bad! 🙂 I do have a few other things I’d like to post this week so here we go with a look back and a look forward.

First, thanks to Clare at The Literary Omnivore for hosting The Fellowship of the Rings discussion in February and to Teresa at Shelf Love for hosting The Two Towers this month.

The Fellowship of the Ring – A Final Look Back

1.Since we’re dealing with a third of a novel, instead of the first novel in a series, do you find anything different? In a way, I have always thought of these books as one big book broken up into sections so I guess I don’t really think about it as the next book so much as the next chapter. Besides, I love big chunky books so I’m happy thinking of it as one ginormous book in the end.

2.Do Books One and Two have significant differences to you? I think of book one as more of a build up and book two as the action. In book one, I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen. Frodo and the others are running from something but in many ways they don’t quite know what that is yet or how evil it is. In book two, they know and that makes everything that much more urgent.

3.Who’s your favorite character so far into the novel? I have two major favorites and a few minor favorites. Major favorites — Sam and Aragorn. Sam because he is so loyal and practical. Rope anyone? He’s also the one to give little pep talks to Frodo which at least lifts some of the depression from him. I know Frodo is supposed to be scared and weighed down by the ring but sometimes he depresses me. At least Sam lifts that dreariness a bit. And Aragorn, well, how can you not like him! He’s handsome — in my head he is Viggo Mortensen which doesn’t hurt the image — and strong and fearless and, OK I have a slight crush and I won’t say anymore but I think you all get the point. I also love Merry and Pippen as the comic relief. As a minor character, I really like Galadriel. She just so lovely and exactly how I would envision an elf queen.

4.What surprised you the most? I hate to admit this but I remembered a few scenes better from the movie than the book.

5.What was your favorite scene? It’s more a favorite chapter. I love all the descriptions and the role Galadriel plays in The Mirror of Galadriel. When I finished, all I could think was, “Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

The Two Towers – A Look Forward

1.Where are you in the trilogy right now? What do you think of the books so far? I haven’t started yet but I have taken it down off the shelf so that’s a start!

2.What’s your past experience with The Two Towers? If you’re rereading, how does it stack up against the other two books? I’m light on the details for The Two Towers so I’m looking forward to getting started. The last time I re-read these books, I read them all in a row with no breaks and everything sort of mushed together. My guess is that I will remember more as I get going.

3.If you’re a first-time reader, what big questions do you have at this point? What are you hoping to see Tolkien deal with in The Two Towers? If you’re a re-reader, what are you most looking forward to? I can’t wait to meet Treebeard again. The Ents are some of the most wonderful characters ever imagined.

4.What about the movie? If you’ve seen it, what did you think of it, and how much do you think it will color your experience with the book? I’ve seen all the movies and liked them but I’m also one of those odd people that disconnects movies and books, although I always like to read the book first if there is one! I enjoy them for the separate mediums they are and don’t mind that certain aspects and events of the books have been changed to work in the movie better. I know for a fact though that I like the books better than the movies. 🙂

I plan to read The Two Towers at lunch and maybe a few chapters on the odd night. I’m going to make an effort to make this a month long reading event.

Have any thoughts about the Lord of the Rings?

Lord of the Rings Read-Along – The Fellowship of the Ring, Part II

The Lord of the Rings Read-Along is continuing this month with The Fellowship of the Ring. Clare from The Literary Omnivore is hosting the discussion for this book.  She’s posted a second set of questions for all of us participating.

If you’ve been with us since the beginning, how do you feel about the narrator compared to the narrator in The Hobbit?

How’s your pace going? Is it smooth sailing or have you found passages that are difficult to get through?

If you’ve read this series before, is The Fellowship of the Ring, for the most part, as you remembered? If not, is it what you expected or something else?

Are you using any of the extra features- maps and indexes, for instance- in your book?

On with the show…err, book.

The Fellowship of the Ring

If you’ve been with us since the beginning, how do you feel about the narrator compared to the narrator in The Hobbit? I actually like the narrator in this book better than in The Hobbit.  It has a more adult feel to it.

How’s your pace going? Is it smooth sailing or have you found passages that are difficult to get through? It’s smooth sailing.  I have skipped a few songs though — some are just too long for me.  I did read them in The Hobbit and most of the ones in this book too, but sometimes I gloss over them or flip past them entirely.  I know there are a lot of people out there that really love the songs, but, I’m not one of them.  Please don’t hate me for it.  🙂

I haven’t found any passage difficult to get through. Although, I did find The Counsel of Elrond to be a bit windy but wouldn’t really say I got bogged down, just a little bored with all the speeches.  In fact, the most difficult thing I’m dealing with in my reading is not reading the whole book in one sitting!  I’m trying for only 2-3 chapters a night but will admit that it’s not working out exactly as I planned.  I’m finding it very hard NOT to keep reading.

If you’ve read this series before, is The Fellowship of the Ring, for the most part, as you remembered? If not, is it what you expected or something else? I was surprised to find that I didn’t remember as much as I thought I did.  I actually had to laugh at one point because what I remembered was from the movie and not the book.  SPOILER ALERT *****  For instance, in the chapter A Short Cut to Mushrooms, the scene where the Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam are on their way to cross the Brandywine River on the ferry and they end up crossing old Farmer Maggot’s turnip field. After a little dinner and some nice conversation, he takes the four hobbits down to the ferry in his wagon.  I remember this being a huge chase scene with the Black Riders just missing the little hobbits a they make a run for the boat.  Not so!  It’s completely different in the book, and in a way, so much better.  The scene is still tense and you are worried if they will make it, but it fits better.  ***** ALERT OVER

Are you using any of the extra features- maps and indexes, for instance- in your book? No, I don’t really look at the maps while reading. I’ll sometimes skim over them after though.

Clare, our host for The Fellowship of the Ring, has mentioned doing a movie marathon after we finish the read-along and I’m in.  I need to find how how much I remember from the books and the movies!

Are you joining us in the read-along?  Any thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring?