Today’s Book – Non-Fiction & Travelogues

Today, I’m highlighting three books on my TBR.  I’ve said before that I want to read more non-fiction this year and while I haven’t stuck with my one non-fiction book a month idea, I have added several to my list.  Let’s take a look.

Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World’s Greatest Empire by JC McKeown – I love strange facts about ancient Rome and this one promises to provide me with facts for days about Roman life, superstitions, and customs.

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach – This one appealed to me because her travels are centered in Europe.  It’s also got a bit of the finding yourself theme that I don’t so much like but I think I can look past that to enjoy the travel part.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams – We live near the Peruvian embassy in DC.  Right now they have banners up celebrating the discovery of Machu Picchu and the photos on the banners make me want to get on a plane.  I also have a friend that hiked the trail this year so there are many reasons this one appeals.

Anything interesting on your list?

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.

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scribner

ISBN: 0-684-80154-X

3.5 stars

Rosemary Hoyt is a young American movie star vacationing in the French Riviera when she meets Dick and Nicole Driver. Dick is a brilliant psychiatrist and Nicole is both his wife and patient. Their relationship is complicated, by not only Nicole’s illness, but also by money. Rosemary’s appearance in Dick’s life only causes more strife for him and what he considers the responsibilities of his life.

Romantic love plays a dominate role for both Rosemary and Dick. Rosemary because she is so young and inexperienced and Dick because he is in a marriage where the notion of romance was never even considered. He liked and admired Nicole when they met but romance is not and was never a part of the marriage. Rosemary is buoyed by the mere idea and teases and cajoles Dick into believing it might be possible to have a romantic life with her. The two are bound by a strange connection that neither is willing to break but one that cannot be kept up either.

I read The Great Gatsby last year and found this one on my shelf while looking for my next book. I can’t say that I enjoyed this one as much. I felt alternatively bad, sad, and completely disgusted by the characters. They were young, rich, carefree, and in some instances all together unlikable. I know at certain times that I was not supposed to empathize with them but even though I knew that, I still was annoyed by them. I put this book down a few times in the hopes that when I returned, the characters would have redeemed themselves. Some did, some didn’t.

I didn’t stop reading though and I’m glad of that. Fitzgerald has such a beautiful and amazing writing style that I can’t help but be entranced. I was finding myself truly disliking these people and their actions but I still wanted to know how it would turn out, knowing full well there would be a tragic end in there somewhere. The language is so soothing and lulling that he dupes you into reading more and more.

Somewhere hidden on the depths of my shelves is This Side of Paradise. I won’t be reading it anytime soon, but I will be reading it. I may, for now at least, be done with my latest Fitzgerald book, but I know I will be going back for more in the future.