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.

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

By Sarah Jane Stratford

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-56013-3

3.5 stars

It’s 1938 and a group of ancient vampires decides that the power that Hitler is commanding in Europe must be stopped. These vampires, known as millennials, do not interfere with human affairs but decide, for not only the good of mankind but also their kind, to infiltrate and destroy the Nazi war machine.

Brigit, one of the oldest and most powerful of the group is loathe to go as it will separate her from Eamon. He has not yet reached millennial status and is too vulnerable for the mission. Reluctantly, she sets off with several companions to put their plan in motion but no one, even the oldest and strongest of the group, is sure they will return.

I didn’t know what to expect with this book — vampires hunting Nazis seemed a bit too much at first. However, once all disbelief is suspended, it works. It’s part love story, part vampire lore, and part action/thriller. It’s a strange combination and I will admit to being leery at first but, once I got into, I flew through it. The vampire background that Stratford creates is interesting and the long histories of the characters is enough to make it all work.

The Midnight Guardian is a fast read and good brain candy if you’re looking for a quick distraction. I liked the new vampire category added here and it seems set up for a second book as a few story lines are left hanging but not in such a way that leaves you annoyed. I think I might be willing to read a second one these books. While the idea was a bit outlandish, the characters were good enough to pull you in and, while it might not be a book you remember for years to come, it is an entertaining read.

Covenant With The Vampire: The Diaries of the Family Dracul

Covenant With The Vampire: The Diaries of the Family Dracul

Covenant With The Vampire: The Diaries of the Family Dracul

By Jeanne Kalogridis

Delacourt Press

ISBN: 0-385-31313-6

3.75 stars

Arkady Tsepesh is returning home to Romania with his pregnant wife, Mary, for the burial of his father. Having lived in London for many years, he is both excited and saddened by the trip. On one hand, he wants to share his life with Mary and introduce her to his sister and uncle, and on the other, he is heartbroken over the loss of his father whom he has not seen for many years.

Mary takes an immediate liking to Arkady’s sister, Zsuzsanna, who is sickly and crippled but a very kind soul. When Zsuzsanna becomes increasingly ill, Mary worries for her. When she finds out the cause of her sickness, she is disturbed in ways she never imagined. Worried for her husband, and with grave doubts about a member of his family, Mary finds her marriage strained. With the pending delivery of their child, she also fears for their lives. Arkady spends much time in denial, until the final moments when he comes face to face with the reality that is his family and what is to become of his life.

Told through diary entries as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you get to experience the emotions of several characters at once and see the story told from different points of view. While I don’t think that anything new is added to the telling her, it is an interesting take on the Dracul family dynamics. The diary entries are interesting for their revelations but they feel very familiar. I don’t consider that bad, but if you’ve read any number of vampire books with the original Dracula character, I think in many ways they all begin to feel the same. It was still an interesting read and Kalogridis’s style brings a fresh voice to the story.

Well, I spent my October looking for a new vampire book and while this one came along in November, I still found it a good read. I enjoy Kalogridis’s writing style and I liked the new additions to the family she added which gave an often-told tale an interesting twist.

Vampires

I started off my 2009 reading list with the Twilight series. A friend loaned me the books and I read them more out of curiosity than anything else. They were OK. If I hadn’t come upon them as I did, I don’t think I would have read them and, I’ll admit, I’m really flummoxed by the attention they get. But, hey, we each love what we love…

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against vampire stories. In fact, I’ve always loved Dracula by Bram Stoker, which I’ve just re-read, and I think The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a fabulous book. I have to admit that I’m also looking forward to Dracula The Undead by Dacra Stoker and Ian Holt. While I like vampire books (I’ve reviewed a few here and here), I think I like them in a more pure form — I want Dracula to be there!

The reason I mention this is a co-worker who loves vampire books asked me for one. I recommend The Historian which she is loving (how could anyone not) but it got me thinking. Right now, vampires are HUGE! True Blood series, the Sookie Stackhouse books which I see on every bestseller list, Twlight, Twlight, Twlight, even Mr. Darcy took a turn at being a vampire. You get my point.

SO, the reason for this post, tell me what some of your favorite vampire books are. While it’s not something I read often, I think I might feel a craving coming on.