The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little Brown
Number of pages: 909 pages
My copy: mass market paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

* * *

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is our book for our November discussion for the book club. It was my only choice among the three books that we voted for last July because our theme for November was horror and I’m not a horror fan, so I go for the least horrific. :P I’ve heard good things about this book from some blogger friends, plus our moderator, Monique, liked this one too, so I figured I will probably like it too.

The Historian is the story of an unnamed narrator and her family’s past. What starts as a simple book and some letters found in her father’s study turned out to contain a story bigger than she expected, even bigger than her father and her dead mother that spans across the centuries. The book is more of a collection of her recollection of her own research and her father’s research and travels about Vlad the Impaler and the danger that they encountered as they pried deeper into the life of the fifteenth century Wallachian ruler.

I started this book a little apprehensive, because like I said, I’m not a horror person. I don’t like scaring myself, so I was kind of careful when I started reading it. My friends assured me that it wasn’t that scary, but there were several times when I felt jumpy while I was reading this, especially when it was raining and when I was alone at home. I found the first part of the book quite engaging, where I was passed from the main narrator’s point of view to her father’s and back. I liked how the mystery presented itself, and how I got invested in the main characters in this first part. I liked the dangerous — and a little scary — tone around the first part, where they just don’t know what’s going on and how they do not know just how big the thing they’re poking is.

That was the first part. The second part was still quite interesting, but then somewhere in the middle, it started to lag. I don’t read much historical fiction, or anything that had too many historical documents for that matter. Somewhere in the second part, I was amazed at the setting but everything else was bogged down by the fact that the characters kept stumbling upon different documents, countless books and letters about Vlad the Impaler. I get it, okay. They are historians, yes, so these documents were a necessary part of the story, but man, they were tedious. I didn’t want to skim through it because I might miss something else, but I admit that I slowed down my reading at this part.

Come part three. Part 3 was a little bit more exciting, especially since it felt like they were getting closer and closer to uncovering the mystery. I got a little bit annoyed when they opened yet another book and read yet another letter, but when you’re that close to the end of a book, giving up is not an option. At least, not for me. And when the final reveal comes…I was all…huh.

I won’t spoil it for you, but at the end of the book, I had to clarify with some friends if I understood what I read, and they said I got it right. And after 900 pages, all I could think of was: That’s it?

Overall, I have a bit of mixed feelings with The Historian. Perhaps I was expecting more, and I was shelving it together with some of the adventure/mystery/horror books that I have read before and forgot that the book is really more of a travelogue and historical account more than it was supposed to be horror. I liked the writing and the level of detail that this book possessed, and it made me want to go backpacking around Eastern Europe (and generally all over Europe again — I totally drooled at the part where they were in France with the descriptions of food) to see the places the characters went to in the book. As far as the story goes, however, I thought the big reveal fell a little flat, and I was really expecting a big one after all the things the characters went / read through.

I didn’t really dislike The Historian, but I didn’t like it too much, either. It was a little bit more than just okay, though, because like I said, I enjoyed the travel part and the writing and maybe just a little bit of the research, until I felt like starting a drinking game for every document / letter / book that they read. I don’t regret that I read it, but I don’t think I’ll find it particularly memorable later on, either. Maybe I’m just not much of a history buff to be really in love with this, and I think my aversion to vampire stories made me a bit more disinterested after some point. The only real memorable part of The Historian as far as I’m concerned was the book club discussion, which was a fun time to discuss with good friends what we think of this chunkster. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: November

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookmarked!

Required Reading: November

Where did October go? I seriously do not know. I knew it was just crazy (but good!), and now it is November and I am still going crazy. I had planned to blog several times here, really, but gah, all I want to do when I go home after work is sleep. Sleep. Sleep. And I think I will still be busy until 2012 ends. :( I feel like I’m going to crash at any time and like I would need a Nolan N90 helmet to stop me from getting too burned out. Gah.

But I will still try to read, I promise. I always do. I think it’s one of the things that keep me sane. :o

I realized that I didn’t have a Required Reading post last November because I was too busy with NaNoWriMo. I almost didn’t want to have a post for this year because I am still busy, but I realized — what the heck. It’s not like there are brand new books on my list anyway. And nothing’s stopping me from trying, right?

But first, October!

  • The Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria (4/5) – Totally creeped me out. I liked it! I have a bunch of Eliza’s book pending for review. One day I will write about all of them!

I’m still in the middle of The Historian and Isle of Blood, and honestly I don’t know when I will be able to read them, but I am easing pressure on myself. Because it’s never fun to be pressured, yes?

Required Reading: November

On to this crazy, crazy month!

November Books

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova — still ongoing, and I’m halfway through! :) I can definitely finish this before the discussion.
  • The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka by Roald Dahl – this is for our December discussion, and I kind of want to get tot his earlier than usual so I won’t cram. We will be discussing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , but since I saw this book has both Charlie stories in, I decided to get this one instead. This should be an easy read, right?
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – only because November plays a big part in this novel. I have no idea if I will be able to crack into this, though.

Here’s to trying this November. It will be crazy, but I will definitely try. :)

Required Reading: October

Just like that, we’re in the final quarter of the year. How about that!

September wasn’t a bad reading month, but a lot of things happened in my personal life which also kind of affected my reading, but not in a bad way. And there were also many changes that happened in our book club which kind of took me by surprise, but I think things have settled down now, and I hope things can only get better after this!

But interestingly, I managed to finish 3 out of the 4 books I listed for September’s Required Reading. I think I also managed to blog a bit more in September, although I am still very far from getting my blogging backlog cleared. Oh well. If this keeps up, I will probably end up working on that backlog until December. But anyway. Here’s how September went:

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (3/5) – I enjoyed this a bit more than I expected, and the book discussion helped me appreciate the book more.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (5/5) – Oh my stars. I loved this one. I wrote more in my review, so all I’m going to say now is that I am looking forward to reading everything else that Mitchell wrote. And watch the movie.
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (4/5) – It’s been a while since I read fun YA fantasy, and this one was not just fun, but also quite deep. I liked how whimsical and smart it is and it’s made its way to my best of 2012 reads. :) I can’t wait for the next book.

So, October!

Required Reading: October

So, my October choices have me just a bit nervous because I’m not a fan of this genre, but of course, I have to let myself experience the chills every year, right? Right? So bring on the horror, yes?

  • The Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria – thanks to Flipside for the review copy of the ebook. :) I’ve read some of Eliza’s short stories and I really liked them (review coming…sometime), and I’m looking forward to this one a lot. :)
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – This is really supposed to be our book of the month for our book club for November, but seeing its length, I thought I’d start it early. It’s a good thing I’ve read October’s book of the month already. :D Monique says this isn’t really horror anyway, but knowing my weak nerves…yeah. I will probably get creeped out. :D
  • The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey – I have been so excited to read this book since I finished The Curse of the Wendigo last year, but I had to hold off because this is the perfect Halloween read! I’m buddying up with some TFG friends for the last week of October to read this. Snap to! :)

I’ve also got two classics up for this month – Little Women and a reread of Pride and Prejudice, so it’s going to be a busy reading month for me. I just hope I get out of this slump. :D And you know, blog more.

Happy October, everyone!

The Enemy

The Enemy by Charlie HigsonThe Enemy by Charlie Higson
The Enemy # 1
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Number of pages: 448
My copy: hardbound, borrowed from Aaron

In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone sixteen and older is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh. Teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food. The group of kids living a Waitrose supermarket is beginning to run out of options. When a mysterious traveler arrives and offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London. But their fight is far from over–the threat from within the palace is as real as the one outside it.

* * *

It’s been a long time since I last read a zombie book, so I knew I was in for a bit of an adjustment when I decided to read my stocked zombie books for my February challenge. The Enemy by Charlie Higson has been languishing on my shelf since 2010, after my friend Aaron lent it to me for my YA-D2 challenge for that year. Obviously I never read it for that, and I don’t think I would have unearthed this now if I didn’t choose to read it for this month.

Besides, a borrowed book on my shelf for a year feels wrong.

In The Enemy, all people aged sixteen and above have succumbed to a disease that turns them into flesh-eating monsters. Only the children are left and several have made it into some safehouses, banding together using their own abilities to survive in a bleak world. One of these groups of kids were the Waitrose kids, led by Arran and Maxie, who has lived in an abandoned grocery in the last few months. Food and important resources are already scarce, and the kids are already losing hope. Until one day, a kid in a colorful coat (made from contemporary fabrics and the like) comes and invites them to join him to Buckingham Palace, where another group of kids are living and are successful in creating a new life for themselves. The kids decided to go with him, but will their lives really change for the better once they get to the palace?

The Enemy starts of with action and doesn’t really leave that kind of mode until the end. Which is good, because it kept me on my toes and had me biting my fingernails for whatever else could happen to these kids. Other people warned me not to get attached to any of the characters in the book because the author kills them — and it is true. Boy how true is that. This makes for a very gripping read because you just never know who would die and how, and you never know who are the bad guys really are.

I also really liked Small Sam’s story — I think I was rooting for him the most! I like how his story paralleled the others, and where he got to. The subway (or to be appropriate, the tube) scene in the dark reminded me of a similar scene in The Dark and Hollow Places, and it truly got me worried for him and how he would get out of it. There’s also a hint of cannibalism in the story and I have to admit that it got my stomach churning uncomfortably there.

With all these positive things, though, I have to admit that I wasn’t that invested in the story. That, and I was partly grossed out for some reason. Maybe I’ve turned soft and my stomach isn’t as adept as handling zombie gore anymore. There were several times I felt like gagging while reading the book, and I couldn’t handle reading it while eating. With that, I didn’t really feel like I was glued to the pages. True, the story had all sorts of action and it made me fear for the characters, but my overall feeling in the end was, “Okay, finally that was done.” I only really wanted to see how it ended, but I didn’t care that much as compared to the other zombie novels I read and loved. My friends who have read this all sang praises to this…but I’m afraid I’m more on the lukewarm side.

Now that I think about it…maybe I have turned soft. :O

Nevertheless, The Enemy is still one of the better written zombie novels out there, and it’s a good read especially for those who like more gore than the usual. If you want to read a book about survival, a bit of politics and the undead, then his Higson book is for you. What’s more: its sequel, The Dead, is already out so you won’t have to wait too long to know what Charlie Higson had in mind when he thought of a post-apocalyptic world.

Rating:

Required Reading: FebruaryMy copy: borrowed from Aaron

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
I Am Pinoy Peter Pan
Attack of the Book

Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare BlakeAnna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Anna # 1
Publisher: Tor Teen
Number of pages: 316
My copy: hardbound, borrowed from Maria

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story. . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

* * *

Everyone who knows me in real life (and even online) know that I am a great big chicken. I don’t like anything scary, both in movies, TV or books. Oh, I used to like them when I was younger, but I always, always scare myself silly that I end up not being able to sleep peacefully or go to the comfort room for a week or so because my imagination kept bringing up all the scary things I heard/read/talked about. I know there’s a delicious feeling to being scared, but when you keep on running in and out of the comfort room to pee for a week, it’s not fun.

That’s one of the reasons why I delayed reading Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake until know. I borrowed this from Maria after our Quezon trip with other Goodreads friends but I never picked it up. I always put it off because I said I had no time, and then I said I won’t read it yet because it’s Christmas and I don’t want to be scared, and then I said I won’t read it yet because I don’t have any company at home and God knows what happens when I’m scared at night and alone. This week, though, I got my brave face and finally, finally picked it up, hoping that my parents’ presence at home would make me less frightened.

Like I said: I’m a big chicken.

Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter — not the ones you see on TV but someone who puts ghosts who harm living people to sleep. It’s not like those normal Healthcare Administration Jobs that other people got, but Cas feels this is his destiny. When his father died, he took over the “business” with his white witch mom and their pet cat, and they moved from one place to another, killing these ghosts. Cas and his mom arrives in a town where the famous ghost called Anna Dressed in Blood haunts a house. Anna was killed fifty years ago, her throat cut open spilling over the white of her dress, making her look like she was dressed in actual blood. Cas was just expecting to kill her and move on, but he finds it extremely difficult to do so — Anna was not an ordinary ghost, and for someone who’s full of rage and kills anyone who enters her house, she shows mercy and spares Cas’ life.

Anna Dressed in Blood was one of those books that made it to many people’s Best of 2011 lists, too, and I promise, if it wasn’t a scary novel, I would have read it earlier. I managed to read the book in broad daylight most of the time and I realized soon after that it wasn’t as scary as it was. It was scary, but it wasn’t like Paranormal Activity 3 scary because the setting was very different from where I live and stay. I had a general impression of watching a Supernatural episode while I was reading Anna, but with less of the hot brothers. ;) It stopped being that scary after that particular part at the first visit to Anna’s house, and then everything just felt like a big mystery until the twist comes. I had to breathe a sigh of relief when I felt more comfortable with the story without having the need to close the book and get my nerves together. :D

It’s a surprisingly fast read and I found myself devouring the story. At its core, Anna Dressed in Blood is more of a paranomal novel than horror, but it isn’t the usual one with a whiny heroine and a brooding hero. True, Cas has some kind of arrogance with the way he does his work but he grew on me, and his brooding periods didn’t really have that much screen time. Anna was a mystery even up to the end, and I feel like there is still more to her than what was revealed in the story. Their relationship was…well, kind of cute, and I know how odd that sounds in a horror story. Let’s just say it was one of those pairings that was very interesting to read.

I love the supporting cast in this one: Thomas, Carmel, Cas’ mom and especially the cat, Tybalt. Novels with animals are a huge plus for me. I like Thomas’ stubbornness and Carmel’s courage in the face of the unknown. Cas’ mom reminds me of someone who would offer tea and cookies to her son’s friends and amaze them with stories. Anna Dressed in Blood‘s characters feel like a well-rounded sort of bunch, and it was a pleasure to read them.

Reading Anna Dressed in Blood felt like I was watching a Supernatural episode, sans the brothers and the car and the shooting. I really enjoyed reading this book. This book didn’t change my aversion to anything scary, and I still won’t go read the real horror novels or go watch scary movies anytime soon (maybe ever). But I think I am most definitely reading the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, when it comes out this year.

But I will probably read it in broad daylight again.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Midnight Garden
Reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac
The Nocturnal Library