January 26, 2015

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I found this dreadfully dull.  It explored the history of Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Dracula, but being that it was fiction I didn't expect it to read like a history textbook.  Which sadly it did.

The narrator is still under the care of her father when she discovers a mysterious book in his library. Drawn to it, she asks him about it and starts to learn of a terrible history.  One that is dangerous as well as intriguing and one that her father is anxious to be away from.  As a college student, he had come across the book in his stack at the library and upon researching it was thrust into a world where Vlad Tepes still existed and didn't want him delving into his secrets (or so it appeared).  Those researching had found their own books and met with mysterious fates and after the disappearance of a professor at his college, he makes the acquaintance of the man's daughter and they embark on a mission to find him.  But it won't be an easy one, as Vlad Tepes has a confusing history and there are plenty of people who don't want to see him succeed.

I can't say I really connected to any of the characters.  The narrator, despite being present a good portion of the time was not fleshed out and I didn't feel as if I knew what she wanted and what she was experiencing.  She more just told her father's story and at least there was a little more character development there, and on the part of her mother, but it still wasn't encompassing.  I found a lot of the side characters a lot more likable.  I also thought her somewhat guardian Barley, was unneeded and a distraction.  I thought he was there to provide a love interest, but it didn't seem like there was any follow through in that regard or deep meaning.

The plot itself could have been an interesting one  If it didn't stretch on so long that is.  I really did feel as if I was reading a history book, and I find the majority of those onerous at the best of times.  It's just hard to care when I'd rather know what happened and how the common people felt about something rather than being given endless dates, war strategies and the opinions and recollections of a few.  I also thought the ending was quite anticlimactic and it seemed rushed when the rest of the novel went at a drag.  Better pacing would have greatly improved this novel and helped make it more appealing.  As it stands, it was a book I had to read in many sittings simply because I couldn't get absorbed into it.  And considering it is a hefty book, that makes for a lot of sittings.

Not for me.  Maybe if you like dates, names, and other trappings of a history textbook you'll enjoy this piece of fiction.  But for me, unless I'm reading non-fiction, a fiction book should be more approachable.

The Historian
Copyright 2005
642 pages

January 25, 2015

Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

I wavered between being intrigued with this book and not liking it at all.  Having received it as a birthday present, the giver had thought they were giving me a cookbook based on literary dishes.  Well, this is not a cookbook but rather a photography book.  A coffee table book filled with pictures inspired by different dishes from popular novels.

Different novels such as Heidi, American Psycho, Madame Bovary and others are represented in this book.  For each novel, there is an excerpt from the book that mentions the meal in question, small footnotes that explain different things from history or the book and different facts on food at times, and then a full page picture of the meal in question that is the author's rendering of what it might have looked like. 

That being said, while I thought there were some very pretty pictures in this, I wasn't always thrilled with the way it was put together.  For instance, in Catcher in the Rye, it mentions a swiss cheese sandwich.  What's in the picture?  A sandwich with american cheese on it, or at least it looked like shiny yellow american cheese..  I can understand some ingredients being hard to get, but that one seems to be a kind of big oversight.  And then Valley of the Dolls, that was just pills.  Maybe the author was trying to be clever, but I don't consider that a meal at all and would have rather had actual food stuffs.  Especially since the book excerpt didn't really describe it as being a meal either.  Whereas I can understand the picture of dirt for One Hundred Years of Solitude as that was actually described as a meal.

I did like the actual writing in the book.  The facts were interesting, most of the excerpts relevant and it just made it more complete, especially since this wasn't a cookbook.  The variety of books chosen were nice too.  There was both classic and modern represented, along with children's novels and adult fiction.

An ok book.  I think it felt rushed and that the details could have been a little better.  But the photography was pretty.

Fictitious Dishes
Copyright 2014
126 pages

January 07, 2015

Wide-Open World by John Marshall

Voluntourism is becoming a popular way for people to spend their vacations.  At times it can help lower the financial burden of taking an exotic location, or if it doesn't fill that purpose, it's a good way to feel like you're helping and making a difference with your time.  Any of these reasons are good reasons for participating though, as is all the lessons you'll learn yourself while helping out in a foreign (or even domestic) locale.  Wide-Open World is actually John Marshall's story about how he and his family took six months to volun-tour around the world.

Marshall had a solid job, two kids in high school, and a wife that was a little bit of a dreamer.  Sensing his family growing apart, they came up with a plan to travel around the world for six months.  But had to do it on a budget.  Enter the world of voluntourism.  They planned out different locations they would go to volunteer, pay for airflights and boarding there, and that would help them get around the world.  On average they spent about a month at each places with varying degrees of time spent being a tourist in between them.  They volunteered at an animal rescue, WOOFED around at farms in New Zealand, taught English in Thailand and spent some time at an orphanage in India, among other things.  At each they did a different type of volunteering and all had their own tasks.

Marshall seems to be pretty honest about his family.  Despite his daughter saying she'd destroy his book if he wrote something unflattering about her, I have to say, he did paint her as being kind of spoiled.  But also learning, she was pretty much a typical American teenager, which can be an unflattering description anymore.  His son was a little more quiet, he didn't seem to have as much of a connection with him as he did his daughter, so while he's present in the book, he's not as much of a standout description.  And his wife.  It's clear that he loved her but that she was a free spirit and maybe they weren't so great of a match when it came down to it.  All the people they met (except the ones that rented their house while they were gone) seemed to be excellent as well and I really enjoyed reading the descriptions of the children in the orphanage, the different families they stayed with in New Zealand, and the spiritual leaders in India.  I was also pretty amused by the actions of the monkeys at the first stop in their trip.

The book introduces a pretty neat concept.  How many people would just quit and risk everything to do this with their family?  It took some planning (although not as much as you think), some bravery, and a willingness to try the unknown.  It does help that the kids were mostly grown and they were not in a lot of debt.  But the book makes this traveling seem approachable for most anyone.  The variety of places was nice as well as it showed all different types of volunteering.  The only thing I didn't really like about this book was probably the drama between the author and his wife.  It wasn't blatant, but it was continuous through the book.  But since this was a memoir I can't fault it too hard for that as he was telling about his life and how he and his family fared on the trip.  Another interesting feature about this book was that it featured three epilogues.  Ok, so two were actually just chapters, but they told of what happened after the trip, and then what happened after that, and then finally something actually called the epilogue followed.  It was more that before publication things that were relevant kept happening so the author included them.

A very interesting book, especially if you like volunteering or have wanted to find a way to travel around the world.  It introduces a lot of concepts that most won't even know existed let alone thought possible that they could do.

Wide-Open World
Copyright 2015
325 pages

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**