Fantasy, Halloween, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Historian

3 Stars

historianMy first impression The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, a literary novel about Vlad III (the Impaler) and the Dracula legend, was that it was sort of like slow-release horror – lots of exposition punctuated by increasingly disturbing moments of horror. This impression was made within the first hundred pages or so. After that, the tale goes from slow release to slow motion. There are still a few disturbing moments distributed throughout the next 500 pages but they are so few and far between that I was barely affected by them. With all of the talk, talk, talk, my imagination seemed to have gone numb by the time I read the big climax. A scene which wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it should have been.
While this novel didn’t inspire much horror in me, it did reawaken my desire to travel and explore some of the wondrous places the characters explore throughout their quest. What Kostova does well is to illuminate her settings beautifully. The passages describing a city or a site or a library were written with the reverence that the more dramatic or horrific scenes needed but lacked.

Note:  I don’t usually talk about the physical appearance of a book because, as we all know, you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, however, I must mention the artificially aged pages.  The pages of the hardcover edition that I read were browned and often streaked or spotty.  This combined with the italic font of many passages made for some serious eye strain.  It was an unnecessary gimmick.

NosferatuIf you enjoy The Historian or simply enjoy vampire stories, I recommend watching Shadow of the Vampire, the excellent fictionalized look at the making of the 1922 silent horror classic, Nosferatu.  Then go ahead and watch the 1922 silent horror classic Nosferatu.  I am not a fan of silent cinema but since horror is a visual genre, this movie is extremely watchable even if just as a study in lighting.  The unsettling image of the shadow of Count Orlock’s hands on the wall alone makes it worth watching the movie.


Quote of the Week

Because we are human, because we are bound by gravity and the limitations of our bodies, because we live in a world where the news is often bad and the prospects disturbing, there is a need for another world somewhere, a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers live.

~ Roger Ebert, The Great Movies III


They practiced until their feet bled yet their faces show nothing but pure joy.


I remember reading this and just thinking ‘yes, he gets it’.  People may question the need for frivolous films like the 1930s musical starring Fred and Ginger or screwball comedies like my favorite movie, Bringing Up Baby.  Yes, they are silly but they are necessary in a world where it is easy to doubt the existence of love and beauty.  Plus they’re just really entertaining and sometimes you just need the kind of movie that puts a smile on your face.

A few of my favorite Fred and Ginger Films:

Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Hollywood Daughter

The Hollywood Daughter
The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Alcott’s novel, The Hollywood Daughter, which I received through, takes place in one of Hollywood’s most tumultuous eras. Jesse, the daughter of a publicist at the Selznick studio idolizes her father’s most famous charge, Ingrid Bergman. Jesse’s father’s career often clashes with her mother’s devout Catholicism as the Legion of Decency (and a corrupt Bishop) rise in power. Jesse ends up caught in the middle when her father has to deal with Ingrid Bergman’s extramarital affair with director Roberto Rossellini. As Jesse grows into her own, forming her own ideas about the church and their treatment of Ingrid (who was banned from entering the US), a schism opens between Jesse and her parents. Exacerbating this is her father’s worries about the House of Unamerican Activities Committee and the trouble it causes throughout Hollywood.
The book is an interesting look at a period of American history that is often alluded to but rarely discussed. In a time when covering up the past, I feel that it is important to remember those times when we’ve acted less than justly – as a country, as a religion, or as a people. The novel, though, is more an exploration of religion and how we evolve in our beliefs. Dogma is easy when you’re a child. As easy as believing that your favorite film star is the characters they play on the screen. As a fellow Catholic, I found myself comparing my experiences with those of Jesse. They are vastly different. So took the opportunity to explore the many reasons why my experiences have been so different from Jesse’s. And great books are the ones that help you to learn more about yourself and the world in which we live.

View all my reviews

Reader's Rights

Sometimes the Movie is Better

Don’t believe me?  Here are a few examples c4211b771687ff9e0551b94715fea691

I know it isn’t a popular thing to say but sometimes the movie is better than the book.  At least in some aspect.  Maybe it’s the kind of story that benefits from the visual aid.  Think Jurassic Park where we actually got to see (and hear) the dinosaurs!
Or maybe the movie streamlined a plot that at times can be plodding (we’ve all read those).  Or, as is the case with Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, the movie gives one a better sense of the characters.

In intentionally ready Brooklyn before watching the Oscar-nominated film version expecting to fall completely in love with both.  The book, however, kept me at a distance.  As I wrote in my review, I felt like a spectator watching Eilis’s life like a bird high above only mildly interested in the events going on below.  The movie and Saoirse Ronan’s captivating performance brought me into the story.  Into her life.  I won’t say that all of the changes made to the story for the film adaptation were for the better but feeling a connection with Eilis made it more enjoyable than the book.

Reader's Rights

That’s Not How It Happened In the Movie!

No, that’s not a typo.  I know there is some debate about whether it is better to read the book or see the film adaptation first. a63a58cdd13b01b21b39997c9fcb215e Frankly, I don’t care.  I love movies just about as much as I love books.  I discover a lot of my reading material through movies.  Just check out my book lists on; it is packed with books adapted into movies and plays.  On rare occasions, a book’s adaption will put me off reading a book I was on the fence about.  Not because the movie is necessarily bad but because it just didn’t interest me enough to read the book.

Like many readers, I enjoy the opportunity to use my imagination in picturing the characters and the settings based on the author’s descriptions and representations.  And like most, I am usually (but not always) disappointed in the movie if I’ve read the book first.  I often feel like I could have done a better job and kept all of the good bits in.  My worst experience with a film adaptation was that of Corelli’s Mandolin.  The novel is so wonderful and beautiful that I often skipped classes during college because I could not put it down.  So when I heard that it was being adapted, I absolutely had to go see it.  They cut out all of the best scenes and characters and changed the most moving moments completely.  So, you know, your typical film hack job.

Just looking at the picture makes me sad.

On the other hand, when I see the film first and like it (inspiring me to read the book), I typically enjoy both.  That certainly proved true of two of my most recent reads.

When I found out that The Princess Bride began life as a novel – written by William Goldman who also wrote the brilliant screenplay – I knew I had to read it.  But I was a little nervous going in.

Would I be disappointed?

 Would it ruin the movie for me? 

Could the book possibly be as funny as the hilarious and classic movie?





For anyone out there who loves the film version of The Princess Bride – and I know there are a lot of you – I definitely recommend reading the novel.


And so many of those quotable lines are in the book!


The characters you love (and love to hate!), that fabulously wicked sense of humor, and the edge-of-your-seat adventure.  It’s all there.  Only more so.  I think that’s what I love about finding out a movie I enjoyed is based on a book.  The book gives me more of the things I loved about the movie.  And it’s at its best when the movie manages to capture the overall tone of the book like The Princess Bride does.

Before reading The Princess Bride, I finally – after looking at it sitting on my shelf for years – read Seabiscuit:  An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.  I just loved the film version.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good underdog (or horse) story?  I think I thought the non-fiction book would be dry and dull like a textbook.  It was neither.  Though there were many more differences between the book and the movie than with The Princess Bride, they shared the most important qualities.  There is the connection of the Seabiscuit’s story to his historical era, the heart-stopping excitement of the race scenes, and the emotional connection to the characters, human and equine.

The book, though, also has a lot of information (I learned so much about the sport of horse racing, a subject I didn’t even know I wanted to learn about) and several major changes and omissions were made in adapting it for the film.  Does that mean that I like the movie any less?  No, not really.  What it means is that whenever I watch it from now on, I will be saying, “That’s not how it happened in the book!”