Elizabeth Kostova-contrasting book reviews

Interesting Contrast of reviews for Elizabeth Kostova’s historical fiction.

http://www.amazon.ca/s?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=books-ca&field-author=Elizabeth%20Kostova

One author. Two books. Two reviews. A world apart. These illustrate the value of reviews but more importantly they underscore the importance of trusting your own values and instincts when you are selecting reading material.  To each his own! -Al Smith

The Historian
When a teenage girl discovers a medieval book in her diplomat father’s library, he reluctantly confesses an unsettling story: his involvement, 20 years earlier, in a search for his mentor, who disappeared from his office only moments after confiding his certainty that Dracula–Vlad the Impaler–was still alive.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Considering the recent rush of door-stopping historical novels, first-timer Kostova is getting a big launch—fortunately, a lot here lives up to the hype. In 1972, a 16-year-old American living in Amsterdam finds a mysterious book in her diplomat father’s library. The book is ancient, blank except for a sinister woodcut of a dragon and the word “Drakulya,” but it’s the letters tucked inside, dated 1930 and addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” that really pique her curiosity. Her widowed father, Paul, reluctantly provides pieces of a chilling story; it seems this ominous little book has a way of forcing itself on its owners, with terrifying results. Paul’s former adviser at Oxford, Professor Rossi, became obsessed with researching Dracula and was convinced that he remained alive. When Rossi disappeared, Paul continued his quest with the help of another scholar, Helen, who had her own reasons for seeking the truth. As Paul relates these stories to his daughter, she secretly begins her own research. Kostova builds suspense by revealing the threads of her story as the narrator discovers them: what she’s told, what she reads in old letters and, of course, what she discovers directly when the legendary threat of Dracula looms. Along with all the fascinating historical information, there’s also a mounting casualty count, and the big showdown amps up the drama by pulling at the heartstrings at the same time it revels in the gruesome. Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it’s hard to imagine that readers won’t be bitten, too.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A motherless 16-year-old girl stumbles upon a mysterious book and papers dating back to her father’s student days at Oxford. She asks him to explain her find but he disappears before she can learn everything. Reading the salutation of the letters, My dear and unfortunate successor, the unnamed heroine uncovers an academic quest that begins with her father’s mentor’s first research into the history of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and reaches a kind of conclusion many years later. Kostova’s debut book unfolds across Europe, through three main narrators, and back and forth in time, as the story of two families’ connections to and search for the true Vlad the Impaler is unveiled. The historian of the title could refer to any of the novel’s central characters or even to Vlad Tepes himself. While teens may gain a feeling for Cold War Europe and some respect for the Internet-less scholars of 40 years ago, Historian is an eerie thriller, an atmospheric mystery, and an appealing romance. Teen fascination with vampires has been keen since Bram Stoker popularized the legend of Dracula, right up through Buffy. This complex, convoluted, and well-written novel will appeal to teens who love a story on a grand scale that is as engrossing as it is entertaining.–Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library (Amazon)

Swan Thieves

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Kostova’s masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, history’s losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

The release of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova was highly anticipated, following the best seller success of her first novel The Historian.
It did not disappoint. The cover art is ‘Leda’ c.1832. Art is at the heart of this novel.
Robert Oliver is an extremely talented artist. When he attacks the painting ‘Leda’ in the National Gallery, no one can understand why. Oliver ends up in a psychiatric hospital with Dr. Andrew Marlowe assigned to his case. Marlowe himself paints for a hobby. Oliver refuses to speak, but continues drawing and painting – the same woman over and over again. Robert has in his possession a packet of letters from the late 1800’s. They may hold the key to the mystery woman. Marlowe himself becomes obsessed, seeking out the women in Robert’s past in an attempt to help Robert. But the search and the need for answers soon consume Marlowe as well.
The mystery is of course a large part of the plot, but Kostova’s prose play just as large a part. Her language is beautiful and the letters from the 1800’s completely capture the time, societal aspects and emotions of the painter Beatrice de Clerval -Vignot. The layers are subtly built, story upon story as we learn of both Robert and Beatrice’s lives.
I listened to this in audio format. I was thrilled by the format Hachette Books used to produce The Swan Thieves. It is a full cast production with five readers. Treat Williams plays Marlowe. His voice is calm, modulated and perfectly portrays a psychiatrist. Anne Heche read as Robert’s wife. At first I wasn’t sure about this casting, but again, perfect for the part. Three other lesser known but perfectly cast actors rounded out the ensemble. One role is that of the French female painter from the 1800’s. Once in a while I found myself thinking ‘wascally wabbit’ of her French accent, but this is only a very minor observation. It was like listening to a full radio play.
Those looking for a fast paced, suspenseful read would not enjoy this book. It is a slow, thoughtful listen, one to enjoy – which I did. I must confess though that I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, which after 17 hours of build up, was over in about 5 minutes. The mystery is solved, but the resolution with Robert was left wanting in my opinion.
Robert Oliver, a noted artist, is arrested after trying to slash a painting at a Washington, DC gallery. Confined to a psychiatric institution, he refuses to cooperate with his doctor, Andrew Marlow, himself a painter and something of a detective.
A friend recommended this book to me saying it was The. Best. Book. Ever. Well, to each his own. I found it to be frustrating and pointless in the extreme. The author is in love with details and writes endless descriptive passages when just a word or two would do. Her verbiage is so redundant that I could read just one sentence of each paragraph and lose nothing of importance.
The novel is narrated by Marlow and two women he meets while researching Oliver’s case, but each person speaks in the same voice and style. Every few pages, the story switches from the present to 19th century France, and a relationship between a beautiful young painter and her much older lover which has limited interest or appeal. The book moves excruciatingly slowly through needless minutiae and culminates in a shockingly pointless denouement.
Art lovers will relish the author’s obvious passion for painting, but the story fails as a mystery or romance

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Considering the recent rush of door-stopping historical novels, first-timer Kostova is getting a big launch—fortunately, a lot here lives up to the hype. In 1972, a 16-year-old American living in Amsterdam finds a mysterious book in her diplomat father’s library. The book is ancient, blank except for a sinister woodcut of a dragon and the word “Drakulya,” but it’s the letters tucked inside, dated 1930 and addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” that really pique her curiosity. Her widowed father, Paul, reluctantly provides pieces of a chilling story; it seems this ominous little book has a way of forcing itself on its owners, with terrifying results. Paul’s former adviser at Oxford, Professor Rossi, became obsessed with researching Dracula and was convinced that he remained alive. When Rossi disappeared, Paul continued his quest with the help of another scholar, Helen, who had her own reasons for seeking the truth. As Paul relates these stories to his daughter, she secretly begins her own research. Kostova builds suspense by revealing the threads of her story as the narrator discovers them: what she’s told, what she reads in old letters and, of course, what she discovers directly when the legendary threat of Dracula looms. Along with all the fascinating historical information, there’s also a mounting casualty count, and the big showdown amps up the drama by pulling at the heartstrings at the same time it revels in the gruesome. Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it’s hard to imagine that readers won’t be bitten, too.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–A motherless 16-year-old girl stumbles upon a mysterious book and papers dating back to her father’s student days at Oxford. She asks him to explain her find but he disappears before she can learn everything. Reading the salutation of the letters, My dear and unfortunate successor, the unnamed heroine uncovers an academic quest that begins with her father’s mentor’s first research into the history of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and reaches a kind of conclusion many years later. Kostova’s debut book unfolds across Europe, through three main narrators, and back and forth in time, as the story of two families’ connections to and search for the true Vlad the Impaler is unveiled. The historian of the title could refer to any of the novel’s central characters or even to Vlad Tepes himself. While teens may gain a feeling for Cold War Europe and some respect for the Internet-less scholars of 40 years ago, Historian is an eerie thriller, an atmospheric mystery, and an appealing romance. Teen fascination with vampires has been keen since Bram Stoker popularized the legend of Dracula, right up through Buffy. This complex, convoluted, and well-written novel will appeal to teens who love a story on a grand scale that is as engrossing as it is entertaining.–Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library District, IL (Amazon)

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