The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, Little Brown and Company, 2005, 642 pp
I bought this book when it first came out but did not get around to reading it. Knowing that my husband liked Dracula stories, I gave it to him but he couldn't get into it, even though he read and liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke. Finally it got picked by one of my reading groups and I read it. I loved it!
Admittedly I found it hard to get going. In fact, I started over three times, because there are three over lapping stories and frankly, at first that is confusing. I also looked up all the words I didn't know and seriously used the map in the front of the book as well as an atlas. By then I was hooked on knowledge and began looking up important buildings and monuments on Wikipedia, which has fabulous photos for many of them.
I have always liked history and yearned to know it all, but most nonfiction history texts are to me, boring and dry in the extreme. I like learning history from historical novels (and really, if you read enough of them, you don't have to worry about inaccuracies too much.) Kostova made me work so hard that I felt virtuous learning history from her novel but truly she made me be a historian. That she interwove three deeply moving love stories as well as travelogue blended with mystery and danger, made reading all those pages pure pleasure for me.
I found it amusing that most of today's vampire novels, including the Twilight series, are vampire-light compared to the horror and evil of Kostova's Vlad Dracula. This guy is no Disney character and she leaves you wondering if his minions are possibly still with us in the world.