lisa's reviews

Reading is the only thing in the world I am good at. A lifetime of reading, fifteen years of working in bookstores, and libraries, and an obsession with the written word makes me qualified enough to talk someone's ear off about books.  Now I am getting more ARCs than I have room for in the house.  Let me get back to reading them!

Lukewarm, at best

The Last September - Nina de Gramont


There will be no spoilers here, although if you end up reading this, the ending might be become obvious to you.  (It wasn't to me, but I didn't have enough interest in the book to be looking for clues.


I was sure this would be a literary thriller, and I was looking forward to it, especially since I received an unexpected ARC from a giveaway. However, this book ended up being a disappointment for me, although it was a decent enough read. I finished it over the course of a single day, and it kept me entertained to the end. There were a lot of characters I just hated for the entire book, mostly for their selfishness, but that part didn't bother me. At the end I could see it was an entire story about selfish people, and how they end up being burned by themselves, and each other. I didn't mind reading about these creeps, since I could see they deserved each other, but the story didn't really focus on a crime, or a mystery, like I thought it would. It focused on the evolution of a friendship between Eli, and Brett, who meet in college. Eventually, it moves most of the narration to focus on Brett's increasing interest, and eventual marriage to Charlie, Eli's brother. All this is just fine, but it was not what I expected from the jacket's description. While it was a lovely portrait of a marriage that is only as strong as the pretenses it was made on, I got a little tired of reading about Brett's weird possession of Charlie. Like Catherine in Wuthering Heights, it was a lot of "Oh, I hate that I love him! Send him away! No bring him back! I can't live without him! No, let me try! Oh, what can I do!" Except all these dramatics are narrated in a quiet, steady, somewhat obnoxious tone, which after awhile starts to get on the nerves, especially as Brett becomes more and more entitled as the book goes on. (Why shouldn't her ex-fiance's uncle open up his multi-million dollar beach house to accommodate her, and her daughter by another man?) While it was an OK read, I don't know that I will be recommending this to anyone.  It's too dull to be a thriller, and not deep enough to be literary.


Dull to me

Cleopatra's Shadows - Emily Holleman

I received an ARC of this book listed through a giveaway by Little, Brown on Shelf Awareness, and while I thought it was another historical novel about Cleopatra, I was pleasantly pleased to discover it was about her two sisters, Berenice (Elder), and Arisnoe (Younger). When I realized that, I especially liked the title, since it gives Cleopatra fans something to pique their interest, and Cleopatra's sisters are certainly shadows in the history we learn about Mesopotamia at that time.

I wish the book had lived up to the cleverness of the title, but for me it just didn't. It was an OK read, but it wasn't very interesting. The book begins with Cleopatra and her father suddenly sailing away from Alexandria, leaving Arisnoe behind to face Berenice after she takes the city in a coup. The chapters alternate between narration by Arisnoe, and Berenice, and they both seemed the same to me. I had trouble remembering if we were hearing from Berenice, or Arisnoe. Berenice's hatred of Cleopatra seemed pretty lukewarm, and Arisnoe's uncertainty about her fate didn't feel urgent enough. These seemed to be the driving forces of these characters, but they were written in such a halfhearted manner that I'm not sure if they actually were or not.

The most exciting parts of the book took place toward the end, and were over with very quickly. I almost wish the author would have started the book there, and written more about those situations. (Berenice's attempts at battle abroad, and Arisnoe's adventures in Alexandria.) I can't speak much to the historical accuracy of the book since I don't know many details of the reign of Cleopatra, only what I've seen acted out in plays and movies, and in some books I read as a kid. It didn't seem to match up with what I know of Berenice, but I wouldn't really know. (I keep reminding myself that this is FICTION, and the author is allowed her variations on the story.)

That being said, I know there are plenty of die-hard Cleopatra fans out there, and I think this book would be a good choice for them, despite the fact that it is not really about Cleopatra at all. Berenice, who hates Cleopatra, and Arisnoe who worships her, offer two points of view of the infamous queen whose reign almost wiped both of them off the map of history. I wish the author had written the characters a little better, and found a way to make the endless minutia of day to day life in the court of Alexandria a little more interesting, but I would probably still tell those Cleopatra/Egypt fans to take note of this book. Someone who knows more about the subject can be angry or joyful about the historical inaccuracies (or lack of them)


Actually, on further reflection, (and as I started The Witches by Stacy Schiff last night), I may want to do a little reading about Cleopatra and her predecessors.  As soon as I have time.

If they're not going to run a country....
If they're not going to run a country....

New Mexico (States)

New Mexico - Judy Alter This book was the worst. One of the library patrons pointed it out to be because she noticed that Bandelier was spelled Bandolier. After looking through the rest of the book I can't believe that no one has called this book to my attention before. There is so much misinformation in this book I don't know where to begin. The whole tenor of the book makes New Mexico sound like a third world country populated by savages. There is bad information on tribal government, Maria Martinez, and even the pictures included in the book are wrongly referred to as New Mexico, when they are really pictures of Arizona. I can't wait until all copies of this book are pulled from our shelves, and I will NOT be reccomending this company to parents and teachers.

Night Film

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

I love movies, especially creepy, underground movies that no one else seems to appreciate.  Roger Corman is one of my favorite filmmakers.  I wish he were my grandfather.  He is the one of the cutest old men ever, and is such a film legend, even if I am the only one who thinks it.  Dario Argento is another favorite of mine, so is Robert Rodriguez, Tod Browning, Fritz Lang, and Samuel Fuller. 


I say all this because these directors and producers seem to be reflected somewhat in Stanislas Cordova, the shadowy figure of Night Film, by Marisha Pessl.  I got an email about this book sometime in April, and for reasons I can't remember now, I put it on hold at the library, and then forgot all about it.  However, all the buzz surrounding this book made me feel very lucky that I managed to be one of the first on the list for this book, since the hold list now tops over 100.  I had never heard of Pessl, although she wrote an apparently amazing book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  Some day I may read it, but for now I am still absorbing Night Film


I can't say I liked the ending (no spoilers) or the way the plot played out, but up until I realized this book was going to be a washout, I really enjoyed it.  I am loving all the novels coming out with pictures.  It seems to be mostly a YA gimmick, so it was nice to see it in adult fiction.  The webpages were obviously carefully designed, and the actors cast to "play" the characters looked exactly how I thought they should.  Major kudos to the author for immersing herself so much in Cordova's world.  I read an interview with her where she said she wrote and cast all his films, and even though they didn't contribute a whole lot to the story, I was glad to know they were still floating in the background. 


One of the best things about reading this book was the conversations I've had with other people about it.  One of the pages here at the library and I got to talking about cult film directors, and we discovered a shared obsession with writer/director/producer Samuel Fuller.  Who knew?  He told me if I liked Dario Argento that I would like Mario Bava, so I watched a few of his films on Netflix, and now I'm hooked.  A chica I used to work with long ago emailed me while she was reading this book, to say she was sleeping with the lights on.  I ended up inviting her over, and we read companionably into the small hours.  I think the last time I got together with someone just to read was back in the fourth grade.  Life is so interesting.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell I know it's not fair to compare Fangirl to Eleanor and Park, but after reading Eleanor and Park, I was so excited to read this one. It was so flat I couldn't believe it was written by the same author. I didn't like Cather at all, not even a little bit (even her name reminded me of a catheter) and the rest of the cast was so blah. I didn't like the pages and pages of Cath's fanfic. I was convinced (I still kind of am) that Levi was gay. I think Eleanor and Park is one of the best YA books to come out in a long time, but I can't say the same for this one.
Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites - Kate Christensen Why do people write memoirs when their lives weren't that interesting? I give the author kudos for trying to theme her stories around food, but even that couldn't hold my interest past 100 pages.
Night Film - Marisha Pessl Film directors Stanislas Cordova reminds me of so far: Robert Rodriguez, Samuel Fuller, Dario Argento, Tod Browning, Mario Bava, Roger Corman

This book was so good, until the last quarter. Then my mind started wandering. I kept losing track of the plot. The twist I kept thinking about (Cordova setting up cameras everywhere in McGrath's life to film the ultimate horror story, every character was an actor hired to make the film come to life) never came. I think the book was just too long, but I felt the ending was rushed, an interesting paradox I've never come across before. Still, when it was good, it was excellent, and I wish Cordova was a real filmmaker. (Or maybe not.)
Big Brother: A Novel - Lionel Shriver Such an oddly told story..... The first part of the book was so sad, and the second part was perplexing. Why would anyone lose so much weight only drinking some shady powders, and get it off so easily with no other health consequences like excess skin? But then in the third part of the book everything that hadn't made any sense at all about the story became clear, and I found I liked it so much better by the end. Still, I did not like the overwritten sentences (some of which made no sense) and I wish an editor had taken the author more to task with them.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation - Michael Pollan I am not the biggest fan of Michael Pollan, but when I heard him talking about this book on NPR I was intrigued. Still, after looking through it and attempting to read every chapter I just couldn't recommend it. (Unless you are already a fan of Pollan, in which case he probably doesn't come off as smug and bossy.)
Zero Tolerance - Claudia Mills A sweet story, but kind of flat.
The Engagements - J. Courtney Sullivan I felt like this book was written as a class project, and I was supposed to be marking it with a red pen. The "plot" was several long character sketches, which weren't bad, but they weren't great, and the so-called story was almost non-existent.

Fanny & Romeo

Fanny & Romeo - Yves Pelletier,  Pascal Girard Annoying human characters, but the cat character saves the story.
Asylum - Patrick McGrath At times this was tiresome, but on the whole an interesting, layered story.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital - Sheri Fink Arrived today! Can't wait to get started!
The Color Master: Stories - Aimee Bender The problem with Aimee Bender is that when I like her stories, I love her, and when I don't like her stories, I hate her. There's no middle ground for me. I loved her story "Faces", and "The Color Master", (which I had already read in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me) and all the other stories I didn't like at all.