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!
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 librarything.com 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.
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.
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.