Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer

Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 271
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

It is the first century B.C. Cleopatra, the third of the pharaoh's six children, is the one that her father has chosen to be the next queen of Egypt. But when King Ptolemy is forced into exile, Cleopatra is left alone to fend for herself in a palace rife with intrigue and murder. Smart, courageous, ambitious and sensuously beautiful, she possesses the charm to cause two of history's most famous leaders to fall in love with her. But as her cruel sisters plot to steal the throne, Cleopatra realizes there is only one person on whom she can rely--herself.


So close

Cleopatra Confesses comes so close to being a great book. The writing is detailed, but not at all dense, and flows at a level that is both accessible and entertaining. There is a ton of information here (and it's pretty accurate), so readers looking for a crash course in Cleopatra's history would do well to pick up this book. Short chapters and the simplistic writing make this an extremely fast read.

Cleopatra's famed confidence and shrewd intellect shine clearly through the first-person narration. Carolyn Meyer does a great job of crafting a character for whom modern readers can feel sympathetic. Though this isn't a diary-format book, it almost feels like one. Much of the story is told through Cleopatra's observations and there is very little dialogue. The other characters in Cleopatra's life are not as vividly drawn as she is, but their roles are clearly presented.

To me, the writing style was less like a novel and a lot more like reading a well-presented Wikipedia article with lots of information and a little bit of personality from the narrator to make it less dry. I didn't mind this feel at all. I'm the type of reader who always wants to read non-fiction, but I never actually do because my novels look way more interesting. Cleopatra Confesses was the perfect balance. It almost felt like reading non-fiction but it was way more entertaining. I loved it! It was like eating diet food that doesn't taste like diet food. Based on all of this I would have happily given this book a 4 star rating.

But there's a but...

If you don't know anything AT ALL about Cleopatra, what I'm going to say next would probably be spoilery for you. Just warning you.

The reason I have to deduct stars is not because of what was written, but because of what wasn't written. Everything was going great, but around page 200 I started to get a little nervous. Too much still had to happen, but there weren't enough pages. At page 250, I started to wonder if this was only part one of a series (it's not. This is a standalone). By the time I had finished the epilogue I was super disappointed.

The story goes into great detail about Cleopatra's life up until she rolls out of the carpet and meets Julius Caesar for the first time. And then the book ends! Ok, I'm not saying the stuff before this part isn't important, because it totally is and Carolyn Meyer did a fantastic job recounting those events, but the meat and potatoes of Cleopatra's history is her time as Queen! Her epic loves, the way she managed Egypt--this is an essential part of any book recounting Cleopatra's life...and it's all completely cut out!

As soon as Cleopatra meets Caesar the book pretty much ends. There are a few chapters (remember, chapters are very short) and the epilogue briefly recounts that Caesar died and she had a relationship with Marc Antony and then he fought with Octavian. Cleopatra then opens a basket filled with vipers and Ta Da! THE END. All of that is summed up in the tiny epilogue.

I have no idea what the author or publishers were possibly thinking by ending the book like this. This book would have been fantastic if Carolyn Meyer had given the second half of Cleopatra's life the attention she had given to the first half of her life. I would have loved it and passed it out to my upper-MG (there's brief mentions of sex) and YA readers. I wouldn't have hesitated to buy a copy for my library and myself. Maybe the publishers were afraid of scaring away readers with a high page count (probably would have been in the 400-500s!)? I get that. I would have been scared away. They should have broken the book up into two volumes then. That would have been a fine solution and I totally would have gone for that. But what they did? Terrible.

So torn

I'm so conflicted with this review. What I read was great, but what wasn't written is just not acceptable in a book about Cleopatra (even the blurb talks about her two lovers!). I do recommend the book, but...just know you're not getting the full story at all. If you want to read an excellent book about Cleopatra, then I highly, highly recommend Martha Rofheart's book The Alexandrian (an adult book, though probably fine for YAs, and totally readable. I LOVE her Cleopatra. Like, BFF crying at the end because I don't want her to die kind of love. Ignore the ugly cover).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Cleopatra Confesses that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

This review is posted as part of Simon & Schuster Month hosted by Cialina at!


  1. Oh, bummer. I really don't know much about Cleopatra's history but now that I've read that there's so much to her story after the book ends, I'm pretty disappointed (though I probably wouldn't have been if I hadn't known that). Still, I love learning through the books I read so that's a plus. Presumably though, there's other books I can read about Cleopatra that are more comprehensive. I would just have to do research to figure out which ones they are.

  2. It sucks when you a book has so much potential but doesn't quite meet it. Great honest review Smalls.

  3. From your review, the title may be misleading? What's she going to confess before her life gets juicy enough for want of a confession? XDDD

    Thank you for posting this review. Hmm, since it is lacking her years as queen, I do not think that I really want to read this book after all.

  4. I've read Carolyn Meyer's book on Marie-Antoinette and my thoughts were that it was a good book for younger readers who maybe hadn't read about her before. The writing style was simple, direct and to the point, and from what you've said this one sounds similar. I think the books tend to focus on the early lives of the protagonists, which is maybe why a chunk of Cleopatra's life was left out. Didn't happen in the M-A book as she didn't get to stick around very long...

  5. I've read and liked a few Carolyn Meyer's books. This one sounds interesting but it is odd that she left out so much. Like Leanna, I'm imaging she focused on the character's early life, but perhaps she could have set the expectation earlier that this was only going to be a partial story about Cleo.

  6. I guess the point is to show us a different side of Cleopatra? Personally I didn't think much was "confessed" and thus this was a "meh" read for me.

  7. I had heard the book left out a lot of stuff and that it wasn't all that satisfying.

    It does sound like it, like it's okay but not all that good. :P

    I'll try to check out the alexandrian, it sounds promising.

  8. Aylee, There are many other books that cover more of her life (really, The Alexandrian is fantastic if you’re interested), but for the part that this book did cover, it was good. It would be a nice introduction to her earlier life.

    Nic, Yeah, it does suck. I guess maybe they were trying to focus things on when Cleopatra was a YA herself, but I think it still could have been fine for YA readers if it had covered her adult life as well.

    Bookish Hobbit, Yeah, the title is misleading. It makes it sound like a tell-all, but it’s more like a tell-half. It was very good for what it did cover though.

    Leanna, The writing style here sounds like how you describe the Marie Antoinette book. It was very simple and easy to digest. I think you may be right, but it just seemed so wrong. How do you write a book about Cleopatra and not include the things she’s most famous for? It was just odd. I think Cleopatra only managed to live a few years more than Marie Antoinette (the downside of being royal? :P)

    Alison, It is odd and yes, I agree, it would have been much better if the coverage had been made clear in advance. Like Cleopatra Confesses: The Early Years, or something (less cheesy) like that. It just seemed like she ran out of steam and got bored so she decided to wrap everything up real quick at the end. I really wished she would have done a part 1/part 2 kind of duology instead.

    Bookworm1858, Maybe. It was nice to get so much detail of her early life, though that other book I mentioned did a pretty good job of showing her early life and her later life. I didn’t think much was confessed either, but I just figured that was because I knew too much already? Maybe for a younger reader this would have been more of a confession.

    Alex, I did like what was written, but…yeah, the stuff that wasn’t there was very unsatisfying. It’s great if you know what you’re getting (and not getting) though. Definitely check out The Alexandrian. I loooooved it. Martha Rofheart’s Cleopatra is the definitive Cleopatra for me now.

  9. I'm so glad I read your review for this. THIS, in a nutshell, is why I was wary of the book. I've been obsessed with Cleopatra forever, and the fact that such a huge amount of her life was omitted just kills me. Thank you for your honest take on this :)

  10. I don't think it's end point would irritate me - there's a biographer who wrote specifically about Elizabeth I's early years and stopped when she became queen, and I loved it - loved learning about the young girl and woman who became the queen; BUT, it would irritate that the synopsis references events that the book doesn't go into. It feels like broken trust right there - maybe a bit dramatic, but setting up expectations and then failing to deliver always blows.


  11. I always find reading Cleopatra's history fascinating but I agree with you that most of the good stuff happens while she is a queen. It's too bad then that not much of that time period was talked about. Since I don't know much about the early periods of her life though, this one sounds like a good way to learn about it without doing some heavy reading. Thanks for the review!

  12. Well, how disappointing. Do you think the author did this because she's planning a sequel?

  13. Melissa, It killed me too! I’m glad my review was helpful to you. It makes a great “part one” so it’s good for that, but I wish she had written a “part two” to go along with it.

    Linds, You’re so right about broken trust. I think if I had known in advance that this was a look at the early years, then I would have been fine. It’s great for that, but when I hear she’s “confessing” I’m expecting to get the juicy details about her time as queen and with Caesar and Marc Antony.

    A Canadian Girl, This would be a great way to learn about her early years. It was so readable and easy to zip right through.

    Gina, I was wondering that at first, but given the epilogue, I don’t think that’s the case. She pretty much summed up the rest of Cleopatra’s story and then had her kill herself all in the epilogue, so I can’t see how she’d write a companion novel then. I wish she were though.

  14. Small-

    I feel you. It can't even have the word Cleopatra in the title if it doesn't include her clutching the asps and dying. What were they thinking? Is the author still alive?
    Maybe something happened and she couldn't finish or write a sequel?
    It's the only thing I can think of.

    I'd be as disappointed as you!


  15. You are right on the money, but I think this will still be worth it as an introduction to Cleopatra. The detail about every day life was very good. I think that Meyer's Young Royals series tends to hit their childhood heavily; maybe that was the thought here.


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