City on Fire – Garth Risk Hallberg
Garth Risk Hallberg has produced the most hyped, latest attempt at the great New York City novel – and although I have yet to finish its 900 pages, the book offers the reader an ambitious and impressive picture of the bleak yet vibrant 1970s city. With Dickensian detail and terrific story lines for each of its many characters, we are reminded of the cycles of poverty contrasted with the fin-de-siecle glamour and glitz of the super wealthy of the Big Apple. Reviewers have criticized the length of the book but if you are looking for a good holiday read by an author who is already being compared to Don de Lillo and Tom Wolfe (and I would add Ayn Rand), this is the book for you. An author who is already making good on his $ 2 million advance.
Trigger Mortis – Anthony Horowitz
Several authors have taken a stab at re-creating Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, but none is better suited for that job than Anthony Horowitz whose Alex Rider series for teens portrays the young Bond who is rocketed into work as a spy. Trigger Mortis makes use of original Ian Fleming material from a never-produced TV series in a wild chase scene at the Nürburgring racetrack which rectifies the somewhat slow start to this adventure. A satisfying episode which feature the return of Pussy Galore, Miss Moneypenny and Bond’s old adversary Smersh, all known from early Fleming films.
Dictator – Robert Harris
The long-awaited third book in the Cicero trilogy is a resounding tribute to the ability of Robert Harris to bring the famous lawyer and orator of ancient Rome alive, based on meticulous research and a lively pen. Although at the bookshop we shelve all of Harris’ books in the thriller section, his oeuvre is actually an animation or reconstruction of history – as in The Officer and the Spy where the banning of Dreyfuss to Devil’s Island is examined with an eye to determining who the real culprit may have been. If you haven’t read the Roman series, start with Pompeii, where Pliny the Elder recounts the build-up to the eruption of the great volcano – not a whodunit but a whenwillit as one reviewer calls this jewel of a recreation.
The three books on Marcus Tullius Cicero date from 2003 when Imperium was published to great acclaim. The first book recounts, through the eyes of Cicero’s slave and assistant Tiro, the rise of the young orator and lawyer to consul of Rome in the period 79 to 64 B.C. Published in 2009, Lustrum is a fast-paced depiction of the power struggles among the elite of Rome as Cicero manoeuvres between Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompey, the scheming Catalina and others to save his beloved Rome. The culminating book, Dictator, just out, starts soberly with Cicero’s banishment from Rome, his volatile return and ends with a rocketing climax as this honourable consul strives to salvage his republic from the threats of Marcus Antonius. Read all three during your holidays!
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness continues to prove himself a young adult author with a creative pen and a varied register. His Chaos Walking Trilogy won the Guardian Fiction Children’s Prize, de Da Costa Award and the Carnegie Medal. More Than This is apocalyptic science fiction at its darkest. His most recent book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is peopled with radioactive deer, super teens in the margins fighting the mysterious Immortals, and ordinary, flawed teens struggling with OCD, anorexia, growing up in general but who have tremendous loyalty for each other. This is one of the funniest and most tender books Ness has written, with a message about getting on with life despite its adversities. For adults, I recommend his novel The Crane Wife.
Kingdom by the Sea – Mark Zegeling
The blue and white Delft houses and Dutch national monuments produced for KLM since the 1950s (one a year on the date that KLM was founded in 1919) have become a status symbol in the international travel world. Mark Zegeling brings us the stories behind these houses several versions of The Kindgom by the Sea. The first is a small format walking guide (€ 18,95) with a map of the famous houses of Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden with the locations of more than one hundred monuments which have been the inspiration for the KLM houses. There is also a list of the 15 oldest cafes of Amsterdam, dating from 1550 to 1786) should you wish to undertake an historical pubcrawl!
Two other versions have since been produced, a luxury coffee table book for € 69,95 with stories about the original owners of the houses such as Rembrandt, Anne Frank, the Dutch Marco Polo and other pioneers of Dutch history. A splendid limited edition of this book with a thin porcelain cover of infinite beauty (€ 240 with a certificate of authenticity) has recently been produced and can be seen at Boekhandel van Rossum along with a video of the production process. Perfect for someone leaving the Netherlands after many years – but I snapped one up for my Dutch husband and we are both delighted!