There is something funny in the microeconomic system of the Netherlands which makes book prices (especially for English language books) extremely inflated. It’s on the order of $20 USD to buy a paperback. So whenever I am in the States for holidays I tend to make two shopping trips, one to Best Buy to pick up 10 new DVDs or so, and one to Barnes and Noble to pick up some new reading material.

This past Christmas I bought a bunch of new books for my personal entertainment. I’m so happy to have time now to read something other than schoolbooks. Here’s a quick recap of them in case you are interested:

Wild Fire by Nelson Demille
This guy is incapable of writing a bad book. They are all great. I started with The General’s Daughter about eight or nine years ago and worked my way through his entire catalog. Wild Fire uses the same characters from Night Fall, Plum Island, and The Lion’s Game (great book). I have to say that it was less exciting and more formulaic than some of his best books, but it was still a good read and the dialog and wit are hard to top.

Next by Michael Crichton
Not quite done with this one. It’s another subject-focussed book, this time on genetic engineering. It’s got too many story threads and loses coherence because of the sheer similarity of many of the characters and the tone, but it’s an interesting read from a “yeah, it could really happen” standpoint and I love all of the ethical debate around genetic modification issues so I found it incredibly interesting. True to form, there are creative plot elements that keep you with the book even though there’s no strong narrative. It’s a much better book than the one about eco-terrorists and global warming, but not as good as some of his greats.

Imperium by Robert Harris
Another of my favorites from over a decade ago. Imperium is set in the Roman Republic, just a few years before the rise of Caesar. It tells the story of Cicero and how the great orator came to become the most powerful man in Rome with no aristocratic legacy to support him, only his will, intelligence, and fabulous oratory. I had read a book about the history of the Roman Repulic (called Rubicon) which gave me a great background for this story and made the read that much richer. One of the better books by this author.

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
Here is an author who you can admire. He wrote some of the scariest psycho-killer books I’ve ever read (Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs). He used to take somewhere between five and seven years between each book, and when reading them you ahd the impression that the time was well-spent. But then he wrote “Hannibal” and for all its gore and excitement, it was a letdown, so I didn’t know what to expect from Hannibal Rising. The premise is an instant hook though: the backstory of Hannibal Lecter, one of the most well-known fictional characters ever devised. So one has to ask, how can anything live up to expectations. But Harris delivers. The story is gripping, it unfolds at a good clip, it explains the origins of the pathology of the man who would become Hannibal the Cannibal, and it does all of it while keeping your empathy for the main character (which is no mean feat considering he’s a lunatic cannibal serial-killer). Easily this is the best leisure book I have read in the past year.

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