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Femme bookend: Shallow story picks up zeitgeist

The Big Novel

Ah, Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (published by Fourth Estate) is all about the freedom worshipped by Americans -- without any oul' chat about responsibility.

Buy this book, then buy a trolley to drag the massive thing along after you. Or better still, read it on a Kindle, where size really doesn't matter.

In Franzen's hit novel, young liberal couple Walter and Patty Bergland and their son Joey gradually change during 2003 and 2004 from do-goodniks who cycle everywhere and recycle everything to an evictor of the poor, a playgirl wife-let and a writer of crooked reports on Iraq.

Then there's the rock star neighbour, acid and woman-hating -- probably based on our author. Terribly well-written, though a little shallow -- it's the perfect book for the times that are in it.

The Chicklit

Cosy, family minded and Irish, Coming Home by Patricia Scanlan (published by Transworld Ireland) is the perfect gift for the conservative-minded mammy.

Alison has crashed. Her financial services job is down the tubes with the recession and her rich boyfriend loves his Rolex Oyster more than her. From a world of wealth management, she's now more into poverty management.

But when she moves to a cheaper apartment, Alison meets strong-chinned Connemara man JJ. Things are looking up -- except she's going home to Meath for Christmas, and she daren't tell her critical sister Olivia or her worrying parents that she's jobless.

But in the wild northeast, soothed by the crash of the sea and the family dinners, everything's going to be all right. This is as warm and reassuring as an old Foxford rug, as sweet as a retriever puppy.

The Big Non-Fiction

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff (published by Little, Brown) is the story of the ultimate celeb -- the girl who dissolved priceless pearls in her wine for a bet.

But that isn't all. Cleopatra was a diplomat, a plotter, the wealthiest woman of her time, a pharaoh desperate to protect the greatest empire the world had known from Romans out for world domination.

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff's sensational biography is a runaway bestseller -- and why wonder, when it's the story of a woman who seduced both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, was the last pharaoh and lost it all -- or so they say -- for love.

Already, Angelina Jolie has been cast to play Cleopatra in the monster movie of the book about the Queen of Kings, the woman hated by Rome.

> Lucille Redmond