The Best Books I've Read This Year (so far...)

I have read a lot this year. Yes, I read a lot every year, but I have been a VERY active reader over the last few months. At some point before New Year's Eve, I will put up a favorites list, but I thought I would let you know about some of the best books I've read so far.

A Tale for the Time Being: Oh, wow. I really can't say enough good things about this book. It might end up being my favorite for the year. I felt like this book came along at just the right time. Here is the Amazon description:
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.  
Nao is such an amazing character. She continues to stay with me even though I read this book months ago! I LOVED this book, and it is going to be hard to top this one.


Blood and Beauty: From Amazon:
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed. Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Princehe provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player. Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
If you are a fan of The Borgias show on Showtime, you should check this book out. I loved that show, and I always felt that the show "sexed up" Lucrezia in strange ways and didn't show the peril of her position nearly enough. Well, this book fills in the imaginative blanks. We will never know about Lucrezia, really, but this book presents an interesting case about how she was used by her family. I believe it is to be part of a trilogy, and I am anxiously awaiting the next one!


The Crimson Petal and the White: From Amazon...

At the heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape to a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during “the Season”; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; his pious brother, Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh; all this overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.
Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.
Oh, wow. This book. THIS BOOK. I listened to it on audio, and now I am reading it. A warning: It is very gritty and graphic, so if you can't take the reality of prostitution--and Victorian-era prostitution at that--then I would say don't go there. That being said, though it could be jarring at times, this book is another one that has stayed with me for a really long time. I bought the movie (good...but not as good as the book) and the short story volume that accompanies it (fabulous). At first I thought that I just couldn't get into a book that has a main character named Sugar. Seriously. I've had the print book for a long time, and every time I would try to open it, I would see the name "Sugar" and want to groan. I had a free audio download and thought, "What the hell?" So, I downloaded it...and after about fifteen minutes, I was hooked. As in so hooked I wanted to skip work to keep listening. Granted, the narrator was fantastic, but the story just took me to so many places--good and bad. LOVED this one, and I highly recommend it.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: From Amazon...
An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami.While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami's decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a Murakami fest over the last year. I LOVE MURAKAMI. So, when I took my vacation in June, I checked this out from the library. I had decided to get back into running, and I couldn't imagine a better read than a book that combines thoughts about running and writing. Like so much of Murakami's work, this has its own rhythm and balance. I still want to buy my own copy, because I know it is one I would like to reread.


Cleopatra's Moon: From Amazon...
The only daughter of the last queen of Egypt watches her beloved father--Mark Antony--fall on his sword in front of her. Then she hears the haunting wails of the priestesses of Isis on the island of Pharos and knows her mother died. It is the end of Cleopatra's rule and the start of Selene's nightmare. Her parent's vicious enemy, the snake-like Octavianus, forces Cleopatra Selene to march through the streets of Rome in golden chains and then sentences her, along with her brothers, to live as political prisoners in his own home.
There she fights desperately to keep her brothers safe from poisonings and secret assassination attempts. Selene plots furiously to do what she knows her mother Cleopatra would want her to do--reclaim her destiny as the queen of Egypt. While plotting with her mother's agents in Rome, Selene knows her best shot at retaking Egypt's throne is to beguile her despised captor's nephew, Marcellus, the beautiful, golden-haired heir to Octavanius. But Selene unexpectedly falls in love with a fellow political prisoner setting off a deeply personal crisis: Does Selene choose the man she loves over the man who could help her rule Egypt?
Selene is determined to live up to her mother's last whispered words to her--"You have the heart of a great and powerful queen," but at what price? Is she doomed to live and die like her mother, trying to use sex and seduction to make strategic alliances to gain power? Or can she take destiny into her own hands and create a future her mother never imagined? 
Life in Rome has its own surprises and Selene discovers that trying to follow in her mother's footsteps unleashes dangerous and unexpected consequences. Will Selene make the same decisions--and mistakes--as her brilliant but doomed mother? Or will she find a way to forge an identity and future all her own? 

Again, this is another book I had for a while before reading it. AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH. (And I am just now realizing how much historical fiction I have read over the last year...and how many are my favorites!!) Anyway, the writing in this book is lush and beautiful. It is one of those stories that absorbs you into it so quickly that you are reading more than you realized! I am still reading this one, because I only allow myself so many pages a day...I want to drag it out. The author is skillful in showing the development of Selene and the powerful family and political dynamics at work in her life. I am also amazed at how powerfully the author brings to life Selene's mother, Cleopatra. The famous queen dominates the page when she appears, and this is no accident, because later Selene learns to do the same. I highly recommend this book. It is technically a YA novel, but like the best YA, it crosses genre and audience. Beautifully done and definitely a favorite forever.


So, I do have a few more books I plan to read before the new year, and there is one in particular that could take the crown for favorite book. I  have to admit, though, I am almost afraid to read it. Here it is:

I've heard so many wonderful things about Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, but I also hear (from most readers) that it is an emotionally taxing book to take on. If you are thinking about picking it up, be aware that there are graphic descriptions of abuse (psychological, emotional, sexual, physical) to a child. I'm not sure I will be able to handle it, but I sure hope so. I  have heard that, even though it is a very hard book to read in parts, readers have been expressing a bond with this book that is astounding. The review that finally convinced me that I  have to read it is here (if you don't mind some spoilers): YouTube Review. So, I am going to read it before the new year and get back to you.

OH: And if you are curious about how my reading challenge is going, see HERE.


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