Holiday Reading List: Top 5 Books of 2016

If you’re looking for a good book to read this winter/holiday break, I’ve rounded up my favorite books that I read this year. I always like doing these year in review posts for myself as well, to look back at some of my favorite books of the year and what I would read again, gift to other people, and recommend to my lovely readers! So here it is, my top 5 books (of about 35) that I read in 2016:

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A massive, fictionalized history of London!

Way back last year, I bought a bunch of Edward Rutherfurd novels that take place in a specific city/country and span centuries. These books, of which he’s written like ten, function as both amazing historical fiction and an ode to their respective places. Last August I read Paris and could not stop gushing over it. This year, I read London.

92160I know you’re probably sick of me talking about London, but hear me out.

I started this book in December, weeks before my trip to London over New Year’s, but since it was Christmas and I was really busy, I didn’t finish it until I returned from my trip in January, and reading this book ended up being the perfect bookend (pun intended) to a wonderful return to the city. This book made me get to know the city’s history, even as I wandered its ancient streets.

It begins in pre-Roman, Celtic Britain, and ends in 1997. Between those 1100+ pages, six families come to life over 2,000 years. In these pages, we get to know Londinium, the Roman city, with its amphitheatre, gladiators, and rampant money counterfeiting. We see William the Conqueror invade the city in 1066, and build the impressive fortress, the Tower of London, on the banks of the Thames. We see the plague rip through the towns, the Great Fire absolutely demolish the wooden houses, and Mayfair rise up from its ashes a century or so later. The same families appear in each chapter, and the author is tongue in cheek, knowing that the readers know so much more about each family’s history and ancestry than even they know.

I have always felt that historical fiction, provided it’s as accurate as humanly possible, is the best way to learn history. I don’t think history can really be learned from history books (if you’re anything short of a historian) and Edward Rutherfurd is not only a very detailed history writer; he’s also a masterful storyteller. Each chapter is rife with vivid characters, heightened tension, excellent plot development, and the perfect set-up for future characters—and future settings. It’s like two dozen novellas in one, or as if someone had dictated their family’s history to a talented ghostwriter.

“Each year, each age, leaves something. It gets compressed, of course, it disappears under the surface, but just a little of all that human life remains. A Roman tile, a coin, a clay pipe from Shakespeare’s time. All left in place. When we dig down, we find it and we may put it on show. But don’t think of it just as an object. Because that coin, that pipe belonged to someone: a person who lived, and loved, and looked out at the river and the sky each day just like you and me.”

A character says that to another on the very last page, two archaeologists walking through the Museum of London (which I was lucky to visit when I was first there, and it’s a must-see). I love that quote.

Some people will have trouble getting into this one; it is a slow starter. But it’s absolutely worth the effort.

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Reads & Recs // On the dreaded book rut

Do you ever have periods of time when you just can’t seem to sit still book-wise? When nothing you want to read actually seems appealing to you, and other things, like watching masses of Food Network, are infinitely preferable? Yeah, that’s what I’m going through now. I love reading more than I love most things (except maybe food) but there are these two competing aspects of my personality: one that loves to do nothing but sit at home and read, and the other that hates to be stuck in the same four walls day after day, and would much rather get all dressed up and do something fancy and/or adventurous.

Since around August, it’s been hard for me to sit still with a book. I’ve been restless, busy with a social life, and recently, overwhelmed with Christmas obligations (not complaining), traveling, and work stuff that’s been stressful. I began reading Edward Rutherfurd’s London in December, and only made it to page 400 in three weeks. Pathetic, Lisa. 😉

So in an effort to get myself back on track, here are the books I’ll virtually inhale during the month of January, and wish me heaps of luck! Because despite what it seems like here, I am a notoriously slow reader.

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2015 Book Roundup // My favorite picks of the year

2015 was a good book year. My total count is at 40, which is pretty standard for me. Every year I try to read a book per week, but I’m a notoriously slow reader, and I also try to have somewhat of a social life! So here are my top 5 favorite books of 2015:

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5. Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation

I loved this book. Helen of Troy as a myth is one of the most interesting cultural concepts to me. This book explored most of the ways Helen of Troy was written about in ancient Greece, and what she continues to mean for a modern audience.

4. Paper Towns

LOVED Paper Towns, because it was an exploration of what it means to know someone, what it mean to fall in love, and what it means to love an idea more than you love a person. And for the record, I adored Cara Delevingne as Margo in the movie.

3. Paris

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction, and Edward Rutherfurd’s novel about the city of Paris is historical fiction at its peak. It tells the story of half a dozen families in Paris from the middle ages to the 60s, and the main character is the city itself. I adored it.

2. The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood, this novella retells the story of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope. She’s hanging out in Hades in the fields of asphodel, and decides to tell her side of the story, especially the guilt she feels about the hanging of her twelve maids.

1. Trilby

Number one this year was George du Maurier’s Trilby, about a tone-deaf artist’s model who is hypnotized by the greasy, sinister Svengali. I loved the setting of 1870s Paris, the commentary about the corruption of the world, and the innocence that was Trilby and her love for Little Billee. She was an innocent soul ruined by the world.

What were your favorite books this year?

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Wandering around a bookstore

One of the most therapeutic things I ever do is take an hour or two to wander around my Barnes & Noble. The best days are the ones that I don’t have much to do, anywhere to go, and nothing specific in mind. Especially when there are exciting new releases, I love to go and explore the shelves and see what stands out to me.

This is how I used to buy books when I was kid: there was no Goodreads or Amazon in my life, and no recommendations from friends. I had to pick books based on feelings, and yes, the covers. I try to do that more often: just wander around, pick books up and see what jumps out.

Today I did that, and I found some gems. Here’s what I bought:

I picked up The Golem and the Jinni from those New Releases tables, and the thing that first hooked me was, I won’t lie, the weight of the book. I think there’s something so much better about reading a physical book that feels good in your hand. When the binding is weak and the pages are light, I’m less satisfied with buying a book. I like it to feel weighty. And then I read the inside flap and decided to had to have it.

The first paragraph of the inside flap: “Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.” Seriously, so excited.

The second was a must-have: The Occupation Trilogy, three novels written in 1968 about the Occupation in Paris during World War II. This won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve been fascinated with learning more about the Occupation ever since I read Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris, so this seemed like the perfect place to start.

I’m really excited to get into these! What’s your favorite way to find new books?

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A novel history of New York

6257535I am very excited to begin my second Edward Rutherfurd historical fiction novel based on the great, great city of New York. I’ve read Paris and utterly loved it, and now I’m going to sink my teeth into New York and see where this novel takes me.

Like Paris, this book will center on several characters from several different families and will chronicle the stories of these characters across the centuries. New York is the main character here, and I hope it’s as chock full of history as Paris was.

I’ve lived a half hour away from the city my whole life, so New York is a beloved friend. I hope this novel does it justice. The first line is, “So this is freedom.” I think I’m going to like this book.

This one is longer than Paris, clocking in at 880 pages. Follow along to hear more when I finish this epic tome!

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A glowing review of Edward Rutherfurd’s ‘Paris’

Rarely do I get so excited about a book. Rarely do I see all of my wildest expectations come true. I really, really loved Paris. And I’m just as excited to read every single other book by Edward Rutherfurd.

18730321Paris is built on a simple concept first established by author James Michener. The author creates several families and then tells their stories, and the stories of their ancestors and descendants over a certain period of time. Intertwined in the narrative are major historical events and people that make the reader feel like they’ve actually experienced all of this firsthand.

From the minute I opened Paris on a plane back to New York from San Francisco earlier this month, I was hooked. Despite the dozens of characters, often with the same names, and the jumps between centuries (the first hundred or so pages go from the late 1800s to the early 1300s), this book is so very easy to read. It’s so easy to get lost in, to get wrapped up in the narrative, because Rutherfurd is one thing: a master storyteller.

Each anecdote, if you can call them that, features such lively and well-developed characters. I couldn’t believe how much I got wrapped up in one 80-page story and how much I grew devoted to the characters. I loved each “flashback” so much that I was so sad to see that episode end, but with each chapter, my attention was back. I never, ever felt bored reading this book and at almost 800 pages, I can’t even express how rare that is.

I explored the building of the Eiffel Tower and I walked around Monet’s lily pond, and I felt like I had lived through the horror of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. I’m on the point of gushing here, folks.

People who love stories, read this book. People who love character development, read this book. People who love history, definitely read this book. It descends into gimmicky often, but you become so enthralled that you don’t even care. Read this book if you’re planning a trip to Paris or if you’ve always wanted to. It’ll make you get to know the City of Light on an intimate, personal level.

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"Never a briefcase in Paris and never an umbrella"

Those words are spoken by Audrey Hepburn in my favorite movie, Sabrina. I watched this movie when I was very young with my family, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. It came to mind because I’m beginning Edward Rutherfurd’s long epic novel about Paris…called Paris. It spans the history of the iconic City of Light, and I can’t wait to spend a thousand pages in Paris. (Yah, it’s long 🙂 )

18730321I’m bringing the book on the flight with me to San Francisco and if you’re reading this, I’m probably carrying this book onto the flight back! I’m so excited to read this book (and for my trip, of course). Just a quick scan at the table of contents shows that the book will chronicle the lives of the citizens and visitors of Paris throughout the centuries. It’s like historical fiction on steroids.

This is the first passage:

Paris. City of Love. City of Dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. 

Sink of iniquity.

In two thousand years, Paris has seen it all.

Eek! Can’t wait to read more.

Bonus: some photos of when I visited Paris for two days when I studied abroad in college. One of the best feelings I’ve ever had was waking up in a Paris hotel room and hearing the sounds of the city first thing in the morning. Paris was a waking dream.

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Book Lust | New York, Paris & London Historical Fiction

The danger of a bookstore is that everything you could ever want to read is yours for the taking. I love online shopping when it comes to shoes and clothes, but I hate online shopping for books. I love the feeling of entering this inner sanctum of stories and having the freedom to sift through them, pick them up, and take some home with you. It’s a little bit like magic. Tonight I went to Barnes & Noble and wove through the stacks with a wobbling pile of books on my arm and a gift card in my wallet. I chose books well over the limit enforced by my $100 gift card so I had to make cuts. Unfortunately, the cuts I made were three books from Edward Rutherfurd oeuvre: Paris, New York and London. Has anyone read these books and would like to share what they think? Cause I’m dying to read these.

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I’m a lover of cities as if they’re friends or lovers. When I visited London, I left a huge piece of my heart there and think of it as a home. Paris was similar; even though I spent so little time there, there was something about the city which embraces you. Paris changes you. And of course, I live on the outskirts of the greatest city in the world, and constantly find myself entranced by New York as long as I’ve lived in its shadow. Rutherfurd has taken three living, breathing cities with gargantuan histories and turned them into characters. His stories promise odes to the three major cities of the world, containing not only thousands of years of history, but fictional and fictionalized characters to populate these disparate worlds. I imagine it’s so easy to lose yourself in these books and be carried away to different times, each set against the backdrop of New York, London or Paris.

But since I couldn’t leave the bookstore without all three, and since I ran out of B&N gift card credit, I’ll have to wait to score these. Breathe, Lisa. Breathe.