I have a tie for favorite book read this year. And, shockingly, both are novels! I'm so into history though that it's not surprising both are in some way historical.
The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
This book took me out of my world of Nowhereville, Ohio and dropped me secretly behind the walls of Imperial Palace in Japan. The characters came totally alive for me. All my years of reading about the British and various German royal families did help me understand some details, but did nothing to prepare me for the emotion this book generated for me. The soul-stifling gilded cage that the palace truly was and is for these people actually made me hurt for them. Never mind the oppulence, or the wall-to-wall servants, nor even the total serenity of the grounds around them. The life they are forced into by birth or marriage TAKES their lives, crushes them, but forces them to keep on keeping on. This book makes you relish freedom to the nth degree.
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
I grew up with a mother obsessed with modern architecture and art. A mother who longed to live a different life than the suburban housewife she'd caused herself to become by marrying to spite her parents at age 19. She longed for the world her Uncle and Aunt, both working artists, created for themselves. But she lacked discipline and courage. One of her greatest idols was Frank Lloyd Wright. When I saw the cover of this book, I knew who it was about before even reading the title. I expected some cliche-ish thing. Or worse a soon to be movie with an inappropriate cast. Instead I had sheer delight. Being bad became good. Mamah and Frank were who I wanted to be on those lonely nights I drove home in the dark listening to this book. Who knew pain, remorse, romance and daily life could all combine to create something so desirable? If you've ever wanted to escape and live your life differently this is a book for you. If you are obsessed with "family values" and the "sanctity of marriage" I would say don't bother to pick it up. It does not have any graphic sex, no homo-eroticism, no violence and only a few mild swear words. It unashamedly, glowingly, tells the story of an adulterous relationship in the most unforgettable ways.