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I know, I know – the Best Books of the Year lists are supposed to wait until December, exploding all over the Internet in the last weeks of the Christmas-shopping frenzy. Of course, that’s months away now. But as y’all know, I read a lot. And I’ve discovered some gems this year.

Not all these books were published in 2011 (though some were), but they’re all books I’ve read since January. Here they are:

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington
Possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Harrington writes so beautifully and sensitively – I fell in love with Alice and my heart broke for her as she and her family learned to adjust to her dad’s deployment in Iraq. And the supporting cast of characters, including Henry, the boy next door, is wonderful.

The Penderwicks and sequels, Jeanne Birdsall
I’ve gushed about the Penderwicks before – and yes, I know they’re young adult books – but I love young adult books. And what’s not to love about four sisters who are always cooking up new mischief? They’re clever, funny and kind, and they love each other fiercely. Bonus: The stories are set in Massachusetts.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
Sisterhood, Shakespeare and quirky family dynamics. Again, what’s not to love? Brown’s writing is gorgeous, and the unique struggles of each sister as they all come to grips with adulthood – pitch-perfect.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is a Holocaust story, it’s true – but it’s also the story of a young girl simply trying to live through a fraught and confusing time, without her parents or anyone she knows. I avoided picking it up for a while because I thought it would be grisly (it’s narrated by Death), but instead it’s simply powerful. And heartbreaking. And so, so good. Read it if you haven’t already.

The entire Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline Winspear
Technically I discovered Maisie in December – but I spent the first four months of 2011 reading the eight installments (so far) of Maisie’s adventures. I can’t get enough of this quick-witted, kind, poised but vulnerable lady detective and her experiences in 1920s and 1930s London. I’ve learned so much about World War I and its aftereffects in England, and spent time with some fascinating characters.

What’s the best book – or books – you’ve read so far this year?

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