Monday, December 28, 2015

The Best Books of 2015: Historical Fiction

Today marks the second "Best of" list of 2015. Having revealed my Best Autobiography / Memoir / Nonfiction books yesterday, today will be the Best Historical Fiction. None of the novels on this list were a disappointment, in fact I had a very difficult time deciding which spot each would take. A God in Ruins was just as intricate and spellbinding as its companion novel, Life After Life. The Secret Life of Violet Grant was the perfect vacation read -- full of adventure and drama. I was completely invested in Anita Diamant's beautifully feminist book, The Red Tent, and was pleased to find that her most recent novel, The Boston Girl, was just as thrilling. The novel you will find at #1 is the perfect combination of all of these books -- its story is both elegantly written and undoubtedly important. 

Top Historical Fiction of 2015:

8. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

7. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

6. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams

5. A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

4. The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

3. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant

2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

The Nightingale is a story of two very different sisters living in France during World War II. Vianne is a mother who must quarter a German soldier in her home when the Nazis arrive in her village. Isabelle is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl who joins the Resistance, delivering secret messages by bicycle until she realizes she was meant for something greater. The Nightingale is an inspiring, historical read that captures the voices and stories of women during the most trying of times. 

Read my Best Historical Fiction of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Best Books of 2015: Autobiography / Memoir / Nonfiction

Happy holidays! With only four days left of 2015, it's time to list both New Year's resolutions and the best books of the year. This first post in a series of three is devoted to ranking the 5 autobiographies, memoirs, and nonfiction books I read this year. Although most were for school assignments, I thoroughly enjoyed each one.  

Be sure to come back tomorrow and Tuesday for the Best Historical Fiction and Best Fiction books of the year! 

Top Autobiographies, Memoirs, and Nonfiction of 2015:

5. The Return of Martin Guerre, by Natalie Zemon Davis

4. How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Fowler

3. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

2. Unbearable Lightness, by Portia de Rossi

1. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of Malala Yousafzai, who at 15 was shot by the Taliban for standing up for girls' education in Pakistan. In this incredibly enlightening and well-written memoir, Yousafzai details how her family was uprooted by terrorism, and reveals how fiercely her father loves her, despite living in a society that prizes sons. Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. 

More "Best of" lists from around the Web:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Ultimate Holiday Book-Giving Guide

Not sure what to get your friends and family this holiday season? When in doubt, books make the perfect gifts! They are inexpensive, easy to wrap, and enjoyable time and time again. So whether you’re shopping for your mom, dad, best friend, or Secret Santa, you won’t go wrong with one of these!

For Your Mom:

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Your mother most likely read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, so let her experience Scout’s world all over again with Harper Lee’s much anticipated sequel. At age 26, Scout returns home from New York City to visit her father in Maycomb. Set against the backdrop of civil rights tensions, Scout’s homecoming is full of surprises and truths about her family and hometown.

Named the best Historical Fiction book of the year by, The Nightingale illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The story follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they struggle to find purpose and love in World War II-era France.

For Your Dad:

Dead Wake, by Erik Larson

Dads who love history will love this narrative nonfiction telling of the sinking of the Lusitania. Dead Wake brings to life the WWI encounter of the British ocean liner and German U-boats with thrill, drama, and suspense.  

The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia, by Stephen J. Sansweet, Pablo Hidalgo, Bob Vitas, and Daniel Wallace

Before your dad sees The Force Awakens, he might need to brush up on his Star Wars history. This comprehensive and fully illustrated encyclopedia will remind him of the characters, planets, and events of the previous six episodes.

For Your Best Friend:

All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

Fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, will find All the Bright Places just as exhilarating and heart-wrenching. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, it is unclear who saves whom. As the two start on a project to discover all of the wonders of Indiana, they find that only with each other, can they be themselves.

The Hogwarts Library Box Set, by J.K Rowling

If your best friend is an anxious to see Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander as you are, then gather your Galleons and buy them The Hogwarts Library! This box set not only includes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard as well.

For Your Secret Santa:

Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham

You’ll stay under your $10 limit with this paperback by the creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls. This collection of hilarious, wise, and personal essays chronicles the lessons one woman has learned through the struggle that is growing up.

This book of three interconnected short stories is the perfect read for your Secret Santa during winter break. Falling snow, twinkling lights, and wrapped presents transform one town into a romantic winter wonderland in which laughter and love is found.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Apology and a Promise

{Already missing the summer days}

So it seems yet again, I have taken an unintended hiatus. I promise, it was not intentional. I am ready to return, to tell what I've been reading, and to post reviews in the coming weeks. But first, there is quite a bit of book-related news to share and be excited about. Let's catch up on a few things, shall we?

The New York Times has reconstructed their Bestsellers List once again, expanding the Children's list to include hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions.  

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's much-anticipated sequel to her 1960 classic, has been on the Bestsellers List for 9 weeks and sold over 700,000 copies in its first 6 days on the shelves. 

Bloomsbury Publishing and artist Jim Kay have teased illustrations from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition. The book will be released October 6th, but is currently available for pre-order. 

Speaking of Harry Potter...his son James arrived at Hogwarts on September 1st, 2015 and was sorted into Gryffindor House. J.K Rowling announced the news on Twitter.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne will star as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the movie that will be an expansion of Harry Potter's wizarding world. 

The final 2 movies in the Divergent series have been given new names. Instead of Part 1 and Part 2, the films will be titled Allegiant and Ascendant. The trailer for Allegiant is finally here!!

The Hunger Games will be coming to an end all too soon. Tickets are being sold for the final movie starting October 1st. Haven't seen the trailer for Mockingjay Part 2 yet? It's here

John Green posted a photo of himself with Taylor Swift on his Instagram on Friday. I'd give anything to be in that picture with the two of them! (Okay, maybe not anything...) Please excuse me while I go freak out...

As you can see, there is quite a lot to be excited about. With new books and movies, and my Senior year unfurling, I am looking forward to sharing my reactions to these events in the coming months. Stay tuned, and I'll be writing soon! (I hope)

(P.S. Don't forget to follow Off The Shelf on Bloglovin' and Feedly!)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer To-Read List

After completing my last final exam on Friday, I can officially say that summer has started. Not only does the arrival of warmer days and longer hours mean it is time to re-read and re-watch Harry Potter, but to finally check out those books that I have been adding to my "To-Read" list all year long.

Here is what I plan on reading over the next few months:

1. Daisy Miller, Henry James

2. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

3. Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen

4. Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

5. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver *

6. How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster *

7. Beloved, Toni Morrison *

8. Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi **

9. The Return of Martin Guerre, Natalie Zemon Davis ***

10. Paper Towns, John Green

*Required Reading for AP Literature
**Required Reading for Women's Studies and Literature
***Required Reading for AP Modern European History

Saturday, June 6, 2015

BookCon 2015

{Entrance to the show floor}

{If you haven't heard, there's quite a lot of controversy about Harper Lee's new book}

So BookCon was AMAZING. Last Saturday, after waking up very early to board the first ferry to NYC, a friend and I made our way to the Javits Center. Upon arrival, we both quickly decided that if Heaven looked anything like the BookCon show floor, we would be completely satisfied :)

BookCon was a two day public convention held at the Javits Center in New York City. The event is an extension of Book Expo America, which unlike BookCon, is only open to industry professionals. In 2016, both conventions will be held in Chicago from May 11th-15th

On the show floor many publishers, including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins, had free giveaways and books for sale. Pins, brochures, books, and too many tote bags - were among the many free items I came away with. Links to some of the things I saw, and things I brought home can be found below.

Authors and celebrities, such as Mindy Kailing, Judy Blume, Gayle Forman and Aziz Ansari, were also present to sign autographs and talk to large audiences in panel discussions.

For me, the highlight of the entire day was getting to see John Green at the Paper Towns Movie Panel. The three hours we spent waiting in various lines was so worth it! John Green, along with Nat Wolff (who will play Quentin in the film), the screenwriter, director and musical composer discussed the book's transition from page to screen. The new trailer for the movie was shown exclusively to those in the audience before it was made available to the public on Tuesday night. 

I also got to hear Rainbow Rowell (author of Fangirl and Eleanor and Park) talk in conversation with Tumblr's Rachel Fershlieser. The two discussed the power of the Internet and social media, as well as the book-writing process. I was surprised to learn that Rowell writes all the dialogue of a book first, and that she is just as funny in real life as her novels are.

Attending BookCon was a really awesome experience. It was so cool being surrounded by hundreds of other nerdy, crazy, book-loving people - if I could hop on a plane to Chicago next year, I totally would :)

The Official BookCon App, and this list of tips were incredibly helpful in making the day a successful one. 

{Paper Towns Film Panel with John Green}

{My loot - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 }

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah
440 pages

"Perhaps that's why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present."

In Carriveau, France in 1939, Vianne Mauriac must say goodbye to her husband when he is called to the Front. Soon after he leaves, the Nazis march into the village and she must quarter one in her home. As food supplies and hope dwindles, Vianne tries to stay spirited for her daughter, but when she is forced to make one hard choice after another, her true resilience is put to the test. Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl who has been kicked out of boarding school more times than she can count. When the Germans occupy Paris, she joins the Resistance, delivering notes by bicycle until she realizes she was meant for something greater. 

I again apologize for my long absence. Preparing for AP tests has consumed most of my life for the past few weeks. Yesterday and today were the Art History and U.S History exams, and this morning I felt as if my brain would explode - causing Constitutional amendments and brain guts and Monet's complete works to end up all over the floor. 

But here I am, alive and ready to review a book for the first time in awhile.

In The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah tells the story of World War II's women. Often, the battle on the homefront is overlooked in history class or is dominated by only Rosie the Riveter and her enthusiastic "We Can Do It!"  But for Frenchwomen, it was so much more than that.

The novel is told in chapters alternating Vianne and Isabelle's perspectives. Over the course of the story, Vianne dynamically transforms into more than just a housewife and Isabelle evolves from a girl into a woman. Vianne takes a Jewish friend's child into her home, even though Herr Captain Beck's eyes are everywhere she goes. Code-named the "Nightingale" Isabelle leads downed British and American pilots out of France and into Spain by shepherding them over the Pyrenees.

Isabelle's journey across the mountains is inspiring, and Hannah's descriptions of the route, the fatigue, and the landscape are undeniably beautiful. Vianne's struggle to safe stay while a Nazi sleeps in the bedroom next to hers is unimaginable, and Hannah conveys Vianne's fright and determination in engaging dialogue.

The story, lasting the duration of the war and beyond, bounces from one scene to one event and back again with ease and grace. The light shining in Vianne's garden is contrasted with Isabelle's dimly-lit Resistance meetings. Hannah even manages to tackle typically unspeakable subjects -- death, rape, and suffering are handled with care and candor.

This book was definitely the best I had read in awhile. So much so that its accelerated, soaring finale had me reading until midnight, and then lying in bed awake for a time afterwards. Those are my favorite types of novels I think -- the ones that leave you a little spooked, a little raw.

The Nightingale is an inspiring, historical read that captures the voice and story of women during the most trying of times.
"Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions is history books. We did what we had to do during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over."

Story Line - 10/10
Narrator's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 29/30

The Nightingale has been on The New York Times' Bestsellers List for 13 weeks. 

(Note:  Special thanks to my grandma for suggesting this book to me! I love that we share the same taste in books (and Italian food :)) I love sharing that with you!)