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!)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Movie vs. The Book: Insurgent

"This is the only chance we have to rescue what little civilization we have left."

On Friday night, I saw Insurgent in the theaters. The film is based upon the second novel in the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. 

All of the main cast members from Divergent (including Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Kate Winslet) reprise their roles in Insurgent. Naomi Watts joined the cast to play Four's mother, Evelyn, and Octavia Spencer to play the Amity leader, Johanna. 

As was seen in the movie's trailer, there are clearly some big differences between the book and the film. Veronica Roth endorsed the changes though, so, as I always say, if the author thinks its fine, then its fine by me too.

At this point, I'd like to discuss some of the most important differences. If you have not yet read Insurgent, I encourage you skip down to the paragraphs at the end. Spoiler alert. 

  1. The biggest change is that hard drive in the book was replaced with a mystery box - a box that can only be opened by a Divergent who can pass all five faction-specific simulations. Most of the movie is devoted to the opening of the box, and although it makes for a good cinematic experience, many scenes from the book are lost because of it. 
  2. When the box is finally opened, the message revealing the truth about the fence comes from a woman, like in the book, but in the movie she never reveals herself as Edith Prior. I feel that leaving this important detail out of the movie was a strange choice, but I suppose there is some reason behind it. 
  3. Jeanine Matthews is killed at the end of the movie by Evelyn, instead of Tori, who does so in the book to avenge her brother's death. 
  4. At the very end of the movie, after the messenger tells the citizens of the city that it is time to venture beyond the fence, a sweeping camera pan shows miles and miles of residents migrating towards the opened gate. At the beginning of Allegiant, only Tris, Four and their friends leave the city, so I'm curious to see where the scriptwriters will take his major change in the next movie. 
The Divergent series is yet another film franchise that is bringing the female action hero into the spotlight. Tris jumps onto moving trains, shoots a gun, and makes sacrifices - actions that in the theater are usual left to male characters. Insurgent even passes the Bechdel test, which asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Insurgent further breaks the action movie mold in that most leaders in the movie are female.

The visual effects are astounding, causing the simulations Tris must complete in order to open the mystery box to be beyond surreal. The romantic relationship between Tris and Four is not too mushy (thank God) and Peter (Miles Teller) offers some much needed comic relief during particularly heavy scenes. Although there were a few too many dramatic slow-motion-running scenes for my liking. I really enjoyed the movie, and I can't wait for Allegiant Part 1 in March 2016.

To read my review of the Divergent novel click here, and to read my review of the Divergent movie, click here. Allegiant, the third book in the series, is here

Friday, February 20, 2015

On My Nightstand: February

Hello! So..long time no see. But I have returned (Hurray!) and here is what I have recently been reading, interested in, and working on. Here we go!

Currently Reading
I am currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This novel was included on several "Best of 2014" lists last year, so I figured I would give it a try. I really, really love it so far. Mandel's sentences are so elegant and beautiful, and she switches perspectives with such ease. I very rarely comment on a book's s cover, but the cover of Station Eleven is just so pretty - the lighted tents, the starry sky, the simple bold font. Here is a brief look as to what it's about:

On a snowy night, Arthur Leander, a famous actor, drops dead of a heart attack while portraying King Lear on stage. On the same night, a terrible flu begins to spread, engulfing the city of Toronto and its residents in sickness and death. Fifteen years later, Kirsten Raymonde is an actress with the Traveling Symphony, a small group of artists who move from settlement to settlement performing for communities of survivors. On the side of their caravan, is the phrase, "Because survival is insufficient." Transposing through time before and after the pandemic, fates twist and connect while depicting the transcendence of art, and the ephemeral nature of memory.

Interested In
In recent media, feminism has been getting quite a lot of attention - for both the right and the wrong reasons. This year, my school finally approved a Feminist Book Club, and when we meet on Tuesdays during lunch, all of the desks are filled (21 girls, 3 boys). We discuss current events, and share our own opinions on topics regarding gender equality. Through discussing, listening, and reading, I have begun to define what being a feminist means to me and I have discovered that it is a cause I firmly believe in.

Some resources on the subject that I have found particularly enlightening:
Emma Watson's Speech to the United Nations
TEDx Talk: "We should all be feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)"
"If Our Sons Were Treated Like Our Daughters"
"Why We Still Need Feminism"

Working On
For the third year in a row, I will be attending the Teen Arts Festival in my area for high school students. Like in past years, I will be participating as a creative writing nominee, but for the first time in the poetry category. I'm much more of short-storyist than a poet, but I would like some critical feedback on the poetry I do write. So for the last week or so, I have been trying to decide what poems to submit. I finally decided on one that I think is my best, and on another I need some help with - I can show off a bit, but also still gain important advice on how to improve my writing. I am very excited to attend this year's festival, and I will certainly post here after I do!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Winding Roads and the Writer's Ultimate Concern

{Driving north on Vermont 100, is always happier than driving south, towards home}

I spent last week up in Waitsfield, Vermont, skiing Sugarbush with my family. The weather was great, the snow was good, and I felt the happiest I had been in a while. To get to Waitsfield, we drive through New York state, and when we finally cross the border into Vermont, the journey further northward continues on Vermont 100. 

On this trip, I sat in the back seat of our Jeep Cherokee, looking out of the window for most of the way, watching the mile count on the green road signs dwindle with excitement. The further north we traveled, the taller the mountains became, the denser the forests, the fewer cars on the road. Red barns and silos, cloudy skies, and a popping sound in my ear as the incline became steeper. 

I've discovered over the years that long car rides are one of the perfect times to think - that speeding along roads, watching the outdoors blur past, is both quiet and sometimes boring (especially when everyone else in the car is asleep, well, besides my dad, who is always behind the wheel). 

So naturally, my mind wandered to thoughts about writing, as it often does. I think about writing quite often, but lately, I've done very little actual writing. And all of my excuses are poor, so I won't tell them here. But on this car ride, I thought about writing, and I thought about the writer's ultimate concern: not writing

I always feel like I should be writing, that I should be writing more than just essays for my English teacher - that I should be writing for me. But lately, I haven't quite had it in me. And that's the writer's greatest concern, their greatest fear: writer's block, lack of enthusiasm, and thinking that everything important has already been written.

I often wonder how great writers like Hemingway and Rowling got over this fear, or if they ever did. Sure, there are blog posts out there for "How to Get Rid of Writer's Block" but I don't know how many of those tips actually work (considering how I sadly, haven't even made an effort to try them). 

It is now 2015 though, and at the turn of a new year, most people make resolutions. Mine have always been to run more, to keep my room more organized, but those tasks are only ever half-way completed and end up being quite pointless. So 2015 for me, although will contain a lot more of Junior-year chaos, will hopefully be a year of writing, as my resolution is to write something for me every week. The writing doesn't have to be good, hell, it can crappy and unfinished, I don't care. 

Along those winding roads last week, in the car on the way to my favorite place, I thought about the millions of snowflakes, pine needles, novels, sentences, and words that our world contains - and the still infinite possibility for more.