18.10.18

review and cover mani: game of secrets



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Felicity Cole sells flowers in the streets of Victorian London to feed herself and her young brother. But she has a close-guarded secret--her brother is a Tainted, born with special abilities that society fears and a shadowy organization called the Hunstsman scours the country to eliminate. When Felicity becomes the target of one of these individuals, she discovers something horrible: she's Tainted, too.

Rescued by a mysterious gentleman on the eve of execution, she's whisked away to a school funded by Queen Victoria, established to train selected Tainted into assassins in service of the crown.

Struggling to harness her incredible strength, speed, and agility, and despised by her classmates, all she wants is to use her new position to find a cure so she can be normal and reunited with her brother.

But with the Golden Jubilee fast approaching and the discovery that there's a traitor in their midst, she has no choice but to embrace the one thing she's been fighting all along. 

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A blend of X-Men and The Kingsmen, GAME OF SECRETS swept me into the past. The historical elements of selling flowers in a Victorian market, the sights and sounds of streets in a more impoverished part of the city, immediately set the scene. The strong descriptions carried through to the school funded by Queen Victoria, with lush velvet drapery, exquisite gowns, and an abundance of forks at an elegant dining table. Felicity's dramatic shift in circumstance, along with the sudden appearance of Tainted abilities, played equal parts in reinforcing her sense of being on the outside. She kept her guard up at all times, which eventually became more of a hindrance than a help, both in regards to learning to control her powers, and navigating the intricacies of society life.


Jacket design by Sammy Yuen

One of the elements that verged on trope-ish was Felicity’s ability to make terrible decisions. Like, if bad decisions were a graduate course, Felicity would’ve earned her doctorate. That can irritate some readers, but I thought it rang true to Felicity’s personality. Having lived hand-to-mouth for so long, she had exactly zero experience in being a member of a team. She’d been her brother’s primary caregiver for a long time, so expecting her to suddenly give over control of her life (and decision making process) to a complete stranger—that she’d suddenly rely on people she just met—wouldn’t have rung true. Instead, Felicity’s narrow focus on finding a cure and reuniting with her brother felt authentic, and I was highly invested in her learning she could, in fact, trust others. That she wasn’t in it alone. For me, Felicity's journey from complete self-reliance to asking for back-up served as a core arc to the story. 




I would’ve liked for the Tainted world-building to be stronger, with more history and explanation of the Tainted community, and it certainly felt like the beginning of a series instead of a stand-alone. The latter half, and last hundred pages in particular, took the moderate pace and cranked it up to 11, with twists and fight scenes and betrayals, which is more of what I’d expected from the description. GAME OF SECRETS reads on the younger side of YA, with some violence but nothing too gory, romance that stops at kissing, and no swearing, so if you have kiddos who love fantasy and characters with supernatural powers, this would be a solid choice to get them hooked on the genre. (Because, you know, I'm all about fostering children's addictions to books. 🤓)

Big thanks to Thomas Allen & Son for a finished copy!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism, Inkblot Blue, and Paper Mâché

China Glaze – Haute & Heavy, Chroma Cool, and Street Style Princess

OPI – In My Back Pocket, A Good Man-Darin is Hard to Find, Rollin' In Cashmere, and I Just Can't Cope-Cabana

ORLY - Scandal

Glisten and Glow – Mother Terra, Mother Fauna, and topcoat

So Nailicious – needle brush


15.10.18

review and cover mani: sanctuary

SANCTUARY stayed in my TBR for far too long. I mean, teens with superpowers, in a prison…in space?! Hello up my alley, much? And with Halloween around the corner, it fit in well with my desire for supernatural reads with a healthy side of mayhem. Because one can never have enough mayhem, right?



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything.

As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward.

But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.

At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely.

As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.

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SANCTUARY was one of those marvelous, totally immersive reading experiences. The on-point world building had me sliding right into the story, and it wasn’t long before I was holding on for the ride. A riveting plot, every possible area for tension was taken full advantage. I cannot stress just how much happened in SANCTUARY, and the added alien element upped the stakes to such a degree, I gasped aloud while waiting in my local Honda car service area. Because as if the teen prisoner breakout/Lexie’s hostage situation weren’t enough, the unpredictable alien madness took the already-swift pace and strapped it to a rocket ship.


Cover design by Sarah Cresch


Like, I’d be white-knuckling pages as the prisoners forced Lexie to reveal security codes when—ALIEN SURPRISE AHHH—turned everything on its head in the most bananas of ways. Similar to a rush of nitrous oxide in a drag race, without the aliens, the story could’ve held its own, but with the aliens, I never knew when the action would crank up to 100. And considering it rested at a solid 80, I can’t understand why SANCTUARY isn’t on everyone’s TBR. Seriously. Why isn’t this a bestseller yet?

The superpowers themselves included a few fan faves, but also some unique ones that I’ll forever associate with this series (yay!). Lexie’s struggle in reevaluating her training (which also meant going against her mother) had me feeling for her, and when the plot exploded, she had no choice but to follow her gut. Impulsive decisions in high-stress situations don’t always result in the best choices, but Lexie was one smart space guard, and her open mind—a trait not admired by Omnistellar—allowed her to roll with the punches, of which there were many.


As for the rest of the cast, I loved the lot. I credit Lix’s ability to get me to care for other characters as deeply as Lexie without a third-person narrator, because when certain characters died, a rush of feelings kicked me in the gut. Because oh yes, fellow book fiends. SANCTUARY is kind of like Game of Thrones. Not everybody gets out alive, and there’s no way to predict which ones won’t make it to the end. *spindles fingers while cackling*

Real talk: what else could you want?! This review is already on the long side and I’ve barely scratched the surface of SANCTUARY’S pure awesomeness. So please read SANCTUARY this very minute and then we can gab about all the insanity. Sound good? (For serious. Stop what you're doing and go buy this book. I'll wait.)

Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!




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This mani kind of got away from me, with all of the angles and colour blending--and lately the lighting has been terrible so these are flash shots--but I did my best and used:


FingerPaints - Paper Mache and Black Expressionism

OPI - Fearlessly Alice, Give Me Space, and matte topcoat

China Glaze - Chroma Cool and Haute N Heavy

Glisten and Glow - Mother Wind

So Nailicious - needle brush


5.10.18

review and cover mani: the dark descent of elizabeth frankenstein

Lately, I’ve found myself craving darker stories, which is likely a combination of the environmental and social climate, so I mixed up my reading schedule a bit to accommodate my heart and mind’s present needs. Enter, THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN, Kiersten White's latest dose of awesomeness



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn't had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her "caregiver," and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything--except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable--and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth's survival depends on managing Victor's dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

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Elizabeth’s beginnings as an unwanted and abused child left her acutely aware of life’s painful underbelly. Sold for a pittance, her environment transformed to one of superficial luxury, but the strings attached were significant, especially for a child. Being assigned the hefty job of soothing and managing a fairly terrifying boy, Elizabeth had to anticipate and adapt. Quickly. A smart girl who grew into an even smarter young woman, Elizabeth identified the mannerisms most appealing to her charge, and then proceeded accordingly. Her entire existence became an extension of Victor. Whatever he needed her to do, she did, discounting her own opinions and thoughts in fear of being thrown out of the Frankenstein household. Infuriating, to say the least. 


Jacket design by Regina Flath


But Kiersten White used my fury to her advantage, because I became fiercely protective of Elizabeth. Keeping the narration from her first-person POV, I had access to Elizabeth's real self, which took that protectiveness and expanded it to include the utmost respect. Elizabeth’s external façade as the perfect companion created a disguise for who she truly was—a duality that she executed with style and also served as a constant reminder that as a woman during this time period, there weren’t many options. To make matters more complicated, if Elizabeth was too good at her job, equipping Victor with the tools he needed to blend into society, then her services would no longer be required. She had to find a balance between teaching Victor how to act "normally" to appease his parents, while secretly enabling the very behaviour that prompted her hiring, in order to retain Victor's trust. In short, she had to be successful, but not completely successful, lest she be deemed unnecessary by either party. A seemingly impossible undertaking and yet, Elizabeth found a way to do it. 



So I guess I’m saying that reading THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN kept me entertained, but also made me angry. Elizabeth had to sacrifice everything, right down to who she could have been without the overwhelming task of monitoring another person. Someone who, in turn, viewed her as a possession. Not a fair deal. Not even close. But Elizabeth wasn’t a weak pushover. She was cunning, manipulative, and with most of her morally questionable behaviour originating from a position of desperationthe highest of stakesshe could be ruthless. And thank goodness, because those traits equipped her for when things went sideways. Also, by sideways I mean waaaaaaay dark. Because, you know, this is a FRANKENSTEIN retelling. Yes, the title was chosen for good reason, friends. So if you’re a fan of medium horror, creep-tastic plots, and retellings that create an entirely new story while maintaining the OG vibe, make sure you read THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN!

One final note: people who have a challenging time reading about animal cruelty should approach with caution. I’m one of those readers and there were a few scenes I wish I hadn’t read because I can’t stop thinking about them. (I’m aware that it’s kind of weird that I can read about human cruelty and be fine, but similar scenes with animals haunt my dreams. Best not to pull that thread.)



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For this mani, I used:

OPI – Mod About You, Lucerne-Tanly Look Marvelous, Princesses Rule, and matte topcoat

China Glaze – Bodysuit Yourself and Chroma Cool

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mâché

So Nailicious – needle brush








28.9.18

review and cover mani: the sisters of the winter wood

A Jewish YA fantasy with a historical bend, THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD swept me out of the hot mess that is society at the moment and let me escape into a world filled with magic, the bonds of sisterhood, and romance. All of that awesomeness happened within a fairy tale retelling, so, I mean, does it get better than that? Of course it can. Just look at this stunning cover!!


The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Captivating and boldly imaginative, with a tale of sisterhood at its heart, Rena Rossner's debut fantasy invites you to enter a world filled with magic, folklore, and the dangers of the woods.

Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life - even if they've heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods...

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be - and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.

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When recently describing THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD to a friend (aka majorly peer pressuring them to read it) the point I kept stressing was the book’s perfect pace. Tension lurked behind the scenes, blended into every day conversations and moments, like a heartbeat. Between Liba and Laya’s secret of their magical heritage, the political climate of their community, anti-Semitism, and trying not to starve while their parents were away, the sisters were kept on their guard 24/7.  


Cover design by Rebecca Yanovskaya


So while juggling all of that and hanging on by sheer will, it was obviously the perfect (read: worst) moment for a crew of unnaturally attractive men to blow into town, pulling Laya under their spell. Because, you know, there wasn’t enough happening already. With a host of odds stacked against the sisters, cheering for them felt as natural as breathing. The Yiddish expressions added to the strong voice (tip: there’s an glossary in the back!), as did Laya’s POV, which was written entirely in prose. I’m not a poetry kind of gal but I really got into the delivery. Her chapters elevated the magical vibes, and the tempo change forced me to slow down, ultimately drawing me deeper into the tale.




Rossner’s use of atmosphere served as one of my favourite parts of THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD, because the woods sprinkled an ominous tone over each scene. Whenever Liba and Laya entered the woods, I worried about what laid within its depths, waiting to strike. I also appreciated the quieter strength from Laya and Liba. There are many forms of strength, not just wielding a sword or assassinating villains. Making hard choices requires bravery, as does standing up for one’s beliefs in the face of scrutiny. No matter what happened, Liba stuck to her moral compass. No amount of convincing could stray Liba from rescuing her sister, and considering Liba’s upbringing and community, that took major courage. For younger readers, this is an important message and Rossner executed it beautifully. So basically, THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD was like a Pinterest crepe cake; satisfying layers of deliciousness that worked together to create one heck of a scrumptious, yet thoughtful, retelling. Five stars all the way. 


Big thanks to Orbit books for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mache

OPI – Rollin’ In Cashmere and matte topcoat

Glisten and Glow – Mother Terra

So Nailicious – needle brush