15.5.18

review and cover mani: the favorite sister

THE FAVORITE SISTER felt like an origin story for reality television darlings, by showing how easy it can be to detach from reality and create another. Under the guise of friendship, these characters were originally led to believe they would empower others, but wound up competing for fame by humble bragging about their accomplishments and stirring the pot in order to stay relevant. Frankly, this is the kind of set up for most reality shows of this nature, but THE FAVORITE SISTER took that basic premise and blew it the fuck up, so I can't wait to scream about it. 


The back jacket, from Goodreads:

 From Jessica Knoll—author of Luckiest Girl Alive, the instant New York Times bestseller and the bestselling debut novel of 2015—comes a blisteringly paced thriller starring two sisters who join the cast of a reality TV series. One won’t make it out alive. So…who did it?

When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

The Favorite Sister explores the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising up the ranks in today’s America—and offers a scathing take on the oft-lionized bonds of sisterhood, and the relentless pressure to stay young, relevant, and salable.
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Early on, it was clear that Brett and Kelly were ambitious sisters who approached life from different angles. That sort of organic conflict immediately drew me in. My bookstagram caption even included something along the lines of “I can’t wait to see how these terrible characters get up to no good.” Now that I’ve finished, I suspect this was a clever trap because in the end, I sat back and thought: Huh. I was not aware of my Walking Contradiction status. 

Oooo yes. Knoll held up a glaring mirror to the current state of feminism, and I found myself pulling quotes so often, I sifted to taking pictures to save time (because I am a non-writing-in-the-book sort of gal). Picking this setting to speak about what it means to be a successful, independent, and wealthy woman was absolute perfection. Because who better to know about the amount of work it takes to rise to the top of one's profession than someone who's done it themselves? Respect for an equal should come naturally and in an ideal world, it would remain that way. But in life, and after the first season of Goal Diggers, when ratings became more important than a positive message, Brett, Kelly, and Stephanie had to deliver the drama by turning on each other, or be kicked to the curb, Manolos in hand. Women, in particular, can rationalize poor behaviour and watching the spin through several different points of view drove home the point that regardless of the lip service about sisterhood, deep down, women are threatened by one another; the result of the society we live in. We strive for collaboration, but wind up competing. Sharpened stiletto nails at the ready to strike.


Cover Design by Christopher Lin.
Cover Art by Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images.


The unapologetic theme about how much easier it is for women to tear each other down instead of offering a hand up, really got me thinking. The streak of maliciousness comes from the fear that if another woman succeeds, we will fail. There's only room for one. But we also learn that being too ambitious or too opinionated or any number of other toos can hurt our images, so we find other ways: backstabbing, fabricating rumours, passing along harmful gossip with glee—jabs that happen behind the scenes while we feign innocence and girl power. THE FAVORITE SISTER lifted that curtain and bared the ugliness in all of its check-yourself glory. Because what the hell is wrong with me that makes me love these sorts of shows? What does it mean if, in my real life I try to empower, but seek out petty cattiness when it comes to entertainment? Even as I pulled quotes about this contradiction, patting my feminist back and nodding to myself, I still loved the conflict. *clutches BAD FEMINIST and rereads chapters about loving the things we "shouldn't" while contemplating life choices*




So look, this book is phenomenal. It's like a blooming onion that satisfied my gossipy and philosophical cravings, each layer more delicious than the last. Nobody’s an innocent bystander in THE FAVORITE SISTER, and while the novel began with Brett already dead, getting to the how and why was the real story, and a fascinating one at that. Jessica Knoll's sharp and smart writing (plus the most perfect pop culture references, including a Canadian one that made me laugh out loud) confirms her seat at the powerhouse table and I can't wait to see what she writes next. 


Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism, Paper Mache, and 15 Minutes of Frame

ORLY – La Vida Loca

China Glaze – Street Style Princess, Chroma Cool, and BFF

Julep – Courtney

OPI – matte topcoat


So Nailicious brushes – warrior, needle, and slayer




3.5.18

review and cover mani: the map of salt and stars

THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS had a profound effect on me. I spent almost a week reading it (half of my usual pace), and needed time after I finished to collect my thoughts. I’m still not sure that anything I write will do this gem justice, but I’m sure as heck going to try.



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

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Fiction’s ability to create empathy in a reader is why I typically shy away from books that will make me cry. I read to be whisked away, sucked into fantasy worlds, or hunt for a killer, but every so often, a more meaningful sort of fiction catches my eye. With the war in Syria still raging, I'll admit that I’ve exercised my privilege in regards to staying abreast of developments. Not the most humane view and I know I’m not alone. Never ending news cycles create a sort of white noise where stories have a hard time being heard, and there’s a degree of separation that makes it all too easy to not pay attention. THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS closed that distance and placed me in the shoes of a girl named Nour as her home was bombed and her family, forced to flee. As expected, it was pretty devastating.


Cover design Sandra Chiu
Cover photography by Andy Teo aka Photocillin/Getty Images

After the bombing, Nour and her family were forced to endure a brutal stream of devastating events. With no home, little money, and no certainty that they’d make it through, I had to force myself to keep reading because the bleakness felt overwhelming. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse oh boy did they get worse. At one point, I wasn’t sure I could continue. Partly because my flood of tears made it impossible to focus on the page, but mostly because I was bombarded by thoughts about real life families who have faced (and/or are facing) similar circumstances. That isn't to say THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS was all encompassing (what single book can accomplish one hundred percent inclusion?), but Nour’s journey gave me a small snapshot of what the life of a displaced person could be like.




While Nour’s storyline pounded my heart with a mace, the second narrator, Rawiya offered a historical perspective on the Middle East and North Africa. Rawiya’s adventure of traveling with a mapmaker, where she disguised herself as a boy in order to be accepted (you go, girl!) eight hundred years earlier, had a magical quality to it. The lyrical prose and vibrant scenic descriptions stood in stark contrast to Nour’s world, offering some breathing room, and also traced parts of the region's rich history. Plus, there were mythical beasts, so no matter which narrative stood centre stage, I was hooked. 

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incomparable novel but if I included everything I loved, this review would be as long as the book itself. Technically YA, I believe that THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a must-read for everybody. As I said at the beginning, fiction has the ability to open our hearts and minds and that’s exactly the case here. Buy it, read it, share it, and repeat.


Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!


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I took artistic liberties with this cover mani by simplifying the intricate tiled border and not painting the Arabic title underneath the English. I mean no disrespect. Painting in English is a challenge on its own and translucent Arabic was too intimidating.

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mache

OPI – I Am What I Amethyst, You Don't Know Jacques, My Twin Mimmy, Fearlessly Alice, Mod About You, and matte topcoat

ORLY – Skinny Dip

essie - after school boy blazer 

So Nailicious brushes – needle, warrior, and slayer




25.4.18

review and cover mani: miss ex-yugoslavia

As with most of my reads, MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA first caught my attention with its striking yellow cover. The description made me chuckle with its balance of humour and vulnerability, and then I noticed a blurb from Jenny Lawson and I was all: yes I need to read this. So...well...I did, and now I'm going to rave about it. *jazz hands*




The book description, from Goodreads:

A funny, dark, and tender memoir about the immigrant experience and life as a perpetual fish-out-of-water, from the acclaimed Serbian-Australian storyteller.

Sofija Stefanovic makes the first of many awkward entrances in 1982, when she is born in Belgrade, the capital of socialist Yugoslavia. The circumstances of her birth (a blackout, gasoline shortages, bickering parents) don’t exactly get her off to a running start. While around her, ethnic tensions are stoked by totalitarian leaders with violent agendas, Stefanovic's early life is filled with Yugo rock, inadvisable crushes, and the quirky ups and downs of life in a socialist state.

As the political situation grows more dire, the Stefanovics travel back and forth between faraway, peaceful Australia, where they can’t seem to fit in, and their turbulent homeland, which they can’t seem to shake. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia collapses into the bloodiest European conflict in recent history.

Featuring warlords and beauty queens, tiger cubs and Baby-Sitters Clubs, Sofija Stefanovic’s memoir is a window to a complicated culture that she both cherishes and resents. Revealing war and immigration from the crucial viewpoint of women and children, Stefanovic chronicles her own coming-of-age, both as a woman and as an artist who yearns to take control of her own story. Refreshingly candid, poignant, and illuminating, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia introduces a vital new voice to the immigrant narrative.
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First and foremost, Sofija Stefanovic is a storyteller. She doesn’t just deliver a series of informative points like a tedious power point presentation (which is how some memoirs read in my opinion). Instead, it felt like she invited me to sit in a comfortable chair, handed me a cocktail, and then proceeded to chat my ear off. (Yay!) From early on, Stefanovic demonstrated her comfort with being the punchline (a comfort we share, to be honest) and there were times I laughed so hard that my husband had to check on me because he feared I’d pass out.


Cover design and illustration by Payton Turner

I must confess that I didn’t know much about socialist Yugoslavia before reading MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA, and while there was a consistent thread of humour (which had more to do with Stefanovic’s perspective than what she and her family were dealing with), it wasn’t all fun times. Having a pair of politically involved parents gave Stefanovic a front-line source of information, putting her up close and personal. The moxy of those folks, for real.

The most striking chapters for me described Stefanovic’s return to Yugoslavia after living in Australia for two (very impactful) years. The contrast at that point, having lived in both a socialist and democratic country, granted her a wider perspective. The bad news is that perspective reinforced her feeling of otherness. First, she was the other in Australia, and then she became other in a place that was supposed to be her home. Brutal. Another bounce back to Australia after increasing political upheaval didn’t help matters, and then her family entered a pretty black time.




The highs and lows of MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA were astounding. It takes a perfect balance to include light and dark without having tone issues, and Stefanovic made it seem effortless. Her witty recollections from the more humiliating moments of her childhood and adolescence will suck you in, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of what happened in socialist Yugoslavia, and a taste of the sort of challenges that immigrants from war-torn countries are forced to overcome. Five enthusiastic stars from me!


Big thanks to Atria Books for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché and Black Expressionism

OPI – My Twin Mimmy, A Good Man-Darin Is Hard To Find, Charged Up Cherry, Dating a Royal, and Stay Off the Lawn!

Glisten and Glow – topcoat


So Nailicious – needle, warrior, and slayer brushes



16.4.18

review and cover mani: then she was gone

Lisa Jewell is a master of mystery. And suspense. Also book-throwing moments. When it comes to THEN SHE WAS GONE, all three were in full effect because oh em gee was this book phenomenal!




The book description, from Goodreads:

THEN
She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. 
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone. 

NOW 
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter. And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet. Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter. Poppy is precocious and pretty - and meeting her completely takes Laurel's breath away. 

Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. 

What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? 
Who still has secrets to hide? 


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In the beginning, my heart hurt for Laurel. Ten years after her daughter Ellie disappeared, she wasn’t doing so hot. Strained relationships with her other two children, a divorce, and an existence that was more like surviving instead of living. Day in and day out, Laurel’s small life brought her as much joy as it did laughter; zero. But then she met Floyd and things started to change.


Jacket design by Laywan Kwan. 
Jacket photograph of branches by Plainpicture/Michael Dooney. 
Photograph of petals by Getty Images.

That brings me to the characterization, which blew my booknerd socks clean off. Laurel’s unrelenting grief, the conflict with her remaining children, Floyd, even Poppy got the full treatment. Of the entire cast, Floyd impressed me the most. We all know the kind of men that elicit a yellow warning light, where it isn’t so much what he says, but how he says it. Jewell’s phrasing in this regard was perfection as far as I’m concerned, because conveying that subtle but powerful reaction is a challenge. I love a character with a perpetual question mark dangling over their head, possibly a red herring, possibly an antagonist, who the heck knows? From Laurel’s point of view, I could see her willingness to dismiss those niggling feelings, as one can never be sure where a man falls on the-creepy-to-psycho scale, and women have been conditioned to stay in potential danger rather than be considered rude, so kudos to Jewell for nailing that dynamic.

The format of having present and past narration gave readers an advantage of being privy to details that Laurel would kill to know. This is where my admiration of Jewell’s craft made me want to stand up and clap, because it’s awfully difficult to keep a mystery going when it appears that we have all the pieces. But really, all Jewell granted was a taste, and although it felt like she presented the whole meal early on—as in, who took Ellie—the best was yet to come. Only by best, I actually mean worst, because yowza.




I seriously cannot stress the insanity of the twists in THEN SHE WAS GONE. Just when I thought I’d reached the crest of the mountain, it was revealed to be a fake out, with much more climbing left to do. Granted no opportunity to rest, poor Laurel thought she was losing her mind because of Poppy’s resemblance to Ellie, and as a reader, I was along for the ride as she attempted to confirm/deny her suspicions. (Side note in regards to that quest: AHHHHHHHHHHH.)

If you’re a fan of edge-of-your-seat novels where the world falls away around you because you’re consumed with what-ifs and painful sympathy for a desperate mother, THEN SHE WAS GONE is the book for you!

Huge thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

Julep – Kenna, Fiore, and Imogen

OPI – Miami Beet, You Are So Outta Lime, and matte topcoat

China Glaze – Trip of a Lime Time

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché

So Nailicious brushes – needle, warrior, and slayer