21.7.17

review and cover mani: the sandcastle empire

I first heard of THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE at a Frenzy event, a few months ago, and I’ve been looking forward to diving in. The first chapter grabbed a hold of me and before long, I was hanging on for the ride. And what a frickin’ crazypants ride it was, folks! So much insanity crammed into 455 pages, and I loved each and every moment.


*cues rollercoaster noise, creeping up a hill*




The back jacket, from Goodreads:

When all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

____

It may seem like the jacket description includes spoilers, because it reveals so many things: the Wolfpack, Eden’s history, Sanctuary Island, which Eden reaches and it’s nothing like she thought it would be, and a missing friend, but honestly, it’s a drop in the ocean of awesome that is THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE. And if that level of mayhem is in the description, you can imagine how packed this book is.

Once the momentum began, it pretty much never stopped. Whenever a problem was solved, it revealed another obstacle—one that was always more challenging than the preceding one. I had to stop myself from racing through, as I have a tendency to skim when I’m desperate to know what happens, but I knew I had to read every word in order to get the whole story, because not a single sentence, paragraph, or chapter was unnecessary. No lulls or dull moments either, only pauses to catch my breath. (Side note: How is it possible to write a novel this tight?! Seriously. I’m asking for a friend. Also, that friend is me.)



Jacket art: © 2017 Image Source / Getty Images, Fronds © 2017 Vilma Pimenoff / Millenium Images, UK
Jacket design: Sarah Nichole Kaufman


As for Eden, she was a wonder to watch. Stripped of her former life, friends and family, her first scene had her watching a sunrise, which showed that she was the sort of character who’d fight to keep her humanity—to stay the course until the time to act arrived. A millisecond later, everything went bananas and I was like: “Oh. So Eden’s brave and tenacious and willing to do anything. I’ll just be cancelling my afternoon plans to hang with her because watch out, fictional world!” Haha!




Watching Eden and her crew navigate Sanctuary Island’s desire to maim, mislead, and disorientate, maintained a tense atmosphere, one where danger lurked around every corner and nothing was as it seemed. It reminded me of LOST, because information was revealed in small snippets—never enough to see the whole picture, which only elevated my curiosity. My “one more chapter” promises spread through Sunday morning and well into the evening because there was no place to take a break, the plot getting more and more intense until the very end, where I wanted to stress-eat an entire box of Oreo thins.

So if you love sneaky, high-paced plots that never let up, with tortured characters who may or may not be trustworthy, THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE is the book for you! Big thanks to Harper Collins Canada and Frenzy for a review copy!



__

For this mani, I used:

OPI – Gargantuan Green Grape and You Are So Outta Lime

Julep –  Roc Solid and Payton

Fingerpaints – Paper Mâché and Black Expressionism

Glisten and Glow – HK Girl topcoat

Mitty brushes – Candy 00 and Clean Flat Pro


Triangular makeup sponge for the gradient



14.7.17

review and cover mani: big sexy love

It's no secret that I love to laugh. Like Buddy the Elf, it's my favourite. And when it comes to funny novels, my go-to is Kirsty Greenwood. Both of her previous novels are still in my "highly recommended" pile (in fact, Kirsty's name came up just this week, when a pal wanted some book suggestions), and I'm delighted to report that her third, BIG SEXY LOVE, has also landed on that list. Because OMG hysterical. 

*cues heart-shaped gold glitter cannon*




The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Olive Brewster is a scaredy cat. She doesn't do new or risky. She’s happy enough with her job at the local market, it’s cool that she has no boyfriend to fret over, she even likes that she still lives in her childhood home. No drama, no fuss, no problems. Everything is fine. Super duper fine.

Except … Olive's best friend in the world​, Birdie, is dying.

Birdie has one final wish. She wants to track down her first love, Chuck, and because she's stuck in the hospital she needs Olive's help to do it. But there’s a teeny problem: Chuck is somewhere in New York and Olive has never even left her home town, let alone roamed the crazy streets of Manhattan.

As if the big city isn't scary enough, Olive has to contend with Seth, a cocky comedy TV writer who thinks she’s a joke; Anders, a bored socialite who’s taken a shine to her; and the fact that no matter how hard she tries to track down Chuck, he doesn't seem to want to be found.

Can Olive learn to overcome her fears, abandon her old safe routine and fulfil her best friend’s last wish? It's going to take extra bravery, one badass attitude and a whole lot of big sexy love to make this happen …

__

For the record, Olive and Birdie are everything I want in a pair of besties. Tight from the first day they met, Birdie and Olive brought out the best in the other, and they always helped in any way they could, which is how Olive found herself on a plane from London to NYC. Not coincidentally, the plane was where Olive first lost her mind--a reaction she'd been fearing since the purchase of her ticket--and that's where the book took off (sorry not sorry 😆). Olive's panic-driven inner monologue elevated to champagne-fused hilarity during that flight over the pond, and the moment she touched down in New York City, poor Olive was run through a gauntlet of worst case, cringeworthy, snort-producing scenarios. Think Bridget Jones with anxiety and a fanny pack.  


Cover design by Kirsty Greenwood
Illustrated by Edward Jordan

As the book progressed, I loved watching Olive's confidence grow, but the part that touched me the most was the friendship between Olive and Birdie. It's one thing for characters to say, "You're my ride or die," but Olive and Birdie walked the talk. And with Birdie approaching the end of her life, their sense of urgency didn't just apply to finding Chuck. They wanted to cram in as many good times as they could because they were running out of time. Birdie frantically wanted to make sure that Olive knew how much she meant to Birdie, and vice versa. (Note: No, YOUR eyes are misty while writing about this storyline.) Both women hid their grief behind humour, so when they inevitably broke down, my heart splintered into a million pieces because it meant things were bad. Really, really bad. I experienced the highest of highs, lightheaded from laughing so hard I could barely breathe, only to drop back down with the seriousness of Birdie's situation, and then tear up with their closeness.


The blues look wonky here because I had to move inside and crank the brightness, due to rain. Le sigh.

Honestly, this book is a gem and the world needs it. Especially now. Yes, BIG SEXY LOVE is considered a romantic comedy but it's a relationship comedy, and the primary relationship is between two grown ass women who love their best friend with a fierceness that only women will understand (sorry bros but you know it's true). Also, the dialogue was bananas. Like, can I be a tenth as witty as these two gals? Is this how Greenwood speaks in real life? (Spoiler: it is, actually. Follow her IG.) Each quip felt like it came from my 4AM insomnia sessions where I finally think of a snappy response, only they're better than anything I could ever come up with. I swear, I highlighted so many scenes and snippets of dialogue that half the book is stored in my Kindle's Notes.

So read this book to feel good, people. It'll make you laugh and cry in a cathartic way and when you're finished, pass it along to your bestie so she can experience it, too. Because this is a book that needs to be passed around. I mean, who doesn't love a good laugh-cry? Haha! *sobs*


Massive thanks to Kirsty Greenwood for sending me a review copy!




__

For this mani, I used:

OPI - Towel Me About It, Need Sunglasses?, In My Back Pocket, Samoan Sand, Dulce de Leche, Fearlessly Alice, and You Don't Know Jacques.

China Glaze - I Sea The Point

Essie - party on a platform

Julep - Millie

Fingerpaints - Paper Mâché and Black Expressionism

Glisten and Glow - HK Girl Topcoat

Mitty brushes - Candy 00, Clean Flat Pro

Loose gold hex glitter





7.7.17

review and cover mani: eleanor oliphant is completely fine

About a month ago, my CP Gina Heron told me to read ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. Like most book enthusiasts, my TBR pile needs the wall for support (not that it stops me from picking up new ones, of course), but I agreed to add it to the pile. A week later, Gina asked if I'd started yet, because she knew that I'd go crazy for the voice. In the end, it took me almost a month to dig in and OMG THANK YOU GINA BECAUSE ELEANOR IS EVERYTHING. 


*hugs book while jumping up and down*




The description, from Goodreads:

Smart, warm, uplifting, the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open her heart.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. That, combined with her unusual appearance (scarred cheek, tendency to wear the same clothes year in, year out), means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kind of friends who rescue each other from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of a quirky yet lonely woman whose social misunderstandings and deeply ingrained routines could be changed forever—if she can bear to confront the secrets she has avoided all her life. But if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.
 
___

Okay, people. I need you to listen to me: read ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. Like, don't even bother reading this review, just head to the bookstore this instant and buy a copy. Kidding! You should totally read my review. Haha! But afterwards, you need to pick it up. Not an ebook, though. You'll want this baby to adorn your bookshelf because (a) the cover is covered in quirky animal drawings and (b) Eleanor Oliphant is a character you'll want to visit again and again.


Cover design by Jennifer Griffiths


So why is Eleanor the greatest? For starters, she's her own person. An anti-social, blunt woman with snobbish tendencies, an extremely limited wardrobe, and no filter whatsoever. What Eleanor thinks, she says. And that's mostly a bad thing. She goes about her life adhering to a strict schedule, designed to keep her isolated because she's learned that most people don't like her.

At first, I thought Eleanor was okay with a solitary life. She appeared pragmatic and accepting of her circumstances, but the first-person narration put me inside Eleanor's head and it wasn't long before my heart began to hurt. Eleanor felt unworthy of affection, thanks to her mother (DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON HER MOTHER) and it gave me feels, folks. Lots and lots of feels. Because when Eleanor decided to risk another attempt at connecting to others, her efforts often ended in failure and as a reader, I could understand why. Eleanor didn't, though, which is why I experienced the full spectrum of sadness.

That is, until Raymond and Sammy came onto the scene and slowly shifted Eleanor's manner of thinking.


Usually I paint the cover, but I couldn't resist drawing all these super cute animals!


And that's why ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE rocked my world. There wasn't an omniscient narrator describing her journey from afar, only Eleanor on the front lines, which could've been a disaster, but Honeyman's masterful writing made it work. Hell, it more than worked. It shone like the frickin' north star in a cloudy sky. I'm talking about next-level bananapants, people--a relative banana pantsuit of exquisite prose, if you will.

Because for real. How did Honeyman achieve a quirky, endearing, exceptionally socially-inept character? How did I laugh and cry, sometimes in the same moment? How is that level of nuance possible? It's probably some sort of sorcery, which I'm totally cool with it, albeit a little jealous. My heart soared and sank more times than I could count because ELEANOR OLIPHANT captured what it's like to change: painful, slow, and ultimately uplifting. But it requires a person to face themselves, admit wrongdoings and accept the past, which is what Eleanor did. It felt like an honour to ride along with Eleanor as she attempted to redefine herself, and omg, did her cutting wit make me laugh. Humour that relies on juxtaposition, unbeknownst to the narrator, is such a challenge to accomplish and Honeyman smoked it.




So if you were a fan of THE ROSIE PROJECT, and have an appreciation for sophisticated language with an exposed heart, ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE needs to skyrocket to the top of your list. Like, why are you reading this sentence when you should already be in your car, zooming towards a bookstore? GET OFF THE INTERNET AND GO!!




__

For this mani, I used:

Fingerpaints - Paper Maché and Black Expressionism

OPI - Lucky Lucky Lavender, Suzi Has A Swede Tooth, Towel Me About It, In My Back Pocket, Do You Lilac It, and matte topcoat

China Glaze - UV Meant To Be

Julep - Michelle and Payton

Essie - shake your $$ maker

Mitty brushes - Daisy 1.0, Peachy 000, and Clean Flat Pro




28.6.17

review and cover mani: the child

The summer thrillers of 2017 just keep coming, people! From creepy to intense, exhilarating and scary, there's one for everyone! Woot!! THE CHILD falls more on the intense side, although there's a healthy dose of creepiness, considering the subject matter. A slow burn, the plot didn't jump out of the gates, and instead, my fascination stemmed from the complex characters. I loved piecing together the mystery from several different points of view and in the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Yay for when that happens!

*releases doves to match cover (or perhaps pigeons because I'm not totally sure what they are)*



The description, from Goodreads:

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

___

The world of journalism has gotten a bad rap, as of late, and admittedly, most of the criticism is deserved. In today's day and age (says the reviewer, aging herself dramatically 😉) speed trumps thoroughness, and online publications inundate us with up-to-the-second information. I think that's why I gravitated towards Kate, THE CHILD's primary protagonist. She represented old-school journalism, acutely aware that she was part of a dying breed, but Kate refused to bend. So when she discovered a tiny article in the back of a newspaper, about a baby's skeleton being found on a construction site, Kate hit the pavement to investigate what happened.


Cover design by Anthony Ramondo and Emily Osborne
Cover photographs: (bird) Matan Efrati / Eyeem / Getty Images; (crane) hxdyl/Shutterstock.com


Along with an assigned junior journalist (a pretty amusing counterpart for Kate), Kate tracked down leads, hitting up the library for old articles, interviewing anyone she could find who had a connection to the area where the skeleton had been unearthed, and calling in favours to people in the know. As she moved closer to the truth, several other points of view emerged, each with a link to the body, although it was unclear how they fit together. The vagueness and uncertainty stretched while I got my bearings, but the female voices were so complex and layered, I got hooked pretty quickly. One character in particular was kind of a nightmare, which made her the most fascinating of all. Isn't that always the case? Haha!



It was a solid strategy, starting with a character-based approach and then adding a twisty plot, one that kicked into high gear in the second half of the book, zooming into space like a frickin' rocket of awesome. Because not only was I curious about the baby, but the bond each character had to it. I swear, folks, the last half of THE CHILD is bananas and will force you to make this face at least seven times:

http://realitytvgifs.tumblr.com/post/113178008917/me-this-new-macbook-air

And don't you want to make that face? Of course you do. It's why you read thrillers. 

The downside to having so many strong points of view was the occasional bout of head jumping. When I'm consumed in a book, I rarely read chapter headings, so it was kind of frustrating to have to stop and check whose head I was in. Each point of view added necessary information, creating a full picture, but it was jerky at times. Maybe if I hadn't been so desperate to see what happened next, that wouldn't have been such a problem. My bad? Haha!

So if you're into an immersive experience, one where you can see an event from every relevant point of view while trying to figure out how the clues fit together, THE CHILD is the book for you!


Thanks to Chapters Indigo and Berkley for a review copy!



___


For this mani, I used: 

FingerPaints - Paper Mâché, Inkblot Blue, and Black Expressionism

China Glaze - Boho Blues and I Sea The Point

OPI - Dating A Royal and matte topcoat

Essie - after school boy blazer

Mitty Brushes - Daisy 1.0 and Clean Flat Pro






23.6.17

review and cover mani: every last lie

I nearly lost my mind when I first heard of Mary Kubica's fourth novel, EVERY LAST LIE, for two reasons. One, because I've read her previous three thrillers and each one was better than the last, but two (and most importantly) because it had a cover I could paint (each preceding one had faces and I'm awful not so great at those). I begged for an ARC and my prayers were answered by the lovely folks at Harper Collins Canada, who tracked one down for me to devour. Which I did. Swiftly. And now I'm psyched to tell you all about it (without spoilers, obviously). 

*sounds awesome book gong*




 The back jacket, from Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow's pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 
"The bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us." 
Clara Solberg's world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon. 
Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick's death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit. 
Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara's investigation and Nick's last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.
___
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what I felt worked well in EVERY LAST LIE, I want to start with a blanket statement: Kubica's writing is bananas. I mean, it's always been great but there was some extra za za zu here. Her prose certainly has a literary edge and I had to look up a few words (always a humbling experience, haha), but there's a beat. A rhythm. A pulse. And that set the pace, grounding me in the story so I could submit to the experience of reading about Clara and Nick from page one, onward. 


Cover art by Sean Kapitain and Erin Craig.

The superb quality of writing made Clara's search for clues authentic, because Clara herself, felt authentic. She wasn't a detective or police officer, and had no previous experience with haphazard investigations, which meant that her discoveries didn't chart a steady course. So many clues were dismissed as quickly as they came, while others hit dead ends only to return later, more suspicious than ever. It was awesome. I felt like I was along with Clara for the ride, like I was actually the one sleuthing my way through the evidence. Well, except for the postpartum haze. And also the stress of having a parent with dementia. In addition to consoling a terrified toddler who keeps repeating spine-tingling phrases. Gah! So much craziness!

That set up, giving Clara conflict in every portion of her life even before Nick died, served as an excellent launching point for the plot. And combined with her grief and lack of sleeping, Clara went kinda cray-cray. But a sympathetic sort of cray, where Clara maintained awareness that she was losing touch with reality. The chaos of her situation--the stress, pressure, and panic--turned Clara's mind into a spinning a compass incapable of discerning the truth, and I couldn't get enough. (Does that make me sound mean? Haha!)




I did have a couple of moments where I was taken out of the story, and unfortunately, they were all in Nick's chapters. For me, Clara's strong voice and frantic energy overshadowed Nick's stiff POV, and it cut the tension. Maybe it was because his story had already happened, but his viewpoint felt like a lot of telling and not enough showing, which made it a challenge to connect.

That said, I still really liked EVERY LAST LIE. In fact, I'd argue that Kubica rules the genre of realistic domestic suspense. There's very little violence and instead, the character-based plot explored Clara's mind--the lenses through which she viewed the world. So if you're into suspecting your neighbours of burying a body, or wondering if the crossing guard who helps your kiddos has a penchant for identity theft, EVERY LAST LIE is the book for you! And you won't have to wait long because it comes out next Tuesday, June 27th! Woot!

Big thanks to Harper Collins Canada and Harlequin for a review copy!

___

For this mani, I used:

OPI - Towel Me About it, In My Back Pocket, and My Twin Mimmy

FingerPaints - Black Expressionism and Paper Mâché

ORLY - Makeup Or Breakup

Essie - Satin Sister

Mitty brushes - Daisy 1.0 and Clean Flat Pro, along with a triangular makeup sponge



14.6.17

canadian nail stencil giveaway!

Living in the country, it can be a challenge to get my paws on professional nail products, which is why I've been a long-time customer of Nail Polish Canada. Their selection of piCture pOlish, China Glaze, ORLY, and nail art tools is pretty incredible, and they host a few nail art comps throughout the year, which I always love to enter. 

And now, I'm an even bigger fan of the greatest Canadian nail polish website because they're giving away free nail stencils!! Yes, in honour of Canada's 150th year of being awesome, Nail Polish Canada is helping fellow Canucks celebrate by having festive, maple leaf nails. They aren't just any old stencils, though. Nope, they're from the company I trust the most when it comes to nail vinyls. Obviously, I'm talking about What's Up Nails.




Today, June 14th, bloggers across the country are posting codes and the first 10 people to use each blogger's specific code will snag themselves a sheet of 20 Canadian flag stencils. Each set has two different sizes of leaves, which can be used in two ways. I did a couple of manis so you can see what I mean. 

First, for those who may not have an extensive polish collection, or are nervous about using a stencil, you can use the centre sticker. Just place it on your nail, add a topcoat, and you're good to go! The vinyls are much thinner than traditional stickers, so you won't be left with a hard edge that can peel.


White base is Fingerpaints Paper Mâché. Loose, red hex glitter is from Amazon.


The second option is to use the stencils themselves, with the polish colour of your choice. What's Up Nails stencils bleed the least, but even so, it's important to remove the stencil as quickly as possible to achieve a crisp outline. Wait until the polish is totally dry and then add a topcoat to smooth out the surface.


White base is Fingerpaints Paper Mâché, Red is China Glaze Peppermint To Be, and the glitter is China Glaze Ugly Sweater Party.


Either way you use them, they're super easy. Just make sure your base coats are dry first, so you can shift the sticker and/or stencil around until they're in the perfect place. Insider tip: I always use a quick dry topcoat for my base colour, to speed up the process. 😊

So if you'd like to rock some festive nails for July 1st, click this link and then enter my code, X54J2TC5I2H: http://www.nailpolishcanada.com/products/free-canadian-flag-nail-vinyls-1-sheet-20-stencils-by-whats-up-nails.html 

This deal even includes shipping so what the heck are you waiting for?

Thanks so much to Nail Polish Canada for hosting such a fun giveaway!!



12.6.17

blog tour: saints and misfits



A couple of months ago, Simon & Schuster Canada hosted a preview event, where bloggers learned about upcoming YA and MG releases. That fateful Saturday afternoon, I heard S.K. Ali speak about her debut novel, SAINTS AND MISFITS. Her eloquence and enthusiastic personality elevated the room's vibe immediately, and then she revealed her stunning cover, which morphed me into a heart-eyed emoji.

*sounds awesome book horn*




The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

____

SAINTS AND MISFITS stole my heart. Or rather, Janna did. And what I liked most about her was that she acted like a typical teenager, with the added bonus of being Muslim and wearing a hijab. She's quick witted, kind, hard working, and loves halal gummy bears. Candy: the unifying snack. Haha! Her life mostly consisted of staying on top of her enriched math schoolwork and participating in mosque events, but Janna also navigated her awareness of how her physical appearance affected others--how she was judged. Holding her faith dear while grappling with self-consciousness was a complicated issue for Janna to reconcile, and it became more of a challenge as the novel progressed.


Jacket design by Chloë Foglia
Jacket photography copyright © 2017 by Samia El-Hassani


Each chapter was titled either Saints, Misfits, or Monster, either singularly or in combinations, and it helped set the tone. The categorization method belonged to Janna and she easily identified who fell into which category, although they weren't necessarily cemented. Well, except the monster. 

That brings me to the core of SAINTS AND MISFITS. I've struggled on whether or not to share the monster storyline, because I really try to make sure I don't include spoilers. In fact, I've drafted this part of my review several times, changing my mind and then changing it again. Ultimately, I've decided to leave it a mystery, but I will say this: SAINTS AND MISFITS is important. Like, in the realm of THE HATE U GIVE important. Teenagers deal with a lot of crap; adult issues they should never have to face (nor should anyone, for that matter) and watching a character reclaim their power--stand up to those who want to crush them, even when they're scared--is a necessary and timely message. Janna's ability to persevere, be thoughtful and logical but also trust her gut, moved me. A transformation took place, one that didn't feel contrived or forced. Instead, her journey had highs and lows, just like life. And the most important part? Janna never surrendered. She processed her experiences in her own time, and sought out a resolution that worked for her, despite what others thought she should do. This is the sort of novel that needs to be in every high school library, and part of mandatory curriculum for English/literary classes. So...uh...make it happen, school boards. Make it happen now!




So in sum, SAINTS AND MISFITS has a super cool protagonist who struggles with teenage drama (crushes! EEE CRUSHES!), and also with something much more significant. Janna's a smart, grounded, endearing character who may not know who she is, but knows she's more than what others see. And the message woven into the entertaining writing is strong and fierce. I'm honoured to kick off the SAINTS AND MISFITS blog tour because this is a novel that everybody has to read. Period.

SAINTS AND MISFITS comes out tomorrow, so make sure you pick up a copy! And thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for a review copy!


_
__

For this mani, I used:

OPI - Towel Me About It, Let's Be Friends, Mod About You, and matte topcoat

China Glaze - Intelligence, Integrity & Courage

Fingerpaints - Paper Mache, Black Expressionism, and Sketch Me

ORLY - Road Trippin

Mitty brushes - Minty 0 and Clean Pro Flat



9.6.17

review and cover mani: erotic stories for punjabi widows

June is shaping up to be an excellent month for phenomenal books, and the latest addition to that stack is EROTIC STORIES OF PUNJABI WIDOWS. The description of Sikh widows writing erotica was too enticing to resist, but this book was so much more than erotic stories. It's a novel with a dark side, one that exposes the way women are viewed in a small Sikh society in London, and in India. But don't let that scare you, because as dark as it gets, there's even more light. 



The back jacket description, from Goodreads:

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s "moral police." But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.


___

On the first page, Balli Kaur Jaswal's thoughtful prose made it clear that she is a storyteller--a writer who wants to weave a tale. I imagine she agonized over every word, every turn of phrase, every image, because they were damn near perfect. Her dedication (and heaps of talent, obvi) made for a strong start and I effortlessly fell into the rhythm.

Eeee! I frickin' love when that happens!


Cover by Holly MacDonald


I also love when characters behave unexpectedly, and the widows in Nikki's writing class certainly qualified. I mean, they're the community's elders, and chose to spend their English classes sharing stories about cucumbers, garden hoses, pulsing knots, throaty moans, and clay sticks. The contradiction between my previously-conceived notions of how a Punjabi widow would behave and what the characters actually said was remarkable and entertaining. Also hot. Very hot, in some instances. I swear, I'll never look at a gaggle of older women the same way again. Especially if they're Punjabi. 😉 




But that's not the only storyline. Within the humorous, uplifting moments where women embraced their sexuality, EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS addressed serious topics. The description alludes to a scandal but it's more significant than that. Obviously, I can't talk about the "scandal" in detail without including spoilers and I'm kind of frustrated because it's where the book really shined. And I'm not just talking about Nikki, although she was involved. In fact, the greatest journey belonged to the second narrator, and it was equal parts moving and enraging. That blend of light and dark is why I'll be recommending this book for a long time to come, because there's an unflinching honesty here. One that needs to be acknowledged. Also there is erotica. So you know, it covers a lot of bases. Haha! If you're in the mood for an entirely unique, charming, and diverse read, EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS is the book for you!

EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIVES comes out on June 13th, so set your calendars! And big thanks to Harper Collins Canada for a review copy!




___

For this mani, I used:

OPI - My Twin Mimmy, Alpine Snow, and matte topcoat

Julep - Octavia

China Glaze - I Got A Blue Attitude, Under The Boardwalk, Trip of a Lime Time

ORLY - Wild Wisteria and Paradise Cove

Mitty brushes - Daisy 1.0, Minty 0, and Clean Pro Flat





1.6.17

review and cover mani: the weight of lies

Last month, Emily Carpenter reached out to me, asking if I'd like an ARC of her sophomore novel: THE WEIGHT OF LIES. Earlier this year, I read Carpenter's debut and loved it, so this was my reaction:


http://realitytvgifs.tumblr.com/post/75202587899/the-best-gif-ever


I started reading on Saturday night, snuck in chapters throughout Sunday (when we had company) and then stayed up until midnight in order to finish. Because I burned through this bananapants mystery within 24-hours, it should come as no surprise that THE WEIGHT OF LIES gets my must-read recommendation, and I'm super psyched to use the rest of this post to convince you of its awesomeness.




The back jacket, from Goodreads:

In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.
 

___

Oh em gee, folks, there are so many things I loved about THE WEIGHT OF LIES that it's a challenge to figure out where to start. The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship? Bonny Island's creeptastic vibes? Meg's ability to be a sad-sack and also fearless? The murder that may or may not have happened? How do I choose?!


Cover design by Rex Bonomelli.

Okay. Let's start with Meg, because she's the protagonist and first-person narrator. I didn't instantly like her, mostly because in the first chapter, Meg's sitting by the side of a swanky hotel pool in Las Vegas, feeling sorry for herself. She lives off a trust fund, has friends named Aurora and "the Glitter Girls," and receives a hand-delivered birthday party invitation from her mother. Like, come on. Hand delivered?! *eye roll* But Meg's reaction to that invitation is what changed my initial opinion. Her outer layer shed, revealing her vulnerable core. Just like that, she let me in. She put up walls to protect herself from others, but not from me, the reader. So from the third chapter forward, I was Meg's fiercest cheerleader. 

The setting was probably my second favourite element of THE WEIGHT OF LIES. Carpenter s-l-a-y-e-d the unsettling and mysterious Bonny Island, and like in BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS, the atmosphere was crucial to the plot. When an author can create a threatening environment--a force that demands respect--it automatically adds tension. Running in fear is one thing, but running in fear through hostile and unstable terrain, where danger lurks in every tree and meadow, it's down-right terrifying. And holy hotcakes, is Bonny Island a nightmare. 



Then there's the dysfunctional relationship. THE DYSFUNCTION I CANNOT. Meg and Frances were like opposing magnets. Any attempts to bring them together were strained and explosive. And it only got worse as the novel progressed. The plot itself had a killer pace (haha, had to do it) and doesn't unfold in a linear fashion, which made it extra awesome. Also awesome? There were excerpts of Frances' horror novel at the beginning of each chapter, syncing the fictional novel with the real one. So it's firing on all levels, folks. ALL. LEVELS. Oh, and have I mentioned there's some super cute male eye candy? Because there is. And he was delicious. 

If you love mysteries that feature volatile characters, cold cases, and gripping plots, you need to read THE WEIGHT OF LIES. And then BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS. Because there's a new heavyweight in atmospheric mysteries, and her name is Emily Carpenter.  

THE WEIGHT OF LIES comes out next Tuesday, June 6th. Mark your calendars, people!!

ps. Emily, you're forgiven. 😉



__

For this mani, I used:

OPI - Alpine Snow, In My Back Pocket, Chicago Champagne Toast, My Twin Mommy, You Don't Know Jacques, Towel Me About It, and matte topcoat

Fingerpaints - Black Expressionism and Sketch Me

Julep - Fiore, Lizzy, and Roc Solid

China Glaze - Rainbow and Intelligence Integrity & Courage

Mitty Brushes - Minty 0 and Clean Pro Flat