book review (with cover mani!): jane steele

The second I saw the cover of JANE STEELE, I knew it had to be mine. I mean, vintage weapons? Bursts of blood? A beautiful matte finish? Yes please. And when I picked it up to read the back blurb, my hands became all sorts of grabby.

*extreme grabby hands*

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?


So yeah. A gothic retelling of Jane Eyre sounded like the greatest concept of all time and much to my delight, it was as fabulous as I’d hoped it would be. Jane Steele is a charming character, which may sound strange because she’s also a bit of a murderess, but then again, I love me some murderesses. Haha! And what makes Jane sympathetic is that although she’s quick with a switchblade, it’s always for a good cause. Back in Jane’s day, women were particularly vulnerable, so when her friends got into trouble, Jane stepped in on their behalf. 

And yet, this book isn’t even almost a female Dexter. While that renowned character is unequivocally without a soul, Jane Steele’s remains firmly in place. She has a moral compass she doesn’t stray from, often sacrificing herself in order to rescue others. So when she arrives back at Highgate House, after surviving a whole host of unfortunate (and deadly) events, she’s a much different woman. She’s more assured and confident, but she never loses her fundamental desire: to belong.

Because at her core, Jane is lonely. Without a home or any family, she yearns for love. Even after all she’s done and all she’s witnessed, Jane still believes in love. It was uplifting, to be frank. And as in Jane Eyre, her love interest, Mr. Thornfield, isn’t exactly all sunshine and bonbons, but he sure is nice to look at, in that deliciously rugged, tortured-soul kind of way, and his sense of humour is dry and witty, with just enough light-hearted teasing for Jane to remain unsure on whether he's flirting or simply being kind. Mmmm...Mr. Thornfield. Haha!

The sheer amount of historical information folded into the plot of JANE STEELE is remarkable, and the writing is melodic and engaging. So if you’re into dark but relatable plots with endearing, emotionally scarred characters who capture your heart, then this book is for you!

For this mani, I used:

Liquid Leather and White on White, by China Glaze.
Dovima, by NARS.
Matte Top Coat, by OPI.
A trimmed, thin nail art brush and small dotting tool.

And for more, non-book cover manis, check out my IG account! (@jennieshaw)


book review (with cover mani!): visions

VISIONS is the second book in Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series and let me tell you, this is a series you need to read. Especially if you’re a fan of deep, layered mysteries, a female protagonist who doesn't take any crap, and two very different smokin’ hot dudes. Haha!

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.


Picking up where OMENS dropped off, Olivia’s still on a mission to investigate the murders her parents were convicted of when—uh oh!—another dead body surfaces. How does Olivia know this? Because the dead woman comes to her. Literally, as she appears in Olivia's car. And even worse? The dead woman dressed up as Olivia, meaning the whole thing is creepy to the max.

Luckily for Olivia, or unluckily depending how you want to look at it, creepy is kind of her comfort zone. So with the help from Gabriel, her lawyer, they get to work figuring it all out. I won’t spoil the details, because only a monster would steal your ability to be surprised, and rest assured guys and gals, you will be surprised.

And you won't just be surprised by the plot, either. For me, I was most taken aback with how attached I’d become to Olivia and her gang of paranormal peeps. I mean, I knew that I liked everybody, but a certain character secretly wormed their way into my affections to a degree that I hadn't anticipated. Case-in-point, during one particular scene, I cried. Yes, in italics, because it was all sorts of an ugly cry. My heart…it hurt. And I'm not even sure if the purpose of that scene—the brief lift of the curtain—was supposed to touch me like it did, but in any event, the end result was this:

And that's what's so cool about the Cainsville series. Although it's written in first-person, meaning we get the story from Olivia's POV, there are a scattering of third-person chapters that give us a taste of what's happening in the minds of other characters, and one of those simple chapters is what ripped my heart into a zillion pieces. It was understated, to the point, and oh so powerful. 

I think it's also important to note that VISIONS had one more element I hadn't expected, and it came in the form of a few very steam scenes. I'm talking about a bananapants level of steam, guys and gals, only...you know...without the pants. Haha! It allowed for a little break from the plot's intensity, and what a break it was. 

So yeah, I was already sold on this series, but now I'm officially obsessed and it's been very challenging to deal with real life when all I want to do is read the next book. If you're into paranormal mysteries, you simply MUST pick up these books.

For this mani, I used:
My Silk Tie and Matte Top Coat by OPI
Liquid Leather and Sexy in the City by China Glaze
Makeup to Breakup by ORLY
Marion and Phoebe by Julep
HK Girl Top Coat by Glisten and Glow
A thin, trimmed nail art brush
A triangular makeup sponge, cut in half


book review (with cover mani!): yellow brick war

The Dorothy Must Die Series is pretty much the best. A reimagining of Oz where Dorothy's the villain? YES PLEASE! Haha! And the latest instalment is book three, titled YELLOW BRICK WAR, which continued the same awesome story, found in the first two.

(Caution: there are some mild spoilers in my review--nothing that would take away from your enjoyment of the books, but this is book three, so if you want to be surprised about EVERYTHING, you may just want to look at my mani and then bail. Haha!)

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

In this dark, action-packed third book in the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die series, Amy Gumm—the new girl from Kansas—must do everything in her power to save Kansas, kill Dorothy, and make Oz a free land once more.

Amy Gumm’s mission to take down Dorothy Gale is not going according to plan. Dorothy has found a way to bridge the worlds of Oz and Kansas, and if the power-hungry dictator of Oz has her way, Kansas will be destroyed forever. Now, Amy has to team up with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to save her home, restore the balance between the magic and nonmagic worlds, maybe get the guy—and kill that not-so-sweet Kansas farm girl once and for all.

In the third installment of the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die series, Danielle Paige’s twisted versions of beloved Oz characters are back, including the biggest, baddest, most famous of all: the Wicked Witch of the West.

Welcome to the other side of the rainbow. Here there’s danger around every corner, and magic shoes won’t be able to save you.


Poor Amy Gumm. She really can't catch a break. She becomes one of the lucky few to arrive in Oz, only to find that it's gone to hell in a hand basket--probably the same hand basket Dorothy had used to hold Toto. You know, until Toto turned into a gigantic beast who'd eat your face, courtesy of Dorothy's evil magic. Haha!

It's hard to tell from my picture, but the book cover has a matte finish, except for the certain parts of the yellow brick road and the title. I am seriously loving all the matte/glossy combinations, they really pop!

What I really appreciate about this series is just how different Oz is from the original story I know and love. Sure, there's still magic--heck it's what everybody's fighting over--but each once-familiar character is virtually unrecognizable. Corrupted, as only absolute power can do. And yet, nobody's too bad or too good. There's a saying that a writer must understand every antagonist is the protagonist in their own story, and this series is an excellent example of that. Yup, Dorothy's lost it, but she's still just sympathetic enough to avoid becoming a cardboard super-villain. And yeah, Glinda's a sparkly pink ball of terror, but we know how she got there and it's a little bit sad. Bad choices, yes, but human ones. Add some unpredictable magic into the equation and you've got some outstanding antagonists--ones who I'm kind of obsessed with. 

Along the same vein, The Dorothy Must Die series doesn't have a definitive line between "good" actions and "bad" actions. The Order of the Wicked (coven of witches attempting to overthrow Dorothy) reminds me of The Maze Runner series, specifically the phrase: Wicked is good. But are they? Are these witches who claim to be helping Amy get rid of Dorothy really working in Amy's best interest? Of course not. They know it, she knows it, and that's why this series is so interesting. Nobody can be trusted yet somebody has to lead the way, otherwise Oz will cease to exist all together, which isn't an option any want to consider. So that means Amy must fight her impulse--the ball of worry in her stomach, if you will--and follow the Order's instructions, even when it means sacrificing herself over and over again. Especially in YELLOW BRICK WAR, where Amy's forced to not just battle Dorothy, but her own past as well, the fate of both worlds hanging heavy on her shoulders like a formerly-flying monkey. Yikes, to put it mildly. 

So if you're a fan of the original WIZARD OF OZ, you'll love the Dorothy Must Die series. All of your favourite characters are reimagined in ways that you'd never believe and the action never stops. Throw in some teenage angst and a little bit of romance, and an already original tale becomes even better, which pretty much means that you need to read this series. I already can't wait for the next release!

For this cover mani, I used:

Lissa, Janae, Linda, and Dawn by Julep
HK Girl Top Coat by Glisten and Glow
Matte Top Coat by OPI
Trimmed nail art brush
Triangular make-up sponge


book review (with cover mani!): fool me once

When I learned that Harlan Coben was releasing a new thriller, I immediately pre-ordered it, and lucky for me, it came just in time for Easter weekend, where we were without power for four days. Two of those days went by quickly, mostly because I was immersed in a twisty tale of deception, loyalty, and perseverance, so if you haven't read FOOL ME ONCE yet, I highly recommend putting it in your emergency kit. Haha!

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who had been brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself. 


Maya is a poised, former captain in the military and as such, her decisions are made with precision—the execution sharp and definitive. There isn’t much grey in Maya’s world. She sees things differently than most. Perhaps it’s her military background, or maybe a natural propensity to keep people at arm’s length—because those we love can be taken away from us with no notice, at any time—but the end result is a woman who isn’t capable of turning her training off. She can appreciate a fun, family-rich scene, yet she is unable to cross the threshold herself and just be. Even worse, Maya's aware of her detachment, and understands her choice: you can't protect freedom and also experience it. Unfortunately, war doesn't work like that. 

So having Maya be a mother is an excellent example of why Harlan Coben is the boss. Because the most unlikely role Maya could ever play--a role that requires engaged attention laced with love--is that of mother. And not just any mother, but the mother to a two-year old girl, one who requires said attention-laced love. Those kinds of contradictions and moral ambiguity are what make Harlan Coben’s work so binge-read-y. Case-in-point, I read FOOL ME ONCE with a flashlight perched on my shoulder because I literally couldn’t stop.

Ugh. It was so freaking hard to make the letters in "Once" crisp, over top the shattered glass frame. I did a few layers of polish on the letters, to try and darken them, but that just blurred them more. Le sigh. Haha! I do love how recent book covers had had both matte and glossy finishes, and it suits this cover perfectly, because the "glass" in the picture frames really stands out.

Like most of Coben's work, FOOL ME ONCE stays away from the gruesome violence that can be found in other thrillers, sometimes as a gimmicky way to keep a reader interested, mostly because he doesn’t need it. There’s more than enough intrigue to have readers turning the next page…and the next…and then another. I'm hesitant to cite the myriad of specific reasons on why I loved every second of Maya's quest for the truth, because even the smallest detail could become spoiler-y, which again, is part of the reason why I love Coben's novels so much. Nothing is ever as it seems, especially in this case. So really, the title couldn’t be more fitting.  

If you're into thrillers and mysteries with a steady beating heart and more twists and turns than a freaking roller coaster--a book you'll burn through faster than kindling on a fire--then pick up FOOL ME ONCE! Even Pickle loved it! Haha!

For this cover mani, I used:
Dovima by NARS
Sun Worshiper and Liquid Leather by China Glaze
Abbie by Julep
Matte Top Coat by OPI
HK Girl Top Coat by Glisten and Glow
A thin, trimmed nail art brush, and saran wrap for the marbled base


book review (with cover mani!): the perfect son

One of the fun parts about being a member of the Women's Fiction Writer's Association is the discovery of new authors. There's just so much freaking talent in the WFWA, guys and gals. So freaking much!! And Barbara Claypole White definitely is no exception. Her third novel, THE PERFECT SON, was a masterful pileup of contradictory emotions: heart-swelling versus heartbreak, hope versus despair, and denial versus acceptance. In other words, it was one captivating read, and I literally hugged it when I finished. 

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

From a distance, Felix Fitzwilliam, the son of an old English family, is a good husband and father. But, obsessed with order and routine, he’s a prisoner to perfection. Disengaged from the emotional life of his North Carolina family, Felix has let his wife, Ella, deal with their special-needs son by herself.

A talented jewelry designer turned full-time mother, Ella is the family rock…until her heart attack shatters their carefully structured existence. Now Harry, a gifted teen grappling with the chaos of Tourette’s, confronts a world outside his parents’ control, one that tests his desire for independence.

As Harry searches for his future, and Ella adapts to the limits of her failing health, Felix struggles with his past and present roles. To prevent the family from being ripped apart, they must each bend with the inevitability of change and reinforce the ties that bind.


In a crisis, there are several options: step up, step aside, or run away. No doubt, it’s a scary time for whoever’s involved, and more so if you’re a neurotic hot mess who’s never had to be in charge of family matters. Enter: Felix.

Oh Felix. At times, I wanted to scream at him. He was just so critical and negative, not just in regards to himself, but everyone else around him. And when he’s required to become an active parent in his son Harry’s life, it’s certainly not an easy transition. For the first part of the book, I couldn’t connect with Felix, but slowly, backstory appeared and each time, a little piece of my heart would break and float to the ground (where I’d pick it up straight away because Felix loathes a dirty floor). Poor Felix. He never really stood a chance, and at times, I was awed by Claypole White’s ability to create a hyper-self-aware character who doesn’t appear to have much self-awareness. On the inside, Felix was basically freaking out twenty-four-seven, but the only way he was able to express his worry was through criticism. Obviously, this character element didn't win him any friends, and even worse, it created a combative relationship between himself and Harry, to the point that I worried he wouldn't be able to get it together. 

The cover has a yellowish tint and I'm sad to say that I couldn't quite replicate it. When I tried, the trees and the sky blended into each other too much, so I had to keep the sky bluer than it appears on the cover. And don't get me started on how challenging it was to paint the young man on the rock--why are hands/arms so darn hard?! Haha! I'm still pretty happy with the scenery and reflections, but yeah. That poor kid on the rock. He's kind of a blobby disaster. Ha!

In direct contrast to Felix's aloofness was Harry. Sweet, witty, kind Harry. Of all the characters in THE PERFECT SON, Harry was one of my favourites—a flawlessly written teenage boy whose Tourette’s made every day an extraordinary effort. All Harry wanted was to be loved and accepted by those around him and find his own way in the world. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what his father craved as well, yet neither knew how to give love to the other. Or accept it, for that matter.

And that’s what tied this whole book together, for me: love. Love for family, love for spouses, love for children, love for parents, love for basically everybody. How to express it, gather it up, and spread it around when the glue of a family is taken away, which brings me back to my first point: that THE PERFECT SON is a metaphorical Thunderdome of emotions.

In addition to love, I also think that learning to be vulnerable was a theme that applied to each main character. Ella needed to take time for herself instead of centering her life around Harry; Felix had to learn to ask for help when he needed it; and Harry had to gather the courage to transition into adulthood. Add in a couple of more light-hearted supporting characters (one who, in particular, I’d love to take a stroll around a garden with), and Claypole White set a perfect scene for personal growth. Whether each character wanted to do it or not.

So if you're into family sagas ripe with emotional growth, then THE PERFECT SON is for you! Just make sure you hole up in your reading nook with some tissues, as there's a pretty good chance you'll need them (along with some gin, if you're into that, ha!). 

For this cover mani, I used the following polishes:
Julep: Amy, Bea, Francis, and Eliana.
China Glaze: Sunset Sail, Intelligence Integrity & Courage, and UV Meant to Be.
Opi: You Don't Know Jacques.
Essie: shake your $$ maker.
Fingerpaints: Inkbot Blue.
Topcoat: Glisten and Glow HK Girl Top Coat.