book review (with cover mani!): the good sister

Thanks to the Harper Collins Canada First Look Program, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of THE GOOD SISTER, and whoa, what a cool premise! Along with a tight plot and engaging characters, Bolan's rich and vivid imagery exposes elements of Mexico that foreigners rarely have access to, so it’s easy to see why this book won the Harper Collins/UBC prize for best new fiction. Mostly because it's freaking fantastic!


The summary, from Goodreads:

Winner of the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction

Not yet fifteen, Gabriela Amador Prieto has been cast out of the family home by her father, who believes her shameful behaviour has tarnished the family honour. All traces of her have been removed, and not even Lucy, Gabi’s older sister and best friend, knows where she is. Furious at her father and desperate to find her sister, Lucy leaves their small town in Baja California, Mexico, and sets out for the capital to track Gabriela down.

While Lucy ventures deep into Mexico City’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, back at home her family members—her brothers, her mother and father, and her brother-in-law, Antonio—struggle with their own roles in Gabi’s banishment. The Good Sister presents a vibrant, captivating portrayal of contemporary Mexico, and of a family torn apart by a father’s hypocrisy. Engaging and emotionally rich, this novel is a fascinating exploration of betrayal and steadfast devotion, and the ways in which our own intolerance can harm what—and whom—we love most.


Juxtaposed against the typical tourist experience of drinking, dancing, and letting loose in Mexico, THE GOOD SISTER provides a captivating exploration into a culture I know little about. But at its heart, this book is about family, and how societal expectations can break apart even the closest relationships, which made for a heartbreaking and uplifting read.

I enjoyed the multiple POVs, as each character was allowed at least a few chapters to express their opinions, which was necessary when it came to female characters. The writing was superb, and the insertion of Spanish phrases kept the voice consistent and authentic. I haven’t been to Baja California, and yet I feel as if I’ve just returned from a weekend getaway. Gah, do I ever love when that happens! It’s just the best!

Lucy’s determination was also impressive. Considering her circumstances, I’d expected her to be uncertain and tentative with her decisions, as she lived in fear of suffering the same fate as her sister, but once she made the decision to find Gabriela, she never wavered from her goal. Putting her own safety at risk to find her sister became second nature to Lucy, and my esteem for her grew tenfold. She simply did what she felt was right and wasn’t willing to stop until Gabriela was found.

It was challenging for me to sympathize with Lucy’s father, as he was the driving force behind Gabriela's banishment. I suppose it’s because I don’t support women living as second-class citizens, especially in their homes. Family is where one is supposed to feel safe, loved, and accepted, but in THE GOOD SISTER, women weren’t granted that freedom. So no matter Lucy’s father’s intentions, I couldn’t find a connection to him, although I suspect that was by design. Even so, he was a well-rounded character, and without him there wouldn't have been a story, so he certainly serves a purpose, but that didn't stop my anger towards him. (So well done on that front, Chelsea Bolan. ;) )

So if you’re into layered and insightful fiction, you’re definitely going to want to pick up THE GOOD SISTER! Plus, there's the cover. At first glance, it appears like a bunch of random images: a candle, a dress, a cross on a necklace, but each one has a deep meaning, which you’ll only learn about when you read the book. How freaking cool is that? *sighs happily* Haha! THE GOOD SISTER came out on Tuesday, you should definitely add this one to your TBR list. Like, now-ish. 

Thanks again to Harper Collins Canada! I loved my first look at THE GOOD SISTER!


For this mani, I used:

Fingerpaints - Paper Mache, Black Expressionism, Inkblot Blue
China Glaze - UV Meant To Be
Julep - Dawn
OPI - A Good Man-darin is Hard To Find, Matte Top Coat
Tools - piCture pOlish nail art brush #10, triangular makeup sponge, cut in half

And for more, non-book-related manis, be sure to check out my IG page! (@jennieshaw)


book review (with cover mani!): smoke

I’ve always been fascinated by smoke jumpers—the first responders who leap from a helicopter into a raging forest fire. Mostly because it’s something I could never, ever do. And although there’s no helicopter jumping in Catherine McKenzie’s SMOKE, there is a woman who puts out fires, both in a literal and an emotional sense. Gah! There was so much going on in this book: marriage problems, broken friendships, small-town hierarchies, all set against the imminent threat of a wildfire. Hello real life nightmare but fiction gold mine! Haha!

(Warning: There are a few bad puns in this review. Believe it or not, I did try to control myself, but when a book's title matches its subject matter, it feels wrong not to do. Haha!)

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

From the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.

After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in for a quieter life with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce, and when a fire started in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed. 

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.


I’m really drawn to stories that take place in small communities and although that can prove challenging when writing a mystery, because there’s only so many suspects, great authors aren’t bothered by a smaller cast of characters. And, spoiler alert, Catherine McKenzie is a great author.  

As a protagonist, Elizabeth was fascinating. Understated, calm under pressure, and just a little bit detached, which I think you’d have to be, when you’re literally surrounded by uncontrolled flames. But that kind of self-preservation puts a wall between her and the rest of the world, and it’s unrealistic for others to understand what Elizabeth’s going through, which is the source of much conflict in Elizabeth’s marriage. 

And when the fire draws closer to their small town, Elizabeth is forced to confront her faults. But not just in her marriage because oh no. That’d be too easy! So on top of having to make some important decisions regarding her relationship with her husband, Elizabeth also has to deal with a former friend. And for anyone who’s ever had a major falling out with a close friend, you know it’s one of the worst feelings in the world, made even worse when you're to blame and you’re too embarrassed to own up.

We’ve all walked into a room after a couple has had a fight, grimacing at the residual negative energy but putting on a hey-things-seem-fine-here air. That’s what SMOKE felt like, to me. Complicated relationships with too much history to gloss over, all packed into a rural community—a relative tinderbox just waiting for a spark. And the way that McKenzie stoked the embers of tension with dialogue that said more with its silences and pauses, than the actual words (side note: I LOVE when dialogue is written so well, it makes me squirm with the amount of unsaid thoughts), made it pretty much un-put-downable.

I also really liked how self-aware Elizabeth was. It made her vulnerable, because when she made a mistake, she knew it. She may not have accepted responsibility for her error right away, but honestly, that only made me like her more. Elizabeth was real, authentic, and flawed, which made it easy to cheer for her. 

So if you're into mysteries set in small communities, where everyone's connected one way or another, set against a ticking clock of complete devastation, then SMOKE is the book for you!


For this cover mani, I used:

Julep - Linda, Kenna, and Valerie
China Glaze - White on White and Oxygen
OPI - Red My Fortune Cookie, In My Back Pocket, A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find, You Are So Outta Lime!, My Dogsled is a Hybrid, and Matte Top Coat
Tools - piCture pOlish nail art brush #10, triangular makeup sponge

And for more, non-nail-related manis, check out my IG page! (@jennieshaw)


book review (with cover mani!): lady midnight

I’ve been a mega fan of the Shadowhunter books and after The Infernal Devices, I got all sorts of sad face. But now, I’m as happy as can be because LADY MIDNIGHT is the first of a new series: The Dark Artifices. Woot!  



The synopsis, from Goodreads:

In a kingdom by the sea…

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

The darkly magical world of Shadowhunters has captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Join the adventure in Lady Midnight, the long-awaited first volume of a new trilogy from Cassandra Clare.

So as the synopsis says, in this trilogy, we’ve got two main characters: Emma and Julian. Each are Shadowhunters and also each other’s parabatai (loosely translated as a ride-or-die partner), and instead of living in NYC, they’re in Los Angeles, which is full of sun, sand, and oh so many secrets.  Good secrets, bad secrets, necessary secrets, heartbreaking secrets—this series has them all and it’s only book one! Gah! Too much curiosity! My brain! It’s exploding!

In terms of characters, there are some similarities between Emma and Clary (from The Mortal Instruments series), but only because they’re both kickass demon-slayers who like to keep their cards close to their chest. I found Emma to be a bit more reserved, and I think that's because she’s grown up in the Shadowhunter world—it’s literally all she’s ever known. After the Dark War (from The Mortal Instruments series) both Emma and Julian lost their parents, which explains why they became parabatai, although like most decisions made in the midst of a crisis, it turns out their choice may not have been the best one. 

*cue heartbreaking secrets*

The central plot of LADY MIDNIGHT is the murder of humans and faeries, and when Emma and Julian are presented with the chance to get back Julian’s brother Mark, they launch into a secret investigation, as the powers that govern Shadowhunters forbid assisting faeries. It's important to note these aren’t the sorts of faeries that pluck teeth from underneath children’s pillows and leave a shiny coin—these faeries are cruel, harsh, and basically not very nice to humans (and pretty much everybody else). So you can imagine that when Mark returns to assist his family, after spending years in their world, he’s not the same man.

*cue necessary secrets*

And that’s what’s so awesome about the Shadowhunter books. Cassandra Clare makes use of every opportunity to bring her rich and layered vision to life. Take for instance, Mark. He's a Shadowhunter and half-faery, and after spending so many years among the faeries, he's noticeably different. His mannerisms, speech, reactions to events—they aren't of the human variety. And yet, nothing was forced or overdone. For me, it's those sorts of details that take a book from good to bananapants—when you can slide into a new world and before you know it, you’re halfway through a 600+ page book. No small feat, when you’re dealing with readers whose attention spans may not be the strongest (I’m talking about myself, haha!).

So here’s the deal: I love these books. And each one that comes out expands my understanding of a highly intricate and fully-developed world—a world that I’d be scared to be a part of, but am totally obsessed with, as long as I get to experience it from the safety and comfort of my couch. Haha! With all of the secrets in LADY MIDNIGHT, I seriously can’t wait for the next volume. And the one after that, followed by whatever else Cassandra Clare will write. Because I’m into these books for the long haul, guys and gals. And if you’re into epic fantasy-slash-mystery-slash-paranormal books, you should be too.

For this mani, I used:

OPI - You Don't Know Jacques, Black Onyx, My Silk Tie, Rollin' In Cashmere, Matte Top Coat
China Glaze - Oxygen, Rainbow, Change Your Altitude, Sexy in the City
Fingerpaints - Paper Mache, Figure of Art
Julep - Lilou
Tools - piCture pOlish brushes #9 and #10, triangular makeup sponge, hairspray and water technique

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


book review (with cover mani!): who do you love

WHO DO YOU LOVE is one of those special books that will stay with me. The characters were selfish and honourable, destructive and loving, and every other contradiction possible. I went through the whole spectrum of emotion while reading about them: laughter, tears, and two book-throwing moments when I was so disappointed with a character's choices that I literally couldn't handle it. In short, this book made me feel all of the feels. Even when I didn't want to.

Synopsis, from Goodreads:

Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.

With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you'll never forget.


Before I get into the nitty-gritty of what I liked about this book, I’d first like to bring attention to the Weiner’s incredible writing. I’ve been a fan since GOOD IN BED and within the first few chapters of WHO DO YOU LOVE, I was reminded why I love Weiner’s novels. To keep it brief: it’s the characters. Or, more specifically, it’s Weiner's ability to create multidimensional characters that I end up knowing better than people I know in real life. Frankly, that degree of talent is kind of unfair, but it sure makes for a fabulous read.

In terms of the plot, Andy and Rachel represent that pesky little thing called timing. Yes, it’s possible to fall in love with another person, but if the timing isn’t right, the logistics of life will smother any flames of passion. And that’s what happens in WHO DO YOU LOVE. Two vulnerable characters fall in love but the timing is never right. Also, they’ve each got baggage, which never failed to appear at the worst possible moment. But through all the self-inflicted complications, I loved them. Hard. And I cheered for them hard, too. Even when they were making the worst decisions ever. 

The book follows Andy and Rachel through their thirty year, off-and-on-again relationship and again, I have to praise Weiner's talent, because in the beginning, they each sounded like kids. Then, teens. And finally, adults. Andy and Rachel grew up, in short, and I got to witness it all. Kind of like a voyeur, only less creepy. Haha!

But don't get it twisted, though. This book wasn't an easy read. It made me uncomfortable more than a couple of times, as I found myself identifying with the less awesome components of Andy and Rachel--parts of my personality that I know don't serve me well. And that's why Jennifer Weiner rules: I may not have liked a character's choices, but I understood them. Because their choices were real and the emotions that drove them, raw. Basically, I wanted to hug Andy and Rachel and also smack them--sometimes, simultaneously--while praying they'd find each other in the end. Do they? Well, you'll have to read it yourself to find out. ;)

So if you're into love stories that are grounded, real, and flawed (you know, like actual real love stories are) then you're going to want to read WHO DO YOU LOVE. It may not be a romance that's all unicorns and pixie dust, but it's as real as fiction can get. And that, to me, is the mark of a fantastic book.


For this mani, I used:

OPI - Alpine Snow, Black Onyx, and Big Apple Red (which of course I extra loved because part of this story takes place in NYC)
Glisten and Glow - HK Girl Top Coat
What's Up Nails - regular straight tape
Tools - picture polish brush #10

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