book review (with cover mani!): six of crows

SIX OF CROWS basically stole 24-hours of my life. “One more chapter,” I’d tell myself, and then lose another hour of what eventually became a terribly unproductive day. Unless, of course, you consider reading a book a productive use of time. Luckily, I do, so YAY FOR MY PRODUCTIVITY! Haha! (Do you like how I switched it around there?)

*bangs awesome book gong*

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

If I had to describe SIX OF CROWS which, you know, is kind of the point of reviews, I’d say it’s a darker, YA version of Ocean's Eleven. Only with more magic and less George Clooney…and a cast of six instead of eleven. Because six of crows. Haha!

The quality of writing and gripping storyline demanded my full attention from the very first page, and didn't grant me the slightest bit of rest as I flew from chapter to chapter. I swear, if my hands hadn’t otherwise been occupied holding the hardcover copy, I would’ve gained three pounds from stress-eating.

Because not only are the characters completely diabolical, grazing the edge of the moral line as they charged forward, but there was always an obstacle. An insurmountable obstacle or so it seemed. But insurmountable obstacles were basically the six of crow’s bag, and with each clever and high-risk plan, I found my nose moving closer to the page until my eyes would blur and I’d have to move back. Basically, it was like my body wanted to meld itself to the story, and with the captivating prose, I got as close to becoming part of a story as I ever will. So thanks for that, Leigh Bardugo!

Another reason I’d compare SIX OF CROWS to Ocean's Eleven is the humour, which was laced throughout the book and gave slight moments of relief within terribly tense situations. And the characters' camaraderie, the jibs and jabs (all being of the dark-humour variety) cemented my love for Kaz's band of misfits, who never fully trusted each other even when their lives depended on it.

And that's why this book is so awesome. The plot was incredibly layered, problems heaped on top of problems and sprinkled with, you guessed it, problems, which meant that there literally wasn’t a pause in the action. If it wasn’t a new crazypants plan from Kaz, it was perfectly placed backstory that explained why certain characters didn’t get along. Every stake was high. Every character mattered. Every motivation was genuine (even if said genuine-ness included deception--good gravy what a book!).

Oh, and I've barely even touched on the magic. OH EM GEE THE MAGIC, PEOPLE. It was glorious. That's really all you need to know. It was glorious. Plus, there's the cover. If you love books then you need to add this one to your collection. I mean, the edges of each page are black!! What kind of delightful witchery produces black edges?! 

*hugs book forever*

So for what I hope are very obvious reasons, SIX OF CROWS has earned my must-read recommendation. I can’t believe how long I have to wait for the next installment, but you can bet your cute little face that I’ll be preordering it. In the meantime, to soothe my anxious soul, I plan on heading to the bookstore for the Shadow and Bone series. Because obviously.


For this mani, I used:

China Glaze - Liquid Leather, White on White, and Intelligence, Integrity and Courage
Julep - Rooney
OPI - Matte Top Coat
Tools - a triangular makeup brush, long striping brush, and small dotting tool

To see more, non-book-related manis, be sure to check out my IG account! (@jennieshaw)


book review (with cover mani!): the shadow queen

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what’s my favourite fairytale retelling of them all? Spoiler alert: it’s THE SHADOW QUEEN. Haha! Although with that said, it could be argued that THE SHADOW QUEEN isn’t exactly a retelling, as much as it takes the essence of Snow White—loose characterizations and plot arc—and presents a brand new, kick-assy story.

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.


As the heroine, Lorelai's contradictions and sense of self made for a fabulous character. She's emotionally and physically strong, but also very tense—a character already at the end of her rope, which is a marvelous way to introduce a character. And not only is there one character whose back is pressed up against a cold brick wall of No Good Choice, but there are two, because after Prince Kol’s entire family is slaughtered by ogres, it’s up to him to save his kingdom. Have I mentioned that both Lorelai and Kol have yet to reach their 20s? Talk about a teenage nightmare. And even worse? 

With everything to lose, Lorelai and Kol take enormous risks, while magic abounds from the wicked queen, Irina, who's determined to keep Ravenspire under her control. In addition to the dark magical delights in THE SHADOW QUEEN, the fight scenes act as superb, action-packed pockets of awesome and I loved that Lorelai not only held her own, but was also unafraid to get her hands dirty. Magic is cool and all, but a gal’s gotta know how to scale a wall too.

In sum, I’m all about THE SHADOW QUEEN. The pace moved along quickly and with a little romance thrown into all of the plot’s nastiness, the end result was a fantastic tale of vengeance, love, and loyalty. If you're into fairytale retellings where the damsel rescues herself, then this book is for you!


For this mani, I used:

Fingerpaints - Black Expressionism and Paper Mâché
Julep - Francis and Mackenzie
OPI - You Don't Know Jacques and Matte Top Coat
Glisten and Glow - HK Girl Top Coat
Tools - triangular makeup sponge, a thin nail art brush, and small dotting tool

To see more, non-book-related manis, make sure to check out my IG account! (@jennieshaw)


book review (with cover mani!): carrying albert home

CARRYING ALBERT HOME is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Heck, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It reads like a tall tale, one that’s been told so often that it’s impossible to remember which sections are embellished, but it doesn’t matter because it all makes for a damn good read.

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Big Fish meets The Notebook in this emotionally evocative story about a man, a woman, and an alligator that is a moving tribute to love, from the author of the award-winning memoir Rocket Boys—the basis of the movie October Sky

Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do: Carry Albert home.

Carrying Albert Home is the funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a crazy 1000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys/October Sky a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.


There are so many things I love about this book that I don’t quite know where to start. The writing is beautiful, with prose that has its own heartbeat, guiding you down the page—the kind of writing that allows the rest of the world to quietly melt away while you lose yourself in another world. I had to slow myself down, in order to prolong the experience because I honestly didn’t want it to end (and not just because I thought I’d cry which, mild spoiler alert, I did).

Along with the dynamic and lyrical, yet still accessible writing (how did Homer Hickam do that?!) each character springs to life in their own unique way. Homer (the father) has his feet firmly on the ground while Elsie dreams about what could have been, which is why they work so well together. And then there’s Albert, the alligator. I hadn’t ever thought I would fall in love with a reptile, as I’m more partial to fluffy little muffins, but after Albert’s first request for a belly rub, rolling onto his back with a toothy grin, I found myself wondering if I too, could have an alligator for a pet. When Albert is happy, he makes a yeah, yeah, yeah sound and I could barely handle the surge of love that strained my heart each time those three words appeared on a page. If there were TEAM ALBERT t-shirts, I’d totally get one. Heck, I'd probably get two. 

Elsie, Homer, Albert, and the random rooster's surprising tale reminded me a bit of Jonas Jonasson’s work, with ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances, and I won’t ruin any of their adventures by going into detail. Because those delightful adventures, or misadventures as some could be categorized, are what make this book so wonderful. Yes, they teeter on the edge of believability, but this isn’t a memoir, it’s fiction, and the characters are so enchanting, all you need to do is hold on for the ride. 

So if you’re looking for a book that makes you feel good—those warm fuzzy feelings that act like a hug for your soul—then you definitely need to read CARRYING ALBERT HOME. 


For this mani, I used half of my collection

China Glaze: Liquid Leather, Sunset Sail, and Intelligence, Integrity & Courage
Nina Ultra Pro: Hint of Mint
ORLY: Skinny Dip and White Tips
OPI: In My Back Pocket, Suzi Has a Swede Tooth, My Dogsled is a Hybrid, Samoan Sand, and Matte Top Coat
Julep: Amy, Rooney, Valerie, Francis, Mona, and Bea
Tools: striping brush, dotting brush, and a triangular makeup sponge

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


book review (with cover mani!): glass sword

I'm a little behind on this review, but that's because the mani I wanted to do required supplies I didn't have (shocker, I know), but finally, they arrived in the mail, so I'm psyched to share what has been my most challenging cover mani, to date. You know, alongside a review of the second book in the Red Queen Series. Haha! This book was jam-packed with action, intrigue, and a whole lot of awesome, guys and gals, so let's get started!

The Synopsis, from Goodreads:

If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?
The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.  


Mare Barrow: a gal after my own heart. She's such an interesting character, with lots of choppy water running underneath her calm exterior.  But that's probably how I'd be too, if I were stuck between two worlds, uncertain on which side to pick. As a sort-of-Silver (meaning she has special powers) but having grown up as a Red (the oppressed people in Mare's society), Mare has a unique point of view. Sometimes, the little lightening girl doesn't do the *right* thing, but since the very definition of "right" depends on which side you stand on, it's been enthralling to watch her figure out her next steps. And what I loved about GLASS SWORD, is that Cal (former ruler whose brother Maven is on the loose, trying to basically destroy all those who oppose him) is just as uncertain as Mare. When trust is broken, it's impossible to rebuild. Sure, you can whip out the crazy glue and try to piece things back together, but the cracks will always show. Kind of like shattered glass (zing!). But I could feel their want to trust each other. Two lost souls who, for better or worse, are tied together. Necessity can sometimes trump deep-rooted fears, but that certainly doesn't mean it's easy.

The blue and silver, tone-on-tone design on this cover proved to be quite the challenge to paint. I'm still not 100% happy with how it turned out, because I think the finer crown details are lost, but I LOVE the sword. I ordered some rolls of reflective foil and although it was a nightmare to work with, it was the only way to get a glass-like finish for the sword and in the end, it was totally worth the trouble. Yay!

Like any good second instalment, many new questions and problems arose for Mare et al, and it turns out that the world is far more complicated than she could ever have imagined. Nothing is black and white, even when it presents itself as such. Yes, it's easy to say that bad guys should lose and the good guys should win, but when the divide between good and bad is blurred beyond recognition, it's a challenge to find the true course. And poor Mare is caught up in it all, falling victim to her ego more times than she should, but through it all, she retained my sympathy because in her own way, she really does want a better life for most. 

I will say that the addition of several new secondary characters made Mare's stumbles more bearable, and I was left with a hopeful feeling that...well...I actually can't tell you what I felt hopeful about because that would be a spoiler, but what I can say is: it's a good thing that Mare found people she truly can trust. Because with what's coming for Mare and The Scarlet Guard, she'll need all the help she can get. 

So if you're into quick-paced, X-Men-ish, dystopian novels, then you'll probably be all over the Red Queen Series. There are two books left now, which gives you plenty of time to catch up and then wait impatiently alongside the rest of Mare-a-holics. Haha!

For this mani, I used:

Skylar, by Julep
Paper Mache, by Fingerpaints
Splash, by Pure Ice
Liquid Leather and UV Meant To Be, by China Glaze
I Vant To Be A-Lone Star, My Silk Tie, and Matte Top Coat, by OPI
Scandal, by ORLY
Reflective foil
A small dotting cool, striping brush, and triangular makeup sponge

For more, non-book-cover manis, be sure to check out my IG account! (@jennieshaw)