30.12.16

top 10 reads of 2016!

Gah! How are we here already?!

No wait. This year, it's more like: Thank goodness this dumpster fire is finally over!! Unless, that is, you're in the minority of people who weren't ground underneath the vicious heel of 2016, in which case, refer to my original opening. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In any event, it's time for my top 10 reads of the year! Woot!

I’ll never be over this

Basic stats for the year: I read 80 books in 2016, and of those, I did full reviews and cover manis for 36. All of my top 10 picks are from the 36. 

As I'd expected, choosing a top 10 was excruciating, and I'll probably change my mind another hundred times until I hit post. But isn't that the best part of being a book lover? When your heart holds so much love that you feel bad to leave anyone out? The agony is delightfully painful. Haha!

Ready? Let's get to it!


*bangs awesome books gong*


10. I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around, by Ann Garvin


In a year where I read a lot of darker books, I needed a few to make me smile. I LIKE YOU JUST FINE WHEN YOU'RE NOT AROUND definitely worked in that regard, although there were also parts that brought tears to my eyes. Tig, the main character, was a gal after my own heart. She was dealt a spectacularly shitty hand, but she never let it get her down. Okay, so it did get her down, but she pushed through it, all the while unaware that a life shake-up was precisely what she needed. The prose was witty, wise, and accessible, and although there were truly sad parts, I felt lighter when I finished. 


9. Visions, by Kelley Armstrong


The Cainsville series took up a fair amount of time in my reading life, this year, and for good reason. They're bananas!! Of the first four, OMENS, VISIONS, DECEPTIONS, and BETRAYALS, the second one, VISIONS was my favourite. Although, truth be told, they're all pretty incredible. I love the paranormal elements, and even more so because Armstrong set the Cainsville series in present times, so there's an amusing mix of cell phones and faeries. Haha! The folklore references are absolute perfection, and the love triangle between three main characters feels fresh, which is pretty impressive because love triangles are a dime a dozen. I can't frickin' wait for the final book, due out in the summer of 2017, so don't be surprised if this series finds a place in my top 10 list of next year, too. Haha!


8. Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter


One of the regular topics of discussion that I have with a CP (critique partner) is that we have to go there--be unafraid to tap into the darkest places of ourselves, otherwise our work will suffer, and I swear there's nobody who goes there better than Karin Slaughter. In PRETTY GIRLS, for instance, Slaughter not only goes there, but she goes there and keeps on going. There's a scene in PRETTY GIRLS that still makes me shudder (I literally just made a face writing that sentence because now I'm remembering it.) A few characters in PRETTY GIRLS are effing terrifying, all the more so because they're people who could be your neighbours--people you'd have over for supper without wondering what's going on in their basements. But beware people. SO MUCH BAD IS HAPPENING IN THAT BASEMENT. I guarantee you won't see the twists coming, and you'll be absolutely floored with the second half. If you like dark (and I mean dark) thrillers, pick up PRETTY GIRLS (and then everything else Slaughter's written). 


7. The Perfect Son, by Barbara Claypole White


Of all the books I've read this year, THE PERFECT SON touched my heart the most. It's everything I want in a women's fiction/family drama, and the writing was exquisite. Similar to THE ROSIE PROJECT, the main character, Felix, was a bit of an emotional robot. But once I got into his head, I was able to see that he felt deeply. Felix desperately wanted to connect to others, but did it all wrong and wound up becoming a critical person. Gah. My heart hurts just thinking about Felix! In contrast, Felix's son Harry was lovely and endearing. The journey this family takes throughout an incredibly hard time drew me in from the first page, and left me physically hugging the book when I finished. Just make sure you have some tissues for this one. ๐Ÿ˜ญ


6. I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh


When it comes to thrillers, I LET YOU GO, is at the top of my list. This book was bananas squared. Manipulative, enticing, and heart wrenching revelations abound, and I couldn't get enough. It's also one of those novels that I don't want to tell you about. As such, my full review doesn't have much more, in terms of a description, because I LET YOU GO is something you simply have to experience yourself. So if you love thrillers that'll rob you of a good night's sleep, leaving you groggy throughout the day only to then stay up another night because you have to know what happens, this is the one for you! But maybe read it over the weekend so you don't get fired? Haha!


5. Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo


SIX OF CROWS, how I love you. So, so much. I flew through this book so quickly, that when I reread it before digging into the sequel, CROOKED KINGDOM, I relished the details I skimmed over because I was too ravenous to appreciate them, the first time around. Kaz and his crew were survivors who reclaimed power over their pasts, and were determined to get the job done, no matter what. The action never stopped, and I stress-ate many cookies because plans always went extraordinarily wrong (or so it seemed, at the time). Both books in the series are out, so this is one that you can binge on. But trust me, just buy the set. You'll wind up spending more money when you inevitably buy them separately (because there's no possible way you'll only read SIX OF CROWS). 


4. Home, by Harlan Coben


Longtime fans of the Myron Bolitar series freaked out while reading HOME, if I can judge by the intensity of several social media meltdowns regarding its awesomeness. (Note: I'm including myself here, haha!). The POV was a little different in HOME, and it let us inside a character's brain--a character who's always been a fan favourite--and it was my everything. In addition to having a twisty plot, the beloved cast was in full attendance, including Mickey and the crew from Coben's YA series. I'm trying hard to not think HOME is one of those "end of series" books (because that would be a major bummer), but that was the tone. However, even if you haven't read a Myron Bolitar book before, you'll still love the action packed plot and humorous dialogue, and you won't be too left out because Coben does a great job of summing up character relationships. 


3. The Fireman, by Joe Hill


There aren't many days where I don't think about THE FIREMAN at least once. I've lost count of how many times I've recommended it to others, and I even included a copy in a Christmas present to my dad. I found deep meaning in this apocalyptic tale, as it was all about "the other," and how even the most hideous elements can be beautiful. I still don't quite understand why THE FIREMAN is considered a horror, because I didn't find it particularly gory or scary, so if you're leery of that, I guarantee you won't have any problems. I'd even go as far to say that THE FIREMAN is a book that everyone should read. The message is crisp and clear, the writing is phenomenal, and there's a steady pulse to pull you through. 


2. Morning Star, by Pierce Brown


In the conclusion of the Red Rising series, Pierce Brown managed to raise the stakes to the point that I had to take breaks during my reading of MORNING STAR because I feared I'd have an actual heart attack. The tension was positively unbearable!! And like in the previous two books, Brown wasn't scared to kill off characters, so I lived in perpetual fear that my favourites would get the axe. Or the SlingBlade, to be more precise. The world building and its infinite moving parts was flawless, and Darrow was a character I cheered for, from the first page of RED RISING, onward. I'm seriously looking forward to IRON GOLD, which is a new book set in the same world as the Red Rising series, because I'm not ready to say goodbye to it yet.


1. A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas


I have a solid feeling that ACOMAF will make it to the top spot for many blogger countdowns this year, and that's because IT WAS THE BEST BOOK EVER. In fact, it's the first book that has compelled me to buy merch, and as of this post, I own three candles, fan art, and a bookmark (with more candles coming next week ๐Ÿ™ˆ). Because that's how incredible it is. I literally want be inside The Night Court with smokeshow Rhysand by my side (or on his knees? Is this too steamy to mention in a top 10 post? Haha!!). So yeah. Read this one. READ IT NOW. (But read the first one beforehand, A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, or you won't know what's going on, haha!)

___

So there they are: my top 10 reads of 2016! Were any of your favourites listed? What were your top books for the year? Is there anything amazing that I need to know about? Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year, everyone! Be safe and have fun! ๐ŸŽ‰





21.12.16

book review with cover mani: heartless

Fairytale retellings are ten types of awesome. In fact, I may have a minor addiction to them. *glances at teetering bookcase* Whether the retelling is a beloved tale, turned on its head, or a continuation of concept that veers sharply into the unknown, I'm in. So like most of the YA reading world, when HEARTLESS was released, my hands had never been grabbier. That is, until my OwlCrate arrived AND THE JACKET WAS WHITE!! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

(Note: There are a lot of all-caps in this review. You've been warned.)



The synopsis, from Goodreads

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
 

__


Queen of Hearts backstory yessssss (which I guess technically doesn't make HEARTLESS a retelling as much as a first-telling, but whatever ๐Ÿ˜†). Alice in Wonderland is such fun story, in any version, with its bizarre and enchanting elements, so I was positively pickled to see all that delightfulness in full form. Animals spoke, held down jobs, and enjoyed accessorizing their outfits; magic was as common as an acorn falling from a tree; and the usual cast of characters were in full attendance. And thank goodness because what's a story set in Wonderland without the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and White Rabbit? And even better, Meyer fully committed to writing certain parts of dialogue in convoluted riddles, so if you've been wondering if HEARTLESS stays true to the original story components: it does (and spectacularly well, in my opinion). 


In addition to the Wonderland-eqsue components of HEARTLESS, I was impressed with Meyer's interpretation of how Cath transformed from a sprightly teen to a vicious monarch. Cath was under enormous pressure to marry a man she didn't love, and her wishes were dismissed at every opportunity. That would totally make me Hulk-smash everything in sight, so I found myself rooting for Cath, even though I knew it wouldn't end well (you know, because the book is called HEARTLESS, and it's about the cruel Queen of Hearts ๐Ÿ˜‰). Because the Catherine that Meyer presented was determined, persistent, and unafraid to risk it all, no matter the consequence to herself--the basic recipe for a character I can get behind. Yup. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm officially a fan of the Queen of Hearts. ๐Ÿ™Š


My only critique would be the sluggish pace. The first half read slowly, I think in part to show how much Cath loved Jest, but it didn't hit for me. I'm not one for novels that are solely romances, but I'm happy that I stuck with it, because otherwise, I would've missed 150-ish pages of pure awesome. OMG SO MUCH AWESOME. Because while Cath's journey to the throne served as the primary plot, her journey was tied to other, very well known characters. HENCE THE ALL CAPS AWESOMEFEST AND ALSO POSSIBLY A SQUEAL. 

So add this one to your TBR pile, folks! Right now!

___


For this mani, I used:

China Glaze - White on White, Liquid Leather, and Peppermint To Be
Red and black acrylic paint
Tools - trimmed striping brush and a small dotting tool




12.12.16

npc's holiday nail art competition!: nutcracker karaoke

It's been a loooooong time since I've posted anything but a book review, but it's time for Nail Polish Canada's annual holiday nail art competition! WOOT WOOT! I love participating in this fun challenge because it always gets my creative juices flowing. 

I usually lean towards humorous holiday nail art, and this year is no exception. And I don't say this lightly, but this may be my favourite mani ever, mostly because it's more than just a mani.

Confused? Intrigued? Keep reading! ๐Ÿ˜†

Over the years, I've slowly been collecting nutcrackers. So far, I have four, and I'm always on the lookout for ones that lock eyes with me and whisper, "Why hello there, Jennie. I'm pretty sure you want to bring me home." Not that intimate objects really talk to me, of course. *nervous giggle* 



In addition to my small crew, I have this shirt, which is one of my favourites to wear, this time of year (isn't ModCloth just the best?):


So the real question is how have I NOT done a nutcracker mani, yet? I mean... 


The hardest part was choosing which design to paint, because I wanted to take advantage of the open mouth element. I ended up smooshed different ideas together and came up with this:


His name is The Colonel Formerly Known As Prince and I love him. Hard. And the best part? HE CAN SPEAK! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚



If you know me IRL, or have been reading this blog for a while, it should come to no surprise that as of this post, I've made approximately 10 videos of The Colonel, either singing or delivering messages to family and friends. Because what, like I'm not going to use my nails as a makeshift puppet? SURELY YOU JEST. Haha! Here's a compilation of the best three Christmas carols (and I only managed to giggle once, victory!!), which I've titled: Nutcracker Karaoke. 


video
Special shout-out to The Remix, for helping with the music!


So if you got a laugh out of The Colonel, I'd love your vote! Click here to go to the voting site. You don't have to register an account, but you will have to enter your name and email address (so that nobody can fake votes--we're watching you, fakers! ๐Ÿ˜‰). I'm listed under the "Vote for you fav," tab as jennieshaw.ca. The contest closes on December 18th, which means that if you'd like to enter your own mani, there's still time! ๐Ÿ˜Š Thanks, and Happy Holidays!

For this freehand, Nut-tastic mani, I used:

piCture pOlish - salt water
ORLY - Can't Be Tamed
Color Club - Eternal Beauty
China Glaze - Dance Baby
OPI - Rollin' in Cashmere, You Don't Know Jacques!
Glisten and Glow - HK Girl Topcoat
Black, red, and white acrylic paint
Tools - trimmed striping brush, small dotting tool, small loose gold hex pieces


9.12.16

book review with cover mani: the fate of the tearling

After what felt like one million years (but was only a year and a half) THE FATE OF THE TEARLING finally made its way into my grabby little hands. I've been a mega-fan of this trilogy, since the first book, and I was beyond excited to find out how it ended. So much so that I stopped reading another book, in order to dive in. (Note: I have no memory of having done that before. In fact, I'd tried to keep going but FATE continued to stare at me from my bookshelf and, like a siren song, I could only resist for so long...which ended up being about three hours after bringing it home. #booknerdforlife)

*cues harp strings*



As with all series I review, I won't include the back jacket description because it contains spoilers for the previous books. Instead, I'll share the back jacket from the first book, THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, so you can get an idea of what the series is about. Also, you don't have to worry about my review containing spoilers of any description. I wouldn't do you like that. ;)

THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING back jacket, from Goodreads:

An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.

___

The Tearling Trilogy is, in a word, thought-provoking. The themes and plot are strong, and the characters are exceptionally fleshed out, but in THE FATE OF THE TEARLING, there was an added element--a totally unexpected element--that made me go all sorts of:



Because in THE FATE OF THE TEARLING, Johansan weaves the story in a way that enables her to make some points. Yep, homegirl has things to say and she's not afraid to say them. So while the internal and external plots centre around Kelsea, a young, badass queen, in a dark fantasy world trying to save her kingdom, there's much more at play. 


I've admired Johansen's writing from the get-go and now, I'm just straight-up in awe of her fierceness. Arg! I wish I could go into greater detail, but rest assured that Johansen came here to slay, folks. To the point that I wouldn't be surprised if a certain demographic wants to burn this series. Like, actually set it on fire. Luckily, I don't think that demographic would've picked it up in the first place, but for real. How unbelievable an achievement is that? To create art that has the power to polarize; to get underneath readers' skin and challenge the status quo? Johansen is basically the Sasha Fierce of the fictional fantasy realm, strutting into my imagination like:




The closest comparison I can make would be THE FIREMAN, by Joe Hill, which may not make much sense at first, because it's primarily considered to be a horror, but both novels wrestled with the same themes. Namely, what people are capable of doing in the name of what they believe, and how the tendency to label somebody as "other," no matter the intentions, never ends well, both for the labeller and label-ee. They also grapple with the idea of there being no such thing as a perfect society, because people, in their very nature, aren't perfect. Every single human is susceptible to becoming a bully and a dictator, with "absolute" truths guiding their actions. But what happens when you learn that your truth isn't as absolute as you think? Would you have the courage and fortitude to change your behaviour? These are the sorts of questions that Johansen (and Hill) pose, and just like in real life, there are no easy answers.

The only downside to Johansen's fierce (and incredibly relevant) conviction was my slight disappointment with the final instalment. Did the second and third blend together seamlessly? No. They didn't. Each book almost stood on its own, which meant that not every storyline was tied up.



So while THE FATE OF THE TEARLING went in a direction that I wasn't anticipating, I appreciate what Johansen was trying to do. If you repeat the same mistakes, you get the same outcome. But if you can summon the strength and awareness to break the cycle, you can pave the way to a new world. And through the battles, sieges, and moments of pure hopelessness, that's precisely what Kelsea does.

Now that the series is over, I have no idea what genre the three would fall under. For me, I guess it would be somewhere between fantasy, historical, and dystopian. But honestly, who cares? This is a seriously good series. Be warned, though, because there's no lack of extreme violence, misogyny, and bigotry. Johansen's note at the very end of FATE stated that was purposeful because our world is no stranger to those elements. See what I've been saying? Johansen is here to hold up a mirror to ourselves--to inspire us to think about topics that we take for granted--which is why I'll continue to read everything she writes. 

__

For this mani, I used: 

OPI - Rollin' In Cashmere, Yoga-ta Get This Blue, matte top coat
Julep - Eliza
China Glaze - Sexy In The City
Color Club - Over the Moon
ORLY - Skinny Dip
Black and white acrylic paint
Tools - small dotting tool, trimmed striping brush, piCture pOlish nail art brush no. 9