31.12.18

fave reads of 2018!

As with my Goodreads goal, I'm down to the wire for rounding up my favourite reads of 2018. Recently, I've read articles that oppose sharing top ten lists, and while I agree with some points (mostly hurting authors' feelings), at the end of the day I still wanted to compile one. This year has been an incredible one for books and I'd be slacking in my book pusher responsibilities by not sharing my absolute favourites (and reinforcing why you need to read them, naturally).

An excruciating task, to be sure, but one that I enjoy because I go back and reread each of my reviews, something similar to reconnecting with old friends. Because what are books if not our friends, right?

To start out, I'll outline some basic statistics. 

In total, I read 80 books this year and painted 52 cover manis. I remember being amazed in 2017 that I painted 43, so I'm pretty floored I managed to add another nine. 

I've been painting cover manicures for almost four years now, and can say without hesitation that the manis from 2018 are beyond anything I dreamed I'd be able to accomplish. From picking out a single element to use as a feature nail, to gradually including multiple details, I never imagined being able to paint titles and author names, and yet, every single mani I painted in 2018 had at least one of them. Often, both. Like, WHAT?! For real. I'm astounded each and every time a cover mani turns out well, and it's brought me so much joy to share them with you. 

This year was crazy in so many ways, and the highest point was, hands-down, being featured on the Goodreads blog. Still feels unreal that my moderately niche (haha, moderately. More like highly, but whatever) hobby has connected me with a seemingly endless supply of mutual book nerd enthusiasm, and I'm supremely grateful for the opportunity. So thank you, friends. You're the absolute best!!

And now, on with my favourite reads of the year!!



All cover images: Shutterstock

A fun and touching reimagining of Pride and Prejudice with a fresh Muslim take and Canadian setting, AYESHA AT LAST had endearingly quirky and honest characters that felt like real people. Writing as smooth as silk, both rhythmic and immersive, the astounding number of secondary story lines kept the pace tight in this epic saga of love and family. A must read for anyone who loves diverse romantic comedies about two souls who have to find themselves before they can find each other. 



Cover design by Rex Bonomelli.

Another smash from Emily Carptenter, who has quickly become one of my favourite authors, EVERY SINGLE SECRET took an idea that's been done before and buried it alive, forcing it to rise up from a shallow grave and blow my mind. No, none of that creepy metaphor included spoilers, but it certainly painted a picture, right? Well that's the tone Carpenter threaded through this suspenseful thriller, so hold onto your pants, friends. Also of note, EVERY SINGLE SECRET was the only book of 2018 to earn my banana pantsuit level of wait what?!?! because that's exactly what you'll be saying at the end. Warning: Don't curl up with EVERY SINGLE SECRET if you have anything else to do. Once you start this one, you'll read it through to the end.




Cover design by Faceout Studio, Tim Green.
Cover illustration by Xinmei Liu.

This book. Honestly, I still haven't processed MONSOON MANSION, so I can't begin to imagine what it would've felt like for Cinelle Barnes to write this raw and stunning memoir. What she endured as a child was unimaginable, and yet, she turned it into a story that stole my breath and left tear-stained pages aplenty. Hard subject matter, no question, but don't let that stop you from experiencing Barnes's unreal talent at creating beauty from ruin. Must read, times a million. This cover also wins my Fave Cover of the Year award, with it's gorgeous colour pallete, rich and lush illustrations, and mix of a matte base with glossy raindrops. Vibes galore, I adored painting it.




Jacket design by Laywan Kwan.
Jacket photography of branches by Plainpicture/Michael Dooney.
Photograph of petals by Getty Images.

There were two different Lisa Jewell offerings this year, much to my black heart's delight, and while both were awesome, THEN SHE WAS GONE blew my cheeseburger-print socks right off. Deliciously twisted and bordering on completely deranged, Jewell outdid herself with this one. Seriously so mental, you'll probably need a strong drink and brain scrub afterwards. I know I did.




Art designer: Matthew Monahan.

As a reader, I love being surprised by books, and the one I was most surprised about this year was THE BUCKET LIST, which managed to be sexy and fun, introspective and serious, all at once. I happy-cried, laugh-cried, sad-cried, and then needed a fan because...holy steamy (and sexuality-positive) scenes. In short, it was a profound reading experience that made me roll my eyes as I'm not accustomed to feeling feelings of this magnitude and therefore needed a cynical gesture to even things out, which means you seriously need to read THE BUCKET LIST.





Cover design by Sarah Cresch

Books set in space will always pique my interest, and SANCTUARY not only piqued my interest, but  had me gasping aloud. On-point world building with a riveting plot, I cannot stress the amount of craziness contained in this YA Sci-fi. Because space prison and teen superpowers and alien attacks, OH MY. And trust me, you'll probably scream with surprise at least seven times while reading, so alert your neighbours lest they call the police, fearful that you're being held hostage, much like the protagonist, Lexie. Also, isn't it just the best when an author isn't afraid to kill characters? 😈




Cover design by Sandra Chiu
Cover photography by Andy Teo aka Photocillin/Getty Images

THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is certain to land on everybody's end of year lists, because yes, it really is that good. With multiple wars happening around the globe, it's all too real of a possibility that anyone can become a displaced person. THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS told one such story, of Nour and her family who, in 2011, were forced to leave their home in Syria after a shell destroyed it. Haunting and heartbreaking, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar deserves all the acclaim and then some, so if you haven't read it already, you should. As soon as possible. 





Cover design by Lauren Panepinto.

Without a doubt, EMPIRE OF SAND made me want to rent a car with a speaker system so I could drive around neighbourhoods, informing everybody within hearing range about its awesomeness. Strong characters in a nonviolent way, Mehr's internal resolve made her a force to be reckoned with. The standout element of EMPIRE OF SAND, which I don't say lightly because there were about a million incredible aspects, was Suri's masterful ability to describe physical movement. Dance played a key role in this magical world, and it was as if I moved through each step alongside Mehr. A truly glorious book in more ways than one, you'd be a fool to not read EMPIRE OF SAND.




Design by Julia Lloyd, Illumicrate exclusive.

And here we are at number one, which VENGEFUL has occupied since I turned the last page. Schwab's darker voice consistently speaks to my soul, and in VENGEFUL, she introduced Marcella Morgan, who swiftly became my favourite character of all time. Yes. OF ALL TIME. Deadly, vicious, and unapologetic, Marcella helped me get through the messier parts of 2018 by letting me live vicariously through her destructiveness. A goddess of vengeance, I was left in awe and while I don't have the ability to ruin objects with my touch, for a moment or two, Marcella made me think I could. And in this mental year of ups and downs, that was an excellent feeling to have.

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That does it for my top reads of 2018! Were any of yours the same? Let me know in the comments!!

I'd also like to thank the publishers, publicity teams, and authors who've sent me books this year. I read a much broader scope of fiction than I usually do, which is definitely reflected in this list, and I'm super grateful for the opportunity! Also thanks for being willing to pay the 🍌 postage to Canada!! Going to my mailbox every day has become a magical experience, and I seriously can't thank you enough.

Happy New Year, book buddies!! I hope 2019 is your best year yet!!








17.12.18

npc 2018 holiday nail art: Bye Buddy, hope you find your dad

With Christmas fast approaching, it's time for Nail Polish Canada's annual Holiday Nail Art Competition! YAYYYYY!! I look forward to this comp every year because people come up with the awesomest festive designs and I love seeing them!

Elf is one of my favourite Christmas movies (along with millions of others who have fantastic and hilarious taste) and a scene I've always loved is when the narwhal says goodbye to Buddy as he leave to find his dad, which is where I got my inspiration for this mani.




I'm only mildly embarrassed to admit it wasn't until long after Elf's release that I learned narwhals are real, but in my defence, considering the movie's premise and abundance of talking animals, why would I assume the whale-unicorn was the only part grounded in reality? πŸ˜‚ In any event, this scene is now extra amazing because it showed me there's still wonder in our own world, via the real narwhals.

For the mani, I thought a foil background would add some Northern Lights vibes, and while this was only my second time working with foil, I've figured out the nail glue situation and am obsessed with how it turned out! So shiny and festive, just like a pile of empty Quality Street wrappers that totally aren't a common occurrence on my coffee table from mid-November to January why are you looking at me like that? πŸ˜‰




I've entered Buddy and his buddies into the competition, and would love your vote! Make sure to check out the other entries first, and I won't hold it against you if you decide to vote for somebody else. You can join in on the fun yourself and enter a holiday-themed mani until December 23rd, and voting ends on December 31st. Thanks and happy holidays!!


I used:

China Glaze - Street Style Princess, I'm With the Lifeguard, Emerald Bae, Werk it Honey!, Sexy in the City, Glamletics, and Mer-Made for Bluer Waters

FingerPaints - Black Expressionism and Paper Mache

Glisten and Glow - Mother Terra and topcoat

OPI - In My Back Pocket, Need Sunglasses?, Mod About You, Dating A Royal, Give Me Space, and matte topcoat

Picture Polish - Forget Me Not

ORLY - Storyteller (custom colour)

So Nailicious - needle brush and galaxy foil



14.12.18

review and cover mani: watching you


The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

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Two Lisa Jewell reviews in one year whaaaaaaaat? Yes, you read that right, fellow booknerds, 2018 was the year of Lisa Jewell and for that, we should be forever grateful. WATCHING YOU was another wild ride of suspense, told through multiple POVs from people who lived on the same street. Not friends, really, but friendly enough. That said, living in close proximity created a level of intimacy whether residents liked it or not—peeping out of windows at the perfect time, an overheard conversation in passing—which did a solid job of welcoming unpredictable moments, ones that turned my suspicions on a dime. Glimpses of activity without context led to assumptions, and those assumptions ultimately drove the plot. Sometimes, a narrator would explain their “suspect” actions, but the other character(s) wouldn’t be privy to the truth and man, it was just the best. The zig-zag nature had me burning through pages, because when one lead ended, another was right around the corner.


Jacket Design by Laywan Kwan:
 Photographs of Window frames by Corrado Piccoli/Eyeem/Getty Images; 
Vines by IStock/Getty Images; Window scenes by Istock/Getty Images.



Along with Jewell’s knack for suspense, she once again created incredible characters who felt so real, I was surprised I didn't run into them at my community mailbox. In WATCHING YOU, Jewell played on my first impressions of Tom, Joey, Freddie, and Jenna and then danced a jig of glee when she began to throw those impressions in my face. Or at least that’s how I imagined Jewell at her keyboard, a sly smirk on her lips as she turned everything upside down. What was a real clue? What was a red herring? The only way to know for sure was to keep reading, and it’s the best when a book makes me go “wait, WHAT?!” forcing me to flip back to previous chapters to see how I fell for expertly crafted misdirection. Oh yes, I do love to be made a fool haha!!



With lots of moving parts and secondary storylines, I flew through WATCHING YOU, and the final twist on the last page went out with a bang. If you’re a fan of suspense that takes place in close quarters, you definitely need to add this one to your TBR stack! WATCHING YOU hits shelves December 26th, and for a super fun bonus, Atria Books has generously offered up a finished copy for one lucky reader (which will be shipped after the pub date). Hello post-Christmas present to you, eh?! πŸ™Œ 

To enter, leave a comment here with your favourite holiday tradition, and head on over to Instagram for bonus entries! Giveaway closes on December 21st. Winner will be contacted by DM. Open to US and CAN only (sorry International!).

Big thanks to Atria Books for an ARC and finished copy!!




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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Paper Mache and Black Expressionism

OPI – A Good Man-Darin is Hard to Find, Mod About You, In My Back Pocket, Need Sunglasses?, and matte topcoat

China Glaze – Street Style Princess, Emerald Bae, and Queen B

ORLY – Skinny Dip and Thrill Seeker

Julep – Mona

So Nailicious - Needle brush

7.12.18

review and cover mani: monsoon mansion



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it.

Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her family moved into Mansion Royale, a stately ten-bedroom home in the Philippines. Filled with her mother’s opulent social aspirations and the gloriously excessive evidence of her father’s self-made success, it was a girl’s storybook playland. But when a monsoon hits, her father leaves, and her mother’s terrible lover takes the reins, Cinelle’s fantastical childhood turns toward tyranny she could never have imagined. Formerly a home worthy of magazines and lavish parties, Mansion Royale becomes a dangerous shell of the splendid palace it had once been.

In this remarkable ode to survival, Cinelle creates something magical out of her truth—underscored by her complicated relationship with her mother. Through a tangle of tragedy and betrayal emerges a revelatory journey of perseverance and strength, of grit and beauty, and of coming to terms with the price of family—and what it takes to grow up.

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MONSOON MANSION. Wow. 

Woooooooooooow.

Wow.

That could honestly be my entire review because…wow. 

While reading, I had to remind myself this wasn’t a work of fiction. Cinelle Barnes’s enchanting voice had me nodding my head in a particular way (moving backwards with a twist) which happens when I know I’ve picked up one of those books. You know, where it’s clear on the first page that I’ll lose myself in the story, ignoring other tasks like feeding hungry dogs who can’t understand why their supper is late because I’m within reaching distance to the food yet won’t remove my nose from the page. In this case, my poor pups really didn’t stand a chance because Barnes’s voice mesmerized me, quite literally, from that very first page. Lush descriptions of the Philippines and the luxury of her early childhood when Mansion Royale preened in all of its glory, and the lyrical narrative transported me directly into the Cinelle’s world with whimsical yet grounded storytelling that felt like a privilege to read. 


Cover Design by Faceout Studio, Tim Green
Cover Illustration by Xinmei Liu

Essentially on her own when it came to providing safety and security, Barnes’s story reminded me of A Little Princess, because imagination was an invaluable asset in her unstable life. No matter what, Cinelle never stopped dreaming. As her situation became increasingly dire, my tears making it a challenge to continue reading, Barnes did what she had to in order to survive. My heart broke several times over, and I was continuously humbled by her astonishing ability to craft such a painful story and be brave enough to share it with the world. I don’t know if I would be. But there were also moments of humour and hope, kindness and grace--a wonder, considering the circumstances. 




Ultimately uplifting (in a triumph of the human spirit kind of way) if you love memoirs that don’t hold back and stunningly elegant writing that stays with you long after you finish the last page, I highly recommend MONSOON MANSION. Also, I’d be remiss without mentioning the gorgeous jacket (along with the book itself!), so you definitely need a copy on your bookshelf because hello beautiful! Five super enthusiastic stars, plus all the stars in the universe, so basically infinity stars. 

Big thanks to Cinelle Barnes and Amazon Publishing for a finished copy!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper MΓ’chΓ©

China Glaze – All Sun & Games, Water-Falling In Love, Werk It Honey, and Baroque Jungle

OPI – My Dogsled is a Hybrid, Malaga Wine, Stay Off the Lawn, CIA = Color Is Awesome, A Good Man-Darin Is Hard to Find, and matte topcoat

ORLY – Scandal and Storyteller (custom colour)

Glisten and Glow – Mother Terra and topcoat

Picture polish – instinct

So Nailicious – needle brush