review and cover mani: miss ex-yugoslavia

As with most of my reads, MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA first caught my attention with its striking yellow cover. The description made me chuckle with its balance of humour and vulnerability, and then I noticed a blurb from Jenny Lawson and I was all: yes I need to read this. So...well...I did, and now I'm going to rave about it. *jazz hands*

The book description, from Goodreads:

A funny, dark, and tender memoir about the immigrant experience and life as a perpetual fish-out-of-water, from the acclaimed Serbian-Australian storyteller.

Sofija Stefanovic makes the first of many awkward entrances in 1982, when she is born in Belgrade, the capital of socialist Yugoslavia. The circumstances of her birth (a blackout, gasoline shortages, bickering parents) don’t exactly get her off to a running start. While around her, ethnic tensions are stoked by totalitarian leaders with violent agendas, Stefanovic's early life is filled with Yugo rock, inadvisable crushes, and the quirky ups and downs of life in a socialist state.

As the political situation grows more dire, the Stefanovics travel back and forth between faraway, peaceful Australia, where they can’t seem to fit in, and their turbulent homeland, which they can’t seem to shake. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia collapses into the bloodiest European conflict in recent history.

Featuring warlords and beauty queens, tiger cubs and Baby-Sitters Clubs, Sofija Stefanovic’s memoir is a window to a complicated culture that she both cherishes and resents. Revealing war and immigration from the crucial viewpoint of women and children, Stefanovic chronicles her own coming-of-age, both as a woman and as an artist who yearns to take control of her own story. Refreshingly candid, poignant, and illuminating, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia introduces a vital new voice to the immigrant narrative.

First and foremost, Sofija Stefanovic is a storyteller. She doesn’t just deliver a series of informative points like a tedious power point presentation (which is how some memoirs read in my opinion). Instead, it felt like she invited me to sit in a comfortable chair, handed me a cocktail, and then proceeded to chat my ear off. (Yay!) From early on, Stefanovic demonstrated her comfort with being the punchline (a comfort we share, to be honest) and there were times I laughed so hard that my husband had to check on me because he feared I’d pass out.

Cover design and illustration by Payton Turner

I must confess that I didn’t know much about socialist Yugoslavia before reading MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA, and while there was a consistent thread of humour (which had more to do with Stefanovic’s perspective than what she and her family were dealing with), it wasn’t all fun times. Having a pair of politically involved parents gave Stefanovic a front-line source of information, putting her up close and personal. The moxy of those folks, for real.

The most striking chapters for me described Stefanovic’s return to Yugoslavia after living in Australia for two (very impactful) years. The contrast at that point, having lived in both a socialist and democratic country, granted her a wider perspective. The bad news is that perspective reinforced her feeling of otherness. First, she was the other in Australia, and then she became other in a place that was supposed to be her home. Brutal. Another bounce back to Australia after increasing political upheaval didn’t help matters, and then her family entered a pretty black time.

The highs and lows of MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA were astounding. It takes a perfect balance to include light and dark without having tone issues, and Stefanovic made it seem effortless. Her witty recollections from the more humiliating moments of her childhood and adolescence will suck you in, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of what happened in socialist Yugoslavia, and a taste of the sort of challenges that immigrants from war-torn countries are forced to overcome. Five enthusiastic stars from me!

Big thanks to Atria Books for an ARC!


For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché and Black Expressionism

OPI – My Twin Mimmy, A Good Man-Darin Is Hard To Find, Charged Up Cherry, Dating a Royal, and Stay Off the Lawn!

Glisten and Glow – topcoat

So Nailicious – needle, warrior, and slayer brushes


review and cover mani: then she was gone

Lisa Jewell is a master of mystery. And suspense. Also book-throwing moments. When it comes to THEN SHE WAS GONE, all three were in full effect because oh em gee was this book phenomenal!

The book description, from Goodreads:

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. 
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone. 

It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter. And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet. Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter. Poppy is precocious and pretty - and meeting her completely takes Laurel's breath away. 

Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. 

What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? 
Who still has secrets to hide? 


In the beginning, my heart hurt for Laurel. Ten years after her daughter Ellie disappeared, she wasn’t doing so hot. Strained relationships with her other two children, a divorce, and an existence that was more like surviving instead of living. Day in and day out, Laurel’s small life brought her as much joy as it did laughter; zero. But then she met Floyd and things started to change.

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

That brings me to the characterization, which blew my booknerd socks clean off. Laurel’s unrelenting grief, the conflict with her remaining children, Floyd, even Poppy got the full treatment. Of the entire cast, Floyd impressed me the most. We all know the kind of men that elicit a yellow warning light, where it isn’t so much what he says, but how he says it. Jewell’s phrasing in this regard was perfection as far as I’m concerned, because conveying that subtle but powerful reaction is a challenge. I love a character with a perpetual question mark dangling over their head, possibly a red herring, possibly an antagonist, who the heck knows? From Laurel’s point of view, I could see her willingness to dismiss those niggling feelings, as one can never be sure where a man falls on the-creepy-to-psycho scale, and women have been conditioned to stay in potential danger rather than be considered rude, so kudos to Jewell for nailing that dynamic.

The format of having present and past narration gave readers an advantage of being privy to details that Laurel would kill to know. This is where my admiration of Jewell’s craft made me want to stand up and clap, because it’s awfully difficult to keep a mystery going when it appears that we have all the pieces. But really, all Jewell granted was a taste, and although it felt like she presented the whole meal early on—as in, who took Ellie—the best was yet to come. Only by best, I actually mean worst, because yowza.

I seriously cannot stress the insanity of the twists in THEN SHE WAS GONE. Just when I thought I’d reached the crest of the mountain, it was revealed to be a fake out, with much more climbing left to do. Granted no opportunity to rest, poor Laurel thought she was losing her mind because of Poppy’s resemblance to Ellie, and as a reader, I was along for the ride as she attempted to confirm/deny her suspicions. (Side note in regards to that quest: AHHHHHHHHHHH.)

If you’re a fan of edge-of-your-seat novels where the world falls away around you because you’re consumed with what-ifs and painful sympathy for a desperate mother, THEN SHE WAS GONE is the book for you!

Huge thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!


For this mani, I used:

Julep – Kenna, Fiore, and Imogen

OPI – Miami Beet, You Are So Outta Lime, and matte topcoat

China Glaze – Trip of a Lime Time

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché

So Nailicious brushes – needle, warrior, and slayer


review and cover mani: past tense

PAST TENSE has so much going for it. Like RAMONA BLUE, there's the complication of multiple crushes, but also the addition of a mother who thinks she’s dead. Yep, PAST TENSE certainly stands on its own in regards to YA contemporary, and in a world where it’s a challenge to find a fresh plot twist, I was hooked from the very beginning.

The description, from Goodreads:

Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

As Julie’s mother’s state is mentioned in the description, I can say (without being spoiler central) that for the first few chapters, I suspected she was battling post-partum depression. But then the first super freaky thing happened and confirmed it was not, in fact, post-partum. Like, at all. So while Julie tried to figure out what (and who) she wanted, she’d return home each day to a minimally functioning mother—a scary and strange occurrence. With only Julie’s point of view, there was no explanation for the behavior, but the stakes were high from the get-go because of Julie’s surprise baby brother. Julie’s schooldays were filled with normal teenage drama yet at night, she was forced to make sense of intense adult issues. Hello compartmentalization, right? Yikes.

Cover art by Lisa Bettencourt

But although PAST TENSE had midnight freakiness, keeping Julie’s perspective front and center meant that I led with empathy. Julie used humour to cope with the morbid surrealness that possessed her mother, and I related because honestly, at some times, it’s either laughter or tears. I found myself respecting Julie more and more, and then felt a surge of protectiveness during a certain scene where I wanted to tuck her behind me and take a strip off her mother because holy stop it, lady, Julie’s just a kid! I also really liked the conflict between Julie and Lorelei. Female friendships are complicated and no more so during the teenage years. The added tension of Julie's unrequited crush only made the situation stickier.

If you’re a fan of the tingles that come from teenage crushes, the possible confusion that comes along with them, and unsettling behavior that lurks in the shadows, then pick up a copy of PAST TENSE! Considering it’s Friday the 13th, it’d make for a perfect on-theme read!

Big thanks to HarperCollins Canada for an ARC!


For this mani, I used:

China Glaze – Athletic Chic, Bodysuit Yourself, Pilates Please, Werk It Honey, Too Yacht To Handle, and I Sea The Point

Julep – Gayle

OPI - In My Back Pocket, Gargantuan Green Grape, and matte topcoat

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché

So Nailicious brushes – needle and slayer