31.5.18

review and cover mani: the death of mrs. westaway

THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY plucked me from the warm spring weather and dropped me into sub-zero England, where snow and ice chilled me to the bone. Poor Hal was attacked from all angles, including the climate itself, and that sense of loneliness—Hal being on her own with nobody to rely on—cranked up the tension from the get-go. So basically, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY was everything I want in a suspense novel. 


The back jacket, from Goodreads:

 From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

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With a tiny cast of characters, suspicion bounced around, gradually building to a feverish pace. Ruth Ware smoked the shady personalities that made up the Westaway family, whose goals were mostly self-serving, and I never trusted a single one. From the cantankerous caretaker, incapable of a kind word, to the set of brothers who argued like it was an Olympic sport, Hal was forced to navigate her way through decades of family drama. 


Cover design by Alan Dingman.


The isolation of the foreboding estate acted like an insta-pot, turning up the heat on Hal’s deception. Naturally, I mean that metaphorically because Hal was frozen for the better part of every chapter. While trying to figure out if she was actually related to the Westaways, Hal made excellent use of her experience reading tarot cards, which added to the already atmospheric tone. Including otherworldly vibes—ones that Hal herself admitted weren’t terribly reliable—produced airs of magical realism and a more sinister layer to the mystery. After that admission, Hal's continued drawing of cards for herself reinforced her sense of solitude. In desperate need of a confidant, she'd return to the Major and Minor Arcana for comfort and reassurance, because they were all she had. It made my heart hurt, at times. 




But this wasn’t even almost a sad novel. It’s creepy and suspenseful in the best ways and I flew through it. Each character had something to hide and motivation to deceive the others, so the tension never stopped. If you’re a fan of small casts in an isolated location, trying to outwit and outlast a la Survivor, only in a colder climate and with no referee, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is the novel for you! 

Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mâché

China Glaze – Street Style Princess

Glisten and Glow – topcoat

So Nailicious – needle and warrior brushes


24.5.18

review and cover mani: all the ever afters

Short review: ALL THE EVER AFTERS is the best fairy tale retelling I’ve ever read. The end. 

What? You need more than that? Fine. It’s the best fairy tale retelling and villain origin story I’ve ever read, so get your debit cards ready friends, because you'll be sprinting to the bookstore in about three minutes.



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

In the vein of WickedThe Woodcutter, and Boy, Snow, Bird, a luminous reimagining of a classic tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother.

We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?

As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. . . .

A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice when she is only ten years old. Using her wits and ingenuity, she escapes her tyrannical matron and makes her way toward a hopeful future. When teenaged Agnes is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant, she is transformed by love for her child. Once again left penniless, Agnes has no choice but to return to servitude at the manor she thought she had left behind. Her new position is nursemaid to Ella, an otherworldly infant. She struggles to love the child who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, eventually, the celebrated princess who embodies everyone’s unattainable fantasies. The story of their relationship reveals that nothing is what it seems, that beauty is not always desirable, and that love can take on many guises.

Lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perceptive, All the Ever Afters explores the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, all the while showing us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound, and ultimately more important, truth than the ideal of “happily ever after.”

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Agnes’s story began when she was ten years old. Forced to leave her family and work for the manor, she landed the job of laundress apprentice—arguably the most grueling of positions. With few allies, Agnes did what she had to do in order to survive, enduring abuse, heartache, and the ever-present uncertainty that she could be tossed out into the cold for the slightest of mistakes. 


 
Designed by Leah Carlson-Stanisic

The lyrical writing in ALL THE EVER AFTERS created a fully immersive reading experience. A rich world saturated with sensory details, Agnes had my heart in the palm of her hand. The world isn’t kind to smart and ambitious girls, and even less kind to smart and ambitious women—a lesson Agnes learned again and again. Her ultimate goal was heartbreakingly simple, to be safe. I both admired and ached for Agnes, whose best-laid plans often ended up in a heap of unfulfilled expectations, tucked between the mounds of laundry she’d have to wash until her hands blistered. 

But Agnes never gave up. No matter the terrible betrayals—no matter how unfair life became—Agnes pressed forward, always searching for her place in the world. When everyone around you says you're nothing, it’s easy to believe them and yet Agnes never lost sight of who she was and what she could achieve if given even the smallest opportunity. If Agnes had donned the Sorting Hat, she’d have been Slytherin with a side of Ravenclaw and a pinch of Gryffindor to boot.


As for the retelling itself, Teller created a completely fresh take, while incorporating themes about society’s obsession with physical beauty. By challenging the perspective on the components we’re able to recite by heart—ugly step sisters, the glass slipper, Cinderella herself—Agnes showed how small truths can evolve into myth. I honestly can’t believe how exquisitely Teller accomplished this tour de force because when I finished, I was all Cinderella who? They say that everyone is the hero in their own life but in this case, Agnes was a shining star and far more interesting than the traditional heroine who was forced to sleep by a hearth in the kitchen (or was she?). Five stars, plus one million stars, for a total of one million and five stars. *preps megaphone to inform neighbors of the awesomeness*




Big thanks to HarperCollins Canada and William Morrow for an ARC!

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For this mani, I used:

OPI – CIA= Color is Awesome, You Don’t Know Jacques, Gargantuan Green Grape, You Are So Outta Lime, A Good Man-Darin is Hard to Find, Need Sunglasses, Big Apple Red, and matte topcoat

China Glaze – I’ll Sand By You, Throne-In’ Shade, Kill ‘Em With Kindess, Water-Falling In Love, Dashboard Dreamer, and Dv8

Julep – Fiore and Nadine

FingerPaints – Paper Mâché

So Nailicious brushes – needle, warrior, and slayer





15.5.18

review and cover mani: the favorite sister

THE FAVORITE SISTER felt like an origin story for reality television darlings, by showing how easy it can be to detach from reality and create another. Under the guise of friendship, these characters were originally led to believe they would empower others, but wound up competing for fame by humble bragging about their accomplishments and stirring the pot in order to stay relevant. Frankly, this is the kind of set up for most reality shows of this nature, but THE FAVORITE SISTER took that basic premise and blew it the fuck up, so I can't wait to scream about it. 


The back jacket, from Goodreads:

 From Jessica Knoll—author of Luckiest Girl Alive, the instant New York Times bestseller and the bestselling debut novel of 2015—comes a blisteringly paced thriller starring two sisters who join the cast of a reality TV series. One won’t make it out alive. So…who did it?

When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

The Favorite Sister explores the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising up the ranks in today’s America—and offers a scathing take on the oft-lionized bonds of sisterhood, and the relentless pressure to stay young, relevant, and salable.
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Early on, it was clear that Brett and Kelly were ambitious sisters who approached life from different angles. That sort of organic conflict immediately drew me in. My bookstagram caption even included something along the lines of “I can’t wait to see how these terrible characters get up to no good.” Now that I’ve finished, I suspect this was a clever trap because in the end, I sat back and thought: Huh. I was not aware of my Walking Contradiction status. 

Oooo yes. Knoll held up a glaring mirror to the current state of feminism, and I found myself pulling quotes so often, I sifted to taking pictures to save time (because I am a non-writing-in-the-book sort of gal). Picking this setting to speak about what it means to be a successful, independent, and wealthy woman was absolute perfection. Because who better to know about the amount of work it takes to rise to the top of one's profession than someone who's done it themselves? Respect for an equal should come naturally and in an ideal world, it would remain that way. But in life, and after the first season of Goal Diggers, when ratings became more important than a positive message, Brett, Kelly, and Stephanie had to deliver the drama by turning on each other, or be kicked to the curb, Manolos in hand. Women, in particular, can rationalize poor behaviour and watching the spin through several different points of view drove home the point that regardless of the lip service about sisterhood, deep down, women are threatened by one another; the result of the society we live in. We strive for collaboration, but wind up competing. Sharpened stiletto nails at the ready to strike.


Cover Design by Christopher Lin.
Cover Art by Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images.


The unapologetic theme about how much easier it is for women to tear each other down instead of offering a hand up, really got me thinking. The streak of maliciousness comes from the fear that if another woman succeeds, we will fail. There's only room for one. But we also learn that being too ambitious or too opinionated or any number of other toos can hurt our images, so we find other ways: backstabbing, fabricating rumours, passing along harmful gossip with glee—jabs that happen behind the scenes while we feign innocence and girl power. THE FAVORITE SISTER lifted that curtain and bared the ugliness in all of its check-yourself glory. Because what the hell is wrong with me that makes me love these sorts of shows? What does it mean if, in my real life I try to empower, but seek out petty cattiness when it comes to entertainment? Even as I pulled quotes about this contradiction, patting my feminist back and nodding to myself, I still loved the conflict. *clutches BAD FEMINIST and rereads chapters about loving the things we "shouldn't" while contemplating life choices*




So look, this book is phenomenal. It's like a blooming onion that satisfied my gossipy and philosophical cravings, each layer more delicious than the last. Nobody’s an innocent bystander in THE FAVORITE SISTER, and while the novel began with Brett already dead, getting to the how and why was the real story, and a fascinating one at that. Jessica Knoll's sharp and smart writing (plus the most perfect pop culture references, including a Canadian one that made me laugh out loud) confirms her seat at the powerhouse table and I can't wait to see what she writes next. 


Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!



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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism, Paper Mache, and 15 Minutes of Frame

ORLY – La Vida Loca

China Glaze – Street Style Princess, Chroma Cool, and BFF

Julep – Courtney

OPI – matte topcoat


So Nailicious brushes – warrior, needle, and slayer




3.5.18

review and cover mani: the map of salt and stars

THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS had a profound effect on me. I spent almost a week reading it (half of my usual pace), and needed time after I finished to collect my thoughts. I’m still not sure that anything I write will do this gem justice, but I’m sure as heck going to try.



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

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Fiction’s ability to create empathy in a reader is why I typically shy away from books that will make me cry. I read to be whisked away, sucked into fantasy worlds, or hunt for a killer, but every so often, a more meaningful sort of fiction catches my eye. With the war in Syria still raging, I'll admit that I’ve exercised my privilege in regards to staying abreast of developments. Not the most humane view and I know I’m not alone. Never ending news cycles create a sort of white noise where stories have a hard time being heard, and there’s a degree of separation that makes it all too easy to not pay attention. THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS closed that distance and placed me in the shoes of a girl named Nour as her home was bombed and her family, forced to flee. As expected, it was pretty devastating.


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

After the bombing, Nour and her family were forced to endure a brutal stream of devastating events. With no home, little money, and no certainty that they’d make it through, I had to force myself to keep reading because the bleakness felt overwhelming. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse oh boy did they get worse. At one point, I wasn’t sure I could continue. Partly because my flood of tears made it impossible to focus on the page, but mostly because I was bombarded by thoughts about real life families who have faced (and/or are facing) similar circumstances. That isn't to say THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS was all encompassing (what single book can accomplish one hundred percent inclusion?), but Nour’s journey gave me a small snapshot of what the life of a displaced person could be like.




While Nour’s storyline pounded my heart with a mace, the second narrator, Rawiya offered a historical perspective on the Middle East and North Africa. Rawiya’s adventure of traveling with a mapmaker, where she disguised herself as a boy in order to be accepted (you go, girl!) eight hundred years earlier, had a magical quality to it. The lyrical prose and vibrant scenic descriptions stood in stark contrast to Nour’s world, offering some breathing room, and also traced parts of the region's rich history. Plus, there were mythical beasts, so no matter which narrative stood centre stage, I was hooked. 

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incomparable novel but if I included everything I loved, this review would be as long as the book itself. Technically YA, I believe that THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a must-read for everybody. As I said at the beginning, fiction has the ability to open our hearts and minds and that’s exactly the case here. Buy it, read it, share it, and repeat.


Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!


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I took artistic liberties with this cover mani by simplifying the intricate tiled border and not painting the Arabic title underneath the English. I mean no disrespect. Painting in English is a challenge on its own and translucent Arabic was too intimidating.

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mache

OPI – I Am What I Amethyst, You Don't Know Jacques, My Twin Mimmy, Fearlessly Alice, Mod About You, and matte topcoat

ORLY – Skinny Dip

essie - after school boy blazer 

So Nailicious brushes – needle, warrior, and slayer