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 Michael Krajewski.

A charming voice with Southern flare welcomed me into this bittersweet story about a young woman named Bay who did an astounding job at getting in her own way. Sassy and guarded, Bay just about fell apart once she learned of her childhood sweetheart's capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan, as one would imagine. Forced to return home, Bay had no choice by to confront everything she left behind, and oh boy, she had a lot to confront. Ultimately a hopeful story, WHAT'S LEFT BETWEEN US is a debut not to be missed.




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!!








21.12.18

review and cover mani: what's left between us

While pursuing my master’s degree, I learned that researchers must acknowledge their biases up front to alert the reader of personal connections. Well, this is one of the few times I can say that my review is entirely biased, yet still entirely honest, because my long-time critique partner, Gina Heron, is the brilliant author behind WHAT’S LEFT BETWEEN US. (I usually refer to authors by their last names, to stay profesh, but it feels weird to do it here, so Gina it shall be.) I’ll still do my best to share a review and not just gush, but can’t guarantee any measure of success.



The back jacket, from Goodreads:

Bay is standing on a stage in Nashville, on the verge of achieving her dream of a record deal, when she learns she may have lost what matters most to her. Scott, her childhood sweetheart, has gone missing in Afghanistan. The news of his capture by the Taliban strips Bay of her voice at the biggest moment of her life, sending her into a tailspin that lands her on her parents’ doorstep for Christmas, for the first time in years. 

Old wounds between Bay and her mother, Violet, break open as soon as Bay walks in the door. The gulf that’s divided them since Bay’s twin sister, Lillie, drowned at twelve years old, has grown wider as Bay put distance between herself and the family. As Bay tries to reconnect with them, she stumbles over clues that could unravel her mama’s long-held secrets—and tear her the LaFleurs apart. Armed with the truth, Bay finds herself in a fight to bring the people she loves most back home to each other. 

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Right from the beginning of our crit partner relationship, it was obvious that Gina could spin a tale. No matter the project, her charming voice and Southern vibes never failed to pluck me from reality within minutes. (In fact, it’s often a challenge to critique her work because I forget I’m supposed to be looking for issues and suddenly find myself three chapters ahead.) In WHAT’S LEFT BETWEEN US, Gina accomplished something truly remarkable: she made me care about a quieter, thoughtful story without getting bored and picking up something stabbier. For those who’ve been following my reviews for a while, that doesn’t happen very often.


Cover design by Michael Krajewski


Although I’m not a musician, nor have a twin sister, and live so far north it’s colder for longer than it’s warm, I connected to Bay right away. Anyone who’s had a dream—gone against the grain in pursuit of something far outside their everyday lives—will relate to her ambition. Sassier than sweet, Bay also avoided vulnerability like one avoids crocodiles (is this a good Southern reference? 😉 ) but when Scott went missing in Afghanistan, she had no choice but to open up. Not that she made it easy on herself, of course—yet another reason I connected so strongly. Returning home broke and alone, Bay quickly began to confront everything she’d wanted to leave behind, including the reality that she’d blown her shot, much to the delight of those who never thought she’d make it in the first place. Super fun holiday, right? Bring on the bourbon, and make it a double.

I always strive to write spoiler-free reviews (because spoilers are the worst don't do it I beg of you) but in this case, I think it’s important for readers to know about the second narrator: Scott. I’m not gonna lie, his sporadic chapters hit me hard, like a punch to the throat that left me breathless. There was no sugar coating in Scott's experiences, including struggles with PTSD, and without a doubt they proved the hardest to read. Half of all net proceeds of WHAT’S LEFT BETWEEN US will be donated to Veterans Off-Grid, as a sign of support for those who assisted Gina with research, and because it’s an organization close to her heart. That deep level of compassion blended into her prose, so even when themes took a darker turn, there was always light. It’s also why she can crack open even the stoniest of hearts (mine, specifically). A born storyteller, to say the least.




WHAT’S LEFT BETWEEN US gets five enthusiastic, massively-proud, raving stars, and if you’re in the mood for a heartwarming and heartbreaking story with some bite, this is an excellent choice. Especially this time of year. You’ll cry for sure, both happy and sad, so make sure you have some tissues handy. Also maybe a cookie or two, to eat some feelings. WHAT'S LEFT BETWEEN US is available now on Amazon, so make sure you pick up a copy!!




To celebrate the release of WHAT’S LEFT BETWEEN US, I’m giving away a copy to a lucky reader!! Since it's crazy busy this time of year, I'll make it super easy to enter. Just leave a comment here that says, “This sounds awesome!” That's it! This giveaway will be on Instagram as well, so head over there for more entries. Open until Dec 28 to Canadian and US mailing addresses.

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For this mani, I used:

FingerPaints – Black Expressionism and Paper Mache

China Glaze – Dance Baby, Kill ‘Em With Kidness, Born to Rule

OPI – Tiramisu for Two, I Just Can’t Cope-acabana, Fearlessly Alice, Dating a Royal, matte topcoat

ORLY – Storyteller (colorlab)


So Nailicious – Needle brush