Friday, 22 July 2016

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando





The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
Published May 25, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story. 

I've long been aware of Tara Altebrando, but had never read anything by her until I received The Leaving, her latest novel about the abduction of six children. The story focuses on two of the returned children, now teenagers, Scarlett and Lucas, as well as Avery, the younger sister of the only child not to return, Max.

From the beginning I was intrigued but I also found myself confused as the story flits between different perspectives, in very quick chapters. It was disorientating but perfectly mimicked what I imagine the returned teens would have been feeling themselves. They have very few memories, even finding it hard to name themselves or each other, they cannot remember how they got there, they do not realise that one of them is missing, but they do have basic knowledge, they've clearly been educated and looked after as they they are all in good health.

Out of the three main characters, I found myself drawn to Scarlett the most. Her chapters are told in a creative way, often featuring blank pages, large spaces between words, and letters in different patterns and shapes, giving the reader a glimpse into how her mind is trying to cope. She returns home to a mother who is a recovering alcoholic and who is still clinging to the idea that the children were abducted by aliens.

Lucas was also easy to like, his determination to get revenge was understandable, and he returns home to his father, older brother, Ryan, and Ryan's girlfriend, Miranda. He's sure there was something between himself and Scarlett but he can't remember any details, it's just a feeling he has when he looks at her.

For some reason Avery really bothered me, I really didn't want her to be happy. I don't know why because she's been through a lot as the sibling of a missing child - her mother is depressed and her father travels a lot for work. She's tried to move on, tried to reinvent herself, but once the others return, all that is over. Avery finds herself drawn to Lucas, she is desperate for him to return her feelings, wanting so much to now put herself back into their story, a story that she has tried to ignore for the past eleven years.

I love mysteries and thrillers but often there's a lot of build up only to be let down by the reveal. I'm happy to say that wasn't the case here. Their story really stumped me, though I did pick up on a few clues along the way, however, it was impossible to guess who had been behind it all and why. The pacing was well done and it was so easy to put myself in their shoes, to feel their confusion, anger, and determination.

There was a lot of discussion of  memories and the human mind, how we form memories, how easy it is to forget things, how easy it is to have a memory replaced or altered and I found all of it fascinating.

The Leaving is a realistic and chilling story of five children who've had their childhoods stolen, and it will definitely make you think about how and why we create the memories we do, which ones have been embellished, and just how much for forget every day.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin/Bloomsbury for the review copy. RRP A$16.99



Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema





Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema
Published June 2, 2016 by Walker Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: I am Lou Brown: social outcast, precocious failure, 5'11" and still growing. I was on the fast track to Olympic stardom. Now I'm training boys too cool to talk to me. In a sport I've just made up. In a fish tank. My life has gone weird very quickly.

Girl Out of Water is Nat Luurtsema's debut novel. Fifteen year old Lou Brown lives in Essex with her mum and older sister. Her parents divorced when she was younger, but her father has moved back in after losing his job. Lou was an Olympic hopeful, but after she came last at her swimming trial, her dreams have been squashed. She's spent three weeks moping about at home and now has to return to school, sans best friend Hannah. Hannah qualified and has gone on to High Performance Training Camp, leaving Lou to face school alone.

Swimming was Lou's life, she swam everyday, she and Hannah talked about it all the time, and she dreamed of making the Olympic team, so it's easy to feel for her when she doesn't make it into the training camp. Lou's lonely because for years she and Hannah have been a duo, so she attempts to make new friends but finds it harder than expected. The one other person she always relied on, Debs, her swim coach, has no time for her now, which absolutely crushes Lou. And the other girls on the swim team are also giving Lou a bit of a hard time, making school miserable for her.

It's always great to read a YA novel where the protagonist has a strong interest, whether that's in music, art, or a sport. It adds another dimension to a family or romance-oriented story. It was fun to see Lou grow more confident as she coaches some school mates in a version of water
aerobics crossed with synchronised swimming, as well as the relationship she slowly develops with Gabe.

The story tackles multiple plot lines and consequently had a lot going on, and while I liked the inclusion of Hannah's story dealing with mental health and eating disorders, it felt a little sidelined and I wish she'd been in the story more, as opposed to being away at camp. The relationship between Lou and her dad was lovely, it was great to see parents portrayed in a positive way, they were very present in her life.

Girl Out of Water is funny, clever, and sweet. Lou is a character with a bright personality and she really shines during this story. Her life is a bit of a mess, albeit a very entertaining one. It's a book with heart and I would definitely be up for a sequel.

Thank you to Walker Books for my copy.

US readers; look out for this book published as Goldfish.


This is a fun cover and I couldn't wait to paint nails to match.


I started with a base of Natio Sunflower and used acrylic paint for the details.





Monday, 18 July 2016

Split Infinity by Thalia Kalkipsakis





Split Infinity (Lifespan of Starlight #2) by Thalia Kalkipsakis
Published May 1, 2016 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: A split-second decision, a single time-skip. The world that you know, gone in a blink.Now a sharp and adept time-skipper, Scout jumps years ahead to find the world transformed. Technology has accelerated and the people she knows have grown up, or disappeared. Most pressing, the government that she was trying to escape has used the time to prepare for the return of the time skippers.Caught between finding the mother she left behind and time-skipping ahead with Mason, a series of events lead Scout deeper into the tunnel than ever before.The only way out is by the strength of her love and the power of her mind. The illusion of time has one more surprise, one with the power to change everything.

Split Infinity picks up where Lifespan of Starlight left off: Scout has time-skipped to the future, but instead of ten years, she's only made it five, it's 2089. To make matters worse, the government has not forgotten about her ability and they've set up measures to trap her when she returns.
I'm not sure how to start this review, I keep going to share information and then reconsidering because it might spoil things for future readers, so I will proceed with caution.

I thought this sequel managed to overcome typical second book issues by keeping the level of action high and offering more depth to the time travel aspect of the series. Scout essentially gets a second chance and this highlights just what a good person she is. She's loyal, protective, and brave, and she shows us via her actions. She's determined to look after her family and friends, and always has their well being in mind.

The stakes are raised and the events, as well as the world, have grown more serious. The pace is fast with the end racing towards a cliffhanger, it'll be a perfect starting point for the third book.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my copy.


I like the covers for this series a lot and decided to do nails for this one. I started with a gradient using Orly Purple Pleather, Ulta3 Sour Grape, and Ulta3 Party Shoes. I used acrylic paint for the details.






Friday, 15 July 2016

The Muse by Jessie Burton





The Muse by Jessie Burton
Published June 30, 2016 by Picador
Source: PanMacmillan Australia
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: England, 1967. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean émigré trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery, she discovers a painting rumored to be the work of Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is matched by the intrigue around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions, Odelle does not know what to believe or who she can trust, including her mesmerizing colleague, Marjorie Quick.Spain, 1937. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and her half-brother Isaac Robles, an idealistic and ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. A dilettante buoyed by the revolutionary fervor that will soon erupt into civil war, Isaac dreams of being a painter as famous as his countryman, Picasso.Raised in poverty, these illegitimate children of the local landowner revel in exploiting this wealthy Anglo-Austrian family. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss’s lives, Teresa and Isaac help Olive conceal her artistic talents with devastating consequences that will echo into the decades to come.
The Muse, Jessie Burton's second novel, tells the story of three women and how their lives intersect. It's 1967 in London. Odelle Bastien arrived five years earlier, along with her childhood friend, Cynth. Her mother remains in Trinidad, her father died during World War II. She and Cynth share a flat in Clapham and work in a shoe store, but Odelle has always longed for more. After sending out her resume, she is offered a position at the Skelton Art Gallery as a typist, and is soon taken in by an enigmatic older lady, Marjorie Quick. After a chance meeting at Cynth's wedding, Odelle is shown a painting and is then caught up in the story of it's origin, which involves nineteen year old Olive Schloss and sixteen year old Teresa Robles.

It can be difficult for characters to share the spotlight in stories with multiple perspectives, but Burton artfully captured each girl's personality and I loved getting to know all of them. Odelle's yearning for more and her love of writing was endearing. She's lonely once Cynth gets married, but she is supported by Marjorie, who encourages her writing. I loved Olive's determination to paint, to show her father her talent, even if it was surreptitiously. Teresa was sad and sweet, but I admired her determination to push others into sharing their talent. The girls had their differences but also shared similarities, such as being unsure of their place in the world and what their future would hold for them.

The settings were equally vivid, both London in the 60s and Spain in the 30s, but in such contrasting ways. The scenes with Odelle in London conveyed the rules hemming her in based on her skin colour and nationality. Spain on the other hand felt lawless and unpredictable, the brewing tension was palpable. The switch between settings and time periods was effortless, both just as captivating.

The mystery element was really well done, I was intrigued from the beginning and often thought I had it all worked out, only to read on and discover I was incorrect. I also loved the art aspect, each painting was perfectly described and so easy to imagine.

The Muse is a compelling and beautifully written novel featuring three cleverly woven stories that touch on family, war, secrets, and love.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.


I LOVE Lisa Perrin's illustrations so I was thrilled to be able to paint another of her beautiful book covers (she also illustrated the cover of Wink Poppy Midnight).


I started with a base of China Glaze First Mate . I used acrylic paint for the illustrations.




Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Ruined by Amy Tintera



Ruined (Ruined #1)  by Amy Tintera
Published May 1, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war; her parents were killed and her sister was kidnapped. Even though Em is only a useless Ruined - completely lacking any magic - she is determined to get revenge.Her plan is simple: She will infiltrate the enemy's kingdom, posing as the crown prince's betrothed. She will lead an ambush. She will kill the king and everyone he holds dear, including his son.The closer Em gets to the prince, though, the more she questions her mission. Her rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life - and her family - on the line, love could be Em's deadliest mistake.

I received Ruined by Amy Tintera unsolicited and at first I didn't want to read it; the Australian cover doesn't appeal to me, and I can be a lazy reader when it comes to fantasy - sometimes I'm just not in the mood to learn about a new world or I think it's going to be the same as every other fantasy book out there. But, I'm happy I gave Ruined a shot because it really surprised me.

The characters were the first surprise. I was expecting Emelina, or Em, to be one of those girls who goes on and on about how tough she is, but then isn't actually very strong at all, who hates on other women, and despises anything considered typically feminine. Instead she really is strong, she can defend herself but also accepts help. She's loyal, determined, and not afraid to kill. She also doesn't mind dressing up when it's expected, and finds it easy to be friends with women and men.

Prince Casimir was a great leading man. Yes, he's gone along with his father's way for so long, but he does question things, even if he hasn't actually acted on his doubts. Meeting Em spurs on this rebellious side, but he too is loyal to his family, and this is something he struggles with.

One of my favourite things to do when watching tv is to guess the plot, sometimes down to the exact words characters are about to say. When I can predict everything right in an episode, I like to joke to my boyfriend that "I wrote this episode" (this probably means I watch too much tv), so another surprising element of this story was that I couldn't predict what was coming. Each time I thought I'd figured it out, I was wrong. Tintera is not afraid to kill characters off, I was sure there'd be a love triangle, wrong! Characters you think are going to be stereotypical bad have good sides, and the good guys do bad things too.

Things were wrapped up well for the first book in a series, but with a hint of the trouble that I'm sure we'll see in book two, a book I'm very much looking forward to.

Ruined is a fantasy that stands out from the pack, with unique characters, a well built world, and a clever, fast-paced plot.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$16.99

Thursday, 7 July 2016

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan





You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
Published June 13, 2016 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan is set in San Francisco during Pride Week. Mark Rissi and Ryan have been friends for eight years, and more than friends for the past two. While Mark is openly gay, Ryan has not come out and so what goes on between them is a secret, and one that Ryan avoids talking about. On the eve of Pride Week, they head to a club in the city and it's there that Kate Cleary bumps into Mark. They are both in need of a friend that night, so they team up to find Kate's true love, Violet.

I love books that cover a mere snapshot of someone's life, and that's the case here, with this story highlighting a week of Mark and Kate's lives, and it's an important week for both of them.
Kate is struggling with anxiety over the future and her character stood out to me as someone a lot of teens will relate to. Kate is a talented artist but is filled with self-doubt. She sabotages everything good that happens to her, she is dreading the idea of college, and she's questioning her relationship with her best friend, Lehna. Marks comes into her life at a point when she needs someone to give her reassurance but also knows when to tell her it's ok to make her own decisions.

Mark's love for Ryan was beautiful, so  it was hard to watch him realise Ryan does not return his feelings. He's been holding onto the hope that one day, things would click into place for them, but meeting Kate provides him with a distraction as well as support.

The romance between Kate and Violet was so sweet, contrasting with the tension between Kate and Lehna. The descriptions of Kate's artwork and of Pride Week were vivid, easily bringing to mind beautiful, colourful, happy images.

You Know Me Well is a heartfelt story of two teens coming to terms with who they are and what they want their futures to hold. It's an honest, emotional ode to love and friendship.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.


This cover was made for nail art and I couldn't wait to paint it. 


I started with a gradient using the following polishes: BYS Black Satin, ChiChi Going All the Way, Essence Let's Get Lost, Nail It! Matte Teal, and Australis Aqua.


I used acrylic paint for the bridge, stars, waves, and for Kate and Mark.


Friday, 1 July 2016

When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah





When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published July 28th, 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars 

From the blurb: When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees - standing on opposite sides.Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.Michael's parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.They want to stop the boats. Mina wants to stop the hate.When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael's private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

When Michael Met Mina is Aussie author Randa Abdel-Fattah's latest novel, set on the North Shore of Sydney. Mina, her mother, and her step-father have left Auburn for Lane Cove. Mina has received a scholarship to a local private school and her parents are determined to give her the best chance at life, hence the move. They are leaving behind friends they've known for years, and a suburb that embraces their culture. Mina and her mother came to Australia as refugees ten years ago, her father had died and her baby brother died on the journey.

Michael already attends the school where Mina is about to start. His parents have just started a new political party, Aussie Values, aimed at reducing the number of refugees allowed into the country. They say they do not promote racism or violence, but not all their members seem to be aware of this.

Mina is really strong, she's also clever, kind, and passionate. She loves books, music, her parents, and her friends. She's sad to leave behind the girls from her previous school, but she knows this is a good opportunity. She quickly makes friends at her new school, and her friendship with Paula always made me smile. They bond over coffee and their love of words and it was a really sweet part of the story.

Michael is a good guy and I really felt for him, as I'm sure a lot of readers will. When you grow up in a family with strong opinions, you tend to think they're your opinions too, especially if you live in an area that also holds those same opinions, and you surround yourself with people who don't think to question them. Meeting Mina really rocks Michael's world, for the better. He starts to think more about his parents' opinions, about the party they've created, and about the guys he hangs around with.

I like that the author didn't simply make this a case of white vs everyone else, as the political party has members of many nationalities, and despite some of them being immigrants themselves, they oppose new immigrants. The behaviour of some of the members was despicable, but also sad because there really are people trying to make the lives of others as difficult as possible.

This is a really timely story as here in Australia, and in many countries around the world, there is ongoing debate about the number of people seeking refuge. When Michael Met Mina is an excellent book for teens and adults to read, it will hopefully start a lot of conversations that need to be had, and might even convince people to be more compassionate.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my copy.

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Cover designer: Elissa Webb

I love this cover, it's a lot of fun, it's eye-catching, and it was a lot of fun to paint.

I started with a base of China Glaze First Mate and used acrylic paint for the details