Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Just a Girl and Just a Queen by Jane Caro

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Just a Girl and Just a Queen by Jane Caro
Published May 11, 2011 / May 1, 2015 by UQP
Source: library / the publisher
Rating: 4 stars / 3 stars
From the blurb of Just a Girl: Determined, passionate and headstrong, Elizabeth I shaped the destiny of a kingdom.

Her mother; Anne Boleyn, was executed by her father Henry VIII. From that moment on, Elizabeth competed with her two half-siblings for love and for Britain’s throne. In the gilded corridors of the royal palace, enemies she couldn’t see – as well as those bound to her by blood – plotted to destroy her.

Using her courage to survive and her wits to confound those who despised her, this young woman became one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen.

Even though she was just a girl, she had already lived a lifetime.

From the blurb of Just a Queen: Just a girl to those around her, Elizabeth is now the Queen of England. She has outsmarted her enemies and risen above a lifetime of hurt and betrayal – a mother executed by her father, a beloved brother who died too young and an enemy sister whose death made her queen.

Not knowing whom she can trust, Elizabeth is surrounded by men who give her compliments and advice but may be hiding daggers and poison behind their backs. Elizabeth must use her head and ignore her heart to be the queen her people need. But what if that leads to doing the one thing she swore she would never do: betray a fellow queen, her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots? 

When I received a copy of Just a Queen for review and realised there was a previous book, I decided to grab a copy from a local library and review both books. Just a Girl focuses on Elizabeth’s childhood and the years before she became Queen of England. Just a Queen picks up Elizabeth’s story, twenty-eight years later, after Mary Queen of Scots has been beheaded.

I found Just a Girl to be completely engaging, there was plenty of intrigue and mystery, as long as you’re not too familiar with Elizabeth’s story. I enjoyed the liberties the author took in showing us what Elizabeth may have thought and felt during her life. Her life was filled with death, from the execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the later deaths of her father, brother, and sister. But, she also learnt a lot from her time in and away from court, and these experiences shaped her future as Queen.

In contrast, I didn't find Just a Queen as compelling. I read it only a day after finishing Just a Girl, but the spark was missing from this part of Elizabeth’s story. The focus is on whether or not Elizabeth was to blame for the order to have Mary executed and the back and forth regarding this issue grew a bit tedious. I enjoyed looking back in time to Elizabeth’s earlier years as Queen, but often details became repetitive and sometimes things were said twice in consecutive paragraphs.

Nevertheless, this is still a really intriguing time in history and reading these books had me googling more details on Elizabeth’s life, as well as wanting to return to a couple of tv shows I never finished: The Tudors and Reign.

Each book contains a large cast of characters, and the author has provided a list of these for the reader, though as they’re included at the end, I wasn't aware of it until I finished Just a Girl, so if you find the cast hard to keep straight, you can always refer to the back. The author also includes a note about her love of the Elizabethan era and the research she did for these books. It’s clear the research was extremely thorough and I enjoyed her interpretation of events. She also hopes to write a third book and I know I’d be keen to read it, so fingers crossed!

Just a Girl and Just a Queen provide a historically-accurate glimpse into Elizabeth’s life both before and during her reign as Queen of England. I highly recommend these for fans of historical fiction, and books such as the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy of Just a Queen.

I love the simplicity of both covers, so I kept my manicure simple as well.

I started with 2 coats of Ulta3 Berry Crush. I followed that with a coat of Orly Take a Chance.

I used acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint the crown on the ring nail.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
Published April 28 by Atom
Source: Hachette AU
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey is the first book in a new series being marketed to fans of books such as Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Echo, a seventeen year old girl considers the ancient, bird-like race of the Avicens to be her family, after she was taken in by their seer, The Ala, at age seven. The Avicens possess magic and so go unknown amongst humans, travelling the world via the in-between, and living below streets and train stations. There’s another ancient, dragon-like race, the Drakharins, they have their own territories and have been at war with the Avicens for centuries. The key to ending, or igniting the war, hinges on whoever can find the Firebird first.

Often when publishers suggest fans of another author or book will like their latest offering, it can lead to disappointment; either the new book is nothing like the comparisons, or is just not as good. In this case the similarities between The Girl at Midnight and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series were clear from the beginning, from the main character’s attitude to the feathery cover. I do think fans of DoSaB will like it, but it definitely doesn't eclipse it.

The prologue set the scene and from then the story is filled with action; Echo’s life a as a thief keeps her busy travelling all over the world, but she loves to return home to her secret room in a public library. Her bond with The Ala was sweet, as was her friendship with Ivy, and new romance with Rowan. The mystery regarding her parents and original name kept me intrigued, though it seems if there’s anything to reveal regarding those facts, they’ll be revealed later in the series.

We also get the perspective from a range of other characters, most notably Caius, the Dragon Prince of the Drakharins, his best friend Dorian, and occasionally Ivy. My issue with most of the characters was that they seemed contrived, especially when it came to Caius. We meet him and realise he’s the leader of the opposing race, but then we find about his past love and his motive so it’s clear he’s not really a bad guy. I felt like there was no time for the reader to decide these things, they’re shown to us immediately, so it was obvious he would become a love interest for Echo.

The mystery of the Firebird was easy to solve as early on as during the prologue, and a lot of the other actions and coupling were quite obvious, too.

A few  other gripes for me: a character gets left behind and not mentioned again when it seemed like they could have taken him along, discovering the Firebird didn’t deliver the end to war, as was suggested all along, and repetitive movements (lip-biting and inner cheek-biting).

But, despite these small issues, I did enjoy the book. I read this in one day, after a month of not reading any fiction, and after I’d finished I found myself thinking about it and what was going to happen next, only to remind myself I’d finished the book hours earlier.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy.

The wonderful people at Hachette ran a nail art competition for the release of The Girl at Midnight and asked me to pick a winner from the entries -  so fun! I’m thrilled that a bunch of Aussie bloggers joined in and did some bookish nail art, every entry was fantastic! Check out #girlatmidnight on Twitter to see the entries.

I also did some nails to match the cover, I used some nail tips because I have gel on my nails right now.

I started with a base of Ulta3 Lily White.

I used black acrylic paint for the diagonal black area.

I used a very fine brush and acrylic paint for the feathers.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett
Published 2009 by Penguin AU
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: 'The sky was pitch, and gashed by lightning; loutish waves rose and slumped heavily as mudslides. At a moment when she was filled with desperation, Maddy opened her mouth and yelled for Feather. And half-expected him to appear, because she wanted him to so much.'

Maddy yearns for her life to be mystifying, to be as magical as a fairy story. And then one day, on the beach she meets the strangest young man she has ever seen.

The Ghost's Child is an enchanting fable about the worth of life, and the power of love.

Maddy yearns for her life to be mystifying, to be as magical as a fairy story. And then one day, on the beach she meets the strangest young man she has ever seen.
The Ghost's Child is an enchanting fable about the worth of life, and the power of love.
Matilda, better known as Maddy, discovers a young boy in her home one evening and proceeds to recount the story of her life. As a young girl she returned home from a round-the-world trip with her father and met a wild boy on a local beach. She named him Feather and fell in love.

I picked this Aussie gem of a book up at a book fair a while ago and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read two of Sonya’s other books and each left me feeling sad (one more so than the other), but this had a different tone to it. The story is whimsical, magical, beautiful,and filled with love and longing. It was a delight to read, with a bittersweet ending.

International readers: The Ghost's Child has been published overseas, so keep an eye out for it.

I love this cover so much, it’s so intricate and beautiful, and I knew I wanted the design on my nails. 

I started with a base of American Apparel Peacock.

Then I used a fine brush, a dotting tool, and acrylic paint for the detailing.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Hachette AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
A very short review as I read this in Nov-Dec last year:

Fangirl was the first book by Rainbow that I read and I was in the minority when it came to my feelings on it because I really did not enjoy it (though I adore the cover and did nails to match!) So, when Landline showed up unexpectedly, I wasn't sure if I should give it a go but I am really glad I did.

Right from the start it was a fun read, the dialogue was snappy and reminded me so much of Gilmore Girls, I imagined the characters all as fast-talking people and found it very, very entertaining. I especially liked the tv writer aspect as I'm always impressed with how they can make a plot/show/series come together.

I don't read a lot of adult fic, mostly because I'm not interested in reading about marriage problems, babies, divorce etc, but this story was engaging and I truly cared for Georgie and her family. I was also pleased that Rainbow didn't choose to include a love triangle, and instead focused on how complicated a marriage can be.

Another thing I loved about this story were the pop cultural references - Home Improvement, The Beatles, Rainbow Brite, and Violet Beauregarde.

I'd suggest giving Landline a go even if you're like me and you tend to ignore adult fiction. It's a fun, heartwarming read.

Thank you to Hachette AU for my review copy.

I love the simplicity of this cover as well as the grey-toned green so I had to capture it in manicure form.

I used Orly Jealous Much? for the base, it was a perfect match.

I used a fine brush and acrylic paint for the phone.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Sandy Feet by Nikki Buick

The moment I saw the cover for Sandy Feet by Nikki Buick, I knew I had to do nails to match. I have a thing for palm trees and things with a summer-y vibe and this cover captures that perfectly.

I started with a base of Ulta3 Frangipani, a lovely bright yellow.

For the design I used a very fine brush and acrylic paint.

Sandy Feet by Nikki Buick
Published September 24, 2014 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars/DNF

No review for this one as I didn't end up finishing it. As most readers know, I love Aussie YA, but I could not connect with the MC and eventually gave up on him and his story. I even tried to give it another go recently hoping my feelings had changed but found I still could not invest in his story and decided not to push it. I'd still recommend this to all fans of contemporary YA fiction.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Panic by Lauren Oliver

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure,

I'm back within a week *self hi5*. This is another old review, I read Panic in August last year and did the nails to match then as well.

Panic by Lauren Oliver
Published March 6, 2014 by Hachette AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: PANIC began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.It’s a game played only by the desperate – graduating teenagers who enter knowing they are gambling with their lives, but are prepared to risk it all for the life-changing victor’s prize.Heather never thought she would compete. She’s never seen herself as fearless, as one to stand out from the crowd. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.Dodge has never been afraid of PANIC. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game; he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret.Everyone has something to play for.

Lauren Oliver is one of my favourite authors, not only because of the books she writes, but because I saw her a couple of years ago when she visited Sydney, and she was such a captivating and entertaining speaker. Her books share these qualities and her writing always grabs me from the start.

Panic is no different, this was an edge-of-my-seat read! It takes the elements of fear, daring, and courage, that are so prevalent in dystopian YA right now, but showcases them in realistic fiction instead. It’s summer in Carp, NY and that means it’s time for PANIC to begin. Graduating students must jump off a cliff to enter and then will be notified of challenges. There is only one winner, and they will walk away with the prize money, minus the judges’ commission.

Despite being written in third person, I immediately bonded with both narrators, Heather Nill and Dodge Mason. They’ve had quite different lives, but they’re both playing for people they love, and they’re linked by their need to protect Nat. I thought Heather was amazing, she’s such a great older sister to Lily, and I adored her friendship with Bishop Marks, complicated as it was. Dodge on the other hand was a tad intense and a little creepy sometimes, his secret was slow to reveal and his anger and hatred was both shocking and totally understandable.

I loved the small town setting, as well as the element of summer. It was easy to imagine the long hot days, the relief of jumping into the swimming hole, and the sort of boredom that might lead to a game like PANIC. I thought about this book a lot once I’d finished, and really PANIC is quite a selfish and dangerous game, the participants endanger themselves and other people in the town, they also cause damage, and there don’t seem to be many consequences. But the reasons why kids would enter are realistic, and the challenges were so vivid and believable.

I enjoy mysteries and thrillers, and despite figuring out some aspects of this, I was still surprised by so many twists. Take the tigers – Heather starts working for a local lady who runs an unofficial animal sanctuary and she has a pair of tigers, it might seem super obvious as to what will happen to them, but it didn’t play out exactly how I thought it would. Neither did the ending and I’m really happy with how it all turned out, but I wasn’t expecting to be happy once I finished a story like this. There were moments where I was squirming in my seat, sitting on the edge, saying “oh no, oh no, oh no!” And by the end my heart was racing and I felt like I’d been playing PANIC along with Heather and Dodge (sidenote: I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to enter a game like this.)

Panic is a captivating YA thriller, with a memorable cast of characters, all with different and complicated motives, and all with a need for something more.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy.

Normally I wouldn't do nails to match a cover that only features a photographic element, but for some reason I wanted to give this cover a go.

I started with a base of 2 coats of Orly Liquid Vinyl.

I used acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint Heather on my ring nail.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Happy New Year! The last time I blogged it had been three months since my last post, and this time it's only been a month and a half - I am improving! I thought of posting a bunch of times but logging in and formatting a post seemed like a Herculean task. Anyway, here I am with a review of a book I read in August last year. It is a wonderful book, I hope you'll give it a read.

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
Published 2011 by Hachette
Source: my dad gave me a copy
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: Everyone loves Harry. Everyone except his father. Three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry, are growing up on the remote south coast of Tasmania. The brothers’ lives are shaped by their father’s moods – like the ocean he fishes, he is wild and unpredictable. He is a bitter man, warped by a devastating secret.
Miles tries his best to watch out for Harry, the youngest, but he can’t be there all the time. Often alone, Harry finds joy in the small treasures he discovers, in shark eggs and cuttlefish bones. In a kelpie pup, a big mug of Milo, and a secret friendship with a mysterious neighbour.But sometimes small treasures, or a brother’s love, are not enough.

It’s funny how some authors often go unnoticed in the sea of fiction these days, especially when you have a focus on a particular area, like Aussie YA. In mid-August, before my dad handed me Past the Shallows, I’d never heard of Favel Parrett, and then suddenly her name was everywhere I looked because her second novel was due to be released. I’m so glad he found a copy of her debut novel because it’s an amazing example of Aussie YA fiction.

Past the Shallows is the story of the Curran boys: Joe (nineteen), Miles (approximately thirteen), and Harry (about eight). They live on the south coast of Tasmania with their father, an abalone fisherman. Their mother died not long ago, in a car accident. Their father is a violent, moody alcoholic, and Miles tries to protect Harry as much as possible, especially since Joe moved out. Miles also has to help on the boat, a job he is not fond of due to his father and his co-worker.

The story is told from Harry and Miles’ perspectives, and through them we learn of the mystery of why their father hates Harry so much, and the details of their mother’s death. Both boys sounded older than I first thought, and when I realised just how young they were, I became even sadder. I adored both of them, Harry is so young and innocent, he is pleased by the smallest of things, and is always trying to do nice things for Miles. Miles has so much responsibility for someone so young, I admired the way he cared for Harry.

The writing is beautiful, descriptive, and compelling – I hadn’t planned on reading this when it was given to me, but I glanced at the first page and once I started reading I could not stop. Each scene is so vivid, I could feel the cool, coastal air, and smell the salty sea. The more violent scenes, like the one involving a shark, were horrifying and left me feeling sick.

Because the boys are so young, the truth about their family becomes apparent to the reader before it does to them, but the ending is no less shocking because of it. I finished this book while sitting in my kitchen, with sunlight streaming in, but I still felt chilled to my core, with tears streaming down my face. 

Past the Shallows is a beautifully told story with a powerful impact, perfect for teens and adults. 

** International readers: both of Favel's book have also been published in the USA and the UK!

This book recently got a cover make over so it matches Favel’s second novel, When the Night Comes, both have lovely covers, but I’m still partial to the older cover and wanted to capture it in a manicure.

I started with 2 coats of Orly Smoked Out as the base.

In the top right hand area of each nail I sponged on China Glaze Too Yacht To Handle.

Then I dabbed on two different glitter polishes: Orly Go Deeper and L.A Girl Nostalgic.

On my ring finger nail I painted the seahorse using acrylic paint and a very fine brush.