Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Published: April 2, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.
But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFever is the sequel to Grave Mercy, set in Brittany. This time the story is told from Sybella’s perspective, a fellow sister of Ismae’s from the Abbey of St Mortain. Sybella is living in Alain D’Albret’s castle, along with his sons Julian and Pierre. She awaiting instructions from the abbey, but they never seem to be the order she wants, that is to kill D’Albret. Instead she must rescue Benebic de Waroch, better known as The Beast.

I enjoyed Grave Mercy, but right from the start of Dark Triumph I knew I was going to like it even more. Lady Sybella is a much stronger character than Ismae, she’s more knowledgeable, decisive, and experienced. Another reason is all the set up happened in book one, so we were able to dive right into her story, without all the information about the abbey and what the Sisters of St Mortain do.

Early on in her story Sybella reveals information about her family and hints at horrible events that have occurred over the course of her life. Knowing these things allows the reader to see her in a new light. She’s rash, brave, and cold because she has to be. But she’s also fiercely loyal and protective, preferring to put herself in danger rather than any of her loved ones. Her interactions with Benebic were entertaining - in any another story they would have been frustrating, but because of her history, it’s obvious that she feels as though she doesn't deserve to be loved, and her behaviour towards him reflects this.

LaFevers really knows how to set a scene, these story felt tense all the way through, I couldn't stop worrying about Sybella due to the constant threat of D’Albret’s revenge, couple with the approaching French troops.
Dark Triumph is a perfect sequel, no time is wasted and the story moved at a good pace, covering more ground and information, following characters I’d already come to love. The final book in the trilogy, Mortal Heart, is due out later this year, and I for one cannot wait!

I love the cover for these books and seeing as I did a mani for Grave Mercy, I figured I’d do one for Dark Triumph, too!

On all fingers excluding my ring nail I used 2 coats of Natio Aura.

Once dry I used 2 coats of Ulta3 Get Teal to do a Ruffian look on each nail – I wanted the gold to mimic Sybella’s hood. I also used 2 coats of Ulta3 Get Teal on my ring nail.

I used acrylic paint to do the design from the fabric of her dress as well as her blade.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Stacking the Shelves (11)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews - it's a way for us to share the books we received during the week

No vlog this week but I do have a few books to share - for months I've had a huge box of books purchased from book fairs and these are the final three I have to add to my shelves after reorganising and getting rid of a bunch.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - this has such mixed reviews from 1 to 5 stars, but I'm keen to give it a go

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin - I haven't read much about this one, and I've only read one of the author's other books, but it sounds interesting

Watercolours by Adrienne Ferreira - this is Aussie YA and I adore the cover!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Published March 27, 2014 by Walker Books AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Foolish love appears to be a Roux family birthright. And for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is an ominous thing to inherit. In her quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to join her peers, sixteen-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world. But it is a dangerous world for a naive girl - a world which may view her as girl or angel. On the night of the summer solstice celebration, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava s journey and her family s saga reaches a devastating crescendo.
The title of Leslye Walton’s debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, perfectly sums up the story within: it is at times strange and magical, beautifully written, and full of sorrow. Ava’s narrative starts out in France, moves to Manhattan, and finally ends up in Seattle. At the age of thirty she decides to look into her family history and it is this story she shares with us, starting with her great grandmother, known to her descendants as Maman.

The beginning of the novel focuses on her mother and grandmother’s earlier lives, the death and heartbreak that came with being a part of their family, and finally the relocation to Seattle and the opening of the family bakery. It was a slow moving introduction but it laid the foundation for the rest of Ava’s story.

For me the story really took flight once Ava starts leaving the house she has been confined to. Ava was born with a pair of wings, her twin Henry was not, but he chooses not to communicate verbally most of the time. Viviane, Ava’s mother, feels it’s better than the twins stay home for fear they will be abused or talked about, and Ava has no issue with this until she is persuaded by her friend Cardigan, and her brother, Rowe, to join them late at night at a gathering at the lake.

There was such a strong undercurrent of sadness to this story and I had no doubt that Ava’s life, just like the women’s before her, would be touched by violence and sorrow. This has a large impact on her family and I appreciated the inclusion of her recuperation and healing process. I got the sense that luck for the Lavender/Roux family had changed for the better.

Thank you to Walker Books for my review copy.

As soon as I saw this cover I wanted to recreate it on my nails - it's gorgeous and so beautifully designed.

I started with 2 coats of Natio Turquoise. Once dry, I used a fan brush and two shades of acrylic paint to create the lines.

I outlined each nail with the darker shade of blue and striper brush.

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

I'm not happy with the feather, but I have major neck and shoulder pain at the moment so painting my nails was probably a bad idea to begin with. I re-did it and was still unhappy with how short it looked compared to the one on the cover, and my pain meant that instead of adding in some orange to match the cover, I just left the feather yellow. Looking back I really should have done half the feather - c'est la vie!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Stacking the Shelves (10)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews - it's a way for us to share the books we received during the week


For review:

Trouble by Non Pratt
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Matthieu
The Other Side of Nowhere by Steven Johnstone

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (Aus)
Wildlife by Fiona Wood (AusYA) - international readers: this will be published in the USA in September! Read it, you won't regret it!

Persepolis 1 and 2 by Marjane Satrapi

And, I mentioned in my vlog above that I had reorganised my bookshelves. For those who follow me on Instagram, you will have already seen them, but I want to share them here as well.

This is my to-read shelf and the one I sit in front of to film my vlogs. I decided to try arranging it by colour even though the organiser in me really liked my previous category system. The only category I could not let go of was my review books so they are in the top three shelves, starting in the top left hand corner.

This is my read shelf, it's located upstairs. I only just reorganised it and I found so many books that I no longer want because they're just not what I read anymore, so I am planning to giveaway/donate at least 100 books (these are not shown in the photo). The stacks and box on the right are also to giveaway/donate - these are YA books I've read or been given but that I do not want to keep.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The post contains a review and a bookish manicure

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Published April 10, 2014 by Bloomsbury AU
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. 
Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. 

Last month it felt as if there were two super-hyped up books being featured on every YA book blog, those books were Half Bad and The Winner’s Curse. I wanted to read them both and I was sure I knew how I’d felt about them: I was going to like Half Bad and I was probably going to dislike The Winner’s Curse – this was mostly based on the cover and all the 5 star reviews. I was wrong, I disliked HB and ended up really, really impressed with The Winner’s Curse!

Marie has created a believable world in Herran. The Valorians took over ten years ago and enslaved the Herrani people. According to the author it’s very loosely based on when the Romans invaded Greece, but it’s also a world she created. The writing made it easy for me to picture the city, I was instantly transported to the streets of Herran and to the slave auction where our two main characters first meet.

Lady Kestral Trajan is the daughter of a Valorian general. Despite being seventeen, she has no desire to choose either of the two options a Valorian girl has: marriage or enlistment in the army. Her father attempts to pressure her into enlisting but she prefers spending time with her friends Jess and Ronan, and playing the piano – a skill taught to her before her mother passed away. Kestral has always believe in the strength of Valorians but over the course of the story, we see a lot of her preconceptions dissolve as she learns more about the world she lives in.

Arin, first introduced as a slave named Smith, is purchased by Kestral for an exorbitant amount, and is taken to live in her villa. From his perspective we learn of how the Herrani feel about their enslavement and he gives a different view of the Valorians, highlighting their cruelty.

Despite liking both characters and enjoying both perspectives, I never felt quite connected to them, this is probably due to the novel being written in third person. I adored the slow romance between them, but I’ve seen people say they cried over this book, yet it didn’t move me to tears and for me that means I wasn’t as emotionally involved as I like to be during a book.

A lot of the plot is predictable, but not in a negative way. When you’re dealing with a story of slavery, you come to expect certain things: violence, rebellion, betrayal; but there were moments where I was totally surprised and impressed with the choices the author made. I’d love to talk about them, but I don’t want to spoil anything, though I will say it’s nice to see a bad guy get killed, rather than escaping or being allowed to live and cause further trouble. I was also impressed with Arin, he never resorts to being controlling or aggressive with Kestral, and that was so nice to see when so many YA books employ nasty creeps as their male love interests.

The ending was well done, wrapping up the major events but leaving readers in suspense for what will happen next to Arin and Kestral. It also left me thinking about how these two could ever be together as I could feel their indecision and guilt. Each of them feels betrayed and lied to, how can they be loyal to their people but also love their enemy? Despite these issues, I really, really want them to be together.

Thank you to the wonderful people at Bloomsbury for my review copy via Netgalley.

Because I liked this story so much, I decided to do a manicure inspired by the cover. I started with 2 coats of Bloom Lucille.

Once dry I used Mode Cosmetics Fresh Melon to pain on some flowers.

When that dried I outlined the flowers with acrylic paint and stuck a small silver caviar bead in the centre of each one. I also used acrylic paint to do her knife.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Half Bad (Half Life #1) by Sally Green
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

I am not sure what to make of this book. The very first time I heard of it was via a review on a book blog and as soon as I read the blurb about White Witches vs Black Witches I thought “Seriously?” But then this book was everywhere, with lots of positive feedback and when I saw it available here, I requested a copy. I still can’t shake the feeling that naming the groups of witches white and black was a bit of a bad idea, not to mention unimaginative and overdone.

The change in person was interesting, I didn’t mind the chapters written in second person, it made for a unique start to the story and allowed the reader to put themselves in Nathan’s position.

While the rest of the book being in first person, it didn’t make me feel all that connected to Nathan, but this could be because he’s quite untrusting and keeps a lot to himself. I did like the relationship between him, Arran, Deborah, and his Grandma. Despite attending primary school and seeming to be quite an intelligent boy, somehow Nathan gets to high school and is unable to read and write. I don’t know why this was added to his character description, but it didn’t sit right with me. Wouldn't his illiteracy have been noticed at school? And the teachers in his new high school seem to ignore the problem, too. It also means that every time he receives written instructions on his journey, he needs to ask a stranger to read them to him, again I wonder why make him illiterate when it was going to pose such an issue for him.

The time frame jumps around, starting with his captivity, then going back to his childhood, slowly information trickles in about witches, with a focus on Nathan’s father, Marcus, supposedly the worst Black Witch alive. I spent most of the book wondering why Black Witches were so bad. According to the White Witch Council, Black Witches are evil, they kill innocent people, and they need to be destroyed, but it all felt very one-sided. Perhaps this is because Nathan is kept in the dark when it comes to black witches, I assume there will be more of an explanation in the sequel, but that means this book felt incomplete.

I found a lot of the events and location changes confusing. One minute we’re in his town in England, then camping in Wales, then Nathan is in London, then he’s in a secret apartment in Geneva. All of these movements felt unconnected and unexplained, and also very coincidental.

Despite being a book about witches, there wasn’t a lot of witching or magic going on. There are many of descriptions about how when a child is old enough, they have a ceremony where they receive three gifts, drink some blood, and become a proper witch, which sounded really interesting and unique, but for most of the book, the cast felt human, not paranormal.

The story started out well, I was intrigued by Nathan’s imprisonment and his family history, what he goes through is horrific, but after a while the story started to drag and I wanted nothing more than to have this book done with. The ending especially felt quite anticlimactic and it definitely didn’t leave me craving book two.

Thank you to the fantastic people at Penguin for my review copy.

So, while I didn't like the story, I do like the cover. I was looking at the design and thinking about how to go about painting it, when I realised if you turn the cover upside down, the blood looks like a bloom of jellyfish, so that's how I painted it! But, as I was typing up this post, I noticed for the first time that the blood outlines the profile of a face - I've looked at this cover so many times and now that I see it, it seems so obvious!

I used 2 coats of Orly Liquid Vinyl. Once dry I used acrylic paint for the design.

This mani made for a nice change, it was super quick to do but I like how simple it is.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Stacking the Shelves (9)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews - it's a way for us to share the books we borroowed, bought or received during the week.


For review:

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Goose by Dawn O'Porter
The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Mondern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
Goddess by Laura Powell
Poppy by Mary Hooper

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Ask the Passengers by A.S.King
Published 2012 by Little, Brown
Source: the library
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

I’ve been meaning to read A.S. King’s books for some time now, I even own Please Ignore Vera Dietz, but for some reason I haven’t read it yet. Thankfully our book club pick for March was Ask the Passengers and it was brilliant.

Astrid lives with her younger sister Ellis and her parents in a small town called Unity Valley. They used to live in New York but moved when her grandmother died and her mother bought their family home. Their mother works from home and is a stickler for rules. She favours Ellis and picks on her husband. Astrid’s dad lost his job and now works at a job he hates, he smokes a lot of pot and thinks no one notices.

I adored Astrid, she’s like any teenager: a little lonely, not sure of who she is, and in need of love. She enjoys sending love to people who serve her in stores, to her family, and to the people in the planes that fly over her backyard. Astrid thinks she might be gay and is spending a lot of time with a girl from her part-time job, Dee. Dee tries to pressure Astrid into coming out to everyone, and to be more physical with her.

Speaking of pressure, Astrid’s mum made me livid. Nothing Astrid does is good enough, and when she suspects that Astrid is gay, she tries to force her into admitting it. It infuriated me that a parent would treat their child in the way that she did. Her dad was a little better but still tried to pressure Astrid into telling them, and even when she did give them an honest answer, they wouldn’t take her word for it.

Astrid is also keeping secrets for her friends Justin and Kristina. Astrid doesn’t tell Kristina about Dee or that she’s questioning her sexuality and when Kristina finds out, she turns on Astrid. It comes from feeling betrayed and untrustworthy, that’s understandable, but she could have been a much better friend.

I really felt for Astrid, she’s under pressure from everyone around her and the only comfort she gets is from sending love to the people in the planes. Included in the story is the perspective of some of the passengers aboard these planes, often their lives tie in with what Astrid is feeling at the time, and it was a good addition to the story.

The writing was perfect, it conveyed so clearly the claustrophobic small town vibe, feeling boxed in by the residents who are always watching and gossiping. I was so absorbed in Astrid' story I felt as though I was there.

This is a really wonderful look at family dynamics, and a realistic take on the life of a teenager, struggling to figure out who she is. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: purchased
Rating: 3.5 stars

From the blurb: Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

I don’t know what put me off this book two years ago, but something did because I never added it to my reading list or paid it much attention. But, due to a friend’s love of it (hey, Magz!) I decided to give it a go and I’m really happy I did.

Ismae Rienne is a seventeen year old living in Brittany in 1485. The only men in her life have been cruel to her, and she has been teased and shunned by the people in her village due to a large red scar received during her mother’s pregnancy. A local herbwitch rescues her and has her sent to a convent where she is trained as an assassin, serving the patron saint of death, Mortain. After three years she is assigned to be Gavriel Duval’s companion at court, trying to figure out who is going to betray the duchess.

I loved the historical element of this story, and the setting of Brittany. It reminded me of a YA version of Bitter Greens, minus the fairy tale aspect. There was plenty of intrigue, mystery, death, and romance - a great combination.

Ismae’s childhood was not filled with love or affection, she’s used to being abused by men, but her life at the convent gives her strength and purpose. She takes well to poison making and her assassin training but struggles with flirting, so pairing up with Gavriel and playing his mistress is understandably a difficult task for her. But, she was also a little immature, which is my only criticism of her character. I adored Gavriel, he was such a good male lead - kind, intelligent, and so patient with Ismae. Their slow romance was believable and sweet.

The plot while interesting was a tad slow, I read this over four days, which is a long time for me and a book that’s only 363 pages in length. But, the pace suited the story, a time when there would have been a lot of back and forth due to negotiations, secrets, and lies.

The ending was wrapped up perfectly, but it also left me keen for the sequel and I’ll be picking that up very soon!

I wasn’t sure about doing nails to match Grave Mercy as there was no way I was going to attempt painting Ismae, but once I zoomed in on the details on her dress I felt inspired.

On my thumb, index, and pinky I used 2 coats of Ulta3 Tone it Up. Once dry I used a fine brush and acrylic paint to add the floral/leafy detail of Ismae’s dress.

I zoomed in on the cover and noticed the wonderful embroidered detailing on Ismae’s sleeves (see pic below). So for my middle nail I started with 2 coats of Orly La Playa and then used acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint the flower, vines and lines.

And lastly I had to include Ismae’s crossbow and the castle wall. I started with 2 coats of China Glaze White Out. Over that I sponged on some acrylic paint and then used a fine brush to do the wall detailing and the crossbow.

So, this is one of those manicures that makes no sense away from the book cover, but because some of the details are so small, I don’t think it looks a lot like the cover either! But, I really love the blue floral nail and I’m tempted to do a full mani of that pattern.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Trap by Andrew Fukuda

The Trap (The Hunt #3) by Andrew Fukuda
Published November 1, 2013 by Simon & Schuster
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3.5 stars

From the blurb: After barely escaping the Mission alive, Gene and Sissy face an impossible task: staying alive long enough to stop an entire world bent on their destruction. Bound on a train heading into the unknown with the surviving Mission girls, Gene, Sissy, David, and Epap must stick together and use everything they have to protect each other and their only hope: the cure that will turn the blood-thirsty creatures around them into humans again. Now that they know how to reverse the virus, Gene and Sissy have one final chance to save those they love and create a better life for themselves. But as they struggle to get there, Gene's mission sets him on a crash course with Ashley June, his first love . . . and his deadliest enemy.

The Trap by Andrew Fukuda is the final book in The Hunt series. This was initially a series I had little interest in, then I read book one and was hooked on Fukuda’s world building and action-packed stories.

The Trap picks up where The Prey left off: Gene, Sissy, David, and Epap are on a train along with the young girls that escaped The Mission. They arrive at the Ruler’s Palace and from there they must decide if they help the Originators or The Ruler.

Right from the start this book was go, go go. The opening scene was vivid, scary, and made my heart race. What Gene and the gang find at the Palace is just as disturbing as everything else they’ve seen along the way – Fukuda always pushes the creepy-barrier and this is definitely a world I’d never want to visit!

I’ve always liked Gene, he’s done well to have survived as a Heper for so long in the vampires’ world. The same can be said for Sissy, she’s an amazingly strong girl. The two make a great pair, not only because they’re The Origin, but because they care about each other so much.

The plot in this book was just as I expected: fast and action-packed. There was never a dull moment and there was a lot to take in. I found the ending almost lost me, I was confused as to why the characters seemed so surprised by the big reveal, but this didn't dampen my enjoyment.

Overall this has been a satisfying series and each book has been equally good. I have always pondered certain aspects of the world Fukuda has created, but it still feels well thought out. I highly recommend this to any YA reader who thinks they’re over vampires books – this series is so different.

Thank you to the fantastic people at Simon & Schuster for my review copy.