Thursday, 31 March 2016

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Published October 2015 by Pan Macmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster. 

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston is a fantasy re-telling of One Thousand and One Nights. It's beautiful, lyrical, and magical. I was captivated for the first two thirds of the story but towards the end I lost interest and I can't put my finger on what changed. It was clear that the story was well researched and written by someone who knows the setting well, and I'd recommend it to all YA readers, especially fans of fantasy and fairy tale re-tellings.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

The UK hardback of this book is beautifully designed. The jacket has a cutout to show the cover underneath which is equally gorgeous. I just have the ARC, but I painted nails to match the finished copy.

This shade of purple is always hard to match, but I got close by using Ulta3 Eighties Fuchsia. I used acrylic paint for the feather.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman
Published March 28, 2016 by University of Queensland Press
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: I don't know if you've ever seen a house burn, but it's not like anything else … Clem Timmins has lost it all - her house , possessions and clothes. Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, she has to go to a new school far from what she knows.On her first day, Clem meets Ellie. To fit in, Clem reveals a secret and immediately regrets sharing too much with her new friend. How can Clem face everything in her life when all she wants to do is run away?

The Secrets We Keep is Nova Weetman's fifth book, and it tells the story of eleven year old Clem Timmins. She and her dad have moved to a flat after their family home burnt down. There's a bit of mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Clem's mother and it's a subject that Clem doesn't want to discuss. Clem starts at a new school and immediately makes a new friend, but she's still lonely and missing her old life, her best friend, and all the possessions she lost in the fire.

From the moment I began reading I had such a clear sense of the sort of girl Clem is, she's thoughtful, loyal, clever, and it's clear she inherited these traits from her wonderful father. Their relationship was so sweet, he provided so much support for her at such a difficult time in her life. Often in YA parents are absent or just not part of the story, so it was lovely to see a positive relationship between a young girl and her dad.

Nova excels at writing about female friendships with all their glorious and tempestuous complications. Clem was lonely after moving schools but gaining a friend in Ellie wasn't something she was sure she wanted, especially as she seemed to disrupt Ellie's friendship with Tam. It was nice to see Clem put herself in Tam's shoes, knowing that she wouldn't want her bestie, Bridget, to abandon her for someone new.

The Secrets We Keep is a touching story of family and friendship that's honest, heartwarming, and filled with strong, lovable characters.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy.

Cover illustration: Sandra Eterovic
Cover design: Jo Hunt

I adore this cover, and love seeing Sandra's illustrations used on the cover of Aussie YA (another recent cover she illustrated is Iris and the Tiger).

I knew I was going to paint this but I'm not happy with Clem's face, I got the proportions all wrong but didn't want to start again, so don't look at her too long ;)

I used a sky blue polish for the base and acrylic paint for the rest.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub

The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub
Published: March 1, 2016 by Harper Collins
Source: purchased
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Five teenagers. Five lives. One final year.The school captain: Ryan has it all … or at least he did, until an accident snatched his dreams away. How will he rebuild his life and what does the future hold for him now?The newcomer: Charlie’s just moved interstate and she’s determined not to fit in. She’s just biding her time until Year 12 is over and she can head back to her real life and her real friends …The loner: At school, nobody really notices Matty. But at home, Matty is everything. He’s been single-handedly holding things together since his mum’s breakdown, and he’s never felt so alone.The popular girl: Well, the popular girl’s best friend … cool by association. Tammi’s always bowed to peer pressure, but when the expectations become too much to handle, will she finally stand up for herself?The politician’s daughter: Gillian’s dad is one of the most recognisable people in the state and she’s learning the hard way that life in the spotlight comes at a very heavy price.Five unlikely teammates thrust together against their will. Can they find a way to make their final year a memorable one or will their differences tear their world apart?

The Yearbook Committee is Sarah Ayoub's second novel, and like her debut, is set in Sydney. It combines two of my favourite themes in any sort of entertainment, whether it's books, tv shows, or movies: a random group of people forming friendships, and multiple plot lines woven together in a clever way. Writing a story revolving around one main character seems like a hard enough task to me, but focusing on five characters must be even trickier, though Sarah pulled this off deftly.

Each of the characters is well developed, with detailed home lives, personalities, hobbies or jobs. There's Ryan who has given up soccer after an accident last year, Tammi who wants to be a police officer like her dad, Charlie who is desperate to move back to Melbourne, Matty who is now taking care of his mother, and Gillian the girl putting up with constant bullying. They find themselves on the newly formed yearbook committee and watching their friendship slowly develop was wonderful.

Ayoub cleverly uses their monthly committee meetings as a way of moving the story forward and after a few disastrous attempts, they finally start working together, having fun, and interacting outside their meeting times.This was especially sweet for Charlie, Gillie, and Matty who were the least popular of the group.

The story takes a close look at bullying, particularly done through social media and my hear broke for Gillie, she really puts up with a lot at school and at home, and gaining new friends helped her immensely. I really felt for Tammi as well, her father is controlling and won't even acknowledge her reasons for wanting to become a cop, she also has to deal with the worst boyfriend ever. Matty's story highlights what it's like for a scholarship student at a private school who finds himself in charge of also bringing in the only income for the household, and how that effects his school life.

The pacing was perfect, I could feel the year start to speed up once they'd reached mid-way, and I knew from the prologue that the group were going to have to face something big at the final party of the year. In the case of some of the plot lines, I could see the way they would develop right away, others I thought would go in one direction but then I ended up surprised, and the ending definitely left me shocked and saddened.

Ableist language: dumb is used a couple of times, and there's also a mention of dumbing-down.

The Yearbook Committee is a beautifully written story of the way five students come together in their final year, with a focus on topics relevant to teens today.

I love this cover and thought I'd do nails to match using the camera and the cute swirls in the background.

I started with a base of black polish, BYS Black Satin.

I used acrylic paint for the rest.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Cargo by Jessica Au

Cargo by Jessica Au
Pubished by PanMacmillan
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Gillian is fifteen, crippled by a tragic accident but dreams of swimming across oceans.Jacob is fourteen and yearns for his brother's life.Frankie is fifteen and in love with the new deckhand on her father's boat.As the story of these three desires intertwine over the course of one lazy summer in a small coastal town, Cargo is by turns heart-wrenching, beautiful and explosive.In a simple time of truth and change, these are characters who do not know themselves, yet through their innocence we come to understand what it means to be young, and have all the troubles in the world.

No review as I read this over a year ago. I remember loving the beach town setting, the characters, and the way their lives connected. It was beautifully written and I'm so glad I picked it up. It's a book I'd like to re-read and it's one I'd recommend to all YA and adult readers.

Illustrator: Leo Nickolls

You can read a piece by Jessica on what the cover design process was like for Cargo, and she linked to a hilarious post on how it usually works.

This is such a beautiful cover and I knew I had to paint it. I started with a base of white polish and used acrylic paint for the rest.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
Published August 2014 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: When Apple's mother returns after eleven years away, Apple feels whole again. But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother's homecoming is bittersweet. It's only when Apple meets someone more lost than she is that she begins to see things as they really are.A story about sad endings.A story about happy beginnings.A story to make you realise who is special.

Apollinia Apostolopoulou, better known as Apple, is thirteen years old and lives with her grandmother in Brampton-on-Sea. Her mother left on Christmas Eve ten years ago, and Apple has never stopped wondering about her and when she would return. Apple's grandmother is strict but it's clear she loves her. She rarely sees her dad who is now married and expecting a baby with his wife, Trish.

Apple is a lovely girl and it was easy to feel for her. She feels babied by her grandmother and this impacts her friendships at school as she starts losing her former best friend to a more popular girl when she can't hang out after school. She feels abandoned by her mother and father, and disliked by Trish. When her mum shows up it's no surprise that Apple is thrilled and more than willing to make allowances for her. She immediately gets sucked into her mum's life and she can't see that she's being used. I felt heartbroken for her grandmother who has to let Apple go, if only so that she'll see what she's been trying to protect her from. There is one positive new addition to her life and that's Del, a boy who has just moved in next door. He is adorable, funny, and sweet - the perfect new friend for Apple.

Meeting Rain it's clear that Apple is not the only one who's had a tough time growing up. Her life seemed even sadder, especially as she'd actually heard how much she got in the way and how things were her fault, even if this wasn't true. It was wonderful to see Apple slowly get to know her, even if it didn't always go smoothly.

Sarah's books are always heartfelt, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, basically all the hearts! Apple and Rain is a great example of this, it's sweet, touching, sad, and hopeful. It's a wonderful book and another brilliant example of UKYA.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

Sarah always has beautiful book covers, this is the third one I've painted. You can see a very old manicure I did for The Weight of Water (I'd love to re-do this one sometime) and more recently I did nails for One.

For this manicure I started with 2 coats of Wet and Wild French White Creme. I used acrylic paint for the apple.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall 
Published October 2015 by Swoon Reads
Source: PanMacmillan
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: If only Jane’s Magic 8 Ball could tell her how to get through the summer. With her “perfect” sister, Margo, home for her “perfect” internship, Jane is not going to be able to spend the summer writing fan fiction, as she had planned. And her emergency babysitting job requires Jane to spend the whole summer in awkward proximity to her new crush, Teo, a nerdy-hot lifeguard with problems of his own. With his best friend out of town, Teo finds himself without anyone to confide in…except Jane. Will Jane and Teo be able to salvage each other’s summer? Even the Magic 8 Ball doesn’t have an answer…but signs point to yes.

Signs Point to Yes is Sandy Hall's second novel and I wish I hadn't left it sitting on my shelf for so long.

Jane is a really lovely main character, she's determined not to spend her summer with her mum, she wants to avoid talking about college for as long as possible because she fears failure. Instead she finds a summer job babysitting, putting her back in contact with Teo. They were realy close friends as children but as they grew older they drifted apart, mostly due to Teo's best friend Ravi as he hates Jane passionately.

I felt for Teo, he lives with his mum, step-dad, and three adorable younger sisters and he has always longed to know his birth father, but his identity is a mystery. Having Jane around provides someone new for him to talk to and it was so fun watching Jane and Teo get to know each other again, reminsice about their former friendship, and slowly fall in love.

Margo, Jane's older sister, is home for the summer. Jane feels as though she can't live up to the high standard Margo set, but Margo is hiding something from her family. When she finally reveals to Jane that she is bi-sexual, Jane is accepting and supportive. It was wonderful to see the two sisters grow closer over the summer, both being there for each other, especially when having to fave their parents.

Signs Point to Yes is a sweet, summer romance, with a touching look at how important family is.

Thank you PanMacmillan for my review copy.

I adore this cover so much and couldn't wait to paint it! I can't wait to grab a copy of Sandy's previous book so I can paint that beautiful cover too.

I started with a base of Ulta3 Corsican Rose and used acrylic paint for the details.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Jaclyn Moriarty High Tea at Better Read Than Dead

Almost two years ago I attended my first high tea event at the Better Read Than Dead bookstore in Newtown. The tea was for the three Moriarty sisters: Jaclyn, Nicola, and Liane. It was really wonderful and the lovely staff that run it were kind enough to arrange some vegan food for me.

Yesterday I attended another high tea, this time a launch for Jaclyn's latest book, A Tangle of Gold. It's a brilliant conclusion to The Colours of Madeleine series.

I've already done nails for AToG, but I decided to do a more wearble version of that manicure for the event:

Also in attendance was Justine Larbalestier, she conducted the clever and insightful interview with Jaci. The event was fun, humorous, entertaining, and I know would-be authors in the audience were inspired by the conversation.

Some comments I tweeted:

  • Jaclyn Moriarty got the idea for The Colours of Madeleine series from a notebook, coloured pencils, and some pictures she drew
  • Jaclyn decided the monsters in her series would be colours. She obsessed over her colour research
  • Named the kingdom Cello, then decided she had to learn to play the cello 
  • Her plan for the series was 200 pages long
  • The Moriarty sisters read each other's work and give lots of praise, as well as critiquing
  • What's Jaclyn working on now? About 5 different things including adult fic, YA, a time travel book, and a biography
  • Annnnnd a new Ashbury/Brookfield book!!!!!!
  • The Ashbury/Brookfield series was inspired by a decade of letter writing between Jaci and a school friend

Once again the staff provided food for me, something I appreciate so much - thanks, girls!

I had my copy of A Tangle of Gold signed, and since I already own all of Jaci's books, I purchased another Aussie YA new release, The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard.

The upstairs area at Better Read Than Dead is a great little venue for the high teas, and I recommend you keep an eye on their events page to see if one of your favourite authors will be there in the future.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard
Published February 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Caddy and Rosie have always been inseparable. But that was before Suzanne. Now Caddy wants to be more than just the quiet one. She wants something to happen.Suzanne is trying to escape her past and be someone different. Someone free.But sometimes downward spirals have a momentum of their own. An no one can break your heart like a best friend.

Sara Barnard's debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things is, well, beautiful, and completely different from what I expected. When I realised it was a story about a two best friends and a new girl I thought I could see exactly where this was going, but I was wrong. Instead, this is an intense look at the different kinds of relationships between teenage girls.

Caddy and Rosie have been friends since they were children, but as new girl Suzanne becomes a part of their lives, it changes everything. Caddy wants to be someone different, someone more like Rosie and Suzanne. She's determined to make three things happen this year: get a boyfriend, have sex, and experience a significant life event.

Caddy is naive and watching her get tangled up in Suzanne's lies was troubling, but it was so realistic. Her friendship with Suze develops quickly, Caddy feels needed by her and enjoys the attention, but Suze isn't being completely honest about her past; she's dealing with mental illness and abuse.

It was great to see parents play a large part in this story, as well as a wonderful relationship between Caddy and her older sister, Tarin, who was diagnosed with bi-polar a few years earlier.

Beautiful Broken Things is heart-wrenching, honest, relevant, and a story that a lot of teenage girls will connect with and possibly see themselves in.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.

I love this cover, but found the green hard to match. I used 4 coats of L.A Girl to get something similar.

I used Ulta3 Tropez and acrylic paint for the lines, birds, and hands.

Monday, 7 March 2016

George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino
PublishedAugust 2015 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: BE WHO YOU ARE.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.
George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.  
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

George by Alex Gino is a beautiful story about a child named George. Physically George is a boy but she knows she's a girl and longs for the day she can change her name to Melissa and not have to hide who she is. George was so lucky to have a best friend in Kelly, she was kind, supportive, and encouraging. I thought the reaction of George's mum was realistic; in a perfect world all parents would be understanding and supportive from the beginning, but in real life it's more typical to expect some denial or confusion, followed, hopefully, by acceptance.

George is a wonderful story for kids, teens, and adults, highlighting an important issue that needs more open discussion between families, friends, and schools.

Thank you Scholastic for my review copy.

I used a white base for these nails and acrylic paint for the lettering.