Friday, 24 June 2016

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me by Michael Gerard Bauer

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me by Michael Gerard Bauer
Published May 1, 2016 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: It really all started with The Pain. He officially came into my life exactly nine weeks and one day before our Year Ten Graduation Dance. And despite my very best efforts to wipe the day from my mind, I can still remember it clearly. It was a Friday. The thirteenth day of the month. Notice anything there? 
Maggie Butt is facing not only a stranger taking over her mother's life but her own as well, and she is not going to let that happen. But then there's the one-eyed snaggle-toothed cat, senior subject choices, the dream date and Cyber Boy, the geek in the library to contend with as well. 
It's going to be an interesting year.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me by Michael Gerard Bauer centres around fifteen year old Marguerite Butt, who will accept the nickname Maggie but absolutely despises the name Mags. Since her actor father left four years ago, Maggie and her mother have been a two-person team, occasionally her mother dates someone, but nothing too serious. Until now. Danny shows up one evening, and serenades Maggie with Rod Stewart's classic, Maggie May. Immediately she knows she definitely does not want her mother to date him, and nicknames him The Pain.

Maggie is a girl with opinions, strong ones and lots of them. Personally, I would love people to sing Maggie May to me at any given opportunity (feel free to sing it to me if you ever see me, I'll even join in!) Maggie's personality jumps, no, screams, off the page. She is full of sass, snark, and sarcasm. She's at that age where everything is a big deal and she has a tendency to over-dramatise. But underneath all the talk and exaggeration is a girl who has no friends and must be extremely lonely. She has 3 goals for the year, one is to find a friend, and this really made me sympathise with her.

The story itself is quite fast-paced and covers Maggie's home life, her time at school, her volunteer work at a nursing home, their new cat, as well as her developing crush on Jeremy, aka Cyber Boy.

The story reads genuinely, as if a teenage girl wrote it, with lots of exclamation points, capitalised words, nicknames for almost every character, and lotttttttts of word lengthening. It's fun and entertaining, but also intense and a bit tiring once I got closer to the end of the book.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a great story for teens, focusing on families, friendship, bullying, and first loves.

Ableist language: psycho, mental, dumb.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

Cover design: Helen Crawford-White

This is a fun, colourful cover and it suits the feel of the story perfectly.

I started with a base of Illamasqua Load, a pale yellow, then used acrylic paint for the stripes and the characters.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Smell of Other's People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Published by Faber & Faber
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.
Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.Alyce is staying at home to please her parents.Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don't save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?

The Smell of Other People's Houses is Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's debut novel. Set in 1970 in Alaska, the story revolves around four kids - Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. Ruth and her younger sister Lily live with their grandmother in Fairbanks, alongside Dora and Alyce. Dora's dad is an alcoholic so she's taken shelter at Dumpling and Bunny's house. Alyce wants to be a ballet dancer, but her passion is in conflict with the time she spends time with her father on his fishing boat and she doesn't want to displease him. Hank and his younger brothers are running away from home.

We don’t learn a lot about American history at school in Australia, unless it involves war, so reading a book set in Alaska during the 70s was fascinating to me because it’s not a place I know much about (I hardly think seeing one episode of Slednecks gave me a good idea of life there), so I was surprised to find out that Alaska wasn’t a state until 1959, something mentioned in the story as being a major issue for Alaskans.

Alaska sounds like a beautiful place, but also somewhere that knows true hardship. The characters in this story certainly represented that, each of them wanting more and striving for better lives. I felt for all the kids in this story, they struggle with their family situations, often misunderstanding their family or their past. I loved seeing the characters grow and become stronger, more hopeful.

It’s always wonderful to see how authors make multiple story lines come together, in this case each of them stands on their own but they also fit together seamlessly. I could see where some of them would end up, others surprised me with the direction they took.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a beautiful, moving debut featuring a setting, culture, and time period not often seen in YA fiction. It’s a vivid and captivating story of love, family, friendship, and determination.

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

Cover illustration: Li-Wen Chu

I adore this cover and it played a major part in my need to read this book because I just had to paint it!

I started with a base of China Glaze First Mate. I sponged on Barry M Cobalt Blue and L.A Colors Blue. I used acrylic paint for the details.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Published April 1, 2016 by Harper Collins AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France lies an untold story of love, loss and magic - and the two girls at the heart of it all. Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she's on the run from the monk who burned her mother at the stake and wants her executed. Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to make a living and keep herself and her sisters in the good graces of their seaside town of Bajas. When their lives collide in the forest, Botille rescues Dolssa and shelters her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Botille does her best to nurse Dolssa back from the brink of death and hide her from those hunting her down. But all of Botille's tricks, tales, and cleverness can't protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Botille's good intentions could destroy the entire village. 

I absolutely loved All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, so I was thrilled to hear of a new book by her, especially one that sounded so unique. Set in what is now known as France and Spain, during the middle to late Middle Ages, the story follows Dolssa and Botille, two girls very different from each other.

Botille Flasucra was easy to warm to. She and her sisters, Sazia and Plazensa, have been through a lot together. Their mother died and they spent time on the streets before settling in Bajas, along with their alcoholic defacto father, Jobau. Plazensa runs the tavern, Botille is known for her matchmaking skills, and Sazia can read fortunes.

Dolssa de Stigata fled Tolosa with Friar Lucien on her heels. She believes she is communicated directly to by God and refers to him as her beloved. When word of her preaching reaches religious authorities she is bought in for questioning. Botille and Dolssa are thrown together, and while Botille knows she is risking her life, she saves Dolssa's because she knows she must.

This is a time in history that isn't featured a lot in YA but it lent itself well to Julie's narrative. I was completely captivated by this story, and it was clear Julie had conducted a lot of research which added a richness to the descriptions and depth to the characters and plot. Also included in the book are a map, a list of characters, and a glossary.

The Passion of Dolssa is a beautifully told story spanning fifty years of loss, heartache, grief, and love. The characters and their stories will stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy.

This is a stunning cover, I love the vintage look to the background and the leaves and vines. I started with a base of Ulta3 Lucky Bamboo. I sponged on Priti Pearlwort and Zoya Wednesday. I used acrylic paint for the leaves and vines.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen
Published March 23, 2016 by Allen and Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Johnny Shoebridge has just returned from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. He no longer carries a weapon - only photos of the dead and a dread of the living...Pursued by a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan, Johnny makes one last stand - knowing that if he cannot lay this spectre to rest, he will remain a prisoner of war for ever.Drawing on courage, loyalty and love, Johnny tries to find a way back from the nightmare of war to a sense of hope for the future. 

A new book by David Metzenthen is always cause for celebration, and his latest novel, Dreaming the Enemy, is a compelling and haunting story of a boy returning from war.

It's February 1973 and Johnny Shoebridge has returned home to the fictional suburb of Taralia, Melbourne. A month prior Australia withdrew from the Vietnam War, perhaps more correctly referred to as the American War by the Vietnamese. Johnny was conscripted and spent three months in training and then a year in Vietnam. Not able to settle back into day to day life, Johnny's mum encourages him to take a holiday, and so he finds himself in a small coastal town in New South Wales.

Modern History was one of my favourite subjects in high school and one of the topics I loved learning about was the Vietnam (American) War. It feels odd to say that I loved learning about a war, but it is a fascinating and horrifying topic, and it shines a light on what the world was like at the time. I even got to go to Vietnam on a school trip for a few weeks at the end of Year 11. It was an amazing trip, even though I got really sick and spent a week throwing up. We visited some of the tunnels dug by the Vietnamese, they were impressive but so tiny, though some areas had tunnels excavated so that Westerners could enter and wander around. It's a beautiful country but it still bears the scars of a war that happened forty years ago.

Reading Johnny's story was heartbreaking. He's seen and done things he never imagined he'd have to do. He's disillusioned with the government, at a loss as to why they were even over there. And yet he doesn't bear a grudge against the Vietnamese people, he knows they were just trying to defend their country and survive. He's grieving for his two best friends, the hilarious Lex, and the stoic Barry, he hears their voices daily and knows he will remember them for the rest of his life. He's also haunted by a Viet Cong soldier, a boy he once shot at, and now the image of him won't leave his thoughts. Johnny names him Kahn and imagines him with his comrades, his one true love, as well as what he's doing now.

The pace of the story was slow and sometimes it was hard to move between the present and the past, but this accurately reflects what I imagine Johnny's state of mind to be like. He spends a lot of time reliving his time in training, the battles, the long marches through the jungle. He returns to the present, to a world he no longer belongs in, only to fall into a daydream about what Kahn is up to, who he's with, and what his life might look like.

Dreaming the Enemy is a beautifully told story, filled with tension, sorrow, and a little bit of hope. It's a touching look at the life of a soldier, the trauma they undergo, and what it must be like to return home. It's a reminder that trauma like this needs treatment, and that we must always strive for peace.

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for my review copy (RRP AUD$19.99)

I really like this cover, it suits the story well, highlighting Johnny's obsession with his memories and 

I used a bunch of different green polishes for this one, starting with a base of China Glaze Highlight of my Summer, and then sponging on: La Colors Minty, Ulta3 Emerald Inten-city, China Glaze Exotic Encounters, Priti Pearlwort, Orly Wandering Vine, and Ulta3 Lucky Bamboo.

I used acrylic paint for the silhouette of the face, and for the patches of fire.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published March 22, 2016 by Dial Books
Source: purchased
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb:
Every story needs a hero.Every story needs a villain.Every story needs a secret.Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.What really happened?Someone knows.Someone is lying.

I bought Wink Poppy Midnight for the cover, can you blame me? The illustrations are so beautiful and atmospheric, and the story is too. Midnight and his father have moved to a property on the edge of town, now he lives near Wink Bell, a girl with lots of younger siblings, who live in a rambling property beside some woods. Previously, Midnight lived near Poppy, the girl he's loved for years. Poppy is a bully and she knows it, she revels in it. The only person she's ever loved is Leaf Bell, Wink's older brother, he was her one weakness. Midnight gets caught between the girls, he starts to fall for Wink and her enchanting stories, but he's still in love with Poppy, the girl who won't let him walk away.

It's a slow story that creeps along, but still it only took me a day to read. I got caught up in it right away and was captivated by each character and the secrets they were keeping. Wink lives life as if she's in a fairy tale, she compares real life to stories she's read and loves to read to her siblings. Midnight misses his older half-brother, and longs to be the hero that Wink sees him as. Poppy is sick of everyone around her, but enjoys having people to control.

The writing is beautiful, it was easy to picture the woods, the abandoned house, and the loft where Wink likes to read. I felt my curiosity and unease growing as the story went on. I was sure there would be a surprising revelation, I expected a twist, something shocking, something devastating. But on finishing this book I was left feeling a little confused and unsatisfied. I'm still not quite sure I know what happened between the three characters, but perhaps the author's intention was to leave the reader guessing.

Cover illustration: Lisa Perrin
Cover design: Kristin Smith

I could not wait to paint this gorgeous illustrated cover, but back/shoulder/neck/wrist pain has kept me from doing that until this week. This is my favourite sort of cover to paint and I really enjoyed it.

I started with a base of black nail polish and used acrylic paint for the details.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Published May 5, 2016 by Pan Macmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she's hurtled through wormholes to her past:To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn't even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie's past, present, and future are about to collide—and someone's heart is about to be broken.

The Square Root of Summer is Harriet Reuter Hapgood's debut novel, set in the fictional town of Holksea, Norfolk. It's July and Margot, better known as Gottie, is still dealing with the loss of her grandfather last September, and wondering what she's going to do with her summer. She's still reeling from the events of the previous year: Grey's death, her older brother Ned leaving for university, realising Jason, her secret boyfriend, didn't love her, and losing her best friend Sof because she withdrew into her grief. Now her father tells her that not only is her old best friend and neighbour, Thomas, returning to Holksea, he'll be staying with them for the summer.

The characters and relationships in this book were all so well done. I felt for Gottie who is so lost and lonely. I adored Thomas and loved that he made Gottie's life infinitely better. Ned and Papa were both wonderful, and the addition of German words peppered throughout was endearing to me as someone who also grew up with European parents.

Did I understand all the maths and science in this story? Nope! But, you don't have to be a maths or physics whiz to love The Square Root of Summer. Gottie's story is sweet, sad, and utterly captivating. At it's heart it's a beautifully told story of grief, love, friendship, and family.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

Cover designer: Elizabeth H. Clark

I love this cover, it's so summery and perfectly captures Gottie's story. 

I started with a base of black nail polish and then added stripes of green. I used acrylic paint for the daisies and the numbers.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published May 2, 2016 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the burb: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

Set in 1939, The War That Saved My Life tells the story of ten year old Ada, and her younger brother Jamie. Ada, born with a clubfoot that was never treated, can't walk and is confined to their apartment by their single mother. But Ada is smarter than her mother gives her credit for, she secretly teachers herself to walk, despite the immense pain. When Jamie announces that children in London are being evacuated, Ada knows this is her chance to escape. But even though they find a new home in the country, the siblings can't fully escape their past.

Ada is a wonderful narrator and I found her story absolutely absorbing, once I began I found it hard to put down and I got through this book very quickly. Ada's life in London is lonely and sad, Jamie's is only a little better, but at least he has the freedom to leave the apartment. Being taken in by Susan was the best thing for them, but they're haunted by the abuse they grew up with, and are unable to understand when someone is trying to be kind to them.

It was touching to see them grow and improve, learning new words and tasks, making friends, and getting a second chance at life. It was also lovely to see how they improved Susan's life as well. Ada and Jamie's story reminded me of one of my favourite childhood films, Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, only their story didn't include witches and animated animals.

The War That Saved My Life is a sad yet heart-warming story that will have children and adults captivated from the very beginning.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

Cover illustration: Josie Portillo
Cover design: Kristin Logsdon
Hand-lettering: Maggie Olson

This is a gorgeously illustrated cover and it really suits the story, I used acrylic paint for the manicure version.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn
Published June 1, 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: It’s 1997 and seventeen-year-old Sam is mourning the sudden loss of his mum …Sam has always had things going on in his head that no one else understands, even his mum. And now she’s dead, it’s worse than ever. With nothing but his skateboard and a few belongings in a garbage bag, Sam goes to live with the strangers his mum cut ties with seven years ago: Aunty Lorraine and his cousins Shane and Minty. Despite the suspicion and hostility emanating from their fibro shack, Sam reverts to his childhood habit of following Minty around and is soon surfing with Minty to cut through the static fuzz in his head. But as the days slowly meld into one another, and ghosts from the past reappear, Sam has to make the ultimate decision … will he sink or will he swim. 

One Would Think the Deep is Claire Zorn's third novel. Set in a fictional town between Sydney and Wollongong, we meet sixteen year old Sam Hudson. His mum has just died and he turns to the family he used to know, Aunty Lorraine, and her sons, Minty and Shane.

It was easy to feel for Sam, he and his mum have always been together, and he has fond memories of time spent with his grandparents, and with Minty. But his nan went missing one year, followed by the death of his granddad, and then his mum told him the rest of the family moved away and they no longer saw them. After watching his mum die on New Year's Eve, he gets in contact with his aunt, and she reluctantly comes to Sydney to fetch him.

Sam and Minty pick up their brotherly relationship as if there was never a seven year absence between them. And while Shane is less than welcoming, Lorraine doesn't seem to be put out, as long as Sam stays out of trouble - something he'd been struggling with in Sydney, and something that continues to plague him. Sam's family situation is complicated, and also harbours a secret, something he must discover. He also has to decide whether to forgive his nan who reenters his life.

Sam is so lost and lonely, his whole life seems to have changed course. He joins Minty in the surf daily, one thing he starts to look forward to, as well as random sightings of local girl, Gretchen. He also finds solace in music, constantly listening to the radio and to tapes he's made.

This story was a beautiful ode to the Australian coast and to the 90s, I loved all the music references, they made me very nostalgic. The descriptions of Sam's time in the ocean were evocative, and it was beautiful to see him gain confidence and some purpose.

I adored the secondary characters too; Minty was a little charmer, Ruby was so beautiful and strong, and Gretchen was sweet and patient. All of them provided Sam with support, whether he was ready for it or not.

One Would Think the Deep is a sombre and moving story of loss, love, and family. Fans of Claire Zorn's writing will not be disappointed with the gorgeous Australian story.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy.

Cover designer: Astred Hicks, Design Cherry

I did a simple gradient manicure for this cover, I was going to go back and paint the ocean, but I never got around to it!

I used the following polishes: Ruby Wing Moonstone, Barry M Blue Moon, Barry M Peach Melba, Ulta 3 Spring Fling.