The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi — Book Review

Hey all!! We are very excited to be reviewing an awesome new MG adventure/fantasy, THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi.

**Disclaimer: We received a finished copy from the publisher, S&S Canada, for review. This has not biased our opinions. Thank you!**

Before I dive into the review, you can take a look at the cover & synopsis:

29346880A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?


First off, I have to say how excited I’ve been for this book, especially with the announcement of it being published under Salaam Reads. As soon as I got it in the mail (the day it came out), I knew I had to dive into it. Luckily that was the last week of classes before exams and I had basically 3 weeks off until our first exam. I spent that coming Thursday and Friday reading it. The only thing that got in my way was watching Beauty & the Beast on Friday, but even then I finished the book that night!

I fell in love with the concept as soon as I heard it. Anything Jumangi-esque captures my attention right away, and of course, I knew that a Middle Grade like this would do the concept justice. This was such a quick, fun read. I love how the diverse elements feel so natural. I’m not Bangladeshi, though I did know some of the foods that were mentioned, and I could easily visualize the places that were depicted. One metaphor that stuck with me was a palace with tips spun like cotton candy. The writing was definitely intended for a Middle Grade audience, and yet it was still super evocative and well-imagined in a way that I could definitely see in Karuna’s future YA works. I also really enjoyed the settings, especially the set-up of the levels in the Gauntlet and Paheli, and especially the souk!

What’s more, I really felt the connection between Farah, the main character, and her brother–the fear for him going missing, the obligation to be the Big Sister and somehow defeat villains in a strange new landscape. I also love how the book ties in the idea of different games/puzzles–and they’re no ordinary games/puzzles. Many of them are quite complex and I had to take some time to really visualize them, since I’m pretty used to straight-up card games, etc. Still, I think the pacing of the book was strong and I loved the way the author introduced a great, diverse cast of characters and, for some, left the ambiguity of their morality to question. My favourite character outside the main three was probably Vijay! He has such an interesting past.

This book can definitely be read by 10 year olds, but it could be easily enjoyed by an older audience, too. (Hey, I’m 20!)

Rating: 5/5 stars!

Until next time,

S&S

Fantastic Beasts — New Edition from Raincoast!

Hey all! Today we are super delighted to share our excitement for a new and improved version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them by JK Rowling. This book recently released alongside two other Harry Potter-world novels,  Quidditch Through the Ages and Tales of Beedle the Bard.

**Note: We received Fantastic Beasts from Raincoast Books for the purpose of this post. Thank you, Raincoast and Bloomsbury!**

Here are the fantastic (get it?) new covers from Bloomsbury (UK/Canada):

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Aren’t they awesome? Let’s dive into some pictures we took of the interior for Fantastic Beasts!

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The new foreword is by Newt Scamander, including some information divulged in the new movie!

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We also love the A-Z alphabetized collection of beasts!

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We particularly love the niffler 😛

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We love the back and of course that blurb from Dumbledore himself!

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We had to get a picture of the book with Ron, too!

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We really enjoyed the additions to the original version of Fantastic Beasts. If you loved the movie, this is a great accompaniment and goes into great detail about MACUSA and the beasts themselves. There are some spoilers for those who have NOT seen the movie, so be wary!

We love Newt and the movie, so picking this one up was a no-brainer. Thanks again to Raincoast/Bloomsbury for the book!

Have you picked up the new Fantastic Beasts edition? Until next time,

S&S

April Wrap-Up

Hey all! So we’ve gone on an accidental hiatus, mostly because in April we were super busy with school and exams, and after that we were busy revising our book. Still, we did get some reading done!

Sasha read: 

-Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (5*)

-Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson (4.5*)

-The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig (5*)

-Saints and Misfits by SK Ali (5*)

-Second Born by Arnold Robinson

-Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (5*)

Sarena read:

-Imagination Bigger Together by Casey Rislov (5*)

-Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (5*)

-The Water and Murder Flow South by Ken Stichter

-Hosanna by Katelyne Parker (5*) must read!

-The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (5*) another must read!

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson (4.5*)

-Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin (4*)

 

In April we finished exams and also participated in an awesome pitch contest called DVPit, which you should totally check out! Thanks so much to Beth Phelan for organizing it!

We also attended the Indigo YA Preview on April 5 at Indigo headquarters. It was so much fun! Here are some pics from the event & the ARCs we got:

There, we met SK Ali and got signed ARCs of SAINTS AND MISFITS! It was so great meeting her, especially since we’ve known each other via Twitter for a while!

Dinner + current read! 📚🍴 #amreading #saintsandmisfits #yalit #booknerdigans #bookstagram

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Some more Instagram photos:

Still haven’t read a Sarah Dessen book … woops!

We hope you all had a great April!

-Sarena & Sasha

March Wrap-Up

Hey all! Even though it’s already April (how?!) we decided to share our March wrap-up. Here it is!

What We Read

Sasha: 

  1. Die Laughing (3*)
  2. The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (ASOUE #3 – 4.5*)

Sarena: 

  1. Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson (5*)
  2. Valpartha by Dale Shillito (3*)
  3. Empress of a Thousand Skies (4*)
  4. The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi (5* review to come!)

We also posted a guest post from author Karuna Riazi on social media.

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What We Did

This was a really busy month for us since it was the last month of school. Basically, we did a bunch of homework. But we also hosted a launch for our club’s magazine, Scribes Slate, attended a launch for a journal Sasha published a short story in, and our club won an award at our university formal. So, some exciting stuff!

On March 3, we also presented our creative writing journey to 6th graders at our old middle school:

We got these awesome books in the mail:

New books in the mail!! So excited for these. 📚💚📘 #acrownofwishes #kingscage #thestartouchedqueen #yalit #fantasy

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And got these for review:

We hope you all had a great March as well! Until next time,

Sarena & Sasha

The Perfect Night In — Book Edition

Sometimes, weekends were made for staying in, curling up with a good book, and pretending nothing else exists.

Okay, as much as we wish this were more like every day, these blissful retreats seem to only happen every once in a while. So, what’s our perfect formula for staying in?

We were inspired by Leesa, an online mattress company, to share our staying-in essentials! Let’s get started.

First, and this basically goes without saying, but you’re going to need a good book. It’s best to find something you know you can easily get lost in. How about a thriller? Or some good ol’ Harry Potter (and maybe a movie marathon or two while you’re at it).

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Next, you’re going to need a) a warm blanket, b) a warm fireplace, or c) (and the best option of the three) ALL OF THE ABOVE. This is one multiple choice answer that’s not hard to figure out!

Of course, one of our essentials is hot chocolate, or whatever warm cup of tea/coffee you prefer. It’s part of the perfect recipe to staying in!

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On a wintry day, we would definitely recommend reading The Prisoner of Azkaban (HP3) and having a cup of Butterbeer instead!

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*salivates*

Snacks are also a huge must. Popcorn is a good one-hand snack, or better yet, cubes of cheese. Mmm.

Lastly, a day in requires a fort. It could be made of blankets, or maybe you could build a fort of books all around you. It would take a while, but it’s *so* worth it.

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Think you’re ready for a day in? Plop yourself on the couch, turn off the TV, and grab a great read!

Until next time,

Sarena & Sasha

The Gauntlet Launch

Hey everyone! We’re back on our blog to share an awesome piece by Karuna Riazi, author of The Gauntlet, one of our most anticipated reads of the year. In case you need a refresher, here’s the (amazing) cover and synopsis:


29346880A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?


We are so, so excited for this book! Thanks to Sona Charaipotra and Karuna Riazi, we have a post below from the author herself!

Social Media for Debut Authors

One of the most beautiful, and most frustrating, aspects of the debut process is how much information there actually is out there from authors who have already gone through the hurdles, the upsets, the highs and lows.

It’s beautiful, of course, because you are fully aware you are not the first to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you should add some postcards to that bookmark order – and definitely not the last – but it can also be frustrating because there is a ton of advice that might not actually work for you, and you don’t want to find out that it doesn’t work for you after you’ve shelled out a lot of money (and energy) because it worked for someone else.

Social media is one of those things. Everyone is on there. Everyone seems to be better at it than you, whether that is peppering Instagram with award-worthy shots of their kids or discussing their favorite TV shows and actually managing to get a response from the incredibly funny leading guy.

And everyone says you should be on there, too. If anything, it feels more like a requirement than a presented option.

Here’s the thing: social media is a wonderful way of connecting with others, and I too, have lost many hours on Twitter like many other members of the community. But the foremost point of social media is how much you enjoy it and how willing you are to use it to communicate with others. Willingness and enthusiasm really counts. If you’re not sure what to do with the app you just installed, or leave it to gather dust, focus on what really excites you.

So, first of all, figure out what works for you. You don’t have to be on every medium. I use Pinterest and Twitter and occasionally Tumblr for outreach and am working on a website (which, I would say, is the most crucial because it is your hub of contact information and because not every librarian, teacher or contact wants to reach out publicly on unlocked, visible social media – and, if you need a personal endorsement on it, I can safely say that a lot of things would be a lot easier for me if I had made one sooner).

If you need someone to tell you what social media is likely best for you, or at least give some suggestions, I would point again to a website, maybe with a blog component, and a Twitter if you’re the type who likes to keep everyone updated in 140 characters or less. If you’re the type who likes to snap pictures of where you’ve been or where you want to be, add in an Instagram. You can use, or stop using, whatever you want. It’s about you and what you want to put out there. That’s it.

When I said focus on what excites you, that goes for the content you generate, too. Make sure it is balanced between what you feel you should be posting (stuff about your book, what people are saying about your book, oh, look, someone just got an ARC of your book) with what you want to talk about and what you’d like people to know about you. I personally have two Twitter feeds, and one is all about feminism and social justice and magical girls while the other is solely devoted to book news and – right now – talk about my upcoming release and the jitters I’m having. It works out well for me, and sometimes one may mix in with the other, and that’s perfectly fine, too.

If you do post a lot about your book and want to keep all of that organized so people can look back and get excited, that is what hashtags are for – particularly if you are going to have an author Twitter account. The best hashtag is really your title, and once you’ve gotten that down, you can use the same hashtag over on your Instagram, too.

Again, the main rule here is doing what works for you. There are a lot of brilliant authors out there who do the bare minimum in wielding social media. There are a lot of them who don’t even bother with it, which is probably excellent for their productivity, but might not always work when you’re just putting yourself out there and need to work up some buzz.

(On that same note, your feed is also for you. A few authors have advised me, for instance, to keep a ratio of more authors than bloggers, and make sure to give said bloggers space. I’ll put it out there right now, as a former book blogger: putting a search on your name and popping into bloggers’ mentions when they say it a la Voldemort is not a good idea. Having an argument with said blogger about the importance of your love interest’s name and why you can’t believe they didn’t like it is even less of a good idea. I won’t say this has happened, but…don’t do it.

Don’t worry at all times about reaching out for the sake of promotional purposes – which can get annoying for others, or keep you from making genuine connections because you feel like you need to be wearing an author hat every single time you’re online. You also might consider weeding out what you don’t want to see, like the news for the sake of your blood pressure. Again, it’s for you. It’s what makes you feel like being part of this connective resource is worth it.)

Another rule you should keep in mind: when you can, where you can, schedule. If you want people to know about a pre-order campaign and you’re tweeting about it whenever you can (but also, exposing yourself to the glittery wonderland that is a Twitter feed and all its associated distractions), for instance, look into using Tweetdeck and plugging in a few tweets in advance for certain high-traffic hours.

Social media can be a real time sink, and what you want to be doing is balancing yourself out between that and the other things you’re supposed to be doing, like your edits, or writing that next project for your agent.

One more quick note, on the subject of author-reviewer interactions: Be mindful and respectful of others online, particularly underage readers and bloggers. Not everyone is going to like your book, and that is their right. Not everyone is going to write a review that will necessarily make you feel cheery. And not every review requires a response from you, or retaliation – and believe me, I am aware of how personal comments may feel when you are the author.

My suggestion with GoodReads is that it may be the social media that you’ll least want or need to be involved in. Ignore it. Don’t log in. If you feel something needs to be addressed or you do feel the need to apologize for a potential hurt caused by your work, the best thing to do is at least consult your editor and agent over the right procedure before stepping in yourself.

Also, in the same vein, in a way: know when to step away. If you are spending all your time on social media, making it your priority or feeling drained, it’s your right to unplug for a while and focus on other things, like building your website or responding to e-mails you’ve been putting off or your edits (I promise your editor did not compensate me for these continual reminders).

At the end of the day, social media is supposed to be a tool to improve your outreach and help you, rather than harm you or aggravate your anxiety or leave you with fewer hours to do what you need to do. This is an overwhelming, busy time and you have plenty of other responsibilities to worry about.

Take a deep breath, choose what sounds like fun, and don’t worry at the end of the day if you haven’t logged into Twitter once or had more pressing things to do than add a few more pins to your book’s board on Pinterest. Best of luck and happy debut year to you!

Karuna Riazi


Thank you for the insightful post, Karuna! Happy book birthday to The Gauntlet!

Sarena & Sasha

February Wrap-Up

February was a strange reading month; even though it’s over halfway through March, we needed to post a wrap-up! So here’s some cool stuff we did in February, along with what we read:

Sasha read: 0 books (sigh)

Sarena read: 3 books

  1. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  2. Steel Scars by Victoria Aveyard
  3. Queen Song by Victoria Aveyard

Some fun bookish stuff we did:

We visited the HarperCollins Canada offices to check out their YA preview for spring/summer books!

Chilling at HarperCollins Canada! Thanks, @hccfrenzy! #Zenith #HarperCollins #YAlit #scifi

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We also got awesome signed copies of THE HATE U GIVE for our university book club. That book, guys. *heart eyes*

Thanks so much again to HCCFrenzy for those! We also got this awesome book mail from Scholastic for Valentine’s Day:

We also spent our reading week doing a LOT of writing–not reading, haha. We wrote about 50,000 words that week … yeah. (How? I don’t know, either.) Our first draft wrapped up at around 100k, and now we’re planning to edit, edit, edit! Here’s a timelapse of a short writing session:

Timelapse of a mini writing session at indigo/starbucks! ⌨️📚 #amwriting #yalit #bookstagram #timelapse

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Last cool thing, and this is SUPER cool. We saw our books at our university library!! All shiny looking, too 😀

We hope everyone’s having a fantastic March!

-Sarena & Sasha