Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

The GauntletTitle: The Gauntlet
Author: Karuna Raizi 
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Middle Grade; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Salaam Reads; March 28, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

A 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?
Whenever I see a book that has a dangerous board game of some kind mentioned in the synopsis, I only approach them with just one tiny expectation: Jumanji vibes. That’s it, that’s all I’m looking for. And The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi delivered all that in the best way possible. This book was a whole lot of fun.

Despite what happened to the characters and the challenges they faced, The Gauntlet was a quick-paced and very entertaining book. One big draw was the characters. Not much time was spent on the everyday life of the characters, but I loved all the details about Farah’s family. Since The Gauntlet takes place in a world contained inside of an unpredictable board game, it had a very Jumanji/Zathura feel to it—with the added bonus of a steampunk flare that I happened to like. All the bits of machinery mixed in with the rest of the scenery gave the story an eerie atmosphere. That brings me to another thing I liked: the scenery. The descriptions of the actual game were among my favorite paragraphs from this book. Riazi created a vivid picture of what the Gauntlet was, what it looked like, and how the rules of the game worked. The challenges were neat, and I liked how much of the story resembled an actual game.

There were just a couple of things that I felt mixed about, but talking about them here would spoil the story. But I will say that it wasn’t really a fault, more of a pet peeve of mine. Other than that, I loved everything else about the story.

The Gauntlet is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I’m really looking forward to what Karuna Riazi writes next. Actual rating 4.5 Birdcages.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Music Monday (23) RL Grime, Rihanna, & Jamiroquai

   Rules:
  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Adri: I couldn't believe that I missed Reims by RL Grime, which is why it's my first pick this week.


My second pick is Automaton by Jamiroquai. I couldn't resist clicking the icon when I saw it on YouTube. Yes, I was once again thumbnail browsing for new music. I got some serious Tron-ish vibes from the music video. And now, I'm sharing it here because it deserves to be shared.


Breana: My picks for this week are Dancing in the Dark and Towards the Sun by Rihanna. These are actually two of my favorite songs, and what’s sad is that they’re so underrated. Now, I haven't actually watched Home, but Adri did see it and has mentioned that she really loved the main character. She also says that it was a good movie. So, I'll have to see Home eventually.



What are you listening to this week?

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Friday 56 (104) & Book Beginnings: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE
Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.
29939047Synopsis from Goodreads...

An ancient mystery. An unlikely union. For one young princess in a state of peril, a dangerous wish could be the only answer…

She is the princess of Bharata—captured by her kingdom’s enemies, a prisoner of war. Now that she faces a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. But should she trust Vikram, the notoriously cunning prince of a neighboring land? He promises her freedom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together they can team up and win the Tournament of Wishes, a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. It seems like a foolproof plan—until Gauri and Vikram arrive at the tournament and find that danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and twisted fairy revels. New trials will test their devotion, strength, and wits. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire...
Beginnings: "Vikram had spent enough time with bitterness that he knew how to twist and numb the feeling."

56: "Gauri opened her mouth to speak, but the shrieking cheers of the audience drowned out her words."
Comments: A Crown of Wishes was fantastic. That is all.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Title: Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Little Brown Books for Young Readers; March 28, 2017
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Synopsis from Goodreads...

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? Welcome to Weep...
I still haven’t finished the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, but I was excited for Strange the Dreamer since it wasn’t a spin off. There was a lot to like about Strange the Dreamer, but I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. There was nothing fundamentally bad, but at times I did find myself checking out of the story. Still, the book was very readable with a sort or cliffhanger-ish ending.

The first chapter was an incredibly strong start to the story, because it set up the mystery surrounding the ultimate fate of the lost city known simply as Weep. Taylor certainly knows how to weave a layered story with rich scenery and myths brought to life by impressive prose. There was an almost lyrical and dream-like quality to the story, which is one of the things I liked about Strange the Dreamer. One of the reasons I kept reading was because I wanted to know more about the magic—what the limitations were, and how it worked. The abilities were creative and pretty cool even though some were slightly more morbid than others.

Some parts of the beginning didn’t necessarily grab me. I did like what I read. However, I kept setting the book aside because at times I did get a little bored while waiting for something to happen. A lot of time was devoted to developing Lazlo Strange’s character and the world around him. After a certain point the plot picked up, and I was able to get into the story and stay in that mindset long enough to get through the book. At times, I got a sense of déjà vu. Some of the details that turned out to be essential to the story almost felt like bits and pieces from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It wasn’t exactly the same, but the themes were almost too similar. I can’t really specify because it didn't come up until pretty late in the story. Some of the secondary characters bugged me. They were there, but mostly their story was viewed through Lazlo's eyes. This was mainly concerning the party that was traveling with Lazlo, and by the end of Strange the Dreamer, I still felt like I didn't know much about most of them.

The end is one of the things I was conflicted about. The last part of the book was, at some points, awesome with plenty of action and twists that were surprising. However, others parts were just okay—mainly because it lacked an element of surprise. Still, the end was the start of something new for some characters. There were a lot of questions left and some new ones that were presented at the very end, which was clearly setting up the story for the next book.

So, Strange the Dreamer was good, and it’s highly likely that I’ll read the sequel once it comes out. Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Music Monday (22) Tove Lo

   Rules:
  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: My pick this week is Imaginary Friend by Tove Lo. I first heard of Tove Lo around the time of Queen of the Clouds initial release. Queen of the Clouds is one of my all-time favorite albums. Recently, I've gotten into listening to Tove Lo's latest album, Lady Wood. Lady Wood is kind of awesome. 



My second pick is Flashes. This is also by Tove Lo and my number one favorite song from the album. So far, Imaginary Friend and Flashes are my top two favorite songs; although, I'd recommend the entire album because there are other gems like Lady Wood and Don't Talk About It.

What are you listening to this week?

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Friday 56 (103) & Book Beginnings: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE
Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.
32048554Synopsis from Goodreads...

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes. At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall. As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect...
Beginnings: "When the man behind the counter asks for my lucky number, I hesitate."

56: "He blows out a sigh, his breath frosty in the bitter air."
Comments: I got this one on Tuesday and promptly read it in one sitting. My review is already up on the blog. Needless to say, I really enjoyed the story. 

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

WindfallTitle: Windfall
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Source/Format: Blogging For Books; Hardcover
More Details: Young Adult; Contemporary
Publisher/Publication Date: Delacorte Press; May 2, 2017

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes. At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall. As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect...
I read This Is What Happy Looks Like back in 2013. So, it’s been a couple of years since I read anything by Jennifer E. Smith. Needless to say, I was more than excited to get the chance to review her latest book. Windfall was an engrossing read, and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. Obviously, I really enjoyed this book a lot.

Windfall was a lovely story—that’s the only way I know how to describe it in a few words—and there was something refreshingly simple about it that I really enjoyed. I haven’t read anything in the young adult contemporary side in a while, so maybe that’s why I feel that way. Windfall was just right. It was everything I was hoping it would be and reminded me why I got into Smith’s stories in the first place.

When I saw the synopsis, I was kind of interested to see what Smith could do with something like a lottery win of $140 million, and how that could change the relationship between characters—who were ordinary—for better or for worse. It turned out to be an interesting story. Sure, Teddy does what any winner would do—he goes on extravagant spending sprees, and yeah, it goes right to his head. But Windfall also takes a look at the smaller things in life, the consequences of strained relationships, and unexpected losses—and the emotional repercussions. It was also about making mistakes and growing. I felt like the characters were given the space to learn from their mistakes, and discover where they want to be, and what truely makes them happy.

Windfall is one of the best YA books I’ve read so far in 2017. I haven’t really kept up with Jennifer E. Smith’s books, but now I want to go back and check out some of the other stories that I’ve missed. (Actual Rating 4.5 birdcages out of 5)

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, thank you!
About the author...

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of eight books for young adults, including WINDFALL and THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. She earned her master's degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her writing has been translated into 33 languages...

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