My Review on The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Disclaimer: Contains mild spoilers)

I was very excited to read this book, mostly because a) the author is of Bangladeshi origin, and b) the book is inspired by Jumanji, and we all know how awesome that was.

And my excitement was piqued after I read its first chapter excerpt. This book may be the middle grade, PG-12 version of Caraval but wayyyy better, trust me. Where Caraval lacked character depth and poignancy, this book seeps with it. Where Caraval suffered from little character development and relatability, this book is immersed with relatable, multidimensional characters.

Let’s see how I marked the stars:

One star for the strong, beautifully woven plot:

This book is undoubtedly Caraval meets Jumanji. Like in Caraval, the protagonist enters a magical yet dangerous world looking for their lost, scatterbrained, impatient and impulsive younger siblings. Like in Caraval, their sole mission in this world is to find their siblings safe and sound and return home. Only, for Farah Mirza, protagonist of this book, home truly is a haven and heaven for her, unlike it was for Scarlett.

And like Jumanji, this boardgame is dangerous and should’ve come with a warning. Like in Jumanji, this book has a character people considered crazy because in reality, they too once played this game and lost a friend in it, and that trauma ate away their whole life. While it was Sarah and Alan in Junanji, it’s Aunt Zohra and Vijay Bhai here.

Seriously this book has such strong and intricate plot structure. You’ll surely love it.

Relatable Characters:

Which older siblings among us didn’t have to give up lots of stuff for the sake of younger siblings’ tantrums? Which one of us had to leave friends behind for the sake of family moving away and then feel awkwardly distant from them when you rendezvoused with them? Which one of us never wished a siblings gone from their lives and then regret it for we love them too much?

It all happened with Farah. She’s only twelve but so much more mature than all her friends and most of the game’s characters. She’s steadfast, patient, smart and sometimes gives you the right reactions, even though they seem childish and self-centered to you at some point.

And her friends here? So distinctive. Usually sidekick friends are pushed to the back with cardboard personalities. But Essie and Alex were anything but. Essie is the outspoken, brash friend and muscle of the group, while Alex, the history nerd, is the brain, and Farah is the morality of the group. And the coolest thing is? She’s a hijabi girl! 

And the minor characters are important too. Ahmad, Farah’s impatient brother, has ADHD, that often exasperates Farah’s family, including Farah herself, but her kindness and affection for him is endearing. And Ahmad was cute too. And despite being alone most of the game, he kept himself alive and survived the game, no easy feat for a 7 year old with no adult to take care of you and you have ADHD.

Setting:

The setting was 80% the game, 20% Farah’s home in Manhattan, NYC. The descriptions Ms. Riazi gave to show us her setting were evocative, vivid and uniquely woven. While Jumanji had jungle setting, Gauntlet had an infusion of Middle Eastern Islamic architecture, and Bangladeshi cultural aspects such as a Sandesh shop, mention of samosa, betel leaves and chenna murki. And never in a moment the setting felt out of place or weird. Rather at some point, they’ll give you the chills.

The language:

I had to give an extra point for this. Like Sabaa Tahir did with Ember, Ms. Riazi added lots of Bengali words such as tiktiki, names of the sweets, masi, apu, Bhai, etc. It felt good to read about a fantasy book where you find your culture being appreciated. That’s how good it feels to read an own voices book.

One reason I couldn’t give this book 5 stars is because though it had an aweosme plot, sometimes it bogged down, especially during descriptions of the rules of many boardgames they played and the action scenes. There are many readers like me who never played any boardgames or a lot of them. For them, the newly introduced rules of real life games can be a bit mind boggling.

Overall, if you liked or read Caraval, I’d recommend this book to you. You’d love the beautiful friendship between Farah, Alex and Essie, the deep siblings relationship between Farah and Ahmad, and the strong bond of family and friends.

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My Review on Death and Night (The Star Touched Queen #0.5) by Roshani Chokshi

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I enjoyed this novella much much more than I enjoyed the main novel. Like, I can’t believe this 100 pages novella was more entertaining than the lush novel promised to.
Let me tell you, this novella had zero conflicts, other than a curse Amar aka Death suffered from. Other than that, it was a sweet sweet funny love story and gave me lots of moments to LOL over.

Now, the reasons why I loved this novella more:

The Romance

That’s the primary reason. It was the primary reason I didn’t like the novel but this is the main reason I loved this novella. Unlike the main novel, this book didn’t have an almost insta-love story. The focus of this book was love and that’s all. And that’s okay. The slow burn romance between Amar (aka Death) and Maya (aka Night) was really endearing. Unlike a lot of other fantasy couples, they met but weren’t swooning and drooling over each other, rather their attempt to one-up the other with words was lovely. And the way Amar courted Maya was truly lovely. That is how every couple in fiction meet and fall in love: via normal first meet and then courting. 

The Supporting Characters

Yup, there were three extremely cool supporting characters. Two we’ve met in the main novel, one we unfortunately didn’t. 

The first one will be Gupta, Amar’s best friend, confidante and only court member. In the main novel, he was this timid, nervous, meek character who just did as Amar ordered him and only shone as a character in the last tiny bit of the climax. All the potentials he had as a character you can find here. He isn’t actually a meek, timid, nervous geek like the main novel portrayed him to be. Rather he’s this awkward, funny, hilarious, sarcastic best friend Amar had who’d challenge his every stubbornness, mock him whenever Amar was brooding, and support and guide him whenever Amar was lost. I loved how much as a character Gupta possessed and realize he could’ve saved the main novel if he was given the chance to shine like he did in this novella.

Second supporting character was Nritti, the villain from the main novel. Here she was the supporting, lovely, caring best friend, who advises Maya whenever she needed, mocked her and bantered with her like any best friend should. This may be another reason why the main novel failed, since Nritti too possessed great potentials to uplift the tone and spirit of the main novel. 

Third and most hilarious of the bunch is Uloopi, a snake queen who’s good friends with Maya and Nritti. She reminded me of Kamala, the hilarious pishacha horse from the first book. Uloopi was entirely nonexistent in the main novel, which is another minus point since she could’ve been such a plus point as a character. Her sarcastic yet realistic opinions and point of view was truly mesmerizing.

So there you have it, my gushing review of Death and Night, a companion novella of the Star Touched Queen series. If you’re a fan of the book, you really should read this novella cause it’s way better than the novella in my opinion.

Next up may be the sequel, A Crown of Wishes.

My Review on The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

⭐⭐⭐

To say that I have mixed feeling about this book will be an understatement. I didn’t have high hopes for this book, simply because I read its Goodreads reviews and most were 3 stars like mine.
This book had all the potentials to capture and captivate readers like me, who love fantasy wrapped in deep, touching romance and written in lush, poetic, gorgeous words. In fact, those will be the plus points for this book and the fact that I loved and adored Maya. Everything else fell flat.

The reasons behind its three stars:

•It got a star for the concept:

This will be the first book I’ve read written in Indian fantasy setting seeping into Indian mythology. Plus its core mythology was of Hades and Persephone. The familiar Hindu mythology of Savitri and Yamraj twisted on its head, plus the mythology of Cupid and Psyche was also here. So overall, the concept of this book was mindblowingly genius. 

•It got a star for fabulous prose:

Like seriously, Roshani Chokshi knows how to write lush, gorgeous prose. Her metaphors were poetic and starry. All beautiful and magnificent. At many points it felt like I wasn’t reading a novel, rather a long poem with lush prose.

•It got a star for the character Maya:

I love this girl. Like Nyx from Cruel Beauty, she was treated like trash from day one of her life. Yet unlike Nyx, she wasn’t bitter,  angry, whining and vengeful. Rather she was sweet, considerate, kind and friendly. She even gave her husband a chance to prove himself, not punch him in the face or smash plates on his face like Nyx did. Maya also had humor, and all her humors blossomed whenever Kamala, the pishacha horse was near.

•It lost a star for the muddling back story:

I got lost in the back story for some time, and had to reread it. It had an interesting yet mind boggling back story like Cruel Beauty. I think that’s the problem with standalone epic fantasy books. They fail to sparse the details in too limited space.

•It lost a star from the forced romance:

No, there wasn’t any abuse like Nyx and Ignifex had in Cruel Beauty. Rather Amar was very kind and friendly compared to even Tamlin from ACOTAR. But the romance just wasn’t there! There were so many beautiful, touching, heartbreaking romantic lines by Amar. But I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the two of them together. The kissing scenes felt wooden and too brief to emote anything in me. Another couple who were based on Hades and Persephone were Liesl and her Goblin King from Wintersong, but whereas that couple sparked with chemistry and romance, I felt, unfortunately, nothing for Amar and Maya.

Bonus reason why I didn’t like this book much:

•I hated the portrayal of Nritti, the villain of the book. Her cause was more heartbreaking and touching than Amar and Maya’s love story. I felt like a great big injustice was done to Nritti and that isn’t something you should feel for the villain.

Anyway, that’s my verdict. I still feel sad over not liking the book as I thought I would. Fingers crossed, the next in line, A Crown of Wishes, which tells the story of Gauri, Maya’s little sister, will be better.

My Review on Fracture Me (Shatter Me #2.5) by Tahereh Mafi

⭐⭐⭐


I’m really sick now, what with fever and body ache all over, so while staying bedridden, I dug up this book and read the 110 pages long novella. I had high expectations for this book, given that Adam was one of my favorite characters. Yet this book felt like completely unnecessary for this series, given that got doesn’t give much insight into the plot and setting like Destroy Me did. 

Here are the reason why this book disappointed me:

The Character Adam:

He was really sweet and caring toward Juliette, going the length to physically torture himself to be with her. But after reading this book, I’m disappointed in him.

He’s really patronising when it comes to Juliette. Several lines in this books indicate that he’d rather keep her locked up in Omega Point than let her learn how to use her power and protect herself by herself. I  liked Kenji more than Adam.

I understand his protectiveness toward James given that James is young and doesn’t have any power to protect himself. But Juliette does and Adam’s patronizing behavior reminded me of Tamlin from ACOTAR, Edward Cullen and Christian Grey.

This novella wasn’t needed at all:

Sure it gave us the insight that Omega Point is destroyed and the rest of the group is taking shelter in Adam’s old house. But this novella takes away the element of surprise by telling us Adam and the gang are alive and safe for now. Imagine how cool it’d have been if the readers were kept in the dark until the book Ignite Me. 

Anyway, as soon as my fever is gone, I’ll start on Ignite Me, and fingers crossed it’ll be as good as its novel predecessors.

My Review of Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2) by Tahereh Mafi

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


This book destroyed my heart 😭😭😭😭

So many emotions I felt while reading it. Heartbreak, anxiety, despair, agony, exhilaration, laughter, rolling my eyes and what not. This book is a freaking roller coaster of emotions and I’m in love.

Things I loved:

Juliette!

This girl is killing me! Her emotions are so intense and she feels so passionately everything including even joy…

Her joy from being with Adam

Her agony over learning how touch is lethal to even him

Her heartbreak over breaking up with him

Her attraction and compassion towards Warner

Her growing friendship with Kenj

Her hatred for Warner’s ruthless father

Her despair over not being able to harness her power

Gah! Too much! Luckily her voice and emotions are too raw and touching to not feel for her.

Adam!

My heart breaks for him so many times into so many pieces 😭😭😭

The poor boy is so tortured, and goes through so much physical torture just to be with Juliette, it breaks my heart thinking of him 💔💔💔

Warner:

This dude truly is living breathing walking paradox. One moment he’s tender and loving toward Juliette and then the next, he’s moody, brooding and mercurial more than Edward Cullen and Christian Grey. He’s too much. Though he shows a lot of raw, human side to him, I still can’t accept him and forgive him for tormenting Juliette and Adam in Shatter Me.

Kenji!

My crush! Seriously if he was real, I’d stalk him only to get a date with him 😍😍😍

He’s so freaking cute! Gah! He has so much tragedy in his life yet he doesn’t mope around like Juliette, torture himself physically like Adam or tortures both himself and others like Warner. Rather he keeps his pain aside to help alleviate other’s pain. I love him, I love him, I love him ❤❤❤

The Romance:

Though I hate love triangle, the one between Juliette-Warner-Adam aren’t as bad as Katniss-Peeta-Gale. It has real intensity and reason to exist. 

Juliette loves Adam

Adam loves her too

But they can’t be together because her touch kills him literally

Warner is obsessed with Juliette

But slowly his obsession dims down to passionate love

Then he begins to thaw

And now Juliette is a mess

So it’s complicated but relatable. And I’m happy that they all are multi dimensional characters.

So it’s mostly the characters and their emotions that run the mill of this book. Overall  there wasn’t as much plot as it was in the first book. But I’m happy about this book. It shows the raw human sides of the characters, and it’s very relatable and touching.

Will be diving into the novella tomorrow, 😉

My Review on Destroy Me (Shatter Me #1.5) by Tahereh Mafi

⭐⭐⭐⭐

First of all, this is a novella, consisting of less than 200 pages. So it was a quick read.
Second, it’s from only Warner’s point of view, picking up immediately after Juliette shot him on his shoulder. 

But this book is important before you read the next book, Unravel Me, since it gives so much insight to not just Warner’s life but the plot and setting of the story. It not only justifies a lot of problematic actions by Warner but also gives us insight about Juliette as well, as Warner spends 2/3rd of this book poring over her battered notebook where she recorded so many things from her 264 days in the asylum.

I couldn’t give it more than four stars, due to the fact that it was too much focused on Juliette’s diary and Warner’s obsession towards her. I’d have liked more interaction between Warner and his ruthless father, Supreme Commander Anderson. Yes, this guy must be the big baddie in this series.

Anyway, the little interaction between Warner and his ruthless father was enough to get us the picture. His dad is a tyrant. A dictator who tortured his own son from age 7. 

This book also gave me insight into Warner’s human qualities. His obsession over keeping clean all the time and his vulnerability to his dad’s ruthlessness and his “love” for Juliette.

Ugh, he keeps having erotic dreams about her, it’s crazy. 

But overall, this book is a necessary read before Unravel Me, and I’m glad I read it before Unravel Me.

My Review on Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1) by Tahereh Mafi

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve heard a lot about this book and this series. But took a long time to pick it up. I regret not picking it up sooner because this book is brilliant! I loved it so much I devoured it in less than 13 hours! That’s a record for me.

This book is so good. I’m a fan now. Here is my dissecting review:

The beginning:

The first 10-15% of the book was rattling and not very engaging. I didn’t like the part where Juliette was spending time in the Asylum even though Adam was there. She was going miserable and almost insane with her continuous obsession over the outside world. I felt pity for her, being 17, locked up in a cell for 264 days. It’s not easy.

But then the scenario changed once Juliette met Warner.

The Characters:

Juliette Ferrars:

I loved her character, though not in the first 15% when she was locked up in the asylum. After she was brought to Warner, she began to grow onto me and showed an endearing, loving side of herself. She has a dangerous, killing power but she hates using it, unlike Warner.

Adam:

He’s a cinnamon bun, that’s what he is. I was angry when I learnt he was Juliette’s cellmate just to spy on her, but later his reason and his undying love for Juliette made me love him. He’s such an adorable love interest. Unlike a lot of love interest in YA, he showed no abusive problematic behavior. That’s why I love him so much 💖💖

Warner:

I hate this psycho obsessed with Juliette. I hope he burns in hell. He’s so obsessed with her, ew! He reminds me of Tamlin from ACOTAR. Hope he redeems himself in the sequel.

Kenji and James:

Two more cinnamon buns. Kenji is so mischievous, always teasing and taunting and pulling Adam and Juliette’s legs. He’s the much wanted comic relief in this grim dystopian YA.

By the way, I always pictured these actors as my Juliette, Adam and Warner.

Emily Browning as Juliette Ferrars

Daniel Brühl as Adam Kent (even though he’s wayyyyyy too old to play 17yo Adam)

Jamie Campbell Bower as Warner (though he’s too younger than Brühl)

The prose:

So lyric and poetic. I’m amazed at Ms. Mafi’s ability to weave prose so beautifully. 👏👏👏

And the beautiful emotional yet steamy way she describes each kissing scenes is never voyeuristic rather melts your heart, even when Warner the psycho kisses Juliette.

Overall, I’ll definitely try to finish this series. Right after this I’m gonna read Destroy Me (Shatter Me #1.5) which is from psycho Warner’s viewpoint, just to keep the events chronological.

If you ask, I’ll definitely recommend this series for a romanic dystopian YA.