[Review] The Battle by Karuna Riazi

Farah Mirza faced the Architect in The Gauntlet. Now, it is Ahmad Mirza’s turn in this futuristic take on the in-universe game.

The Battle unites Ahmad with Winnie as the pair are swept into a high tech, glittering city where familiar faces and new puzzles will be thrown at them in order to entrap them and gain justice for the Architect.

What an adventure! For fans of adventure books and films like Jumanji and ZathuraThe Battle is a continuation of Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet series that those who have been waiting for a new entry will surely enjoy.



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Published: 27 August 2019

Publisher: Salaam Reads

Genre(s): Middle Grade/Fantasy/Adventure

The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.

With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.




Rep: Bangladeshi-American MC with ADHD, Black female SC



content warnings - Copy



Scenes of peril, including police figures shooting fireballs at children (the main characters)



what i enjoyed


The world building was in-depth, from the hints of old Paheli to the futuristic elements that were made to attract new players to the Game. Middle Eastern elements enfuse the city from Madame Nasirah’s tea shop (a familiar feature to returning readers) to architectural touches in the buildings, clothing, and vehicles. The futuristic elements that I liked the most were one of the lanterns that was likened to a lightning bug and a light up cobblestone “yellow brick road”.

The food served to Ahmad and Winnie made my mouth water. From the spinach pies to the tea pot that poured what was most comforting to the individual drinker, there was so many things to delight in.

Winnie’s enthusiasm for the world of Paheli (driving the futuristic version of a rickshaw) and her quick thinking (being suspicious of twitchy characters, thinking through puzzles) made her likeable even against the frustration I had for her.



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The book felt like it took off rather suddenly, allowing no time for the reader to bond with Winnie, the new side character who is going on this journey with Ahmad. She’s posed at this person who is meant to be a new friend, possibly even a good friend, but I didn’t feel any kind of connection to her or any kind of reason as to why, as a reader, I needed to care for or about her.

The jacket copy doesn’t quite mesh with how things play out with regards to Ahmad trying to make Winnie his friend using The Battle as a game and it was confusing because I thought maybe my arc was missing a chapter or something, but perhaps it was just poorly worded? I’m not sure, but it does make things a bit awkward when you read the copy and expect one thing and start reading it and get something else.

The trials didn’t feel as significant as in The Gauntlet. The second one especially felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Pertaining to that (the second task, a labyrinth): there were details, such as moments where one person had a crucial puzzle piece, that got very muddled which added to the confusion. It was like the writing got bumbled or something.

There was also some moments in the action during the finale that made no sense, like everyone was scrambling so fast to get things done that the writing wasn’t concerned with making sense (point a –> point b –> point c, etc.). It was incredibly frustrating because I would reread these sections over and over again, thinking I’d misunderstood, but I’m almost positive these were just threads that weren’t taken care of.

As I mentioned in the previous section section, I liked Winnie’s enthusiasm and quick thinking, but I also don’t think she was as well developed as she could have been. She was only so-so, from the somewhat superficial relationship she had with Ahmad to the journey she went on through the book that ought to have given the reader a deeper understanding and connection with her.



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Karuna Riazi has amazing ideas and weaves them into interesting stories, from The Gauntlet and now into Ahmad and Winnie’s tale in The Battle. There were some issues that I had that there frustrating, including scenes that didn’t make sense and lack of character development. Overall, I think the bones of a good adventure are here and could well be enjoyed by readers who picked up the story of Farah Mirza and are now curious about what her brother, Ahmad, can do when facing Paheli.






I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


[Blog Tour] His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined – Review & Excerpt

If you’re looking for the perfect collection of stories to curl up with, to haunt you into the wee hours of the morning and beyond, look no further than this: His Hideous Heart, edited by Dahlia Adler and contributed to by many more names from across the literary world.

Taking inspiration from some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most well known works, and from some possibly not so well known, each story or poem collected and reimagined therein is one sure to inspire chilling thoughts as you wonder about where the story will go, what will have changed, and just who you might be cheering for in the end.

Thank you to Cat from Flatiron Books for having me on the His Hideous Hearts blog tour. It’s been a blast. 🙂


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Published: 10 September 2019

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): Short Stories/Retellings/Horror

Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).




Rep: F/F (Night-Tide), disabled MC (Changeling), MOC/WOC MCs (The Oval Portrait), Portuguese LI (Lygia), trans girl MC & French-Filipino LI (The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay)


This list may not be 100% complete, but is compiled to the best of my knowledge.


content warnings - Copy



Animal death, fire, ableist comments, blood, death (cancer), abuse of a child/teenager



what i enjoyed



The authors within His Hideous Heart took inspiration from a classic source and brought that into modern places. There were elements of desperation and terror and anger and the need for justice that many feel and need. Whether it’s someone getting a privilege or an absolution they don’t deserve, or another person tearing a character down because of their accent, their heritage…a fragment of a Poe story waits for them within.

The eeriness, the elements of the supernatural, the depths of depravity that humans themselves are capable of, all of these facets combine to weave an intense tapestry of stories.

I loved how I was able to find satisfaction in the crafting of these stories. I won’t say that they’re 100% faithful to the originals, as I haven’t read all of the Poe versions, but let’s say that the contributors to His Hideous Heart were able to find endings that twisted the themes of the stories, embodied the soul of them, and found wicked beauteous finales.

The diversity of the tales was also terrific, much improved over the originals. From the Philippines to Barbadian immigrants to trans girls and more, there was so much to find within these pages.

An exceptionally helpful facet of the book, if you’ve never read the original Poe tales before or if you need a refresher, if that His Hideous Heart includes the corresponding works at the back of this anthology. They’re well worth a look because what would this collection be without Poe’s classics?


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While normally of fan of amanda lovelace, I wasn’t entirely taken with her rendition of The Raven, here entitled The Raven (Remix). It didn’t flow smoothly for me and made it difficult to take in amongst all the other stories.



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This was one of my favorite anthologies in memory. How often can you say that you enjoyed almost every entry and cannot wait to go back for a reread? I look forward to the publication date of this book and the opportunity to secure the audiobook and experience these tales from a whole new perspective.

If you’ve had the opportunity to read this anthology, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you have a favorite retelling? If not, is there one you are looking forward to especially?

As part of my stop on the blog tour, below you’ll find an excerpt from one of my favorites, Stephanie Kuehn’s reimagining of “The Tell-Tale Heart”:


Excerpt from Happy Days, Sweetheart

by Stephanie Kuehn

Inspired by “The Tell-Tale Heart”


I didn’t cry when he won. I was fifteen, and I wasn’t old enough to vote but I’d done what I could – made phone calls, canvassed neighborhoods, attended rallies, written letters, and galvanized what small power I did hold in order to bring promise to the tomorrow I knew would someday be waiting for me with open arms.

I had hope, is what I want to say, and maybe that’s what tragedy really is. A dream ceded to less. Because at that point in time, there was a true vision for the future, a blueprint, and however imperfect it may have been, it was one of possibility, of a world far greater than the one I’d always known. It was meant to be. Of course it was. After all, she was qualified. Competent. Accomplished.

But then she lost.

To him.

_ _ _ _ _

I didn’t cry when he won. I wanted to, but my defeat was hardly a surprise. How could it be? I was new to Middlefield Academy, a second-year transfer student at this small New England boarding school, one that hovered on the outskirts of Boston and basked in its sweet Yankee glow. For all its claims to inclusive values a  diverse student body – Our students represent more than twenty-two different nations! the school’s glossy brochure boasted – Middlefield as a place that revered tradition. Legacy. The status quo. Not only was I unknown, I was brash, loud, and worse, female. Indeed, I represented the wrong kind of diversity – the product of both black and Mexican heritage, I was still solidly American and required financial aid. My worst sin by far, however, was that I hailed from California. Bakersfield, to be exact.

This is all to say I knew my place even as I strove to defy it, to break that bitch of a ceiling that persisted in remaining so grimly unbroken. Hope, for me, had been replaced by determination, and so during my first month at Middlefield, I threw my hat in the ring for sophomore class president. It was an uninspired race; the only other person running was Jonah Prescott, and Jonah didn’t care at all about the position. I knew this because he’d told me as much. He was only running because his academic adviser had urged him to and Jonah didn’t like to disappoint people. His effort was minimal, while I threw myself into the campaign.



About the Editor & Contributors


Dahlia Adler is an Associate Editor of mathematics by day, a blogger for B&N Teens, LGBTQ Reads, and Frolic by night, and an author of Young Adult and New Adult novels at every spare moment in between. Her books include the Daylight Falls duology, Just Visiting, and the Radleigh University trilogy, and her short stories can be found in the anthologies The Radical Element, All Out, It’s a Whole Spiel, and His Hideous Heart, which she also edited. Dahlia lives in New York with her husband, son, and an obscene amount of books, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @MissDahlELama.


Dahlia Adler

Kendare Blake

Rin Chupeco

Lamar Giles

Tessa Gratton

Tiffany D. Jackson

Stephanie Kuehn

Emily Lloyd-Jones

amanda lovelace

Hillary Monahan

Marieke Nijkamp

Caleb Roehrig

Fran Wilde






I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Wilder Girls by Rory Power – Review

A boarding school beset by a deadly tox.

Girls and women holding together as the wilderness around them changes…and then they, too, begin to change.

What is life like on Raxter Island? Would you survive the tox? What can one of the Raxter girls do when her best friend disappears without “explanation”? Rory Power’s debut novel is a fascinating look into these questions and more with scientific threads and more. Wilder Girls is a fascinating novel and well worth picking up.



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Published: 9 July 2019

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Genre(s): Young Adult/Horror/Mystery/LGBT+

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Please see author’s website for trigger and content warnings.





Rep: F/F relationships (main/side); bisexual MC; diverse cast including POC (though unspecified ethnicities)



content warnings - Copy


Graphic violence and body horror. Gore.

On the page character death, parental death, and animal death, though the animals are not pets.

Behavior and descriptive language akin to self harm, and references to such.

Food scarcity and starvation. Emesis.

A scene depicting chemical gassing.

Suicide and suicidal ideation.

Non-consensual medical treatment.



what i enjoyed


The scientific threads woven throughout the novel were interesting. Some I wasn’t quite sure of, because the girls who were seeing it didn’t have all the information either so I had to make guesses based on their perspectives, but there was a lot of stuff going on in the background to pick at as the girls on Raxter Island tried to survive.

The way the mutations developed when the girls contracted the Tox were fascinating. I didn’t understand all of them during the reading, but Rory explained some after the fact which was nice.

Watching the way the Tox crept into the story, listening to Hetty and Byatt recall life before it and how it started in the wildlife, the woods and the creatures first, was very cool because it added to the overall horror aspect. There were scenes of body horror to be sure, due to details about what the Tox did to the girls (mutations, their brain chemistry, etc), but the timeline of everything and hearing about those events was whoa.

I picked up the Barnes & Noble edition, which I would highly recommend, because there is an extra chapter from Reese’s perspective, who we didn’t get to hear from at all in the book. It’s a quick little thing, but it’s tender and very nice. It added to the relationships that were evidenced in the main novel, the ones that propelled Hetty and Reese and all the others to last as long as they did and to do all they did during Wilder Girls.

I loved that the cast was allowed to have their strengths as individuals and as a whole, that they were allowed to be strong but also messy and vicious and just amazing. I’ve seen Wilder Girls described as a feminist Lord of the Flies and from what I know of that book, I can say that there are similarities but also it is very interesting to point out the differences. The personality stereotypes that are expected in girls vs boys, the ones that develop despite those, everything that made them able to survive Raxter Island & the Tox.

A last bit: I can’t say much but being a mystery, there are twisty bits that were “whoa” and “huh” and “wtf” that I liked and cried and cringed over. They were fun/sad/omg. 😀



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The beginning of the novel was fairly slow. It took some wherewithal to stick with it, though once you get into it I will say the novel is worth it.

The ending as well suffered, I thought, though this for the opposite reason. It felt entirely too quick. I turned the last page and was sincerely confused because it felt like there was something missing, like the writing was cut off in a hurry because…what? Because the author wanted to leave the option open to return to Raxter or the world around the island? As far as I know this is a standalone, but there are so many threads remaining in the book that it really could be at least a duology.


to sum it up - Copy


There were strong relationships, eerie scenes, and a lot of interesting moments that played out in Wilder Girls. The beginning was a bit of a letdown because of the time it took to pick up. The ending was definitely a letdown, but overall the novel was satisfactory. I’m be curious to see what Rory Power will write in the future.

Would You Survive The Tox?


Kelly from Bookish created a flowchart for the release of Wilder Girls to determine whether readers would survive.

Myself…yeah, I died. ^^; I almost made it, but the girls in Wilder Girls have a bond that really helps them out and I’m better working on my own which would not work out in this situation. What about you? How far would you make it?








I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.