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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Platonic Relationships in Books


To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, click here.

I was really excited when I saw that the theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was platonic relationships because I love platonic relationships. Found families, snarky siblings, unlikely friendships – they’re all my jam. Here are, in no particular order, my top ten platonic relationships in books.

#1 Percy and Sally Jackson (Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan)

Cover of Percy Jackson and the Lightning ThiefMy mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room. Her eyes sparkle and change color in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt. She’s got a few grey streaks mixed in with her long brown hair, but I never think of her as old. When she looks at me, it’s like she’s seeing all the good things about me, none of the bad.

It’s always so obvious how much Percy and his mom love each other, and that they would do anything for each other, and that’s why I love them.

#2 Pepper (Jane) and Owl (Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers)

Owl had been good to her. She stayed on the screen by the bed all day, and she taught Jane about something called music, which was a weird bunch of sounds that had no point but made things feel a little better.

The Wayfarers Series is chock-full of wonderful found family dynamics, but this AI becoming a parent to a little girl in need is my favourite. Their relationship is so sweet and sometimes heart-wrenching.

#3 Shahrzad and Irsa (The Wrath and the Dawn Duology by Renée Ahdiee)

Cover of The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh“Do you trust me, Jirjirak?” Shahrzad took Irsa’s hands in her own.

Irsa had never known what to expect from Shahrzad. But trust had never been an issue. At least not for Irsa.

“Of course I trust you,” she said.

This exchange, and their relationship in general, just says so much about sisterhood and solidarity.

#4 Scarlett and Reem (Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham)

“We’re going to Jumu’ah prayers together.”

“I’d like that,” I said. And it was true. Because even though I wanted Gemma home safe and Solomon’s ring in my pocket and the Children of Iblis destroyed, what I needed more than anything else was to stay alive long enough to pray with my sister on Friday.

This is another relationship between sisters who really, really love each other even though they don’t always see eye to eye. Their affection for each other is heart-warming.

#5 Katsa and Bitterblue (Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore)

Katsa hugged her for a long time, and Bitterblue understood that this was always how it would be. Katsa would come and then Katsa would go. But the hug was real, and lasting, even though it would end. The coming was as real as the going, and the coming would always be a promise. It would have to be good enough.

It means so much to me for Bitterblue, a traumatised child, to find safety in Katsa, and for Katsa to find strength in Bitterblue.

#6 Peter Grant and Sahra Guleed (Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch)

Cover of The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but just about everyone else is off working that murder in Fulham,” said Guleed. “It’s basically you, me and whatever time we can bully out of David.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said, although it did explain where everyone else was that morning.

“Not surprising,” said Guleed. “You were too busy blowing up Harrods.”

Snarky coworkers who respect each other (kind of). Their dynamic is one of my favourites in the series. I haven’t gotten around to reading the comics featuring both of them yet, but I definitely will at some point.

#7 Mae and Jamie (The Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan)

Cover of The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan“Oh, I am planning things,” said Jamie. “Great, great things. I could join a band.”

“You gave up the guitar after two lessons.”

“Well,” he said, “I could be a backup dancer.”

“Backup dancers have to wear belly shirts and glitter,” said Mae. “So obviously, I support this plan.”

Silly bantering siblings who would literally lay down their lives for each other? Sign me up.

#8 Kate and Julie (Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews)

Kate looked at me. It was her hard-ass stare. Kate could be really scary.

“That doesn’t work on me,” I told her. “I know you won’t hurt me.”

The Kate Daniels series is one of my forever favourites, and these two are so near and dear to my heart. Kate has a tendency of adopting strays, and even though she acts like a hard-ass, she’s really mushy on the inside.

#9 Samirah and Magnus (Magnus Chase Series by Rick Riordan)

15724396“Somebody once told me that a hero’s bravery has to be unplanned – a genuine response to a crisis. It has to come from the heart, without any thought of reward.”

Sam huffed. “That somebody sounds pretty smug.”

“Maybe you didn’t need to come here,” I decided. “Maybe I did. To understand why we’re a good team.”

This relationship is a great example of the kind of friendship dynamic I like: some bickering, some teasing, but mostly lots of love and respect.

#10 Cinder and Iko (The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer)

“You need a system debug if you’re suggesting that I would abandon you now.”

You didn’t think I could end this post without another mention of an unusually emotional AI, did you? Cinder’s and Iko’s unwavering loyalty to each other definitely earns them a spot on this list. They seem very different from the outside, but they’re really not so different if you look close, and all the more protective of each other.

Comment below to let me know what your favourite platonic relationships are! Are you a found family fiend like me?

MINI REVIEWS: Aru Shah and the End of Time, Scarlett Undercover

I just finished Aru Shah and the End of Time, but it’s been a while since I read Scarlett Undercover. I still wanted to share my thoughts about it though, and since both of these have shared themes of mythology and sisterhood, I figured I’d stick them in a Mini Reviews post together.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Cover of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Rating: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees (3 out of 5)

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan and I love learning about mythology. I’ve been looking forward to picking up the Rick Riordan Presents books ever since they were announced, and Aru Shah and the End of Time was no exception.

Going especially by the more recent Riordan books, my expectations may have set an unfair example for Aru Shah and the End of Time to live up to. It just just skewed a bit younger than I was expecting, which dampened my enjoyment a little. The writing was on the simpler side, and everything seemed to happen too quickly for my taste. It felt like the solutions to the protagonists’ problems kept falling into their laps more often than not.

However, I still think this would be a very enjoyable book for younger kids. Aru is a spunky but vulnerable heroine, and I loved the relationship between her and her found sister, Mini. Another focal relationship is the one between Aru and her mother, which grows closer as Aru learns more about the past and her family’s secret. The bits from Hindu mythology were sometimes fun, sometimes brutal, always fascinating – as mythology tends to be.

I don’t think I will be picking up the next book in this series because it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but I will definitely still be giving Chokshi’s books for older readers a try!

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Cover of Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

I was in a weird headspace while reading this book so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but this was without a doubt one of my favourite reads of 2018. Some time had passed between this first landing on my TBR and my finally picking up and I didn’t reread the synopsis then, so I was surprised and delighted by the supernatural and mythological elements of this.

With regards to tone and subject matter, this might best be described as Veronica Mars meets Rivers of London, but it’s so much more than that. It’s unique, the main character has an engaging voice, and the action is fast-paced and character-driven. Again, I especially enjoyed the bond between Scarlett and her older sister Reem who both clearly love each other a lot. I appreciated that Reem wasn’t entirely relegated to the maternal role even though they are orphans, but is a kick-ass in her own right.

The representation is great. Aside from having a diverse cast of Muslim American characters, this book is also repping Black Jews, which is still all too rare. I’m not sure whether there will be a sequel, but if there was I would snap it up in seconds. Scarlett Undercover is definitely a candidate for a reread. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a gumshoe mystery with a supernatural twist (with content warnings for parental death and teenage suicide.)

BOOK REVIEW: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (1 Star)

Cover of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, depicting a beautiful young black woman in a gown, with flowers decorating her afro

Rating: one (1 out of 5)

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be.

Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

The synopsis of this book is intriguing, but unfortunately it’s also the most exciting thing about it, along with the stunning cover. The premise is quite unique, even though it did remind me of The Lone City trilogy by Amy Ewing in some aspects.

Clayton’s world-building is disappointing. She introduces some fascinating concepts (the vivant dresses, steampunk-inspired knick-knacks such as the post-balloons), but fails to ever get into the nitty-gritty of how they work. There’s nothing wrong with painting with a broad brush, but the world-building of The Belles barely had any depth at all. The writing is bland, and the descriptions of opulent Orléans consist of superficial enumerations.

The characters were all rather one-dimensional. Clayton mostly fails to give her characters more than one defining trait, and their actions very clearly reflect whatever the author needed from them at any given moment. As a result, none of the characters ever fully come to life.

This extends to the main character, Camellia Beauregard, whose main aspiration is to become the royal favorite. Once that dream has been fulfilled, the author tries to provide Camellia with a few different motivations, but none of them are ever fleshed out and pursued in earnest. Camellia is supposed to carry the plot, but her flitting back and forth between opposite decisions only serves to frustrate. Equally irritating is her tendency not to question any inconsistencies about her very existence until the plot suddenly calls for it. After reading the synopsis, I was expecting a high-stakes fast-moving story, not the inconsistent mess that I got.

The romance in The Belles was extremely lackluster. There was no chemistry between Camellia and her love interest at all. What was intended as playful banter actually translated into pages upon pages of unengaging dialogue, even causing me to skip some parts just to get back to the plot. Overall, the dialogue was info-dumpy and lacking in flow, not to mention that Clayton is overly fond of the dialogue word “holler.”

I could have forgiven all of this as well as all of the little mistakes made in the French the author used. But Clayton made one mistake that I found truly unforgivable: she buried her gays. There were two queer women in The Belles, both in relationships with other women, and by the end of the book both of them were dead.

Additionally, another one of the characters is actually a trans woman, which at first I thought was amazing, until she, too, ended up in what could be a fatal situation. Her fate is unresolved at the end of the book, but I’m not holding my breath for the sequel.

I was originally going to give this two stars, but in writing my review I realised how much I actually disliked it. It’s a shame that what could have been a wonderful diverse book written by a woman of colour turned out to be such a disappointment.

BOOK SERIES REVIEW: The Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore

I only really warmed up to the Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore with the second book, Fire (haha, get it? warmed up?) I’m so glad I stuck with it after my initial reservations because it just kept getting better and better. This is why all three books ended up with different ratings:

Graceling: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees (3 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Fire: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Bitterblue: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5 Ramblebees)

The overarching theme of the trilogy is young women finding their place in the world in the face of difficult choices, and reclaiming their kindness in adverse circumstances, both of which happen to be some of my favourite tropes.

The covers of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Graceling is the first book in the trilogy. It tells the story of Lady Katsa, niece and executor to her tyrannical uncle, King Randa of the Midluns in the Seven Kingdoms. Marked as a graceling by her differently coloured eyes and graced with killing, she’s a threat to all who cross King Randa, until she decides to defy her uncle. She builds an underground organisation known as the Council which fights against the many abuses of power in the Seven Kingdoms. In the course of her work with the organisation, Katsa realises King Leck of Monsea is not all that he claims to be. As she races to rescue his ten-year-old daughter from his tyrannical clutches, she not only discovers new truths but new strengths as well.

Fire, the second book in the trilogy, is a prequel to Graceling. Set in a country East of the Seven Kingdoms, it tells the story of the Lady Fire, a so-called monster with colourful hair and the gift of reading and molding people’s thoughts. Her now dead monster father and abuser, once adviser to the king, has plunged the kingdom into upheaval with his taste for chaos. With civil war imminent, Fire has to decide whether or not to use her abilities without becoming like her father.

The third book, Bitterblue, picks up eight years after Graceling left off. The now eighteen-year-old Bitterblue is Queen of Monsea but feels like she has no knowledge about or control over her kingdom. Her advisers’ curious lies and evasions both about her father’s past reign and the present conditions in the kingdom lead her to investigate. With the support of Katsa and her Council friends, Bitterblue sets off in search of the truth and discovers that the wounds from her father’s reign she considered healed are more present than ever, and that it will be a long road towards recovery.

I enjoyed Graceling well enough, but it had a few flaws that nearly made me abandon the trilogy. The world-building was interesting and I liked the characters and their relationships with each other, especially the bond between Katsa and Bitterblue. However, plot-wise the book felt closer to a draft than a finished product. All of the important story elements were there, but they were rather loosely connected and didn’t quite knit together into a satisfying arc. The story could have benefitted from being stretched out a little, which would have made the plot twists less predictable.

I had gone into this book with high expectations because it had been recommended to me as great asexual representation several times, so I was a bit disappointed that the writing let down the great premise and characters. However, a friend assured me that I would enjoy the remaining books in the trilogy which led me to pick up Fire after all.

Fire still had some of the same weaknesses that Graceling did, but less markedly so. I again would have preferred a bit more stringency in pulling all the different story elements together, but the plot was overall coherent and satisfying. In spite of this, I found myself wishing time and time again that Fire had been the first book in the trilogy. I suspect that the author chose to publish the books out of chronological order so that the revelation of Leck’s grace would have more of an impact, but as mentioned above the twists in Graceling were predictable due to its slight incoherency. Only a couple of tweaks would have been necessary to publish the books in chronological order, which in my opinion would have worked in favour of coherency. Looking back while reading Fire, I appreciated Graceling a lot more, and I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I had read Fire first.

The final book in the trilogy, Bitterblue, unequivocally blew me away. It picked up all the loose ends from the previous two books and combined them masterfully into a nail-biting finale. Cashore’s writing evolves wonderfully throughout the trilogy, and it was fascinating to see her real skills unfold and shine in this third book. The characters’ motivations were more implicit, which held me in suspense waiting for the myriad questions and inconsistencies to be resolved. Being fed the conclusion trickle by trickle was sweet agonising torture and I loved every bit of it. Bitterblue coming into her own as both a woman and a queen was exciting to watch. It was a bit different from both Katsa’s and Fire’s arcs considering that both of them had an inherent physical power that they needed to come to grips with, while Bitterblue had to consolidate and grow into a less tangible power, but the overarching theme was still very much present, tying all three of the books together.

I appreciated the fact that all three of the female main characters were allowed to be emotional and unreasonable at times without being labelled as hysterical. Emotional outbursts were treated as natural, and they didn’t result in the other characters respecting either Katsa, Fire, or Bitterblue any less.

In addition to her great treatment of women, Cashore also had a diverse cast of characters. Characters’ differing looks and complexions were described casually. There were a number of physically disabled characters. One important character and love interest loses his eyesight, another supporting character is without use of his legs and uses a wheelchair, and one of the main characters loses two fingers due to frostbite and has to relearn how to use her hand. Of course, there are also a whole slew of characters who suffer from trauma and related mental illness. A word of warning though: the circumstances that these characters’ trauma results from are brutal and upsetting, including emotional and physical abuse and even rape, so the trilogy might be triggering for some readers.

The queer representation was okay. Katsa can very easily be read as being on the asexual and aromantic spectrum, while Fire explicitly states her attraction to women and men. In spite of two out of three main characters being queer women though, all of the main relationships in the Graceling trilogy are M/F, which I found a bit disappointing. There are however two explicitly queer supporting couples, one of them F/F and one of them M/M.

Overall, I really ended up loving this trilogy, even though it didn’t start out as strong as it could have.