1. Dark Chocolate – a book that covers dark things. Atlanta Burns by Chunk Wendig. The YA book easily makes my top five favorite books of this year. Great vivacious writing and realistic, flawed, fleshed out characters.
The title protagonist is a teenage girl and this book is technically a young adult novel. Its premise is fairly basic, girl with a shotgun solves mysteries using a type of diplomacy(please see blog title) I find endearing. That said, this book deals with the overtly violent side of homophobia, poverty, racism, suicide, sexual abuse, and animal cruelty. The world Atlanta lives in is irredeemably ugly and it brings out the absolute worst in people.
Hate crimes, dog fighting rings, and neo-nazis make up Atlanta’s community and she finds herself fighting for their targets and victims. Most of the time, she loses. Atlanta is not a do-gooder or Pollyanna character by any stretch. She is a normal teenager dealing with her own scars and powerlessness.
There were times I put the book down as the ingrained and pervasive cruelty was too much to take. Keep reading though, its worth it.
The story deals with themes of trauma and loss, and the corrupting anger that comes after. The most important thing about Atlanta and her story is that she keeps fighting. She uses her anger, but doesn’t let it destroy her. Highly recommended.
2. White Chocolate – a favorite light-hearted read. Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron. After the Eli Monpress series I knew I was going to like Rachel Aaron.
Her characters are flawed and tend to get themselves in more than enough trouble to keep plot going. Aaron’s comedic timing is pleasantly refreshing and she possesses a deft ability to escalate the stakes properly that I wish more writers would take note of.
Nice Dragons Finish Last is the first in her new series about, big surprise, dragons. Julius is a bad dragon, in that he is a good dragon and doesn’t fit in well with his more traditionally ‘evil’ family. The premise could make a charming children’s book or a very fun novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Aaron chose the second and I am very thankful.
The novel is a mix of family politics, charming yet acerbic supernatural entities, and a hapless protagonist who manages to save the day anyway. I love books that dare to have the main character be ordinary or underpowered compared to their fellows, it makes their success mean all the more.
The second book in the series is out now, and would have made the next category except that Rachel Aaron doesn’t get the hype she deserves.
3. Milk Chocolate – a book with a lot of hype right that you’re dying to read. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. Anything coming from the now internationally famous Neil Gaiman is going to have hype. I will be picking this collection up at some point once my to-read shelf is less ridiculous.
I’ve been burned on some of his novels before (I gave up on Anansi Boys and I think I am the only one largely unimpressed by American Gods) but his short story collections have never let me down. Fragile Things was a work of art and Smoke and Mirrors was whimsical and delightful. I care not at all for the Doctor Who story that is apparently within and amazon tells me it revisits American Gods.
That said, the cover’s description promises “Short Fictions and Disturbances.” That is exactly why Neil Gaiman stays on my shelf. He offers an eerie otherworldliness that sets my bones itching and the shadows in the corners breathing. If an author promises to disturb me, sign me up.
4. Chocolate with a Caramel Center – a book that made you feel all warm and gooey on the inside. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This was a hard category for me. I don’t usually go for a lot of feel good books but I have a soft spot for most of Jones’ works.
Her characters tend to be endowed with endearing yet real flaws and the wizard Howl is no exception. He is vain, arrogant, and cowardly yet one of my favorite characters of all time. I am guilty of seeing the movie first, and it is still my go to for warm gooey feels, but the book follows suit nicely.
The domestic interactions between Sophie and Howl’s household are conflictual yet warm. Howl’s Moving Castle raises the stakes, creates problems, throws multitudes of obstacles at its characters early on so the happy ending seems earned and all the more satisfying.
More than anything Jones likes to wrap up her endings. All her books include multitudes of plot strings, large boisterous casts, and dynamic huge worlds. She as an author is particularly adept and wrapping them all together in a neat bow.
5. A Wafer-free Kit-Kat – a book that surprised you recently. Feed by Mira Grant. I hated this book at first. Then I loved this book. Then this book made me cry and wonder why my best friend hated me enough to tell me to read it.
The world Grant creates is one of fear. It rankled to be inside any of the characters heads for too long because of the constant precautions and consequences required for daily living. The setting is a self-inflicted police state and the characters (at first) buy into it.
However, as the plot started the suspense ramped up and I found myself hooked, not necessary by moderate political intrigue, but by the intense personality of Georgia Mason and the suspense involved in her quest for the truth.
The relationships (in the first book) provide a levity that keeps the adrenaline ride fun. This is a zombie book about the living not the dead. For me the series faltered when it stopped being about the living, but the first book was surprisingly solid and very enjoyable.
It follows a girl taken, as so many girls have been taken before, as an apprentice to a wizard. She refers to him as the Dragon and is not at all pleased by the arrangement.
The premise for the main characters struggle, and one that is explained in the first chapter, is that every couple of decades a young woman is taken from the villages to serve the lord of the region. The girls are then freed after ten years to do as they wish. Instead of returning to their families and loved ones, they depart into the world to do great things, have adventures, and distinguish themselves in the unknown.
In the eyes of the main character and her village, these girls might as well have been devoured.I am particularly curious if the main character will follow suit and if so, how she will get there.
7. Hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows – a favorite comfort read. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I read this book for the first time when I was in middle school . Back then, my mother would hand me books she intended for my sisters and after a couple hours I was responsible for reporting back on whether they were appropriate for younger audiences.
As I walked back into the kitchen, palms sweaty and pulse racing, I had no idea what to tell my mother. Did I like the book? Yes, undoubtedly. Should my sisters read it? Probably not, they didn’t like scary things. But then Coraline hadn’t scared me. It engrossed me, it terrified me, it would keep me up all night thinking.
Until I picked up Neverwhere years later (without realizing it was written by the same author funnily enough) I hadn’t found the captivating otherworldliness of Coraline in another book. Half cautionary tale, the book speaks to a very real desire many readers and children have for the escapism of fantasy. The title character, an odd and intelligent child, manages to escape an arguably boring life for one of fantasy and excitement. But of course, every dark bargain has a price.
The narrative is eerie and unsettling in a way most children’s books never touch. Hell, even the cover was frightening. I call this a comfort read because the book sparked my deep and abiding love for dark fairy tales, uncertain endings, and supernatural horror and adventure stories.
8. A box of chocolate – a series that has a bit of everything and a lot of people would really really like it. The Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman.
Do you like urban fantasy mixed with a healthy dose of Americana folklore? Do you like devoted brothers fighting monsters? Do you like angst, snark, and oh so much brooding? Okay, do you like Supernatural?
I picked up this series before I fell in love with the show Supernatural and it remains on my shelf for a reason. The series follows the main character Caliban Leandros as he deals with his rather pesky heritage. Cal and his older half-brother Niko spend the books killing monsters, saving people, and refusing to give up on each other as the stakes get higher.
Cal is a half-human, half-evil demon/fey/elf, who spends most of his time getting the shit kicked out of him by his older loving brother and by things he made the mistake of talking back to. His constant griping remains endearing in contrast to his brother’s stalwart demeanor. Niko is human, fond of sharp things, and entirely devoted to keeping his snarky younger brother from death and worse.
The dialogue is flippant and clever. The fight scenes are well written and keep the books moving fast. Overall, its a fun series
Now who to tag? Other chocolate lovers of course.
I second the Apprentice’s tag of More than Half Mad
The Gate in the Wood should also do this.
And maybe Raw Rambles.