Dragon Slippers is a fantasy novel by Jessica Day George that delights in turning fairy tale cliches on their heads. The action starts right away with Creel, a teenage girl, being sacrificed to a dragon by her aunt’s suggestion. It’s her aunt’s thought that a knight will come to rescue her and then Creel will marry the knight. The dragon is having none of this, and just wants to be left alone with his hoard of shoes. Creel convinces him to gift her with a pair, choosing a rather special pair of blue slippers, and she heads to the King’s Seat, the capital city of her country.
Along the way she runs into another dragon, Shardas, who collects stained glass windows. She lives with him for a while, working on her amazing talent for embroidery, and eventually reaches the King’s Seat. While in the city, she becomes apprenticed to a dressmaker and wows the kingdom with her designs, develops a close friendship with one of the princes, Luka, and starts to discover that her slippers are not as simple as they seem.
There’s an evil princess, a conspiracy to kill the king and take over the country, and a secret hidden deep under the King’s Seat. This book is packed with humor, adventure, and clever twists on common fantasy tropes. It is very easy to read and doesn’t require a lot of thought, landing this book more on the fluffy side rather than “serious” literature, but personally I love it for that.
Chocolate Recommendation: Butterfinger Chocolate Bar
The crispy, flaky peanut butter inside works well with the clever writing and fresh ideas, and the chocolate coating rounds out the flavor, similar to the realistic and original characters.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a young adult novel by Carrie Ryan. This is another entry in the reams of zombie fiction that dominated popular culture for several years towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s. This book involves a cult-like village ruled by the Sisterhood. They maintain a chain link fence to keep out the Unconsecrated (the name for zombies). The protagonist is Mary, who is endlessly curious about the world beyond the fence and the forest, despite the fact that she is told that her village is the last remaining center of un-zombified humanity.
This book doesn’t really stand out from other zombie novels and movies. Mary, the main character, is hard to connect to, in part because she eventually throws everything away for a dream of seeing the ocean. There’s also a love-rectangle which is incredibly annoying and boring, and few characters are interesting. The character I was most interested in was Gabrielle, who turns up from another village and is secreted away by the Sisterhood. She is ultimately forced into the zombie-infested forest and she Returns as a super-fast, semi-intelligent zombie, which ends up destroying Mary’s village.
The world is fairly well-constructed, with isolated humans clinging to any sort of authority they can find. The methods of zombie disposal and protection were interesting, especially the fenced-in paths through the forest that Mary and friends ultimately take. I also enjoyed Gabrielle’s story, and the idea that humans who Return in isolation change to become much more threatening.
Ultimately, this book is par for the course when it comes to zombie stories. Someone in the group gets bitten and doesn’t tell the rest of them, there’s a stupid love triangle (or in this case, rectangle), and the main character somehow survives events that she should have died from. It’s the first book in a trilogy, but unlikely to spark enough interest to read the sequels. Not bad if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require a lot of investment.
Chocolate Recommendation: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kisses
Bland enough to match the writing style. Fine if you just want a hit of chocolate flavor, like if you want a simple zombie story, but not something you would buy just to savor.
Hyperbole and a Half (with the rest of the title, Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened) is a compilation of blog posts from the same titled blog Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. It’s closer to a book of short stories than a novel, but they’re all memories from her life.
I enjoyed this book immensely, because the stories are absolutely hilarious. The prose, mixed in with ridiculous illustrations, are a great snapshot into her memories from growing up. My favorite one is probably the one where she, as a child, is completely obsessed with eating this cake. She ends up sneaking into the room with the cake through the window and eating the entire thing, and her retelling (plus the illustrations) was funny enough to almost make me cry the first time I read it. I certainly had to put the book down for a while and laugh.
Brosh also has some insightful stories within this anthology, including talking candidly about her ongoing struggle with depression, told through a few installments throughout the book. These were an interesting angle to depression that I haven’t heard before, and it was nice to be able to read it from someone who had actually experienced it, but still in a relatable way.
The only drawback is that you probably have to have a specific sense of humor to enjoy these stories on the level that I did, but at the very least they should draw a smile and chuckle from the reader.
Chocolate Recommendation: Godiva Signature Chocolate Truffles (12 piece)
The way to make this work is to take out the flavor guide, so any truffle you taste is a surprise. The quality matches the excellent writing, the gorgeous appearance accents the test as the illustrations add to the prose, and not knowing the flavor is like not knowing what type of story you’re going to hear next. Please don’t do this if you have a food allergy.
Code Talker, by Joseph Bruchac, is a novel about the Navajo code talker Marines of World War II. These men enlisted in the Marines and were instrumental during the Pacific Theater, especially near the end of the war. They used their own Navajo language to create an unbreakable code so that the US military could communicate without their messages and plans being intercepted by the Japanese.
The main character is Ned Begay, a Navajo who went through the brutal boarding schools run by whites up until the middle of the 20th century. He enlists in the Marines when he hears that they’re asking for Navajos in particular, and becomes a code talker: memorizing hundreds of coded words in the Navajo language in order to communicate. He sees a good deal of combat in the Pacific Theater, including on many of the islands such as Okinawa and Iwo Jima. He eventually survives the war and returns to his homeland.
This book is compelling because it deals with a lot of facts and history in an entertaining way. It is a bit dense, because the author was striving for authenticity and factual correctness, but the characters make up for the huge amount of facts. Ned and his friendship with a white Marine that he calls Georgia boy provide some of the central heart of the book, even in the midst of war and carnage. The book is also rather simply written, but it’s the first introduction to this important part of American history, so it’s a good book to use to introduce younger kids, like in middle school, to this part of World War II.
Chocolate Recommendation: Andes Mint Chocolates
These candies are small and easy to digest, like the size of this book. The bit of mint in the middle matches the social issues subtly addresses throughout the novel.
Slightly different this week, as I’m reviewing a graphic novel versus a prose novel.
Maus is a graphic novel by artist Art Spiegelman, and is a stylized version of his father, Vladek, who survived the Holocaust. Spiegelman interviews his father over the course of the boo and depicts these interviews intercut with the story of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. He chooses to depict different races as different animals: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, and others. He also uses different artistic techniques to depict the past and the present, which helps him to present the reality of his father’s experiences.
Throughout the story, Art learns of his father’s trials throughout his imprisonment in ghettos, camps, and finally Auschwitz. He also learns of about his brother, who was poisoned by his aunt in 1943 to keep them from the Nazis, and about what his father had to do to stay alive.
Ultimately, I think this is a good book to read if you’re interested in the Holocaust but have difficulty reading about it. The art style is simple and not overly graphic, and the presentation of different races as animals provides and element of separation between the events and the reader. There are a few confusing parts, as when Art’s father isn’t sure about how long he spent in the camps, and there are some time jumps that aren’t immediately obvious. It can be upsetting to a lot of people, so the rating is lower than it might be, but I still recommend it.
Chocolate: Ghiradelli Dark 60% Cacao Squares
Because you need something good like chocolate when reading about the Holocaust. The dark chocolate is sufficiently bitter for the subject matter, but it’s still comforting chocolate.
Princess of the Midnight Ball is a novel by Jessica Day George that is a retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The fairy tale is about a gnome or troll who has cast a spell on the king’s 12 daughters, forcing them to dance every night and no one can know about it. The king hatches a plan to marry off one of his daughters and give half his kingdom to whoever can find out why the princesses’ dancing slippers are worn out every night. George retells the story with actual characters, rather than the flat characters of usual fairy tales, and details the demon underground and develops the world of the story.
The main characters are Galen, a young former solider with a penchant for knitting, and Rose, the oldest of the 12 princesses (all named after flowers) who has to keep her sisters safe while they struggle under the spell. Galen finds work as a palace gardener and begins to form a relationship with Rose as he works to figure out how to break the curse.
The world of the novel is well-detailed and believable, with complex inter-country politics, characters who have realistic reactions to war and dark magic, and an understated but understandable romance. Unlike many novels, the romance isn’t the focus of the book, but instead serves to underline the development of various characters, especially Galen and Rose. I especially enjoyed the depictions of magic and fairy tale elements in the novel.
However, there were some parts that didn’t mesh. Some of the younger princesses seemed to run together, and the semi-religious undertones (such as the accusations of witchcraft) didn’t seem to fit the rest of the book.
Chocolate Recommendation: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
The sweetness of the chocolate matches well with the realistic depictions of the characters and the magic, while the nutty peanut butter provides a nice contrast to the chocolate, like the interplay between characters.
Feed is a novel by M.T. Anderson, set in the future. Nearly everyone is connected to each other through an advanced form of the Internet that they get in their heads through an implanted chip, called the feed. People can share music and immersive games, send and re-experience memories, see custom-designed advertising, and more in a constant stream that never shuts off. The main character is Titus, a teenager who is more than happy with his feed until he meets Violet, a girl with subversive attitudes about the feed.
The story kicks off on the moon, where Titus and his friends go to party. They meet Violet, and a member of an anti-feed group hacks their feeds, causing them to be temporarily shut down. While Titus, Violet, and his friends are quarantined and their feeds repaired, Titus and Violet begin a relationship. This persists until Violet’s feed malfunctions enough to shut down parts of her body, eventually putting her into a coma. Titus does not know how to handle anything, and eventually returns to his pre-moon state of complacency.
M.T. Anderson writes with biting satire and clever insights. The world he describes is horrifying, although written in an underhanded way. The United States is environmentally devastated and run openly by a giant corporation, with Titus and Violet taking a tour of “meat fields” at one point. Feed is an excellent novel with a semi-dsytopian but not entirely unfamiliar view of the future. The writing can be hard to grasp at some points, along with some unexplained subplots (such as the mysterious “lesions” that turn into a fashion statement), and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying.
Chocolate Recommendation: Lemon Crunch Bar
Not everyone is a fan of fruit in their chocolate, but the dark chocolate pairs well with the strongly-constructed world, and the sharp lemon highlights Anderson’s satire. Was sold here, although the store has temporarily put their chocolate sales on hold.