The Chocolate Bar Challenge is a blog tour in which participants choose up to eight of their favourite books and then pick the perfect chocolate to go with each of them. And if there's one thing I like more than reading, or eating chocolate, it's eating chocolate whilst reading. There's nothing better than settling down for an evening with a good book and a box of Maltesers.
I was tagged to join the tour by the lovely Megan Denby, author of the historical romance thriller A Thistle in the Mist. Megan is a Canadian author with Scottish roots who enjoys dragonboating, watching hockey and spending time with her wife and six children. You can find out more about her on her website and read about her own fabulous book/chocolate combos in her original blog post.
And now, before I tag a couple more authors to join in the fun, here are my own choices. It was really hard to pick my favourite books, but I decided to restrict myself to fantasy fiction and that made it a little bit easier ... just a bit ...
1. Fire and Hemlock
Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favourite writer of all time, so one of her books had to be in the list. And of the many wonderful books she wrote in her lifetime, I think Fire and Hemlock is the one I return to most. Anyone who talks about children's fiction being somehow less worthy of our consideration than adult fiction should really read this book. It's subtle, complicated, multi-layered and bears repeated visits. Jones never spells anything out to young readers, trusting that they can work it all out for themselves. And that's how it should be.
To go with this book, I picked a dark chocolate Toblerone. More sophisticated than an ordinary Toblerone, designed with mathematical precision, and full of little bits of surprise that keep you coming back for more. Plus you never get sick of eating it :-)
2. Daughter of the Forest
I've been a huge fan of Juliet Marillier ever since I was given a copy of her first Sevenwaters novel, Daughter of the Forest. I guess you would describe her books as romantic historical fantasy, but there is always enough plot and folklore and magic woven in to make them far more appealing to a fantasy reader than your stereotypical romance novel. Plus all Marillier's books feature realistic, strong-in-the-right-sense female protagonists, without ever making the male characters into stereotypes or plot devices.
The perfect accompaniment to one of Marillier's novels would be an After Eight mint: classic, simple, very moreish and never too sickly sweet. I'm always happy to see another box!
3. The Knife of Never Letting Go
Anyone who has been following me or my blog for any length of time will know that I'm a little bit obsessed with Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy. I stormed through The Knife of Never Letting Go in what was pretty much a single sitting, and promptly downloaded the other two books in the trilogy because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Since then I've been recommending these books to everyone (they're technically young adult, but I think anyone with an imagination from 12 to 100+ would enjoy them).
For me, the only possible choice of chocolate to accompany this series was Galaxy Minstrels, because I. Can't. Stop. Eating. Them. Give me one of those big sharing bags and it'll be gone in an evening, never mind the sharing.
4. Kushiel's Dart
I first read Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart in my early twenties. At the time I was becoming a little jaded with fantasy books and it had been a while since I'd really been able to lose myself in one ... but I totally lost myself in this. A unique heroine, some wonderful supporting characters, a richly realised 'alternative history' fantasy world, masses of political intrigue, loads of action, plenty of sex and a superbly ruthless female villain all combine to make it a book that draws you in and doesn't let go.
To go with it, I've chosen Green & Black's Spiced Chilli chocolate, which like Carey's book is the perfect combination of sweet and hot. For those who like a little bit of a kick with their treats ;-)
5. Good Omens
I had to include a comedy in the list somewhere, and this is a perennial favourite. One would expect a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to be a little bit extraordinary, and Good Omens doesn't disappoint. It has some depth to it, some serious observations to make – as all good comedies do – but mostly it's just a really enjoyable read, full of one-liners and silliness and clever allusions to a whole range of things, from history to pop culture. Even if you don't usually like comic fantasy, you might well like this.
And to go with it, I've picked Cadbury's Dairy Milk Jelly Popping Candy Shells, which is basically the most fun it's possible to have in chocolate form.
6. Albion's Dream
For my next choice, I've gone for a bit of a rarity. I found Albion's Dream in my local library when I was a child and I've read it many times since, finally buying my own copy when I was an adult. I've never come across anyone else who's read it. It's a fascinating book, very English (its evocation of time and place, post-war Wessex, is spot on), with a unique twist on a classic good and evil narrative. The best way I can describe it is as a far deeper and more subtle version of Jumanji, but that hardly does it justice. A wonderful read.
To go with it, I've chosen Lindt cherry-filled chocolate. This was my absolute favourite chocolate as a teenager, but you can't seem to get it in the UK any more. Like Albion's Dream, it's a delectable rarity. (If anyone knows where I can get my hands on some, let me know.)
7. The Compass Rose
When it comes to Ursula LeGuin I would usually pick the Earthsea books, but I wanted to include a short story collection, and LeGuin is a wonderful short story writer as well as everything else. And although many people would choose The Wind's Twelve Quarters, my own favourite has always been The Compass Rose. Reason? It contains several of my top short stories of all time, including 'The Diary of the Rose', 'The Pathways of Desire' and 'The Wife's Story'.
The obvious accompaniment to a book of short stories is a box of chocolates, and for LeGuin's collection I have picked possibly the best box of chocolates in existence, Hotel Chocolat's Everything Selection. Does what it says on the, er, box.
8. The Night Pirates
Finally, since I spend a lot of time reading to Baby Smith these days, I thought I ought to choose a book for him. He loves his Julia Donaldsons, but I've gone with one that you may not have heard of, The Night Pirates. Baby Smith absolutely adores this book. The story is fun and imaginative, and the illustrations are beautiful.
(I particularly like the way the text is laid out on the page, making it as much a part of the illustration as the pictorial elements.) And what better chocolate to go with it than Baby Smith's other colourful favourite, Smarties?