Geek Girl’s Fictional Junk-Food-o-Rama – The Worldwide Dessert Contest

By on January 24, 2012

When it comes to reading, I tend to spend a majority of my time in the darker side of the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum.  My bookshelves are adorned with books like Redshift and Flights alongside the majority of the Elric books and assorted others.  My library is populated with a high percentage of anti-heroes and monsters.  The dark and depressing, gritty and repulsive can make for almost compulsive reading, but it can’t be the only thing that I ever read. I have to break up all of that darkness and despair with some light and funny reading from time to time.  Also, occasionally having a paperback in hand that doesn’t mention zombies, swords, or death, destruction, or chaos makes my co-workers worry about me a lot less and ensures that they’ll still sit next to me occasionally in the break room.

I tend to think of these books that are selected purely to be fun to read as “junk food” books.  This isn’t because they aren’t good or because there’s some flaw with the writing.  It’s because these types of books satisfy a very specific type of craving.  It’s like when you want Cheetos.  Granted, Cheetos are vaguely cheese flavored, in that exact same way that grape Kool-aid is somehow related to grapes–basically in name only.  If you want Cheetos and all you have in the house is super-sharp special reserve aged cheddar, you can eat as much of that cheddar as you want.  Eventually, though, you’re going to be grabbing your wallet and car keys and driving to the nearest convenience or grocery store and getting those Cheetos. Not that I have personal experience with this, or anything.

So, I’m going to be sharing some of my favorite “junk food” reads with you.  These books are the books that I read to lighten my mood. They make me happy.  Many of them were purchased very cheaply at my favorite used bookstore and were selected solely for the magnificence of their titles.  They feed my inner cheese monster and keep my inner starry-eyed little sprocket from ending up cowering in a corner of my brain shaking in fear because my brain has become too scary. Some of these were tracked down through sheer determination through endless and quite possibly borderline stalker-like searching of various used bookselling sites on the web because I’d borrowed them from the library so many times that I needed to get my own copy before I wore out theirs.

The first book that I’m going to recommend is The Worldwide Dessert Contest by Dan Elish. This book is one of my favorite books in the entire world. It’s actually a kids’ chapter book.  Rereading it became practically an annual event after I discovered it.  Any embarrassment I might have felt going over to the kids’ section of the library as an adult was dwarfed by the joy of reading the book again. Sadly, it had been out of print for awhile after I read it.  I finally tracked a copy down when I was in college and, when it arrived in the mail, even though I had read it several times before, I sat down and read it cover to cover.

John Applefeller is a dessert chef who dreams of winning The Worldwide Dessert Contest with his apple-based specialties.  Unfortunately, every dessert that he makes turns into something else during judging. One of the judges has to walk around with a caramel apple permanently stuck to one cheek, all because the caramel turned into a super-strong glue that will not dissolve, no matter what they attempt to use to dislodge it.  Still, Applefeller and his assistant, Stanley enter every year.  Sadly, the competition is won by Sylvester Sweet, a despicable man who sabotages everyone else’s desserts shamelessly. Naturally, the judges never catch him cheating.

Applefeller’s giant apple pancake, his entry in the twelfth Worldwide Dessert Contest, turns into a trampoline and, while a fun diversion for the crowd at the competition, can’t be judged as a dessert.  It’s not edible.  So Stanley convinces Applefeller to seek out Captain B. Rollie Ragoon, a reclusive master dessert chef rumored to be an extraordinary genius.

This book does get compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl quite a bit.  I can understand those comparisons in terms of the fantasy elements.  However, The Worldwide Dessert Contest is, in my opinion, a lighter and gentler story.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Roald Dahl’s books, but there always seems to be this sinister undercurrent that feels vaguely unsettling in everything he writes, no matter how triumphant the ending.  There’s none of that subtle uneasiness in The Worldwide Dessert Contest.

The story a bit silly and definitely carries heavily absurdist elements, but the book is written so well that it’s fun to read.  One of the characters speaks chiefly in iambic pentameter.  There are slapstick moments of misfortune that give the characters challenges that make a reader root for them to win.  It’s a little like what I think Dr. Seuss might have written if he’d decided to write a children’s chapter book.

There are grayscale illustrations sprinkled through the book, usually of key objects in the story.  They’re beautifully done and match the author’s descriptions perfectly.  The world that Dan Elish created is absorbing and entertaining.  It’s much like reading a cartoon in the best possible way.

While The Worldwide Dessert Contest is primarily geared towards kids, it’s got quite a bit to offer adult fantasy fans, as well.  The writing is good.  The plot moves right along in a well-paced ride that doesn’t lose readers along the way.  It’s a unique tale set in a world where a dessert contest is essentially the World Cup, the Super-bowl, and the Olympics all rolled into one.

Even better, I’ve just found out that it’s available in ebook format in an Enhanced Multimedia edition.  My hardcover copy is in excellent shape, despite multiple re-readings.  On the other hand, they’ve actually set the song lyrics in the book to music.  This book could end up being even more fun to read than I ever thought possible.  Of course, I may also end up with songs about spontaneously changing desserts in my head, too.

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Thanks to Alina Adams for letting me know that the multimedia enchanced version of this book is FREE today (March 9) and tomorrow (March 10) for Amazon Kindle.