Once upon a time many years ago, my mother bought me a book.
I feel like I have a lot of stories and blog posts that start this way.
That doesn’t make them any less true – my mom often brought home books that she thought I would enjoy. And, oftentimes, she was right. One of those books was Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, the first book (chronologically) in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I grew to love this series, and so one day at the bookstore I happened to notice a fifth mass market paperback by Point Fantasy sitting next to the four I knew. It was simply titled Book of Enchantments and had the same author. A line at the top of the cover said “Cast a spell – any spell.” I couldn’t wait to get it home.
To my great surprise, this wasn’t a novel. Instead, I found a collection of mostly unrelated short stories. This mattered very little considering how wonderful I found them all to be, even the notes from Wrede at the end of the book about how each tale came about. In short, the Book of Enchantments was the very first anthology I ever bought. I assure you that all ten stories are worth your time and money, but I’m only going to talk about my favorites.
“Roses by Moonlight” always struck a chord with me as I saw Adrian, standing on the driveway avoiding her sister, smoking even though she didn’t care for it. The struggle she has with her younger sibling, whether or not it’s reciprocated, has always resonated with my own identical sibling. Sure, maybe things don’t always work out perfectly for my sister, but they often seem to, just like for Adrian’s. The rest of the story concept is pure fantasy, but this portrayal of two sisters gets me in the gut every time. You think Frozen did a good job? You’ve never read “Roses by Moonlight.”
Possibly even more powerful is “Stronger than Time,” and not just because of the name. This story is like the fading perfume of a loved one who has passed, and routinely makes me pause on the verge of tears. The basic idea is “what if Sleeping Beauty’s prince never came?”, leading to an abandoned tower, choked by thorns, avoided by all. And yet, that is only the story’s beginning…
Lastly, of my favorites, is “Cruel Sisters.” This is based on the old song “The Twa Sisters” in which two sisters love the same man, who forsakes the elder for the younger. The younger then drowns under suspicious circumstances. Then a harper comes along with a fabulous instrument made from her bones and strung from her hair. The harp plays itself, naming the sister as the murderer. It’s an old song, but what’s interesting is that the tale is told by a lesser-known middle sister, who watched from the sidelines.
The most informative portion of the book, as I mentioned, is the “Notes from the Author” wherein Wrede recalls where she found the inspiration for all the stories. She also explains how, upon finishing up the anthology, she submitted it to the editor, who told her something was missing.
This something happened to be a chocolate cake recipe.
That’s right, there’s a recipe for Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake in this book. I have made it, and it’s pretty damned good. Whatever else Patricia C. Wrede may be, she is an excellent baker.
I also read The Grownup by Gillian Flynn today. This little book was the bonus in one of my Book of the Month boxes. They always do something like that, whether it’s a box of “After Book Mints” or a ribbon or a coloring book or whatever. The box has three items then; the book I chose, a bookmark with a synopsis of the judge’s reasons for choosing it, and a bonus item of some kind.
The Grownup is not meant to be a comfortable story. The protagonist starts out explaining that she gave handjobs, professionally, for three years. Unless if the reader knew what to expect, this cannot do anything but make them uncomfortable. And that’s before we get to the main portion of the story. Is it a ghost story? A mystery? A bizarre slice-of-life tale? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Did I like it? That is…a difficult question. I have read stories about whores and prostitutes and not instantly disliked them for their profession. The Grownup is definitely well-written and eerily plausible. But I don’t think I can honestly say I liked it.
Will I keep it? I don’t think so. It’s not just that the book made me uncomfortable, or that it has multiple potential endings, like the movie Clue. I found the protagonist to be likable, but the rest of the characters were…not. I also feel like maybe some of the action could have used more development, that some things happened very quickly at the end. I just…didn’t really enjoy reading things once we moved a bit away from the protagonist’s daily life. I’m not even sure I’m glad I read it.
I think, at this point in time, I should look at more rereads, and maybe more shorter reads. I could go back and read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, or maybe something else along those lines. I do have a whole library to choose from after all.