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Bookworm: ‘The Sisters Grimm’ an otherworldly feminist epic

With ‘Decisions,’ the answer may be there, in black and white

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"The Sisters Grimm" author Menna van Praag.

"The Sisters Grimm"

  • By Menna van Praag
  • c. 2020, HarperVoyager
  • $27.99, $34.99 Canada; 431 pages

I had a dream last night that ...

And there's how many stories, advertisements, and speeches start. You dreamed you could fly, that you went back to school, that you were naked, and nobody noticed. Some say that dreams have messages for us, interpretations to heed, or lessons to be learned. In the new book "The Sisters Grimm" by Menna van Praag, there's less than a month to do so.

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There was nothing Goldie wouldn't do for Teddy.

"The Sisters Grimm" by Menna van Praag.

She lied for her little brother, stole for him, and she worked a job as a hotel chambermaid for a boss with roaming hands, just so Teddy had everything. Still, her dreams were her own and they were taking her to strange places: nearly eighteen years old, Goldie shouldn't have believed in magical white leaves and nonexistent sisters.

The whole idea of floating on air was frightening, until Bea had taken her first glider ride. Then the exhilaration, the freedom was worth every second of sleeping with the glider's owner, a man she disdained. He didn't matter; Mamá had made that clear, when she told soon-to-be-eighteen Bea about her past and her future in a world called Everwhere.

For Liyana, next fall held such promise: art school; an apartment with her lover, Kumiko; and swimming, if she were lucky. And then Liyana's auntie brought a storm to their household, and there was only one way to fix what Nyasha had done: almost-eighteen-year-old Liyana would have to marry a man she didn't love.

As they sometimes do, snips of memory entered seventeen-year-old Scarlet's mind while she made cinnamon buns in her grandmother's small cafe, and the images disturbed her. She had no sisters, so why did she dream of three girls she didn't know? As if caring for an elder with Alzheimer's and a business wasn't enough, there were these thoughts.

When Leo first saw Goldie, he was smitten, though it was forbidden. He fell in love, but it was not allowed. He could never lose sight of the fact that he was a soldier and her father was a demon. How could he tell Goldie that he was created to kill her?

If you think it might take some getting used-to, to get into "The Sisters Grimm," you're right. It's not a linear novel. It's not even entirely set in one world, but the transition between isn't hard, the story is both light and dark, and some of the characters are deliciously despicable. For a fantasy novel, that's fun, and frightening made better as author Menna van Praag tells the tale from several viewpoints, including "you," to put readers inside. Add a bit of the Shakespearean, some persistently bad-news tarot cards, a thundering dose of fable, and if you've ever shivered from a deep reading of Grimm's Fairy Tales, well, just wait ...

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With its tone of edgy evil, you'd be wrong in calling this a "nice" novel because it's not. Still, for the reader who relishes fantasy-battle tales or otherworldly feminist epics, "The Sisters Grimm" is a dream book.

"Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World" author Robert L. Dilenschneider.

"Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World"

  • By Robert L. Dilenschneider
  • c. 2020, Citadel Press
  • $16.95, $22.95 Canada; 240 pages

Black or white? Up or down? Donut or cake? Take a new job, or stay at the old one? Life is a series of picks and chooses, some of them frivolous and some of them unspeakably important. So how do you know the right one to make, even if it's just between sundae or cone? In the new book "Decisions" by Robert L. Dilenschneider, you'll see how dilemmas have historically been solved and how choices can impact you, too.

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"Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World" by Robert L. Dilenschneider.

You may not realize it – surely, you're not conscious of it – but you make dozens of decisions every day. Most of them are inconsequential (coffee or water?) but some of them may have lasting impact in many aspects of life and business. So how do you make them with the confidence you need?

Dilenschneider says that the answer to that can come from looking at history, art, sports, religion and businesses in the past.

Take Harry Truman, for instance.

He's where Dilenschneider starts this book, by pointing out that Truman had been in office for mere weeks before he was thrust into the President's seat. He likely knew very little about the nuclear bomb until just days before he was sworn in. Five months later, he understood the implications of using it, and the outcome if he didn't, and he knew what he had to do: he authorized its use, and never looked back.

Imagine a decision to leave a place of danger, only to step into a place of death. That's what happened to Elie Wiesel. Or to decide that you will fight racism or suppression, as did Gandhi. Or to stick to your convictions, no matter what, as did Joan of Arc. Or to make up your mind to survive a financial disaster, as did banker A.P. Giannini. Or to go for an untested market, like restaurateur Howard Johnson...

Or, as you might wish, just read each story, and pick and choose which lesson fits. Author Robert L. Dilenschneider makes that an enjoyable endeavor, one that you'll find hard to ignore or want to end.

The reasons are varied in the 23 short-but-full chapters but the overall appeal inside "Decisions" lies in the format of this book: it's not just a business tome. Instead, readers will find a lot of history, a dash of psychology, twenty-three truly great tales, and a surprising amount of food for thought.

It's this latter asset that's particularly attractive.

Dilenschneider's style seems chummy – maybe too much so, at first – but that'll eventually grow on you, as his chapters guide you through stories of determination, adversity, and true pain. If that seems familiar, it's because "Decisions" has a comfortable feel about it, like an adult version of the inspiring biographies you enjoyed reading as a grade schooler. The difference is that here, the stories are absolutely all grown up.

Though this may seem like strictly a business book, it's for anyone with a weight on their mind these days. With "Decisions," the answer may be there, in black and white.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.