If you haven’t heard about the nefarious misdeeds of Handbook for Mortals, you’re missing one of the most delightfully bad scandals of our time, based on one of the worst books you will ever, ever read.
And I say that having once liveblogged all of Atlas Shrugged.
To get up to speed:
- YouTube book vlogger mynameismarines talks about exactly how bad this book is here;
- Jenny Trout has an in-depth per-chapter read going on, the most recent installment of which is here.
- For background on the scandal itself, Kayleigh Donaldson compiled an exhaustive timeline here.
But! As popcorn-worthy as the Handbook for Mortals thing is, Handbook for Mortals is not actually the book I’m here to talk about.
The book I am here to talk about is another small-press, never-heard-of-it novel set in a theatre and featuring some actual magic, albeit of a different kind: Mint Juleps, Mud Pie, and MacBeth, by Bronwen Forbes.
Mint Juleps is Forbes’s only novel; she’s also published two non-fiction books through larger publishers, including The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide and Make Merry in Step and Song, the latter of which came out through Llewellyn. The novel is currently listed as “out of print” on Amazon, although some secondhand sellers still offer copies.
I also have a confession to make: I have owned this book for six years and did not read it until last week.
The reason for this kinda sucks. Bronwen was a dear friend of mine until her death in 2011. Her love and wisdom helped me get through the absolute toughest years of my life to date.
And, weirdly, I felt like I couldn’t read this book after she died. I felt like if I did read it, that was it; that was the last piece of my friend, processed. As long as I didn’t read it, it was like she was still out there in the world, having an everyday life.
Is that weird? Grief is weird. Anyway.
Mint Juleps, Mud Pie, and MacBeth is the story of Laurel, a recently-graduated theatre major who finds work in her field – at an outfit known as Gilbert and Dilbert’s Musical Dinner Theater and Dance Emporium.
It’s exactly as tacky as it sounds. Nevertheless, it works out for Laurel: she’s working in her field, and she’s able to stay close to her religious family in the form of Boxwood Coven.
Gilbert and Dilbert’s has a quirk: the theatre often puts on original shows written by the wife of one of the owners. These shows are exactly as tacky as you’d expect, but they’re usually not dangerous – at least, not until the Mrs. drops a script for MacBeth: The Musical.
As I was reading Mint Juleps, I couldn’t help but think of Handbook for Mortals, precisely because this novel has all the major elements of Handbook, except that here, they don’t suck. For instance:
- Main character with a magic-related secret: check. Except that, here, the main character is a likable human, not a whiny vain self-insert paper doll.
- Set in a theatre: check. Except that, here, the reader is introduced to believable techs doing believable tech things, not pummelled by an author who wants to show off her theatre knowledge only to get major details horribly wrong.
- Romantic subplot: check. Except that, here, it’s believable and heartwarming, not crammed in the reader’s face for no reason except that the author wanted to imagine herself vaguely stuck between two guys for no good reason than to be lusted after.
It also has something Handbook for Mortals painfully lacks: a compelling plot.
It’s not perfect. Mint Juleps reads like a first novel; there are things that, as an editor, I’d trim or scoot around a bit. But on the whole, it’s a sweet, engaging, fun book. And while it doesn’t deserve to knock The Hate U Give off the top of the NYT bestseller list either, it deserves a whole lot more attention than a certain piece of self-aggrandizing dreck.