Book Reviews: August 2022

It’s been an interesting month of reading (as I say every month). I’m definitely sticking to the theme of “woman having an adventure” this month, maybe because it’s my birth month and I’m feeling the need to have some sort of adventure of my own… Anyway, here are the books:

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley:

I don’t remember how I came across this little book, but I picked it up because the title reminds me of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which gives the book an air of quirky magical realism (it’s not actually magical realism though), and the story sounds right up my alley – a spinster gets fed up with keeping house for her brother, a famous author, and impulsively decides to join a bookseller on his traveling wagon for an unlikely adventure. It’s a fun, quick read, and traveling around in a portable bookstore is exactly my kind of retirement plan, so of course I can relate. I don’t buy the central love story and the ending so much – I wish the main character could continue on her way without getting married (this is not a spoiler, by the way, because the opening of the book pretty much gives the ending away) – but the book was first published in 1917 and written by a man, so I guess that’s as progressive as it gets. 4/5

Winter Pasture by Li Juan:

After a fiction book about a single woman joining a nomadic bookseller, here’s a non-fiction book about a single woman joining a nomadic family of Kazakh herders as they move their cattle to pasture for the winter. It has all the themes that I’m interested in (adventure, nature/animals, and everyday life), but I’ve never read about the Kazakhs or nomadic herders before, so I expected to enjoy this. However, while the descriptions of the herders’ life are interesting, something must have gotten lost in translation (it was translated from Chinese), because I find the prose rather stilted and clunky. Plus, I think it’s badly organized – the first part is about the nomadic life in general, then the second part describes the people she stayed with, and the third part is the author’s emotions and reflections about her experience. Wouldn’t it be much better if these three are organically woven together? There are some beautiful stories and moving observations, but because the book is divided like this, the whole thing feels repetitive and disjointed. 3/5

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James:

I enjoyed Simone St. James’s “The Sun Down Motel” enough when I read it last year, so this year I got another supernatural mystery by her, thinking I’ll save it for Halloween, but I got impatient, so here it is. This one shares the same formula as “The Sun Down Motel” – two interweaving stories, one involving a missing/murdered girl in the past, and one involving a woman in the present trying to uncover the mystery, with a supernatural element – except it’s set at a boarding school for girls that is supposedly haunted instead of a motel that is supposedly haunted. But that doesn’t mean that it’s formulaic or predictable. The characters are well written and relatable (much more so than “The Sun Down Motel”), the mystery is absorbing, and the story is atmospherically spooky but not scary. The resolution feels a little easy, but overall I enjoyed it. 4/5

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico:

Continuing my theme of “woman going on an adventure”, I finished this month with these two short and sweet novels about a London charwoman who goes to Paris to buy a Dior dress and later, goes to New York to help an abandoned boy find his father. I recently saw the trailer of the movie adaptation of the first book and found it very charming, so I decided to check it out. I prefer the “Paris” book, not just because it’s fashion-adjacent, but also because the “New York” one is a bit more predictable. Still, the stories are very lighthearted and amusing (though not exactly funny), and there are some great descriptions of Paris and New York. 4/5


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