Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Mini Reviews - Once Upon a Goat by Richards and Barclay, Pastoralia by G. Saunders, The Long and Living Shadow by D. Winston

I don't feel like any of these require a lengthy review, so here we go again with the mini reviews.  Pardon my mostly-absent week. I spent the entire Labor Day weekend cleaning out my breakfast nook, which I'd turned into a very messy art studio. It had gone well beyond acceptably disordered, so I've moved everything out and now we're just pondering how to bring everything back but make the room orderly. We want to find a storage solution for all the paint, brushes, etc. that is attractive but it may take some time to find. At any rate, I needed a day to recover after spending the weekend hauling canvases, bottles, brushes, and boxes of paint to another room. 


Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards and Eric Barclay is an adorable picture book in which a king and queen long for a family. When they ask their fairy godmother for a child, the king makes the mistake of saying, "Any kid will do." 

And, a kid is exactly what they get, a baby goat. At first they're horrified and even decide to cast the kid out of the castle after he causes too much chaos and eats the royal roses. But, then it begins to rain heavily and they feel bad about sending the poor little guy out on such a rough night. After bringing him back inside, he slowly becomes part of the family. And, then their fairy godmother returns and sees her mistake. 

Out in the countryside, the fairy godmother peeks around a tree and, sure enough, there's the baby the king and queen asked for — living with a mother and father goat. She intends to switch them but the king and queen have become so attached to their kid that they come up with an alternative solution. Hint: it means the castle is never tidy. 

Recommended - While the storyline in Once Upon a Goat is predictable to an adult, it's super cute and I can imagine it tickling small children. I love the illustrations, love the kindness of the king and queen and their willingness to tolerate a messy castle because they adore their little goat, much like parents who put up with the messes that come with having small children. 

Pastoralia by George Saunders is a book of short stories with one novella. As in many of his collections, there's a "theme park going downhill" story, the novella of the title name, "Pastoralia", and it was my favorite. A man and woman are living in cave, each with his and her own Separate Area into which they retreat at night. They're not related, not attracted to each other. They're supposed to just grunt all day, skin and cook their daily goat, pretend to eat bugs and paint wall art. With fewer visitors coming, they fear they'll lose their jobs soon and occasionally their daily goat doesn't show up in their slot so they must eat crackers, instead. 

Meh - Saunders' theme park stories are wildly creative and absurd. I tend to love them, even the ones that get a bit . . . violent (his earlier work, especially). But, the rest of the stories in Pastoralia didn't thrill me. In fact, I had to flip through the book to remind myself what the others are about and found that I was reading much farther than I should do in order to nudge my memory. 

At any rate, I love George Saunders casual, humorous, satirical writing. But, apart from "Pastoralia", this one just didn't do it for me and it's now my least favorite Saunders book, much as I love him. Second to Pastoralia would be Lincoln in the Bardo [unpopular opinion], which was too scattered for my taste, although someone at Square Books in Oxford, MS told me that Saunders had the audience do voices from Lincoln in the Bardo when he came for a reading and signing. They say his visit was a total hoot. And, my "least favorite" is still worth keeping for the novella. I am getting close to having read all of his books, now.

I like the pulp-fictiony cave woman cover shown above, although the woman who lives in the cave with the narrator is described as fifty-something and not particularly attractive, at least to the man who plays her Partner in Cave. My copy has a deer on the cover. I'm not sure of the point of that and I'm not reviewing for anyone since this is from my home library, so I've opted to put up the cover I like. 

The Long and Living Shadow by Daoma Winston almost doesn't deserve a review. It was seriously awful. But, I finished the book for a couple reasons. 

1. The Return by Daoma Winston, a book that once belonged to my mother, is one of my all-time most reread books. I've read it periodically since . . . maybe my early teens? It's a romantic suspense that takes place in a mansion on a cliff, very gothic and moody and truly suspenseful. I've been considering another reread. I recognized similar elements in The Long and Living Shadow and felt like I needed to keep reading to figure out why a book that was similar in so many ways was such a dud by comparison with another title by the same author. More on that in a minute. 

2. It was short. Mercifully short at something like 157 pages, thank goodness. It truly was a terrible work of writing.

Not recommended - Pass this one up if you see it at a library or garage sale. Dreadful, repetitive, and predictable. The spooky house really wasn't and the greedy relatives were transparent. Possibly the worst thing (the element that most likely made it pale by comparison with my old favorite) was ineffective repetition. Everyone was pudgy but the heroine, who was delicate. The title was repeated a gazillion times, and so was mention of whether or not the widowed heroine was "grown up" at 23. On the plus side, she developed confidence as the book progressed and the book has a bang-up ending. But, that wasn't enough to redeem it. 

This is another one for which I've switched out the cover image. I think my copy must be a reprint as it was published in 1971 and my copy looks very 80s, with the heroine dressed in a feathered gown. In reality, she was a hat-and-gloves-with-suit type of gal, very conservative. The cover above doesn't entirely fit, either, but it does hint of the gothic feel, while the cover image on mine looks like it came straight out of a music video. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Sometimes the reviews about poorly-written books are the most amusing and informative to read!

    1. That's true. I always enjoy hearing what people dislike about a book as much as what they enjoy. And, while I seldom do DNF posts anymore (mostly because I don't get far enough before quitting), my DNF posts have always been favorites on this blog.


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