Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews STONE ARABIA





Stone Arabia
Dana Spiotta
Simon & Schuster
2011

Ms. Hen read this book because she learned about it a while ago, and it was on her library list for a long time. She finally got around to reading it, and she was glad she did. There are very few books that Ms. Hen can’t stop reading, and this is one of them. She sped through this novel because she was engrossed with reading about the characters’ strange lives.

This novel is about a woman, Denise, and her family: her relationships with her brother, her mother, and her daughter. Denise lives alone and she worries about her brother Nik, a talented musician who has never become completely successful. Nik battles with drugs and alcohol, and keeps a record of his life he calls the Chronicles, written documents that are not completely factual. Denise worries about her mother, who is slipping into dementia. Denise thinks she is losing her memory also. Her daughter, Ada, wants to make a documentary about Nik and his life.

Denise lives alone and she watches the news constantly. She becomes obsessed with tragedy when she reads and watches TV, and cries herself to sleep over the stories of children killed at school, and an Amish girl who is kidnapped in upstate New York, and many others. Denise can’t help but become distraught over these news items and she loses sleep and becomes depressed.

This novel reminded Ms. Hen of the book she had just read, DEMONOLOGY, by Rick Moody, because it seemed to her as if the characters lived in the same world as the characters in STONE ARABIA, a weird world, and one that is unpredictable and could explode at any moment. Ms. Hen read in the acknowledgements that Dana Spiotta thanked Rick Moody, and Ms. Hen imagines they must be friends and have compared notes about writing. Ms. Hen enjoyed STONE ARABIA more than the other book, however. She thinks this book has better substance and color and has more sympathetic characters.

There was something about this book that Ms. Hen loved. She loved that Denise was unstable, and her brother was talented and erratic. She loved the fact that Denise is trying to figure out what her brother wants and what he is going to do next. Denise and Nik are the only children in their family, and their father left them when they were young, and the mother worked a lot, so they were left to themselves much of the time. They were their only family in the beginning of their lives, and they knew each other so well, that they could predict what each other would do. Ms. Hen thinks this is one of the only novels she has read recently about adult siblings who have a close relationship.

Ms. Hen recommends this book because it is like real life, and it shows a family and how dysfunctional it can be, but how they can love each other. Some families don’t have a connection like the one in this novel. This novel also shows how adults can unravel and become unstable and almost lose their minds. Modern day society is not set up for sensitive people who take everything personally. Delicate people can crack if they don’t take care of themselves. Ms. Hen knows this is true, but she is a tough hen now, as tough as she can be, for a hen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews DEMONOLOGY






Demonology
Rick Moody
Little, Brown and Company
2001

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she found it at a used bookstore, read the opening paragraph about a man wearing a rubber chicken head, and fell in love with the beginning of the story, “The Mansion on the Hill.” It took her a while to read the entire book, because she was focused on other things, but she got around to reading it in between library books.

Ms. Hen found that a lot of the stories in this collection have to do with car accidents, or other types of accidents. The story, “Mansion on the Hill,” is about a man grieving his sister who has died in a car accident. He starts working at a wedding company, and strange things happen there. The story, “Forecast from the Retail Desk,” is about a man who can predict the future, and he predicts his classmate’s death in a car accident when he is in high school.  The story “Hawaiian Night” is about a party at a resort, and a boat accident occurs.

Ms. Hen didn’t like the story “Pan’s Fair Throng,” a type of fairy tale. She doesn’t think it fits in with the collection at all, and she thought it was jarring. Whenever she reads collections of short stories, there are usually one or two she does not like.

The story, “The Carnival Tradition,” is the longest in the book. Ms. Hen didn’t like some of the characters, but she liked the story because it is about memory, and the things that happen to people when they remember things. It is a haunting story about two people, who were a couple for a short time, who look back to when they were young.

Ms. Hen read the story, “Boys,” in a class when she was in college. She recalls learning that it’s a good example of repetition in a story, and poetic writing. She thinks she had to do an exercise that had to do with the story, but she doesn't know if she remembers correctly.

Ms. Hen wanted to punch lot of the characters in these stories in the face. Many of them are quite obnoxious, especially in the story, “The Ineluctable Modality of the Vagina.” The two characters in that story irritated Ms. Hen.


Ms. Hen liked this collection of short stories, though she thought some stories were better than others. She didn’t love the book, but most of the characters are realistic and seem genuine, and she admires that in writing. Characters are what make quality writing, even though the reader might not enjoy them, and wouldn’t want to hang out with them, if they’re well drawn, they make the writing come alive.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews KINDRED






Kindred
Octavia E. Butler
Beacon Press
1979

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she is interested in women science fiction writers. She had heard of Octavia Butler, but did not know anything about her. She is one of the only African American women science fiction writers. She is also the only sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Ms. Hen was impressed when she learned this.

This novel is difficult to read. Dana and her husband, Kevin are moving into a new house on Dana’s twenty-sixth birthday. Suddenly, she gets transported to the antebellum South, where her ancestor, Rufus, a slave owner, is about to die as a child. She saves him from drowning, but almost gets shot by his father, then is sent back to present day. Dana keeps going back to Maryland in that time, and it always happens when Rufus is in trouble and might be killed. She is considered a slave because she is black. Once she goes back with her husband Kevin.

Ms. Hen thought this book was hard because it brought her into the mind of a 1970s woman stuck in the time of slavery. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be Dana sent back to that time again and again, but it was realistic, though it is complete fantasy. It disturbed Ms. Hen to feel this way, to feel as if she were helpless and had no control over the character’s lives. This is what slavery was, having no control over your own destiny, and always at the whim of the master.

This book reminded Ms. Hen of slave narratives, and it was based on such books. Ms. Hen has read Frederick Douglass, NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Ms. Butler read this book as well and created her novel inspired by what she read. It also reminded Ms. Hen of BELOVED by Toni Morrison.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a book that everyone should read because it makes the reader look at what happened to this character and try to figure out what occurred. She is sent back in time to make sure her great-grandmother was born, but she learns of the details of the horrible circumstances in which the people lived. She got to see first-hand the experiences of her ancestors. There is no explanation why this happened, but Ms. Hen thinks it is a lesson that we must learn from the past, and teach the future generations the history of ourselves and the world around us.

Ms. Hen loved this book, though she thought it was disturbing. But since she is a hen that likes to be disturbed, she gives it high marks. Not everything Ms. Hen reads can be nice, and she likes it that way. This book also goes along with Ms. Hen’s going down the rabbit hole theme, and especially the TV show THE MINISTRY OF TIME, the Spanish show about time travel. Ms. Hen will travel through time as much as she can, because she is an adventurous hen.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

Ms. Hen enjoys the Earth






Journey to the Center of the Earth
Jules Verne
Translated from the French by Frederic Amadeus Malleson
1864, 2017

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel on her phone because she thought it would be ironic to read one of the classics of sci-fi on a device. She felt silly doing so, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as she would if she had read a real book. She stopped reading books on her Kindle a few years ago, but recently bought an Ipad, so she got the Kindle app, and it appeared on her phone.

She thinks reading a book on her phone or device is not really reading. She doesn’t think she gets as much out of reading a device as she does a book; she doesn’t digest the information as well as a hard copy. She wrote a blog post about this a few years ago, which you can read here: http://mshenreviewsthings.blogspot.com/2015/12/ms-hen-bids-adieu-to-her-kindle.html

Ms. Hen liked this novel, and she thought it was charming, but it’s not her cup of tea. It’s an adventure book, similar to MOBY DICK. She admires the creativity and the plot, but the situations aren’t interesting enough for her.

This novel is about Axel and his uncle, a German geologist, who find a book with a description of how to get into the earth through a volcano in Iceland. The two travel to Iceland, and find a guide to help them get to where they want to go. They go in the volcano and have an adventure.

Ms. Hen liked the descriptions of Iceland in that time. They seemed like a primitive people, and almost barbaric, but charming and quaint in their own way. Not a lot of food grows in Iceland, and the inhabitants had to scrounge for what they could. These days, they have imported food and hothouses, but back then, they did not have the knowledge or technology.

Ms. Hen read this because it is another type of novel about going down a rabbit hole, such as ALICE IN WONDERLAND. She is fascinated by this right now, and she wants to know how to write such plots. Ms. Hen does not recommend reading a book on your phone, and she didn’t love this book, but it is a taste of speculative fiction in its infancy, which Ms. Hen admires.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews THE MINISTRY OF TIME






The Ministry of Time (El Ministerio Del Tiempo)
Netflix
2015-2017
In Spanish with subtitles


Ms. Hen does not write many TV reviews, though she does watch TV, mostly on Netflix. She doesn’t review these, because she decided not to write about absolutely everything in her life, like she did during the genesis of her blog. But she absolutely loved this Spanish show, THE MINISTRY OF TIME, about time travel in Spain.

The ministry is an office in contemporary Spain. A hallway in the basement leads to a place full of doors, which are entryways to different time periods in Spain’s history. They only lead to places in Spain, or that belonged to Spain at the time, such as South America and the Philippines. Three people are recruited at the beginning of the show, a 16th century soldier, Alfonso, the first female university student from the 19th century, Amelia Folch, and a modern day nurse, Julian, who works as an EMT. They are recruited to help fix history when it goes awry, which is what all the agents in the ministry do.

Amelia is the leader of the group, since she knows so much about history and everything else, and is highly intelligent. She is well versed in history up to her point, but learns quickly what she needs to know about other eras. Julian is the one who can help people who are hurt, and Alfonso is a fighter, who wins almost any battle. Alfonso is a brave warrior, but has antiquated views about women and religion.

Alfonso learns that he should obey Amelia’s command, even though he grumbles. Julian pines for his dead wife. Amelia has to go back to her time period living with her parents, and she has to deal with life as a 19th century woman, knowing that in the future, there are more opportunities.

One of Ms. Hen’s favorite episodes is about Cervantes, in which the villians pay the author for the only copy of DON QUIXOTE, and the agents have to try to get it back. Ms. Hen loved when they brought Cervantes to the present day to show him how famous he would be in the future. Another of Ms. Hen’s favorite episodes is the one when an evil character discovers America, and Christopher Columbus does not. Some episodes were about parts of history that Ms. Hen had no knowledge of, but she learned. She had heard the name Simon Bolivar, but did not know what he did, or how he was significant. Two episodes show this man at different times of his life.

The characters change, and new ones are introduced as the show progresses. Pacino joins the team when Julian runs away. Pacino is a police officer from the 1980s, and he escaped going to jail by finding a door to the present day. Alfonso, the 16th century soldier has to help teach Pacino about 21st century technology, but Alfonso gets confused about simple items such as toasters. This show can be humorous at times, when characters try to explain and learn about aspects of life in other time periods.

Some things about this show amazed Ms. Hen, such as the costumes and the filters. Amelia travels from era to era and always looks different; her hair and her clothes transform, and she looks like a new person each time. Ms. Hen noticed that the filter would change for different eras, such as in the 16th century, the light was very bright, and in the 1940s, the palette was darker. What amazed her the most was the 1970s, during which the filter changed so it looked like a photo taken from that time. This is a carefully made show, with a lot of thought to visuals and authenticity.

Ms. Hen watched this show because she is into science fiction, but she feels it goes along with the theme of the books she is reading right now, ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, and going down the rabbit hole. This show takes the characters into different points of time to try to save history. Ms. Hen recommends this TV show to anyone who wants to be taken to many different points in the history of Spain and to be dazzled by the way the world used to be.




Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS







Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll
Macmillan
1872

Ms. Hen is studying ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND,
since she is attempting
to write something similar.
She had read that book years before, but she had never
read the sequel, THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, so she went to the Internet
and purchased it with aplomb, waiting anxiously for the parcel to arrive in the mail.
When it came, she read it when she was ready, and she dove into the fantastical
world of Alice falling into in her mirror.

These books are strange to Ms. Hen, and she is trying to figure out
what they are about; there is a myth they’re about
drugs, but she found out that’s not true, they’re just meant to entertain.
In this version of Alice’s tale she meets a Red Queen and a White Queen,
has an encounter with Humpty Dumpty, and the absurdity continues
with poetry and strange characters,
through the glass, similar to when she fell down the rabbit hole.

Ms. Hen thinks that the myriad of versions of these tales are about nothing but
children’s fanciful whimsical dreams, they are simply
tall tales told to spark the imagination,
to make us see the world in a precious way,
to help us hold onto childhood.
Ms. Hen thinks that people should not lose their sense of wonder,
even if they don’t like spending time around children,
they should hold onto the seed of what was once there,
but gets eaten away by the real world, the miserable, everyday, ordinary world
that kills us slowly and surely
by grinding us down to a pulp.

By reading about Alice, adults can try to remember what it’s like to have
a mind that’s free from clutter and drudgery.
We can become Alice and be like a bird hopping, preparing
for flight, ready to forget everything
and dance
like a rabid sea rabbit.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews THE BEGINNING PLACE






The Beginning Place
Ursula K. Le Guin
Harper & Row
1980

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she is currently interested in science fiction, particularly stories similar to ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. She found this novel on a list of books that are similar to that one, and she has read another book by Ms. Le Guin in the past, and she admired her as a person, so she decided to pick this up. She was not disappointed.

After her deep dislike of NEUROMANCER last week, THE BEGINNING PLACE was a refreshing respite. This book takes place in a future time, the twenty-first century, or an imagined one that was written around the late seventies. Not a lot of technology exists in this novel, for example, Ms. Hen was surprised the characters did not own a microwave, but that was the small thing wrong with this book. Nobody can see the future, and the proliferation of things like microwaves and computers and the Internet would be difficult to imagine forty years ago.

This is a novel about a young man, Hugh, who works in a supermarket, and gets upset with his life, and runs into a forest that he does not realize at first is a different land. He thinks the place is beautiful and returns and finds a young woman there named Irena. She does not like that he’s in the place, too. People live in a village beyond the mountain, and Irena has been going there for a long time and speaks their language. The people cannot leave their village because of a magical force, and are losing food, so Irena and Hugh offer to help them. They go on an adventure and are not the same afterwards.

This novel is similar to ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, because it is about going to a different country where things and people are strange and operate in an unusual way. It is also reminiscent of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and many other stories in which someone goes on an adventure, and discovers a new, magical world. The difference is that this novel takes place in the future, where not everything in the characters’ lives is peaceful and calm. Hugh works at a supermarket and his mother is miserable. Irena’s family is dysfunctional and has a hard time with her roommates, an unmarried couple who fight all the time. They go past the river and find peace, or at least attempt to do so. Nothing in life is perfect, but we have to do our best.

Ms Hen understands that this is usually a book for young people; which makes sense to her, because it is simply written and it is not violent or graphic. She would have liked to read this when she was young, but she didn’t, but she is glad she just read it, because it makes her feel young, with positive feelings for the future. Being young is not always the best time of life, as Ms. Hen knows, but she thinks that people can be hopeful at any age. Ms. Hen loved this book.