Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews working at Starbucks

Ms. Hen drinks a gingerbread latte during the holiday season


Ms. Hen worked at Starbucks for several years. She will not say how long, but she likes to joke sometimes that she will not admit the length of time she worked there unless under oath in a court of law. She also likes to say that she could have her PhD in Starbucks, but she doesn’t. She left Starbucks recently, and has a new job. She never meant to stay as long as she did, it just happened that way. There were some great things and not so great things about working at the biggest coffee company in the world.

Ms. Hen loves coffee. She never goes a day without at least two cups. When she worked at Starbucks, she got to drink as much coffee as she wanted while she worked, and everyone who works there gets a pound of coffee, a box of tea, or some Via (instant coffee) to take home every week. Ms. Hen learned that Starbucks coffee is one of the most caffeinated in the world, so even now, when she does not have it, she needs it. The company transforms their employees (known as partners) into junkies, so when they leave, they will still be addicted, and they will pledge their allegiance to the Siren forever.

Customers at Starbucks might wonder why the baristas are so happy. Ms. Hen doesn’t know exactly why, but putting caramel on drinks and asking people if they want whipped cream puts a person in a good mood. Yes, some customers can be cranky, but the transactions are usually quick, so if someone is a jerk, they’re gone fast. Ms. Hen has never waited tables, but she thinks that would be more difficult, because when a person is a server, they have to be all over a customer, like when they’re demanding a new salt shaker, etc.

Ms. Hen read the book HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE, and when she read it she didn't like it. It was written by a man who had been a corporate executive, and he lost everything, but he got a job at Starbucks and it made him happy. Ms. Hen thought he wrote this book so he could name-drop all the celebrities that he encountered in his previous career, and so people would come to his store and schmooze with him. But Ms. Hen thinks there’s something to working at Starbucks that makes a person happy.

If a person is sad, and she has to go to work and put on a happy face, and pretend like everything is okay in her life, then that job will make her happy. Fake it till you make it, is the expression that fits this situation. It’s easy to pretend like you’re happy when you’re making lattes (maybe not so much frappuccinos), and if you pretend you’re happy long enough, you become happy. So Starbucks might not save a person’s life, but it might make her outlook better. It’s easy to let the rude and obnoxious customers slide off when a person is on high-octane caffeine, surrounding by people who have joy and hope in their lives. And since Ms. Hen worked there for so long, she got to know a lot of the customers, and some of the regulars were perfectly nice people.

Yes, Starbucks partners are mostly young, and even though Ms. Hen was older than the majority of the kids there, she got along with them. Starbucks partners are primarily creative, interesting people who have cool lives and dreams for the future. Some other places Ms. Hen has worked are not like this.

One of the great things about Starbucks is that it’s a billion dollar corporation and the company shares the wealth. Every so often, the partners would get some extra money. But one time Ms. Hen researched how much money the company actually made and she gagged. Her few thousand dollars seemed like a pittance compared to how much money actually was in the company. Like the Romans, "Give them Bread and Circuses," but now they give them coffee and a few stocks to keep the peasants happy.

Ms. Hen worked at Starbucks for too long, she realizes. It’s not that she didn’t want to leave; she wanted to find something better. She spent so long standing on her feet, that her feel still hurt sometimes. And her teeth are a mess from all the sugar she ate and drank.

Even though Ms. Hen is glad she does not work at Starbucks anymore, she misses it occasionally. She misses being surrounded by people who work together and have happiness in their lives. But there is a world other than Starbucks. And life goes on.

Ms. Hen with Ethiopia coffee

Sunday, December 3, 2017


Stephen Florida
Gabe Habash
Coffee House Press

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she saw and heard the author do a reading at the Boston Book Festival in October, and she was impressed by his writing and presentation. She was intrigued by the story of a college wrestler that is obsessed with winning the championship, and the process of his unraveling. Ms. Hen’s favorite novels are about unstable young women, but she is willing to give unstable men a chance, too, sometimes.

Stephen Florida is a wrestler at the 133 pound slot in Oresburg College in rural North Dakota. Ms. Hen learned at the reading that the author didn’t have any personal experience with wrestling, and he had never been to North Dakota. Ms. Hen thinks that it is impressive to write an entire novel that takes place somewhere an author has never been, and about a subject that is not his specialty.

Stephen Florida wants to win the Division IV NCAA Championship in the 133 weight class. He is determined to win, and it drives his every move. He skates through his classes, not applying himself, scraping by just to stay in school. In wrestling, a lot of men have to struggle to keep their exact weight, and at times have an eating disorder to the point where they are neurotic about food. Stephen is like this. He has a good friend Linus, who wrestles at the 125 weight class, and they are both at the top of their game.

Stephen meets a girl, Mary Beth, and starts dating her. She works just as hard as he does; she wants to work at an art gallery, and is quirky like him. She doesn’t know if she wants to be with him, and she can’t decide. He struggles with everything, and starts to unravel during winter break, which he spends alone at the college.

Ms. Hen thinks this book has an odor to it. It could be the smell of men wrestling, or the excessive description of flatulence. Ms. Hen has had the privilege to read two books in a row (also the novel EILEEN) in which the character describes their bowel movements in minute detail. Ms. Hen doesn’t think reading about this is pleasant, but it portrays the truth about the character, and what is important to that person.  

The writing in STEPHEN FLORIDA is exquisite. Ms. Hen thinks that the descriptions of the breakdowns that Stephen has are expertly rendered. Ms. Hen had the idea that this novel could be a type of MOBY DICK story, but she wasn’t sure how it would turn out in the end. Ms. Hen thought that the wrestling championship could be Stephen Florida’s great white whale, the one thing he desires in the world that destroys him, but she will not reveal the end. She thinks everyone should read this novel.

Ms. Hen noticed there are some chickens in this novel, which made her happy. Stephen eats a lot of chicken, “ ‘Stephen gets an extra piece of chicken for breaking that kid’s arm.’ “ And also, at the end of the novel, during the championship match, “I eat the chicken dinner and blank out my entire history.”

Ms. Hen thinks that STEPHEN FLORIDA is a beautiful novel. It’s about a young man who starts to come undone, who wants one thing, and it practically drives him insane, not quite, but nearly. Ms. Hen was dazzled by this novel, and if you like excellent writing, and anguished, complicated characters, you will be too.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews EILEEN

Ottessa Moshfegh
Penguin Press

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she learned about it a while ago, and was curious about it. She likes to read about disturbed young women; this is one of her favorite subjects in literature, to read as well as to write. EILEEN is about such a character.

Eileen Dunlop works in a boys’ prison, and takes care of her alcoholic father. Going between the two places she despises everything about herself and her life. She is twenty-four and the year is 1964. She tells the story looking back at her life from the present day; since this is the narrative, Ms. Hen knew she survived in the end.

Eileen shoplifts, and fantasizes and stalks the handsome, young prison guard Randy. She supplies her father with liquor, and imbibes herself at times with him. She rarely showers and does not eat healthy food.  She is an unlikeable, but pitiful woman. Ms. Hen likes her, however. She likes her because she understands her and she knows she is realistic. Ms. Hen read some reviews of this book, and people wrote that Eileen is a despicable character, which is unusual for a female protagonist. It’s typically men who are portrayed as monsters, but Ms. Hen is glad that now there is equal opportunity and women can be depicted as truly bad characters in fiction as well.

It’s not that Eileen wants to be bad. It’s her life circumstances that make her that way. Her mother died young, and her sister is a loose, unkind woman, and Eileen is stuck with her father who treats her like garbage. So it’s no wonder Eileen acts like a pariah, and dreams of escaping her situation.

Things change for Eileen when she meets Rebecca, the new teacher at the prison. Rebecca appears to be everything Eileen is not: beautiful, educated, poised, charming. Eileen is fascinated with Rebecca, but in the end, she becomes Eileen’s downfall. They end up accomplices in a crime, and since the story is told from Eileen’s older point of view, the reader already knows something horrific will happen because the narrator reveals it ahead of time.

This novel reminds Ms. Hen of two different books which take place in time periods surrounding this: GIRL, INTERRUPTED, in the late Sixties and THE BELL JAR, in the Fifties. This novel seems to be caught in the middle of those two worlds, the venue of lost girls who cannot seem to find their way out of the dark. GIRL, INTERRUPTED is a memoir, and THE BELL JAR is based on Sylvia Plath’s real life, but even though EILEEN is not based on anyone’s life, it seems as if it is drawn from these two books. The difference is that Eileen does not end up in a psychiatric hospital, she commits a crime and runs away, but the feeling and the emotions are the same. The world is a fucked up place, and there’s nothing we can do about it, is the lesson Ms. Hen gleaned from all three books. But Eileen ends up happy in her life when she’s older, she says in the book. This novel might offer some hope to young women who think there is no way out.

Eileen’s family does not eat that much, but there are a couple of mentions of chickens, which pleased Ms. Hen. She talks about Christmas, “Back in X-ville, Dunlop dinners had been at best dry chicken, mashed potatoes from a box, canned beans, limp bacon. Christmas was a little different. A store bought sponge cake was all I remember eating from year to year. The Dunlops were never big eaters.” And also, Eileen talks about taking care of her mother, “ 'I should be dead already,’ she insisted. I dutifully boiled the chicken soup on the stove, day in, day out and brought her the clear broth in a green salad bowl big enough to catch the spills…”

Ms. Hen thinks this book is disturbing, but she loved it. She likes reading something that is unusual. This book is not perfect, but it’s dark enough to mirror the bleakness and reality of life.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews LIAR

Rob Roberge
Crown Publishers

Ms. Hen had first heard of Rob Roberge when she went to a reading at AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in 2013. She went to a bookstore to see someone she knew from graduate school, and Mr. Roberge was reading also. She was so impressed by his reading that she bought his novel, THE COST OF LIVING. She read it and loved the novel about mental illness, because she is a hen who likes to read those types of things, for reasons she will not disclose right now.

She had read about this memoir when it first came out, and was curious. She finally got around to it, and wow! She doesn’t know if she’s ever read a book like this.

The entire memoir is written in second person, which is unusual. There aren’t many entire books written in this point of view. Instead of saying “I” or “he” the author chooses to write “you,” which gives the book a more intimate feeling, as if the author is writing a letter to himself. Ms. Hen is a fan of writing in this style, but she does not know if she could handle writing an entire book like this.

Another aspect of this book which is unique that it is written in short vignettes, all out of chronological sequence. At first, Ms. Hen thought this was jarring, but then she got used to it. It paints the picture of a man whose mind is scattered, and whose life is all over the place, and does not know what is happening to him a lot of the time.

This memoir is about a man who has drug addiction, bipolar disorder, and memory problems. He is told he is losing his memory from all the concussions he’s had in his life. He lives a wild life of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, outrageous parties, and traveling around the country, and lying about his life and the scars on his body. But most of all, he lies to himself.

He is a musician and a writer, and has had major psychotic episodes and does not seem to get better. Some people with bipolar disorder can recover, and appear to be normal, but this author does not. Ms. Hen feels sorry for him, but not too sorry. He has lived an adventurous life, unlike some people Ms. Hen knows. Ms. Hen doesn’t think he wrote this memoir to have people feel sorry for him, or to convince people into thinking he’s cool; she believes that he wrote this to help himself remember his life before he loses his memory, and is not the same person anymore.

Ms. Hen does not think this memoir would be an appropriate book for delicate hens to read, but Ms. Hen herself is used to reading difficult books. She liked this book, but it made her think about how truly screwed up some people can be, and it made her pause to consider whether or not she’s happy with her own life.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE WONDER

The Wonder
Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company

Ms. Hen decided to read this because her hen-sister lent it to her. Ms. Hen had read another novel by this author, ROOM, and she loved it. This book is very different, which shows the versatility of the author. It is also about a child, but it takes place in Ireland in the nineteenth century, not that long after the potato famine.

THE WONDER is about an English nurse named Lib who travels to Ireland to take care of an eleven-year-old girl, Anna, who has refused to eat. Her family and the people in the parish believe that it is a miracle and God is helping her to live. Anna claims to be fed from manna from heaven. It is Lib’s job along with another nurse, a nun, to make sure Anna is telling the truth that she is not really eating.

Lib scours Anna’s room and house to try to discover if food is hidden. She takes Anna’s vital signs, and attempts to understand how Anna has survived without food for four months, from April to August. Lib doesn’t understand the superstitious tendencies of the Irish, and their strange rituals. The housekeeper leaves a bowl of milk under the cabinet, and Lib inquires as to why, and the housekeeper said it is for the fairies.

(Ms. Hen is an Irish hen, and she doesn’t know if her relations were as ridiculously religious to the point where they believed in magic and little people. She has a suspicion that they were, and she thinks it could be fun, but if it ruled your life, it could make you seem a wee bit crazy. But if everyone else is like that, then you might not seem that unusual.)

One aspect of this novel which Ms. Hen liked is that it is primarily about a nurse. She hasn’t read that many novels that are mainly about nursing. She has read CALL THE MIDWIFE, which is a memoir, and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which is not principally about nursing. Lib had been a student of Florence Nightingale, and at that time, the profession of nursing was in its infancy. Nurses were mostly meant to take care of people, and not interfere with doctors, or give their input about diagnoses. Nurses were all women, and some were volunteers.

There are several hens in this novel. Ms. Hen finds that Irish novels are usually brimming with hens and chickens. One example, “Silence as she let herself in the door. Rosaleen O’Donnell and the maid were plucking a scrawny chicken at the long table.” This takes place near the end of the novel and Lib thinks that the women were talking about her, about how afraid they are of her.

There were times in the beginning of THE WONDER when the narrative dragged and Ms. Hen wanted more action. But when the action picked up, she was dazzled. She didn’t know how it would turn out in the end, whether the story was magical or not. She would recommend this novel to anyone who wants their breath taken away, and who want to believe that people are basically good.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THIRTEEN REASONS WHY the novel

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher

Ms. Hen watched the Netflix show, as everyone else
did this year. She was moved, yes, and saddened yes, and when she
saw this book at the Little Free Library near where she lives, she grabbed
it and made it hers. She took a while to read it, but wow, when she did…

The book is different from the show; there is not much outside Clay listening
to the tapes and reminiscing. Two narratives drive the story
concurrently, his and Hannah’s. Even though
Ms. Hen knew what would
happen in the end, she still adored this book,
its intensity, its rawness,
it made her glad she is not a young hen
anymore and does not live in that fishbowl called high school.

Ms. Hen came to the conclusion after reading this novel
that she is glad she does not care what other people think
of her as much as before, because if she did, she would have ended up like Hannah
many times over. Ms. Hen thinks that youth is a time when we think
the whole world is watching and judging us, but when time passes
we should grow up and realize that all the horrors that happen to us
and in the world
are small
and insignificant
and sometimes things don't make any sense,
but there’s nothing we can do
except wake up tomorrow
to face the next day
even if it sucks
and continues to suck
and never seems to get better
we just have to live
and deal with the shit
and hope that something better than shit
will come our way

Monday, October 30, 2017


The Boy Who Drew Monsters
Keith Donohue

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she loves Halloween books and wanted to read something scary. She had read another book by the author, THE MOTION OF PUPPETS, last Halloween season, and enjoyed it immensely. She didn’t realize that THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS actually takes place during Christmas, but Ms. Hen thinks it’s also a perfect novel for Halloween.

This novel frightened Ms. Hen. Books don’t usually scare her, but this one is genuinely terrifying. The other two books she read for Halloween this year were not as scary. They were interesting and insightful, but Ms. Hen wasn’t shaking in her feathers. But, she couldn’t stop reading THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS. There are certain books that Ms. Hen cannot put down, those that she reads every minute of the day, and this is one of them.

This novel is about a family that lives by the ocean in Maine. Holly, the wife, and Tim the husband, worry about their son, Jack, or J.P. because he has Asperger Syndrome and is on the high functioning end of autism. Jack had an incident in the ocean with his friend Nick, and he does not leave the house anymore. He became an inside boy. Jack and Nick play in the house, they go through phases of what they do, they play war, and Jack starts drawing monsters. He draws them constantly.

One of the aspects of this novel that Ms. Hen likes is that the secrets do not reveal themselves all at once. The reader can guess what is lurking beneath, but the truth about everything is not known right away. We can imagine the monsters; the adults try to prove that they are not real, and they are just imagination, but Ms. Hen knew the what was real the whole time. Ms. Hen liked that the story of why Jack was an inside boy was not explained at first. And Ms. Hen guessed about the situation with Nick and his parents, but she was not sure until the end. This novel is a magnificent example of how to write with suspense.

This book is full of characters placed for a reason. The priest is a kind man who wants to listen; his housekeeper, Miss Tiramaku, helps Holly understand things about her son that she needs to see; the police officer named Pollock is a comic atypical cop; the Wheelers are happy drunks, but hide a sad story. All of these characters play out the parts of the story that need to be told.  

There were no chickens in this novel, sadly, but the family did eat turkey on Christmas. Ms. Hen was so scared by the monsters that she did not pay attention to the lack of chickens or hens.

Ms. Hen has become a big fan of the author Keith Donohue. The two books she read by him are perfect for Halloween. She loves how both books do not have predictable endings; they are not tied up nicely in a package for the reader. Ms. Hen likes being upset and jolted by a book, because that is what life is like, not everything is neat and perfect. Especially in today’s world. But Ms. Hen admires the dark parts of things, and if you do too, you will love this novel.

Chai and a cannoli, Ms. Hen stayed at home