Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews GET IN TROUBLE

Get in Trouble
Kelly Link
Random House

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she was determined to read something she would like, a book she would not have to throw across the room in disgust. Also, because it is similar to THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, which she just read and enjoyed. Ms. Hen read a couple of books by the author of GET IN TROUBLE, Kelly Link, many years ago.

This book is similar to the others that Ms. Hen read by the same author. The collection is full of magical, whimsical stories based on fairy tales, but dwell in the real world. Certain threads run through the book, such as superheroes and young people having a good time.

Ms. Hen particularly liked the first story, “The Summer People.” It is about a young woman who is in charge of her father’s summer homes where it turns out unseen people live. Her friend comes with her to see the house, and her friend learns what the house is, and why it’s so full of odds and ends. This story is about home and not knowing what’s real and not real.

Ms. Hen found the story, “The New Boyfriend,” endearingly haunting. It’s about four girls who are best friends, and one is having a slumber party for her birthday. She gets a new “boyfriend,” a type of robot doll, called the Ghost Boyfriend, who is supposed to scare the owner. Her friend gets jealous, because she doesn’t have any Boyfriends, even though she did have a boyfriend in real life at one time. Ms. Hen liked this because it’s about jealously and the absurd lengths teenage girls will attempt to get back at their friends.

Ms. Hen could not quite understand one of the stories, “Valley of the Girls.” It’s about young people, but they’re building pyramids, and it’s about ancient Egypt, but it’s about a young man who sleeps with lots of women. Ms. Hen didn’t understand what exactly is happening in this story. It didn’t seem to make any sense to her. Ms. Hen is quite capable of understanding the strange things she reads, but this story was too weird for her liking. None of the other stories come as close to being as indecipherable as this one. The story “Two Houses” is a little odd at first, but after a few pages Ms. Hen got it. Ms. Hen doesn’t like to be lost and not to be able to grasp what is going on when she reads. She thinks that not all writers are great all the time, even though they may be great at some times.

Ms. Hen thinks some of the stories in this collection are too bizarre, but it is mostly worth reading. Each story brought her to a different place, to help her figure out what is unique about the world where it is set. Reading a collection like this is like diving into different mindsets, which Ms. Hen can enjoy if she knows what on earth she is reading. Ms. Hen considers herself smart and strange, but she thinks there is a world of strangeness and absurdity that may be beyond her. She tries to be as strange as she can, though most of the time she hides it. J

Sunday, February 18, 2018


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender
Anchor Books

Ms. Hen has started reading some subpar books lately and hasn’t finished them. She is disgusted by books with bland writing. She won’t say which books those are, but she wanted to read one that she knew she would like, so she chose THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. She has read other books by Aimee Bender, and she has loved them. Aimee Bender writes some unique and strange novels and stories, which are right up Ms. Hen’s alley.

This novel is about a girl named Rose who can taste feelings in the food that she eats. Her mother bakes a lemon cake for her right before her ninth birthday, and Rose eats the cake when her mother is taking a nap, and Rose can taste her mother’s sadness in the cake. She is horrified that she is overwhelmed by her mother’s emotions. She doesn’t understand why.

That night, the family eats chicken that the mother makes for dinner, and Rose can taste her mother’s hurt again. Ms. Hen likes that the family eats chicken, but it upsets her that it makes Rose distraught. Rose doesn’t know what’s wrong with her. She recruits her brother’s friend, George, to help her on her birthday to discover foods and figure out the feelings of people who made them. She tastes angry cookies at a bakery and a sandwich that is made by someone upset that her boyfriend doesn’t love her.

This novel is magical realism, but at the same time, it’s about a family. It’s about Rose and her parents and brother Joseph, and how they interact with each other. Rose can taste her mother’s feelings and she knows her secrets, and her brother is a strange kid who doesn’t know how to relate to people. The father is a lawyer and tries to be normal, except he can’t go into hospitals because he's afraid. The family has to deal with issues that Rose cannot control. Rose gets older in the novel, but most of the book takes place during the springtime of different years.

The subject matter of this novel reminded Ms. Hen of an article she read about cheese bread in the former Soviet State of Georgia. In the article, the people who made the bread have to be happy, or their sadness would come across in the taste. You can read the article here:     Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is quite true, or if this is superstition, but she thinks it is a lovely idea that someone who makes food should be happy.

This book is strange, but it is not over-the-top strange. It is just quirky enough that Ms. Hen wanted to eat lemon cake, and it made her hungry for good food. In the novel, Rose eats vending machine snacks in school when she is young, because she didn’t want to taste her mother’s pain, and she can't stand so much drama wrapped up in the food she eats. When she gets older, she learns to appreciate quality food.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a charming novel. It is the exact remedy for the mediocre books she has started to read lately. She wants to read more books like this, ones that are light and airy and like meringue, books that taste delicious when you read them.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews RUNAWAY

Alice Munro
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she has read other books by Alice Munro, and she adored them. She saw a Spanish film recently, called JULIETA, by one of Ms. Hen’s favorite directors, Pedro Almodovar, which is based on some of the stories in this collection, and Ms. Hen was curious as to how the stories translated to the film. She read that Almodovar had a hard time making the film in Canada, since he doesn’t know anything about the country, so he decided to transform the story and make it Spanish. Spain is different from Canada, as everyone knows, but Ms. Hen thinks the stories of the woman with a tragic past crossed over well.

The three stories, “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence,” are about Juliet at different times in her life. The story “Chance,” is about her traveling on a train where she meets a man, and dismisses him, then tragedy occurs. She meets another man, and she doesn’t know that she will become involved with him. She is a Latin scholar and an awkward young woman. She loves the classics, but she doesn’t know if she can make a career of them. She is scarred by the events on the train.

In the story, “Soon,” Juliet visits her parents with her baby. She doesn’t know what happened to her parents. A woman, Irene, helps her father with the housework, since her mother has a heart condition. Juliet thinks it’s strange that her father admires Irene so much, and it unsettles her. Her mother is delicate and cannot handle much.

The story, “Silence,” is about Juliet and her daughter Penelope's decision to join a religious organization, which Juliet thinks is a cult. Penelope leaves home and never returns. Juliet is troubled by this, but she continues her life. Ms. Hen distinctly remembers this part from the movie, the woman is old, but she pines for her lost daughter, and she doesn’t tell people that she had a daughter, and that causes problems in her life.

Another story that attracted Ms. Hen’s attention was the story, “Tricks,” about a lonely young woman who goes to the theater in the city, loses her wallet, meets a man, and becomes somewhat obsessed. She finds out what she thought was true was a trick, that it is like the Shakespearean plays she had gone to see. Sometimes when a person thinks one thing is true, the exact opposite is true. Ms. Hen has learned this in life. At times, things just aren’t what they seem.

There are some chickens in this collection of stories. One of Ms. Hen favorites is in the short story “Soon,” “Their father had been killed in an accident in the chicken barn where he worked.” That is, Irene’s husband, the woman who helps Juliet’s father. Ms. Hen imagines that dying in a chicken barn would be a poetic way to die, but she doesn’t think the characters would believe that. She understands the characters would consider it bad luck.

All the stories in this collection are about women and the different degrees of their sadness and tragedies. Ms. Hen felt for these women, because their problems could be everyone’s problems. Ms. Hen recommends this beautiful collection to anyone who wants to feel emotions shine through the pages, and learn how to see humanity better.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


The Autograph Man
Zadie Smith
Random House

Ms. Hen picked this book up because she read WHITE TEETH last year and enjoyed it. This book is different, but charming in its own way. It is about young man, Alex-Li Tandem, who collects, and buys and sells autographs for a living.

Alex is half Jewish and half Chinese. The opening scene shows Alex with his friends and his father at a wrestling match. Alex is getting an autograph from a wrestler with his new friend, Joseph, who introduces him to collecting autographs at the arena, and Alex's father dies right there. This scars him permanently.

The novel follows Alex-Li through the train wreck of his life. He’s a mess. In the beginning, he has done some type of drug, and does not know how he has spent the past few days. Every one of his friends is angry with him. He is obsessed with the obscure film star Kitty Alexander because her autograph is the hardest to obtain, since she hardly ever signed any. He writes letters to her describing what he imagines her own life to be.

Alex’s girlfriend, Esther, has a pacemaker, which he loves. Ms. Hen has not read many novels in which young people have pacemakers, so she thinks this is quirky. Currently Ms. Hen knows a lot about them, since it’s her day job. She didn’t know that you could see them under the skin, and touch them. Alex does this in a way that is erotic, which Ms. Hen thinks is odd. But Alex is an odd character.

This novel has a lot of Jewish mysticism in it. Alex’s friend, Adam, is interested in this subject. Adam is trying to get Alex to say Kaddish for his father, since he never did when his father first died. Adam tells Alex that this is important, that he should respect the dead, but Alex doesn’t want to do it, because his father was Chinese, and also because he is afraid.

This is a very loud novel. It races around from place to place, from person to person, and does not stop. Ms. Hen couldn’t figure out if she liked Alex or if she didn’t. He is a type of jerk that Ms. Hen doesn’t think she would want to hang out with. But he has fascinating qualities, obsessions that he would not let go. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is supposed to make Alex appealing.

This book is paced very well. It seems as if there are plot points along the way, which are turning points, such as the way a film is supposed to be written. There are moments when the story changes, and the action rises and falls. Ms. Hen admires this, and she knows it takes skill to write this way.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t love the character. There was something unpleasant about him. She doesn’t think this is the best novel she has read recently, but it is entertaining. It isn’t enlightening or beautiful or poignant. It’s just a fast-paced romp through one guy’s messed up, but cool life.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews LISETTE'S LIST

Lisette’s List
Susan Vreeland
Random House

Ms. Hen picked up this book at a Little Free Library near her house, because she had read another book by this author, GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, and she enjoyed it immensely. Ms. Vreeland writes a lot about art, which is a subject Ms. Hen enjoys. She doesn’t always like the way everyone talks about art, but she can appreciate beauty.

This novel is about a young woman, Lisette, who is dragged to the countryside of Provence against her will to help take care of her husband Andre’s grandfather, because he is sick, right before the outbreak of World War II. Lisette can’t stand to be in the rural area, she yearns for Paris, the city where she was born; the place full of excitement and brimming with love. She loves her husband, but pines for the city.

That is, until she gets to know the grandfather’s paintings. She falls in love with the artwork by Pissarro and the Cezanne, and the mysterious painting they think is by Picasso. She vows to take care of the paintings. Pascal, the grandfather, dies, and Andre goes off to war, and hides the painting so the Nazis will not steal and destroy them. Lisette goes to find them, but cannot, and it is a long process after the war to find them.

This book took place in a similar timeframe as another book that Ms. Hen read, but she adored, called LA BATARDE, by Violette Leduc, which is a memoir about a woman growing up in France as an illegitimate child, or a bastard, hence the title. However, there are few similarities. This novel is not as urgently written and powerful as Leduc’s memoir. The Resistance is mentioned, and so is the black market during the war, but LISETTE’S LIST pales in comparison in importance and scope.

Ms. Hen loved the descriptions of the French countryside in Provence, and she longed to go there as she read. She has not been to that area of France, but she has been to the other side of the south, Languedoc, and thought it was breathtaking, and dreams of returning. She couldn’t understand how Lisette could not love this place immediately, but she does eventually. This book was not Ms. Hen’s favorite book she has read recently.

This novel seemed to go on a little too long, and it seemed to drag. Ms. Hen thought this book was what she calls “book clubish,” a word to describe a novel written for women, which is just too nice, not offensive, with nothing dark about it, for women or people who do not want to get easily offended by writing. This surprised Ms. Hen, because GIRL IN HYCINTH BLUE was one of her favorite books she read last year. But that book has a lot of spirit that this novel simply lacks.

This is not the worst book Ms. Hen has read recently, but it is not the best. Ms. Hen does not recommend this novel to people who like to be punched in the face and inspired by something they read. But there are a lot of chickens and hens floating around within the pages, which is one positive aspect. But mostly Ms. Hen says, no, find something else to read.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews WE

Yevgeny Zamyatin
Modern Library
1924, 2006
Translated from the Russian by Natasha Randall

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she learned about it from the afterword in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. She had never heard of it before. She is interested in dystopian fiction, and some people think this book is the first of its kind.

This novel was not published in the Soviet Union when the author wrote it because it was too scandalous. It was first published in Prague. The author was sent to exile a couple of times in the Soviet Union for writing things against the government. Ms. Hen thinks it is outrageous that someone should be sent to jail for writing a book, but that is the way things were in that country back then.

This novel is about a mathematician who is building a ship, the Integral, to go to space. The rigid society tells the ciphers (people) when to do everything they have to do, when to wake up, when to work, when to eat. When the ciphers want to be intimate with each other, they have to get permission for the “blind drawing,” to draw their blinds, which are always up; everyone can see into everyone else’s rooms unless the blinds are drawn. The city and everything in it are made of glass.

The narrator, D-503, (all the ciphers have a code and not a name) writes a chronicle of what happens. He meets another cipher and is intrigued when she takes him to the Ancient House, a place full of objects from before the revolution. The narrator talks a lot about the past, it seems as if he is writing a letter to the author about the world he lives in. Everyone has a routine for the day, but the narrator gets caught up in a situation with a woman, and starts to fall in love. He doesn’t understand how he could develop a soul, but he does, and suffers because of it.

Ms. Hen noticed that this novel seems to be about Soviet Russia and not the future. The author appears to be critiquing the way his country was headed at the time he wrote this. All the ciphers are supposed to be part of something bigger than themselves, and it does not matter where they stand individually. He likens the society to a scale, on one end of the scale is an item that weighs a ton, on the other is a gram, and what happens to the ton matters more than the gram; the whole matters more than the small amount.

Ms. Hen learned reading the introduction that the narrator speaks in equations. Ms. Hen is not a math expert, but she understands how this is true. The narrator would make a statement, then there would be a colon, and then something would equal the beginning of that statement. Ms. Hen would like to talk to someone who has read the novel who understands math better than she does to explain how this works, but unfortunately Ms. Hen is not acquainted with a mathematician or even someone proficient in math. Those are the circles she runs in: no math experts around Ms. Hen, just artistic and ordinary people.

This is a short book, but a dense one. Ms. Hen read it quickly because she had time. This novel is beautifully written and important. It is considered one of the first science fiction novels ever written, and it was written before the term science fiction was invented. Ms. Hen recommends this novel if you want to be disturbed and enlightened, and she does not understand why you wouldn’t want to be.

Below is a short film based on WE that Ms. Hen found by chance.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ms. Hen reviews WHISKEY, ETC.

Ms. Hen likes cats

Whiskey, Etc.
Sherrie Flick
Queen’s Ferry Press

Ms. Hen happened upon this delightful collection of short stories by chance. It is full of flash fiction, or very short stories, which are difficult to write, because the writer has to get to the crux quickly.

This collection reminded Ms. Hen of a couple of other writers of short stories she admires: Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill. Ms. Hen likes these writers because they write things in such a unique way that it makes the reader pause and think, hmm, yes, this is true, but why didn’t I think of that?

The different sections in this book are some of Ms. Hen’s favorite things, and what Ms. Hen considers to be the great aspects of life: songs, pets, coffee and tea, dessert, art, cars and canoes, soap, and whiskey. Ms. Hen is excited that there is a cat in almost every story.

One of Ms. Hen’s favorite stories in this collection is, “Breakfast,” which is about a mother and son, and the chickens in their yard. Ms. Hen likes this because chickens appear. Evan makes eggs and bacon for his mother, and plucks a feather from a chicken for a garnish for the breakfast. Another memorable story is, “Microwave,” in which a woman dreams of putting a dog in a microwave.

Ms. Hen never thought she could read a funny story about a dead dog, but “Heidi is Dead,” fits that bill. It’s about a couple visiting the husband’s family in the Midwest and the family’s dog dies, and they go around the room sharing dead dog stories. The wife feels she does not fit in with the family, which is conservative and rural. The couple lives in Boston. Ms. Hen thinks this story is hilarious because she knows that somewhere in the world, there are people like this family, even thought she is not acquainted with them in her personal life situated in Boston.

A lot of these stories are about relationships, which Ms. Flick writes about well. It’s easy to picture the characters in these stories; they could be people we all know. Ms. Hen came to understand the characters and their neurotic tendencies. Ms. Hen is a hen who knows about such things.

Ms. Hen sped through this book, because she was engrossed in it. She would recommend it to anyone who likes quick stories pinpointing the pieces of human nature not everyone notices all the time. This book might help you to see small parts of the world better, and find humor in ordinary life.

Ms. Hen during the blizzard