Sunday, December 18, 2016


Philip Roth
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen decided to read THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA because it is the book to read right now. Ms. Hen knows a lot of people who have been talking about this book. It is historical fiction about Charles Lindberg winning the presidency over Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. Ms. Hen thinks this is a prophetic novel because the feelings of the characters are much like the feelings of people in America today: fear and uncertainty about the future. Ms. Hen doesn’t know how Philip Roth could know what would happen, but it’s something that always could have happened. America is a precarious country, and that can result in horrific events.

Charles Lindberg was a known fascist and Nazi sympathizer. He becomes president because he says he will keep America out of the war in Europe, which people want, since they don’t want to send their men to fight a war that doesn’t belong to them again. Philip Roth, a nine-year old boy, lives in Newark, New Jersey with his father, mother and brother. The family is afraid of Lindberg becoming president because they are Jewish and they live in a Jewish neighborhood. The father sells insurance, and the mother stays at home. The boys go to school, and Philip loves his stamp collection, Sandy is a talented artist, and the family has a peaceful life until Lindberg presses down on them and tears the fabric of American society.

The way the characters react to Lindberg becoming president is similar to the way people are acting after this year’s election. Since Lindberg received a medal from the Nazis, the Jewish people don’t know what will happen to them. Lindberg starts a strange type of Anti-Semitism: at first, he sends young Jewish men to the country to work in farms to see what country life is like, then he sends Jewish families whose fathers work for corporations to different locations in the country where there are not a lot of Jewish people. Philip’s father and the other Jewish people believe the president is doing this to break up the voting districts and also to make the families suffer.

Ms. Hen will not give away the ending, but the plot unravels like the news this past week. Philip and his family have to endure hardships and are tortured emotionally, which is similar to what is happening presently. Nobody knows what will occur now, and in THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, they didn’t know either, and they did not know the true extent of what was going on in the world at that time.

Ms. Hen has read another book by Philip Roth, AMERICAN PASTORAL, which she also thought was fantastic. She thinks his writing is majestic, broad and sweeping, and it's a joy to have his words swimming in her head. The one thing that bothered her, however, is that his books are too masculine. Most of the main characters are men, and the women are secondary. There is a lot of discussion of men and what they do as men, and not much talk about the ways of women. Ms. Hen isn’t sure if the author isn’t interested in women, or if the male characters dominate because that’s the way he sees the world.

Ms. Hen likes to be bothered by the books that she reads. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA opened her eyes to what the extent of what could happen here. Ms. Hen doesn’t like fascists, and doesn’t know anyone who does, but she wants to be prepared for whatever happens, like the characters in this novel.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews some Icelandic music


Soley – WE SINK

Low Roar – LOW ROAR

Ms. Hen loves music, but she has never written a music review on her blog. She thinks that it’s about time, so she will share some she has recently discovered. When Ms. Hen was a young hen, the only way to acquire music was to purchase it in a store on a CD, and when she was younger, on cassette tapes. These days, a whole new world has emerged on the Internet. People can find things that they had no idea had existed, and most of the time, we can listen to it for free. Sometimes Ms. Hen feels guilty about not buying music from artists, but she is not a rich hen, and needs to buy groceries and get her hair done and go on vacation sometimes.

Ms. Hen has decided it’s pleasant to listen to music from Iceland in the winter. She has found some Icelandic artists that she enjoys and she’d like to open your eyes to them.

Mum is one of Ms. Hen’s favorite new bands. They create electronic music that is very delicate and hopeful. Some of their songs are instrumentals, which Ms. Hen isn’t usually partial to, but she loves the way the songs sound. She has been listening to FINALLY WE ARE NO ONE recently and when she does, it makes her happy. It is fitting music for December because it is dark and light at the same time, like Christmas. To her, it sounds like peppermints.

Ms. Hen listened to Soley’s WE SINK often during October and November. It is perfect for Halloween, spooky and sensual, and sometimes a little scary. She was a member of the Icelandic folk band Seabear before venturing off onto her own.  She possesses a beautiful ethereal voice and can calm Ms. Hen down when she’s angry about the state of the world, which has happened a lot lately.

Low Roar’s lead singer Ryan Karazija is not originally from Iceland, but he relocated there, and Low Roar was born. He wrote a song a day to chronicle his experience in Iceland, creating the album LOW ROAR. Ms. Hen discovered this album earlier this year, in January, and she thinks it’s perfect for deep winter music listening. You can hear the snow and cold and elongated nights in the music. Low Roar has an album that will be released in 2017, and Ms. Hen is looking forward to it, but she still loves their first, since she hasn’t gotten bored with it yet.

For a long time, Ms. Hen didn’t listen to new music. She listened to the same old thing all the time. Only this year, she figured out how to listen to different albums on the Internet. Ms. Hen is not an old hen, but she is not a millennial. She comes from the last generation that grew up without the Internet. She imagines that when she is eighty, she will be telling the young people about how she had to go to a store to buy a CD to acquire music. These days, the world can be yours, if you only know where to look.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews UNCLE TOM'S CABIN

By Harriet Beecher Stowe
First Bantam publishing 1981

Ms. Hen learned about UNCLE TOM’S CABIN when she was in elementary school. She was taught that this was the book that caused the Civil War, since it exposed slavery in the American South like never before. When Ms. Hen was a young hen, she loved the idea of a novel starting a war, or driving people to action. She thought she would like to write a novel to bring about social justice, but the fact is that no novel could ever start a revolution these days, because reading is not as prevalent as it was in the middle of the nineteenth century.

At first Ms. Hen was struck by the old-fashioned writing of the book. She didn’t like the way the narrative meanders, and takes a lot of time. She would have given up reading UNCLE TOM’S CABIN if it weren’t for the compelling stories that are within the book. She has read about slavery before: works by Frederick Douglas, Toni Morrison and others. But she could not help but think that this was the first book to show the truly dark side of slavery, with its horrors and debasement; families being split apart, women whose bodies were used to bear children, people whipped for not doing as told. Ms. Hen was horrified at the injustice, even though she knew the history.

The story is about Uncle Tom, who is a slave of a good master who loses him in a gambling match. He is made to leave his wife and children and eventually sold to a soft-hearted master in Louisiana who has a daughter, Eva, who Tom comes to adore. Ms. Hen thought the scenes with the little girl Eva were too melodramatic. It made Ms. Hen sad, but it seemed like the story is overblown. What becomes of the master is also dramatic, and it made Ms. Hen cringe. The ultimate part of the novel is tragic, and Ms. Hen knew what would happen in the end. These stories don’t usually end up as happy ones.

Another aspect of this novel Ms. Hen did not like was the Christianity. She did not like that Tom tried to teach the slaves about Jesus, and that if they were good, they would go to heaven in the end. In the concluding remarks, the author states that she believes that Christianity is what would abolish slavery, but Ms. Hen believes that one does not have to be a Christian to be a good person. She understands that this was the popular belief in the country in the nineteenth century, and even in some places today, but Ms. Hen thinks this is a narrow view of the world. Ms. Hen believes that a person does not have to be a Christian or belong to any religion to be a decent person and live a right life. She knows that some people need something to grasp onto because they do not have and education or a broader view of the world.

In the beginning of the novel, Tom and his family ate chicken when they were together. It made Ms. Hen happy that chickens were a part of his life when he was with his family. This novel is long and winding and difficult, but Ms. Hen thinks it’s worth the time to learn about slavery from the point of view when it was considered current events. We’re not there yet, and we still have room to grow, but Ms. Hen believes that the world can get better, even though it doesn’t seem that way in this moment in time. This country has come a long way, and we will not go down without a fight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Directed by Isao Takahata

Ms. Hen has gotten into anime lately. She thinks it’s very strange that she would like such a thing, but she has enjoyed watching the films ONLY YESTERDAY, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, and she recently watched THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. She has been near the anime convention in Boston, and she’s seen strange looking young people going to that convention. Ms. Hen is not a strange hen, but she thinks if she were a kid, she could be as strange as them.

Ms. Hen was immediately entranced by THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. The animation is exquisite, with rough drawings over the watercolors. Everything in this film is hand drawn, and some are paper cutouts of the characters that float above a background. The emotion of the princess is expressed in the artwork, in some of the scenes, the drawings are violent and passionate, and what the princess is experiencing is clear to the viewer.

The story is an ancient Japanese folk tale, called THE TALE OF THE BAMBOO CUTTER. A bamboo cutter finds a tiny girl in a tree he is chopping down. He brings her home to his wife, then the girl turns into a baby. The baby grows voraciously, until she is fully grown within a few days. Her parents call her “princess,” but her friends call her “little bamboo.” She enjoys playing in the forest with her friends, especially the boy Sutemaru. The bamboo cutter believes she is a princess, and takes her to the city to live the life she deserves, after he finds gold in a bamboo tree he is cutting down.

Her parents hire a tutor to teach her how to act royally. The princess detests the tutor, and does not want to do what she says. Her parents also hire someone to give her a name, and he gives her the name Princess Kaguya, or the princess of the bamboo. Noble men hear how beautiful she is, and five ask her for her hand in marriage. She sends them all on a quest to retrieve things that they she is like.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA reminded Ms. Hen of many other stories. It reminded her of THUMBELINA, since she started as a tiny girl. It also reminded her of CINDERELLA, because she became a princess in a magical way. It also reminded her of ALADDIN, since she was poor, then became rich, because the woodcutter found gold in the tree. Ms. Hen believes that stories from around the world are all connected, like Joseph Campbell says in his book, THE POWER OF MYTH.

The story started in the mountains and the forest, so there were chickens and hens around. An important scene occurred when Princess Kaguya sees her old friend Sutemaru stealing a chicken and running away. He stands there and stares at her, then is caught and gets beaten. The princess is ashamed that she did not help him.

Ms. Hen loved this film. She enjoys watching movies like this because it’s pure fantasy; she can get swept away in the story and not think about the problems of the world. Ms. Hen has found these anime films can get very emotional toward the end, and sometimes she gets overwhelmed with sadness. THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is especially sad, but beautiful, like life can be sometimes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews POPE JOAN

Donna Woolfolk Cross
Random House

Ms. Hen decided to read this, because again, one of her hen friends gave it to her because she was getting rid of some books. Ms. Hen had heard of this novel many years ago, and she didn’t quite understand how a woman could have become pope. When she read the novel, she became angry over the way women were treated in the Dark Ages.

Joan is not allowed to go to school or learn how to read because she is a girl. All the girls in her village care nothing for books, they only care about gossip and needlework. Her brother Matthew teaches her to read in secret, against their father’s wishes. After Matthew dies, a tutor comes to the house to help teach Joan, and her brother John. Joan is much quicker in her studies than John.

Joan and John escape to go to the schola, or school in another town. The boys at the school torment Joan. The idea of the day is that it is not natural for a woman to want to learn. Joan has a crush on the man with whom she is living, Gerold, a married lord with children. Joan becomes friends with his daughter Gisla, who marries when she is fourteen. Eventually, the town is attacked by Vikings, and everyone is killed, including Gerold’s entire family, but not Gerold. Joan escapes death by concealing herself in the church. Joan steals her brother John’s robe and hides in the woods. She joins a monastery disguised as a man, and becomes a renowned scholar and healer. She finds her way to Rome, and eventually becomes elected Pope.

It made Ms. Hen upset that women of this age were treated so badly. They were not allowed to have property, or any money; they were treated as inferior beings to men, and were not allowed to read and write. If they were married, they were owned by their husbands. Ms. Hen likes to think the world is better now, but the results from the Presidential election make her think otherwise. Twelve hundred years have gone by since the ninth century, but women still don’t have as much power as men.

Pope Joan is a legend, and it is said that no woman has had as much power before or since she was on the throne. A woman could have had that much power, but the citizens of the United States are ignorant wretches who would rather have a fascist as President, and the electoral college system is dysfunctional.

Pope Joan was erased from history because the men in power in that day did not want it to be known that they were fooled by a woman. The only way Joan could have held the office she did was to be disguised as a man.

There are some scattered hens in this novel, but that did not make up for the fact that Ms. Hen was angered by this book. Also, the writing in POPE JOAN is a bit inferior. Ms. Hen has read a lot of books, and there is substantial lacking in the quality of this novel. Ms. Hen thought it could have been because the author was trying to write in the style of the ninth century, but it was more than that. A character dies, and Joan thought, “It was impossible that he was gone.” Ms. Hen expects more from a character when someone important to her dies. Ms. Hen wants her to be devastated, but Joan’s reaction fell flat, like most of the writing in the novel.

Other than inadequate writing, Ms. Hen enjoyed POPE JOAN. It wasn’t the best book she has ever read, but it wasn’t the worst. Ms. Hen thinks POPE JOAN is an important novel, because it shows how far we’ve come, but also how far we have to go.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Keith Donohue

Ms. Hen decided to read THE MOTION OF PUPPETS because she heard the author read during the Boston Book Festival in October. He has a very quiet voice, and was not the most expressive reader Ms. Hen had ever heard, but she was intrigued by the story of a puppet that comes to life. Ms. Hen loves puppets. During the reading, Mr. Donohue told the audience that he’s afraid of puppets, which Ms. Hen thought was funny. She can understand why a person would be afraid of puppets; they can be frightening if one thinks of them from a certain perspective. What are they but pretend people? Or are they pretend?

Ms. Hen loved this novel from the start. The writing is exquisite: the words flow across the page, and not a moment is wasted. The description of Quebec and the neighborhoods drip with beauty. Ms. Hen thought she was actually there, though she’s never been there. The characters are realistic and unique. And she loved the puppets.

Kay Harper and her new husband, Theo, go to Quebec because she is performing as an acrobat in a cirque for the summer. While they are there, he works on his translation of a biography of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge. They are happy newlyweds, even though they had a rocky start to their relationship. He is ten years older than she, and she is the type of woman that all men love. She falls in love with a puppet in a window of a store called Quatre Mains, or Four Hands. The puppet is has a sign next to it that says “puppet ancienne,” or old puppet. Whenever they walk by the store, she stares in the window.

One night, she goes out for drinks with some members of the cirque, and afterward, on the way home, the ringmaster, Reance, follows her. She is afraid of him catching her, and feels unsafe, so she goes into The Quatre Mains, since the door is open. She never comes out. The people inside turn her into a puppet.

He husband searches for her, but to no avail. He attempts to hunt her down with the help of the dwarf from the cirque, Egon, and the classics professor, Dr. Mitchell. (Incidentally, in the two other novels Ms. Hen has read recently about a circus or carnival, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and GEEK LOVE, there has been a dwarf in each!) Ms. Hen attempted to guess what would happen at the end while she was reading, but she was wrong.

There aren’t a lot of novels which Ms. Hen longs to be transformed into films. But there is something so cinematic about this novel; she thinks it would be fantastic as a stop-motion animation combined with live action film, possibly directed by Tim Burton. She can see the puppets dancing around; some of the scenes are so wild, Ms. Hen was thirsty for them to be seen visually.

There are a smattering of hens in this novel, enough to please Ms. Hen. When Kay breaks into The Quatre Mains, she looks around at all the puppets and sees, “A felted red rooster in a yellow beret.” Later, the puppets are being transformed into larger puppets, and Kay thinks of her mother, “old comforter, young and singing sweetly on her walk from the henhouse.” And when Theo and his friends are looking for Kay in Vermont at the puppet museum they see, “A pair of wet chickens foraged in the grass behind a yellow farmhouse.”

Ms. Hen loves reading scary novels during the Halloween season, and this was the perfect book to read on Halloween night, sitting under her electric blanket, with the little ghouls and goblins outside begging for candy. Sometimes things aren’t what we want them to be, but that’s life, and Ms. Hen knows this. But we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all in the same boat. Not everybody has what they want.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


By Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books

If you are a regular fan of Ms. Hen, you would know that she is one of Jane’s Austen’s greatest admirers. She has read all her novels. She loves the authenticity of Austen's characters, even though her novels were written around two hundred years ago.

Ms. Hen had read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES a few years back, and she thought it was a lot of fun. She didn’t take it seriously; she couldn’t imagine how Miss Austen would react to it if she were around today. Some people might think this kind of novel is blasphemy, but we have to consider all the rewrites that have been done of Shakespeare: there are hundreds! So why shouldn’t someone rework Austen wildly? Ms. Hen doesn’t think there should be anything wrong with doing this, but she believes these novels should only be read in small doses.

She dived into SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS. It’s a similar tale to the original, but exactly how a reader would imagine it to be, with sea monsters entwined. Ms. Hen was especially intrigued by Colonel Brandon’s character, who sports an octo-beard, a beard made of live tentacles that squirm and reveal his emotions. His picture is on the cover of the novel, with Marianne, whom he pursues.

It’s the same story as Austen: three sisters are sent with their mother to live in a smaller cottage because their funds have been depleted. They socialize in the village and the girls look for suitors. But this novel has little bits of the ocean squeezed into the story, and there are parts that are hilarious.

Miss Steele talks to Elinor about the available men in the vicinity, ”I’m sure there’s a vast many smart beaux in Plymouth; it is a coastal city, drawing its share of adventurous young men interested in murdering sea swine.” All the men do such things in this novel.

Elinor and Marianne go to the undersea Dome, Sub-Marine Station Beta, and enjoy the hospitality of Mrs. Jennings. Marianne, in her despondency, looks out the window of the dome, “She ignored the squid that sat slavering outside the glass, watching her with its giant popeyes, and dragging its tentacle across the Dome-glass.” The Dome is an undersea wonder, and it made Ms. Hen wonder if the author got the idea from the novel 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

Ms. Hen was confused by the end of the novel. It seems as if the action had reached a climax, but then there were more and more climaxes.  It seems to Ms. Hen as if the author had to pack a quota of sea creatures in at the end of the novel, that she was overwhelmed, and it appeared as if the novel’s pacing lost itself near the end.

It’s not to say that Ms. Hen didn’t like this novel. It’s just that she thinks it is extremely silly, a little sillier even than PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Ms. Hen read this because she wanted to read a scary novel for Halloween. She enjoyed it, though she has read better. She doesn’t think that Miss Austen would be rolling in her grave. She doesn’t know if our friend Jane had a sense of humor, but she hopes so, because Ms. Hen believes that a sense of humor is the most important thing in life, and if you have one, it can help you through anything. She thinks there’s a possibility that Jane would have enjoyed Colonel Brandon’s octo-beard.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Mary Shelley
Directed by Tim Burton

Ms. Hen has read the novel FRANKENSTEIN more than she has read any other novel. Every few years, always during October, she pulls the book off her shelf and dives into the story of the sad monster, or the Modern Prometheus. Every time she reads it, she wonders how his story got mangled with the classic film, how he isn’t truly a monster, but a lost soul desirous of a friend whose anger causes him to engage in violence against his maker, Victor Frankenstein.

Earlier this year, Ms. Hen watched the film EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, which she had not seen for a long time. She forgot the details of the charming story of Edward, the man who was fabricated by a master, but left incomplete, with scissors for hands. When she watched the film recently, Ms. Hen was struck by the similarities between FRANKENSTEIN and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Both are about beings that have been put together by a person.

Victor Frankenstein assembles his creatures because he studies science, and wants to see if his ideas would make his vision of a man-made man come true. He creates the being, but the creature haunts him, leaving a trail of murder in his path. The tender side of the monster appears when he tells Frankenstein about the cottagers he witnesses whom he emulated and from whom he learned to speak and read. He loves the people in the cottage, and learns everything about life from them, but is traumatized when they reject him because he is so hideous.

In EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Edward is discovered by Peg, an Avon lady, making a call to his haunted house on a cliff. She takes him home, and tries to make him feel comfortable, but he doesn’t fit in as a result of his scissors for hands. He sculpts the neighbors' gardens, and cuts pets' and women’s hair, but he thinks he is incomplete because he has no hands. He feels as if he is alone in the world, but he loves Kim, Peg’s daughter. He shows his rage in the end, but he is essentially a gentle soul.

Frankenstein, the monster, and Edward Scissorhands are two creatures that are lonely, angry, and sad about their situations. Edward’s story takes a more humorous route with bright colors and sexual tension, but Frankenstein is gothic in the way there is no hope for the characters. Edward lives, but is alone, and Frankenstein the monster lives, but will probably be tortured for the rest of time. Edward sculpts his topiary garden, and creates snow, but Frankenstein is floating toward the great north, with no known destination.

Both works bring forth the question of a man-made man. What is the destiny of both these men? They are both solitary, and have nobody to share their lives. What is the point of these stories? Ms. Hen thinks the point might be to show that there’s a chance that everyone could be an Edward or a Frankenstein, a creature different from anyone else, floating alone in the sea or in a castle atop a hill.

Orson Wells said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Ms. Hen welcomes the Halloween season with this thought.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews GEEK LOVE

Katherine Dunn
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen had read GEEK LOVE previously, many years ago when she was a young graduate student. She was reminded of how much she loved GEEK LOVE when she read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS recently, which is about a circus. GEEK LOVE is about a carnival, and even though there are many similarities between the two novels, there are many differences as well.

This novel is about a family of carnival freaks. Their parents, Crystal Lil and Big Al, decided to experiment with their unborn children because the carnival wasn’t doing so well. Crystal Lil ingested drugs while she was pregnant so she would give birth to abnormal children. The first to survive is Arturo or Arty the Aqua Boy, a fish-like creature. The next to survive are the Siamese twins, Iphy and Elly, who develop an act playing the piano with four hands. The third is Olympia, the novel's narrator, an albino hunchbacked dwarf, and she isn’t really freakish enough for the family, but since they lost so many children, they decided to keep her. The next, and last child is Fortunato, commonly known as Chick; he appears to be completely normal, but has psychic powers.

When Ms. Hen first read this novel, she was struck by how the drama escalated. The reader is brought into a strange world, and it’s acceptable that this world is freaky, but then it gets stranger and stranger and stranger, until it explodes. Ms. Hen thinks this novel is a great example of how to create a bizarre world, then to heighten the drama.

This time, when she read GEEK LOVE, she noticed how the novel talks a lot about beauty, and whether or not it’s necessary, and if a beautiful woman is hindered by her looks, if it’s possible that could prevent her from being a success in life. Between Arty’s show, transforming people into freaks, and Miss Lick, taking attractiveness away from women, Ms. Hen stopped to think about what it truly means to look beautiful and normal, and how it affects a person’s life. Ms. Hen appears to be a normal hen, but deep inside she is not a norm. Ms. Hen likes to look normal, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to be damaged on the outside.

Ms. Hen remembered before she reread this novel that the word “geek” means biting off the heads of live chickens. She is frightened by this, but fascinated at the same time. There are several mentions of chickens and hens in this novel, especially due to the meaning of the word geek. Crystal Lil was a talented geek in her day, but Al didn’t want her to ruin her teeth, even though he thought an attractive geek would be an asset to the show. He considered other people for geeks, “I couldn’t ask Horst the Cat Man, because he was a vegetarian to begin with, and his dentures would disintegrate the first time the hit a chicken neck anyhow.” It makes Ms. Hen sad to imagine chickens being eaten alive, but she knows they’re eaten many different ways, and it’s a carnival, so it makes the process more magical than disgusting.

One of the wonderful aspects of this novel is the language in which it is written. The narrator has a unique voice, and when Ms. Hen read this, she knew she was reading a writer who is a master. Ms. Hen recommends GEEK LOVE for your Halloween haunting reading, or anytime to escape into a dark, mysterious, humorous and unique world.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Sara Gruen
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Ms. Hen came to acquire this novel by a twist of fate. She was at one of her local bookstores, and saw the book, and remembered it, and thought she would like to read it, but didn’t buy it that day. The next day, one of her hen friends was giving out books, and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was one of them, so she scooped it up.

Ms. Hen loves novels about circuses and carnivals. She used to dream of running away to join the circus to be a clown, but she knew that was a silly fantasy. She would never make it on the road, sleeping in a train, living a reckless life. But the protagonist of this novel did exactly that.

Jacob Jankowski finds himself in the circus train of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth after he couldn’t take his final exams for veterinarian school because his parents die suddenly. He thought he would take over the family practice, but he didn’t know his father had been taking food as payment for years, since nobody had any money. The year is 1931.

Jacob jumps on the circus train, and gets swept away by the happenings. He is hired as a roustabout, a man who raises the tent, and keeps the crowd in line. But when Uncle Al discovers he is a Cornell educated veterinarian, he is hired for that job. He takes care of horses, and giraffes, and the show acquires what Uncle Al always wanted, an elephant from a failed circus which the Benzini Brothers show chased to pick up the remnants. Rosie, the elephant, is expensive; as is her travelling car, and both take almost all the show’s money.

Jacob’s boss is August, is a mean-spirited person who hurts the animals, or berates and beats up his employees. Jacob slowly falls in love with Marlena, August’s wife, which causes problems for Jacob. He wants to believe that August is a good person, but eventually he comes to see that August is dangerous.

Walter, the dwarf clown, shares a sleeping car with Jacob and the horses. At first Walter hates Jacob, but they become good friends when Jacob gives Walter a remedy for helping the dog, Queenie, Walter’s constant companion. The working men are also Jacob's friends.

August and Jacob believe Rosie is stupid, and can’t be trained, until they discover how she can be trained. When she performs her show, she is magnificent, the crowd loves her, and they can’t get enough. The show doesn’t last, because August is mentally and emotionally unstable.

There are a smattering of hens in this novel, and Ms. Hen was pleased. At the beginning, when Jacob’s parents die, he finds out how his father has been getting paid for his practice, “’Beans and eggs?’ my voice cracked in disbelief. ’Beans and eggs?’ ‘And chickens. And other goods.’” This is important to the story because chickens and beans are not an inheritance, and as a result, Jacob Jankowski joins the circus. Another time a hen is mentioned is during the time the men were paying to see the amazing act where only men were allowed, and a man goes to pay, and his wife pulls him back, “As he struts off to hand over his quarter, someone clucks like a hen.” Ms. Hen thought this was funny, even though she knows the men are insulting women.

Ms. Hen has read other novels about circuses and carnivals. Her favorite is GEEK LOVE, which she will be reading again soon.  She has also read SWAMPLANDIA! which she did not like as much as GEEK LOVE because she was hoping it would be just as magical and beautiful, but it turned out to be creepy and perverse, and it left Ms. Hen with a bad taste in her mouth. Stay tuned for a review of GEEK LOVE from Ms. Hen soon.

Ms. Hen loved WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. It is a beautiful story about a man and his journey into the circus and also the end of his life. The novel is about yearning and the dream of love. Jacob loved his parents, he loves animals, he loves Marlena, and he loves life. This novel is sweet the way pink cotton candy at the circus is sweet, a flavor unlike any other.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews SNOWPIERCER

Directed by Bong Joon-Hu

Ms. Hen doesn’t watch many science fiction films, but she enjoys them. The reason is she finds most sci-fi films formula and Hollywood, and that is not Ms. Hen’s style. She happened to find out about SNOWPIERCER from a preview, and she thought she would be interested, and she was not disappointed.

SNOWPIERCER is about a post-apocalyptic world in which everyone left is travelling on a train hurtling around the planet. We are introduced to the train at the tail section, known as economy class, where the poorest passengers live. The people start to fight to get to the front of the train to find Timmy, a boy who is taken away. They also want to see what’s there, and to find more food than the protein bars they are given to eat. Curtis, and the other men decide that the guns the guards hold don’t have any bullets, and decide to overthrow them and start their way up the train.

Curtis and the other revolutionaries employ Namgoon, a prisoner who is known to be a security expert, and they pay him with Kronole, a drug that is he and the other first class passengers are all addicted to. His daughter is psychic, and also addicted to Kronole. She sees what is beyond the doors before they are opened.

The group walks through the section where insects are ground to make the food for the tail passengers, and a schoolroom in which a teacher is giving a lesson about the Frozen Seven, a group of people who tried to escape the train. They also walk through an aquarium full of fish, which serves sushi twice a year, which happens to be that day, and a nightclub, and many other odd places.

Tilda Swinton gives a stellar performance as Mason the Minister. She’s reminiscent of Effie Trinket in THE HUNGER GAMES, but much creepier in Tilda Swinton-fashion. Ed Harris appears as Wilson the train conductor. Ms. Hen didn’t know at first if it actually was Ed Harris, because he didn’t sound the same as usual.

Ms. Hen was reminded of George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM watching this film. There is a hierarchy, which cannot be challenged, and the people in the tail want to rebel against the people at the front. The tail people are fed insects, and are left to eat each other and babies in the beginning of the excursion, and they hate that their lives are like this, even though they survived the apocalypse, they don’t know if they prefer to be alive. Children born on the train, under seventeen years old, are called “train babies,” and know nothing of the world outside the train.

At the beginning of the film, the tail people were handed their protein bars, but before, they were asked what they wanted, and they all screamed, “Chickens!” Ms. Hen was impressed that the people wanted chickens, but she was not surprised since she believes chickens are superior. Also, one of the areas of the train was a meat locker full of chickens, which looked disgusting, but the characters all appeared anxious and apprehensive at the sight.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this film because it brought her to another place. It is a train ride on the end of the world, and humanity still has to learn to coexist, the fighting and insurgencies never seem to stop, the train speed goes of control, but the passengers know that they are all of humanity left on the planet together, which is a frightening thought, but one that is their reality. Ms. Hen thinks this is an important film, which she cannot say for everything she watches or reads. It's important because it shows how twisted society can get, and displays how the world should not succumb to itself.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews GIOVANNI'S ROOM

James Baldwin
Random House

Ms. Hen decided she wanted to read a book by James Baldwin, so she did some research. She discovered GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN was his most famous novel, but she was more interested in GIOVANNI’S ROOM because it takes place in Paris, and it’s about a man trying to suppress his homosexuality, which is more to Ms. Hen’s taste.

At the beginning of the novel, Ms. Hen discovered that David's lover is about to be executed. It takes the entire book to find out why. Ms. Hen was enthralled by the style of writing in this novel. James Baldwin is a master of words, and Ms. Hen didn’t know why it took her so long to read his work.

This novel takes place mostly in Paris, and the city plays a large part in the narrative. The descriptions of staying out late at bars and eating in cafes early in the morning, and the streets, the neighborhoods, the scenes were all so vivid that Ms. Hen could picture herself there with these people, drinking, and being young and carefree in the city of lights. It made Ms. Hen nostalgic for a time she had never had, but that is what outstanding fiction should do.

Another successful aspect of this novel is the portrayal of the anguish of futile love. David becomes involved with Giovanni, and moves into his squalid room outside the city center, where they get to know each other, and become lovers. David stays in the room while Giovanni goes to work, cleaning and getting ready for him to come back. They both know their relationship could not last, because David has a fiancée and they are two men living together. They know it could not be forever, but the question is, when would it end? They don't know until it happens.

The other characters treat David and Giovanni with disdain. They don’t like that the men are happy, and insult them at every turn. Jacques, who was with David when he meets Giovanni, resents their relationship. Jacques and Guillaume have money and David and Giovanni do not, so the couple is at a disadvantage.

Ms. Hen thought that the women are not treated with respect in this novel. Hella, David’s fiancée, rants about how she is glad she only had a woman’s mind, which has limits. This section gave Ms. Hen a bad taste in her mouth. She realized that this novel was written by a gay man in the 1950s, and she understands that he might not have been progressive on women’s issues, and he could have believed that a woman is decoration, and beneath her husband. Everything about this novel was perfect, except for this page. Ms. Hen was disappointed.

She was not disappointed when she found chickens mentioned in the novel. The four men are at a bar early in the morning, when Jacques is urging the men ahead, “and Jacques, pushing us all before him as though we were his chickens.” Ms. Hen thinks it is charming that he is treating the men like chickens, because they’re not chickens, and if they think Jacques thinks they are, he could be in trouble.

Ms. Hen loved reading this novel. She likes reading about other people’s strange and wild lives. And to experience Paris in its visceral glory in the 1950s is magical. Ms. Hen recommends this to anyone who loves Paris, and reading about tragic gay love affairs.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews ROOM the novel

Ms. Hen drinks Nitro coffee and enjoys the world

Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown

Ms. Hen saw the film ROOM earlier this year, and she had heard that the book was completely through the little boy, Jack’s, point of view. She usually likes novels written from unique perspectives, so she decided to read this book.

Usually it’s a big no-no to see a film before you read a novel, but this novel is so different from the film that Ms. Hen believes it’s acceptable in this case. There are many similar plot points in both the film and the book, but what makes the book original is the voice.

The voice of Jack, the little boy held hostage for the first five years of his life, is a voice unlike Ms. Hen has ever read. When she saw the film, she was amazed that such a thing could happen, that a woman would be kidnapped, and her child could be born in captivity, and how it could ruin or warp a person forever, but Jack is a child that is willing to learn and capable of change. In the beginning of the novel, Jack and his mother are celebrating his birthday, and his mother wants to figure out how to escape. Jack doesn’t know any other world other than the 11 by 11 shed in which he lives with his mother, Room.

Jack’s mother tries to teach him about the world outside Room, but Jack gets upset. He thinks trees are only on TV, and stores and people aren’t real, but when he tries to understand, he fights it. Whenever he sees a spider or an ant in Room, he gets excited because it’s something that’s tangible, but his mother kills the ants and the pests because she tells him they’re dirty. His mother wants him to learn that the world is real, and she knows they have to plan their escape.

Ms. Hen was astounded at the author’s ability to stay in Jack’s voice for the entire novel. She understands that some people might find it annoying, but Ms. Hen thinks it’s a great feat for a writer. It’s similar to watching gymnasts in the Olympics, the audience wonders how the competitors can do amazing jumps and leaps and twists. It was that way for Ms. Hen reading this novel. It takes enormous talent and experience to write a novel from the point of view of a five-year-old who has never been outside a small room.

This novel is about motherhood, but it’s also about childhood. It made Ms. Hen try to remember what it was like to be five years old. Five is about the time when a child starts to realize things and remember things, and Ms. Hen thinks that Jack is realistic in the way he is depicted.

There are many ways in which Jack is a little too sophisticated for his age and experience. He remembers everything his mother told him, and it’s possible that since he was in such close contact with his mother, and she was the only person he knew, that he would be more advanced than other children his age. He knows words and stories that other children would not know.

ROOM is a sad novel, but it’s also full of hope. It could make the reader appreciate the things that person has in life, especially freedom. Ms. Hen thinks it’s worth reading this novel to experience what it’s like to have your eyes opened and to finally discover the world.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Juan Tomas Avila Laurel
Translated by Jethro Soutar
And Other Stories
2008, translation 2014

Ms. Hen happened to read this book because she had read an article about novels with a great sense of place, and this was one of them. And this novel indeed has a wonderful sense of place. Ms. Hen was brought into a world that is completely foreign to her own, an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, which is based on Annabon, but the name is never mentioned in the novel.

This is an island where a young boy lives in a house with his grandmother and grandfather, several mothers, no fathers and many children. The grandfather is sick, or the boy thinks he might be mad, but it is never explained to the children. On the island, men fish to feed their families. Since there are no men in the house of the narrator capable of fishing, the children go hungry at times. They crave fish because when they eat it, they love it, and they drip the water from the fish on their cassava bread.

Ms. Hen was brought to a world that she knew nothing about, to a timeless place. The novel could have taken place in the 1960s, or it could have been the nineteenth century. There is no technology, and there are no cars, and many of the houses do not have toilets.

There is a lot of discussion of the characters relieving themselves in this novel, more so than in most of the novels Ms. Hen reads. She’s not sure why this is. The people go to the beach at night to move their bowels, and the boys in the house share a bed they wet every night. Ms. Hen thinks this is a strange thing to discuss in a novel, but she realized that the people who live on this island might not have anything else to talk about, and everyone does this, so why not discuss it with each other.

The characters talk a lot with each other about everyone’s business. Every time a ship comes from another nation, men and women go to see if they can give them kerosene, alcohol, needles and things they don’t have. Some women get pregnant by the men on the ships and give birth to white children. They are not ostracized; they carry on with their lives.

Two women who become outcasts burn down the island by mistake and their mother is punished. The narrator doesn’t understand why the woman is tortured, and he has never seen anything so horrible. Life is difficult on the island, but there’s nothing the narrator can do. His main focus is finding food, but he has nobody to teach him to fish, since he does not have a father and his grandfather in incapable.

This novel makes Ms. Hen think of an allegory, but she knows that some of it is probably true. Magic exists on the island; the people believe in she-devils and superstitions that could seem silly to people in the west, but rule the lives of people in Africa. Ms. Hen thinks it’s a patriarchal view that some women could be witches, and not men. Where Ms. Hen lives, no women are accused of witchcraft, because that would be ridiculous. Ms. Hen is not a witch, and she doesn’t know any, and she doesn’t think she will meet any soon.

Even though Ms. Hen is not a witch, she is a hen, and she likes to find hens and chicken in novels. There were a handful of hens in BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS, and Ms. Hen was happy about this. The character complains about the lack of fish he gets to eat and wonders, “And don’t ask me why we didn’t raise hens, goats, or pigs on our island of unknown geographical coordinates.” Ms. Hen wondered this, too. Why should the gathering of food be left to the men? And what if there weren’t men around? Ms. Hen realizes that some things in this world don’t make any sense, but they are that way because that's the way they’ve always been.  

Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel, even though it made her sad. BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS is a bittersweet legend about an island trapped in time. Ms. Hen wishes that all the people on the island would have enough fish, and also that they would not be cruel to each other. But that’s the way the whole world should be.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THE IDIOT

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Vintage Classics
1868-9, translation 2001
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Ms. Hen likes to read heavy Russian novels in the middle of the summer. She does this because most of the time, she has more of an attention span to read something long when the sun shines all day. While most people are reading fluffy bestselling books on the beach, Ms. Hen reads about the torment of life in Russia in the nineteenth century.

Ms. Hen has read both THE BROTHERS KARAMASOV and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT during different summers. She liked CRIME AND PUNISHMENT the best, out of the three, because she thought it makes the most sense as a story, and the characters weren’t all completely unpleasant.

Ms. Hen read that THE IDIOT is the most autobiographical of all Dostoevsky’s novels. She also read that he wanted to write a novel that was the complete opposite of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, one that surrounds a character that is completely innocent. But all the characters that are around the prince, or the idiot, are despicable.

The novel is about a young prince, Lev Nikoleavich Myshkin, who is traveling on a train to Petersburg from Switzerland where he had spent time recovering from an illness. He meets Roggozhin on the train and they talk about their lives. The prince tries to make his way in Petersburg, but quickly he becomes embroiled into Nastaya Filipovna’s life, which is a disaster. She is known as a disgraced woman, and everyone he meets tells him that.

The prince also meets the Epanchin family and becomes involved with them, especially Aglaya. All the people around him seem to take advantage of the prince’s naivete. He spent so much time in an asylum when he was young, that he doesn’t know the ways of society, and how things work amongst people. He doesn’t know that it isn’t deemed proper to associate with fallen women like Nastaya Filipovna, and it also isn’t right to say you will marry one woman, then take up with another.

Ms. Hen found reading this novel difficult because most of it consists of people standing around at a party, screaming and being horrible to each other. Even though the prince is an simple character, everyone in his circle is out to get everyone else, and are only interested in themselves. This made it difficult for Ms. Hen to pay attention to what was happening in the novel.

Some hens appeared in THE IDIOT, which made Ms. Hen happy. There was talk about dreams that are childish, “Once Alexandra Ivanovna saw nine hens in a dream, and this caused a formal quarrel between her and her mother – why – it is difficult to explain.” Dreaming of hens might be childish, but Ms. Hen doesn’t know why she should tell her mother and have a formal quarrel about it. Ms. Hen realizes that this novel took place in a different culture, and a different time. A lot of aspects of this novel made Ms. Hen cringe, for the way women were treated, and the ridiculousness of fighting duels, but she knows that she can’t do anything about the way the world used to be.

Ms. Hen thought this novel was difficult, and slow. It took her a very long time to finish. When she was reading, there seemed to be a lot of suffering on every page. Ms. Hen likes to read about people’s troubles that are not her own. There’s a special degree of torment that goes along with the Russian soul. Ms. Hen thinks she might have a piece of Russian soul inside her, even though she is not Russian, she feels as if she connects with Russia through a type of astral cord that she can’t control.