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

Sunday, October 22, 2017


The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, And the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Roseanne Montillo
Harper Collins

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she thought it would be appropriate for the Halloween season. It’s not a scary book about ghosts and magic, but rather a scary book about a boy who lived a long time ago in nineteenth century Boston, who tortured and then murdered other children.

Ms. Hen thinks this book is graphic, and may not be suitable for children or adults who get disturbed by descriptions of gross things. Ms. Hen is not squeamish about things when she reads them, but only when she sees them in real life. This is the reason she could never be a nurse, because the thought of sticking a catheter into someone or wiping someone’s bottom is something she couldn’t bear to do.

Ms. Hen enjoys reading about upsetting things. She also likes the descriptions of Boston in the nineteenth century. She knows a lot of the places and landmarks in this book, and she learned things she didn’t know before, such as Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill is where the brothels used to be located. She has been to that street, and she can’t ever imagine it being dangerous. It’s a lovely quiet street in an upscale neighborhood.

This is a true story of a serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy who killed two children in South Boston in the 1870s. He got caught, but he denied ever killing the children. His mother didn’t believe he did the crimes. Intertwined with Jesse’s history are parts about the Great Boston Fire of 1872, and Herman Melville’s life. The book talks a lot about madness and how it was perceived in that day. Jesse was thought of as mad. Herman Melville’s novel BILLY BUDD is supposedly based on Jesse’s story.

One thing that Ms. Hen thinks is fascinating was the idea that the so-called “dime novels” that Jesse read caused him to commit his crimes. (They were small books about violence and other macabre subjects.) People say that these days, not about novels, but about movies and video games and pornography. The literati in the nineteenth century thought that the dime novels were ruining quality literature, and people, especially young boys, were drawn to them for the quick thrills they gave.

A publisher, James Thomas Fields, wanted to find out if the dime novels did cause Jesse to become a murderer. He visited Jesse in the Charles Street Jail, and he talked with him. Fields came to the conclusion, which is still true today, that reading cheap novels does not make a person commit crimes. If the inclination is there, the person will become evil, and reading dime novels simply makes the person more attuned to the dark side of nature.

Ms. Hen had a couple of moments while reading this novel. She was riding the subway, and she read the opening to one of the chapters about the prison in Charlestown, and the golden light that shines on it, and suddenly, she was in the exact place the prison was located, where now stands Bunker Hill Community College, and the golden light of the afternoon was shining. She also decided to visit the Liberty Hotel, which is the former Charles Street jail, and took some pictures. A family walked through the lobby, the parents drinking flutes of champagne, and the father saying to a little boy of about five, “These rooms used to be jail cells,” laughing. Ms. Hen doesn’t think the men who were jailed there would think it was funny. She wonders if the ghosts of the inmates haunt the hotel, with all the laughing that goes on about it now, it was a terrible place to be for over one hundred years.

Ms. Hen does not read a lot of nonfiction because sometimes it can seem a little too lecture-like for her. But she liked this book because it was about a piece of her city's history. She likes the parts about madness and murder, and also learning how people and their attitudes have changed.

Ms. Hen didn't come to The Liberty Hotel, but her alter-ego went there during her lunch break. She works next door.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


The Night Country
Stewart O’Nan

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she loves Halloween books, and she wanted to discover new ones. She did a search online and most didn’t interest her, but she had read another book by Stewart O’Nan, LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER, about working at a restaurant, and she enjoys his writing, so she bought THE NIGHT COUNTRY.

She didn’t read that much about the book before she got into it, but when she first started, she didn’t understand what was happening. She had to read a little bit get into it. The novel is about a group of friends, three of whom died in a car crash on Halloween: Danielle, Toe and Marco. The novel takes place on Halloween the next year, and the three kids who died are haunting different people in the town: their friend Tim, who didn’t die in the crash; the police officer Brooks, who first arrived on the scene; Kyle’s mom, the mother of their friend who didn’t die, but became brain damaged; and their other friends, Greg and Travis.

Brooks feels guilty about the crash; he was chasing the kids and they crashed into a tree. His wife left him with the house, which he is trying to sell, but nobody is offering the price he wants. Kyle’s mom is devastated that she has to take care of her son like he’s a child for the rest of his life. Greg and Travis are angry that their friends died. The ghosts follow the people around, and they know what they’re thinking, and they try to do things to influence them, but it doesn’t always work.

This is reviewed as a horror novel, but Ms. Hen doesn’t think it is. It’s a literary novel about ghosts. Ms. Hen thinks it’s a realistic novel about what ghosts could really be like. When she was reading this, Ms. Hen couldn’t help but wonder if there are any ghosts following her; if there is anyone she has known who could be stalking her, and watching her. She doesn’t know if she believes in angels, but ghosts could be more realistic. Angels are considered benevolent, and want to help people, but ghosts are just there, watching, knowing, and possibly judging.

One thing Ms. Hen loves about this novel is the writing, which is very clean and descriptive and original. The author knows how to put a sentence together; his writing is tight and crisp, and every word is perfect. Ms. Hen admires that.

There are two mentions of chickens on the same page, which Ms. Hen doesn’t count as being chickens. The kids were in the car, “From the backseat you can’t see the tree, or only at the last minute, if you happen to be backseat driving, chickenshit.” And then after being chased, “It is a game of chicken.” Ms. Hen doesn’t consider these chickens, because she considers chickens brave, but she is only a purse. But this is an important part of the novel, because it’s where the story begins.

Other than the lack of real chickens, Ms. Hen thinks this is an exceptional book. She has her favorite Halloween books, and this one might now be esteemed in their company. This isn’t spooky, but it’s a perfect for Halloween, right for autumn days with the leaves falling and pumpkin spice in the air.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Random House

Ms. Hen picked up this book at a Little Free Library near where she lives;
she had heard
it wasn’t that good, but wanted
to pick out a free book. She read the novel in letters,
the epistolary novel, if you will,
about the woman writer in post-World War II England;
she makes pen pals on Guernsey, an island occupied by Germans in the war;
she wants to write a book about it,
but she doesn’t know where to start.

One thing this novel does well is that it reeks
of charm, which shines on every page, but does charm
make a novel work? Ms. Hen thinks a person without charm is worthless,
but a book stuffed with it doesn’t always cut the chocolate cake.

The problem Ms. Hen had with this book is that it doesn’t
know what it wants to be.
It is a romance novel, a novel about war and occupation,
the horror of concentration camps,
and a humorous novel?
Oscar Wilde materializes suddenly;
this novel is too many things for one book.
It’s not the letters which make it difficult; it’s the story:
there’s too much happening all at once, and it is not to Ms. Hen’s taste.

Ms. Hen didn’t like this book enough to write a real review,
so she wrote this review,
to let everyone know this book isn’t good enough for her,
you would be better off walking in the woods,
or making chili,
or watching movies, 
than reading this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017


History Lessons: A Memoir of Growing Up in an American Communist Family
Dan Lynn Watt

Ms. Hen decided to read this memoir because she had heard the author read from it at an open mic series, and she was fascinated with the story of his youth growing up in an American communist family. This is a different type of life story than she has heard or read before; Ms. Hen does not know that many communists that grew up in the 1940s and 50s. Ms. Hen’s family was ardent anti-communist, like many Americans were in that time.

The memoir starts with Dan’s recollections of his childhood. His father, George, was active in the communist party in the 1930s, and went away to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. His father regaled young Dan with the tale of swimming across the Ebro River and being rescued by Ernest Hemmingway; afterwards, the article was on the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES. He later entertained Dan with the story of his plane getting shot down by a German fighter plane over Belgium and parachuting to save his life.

When Dan writes about his childhood growing up in New York and listening to his father’s stories, Ms. Hen sees his life through a child’s eyes. She thinks that the author captures the wide-eyed innocence of childhood; he recollects what it was like to be awed by his larger-than-life father, and the energy that surrounded him.

Not everything is this memoir is pleasant. For a long time, George Watt was on the run from the government, because of his involvement with the Communist Party. Ms. Hen understands that it must have been difficult on the family to have the father absent for such long periods of time.

Ms. Hen does not want to give away what happens in this memoir, but she will say that young Dan had a colorful life in his early years. He had to learn how to hide the fact that he came from a communist family from his classmates and teachers at school. He was afraid that people would find out and squeal on him, or he would be ostracized. Ms. Hen imagines what a difficult life it would be to have to hide your politics and opinions from people.

But his life was not all terrible: he became interested in human rights and Civil Rights; he learned how to organize and gets things done. Ms. Hen was impressed by the fearlessness which he acquired in his youth, especially when he travelled to Tennessee to help African-Americans register to vote.

The communists in the United States in the 1940s and 50s had the idea that the Soviet Union was the ultimate workers' paradise; that everyone was equal, and things ran smoothly. They didn’t know then what we know now, that Stalin was a brute and the country quaked in fear. The communists of that time in the United States were dreamers, wishing for a different life where greed and money were not king.  Dan’s grandfather Maurice went on a tour of the Soviet Union; meant for propaganda, where the Soviets displayed to the Americans what a bountiful life they had. It was all a ruse. Maurice came back and raved about what a fantastic country it was because the citizens went on vacation and it was paid by the government. Maurice had to travel out of the country via Canada because Americans weren’t allowed to travel directly the Soviet Union from the United States, but they could through other countries.

When the communists in the United States realized that the Soviet Union was not what they believed it to be, their spirit got crushed. Ms. Hen thinks it’s like having delusions, people can believe that something is a certain way, but the truth can turn out to be completely different. Ms. Hen understands that true communism is for dreamers; the people who think the world can be an ideal place. There’s nothing evil about communism, it’s the way that it manifested itself in the world that made the vision turn sour.

This book made Ms. Hen think a lot about the world, and her place in the world, and why everything is the way it is. At the end of the book, the author describes how his life growing up was not all about getting by with basic necessities. There’s more than just survival. There’s also working toward a better world for everyone.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BIRTH OF VENUS

The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant
Random House

Ms. Hen picked up this book at one of the Little Free Libraries near where she lives. She knew nothing about it, but she liked the title and the cover. She read the back and learned it is a book about Florence in the 1400s, and art in the Renaissance period, and she was captivated. Ms. Hen enjoys historical fiction from time to time, so she dove into this book.

When Ms. Hen first started reading this, she realized it was a very dense read. The words are lush and stick together like ribbon candy on the page. That’s not to say she didn’t enjoy the novel, but it took some attention. Luckily Ms. Hen had some time off work, so she could sink into the pages.

This novel is about Alessandra Cecchi, a daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant in Venice in the 1400s around the time when the Medicis are in power. She is young, and her sister is about to be married. Alessandra is headstrong, and enjoys reading the classics, such as Aritstotle, and she attempts in secret to be an artist. The family hires an artist to paint the chapel in their house. Alessandra does not want to do what women are supposed to do, that is marry and have children, and keep quiet about political matters.

Alessandra gets married quickly, because she wants to get away from her family. She doesn’t know what she gets herself into when marries. Her slave, Erila, helps her with everything. Erila is a great character, because she seems to be the freest of the women in the novel, even though she is a slave. She does what she wants and gossips her heart out. She knows lots of secrets and shares her discoveries with people she chooses.

This book reminds Ms. Hen of POPE JOAN, in the way that it takes place in approximately the same time period, and it is about nuns, but this is so much better. It’s written more exquisitely, and it’s more captivating, and it doesn’t turn into a romantic women’s novel in the end. THE BIRTH OF VENUS is a sexy novel, but not in the type of a romance novel, more the style of an intelligent, realistic novel about a woman who lived in a different age.

In the prologue of the novel, an image appears of something shocking when Alessandra dies, and for the entire book, Ms. Hen wanted to know when that would show up again. When it did, she was not disappointed.

Ms. Hen loved THE BIRTH OF VENUS. She thinks it is extremely well researched and convincing. She felt as if she was in Florence in the 1400s, and she could see and smell the different elements of the city. This book makes Ms. Hen want to go to Florence. Maybe someday she will be able to see the frescos that were so painfully painted with scaffolding and fire. But until then, she has to be content to live in books for a while.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
Puffin Modern Classics

Ms. Hen decided to read this book again because she was bored at work one day, and happened to look at Wikipedia, and it was Anne Frank’s birthday, so she decided to read the Wikipedia article. She found out that this new edition was released after the death of Anne’s father Otto, and the book contained previously unpublished material. Anne received her diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday.

Ms. Hen originally read this book when she was a young hen her freshman year of high school, which was a long time ago. She had a different experience reading the book this time. When she read it before, she was the exact age as Anne when she died in the concentration camp. Ms. Hen didn’t realize it then, but now she thinks that’s extraordinary.

This is a story everyone knows. Anne is a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam in the 1940s, and her family goes into hiding because the Jewish residents are being taken away. They have all heard the rumors of the concentration camps and how the people are starved and gassed. Anne hides with her parents and sister, and four others.

A lot of the book is about the problems Anne has with her mother and the cohabitants in hiding. Anne was a positive girl, and she looked at going into hiding as an adventure. She had dreams for her life, and she wanted to be a journalist, a writer, also to travel, and study art history. She was philosophical at a young age; she seemed to have a lot of thoughts about humanity and the way the world works. She writes about the older people versus the younger people in the annex, and she says, “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them, because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.” Ms. Hen doesn’t know how a young girl in hiding from the Nazis could still believe that people are good. This made Ms. Hen think of her own life.

When Ms. Hen read the book this time, she thought back to what she was like when she was fifteen and she read it then. She wondered how she would have managed if she had been in an annex hiding from the Nazis. Ms. Hen was not a positive teenager; she was young in the 80s, and a lot of teenagers then were caught up in gloom and doom, the disillusionment that the Reagan administration gave to ordinary young people. The romantic notions of the hippies of the 60s became the excess of the 80s. That was a time of affluence: people weren’t fighting a war, they were fighting with their apathy and indecision about the distorted state of society. This was the time of the Material Girl, We are living in a Material World and I am a Material Girl, as the song went. A lot of teenagers fought against this ideal, but some did not and got sucked into it. Some of us were hiding in our rooms listening to the Cure, trying not to think about how terrible the world was to us and how our future was bleak.

Ms. Hen came to the conclusion that she would not have been the exact same person as Anne Frank when she was locked in the annex, but she was her own person, locked in a prison of her own mind. Anne lived forty years before Ms. Hen, and the world was completely different then. The book also made Ms. Hen wonder about the society now, and how much has changed since she was young. She wondered about the fifteen year old girl today, and what she is like, and what troubles she must have, which Ms. Hen can imagine are enormous.

This book made Ms. Hen think a lot about her life and youth, and the way everything has changed. She didn’t get all that the first time she read the book in 1988, which was almost thirty years ago. The good news is that Ms. Hen is not as morose as she was a teenager. She knows there’s nothing we can do about the past, and there’s nothing we can do yet about the future, we have to learn to live day by day and embrace life as it comes. Which, incidentally, is the way Anne lived her life in the annex. Reading this confirms Ms. Hen’s philosophy on how to live. Enjoy yourself as much as you can, do what you have to do, and try to be find as much happiness as possible.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BOSTON GIRL

The Boston Girl
Anita Diamant

Ms. Hen chose to read this book because she had wanted to read a book by this author for a while. She happened to be walking by the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, and this book popped into her head, so she went in, and by chance it was in there, on the shelf, waiting for her to check it out.

Ms. Hen likes the title of this novel because she also considers herself a Boston Girl. There are different incarnations of Boston girls, and she thinks the young woman in this novel is a smart, savvy, industrious person, and Ms. Hen thinks that if this is what it means to be a Boston Girl, she thinks it’s a positive aspiration.

Ms. Hen thinks that this novel reminds her of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in the way that it’s about a young woman trying to make her way in the world during the beginning of the twentieth century, but this novel takes place in Boston, and the character is Jewish. The same pathos is there, the poverty, the lack of education, hardship, and the desire for a better life.

This novel makes Ms. Hen think of her own family’s history. Her family lived in Boston at the time the novel took place, in the Charlestown neighborhood, and her grandmother was slightly younger than Addie Baum. Ms. Hen had an aunt who was exactly the same age as Addie, born in 1900, and Ms. Hen knew her when she was growing up. Ms. Hen can’t imagine her Aunt Mary having as much gumption as the woman in this novel, however. She doesn’t picture her aunt fighting for causes and having her friend listen in on phone conversations at the telephone company to find out where to apply for a job. But this is what Addie Baum does.

Addie is a young woman who lives with her parents and sister in the North End of Boston, where many immigrant families live from different countries: Italians, Irish and Jewish people all live adjacent to each other, and the young people are friends. Addie has several friends from different ethnicities, that she meets at a place called the Saturday club, where young women socialize. Addie has problems with her mother and father; they don’t understand her, and she is taken out of high school because her sister gets married and cannot work to support the family anymore. Addie misses going to school, but she works successfully as a secretary for her brother-in-law. She has several jobs, and dates men, and finally falls in love.

This is not a love story, nor a women’s novel. This is a novel about a woman who learns to get what she wants and to help others to get what they want. She has friends, and her friends take care of her, and she takes care of them. At first she doesn’t know what she wants from her life, but then she discovers it as she goes along. This is a novel about the journey of one woman’s life, and the character finding herself.

Ms. Hen was excited there are chickens in this novel. At Thanksgiving the family plans to have a chicken instead of a turkey. “ 'Trief meat in my house?’ Celia whispered, like she didn’t want God to know. She rubbed her hand up and down her cheeks  ‘No. If it has to be, you can come her to eat, but chicken from the kosher butcher.’ ” The girls fight, but Celia wins and they have chicken for Thanksgiving.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a nice novel, but not too nice. The author doesn’t sugarcoat things, but tells things the way they are. Ms. Hen doesn’t like books that are sappy, but she thinks THE BOSTON GIRL has enough edge to keep her interested. Ms. Hen enjoyed Boston as a character in the novel; she knew a lot of the places described, which are still there. Ms. Hen likes being a Boston girl, or a Boston hen, and she admires Addie Baum for living a life with purpose.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ICY SPARKS

Icy Sparks
Gwyn Hyman Rubio
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she found it at one of the Little Free Libraries near where she lives. She knew nothing about the book; she had never heard of it, but she liked the cover and she read the back, and decided that it was something she would be interested in.

This novel is about a troubled young girl, Icy Sparks, who lives in Kentucky in the mountains with her grandparents. Her mother dies shortly after she is born, and her mother ate a lot of crab apples while she was pregnant with Icy, and her grandparents tell her that is the reason why she has golden hair and yellow ocher eyes. Icy believes that is why she croaks like a frog.

Icy has problems getting along with people. When she is ten, her fourth grade teacher does not like her from the beginning. Also, the same year, she starts to have fits and twitches and she feels like she has to get something out of herself. She doesn’t want anyone to know, but a boy sees one of her episodes and tells everyone. The teacher puts her in supply room to get her away from the class, but she has another fit, and the principal decides to put her in a hospital. Icy has more issues with people at the hospital. When she gets out, she does not go back to school, and spends time with her grandparents, and her friend, Miss Emily, an obese woman who gives Icy her school lessons.

This book reminds Ms. Hen of a lot of other novels she has read. It has snippets of magic, and reminded her of GEEK LOVE.  It also made her think of GIRL, INTERRUPTED and THE BELL JAR, with the scenes in the hospital. It also has elements of Southern Gothic, as in Flannery O’Connor, and her short stories about disturbed people.

Ms. Hen really liked this novel, but she thought the ending was a cop out. She didn’t understand why Icy did what she did. She will not tell you what happens, because she thinks the novel is worth reading anyway, but she thinks there could have been a more substantial ending. In the Epilogue, Icy goes to college and she is diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. She likes knowing there is a name for her disorder and she is not alone. Ms. Hen doesn’t think there are many novels about Tourette’s Syndrome, but she did see a film about the illness called NIAGRA, NIAGRA, many years ago which she really enjoyed.

This is a rural novel, and of course, there are some chickens. There is a scene where Icy is spying on her neighbors that stole chickens, and killed them. Afterwards, someone steals the family’s chickens, and Icy knows it was the neighbors. She tells her grandfather, and he doesn’t believe her, so they go to the other farm and see the dead chickens, “When he rounded the corner, I heard him. Even before I saw him, I heard him. A sad, low groan, like the bellow of a sick cow came to my ears, and I knew he had seen them Henrietta and Bonnie, dangling from that wire – blood like droplets of rain – scattered over the ground.”

Ms. Hen thinks this is a decent novel because it is about a troubled young girl with an issue that is not discussed much in literature. The book is beautifully written, and captures the voice of a place. She liked it, but there were problems with the character’s development at the end, but she forgives Icy, because she knows Icy was lonely and just wanted to try to fit in.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


House of Splendid Isolation
Edna O’Brien
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to buy this book because she’s read other books by Edna O’Brien, and she’s enjoyed them. O’Brien is a contemporary Irish writer, and Ms. Hen thinks she writes from the gut, which is, she writes about important and disturbing things, but those that are necessary all the same, such as internal strife in Ireland, which is the subject of this book.

This novel has many different sides to it. It is about domestic terrorism in Ireland, and how it affects the people around the violence. The men and women fight for what they think is a just cause, but create so much mayhem around them, the cause seems to be lost in the bloodshed. It is also about the people affected in the violence, how the fear grows and terrorizes everyone, including young children.

This is a novel about a house, and its occupant, Josie O’Meara. The reader visits her when she is a young bride, and brought to the house by her new husband, who turns out to be a brute. In later years, she is an old woman, after being sent from a nursing home back to her house, a man name McGreevy breaks into her house to hide from the police who are chasing him. He is a terrorist with the IRA, and fighting a losing battle. Josie is afraid, but she and McGreevy become friends after a while; she pities him when she discovers his story.

Josie and McGreevy have a strange relationship. She is afraid of him, because she thinks he will kill her, but she tries to get him to open up. This novel is about how tortured an existence it is to be Irish; some people want to do the right thing and fight for their beliefs, but at the same time, they seem to have lost sight of what they are fighting for, and don’t know what’s right and wrong anymore.

Ms. Hen took pity on these characters. She read another book by O’Brien recently, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS, and she felt the same way. O’Brien is a master of darkness and pathos, she nudges the reader into feeling for characters who have had horrific lives, and introduces the reader to the idea that everyone’s life can be miserable in its own unique way.

Irish folklore and poetry play a huge part in this novel. The police officers walk around spouting poetry, which Ms. Hen thinks is strange, because she doesn’t think any of the police where she lives would do this. But she knows other cultures are different, and in Ireland it is likely to be common for police to be literate. Also there is a scene that invokes the legend of Cu Chulainn, when a bird comes down and licks the blood of someone who has died. Ms. Hen doesn’t want to ruin the book for anyone, so she won’t tell who dies. The legend of Cu Chulainn was about the warrior who is killed, and a bird comes along and licks his blood, and that’s how the English know it’s okay to take over the country. Birds are considered bad luck in Ireland because of this tale.

There are a few hens and chickens in HOUSE OF SPLENDID ISOLATION. At one point, the criminal is on the run, and the village is in terror. They are trying to find him. “ ' Good God, he was in our yard,’ Ma Hinchy says, opening her dirndl skirt so her two children can huddle in their like chickens under a mother hen.” Since this is a rural novel, there are chickens all around, not just in metaphors and similes.

Ms. Hen loved this novel, not just because it was beautiful, but also because it was disturbing, and it made her think. She is a hen who likes to ponder how horrible the world can be, but at the same time, she tries to find beauty where she can, and is able to most of the time.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


The Love of a Good Woman
Alice Munroe
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen bought this book because she knows that Alice Munro is a great writer, and she should read more of her. Ms. Hen doesn’t love short stories as much as novels, because she likes to sink her teeth into a novel and become entrenched in it, but these stories are different. Ms. Hen was able to live in the short stories; each was its own complete world, and Ms. Hen became immersed.

These stories are all about women in Canada, and they take place in a time past, mostly in the Fifties and Sixties, when life was completely different from the way it is now. Women were not treated with much respect, and were expected to live a certain way, and if they did not live like that, they were judged and maligned. All of these stories are about women who have taken a bad turn.

These stories are not light-hearted. They remind Ms. Hen of Flannery O’Connor’s writing. There is murder in “The Love of a Good Woman,” adultery in “The Children Stay,” spouse swapping in “Jakarta,” and a graphic description of abortion in “Before the Change.”  A scene in “Save the Reaper,” seems to be completely inspired by O’Connor, in which a grandmother takes her two grandchildren on a ride, and comes across a house of debauchery, and ends up with an escaped, rough young woman in her car. The grandmother feels unsafe, but she figures a way out of the trouble.

One thing Munro does well is subtext. The characters are saying or doing one thing, but they are actually something else is happening. In the story, “Rich as Stink,” Karin, a ten-year old girl visits her neighbor, Ann, and Karin notices, “She had put makeup on her face so it didn’t look so blotchy.” Karin notices that Ann had been crying, but Ann takes her to find some old clothes, and she puts her wedding dress on Karin. Ann tries to distract Karin from the fact that she had been crying, because she has to sell the house, and her husband doesn't love her anymore.

One other story in which there is subtext is the last one in the book, “My Mother’s Dream.” It is about a young woman, Jill, who has a baby, whose husband dies in World War II, and afterwards she stays with her in-laws. Jill doesn’t like the baby, and the baby doesn’t like her at first, but the baby takes to the sister-in-law Iona. Iona and Aisla and their mother have to go for a ride to visit someone, and Jill does not know how to be alone with the baby. When they come back, Iona thinks Jill murdered the baby, and mayhem ensues; the doctor comes to visit. The doctor and Aisla have a moment, “Too speedily and guiltily he took his own hands away. If he had not done it, it would have looked like an ordinary comfort he was administering. As a doctor is entitled to do.” There is something between the doctor and Aisla, but it’s a secret, as there are other secrets in this collection.

Ms. Hen did not think she could finish this book in a week, because it is long, but she did. She doesn’t give herself deadlines when she reads, but she likes to write about a book once a week. But even thought this book is lengthy, it is engrossing. It’s no wonder that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize – Ms. Hen thinks she deserves it! And though Ms. Hen has strong opinions, she’s usually right.