Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ms. Hen's Top Ten

Ms. Hen’s Top Ten Books (She Read) in 2015

Ms. Hen has decided to jump on the bandwagon of end-of-year top ten lists. She wrote lots of reviews last year, and spent some time thinking about what the top ten books she read were. Hardly any of the books on the list were published in 2015, but books have a long shelf life, so if it’s a high quality books it stays that way. They are in no particular order, because sometimes the time to read a book is perfect and another is perfect at a different time.

When Ms. Hen read this in March, it was just what she needed.

This is a beautiful memoir about dealing with grief.

4.     MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante 
5.     THE STORY OF A NEW NAME by Elena Ferrante
The three previous books are the continuation of one story.

7.     COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier
This novel wins the award for containing the most chickens.

8.     WHITE LIGHT by Vanessa Garcia

9.     THE BLIND ASSASIN by Margaret Atwood

10.  THE BLUE GIRL by Laurie Foos

Ms. Hen would like to wish everyone a happy new year. She doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions, but if she did, she would resolve to read more books, do more Zumba, and eat more dark chocolate.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Elena Ferrante
Europa Editions
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

Ms. Hen read the first two books in the Neapolitan novels previously this year. She loved them and she devoured them, but she is trying to read them slowly so she won’t be too overwhelmed with emotion. She thought she would read the third novel sooner after she read the second one, but she wanted to savor it and look forward to it.

THE STORY OF A NEW NAME begins where the previous novel leaves off, with Elena Greco and the release of the novel she wrote. She lives at home with her family after she has graduated from college, and is waiting to get married. She is still unsure of her intellect, and she feels that her meekness eventually surfaces with everything she does.

She never expected to publish the novel. Her future mother-in-law to be decided that it was good enough to be published and Elena thinks that her future mother-in-law wanted her son’s wife to have some status, since she came from such a poor neighborhood, and she had nothing else to recommend her to their world.

Elena is thrust into a brief experience with fame with the publication of her novel. She still tries to help her friend from childhood Lila, who Elena thinks is more intelligent and talented than she is, even though Lila never continued her education. Lila is the brilliant one, who has always shone in spite of everything that has happened to her.

There are more politics in this novel than the previous novels. Ms. Hen thinks this is possible because the characters are older, and they have more interest in the world around them. Society is changing, and demonstrations are happening, and Elena gets involved with Lila fighting the corruption at the sausage factory where Lila is employed. The workers want to start a communist revolution, but they have to go against the fascists to win. Nobody ends up winning, and some people get hurt.

This novel, like the other two novels is full of raw emotion and brimming with the power of friendship. Loving her friends, and hating her friends, wanting them to succeed, and wanting them to fail, is the rollercoaster of emotion that Elena Greco lives every day. Wanting to be happy, and wanting the best out of life, even when stuck in an unhappy marriage with two small children, Elena perseveres and tries to be happy.

Ms. Hen had a conversation with someone whom she respects as a person and a writer about these novels. This person had read all four books, but she couldn’t understand why the characters had strong feelings about one person at one time, then completely different feelings about that person another time. Ms. Hen told the woman she didn’t want to sound racist but it was because the people are Italian, but she meditated on this idea, and then decided that she understood why Elena changes her mind often about people she loved.

She changes her mind because she is a passionate person, due to bouts of irrationality. Some people are completely rational, and could never understand why someone could alter their feelings so quickly. Ms. Hen is also an unstable character that changes her mind a lot of the time about the people in her life. Ms. Hen doesn’t understand a lot of people, but she deals with them because she has to do it to survive. Elena lives her life and takes care of the things that she must do, but she loves passionately and irrationally. Not all love is rational. Ms. Hen didn’t understand why Elena keeps her obsession with Nino when she discovers what a cad he is, but Elena is unstable in her heart. Elena loves Lila, even though she is jealous of her, and cannot stop being jealous of her, even though Lila has had a lot of bad luck, Elena still feels that her own intellect will never match Lila’s.

There is one mention of a rooster in this novel, “Lila gazed at the water pitcher in the middle of the table with its comical rooster head: Gennaro liked it.” This took place when Lila and Gennaro were living with Enzo in the tiny apartment while she worked at the sausage factory and she and Enzo studied computer programming at night. They didn’t have a lot of money to spare, and the pitcher with the rooster head could have been a luxury.

Ms. Hen loved this novel. Reading it is like watching a friend make mistakes and you want to tell her to stop doing what she’s doing, but she can’t help it because it’s what she needs to do. Elena can’t help but continue her life, and the spiral goes as it goes in everyone’s life.  Ms. Hen gives this novel five feathers up.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Harper Lee
Harper and Row
1960, 2014

Recently, Ms. Hen found TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in a used bookstore. She hadn’t read the book since she was a young hen in high school, but she remembered enjoying it, so she bought it. She’d heard about the new novel by Harper Lee, but forgot about the controversy surrounding it, so she got that book out of the library and decided to read the two books consecutively without researching the story behind the new book before she read them.

She was reminded of how TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is beautifully written. The story of Scout and her family in Alabama struck Ms. Hen, and also the innocent but dark times in which they lived. Ms. Hen read this without remembering the outcome of the trial; she knew the novel was brimming with injustice, but she didn’t remember the details. She had no memory of the fact that there were so many chickens mentioned in this novel, which she adored.

Ms. Hen thought the choice of first person worked well in this novel: the reader is in Scout’s mind as a child, but is looking back through adult eyes. This novel made her think of the awkwardness and embarrassment of childhood, which children these days don’t have since they are coddled and made to believe they’re perfect. The aspect of childhood that should be important is that children simply don’t know as much as they do as when they are adults.

When Ms. Hen read GO SET A WATCHMAN, she noticed right away the lack of first person narrative that made MOCKINGBIRD so immediate. The novel is about Scout as a twenty-six year old woman who comes back to visit her family and hometown for her yearly two week vacation.

Ms. Hen thought there were parts of WATCHMAN that were outright slapstick comedy, which she enjoyed. But the thrust of the novel is racism, and how the people Scout knew in her hometown, including her father, are racists. The novel is disjointed in the way that some sections are hilarious, and others, downright frightening. The novel made Ms. Hen uncomfortable, and she had to think long and hard about what she wanted to write about it. She is disappointed that Atticus Finch, a beacon of nobility in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD turns out to be so disgusting in WATCHMAN.

Ms. Hen researched WATCHMAN after she read it, and she discovered that Harper Lee wrote it before she wrote MOCKINGBIRD. She set out to write a novel about race. An editor suggested that she write about the trial that was mentioned briefly in WATCHMAN about a black man accused of raping a white girl. Ms. Lee never intended to publish GO SET A WATCHMAN. One of the rumors surrounding the publication is that her sister who took care of her affairs died, and Ms. Lee was left unprotected. Someone who worked at her sister’s law firm had possession of WATCHMAN and sent it to the publisher.

Ms. Hen thinks it’s tragic that the people at the publishing company exploited Ms. Lee in order to make money. The novel isn’t a bad novel, but it’s not the one that Ms. Lee intended to publish. Ms. Hen is happy that she did not spend money on GO SET A WATCHMAN, so she didn’t give in to the corporate machine.


Ms. Hen thinks everyone should read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD again, and if you haven’t, then hurry up and read it. The subject matter of the novel is still relevant today: injustice surrounding racial issues. Ms. Hen wants to keep the Atticus Finch of MOCKINGBIRD in her mind, instead of the ugly one from the other book. Ms. Hen gives TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD five feathers up, and GO SET A WATCHMAN a big question mark.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews KAOS

Directed by Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani

Ms. Hen usually doesn’t enjoy watching extra long films, mostly because she can’t stand to sit in front of the TV for that long. She tends to stop paying attention when a film is more than two and a half hours long. She didn’t know if she would like this film, KAOS, for that reason, but she ended up adoring it.

The film is comprised of four tales and an epilogue which all take place during the turn of the last century in Sicily. There is also a prologue at the beginning with men screaming at a crow because the bird is a male and is sitting on eggs. The men told the bird that he is not a real man. One of the men tells them to stop and puts a bell around the crow’s neck and it flies away. It appears in the first tale, “The Other Son," and in between the other tales.

The tales are like fairy tales; they are not completely to be believed. In “The Other Son,” a woman has someone write to her sons who have left for America, but will not have anything to do with the son she has nearby because he reminds her of his father, the bandit that raped her. This short film has one of the most haunting scenes Ms. Hen has scene is a film: men are rolling something that cannot be seen in a type of contest to see who can roll the item the farthest, until it is revealed they are human heads. Ms. Hen was reminded of when she was in elementary school, one of her teachers like to say, “heads will roll.” She didn’t imagine it could be an actual visual, she thought it was an expression.

In the tale, “Moonstruck,” a young married woman’s husband becomes affected by the full moon and goes berserk. She tries to protect herself by having her mother and cousin stay with her during the full moon, but things don’t turn out the way she wishes. In “The Jar,” a rich landowner buys a giant jar to hold olive oil, but it cracks mysteriously in the middle of the night. He calls in a potter to help him piece it back together, but the potter accidentally glues himself in the jar. The short film reminded Ms. Hen somewhat of the book THE PEARL by John Steinbeck, about a giant object that is revered and puts everyone in awe, but in the end is the downfall of the owner.

In the tale, “Requiem,” farmers fight with landowners in order to bury their dead in the cemetery. They go to great lengths to get what they want. In the epilogue, “Conversations with Mother,” a writer goes back to visit his childhood home and sees his mother who has passed away and talks with her about the time her family took a trip on a boat and landed on an island of pumice.

Ms. Hen liked this film because it is similar to watching a series of dreams. The landscape is brown and bare and strange things happen at every turn. Ms. Hen kept waiting for odd events and they materialized. The characters are mostly peasants, with no education, but they all dream of a better life.

Surprisingly, there were no chickens seen in this film, even though the film was set in a rural area. There is one mention of a chicken in the tale, “The Other Son,” one man says the people who left for America sound like hens and say, “Pui pui pui.” Almost every tale has dogs or cats in it, which pleased Ms. Hen.

Ms. Hen was able to watch the three hours of this film and not be bored and walk away. She thinks that she was able to watch it because the different stories caught her attention and made it seem as if it weren’t that long. She gives KAOS four and a half feathers up because she likes to be reminded of dreams when she’s awake.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ms. Hen bids adieu to her Kindle

Ms. Hen and her to-read shelf

Three years ago Ms. Hen bought a Kindle as a Christmas present to herself. She was excited that she would join all the other people using this new technology. She bought the cheapest model available, not the Paperwhite or the Kindle Fire; she bought the bargain basement version, since at the time she did not have money to burn.

At first, Ms. Hen was excited to read books on her Kindle. She was happy she was up to speed with new things. She read lots of books on her Kindle. At first, she didn’t like that there were no page numbers, just the percentage she had read, but she got used to that after a while.

She really enjoyed reading on her Kindle at first. She told herself that she would read some books on her Kindle and some hard copy books, but she got so used to reading on the device that she preferred it to real books.

But then she started reading more hard copy books than on her Kindle.

And she realized that she likes reading real books better than on the device.

She thinks that the main reason she prefers books is that she is able to read better when she reads a book. She can comprehend better; she remembers better, and she digests the book better than on the Kindle. She can’t explain why. She thinks it might have to do with how the book is a tangible thing, and it might sink into her mind easier. It could have to do with the fact that a book is an item that people have been using for hundreds of years, and the computer is so new that we don't register the words on the device as well as paper.

She thinks that there is a good explanation of the idea of the book versus the Kindle in Sven Birkert’s collection of essays, CHANGING THE SUBJECT: ART AND ATTENTION IN THE INTERNET AGE. He talks about how reading devices like the Kindle and computers are ruining reading, and how he fears for the future of literature, among many other things.

Ms. Hen thinks her Kindle was good for two things: 1. It is very small, and it could fit into almost any bag or purse, including Ms. Hen. 2. It is good if she travels on a long vacation, so she doesn’t have to carry five heavy books with her on the plane.

What finally broke up Ms. Hen and her Kindle’s relationship was when she wrote her blog post about THE STORY OF A NEW NAME by Elena Ferrante. There is a part in the novel which mentions a chicken coop that Ms. Hen wanted to put in her blog post because she loves to mention the chickens in fiction, but she had to flip through her Kindle to find the exact quote and it exasperated her! She is a hen who doesn’t want to be bothered with searching through fifty percent of a book on a Kindle to find a quote about chickens. She threw her Kindle down in disgust. When she reads a book that contains a quote about chickens, she usually bookmarks the page, then goes back after she finishes.

Since that episode, Ms. Hen has not read any books on her Kindle. She buys books at bookstores and gets books from the library. She doesn’t want to throw her Kindle in the trash because she does not believe in being a wasteful hen, but she is not planning on reading anything on her Kindle any time soon.

Ms. Hen knows that she is not alone in her opinion of the Kindle. But she thinks there is a generation of young people who would prefer to read from a Kindle, an Ipad or a computer. She is afraid, like Sven Birkerts, of the death of books and the disappearance of the libraries of the world. She is holding onto her own small library for as long as she can, and hopes the readers of books will as well.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Isabel Allende
Atria Books

Ms. Hen debated for a long time over whether or not she should go to Isabel Allende’s reading in Cambridge in November. She wanted to go, but everyone attending had to buy the new hardcover book. Ms. Hen had never been to a reading where all members of the audience were required to purchase the book. She thinks it’s a great marketing strategy, but it would only work for well-established writers.

She did not regret going to the reading. Ms. Allende was smart and funny and inspiring. She told the story of how she got the idea for her new novel: Ms. Allende's friend told her that her mother had a Japanese male friend for forty years. Ms. Allende asked if they had been lovers, and the woman said, “No, of course not, how could you say that, she’s my mother!” But the seed of the novel was planted and it grew out of this conversation. Ms. Allende told the audience that she gets lots of letters from people all around the world telling her their stories, who want her to put them into a novel, but she said she cannot write something unless she feels connected to it, like she was to this story, because it was about love.

THE JAPANESE LOVER is about Alma, an octogenarian who has decided to spend her last days in a discount nursing home full of leftist radicals in San Francisco. The novel starts with Irina, a young woman from Moldova who begins working at the nursing home. Irina becomes Alma’s assistant, and with her grandson, Seth, they both try to unravel the mystery of Alma’s life.

They know Alma has a lover, but they don’t know who it is or why she keeps it a secret. This novel is full of secrets, and they are revealed little by little: Alma’s childhood when she was sent from Poland to escape the Nazis, her friendship with Ichimei from the time they were young, her cousinly love for Nathan who became her husband. Irina has secrets and so does Nathan, but they are revealed just at the perfect time.

Ichimei was sent to an internment camp at the onset of World War II. He told her Alma he would write to her, and he did, but his letters were so censored that she couldn’t read them. Instead of writing, he drew pictures and they were not censored.

Alma loved Ichi from the start, but they didn’t become lovers until they were in their twenties. They couldn’t be together because they were different races, and interracial marriage was prohibited in the 1950s. Alma didn’t want to marry Ichi because she thought he had no ambition, and she didn’t want to be the wife of someone who worked in a nursery.

Ms. Hen was happy that there was a place chickens were mentioned in this novel. When Irina was in Moldova she would “pray for the potato harvest and the health of the chickens.” Ms. Hen was glad that Irina prayed for the chickens. Irina had a difficult life, and Ms. Hen hopes her prayers were answered.

At the end of her life, Alma did not regret her decision not to marry Ichi. She was happy she had had the life she lived. Ichi is a mysterious character and he never meets Irina and Seth, even though they wanted to meet him.

This novel is about living with the choices one makes, and about love and loss. Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel because she couldn’t wait to discover what happened with Alma and Ichi. Ms. Hen did not carry her autographed first edition wherever she went, because she didn’t want the book to get ruined. She gives this novel five feathers up.

Isabel Allende, Cambridge, November 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015



Ms. Hen does not watch that many TV shows, but when she does, she usually watches one show at a time. She enjoyed THE GRAND HOTEL so much that she wanted to watch something similar. She found THE TIME IN BETWEEN, also on Netflix with subtitles, another Spanish period piece, and she was immediately hooked.

THE TIME IN BETWEEN is based on a novel which was an international bestseller by Spanish author Maria Duenas. It is a work of fiction; however, real characters are involved in the story. It is a show about a young woman, Sira, an illegitimate daughter of a seamstress who teaches her daughter her trade. Sira meets a young man who is an aspiring clerk, and soon they are engaged, until Sira falls for a typewriter salesman, Ramiro, and gets whisked away to Morocco. She leaves behind her mother with the Spanish Civil War brewing.

Ramiro steals the money that Sira was given by her father, who knew that war was coming when she finally got to meet him. Sira, shocked, leaves the hotel, and gets on a bus. She has a miscarriage and ends up arrested for leaving the hotel without paying the bill. She ends up in Tetouan, in a pension for Spanish people. She struggles to help the owner taking care of the place in order to earn her room and board, until the owner discovers Sira is a talented seamstress.

They steal some guns they find underneath one of the guest's floorboards, and sell them. The tension when Sira is wrapped up in the guns on the way to the dealers stings through the screen. Ms. Hen was scared that Sira wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. Ms. Hen didn’t know if she could handle such pressure. But Sira is able to handle a lot more than she seems.

The show is only one season long, and it is plotted like a film. The turning point in the show comes exactly at the middle, when Rosalinda Fox asks Sira to help her spy for the English against the Germans in Madrid. Rosalinda is a real-life person who was an English spy, and the lover of Juan-Luis Beigbeder, also a character on the show. Beigbeder was Franco’s foreign minister after the Civil War.

Ms. Hen loved this show because it made her anxious, and she never knew what would happen next. She enjoys watching TV shows that get her riled up. Ms. Hen has never wanted to live the life of a spy, and she doesn’t know if she would have the nerve, but watching this show, it gives her the chance to live vicariously through the characters.

There is a pivotal scene in the show when Sira is in Lisbon, and she sneaks away from the driver who is escorting her, and also watching her, when she hides in a small truck full of chickens in order to go to Rosalinda’s house to ask for her help. Ms. Hen liked that Sira hid with some chickens, because Ms. Hen thinks that is good luck.

Sira travels from Madrid to Tetouan, back to Madrid to Lisbon.  She hides messages in Morse Code sewn into stitches in shirts to give to the English about the German women who are her customers at her shop. Ms. Hen didn’t know this TV show was a novel when she first started watching it, and she wishes she had read the book first, but she is glad she watched the show. She is happy that there are people that are as brave as Sira, even though she is a fictional character. Ms. Hen gives this show five feathers up.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews STATION ELEVEN

Emily St. John Mandel

Ms. Hen first became interested in this book because she saw the author at the Boston Book Festival in October of this year. Ms. Hen is interested in the apocalypse and apocalyptic literature. She likes to wonder what it would be like to be around after civilization collapses. What would happen to the hens, she likes to ponder sometimes when she is walking down the street or brushing her teeth. She doesn’t know if she would have the chicken guts to survive the end of everything.

But the characters in this book survive. At the beginning of the novel, at a performance of KING LEAR in Toronto, a famous actor, Arthur Leander, dies onstage. Jeevan, a man in the audience, jumps up and tries to save him, but unsuccessfully. Immediately afterwards, a pandemic strikes the planet and almost everybody dies. One of the survivors is a child actor in the production of KING LEAR, Kirsten, an eight-year old girl.

The novel follows Kirsten and the Travelling Symphony performing Shakespeare and playing classical music in year Fifteen, fifteen years after the collapse of civilization. The towns surrounding what used to be Toronto are barbaric and uncivilized. There is almost no communication between the settlements. The Travelling Symphony wanders around the area, trying to bring some culture into people’s lives that otherwise would have none.

Kirsten has a best friend in the Symphony, August, with whom she likes to go on search expeditions to find items that were made in the time before. She has a former lover, Dieter; most everyone in the symphony gets on each other’s nerves sometimes, since they spend so much time together, working and trying to survive.

The novel bounces back between the time before and the time after the collapse. We get to know Arthur Leander’s ex-wife Miranda, and his rise to film stardom. Miranda is the artist who created STATION ELEVEN, a graphic novel about a space station, which Kirsten has carried with her the entire time she has been traveling after the pandemic struck. Arthur Leander gave Kirsten the graphic novel right before he died. We meet Jeevan, who had been a paparazzi photographer, stalking Miranda and Arthur, who decided to become an EMT. He was training when he jumped on stage to save Arthur’s life during KING LEAR.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t like it enough. It reminded her of too many other things to truly love it. It made her think of THE HUNGER GAMES, the TV show REVOLUTION, and it had shades of THE ROAD, but not as beautifully written. Another problem Ms. Hen had with this novel was the prose was flat through much of the book. There would be a flash of brilliance, then dullness. Ms. Hen prefers prose that sings. She’s been reading a lot of lovely writing these days, and this book was a stark contrast. The dialogue is awkward and stiff.

The author said in her talk at The Boston Book Festival that she is interested in the lives of actors and that’s why she decided to write about them. However, Ms. Hen is not that interested in the lives of actors. She thinks most of them are self-absorbed narcissistic jerks, and she doesn’t like to spend too much time thinking about their lives. Yes, she loves films and the theater and even TV shows, but she doesn’t care the least bit about the love lives of actors or what they do in their spare time. And she doesn’t think that a novel dedicated to actors' survival in a post-apocalyptic Canada is exactly her cup of tea.

It’s not to say that this is a bad novel. Ms. Hen could understand why some people would like it. It’s an original story, but it just wasn’t what Ms. Hen wants from a book. She gives STATON ELEVEN two and a half feathers up. Maybe almost three feathers for effort and creativity.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews WHITE LIGHT

Vanessa Garcia
Shade Mountain Press

Ms. Hen found this book in The Little Free Library in Cambridge. She’s talked about that library before, so she won’t go into the details of it again. She usually takes books by authors she has read, or famous books that she knows she should read. She picked this up because she liked the cover and no other reason. She read the first paragraph of the novel, and she decided it was worth taking, especially since it was free.

Ms. Hen was immediately drawn into the story of the young woman, Veronica Gonzales, an aspiring artist trying to land her first solo show. The first scene, on the airplane, the energy crackles and Ms. Hen was hooked. When Veronica meets the art gallery owner, Ms. Hen loved the way she spoke.

Ms. Hen noticed that all the characters in this novel have distinct voices. One mark of a good writer is to make all her characters sound like they are individuals. Ms. Hen admires this skill.

In the first chapter, we also meet Leo, a young man who had been Veronica’s neighbor when she went to college. He also talks in a unique voice. His brother died in 911 and he is still grieving.

When Veronica gets home to Miami, she finds out she did land the solo show during Basel, Miami’s art festival. Bursting with excitement, she wants to tell her family, but her father is found in his apartment unconscious and taken to the hospital. Within days, her father passes away.

WHITE LIGHT is about an artist dealing with grieving her father while working on her first solo art show. Veronica had a complicated relationship with her father. To put it mildly, her father treated her like dirt. When she turned sixteen, she wanted a Volkswagen bus for a car, and her father gave her one. Her mother was angry because she thought it would break down. Veronica’s parents divorced when she was  teenager. Her father took the Volkswagen bus away to punish her. He punished Veronica many times her whole life.

Ms. Hen wondered why Veronica would be so upset about her father’s death if he was always such a jerk. But that’s why she was upset. Because she wanted him to make amends to her, but he never got the chance. She wanted him to be proud of her, but she never gave him a good enough reason. The thing about mothers and fathers is that you only get one of each. And when they’re gone, they’re gone. Ms. Hen knows this.

This book is beautifully written. It’s a novel about complicated relationships and the desire to make art. There are pictures in the book by famous artists that inspire Veronica, and also colors and their descriptions and what each colors is used for and how it affects people. Ms. Hen liked reading about the colors.

There is one mention of a chicken in the novel, which Ms. Hen did not enjoy. Veronica is grocery shopping because she wants to cook for her boyfriend, which she never does, and she wants to buy meat, which she never eats. She talks to the woman at the grocery store, and tells her she doesn’t want to buy red met, and the woman says, “Chicken’s fresh.” And Veronica thinks “Chicken is boring.” Ms. Hen does not agree. Ms. Hen doesn’t think chicken is boring. But there are other things that Ms. Hen does not agree about with this character, so that does not surprise her.

Aside from the remark about chickens being boring, Ms. Hen thinks this is an amazing novel. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of work about an artist trying to create while dealing with grief, and pouring her grief into her work.  Ms. Hen gives this novel five feathers up, and it helped her to see the world from a different perspective.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


2011 – 2013

Ms. Hen does not watch TV shows all the time like some people do these days. She has never binge watched anything, because she has other things to do than watch TV all day. But once in a while she gets pulled into a show that gives her anxiety and makes her want to watch it more and more. GRAN HOTEL was one of those shows.

It’s like DOWNTON ABBEY, but in a hotel in Spain with lots of mysteries interspersed into the show. GRAN HOTEL is not like PBS mystery shows where every murder is solved by the end of the episode. There are murders that at times, nobody knows who the murderer is except the viewer. The tension on the show is better than most mystery shows because they are like mysteries in real life, which can go unsolved forever.

Julio arrives at the Grand Hotel to find out what happened to his sister, Cristina who worked as a maid at the hotel and is missing. He meets Alicia, the daughter of the owner of the hotel, and falls immediately in love. She likes him too, but she doesn’t know he’s a waiter right away. She finds out later, but she is already enamored with him. Julio and Alicia try to discover what happened to Cristina, and they have many adventures together.

Sofia, Alicia’s sister, is married to Alfredo, a marquise. They are two weak-willed sniveling fools. Ms. Hen thought they were written into the show to counterbalance Alicia and Julio’s full-hearted braveness. Sofia lies and tells everyone that she didn’t lose her baby because she doesn’t want Alfredo to leave her; this escapade was her mother’s idea.

Dona Teresa, the owner of the hotel, reigns with a mighty hand. She will do anything to get what she wants, including lies and murder. She talks Alicia into marrying Diego, because she thinks it will be good for the hotel. Diego is a dastardly creep as Ms. Hen learned in the first episode. He gets a maid, Belen, pregnant, and wants her to have an abortion.

Belen doesn’t have an abortion, but she convinces Andres to want to marry her. Dona Angela, his mother, doesn’t want him to get married since she doesn’t like Belen. Belen is another crafty vixen, she goes after what she wants and nothing can stop her from her goals.

Ms. Hen thought every actor was perfect for the part that person played. From Diego to Inspector Ayala, Ms. Hen believed that these people actually lived in this world. And the design of the show is impeccable. The costumes, the scenery and the sets are all perfect.

Since the show was filmed in rural northern Spain, there are some chickens and hens scattered throughout the show. Ms. Hen gets excited when she sees herself on TV. When Belen went to steal her child back from the woman who took her away, chickens scurry around the yard where the woman lives.

Ms. Hen spent two months watching GRAN HOTEL. There are three seasons with about twenty-three episodes in each. It’s a huge time commitment, but Ms. Hen thinks it was worth it. If you want to improve your Spanish, or are learning Spanish, this show is a great way to try to understand what they’re saying. GRAN HOTEL is available on Netflix with subtitles. Ms. Hen gives this show five feathers up. She was sad that it had to end.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Isango Ensemble 2015

Isango Ensemble
Cutler Majestic Theater
November 10 – 22

Ms. Hen was not prepared for what she was going to see when she planned to see this play. She loves Shakespeare, so she believes any version of any of his plays is worth seeing. But when she first decided to go, she didn’t realize it was an opera. Ms. Hen had never been to an opera, so she didn’t know if she would like it. But, being the brave hen that she is, she went to see the play.

The Isango Ensemble is a South African opera company based in Cape Town. They have toured in many countries performing their African inspired operas. The company is also performing UCARMEN, their version of CARMEN, alternating between the two shows on different nights. But since Ms. Hen is a Shakespeare lover and not really an opera aficionado, she chose to see A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

The singing enamored Ms. Hen. Of course, she knows the story. She’s seen the play many times. But this was different because all the actors were wearing African clothes and they were speaking in Africaans interspersed with the classic text.

The woman playing Titania has the biggest, beautiful voice that filled the room. She is a grand queen. The only weak performer, thought Ms. Hen, is Oberon. As a tenor, he didn’t fit the part with his voice. Oberon should have a big booming voice that commands attention. Ms. Hen thought he wasn’t comfortable holding himself. But she did like his feathers on his costume.

The costumes were breathtaking, especially Puck’s. She is dressed as an African medicine woman, and is funny the way Puck should be. The fairies carry brooms, an African symbol for magic. It is said that the broom is both male and female, because it has the parts of both. The fairies sweep the floor and make magic.

Bottom is also one of Ms. Hen’s favorite characters, and again, he does not disappoint. He has a mammoth voice and is funny and charming. He could dance and moved well. The theater company within the play entertains and the performance at the end is delightful.

Ms. Hen thought that the woman who played Hermia should have more time to sing, since she has a beautiful voice, but that could have just been her part. Hermia and Helena fight in a dramatic way. Ms. Hen thought Hermia would end up punching Helena in the face, but that didn’t happen.

This theater experience was different for Ms. Hen. It was a musical, but all the actors played the instruments. And the singing was nothing like she had experience before. These people were trained opera singers and Ms. Hen admires that. She admires people who can do something that she could never do. She’s more impressed by people who can sing than people who play sports. She thinks that talented people should get the respect they deserve.

Ms. Hen loved this opera, and she would go back and see another one if she has the chance. She gives this five enthusiastic feathers up, and herself another five feathers for trying something new. All the feathers are up for this one!

Ms. Hen sneaks an illegal photo at The Cutler Majestic Theater

Friday, November 13, 2015


By Ursula K. Le Guin
Avon Books

Ms. Hen stumbled upon this book because she was in the Science Fiction section of her library looking for another book, and she found this one. She had just watched a video that went viral in which Ursula K. LeGuin gave a speech for the National Book Awards for the award for Outstanding Contribution to American Letters where she told writers to keep writing. During the speech, the man who introduced her said that he couldn’t believe he was introducing her, and went to do research about her, but read THE LATHE OF HEAVEN instead. And there it was, staring Ms. Hen in the face, so she checked it out.

In the novel George Orr is sentenced to psychiatric help for stealing someone’s prescriptions. We are in the near future when the book was written. Ms. Hen discovers later in the novel that they year is 2002. Orr goes to Dr. Haber, a dream specialist who wants to help him with his problem.

Orr tells him that when he sleeps and dreams, his dreams come true. They don’t simply come true, they change history. He explained to Dr. Haber that his aunt came to visit his family after she got divorced because she needed a place to stay, and she harassed Orr. He dreams that she dies, and when he wakes up, he finds out that she had never come to live with them because she dies in a car crash.

Dr. Haber, fascinated with his subject, hypnotizes Orr to see if he could get him to dream something he wants him to dream. He tells him to dream a pleasant dream about a horse, and he does. The picture in Dr. Haber’s office changes from one of Mount Hood to a horse. Orr is confused about the picture changing, but Dr. Haber told him it had always been the horse, even though Orr knew it hadn't.

Dr. Haber continues to hypnotize him and tells him what to dream. George tells Dr. Haber that he wishes there wasn’t such a problem with overcrowdedness, so he dreams of a plague that kills off a large percentage of the population. When he wakes up, he finds this is true, and it’s always been true. George goes home and finds more food in his refrigerator than he could ever remember.

Dr. Haber wonders why such an amazing gift could be given to so bland a man. George Orr tested in the middle in every single psychiatric test Dr. Haber gave him. Ms. Hen wondered about George, too. She wonders if the fate of the world will be up to someone who is devoid of anything interesting about him.

Orr goes to an African-American lawyer, Heather Lelache to see if she can help him stop Dr. Haber from using him to change the world through his dreams. Miss Lelache witnesses Orr going under and sees the changes. Orr runs off to the forest after that, to a cabin he wanted, but used his dreams to manipulate acquiring.

Orr’s dreams get messier and messier. In one of his dreams, there are no races and everyone is gray. In this part of his life, he is married to Heather Lelache. She is gray also, but does not have the same strong personality as she does when she is African-American. Dr. Haber tells him to dream of peace on earth, but instead, aliens conquer earth and start a war.

Ms. Hen wasn’t sure what to make of Dr. Haber. He didn’t seem like he had bad intentions, but he kept twisting Orr’s dreams to make his own life better and better. Ms. Hen wanted to believe he was evil, but she didn’t think he was. He had good intentions, but he screwed up the world.

Ms. Hen was surprised that even though this was supposed to take place in 2002, there isn’t the technology in the book that we have today. There are no cell phones, and Orr and Lelache keep missing each other. Ms. Hen thought that if they had cell phones, they would have found each other. Ms. Hen is amazed that no matter how good a writer is, that nobody can truly predict what the future will hold. Some books come close, but none are one hundred percent accurate.

Ms. Hen doesn’t usually read books like this, but she enjoyed it. She likes thinking about the world in the future, though this was written over forty years ago. Ms. Hen gives this book five feathers up, because it made her imagine a different world, one far away, but at the same time so close.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews MR. DARCY, VAMPYRE and rants about mediocre writing

Ms. Hen enjoys drinking coffee from her Jane Austen mug

Amanda Grange
Sourcebooks Landmark

Ms. Hen is not done with Halloween yet. She had read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES years ago, and she wanted to read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, but she looked it up and it was not available at the library, and she didn’t want to pay for it, but when she tried to find it, she discovered this novel.

She was intrigued by the title, and it made her wonder what it was about. Mr. Darcy, a vampire? What could be more delicious? She was dying to find out about Mr. Darcy as a vampire and how Elizabeth Bennett survived that situation.

When Ms. Hen started to read the novel, she had questions. How did Elizabeth find out Darcy was a vampire? What did she do when she found out? And does he turn her into a vampire?

The novel starts at the wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy. After the wedding, he tells her that instead of going to the Lakes District, he wants them to travel to the Continent for their wedding tour.  The trip takes them to the salons of Paris, to a castle where a Count lives, Venice, and outside of Rome.

The fact that Elizabeth Bennett travels to Paris and across the Alps, and to Venice made Ms. Hen happy. She knows that Jane Austen never left England, and would not have been able to write about those places with authority. She thinks that Austen might be happy that Elizabeth Bennett got to travel more than she did, even if it had to be in a book as badly written as this.

Ms. Hen thought this novel reminded her of other vampire novels. The part about the Count reminded her a lot of DRACULA. The sections about Paris and Venice made her think of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Ms. Hen has not read every vampire novel, but she’s sure that there are more that inspire this one.

The main problem Ms. Hen had with this novel was that the writing was bland. She is used to reading great books by exceptional writers, and this one did not measure up to her usual standards. And there were mistakes in the text! Ms. Hen can’t stand when a publisher doesn’t take the time to double check to make sure every word is spelled correctly and there are no typos. Ms. Hen thinks that is the problem with publishing today – that there are people willing to publish this kind of mediocre work while thousands of high-quality novels don’t get published. All the publishers are interested in is making money, and they don’t care about art! They don’t care about good writing!

This makes Ms. Hen sad. She wishes she lived in a world where people cared more about art than making a lot of money publishing dumb books.

But the point of a plot driven novel is to discover what happens in the end. Ms. Hen was dying to know if Elizabeth Bennett became a vampire. She will save you the trouble of going to your library and taking this book out, or even, heaven forbid, buying this book. Mr. Darcy does not turn Elizabeth into a vampire; he becomes human again. They find a Roman temple where he could convert back into a human again, through a process that reminded Ms. Hen of the scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in which the huge boulder rolled out of the temple and Harrison Ford runs away.

Even though Ms. Hen thought the writing in MR. DARCY, VAMPYRE was pure drivel, she thought the book was fun. It was a nice escape from the serious books she has been reading lately. Ms. Hen gives this novel two feathers up, because she couldn’t stand to give it more than that.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ms. Hen celebrates Halloween with Edgar Allan Poe

Ms. Hen enjoys a glass of Amontillado whilst reading Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Ms. Hen received this book many years ago from her parents as a gift because they thought she was a talented writer because her teacher in high school said a story she had written was too good for a student that young to have written. Ms. Hen has read many of the well-known stories in this book, but during this Halloween season, she decided to take a look at some of the stories that aren’t as famous as ones such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Ms. Hen read a few stories with women’s names as the title, “Ligeia,” “Eleonora,” and “Berenice.” She decided she would think about how Poe treated his women in his stories.

The language in the stories is thick, like a shag rug on the floor, or blood coming from a wound. Ms. Hen found in hard to sink her mind into these stories; she found she had to think on a different level than she usually does when she reads.

The story “Ligeia,” is about a man who loves a woman, whom he marries, but she dies, and the woman haunts him. He marries another woman, Rowena, but Ligeia follows him across Europe. Ms. Hen thought that the narrator might have been afraid of his first wife, and he thought she was haunting him because he was so afraid that she would be upset that he married another woman.

“Eleonora” is a story that does not fit in with the rest of Poe’s scary stories. In it, the narrator lives in a place called the Valley of Many Coloured Grass. He falls in love with  his cousin, as many characters in Poe’s stories do, but of course, she dies. He moves to the city, remembering his promise to her that he will never love or marry another. At the end of the story, he keeps to his promise. This story has a happy ending, even though his sweetheart died. The narrator is faithful to Eleonora, after her death.

In the story, “Berenice,” the narrator’s wife dies and it is a typical horror story. He doesn’t know what happened to her until the end, when he discovered that he has unearthed her body and taken her teeth out of her grave. Ms. Hen thought this was disgusting, because she has a fear of losing her teeth. If someone dug up her grave and stole her teeth from her dead body, or if she found teeth that were from a corpse, she would be terrified.

Edgar Allan Poe had a tangled relationship with women. He never knew his birth mother, and he became estranged from his adopted family, the Allans. He was happily married, but his wife Virginia died at a young age, and he was devastated over her death. He became successful as a writer, and tried to get married after his wife died, but he died in a public house at the age of forty.

Ms. Hen enjoyed reading Edgar Allan Poe, but she thinks she can only read him in small doses, either early in the morning or late at night. She doesn’t think she could give any feathers up at all to Poe, but instead raises a glass to him. His work embodies darkness, which is perfect for October and the Halloween season.

Ms. Hen with Edgar Allan Poe