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.