Friday, January 29, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews MISS EMILY

Nuala O’Connor
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because the author has the same last name as she does, and also because she is entranced with Emily Dickinson. Many years ago, Ms. Hen visited Emily Dickinson’s Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, and she has always wondered what Miss Dickinson was really like, was she truly mad? Was she happy never leaving her house? And what made her so afraid of other people?

Ms. Hen knew that these questions would not be answered by reading this novel, because, the fact is, it is fiction. But this novel breathes life into Emily Dickinson. Ms. Hen always wondered what her writing methods were, and this novel describes the way Miss Dickinson wrote, and reading this made Ms. Hen imagine her better.

MISS EMILY brought to mind MARCH by Geraldine Brooks, a spinoff novel of Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN. Ms. Hen wondered when she read MARCH if Louisa May Alcott would approve of it, and Ms. Hen decided that Miss Alcott would have. Ms. Hen also tried to decide if Emily Dickinson would enjoy MISS EMILY, but Ms. Hen was not sure about that. Louisa May Alcott was a daring and brave woman, who would have embraced the raciness in MARCH, but poor Miss Emily never left her house, and Ms. Hen thinks there’s a possibility Miss Emily would die many times over if she read Nuala O’Connor’s novel. But Ms. Hen doesn’t know. Nobody knows what Emily Dickinson would think because not much is known about her.

Ms. Hen thought that MISS EMILY would be a sweet novel about friendship between Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid Ada Concannon. It started out that way. The new servant comes to the house, and Emily and Ada converse while they bake together in the kitchen. But somewhere in the middle, the novel turns dark. Ms. Hen was disgusted at what happens. But she found when she arrived at the shocking part, she couldn’t stop reading. A force overtook Ms. Hen and she plowed through the novel.

Even though there are disturbing parts, the writing in this novel is delightful and charming. It contains such an Irish lilt to it that Ms. Hen could hear Ada’s voice; she embraced the things Ada said because she felt they were part of her language, even though her family has lived in the United States for over one hundred years. As well as being about Emily Dickinson, this novel is also about the Irish experience in America in the nineteenth century. Ms. Hen is not used to such blatant prejudice in her country now, but those were different times.

There are a least ten places where hens or chickens are mentioned in MISS EMILY.  Ms. Hen thought this was appropriate since the novel took place in a rural area. Ms. Hen finds there are usually hens in novels about the country, because they are everywhere. One of Ms. Hen’s favorite quotes from MISS EMILY is, “Since Ada arrived, the hens have been laying again.” The father thinks she might be a sorceress, since she has bewitched Emily and facilitates the household smoothly.

Ms. Hen does not remember when she read a more charming, surprising and all-encompassing novel. She loved living in Emily Dickinson’s world for a short time. She felt like she got to know Miss Emily better than she had before. Ms. Hen gives MISS EMILY five feathers up, because how could she not.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Aldous Huxley
1954, 1956
Harper & Brothers

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she read on Jim Morrison’s Wikipedia that the band The Doors got their name from the title. She had read BRAVE NEW WORLD many years ago, and she didn’t know much about Aldous Huxley, but she discovered he is a fascinating character who held a lot of radical ideas, some of which have been prophetic, such as the pervasiveness of technology into our society. The ball stared rolling with television, but it got much bigger.

Ms. Hen does not read much nonfiction, and she found her attention wandered while she was reading this. It reminded her of reading books of philosophy, which Ms. Hen does not like. But there were some interesting aspects of this book.

In THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION Huxley describes taking mescaline, and the effect it had on his mind. The colors he saw expanded, the shapes distorted and everything seemed to be bigger and brighter and more vivid. In HEAVEN AND HELL, Huxley describes throughout history what people have thought heaven was, whether it was jewels, or glass windows. Humanity strived for heaven.

In THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION Huxley explained that doing mescaline or peyote or any mind-expanding drug is similar to a schizophrenic experience. Schizophrenia, in the time he was writing, blanketed almost all mental illness because there wasn’t a word for other illnesses yet. Ms. Hen does not know why people would want to expand their minds, since she knows that some people take medication to keep from having their minds explode. Hallucination inducing drugs are fine for people who have never had their mind set free, but for Ms. Hen, she thinks that if some people did drugs, they might never come back to reality.

The writing in the book is excellent, the descriptions of the hallucinations are probably revolutionary, but Ms. Hen does not know for sure, because she has not read much about drugs or spirituality. Ms. Hen enjoyed HEAVEN AND HELL more than THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION, because it made her understand the history of the pursuit of heaven.

This small book opened Ms. Hen’s eyes to what people think of drugs and hallucinations. She had never thought someone could do drugs as part of an experiment, or simply to write about it. Ms. Hen admires this book, but it wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. She is not going to give any feathers to this book, because she doesn’t feel like it. She will not be doing any mind-expanding drugs as a result of this book. In fact, she will stay far away from them as best she can.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews EGG HEAVEN

Ms. Hen eats breakfast and reads EGG HEAVEN

Robin Parks
Shade Mountain Press

Ms. Hen decided to buy this book because it is about diners in Southern California. Ms. Hen enjoys reading fiction about people at work, especially customer service jobs, because it creates conflict in unique ways. She liked that the title has to do with eggs, since she is a hen and can appreciate stories scattered with her products.

And is this book full of eggs! A lot of the short stories in this collection mention eggs in one form or another; mostly characters are eating the eggs, cooked different ways, from sunny side up to scrambled eggs with chorizo.

These short stories are like peeking into the windows of other people’s lives, a brief flash of what it is like to live in Long Beach California where the sun shines, but sadness and desperation is found everywhere, in diners, the beach and dirty motel rooms. Ms. Hen felt for these characters.

Ms. Hen was reminded of the novella THE LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER by Stewart O’Nan, a book about the last shift at a Red Lobster and the employees having to deal with the shutdown. It also reminded Ms. Hen of Raymond Carver’s stories, which is no surprise because Robin Parks won the Raymond Carver Short Story Award. The hopelessness of the characters and the dire situations in these stories echo Carver.

Some of the standout stories in this collection are “Los Golondrinas,” and “Egg Heaven.” In “Los Golondrinas,” a waitress gets fed up with her family and goes on vacations by herself. Her husband and daughter go away on a trip of their own. The daughter shows up in a different story, but much older. In “Egg Heaven,” a Vietnam Vet has a crush on a waitress, and sketches pictures of her. He doesn’t know about her troubles, and she doesn’t know his.

Right before she read EGG HEAVEN, Ms. Hen read THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS, which is an expansive novel, full of rich characters that the reader gets to know very well. This book is the complete opposite, it is full of moments in the character’s lives, and these moments don’t take up much space, but have deep meaning. Ms. Hen found it hard to situate herself into reading short stories after such a large novel. It’s not to say that she didn’t like it, but what she reads sometimes affects the next book she reads.

Ms. Hen wishes there was a way she could clear her head after reading such a large book, so she can read short stories or other books with ease. She wants something like a cracker at a wine tasting, given to clear one’s pallet, so the next taste can be distinct in one’s mouth. The problem is that sometimes a book can linger in our mind after we finish it.

Ms. Hen thought that these short stories were beautiful and sad in a way that surprised her. She didn’t know what to expect from this collection, but there is a tenderness and empathy that only a writer with great sensitivity can accomplish. Ms. Hen gives EGG HEAVEN five feathers up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews Sabra Rosemary and Sea Salt Hummus

Sabra Rosemary and Sea Salt Hummus

Ms. Hen loves hummus. One could say she is a hummus junkie. She is a former pescatarian, and for most of that time, she was a vegetarian. But she decided one day that she would branch out and eat chicken and turkey, because she likes them, and there wasn't anybody to tell her that she couldn’t. She thought she would only eat chicken and turkey occasionally, but as time went on, she ate more and more.

But she still loves her hummus. She cannot survive unless she has hummus in her refrigerator. She went through a phase last fall when she made hummus all the time, mostly red pepper hummus, and she made pumpkin hummus in October, but it would spoil too quickly, and she couldn’t make it as fast as she needed to consume it.

Last week, Ms. Hen went to Shaw’s to purchase a few items, and she saw that there was Rosemary and Sea Salt Hummus, and she thought that sounded quirky, so she bought it. She likes taking chances and trying new things sometimes, even if it’s just food at the supermarket. She didn’t know what to expect from this hummus, but she soon found out.

When she ate the hummus on crackers, it tasted like chicken to her, because of the rosemary flavor. She didn’t know if she liked her hummus to taste like chicken, but she found she couldn’t stop eating it. She knows that a lot of hummus eaters are vegetarians, and she doesn’t think that those people would like hummus that tastes like chicken, but she discovered she loved it. But she didn’t want to love it too much. She felt as if she were betraying her love of hummus by liking a type that tastes like chicken. But are there rules for love? she wondered. She didn’t know about the rules of love for hummus, but she was imagining an uproar in the Sabra hummus community over the Rosemary and Sea Salt Hummus. She didn’t want to listen to the voices in her head screaming that this hummus is wrong! It's just wrong! It was an abomination of hummus and the human race!

Ms. Hen has to calm down. After all, it’s just hummus. It’s a spread you put on crackers or pita bread.

But the intrinsic idea is there…can you change what people want? Is it okay to make hummus taste like chicken? Ms. Hen doesn’t know the answers, but she knows she is a hen that likes chicken and enjoys rebellion. Rosemary flavored hummus with an essence of chicken? Ms. Hen says yes.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Francisco Goldman
Atlantic Monthly Press

Ms. Hen noticed this book in a used bookstore because she simply liked the title, which contains the word chickens. She wasn’t sure if she should purchase the book based only on this merit, but she read the back of the book, then the first page, and she decided that it would be worth taking a risk, and she was absolutely right in deciding this.

This novel is a complex web. It is a story of a complicated family, and a murder mystery. It is a story of love and betrayal. It is also a story about politics and status, and how messed up the world can be at times.

The story centers around Roger Graetz, a young man who discovers the woman who was his family maid, and somewhat of a sister, has been murdered in Guatemala. The novel meanders from Roger’s childhood growing up in a house in the suburbs of Boston in a fictitious town called Namoset, to his summers spent in Guatemala at his Abuelita’s house where he went to school. Flor de Mayo was hired by his grandmother to be the Graetz’s family maid, plucked from an orphanage and sent to live in the United States to help the mother, Mirabel, so she could spent her time in college.

Ira, Roger’s father, thought Flor should go to school, so she goes to kindergarten at the age of thirteen. Flor has a difficult time, but is talented enough to get accepted to Wellesley College at the age of twenty-two. Flor was the bright star that Roger was not. Roger did not get good grades in school, and was not as brilliant as Flor.

When Flor was murdered, she was running an orphanage in Guatemala City, helping children who were like her when she was young. She was not bitter that she had not been adopted, but was hired as a maid, but she flourished as only she could. There was something about Flor that was attractive to people, men especially, and she could hypnotize people without even meaning to. She had good intentions and those with good intentions often are misunderstood.

The title THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS comes from the second section of the book when Roger’s friend Moya and Flor have dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Guatemala City, while he is supposed to be interviewing her for the newspaper where he works, and they end up telling each other their life stories. He falls in love with her. She likes him, but she has other things on her mind. At the end of the evening, after they had sat there and talked from six p.m. until around midnight, a live chicken delivery comes to the restaurant. Flor watches the chickens being dropped in the kitchen with fascination. Moya follows her into the kitchen, and watches the chickens with her.

Ms. Hen counted about twenty-three times chickens were mentioned in this novel. She was overwhelmed by the amount of chickens, but she almost expected that many from the title.  Some of her favorite quotes are the following:

The Scandinavian employee at the orphanage while she was talking about Flor was described as such, ”The rims of her eyes and her nostrils were bright pink, as if she’d been crying a lot or suffering from allergies, and it accentuated her natural features that made her look like a big diaphanous, gold dusted hen.” Ms. Hen loves this description, and she can imagine her exactly.

Roger and Moya discuss Flor and chickens that surrounded her,  Moya said, “Chickens also truly touched something deep inside her, from back in that time, vos.”

When Flor was about to leave the orphanage when she was about to leave for America, she was nervous and cried all the time, so she told Moya, “One of the other girls took me out to the yard behind the kitchen, woke up a chicken, and you know, holding it like this, rubbed it up and down my body.” Ms. Hen thinks this might be a Latin American way of giving someone good luck. And why wouldn’t a chicken rubbed against your body be good luck? Of course it would be!

Ms. Hen thought it would take a long time to read this book, since it is a large book. But she breezed right through it because it’s one of those novels that a reader can get inside and live in for a while. There’s a lot happening in this novel, so many stories are contained within it, it’s impossible to condense them all into one review. Ms. Hen recommends if you want to discover everything about THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS, read it. She gives this book five feathers up. 

Friday, January 8, 2016


Ms. Hen drinks coffee from her Jane Austen mug

Jane Austen
First published 1818

Ms. Hen enjoys reading Jane Austen during Christmastime. She usually finds that Christmas either occurs in a Jane Austen novel, or it is mentioned in passing. After completing NORTHANGER ABBEY, Ms. Hen has read every Jane Austen novel. She is very proud of this, but she’s not sure how it matters on her resume.

This novel starts like a typical Austen novel. The theme Austen loves to portray could be termed as, “Young Women Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Catherine, the novel’s heroine, is sent to Bath for a holiday of merrymaking during the Season with her family’s neighbors and friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. She is taken around town with Mrs. Allen, and at first they complain that they don’t know anyone, but eventually they make some friends, first with the Tilneys, then with Mrs. Thorpe and her family.

Catherine thinks that she likes Henry Tilney, but she’s not sure if he likes her. John Thorpe is loud and brutish, and obviously has his eyes on Catherine. Catherine’s brother, James fancies Isabella Thorpe, and eventually they become engaged. Catherine is happy that she will become sisters with her new friend.

Catherine is invited to stay at Northanger Abbey, the Tilney’s estate, by General Tileny to spend time with Henry and his sister, Eleanor. Henry attempts to frighten Catherine on the way to Northanger Abbey by telling her scary stories about the artifacts and secret passages she might find at their place.

This is where the novel takes a turn and becomes something that is not like a Jane Austen novel. Catherine is terrified of being in her room at night in the huge abbey, so she searches through the dressers and trunks. Ms. Hen thought the novel would become like a ghost story and horrors would occur, such as in Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. But the horrors did not occur. Ms Hen waited for them, but the terror subsided and the story went back to one about a young woman looking for love.

Ms. Hen will not give away the ending, but there are lots of twists, and she was surprised at what happened at the end. She was impressed that she did not know what was going to happen, but that is the genius of Miss Austen.

There is one place chickens are mentioned in NORTHANGER ABBEY,  “…though whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other piece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens…” There are also two places where Christmas is mentioned, even though Christmas does not occur in the novel.

Some elements appear in NORTHANGER ABBEY that become the titles and subjects of her more famous novels. The idea of sensibility is mentioned, as well as pride, and persuasion. Ms. Hen thought that Miss Austen might have been contemplating those ideas long before she wrote those novels.

NOTHANGER ABBEY was not the first novel Jane Austen published, but it was the first one she wrote. A publishing company bought the novel and never published it. NORTHANGER ABBEY was published posthumously.

Ms. Hen loved this novel, but she doesn’t think it’s one of Austen’s best. She thinks EMMA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE surpass this novel in complexity and depth of characters. Ms. Hen takes into account that NORTHANGER ABBEY was her first novel. However, Ms. Hen cannot give Jane Austen any less than five feathers up, because, Ms. Hen thinks she is one of the greatest writers that ever lived, because she understood the human condition and her portrayal of emotions still resonates to this day.

Trial photo interrupted by the cat, Mikki