Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell
Harcourt Brace and Company

Ms. Hen read NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR when she was a sophomore in high school many years ago. When she recalled the novel, she remembered being struck by the story about the vision of the future that the author had, even though when she first read this book, it was after 1984. She didn’t know yet how prophetic the book was, and what a part of our culture it would become.

When Ms. Hen remembered this novel, she thought of the romantic parts. That might have been because she was sixteen and more interested in romance that the future of politics, destruction, and Winston’s job in the Ministry of Truth. What struck her this time reading the novel is that there are no computers. Of course, there weren’t many computers in the actual 1984, and there was barely a vision of what something like the internet would be, but in the novel, there is an image of a television screen watching the citizens’ every move and reporting back to the party when someone did something wrong.

This novel is important because it tells of a future which could become true. It’s general knowledge that the Internet is similar to Big Brother; the Internet knows what you search for and buy, and who you are stalking, and what kinds of pictures you put on social media. Social media is a special type of Big Brother in which everyone who is your friend is your own Big Brother and they know everything that you put on that website.

(Ms. Hen knows that most people don’t care about her life and what she does. But she tries not to reveal everything to everyone.)

Ms. Hen hopes that the world does not become the vision of this novel, but she is afraid that it might. There was a news story last week in which the CDC (The Center for Disease Control) had to change the wording in their documents. Ms. Hen read an article about that, which you can read here:
It talks about how this is “Orwellian” which Ms. Hen agrees with. Vladimir Nabokov said that every writer should try to put a word in the dictionary, such as his “Lolita.” Orwell managed to put the version of his own name, which means, “characteristic of the writing of George Orwell, especially with reference to his dystopian account in his totalitarian state in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR.”

When Ms. Hen remembered this novel, she thought of how the Party broke Winston. She was afraid that this is what would happen to the world. The hopeful thing is that now, there are still people to stand up and say, “No, we won’t take that!” or “WTF?” of some such version. She hopes that there will always be people who will fight the those in charge if the world is going badly, which Ms. Hen thinks it is.

Ms. Hen believes that this is a novel everyone should read. It is important because it was one person’s imagined scenario of the future, which we have not succumbed to yet, and hopefully never will. But Ms. Hen is not sure. She does not want to believe these things could happen, but current events are proving her wrong. George Orwell wrote this novel as a response to the horrors or World War II and Stalin’s Soviet Union. He didn’t know about today’s world, and the icy slope the United States and the Western world are now slipping down. Who will be there to catch us? Ms. Hen doesn’t know, and is not sure anyone does.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews I AM A CAT

I Am a Cat
Soseki Natsumi
Tuttle Publishing
Originally 1905, 1906
Translated from the Japanese by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson

Ms. Hen had planned to read this novel for a long time simply because she liked the title. She wanted to read an entire book from the point of view of a cat. She thought it would be fascinating to get into a cat’s mind, or what an author would think a cat ponders. But she didn’t like this book as much as she thought she would.

One of the reasons she didn’t like it is because it is not completely about a cat; it is about a cat’s observances about the humans around him. And since the people surrounding the cat are men in Japan circa 1906, they are completely misogynistic and narrow-minded. But there are some positive things about the book.

This novel is very long and winding and reminded Ms. Hen a little of Proust’s IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, but it takes place in Japan, and as told by a cat. Ms. Hen liked the parts where the cat talked about being a cat, and the things he did, such as visiting other cats in the neighborhood, and trying to catch rats.

Ms. Hen didn’t like the way the owner of the protagonist treats his pet. She thinks the family is cruel to the cat. It could have been because he is a stray, but it made Ms. Hen wonder about the cats that belong to people she knows today; contemporary cats are thoroughly spoiled! The poor cat in this novel was tortured by the children and dismissed by the household. Cats these days in the United States are pampered and coddled beyond belief. Cats in Japan one hundred years ago did not have the same comfortable life that our feline friends do today.

As well as disrespecting women, the men in this novel show their disdain for dark-skinned people. Ms. Hen couldn’t believe what she was reading when she read it. The men talk about a certain village in Japan where the women were dark, and one man said that it was a good thing, because it would make them less vain. Ms. Hen was disgusted with these characters, and she would have stopped reading the book right then, but she was on page 411, and she had spent almost two weeks reading this tome, and she wasn’t going to give up right near the end. So she persevered.

The end of the novel was one of the strangest she has ever read. She will not give it away, because that’s not the proper thing to do in a review, but if you see her in person, you can ask her and she will tell you. It is sad and upsetting, but Ms. Hen realized that’s the way life is sometimes, there are things that just don’t make any sense. Usually in literature, aspects of novels have to make sense, but not always, and as it stands, not in I AM A CAT.

Ms. Hen read this book so you don’t have to. She loves cats, but she would have liked a more entertaining novel about a charming, curmudgeonly cat that watches interesting, complicated people. Instead she became upset and her eyes glazed over at times. Now she’s glad it’s over.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews working at Starbucks

Ms. Hen drinks a gingerbread latte during the holiday season


Ms. Hen worked at Starbucks for several years. She will not say how long, but she likes to joke sometimes that she will not admit the length of time she worked there unless under oath in a court of law. She also likes to say that she could have her PhD in Starbucks, but she doesn’t. She left Starbucks recently, and has a new job. She never meant to stay as long as she did, it just happened that way. There were some great things and not so great things about working at the biggest coffee company in the world.

Ms. Hen loves coffee. She never goes a day without at least two cups. When she worked at Starbucks, she got to drink as much coffee as she wanted while she worked, and everyone who works there gets a pound of coffee, a box of tea, or some Via (instant coffee) to take home every week. Ms. Hen learned that Starbucks coffee is one of the most caffeinated in the world, so even now, when she does not have it, she needs it. The company transforms their employees (known as partners) into junkies, so when they leave, they will still be addicted, and they will pledge their allegiance to the Siren forever.

Customers at Starbucks might wonder why the baristas are so happy. Ms. Hen doesn’t know exactly why, but putting caramel on drinks and asking people if they want whipped cream puts a person in a good mood. Yes, some customers can be cranky, but the transactions are usually quick, so if someone is a jerk, they’re gone fast. Ms. Hen has never waited tables, but she thinks that would be more difficult, because when a person is a server, they have to be all over a customer, like when they’re demanding a new salt shaker, etc.

Ms. Hen read the book HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE, and when she read it she didn't like it. It was written by a man who had been a corporate executive, and he lost everything, but he got a job at Starbucks and it made him happy. Ms. Hen thought he wrote this book so he could name-drop all the celebrities that he encountered in his previous career, and so people would come to his store and schmooze with him. But Ms. Hen thinks there’s something to working at Starbucks that makes a person happy.

If a person is sad, and she has to go to work and put on a happy face, and pretend like everything is okay in her life, then that job will make her happy. Fake it till you make it, is the expression that fits this situation. It’s easy to pretend like you’re happy when you’re making lattes (maybe not so much frappuccinos), and if you pretend you’re happy long enough, you become happy. So Starbucks might not save a person’s life, but it might make her outlook better. It’s easy to let the rude and obnoxious customers slide off when a person is on high-octane caffeine, surrounding by people who have joy and hope in their lives. And since Ms. Hen worked there for so long, she got to know a lot of the customers, and some of the regulars were perfectly nice people.

Yes, Starbucks partners are mostly young, and even though Ms. Hen was older than the majority of the kids there, she got along with them. Starbucks partners are primarily creative, interesting people who have cool lives and dreams for the future. Some other places Ms. Hen has worked are not like this.

One of the great things about Starbucks is that it’s a billion dollar corporation and the company shares the wealth. Every so often, the partners would get some extra money. But one time Ms. Hen researched how much money the company actually made and she gagged. Her few thousand dollars seemed like a pittance compared to how much money actually was in the company. Like the Romans, "Give them Bread and Circuses," but now they give them coffee and a few stocks to keep the peasants happy.

Ms. Hen worked at Starbucks for too long, she realizes. It’s not that she didn’t want to leave; she wanted to find something better. She spent so long standing on her feet, that her feel still hurt sometimes. And her teeth are a mess from all the sugar she ate and drank.

Even though Ms. Hen is glad she does not work at Starbucks anymore, she misses it occasionally. She misses being surrounded by people who work together and have happiness in their lives. But there is a world other than Starbucks. And life goes on.

Ms. Hen with Ethiopia coffee

Sunday, December 3, 2017


Stephen Florida
Gabe Habash
Coffee House Press

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she saw and heard the author do a reading at the Boston Book Festival in October, and she was impressed by his writing and presentation. She was intrigued by the story of a college wrestler that is obsessed with winning the championship, and the process of his unraveling. Ms. Hen’s favorite novels are about unstable young women, but she is willing to give unstable men a chance, too, sometimes.

Stephen Florida is a wrestler at the 133 pound slot in Oresburg College in rural North Dakota. Ms. Hen learned at the reading that the author didn’t have any personal experience with wrestling, and he had never been to North Dakota. Ms. Hen thinks that it is impressive to write an entire novel that takes place somewhere an author has never been, and about a subject that is not his specialty.

Stephen Florida wants to win the Division IV NCAA Championship in the 133 weight class. He is determined to win, and it drives his every move. He skates through his classes, not applying himself, scraping by just to stay in school. In wrestling, a lot of men have to struggle to keep their exact weight, and at times have an eating disorder to the point where they are neurotic about food. Stephen is like this. He has a good friend Linus, who wrestles at the 125 weight class, and they are both at the top of their game.

Stephen meets a girl, Mary Beth, and starts dating her. She works just as hard as he does; she wants to work at an art gallery, and is quirky like him. She doesn’t know if she wants to be with him, and she can’t decide. He struggles with everything, and starts to unravel during winter break, which he spends alone at the college.

Ms. Hen thinks this book has an odor to it. It could be the smell of men wrestling, or the excessive description of flatulence. Ms. Hen has had the privilege to read two books in a row (also the novel EILEEN) in which the character describes their bowel movements in minute detail. Ms. Hen doesn’t think reading about this is pleasant, but it portrays the truth about the character, and what is important to that person.  

The writing in STEPHEN FLORIDA is exquisite. Ms. Hen thinks that the descriptions of the breakdowns that Stephen has are expertly rendered. Ms. Hen had the idea that this novel could be a type of MOBY DICK story, but she wasn’t sure how it would turn out in the end. Ms. Hen thought that the wrestling championship could be Stephen Florida’s great white whale, the one thing he desires in the world that destroys him, but she will not reveal the end. She thinks everyone should read this novel.

Ms. Hen noticed there are some chickens in this novel, which made her happy. Stephen eats a lot of chicken, “ ‘Stephen gets an extra piece of chicken for breaking that kid’s arm.’ “ And also, at the end of the novel, during the championship match, “I eat the chicken dinner and blank out my entire history.”

Ms. Hen thinks that STEPHEN FLORIDA is a beautiful novel. It’s about a young man who starts to come undone, who wants one thing, and it practically drives him insane, not quite, but nearly. Ms. Hen was dazzled by this novel, and if you like excellent writing, and anguished, complicated characters, you will be too.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews EILEEN

Ottessa Moshfegh
Penguin Press

Ms. Hen decided to read this because she learned about it a while ago, and was curious about it. She likes to read about disturbed young women; this is one of her favorite subjects in literature, to read as well as to write. EILEEN is about such a character.

Eileen Dunlop works in a boys’ prison, and takes care of her alcoholic father. Going between the two places she despises everything about herself and her life. She is twenty-four and the year is 1964. She tells the story looking back at her life from the present day; since this is the narrative, Ms. Hen knew she survived in the end.

Eileen shoplifts, and fantasizes and stalks the handsome, young prison guard Randy. She supplies her father with liquor, and imbibes herself at times with him. She rarely showers and does not eat healthy food.  She is an unlikeable, but pitiful woman. Ms. Hen likes her, however. She likes her because she understands her and she knows she is realistic. Ms. Hen read some reviews of this book, and people wrote that Eileen is a despicable character, which is unusual for a female protagonist. It’s typically men who are portrayed as monsters, but Ms. Hen is glad that now there is equal opportunity and women can be depicted as truly bad characters in fiction as well.

It’s not that Eileen wants to be bad. It’s her life circumstances that make her that way. Her mother died young, and her sister is a loose, unkind woman, and Eileen is stuck with her father who treats her like garbage. So it’s no wonder Eileen acts like a pariah, and dreams of escaping her situation.

Things change for Eileen when she meets Rebecca, the new teacher at the prison. Rebecca appears to be everything Eileen is not: beautiful, educated, poised, charming. Eileen is fascinated with Rebecca, but in the end, she becomes Eileen’s downfall. They end up accomplices in a crime, and since the story is told from Eileen’s older point of view, the reader already knows something horrific will happen because the narrator reveals it ahead of time.

This novel reminds Ms. Hen of two different books which take place in time periods surrounding this: GIRL, INTERRUPTED, in the late Sixties and THE BELL JAR, in the Fifties. This novel seems to be caught in the middle of those two worlds, the venue of lost girls who cannot seem to find their way out of the dark. GIRL, INTERRUPTED is a memoir, and THE BELL JAR is based on Sylvia Plath’s real life, but even though EILEEN is not based on anyone’s life, it seems as if it is drawn from these two books. The difference is that Eileen does not end up in a psychiatric hospital, she commits a crime and runs away, but the feeling and the emotions are the same. The world is a fucked up place, and there’s nothing we can do about it, is the lesson Ms. Hen gleaned from all three books. But Eileen ends up happy in her life when she’s older, she says in the book. This novel might offer some hope to young women who think there is no way out.

Eileen’s family does not eat that much, but there are a couple of mentions of chickens, which pleased Ms. Hen. She talks about Christmas, “Back in X-ville, Dunlop dinners had been at best dry chicken, mashed potatoes from a box, canned beans, limp bacon. Christmas was a little different. A store bought sponge cake was all I remember eating from year to year. The Dunlops were never big eaters.” And also, Eileen talks about taking care of her mother, “ 'I should be dead already,’ she insisted. I dutifully boiled the chicken soup on the stove, day in, day out and brought her the clear broth in a green salad bowl big enough to catch the spills…”

Ms. Hen thinks this book is disturbing, but she loved it. She likes reading something that is unusual. This book is not perfect, but it’s dark enough to mirror the bleakness and reality of life.

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.