Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers


Ms. Hen decided to read this because she likes to read books for young people sometimes, and this one is about a good witch, which Ms. Hen was interested in. She craves fantasy more and more because the world is sad right now, and she does not want to dwell in reality. This book is a good antidote to reality.

This novel is about a village called the Protectorate which is located near a bog, and it makes its living off the bog. The town is full of sadness, and everyone knows that a horrible witch lives in the woods nearby. Every year, near the beginning of the year, they have to offer the child born closest to that time to the witch as an offering. The people believe that she sacrifices the baby.

In reality, Xan is a good witch. She takes the babies because she believes they are left there to die. One time, she takes a baby, and instead of offering her up to the starlight for nourishment as she is taking the baby away, she offers her up to the moon, and the baby becomes enmagicked. Xan decides not to take the baby to the free cities like she usually does, but instead, she takes her home with her and raises her, so she can keep track of her magic. She names the girl Luna. Luna lives with Xan, and the Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and the Swamp Monster in the woods. She does not know she has magic in her for a long time. But she discovers it, and she won't look at the world in the same way.

Ms. Hen read the second half of this book very fast. She got into the story, and she could not put it down. And since it is a children't book, it was easy to breeze through. Ms. Hen was scared, but she had a feeling everything would turn out okay in the end. She can usually tell by the tone of the book how the ending will be.

Ms. Hen was enchanted by this novel. It reminded her of a lot of other books she has read, such as the Harry Potter series, and THE WIZARD OF OZ. It's beautifully written, and she couldn't put it down. There's something about books for young people or children that Ms. Hen loves; she thinks it's because children have a different way of looking at the world, and are open to things that adults aren't. Adults do not have the ability or the desire to "play pretend," and Ms. Hen thinks this is too bad. 

Some chickens appear in this novel, which made Ms. Hen happy. The madwoman finds the tree house where Luna lived with Xan, and she finds the goats and chickens, "The chickens clucked in their enclosure, pressing their backs to the willow walls, keeping them inside. They gave their wings a desperate flap." The chickens were afraid of the madwoman, but she wasn't the one they should have been afraid of. The Sorrow Eater would come to the tree house soon, and she is the one they should fear.

Ms. Hen doesn't enjoy being around children, but she likes children's books. She doesn't remember liking being a child, either, so it's strange. She likes diving into fantasy worlds and being somewhere completely otherworldly for a little while, and thinking like a child, one with imagination and hope. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews The Children Act

The Children Act

Ian McEwan



Ms. Hen decided to read this because she found it at a Little Free Library, and she had heard of the author, but she had never read anything by him. Ms. Hen has heard of a lot of writers, but she has not read everything by everyone, but she is interested in reading authors who are well known and respected, because she is interested in reading different types of books.

This novel is about a judge, Fiona, who is almost sixty; at the beginning of the novel, her husband asks her permission to have an affair. She is horrified and disgusted, and she tells his no, absolutely not. She is a high court judge in the family court division, and she presides over custody battles, divorces, and other types of family matters.

A case comes to her about a seventeen-year old boy, Adam, from a Jehovah Witness family who has leukemia, and needs a blood transfusion to survive, but he does not want it, neither do his parents. She has to decide whether or not he should be forced to get the transfusion. She goes to see him in the hospital with a social worker, and is transfixed by his youth and hopefulness. It's a difficult decision for her to make, and she pains over it.

At first, Ms. Hen didn't like this book. She thought the characters were pretentious, and she really didn't care about them. She has no sympathy for a judge and her husband who are upper class, and have problems that normal people can't relate to. She doesn't like to read about a judge's husband who wants to have an affair; it's just something that Ms. Hen takes no interest in.

But the book got better. The narrator, and the character have an excellent insight into understanding human nature, which Ms. Hen thought was fascinating. The way the judge describes people she knows, and the ones she comes in contact with are so well drawn. Ms. Hen is glad that she got through the beginning, and gave the book a chance, to come to its true rewards.

The relationship between the judge and Adam is so real and honest, that Ms. Hen felt sorry for Fiona. She is a complex character, and she is a mature woman, and she has regrets, and she doesn't know how to handle the situation, but she knows who she is, and her place in the world. 

This book moved Ms. Hen in a different way from other books that have moved her. She got into the shoes of someone completely out of her realm, and she saw the world from Fiona's eyes. She still doesn't like reading novels about rich people (at least not from this century), but she has a better appreciation of human nature and its complexity and how utterly messed up people's lives can get, how people suffer, and how they can suffer even more. Ms. Hen recommends this book to anyone who wants to understand humanity.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews The Testaments


The Testaments

Margaret Atwood

Anchor Books    


Ms. Hen decided to read this because she realized she had never read it when it came out. One of her coworkers asked her if she had read it, and she couldn't remember, so she poured over her blog for the last year and a half to see if she had written a review. She remembers wanting to read it, but the troubles of the world made the book slip off her radar. But she finally bought it, and was not disappointed.

This novel is the sequel to THE HANDMAID'S TALE, which Ms. Hen reviewed in 2017. You can read that here:


This novel does not follow the TV series, which Ms. Hen has not seen. THE TESTAMENTS is about three different women dealing with life in Gilead, Aunt Lydia, Agnes, and Daisy, who later goes back to her original name, Nicole. Nicole lives in Canada, but her parents are involved in working to save Gilead, Agnes is a young woman in Gilead who decides not to get married, and takes the path to become an aunt, and Aunt Lydia is the most powerful aunt, and the story goes into her history as well as her present. 

In Gilead, women are not allowed to learn to read and their only purpose is to marry and have children. Aunts take care of teaching the young women, as well as being powerful members of the community; they do not marry. The purpose of Handmaids is to bear children for the men, and the Wives get married and take care of their households. Marthas are women who are servants. If a man has a lot of money, he has more Marthas.

Aunt Lydia wants to bring down Gilead, because she has suffered too long. At first Ms. Hen couldn't figure out if this novel took place before or after THE HANDMAID'S TALE, but toward the end, she figured out it takes place afterwards.

When Ms. Hen first started reading this, she was not sure who was speaking at first. The changing first person POVs from the different characters confused her. After a while, she got into the book, and she knew who was speaking when they were speaking. For her, that was the most difficult part of the book.

Other than the POVs, she loved this book. It's exactly what she likes to read. This is an important novel about how the world could turn out to be, if we are not careful. Hopefully, we will never go down this path as a society.

Ms. Hen found a few chickens and hens, and the characters are always eating eggs, which Ms. Hen found symbolic. Aunt Lydia muses on the aunts taking care of themselves, "If you are familiar with school playgrounds of the rougher sort, or with henyards, or indeed with any situation in which the rewards are small but the competition is fierce you will understand the forces at work." She thinks later, "If it's a henyard, I thought, I intend to be the alpha hen." She wanted to be in charge and she was. Ms. Hen admires her.

Ms. Hen recommends this book to anyone who wants to get angry, and also to anyone who desires to know what the world could be like if we let evil men take control. She recommends reading THE HANDMAID'S TALE first, in order to understand the plight of the handmaids. Books like this show us how we shouldn't become, which Ms. Hen thinks is important.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews The Persistence of Memory and Other Stories

 The Persistence of Memory and Other Stories

Jan Maher

Dog Hollow Press


Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she heard the author do a reading from it at an event she attending (on Zoom), the annual book party given by the National Writers Union Boston chapter, of which Ms. Hen is a member. She often goes to literary events, and sometimes when she is inspired enough by an author's reading, she buys the book. Ms. Hen was not disappointed this time.

This collection is full of stories that contain a whimsical air, but are true to life. The first story in the collection, "A Real Prince," is a fairy tale, and not like the others in the book. Yanka is a servant in a place like a castle, but she is mute. She stokes the fire, and helps the people prepare for the soldiers that are coming, and when they come, they are taken care of, and Yanka has a conversation with one that moves her. Ms. Hen enjoyed this story because of the possibilities that it possessed; it doesn't have an ending, but only another beginning.

A lot of these stories are about elderly people, which Ms. Hen thinks is different, because she doesn't read a lot of stories about characters like these. The last story in the book, the title story, is about a woman about to turn one hundred whose son decides to take her license away, but she decides to borrow her granddaughter's bike and goes on an adventure. The story is about memory, and her remembering her father teaching her how to ride a bike.

These stories, in the hands of a more morbid author, could go to darker places . There is a light and optimism to these brief slices of life, and after reading each story, Ms. Hen felt better about the world around her. Everything can seem dark and dreary at times, but she thinks that these stories show how life can be hopeful even when it seems like there's no hope.

Ms. Hen could feel echoes of Raymond Carver in these stories, but she doesn't remember him writing about elderly people. And Grace Paley shines through also, with her wisdom and wit.

A lot of the time, when Ms. Hen reads a book, the essence of the last book she read carries through to the next. That didn't happen this time, and Ms. Hen thought this collection was the perfect spring breeze to remedy her last book. Not that she didn't enjoy her last book, but it was heavy. The March air has taken hold, and THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY is the perfect quick read to help get Ms. Hen ready for longer days, birdsong in the morning, and hope that everything will be okay again soon.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews War and Peace volume 3


War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

The Russian Messenger


Ms. Hen decided to read the final volume of WAR AND PEACE because she read the second last year around the same time, and when she read it last March, she was struck by the similarities of the characters waiting for Napoleon to arrive to waiting for the COVID virus to strike. It's been a year of the pandemic, and Ms. Hen has had this book on her shelf for that long.

In this volume, Napoleon attacks Moscow and burns the city down. Most of the wealthy inhabitants leave the city to go to their estates in the country. They pack their belongings and escape. Some people linger, however, and the French attack them. Pierre meets a family and attempts to help them by running into their house and saving their child. He gets arrested and sent to a makeshift prison. He is forced on a march. The other members of his family do the best they can to survive the attack.

Napoleon's army disperses when they take over Moscow, and on the way back, it gets smaller and smaller. The Russian army gets larger, and they know where the best supplies can be found, so the French army dissipates after it leaves Moscow. Napoleon runs away and does not want to associate with the failure.

When Pierre is captured, he comes to a realization, "While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned, not with his intellect, but with his whole being, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity." Ms. Hen thinks this is true. Pierre goes on to say that the simplest things make him happy, such as the fire and the little food he gets to eat, and even the lice covering his body that keep him warm. Ms. Hen thinks that people could take a lesson from this philosophy, and it might mean being taken prisoner to achieve this, but she believes that it's the best way to view life, and the most honest way to become happy.

This volume took two weeks for Ms. Hen to read. She thought that the last epilogue was dry; it's an essay on free will, and Ms. Hen doesn't think it fits in with the rest of the novel. The first epilogue is about the characters after the war, and how they manage their lives. Ms. Hen thinks that after the war, they struggle to find meaning in their lives, and work hard to see that they don't have to suffer what they did before.

It took Ms. Hen over ten years to read this entire book. She read the first volume when she was an undergrad hen, and she had no idea what the world would be like when she finally finished it, how similar her world would be to the one in this novel. She has been afraid, but things are getting better, the war has been in our minds, and peace in our hearts; we can try to fight as soldiers and win, and conflict is always the heart of any story. We have enough conflict now for eons of stories, like this one, and we can only hope we can learn from them.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews Villa Incognito


Villa Incognito

Tom Robbins

Bantam Dell


Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she picked it up at a Little Free Library near where she lives. She has read several Tom Robbins books, but has not read one for a long time. She doesn't know why she hasn't read one for a while, but after reading this, she remembered how good his books are.

This novel is about several things: it's about tanukis, a type or raccoon dog found in Japan; it's also about the Vietnam War and some MIAs that got lost afterwards; it's about drug dealing, and it's about circus performers. A tanuki in Japan impregnates a woman, starting a chain of events that takes place over years. The woman who has the baby realizes she cannot keep it. Many years later one of the descendants is in Laos and is a tanuki trainer for different circuses. This novel is a fantasy, but it also talks about real issues.

There's something about the way Tom Robbins writes that Ms. Hen really enjoys. He has a spastic way of putting words together, with several pop culture references that might get lost on some people that are not well versed in that area. His books are strange, as is this one.

Also, his books are juicy. There is a lot of sex in this book, which a reader may or may not like, but if a reader is not prepared for it, like Ms. Hen she might become a shocked hen. But she got used to it.

A part in this book where the character Dickie reunites with his girlfriend Lisa Ko in Laos, and she brings him mayonnaise and white bread from her trip to the United States. A long description of how wonderful mayonnaise is follows, and even though Ms. Hen is not much of a fan, she liked reading this because it was so strange. The narrator extols the virtues of mayonnaise, and how it's the perfect condiment that goes with everything. Ms. Hen thought this section was hilarious.

There is always a profound message in Tom Robbins' books, and Ms. Hen feels like she walks away smarter than she was before she read the book. One of the messages in this novel is that life is fleeting and nothing is permanent, and there are no accidents. It seems like a Buddhist message to Ms. Hen, and since this novel takes place partially in Laos and Vietnam, it makes sense.

This novel is light and heavy at the same time. It's short, but it's not an easy read. Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel, and liked being shocked by it. Ms. Hen is not a hen that shocks easily, but when she is, it startles her. She has come to the point in her life when not much surprises her, because she has seen so many strange things, but she knows there are always stranger things around the corner or within the pages of an unread book.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ms. Hen reviews Circe

Madeline Miller
Back Bay Books

Ms. Hen decided to read this because her hen sister gave it to her for Christmas. She didn't know anything about the book before she read it, but she learned it was about the Greek goddess Circe. Ms. Hen thinks her sister bought this book because the title is the name of a character in GAME OF THRONES, Cercei.

This novel is about the minor goddess Circe, daughter of Helios, the Sun and Perse. She is not well liked as a young goddess because everyone thinks she has a terrible voice and is unattractive. She does not get along with her siblings Perses and Pasiphae and they like to mock her. She befriends her brother Aeetes, and they spend time together when they are young. The gods and goddess think that Circe is ugly and she does not attract men. She is desperate for love, and she falls for a mortal fisherman, who she turns into a god with magic. He decides he does not want her, and she transforms the object of his affection into a monster. She is banned to an island for these deeds, and perfects her magic there.

Circe is lonely on her island, but people come to her. She learns things from the god Hermes, and she turns sailors who come to the island into pigs. She is unhappy, but she manages things. She learns how to use the herbs that grow on her island to do spells. She becomes known as the witch of Aiaia. She faces one of the strongest gods and proves her worth.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel. It's a fast read, and she breezed through it, even though it's long. The characters are well developed and the writing is lovely and descriptive. Ms. Hen doesn't know a lot about the Greek gods and goddesses, because there's so much to learn; she only knows the tip of the iceberg. 

She thinks that the gods are rotten to each other, that they're not nice, and it seemed to her at the beginning of the novel when Circe was on Oceanos with her family, that the gods had too much time on their hands, they had all of eternity with nothing to do except have fun and act frivolously, and that could be why they were so horrible.

Ms. Hen read about Circe after she finished the book. There have been many books about Circe throughout the centuries, and all of them have been different. But most of the time, she is seen as a temptress and a person who could turn men into animals.

Ms. Hen loved this novel. She believes that the message clearly describes the story of Circe. She thinks this is a girl power novel, because Circe was a loser, but she fought against it, and prevailed. This novel proves that it's possible that anyone who is viewed as inferior can rise above and become as strong and powerful as anyone else.