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Sister Noon

3.13  ·  Rating Details ·  698 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
Lizzie Hayes, a member of the San Francisco elite, is a seemingly docile, middle-aged spinster praised for her volunteer work with the Ladies Relief and Protection Society Home, or "The Brown Ark". All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions. When the wealthy and well-connected, but ill-reputed Mary Ellen Pleasant shows up at the Brown Ark ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published May 7th 2001)
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Ayelet Waldman
Apr 02, 2014 Ayelet Waldman rated it it was amazing
I love this writer. I don't want to ruin anything about this book for you, so I'll just say that it takes place in San Francisco in the Gilded Age and that all the really interesting characters are women. How often do you get to read a book like that?
Feb 17, 2011 Juli rated it it was ok
I honestly still cannot decide how many stars to give this book. It's a strange, dreamy book. Definitely not plot-driven, but the language is so beautiful and lyrical that I still enjoyed the ride. Until the end, that is. The growth of the heroine is followed through well enough, but the author leaves holes everywhere else. I hoped some of the confusion and tangents and development of other characters along the way would lead to some sort of ah-ha moment at the end, but there was nothing.
May 07, 2011 Nakia rated it liked it
"You can do anything you want. You don't have to be the same person your whole life."

I really liked this tale focusing on the elite of early San Francisco in the mid 1800s. Fowler writes of Lizzie Hayes, an unmarried well off woman who works as the treasurer for a white orphanage, the Brown Ark; and Mary Ellen Pleasant, a wealthy Black woman who has everyone in the Bay Area wrapped around her finger. One day, Mary Ellen drops off Jenny Ijub, a young child who she claims came from a rich family w
Jan 31, 2008 Hilary added it
Aside from a little weakness in the final pages, this was a terrifically immersion experience into late nineteenth century San Francisco. I liked how it emphasized the mutability of truth, memory, and rumor, and how seldom you ever understand what really happened, even with events in your own life.
Eli Brooke
Mar 04, 2009 Eli Brooke rated it really liked it
Wonderful writer, but somehow her endings always leave me dissatisfied. I liked this best of the 3 I've read (Sarah Canary years ago and Wit's End very recently).
Becka Gibson
Apr 13, 2016 Becka Gibson rated it liked it
I did enjoy this, but couldn't help feeling that it was a story told from the wrong perspective, in that Lizzie's life only really goes anywhere in the last few pages and Mrs Pleasant's character is far and away the most interesting one in the book. I felt like the book was only just getting started right up until around 85% - every subplot and relationship felt on the brink of developing into something significant when I realised it couldn't, because it was ending. I think you can still detect ...more
May 11, 2013 Jennifer rated it liked it
The language was lyrical. At times poetic and reason enough to read the book once. The books has wonderful historical facts. The problems for me- too many characters. Many not intregal to the storyline or plot to keep track of. I knew we were in trouble, when there were just a few pages left and the story was not going to wrap up except for one or two characters. We were just left hanging, as if the author got tired of writing the book. One thing I truely appreciated about the book was it's accu ...more
Oct 09, 2008 Danceswithwords rated it it was amazing
Sister Noon is just a lovely novel from start to finish, a story of growing pains, both Lizzie Hayes's and the city of San Francisco's. Fowler has a wonderful way of drawing characters who aren't larger than life, but are instead every bit as frail and small as everyday, while still being moving and compelling. Lizzie Hayes doesn't start stretching herself until half her life has passed her by, and only has a limited reach, but it's a brave struggle.
Morgan Bell
Sep 05, 2015 Morgan Bell rated it it was amazing
Mysterious and compelling, an examination of gossip and casual racism in 1890s San Francisco. The best book I have read this year.
Oct 11, 2016 Judith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-shelf, 2016
3,25 stars
Aug 05, 2015 Jean rated it liked it
It is said that a good book is one where the reader feels an involvement with the characters in the story, Karen Joy Fowler does just that in this novel set in San Francisco in the late 19th century . I am not a fan of period or historical novels but really enjoyed this portrayal of life in which San Francisco plays as big a role as the two main characters, Lizzie Hayes, a spinster in her early forties and Mary Ellen Pleasant. The latter being of dubious parentage – a coloured woman claiming to ...more
Jun 28, 2007 Carla rated it liked it
Set in San Francisco, this novel held some historical fascination for me. I thought that Karen Fowler, the author, did an excellent job calling out the prejudices and expectations women rarely face today. Known as a liberal city today, it is hard to imagine SF as a place where intolerance is commonplace.

There were some holes left in the story, such as what happens to Mrs. Pleasant and what her story really is. But I could relate to Lizzie's disconnection from a changing society in which a singl
Rodrigo Acuna
Jul 22, 2016 Rodrigo Acuna rated it it was ok
"An interesting woman that may have existed."

The description of San Francisco in 1890 is fascinating and so is all the information on the period, but I found the plot to be disappointing as so much of the book is based on rumors and innuendo that it feels slippery and forced to stay together.

Ellen the main character in the soul of the book, but she also is the mistery almost and amalgamation of a mithical woman; black, white, married, rich, poor, servant, mistres, murderer all of thi
Sep 30, 2008 Tanya rated it liked it
Recommended to Tanya by: The author
Shelves: literary-fiction
This was a difficult book to follow. Had I not met the author at a writer's retreat and known, first-hand, her fine mind, I might have given up after a few chapters. But she is so very excellent at developing her characters that gradually, very gradually, she sucked me in to the story.

It is a tale of class and race set in the late 19th century in San Francisco. The heroine, Lizzie Hayes, has enough flaws to be interesting, but the truly intriguing character is the mysterious Mary Ellen Pleasant,
Mar 28, 2016 Liz rated it it was amazing
I was going to give this book 4 stars until I read the 2 and a half pages that Karen Joy Fowler wrote on her writing if sister noon. It explained a lot and made me realise why she wrote it like she did. I think that she is such an amazing author. The research that goes into her work and the way the reader is completely transported to a different time and place. I really, really enjoyed this book with all its strangeness and ambiguity. Fantastic!!
Glena Muncrief
Oct 23, 2010 Glena Muncrief rated it liked it
I purchased this book because I thought I recognized the author (Jane Austen Book Club), it was used, and it was cheap. ODD little book, but it kept me reading. An orphanage, a spinster, and set in the late 1800s (I think)...

(Now reading The Rossetti Letter--another odd one and I can't put it down! We've been at PK, so I've done LOTS of reading!!!)
Jun 02, 2012 Shirley rated it it was ok
I found it a little confusing regarding some of the characters. Each time I picked up the book I found myself reviewing what I read previously. I love the references to San Francisco in the 1800's, but a difficult book to follow due to the character development.
Nov 18, 2010 Jasmine rated it it was amazing
My favorite of Fowler's books so far. I'm usually much more of a plot person, but her words are just fun to read. The way she writes makes the littlest thing seem interesting.
Nov 28, 2016 karen rated it did not like it
Some good writing and an interesting setting. Characters and plot left much to be desired. The plot drags, never really sure where it was going and was bored much of the time. I also couldn't like the main characters. Lizzie is an overweight middle aged spinster--- pretty bland and blah, no pizzazz to be had there. Skilled writers usually present a protagonist with some compelling traits to convince readers into becoming emotionally invested in them enough to want to read on. When the writing is ...more
Jan 14, 2017 CreativelyRed rated it did not like it
I was thoroughly disappointed in this book. I was never quite sure the purpose or what was happening. I'm not even sure why I finished it. Maybe it was the hope of the back cover that it would be a book filled with "delight, twists and turns." It wasn't. It was at least pretty quick to read and had a few moments where I understood what was happening.
weird. but I liked it. still not entirely sure what it was about, though.

unfortunately nothing like 'we are all completely beside ourselves'.
Nov 15, 2016 Kim rated it it was ok
I just couldn't get into this one.
Jan 06, 2017 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: on-my-shelf
Fowler captures an ethereal quality within her writing that curiously projects a hint of gothic creepiness without explicit reference. The plot meandered a little and seemed as though it had lost its way at times - I found myself waiting for a hook that never came. Nonetheless I enjoyed the skill with which she wove the sometimes subtle yet intricate relationships between characters such as in "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves".
Rosie Hughes
Dec 20, 2016 Rosie Hughes rated it liked it
This book was beautifully written but was too disjointed for me to really enjoy. I'm not entirely sure what it was trying to tell me.
Dec 18, 2016 Saskia rated it it was ok
Interessante setting, maar veel te verwarrend met nieuwe personages die opploppen zonder duidelijke toegevoegde waarde. Wel benieuwd naar andere boeken van deze schrijfster, want taalgebruik is mooi.
Aimee Mcdonald
After reading a few heavy novels (Tell the Wolves I’m home, The Girl on the Train) I was desperately looking for something uplifting and light-hearted to sink my teeth into. Fortunately for me, my friends have my best interests at heart, and Dear Sam loaned me her copy of Karen Joy Fowlers’ Sister Noon.
This delightful historical novel, set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco drew me in to the genteel life of spinster, Lizzie Hayes, as she has a “magical juncture” courtesy of the local woman of
Susanna Sturgis
Everything Karen Joy Fowler writes is well worth reading, and Sister Noon is no exception, but this isn't my favorite of her works. If you're new to her, I'd recommend starting with either her first, Sarah Canary, or the most recent, the award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Why my lack of enthusiasm about Sister Noon? The writing is fine, the place and time -- San Francisco in the mid to late 19th century -- richly evoked and peopled with interesting characters. I have to fall b ...more
This is a strange little bird; an early Karen Joy Fowler before she hit popular success with ‘The Jane Austen Bookclub’ and the mega-selling ‘We are all completely beside ourselves’. Set in San Francisco in the 1890s, the story revolves around two women, Lizzie Hayes who volunteers at The Ladies’ Relief and Protection Society’s home for children, and the mysterious Mrs. Ellen Pleasant (or Madame Christophe, or Mrs. Smith, depending on who are and your social status.) Lizzie, nearing forty and un ...more
Alison O'Keefe
Aug 18, 2015 Alison O'Keefe rated it really liked it
This was a great, easy read - loved the characters and the story. It had some really funny little quirks in it that I enjoyed (Maud and Jenny's relationship). I thought the end was a bit lacking - then I read the author's notes and just liked everything even more (not so much the ending still, but a little bit more), I had no idea it was based off historical figures and some real bits of gossip. I found Mrs Pleasant so implausible whilst reading and the whole Mystery House a bit much - but to th ...more
Emily Green
Jun 05, 2013 Emily Green rated it really liked it
Karen Joy Folwer’s Sister Noon tells the tale of Mary Ellen Pleasant and Lizzie Hayes. Lizzie Hayes is a woman lost in the world of adults, who lives through her books and her volunteer work at an orphanage. She, too, is an orphan, having lost both her distant father and her willful mother. Mary Ellen Pleasant has lived enough lives to tide them both over. A former slave who spent time passing, she is now a mysterious socialite, whose persona has overtaken Lizzie to act in ways she never thought ...more
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I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine's Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative ...more
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