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Sister Noon

3.10  ·  Rating details ·  904 ratings  ·  122 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
Kindle Edition, 330 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published May 7th 2001)
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Showing 1-30
3.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  904 ratings  ·  122 reviews

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Ayelet Waldman
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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.
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Given my recent reading drought the fact that I finished this in two days is a testament to how readable and enjoyable I found it. Karen Jay Fowler is a slick clean kind of writer, who gets the historical pitch right with an occasional rye touch that makes the novel also seem fresh and modern. I’m surprised by the poor ratings it’s got on here. I was intrigued by the 1890s San Francisco setting and the full bodied female characters at its heart: the elusive Mary Ellen Pleasant and the romantical ...more
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
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I just couldn't get into this one.
Eli Brooke
Feb 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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).
The language was lyrical. At times poetic and reason enough to read the book once. The book has wonderful historical facts. The problem 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 truly appreciated about the book was it's accurat ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mysterious and compelling, an examination of gossip and casual racism in 1890s San Francisco. The best book I have read this year.
Rob Adey
Some really exceptional writing, but as a whole this didn't come into focus for me (which to be honest could be because a lot of it depends on remembering a bunch of people who might or might not have had children and who also have changed their names and I'm not sure I have the bit of your brain that tracks that kind of thing).
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A real genre buster! Interesting characters and some great descriptions of San Francisco 1850-1900, complete with prostitutes and the gold rush population. But, not straightforward historical fiction. It's also supernatural, full of social comment and satirical. But...too 'clever' and at times, bewildering; unforgivable really to confuse your reader.
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. It's historical fiction and based on real people. It's part mystery/part historic and it's beautifully written. It jumps about a little but an utter joy.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike any other book I’ve read before
Aug 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
"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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 11, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, on-my-shelf
3,25 stars
Nov 28, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Eloise Mae
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nope, 2017-reads
Although Sister Noon was beautifully written with words and descriptions that just jumped off the page I found it way too disjointed to enjoy properly. It didn't flow at all, even when the chapters were chronological I had to keep flipping back a few pages (or back to the the prologue once or twice) to recall what was being mentioned.
Throughout the book Lizzie became more and more unlikable and annoying for me, her behaviour seemed irrational and grated on my nerves a lot. I was really looking f
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and a half stars. An odd, disjointed but strangely charming book. It takes awhile to find the narrative thread, and connect the characters with something resembling a plot, but eventually, the seemingly random bits of SanFrancisco history and culture combine with Fowler’s original story into something compelling. Without Fowler’s deadpan wit, the book would be a mess, but somehow it coalesces into a slice of realistic history and warmth.
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
c2002. Strange and stranger. I liked the feel of the time and place but I really didn't get where the story was going. Characters are well developed and a nice gentle sense of humour but why it was written? No idea.
Debbie Notkin
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this tale of women's San Francisco history in the 19th century. Fowler's unique vision provides all the complexity, nuance, and sometimes confusion that you might want, while telling a story where the characters come to life on the page.
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very pleasurable to read, but feels a bit pointless. Lots of events happen but lots of it doesn’t tie together and the end of the book just happens, suddenly. But that is also potentially a side effect of it being based on a real historical person.
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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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