General Catch-Up – October 2019

Autumn has finally arrived here in my region of the world. The temps have been cooling down significantly – even enough for us to put the flannel sheets on the bed. (I’d forgotten how delicious these feel to sleep between: it’s like sleeping in clouds. Sigh. Bliss.) I’m wearing socks more regularly during the day and even had to pull on a coat last week. I’m loving it all.

There are some Octobers when I’m just pulled back into one more read of “Dracula,” the 1897 classic by Irish writer Bram Stoker. (For a previous review, see here and here.) My typical experience is that I really enjoy the whole experience, even if it’s not the first time of reading it – I’m up to about five times now… And now I think it’s time to give it a break.

It’s got all the same great ingredients: epistolary, scary-but-not-too-scary, familiar storyline but, for some reason, this year’s read dragged for me which signals that perhaps I need a break. It’s been fun, Bram, but I’m gonna to put you aside for a while so I can get your “special” back. No hard feelings. You’re still awesome. I’ll still come back to you. Just not for a while. (And if you’d like to see a review of an earlier version of Dracula-like creatures, try The Vampire by John Polidori (1819).)

In other news: we went to a really good play over the weekend. Called “Black Girl, Interrupted”, it was written by Iyanisha Gonzalez, a Ph.D. student at our university here, and was stupendous. Seriously. It was an excellent play-going experience and was completely professionally run. The play is based on the real-life rape and murder of a black female soldier in the Iraq conflict and how the U.S. Army covered it up as a suicide. (The drama is fictionalized from there, but the actual basis of the plot is true.) So – phew. Hard topic but again, an excellent experience. If this play comes to your area, I highly recommend it.

I’ve been reading but have had some titles recently which have been good, but for some reason, haven’t had a blog post about them. One, especially, deserves its own post but for time reasons, this mention will have to do. “The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie (F) was a fast and thoughtful YA read, epistolary (as the title implies) and about a young teenager who goes against the cultural mores of his tribe when he decides to go to a high school “off rez”. A sensitive and provocative read about the importance of fitting in balanced with being true to yourself. I bet high schoolers love this read. (Maybe not. They might be more enamored of “Twilight” or playing on TikTok or similar…:-} )

Another read (although this was not half as good) was a quick peruse through “The Well-Dressed Lady’s Pocket Guide” by Karen Homer (2013), who has written for Vogue and other fashion mags. Fairly ok, but didn’t really have that much helpful information in terms of wardrobe, but a pretty ok foundation overall. I’m trying to make more use of my current clothes, especially with our cooler temperatures, and was rather hoping that this guide would help with that. It was actually more of a brief historical overlook of fashion, which was ok – just not what I had been looking for/hoping for.

In the in-between times, I’ve been sucked into the flow of doing another jigsaw puzzle – I’m addicted to these things and time just disappears when I’m doing them sometimes. This one (on the right) is a redo of one my mum and I attempted a couple of years ago on one of her visits, but we had run out of time to finish it. I’m determined to finish this sucker now. 🙂

And now it’s almost November. Thanksgiving is around the corner (wow) and then, I saw Christmas stuff in Target yesterday…

And I found a big stash of Twiglets half-price (below) whilst I visited World Market. (They are typically very hard to find, locally, so this stash will need to last quite some time. In theory.) Life is good.

Whittington – Alan Armstrong (2005)


This Newberry Honor winning YA novel was one of the best reads this year – honestly, and as an adult reader, I loved it. As a younger reader, I think I’d love it even more.

It’s narrated (on and off) by a stray cat called Whittington who wanders into the barn of a small farm in New England. (Whittington is also perfectly imperfect as he has a bent and broken ear…) After a few days, Whittington becomes accepted and close friends with the Lady, the hen who’s in charge, and when he meets the two young human siblings who visit the farm, he flourishes. It is through Whittington’s narration that the reader learns about the long-ago English folk tale of Dick Whittington and his cat…

This is an extremely well written book which frequently (but not overwhelmingly) introduces large vocabulary which would challenge most young readers (“Obsidian” any one?) However, the writing is done in such a way that these more complicated words are just part of the story narrative. It’s very naturally written so that it shows respect for the reader, young or old, without being intimidating to the less confident folk. There is also a strong female lead and an ongoing message about the importance of reading.

Not only does this book have all those positive points, there are also talking birds and animals who have friendships and who have issues just as humans do: how do the hens teach the rats to not hog all the food and not see the birds as food at the same time? What about an unexpected love that happens and then what happens when that love leaves unexpectedly? How do we all stay safe from the ravens? And, as a good extra detail, one of the characters struggles to learn how to read with a learning disorder…

At the same time as introducing these more complex issues, Whittington tells his life story as a reward to the young brother for completing his reading homework during vacation, and in this way, readers are introduced to life in England in the sixteenth century and the history of seafaring exploration. It’s a very smooth way to teach “accidentally” through storytelling.

This was a super read, and I would love any kid to pick this up. It underscores Big Life Lessons such as the importance of being a good friend and doing the right thing, and at the same time, the writing is so well done that readers will learn about topics along the way pretty painlessly. I just really liked how the author seems to respect young readers without talking down to them or over-simplifying things. This was an excellent read about how reading can change your life, and I highly recommend it.

Reading Update – Hungering for More…

So – been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately.

Work (which I love) is at a busy time in the year, and so have been engaged in those big projects that have a Spring deadline. Plus, I was semi-trapped in the old book (1933) “Brazilian Adventure” by Peter Fleming which was pretty good, but I couldn’t read it and make its due date at the library. (There was no extension due to being an ILL.) So, mulish as I can be, I put the book down as opposed to rush through it in every waking moment. I probably had about 250 pages read so it obviously wasn’t a bad read at all. Just hate to be rushed especially for something that is supposed to be fun (i.e. reading!).

Additionally, I recognized that I had had “eyes bigger than my stomach” at the library, and so took quite a few of those books back. This was also done due to me reading another book called “The Joy of Less: a Minimalist Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify your Life” by Francine Jay (who writes the blog Miss Minimalist ). I will go into this book more at a later date, but suffice it to say that when Jay wrote that one doesn’t need to create a library at home if you have access to a good public one, I recognized that I didn’t actually need to have a large pile of library books sitting at home and on my conscience when the books are readily available for free at any time. So – back they went, not because they were bad books but just bc I was sort of clearing the decks.

So, at the request of the D, I picked up the first segment of “The Hunger Games”, the huge YA juggernaut trilogy that was ruling at the box office and at the book stores. D (not a huge reader) had given this a big thumbs-up, and seeing as he is not the biggest reader in the world preferring to do other things, I knew that this was a new kind of read for him to pick it up and finish it with enthusiasm.

And so I entered the world of Katniss and Gale and Rue and Peeta et al, and to be honest, was completely engaged in the story of the Hunger Games. Collins knows how to write an exciting and believable story with characters who the reader cares about. She also gives them ethical dilemmas as would come up in that situation, and these add an authenticity to the plot, I thought.

So, although I went into the initial reading of this with some reluctance, I actually enjoyed the whole thing, especially when you compare it to the twaddle that is the Twilight series. HG was well written (grammar-wise etc.), has a great female lead character who is tough without being weird (looking at you, Girl in Dragon Tattoo), who makes mistakes and learns from them, who gets emotionally confused about things, who is not too perfect, and who plays well with others.

I can’t say too much about this, as anyone who has been breathing in the last few months has probably already read this and has his/her own opinions. But I will add that this has really raised the bar for YA literature in my mind, and although I may (or may not) pick up the rest of the trilogy, I did enjoy this read.

Katniss rocks!