Louisa May Alcott month?

I was given the “Little Women” series for Christmas – Little Women, Good Wives, Jo’s Boys and Little Men. I’ve read the first two before but adore Little Women.

Who’s up for a read-along month? May seems the obvious month given the author’s name…

And does anyone else love re-reading “childhood” books?


Definitely off-topic today.

As I sit here late on Tuesday night installing Italian-learning software (that is, software that will help me learn Italian, not software which itself is able to learn Italian) on my computer, having earlier practiced my French, German and Spanish, and emailed a secretary in Switzerland in German today, my profound thought for the day is:

How cool are other languages?

Mini-me is writing her extended project on whether music is a language, or some such, which is a whole different kettle of fish (there are other questions which interest me, e.g. of maths as a language, idiom, translation theory), but… how amazing is it to have a secret language among a small group? to have a shared language which denotes you as part of a group? to move fluidly among groups of linguists?

Who here speaks other languages?

Speed reading

A bit of fun I found on Twitter the other day, courtesy of @BloomsburyBooks: how fast do you read? Courtesy of this timer which seems to have been organised by Staples – you can read between 4 and 12 paragraphs while it times you and then gives you a short test to see how well you remember what you read.

I scored 731 words per minute – higher than “high-level executives” and college students, but below “high-level college students”. (I’m intrigued by the fact that college students read faster than executives at the highest levels)

The next click-through floored me though: “at this rate, you could read War and Peace in 13 hours and 23 minutes”. It’s going to take me 13 1/2 hours???? That is the entire duration of a flight from London to Singapore, from boarding to disembarking. (and I couldn’t read that fast for that long. For a start, I’d need a coffee break and a toilet break).

If you’re interested in how fast you read, click here to try it out for yourself!

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson – 7/10

Herbert obeyed, and then it was okay, just as most things were okay, apart from the lack of vodka. Allan put up with it for exactly five years and three weeks. Then he said: ‘Now I want a drink. And I can’t get that here. So it’s time to move on.’”

100-year-old man

(from the back cover…) Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not… Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.

There are two stories here – one of 100-year-old Allan escaping from his retirement home, accidentally stealing 50 million krone, and his subsequent journey around Sweden with some unlikely accomplices, and the stories of Allan’s earlier life in which his expertise with explosives got him into tangles in Franco’s Spain, the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, the Korean War, Iran and Stalin’s Russia. I found the latter much more interesting than the former and would happily have only had that half of the story! His “present-day” adventures tended more to the ridiculous. This is as plot-dependent as the trashy thrillers which line my hand-luggage on any long-haul flight – but less tense and dramatic somehow. It’s perfectly put-down-able, because a long read leads to a farce overdose and the story is very easy to remember on recommencing.

The other characters, particularly Julius and Herbert Einstein, fulfil their obligations as comic foils well, but Allan is the star of the show. Sceptical of priests, politicians and anyone who drinks fruit juice, he is both Everyman and delightfully wacky. He has a slightly unrealistic knack of making everyone more likely to negotiate with him than shoot him (Kim Jong-Il being high on that list), but that’s necessary to keep the book going so we’ll set aside expectations of reality. The incompetent bad guys from “The Violins” gang and the press-hungry Chief Prosecutor Ranelid complete the cast of absurdity.

Worth a read if only for the light-hearted tour of the 20th century world events. Or Sonya the elephant.


Additional information:
Copy from a friend who was moving house and wanted to purge books before packing. Wise woman. 
Publisher: Hesperus Press, 387 paperback pages
Order The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappearedfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Musing Mondays – currently

Musing Mondays, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading, is:

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it! 
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

So I’m reading Of Love and Other Wars by Sophie Hardach – the stories of some Jewish and Quaker characters from the outbreak of WWII. It’s quite readable and given my recent streak of DNFs, I’m not keen to abandon this one, but it is slow going. I think it’s because the author is trying to have too many threads of the story going (Esther as a young girl and now as an adult, Miriam & Paul, Paul on his own, Charlie, Grace and Morten/Max). I know that the characters are linked but I cannot remember how Grace and Max fit into the stories of the others, and I’m not really all that interested in Esther even though I should be because she’s a vibrant young physicist.

Oh well, I’ll carry on.

Bellfield Hall – Anna Dean – 9/10

“It was the under-gardener who found her.”

bellfield hall

When Catherine Kent’s fiance suddenly breaks off their engagement and vanishes, she is distraught. Who better than maiden aunt Miss Dido to rush to the country house of Catherine’s in-laws-to-be, to solve the mystery of the missing heir and groom? And while there, also to solve the mystery of the young woman found murdered in the shrubbery?

All the mystery happens before we start our journey with Miss Dido Kent, but we get plenty of shots at it with assorted re-tellings and interviews. Dido gets it all hopelessly wrong lots of times, but on each occasion her deductions seem logical. I spotted one or two things before she did, but they turned out to be wrong anyway. There was a great deal of plot thickening with assorted character twists and revelations, all great fun.

Miss Dido Kent is right up there with my favourite investigating protagonists. She’ll brook no nonsense, she indulges her niece too much, she knows her way in the world and doesn’t stand on ceremony. The rest of the characters left a little to be desired – the bullying Sir Edgar, mad Lady Montague, the two silly Misses Harris and their busybody mother… it was a carefully crafted cast of caricatures. However, crucially, there were enough other characters to keep this interesting – often these ye olde country mysteries can feel a bit stifled when the guest list is too short. And there was the odd promising side character who might hopefully turn up in a sequel…

Dean cheats a little, having Dido recount much of the tale through letters to her sister Eliza, but the writing is generally smooth and clever. Dido is given to some rather modern opinions for the time (or rather, less snobby opinions than one might have held in her position at the time) and unsurprisingly has a lot to say about the roles of women and professional people – which is of course what a modern reader wants! The sub-title was “Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent” which sets the tone perfectly – a very cozy mystery but longer and better developed than other cozies (e.g. M. C. Beaton’s works)

I loved this – hopefully Dean will write some more Dido Kent mysteries! My copy of this had a preview of “A Gentleman of Fortune” in it so I shall be keeping an eye out for it!

Additional information:
Copy from Bookmooch. Publisher: Minotaur Books, 310 paperback pages
Order Bellfield Hall: Or, the Deductions of Miss Dido Kent (Dido Kent Mysteries)from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Sunday Salon – striking


Just checking in briefly before I’m off to my first cricket training of the season. I expect not to be able to move tomorrow. Haven’t touched a bat in… 5 months.

There was a Tube strike this week so I dusted off the beloved Cecily (the bicycle) and we had some lovely trips across Westminster Bridge. In the rain. And the wind. But it felt good to be back on the bike.

Last weekend I finished The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared which was funny and fun and generally A Good Read. This week I raced through Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean – a gorgeous cozy mystery. 

Happy Sunday!


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