Reading Bingo 2018

reading-bingo-small

This is my  third year of playing the Reading Bingo Card.  I like it because during the year I don’t look for books to fill in the card – I just read what I want to read and then see whether the books I’ve read will match the squares. I also like it because it is an excellent way of looking back at the books I’ve read and reminding me of how much I enjoyed them.

Here is my completed card for 2018:

A Book With More Than 500 pages.

Victoria: A Life

Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson – 656 pages. It took me three months to read this biography and I learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Victoria was 81 when she died and had been Queen for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901. She’d had 9 children and was grandmother of 42. It’s detailed, well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He portrays Victoria both as a woman, a wife and a mother as well as a queen, set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.

A Forgotten Classic 

Bats in the Belfry (British Library Crime Classics)

The British Library series of crime classics presents forgotten classics many of which have been out of print since before the Second War. I’ve read several of them, including Bats in the Belfry by E C R Lorac, a pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett who was a prolific writer of crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. It was first published in 1937 and I think it is one of the better Golden Age Mysteries that I’ve read. It’s set in London in the 1930s, full of descriptive writing, painting vivid pictures of the streets of London and in particular the spooky, Gothic tower in which a corpse is discovered, ‘headless and handless’.

A Book That Became a Movie 

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. The book became a movie in 1940 directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.

A Book Published This Year

Turning for Home by Barney Norris was published in January this year. It’s a novel of  love and loss, grief and guilt. Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met.

A Book with a Number in the Title

The Three Evangelists (Three Evangelists, #1)

The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and an intricate plot.  The three title characters are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all down on their luck. Together with Marc’s uncle and godfather, Armand Vandoosler, an ex-policeman, they have just moved into a house next door to retired opera singer Sophia Siméonidis and her husband Pierre. When a tree unexpectedly appears in Sophia’s garden she asks for their help in digging around the tree to see if something has been buried there.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon, is one of the early Maigret books published in 1931 when Simenon was 28. Set in Liege in Belgium, a corpse is found in the Botanical Gardens in a large laundry basket in the middle of a lawn.

A Book With Non-Human Characters 

The Toymakers

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale –  a wonderful book about Papa Jack’s Emporium in London, a toyshop extraordinaire. The toys it sells aren’t ordinary toys – they seem alive, from patchwork dogs, to flying pegasi, Russian dolls that climb out of one another, runnerless rocking horses, whales that devour ships, fire-breathing dragons and many others to the toy soldiers that wage war on each other.

A Funny Book

Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. When Jerome began writing this book he intended it to be a serious travel book about the Thames, its scenery and history, but, as he wrote, it turned into a funny book. The Thames remains at the centre of the book but it is also full of anecdotes about the events that happened to him and his friends whilst out on the river, interspersed with passages about the scenery and history. It’s a gentle, witty book that kept me entertained all the way through

A Book By A Female Author 

I’m spoilt for choice in this category, with lots of female authors to choose from. In the end I’ve picked No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister, one of the 5* books I’ve read this year. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. Her sister Becky is accused of murdering her. She found Layla dead in her cot and denies killing her. It looked like a cot death – until the postmortem showed otherwise – and the police are convinced it was murder.

A Book With A Mystery

Watching You

I could have chosen any one of the many crime fiction novels I’ve read this year, but I’ve picked Watching You by Lisa Jewell, crime fiction that keeps you guessing about everything right from the first page – someone was murdered, but who was it and why, and just who was the killer? Full of suspense and drama, it is only right at the end of the book that all becomes clear. I loved it.

A Book With A One Word Title

Munich

Munich by Robert Harris is a novel about the 1938 Munich Conference, a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story.

A Book of Short Stories

Foreign Bodies

Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of 15 stories, vintage crime fiction in translation, written by authors from Hungary, Japan, Denmark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and France.  Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note. Authors include – Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers.

Free SquareTime is a Killer

For this square I’ve chosen a book in translation. It’s Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside. Every summer Clotilde, her brother, Nicolas and her parents, Paul and Palma Idrissi visit Paul’s parents in Corsica. In 1989 Paul, Palma and Nicolas are killed in a car crash. Twenty seven years later Clotilde returns. Her grandparents are still alive but are reluctant to talk about the accident and the locals seem to resent her presence. As Clotilde delves into her memories she begins to realise that the past is not quite as she thought it was.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

Force of Nature

Force of Nature by Jane Harper – I loved this book, set in the fictional Giralang Ranges in Australia, seeing the Mirror Falls roaring down from a cliff edge into the pool fifteen metres below, the eucalyptus trees and the dense bush, and the breathtaking views of rolling hills and valleys as the gum trees give way,  with the sun hanging low in the distance. But this is the story of a team-building event that went badly wrong when Alice went missing and a search party is sent out into the bush to find her.

A Book of Non Fiction

Painting as a Pastime

Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill – a wonderful book, I loved it. He wrote about the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation and also about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind that painting provided – ‘Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness.’

The First Book By a Favourite Author

After You'd Gone

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell – her debut novel. The main character, Alice is in a coma after being in road accident, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. She has been grieving the death of her husband, John.

A Book You Heard About On Line

A Perfectly Good Man

Many of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale because when I wrote about Notes From an Exhibition Café Society recommended it. The ‘perfectly good man‘ is Barnaby Johnson, a parish priest, a man who always tries to do the right thing, but he doesn’t always manage it. It’s a beautifully written book about faith and the loss of faith, about love and cruelty and deception, about ordinary life and about everyday tragedies, and also sublime moments.

A Best Selling Book

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Tombland by C J Sansom, the 7th book in his Shardlake series. Another 5* book! It’s 1549, Edward VI is king, England is ruled by the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector and rebellion is spreading throughout the land. Matthew Shardlake is asked to investigate the murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn.  Then he and his assistants get caught up in the rebellion against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land as thousands of peasants led by Robert Kett establish a vast camp outside Norwich.

A Book Based On A True Story

The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu, one of the 5* books I’ve read this year. It’s historical fiction based on the true story of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers, people who were looking for a better life in the American West. They formed a wagon train under the leadership of George Donner and James Reed making their way west to California in 1846. Alma Katsu’s book interweaves fact with fiction and with hints of the supernatural and Indian myths it becomes a thrilling, spine tingling horrific tale.

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read Pile

The Tenderness of Wolves

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney –  I’ve had this book since 2007. It’s set in Canada in 1867 beginning in a small place called Dove River on the north shore of Georgian Bay where Mr and Mrs Ross were the first people to settle. The setting is beautiful and as I read I felt as though I was in the wilds of Canada. It’s complex book with many characters  and many sub-plots as the search for the murderer of the French-Canadian trapper, Laurent Jammet.

A Book Your Friend Loves

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

Wedlock by Wendy Moore is a book recommended by a friend, who thought it was very good. She was quite right and I loved this biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses in 18th century Britain. Her first husband was the Count of Strathmore – the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was a direct descendant of their marriage. Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney was an absolute disaster. He was brutally cruel and treated her with such violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, that she lived in fear for her life.

A Book that Scares You

The Craftsman

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton. This is one of her standalone books. They are all really scary, creepy books and I was inescapably drawn into this chilling and terrifying story with the horrors of being buried alive clearly described. It is a remarkably powerful book, full of tension and fear about coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook, a serial child killer who buried his victims alive.

A Book That Is More Then Ten Years Old

Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie,  writing as Mary Westmacott, first published in 1944. I was thoroughly absorbed in the story of Joan Scudamore.  It is set in Mesopotamia (corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey) in a railway rest-house at Tel Abu Hamid on the Turkish border, where Joan is stranded, delayed by floods. She occupies the time with reading and then by thinking about herself. Gradually she relives her past, all the time with a growing feeling of unease and anxiety that she is not the person she thought she was.

The Second Book In A Series

Bump in the Night (Flaxborough Chronicles, #2)

Bump in the Night by Colin Watson, the second book in his Flaxborough series. It’s crime fiction full of wordplay, innuendo, practical jokes and murder. Inspector Purbright investigates a series of explosions, culminating in the death of the local haulage contractor.

A Book With A Blue Cover

The Burning Chambers

 The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse, the first in a new trilogy set in Languedoc in the south-west of France. It’s set in 1562 during the French Wars of Religion, centred on the Joubert family, Catholics living in Carcassonne and Piet Reydon, one of the Huguenot leaders.  Bernard Joubert, a bookseller had been imprisoned accused of being a traitor and a heretic, and Pietis on a dangerous mission in Carcassone to further the Huguenot cause. He finds his life is in danger from the priest Vidal.

Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.’

IMG_20180314_071428165.jpg

Unicorn|1 July 2013|Hardcover|96 pages|a gift|5*

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

It was in 1915, when he had left the Admiralty and although he was still a member of the Cabinet and of the War Council he knew everything but could do nothing. He had great anxiety and no means of relieving it, left with many hours ‘of utterly unwanted leisure in which to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the War‘. So, he began painting.

I was amused to find out that he took the same hesitant steps that I took – using a very small brush, mixed a little paint and then ‘made a mark about as big as a bean’ on his canvas.’ A friend arrived and told him to stop hesitating and showed him how to use a big brush and splash on the paint, which he did with ‘Berserk fury‘.

But Churchill begins, not by  writing about painting, but about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind:

… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. … It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ – if one may coin such an expression – ‘I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk’, or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same.

What is needed are hobbies. And then he goes on to write about reading, and about handling books:

Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

But he considers that reading doesn’t provide enough change to rest the mind and that what is needed is something that needs both the eye and the hand – a handicraft. In his case painting fulfils that role. He talks about the fun of painting, the colours and the pleasure he found in not only in painting a picture, but also the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation, finding objects in  the landscape, he had never noticed before:

So many colours on the hillside, each different in shadow and in sunlight; such brilliant reflections in the pool, each a key lower than what they repeat; such lovely lights gilding or silvering surface or outline, all tinted exquisitely with pale colour, rose, orange, green or violet.

I agree that painting does relax the mind, but I love reading and can be thoroughly absorbed in a book so that I am unaware of the passing of time, just as I also know how quickly time passes  when painting (or in my case in trying to paint). As Churchill wrote:

Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time stands respectfully aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door.

Reading this book was pure pleasure and has encouraged me to pick up my paints again.

One final extract:

Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.

Painting as a Pastime was originally published in 1932, one of the twenty three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (whose American title is Amid These Storms).