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jlshall's 12 in 12 Challenge

The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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1jlshall
Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 9:27pm Top

This is my first attempt at one of these category challenges (I thought about the 11 in 11 Challenge, but was too chicken to take the plunge), so I’m deliberately keeping my categories rather broad. And because I’m such a slow reader, there's no way I could read twelve books in each category. I typically read somewhere around 49 or 50 books in a year's time, but I'm going to be really conservative and shoot for three books in most categories, and six in categories 4 and 8. So, 42 books total.




Oh, and I’m going to be following the no-repeat rule, even though some of the books I read will likely fit in several categories.

So here are my categories. They’ll probably undergo a bit of tweaking before 2012 actually gets underway, but I’m pretty satisfied with them at the moment.

1. Ancestral Voices (books by English or Welsh writers)
2. Anything But Fiction (just what it says – any kind of nonfiction)
3. Books About Books (books that have books, writers, the book trade, or libraries as a central theme; can be fiction or non-)
4. Cozy Up to Mystery (mysteries, cozy and otherwise)
5. A Deadly Vintage (mysteries published before 1960)
6. Funny Business (humor)
7. Oh, the Horror! (ghosts, ghouls, and gothica)
8. Recent and New (books published in 2011 and 2012)
9. Second Helpings (books that are second in a series, or by authors I’ve read only once)
10. Turn Back the Clock (historical fiction and older books I meant to read but didn't)
11. Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay? (books that have won or been nominated for one of the major mystery writing awards – Edgars, CWA Dagger, Macavity, etc.)
12. A World Elsewhere (literature from countries other than the US or England)

My choice of categories is heavily weighted toward the genres I already tend to read a lot – mysteries, British fiction, the supernatural, humor. But I think I’ve given myself enough room to step out a little and try a bit of new stuff, too. Now I’m off to make some book lists….

--
Joy Hall
Posted 10/29/2011

2jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:30pm Top

CATEGORY 1: Ancestral Voices

Books by English or Welsh writers.

1. Spiderweb. Penelope Lively (1998; English author)
2. The Other Side of the Fire. Alice Thomas Ellis (1984; author was half-Welsh, half-Finnish, lived in Wales and England)
3. The Warden. Anthony Trollope (1855; English author)

3jlshall
Edited: May 2, 2012, 2:19pm Top

CATEGORY 2: Anything But Fiction

Any kind of nonfiction (biography, history, philosophy, science, self-help, etc.)

1. Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925. Susan Goodman
2. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. Sally Bedell Smith
3.

POSSIBLE CHOICES:

1959: The Year Everything Changed. Fred Kaplan
Anthony Powell: A Life. Michael Barber
Books: A Memoir. Larry McMurtry
A Circle of Sisters. Judith Flanders
Curriculum Vitae. Muriel Spark
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. David McCullough
Here at the New Yorker. Brendan Gill
In Cold Blood. Truman Capote
The Infinity of Lists. Umberto Eco
Just Kids. Patti Smith
Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties. Paul Johnson
The Mystery of Lewis Carroll. Jenny Woolf
The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws. Margaret Drabble
The Peabody Sisters. Megan Marshall
The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion

4jlshall
Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 3:48am Top

CATEGORY 3: Books About Books

Books that have books, writers, the writing life, the book trade, or libraries as a central theme; fiction or nonfiction

1. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios. Eric Rasmussen
2.
3.

POSSIBLE CHOICES:

A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries. Thomas Mallon
The City of Dreaming Books. Walter Moers
The Eyre Affair. Jasper Fforde
A Gentle Madness. Nicholas A. Basbanes
The Last Dickens. Matthew Pearl
The Library at Night. Alberto Manguel
Miss Zukas and the Library Murders. Jo Dereske
The Sign of the Book. John Dunning
Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World. Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
The Years with Ross. James Thurber

5jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 6:04pm Top

CATEGORY 4: Cozy Up to Mystery

I had originally intended to limit this category to only cozy mysteries -- I have several series going. But I think I might as well include other types of mystery novels as well, since it's just about my favorite genre. So let's say -- cozy and not so cozy.

1. Mrs. Malory and No Cure for Death. Hazel Holt (Sheila Malory series)
2. Elephants Can Remember. Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot series)
3. Dead Man's Folly. Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot series)
4. The Nursing Home Murder. Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn series)
5. Tyrannosaur Canyon. Douglas Preston
6.

POSSIBLE CHOICES (Cozies):

Miss Marple mystery series. Agatha Christie
Mrs. Malory mystery series. Hazel Holt
Mrs. Murphy mystery series. Rita Mae Brown
Needlework/Betsy Devonshire mystery series. Monica Ferris

POSSIBLE CHOICES (Romantic Suspense):

The Circular Staircase. Mary Roberts Rinehart
Hidden Riches. Nora Roberts
House of Many Shadows. Barbara Michaels
Kirkland Revels. Victoria Holt
Tall, Dark, and Deadly. Heather Graham
This Rough Magic. Mary Stewart

POSSIBLE CHOICES (Other Mystery/Suspense):

Iron House. John Hart
Lethal Legacy. Linda Fairstein
Inspector Barnaby series. Caroline Graham
Inspector Morse series. Colin Dexter
Inspector Wexford series. Ruth Rendell
Pendergast series. Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

6jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:32pm Top

CATEGORY 5: A Deadly Vintage

Mysteries published before 1960

1. A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh (1934; a Roderick Alleyn Mystery)
2. The Key. Patricia Wentworth (1944; a Miss Silver Mystery)
3. Artists in Crime. Ngaio Marsh (1938; a Roderick Alleyn Mystery)

7jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:32pm Top

CATEGORY 6: Funny Business

Humor and comic novels -- might throw some graphic novels or kiddie lit in here

1. Right Ho, Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse
2. My Man Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse
3. Skios. Michael Frayn

8jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:37pm Top

CATEGORY 7: Oh, the Horror!

Spooky fiction – ghosts, dark suspense, Gothic romance, paranormal, etc.

1. The Night Strangers. Chris Bohjalian
2. The Little Stranger. Sarah Waters
3. lost boy lost girl. Peter Straub

9jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:41pm Top

CATEGORY 8: Recent and New

Books published in 2011 and 2012

I have a number of ARCs from 2011 that I haven't read (or haven't finished) yet, so I'm putting them here, although they might eventually end up under other categories.

1. The Solitary House. Lynn Shepherd (2012)
2. Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale. Lynda Rutledge (2012)
3. Night Watch. Linda Fairstein (2012)
4. The Bartender's Tale. Ivan Doig (2012)
5.
6.

POSSIBLE CHOICES (ARCs):

Altar of Bones. Philip Carter
Dreams of Joy. Lisa See
Iron House. John Hart
The Land of Painted Caves. Jean M. Auel
The Map of Time. Felix J. Palma
Prophecy. S.J. Parris (no touchstone?)
The Survivor. Sean Slater

POSSIBLE CHOICES (Other):

The Accident. Linwood Barclay
An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus. William Todd Schultz
Love You More. Lisa Gardner
The Paris Wife. Paula McLain

10jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:38pm Top

CATEGORY 9: Second Helpings

Books that are the second in a series, or that have been written by authors I’ve only read once before

1. The Players Come Again. Amanda Cross (1990)
2. The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman (1998)
3. The Dovekeepers. Alice Hoffman (2011)

11jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 6:03pm Top

CATEGORY 10: Turn Back the Clock

OK, this is sort of a tricky one. At first, I had planned to limit this to historical fiction – that is, books written about or set in the past – and I’m going to keep that as its main theme. But I might also use this category as a kind of overflow category, for older books that I meant to read but didn’t (the famous TBR list/pile). As I said, I’m still tweaking…so I’ll think about it for a while and see what emerges.

1. A Fall of Moondust. Arthur C. Clarke
2. A Month in the Country. J.L. Carr
3. The Horned Man. James Lasdun
4. The House at Riverton. Kate Morton

POSSIBLE CHOICES (Historical Fiction):

The Mists of Avalon. Marion Zimmer Bradley
Los Alamos. Joseph Kanon
A Morbid Taste for Bones. Ellis Peters
World's Fair. E.L. Doctorow

POSSIBLE CHOICES (from my "To Read Someday" list):

Back When We Were Grownups. Anne Tyler
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick
Islands in the Stream. Ernest Hemingway
The Magnificent Ambersons. Booth Tarkington
Main Street. Sinclair Lewis
Portnoy's Complaint. Philip Roth
Rabbit, Run. John Updike
Time and Again. Clifford D. Simak

12jlshall
Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 10:01am Top

CATEGORY 11: Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

Books that have won or been nominated for one of the major mystery-writing awards (Agatha Awards, Anthony Awards, CWA Dagger Awards, Edgar Awards, Macavity Awards, Nero Awards, Shamus Awards, etc.) -- this could include some true crime as well as fiction

1.
2.
3.

POSSIBLE CHOICES:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Tom Franklin
The Dead of Jericho. Colin Dexter
Death and the Joyful Woman. Ellis Peters
A Dram of Poison. Charlotte Armstrong
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late. Harry Kemelman
The Long Goodbye. Raymond Chandler
Service of All the Dead. Colin Dexter
The Wench is Dead. Colin Dexter
When Will There Be Good News? Kate Atkinson

13jlshall
Edited: Dec 18, 2012, 5:55pm Top

CATEGORY 12: A World Elsewhere

Books written by authors from countries other than the U.S. and England – mostly in translation, since (sadly) I don’t read any languages other than English

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson
2.
3.

POSSIBLE CHOICES:

Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann
Confessions of Felix Krull. Thomas Mann
Dreams of My Russian Summers. Andrei Makine
If on a winter's night a traveler. Italo Calvino
Ignorance: A Novel. Milan Kundera
The Post-Office Girl. Stefan Zweig
The Prince of Mist. Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Smilla's Sense of Snow. Peter Hoeg
The Trial. Franz Kafka

14SouthernKiwi
Oct 29, 2011, 11:21pm Top

Nice categories, several of your categories and possible choices intersect with mine so I'll watch to see how you fill them.

15AHS-Wolfy
Oct 30, 2011, 5:55am Top

Definitely some categories to keep an eye on here. Welcome to the challenge and good luck!

16lkernagh
Oct 30, 2011, 12:29pm Top

Nice categories. Welcome to the group and enjoy your challenge reading!

17jlshall
Oct 30, 2011, 5:44pm Top

Hi, everyone! Thanks for taking a look at my 12-in-12. I'm in the process of visiting everybody and getting lots of ideas for more great reads. Can't wait for 2012 to get started!

18DeltaQueen50
Oct 30, 2011, 7:08pm Top

Welcome to the challenge, looks like you are planning an interesting reading year.

19jlshall
Nov 3, 2011, 1:57pm Top

Hi, DeltaQueen50. Thanks for the welcome. I'm hoping this will help me clear out some of my longtime TBR pile -- lots of interesting stuff there, if I can just make myself take it down off the shelf.

20DeltaQueen50
Nov 3, 2011, 2:34pm Top

Well, if you are anything like me you will probably find both your wishlist and your TBR pile growing rather than shrinking as you read the different threads here!

21SharonGoforth
Nov 8, 2011, 8:07pm Top

Love your categories, especially your vintage and series mysteries! I am planning to read some Mary Roberts Rinehart, too. Good luck with your challenge!

22jlshall
Nov 9, 2011, 9:43am Top

Ex_Libris -- Thanks! (I'll need the luck, since I'm a really slow reader.) I only recently rediscovered MRR -- used to read her a lot when I was a teen. She's such a great story-teller.

DeltaQueen -- Too right! I've already added about a dozen titles to the already way-too-long TBR list, after checking out all the other threads here.

23avatiakh
Nov 11, 2011, 9:03pm Top

I love some of your book choices, and your categories are well thought out.

24jlshall
Nov 22, 2011, 11:13am Top

avatiakh -- Thanks! I gave it a lot of thought, but I'm still tweaking. I have a massive "TBR" list/stack, and I'm really hoping this will help me wade through some of it.

25letterpress
Nov 22, 2011, 10:10pm Top

Very cool categories and interesting book choices. Starred!

26jlshall
Nov 28, 2011, 9:37am Top

letterpress -- Thanks! It took me quite a while to come up with categories I think I can live with for a whole year.

27mamzel
Dec 18, 2011, 2:52pm Top

Nice categories and interesting possibilities. Looks like you're in for a great year!

28CynWetzel
Dec 20, 2011, 12:46pm Top

>12 jlshall:
I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Franklin's Crooked Letter.

29jlshall
Jan 1, 2012, 11:43am Top

Hi, CynWetzel! I'm curious about that one, too. It doesn't really sound like the sort of mysteries I generally read, but it's had such great reviews, I thought I might give it a look.

Thanks for dropping by!

30jlshall
Jan 1, 2012, 12:01pm Top

Well, I guess it's OK to get started on my 2012 reading now. It took a lot of self-control to wait until the new year, but I really wanted to give myself a chance to get a little more reading done for 2011 -- not one of my best reading years, unfortunately.

I'm starting the year off with two books -- one fiction, and one non-. The nonfiction is an Early Reviewer book, The Shakespeare Thefts by Eric Rasmussen, and looks very interesting. I need to get that one done quickly and post a review, since it's from the October batch (!). The novel is Spiderweb by Penelope Lively, and would work for several of my categories although I don't seem to have included it in any of my "possibilities" lists. But I thought for the first read of the year I needed something short by an author I've read and enjoyed in the past, and this one fills both of those requirements. Also it works nicely for the What's in a Name Challenge that I've signed up for.

Should also confess that I've got two holdovers from 2011, Buddenbrooks and A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, that I'm also reading. They're both pretty chunky, so I'll probably be reading them for quite a while in addition to everything else. Buddenbrooks especially looks like it could be a year-long project!

So, Happy New Year, and let the reading begin!

31jlshall
Jan 1, 2012, 12:04pm Top

Hi, Mamzel! Thanks for the kind words. 2011 wasn't such a great year for me where reading is concerned, so I'm hoping for much better things in 2012. Hope you have a great year, too!

32mamzel
Jan 1, 2012, 2:47pm Top

I cleared my decks of ERs today. I think I had it from October, too.

33jlshall
Jan 4, 2012, 10:28am Top

Book No. 1: Spiderweb. Penelope Lively (1998)



CATEGORY #1 (Ancestral Voices: Books by English or Welsh Authors)

Lively's beautifully written novel tells the story of Stella Brentwood, a 65-year-old newly retired anthropologist who's recently moved to a small English village to begin her post-employment life. In fresh, unfamiliar surroundings, Stella falls back on tried and true habits of observation and study. She immerses herself in village life, just as she's done in many parts of the world over a lifetime of field work, all the while maintaining a professional distance from it all -- still the anthropologist who can't allow herself to become too entangled in the lives of the people she's studying. But in retirement, Stella finds new opportunities for human connection, and even love. Can she make the emotional commitment these new relationships require?

And at the same time, there are those in the village who aren't so friendly or happy to have this stranger in their midst. Do they pose a threat to Stella and her new existence?

I always enjoy Penelope Lively's books, and this is one of her best. I loved the fact that the book's protagonist is a "mature" woman who's not dying of a dread disease, struggling with senility, or fighting with her children. Although she's reached retirement age, Stella is active, in good health physically and mentally, has no children and doesn't spend half the novel moaning about that lack. Even though her interpretation of events has been shaped and in some ways distorted by her life-long habit of dispassionate observation, I found Stella a very appealing and sympathetic character.

This is one I can definitely see myself reading again and recommending.

Note: also posted over in my 50 Book Challenge thread. From here on, I'll probably post reviews and reading reports in one place or the other, not both -- since I'll also be posting reviews on my book blog (A Little Reading). But which is it to be?

34mamzel
Jan 5, 2012, 11:54am Top

This sounds good! I'll be adding it to my wish list. Thanks.

35jlshall
Edited: Jan 7, 2012, 9:33pm Top

Book No. 2: The Players Come Again. Amanda Cross



CATEGORY #9 (Second Helpings)

A Kate Fansler mystery. I've read one other book in this series, many years ago, and remember being a bit disappointed by it. But I wanted to give the author (Amanda Cross was the pseudonym of feminist literary critic Carolyn Heilbrun) another chance. Sad to say, this book was even less satisfying than the first. I read it right through, fairly quickly (for me), waiting for the promised mystery to develop. But, except for a possible long-ago murder mentioned in the book's last pages, this was a pretty standard tale of literary research.

The book did have a number of interesting characters, several of them older women -- a very unusual and welcome occurrence. But the dialogue was disturbingly unrealistic and pretentious, even for academic and literary types. Every time someone opens his or her mouth, a literary reference or quote pops out.

Altogether, I'd say this is not really one I'd recommend. Not exactly boring, just disappointing if you're looking for real suspense.

36jlshall
Jan 20, 2012, 3:58pm Top

Book No. 3: The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman



CATEGORY #9 (Second Helpings)

What a great little book! I read Lipman's The Ladies' Man a few years back and really loved it, and I've been wanting to read more by her ever since. I was hoping that first experience wasn't just a fluke, and I'm delighted to say it definitely was not. This tale of how an introduction to antisemitism at an early age affects the life of a young Jewish girl and all those around her is gorgeously written, moving and amazingly funny as well. Lipman is becoming one of my favorite writers -- I wonder if I dare try a third sample.

37jlshall
Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 5:38pm Top

Book No. 4: The Night Strangers. Chris Bohjalian



CATEGORY #7 (Oh, the Horror!)

After a horrific plane crash in which most of the passengers as well as his co-pilot are killed, airline pilot Chip Linton is devastated and in need of both physical and emotional healing. He's been cleared of any wrong-doing or neglect, but he's haunted by survivor's guilt and the possibility that if he'd acted differently or faster, more lives might have been saved. Worried about her husband and anxious to help the family return to some degree of normality, wife Emily Linton decides the best plan would be to move the family to a new town where they can get away from the disturbing memories, and get a fresh start. So the run-down but lovely Victorian house in a quiet town in northern New Hampshire seems the perfect choice.

Chip and Emily decide to buy the place and make a new home for themselves and their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. They're so enchanted with their new surroundings that they're really not too alarmed when the real estate agent who helped them find the house dies suddenly on the day they're scheduled to close. And once they move in, life seems to be smoothing out again -- until Chip notices the mysterious door in the basement. Why didn't they notice it when they were looking at the house the first time around? What's behind the door, and why does it seem to lead nowhere? And why is it tightly sealed with thirty-nine carriage bolts? Is it just a coincidence that thirty-nine is the exact number of people killed in the plane crash?

While Chip becomes obsessed with finding the answers to these questions, Emily is starting to wonder about the women she's met in the village. Calling themselves "herbalists," they seem completely caught up in their horticultural pursuits. Emily is sure the ladies are simply harmless hobbyists. But why do they seem so fascinated by the Lintons' twin daughters?

Lots of questions to be answered. Including the one I kept asking: "why don't they just pack up and move back to the city?"

I'd heard so much about this one: it sounded right down my street -- a haunted basement, spooky twins, shamans, witches, a town with a secret from the past. Now how could I resist something like that? Obviously I couldn't -- and when I found it at the library, I had to bring it home. And managed to read the whole thing in one day; pretty unusual for me, especially since the book is almost 400 pages long.

So I have to admit, it's definitely a page-turner. But the story itself left me a little cold (and not from terror). Maybe I've just read too many of these creepy tales, but this one seemed a little too derivative -- many other books kept coming to mind including Rosemary's Baby, Burnt Offerings and The Amityville Horror, as well as bits of Stephen King. And I had a lot of trouble believing that two intelligent people could be as gullible and unaware as Chip and Emily seem to be -- even if they are suffering from trauma and depression. Can't say much more or I'd give too much away -- it was all just a bit too predictable for my taste.

But, as I said, I did enjoy the writing, so I don't think I'll let this one turn me off Chris Bohjalian. Several of his other works sound very interesting, too.

38jlshall
Jan 20, 2012, 5:33pm Top

Book No. 5: The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios. Eric Rasmussen



CATEGORY #3 (Books About Books)

This is the story of a renowned Shakespeare scholar's attempt to track down every known copy of one of the world's most famous books. A daunting task, to be sure; and one that certainly appeals to the lit-geek in me. The book was interesting enough, and a fast read; I enjoyed it, even though I was never exactly swept away by the narrative. An awful lot of detail to take in, for such a relatively short book -- occasionally I felt like I was slipping into info overload syndrome. Not a book for the masses, but if you're interested in Shakespeare scholarship or theater history or rare book collecting, this should be right up your street.

39jlshall
Feb 21, 2012, 10:16pm Top

Book No. 6: A Fall of Moondust. Arthur C. Clarke



CATEGORY #10 (Turn Back the Clock)

This one's from my long-time TBR list. Published in 1961; Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel. In the book, the Dust-cruiser Selene has been buried beneath the Moon's Sea of Thirst, trapping the crew and passengers under many feet of deadly dust. Plot revolves around efforts to come up with a way of getting to the Selene and getting everyone out before the cruiser is destroyed or loses its oxygen supply. A really good "hard" science fiction tale that seems only slightly dated. There's an appealing you-are-there, almost documentary feel to the novel. My only quibble is that sometimes the sci gets in the way of the fi -- that is, character development tends to take a backseat to all that technical detail. Still, a good, fast read. (★★★)

40jlshall
May 2, 2012, 1:32pm Top

Book No. 7: A Month in the Country. J.L. Carr



CATEGORY #10 (Turn Back the Clock)

This works for both aspects of Category 10: It's historical fiction and also a book that I've wanted to read for a long time. In fact, it's been on my TBR list ever since the late 1980s when I saw the film based on the book. Have to say, I don't really remember all that much about the movie now, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. It's the story of a couple of months in the life of WWI veteran Tom Birkin who comes to the small English village of Oxgodby in the summer of 1920 to restore a Medieval mural newly-discovered on the walls of the village church. He lives in the bell tower and spends each day uncovering the anonymous painter's splendid work. He also meets the Vicar and his wife, as well as the people of the village, and becomes part of their lives. And he's befriended by archaeologist Charles Moon, who's established a solitary dig nearby to search for an ancient burial site. The summer glides by, and Birkin finds his spirit and hope for the future restored, along with the wall painting he's bringing back to life.

The book is very short, a novella really -- I read it in an afternoon -- but it packs a real emotional impact, and does it quietly and with amazing subtlety. Just a wonderful little book.

Rating: ★★★★

41jlshall
May 2, 2012, 1:37pm Top

Book No. 8: The Horned Man. James Lasdun



CATEGORY #10 (Turn Back the Clock)

Strange book, but an enjoyable read. Nothing is what it seems in the story of Lawrence Miller, English expat and professor of gender studies at an American college, who develops an obsession with the mysterious Bogomil Trumilcik, a former lecturer at the same college. Is Trumilcik really out to frame Miller for murder, or is the whole story one man's descent into madness? The mystery and paranoia keep building right up to the book's final pages.

Rating: ★★★1/2

42jlshall
Edited: May 2, 2012, 1:54pm Top

Book No. 9: The Solitary House. Lynn Shepherd



CATEGORY #8 (Recent and New)

The Solitary House was an Early Reviewer book, and was really not at all what I expected. Lynn Shepherd has borrowed characters and bits of story lines from Dickens' Bleak House and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and mixed them all into this fast-paced, intricate mystery set in Victorian London. Must admit that at first I was a little put off by the idea of a writer using so much of another author's creation (when does homage become rip-off?). But as I got deeper and deeper into the narrative, I forgot all that and just let the story-telling take over. Glad I did -- Shepherd tells a great tale. I'd recommend this one to anyone who loves historical fiction, whether or not they're familiar with the works that it references.

Rating: ★★★

43jlshall
May 2, 2012, 1:53pm Top

Book No. 10: Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925. Susan Goodman



CATEGORY #2 (Anything But Fiction)

Another Early Reviewer book. Almost forgot to list this one! Probably because it took me quite a while to finish reading it -- not that I didn't like it, but the style of the writing makes it an easy book to read in short bursts. Actually, this is a fascinating book. I used to be a regular reader of The Atlantic Monthly back in the '60s and '70s, but didn't really know anything about its beginnings and history until now. Goodman's book is a thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone interested in American literary history.

Rating: ★★★1/2

44jlshall
May 2, 2012, 2:05pm Top

Book No. 11: The Other Side of the Fire. Alice Thomas Ellis



CATEGORY #1 (Ancestral Voices)

I've just recently discovered Alice Thomas Ellis -- descriptions of her books sounded a lot like Barbara Pym, so I was immediately intrigued. Pym is one of the authors I absolutely love, and I'm always looking for books with something of the flavor of her novels. And in The Other Side of the Fire, there is a distinct similarity, although no one can really equal Dear Barbara in my opinion.

This novel was published in 1984, and tells the story of Claudia Bohannon, a respectable, upper-middle-class housewife who develops a sudden passionate and alarming crush on her grown-up stepson, Philip. Bewildered by the turn of events, Claudia turns to her best friend Sylvie for advice and sympathy, but Sylvie has no patience or words of wisdom -- when Claudia tells her she's fallen in love, Sylvie only cautions, "Be careful....It can be dangerous at your age." Sylvie likewise is no comfort to Claudia's husband (and Philip's father) Charles when he also seeks her consolation, telling him that she thinks marriage "is like a three-legged race with each participant harnessed to a loser."

Complications set in when Sylvie's daughter Evvie enters the fray. Evvie is in the process of writing her first novel -- a pulp romance based (rather loosely) on the local Scottish vet, his pet cow Violet, and his very odd (at least in Evvie's telling) group of relatives and companions. Very soon, Evvie is blurring the lines between her fictional world and the real one, and also getting Claudia and Philip involved in her creation. Eventually, of course, the two worlds collide in a painful but hilarious dust-up before things start getting back to normal.

This really is a very funny book, with lots of wonderfully wacky characters (I debated with myself quite a while about whether or not to list it in my "Funny Business" category). Don't know how I've missed out on Alice Thomas Ellis up to now. I definitely want to read more of her books, but they're not that easy to find.

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

45jlshall
May 2, 2012, 2:12pm Top

Book No. 12: The Dovekeepers. Alice Hoffman



CATEGORY #9 (Second Helpings)

Review to come.

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

46jlshall
May 2, 2012, 2:18pm Top

Book No. 13: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. Sally Bedell Smith



CATEGORY #2 (Anything But Fiction)

I've read several biographies of Queen Elizabeth -- I guess you could say I'm a fan -- but still enjoyed this new book by Sally Bedell Smith. It's a magnificently detailed look at the woman who is arguably the most famous woman in the world. The author has done a wonderful job of research, talked to all the right people, and presents a fascinating portrait of Elizabeth the monarch and Elizabeth the private individual. If you're only going to read one biography of Elizabeth, this is probably the one to choose.

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

47jlshall
Edited: May 2, 2012, 2:33pm Top

Book No. 14: Tyrannosaur Canyon. Douglas Preston



CATEGORY #10 (Turn Back the Clock)

Added this title to my TBR list when it came out back in 2006, but never got around to reading it until now. Another ripping yarn by Douglas Preston. I love his stuff -- so nice to just abandon all concept of reality and immerse myself in the action. As usual, this one has a little bit of everything: missing moon rocks; an ambitious scientist willing to kill anyone who blocks his path to fame and fortune; a mysterious monk who just might save the world from annihilation; a dark government agency with a deadly mission; and just possibly the greatest scientific discovery of all time. And there's more...!

Now how could I not love a book like that?

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

48jlshall
May 2, 2012, 4:16pm Top

Book No. 15: A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh



CATEGORY #5 (A Deadly Vintage)

Review to come.

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

49jlshall
Edited: May 2, 2012, 4:33pm Top

Book No. 16: Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale. Lynda Rutledge



CATEGORY #8 (New and Recent)

Review to come.

Rating: ✭✭✭

50jlshall
May 2, 2012, 4:29pm Top

Book No. 17: The Key. Patricia Wentworth



CATEGORY #5 (A Deadly Vintage)

Review to come.

51lkernagh
May 2, 2012, 10:00pm Top

Looks like you have been busy reading..... and an interesting string of books, too!

Group: The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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