jlshall's 50 Book Challenge for 2012

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jlshall's 50 Book Challenge for 2012

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Dec 31, 2011, 7:01 pm

Guess I'll go ahead and make another try for the elusive 50 book total in 2012. I failed dismally in 2011 -- only made it to 42, and that included several very short children's books. So I need all the help I can get.

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 4:56 pm

I also want to keep track of the number of books I read from my TBR shelves/lists -- books I already own or have wanted to read for over a year. I'm aiming for at least a dozen, but hope to do better than that. (Update 7/08/2012: Managed to finish that first dozen! So now I'm going for twenty books from my TBR list, and I've adjusted my ticker counter to reflect that new goal.)

Jan 1, 2012, 2:37 pm

Good luck in this years challange. I didn't succeed in reading 50 books last year either. I read 44. Hoping this year will be the year I finally meet my challange. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all disaapointed. I have always come close to the 50 book mark. It's a goal that one day I would like to achieved. Happy reading and good luck in 2012

Jan 1, 2012, 2:57 pm


I managed to read 49 books in both 2009 and 2010. But in 2011 for some reason I went through a real reading slump. Hope to pull myself together in 2012!

Jan 1, 2012, 7:54 pm

You did not fail my friend - you surpassed my efforts and I thought I did well to get to 40. Onwards and upwards :)

Jan 2, 2012, 8:34 pm

Hi, alexdaw! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I suppose I shouldn't feel that I did such a bad job -- at least I kept reading all year, and that was my main goal.

Edited: Jan 7, 2012, 10:02 am

1. Spiderweb. Penelope Lively

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 new 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. And 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.
Rating: ★★★★

Jan 4, 2012, 6:48 am

I think reading 42 books is wonderful! I can't seem to break the 30 mark. Maybe this year will be different...

Edited: Jan 7, 2012, 9:34 pm

2. The Players Come Again. Amanda Cross

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. Not exactly boring, just disappointing if you're looking for real suspense.

Rating: ★★1/2

Edited: Jan 12, 2012, 1:24 am

3. The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman

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.


Jan 12, 2012, 1:23 am

4. The Night Strangers. Chris Bohjalian

I'd heard so much about this one, I decided to try it even though I seem to remember Bohjalian saying some pretty unflattering things about book bloggers a while back. Still, he's a popular writer and one I'd never read, and this book 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 -- so when I found it at the library last week, 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 really 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. 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.


Jan 12, 2012, 7:21 am

You are definitely getting a good start. If you keep going at this pace you will make 50 easy.

Jan 12, 2012, 10:07 am

Hello! You're off to a great start! I really like your plan for 2012 to read more of the books you already own that are sitting on your shelves. I should do that too. Seems like the library books and ones lent by friends get the priority because they have a deadline, but I should set a deadline for the books I actually PAID money for, right?

That was a good review of the Penelope Lively book. I've never read any of her work, will have to check her out. The only Chris Bohjalian I've read was Midwives, which was good, but this one sounds a bit too scary for me.

Good luck with your reading challenges!

Jan 20, 2012, 3:23 am

Thanks for the encouraging words! It would be nice if I could keep up this pace all year, but it seems pretty unlikely. Just hope I don't hit the kind of slump I hit last February.

Hi there! Yes, I've got way too many books just taking up space on my shelves, waiting to be read. I'm really going to try to cut back on purchases this year, until I've finished up some of those. The Bohjalian book was pretty spooky, but also frustrating. But I was impressed with his writing, even though I wasn't terribly thrilled with this particular book. So he's definitely an author I'll try again.

Jan 20, 2012, 3:40 am

5. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios. Eric Rasmussen

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. 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.

Rating: ★★★

Jan 24, 2012, 2:36 pm

My first abandoned book of the year:

A Man of Parts. David Lodge

I've read a couple of other books by David Lodge, and enjoyed them. This, however, is a very different kind of book. Not bad -- just didn't "grab" me. I'm always a little wary of fiction based on historical figures -- seems that it either takes too many liberties with the subject matter or it's too much like straightforward biography. And I'm afraid this one belongs in that latter category. H.G. Wells is a fascinating figure all right, but I was hoping for more story. After the first fifty pages or so, I felt as though I'd been reading an extended Wikipedia article on Wells -- too much info and not enough action. So this one goes in the DNF batch.

Jan 25, 2012, 12:28 pm

6. Liberty. Garrison Keillor

I've been holding off on saying anything about this one, hoping to come up with a more positive spin. But I guess I should just go ahead and say this was a real disappointment. A few years back, I read Keillor's Pontoon, and really enjoyed it. And I was hoping Liberty would be a repeat of that same kind of witty, humorous tale. But with this book, Keillor presents a much darker view of Lake Wobegon and its quirky inhabitants. The humor is more sarcastic and acid in tone, and the people are an unattractive bunch to say the least. The book is centered around 60-year-old Clint Bunsen and his attempt to oversee the annual Fourth of July parade and celebration. Clint is going through a late-blooming midlife crisis -- dissatisfied with his work and marriage, and falling into an affair with a 28-year-old yoga instructor he met in an Internet chat room. Nothing wrong with that storyline -- it could be the basis for some wonderful comedy, especially (one would think) in the hands of Garrison Keillor. But it's just not funny, and maybe Keillor didn't actually intend it to be. Or maybe I just don't get it because I'm not a middle-aged male. I don't know. But I know this one left me feeling really depressed and glad it was over. I'll give it two stars because the beginning was good, and I do love Keillor's style -- but I'm hoping he's got all that angst out of his system now.

Rating: ★★

Jan 25, 2012, 12:32 pm

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Edited: Feb 19, 2012, 10:23 am

7. A Fall of Moondust. Arthur C. Clarke

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.

Rating: ★★★

Feb 16, 2012, 4:48 pm

You are well ahead of my reading this year. For some reason I am slower than normal. The books that I have read this year have all be good books, except for one I am currently reading.

You are off to a good start. Keep up the momentum.

Feb 18, 2012, 10:57 am

Hi, callmejacx!

Well, I usually get a lot of reading done in January for some reason. Then I generally slow down a bit in February. But I'm hoping to get at least a couple more books read before the end of the month.

Thanks for the visit and the encouraging words!

Feb 19, 2012, 10:43 am

8. Murder in Mount Holly. Paul Theroux

In the past I've read several books by Paul Theroux and really enjoyed them, but hadn't tried any of his more recent work. So when I saw that he'd published a mystery novel, I was intrigued. As it turns out, this isn't really a new book -- it was written in 1969, but never published until last year. Also, it isn't really a mystery novel, although it does involve a bank robbery and several murders. It's been called a dark comedy and a satire of Vietnam era social upheavals; and I suppose both those labels fit. But the whole thing is so weird, it's really hard to decide exactly what to call it. I'm not sure why he even allowed it to be published. About the only positive thing I can say about it is that it's short -- I read it in just a couple of hours, and even that feels like a waste of time.

No stars.

Feb 19, 2012, 2:16 pm

Don't you just hate those books that are a waste of our time? For some reason it is hard for me to toss the book to the side and just forget about it. I keep saying to myself that it just have to get better. When it doesn't I feel empty. Hope your next one is better.

Feb 23, 2012, 9:04 am

callmejacx-- Yes, it's always a disappointment. Generally though, I don't feel too bad about abandoning a book if it's not holding my interest, and I would have dumped this one midway through if it hadn't been so short! Fortunately, my next book was a lot better than the Theroux.

Feb 23, 2012, 9:34 am

9. A Month in the Country. J.L. Carr

This one has 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: ★★★★

Edited: Mar 21, 2012, 7:03 pm

10. The Horned Man. James Lasdun

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

Mar 21, 2012, 7:03 pm

11. The Solitary House. Lynn Shepherd

This was an ARC I received through the Early Reviewer program, and another very enjoyable read. I've put up a short review, so I won't repeat it here.

Rating: ★★★

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 4:46 am

12. Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925. Susan Goodman

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

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 2:46 pm

13. The Other Side of the Fire. Alice Thomas Ellis

I've just recently discovered Alice Thomas Ellis - got interested in her because descriptions of her books sounded a lot like Barbara Pym, one of my favorite writers. And there is a similarity, although no one can really equal dear Barbara in my opinion.

This novel is from 1984, and tells the story of Claudia Bohanon, an upper middle-class housewife who develops a sudden passionate and alarming crush on her grown-up stepson. Very funny book, with lots of intriguingly wacky characters. I definitely want to read more of her books, but they're not that easy to find.

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

Mar 28, 2012, 4:42 am

14. Seven-Day Magic. Edward Eager

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

Apr 2, 2012, 2:20 am

15. The Dovekeepers. Alice Hoffman

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Apr 2, 2012, 9:18 am

I like Barbara Pym, too, and am almost finished with all her novels, so I'm glad to see a reference to a similar author! Too bad Ellis's books are hard to find.

Apr 20, 2012, 3:29 pm


Thanks for the visit! Sorry it's been so long since I showed up here, but we're in the process of selling our condo and packing up for a move very soon. Haven't had much time for reading or anything else lately!

Yes, I'm always on the lookout for authors similar to Barbara Pym, but there aren't too many out there. One of these days, I intend to re-read all her novels.

Apr 20, 2012, 3:37 pm

16. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. Sally Bedell Smith

Almost forgot this one -- probably because I read it in stages, spaced out over many weeks. An Early Reviewer book. Very nice bio of one of my favorite people -- I've always found QEII fascinating, and I really enjoyed this new biography. It's well-researched and provides a good look at both the public and private lives of Elizabeth.

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

Edited: Apr 20, 2012, 3:48 pm

17. Tyrannosaur Canyon. Douglas Preston (No. 8 from my TBR Shelf)

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. This one has a little bit of everything: as the publisher's blurb says:

A moon rock missing for thirty years...
Five buckets of blood-soaked sand found in a New Mexico canyon...
A scientist with ambition enough to kill...
A monk who will redeem the world...
A dark agency with a deadly mission...
The greatest scientific discovery of all time...

Now how could I not love that?

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

Jul 5, 2012, 7:16 pm

18. A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh (No. 9 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Jul 5, 2012, 7:17 pm

19. The Mysterious Key and What It Opened. Louisa May Alcott

Rating: ✭✭✭

Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 7:19 pm

20. Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale. Lynda Rutledge

Rating: ✭✭✭

Jul 5, 2012, 7:21 pm

21. Artists in Crime. Ngaio Marsh (No. 10 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭

Jul 5, 2012, 7:22 pm

22. Night Watch. Linda Fairstein

Rating: ✭✭✭

Jul 5, 2012, 7:24 pm

23. The Key. Patricia Wentworth (No. 11 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭

Jul 5, 2012, 10:33 pm

24. The Warden. Anthony Trollope (No. 12 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 10:17 am

25. Right Ho, Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse (No. 13 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:02 pm

26. Dead Man's Folly. Agatha Christie (No. 14 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:02 pm

27. Skios. Michael Frayn

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:02 pm

28. The House at Riverton. Kate Morton (No. 15 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:09 pm

29. Elephants Can Remember. Agatha Christie

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

This was actually a re-read: It was one of the first Christies I read many many (MANY, MANY!!!) years ago. I've been gradually reading (or re-reading) all the Hercule Poirot novels that feature his mystery-writing friend Ariadne Oliver, and this is one of those.

In this novel, Mrs. Oliver is asked by a Mrs. Burton-Cox to discover the truth about a crime that happened in the past – a murder involving the parents of Celia Ravenscroft, the girl who is about to become engaged to Mrs. B-C's son. At first annoyed by the request, Ariadne soon becomes curious and starts interviewing people about the murder, and of course eventually calls upon her good friend Hercule Poirot for help.

Like most of Christie's works, this one has a long line-up of characters. It also involves a number of plot devices familiar to her readers – including mistaken identity, adoption and illegitimacy, and a pet dog who, as Poirot says, may be "more intelligent perhaps than the police."

I usually find the idea of investigating an ancient crime rather tedious. It takes away all the immediacy of the drama. And at the end of the book, after the mystery has been solved and everything is wrapped up, I did indeed find myself coming to a sort of "so what" moment which was a bit of a let-down. So I'd say while it's still a good read and I enjoyed it, it's definitely not the best example of Dame Agatha's work.

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:01 pm

30. My Man Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse (No. 16 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

The second Wodehouse I've read this year, and another winner. These short pieces were originally published in magazines before 1919, and were (I believe) the stories that introduced the world to Bertie Wooster and his trusty valet Jeeves. They almost invariably deal with Bertie trying to help out a pal ("Helping Freddie," "Rallying Round Old George," "Doing Clarence a Bit of Good," "Fixing It for Freddie") and naturally getting himself into all sorts of entanglements and complications -- problems that can only be solved by the wit and cunning of the stalwart Jeeves. Great fun.

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:01 pm

31. The Little Stranger. Sarah Waters

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Edited: Nov 27, 2012, 4:04 pm

32. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson (No. 17 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2

Nov 27, 2012, 4:04 pm

33. Lost Boy Lost Girl. Peter Straub (No. 18 from my TBR Shelf)

Rating: ✭✭✭1/2