12/12/2012 Challenge: January

After several futile hours trying to cobble together themed book lists for the 12/12/2012 challenge, I have realized I’m going about this endeavor incorrectly.

Instead of entire themed lists, I have decided to make a list of themes. Every month, I will post a list of themes with one book per theme that I suggest for the reading challenge. You can stick with a theme or pick and choose! Themes may evolve or be added over time. Right now, there are only ten days left in January, so I’m just going to jump in and make alterations in later months.


This category will ultimately cover four three-book series. First up is:

The Hunger Games book coverThe Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister Primrose, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

If you haven’t read the Hunger Games yet, now is the time. Between the relatively low reading level, the action, and the general amazingness of this book, you’ll easily be finished by February. In fact, you might be finished by tomorrow morning after staying up all night like an espresso-crazed monkey to find out what happens in the end. Word of caution: The non-stop action doesn’t actually start until the games begin, so hang in there through the interesting-but-slow setup.

Come on, you don’t want to be the only person in all Panem — er, America — who hasn’t read the book by the time the movie comes out in March.

Historical Fiction

This category will include historical fiction set in all countries, but first we’re going to hit England with:

Catherine, Called Birdy cover imageCatherine, Called Birdy

by Karen Cushman

Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man–any rich man, no matter how awful.

But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call–by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.

Unfortunately, he is also the richest.

Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?

Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

I’m kicking off historical fiction with a short children’s title for time limitation reasons, but this book would have made the list anyway. The story of a smart-alec medieval English girl who’s determined not to marry, Catherine, Called Birdy details Catherine’s pranks and capers as she sends suitor after suitor packing. While the ending isn’t unhappy, it’s quite realistic, as Catherine learns that she cannot change the world or her place in it. A hilarious tale of struggling against the inevitable, this book makes me glad to be a modern woman.

Foreign Fiction

Foreign works are bittersweet: while many are brilliant, we cannot ever truly appreciate them because we must view them through the lens of translation. However, appreciating the literature of other cultures brings us closer to our global neighbors and can really break up a reading rut. Due to its short n sweet nature, the first selection is:

The Housekeeper and the Professor cover imageThe Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.

She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son.

A sweet story with a Zen sentiment, this book received good reviews in the States and made the book club rounds a few years ago. If you missed it then, now is the chance to catch up!


First up in the memoir category:

Funny in Farsi cover image

Funny in Farsi

by Firoozen Dumas

Funny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumas’s wonderfully engaging family: her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas, and later lost his job during the Iranian revolution; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (nor cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an army of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets; and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie, and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot.

This hilarious collection of essays on the author’s childhood as an Iranian immigrant will make you laugh, cry, and wish you could be adopted by her adorable family.

P.S. Keep your eyes open for my favorite chapter, which involves whether eating pork makes you a bad person. This chapter was censored in Iran, so Iranian editions simply omitted it.


I heart romance! Although I know few other romance readers personally, I will not skimp on this chance to plug for the genre. First up, a favorite I read last year:

Until There Was You cover image

Until There Was You

by Kristan Higgins

Posey Osterhagen can’t complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she’s surrounded by her lovable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something’s missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking…something like Liam Murphy.

When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he’s back, sending Posey’s traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas.

I absolutely love this book. The heroine is adorable. The hero needs some sense smacked into him, but she’s up to the challenge. Hilarious and heart-warming, Until There Was You contains sensual scenes but no graphic sex, so if an aversion to squicky love scenes is putting you off the romance genre, have no fear. This book could easily fall into the Chick Lit category instead, so I think it makes a nice intro to contemporary romance.


The fantasy category will not include science fiction. We may add science fiction later as its own category, though. We shall see! In the meantime, our first fantasy selection is:

Chime cover imageChime

by Franny Billingsley

Before Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know.

This teen title is featured on the January list for two reasons. First, it’s short. Second, it was nominated for a National Book Award. High quality AND low quantity, all at the same time! While the ending may be transparent to adult readers, the beautiful writing makes up for it. I would only change one thing about Franny Billingsley: prolific, she is not. I wish she  had a much longer backlist!

All right, that sums it up for January. I will have February’s list out in a timely fashion and probably add a few more categories.

If you wish to purchase anything on this list, please find a local independent bookseller near you or try to order online from Village Books… This whole 12/12/2012 thing was their idea! Remember, many independent bookstores now offer ebooks through Google Ebooks, so reading electronically is no excuse to go to the big guys. Support your local everything!