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Urban Leaving to Country Living

Books Read in August 2012


August was a bonanza-beach-bonus month for me. I gave myself time to devour a total of 15 books, of which nine were mysteries, my comfort food of reading. In case you’re not as enthralled with that genre as I am, I divided my list into two parts.

This post brings me almost up to date with my reading record!


Firmin by Sam Savage (Fiction)4.5 star rating
Firmin is a rat born in the basement of a Scolley Square bookstore in Boston in the early 1960s. His mother is Firmin, Sam Savagean alcoholic and eventually deserts the family. Driven by hunger, Firmin makes a diet of Zane Grey, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Jane Eyre. Strangely, as Firmin eats, he takes in the words (and meanings), becoming an extremely literate rat.
Told from Firmin’s point of view, the book is by turns hilarious, tragic and hopeful. I really liked the story and loved the cover, with its bite-size medallion taken out of the side. Best cover of my year, I’m sure, and a great example of the need for print books.
Read this if: you love the classics, or books in general. Basically, if you’re reading this post, you should read Firmin. 4½ stars

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole (Fiction, Canadian) 4.5 star rating
Jean Horemarsh has just returned to living with her husband after three months spent caring for her mother as she died of cancer. After watching her mother die, Jean is convinced no one should have to suffer the indignities of aging and illness like her mother did—and she, Jean Horemarsh, will take it upon herself to give each of her friends one final, perfect moment . . . and then, one by one, kill them.
The 2011 winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, Practical Jean is wickedly funny and thought-provoking.
Read this if: you appreciate irony, or a darker shade of humour.
4½ stars

Heading Home: On Starting a New Life in a Country Place by Lawrence Scanlan (Non-fiction, Memoir, Country Living, Canadian) 4.5 star rating

You may know that my husband and I exchanged big city living for life in rural Nova Scotia nine years ago, so I’m always interested in books/memoirs about moving to the country. Scanlan, who moved from the city of Kingston to the village of Camden East, Ontario (pop. 250) has written one of the best I’ve encountered.
The book’s twelve chapters, each devoted to one month, chronicle a year in the life of the village. Heading Home is a beautiful piece of narrative non-fiction, yet it is packed with extremely practical advice for anyone yearning to start over in a country place.
Read this if: you are contemplating country life – or if you just wonder what it’s like. 4½ stars

A Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dergatz (Fiction, Canadian) 4 star rating
When Gail Anderson-Dargatz showed the manuscript of A Recipe for Bees to her divorced parents, it caused them to reconsider their sixteen-year separation. “My parents, Eric and Irene, are models for Karl and Augusta in many ways. I set out to show them how extraordinary their seemingly ordinary lives were.” She interviewed them during the writing of the book and as they read the work in progress, they began to talk about unresolved problems(…) Her parents were remarried on Christmas Day, 1998, some fifty years after their first marriage.
This is a lovely anecdote but it doesn’t really surprise me. A Recipe for Bees is a masterful examination of relationships, primarily the one between Augusta and her husband. At its heart are the life, death, and resurrection of an extraordinary marriage. With lots of beekeeping lore, this Giller Prize nominated (1998) story is as sweet as honey.
Read this if: you believe that the bonds of marriage should hold, for better or for worse. 4 stars

The Absolutist by John Boyne (Fiction, WWI) 3.5 star rating
“It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a The Absolutist, John Boynepackage of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War. But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it.”
Most reviewers love this book. I’m more ‘meh’. The writing is superb and the story unfolds with just the right amount of tension from beginning to end. But I wasn’t blown away by the climax. I understand Will’s stand and determination to stick to it despite the consequences, and Tristan’s actions didn’t make any difference to the outcome. Maybe I’ve just read too many WWI novels recently.
Read this if: you enjoy WWI stories; you’re interested the relationships between soldiers during wartime; or if you approve of war in principle. 3½ stars

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden (Children’s Chapter book) 3 star rating
The activities, sorrows, and joys of a family of dolls living in an old doll house are related from the dolls’ point of view.
It’s rather dated, but charming. Read this if: you ever played with a dollhouse – or wanted to (and who didn’t?) 3 stars

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autumn books
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The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn 4.5 star rating
“Combining suspense and intrigue with a wonderfully humorous take on the link between man and beast, Spencer Quinn’s exceptional mystery series has captured widespread praise since its New York Times bestselling debut, Dog on It”. In the fourth entry in the series, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, canine Chet becomes the focus of dognappers, while his partner Bernie is looking for a boy who has gone missing from a wilderness camp in the high country. The Dog Who Knew Too Much is classic Spencer Quinn, offering page-turning entertainment that’s not just for dog-lovers.
I love this series featuring Bernie Little and his dog Chet who narrates the books. The mysteries are always suspenseful and solidly developed. But it’s Chet who makes this series. His love of life is exhilarating for me.
Read this if: you love dogs and mysteries – or if you just love dogs – or if you just like mysteries. (I really can’t be objective about Chet.) 4½ stars

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear 4 star rating
The Maisie Dobbs series has been described by USA Today as ‘less whodunits than why-dunits, more P.D. James Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspearthan Agatha Christie’ (USA Today) I’ve followed this series since Maisie debuted as a newly discharged WWI nurse in 1919, through Maisie’s growth during the 1920s. I particularly appreciate that Maisie’s life – her circumstances, her friendships, her personality with both strengths and flaws—has not remained static but has developed naturally as it might have in her time and place.

Set in 1933 London Elegy for Eddie, the ninth and latest Maisie Dobbs offering, has Maisie investigating the brutal killing of a street peddler from the working-class neighborhood of her childhood. It’s one of the best in a super series.
Read this: after you’ve read the rest of the series. Yes, each book in the series stands alone, but they’ll have greater impact if you’ve watched Maisie grow. If the period in Britain between the World Wars intrigues you, or you enjoy a strong but flawed female protagonist, you’ll particularly enjoy this series. 4 stars
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear 4 star rating
In the eighth book in the Maisie Dobbs series, A Lesson in Secrets, Maisie is working for the Secret Service at a pacifist college in Cambridge. The Secret Service is particularly suspicious of what they see as the country’s biggest threat: communism, while basically ignoring the rise of fascism and Nazism.
This is a solid entry in this series, and one with a slightly different perspective for Maisie. 4 stars

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie 4 star rating
The ‘folly’ of the title is actually an architectural term defined as “an eccentric, generally non-functional structure erected to enhance a romantic landscape.” Of course, the play on words using the more commonly understood meaning of the word is intentional. In this classic Christie, Adriadne Oliver arranges a mock Murder Hunt for charity and calls in her friend Hercule Poirot when a real body is discovered. Although this was published in 1956, it has the feel of one of Christie’s slightly older stories: the classic country estate, the Lord & Lady, the house guests, and so on.
In addition to the word play of the title, there is the gentle mockery of Christie herself, on whom Ariadne Oliver is said to be based. So she sets up a murder and doesn’t know who the murderer is. Very well-done, excellently clued but still perplexing mystery.
Read this if: you’re looking for a classic English country whodunit set in the mid-twentieth century. 4 stars

The Tragedy of Z by Ellery Queen (Barnaby Ross) 3.5 star rating
This is the third in the Drury Lane series (the Tragedies of X,Y &Z). Drury Lane is a blind, retired stage actor and a good friend of (the fictional) Ellery Queen. This was published in 1933, is melodramatic but oh-so-elegant. The mystery is fairly clued, but very difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever solved a novel-length Ellery Queen. 3½ stars

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie 3 star rating
Miss Jane Marple takes a two week holiday at Bertram’s Hotel, of which she has fond childhood memories. So! At Bertram's Hotel, Agatha ChristieIt’s 1965 and Bertram’s hasn’t changed since King Edward V’s time. And that, dear reader, is part of the mystery. Although the hotel seems charming at first, it takes on a sinister face. There’s a great cast of vintage Christie characters, but Jane Marple plays only a peripheral part in the whole investigation.
Read this if: you’d like to see Christie acknowledge the modern world encroaching on her country-house-cozy formula that was successful and more or less unchanged for decades. 3 stars

QBI by Ellery Queen 3 star rating
A 1955 collection of EQ’s short stories, titled Queen’s Bureau of Investigation. The only one I came close to solving was the first one and it was over before I realized I wasn’t reading a full-length novel. Very enjoyable quick read – and it fulfilled two of my reading challenges – the ‘Q’ title in A-Z Reading Challenge and the ‘1955’ in Read the First Years of your Life Challenge.
Read this if: you enjoy short mysteries such as those found in Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock magazine; or want short, intelligent challenges. 3 stars

Mystery of the Cape Cod Tavern by Phoebe Atwood Taylor 2.5 star rating
This book, published in 1934 is only the second P.A. Taylor I’ve read (the other was the debut in the series). We meet a different middle-aged spinster narrator who stumbles into a murder and happens to have handyman Asey Mayo at hand. This is a closed room mystery in that the culprit has to be one of the Tavern’s (aka Inn) guests. Or does it? There are a lot of comings and goings and secret passages for a house under police observation. It’s that that weakens the enjoyability of this mystery. I can suspend my disbelief only so far.
Read this if: you’re a fan of this series, or of tart New England ways. 2½ stars

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie 1 star rating
In the 1973 Postern of Fate, we find Tommy & Tuppence Beresford retired and having just bought a new-to-them old house. There is an old mystery (from WWII) connected with the house, but the point of the book (if there is one) seems to be to catalogue all the books that Christie read and loved as a child. The writing, quite uncharacteristic of Christie, sounds as if the author was a doddering old woman (well, she was 83) who was dictating a vague idea of a story. (But, where were her editors?!) The book meanders, repeats, meanders some more. It was maddening, and I finished it only because it fulfilled two of my more difficult reading challenges – Birth Year Reading Challenge, and Vintage Mysteries – Lethal Locations. (Who knew that the “Postern of Fate’ was a gate into Damascus?)
Read this if: you are a complete Christie freak and want to know all about her childhood reading, or must read all of her work. Otherwise – don’t read this. 1 star for the Christie connection

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Links for my CANADIAN readers:
Practical Jean
Heading Home
A Recipe for Bees
The Absolutist
The Dolls’ House
The Dog Who Knew Too Much
Elegy For Eddie
A Lesson in Secrets
Dead Man’s Folly
The Tragedy of Z
At Bertram’s Hotel
Mystery Of The Cape Cod Tavern
Postern Of Fate

KINDLE editions:
Practical Jean
A Recipe for Bees
The Absolutist
The Dolls’ House
The Dog Who Knew Too Much
Elegy for Eddie:
A Lesson in Secrets
Dead Man’s Folly
At Bertram’s Hotel
Postern of Fate

The Absolutist
At Bertram’s Hotel: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama

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12 Comments to

“Books Read in August 2012”

  1. On October 15th, 2012 at 10:26 pm trish Says:

    What a great collection of reviews and links, Debbie! I have Recipe for Bees on my TBR shelf picked up on a whim at a used book store and from your write-up here it sounds like a good one. (I’m also a sucker for prize nominees and winners). Fermin sounds like a fun and quirky read, too.

  2. On October 15th, 2012 at 10:44 pm Debbie Says:

    I think you’ll enjoy A Recipe for Bees, Trish. It’s been on my TBR list for a long time and I’m glad I finally got around to it!

    Firmin is just that – fun and quirky (but sad, too). It just has to be experienced. You just have to read it. 😉

  3. On October 17th, 2012 at 2:41 pm Jenners Says:

    Nice month of reading! My reading is lowing to a trickle once the school year started and I began doing PTO stuff. I didn’t anticipate that and now I’m wondering if I’ll make my “100 books in a year” goal. Oh well … it is the journey that counts.

    And I used to read tons of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen back in the day!

  4. On October 29th, 2012 at 8:32 pm Debbie Says:

    My school-mom days are behind me, Mrs. J so my time is more my own. But I remember it was a busy period in my life!

    I’ve been reading Dame Agatha and Ellery since I was a teenager, 40 years ago. for me, they’re timeless. 🙂

  5. On October 18th, 2012 at 8:54 am Shaz Says:

    Sounds like August was reading heaven for you! I read tons of Agath Christie in my teens. One of these days, I’ll have to go back and re-read them all.

  6. On October 29th, 2012 at 8:33 pm Debbie Says:

    Christie is worth re-reading, Shaz. The book Secret Notebooks of Agatha Christie said that she wrote so many books you read them end-to-end and then start over because by that time you’ll have forgotten how the first ones went.

  7. On October 21st, 2012 at 12:56 pm Vasilly Says:

    It looks like you’ve read some great books in August. I’ve finally got my hands on a copy of Firmin. I can’t wait to read it. I hope October is turning out to be a good reading month.

  8. On October 29th, 2012 at 8:34 pm Debbie Says:

    I’m anxious to hear what you think of Firmin, Vasilly. It’s hard to describe – or pigeon-hole!

  9. On October 23rd, 2012 at 4:18 pm Nan Says:

    Holy cow, woman, that’s a lot of books!! Great, great reviews. I have the two Maisie books waiting. Am very interested in Heading Home. Maybe you oughtta write your own book! Amazing story about the bees book. Wow. So very nice to see Ellery Queen and Phoebe Atwood Taylor. I so love the older books esp. mysteries. I get a newsletter called Old-Time Detection three times a year. It isn’t online. It is done on a typewriter. Very informative. If you are interested, email me, and I’ll give you info. Most likely the fellow would send you a sample.

  10. On October 29th, 2012 at 8:36 pm Debbie Says:

    Thanks for the tip on Old Time Detection, Nan – I’m getting a sample sent. 🙂

    As for writing a book on country living – that’s what this blog was originally intended to be – but then I got sidetracked by books!

  11. On January 7th, 2013 at 12:57 am J.G. Says:

    Sorry about the Christie — but at least you got the candle for it. Kudos for persevering!

  12. On August 26th, 2014 at 1:47 pm Lucybird Says:

    Wow I didn’t know that about A Recipe for Bees, I want to read it even more now

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