Tag Archive | The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt

Top Ten (ish) Lesser-Known Books I Love

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Late to the party, as usual… It was still Tuesday a few minutes ago, anyway… *cough*

This week’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke & the Bookish) is to share our top ten lesser-known books — specifically, books with less than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads.

This is one I was really curious to try! So I sorted my Goodreads shelves by the number of rating, and wrote down ones I loved that had less than 2K ratings, and it was fascinating to see.

I have a bit of a dilemma though, because many of the ones that I love that are “lesser known” as far as number of Goodreads ratings are actually more known in my circles and/or I’ve talked about before.

I could pick books I usually rave about, like Illusionarium, Paper Crowns, Broken Glass & Corroded Thorns, The Word Changers, Blood Ties, Orphan’s Song, The Blood of Kings Trilogy, Kestrel’s Midnight Song, Plenilune (for Dammerung, you understand), The Book of Sight; I could go on and on…

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All of those are beloved books I’ve read, mostly by authors I semi-know, and all of which (I think) I’ve talked at length about how much I love, before this, and all of which released in the last decade or so.

I love them, and I highly recommend them, and if you haven’t read one or all of them, I demand highly suggest you read them at once because they’re awesome!

But older books have made a great impression on me, and these are lesser-known ones that I don’t talk about much or at all, so I’d like to highlight them today. šŸ™‚

(I’m also going to cheat a little and do more than 10 because I can’t help myself. *cough*)

(Also, also, please forgive the rambling quality of this post, since I wrote it in rather a hurry very late at night and I don’t think my brain is all here… Ahem. I know it’s a mess and I should edit it before posting this but I’m too tired to fix it right now.)

In no particular order… Underrated books I love.

The Pirate’s Son – Geraldine McCaughrean

This is one of my favorite books ever, and I know that it’s weird and probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adored it. It’s in the 1700s and about an English boy and his sister who end up traveling with an awesome boy named Tamo who happens to be a pirate’s son, to Madagascar, where they live with natives and meet nasty pirates and… I don’t even know. I’ve read it like three times. I randomly got it at a library sale (I think because I liked Peter Pan in Scarlet by the same author?) and fell in love with it and I doubt anyone else would even like it but… it’s one of my favorites and I got addicted to this author and need to try more by her. Speaking of which…

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux – Geraldine McCaughrean

I read this a few years back, and, if I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember this book very well. All I know is it was one of the strangest books I ever read and I adored it to smithereens. There was this boy named Pepper Roux who thought he was going to die when he turns 14 and there was a lot of running around with pursuits and I think there were candles and scaffolding and back alleys and ships and a best friend I think and it’s all from the unreliable narrator point-of-view of the hero and… yeah. That’s what’s in it. I think. I could be totally wrong though because honestly it’s terrifying how little I remember about this. I very much need to get it from the library again and reread it. I just love this author. She’s brilliant.

A Room Made of Windows – Eleanor Cameron

I might think differently of it now if I reread it, I don’t know, but this is another favorite from when I was younger… it just really resonated with me at the time. It’s hard to describe the plot since there isn’t a lot of one… It’s just a historical fiction about a girl in I think the early 190os (could be wrong… I don’t remember) and her family and the strange people who live in their neighborhood, and she’s a bit of a writer and very accident prone and… I don’t know. I just liked it. Plus it’s illustrated by my favorite illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman. Which is cool. I discovered this book because I loved the author’s Mushroom Planet books, which are fabulous by the way.

The Court of the Stone Children – Eleanor Cameron

This book was SO. COOL. I seriously need to reread it. It’s sort of a mystery and a lot of it takes place at a museum thing and there’s an ancient mystery to solve and the heroine, who’s just a normal girl, meets this other girl who… well, I guess she’s a ghost but that sounds creepy when I put it that way but it’s NOT, I promise, and she’s a French girl from the time of Napoleon and the heroine needs to help her solve a hundreds-of-years-old mystery involving a statue and a journal and a painting and a murder I think… Again, I don’t remember it all that well, I just know I really loved it, especially because there was this awesome boy who was really cool whose name was Gil. He was all mysterious. Anyways, a lot of these books are hard to describe but for some reason I really enjoyed them and they’re kind of unknown, so. *shrug*

The Golden Key – George MacDonald

I CAN’T EVEN DESCRIBE THIS. It’s a fantasy story, quite short actually, and… I don’t even know. I just know I loved it and felt like it was probably really deep and meaningful but I couldn’t… quite… REACH it if you know what I mean. I love books that are like that. Anyways it’s like this fairytale thing and I adored it and need to read it again. (I’m seeing a trend here…)

The Day Boy and the Night Girl – George MacDonald

Okay, so I ADORE this story. It’s an original fairytale sort of story, about this evil lady who raised this boy to be awake in the daytime and fear the night, and this girl to be awake at night and fear the day, and how they end up meeting and having to guide each other through the day or night, whichever is their element and not the other’s and… I don’t know, it’s just AWESOME and I love it.

The Father Brown Mysteries – G. K. Chesterton

I own an omnibus collection of all 5 books (plus an extra short story) of Father Brown, totaling 51 short stories in all, which I picked up when a friend was getting rid of some books. I just love the Father Brown stories! Especially the ones with criminal/criminal-turned-detective, Flambeau, who’s a great friend of Father Brown. I enjoy mysteries but I don’t usually have enough patience for a full novel-length one, so mystery short stories are my favorite, and these were all so unique and awesome. Father Brown is such a unique and unexpected detective, so unassuming but smart and also humble… He just IS. And pair him with clever mysteries and my favorite character Flambeau and they’re just awesome stories with this great “feel” to them. I just really enjoy them and I’ve read the entire collection at least twice and want to read it again. To me, they’re right up there with the classic Holmes stories as far as mysteries go.

David Balfour (a.k.a. Catriona) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Considering how popular Kidnapped is, and a classic at that, I’m extremely surprised how few people seem to know about and/or have read the sequel! Kidnapped is one of my favorites due to the Scottishness and the friendship between Davy and Alan Breck Stewart (not to mention the character himself). But in my mind, I consider Kidnapped and the sequel to be the same story, just chopped in half. David Balfour (or, the title it was published under in England I believe, Catriona, referring to the heroine of the story) picks up directly after Kidnapped ends, like… literally the same day if I remember right. It deals with Davy’s adventures afterward, including some wrapping up stuff from the first book, Davy meeting a singular young woman and their story, and Alan even returns for a couple more adventures in the book. It’s sometimes odd and I have a feeling while I’m reading it that most of the story goes over my head, likely because it was written so long ago and Stevenson and authors like that were so genius, but I still really enjoy it and consider it Kidnapped: Part 2, myself. It’s a shame more people haven’t read it because more Davy and Alan is awesome, not to mention it’s neat that Davy finally finds love. I mean, all the movie adaptions like to slip a girl into the Kidnapped story, so why not just read further to find it? šŸ˜‰ But it’s more epicness and Scottishness and Alan so what is not to love? Mostly Alan. Because Alan.

The Boggart and the Monster – Susan Cooper

This is another lesser-known sequel. I couldn’t put “The Boggart” on this list, since it has over 2K ratings on Goodreads… but I really loved that book, and was so incredibly excited to find out there was a sequel and read it! In this one, the hero and heroine from modern-day Canada go back to Scotland and meet up with old friends from the first book, and there’s all sorts of fun and awesomeness and the Loch Ness Monster (except not scary, just really really cool) and the Boggart himself again, and Tommy Cameron is the best and that is all.

The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt – Patricia MacLachlan

This one’s weird because it’s modern and I like it. It’s by the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, and I randomly picked it up at a library sale because it looked interesting. I don’t know, there’s just this really neat feel to the story and it’s about a girl who plays cello and her mom’s a writer, and a boy who likes frogs and is from a rich family and… I don’t know that there’s much PLOT exactly, but I just love it so much. It’s the best. Like… I hardly like any straightforward contemporaries but this one is so perfect. (I just wish Goodreads had my edition up… which it doesn’t. The cover on the one I have is so much more adorbz than the cover I’m using here from Goodreads.)

Prince Valiant – Hal Foster

I grew up reading these in the funnies page of the newspaper, and I love reading the book collections whenever I can find them. Prince Valiant is quite simply THE most epic thing ever, and the ultimate King Arthur thing for me. The illustrations are my favorite ever, the characters are awesome, the adventures so fun and epic… IT IS BASICALLY MY FAVORITE THING OF EVER. <333 I know it’s technically still going but I don’t read the papers anymore… so I don’t know if it’s still awesome or not, especially going through new authors and everything and some of the storylines were getting weird last I knew, but the old books are simply AWESOME.

Dominic – William Steig

This boooook! ā¤ It’s about Dominic, a dog, who sets out on an adventure through the world he lives in which is inhabited by various animals who are basically like people and live in houses and all that. He has so many awesome adventures and is so heroic and finds treasure and rescues other animals along the way and fights against the feared Doomsday Gang, a collection of weasels, ferrets, foxes etc. who are nasty, and… just… he’s super epic. I love Dominic and this book and it’s the best. If you think you’re too old for animal stories? You’re not. READ THIS ONE. It has something for everyone. I just love it. It’s also illustrated by the author, which is super cool.

The Whisper of Glocken – Carol Kendall

For anyone who knows about The Gammage Cup… this is its sequel. It’s about a new set of Minipin heroes who have to set out to save The Land Between the Mountains. I wanted to put The Gammage Cup on this list but turns out it has over 2,000 ratings… which is good because it means more people have read it, but… anyway, I’m putting the sequel here. I didn’t love it as much as The Gammage Cup, but of course, there are few books I do… At any rate, it’s quite different but also just really awesome and I just LOVE this book. The characters are so fun and the adventures are original and you won’t see them coming. And the whole Glocken whisper thing… I just… I love. ā¤

Hear the whisper, whisper, whisper,
That lost and far-off whisper,
And remember, member, member,
The whisper of Glocken’s . . . bell.

The Rocket’s Shadow (Rick Brant Science Adventures) – John Blaine

Anyone who loves old adventure stories like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift… well, I do too, but the Rick Brant books were my favorites of the old books like that. I just LOVE them. Rick Brant and his friend Scotty (who was in the Marines and so Knows Stuff) are some of the bestest buddies ever and they have epic adventures all around the world and it’s great. I just love these. The first one’s my favorite because it’s when Rick and Scotty meet. And it’s just a cool adventure/mystery trying to track down people who are trying to sabotage the rocket Rick’s father and people are making. It’s like the Hardy Boys, only even better. šŸ™‚

The Sign of the Seven Seas – Carley Dawson

Apparently this is a super rare book… which is sad because that means not everyone can read it. šŸ˜¦ But I found it at a garage sale for a quarter and it’s a 1700s story with evil pirates, largely on the high seas but a bit in colonial America and the jungles of Mexico, and there’s awesome characters who are the best, and the hero’s from modern times but went back in time, and magical goings-on and forbidden love and the hero turns into an adorable fluffy puppy at one point and there’s a cool character named Osterbridge Hawseye who’s kind of like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel simply because he’s cool but pretends to be a fop, and there’s a creepy blind man who’s not blind and some pickles I think and a magical rope and Mr. Wicker who is one of the coolest people ever and I just ADORE it. *hugs book for eternity*

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And… great, now I want to go reread all of these. šŸ˜› Have you read any of them? What are lesser-known favorites of yours? šŸ™‚

Thanks for reading!

Dream away in those pages . . .

~The Page Dreamer

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

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Title: Fire and Hemlock

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

review

This is more like an essay than a review, I’m afraid, but it’s what I could come up with…

I’ve tried to write this review a couple times now, and I am in despair over it because Fire and Hemlock is simply too vast and… well, as Eleanor Cameron said (of a different book) in “The Green and Burning Tree“, it is “a wild, glimmering, shadowed, elusive kind of book.” That’s the best description I can find for it, and it’s not even in my own words.

I really want to review this book, but have absolutely no idea how. So I’m going to start typing and hope something comes out of it besides an incoherent ramble the size of a London train.

Fire and Hemlock is set in a modern-day England in the ’80s… both of which are slightly alien and unfamiliar to this young-ish American reader, so even though it’s “contemporary” and set in the real world, it actually felt a bit fantastical to me… Which is a good thing. (Occasionally I would go “Oh! So that’s what such-and-such is like/called in England! Fascinating!” or “Who knew that you flip records over to listen to the other side?” [I do know about tapes, but not records…])

Beneath the seemingly ordinary setting and life of the heroine, Polly, there runs a strong undercurrent of unusual happenings, rather frightening fantastical goings-on, and some snatches of wild shadowed fae stuff and magical sorts of things. The fact that the ordinary and the fantasy blend so flawlessly together in this book attests once again to Diana Wynne Jones’ brilliant skill as a writer.

As a retelling of the old folk tale/ballad about Tam Lin and also about Thomas the Rhymer, all the bits relating to both that wove into the story were fascinating, especially in said modern setting.

The book left me with a rather dizzying near-belief that it was something that had really happened. Yes, fantasy and all. It was so real that one nourishes a distinct and startlingly-firm suspicion that the whole thing must have actually happened… If not to the author herself, at least to someone she knew. It has that strong of a feeling of being real — at times painfully so. And in just the sort of elusive, mad sort of way, that is always a part of the most real yet strange dreams. I imagine that’s how it would feel like if such things happened to you or I…

There’s stuff about writing, too, which was great, and Polly’s a sort of writer. I liked her. It was fascinating and realistic as well to watch her grow up along the way in the book, from about a ten year old girl to a nineteen year old young woman. A lot of it’s her looking back and trying to remember things about when she was growing up.

Polly and Tom’s friendship — perhaps growing into something more… — is the heart of the book. I just loved it so much. They make up stories together, which in strange and sometimes terrible ways seem to come true. Their friendship is perfectly natural and beautifully written and just I can’t even explain it, but I adore that entire aspect of the book, especially the blooming but unconventional romance. It’s all just so masterfully done.

Of course, the best thing about the book is Mr. Thomas Lynn himself, yet another fabulous unpigeonholeable (that’s a word, I swear; or should be) character which this author seems to excel at. Tom plays cello and drives “like a hero” (a.k.a. like a madman; he is a horrible driver and it’s glorious; the parts with his horse I mean car were hilarious highlights of the book), has an epic abrupt startling silence which people run up against when he doesn’t want to talk about things, and a sort of yelping laugh which cuts off, and he has colorless hair and glasses which are like another character, and he will perfectly seriously discuss what most people would call “make-believe” with young Polly, since of course they’re in the business of being heroes, and sends her books all the time and you just sort of feel safe when he’s around, even if horrible fantastical things happen, and he’s part of a strange frightening mystery, entangled in it and can’t get free and you just feel awful for him but you know he wouldn’t want you to and that he’s all right, really; except that he’s really not all right at all; and he’s mysterious and also very open in a way, somehow, and you can’t really explain him at all and apparently I need to talk with people who’ve read this because otherwise I’ll just ramble on about him forever? I’m done now. Almost.

(But really, what isn’t to love about a fellow who says of books:

“…don’t do that to that book! … You’ve got it open, lying on its face,” Mr. Lynn said. “The poor thing’s in torment.”

And about fairy stories:

“Only thin, weak thinkers despise fairy stories. Each one has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you look.”)

It’s a giant of a book. At 420 very large hardback pages, it’s quite longer than the usual small-to-medium books by Diana Wynne Jones that I’ve read before (with a few exceptions) and yet I never wanted it to end. About halfway through, around when I felt like one of her other books would have been finishing, I panicked and thought, “Oh no, what if it ends soon? It needs to go on and on and on!” And then I checked and with relief and a sort of thrill of triumph, realized I had still a large amount to read. (Though my practical side threw a fit, seeing that it was after midnight and demanding that I go to bed — which I, naturally, ignored. The one strange — or not so strange — fact about Diana Wynne Jones books is that almost all of them that I’ve read, I’ve devoured in a sitting. Or at least in a single day. Which is fine for ordinarily lengths. But not so much for a 400+ page fantastic monster of a book which I started late at night to begin with… This was a stay-up-till-after-3-a.m. sort of book. I REGRET NOTHING.)

It is at once new and old. It gave me the feeling that I might have read it before, maybe, or had always known about it, while being at the same time entirely undiscovered. It reminded me of several other books that I’ve read and loved (or, considering the publication dates, I might better say they remind me of it…), while at the same time being completely unique. It’s like it somehow took snatches of a ton of books I love and weaved bits of them together into something new, but being its own thing at the same time. (The Penderwicks, The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, as well as other books by Diana Wynne Jones… I feel like there were several others as well.) Also, all of the books it mentions, which Tom sends to Polly to read, were so fun to see listed — both the ones I’ve read and loved, and the ones I’ve not read and in some cases not even heard of (which of course makes me want to read them).

(“Polly had discovered The Lord of the Rings and was reading it for the fourth time under her desk in Maths.” was a particularly fabulous line in the book…)

In the category of complaints, it had its faults — all books do (well, except for a small handful, including a certain other book by the same author).

I will admit that I wanted much more of Tom himself in the story than he actually appeared in, but that can hardly be helped when it’s from the point of view of a girl who’s not allowed to see him and only does so from time to time.

It is also set in a modern setting, and therefore has some of the inevitable problems which are why I don’t like modern books much… (public school, so-called “friends”, split-up families etc.) but I liked this one in spite of them — like I said, it felt so real, so I can’t exactly complain about what happened as if it’s just a plot device if it happened, now can I? (I will say that poor Polly kind of has a dreadful life. …Actually, Tom does too. And yet here they are, plowing along! I suppose that’s heroism, right there…)

And the ending seemed to be rather sudden and, leading up to it, extremely vague to my mind so that I am still extremely confused and not entirely sure exactly what happened… though that could have just been the fact that by the time I reached the ending it was past 3 a.m., so that could have been the clock and/or a sleep-fogged mind talking… I also am of the opinion that many Diana Wynne Jones books require a second or perhaps third reading to fully understand it, especially some endings, so perhaps I’ll be all right if I read it again. And I don’t think it’s the author’s fault… I feel like it just went over my head or something. I do relish a thing that I don’t quite understand, when it means there’s always more to unearth in subsequent go-throughs.

It’s a book that you have to think about, which might not please some people, but definitely pleased me.

And of course, it’s the sort of book one spends most of the next day (or week… or month…) occasionally dipping back through it and rereading — preferably aloud, if any poor soul is near to be quoted at — the fabulously hilarious bits and smiling insanely over, just because you like it, even though you can’t quite understand why. That’s my experience, anyway…

I read this book on New Year’s Day (as I said, staying up till past 3, because it simply had to be finished!), which was a marvelous way to kick off my reading for the year.

And yes, it has taken me nearly an entire month to get around to writing this review. I still don’t feel as if I’ve done it justice. It’s quite simply impossible to describe.

I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it may have been mine. And quite good tea at that. Properly and gloriously British, bitter and sweet at once, and just the thing for a (long) rainy day, when one is longing for an elusive tale with a dose of ordinary mixed up with a dash of fantastic, as well as one-of-a-kind vibrant characters, a glorious love story (Tom would be berating me for that; sorry), and an enormous amount of classic Diana Wynne Jones humor.

I’ll be reading Fire and Hemlock again, I hope.

(And if you read this entire review, I quite sincerely applaud you and offer you cupcakes. Here.)

summary

From Goodreads:

Polly has two sets of memories…

One is normal: school, home, friends. The other, stranger memories begin nine years ago, when she was ten and gate-crashed an odd funeral in the mansion near her grandmother’s house. Polly’s just beginning to recall the sometimes marvelous, sometimes frightening adventures she embarked on with Tom Lynn after that. And then she did something terrible, and everything changed.

But what did she do? Why can’t she remember? Polly must uncover the secret, or her true love ā€” and perhaps Polly herself ā€” will be lost.

factoids

Genre/Category: Contemporary / Fantasy / Retelling (of Tam Lin)

Age Group: YA

Published: 1985

Pages: 420 hardcover

Series?: No.

When Read: January 1, 2016

Favorite Character: Tom Lynn, naturally

Other Notes: Received for Christmas. (And I now realize how ironic that is, given how many books are being recieved for Christmas within the book itself…)

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{Goodreads} ā€¢ {Amazon} ā€¢ {Barnes & Noble} ā€¢ {Libraries}


Thanks for reading!

Dream away in those pages…

~ The Page Dreamer