Tuesday, August 29, 2017

11 Hidden Gems on My To-Read List

The topic for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is 10 hidden gems in the genre of your choosing. Perhaps this isn't always a good thing, but I'm a pretty best-seller-y, well-known-book type of reader and I don't come across all that many hidden gems. The ones I've read that I'd highly recommend are covered in this post: 10 Underrated Books You Should Check Out. The only recent book I'd want to add to that list would be "My Last Continent" by Midge Raymond, which is set in Antarctica and involves penguins, a shipwreck and a love story. (Here's my review.)

So today I decided to list some lesser-known books from my to-read list. They all have fewer than 600 ratings and all are rated at close to or over 4 stars -- I think that qualifies as a "hidden gem"! Have you heard of any of these? Read any? (All book summaries are from Goodreads.)

Chasing the Light by Jessie Blackadder
Published in 2013
Goodreads rating: 4.01
186 ratings

It's the early 1930s. Antarctic open sea whaling is booking and a territorial race for the mysterious continent is in full swing. Aboard a ship setting sail from Cape Town carrying the Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen are three women: Lillemor Rachlew, who tricked her way on to the ship and will stop at nothing to be the first woman to land on Antarctica; Mathilde Wegger, a grieving widow who's been forced to join the trip by her calculating parents-in-law; and Lars's wife, Ingrid Christensen, who has longed to travel to Antarctica since she was a girl and has made a daunting bargain with Lars to convince him to take her. As they head south through icy waters, the race is on for the first woman to land on Antarctica. None of them expect the outcome and none of them know how they will be changed by their arrival. Based on the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica, Jesse Blackadder has captured the drama, danger and magnetic pull of exploring uncharted places in our world and our minds.

Escape from Baghdad by Saad Z. Hossain
Published in 2015
Goodreads rating: 3.96
206 ratings

Welcome to Baghdad during the U.S. invasion. A desperate American military has created a power vacuum that needs to be filled. Religious fanatics, mercenaries, occultists, and soldiers are all vying for power. So how do regular folks try to get by? If you're Dagr and Kinza, a former economics professor and a streetwise hoodlum, you turn to dealing in the black market. But everything is about to change, because they have inherited a very important prisoner: the star torturer of Hussein’s recently collapsed regime, Captain Hamid, who promises them untold riches if they smuggle him out of Baghdad. With the heat on and nothing left for them in Baghdad, they enlist the help of Private Hoffman, their partner in crime and a U.S. Marine. In the chaos of a city without rule, getting out of Baghdad is no easy task and when they become embroiled in a mystery surrounding an ancient watch that doesn’t tell time, nothing will ever be the same. With a satiric eye firmly cast on the absurdity of human violence, Escape from Baghdad! features shades of "Catch-22" and "Three Kings" while giving voice, ribald humor, and firepower to to people often referred to as "collateral damage."

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto
Published in 2015
Goodreads rating: 3.99
273 ratings

Delve into the home of the world’s most beloved bear! "The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh" explores the magical landscapes where Pooh, Christopher Robin, and their friends live and play. The Hundred Acre Wood -- the setting for Winnie-the-Pooh’s adventures -- was inspired by Ashdown Forest, a wildlife haven that spans more than 6,000 acres in southeast England. In the pages of this enchanting book you can visit the ancient black walnut tree on the edge of the forest that became Pooh’s house, go deep into the pine trees to find Poohsticks Bridge, and climb up to the top of the enchanted Galleons Lap, where Pooh says goodbye to Christopher Robin. You will discover how Milne's childhood connection with nature and his role as a father influenced his famous stories, and how his close collaboration with illustrator E. H. Shepard brought those stories to life. This charming book also serves as a guide to the plants, animals, and places of the remarkable Ashdown Forest, whether you are visiting in person or from the comfort of your favorite armchair. In a delightful narrative, enriched with Shepard’s original illustrations, hundreds of color photographs, and Milne’s own words, you will rediscover your favorite characters and the magical place they called home.

Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe
Published in 2014
Goodreads rating: 4.04
319 ratings

You don't always know what you're getting into when you bring home a puppy. Enter Henry, a boxer who suffers from Supreme Dictator of the Universe Syndrome. He vandalizes his obedience school, leaps through windows, cheats death at every turn, and generally causes his long-suffering owner Erin Taylor Young to wonder what on earth she did that God would send this dog to derail her life. Through his laugh-out-loud antics and escapades, Henry will steal readers' hearts. Anyone who has ever owned a dog, especially a canine catastrophe like Henry, will enjoy this lighthearted book about a dog who brings new meaning to the concept of unconditional love.

A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden
Published in 2016
Goodreads rating: 4.02
337 ratings

On her 49th birthday, Anna Fergusson, Boston neuroscientist and dedicated introvert, arrives at an unwanted crossroads when the funding for her research lab is cut. With her confidence shattered and her future uncertain, on impulse she rents a cabin for a year on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. However Turtle Island, alive with sea birds and nesting Green turtles, is not the retreat she expected. Here she finds love for the eccentric islanders who become her family; for Tom, the laid-back turtle whisperer; and for the turtles whose ancient mothering instincts move her to tears. But Anna finds that even on her idyllic drop in the ocean there is pain, and as the months fly past her dream for a new life is threatened by a darkness that challenges everything she has come to believe about the power of love. Evocative and thought-provoking, "A Drop in the Ocean" is a story about second chances and hard lessons learned in the gentlest of ways.

Tough As They Come by SSG Travis Mills
Published in 2015
Goodreads rating: 4.32
389 ratings

Thousands of soldiers die year to defend their country. United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was sure that he would become another statistic when, during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was caught in an IED blast four days before his twenty-fifth birthday. Against the odds, he lived, but at a severe cost -- Travis became one of only five soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to survive a quadruple amputation. Suddenly forced to reconcile with the fact that he no longer had arms or legs, Travis was faced with a future drastically different from the one he had imagined for himself. He would never again be able to lead his squad, stroke his fingers against his wife’s cheek, or pick up his infant daughter. Travis struggled through the painful and anxious days of rehabilitation so that he could regain the strength to live his life to the fullest. With enormous willpower and endurance, the unconditional love of his family, and a generous amount of faith, Travis shocked everyone with his remarkable recovery. Even without limbs, he still swims, dances with his wife, rides mountain bikes, and drives his daughter to school. Travis inspires thousands every day with his remarkable journey.

The Death's Head Chess Club by John Donoghue
Published in 2015
Goodreads rating: 4.18
525 ratings

A novel of the improbable friendship that arises between a Nazi officer and a Jewish chessplayer in Auschwitz. SS Obersturmfuhrer Paul Meissner arrives in Auschwitz from the Russian front wounded and fit only for administrative duty. His most pressing task is to improve camp morale and he establishes a chess club, and allows officers and enlisted men to gamble on the games. Soon Meissner learns that chess is also played among the prisoners, and there are rumors of an unbeatable Jew known as "the Watchmaker." Meissner's superiors begin to demand that he demonstrate German superiority by pitting this undefeated Jew against the best Nazi players. Meissner finds Emil Clément, the Watchmaker, and a curious relationship arises between them. As more and more games are played, the stakes rise, and the two men find their fates deeply entwined. Twenty years later, the two meet again in Amsterdam -- Meissner has become a bishop, and Emil is playing in an international chess tournament. Having lost his family in the horrors of the death camps, Emil wants nothing to do with the ex-Nazi officer despite their history, but Meissner is persistent. As both men search for a modicum of peace, they recall a gripping tale of survival and trust. A suspenseful meditation on understanding and guilt, "The Death's Head Chess Club" is a bold debut and a rich portrait of a surprising friendship.

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub
Published in 2015
Goodreads rating: 4.04
539 ratings

The extraordinary tale of survival and friendship between a man and a dog in war.  Flight technician Frank Williams and Judy, a purebred pointer, met in the most unlikely of places: a World War II internment camp in the Pacific. Judy was a fiercely loyal dog, with a keen sense for who was friend and who was foe, and the pair's relationship deepened throughout their captivity. When the prisoners suffered beatings, Judy would repeatedly risk her life to intervene. She survived bombings and other near-death experiences and became a beacon not only for Frank but for all the men, who saw in her survival a flicker of hope for their own. Judy's devotion to those she was interned with was matched by their love for her, which helped keep the men and their dog alive despite the ever-present threat of death by disease or the rifles of the guards. At one point, deep in despair and starvation, Frank contemplated killing himself and the dog to prevent either from watching the other die. But both were rescued, and Judy spent the rest of her life with Frank. She became the war's only official canine POW, and after she died at age fourteen, Frank couldn't bring himself to ever have another dog. Their story -- of an unbreakable bond forged in the worst circumstances -- is one of the great undiscovered sagas of World War II.

Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
Published in 2014
Goodreads rating: 4.31
547 ratings

"To stand alone in a field in England and listen to the morning chorus of the birds is to remember why life is precious." In exquisite prose John Lewis-Stempel records the passing seasons in an ancient meadow on his farm. His unique and intimate account of the birth, life, and death of the flora and fauna -- from the pair of ravens who have lived there longer than he has to the minutiae underfoot -- is threaded throughout with the history of the field and recalls the literature of other observers of our natural history in a remarkable piece of writing.

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon by Paul Rosolie
Published in 2014
Goodreads rating: 4.28
561 ratings

For fans of "The Lost City of Z," "Walking the Amazon," and "Turn Right at Machu Picchu" comes naturalist and explorer Paul Rosolie’s extraordinary adventure in the uncharted tributaries of the Western Amazon -- a tale of discovery that vividly captures the awe, beauty, and isolation of this endangered land and presents an impassioned call to save it.

Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols
Published in 1931
Goodreads rating: 4.24
565 ratings

"Down the Garden Path" has stood the test of time as one of the world’s best-loved and most-quoted gardening books. From a disaster building a rock garden, to further adventures with greenhouses, woodland gardens, not to mention cats and treacle, Nichols has left us a true gardening classic.


  1. Surviving Henry showed up on my list today too. I did 5 hidden gems about dogs. Did you know she wrote a follow-up? It's great as well. I was so sorry to hear Henry passed earlier this year. I don't see how any boxer lover can't relate to parts of this book! I really need that Winnie-the-Pooh book. He was and always will be my childhood favorite!

    1. I had put Surviving Henry on my to-read list a while back, but after our sweet Conan passed away I just couldn't bring myself to read any dog books. Now that we have Alohi, though, I can do it without being sad! I hope to get to it sometime before the year is out -- which is coming up so fast!

  2. Surviving Henry and A Drop in the Ocean, sound like books for me.

    1. Those are probably the two I most want to read from this list too! Especially Surviving Henry because it's written by a fellow boxer-puppy mom!


  3. The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh sounds like it would be such an interesting read. I had no idea that this book existed. How neat.

    Here is our TTT

    1. I know! We have it at the library where I work and I've flipped through it a bit. It has real-life photos of all kinds of aspects of the books! I'll check it out and actually read it one of these days. Right now it's checked out by someone else -- I put it on a genre display I did at work of books set in England and it got taken right away. :)

  4. Hi! So many of these look good and they're new to me! A Drop in the Ocean is one I'm definitely going to check out :)
    My TTT

    1. I actually added that to my to-read list after seeing another blogger's rave review -- so it has at least one fan!

  5. I don't think I've heard of any of these--so they really must be hidden gems? I like the cover of Chasing the Light. I haven't read too many books about or set in Antarctica.

    1. I love and seek out books set in cold places, though there really just aren't that many novels set in Antarctica. One I read recently and really liked was "My Last Continent" by Midge Raymond.


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