Book to Share: The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, by Kate Milford

Imagine me, about five or six years ago, up waaayyy past my bedtime to finish Greenglass House by Kate Milford. I shut the book and turn off my light, basking in that -just-finished-an-amazing-book feeling–you know the one. But I can’t fall asleep. So as soon as my baby wakes up to nurse, I take the excuse to grab my laptop and do a little research.

I’m a full grown, college-educated adult, and I had to google “Is Nagspeake a real place?” because I have rarely encountered a fictional world so believable and compelling. I mean, I wanted Narnia to be real. I daydreamed about slipping into Middle Earth. But I knew they were made up. With Kate Milford’s Nagspeake…I just had to check to be sure. And, reader, in case your own googling brought you here for some reason–no, Nagspeake is all made up. But seeing as you might not be able to travel in the real world for a while yet, you should definitely travel to Nagspeake via your local library or bookstore as soon as possible.

The thing that brings Nagspeake to life is the layers of world-building that Kate Milford brings to the story. She reminds me a bit of Tolkien in this way, actually–because not only does her town have a physical presence and history and evolving character, it has story and legend and music and song. In Greenglass House, the main character Milo reads a series of stories gathered in “The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book,” stories which are integral to the plot of Milford’s book. Like Tolkien with The Silmarillion, Milford decided to bring those stories to life by actually writing the thing. And it’s SO GOOD.

Instead of “merely” being a collection of stories, The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book is a series of puzzles within puzzles, all framed by stories and characterizations (oh, and gorgeous illustrations) that bring it all as vividly to life as her other works. I was surprised when I realized, “Wait, this is a novel as well as a bunch of stories!” and at that point I couldn’t stop turning pages.

I really don’t feel that I can say much more without major spoilers. I will give the warning that this is probably excellent on its own but would be highly enhanced by having a knowledge of Nagspeake from Milford’s other books, at least Greenglass House and Ghosts of Greenglass House.

Luckily, those books are good enough to keep you up way past your bedtime, so if you haven’t read them…. You know, do yourself a favor.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out today’s list at Greg’s blog, Always in the Middle.

15 thoughts on “Book to Share: The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, by Kate Milford

  1. I loved Greenglass House and haven’t gotten around to reading the sequel. Now you add this book, which sounds amazing. Perhaps it will prompt me to read both. Yes, my library has a copy. Didn’t realize it is a new release. Do I need to read the Ghosts of Greenhouse before I read this new book?

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    1. No, you don’t need to have read Ghosts of Greenglass House, but you might “get” some of the mysteries a little bit sooner. I think Milford did a great job at building the world in a way that will intrigue you enough to jump around, without being too confused if you don’t read everything sequentially.

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  2. I really enjoyed Greenglass House, although I think the Boneshakers is actually my favorite. I’m really intrigued by what you’re saying about her gift for developing a setting.
    This sounds fantastic!

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    1. I know, the covers are tremendous (admittedly the reason for my original purchase of the first book). I’m so surprised the books don’t circulate well! I’m in a bit of a different reading world, I suppose, but after I recommended Greenglass to my daughter’s friends, they’ve all developed a total obsession. There’s a mini fan group going on here with Connecticut homeschoolers. 🙂

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    1. I think this is worth a try, Rosi, even if you don’t read much fantasy… The Greenglass House books are what I call “light fantasy;” the world building is tremendous but more focused on character and history and legend than on magic. It feels like a slightly magical historical world.

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  3. I have had The Greenglass House for years- but haven’t read it. The fact that you Googled the place because you liked it so much and it seemed believable- makes me want to move this one to the front of my list. Definitely going to read it soon! Thanks!

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  4. I am such a huge fan of Greenglass House—it might be time for a re-read! I haven’t had a chance to even read the sequel, and I know that there have been a bunch of spin-off books that I’ve missed, unfortunately. This book sounds like the perfect addition to the universe—I remember how big a part it played in the story, and I’d love to read the whole thing! Thanks so much for the great review!

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