Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mini Reviews: Blood Red, Snow White || Mongrels
















Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick


Pages: 320
Genre: Young adult historical fiction
Publication Date: July 2007


When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his home in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, it is with little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously romantically entangled with revolutionary leader Trotsky’s personal secretary. Both sides seek to use Arthur for their own purposes . . . and, as he struggles to find autonomy, both sides grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from the conflict with his beloved. But when he attempts to extract himself and Evgenia from the complicated politics that he fears will lead them both to their deaths, the decisions he faces are the most dangerous and difficult of his life.  


The Good: You could probably argue that Russia has the most interesting history of any country on Earth. It’s full of unruly monarchs, revolution, corruption, secrets, scandals, and whatever the heck Rasputin was. Blood Red, Snow White is a fictionalization of real events that took place around the Russian Revolution. The main character, Arthur Ransome, was a real journalist and children’s book author who got roped into spying for Russia and England. His story is strange and harrowing. He’s a pawn who’s being manipulated by forces that are much more powerful than him. Luckily for him, he’s resourceful enough to talk himself out of deadly situations.

What I love most about Marcus Sedgwick’s novels is that he’s not afraid to experiment with structure and writing style. This book is no exception. Arthur Ransome wrote fairytales, so the first section of the novel is written like a fairytale. As the story goes on, it becomes more realistic. I (mostly) like the structure. It’s unusual, but it’s also jarring, and most of the fairytale stuff gets dropped by the end. I can see why this structure divides readers. You’ll either like it, or you won’t.

This is going to sound very nerdy, but my favorite part of this book is the real-life documents that the author includes at the end. I enjoyed reading the communications between British government officials as they’re trying to work out if Arthur Ransome is a double agent.


The time for princes and tsars and holy madmen was gone. In its place came a world of war and revolution, of tanks and telephones, murder and assassination.Blood Red, Snow White



The Bad: Like I said, the structure is experimental. Toward the end of the book, I got frustrated with it. The chapters are extremely short and choppy. The book covers 14 years of complicated Russian history in a small amount of space. I badly wanted the author to slow down and go into more detail about everything. It’s a fascinating story. There’s just too much information that comes at the reader too quickly. I was tempted to start Googling because I felt like I was missing parts of the story.



The Bottom Line: I love Marcus Sedgwick and will eventually read all of his novels, but I would have rather read a nonfiction book about Arthur Ransome.











Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones


Genre: Horror Composite Novel
Pages: 300
Publication Date: May 2016


He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixedblood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and close calls—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast, now. Everything is about to change.


The Good: As soon as I found out that Mongrels is a composite novel about werewolves, I knew that I needed it. I have a fascination with composite novels that dates back to my misspent teenage years. I think the book that started my interest was Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam. I’ve never encountered another person who has read that book, but I had a more-than-mild obsession with it in my late teens. I read it about a dozen times in a row.




Anyway, we’re talking about Mongrels. Mongrels consists of 18 nonlinear, loosely linked “chapters.” They’re all narrated by a teenage boy who lives with his aunt and uncle, who are werewolves. Stephen Graham Jones’s writing style is unusual, gritty, and stunning. He’s one of those writers who can take something complex and describe it perfectly in a few words. As soon as I finished Mongrels, I looked up the rest of the author’s work because I want to read more.

This is going to sound stupid, but Mongrels feels like a realistic werewolf book. The author has thought of everything, from werewolf biology to werewolf legal problems. If werewolves did exist, they’d be like the characters in this book. I believed that these supernatural characters could be real.


Everything makes sense if you look at it long enough. - Mongrels



The Bad: The narrator reports what happens in his life, but he doesn’t interpret the events for the reader. He doesn’t explain anything. He doesn’t say what’s fact and what’s legend. It’s up to you to figure out why the plot is happening. Like many composite novels, the book is a puzzle. Between Mongrels’ choppy structure and the lack of explanations, I spent most of the book being confused about why things were happening. I read over half of the novel before I felt comfortable enough in the story’s world to enjoy the plot and characters.




The Bottom Line: I was confused, but I like the author’s writing style enough that I’ll check out more of his work.










16 comments:

  1. Blood Red White Snow sounds interesting. There was a time when I was very interested in the Russian Revolution and read a lot of John Reed (who seems to be the American version of this character). The movie "Reds," staring Warren Beatty,
    was about his life, but there has also been biographies about him and, I think, some of his work is still in print. Check out "Romantic Revolutionary: The Life of John Reed"

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll look it up.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I've tried a couple of different Russian setting books and never much liked them. It'll be more to do with not liking the books than the actual setting though. I did like the Russian bits in the Arisen zombie series though.

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    1. I’ve always been interested in Russian history. I just struggle to find good books about it. I want a book that goes in-depth but isn’t a textbook.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. My sister teaches AP history, and she is always waxing poetic about documents. I rather enjoy seeing what the real things that inspired a tale, and I think it's cool the author included them.

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    1. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who loves documents. It was really cool to read the originals that the author used for research.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Blood Red Snow White sounds really interesting! Russian history definitely is fascinating and I like books where the author has blended fairy tales with real life (although the structure does sound kind of weird, with it just tailing off towards the end!). I may have to put it on my TBR! :)

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    1. Yeah, the structure is weird. The plot gets more realistic as the book goes along. It might have worked better if the book was longer.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Adding Blood Red, Snow White to my TBR. It sounds like an очень хорошая книга (a very good book)! My NaNoWriMo novel this year is going to be set in a Russian-ish type of country, so it might help me get into the mood. Also, I go to a Russian meetup group every week, so Russia is something that I find interesting.

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  6. Blood Red, Snow White sounds so interesting. I've never heard of the true story it's based on, but now I'm intrigued!

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    1. I didn’t know the true story, either. Now I want to read more about it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. Both of these books sound great. I love books that include real life artifacts. Mongrels intrigues me because werewolf realistic fiction sounds like a fever dream. Great Reviews.

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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  8. I loooove Blood Red, Snow White. I read it a million years ago when I borrowed it from my school's library. It was one of the only pristine and brand-new books there, white with gold and red slashes, and the writing was actually printed in red, which... I'm a sucker for gimmicks, I admit it! XD

    Maybe there's a good chunk of my memories of devouring it, in my good feelings towards this book, but I found it so fascinating too! Not least because it isn't just like, 'ooh, bad communists!' but shows that the entire thing was a lot more complex than it can be portrayed.

    I've wanted to read Mongrels for a while, and I keep coming across it online - I really need to track down a copy! :)

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  9. Two very different books. Great reviews! ♥️ I love the Mongrels is all about werewolves. The author thought about legal ramifications and every aspect of a werewolf’s life. Sounds like he really brought them to life!

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  10. I think I took too long to read Blood Red Snow White. I was very wrapped up in it until about the halfway point where I suddenly lost interest. I don't remember why I lost interest because I liked the experimental style of the writing too.

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