7 Rated Books 8 Rated Books Book Reviews Smugglivus Smugglivus Feats of Strength

Ana’s Smugglivus 2011 Feats of Strength

The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In previous years, the Feats of Strength were a challenge in which we dared each other to read a book that we knew was so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. This year, we changed the rules: we each get to read and review 5 books, in 5 different genres and with the following TWIST: each review can contain no more than 50 words. For people like us whose reviews are generally written with no less than 800 words and often with more than 1000, this is a true Feat of Strength!

This is Ana’s turn! Wish us luck.

Title: Blood Red Snow White

Author: Marcus Sedgwick

Genre: Historical YA

Publisher: Orion Childrens
Publication date: May 1 2008
Paperback: 304 pages

How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher

It is 1917, and the world is tearing itself to pieces in a dreadful war, but far to the east of the trenches, another battle is breaking out – the Russian Revolution has just begun…

Blood Red, Snow White captures the mood of this huge moment in history through the adventure of one man who was in the middle of it all; Arthur Ransome, a young British journalist who had first run away to Russia to collect fairy tales.

Told as three linked novellas, part one captures the days of revolution but retells the story as Russian Fairy Tale, with typical humour and unashamed brutality. Part two is a spy story, set over the course of one evening, as Ransome faces up to his biggest challenge, and part three is a love story, full of tragedy and hope, as every good Russian love story should be.

50-word Review: Brilliant fictional account of children’s author Arthur Ransome’s life (possibly a British spy who married Trotsky’s secretary!) in Russia during the first years of its Revolution. In three distinct parts: first is AWESOME fairytale; second, spy thriller and third, romance. All in all, a fantastic story about a fascinating man.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Title: Swallows and Amazons

Author: Arthur Ransome

Genre: MG, Adventure

Publisher: Red Fox
Publication date: New edition 2010 (first edition 1930)
Paperback: 384 pages

How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher

Arthur Ransome was a prolific writer of children’s books. Born in Leeds in 1884, it was his father, a nature-loving history professor, who inspired his love of the outdoors and nurtured a passion for fishing. As a child he enjoyed active, outdoor holidays: sailing, camping and exploring the countryside. He used many of these holiday settings for his children’s stories, notably the much loved Swallows and Amazons, a book that sits comfortably in the category of “timeless classic” and remains one of his most popular titles for young people.

It is the wholesome story of four young children, John, Susan, Titty and Roger, who set out in their boat (the Swallow of the title) to an island of adventure. All seems well until they encounter their enemy. At first they are angry at the invasion of their peaceful haven by these Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, who claim ownership of the land. But in time a truce is called and the Swallows and Amazons become firm friends. Camping under open skies, swimming in clear water, fishing, exploring and making discoveries is the stuff of dreams which serves to make this so charming a tale. The author manages to capture the innocence of a time when all this was real and possible. Swallows and Amazons will transport children to a fantastical place where they can play safely and roam freely, without an adult in sight.

50-word Review: Fun times in this nostalgic (but thankfully not really dated) old-time adventure for kids and adults alike. Who would’ve thought that camping, fishing and boating were such appealing activities! Best bit? The girls are as smart and capable as the boys. Best character? The mother: because cool mothers are cool.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Title: Heart of Steel

Author: Meljean Brook

Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Romance

Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: November 1 2011
Paperback: 311 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

Growing up in the dangerous world of the Iron Seas, the mercenary captain of the airship Lady Corsair, Yasmeen, has learned to keep her heart hard as steel. Ruthless and cunning, her only loyalty is to her ship and her crew-until one man comes along and changes everything…Treasurehunter Archimedes Fox isn’t interested in the Lady Corsair-just the captain and the valuable da Vinci sketch she stole from him. When it attracts a dangerous amount of attention, Yasmeen and Archimedes journey to Horde-occupied Morocco- and straight into enemy hands.

50-word Review: With elaborate world-building, fantastic action scenes and awesome sexytimes, this latest Steampunk Romance from Brook (a consistently good writer) is loads of fun. Smart, tough-as-nails alpha heroine and adventurous beta hero make good couple whose romance is not main storyline. Slightly flimsy romantic dilemma but overall a rip-roaring good read.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Title: The Woman in Black

Author: Susan Hill

Genre: Horror, Gothic, Historical

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (originally published by Hamish Hamilton, UK)
Publication date: September 2011 (originally October 1983)
Paperback: 176 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

A classic ghost story: the chilling tale of a menacing specter haunting a small English town. Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford–a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway–to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images–a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

50-word Review: Thea was right. The extremely traditional Horror elements (empty rocking chair, anyone?) only reinforce that good writers can take conventional stuff and use them well. Well-written, fantastic setting and super-scary, the true horror only becomes clear in the unsettling, stark ending when no punches are pulled. Scared me to tears.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Title: The Game

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Greek Mythology

Publisher: Puffin
Publication date: March 1 2007
Hardcover: 176 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

Hayley’s parents disappeared when she was a baby. Since then, she has been raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Grandad is overworked and travels a lot; Grandma is much too strict and never lets her meet any children her own age. When Hayley does something wrong—she is not quite sure what—they pack her off to her aunts in Ireland. To Hayley’s shock, her family is much bigger than she thought; to her delight, the children all play what they call “the game,” where they visit a place called “the mythosphere.” And while she plays the game, Hayley learns more about her own place in the world than she had ever expected. This original novella by Diana Wynne Jones is sharply funny, fast-paced, and surprising until its very end—like all of this acclaimed author’s work.

50-word Review: This super intricate novella is an extremely clever, enchanting and fun tale of family and belonging that incorporates elements of various mythologies. Although there was an overreliance on readers’ knowing mythologies and traditional stories I do admire how DWJ’s never underestimates her readers’ cleverness. I want to visit the mythospere.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Final Thoughts: Moment of truth: this wasn’t as hard as I was expecting it to be but then again I barely said anything of real consequence in these reviews have I? If I say so myself, I do feel I managed to get the bare minimum across although I could have expanded so much more. Overall, I am really happy with my choices and I recommend all of them.

I can’t leave without mentioning a few things about my two favourite reads of the bunch though: Blood Read Snow White and Swallows and Amazons. I read Blood Red first – in 2011 I fell in love with Marcus Sedgwick’s books and am slowly reading his backlist. I knew nothing about this book, I picked it up because of the cover then I started reading it and the first part – the Russian Revolution as a fairytale – was so brilliant! Then, after I finished it, upon reading the afterword I realised that the book’s fascinating main character, a guy called Arthur Ransome is a real person and a beloved Children’s author here in the UK. Not being British I had not really heard of him before but somehow I did have his most famous book Swallows and Amazons!!! If I remember correctly I picked it on a whim (because of the cover ) when visiting the publisher’s offices during an event last year and it had been languishing on my TBR ever since. But as soon as I finished Blood Red, I proceeded to read Swallows and Amazons and OH MY GOD, I just loved it. I love when serendipitous things like this happen.


  • Thea
    January 5, 2012 at 7:18 am

    CHEATER!!!!!!!! (Who am I kidding, I will post a Final Thoughts section, too.) Ahem. Excellent job, dearest Banana.

  • Ana
    January 5, 2012 at 7:24 am

    :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

    I had to add a Final Thoughts, how could i not? *ninja vanish*


  • janicu
    January 5, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Haha, well I appreciated the Final Thoughts. It reinforced my interest while reading the 50 word reviews in the first two books. And I missed the Arthur Rackham connection the first time around! 🙂

  • Linda
    January 5, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I downloaded some sample chapters of Blood Red, Snow White to my Kindle. If you haven’t read Sedgwick’s My Swordhand Is Singing, I recommend it. 😀

  • Ana
    January 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

    @Janicu . I am confused…Arthur Rackham? anyways, hope you read them both! woot

    @Linda – I have that already! I shall read it next 😀

  • Michelle
    January 5, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Wow, I’m impressed with your 50 word reviews. I don’t think I could pull that off. I’m also very interested in the Sedgewick title. I’ve only read two of this novels (“My Sword Hand is Singing” and “Foreshadwing”) and I liked them both and I’ve always loved the title “Blood Red Snow White”.

  • Simone St. James
    January 5, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Nice to see that the Woman in Black continues to scare the stuffing out of people. It terrifies me every time!

  • SaraO @ TheLibrarianReads
    January 5, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Oooh, so many good choices! I’m loving the sound of the steampunk and the horror books in particular. Thinking of earmarking the last for next Halloween…

  • Charlotte
    January 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Oh I’m jealous of you getting to read the Swallows and Amazons books for the first time! Winter Holiday is one of my favorite books of all time, and I would suggest reading that one next.

  • Kate & Zena
    January 6, 2012 at 12:41 am

    I am totally reading Blood Red Snow White just because of the Russian fairytale part. I LOVE Russian fairytales; they’re always so full of dark humor. I really love Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby. I have no idea if you’ve ever read this book, but it’s AMAZING if you love Russian fairytales. I have to buy the book as I haven’t read all 19 stories in there and it’s not. At. My. LIBRARY. (This infuriates me to no end and I am a woman of needing instant gratification with my books,) This is the stuff Russian fairytale lovers dream of.

    I still can’t say her last name without stumbling. I’m good with Russian and Polish names (having lived near a dominantly Polish area for some time a few years ago and I see a Russian doctor) and her name still trips me up! Talk about a last name!

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    January 6, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Oh, I love Wynne Jones. Her death was a terrible loss.

    I’ve been meaning to read Swallows and Amazons, too. 🙂

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