Audiobook Review: Little Wolves

13536606Thank you to AudioGo and Audiobook Jukebox for advancing a copy of Little Wolves in audio. This book was (and again I fear I’m sounding like a broken record here) also advanced to us via Net Galley, however (here we go again) it came in PDF format. Therefore, it was great to see it come available in audio. Although the audio version wasn’t the very greatest, overall,  Little Wolves was a satisfying read. It’s a story of redemption, mystery, mythology, small town and old family resentment and myth.

It is beautifully described, lyrically written, and slow building and Little Wolves does come to a fairly satisfying finish. It wasn’t at all what I anticipated the story to be about, and there were times when I was slightly confused – confused either by the purpose or by the seemingly lack of connection between all the characters and their stories. Perhaps it was how the ties were sewn up or the tenous threads that bound their stories together that didn’t quite sit right with me?  The story builds, slowly, with small pieces revealed over time. And then in those few final chapters you do edge forward in your seat and hang on to find out how it all comes together and end. However, again, I was still left thinking there seemed to be a lack of connection or just that something that would tie everyone and everything together.

From The Reading Room: Set on the Minnesota prairies in 1987, during a drought season that is not helping the demise of the family farms, the story features two intertwining narrators, a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town America, reminiscent of Russell Banks’ “Sweet Hereafter” or “Affliction,” driven by a powerful murder mystery, “Little Wolves” is a page-turning literary triumph.

The description and cover of this book are great right? Still, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, and the “powerful murder mystery” falls a touch flat.

Clara is a motherless child, who grew up listening to her father’s mythical, fantastical tales about wolf children, about a baby being rescued in the valley fields and protected by the wolves and another about a child born with wolf-like features (body covered in dark hair). All these tales were told to Clara by her father as a way to cover up the truth about her mother and what happened that evening so many years ago, leaving her father without a wife, and Clara without a mother. Clara is somewhat obsessed with the stories and dreams of wolves and coyotes and is determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

Clara marries a pastor and has a hand in guiding him to work in this town in Minnesota where she thinks she’ll find the truth concerning her mother. Here, Clara becomes a teacher and continues the teaching of these mythical tales. She teaches her students Beowulf stories, legends and myths. One student that is keen to Clara is Seth Fallon, also a motherless child.

In the opening of the novel, Seth comes to Clara’s home dressed in an long oil-cloth cloak and armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Something inside tells Clara to stay hidden from sight and she does not answer the door. Seth eventually walks away, but then kills the town’s sheriff and then turns the gun on himself. The town is left in turmoil and despair and the long tempered resentment amongst the townfolk bubbles to the surface following these two events.

It’s all this in-between of Seth’s opening actions and Clara’s wolf stories, where things remained in a constant convoluted state for me. Even at the end, the reasons given, the long-simmering hatred between two families, and the mystery surrounding Clara’s mother and her part in this town’s history weren’t fully realized, in my opinion. I was still left with some confusion or understanding when all was revealed.  I got it, I mean, I got the role Clara’s mother played in the town’s history, the probable reason for Seth coming to Clara in the opening, I think, but it was really cryptically explained and the ties that bound Seth and Clara (outside of their love for wolves and coyotes and being motherless) and the reasons for Seth becoming involved and doing what he did on that fateful day, are quite tenuously explained, at best.

By the end and after putting aside my frustration with the narrator’s voice, I just lost myself in the beautiful descriptive writing of Maltman. This is where I became most entranced and willing to continue with the story. Everything really is beautifully described, I’m thinking I may have enjoyed this more had I just read the book, instead of listening to the audio.

In regards to the audiobook: This is one of those rare times when I say, just read the book instead. I know right? I never say that! I’m always singing about how you just must listen to this one instead of just reading it. In the beginning I was a little confused to find they chose a female narrator for the story, as there is only one female voice – Clara’s. The whole rest of the cast are almost entirely men, or, it’s told in the male voice. Therefore, when a female narrator attempts to speak in a grovelly, deep, raspy manly voice – it fails. Oh it’s awful. And that was so very distracting for me and very frustrating. Other than that, she did narrate the non-speaking parts fine and I found that it was a much better experience when I put my frustration about her voice aside and just tuned in to the lovely descriptions and details that Maltman uses when he writes.

So, overall,  a 3.5 for the story, as it was a satisfying read, but 3 for the narration. Read it, don’t listen to it.


Audiobook Review: City of Women

Absolutely astonishing! Even more extraordinary is the pure listening pleasure offered by this audiobook. I strongly encourage you to listen to this in audio! The City of Women is a fantastic & fabulous story superbly narrated by Suzanne Bertish. She fills this exceptionally well-written story with all the added passion, excitement, suspense and intrigue right up to that final, breathtaking and heartbreaking CD!

The only regret about listening to the audiobook in the car was that so many of those many number of exceptionally poignant or breathtaking words could not be ear-marked to write in here. Gillham’s writing honestly took my breath away many times! However, my sincere thanks once again to Audiobook Jukebox and Penguin Audio for providing a copy of the audiobook, as it was definitely one of the very best I’ve listened to this year! I wouldn’t trade listening to this book for anything! You’ll just have to grab a copy yourself to experience his wonderful writing.

The City of Women centres around Sigrid Schröder, whose husband has gone to the front to fight at the height of WWII and whom must remain in Berlin, now the city of women as over 300,000 men have perished or off fighting Hitler’s war.

Gillham has divinely captured the varied personalities of the women Sigrid lives and interacts with daily, in her job and in her apartment building. From the fiercely disagreeable bitch of a mother-in-law, to the women that dare to speak out against Hitler to the women that then denounce those that have spoken out. All of this in one small building. Sigrid is not quite sure as to where she fits in this new world order- not quite the “good German woman” that her employer or mother-in-law feel she should be, but still not quite the woman silly enough to draw attention to herself for disobeying any of the many rules now governing every aspect of life in Berlin.

This synopsis from Goodreads explains very well the storyline of The City of Women: But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. (Goodreads)

There is one young girl in Sigrid’s building that disappears and keeps odd hours, and basically does everything but what she is employed to do. Sigrid notices that instead of minding the many children, she is coming and going and frustrating her employer with her unexplained absences. Sigrid takes it upon herself to follow Erika one evening and discovers something that will awaken a new identity in Sigrid. She also discovers a heartfelt and strong kinship with Erika, risking much to assist her and keep her alive.

Sigrid immerses herself in this pulse-pounding, life-threatening and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful underground world of extraordinary women that are risking their lives to hide Jews, political dissidents and undesireables. Although the risk is so great, Sigrid fully comes alive and becomes an indispensible and instrumental participant in these clandestine assignments. The intrigue, daring and suspense will keep you glued to this story!

The story of some extraordinary citizens coming to the rescue of Jews during WWII is definitely not a new one, but Gillham has finely brought our attention to these remarkable women that risked so much when they made their choice to do what they felt was right and just. Definitely a 5 star read for me. It’s also up there on the favourites list!

In somewhat related news, I came across this article this morning about the book Soldaten. It contains many transcripts from German POWs detailing their knowledge of the mass killing of Jews. It sounds like a chilling read.