Reading Review Wreckage

Throughout the Winter break, my Inbox has been flooded with emails wishing me seasonal greetings, reflecting on the year/decade ending, or plotting the future.

Feeling inundated and overwhelmed, do I dare add to the navel gazing – oops, discussion?

I need to scratch one large itch, so apologies.

My year in books was frustrating, after I started 2019 with great determination. I committed to reading 35 books for the Goodreads Challenge – not as many as some years – and 16-25 mystery/suspense/thriller/crime for the Cloak & Dagger Challenge.

But I failed both Challenges.

For the 2019 Goodreads Challenge, I only read 28 out of my intended 35 books. Only 14 of these were ‘crime’- three more than 2018, but not enough to make me more than an ‘Amateur Sleuth’.

I had a mid-year reading/review crisis. I was unable to keep up with my reviews, so stopped reading. That didn’t resolve the review problem and instead created a reading backlog/logjam. At least seven books are screaming for reviews, not counting ones from previous years.

I have other excuses/alibis.

My Kindle Fire frustrates me. When I switch the power on, it takes ages to load – often re-organising its files – dissuading me from reading. Paperbacks win on that score – and others. Yes, I can store so many more with the Kindle. But that means more books unread. I wanted to delete some books – samples etc – but that’s near impossible on my model.

Audible: simpler as I don’t need to turn pages or struggle with my failing eyes, and I get swept into other worlds by great narrators. Is that why two of my five star reads were five stars – The Alice Network and The Pearl Thief? However, the downside is my tendency to fall asleep, not because of the book, but because of my fatigue.

MS fatigue is one of the side-effects of my chronic illness. I fear MS and old age are more than excuses.

Let’s put excuses aside and be positive. I’m setting my sights lower in 2020.

For the Goodreads Challenge, I’ve decided that 30 books in 2020 is a realistic target. I already seem to be ‘currently reading’ eight books: three with Audible, one on Kindle, three paperbacks and one hardback. Doesn’t that look like a good start for the year?

Deceptive fog, I fear. Two of those are research books that I dip in and out of. One is a factual grind which will never get finished. The Kindle read is proving disappointing so slow. And one of the Audible books is proving a hard listen.

Does another reading-review wreckage loom? Not if I persevere.

I’m veering back to old-fashioned paper books – there are plenty on my desk to read. I will persist with Audible as my eyes will welcome that – if I can evade the fatigue.

As for the Cloak & Dagger Challenge, I have eleven of my 2019 ‘crime’ reads remaining – plus, my TBR list has a few more from the genre. Another Amateur Sleuth?

My book of 2019? A five-star read that was magical. A story that resonated with me – wolves, Russia, revolution, adventure, and the wolves. Plus, prose that was masterful. An encounter with middle-grade reading with unexpected but amazing results.

The Wolf Wilder

by Katherine Rundell

The Wolf Wilder – a review

Once again, I’m catching up with my book reviews – by not reading but writing. And I’m still ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35 with a few part-finished books in the read-line. Whether I can stay ahead depends on my ability to write. After this, I’ll only be three book reviews behind – if I ignore the backlog from 2018 and earlier.

Anyway, on to the Thursday Creation Review for today – a novel that was a change for me. It’s been a while since I read a Middle Grade book, but research for the IWSG Anthology competition led me here.

And I’m ecstatic.

The Wolf Wilder

by Katherine Rundell

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

Review 5 stars

This was magical. A story that resonated with me – wolves, Russia, revolution, adventure, and the wolves. Plus, prose that was masterful.

12-year-old Feo Petrovna and her mother, Marina, live in the snowbound Russian woods with a pack of wolves nearby. A pack of wolves that were once aristocrats’ tamed pets. But wolf wilder Marina, with Feo’s help, has helped the creatures discover how to be wolves. They all bear the scars – human and wolf –  but these make them stronger and more prepared to face what is coming.

“Wolves, like children, are not meant to lead calm lives.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

This is 1917 and revolution is coming. It arrives in their lives, and Marina is arrested by the local commanding officer Rakov. Dislikeable from the moment he appears and exerts his twisted authority, he becomes Feo’s foe as she attempts to save her mother – and the wolves.

In her attempt, she is aided by the pack, who are complex and formidable characters – and tragic. Each has distinctive appearances and traits. Katherine Rundell excels not only in portraying multi-dimensional people in clear language but also creatures that are mysterious and faithful – faithful to the pack and those like Feo they trust.

Feo’s escape with the wolves gains an unexpected ally – Ilya, a 13-year-old soldier boy. A reason to be wary, but Feo can sense his true nature – a skill she must have learnt as a wolf wilder-in-training. But are the wolves so trusting?

“Wolves are the witches of the animal world.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

Will the children and wolves survive to save Marina before Rakov can execute her in the face of the revolution aimed at him?

I couldn’t stop reading the beautiful words of this unfolding story. I knew the history, but that was just a setting like the woods and weather, so lives were still at risk. The escape only set up more – more encounters, more conflict, more character, and a climax which ties everything together.

The opening and the ending are beautiful bookends – crafted to perfection. This is a true ‘once upon a time’ about ‘a dark and stormy girl’.

Wolf wilders may be a fiction, yet they are rooted in fact and in places might exist. Feo’s family feel real so that’s what matters.

Another enjoyable read – suitably illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico – and highly recommended for anyone who likes entertaining historical fiction with strong MG protagonists.

“Stories can start revolutions.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars