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Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
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I received this book as part of Powell's Indiespensable (Which if you haven't discovered, you really need to).

The story the book tells is very interesting, and about a time and a culture I had no knowledge of befor e picking up this book. Wolf Winter is set in 18th century Sweden, and follows Maija and her family through a resettlement in a remote village, and the discovery of a murder, on the eve of a brutal winter.

The story is beautifully written, and well translated into English (I am always a little leery of translated works, but I enjoyed the atmosphere that still came through in the translation. The mountain where Maija and her family make their home becomes a character in its own right, and the surrounding wilderness is colorful and full of life and danger.

The author certainly seems to have done her homework, and the historical detail all ring true.

The mystery itself centers around the death of a local man, found ripped open in a clearing on the mountain. Through the story, which weaves from the too-short summer into the deadly winter, we learn more about the dead man, the other settlers on the mountain, the local tribespeople, and the residents of the nearby village.

The story meanders, introducing characters, subplots, and small tidbits about the murder and the history of the mountain along the way.

My only complaint about the book is that it ends a bit abruptly, but the conclusion is still a satisfying one. I highly recommend this book to mystery lovers, and anyone wanting to read something a bit off the beaten path. ( )
  irregularreader | Oct 31, 2016 |
This is an excellent read. It is slow and it is bleak. Although there are murders and a lot of mystery I would not really classify it as "Scandi-noir". It is set in Swedish Lapland in 1717. Interestingly the author tells us that she tried alternative periods. It is hard to imagine it working in a much later period, because the superstitions of the settlers, particularly in relation to "wise women" and the shamanism of the Lapps are at the core of the book. The story is told through three narrators; a settler left to fend for herself and her two daughters during a terrible (Wolf) winter; her eldest daughter finding herself with the possibility of "gifts" and beginning to emerge into womanhood; and a priest, exiled from his previous role at court. There is a real fourth lead character, the mountain, Blackason, which has a profound impact on all the characters in the book. The writing throughout is exemplary, dripping out ideas and possibilities steadily to make us readers think long and hard about what is happening. I've read a few books featuring terrible winters, but this one really drove the horrors right home to me. I thoroughly recommend this book. ( )
  johnwbeha | Jul 30, 2016 |
Dark and cold are the words that come to mind when I think of Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback. Dark story and setting, cold people and weather. The year is 1717 and Maija, her husband and her two daughters come from Finland to live in Lapland. They traded the family fishing boat for the property on Blackasen Mountain. They find a harsh land with only a few other settlers as neighbours. When the daughters are out on the mountainside herding goats, they discover the body of Eriksson. Others try to say that he was killed by wolves or a bear, but Maija can tell that this is the work of a man. Convinced that there is danger here, Maija sets out to discover who killed Eriksson and why. Meanwhile the winter is setting in, and this will prove to be a very bad winter indeed.

The book is written beautifully, the prose pulls the reader into this frigid, dark world described in poetic language with strong, haunting descriptions. It is obvious that the author knows of what she writes and her historical details are accurate and interestingly woven into the story. I loved the opening and middle of this book, but found during the closing third section that the story seemed to lose it’s intensity and balance. Although I felt the story suffered somewhat from the slow pace of the book, this measured movement did help keep the mood both depressing and threatening.

Eerie, brooding and menacing, Wolf Winter breathes life into a remote time and place. This is the first novel by author, Cecilia Eckback and this historical mystery with it’s themes of death, fear and curses is one that I am sure will linger in my mind for some time. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jun 24, 2016 |
This was not an easy read for me. Perhaps because it was my first exposure to a novel set in 18th-century Scandinavia, I sometimes struggled to orient myself.

For example, it took me awhile to grasp that "the Lapps" were not another one of the settler families, like "the Erikssons"; rather, according to Wikipedia, the Lapps are "an indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, [and] Finland...."

More than once, a character I thought was dead showed up in a later scene, interacting with other characters. "Wait, I thought [he/she] was dead?" For a long while I thought I was misreading or misremembering which character was which, but it turns out that there are very realistic "ghosts" in this book, though they're not described as such. Interestingly, Swedish ghosts don't look or behave the way ghosts typically do in American folk tales: they're not translucent, they don't float, and they can (sometimes?) actually touch you and cause physical harm.

Despite my narrative discomforts, I found the initially slow pace really picked up around halfway through the book, and suddenly I was reading a great mystery novel in a quaint setting. It seemed almost as though I was reading about Miss Marple, in her youth, honing her skills in a remote Swedish farming community.

By the book's end, I had gained immense respect for the clues the author dropped along the way, and the important role some of my early confusion played in setting up some very satisfying discoveries. This is not a book where the reader knows more than the narrators; it requires patience and persistence to find the answers on Blackasen Mountain.




Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Wolf Winter from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
This book completely suited my reading need right now. It is a historical fiction/mystery set in 1700s Swedish Lapland. The setting is key here. Ekback creates the time period and way of life so convincingly that I was sucked in right away. The mystery is entangled with myth and magic. There's a bit of the conflict between natives, the Lapps, and the settlers. Also some conflict between the prevailing Lutheran church and the old beliefs.

The book has some weaknesses - a few of the story lines weren't tied up sufficiently for my taste and I thought some of the topics, especially the magic and mysticism, needed to be explored more deeply to be convincing. But, in the end, this book was just what I wanted it to be - a page turner with a great setting and some good historical detail.

I'm sure this won't make the list of "best books" I read this year, but it could definitely make the list of "most fun to read". ( )
  japaul22 | Feb 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
**** 4 out of 5 stars
Review by: Mark Palm
A Winter’s Tale

Some books are made for summer, and some for winter. If there was ever a novel that was made for a cold, snowy night it is Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekback. I live in Texas, and even down here you could feel chills coming off of this book. In 1717 Maija, her husband Paavo, and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea have recently arrived in Swedish Lapland after leaving Finland. They have a farm at the base of a foreboding mountain, Blackasen. While herding goats Fredericka discovers the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The authorities attribute his death to wolves, but Maija is certain his injuries were caused by a man with a sword.

Slowly Maija is drawn into the mystery of the man’s death, the fate of his widow, and a series of tragedies that have occurred on the mountain. Meanwhile Fredericka is drawn to the mountain by a spirit that no-one else can see. As the “wolf winter” (the most harsh that anyone can remember) begins, Paavo leaves to look for work. Majia must keep her family safe in harrowing conditions while trying to solve the mysteries that threaten to turn her neighbors against her. She receives assistance from Olaus, the local priest, and some nearby Lapps, but for the most part it is Maija and her daughters who have to fight for their very lives.

Wolf Winter is a mystery, but it is also a tale of survival. If there was ever a book that made me appreciate where I live, and the conveniences of modern life, it is this one. Ms. Ekback knows how to spin a mystery, but what she does even better is show us the awesome powers of nature. There is a scene in this novel where Majia and Olaus and her daughter's struggle to keep her house from being buried during a blizzard that is an absolute tour-de-force. I wasn’t kidding when I said you could almost feel the cold coming off of this book.

The plot takes a while to gain some traction, but once it did, I was hooked. Maija is a wonderful character, strong and smart and compassionate, and her relationship with Olaus is surprising and touching. Both her daughters are well-drawn, as are most of the characters in the book. I particularly enjoy the roles of the women in Wolf Winter. Against the tide of the times they are the backbone of the story, along with the weather.

In a modern world we often forget what a potent force nature is, but in this book every aspect of the character’s lives are affected by it, and and Ms. Ekback is at her formidable best in describing it. if you had told me that I would be reading a really good thriller about a Female Finnish farmer is the 1700’s I would have thought that you were crazy, but Ms Ekback pulls it off. If you give it sometime this story will get to you, so I would suggest hot chocolate, or some good strong coffee while you read this powerful novel. It might almost make you warm.

Full reviews available at: http://www.thebookendfamily.weebly.co...

 
There is some breathtaking writing here. Ekbäck is wonderful at evoking place, and when the place you write about is as brooding and menacing as Blackåsen, you hardly need a human villain – though there are those aplenty, too. ...Who-and-whydunnits require tremendous discipline: at times, the pacing is uneven, while there’s a little too much repetition and a few too many scenes that do not advance the story....But there is so much to enjoy in Ekbäck’s debut that it’s easy to ignore the occasional clumsiness and easier still to forget that this is a debut. Wolf Winter eminently repays reading for the beauty of its prose, its strange, compelling atmosphere and its tremendous evocation of the stark, dangerous, threatening place, which exits in the far north and in the hearts of all of us.
 
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amazon ca Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband and their two daughters arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of the past and put down roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackasen, a mountain whose dark history haunts the lives of those in its shadow.

While herding the family's goats on the mountain, Maija's elder daughter, Frederika, stumbles across the mutilated body of one of their neighbours, Eriksson. The community dismisses the death as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain it was murder. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbours' unconcern, Maija is drawn into the history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackasen.

Meanwhile, young Frederika is pulled toward the mountain as well, feeling something no one around her seems to notice. The seasons change, and the harshest winter in memory-known as a "wolf winter"-descends upon them. Struggling to survive, the settlers are forced to come together, but Maija, not knowing whom to trust, is still determined to find answers. As the snow gathers, the settlers' secrets are laid bare. Soon Maija will discover the true cost of survival under the mountain-and what it will take to make it to spring.
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