Monday, November 1, 2021

Once There Were Wolves - Charlotte McConaghy


Summary: Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.
Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed—inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?

Propulsive and spell-binding, Charlotte McConaghy's Once There Were Wolves is the unforgettable story of a woman desperate to save the creatures she loves—if she isn’t consumed by a wild that was once her refuge. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I picked this book up because I am sucker for books where Place is important, and I especially love it if the setting is very much a character of the book. Also, this book takes place in Scotland and I feel a deep connection to there. My Granny is Scottish, and my mom spent many of her summers there with my Granny (my mom’s mother) visiting her Granny (my Granny’s mom). I love looking at the pictures and hearing stories, and I was hoping for a connection to Scotland with this book as well.

And here’s the problem. I think that my main problem is that this book didn’t feel like Scotland to me. Granted I’ve never been there (there are Plans), but there are a lot of places I read about and have never been and I can feel the importance of the place. I’m not entirely certain McConaghy has actually been there, although I’m assuming she has. There was quite a bit of mention of the surroundings, but it didn’t feel unique to Scotland and certainly didn’t make me feel like the Cairngorms were delineated from any other mountain range in Scotland, or really delineated from any wilderness in general. I did love the discussion of wilderness and found that beautiful, but I wanted Scotland. I wanted brogues and descriptions of people and clothes that made me feel like I’d been transported there. When you are reading a book about wilderness, and that wilderness is specified, it stands to reason that it would hopefully feel like the Place where it takes place.

My other complaint about this book is similar to the first in that I wanted to know more about the wolves. There was some discussion of wolves and wolf behavior, but when I read a book like this, I want to feel like the author is an expert that can some seamlessly discuss interesting facts and make the wolf scientists feel like they, also, knew a lot about what they were studying. It was rather disappointing, actually, because wolves are really cool and I would have liked to know more. Don’t get me wrong, there was some discussion of wolves, but I would have liked much, much more.

I enjoyed this story. The mystery wasn’t so much mysterious as it was an interesting look at the situation as a whole—the complexity of what people are thinking and want to believe clouding their judgment and their senses. It was an interesting way to address human biases. I liked the characters. I felt like they were realistic and had both their strengths and their flaws.

One of the best things about this book is the first sentence, “When we were eight, Dad cut me open from throat to stomach.” From there, it you understand the protagonist’s medical (and emotional) relationship to watching others’ pain and experiencing it herself. It makes for a very interesting story, and I thought it was a very clever way to experience the book through the sense of the protagonist’s physical abilities to feel others around her, even the animals.

I thought this was an interesting book. There is a lot to be discussed, and I think it would make a really good book club book.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There was some language, discussion of violence (including hunting violence towards animals), and some vague discussions of sex.

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