Tag Archives: John Smolens

Book Club Reflection: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

9 Jul

My book club met to discuss Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens a few weeks ago. I’m behind on getting this up and I apologize but it works out nicely that this is going up the day after I posted my review, right? I totally planned that.

Smolens is based in Marquette, one of the largest cities in Northern Michigan and the location of Northern Michigan University, which I believe is the largest school in the Upper Peninsula. Smolens teaches English at NMU.

We were all interested to hear that there were really five POW camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Au Train was the largest and considered the least violent and had the least security. It’s a remote location! There were a total of 400,000 POWs located throughout the US. We appreciated the perspective of this book, how it was about an Italian soldier in an US-based POW camp. I’d never read a book about this before. It was also fun hearing the misinformation that the Axis powers had spread about the US.

The phrase in the opening pages that led to the title, Wolf’s Mouth, is from an Italian phrase whose equivalent is ‘Break a Leg.’ It was wishing luck to Frank when he had to be brave and face something intimidating, whether that be the woods of Northern Michigan or Vogel. There was a lot of humor in the book about misunderstood colloquialisms. I liked that this was one I misunderstood as an English speaker.

We spoke a lot about Vogel in our discussion. We wondered if he was protecting himself and what he’d done in the camp, or if he really felt he was protecting the Reich. Having his son working for him was an odd situation as well. We wondered how much of his father’s story Anton believed. And we wondered if his beliefs changed when he went through the trial or visited Munising. It was hard for everyone in our group to believe that there would be groups in the US carrying out the Nazi’s war. Especially with the war over for so many years.

We were asked to describe the book in one word. Troubling came up, as readers were troubled by the Nazi’s running the training camps and how the Axis powers mistreated each other. Forgiving came up since Frank was asked to forgive so much through the course of the book. And nostalgia as many of our members have fond memories of Detroit in the 50s when Frank was living there.

We had very few complaints about the book. One was that there were too many characters introduced during the Detroit section. We lost track of them and they didn’t come into play in the book again. There was one specific complaint where it was mentioned that in 1956, buses in Detroit were segregated. Our members didn’t remember that at all. There was no true segregation on the buses, though there were buses that stayed north of 8 Mile Road, the border road between the city and the suburbs (is anyone else singing Eminem now? Just me?). This was brought up again when Leon got on the Greyhound and seemed to sit at the front.

Overall, we enjoyed the book and the memories of Michigan that it brought up. It was fun to read a book in our home state. Maybe we’ll be able to again soon.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens (3/5)

8 Jul

I was a little nervous when my book club picked this one. I’d never heard of the author and it was published with a small press. The last time we had a book like this, we didn’t know who had picked it and none of us ended up liking the book. I found out early on that one of our readers had recommended it so I was reassured. I put myself in a rough place, though, because I didn’t start it until the week before our meeting and I needed a bit more time than that to finish. I made it, but with just one day to spare.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1944 Italian officer Captain Francesco Verdi is captured by Allied forces in North Africa and shipped to a POW camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the senior POW, the ruthless Kommandant Vogel, demands that all prisoners adhere to his Nazi dictates. His life threatened, Verdi escapes from the camp and meets up with an American woman, Chiara Frangiapani, who helps him elude capture as they flee to the Lower Peninsula. By 1956 they have become Frank and Claire Green, a young married couple building a new life in postwar Detroit. When INS agent James Giannopoulos tracks them down, Frank learns that Vogel is executing men like Frank for their wartime transgressions. As a series of brutal murders rivets Detroit, Frank is caught between American justice and Nazi vengeance. In Wolf ’s Mouth, the recollections of Francesco Verdi/Frank Green give voice to the hopes, fears, and hard choices of a survivor as he strives to escape the ghosts of history.

I was nervous because I know some people like wolves and want to write a lot about them. I do not like wolves and do not want to read about them. Because I don’t read book summaries, I didn’t know how the wolf would come into play with this book. Lucky for me, it was minimal and this book highlighted a part of my state’s history I knew very little about. I had no idea there were POW camps in northern Michigan! I went on a trip through the UP (Upper Penninsula) right after reading this and the way Smolens describes it is very accurate. I can’t imagine how much more remote it must have been in the 1940s. You’d be hard pressed to escape. I found some parts of this book hard to believe, such as Vogel’s prolonged vendetta. Frank was a very flat character, too. He had to adapt to what happened around him and as such, he didn’t have too much of a personality of his own. The people around him were well drawn and likable, but I wasn’t sure what to think of him. I also had some issues with how the book was paced. It was a slow start, and then once the action started going, there was no breath. We jumped through time to get to the high action and then had to relive a lot of the skipped time in flashbacks through the beginning of the time jump. I was looking for a little more high-and-low in this one.

Besides Frank’s blank personality, the characters around him were very believable. I adored Chiara and I thought she was very brave. She was smart, too, and creative in how she made sure Frank would be safe while they were traveling. I adored the reunification with Adino at the end. It was a very well written and emotional scene, one that brought an actual tear to my eye. You don’t find friendships like that every day.

Claire was my favorite character in the story. I thought the way Frank cared for her was really sweet and I liked how strong she was when faced with such great odds. I cheered for her a lot and I was sad she didn’t make it the whole book. I think she would have been an amazing character for Frank to be growing old with.

There wasn’t much relatable in the plot to me, but the setting was very relatable. My parents have a second house in Northern Michigan and I thought about that place a lot while reading this. I also got to think of Detroit in an earlier era when it was in its heyday and overall had really positive feelings about this book’s setting. It’s clear Smolens is a native, he’s very sweet on the state and portrays it well.

John Smolens.
Image via Amazon

I thought the end was very fitting and I’m going to talk about it now so please skip ahead if you’re not interested. Anton was left with the same things Frank had when he started his life again. He was abandoned outside of Munising and had to keep away from the wild and elements in order to move on with his life. It seemed a bit odd at first, but more and more appropriate as I thought about it and in the end, I was really pleased with it.

The time jumps were disruptive to me. A lot of things were explained that I think could have been left alone. The jump skipped a lot of boring time but then that time was covered so as to avoid leaving a gap. It wasn’t a good solution to what Smolens was trying to accomplish by skipping ahead in time.

Frank has to forgive himself and be forgiven. It was easier for him to forgive himself for putting Claire in danger, for not protecting Adino, and for escaping. He struggled with being forgiven even when he asked for it because he didn’t think he’d done anything needing forgiveness. I think his inability to sympathize with Vogel in any way was a big part of his problem in this book. Vogel was drawn as so clearly evil that you couldn’t find a way to forgive him. And so Frank struggled with it his whole life.

Writer’s Takeaway: Flashbacks are very hard and I have a rather major one in my book that I’m contemplating taking out. I think I will now that I’ve read this book and seen how disruptive it can be. The flow of the story was really thrown off and I wish less had to be explained.

An enjoyable read but a few things about it really kept me from enjoying it. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Q&A with John Smolens | A Rally of Writers
“Wolf’s Mouth” by John Smolens | Book Nook Book Reviews

WWW Wednesday, 26-June-2019

26 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: We had a lot of work lunches over the past week so progress on Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min has been almost non-existent. But, as always, I’m still moving forward!
I’m optimistic about A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin but my renewal will end again next week. I think one more should do it, I have about ten disks left.
I’m able to return to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers! This one has been really fun so I’m glad to be able to devote some time to it again.
I started listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It’s not exactly exhilarating listening for workouts, but it’s making me appreciate my health and youth more than any other book I’ve listened to. It’s very humbling and makes me look at my parents and grandparents in a new light.

Recently finished: I was able to wrap up Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray and posted my review earlier this week. I think the book was going well but seemed to have a bit of middle book syndrome kick in at the end. I want to keep moving forward with the series, though. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take me four years to get to the next book this time. I gave it Four out of Five Stars
A marathon reading session on Saturday means I finished Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens before my Monday book club meeting. I don’t usually cut these so close but I had a hold up with another book with a deadline. I hate deadlines for reading. I hope not to have one again for a while. I’ll be posting my review in the next week or so.

Reading Next: Hubby and I have a long car trip this weekend. The audiobook we have picked out for the drive is Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. This is a title I found at Powell’s when we went two years ago. We’ve tried to start it a few times and failed. I’m hoping these two ten-hour drives will push us to listen this time!


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 19-June-2019

19 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I tried but still made minimal progress in Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. I’m fine with it being a slow go, really. I should pick shorter ebooks, though…
I was able to renew A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin for another few weeks. I’m being optimistic about how many disks I’ll get through.
Still on hold with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.
I’m very close to finishing Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray! I’m enjoying this one a lot and I’m only a little nervous about a plotline that’s a bit similar to my own novel. I’m hoping it’s still dissimilar enough to be unique.
I’ve just started Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens and I’m trying to get through as much as possible quickly! I’m a little nervous about finishing this one in time but I’ll stay focused.

Recently finished: I renewed Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy and was able to finish it just past the renewal date. Phew! I’m so glad I read this one, it was really helpful and gave me some good ideas for how I’m going to edit my novel. I thought it was ready to submit, but now I’m thinking I need to do at least one more draft before it’s ready to send off. I should have a review for this one up either tomorrow or early next week.

Reading Next: I’m going to start my next book club selection on audio as soon as I can’t so I’m not crunched for time again next month. Our net pick is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I have no idea what it’s about but I think it’s our non-fiction selection for the year. I always end up liking these more than I thought I would.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 12-June-2019

12 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I made a point of reading Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min during two lunches last week. I think I’m finally past the halfway point! Only a few more months to go…
I passed disk 20 of A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. It’s great and I’m adoring it, but it feels like such an uphill battle with how long it is.
Nothing with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, still on hold.
I made good progress with Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray because of my runs this past week. I had to renew it, but there won’t be a need for a second renewal to be sure.
I have to return Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy today or tomorrow. I’m racing to finish it. Wish me luck!

Recently finished: Second week in a row of nothing. I hope I can break the streak soon!

I did post my review of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime so there’s that at least! This break in finishing books has finally let me catch up on reviews.

Reading Next: I’m a bit nervous that I won’t start Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens soon. I need to have it finished by the end of the month and I’ve been really slow with physical books lately. I’m hoping it sweeps me away and I finish it in no time!


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 5-June-2019

5 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I keep thinking I’ making good progress on Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min but I’m moving forward so slowly! I’ll get there eventually, I’m sure, but it’s slow going with my short lunches.
I’ll keep pushing forward with A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. I’m loving it, so it’s no problem, just a bit sad when I see how much more I have to get through still.
Still holding on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I look at it longingly on my bedside daily.
I’m moving forward with Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray and am about halfway done. The biggest problem with this book is that it’s so creepy that I get scared if I’m running in the dark while I listen to it!
I wish I was reading Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson faster, but this week was very busy and I have no such luck. I’ll try again next week.

Recently finished: Nothing new this week. Everything was so busy that I’m not surprised, but I wish I had more to report. Maybe next week? Maybe?

The bright side is that I’m getting caught up on reviews! I posted my review of Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi last week. Please check it out!

Reading Next: I hope to start Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens soon. It’s not one I’m really excited about, but a reader in our group highly recommended it, so there’s that to look forward to.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 29-May-2019

29 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I made an effort to keep moving through Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min again. Eventually, this will pay off and I’ll have it finished. But I’m enjoying the ride as I go. It’s not a bad book, just a slow read for me.
I’m on my final renewal of A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. There’s no way I’ll finish it in time, but I’ll make a grand effort. I’m hoping I can go in and show them I still have it and get it renewed again a few more times before I have to give it up.
I was really enjoying A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers but I’m going to have to put it aside for a bit. I’ve got some books with deadlines that are pressing on my time and I know I’ll come back to this one when I can.
My new audiobook is Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, the second installment of the Diviners series. I read the first in this series a while back so it’s a bit of a struggle to remember what happened and keep up. It’s a fun story, though, and I’m enjoying it.
I picked up Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson on Friday and decided to jump in so I can finish well before the due date. There’s no renewal on this one since it’s part of the Interlibrary Loan system. So far, it’s a nice review but I haven’t picked up on anything that’s going to make me stop and fix my own novel. I guess that’s a good thing?

Recently finished: I finished the audiobook for Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and absolutely loved it. I learned a lot about growing up in South Africa and how people interact there. It’s not a country I’d ever given much thought to outside of Mandela so I’m really glad I read this. Not to mention Noah’s amazing narration and humor shine through.

I did get one review posted (yes, I’m very behind on them). I posted my review of Exit West by Mohsin Hamid on Thursday. Please check it out when you can. I enjoyed the book a lot and my book club has since met to discuss it so I’m excited to continue the conversation.

Reading Next: My next book club selection is Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens. I was sad to be unable to find this one on audio so it will be my next physical read and means I’m keeping Genius on the backburner for just a bit longer.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!