Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Before we break out the extreme nacho cheese snack dippers, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for March will be kicking off on Monday.  Our prompt for this month is…kernel of truth

If you’d like to join in, simply compose a piece of poetry or prose in 50 words or fewer and link it to my Fi50 post on Monday in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, and to find out more about the challenge, click here.

Now onto the main course!  Today I have two middle grade books that feature wolfishness in a variety of forms.  One is a fable, the other is an urban fantasy detective lark.  I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Select your snack food of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up, for those who love a good old fable we have A Wolf at the Gate by Mark Van Steenwyk.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn’t the villain of our story; she’s the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?

Dip into it for…  wolf at the gate

… a retelling of the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, Italy.  I was not familiar with the story before reading the book, and I think this probably heightened my enjoyment of the story, as although I could predict where the story might go, I didn’t have the ending in mind before beginning.  While not a super-fan of fables, I found this retelling to be very easy to engage with, as the narrative style certainly reflected the familiar style of fables and moral stories, but there was enough original material here to stave off the “I know where this is going and how it’s going to get there” boredom of being stuck listening to a fable.  The plot moves quickly and there are enough changes in setting and the situation of the wolf to keep things interesting.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like fables. Or wolves.  Or forgiveness.  Otherwise, I think this is a very appealing little tome.

Overall Dip Factor:

A Wolf at the Gate would be a great choice as a read-aloud for the early to middle primary classroom when studying fables, Christian mythology or just ethics in general.  Van Steenwyk never refers to St Francis in the text, creating instead the character of “The Beggar King”, a wandering wise man, so there’s no worry here about getting bogged down in Christian ideology if that isn’t your thing.  As a reading choice for middle graders (and even slightly younger children) this is a quick read with plenty of discussion-starting material, as well as being an engaging story peppered with stylised illustrations.

Now, onto the urban fantasy detective lark, Howl at the Moon: A Liarus Detective Novel by L. A. Starkey.  Here’s the blurb from Patchwork Press:

Eighth graders, Ben, Jake, and Leah need cash, and mowing lawns in the winter just isn’t cutting it. Their need for cash births the Liarus (Liars R Us) Detective Agency! Their first client is Old Lady Smitz, who is said to have murdered her three sons and husband. She’s missing a family heirloom, but it’s not just any old trinket, it’s the crest of Lykoi.

There are only two rules: No girls are allowed and never seal a deal with the witch doctor. Disregarding danger, these three discover that money is usually more trouble than it’s worth!

Dip into it for… howl at the moon

…a rollicking adventure that is squarely aimed at the  upper middle grade/lower YA market, and has a definite male skew, with the two main characters being ladsy boys.  There’s plenty of banter and social goings-on not entirely related to the detective work happening here alongside the supernatural elements.  There are the obligatory people involved who aren’t what they seem and a seemingly anti-feminist angle with the stipulation that no girls are allowed on the job.  Of course though, there’s a twist in the tale (tail?) and what began as a foolproof plan becomes slightly more complicated for our intrepid heroes.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a novel that focuses in on the detective agency part.  There is a LOT of romance-y, who-likes-who, unrequited crush business going on here and it took a little time to actually get to the forming of the detective agency.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I had a hard time with this book.  I was really looking forward to a new series with a supernatural AND detective angle, but there was just way too much adolescent romance going on that just slowed the whole thing down.  I couldn’t figure out why it was included, when there was perfectly good supernatural stuff that could have held the tale on its own. There was also a lot of banter and back-and-forth dialogue between the two main male characters and at times I just wanted to shout, “Alright! Just shut up and get on with it!”

If convoluted teen romance and adolescent chatter is no problem for you however, and you enjoy supernatural mysteries, then definitely give this one a go.  I suspect I will be leaving the Liarus Detective Agency with this novel, but I wish them well on their future endeavours.

So there we have two wolfish tales that may have whetted your appetite.  Although if you have any dip left over, perhaps you should consider sharing it with the dog. Or wolf.

Until next time,




5 thoughts on “Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

  1. I saw the cover for Howl at the Moon and it looked like a classic romp that I would love, because lets face it those book covers always scream ‘a great book’, it is a shame it wasn’t but spinning it into a positive, that is one less book I need to read so my pocket will remain jingly with coppers for a little longer.


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