Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place - Book One: The Mysterious Howling

By Maryrose Wood

Thumbs Up!

Set in England around the year 1850, The Mysterious Howling opens by introducing us to 15 year old Miss Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  She is on a journey to interview for her first governess position at the impressive Ashton Place, home of Lord Fredrick and Lady Constance.  After she accepts the position, she discovers that her charges are three young children, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia, who were raised by wolves.  Lord Fredrick is determined to raise them, much to the chagrin of Lady Constance, because he's the one who found them in the woods and, after all, finders keepers.

The gothic atmosphere, interspersed literary references and a story revolving around three supposed orphans with a mysterious family history, reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  In fact, I had to check the author's website, just to make sure that Maryrose Wood was not a new incarnation of Lemony Snicket.  (She's not.)  I found this a much gentler read than the Snicket books, if only because I knew that Penelope Lumley is quite competent, and she's genuinely fond of and protective toward the three children.

As the story progresses, the children demonstrate a quick ability to learn while still maintaining some charming primitive habits.  The story builds toward a Christmas party which Lady Constance has painstakingly planned.  She has high expectations for the children, including their learning to dance the schottisch.  Of course, things don't go exactly as Lady Constance had hoped, and by the end we're left with a number of unanswered questions.

This book was just fun to read aloud to the kids.  We enjoyed the silly word formations of the Incorrigibles (for example, they call Miss Lumley 'Lumawoo') and the steady stream of Agatha Swanburne truisms ("That which can be purchased at a shop is easily left in a taxi; that which you carry inside you is difficult, though not impossible, to misplace. ")  Penelope Lumley is a delightful character.  She's bright, no-nonsense, yet partial to the Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! series of books.  ("The volume titled Silky Mischief, in which Rainbow's gentle influence saves an ill-tempered pony on a neighboring farm from a gruesome fate, left an especially lasting impression.")

We are greatly anticipating the next volume in the series.

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