July 10, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: the Mysterious Howling (Book 1)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling is actually a kids' book, not YA, but it sounded like a lot of fun and I read some good reviews of it beforehand, so I thought, what the heck, I'll try it.

I'm glad I did, because this is such a quirky read and I love the snarky, tongue-in-cheek quality of the narration (and also the protagonist on occasion). Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, newly graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is hired as governess to three children belonging to Lord Fredrick and Lady Constance of Ashton Place. Little does Penelope know that these children are orphans Fredrick found on a hunting expedition in the woods...and they have literally been raised by wolves. A comical slew of mishaps ensues as Penelope endeavours to drum into the childrens' heads everything from the poetry of Longfellow to the schottische dance. But it seems that Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia aren't the most serious terrors lurking at Ashton Place - something is hiding in the attic, and the coachman Old Timothy seems to be most adept at sneaking around...

Maryrose Wood's writing style is simply wonderful. I love how the narrator manages to poke fun while using such a prim-and-proper tone, and the vaguely Victorian setting is charming. Almost every chapter begins with some kind of pithy comment on life that sets up the rest of the chapter. For instance, from Chapter 9:

If you have ever opened a can of worms, boxed yourself into a corner, ended up in hot water, or found yourself in a pretty pickle, you already know that life is rarely (if ever) just a bowl of cherries.

Or, from Chapter 5:

As you probably know from personal experience, there are children who love to take baths, and there are children who absolutely do not.

Unfortunately, this is only Book 1 in a series, and the reader is left dangling at the end of the last chapter ("to be continued...") with none of the problems resolved (except, perhaps, that the children are a little more educated and well-behaved than when Penelope first arrived!) It is more the mere beginnings of a story arc than a fully executed plot, and the feeling when the reader turns the last page is that the book is only half-finished.

Still, it is a quick read and the tone is so priceless that I would recommend it for that alone! The references to other pieces of literature (Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, and Hamlet, to name a few) might go over the heads of younger readers but will amuse the older ones (and any adult readers!) Of course, since the target audience is children there were a few scenes I am sure I would have enjoyed more as a young reader, but on the whole it held my attention very well. Indeed, it almost seems as though the book has been written on two levels - one for children who will laugh at the antics of the wolf-raised siblings, and another for the adults who will laugh at the dry wit of the narrator and the poor plight of Penelope. I only wish there were more of it!

I am eager to find out about what is living in the attic, not to mention who is targeting the three children... More please!

4.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

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