Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest

Maryrose Wood's series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, are one of my favorite finds of the year. I don't remember how I stumbled across them, probably through Entertainment Weekly or amazon.com, but I got the first book in the series out from the library and absolutely adored it. The series follows Penelope Lumley, a fifteen year old governess, educated at Swanbourne Academy for Poor Bright Females, which turns out sensible, intelligent young ladies in Victorian England. Penelope is hired by the Ashton family, who live in a huge house in the country to care for their three wards, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia. These three children were rescued from the forest after seemingly being raised by wolves. They are wild in nature - squirrel chasing, barking and howling... but also quite bright. Penelope settles into the house to teach the children Latin, history and socially useful phrases - and how to avoid their wolfish tendencies. Meanwhile, her employers are quite odd themselves. Lord Frederick is obsessed with his almanac and seems to get mysteriously ill during the full moon, while Lady Constance is silly and selfish.

Penelope deals with everything that comes her way with sensible calm. She is able to transform her pupils quickly into intelligent members of society, even if they still have the tendency to bark and howl now and then. Often the children are far brighter than everyone else around them so their use of Latin or ability to quote Thucydides makes most of the silly adults believe that they are still savages.

Anyway, the Unseen Guest is the third book in the series. Each one is a unique adventure, but there are hints towards a bigger mystery. Where did the children come from? Why does Penelope's headmistress, Charlotte, insist that she dye her hair black? Where are Penelope's parents? Why affliction does Lord Frederick face every month? Maryrose Wood is planning on three more books to round the series out to six, so hopefully she will wrap everyone up well.

Wood's style of writing reminds me a slightly lighter Lemony Snicket (who wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events). I found this quote from a review that summed up my feelings about the books quite well:  "Several reviewers have likened the novel to Lemony Snicket, but I find Woods’ novel infinitely more heartening. Lemony Snicket made me a little depressed, to be honest, while Woods’ novel left me smiling for hours after reading it. The Ashtons and their blue-blood crowd are definitely not cool (as they say nowadays, to borrow from Wood). But the proffered wisdom, the children’s cheerful willingness to adapt to Penelope and her lessons, her unfailing faith in her charges, and her determination to protect them create a more hopeful world, where good things are possible, even amidst the bad."

If you like clever word play, a cute storyline and an intriguing mystery, check these books out. As they are for young adults, they are an easy read, but like many young adult books that I've encountered, they should not be discounted a childish, when really they are among the most enjoyable books I've read in the last couple years.

Interview with Maryrose Wood

Review of the first book in the series.

Buy it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

On another note, I'm a little disappointed that I'm 10 books behind where I was last year. I don't know why exactly. Longer books? Less time? No cruise where I read about a book a day? I don't know, but I'm a little frustrated with myself!

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