Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood

Maryrose Wood's series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (J WOOD) has been likened to a cross between Jane Austen and A Series of Unfortunate Events. The books in the series, which is set in 19th century England, are:
  1. The Mysterious Howling
  2. The Hidden Gallery
  3. The Unseen Guest
Having read the first two Incorrigible books, I'd characterize the series as a kinder, gentler, but no less stylish and whimsical choice to Lemony Snicket's immensely popular Unfortunate Events.

Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, newly hired by Lord Fredrick and Lady Constance of Ashton Place to serve as a governess, arrives to find a rather bewildering scenario: Her three charges — Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowolf — were actually found running wild in the nearby woods. The children have been taken in by the couple, but it's Penelope's job to civilize and educate the feral youngsters.

As a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, the practical-minded Penelope quickly overcomes her shock and devotes all her efforts to seeing to her charges' well-being. The children, though occasionally given to bouts of howling and squirrel chasing, blossom under Penelope's attentions.

However, Wood's first book right away hints that not all is at it seems. Lord Fredrick, who seems to enjoy hunting more than he does his wife's company, has an odd compulsion to constantly check an alamanac. His colleagues, whom Penelope first meets at the Ashtons' Christmas party, seem to have shadowy motives. And something — or someone — possibly lurks on the fourth floor.

These questions only multiply as you continue into the second book, The Hidden Gallery, when Penelope and the Incorrigibles journey to London.

I admire the pluck and determination young Miss Penelope Lumley (or "Lumawooo!", as the Incorrigibles call her) shows. Penelope comes across as bright, mature and level-headed, but not to an unrealistic degree. (The only thing I found slightly jarring was the ambitious curriculum she sets for the Incorrigibles: She soon has them appreciating great literature, spouting Latin and tackling advanced math — quite the absorption rate for a pack of half-tame grade-schoolers!) With few allies — Lord Fredrick comes across as uncaring and Lady Constance, a flake — Penelope does her best to protect her charges while solving the mystery of the Incorrigibles' origin as well as her own.

Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowolf themselves are endearing. The rapidity at which they learn also lends the story much of its humor as we see Penelope's lessons pay off. Each of the siblings has a distinctive personality, though it's clear all of them adore and trust Penelope. Still, this is Penelope's story to tell, and it's one I think all ages will find entertaining.

Here's a video of author Maryrose Wood discussing the books:

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