I picked this book up for the title: I love intriguing titles. Then I met Miss Penelope Lumley, and I was hooked.
A cross between Mary Poppins and Jane Eyre with a dash of Edgar Allen Poe, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling is funny, surprising, and mysterious. We begin with Miss Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, taking a train ride to her first job interview. She worries that the train may be attacked by bandits, that she might forget the capitals of European countries, or that she might "end up with marmalade all over the front of her dress and run from the room weeping," but it soon becomes apparent that Miss Lumley is "much, much more than her current circumstances would indicate." Upon meeting the children under her care and discovering that they have been raised by wolves, she is "not in the least bit alarmed." After all, she has "spent many a useful hour assisting Dr. Westminster," the Swanburne veterinarian. She is appalled that the children are being kept in the barn: "they had plenty of hay and the saddle blankets for warmth--but no watercolor paints? No decks of cards? Not a single book to pass the time? . . .To Penelope's way of thinking, it approached the barbaric."
I fell in love with Penelope's original thinking and strength of character, and I loved watching her gentleness tame the three children (they are soon reading poetry and learning Latin, of course). But all is not well at Ashton Place, for there is a mystery concerning the unpleasant Lord Fredrick, and he appears to have evil intentions regarding the children, which Penelope must try to thwart. There is a gloriously comical and suspenseful Christmas ball: poetry is recited to much chaos, gentlemen go hunting, something is almost discovered in the attic, and a squirrel is adopted. We are left, however, with a number of compelling questions: Where did the children come from? Where did Penelope come from? What or who is hiding in the attic? Why does Lord Frederick keep consulting the almanack, and where was he during the Christmas party? Alas, we must wait for a sequel! Luckily, Maryrose Wood appears to be a fast writer, and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery, is coming out in Feb 2011. In the meantime, I'm going to check out her teen novels.
Oh, I forgot to make a food metaphor! TICAP:TMH (I really didn't want to write the whole thing out again!) is like sticky toffee pudding: sweet and delicious with hidden chewy depths, and oh, so very British. (And did I mention it's hilarious?)