Review: The Unseen Guest

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 3, The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Website for the book (with games, etc.) Book 1: The Mysterious Howling; Book 2: The Hidden Gallery.

The Plot: The three Incorrigible children (Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia) and their governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have returned from their London adventure and are happily ensconced in Ashton Place. Nothing ever remains safe and comfortable for these four, and unexpected guests of both the animal and human kind lead to new adventures and new questions about their mysterious origins.

The Good: I just love how smart the Incorrigible Children books are. The words, the references, the allusions, all of it. This book alone mentions dodos, derbys (the race and the hat), pince nez, ostriches, Edgar Allan Poe, rhetorical questions, puns, and synonyms.

If a reader stumbles upon this without having read the first two, there will be no confusion; Wood handily explains the premise: children raised by wolves now being raised by teen governess whose own parents abandoned her at a girls’ school. They will enjoy this one so much they will go back to read the first two; and, based on how carefully crafted and well-structured these books are, as a series, that reader will probably pick up on clues to the origins of the Incorrigibles and Penelope that the in-order readers like myself missed.

The unexpected guests are Lord Ashton’s widowed mother Hortense, her fiance, Admiral Faucet, and Faucet’s ostrich. The ostrich, the basis of Faucet’s several money-making schemes, has escaped and must be tracked down and found. Faucet wants to find it alive; Ashton, the hunter, wants it dead so he can place it amongst his other trophies. Faucet recruits the Incorrigibles to his cause, using them because their skills at tracking are superb. The scenes of Miss Lumley preparing for the expedition are hilarious, as her “must have” lists basically mean bringing all the comforts of home with them.

I could make this entire post quotes from the book; I’m showing my restraint by avoiding those that are too spoilery, or need to be read in context. Here is one that makes sense no matter what: “...as a person who had recently made an error herself, and had gone to the trouble of correcting it, [Miss Lumley] knew better than to expect other people to be perfect at all times.”

Also fun? All the sayings of Miss Angela Swanburne, the founder of the school that Miss Lumley attended. Has anyone put together a site just of her sayings? Here are to classics: “new boots never fit as well as old” and “patience can untangle the knottiest shoelace, but so can a pair of scissors.”

The background mystery of these books — the origins of the children and Miss Lumley herself — continues to move forward. It does so at a slow pace; a few hints revealed, with the reader often guessing more than the characters. When the Incorrigibles go on their expedition, they gleefully recall their pre-Ashton Place days of living in a cave. With quilts and sandwiches. Sandwiches, Miss Lumley asks? The children laugh at Miss Lumley’s ignorance; of course, sandwiches! There are also the wolves, and the encounter with the wolves and the hints of other wolfish things continue to pile up.

Because this series continues to be smart, funny, and respects the readers; because I have no idea what the mystery concerning the Incorrigibles and Lumley will end being; because Miss Lumley is so brave and proper and smart, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Educating Alice; YA Librarian Tales; Compulsive Reader (guest post); Good Books and Good Wine (guest post).

Maryrose Wood went on a Blog Tour for this book earlier this year; a complete list of stops is at her blog, at Did you miss the Incorrigible Blog Tour? Here are the links.

Review: The Hidden Gallery

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2011. Reviewed from copy from publisher. Sequel to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling.

The Plot: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling introduced readers to fifteen year old Miss Penelope Lumley, intrepid governess and recent graduate of  the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, along with her three young charges, the Incorrigibles. The three children had been raised by wolves (no, really) and Miss Lumley was hired to civilize them and teach them Latin.

Miss Lumley and young Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia now venture off to London, armed with a slightly-odd Guide Book. How much trouble can they get into, really? The three children wear their clothes, do their lessons, and only start howling when there is a reason to, such as the moon or a tempting squirrel. That incident at the Christmas ball — well, best not talked about, right?

It turns out that London has secrets of its own; or, rather, is an occasion for Penelope and her three charges to discover secrets about themselves.

 The Good: This series is so much fun! Penelope is a hoot and a half, especially because half the time she doesn’t quite realize either she or the children are funny. Or maybe she does? Here, from the start, as she begins her discussion with Lady Constance, the young, spoiled, and often ignored wife of the rich Lord Aston: “”Pardon me, Lady Constance,” she said, in the same soothing voice she used to calm the Incorrigibles when they were in the presence of a small, tasty rodent, or during a full moon, or when they had gotten worked up over a particularly thrilling bit of poetry.”

Incorrigible Children falls under the “better to read in order, but doesn’t hurt if you don’t” category. Each book, so far, has a standalone plot: The Hidden Gallery is primarily about the children’s London adventure, just as The Mysterious Howling was about Penelope and the children getting acquainted. However, there is a series mystery going on: the origins of both Penelope and the Incorrigibles. Tantalizing clues are given: after Penelope stops using the school-issued hair “tonic,” her hair color changes to one more resembling that of the three children. One character shows an odd reaction to the new moon.

Part of the brilliance of this series and the writing is just how all-ages it manages to be: Penelope is a teen, and she does have responsibilities appropriate for her age and role as a governess. She takes good care of Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia and does her best to teach them. At other times, she acts younger, such as with her continuing obsession with the Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! series about the pony-crazed Edith-Anne. This makes Penelope the perfect main character for kids (including tweens or younger teens) who want to read about teenagers. And even those who may find Penelope too young won’t find the narrator too young. The humor is the type that works on two levels, like a great kid’s movie: funny enough for those who don’t get the jokes, even funnier for those who do. There is a play on words with matador/minotaur/metaphor that was brilliant.

The Incorrigibles in London had me laughing out loud. Penelope’s former teacher and mentor, Miss Mortimer, sends her Hixby’s Lavishly Illustrated Guide to London: Complete with Historical Reference, Architectural Significance, and Literary Allusions. It is howling good fun, especially as the illustrations are all of wildflower meadows and snowcapped mountain peaks. Is it good as a guide, though, especially when the directions to the zoo are “The way to the zoo your nose will tell, [f]or elephants are not hard to smell“? As for any more plot detail, well, part of the fun is seeing the trouble that these four manage to get into, despite the best intentions.

And did I mention the pirates? Oh yes, pirates.

I’m happy I waited to read Book 2 until Book 3 came out, because now I can dive right into The Unseen Guest.

Other reviews: Emily Reads; Book Nut; Eva’s Book Addiction.