'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 27 July 2012

Review: The Mysterious Howling

The first book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Mysterious Howling will have fans of clever stories filled with quirky characters and unexpected mysteries hooked from the first pages. A wonderful mixture of humour, suspense and witty writing, the book promises a series filled with laughter, adventure and more than a few lessons in poetry, latin and socially useful phrases for children.

Discovered in the forest on the property of an English manor, the three Incorrigibles are believed to be just that – wild, unruly and out of control. 15-year-old governess Miss Penelope Lumley believes otherwise. A graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, she believes that everyone can benefit from a sound education and instruction in good manners, even three children raised by wolves.

Armed with the wise philosophies of Agatha Swanburne and a suitcase filled with reference books, Penelope is determined to help the Incorrigibles adapt to their new home. However, Miss Lumley faces more challenges than the children’s tendency to howl at the moon and chase squirrels. The lady of the manor is far from impressed with her new charges and Penelope knows that the smallest problem could see the children sent off to an orphanage or, worse, returned to the forest. Then Lady Constance announces that the children are to attend her Christmas Ball…

The Incorrigibles, 10-year-old Alexander, 7-year-old Beowulf and 4-year-old Cassiopeia are precocious, intelligent, unruly and lots and lots of fun as they try to adapt to their new lifestyle where chasing squirrels up trees is frowned upon. Penelope is the perfect prim and proper governess and Lord and Lady Ashton are wonderful caricatures of the British aristocracy of a certain time period - thoughtless, self indulgent and class conscious.

This novel is lots of fun for any reader who enjoys a quirky tale well told and the clever use of words. While The Mysterious Howling serves as a wonderful introduction to the series, it leaves lots of unanswered questions to tempt readers into the next book. The story is suitable for children from 7 – 13, but the advanced vocabulary means that younger readers would probably benefit from reading the book with an adult despite the frequent explanations of many of the trickier terms and references worked into the general narrative.

Although I generally hesitate to compare authors, The Incorrigible Children books would probably appeal to readers who enjoy Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events stories, as the style and use of language are comparable.

My copy has some extras included at the end including a summary of the Collected Wisdom of Agatha Swanburne, some entertaining comments from the illustrator Jon Klassen and a brief sneek peek at the second book in the series, The Hidden Gallery.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can’t wait for my daughter’s reaction when she reads it.

Title: The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series)
Author: Maryrose Wood
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Publisher: HarperCollins, $14.99 RRP
Publication Date: 25 January 2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780061791109
For ages: 7 - 13 years
Type: Junior fiction