Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When the impossible becomes merely difficult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (2010)

At the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope Lumley’s education was based on the teachings of Agatha Swanburne, whose pithy sayings provide guidance in many situations. Now that Penelope has graduated and is starting her first job as a governess this guidance is sure to come in handy. When Penelope arrives at Ashton Place she finds that the children pose a quite unusal challenge, but as a Swanburne girl she is prepared for even the most difficult situation. Penelope forges ahead despite the strange goings-on and mysteries at her new home.

Penelope is a fantastic character. Fifteen years old and as prepared as a Girl Scout, she is armed with a positive can-do attitude and a proper education. All the way to Ashton Place she quizzes herself on topics such as geography which ultimately prove completely useless. To help her in her work, she relies on lessons not only from Agatha Swanburne, but from her favorite children’s book series about a pony named Rainbow. How awesome!

The writing style is similar to the Lemony Snicket books, but the content isn’t so dark. Although written for children, there are some rather amusing adult references. For instance, when explaining the meaning of “hyperbole” the author explains that “in some cases it has been known to precipitate unnecessary wars as well as a painful gaseous condition called stock market bubbles.” In another passage, “party guests shrugged and resumed drinking and flirting with one another’s spouses, just as party guests have done since the beginning of time.”

The book is also peppered throughout with the wise sayings of Agatha Swanburns upon which Penelope relies so heavily. These nuggets of wisdom include:
“When the impossible becomes merely difficult, that’s when you know you’ve won.”
“If it were easy to resist, it would not be called chocolate cake.”
"Complaining doesn't butter the biscuit."
“One can board one’s train only after it arrives at the station. Until then, enjoy your newspaper!”

A stately home full of mysteries, unruly children, a na├»ve yet determined governess: what’s not to love about this book? Wood’s inventive and witty writing was great fun to read and I breezed through it in no time. Book two, The Hidden Gallery, was just released and I’m looking forward to Penelope’s continued adventures!

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