If you're a heroine in a YA novel, it helps to have pluck. In this week's fiction roundup, three girls find they need all the scrappy courage they can muster. One character has to stand up to racists in her hometown, another travels thousands of miles to a culture where she can't speak the language, and, in the third, an intrepid teenaged governess and her charges must rescue a runaway ostrich before either wolves or a near-sighted hunter get her first.
If you hear howling at the moon this month, never fear. It's not an outbreak of heartbroken Team Jacob fans, lamenting the last “Twilight” movie. Rather, it's because The Unseen Guest, the next book in Maryrose Wood's utterly delightful series, "The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place,” is out.
For the uninitiated, the books cover the adventures of intrepid governess Penelope Lumley and her three charges – Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopiea Incorrigible – who were raised by wolves, which occasionally has an unfortunate effect on their table manners.
“It's just the funniest book I've ever read,” as one elementary teacher I know tried to explain to her husband about Book 2, “The Hidden Gallery.”
The series is presided over by a benevolent narrator, who covers a wealth of topics with a straight face and a permanently arched eyebrow. The latest outing includes disquisitions on rhetorical questions, trilobites, acronyms, synonyms, and “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe. There are also runaway ostriches, fortunetellers, matters of linguistic significance, and prognosticational poppycock.
In “The Unseen Guest,” Lord Fredrick Ashton's widowed mother returns from Europe with a new suitor, explorer Admiral Faucet, who hopes to make a fortune from ostrich racing. The widow Ashton is immediately smitten with her son's wards (much to Lady Constance's disgust, since she has to pretend to be fond of her charges). Unfortunately, the Admiral's ostrich, Bertha, has run away, and he wants the three Incorrigibles to track her down before Lord Fredrick, whose only hobby is hunting, has her stuffed and added to his study.
“The Unseen Gallery” doesn't answer too many questions about Penelope's missing parents or the Incorrigible's origins. (If I have one criticism, it's that the overarching mystery is moving at far slower a pace than a speeding ostrich. Miss Marple would have expired from old age before it was solved.) But readers get a glimpse of the cave in which the trio were raised, which comes equipped with the usual stalactites and stalagmites – as well as quilts, pillows, art supplies, and a picnic hamper full of cucumber and cheddar-and-apple sandwiches, much to Penelope's surprise. She also meets a figure who loomed large in the children's life before Penelope arrived at Ashton Place.
The series was designed to be read aloud, for maximum howling impact. This has occasionally befuddled our beagle-basset mix, an expert on the subject, who will gaze at me with a concerned expression in his brown eyes when I'm reading to my son.
“She's trying to communicate with me; I just know it,” we can see him thinking. “I wish I could understand what she's saying. Nevawhoo??!”
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