Showing posts with label Maryrose Wood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maryrose Wood. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WARTY!

I was sorry to see this series go downhill after volume two. I had been a thrilled and willing reader, but volume two wasn't as good as volume one, although still eminently readable. Volume three, this volume, was not even in the same class as the previous two. It quickly became boring and never improved. Perhaps the intended age group for which this was written will not notice this and still be fans, but for me it was blahh! I think this is an object lesson in why series are generally a bad thing, because they are essentially the same story over and over again. While some writers can do this and keep the story fresh and exciting, others cannot, and this is what I encountered here. If this entire series had been sold as a single novel, with large chunks of the boring edited out, it would have been a much better story.

The entire story here is really nothing more than a stray ostrich and a psychic, which you would think would make for an hilarious tale, but no. We meet Lord Ashton's mother and her beau, Admiral Faucet ("for-say"), who, it turns out is merely after her money, not her hand in marriage, because he wants to start an ostrich farm and a chain of ostrich restaurants.

His one ostrich is running around the Ashton estate, and for reasons beyond anyone's ken, it's decided that Ashton, Faucet, Lumeru and the three babes from the woods will go on an expedition to find it. Over the course of this expedition, Lumeru is led to the cave where the kids were raised, and she decides that Faucet is not honorable. Knowing that the Widow Ashton has doubts about remarrying, Lumeru invites her favorite psychic to contact Edward Ashton, and then tries to fake his appearance by clandestinely employing Simaru to impersonate him, but she's too late - someone else already is!

Anyone who is in any doubt at this point as to the outcome of this series is obviously not paying attention! But this volume was worse than volume three and at this point I have no desire to pursue this series. This marks four volumes and virtually none of the questions posed in volume one have been answered. The titles of the volumes are misleading, too, because this unseen guest has been around since volume one with promises of discovery and none have come! It's annoying at best and a cheap ploy at worst. When a writer behaves like this, a reader gets to the point of not caring what reveals there are. I certainly don't!

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WARTY!

Lumeru finally turns sixteen, but no one appears to remember her birthday! But it was all part of a surprise! But there's a mysterious letter from Miss Mortimer at Swanburne! But Lumeru simply doesn't get that it's a code! But she has to go visit the school anyway! But she can't figure out how to get there! But she figures it out! Oh look, Simon is here! Oh no, Quinzy is here!

If you're bored by this sad précis, please feel free to join the club. This was the worst of the four volumes of this I ever intend to follow. It was tedious and I was skipping track after track on the audio CDs because it was not moving the story and it wasn't entertaining, and it wasn't even funny. It was really saddening to see what began as a brilliant series devolve into a morass of tedium and mediocrity in volumes three and four. There was nothing new being added. It was like the author had decided that she was going to pen five volumes and would do so come hell or high water, and in complete disregard of the fact that there was clearly insufficient material to adequately fill them.

Nothing - I mean quite literally nothing - happened here, and I cannot recommend this. You would have better success going back and re-reading the first volume! That one was highly entertaining, and you would learn just as much new material from it as you would from reading this one, which I do not recommend.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

This story follows on shortly after the end of the first volume. Lady Constance is in a tiswas over the renovations to her home which are necessary to repair the damage which the incorrigibles' rampage caused, and is inadvertently persuaded to go for stay in London until the repairs are completed. There was hardly sufficient damage caused to necessitate several months of repairs, but this story is absurdist anyway, so adding a little more absurdity is hardly a fault.

The whole household, very nearly, is dispatched, with Penelope and the incorrigibles in the vanguard. One of the joys of the first book was that Penelope was a single girl who needed no man to validate her. My fear in this book was that we would lose this because she almost immediately met a charming gentleman of her own station, who adored the children. Fortunately, he, and indeed they together, was not something which I found to be obnoxious, so I ended-up loving this story, too.

Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia incorrigible are suitably advanced in their learning and language skills at this point, and avidly taking to hear the lessons of the Peloponnesian war. Indeed, so advanced are they that they are constructing a trireme out of a potted plant, and Cassa-woof has a pet squirrel, of all creatures. The squirrel's name is, of course, Nutsaru.

Despite all of this, forces continue to conspire against the children's equanimity. The highlight of this is their attendance upon a performance of a play titled, The pirate's Holiday, wherein the thespians inhabit their maritime roles so completely that after the children cause a disruption of the play, the result is a piratical hue and cry which pursues them all the way to the British museum, which is of intrigue because Penelope seems to have acquired for herself the only existing copy of a guide to a special and infrequently visited exhibit wherein likes yet more clues to both her and her charges' origins.

Once again Katherine Kellgren excelled in her reading, and the author excelled in her writing. The book was a charmer, with scores of laugh-out-loud moments. It pleased me immensely and I therefore recommend it to you as a very worthy read. Unfortunately after this point the series took a dive, so this is the last volume I can recommend.

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

Rating: WORTHY!

Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley has just graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. The principal of the school suggested she apply for a job of governess at Ashton Place, the country seat of the exceedingly wealthy Lord Ashton and his new young wife, the Lady Constance.

Naturally Penelope is very nervous, and almost has a fit of panic over the possibility of bandits attacking the train, but she's a Swanburne girl, so she stiffens her resolve, arriving unmolested to the unsettling discovery that Lady Constance appears to be as nervous about this interview as Penelope is. What transcends is that Penelope is hired at very advantageous terms, through no effort of her own, and without even meeting the children.

Their first meeting is memorable. The three children, named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, after the first three letters of the alphabet, are completely wild, in the most literal sense. Barely wearing clothes, they are cavorting in the barn barking and howling. Penelope isn't fazed at all, and immediately, as any Swanburne girl would, takes command of the situation at once. She quite literally has these three waifs eating out of her hand in short order. She dedicates herself to their civilization first, with their classical education a very close second, and the progress she makes is remarkable. the children turn out to be sweet, very intelligent, eager to please, and completely entrancing to the reader.

I had the audio book of this from the library, and although this robbed me of the illustrations which evidently appear in the print version, I think I got the better deal, because Katherine Kellgren's narration is as riveting as the text itself. She embraces Maryrose Wood's creation with complete abandon, and totally owns the characters. I was in love with this before the first five minutes was up. I returned to the library the very next day to pick up the other three volumes before someone else could snatch them and prevent me reading them. I blitzed the first two books with the velocity of Beowulf chasing squirrels. Unfortunately, after that, the honeymoon was over! This series went down hill rather quickly after volume 2.

On the topic of these three children, who become known as the incorrigibles, the story Penelope is given is that Lord Ashton found them while he was out hunting one day. Under his motto, "Finders, Keepers!", he took them in, yet he doesn't appear to be someone who is very charitable. Neither is his wife, who appears to detest the children It becomes apparent - although nowhere near as quickly as it should - to Penelope, that something not so obvious is going on here.

Why is Lord Ashton so addicted to his almanac? What is the mysterious howling (it isn't the kids!) Why are the children so obsessed with chasing squirrels? Will they ever master Latin declensions and Greek History? And does someone have an agenda of exposing the children purposefully to experiences which seem designed to trigger their wildest instincts? Penelope is rather slow, I'm sorry to say, to catch on.

The children appear to pick up English remarkably quickly, which suggests that they were not really raised by wolves. Either that or the wolves had a fair command of the British empire's master language, yet despite their remarkable facility, the two boys and the young girl aren't quite able to shed their barks, yips, and howls quite as quickly as they pick up the rudiments of a refined education. The pressure to succeed only heightens when Penelope learns that she must present her charges at the annual Christmas ball, which by then is only one month away. The ball turns out to be one the attendees will never forget once a squirrel is introduced into the proceedings. The kids go rapidly from science curious to sciurus....

I was completely captivated by this book, but it strikes me that it may be written on a level slightly too high for the youngest of the recommended reading age. That doesn't mean it won't work for them, because there is lots going on. It is written at a level that will entertain both young and mature, so perhaps the best solution would be to listen to the audio book or for a parent/guardian/older sibling to read it to younger readers.

I'm not convinced that this is a bedtime book however - the children may well want to emulate some of the incorrigible's behavior, and I say let 'em have at it, what?! I recommend this as a very worthy read with laugh-out-loud moments and an engrossing story - but keep in mind that it's rather episodic in style, so while each volume is self-contained after a fashion, there is an over-arching story that will, likely as not, remain unresolved until the final volume is released in 2016. Some readers may wish to wait until then before embarking on this charming voyage of enlightenment.

Having positively reviewed Maryrose Wood's The Poison diaries back in April 2015, it was nice to read something else by this same author. I recommend this audio book, and wish I could say the same for the whole series.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

Title: The Poison Diaries
Author: Maryrose Wood
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: WORTHY!

Based on an idea by The Duchess Of Northumberland (who maintains a real garden of poisonous plants at her stately residence in the north of England, Alnwick Hall), this novel is in many ways a re-telling of the fictional tale of the slavery and subsequent liberation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. But if all you ever read is vampires, werewolves, and angels, then don’t venture into this garden. The raw power of nature will be outside of your comfort zone, and you won’t be able to handle a tale as subtle, seductive, insidious, and profoundly different as this one is.

If I have a complaint about his novel, it’s in the form of this question: Do YA authors honestly believe that it’s a capital offense to pen a YA novel about a female main character and not tell it in first person present PoV? I can’t think of any other reason why they would so spastically, robotically, and with tedious persistence write all such novels this way (and make them trilogies to boot). Usually such novels are awful. Once in a while (as is fortunately the case here) we get one that's done well, but even in this case the author is hoist by her own pen when it comes to a point in this story where she's forced to tell it from the perspective of another character. That was really clunky and could have been comfortably avoided had she only the smarts and courage to break this sorry mold and tell it in third person throughout.

The first similarity to the Biblical fable of Adam and Eve is that we begin with an innocent girl, living in a garden, overseen by her god-like father, who in many ways has power over life and death. There is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil here, nor one of everlasting life, but there is a dangerous garden of poisonous plants to which Jessamine (the Eve of the tale) is forbidden entry. The entire story is about the danger of a little knowledge, and the greater danger of ignorance, about innocence, and about temptation and deceit.

There is also a strong element of the devilish here - in the traditional sense. No serpent tempts Eve, but the poisonous plants tempt Adam, who shows up in the form of a boy of Jessamine's age, and who is known as Weed. For me, he was difficult to classify. Outside the protective confines of the garden, he was considered a witch (or insane - or both), and brought to Jessamine's father, Thomas Luxton, who is an apothecary, because Weed appeared to have knowledge of the medical uses of plants. Initially, I could not decide if Weed was a personification of nature, or if he was merely highly attuned to it.

He is a major frustration to Luxton, and a source of growing attraction for Jessamine. He's frustrating because, despite what the Judas figure said when he handed-over Weed to Luxton for judgment, Weed appears not to have any knowledge of herbal remedies which he could share, yet when he's under pressure, a simple walk through the garden seems to imbue him with sufficient knowledge to suggest a cure, or at least a palliative for the ailment in question.

At first, in the tail-end of winter, Weed lives below ground in the basement of his host's home, but as spring perks up the plant life around him, so too does weed come to the surface and blossom. He starts enjoying the outdoors, and long walks with Jessamine, during which he displays an intimate knowledge of the plants they encounter. She discovers that he's easily angered by her collecting of these plants for her father, as though she's committing murder. He's loathe to eat anything until he learns to give thanks to nature before he eats; then he starts to put on weight and grow strongly and healthily, but he seems far more in love with nature than with humanity, and this is a source of frustration and anger in Jessamine.

Things really come to a head when Jessamine's father is to be gone for a few days. He's barely out the door, and Jessamine and Weed are barely dressed, both of them appearing to be drugged, if not with love. How did this happen? And how is it that Jessamine's father returns so suddenly, and so unexpectedly, and behaves so oddly?

Far from being angry, he decides that his two charges are sufficiently in love that they must be wed, but before this can happen, Jessamine becomes seriously and unexpectedly ill, and it seems that the only thing which can save her Weed's willingness (or foolishness) to put himself at grave risk by communing with the residents of the seductively poisonous garden. It’s then, and only then, that we learn how truly powerful the garden is and why Thomas Luxton should never have corralled such a diverse array of poisonous plants in such close quarters. The term "plant suggestion" takes on a whole new meaning at this point, and the nature of Weed's relationship with nature becomes as disturbingly apparent as the devious motives of Jessamine's father.

I recommend this novel as a fascinating and alluring read. Aside from the aforementioned issue with person, it was a well-written, easy, and entertaining read. The only other problem I had with it is that it is apparently the start of a series, with Nightshade being the sequel. For me, this spoils a perfectly good novel. Sad as the ending might be in many ways, I don’t believe it called for a more than likely sadder sequel. I like this novel, but I feel no need to line the pockets of Big Publishing™ by literally buying into a trope series when it isn’t necessary. I think that would spoil it for me, but do read the first one if you want a different experience from your humdrum YA fiction and your YA romance.