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Ripping Good Yarns for Summer Reading

    Take one poor but resourceful young woman from any number of Gothic romances; mix her with the wise governess from Eva Ibbotson’s “Journey to the River Sea;” fold in the Victorian flavor of Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series; add just a hint of Lemony Snicket’s narrator from “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and you’ve got it:  Maryrose Wood’s new series, “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.”

The first book, “The Mysterious Howling,” introduces Miss Penelope Lumley, a fifteen-year-old graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  The governess position at Ashton Place sounds appealing to her, especially the notice that experience with animals is strongly preferred.  But to her astonishment, the animals in question are the three children she is to care for.  Raised by wolves and found in the woods by Lord Ashton, Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowulf drape themselves in animal skins and communicate by howling.  Under Miss Lumley’s tutelage, they soon learn to wear clothes, bathe and even make a stab at learning Latin.

But Miss Lumley is puzzled by several mysteries.  Where does Lord Ashton disappear to on his frequent hunting trips?  Who wants the children out of the way? Why does the old coachman loiter around watching Miss Lumley and the children?  These mysteries are not quite cleared up by the end of the story, but along the way middle grade readers will enjoy Wood’s clever plotting and appealing heroine.  The sequel, “The Hidden Gallery,” will be published next February.

    Philip Reeve’s dark, inventive series, “The Hungry City Chronicles,” presented a future world where cities rolled about the landscape, devouring each other in what was dubbed “Municipal Darwinism.”  One critic dubbed it “a place Charles Dickens might have described had he been a science-fiction writer.”

    His new prequel to the series, “Fever Crumb,” is set some time earlier.  Fever Crumb is an anomaly, a foundling who’s been raised by Dr. Crumb, a member of the Order of Engineers, in a world where females are thought to be incapable of scientific work.  Everything she has known has been orderly and rational, though readers will recognize some bits of her knowledge as the barely understood remnants of 21st-century science.  When she is sent off on a month-long assignment to help an archeologist, Fever finds herself haunted by memories of a life she’s never known.  Who is she really, and what role will she play in the future destiny of London?

    Give this to tweens and teens who will appreciate Reeve’s thought-provoking world-building.  It can be read alone, but fans of the first books will appreciate the allusions to characters and situations from the previous books in the series.

    Gerald Morris’s humorous take on Arthurian legend began with “The Squire’s Tale,” about a fourteen-year-old boy, raised in the wood by a wizard, who becomes squire to Sir Gawain.  In the ninth and latest book, “The Squire’s Quest,” Terence, still only a squire but now aware of his half-faery origins, is worried about the peace of the kingdom.  He seems to have lost touch with the faery kingdom, and he’s suspicious of Mordred, a young man newly arrived in court.  Encounters with Alexander the Great, a journey to Greece, and a light-hearted love affair that illustrates courtly love mingle in a story sure to satisfy readers of the earlier books in the series.
First published in the Free Lance-Star on July 6, 2010.