Found via: Bookends
Lynn and Cindy had me when they said this is "A Jane Eyre riff for the middle reader." Jane Eyre is one of the few classic novels I managed to actually finish reading while in college (the other was The Scarlet Letter). While I had some problems with the novel, I figured those problems wouldn't be showing up in a middle grade novel! And I was right. What does show up? A charming protagonist thrust into an impossible situation with more mysteries than she knows what to do with!
Penelope Lumley has just graduated from the Swanburne School for Poor Bright Females and is on her way to her first governess position at Ashton Place. Penelope was intrigued by the advertisement as it called for a young lady who worked well with animals. Penelope goes in thinking she might find a stable filled with ponies - and instead finds three feral children howling in the barn! Lord Frederick found the three children while hunting and has taken them home as trophies, naming the children Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia Incorrigible. He placed the ad for a governess, hoping the children will be presentable to society in time for Christmas. The lady of the manor, Lady Constance, isn't so sure about this whole plan, but is going to try her hardest to make the best of the impossible situation, managing three wards, a governess and a husband who is far more interested in going out hunting then spending time with his new wife. Armed with a top notch classical education, Penelope gamely rises to the challenge - and doesn't even let herself be too disappointed when she realizes she has to teach the children how to wear clothes before she can start teaching Latin.
The omniscient narrator is a perfect blend between sounding very 19th century and also very 21st century. The narrator knows the reader isn't familiar with all of the details of Penelope's world and explains them quickly and humorously. The conversational tone, however, was very similar to Jane Eyre and the like. The narration also takes plenty of jabs at the 19th century governess novel genre, including Penelope shuddering at the thought of falling in love with the lord of the manor as she's imagining what life in Ashton Place may be like.
The three Incorrigibles are hilarious. They were raised by wolves and even after Penelope starts working with them, they only manage a tenuous grasp on English. The youngest, Cassiopeia, never quite masters pronouns and constantly refers to herself as "Cassawoof," making me giggle every time.
There are plenty of mysteries in this book - some of which are answered during the novel, and others which are only hinted at, setting up the series nicely. There's a complete story here, but I definitely want some more answers and look forward to the next book!