Saturday, October 6, 2012

Giddy-yap, Rainbow!

I'm behind about four books.  I'm also kind of stalled listening-wise which means it could be a lot worse.  Last year on this date, I had finished listening to my 67th book (although, interestingly, I got jammed up on blogging last year at this time too). I'm in the midst of two listens right now, but the last book I finished was only my 44th of the year.  We could blame it on my (still) broken laptop, my vacation where my mp3 player died and I had no way of charging it up again, but it's mostly due to this, which finished up last weekend and was fun, fun, fun ... but was also a huge time-suck.  (I am pictured in the final photo, one of the two women looking at a camera ... I'm the one on the left.)

Today, let's discuss the 42nd book I have finished, last in my ears 27 days ago, so I probably won't have much to say about it.  The Hidden Gallery is the second book in Maryrose Wood's pretty funny series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.  For some reason, my library didn't purchase the first one in audio until it had been out for a couple years, so I eye-read it. But I was glad to find The Hidden Gallery on CD because I had wanted to listen to Katherine Kellgren's reportedly delightful performance.  The reports are true.

First, I shall attempt a summary. Miss Penelope Lumley, just 15 and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, has been sent to the estate of Lord Fredrick and Lady Constance Ashton to serve as governess to the three children -- Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia -- that Lord Fredrick found living wild in the woods.  For some mysterious reason, Lord Fredrick seems compelled to take responsibility for them.  (More mysterious are the inexplicable changes in Lord Fredrick's behavior in the days preceding a full moon.)  Plucky Penelope is not daunted by her three wild charges and -- using examples from her favorite book series about a girl and her horse, Giddy-yap, Rainbow! -- she nearly succeeds in civilizing them enough to attend the Ashton's Christmas ball. If only someone hadn't let the squirrel loose in the ballroom.

In Book 2, Penelope and the children have been included in the Ashton's plan for a sojourn in London, while the mess the Incorrigibles made of Ashton Place at the Christmas ball is repaired.  Penelope is very excited as she is hoping to consult with her teacher at the Swanburne Academy, Miss Charlotte Mortimer, on how to best teach the Incorrigibles. But her one meeting with Miss Mortimer only leads to more questions, including why must Penelope resume dying her hair that mousy brown when it's just coming into a lovely shade oddly similar to the children's, or why the one-of-a-kind Hixby's Guidebook Miss Mortimer sent her seems to be directing her towards Gallery No. 17 (?) at the British Museum.

Alas, like the first book, we are left with some tantalizing clues and yet more questions as to the origins of both Penelope and the children.  These books are actually pretty slight, they build and build and then kind of fizzle into the next installment without resolution.  I don't think that will bother most readers, though, because Wood's writing is very kid friendly. The clues are not blindingly obvious, but most kids will pick up on them; the language is elaborate, but silly with it. The Incorrigibles each have a distinct character, and you can definitely enjoy their funny mix of civilized lupineness.  Yes, these stories resemble those of the Baudelaire children, but sadly, the Baudelaires didn't have the steadfast Miss Penelope to look after them.  And Penny does give these books a much-appreciated heart at the center.

Kellgren is up to her usual standard here (don't I say that every time?). She's fine as the extremely omniscient narrator (who clearly knows more than she is telling), but she shines with the novel's characters.  Calm, sweet Penelope contrasts nicely with distressed and distressingly hysterical Lady Constance. The three Incorrigibles are occasionally incomprehensible with their wolf-ish, growly pronunciations, but it is easy to figure out their dialogue in context. Cassiopeia has a babylike delivery that is actually quite funny, particularly when she expresses her love for her squirrel, Nutsawoo. On the mostly natural-sounding male side are the blustery and confused Lord Fredrick, the threatening Judge Quinzy (what's his story?), and the heroic young Simon Harley-Dickinson -- playwright and navigator. I also enjoyed the Cockney stylings of housekeeper Mrs. Clarke and the friend-or-foe coachman, Old Timothy.

The most intriguing voice introduces this audiobook:  "Listening Library presents ...." I swear to god, it sounds like Sean Connery. An emphatic Scottish lilt for 13 seconds (which I listened to about three times in a row trying to figure out who it was). I've done enough listening that I can usually peg who is doing it (George Guidall shows up a lot), but I have no idea who does this one.Wouldn't it be a pip if it was Sean Connery? I wonder if he's introduced the other two audiobooks?

Well, I guess I did have a lot to say. The real question is, will I stick with them to the end? I don't think so, not because they aren't enjoyable, they are. But there's ... wait for it ... too little time.  I guess I'll have to rely on the Internet to tell me what eventually happens.

[The British Museum from the northeast was taken by Ham and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Hidden Gallery (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2) by Maryrose Woods
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Listening Library, 2011.  5:57

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