Titles: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; Black Hearts in Battersea; Nightbirds on Nantucket; The Stolen Lake; Limbo Lodge (aka Dangerous Games); The Cuckoo Tree; Dido and Pa; Is (aka Is Underground); Cold Shoulder Road; Midwinter Nightingale; The Witch of Clatteringshaws; The Whispering Mountain (prequel)
Author: Joan Aiken (1924-2004)
Rating: ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")
Audience: 5th grade and up
(Guest Blogger, Paige King)
Before there was Lemony Snicket, there was Joan Aiken. Her books are filled with evil governesses, grim boarding schools and astonishing wild animals (pink whales?!). You have no idea what you're missing out on when you refuse to read theses books.
The books occur in the fictional manors of England: Willoughby Chase, Teagleaze Manor, Battersea Castle. However, in one book they visit the island of Nantucket. In book 1, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia are left for a couple months with their fourth cousin once removed. Unfortunately, the cousin dismisses the servants, sells the furniture and forges a will. Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a horrid boarding school. The other books in the series are focused mainly on plots to kill King James III. (Yipe!) They are intense and suspenseful and that is what I like about them.
I also like the giant manors and estates. Willoughby Chase even has secret passages and a priest's hole. I also like the ending. Sir Willoughby (Bonnie's father) shows up, sees what the evil cousin has done to his home and promptly has the cousin arrested. I wish I could have seen the look on her face!
The morals in Wolves of Willoughby Chase are: do not give up and stand up for what's right. Bonnie and Sylvia must keep going and trying to stop their cousin. When Bonnie and Sylvia are trapped in the boarding school, they have to keep going even though they are being starved and overworked.
This series is great: jam-packed with adventure, suspense and an element of weirdness. My only reservations are that once or twice you might hear "What the d-e-v-i-l!" or something like that. I highly recommend these books.
Thanks, Paige! I'll add a few remarks about Joan Aiken herself. She was quite a prolific writer and worked in a number of genres. I always thought there were 4-5 books in the Wolves series; there are in fact 12 and I have listed them consecutively, although they can be read in almost any order.
In addition to suspense and youth novels you'll find historical fiction, adventure, Jane Austen updates and children's bedtime stories. Eventually she made her way into supernatural, even occult themes. Don't let that scare you off; I mention it to inform families that recommending one or more series of an author does not imply endorsement of everything else an author wrote.
Aiken was talented and versatile, producing up to the weeks before her death at age 79. Learn more about the choices she offers your family by exploring the website maintained by her daughter: www.joanaiken.com