Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: A Cottage in the Woods, by Katherine Coville (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)

Release date:  February 10, 2015
Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Jane Eyre meets Goldilocks and the Three Bears in this enchanting tale of Ursula, an impoverished yet well-brought-up young governess hired to take care of adorable young Theodore Vaughn in a creepy, huge manor house in which portraits follow you with their eyes, strange unseen footsteps follow you down the hall, and objects disappear from rooms without a trace. There's mystery, adventure, small town politics, and even romance.  Sound familiar?  But in this book our main characters are all....well, bears.  Filled with tropes from gothic novels, this book draws you into its enchanted world and is hard to put down. It is sure to please tweens and even teens who enjoy fairy-tale mashups, whether TV series such as Once Upon a Time and Grimm or books by Shannon Hale, Adam Gidwitz, Michael Buckley, and others. 

Our story is set in the Enchanted Forest, populated not only by characters from the Goldilocks tale but also characters from other beloved stories and nursery rhymes such as The Three Pigs, the Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe, and the Bremen Street Musicians.  These talking animals live in peace with their human counterparts.  But when a mute, filthy, starving little girl with golden hair is taken in by the kindly bear family, prejudice against the talking animals from the human community comes to the forefront. Will Goldilocks, who becomes a beloved foster child, be able to stay with her new bear family? And what will happen to the kindly governess, Ursula, who has fallen in love with Mr. Bentley, another member of the Vaughn family's staff? The novel is full of bears who know Latin, awkward but well meaning ministers, seemingly menacing nurses; Coville does a marvelous job capturing the formal vocabulary and images of the 19th century period in which the story seems to be set, a time in which even young proper bears must wear corsets and not spend time alone in the company of a young male bear. If you've read Jane Austen and other 19th century novelists these touches are especially endearing.

Note:  Review copy received through Amazon Vine.