Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell

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Harper Collins, 2016. ISBN 9780733333019
(Age: 9-12) Highly recommended. Feisty Stella Montgomery returns in another wonderfully exciting adventure - Wormwood Mire. Orphan Stella is in disgrace, after her escapades in Withering-by-Sea. Life with her puritanical aunts is full of rules and limitations. When a fortuitous letter arrives, they are relieved of the onerous task of raising Stella. She is sent to Wormwood Mire, her family's country estate, to be cared for by a governess along with her cousins Strideforth and Hortense. Let the adventures begin! On the long train journey, Stella reads A Garden of Lillies, a book filled with cautionary tales and rhyming mottoes, given to her by the aunts, 'Be neat and tidy, clean and trim, or your ending will be grim.' These come back to haunt her throughout the narrative.
Stella is extremely worried, when the coachman leaves her, in the pouring rain on the front portico of the dark, spooky looking mansion. Finally when the door opens, she is greeted by her welcoming cousins, Strideforth and Hortense, and Henry the Latin-speaking mollymawk, Stella is quickly drawn into their strange and unusual lifestyle, limited heating, simple food and freedom to read and explore. Wormwood Mire is a dark, cold house with a multitude of closed off rooms, hidden passageways and secret spaces. Miss Araminter their governess is an eccentric botanist who loves to explore the overgrown gardens and gather the strange plants collected by Wilberforce Montgomery, the children's ancestor.
Before she left the strictures of life with her Aunts, Stella had discovered an old photograph of her mother Patience at Wormwood Mire with two babies in an old-fashioned pram. Did she have a twin sister? What had happened to her? In the old nursery, Stella's distant memories of life at Wormwood Mire resurface when she listens to the tune played on an old music box.
There is mystery and mayhem, odd happenings in the woods, quirky characters and strange disappearances, all the required elements woven into this fabulous Victorian mystery-thriller. This beautifully bound book, with a textured cover, embellishments, a forest green font and full-page illustrations is a sensory delight, reminiscent of books published many years ago. Judith Rossell's detailed pictures bring the descriptive narrative to life; they are evocative, capturing the atmosphere of the story. Delicate vignettes of stacks of books, strange plants, the slithering monster, jars piled with teeth, all add to the charm of this story.
Wormwood Mire is a sensational, richly rewarding story, which celebrates one girl's indomitable spirit.
Rhyllis Bignell