One for You and One for Me: Nellie Bly

March 24, 2019

One for You and One for Me:  Nellie Bly

~posted by Ruth

When I was a young girl,  I considered myself a daring reporter in the making; in fourth grade, I even started a neighborhood newspaper that I carefully hand-copied for all my neighbors.  And I wasn’t bothered by a lack of hard news.  One of my front-page stories carried the headline:  DR. SHAGOURY HAS A BALD SPOT ON THE BACK OF HIS HEAD, (THOUGH HE IS AN EXCELLENT DOCTOR).  Needless to say, my dad was not thrilled with my early forays into journalism.  Luckily for my family, I turned to more private journal writing, and to reading about women journalists.   One of the first biographies I read was of the ground-breaking journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, aka “Nellie Bly.”  It was an amazing feat for a woman to be a journalist at the turn of the 19th century, and Nellie was particularly outstanding for her struggles against  the male-dominated industry and her determination to report the stories no one else was covering–the stories of underprivileged women.  Nellie Bly is also known for her globe-trotting adventure, showing she could duplicate the fictional Jules Verne feat of traveling around the world in 80 days.  In the young reader biography I read as a girl, the author bemoaned the fact that Nellie Bly’s work and reporting on behalf of women had become little more than  a footnote to her round-the-world adventure.  Years later,  I have found the same disappointing coverage of her career, especially in biographies for young readers.  But I also discovered a stand-out bio for youth, as well as a novel for adults based on the real-life and reporting endeavors of the one and only Nellie Bly.  Perfect for Women’s History month, and just right for a pair of books, One for You and and For Me.  I hope different generations of readers will be inspired by these books and enjoy rich discussions of the role of woman reporters in today’s world, noting differences and similarities between the world of 100 years ago and today’s “turbulent times. ”

For Readers Middle School and Older:

Ten Days a Mad-Woman:  The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes

Deborah Noyes creates the kind biography that readers can dig into, with a wealth of photographs both of Nellie and also important people and places of her time.  Side-bars include quotes from Nellie Bly, as well as information about places and institutions that were part of this intrepid reporter’s first-person investigative reporting.  The most daring of her undercover reporting was her decision to be committed to a famous (or infamous) insane asylum:  New York City Lunatic Asylum on  Blackwell Island.  Her treatment as a patient was torturous, and she came to realize that if she had done this on her own without the backing of her newspaper, she never would have escaped the asylum.  Her series “Behind Asylum Bars” was both a huge hit, but also forced major changes in the care of mentally ill patients.  Notes does a great job of illuminating other important stories very personally investigated:  she passed herself off as a maid to expose employment agencies’ ruses, got herself hired at a paper bag factory to show how girls slaved all day for little money in airless rooms filled with glue fumes.  Not mention, the series she wrote on lobbyists’ corruption and her infamous tour around the world in 80 days.  This is a fine bio that will entice your readers to learn more about Nellie Bly, and other intrepid heroes like her. Highly recommended.


For Adult Readers:

What Girls are Good For:  A Novel of Nellie Bly by David Blixt

If reading about Nellie Bly from Noyes’ biography has you intrigued and interested in learning more about this unsung American hero, then David Blixt’s novel is for you.  He has meticulously research her life and writings, and brings her incredible experiences to life with vivid and engaging writing. It’s an engrossing tale, full of a young woman’s rage against injustice and detailing the adventures Nellie Bly gets into because of that fury.  Her romantic adventures make for engrossing reading, too (she married a millionaire, for example, and also made overtures to a married colleague she was attracted to, who hurt her by rebuffing her).  She was chased out of Mexico for revealing government corruption. Readers are treated to a riveting–and true –account of a spirited and idealistic woman.  Happy Reading!


TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET by Karen McManus: YA Guilty Pleasure

March 17, 2019

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Karen McManus follows up her best-selling YA Thriller One of Us Is Lying. It tells you quite a bit about the book to see on the cover that the subtitle is:  . . .If One is Dead!  In our recommendation for the first book, we found the writing to be fine, but not the best; nonetheless, the book was “strong and engaging and a lot of fun.”  This recommendation for her new book retains the same caveat, and the same endorsement.  For me, it was a kind of guilty pleasure to be caught up in the mystery and the characters and trying to guess what was going on. Definitely a page turner that kept my interest. Ellery and her twin are whisked away to their mother’s home town in small town Vermont to live with their grandmother when their mother enters rehab for an opioid addition. The mom had a twin sister who was homecoming queen in high school, and disappeared. Just five years ago the current homecoming queen was murdered.  And now that Ellery is in town, there is another threat centered around homecoming. Ellery and her brother Ezra may have success is finding out what ties the different crimes across the years together–if they can uncover the secrets at the heart of the town scandals. The story is told in alternating chapters by Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was implicated in the murder of the homecoming queen a few years past.  Tension and mystery abound, and if you are looking for a light read and fast-pasted thriller experience (and don’t mind the lack of character development), I would recommend Two Can Keep a Secret.

CIRCLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: Completing the Shapes Trilogy

March 10, 2019

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

When this author duo gets together, the results are magical.  We have enjoyed the first two books in their Shapes series, Triangle, and Square, and have been eagerly awaiting the publication of Circle.  In the book dedicated to Triangle, there is some trickster humor going on between the two friends, Triangle and Square.  Then, in Square, we are introduced to the third amigo, Circle.  The final book, devoted to her, brings the three friends together in an adventure.  Practical Circle has some rules for her explorations.  But what happens when she has to break those rules to save her friend Triangle? The illustrations are genius; how does Klassen show so much emotion and wit with such a limited palette and simple shapes?  The sly humor is evident, though not quite as much as in the first two books.  But the philosophical musing is amped up a bit, I thought.  The ambiguous ending is growing on me, especially since I have been sharing the book with young friends who use their imaginations to talk about what scary thing–shape?–is in the cave.  At first reading, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I have come to.  My recommendation is to share with your friends, students, and family and see what discussions grow out of it.  The intended audience seemed to catch on to the magic before I did!


March 2, 2019

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

Over the last year, I have been fascinated by Eleanor of Aquitaine and the whole intriguing history of Europe in the 11th through 13th centuries.  The historical fiction of Sharon Penman has been my guide, not to mention addiction.  Her series on Eleanor and Henry II, especially Devil’s Brood and her 3-novel series The Queen’s Man  immersed me in the medieval world of England, Wales, France, and Germany, and the stunning intrigue that was life for people during those times.  Years ago, when Meghan was the age of the twins–a middle school student–one of her favorite books was A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.  I remember reading it and enjoying it, but all I remembered was that it dealt with Eleanor of Aquitaine and it was a great read.  So.  Time to reacquaint myself.

What a revelation!  This short novel covered the most important people in Eleanor’s life as well as the highlights of this amazing woman’s legacy.  The premise is that Eleanor has been dead for quite a while and is waiting for her husband Henry II to arrive in Heaven.  (He had to spend a couple of hundred more years in Hell than she did, thus the delay.)  As she impatiently waits to continue their conversations that she has missed, different characters from her life fill in for others  amazing history.  She was married to two kings, both Louis of France and Henry II of England.  And she was the mother to two English kings, Richard the Lionhearted and John.   She lived a long and rich life–82 years! –and bore 10 children.  And this was despite being imprisoned by her second husband, Henry II for 16 years for inciting a rebellion against him.  If today’s readers are anything like me (and Meghan), this novel will be a pathway for more historical fiction and a dive into medieval history.  Well-written, witty, and historically accurate, this is a wonderful read to recommend to middle school, high school, and adult readers.  Then, you might want to dig in to Share K. Penman’s novels.  Happy reading.


THE FATES DIVIDE by Veronica Roth, a Sequel to CARVE THE MARK

February 24, 2019

The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Last year, Veronica Roth began an eagerly anticipated new YA series:  Carve the Mark , which we enthusiastically reviewed. At last, the appeared in print this month, and I was eager to dig in.  Here’s a tip for readers who read the complex first novel over a year ago, like me:  revisit it either through a quick skim or through reading a synopsis or study guide.  I was so eager to re-enter the world Roth created that I dove right in and found myself confused by the characters and their families and loyalties.  It took me a few chapters of confusion before I gave up and read the synopsis, which helped a great deal.

So:  I did end up enjoying the book, and appreciating the (literal) twists of fate that occur and the satisfying conclusion.  Once my confusion was cleared up, I was able to follow the characters in their fated lives, and the ironic turns of fate that entailed.  I don’t want to include any spoilers, so I won’t divulge the major surprise that occurs about halfway through the book and turns the prophesies upside down.  The characters don’t disappoint, and the issues about war and morality are thoughtfully expressed.  I am thinking this second book concludes the story, but there are some hints that there might be a third book in the sequence.  Stay tuned!




February 17, 2019

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, Book 2) by Jessica Townsend

I hadn’t intended to follow up on the sequel to Nevermoor:  The Trials of Morrigan Crow so quickly, but when I saw it was hot off the presses, I couldn’t resist and I sat right down to read it as soon as it arrived.  So you have a hint at where my review is headed.  And you’d be correct; Book 2 fulfilled the promise of the first book and shows that this new series is a delightful addition to the bookshelves of readers who loved Harry Potter.  

Now that Morrigan is entering the next phase of her education at the elite school for scholars in the Wundrous Society, she encounters both new friends and alliances and new levels of evil.  As the adventures unfold, Morrigan must prove herself again and again.  The delightful (and sometimes scary) world Morrigan has been whisked away to becomes even more eccentric.  There are some very strange professors in her new Academy, like the bizarre and terrifying split personality of her main advisor, who literally transforms from one distinct person to another, even having conversations with her alter ego.  The challenges of the magical arts are both frightening and enchanting for Morrigan and her best friend Hawthorne.

The “tricksy” roads that change and “trick” you if you enter them are a fascinating feature of Morrigan’s new world.  The black market there is also intriguing and evil, with many moral implications for further discussion with interested middle graders. A very satisfying conclusion, which points to the next in the series.  Thank you, Jessica Townsend!


February 9, 2019

Nevermoor:  The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Book I) by Jessica Townsend

Dare I say it?  I think this book may equal those in the Harry Potter series.  High praise indeed for this wonderful new series by Jessica Townsend.  Magic and learning, delight and whimsy, dark tidings and tension, wonderful teachers and mad professors.  Deep friendship and bullying enemies.  Where to begin  to describe the world of Nevermoor?

I’ll begin with Morrigan, an appealing protagonist to say the least.  Born on Eventide Night, she is doomed to die on her 11th birthday.  Since she was born, she has been cursed to be blamed for everything that goes wrong, every bit of bad luck and misfortune that plagues the residents of the town of Jackalfax in the Wintersea Republic.  Fortunately, just before early Eventide, Jupiter North arrives, to be her mentor and save her from Death.  He whisks her away to Nevermoor, escaping from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow to arrive safely.  No longer considered a curse, Morrigan accepts Jupiter as her patron and begins a series of trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society. As readers, we are treated to Wonder on every page.  I love the setting of the Hotel Duecalion, where Morrigan, Jupiter and a host of fascinating characters live (including Frank, the vampire dwarf, and Fenestra, the Magnificat).  The details are simply astonishing.  One of my favorites is the way Morrigan’s bedroom adapts to what she needs and likes everyday–like the octopus armchair with cozy arms that wrap Morrigan in a hug as she settles in to read.  Adventure and excitement about, the good guys are delightful and the villains are super-bad.  The book has a satisfying conclusion, and points to way to Book II: The Wundersmith:  The Calling of Morrigan Crow.  You are set for a terrific read!