‘Twelve Minutes’ and more of delightful reading

“Twelve Minutes to Midnight” by Christopher Edge. Albert Whitman & Co., 2014. $16.99.

The year is 1899 and Penelope Treadwell, a 13-year-old orphan, is running the Penny Dreadful, a popular London magazine left to her by her parents.

Penelope, writing under the pseudonym of Montgomery Flinch, writes gothic tales filled with horror and suspense for the magazine.

Penelope finds herself in a bind though when Montgomery’s assistance is asked for at a local psychiatric hospital where patients have begun feverishly scribbling unintelligible writings at 12 minutes before midnight every night.

Penny hires an actor to play Montgomery and together they seek to unravel the mystery behind the writings and to decipher the cryptic messages.

Featuring a young and daring heroine, this is a delightful and clever read for 10- to 13-year-olds.

It is the first of three in the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge

“Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination, and Secret Disability” by Carl Sferrazza Anthony. Kent State University, 2013. $45.

Ida Saxton McKinley was a young and well-educated woman working in the male-dominated banking business when she married Civil War veteran, attorney, and future President William McKinley.

Initial years of happiness were cut short by the early deaths of her only two children and the onset of multiple medical problems, most notably epilepsy.

Her physical disabilities, however, became assets for her husband’s political ambitions when his (genuine) devotion and care for his fragile wife became part of his appeal to voters.

Ida, however, was stronger than the invalid in which she was portrayed.

As first lady, she traveled the country, voiced support for women’s suffrage, advocated against temperance and provided advice to her husband, who implemented many of her ideas during his administration.

An informative and enlightening narrative of an intelligent and influential first lady who faced many challenges, including the assassination of her husband.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge

“Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me” by Patricia Volk. Knopf, 2013. $26.95.

“Shocked” is Patricia Volk’s homage to her glamorous mother, Audrey, and to Elsa Schiaparelli, the eccentric Italian fashion designer who revolutionized the art world with her over-the-top creations (think lobster dresses and shoe hats).

Volk read Schiaparelli’s memoir as a young girl and recalls the profound effect it had on her — we all remember that one special book from our childhood that marked us — and how she relished any similarity she felt she shared with her idol.

Volk recounts her privileged New York upbringing (her father was the proprietor of a popular Garment District restaurant) and juxtaposes her family history with that of Schiaparelli. It may sound like a contrived narrative approach, but Volk more than pulls it off, making “Shocked” a scrapbook of sorts, with photographs in each chapter of both her own family and the designer’s world.

Audrey Volk embodied a certain archetype of women from a bygone era — applying her “face” every morning, meticulous grooming, putting great stock in appearances — but for all her polish and glamour, Audrey had a cruel streak and the most poignant parts of the memoir are when the young Volk struggles to please her.

Overall, Shocked is an engaging read and tribute to two larger-than-life women.

— Louise Hilton, Baton Rouge