Ghosts of Mississippi

2018-02-18 23.11.38

Maryanne  Vollers

Not as well known as Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist and head of the NAACP in Jackson , Mississippi in hte early 1960s. He was just 37 years old when he was gunned down in front of his own home in 1963.  His wife and children watched him die in his own front yard.

A WWII veteran who fought in France, Evers returned .to his hometown after the war. He was shocked that many soldiers risked their lives for America, but weren’t allowed to register to vote. If a brave soul attempted to go to the courthouse and register, they were told to recite the Constitution as a literacy test.

Vollers writing pulls  you into the narrative and keeps  you reading as she tells the story of Medgar Ever’s life and also the struggle for justice. It took over 30 years to convict the white supremist killer.

I highly recommend this very readable and engrossing book that brings an era to life.  As Evers’ son said at his father’s grave in Arlington, many people remember Malcolm and Martin, but “forget the other M.” Medgar Evers should not be forgotten. He stood up for his beliefs in an era when it wasn’t yet done.




Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life

2017-07-03 08.40.08-2

In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War was a cause which inspired many idealistic young Americans to go and fight against Franco’s Nationalist regime. Martha was quite young but had published several pieces in well-known magazines. She was sent to Paris to work in the United Press bureau. After returning to America,she met Hemingway in 1936 and they agreed to go to Spain to cover the war for Collier’s Weekly.


Collier’s Weekly with an article by Gellhorn

What she saw there had a great impact on the young Bryn Mawr graduate. Gellhorn later married Hemingway and they lived together off and on for four years but more important , she always seemed to be in the right place at just the right moment in history.


She covered the rise of Hitler in Czechoslovakia in 1930 and was the only female journalist present at the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day.  Managing ot be among the first reporters at the liberation of the Dachau death camp in 1945, she saw things that affected her for the rest of her life.

Gellhorn Europe2


Gellhorn covered the Vietnam war for the Atlantic monthly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She always focused on how ordinary people were affected by the war rather than on military advances or troop numbers. She visited orphanages and hospitals and talked to people on the street. This gave her articles a very personal and unique touch.


Gellhorn Older

Active into her 80’s, she covered war in Central America and kept writing and traveling. I was amazed that she traveled to Brazil to write about the murder of street children when she was 85 years old. I believe she was a strong and independent woman and I came away from this book with a deep admiration for her.


Jack London: An American Life



by  Earle Labor

I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of a rough and tumble young man who made his own way in the world, travelling widely and using all his adventures to create his novels and short stories! From being an oyster pirate in Oakland to signing on as cabin boy on a sealing ship which took him to Yokohama at the age of seventeen, he was always up for any new experience. Off to try his hand at prospecting in the Yukon, he came back empty handed except for a wealth of stories to tell.

London in Yokohama, 1093

London in Yokohama, 1093

I was interested to learn about his life and especially his voyage to Hawaii, Samoa and the Solomon islands on a small sloop with a motley crew and his “game-for-anything” second wife Charmian Kittredge. They had some narrow escapes and suffered from malaria, open sores and other tropical ailments.

Jack with Charmian

Jack with Charmian

Jack London was also an occasional journalist who reported on the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and the heavyweight championship fight between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries.


Reporting on the Russo-Japanese War, Korea,1904


I visited Jack London’s ranch or the small cabin they had lived in north of San Francisco. He was very proud of the ranch where he applied natural farming methods, raising vegetables, pigs and cows. He and Charmian were building a beautiful home overlooking the sea. It mysteriously burned to the ground just before completion.

Jack London, author of Call of the  Wild and White Fang

Jack London, author of Call of the Wild and White Fang

Now that I know more of London’s life, I look forward to reading The Sea Wolf, a lovely edition my brother gave me some years back. I would recommend this fast-moving life story of a man who lived life boldly and fearlessly and worked very hard writing about it!

I Made It!! (75 books in 2014!)

I read five books in two weeks to catch up and just barely made it to my goal for 2014…75 books read.

Christmas2014 012

To be honest, I chose some light reading towards the end,reading three mysteries that Santa brought! But I enjoyed it for a change!

The more serious books include The River of Doubt by Candice Millard, a fast-paced and exciting account of Theodore Roosevelt’s exploratory expedition to map the uncharted River of Doubt in the Amazon jungle. A great book! I felt like I was travelling along with them as they carried their boats through the thick jungle, encountering fierce natives, poisonous snakes and mutinous crew members. It was amazing to read how they took their boats over the steep falls.NOt everyone made it back. A thrilling adventure!

Christmas2014 011

It took a little more effort to get into the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, setting off events that led to World War I. The Assassination of the  Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans tells the story of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia who died along with him. I thought the authors might be distantly related to the family because they had only praise for the Archduke and  Sophia. They did not provide an objective view and were too lavish in their praise for Sophia. She comes off as a saint!

The book goes on to tell the story of the three surviving children and their lives in Nazi Germany. It was ironic that they were not considered Hapsburgs during their parent’s life but were persecuted as beings such during the Nazi rule.

All in all, I enjoyed finding out the circumstances of this incident that changed history. I would recommend it if you are a history buff.

These are the mysteries I read:

Murphy'sI enjoyed these stories too! Sandra Brown’s book Best Kept Secrets,  was disappointing as it turned out to be a rather graphic romance novel instead of a detective story!



Rush to the Finish Line!

December6 002

We began setting reading goals each year when my daughter used to come home for Christmas. We’d gather in the upstairs kotatsu for coffee every evening about 9:00 and  discuss the best books we’d read in the year. This began when she was in high school and continued through college. We decided to each set a goal for how many books we intended to read in the coming year.

For the last ten fifteen years or so, I wrote down the title, author and genre of each book, with maybe a few comments on a book i really liked. It definitely motivated me to read more! Now Goodreads keeps track of what I am currently reading and how close I am to my goal. My challenge for 2014 was to read 75 books! A little ambitious, huh?

I am on #68 but, with only three weeks left till New Years, I don’t think I’m gonna reach my goal. I have read a lot of good books this year though so I guess it is a win-win challenge anyway!

I didn’t have time to blog about what I read the last month so I’ll just catch up with a few quick notes!

Eighty Days:

Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History Making Race Around the World

Almost as exciting as Jules Verne himself, the spunky reporter for The World, Nellie Bly set off from New York on a ship to England. Suffering from seasickness the first few days,Nellie soon recovered and made the amazing trip in just 75 days! A monthly magazine that had heard of the challenge, immediately sent free lance writer, Elizabeth Bisland off to circle the globe in the opposite direction, hoping she could beat Nellie and sell more copies at the same time!

This is a fast-moving and readable story.

Life and Death in Shanghai     by Nien Cheng

December6 001

I read this book about 30 years ago and bought it again. I know that the author was a Christian and worked for an American oil company in Shanghai before being imprisoned during the cCultural Revolution of 1967.

The rampant Red Guards invaded her home, smashing priceless Ming ceramics, burning antique scrolls and destroying everything in her home. She was taken to a detention center and continually interrogated, urged to confess to  crimes she didn’t commit. Most people broke down and denounced others to gain leniency. But Nien Cheng didn’t give in, even when tortured, even when she became very ill.

It is an amazing story of human endurance in the face of persecution. I enjoyed reading it this time as much as I did the first time!

The Cabinet of Curiosities          by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Books2 009

Took a break to re-read a mystery from my favorite detective writers, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston! This on is particularly creepy and a great read!!

Books2 003

Nobody Nowhere  by  Donna Williams

The story of a childhood she later pieced together, an inspiring tale of a young autistic woman who managed to overcome her limitations and create a life for herself in spite of an abusive mother and absent father!

The Senator’s Wife                      By Sue Miller

Books2 001

Another fiction break! I got this for a dollar at the Largo  Library bookstore some years ago and finally took it to bed on a cold night! It was engrossing and kept me up till the wee hours! Good read!

Heart in the Right Place   by Carolyn Jourdan

Books2 010

Now this was a book I really enjoyed. I guess it is light reading. All true and a very heartwarming story of what happens when a high-powered lawyer form New York returns to her Tennessee rural home to help her father in his small clinic. The colorful characters are quite entertaining and we can’t wait to see what Carolyn will decide in the end! Definitely recommended!

The Lincoln Letter  by   William Martin

Books2 008

Tracking down a diary that had belonged to Lincoln is the dream of any historian. Taking place in 1864 and the present,  this fast-moving story is simply entertainment. Picked this one up at the Media PA library sale this October!

and yet another mystery!!…

Gone Girl          by Gillian Flynn

Books2 007

Aunt Annie recommended this,or was reading it when I visited Philly. Have you seen the movie yet? It is a story that keeps us guessing till the end…and surprises us after all!

And just so you won’t think I’ve gone soft with my reading..

A Severe Mercy       by Sheldon Vanauken

Books2 005

This book contain many heretofore unpublished letters by C. S. Lewis, ANd no wonder as the writer got to know the famous man when he studied at Cambridge. This is a deeply touching story that wery well parallels Lewis’ own tragic love story we can read about in Surprised by Joy. Vanauken’s unique relationship with his wife, the tale of how, both agnostics, they find Christ. An important book about love and loss and what it means to follow Him.

Well, I may not make my 75 book goal but I did read some great books! Nien Cheng, Vanauken, and Carolyn Jourdan in particular!!

A House in the Sky


by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Captured by rebels in Somalia and held for ransom,freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout survived 460 days in captivity, part of the time in utter darkness. I don’t want to give away details that would detract from the impact this book has on the reader. I really couldn’t set it aside.

Amanda kept sane by escaping in her mind to a “house in the sky” where she relived all her beautiful memories and “met” with her family. It is amazing how positive she could be and that she survived such an ordeal.  With the shocking and sad news of journalist Steve Sotloff’s execution at the hands of his captors so fresh in our minds, this story seems very relevant today. We can gain insight into how it is for the family of the captive desperately negotiating for the release of their child with little cooperation form their government.

Amanda Lindhout, survivor!

Amanda Lindhout, survivor!

Lindhout has since formed an organization, the Global Enrichment Foundation, to help educate young people in Africa. I think you should read this book!

The Black Count

Sep1 040

by Tom Weiss

A well-written account of the life of Alexandre Dumas, the father of the author by the same name. Born on the sugar cane plantation of Saint-Domingue, then a French colony, Alexander was the son of a French Marquis and a black slave . His siblings were sold into slavery and Alex himself was sold to pay his father’s passage back to France, but later redeemed.

He stood 6’3″ and made an impressive figure when he joined the French army, eventually becoming a highly- decorated general. After he suffered much in the Sudan, he attempted to return to his wife in France, but was captured and spent two years in a dungeon-like prison in Italy. Finally released and in ill health, Dumas was reunited with his family. His wife gave birth to a son, the novelist Alexander Dumas who eventually used many of his father’s experiences in writing The Coount of Monte Cristo.

Documents and letters that remain show that he was a fair and even kind superior officer well-liked by those who served under him. Unfortunately, he made several enemies who stripped him of his military pension. Dumas died in poverty in his village of Villers-Cotterets in 1806.

During the French revolution, equality and opportunity were  extended to men of color like Dumas. Unfortunately, under Napoleon, new exclusive laws were put into effect. Perhaps this is one reason, Dumas died ignominiously and few people know of this great soldier and military leader.

Empty Mansions

by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr


Why would a lonely rich woman who owns several elegant estates opt to live the last 20 years of her life in a bleak hospital room although she wasn’t even  ill? The authors set out to make this mystery clear and end up telling the epic story of the Clark family, how a great fortune was made in the copper mines of Montana and later given away.

Huguette Clark as a young woman

Huguette Clark as a young woman

I found the life story of Huguette Clark fascinating reading! Though a recluse, Huguette was an expert on Japanese culture history, architecture, theater and costumes. She had many detailed replicas built of famous buildings in Japan, She collected over 1500 antique and valuable dolls: French, American and Japanese.

She collected art, an interest inherited by her father who endowed the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., originally  most of which came from his private collection. Huguette also painted many works herself.

Huguette herself painted this  geisha paying special attention to details in the fabric

Huguette herself painted this geisha paying special attention to details in the fabric

Huguette CLark was a very generous person and over the years she gave away most of the money she inherited, often to people she had never met. She continued to pay a generous pension to her chauffeur’s widow for her lifetime.

Bellosguardo in Santa Barbara was empty  but maintained "in original condition" by the staff for 50-odd years

Bellosguardo in Santa Barbara was empty but maintained “in original condition” by the staff for 50-odd years

Was she held prisoner and blackmailed by her doctors in the end? Did her private nurse, Hadassah Peri, take advantage of her? Why was she forced to sell her Stradivarius “La Pucelle,” and what mysteriously happened to a $10 million Degas painting? This story reads like a great mystery that we want to get to the bottom of! An intriguing story that will keep you spellbound!

The Voyage Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley


by Katherine Frank

Can you imagine a very straight-laced lady in long skirts and mutton sleeves travelling up  the French COngo in the 1890s with wares to trade in exchange for rubber or ivory? Mary Kingsley had previously led a very limited life, forced to care for her invalid mother and later to keep house for her brother. Finally set free, she headed off for Africa to study the native peoples.

the very prim Victorian,  Mary Kingsley

the very prim Victorian, Mary Kingsley

Mary was particularly interested in African religion and fetishes. She also collected many specimens of rare fish or other small creatures which she donated to the museum of Natural Science. It is rather amazing that she was asked to address the National Geographic society at a time when women had never done so before, especially considering she had never been to school and was entirely self-educated. From an early age she was fascinated by the works of African explorers Richard Burton and Brazzi.

Travelling to Liberia, Cameroon and Gabon, Kingsley opted to trade with the natives as a way to get close to them. She ate what the villagers ate and slept in their huts. Later she published two books about her travels, particularly the best-selling Travels in West Africa.

Mary Slessor, missionary

Mary Slessor, missionary

Unusual for the time, Kingsley opposed direct colonial control in favor of trade with the African village chiefs left to govern as they were accustomed. She loved the African people and respected their native beliefs. Therefore she was quite put off by missionaries in general. She did become close friends with Mary Slessor however, and spent quite a bit of time with her in Calabar. Kingsley was won over by Mary Slessor’s  love of the African people, as well as by  her warmth and good humor. Of Slessor, we are told

(Kingsley)” was entranced by this unassuming , warm woman who, though 46 in 1895, looked far younger and almost boyish with her short, cropped hair…She lived in a mud and thatch house, subsisted entirely on local “chop”… and went for months or even years without returning to Calabar or seeing another white person.”

Slessor with her household at Calabar

Slessor with her household at Calabar

She reported that Mary Slessor took the time to learn the language and the mind of the African people. She was called Eka Kpukpro Owo or “Mother of All the Peoples.” Kingsley spent there in the village of Ekenge and the two women formed a deep friendship.

The most amazing thing about Mary Kingsley was how she utterly changed her life at an age when most of us would start becoming cautious about our future. She ventured into an area where women just did not go. Though denied formal education, she taught herself and was driven by great curiosity to investigate uncharted territory and catalog unknown species. Her books were read widely because she wrote so vividly and entertainingly in language that appeals to ordinary people.

Never having previously known about her, I was intrigued to find out about this fascinating and brave woman. A very well-written biography.


Mornings on Horseback

by David McCullough


Well-written account of Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood and early career. Suffering from debilitating asthma attacks, Theodore was often unable to keep up with his siblings. But when his father whom he adored challenged him to build a strong body to go with his strong mind, he set himself to creating a healthy physique.

Given a gun, he went out shooting. Then he studied taxidermy so he could stuff the creatures he bagged! He did many drawings of the animals he saw. When he was about 14, he traveled down the Nile on a houseboat with his family and hunted many  creatures,skinning and preserving them. Later we know he went on to create numerous national parks and wildlife preserves.

I read for the first time the specific account of his first marriage. I have read several other biographies of Roosevelt but found much new to me in this book. A good read!