Spies of Mississippi: The true story of the spy network that tried to destroy the civil rights movement by Rick Bowers


Spies of Mississippi: The true story of the spy network that tried to destroy the civil rights movement  by Rick Bowers

With the inauguration of J.P. Coleman as governor of Mississippi in 1956, a bill was passed and signed creating the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. Ostensibly set up to protect the state from interference by the federal government, its real mission was to preserve segregation. Funded by the state with taxpayer money, code named agents reported on individuals, groups, meetings and plans for integration. Devoted to maintaining segregation, the commission also ran a public relation campaign, extolling the positives and benefits of segregation. Seventeen chapters each cover one event from 1956-1964, including Freedom Riders, Medgar Evers’ murder, James Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss, Freedom Summer murder of 3 civil rights workers and other lesser known people and events.

This absorbing read brings fascinating people and events to life covering pivotal occurrences during the fight against segregation and for civil rights from 1956-1964. Any reader who does not fully understand and appreciate the freedom to ride public transportation across state lines, attend public schools and universities and register to vote regardless of race and background must read this account of people who risked their lives to make these changes a reality.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson


Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom


Tuesdays With Morrie  by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie stayed on best seller lists for months, touching readers deeply with the author Mitch’s accounts of this Tuesday visits with his favorite college professor, 15 years after he graduated. His professor, Morrie Schwarta, has been diagnosed with ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and knows he will die from it sooner or later. As Mitch visits Morrie every Tuesday, they talk about major life issues Mitch as listed. In between chapters recounting their discussions, Mitch fills in Morrie’s background from this childhood through his education and professional journey to becoming a respected professor and champion of social justice. Morrie’s insights, filled with wisdom from his life’s experience and honest perspective as he nears the end of his life, reflect universal truths common to many religions and cultures. Readers of all ages will be inspired by this book.


Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard


One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard

When Lynn Sweet drove into Macon, IL, a town of 1200, in 1965, to interview for a job teaching English at the local high school of 250, he told himself he didn’t have to live in Macon forever. He could always look for a new job and move if he wasn’t happy in Macon. Hired by a principal who valued a diverse staff and was eager to have a young male English teacher, Sweet’s unorthodox methods, such as seating students at large tables instead of individual desks and giving a wide range of choices for independent reading, drew negative parent and community attention while popular with students. Four years later, when the school needed a new baseball coach, parents and boys who wanted to play approached Sweet without realizing he had been good enough in college to play on semipro teams. Persuaded to take the job, Sweet approached coaching as he did teaching. He rejected the stereotypical coaching pattern of yelling and military style drills to making practice optional and giving the players positive guidance. To the surprise of other teams Macon’s Ironmen started winning, beating even larger schools and those with long traditions of winning. Sweet himself attracted attention, having grown his hair longer and a Fu Manchu mustache. Coaches and fans from conservative backgrounds were scandalized their teams were being beaten by a team of boys with peace signs on their hats coached by a “hippie.”

During the two years he researched this story, first for a Sports Illustrated story then this expanded book, author Chris Ballard chased down every lead, from interviewing Lynn Sweet and his family, all the surviving team members and their families, community members, players from opposing teams, reporters who covered the story and school and town records.   In fact, the notes at the end of the book, organized by chapter, add so much depth to the story that I kept referring back to each chapter while reading them. The notes add flavor, including details not in the narrative itself. Anyone who doesn’t usually read nonfiction for independent reading would be drawn in both by the engrossing story itself and Ballard’s gifted writing in telling it.


Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Jumped In by Jorja Leap

JumpedInJumped in: what gangs taught me about violence, drugs, life and redemption by Jorja Leap

Jorja Leap, a UCLA researcher with a Ph.D in gangs and violence, devotes her professional life to understanding Los Angeles gangs, with the goal of reducing violence and saving lives. Working with current and former gang members, community activists, LAPD, social workers, a priest and others, she explains the origins, organization and shifts in gang culture including the rise and spread of Latino gangs in particular from LA through Mexico and Central America. Her personal life is also closely connected to her work, as she is married to an LAPD commander. Juggling work and home life, Jorja becomes enmeshed in the lives of young adults trying to leave gang life, often with the help of Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle runs Home Boy Industries and Home Girl Café to give former and current gang members jobs. As time passes Jorja sees the hold drugs take on many of the gangs, both in dealing and using, but maintains hope for the future. Dr. Leap goes behind headlines in her description of her work, making many of the gang members people about whom the reader begins to care. She paints a “warts and all” picture of both the good guys and the bad guys of the gang situation in Los Angeles. This nonfiction book reads like a thriller, pulling in the reader to be engaged in real life issues.

How to succeed in leaving gang life by Jorja Leap

Review by Ellie Goldstein Erickson

Geeks: How Two lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho by Jon Katz


Geeks: How Two lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho by Jon Katz

While writing for Wired magazine and website Hotwired, Jon Katz wrote columns about geeks, their trials as outsiders in schools and society and their new status as invaluable in making computers and systems work. Among the outpouring of emails he received in response was one from Jesse, a working class recent high school grad in a small Idaho town. On his own, working in a small computer shop and sharing an apartment with a fellow geek friend, Jesse sees no future beyond what he’s doing. As outsiders at school, Jesse and his friend Eric had gravitated to a sympathetic English teacher who founded the Geek Club for them and their compatriots, giving them a name and place to belong. At Katz’s suggestion, they used the Internet to explore other possibilities for themselves.

Without giving away any of the adventure of their journey, I can say that I was enthralled by these two young men and their bravery in trying to break away from the assumptions of what their lives would be. This book proves that nonfiction can be as enriching and engrossing as fiction for recreational reading. I found it deeply moving and full of profound thought. In fact, I reread several parts of it for exactly those reasons.

Review by Ms. Goldstein Erickson

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Lauren Hillenbrand

sea biscuit

Seabiscuit: An American Legend  by Lauren Hillenbrand

In the early 1900s Charles Howard became a businessman, forcefully ushering in the automobile era in San Francisco after owning a bicycle repair shop. As his wealth grew, he bought a large ranch in northern California and became interested in thoroughbred horse racing. Tom Smith was a horseman being relegated to the fringes of society as cars took the place of horses for transportation throughout the country. When Howard bought a less-than-classic horse named Seabiscuit, with Smith as a consultant/trainer, they found the ideal jockey for Seabiscuit in Red Pollard, an experienced jockey who had never worked for a winning stable. As Seabiscuit trained and raced on west coast race tracks, the established eastern racing establishment scoffed at Seabiscuit’s ability and speed. Through the ups and downs of the horse’s career, Seabiscuit, his jockey, owner and trainer captured the attention and devotion of the American public all the way up to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Americans during the Depression hungered for good news and inspiration, which Seabiscuit and his team supplied.

Even readers who are not fans of horse racing will find much to capture their attention in this book. Through her own health challenges, the author spent 4 (four!) years researching all the figures involved, finding people in their 90s who had seen Seabiscuit race. I found the book completely enthralling and moving. The author has written acknowledgements at the end of the book that explain her writing and research process in detail. The book also includes an interview with the author after the index. Both additions are worth reading.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True-Life Journey by Rachel Simon

riding the bus

Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True-Life Journey by Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon, a writer and teacher, agrees to accompany her slightly younger sister Beth, when she rides city buses around the Pennsylvania city where she lives. Beth, who has mild mental retardation, lives on her own with income from SSI and started riding the buses after losing her job busing tables at a fast food restaurant. As Rachel makes a commitment to return regularly for a year to ride the buses with Beth, she gets to know the drivers Beth likes and doesn’t like, her caseworkers, her boyfriend Jesse and her routine. Rachel admires Beth for her feistiness and independence, but gets impatient, exasperated and angry with Beth’s stubbornness, especially when she puts her health or safety at risk. Rachel also feels humbled by the way some drivers look after Beth and form a safety net for her. Interspersed with the current account are vignettes from their family history, including their parents’ separation and divorce and the children’s subsequent division between their parents.

The author recounts how both parents have taught all the siblings to have a sense of responsibility for Beth and how she herself personally struggles sometimes to be a “good sister,” even when she loses her patience with Beth. This honest narrative of the challenges of accepting Beth as she is, while trying to live her own life, reminds the reader of the importance of family, friends and community. Every reader will find life lessons in this book.

Here’s a clip from the made-for-tv movie:

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson