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Literary Destination: Bucks County, PA

Bucks County, Pennsylvania is a wonderful place to visit.  It has picturesque landscape and is steeped in history.  Bucks County is also a fantastic destination for literary lovers.  Here are some of the many places to include in your visit to Bucks County:

The Michener Museum

Michener Art Museum – Doylestown, PA

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a native of Doylestown.  He authored dozens of books, including the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Tales of the South Pacific.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted this book into the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific, which was then adapted into film in 1958 and again in 2001.  Michener was an art lover and a philanthropist, and donated money to the project that established this museum.  And here’s an interesting bit of trivia – the building that houses the museum was once the County Jail!  The museum opened it’s doors in September 1988.

When you enter the museum and turn left, there is a permanent exhibit – “James A. Michener: A Living Legacy”.  This is one of my favorite parts of the museum.  You’ll see Michener’s desk, typewriter, and other items from his office, in addition to books, photos, and awards.  The Michener Art Museum also has fantastic art displays, and variety of art classes for all ages.  If you are a researcher, the museum has an art library and archive, for which you will need to make an appointment to access.  For more information about the Michener Art Museum, please click here:  James A. Michener Art Museum – Art and Education in Doylestown, PA.

If you would like to know more about James Michener, I recommend Michener and Me by Herman Silverman (USA: Running Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0762406203).  Silverman was a long-time friend of Michener and a founder of the Michener Art Museum.

The Mercer Museum
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Fonthill Castle

Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle– Doylestown, PA

Another prominent citizen of Doylestown was Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930).  Mercer was a scholar with interests in archeology, anthropology, and art, and authored several books on these topics.  Fonthill Castle was his home, which you can still visit today.  Completed in 1912, Fonthill contains an amazing display of tile work from Mercer’s company, Moravian Pottery & Tile Works (located next to Fonthill).  I mention this location because Mercer’s substantial personal library is one of the rooms you can visit in Fonthill. 

About a mile or so away and located directly across the street from the Michener Art Museum is the Mercer Museum.  Mercer built this to house his collection of pre-industrial tools and was completed in 1916.  The museum also has the research library of the Bucks County Historical Society.  What do Mercer’s home and museum have in common?  They were both built almost entirely of reinforced concrete (including interior walls). To find out more about Mercer, Fonthill Castle, and the Mercer Museum, please click here: https://www.mercermuseum.org .

Pearl S. Buck’s home at Green Hills Farm

Green Hills Farm – Perkasie, PA

Another famous author, philanthropist, and activist who resided in Bucks County was Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973).  Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck moved shortly after her birth with her missionary parents to China.  She lived in China for a good portion of her early adult life, which greatly influenced her expansive literary works.  She received many awards and accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for The Good Earth (film adaptation in 1937).  Buck returned to the United States in 1934, and purchased Green Hills Farm around 1935.  In 1964, she established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation (now known as Pearl S. Buck International).  This organization provides aid for children, hosts a Global Leadership Program for high school students, offers writing classes and book groups for adults, and much more.  Tours are available of the house, and there is also a gift shop and exhibit gallery.  While visiting, you’ll get to see Buck’s office and personal library.  If you’d like to know more about Buck and this organization, please click here: Home – Pearl S Buck .

Do you want to know more about the famous and talented people, such as Oscar Hammerstein, II, Dorothy Parker, and Moss Hart, who lived in Bucks County?  I recommend The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County by George S. Bush (editor) (Penn State University Press, 1996.  ISBN: 978-0271016733).

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Inside the Christmas Museum at the Byers’ Choice Visitor Center

Byers’ Choice – Chalfont, PA

Byers’ Choice got it’s start as a business in the 1960s when Joyce Byers began creating Christmas decorations (specifically Carolers) in her home.  This at-home start up grew into an international business.  Why is this being included with other entities that are book related? Well, if you check out the Carolers, or visit the Christmas Museum at their Welcome Center, you will notice the heavy influence of Charles Dickens.  As you’re entering the museum, and on your way to the Observation Deck (where you can watch artists creating the Carolers), you’ll pass through a walkway that makes you feel like you’re walking through the Victorian streets of London.  The connection with Dickens does not stop there.  For many years Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles, has been coming to Byers Choice to perform his one-may adaptations of several of Dickens’ stories.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, Gerald Dickens was unable to hold his live performance of A Christmas Carol.  I have seen his live performance and it really is exceptional.  He plays the roles of each character without major costume or scene changes so seamlessly.  If you get a chance to see him live, go and see him.  If not, I believe you are still able to stream his recorded version.  If you’d like more information about the show and Byers’ Choice, please click here:  https://www.byerschoice.com . (For information on streaming Dickens’ performance, click on EVENTS, and scroll down.)

Okay, now you’ve traveled to Bucks County and are seeing the sites, and you feel the need to pick up a great book….where do you go?  If you just want to browse in a public library, the Bucks County Free Library has its center in Doylestown, and is located right next to the Michener Art Museum, and directly across the street from the Mercer Museum. There are 17 other locations throughout the county.  For more information about Bucks County Free Library, please click here: Home – Bucks County Free Library (buckslib.org) .

Feeling like you might want to purchase some books – something that you can take home with you?  You might be interested in the Bucks County Book Fest. The Book Fest began in 2018 and has been held annually since then (2020’s was held virtually).  Past authors have included Anna Quindlen, Ibram X. Kendi, and Kate Moore.  The 2021 Book Fest will be held September 24 -26 and includes keynote speakers Christina Baker Kline and Jason Reynolds, and at least 18 other authors.  For more information about this event, please click here:  https://www.bucksbookfest.org .

You might also want to visit some of the wonderful independent book stores located throughout the region.  Here is a listing along with their websites for more information:

The Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown, PA) and The Lahaska Bookshop (Lahaska, PA): The Doylestown Bookshop .

Farley’s Bookshop (New Hope, PA): https://www.farleysbookshop.com .

Newtown Bookshop (Newtown, PA): Newtown Bookshop | Your Neighborhood Independent Bookshop .

Commonplace Reader (Yardley, PA):  Commonplace Reader (commonplace-reader.com) .

(NOTE: Map of Bucks County in the above title box is from Visit Bucks County. Click here for more information if you’d like to plan your trip to Bucks : Visit Bucks County, Pennsylvania )

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Those Magnificent Women in Their Flying Machines

I love to travel and I have flown to many destinations, not because I love to fly, but because it makes traveling easier.  Having said that, there are two novels I’ve read within the past year that sparked my interest in the early days of flying and the role women played in air travel and exploration. 

The most recent of these novels is Murder at Wedgefield Manor by Erica Ruth Neubauer (NY: Kensington, 2021. IBSN: 9781496725882).  In this second book of the Jane Wunderly Mystery series, we find our heroine visiting the English country estate of Lord Hughes.  Lord Hughes employs several WWI veterans, including Group Captain Christopher Hammond, a flying instructor, and Sergeant Simon Marshall, a mechanic.  Jane is fascinated by airplanes and is able to take flying lessons while visiting the manor.  She enjoys her lessons and proves to be a superb student.  Then Simon is murdered, and it looks like Lord Hughes may have killed him.  Although Jane’s aunt, Millie, disapproves of Jane’s lessons, those lessons may come in handy when it comes to solving the case.  This is a great mystery set in the 1920s and I love how the characters interact with each other.  To find out more about Erica Ruth Neubauer and her books, please click here: Erica Ruth Neubauer – Author

Another book that piqued my interest regarding women in aviation is Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams (NY: Harper Collins, 2020. ISBN: 9780062834782) (Paperback release is May 2021).  This is the story of war correspondent/photographer Janey Everett and Irene Lindquist, a pilot and owner of an airline service.  Janey is in search of a story about early aviation pioneer, Sam Mallory.  She believes Irene is actually Irene Foster, who was a student of Mallory’s years earlier.  Publishers Weekly said of this book: “Williams builds irresistible tension with the alternating timelines as the fate of Irene and Sam unfolds with shrewd twists and turns that build to an unexpected jolt.” I say, if you have not read any of Williams’ books previously, don’t hesitate to read this one.  To learn more about Beatriz Williams and her books, please click here: Home – Beatriz Williams

I don’t just limit myself to adult books when it comes to reading.  A book I read a few years ago for a children’s literature course I was taking was Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick (NY: Scholastic Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780590960755).  This is a fictionalized story based upon real life, when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Amelia Earhart to the White House in April 1933.  The two women decided to go for a ride – in a jet!  Here’s an account of the actual event from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt flying from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore | Pioneers of Flight (si.edu)

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While we’re on the subject of Amelia Earhart, I recommend the March 2021 release from Sourcebooks – The Girl Explorers: The Untold Story of the Globetrotting Women Who Trekked, Flew, and Fought Their Way Around the World” by Jayne Zanglein (ISBN: 9781728215242).  The Society of Women Geographers was formed in New York City in 1925, as women were not allowed to join the Explorers Club.  This book documents many of the members’ lives, including Amelia Earhart, who became a member in 1932.  This book details how Amelia got her start with her first trans-Atlantic flight, also in 1932, and her ill-fated round-the-world flight in 1937. I love the quote of Earhart’s that Zanglein uses on page 3 as the opening to Chapter 1:  “Is it reckless?  Maybe.  But what do dreams know of boundaries?”  To learn more about this book and the women of this society, please click here: Women explorers fighting discrimination | The Girl Explorers |United States

Want to know more about women who served their country during wartime?  I suggest reading The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Katherine Sharp Landdeck (NY: Crown, 2020. ISBN: 9781524762810).  (Please note: the picture in the title box above is of a teenaged Nancy Harkness (Love), and comes from page 32 of this book.) To learn more about this book, please click here: Katherine Sharp Landdeck

Another book that may interest you is Flying Jenny: a Novel” by Theasa Tuohy (Akashic Books, 2018. ISBN:9781617756214).  This is the story of female stunt pilot, set in 1929.  The author based this story on the real life of pilots Elinor Smith and Theasa Logan Tuohy, the author’s mother.  To learn more, please click here: Flying Jenny – Akashic Books

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On the Big Screen: Books in the Movies

Being the book lover that I am, a book can grab my attention no matter where I am — at a bookstore or library, certainly; but I’ve even noticed books on the big screen.  Here are my top 5 favorite movies featuring books.

WARNING: Spoilers may be given in the details below.

Number One:  Serendipity (2001) starring John Cusak (Jonathan Trager) and Kate Beckinsale (Sara Thomas).  While Christmas shopping in a department store, Jonathan and Sara meet when they reach for the same pair of gloves.  They strike up a conversation and then spend a few hours together going from location to location in New York City.  Jonathan is completely smitten with Sara.  Sara, a believer in fate and destiny, wants a sign that they should be together.  Enter the book Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Sara just happens to be carrying this book around with her, so she writes her name and phone number in the book.  She tells Jonathan that she will sell the book the next day and if he is able to find it, they are meant to be together.  Jonathan spends many years searching for the book.  Is Jonathan able to reunite with Sara?  I won’t give everything away! As for the book in the story… several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a used copy of it.  I automatically opened it up looking for the name and phone number! I laughed at myself for doing it, but wouldn’t that have been something if I’d found THE book!

Number 2:  Indian Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Sean Connery (Henry Jones, Sr.).  The book I’m referring to in this movie is Dr. Jones Sr.’s grail diary.  This fictional book plays such an important part of the movie that it is almost a character itself.  Jones Sr. spends a good portion of his life researching the grail and making notes in his diary.  When he realizes that he is in danger, he sends the dairy to his son, Indy, in order to keep it safe.  It seems that either people want to steal the book, or see that the book is destroyed. If you’ve seen the movie and are a book lover like me, you won’t forget the book burning scene.  Some years ago I thought it would be interesting to track down the location of this movie prop.  I did some research and found a website that discusses the diary, which resides in the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles.  To learn more about the diary, please click here:  Grail Diary | Indiana Jones Wiki | Fandom

Number 3:  Hocus Pocus (1993) starring Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson) and Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson).  The Sanderson sisters return to life after 300 years when a boy lights the black flame candle.  Max, his sister, and a friend steal Winifred’s spell book and the Sanderson sisters chase them all over Salem, Massachusetts in an attempt to recover it.  The Sandersons need the book to take the souls from children, thus keeping the sisters alive, young, and beautiful.  The children finally succeed in turning the three witches to dust, but as the credits are rolling, we see a shot of the spell book cover, with the eye opening.  Is this really the end of the Sanderson sisters?  According to an article I found, there were three book props created for this movie, which are now stored in the Disney archives.  If you’d like to know more about the props, please click here:   13 Bewitching Props from Hocus Pocus – D23  

Number 4:  You’ve Got Mail (1998) starring Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly) and Tom Hanks (Joe Fox).  What could be better than a movie with a bookstore setting?  Though several books are mentioned in this movie, the book that gets the most attention is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  While chatting anonymously online, Kathleen mentions to Joe that she loves this book.  Joe wants to impress Kathleen, so he reads it.  When their characters are to finally meet in a café, Kathleen leaves the book on the table with a red rose so that Joe will be able to identify her.  Joe discovers his crush is really his arch nemesis, and he decides not to tell Kathleen he has been her online pen pal.  You could say Kathleen is like Elizabeth Bennett – stubborn and only thinks the worst of Joe.  Joe is like Mr. Darcy in that he initially thinks Kathleen is beneath him and her bookshop is small and inconsequential compared to his bookstore chain.  Elizabeth and Darcy marry by the end of their story.  Will Kathleen and Joe?

From my personal collection

Number 5: The Lake House (2006) starring Keanu Reeves (Alex Wyler) and Sandra Bullock (Kate Foster).  Kate and Alex both live in the same lake house, but two years apart.  They discover that they can write to each other by placing letters in the lake house mailbox…and that Alex’s present is 2004 and Kate’s is 2006.  After corresponding for a while, Kate and Alex fall in love.  Kate asks Alex to got to a train station on the day she left her favorite book behind.  The book was Persuasion by Jane Austen, and it had been given to her by her father.  Alex locates it and hides the book under Kate’s floorboards to find at a later time. He marks a passage from the book for Kate, which she reads when she finds the book:  “…there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison…” They arrange to meet on a certain date.  When Alex does not show, Kate writes to Alex to say goodbye.  Alex begs her to arrange another date, and he says, “What about Persuasion?  You told me…they wait.  They meet again.  They have another chance.”   Do Kate and Alex ever meet?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!

Honorable mention: The Princess Bride (1987) starring Cary Elwes (Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts) and Robin Wright (Buttercup/The Princess Bride). This movie is a film adaptation of William Goldwin’s 1973 novel The Princess Bride. This movie makes my list because I always enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was little. The movie begins with a the late, great Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a book to his grandson. The grandson isn’t interested in the story to begin with, but as the grandfather reads on the tale becomes more enchanting and adventurous. I won’t give away the plot of the movie, but I can tell you that the boy wishes for his grandfather to read the book again the next day.

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Let’s Shed a Little Light on This Subject

Have you ever searched high and low for inspiration, wondering if you’ll ever find it? This is true for me, especially during the past year.  I told my mother-in-law that in 2021 I hoped to write at least one blog per month as long as I could find something interesting to write about.  This is easier said than done, I’m finding. She has been incredibly supportive of my efforts here, and she suggested I write about lighthouses. My first thought was that would be interesting, but I don’t know what I would say about them.  Then, out of the blue, the light bulb went on (appropriate for a blog about lighthouses!). There were many lighthouses in the area surrounding the island where I grew up.  Except for the last 10 years of my life, I have lived within 10 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and have marveled at many lighthouses up and down the East Coast.  If you look on the shelves in my living room, you will see a lighthouse figurine, given to me by mother-in-law many years ago; and a lighthouse painted on a sea shell by one of my aunts (see picture in title box). So I decided, Yes! I can write this!

I checked out from my library American Lighthouses: A Comprehensive Guide by Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones (Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7627-0324-5) and enjoyed thumbing through its pages, reading about lighthouses I have been to and those I would like to visit.  One-quarter of the way through I ran across a section on the Statue of Liberty and was surprised.  Ok, why have I never thought of this as a lighthouse?  Have you? I guess I have always just thought of it as a monument.  “Dedicated in 1886 and commissioned as a harbor light that same year, the Statue of Liberty is probably the world’s most famous lighthouse.  The light in the bronze lady’s torch guided ships in and out of the harbor for many years and is still hailed as a guiding light by many landlubbers.” (p. 84) This, folks, is why I continue to read and learn!

Lights & Legends: Hamilton, Harlan

There’s a connection between the Statue of Liberty and Race Rock Light (1878), near where I grew up.  I recently added to my collection Lights & Legends: A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound and Block Island Sound by Harlan Hamilton (Stamford, CT: Wescott Cove Publishing Company, 1987. ISBN: 0-918752-08-6).  One of the engineers of the base created for Lady Liberty was Francis Hopkinson Smith, who was also the engineer behind the construction of the Race Rock lighthouse.  The Race, a particularly dangerous area located off the western tip of Fishers Island, NY, was the site of a dozen or so shipwrecks in the early part of the 1800s.  In 1846, the wreckage of the steamship, Atlantic, claimed 45 lives. It was due to this catastrophe that the U.S. Congress funded a project to build a lighthouse at the Race Rock location.  Smith later went on to pen the novel, Caleb West, Master Diver (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1898) based on his experiences during the building of Race Point Light.  According to an article in The Daily Star newspaper, this novel was adapted into a silent film in 1920, under the title Deep Waters. (Fredricksburg, VA: Friday, October 7, 1921, Vol. XXVII, No. 83, p. 1).

A Death Long Overdue (A Lighthouse Library Mystery #7)

Another cause for the lightbulb to go off in my head – I just happened to be reading a cozy mystery at the time of my conversation with my mother-in-law.  A Death Overdue by Eva Gates (New York: Crooked Lane Books, 2020, ISBN: 978-1643854588), is the 7th book in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series.  The heroine and amateur sleuth, Lucy Richardson, is the assistant manager of the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library in Nags Head, NC.  (Real lighthouse, fictional library.)  I love this series and never tire of reading about the characters’ interactions, the book club meetings, and Lucy’s investigating adventures.  The eighth installment of the series, Deadly Ever After, is due to be released May 11, 2021 (ISBN: 978-1643855882).  If you’d like to know more about this series, click here: The Lighthouse Library Mysteies – Home (lighthouselibrarymysteries.com).

Juliet Blackwell, another one of my favorite authors, writes the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series.  Book 7 in this series is A Ghostly Light (New York: Berkley, 2017, ISBN: 978-1101989357).  Mel Turner is hired to renovate a historic lighthouse in San Francisco Bay. When a dead man is found at the bottom of the lighthouse stairs, Mel sets out to find the killer. To learn more about Juliet Blackwell and her books, please click here: Author Juliet Blackwell.

If you’re a paranormal fan and a non-fiction lover, I recommend reading Lighthouse Ghosts: 13 Bona Fide Apparitions Standing Watch over America’s Shores by Norma Elizabeth and Bruce Roberts (Unknown: Crane Hill Publishers, 1999, ISBN: 978-1575870922.

Also, if you would like to read more about the shipwreck of the Atlantic, Eric Larsson wrote a book called The Captain, the Missionary, and the Bell: The Wreck of the Steamship Atlantic, (Murrells Inlet, SC: Covent Books, 2020, ISBN: 978-1646703777).

I hope you will enjoy these books and maybe get to visit your favorite lighthouse.  And I’ll leave you with this quote – “A good book is a lighthouse; a wise man is a lighthouse; conscience is a lighthouse; compassion is a lighthouse; science is a lighthouse! They all show us the true path! Keep them in your life and remain safe in the rocky and dark waters of life!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

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Spotlight: Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones

If you’ve ever read my previous blogs, you’ll know that my father’s military service during WWII was an early influence on the types of books I like to read.   While in my teens, I began reading about the WWII era and had read books by war correspondent Ernie Pyle.  Later, I moved on to spy novels by John LeCarre, Jack Higgins, and Ken Follett. 

While I was working in the library at the U.S. Naval War College, I noticed a book on the shelves – The Spy Wore Red by Aline, Countess of Romanones.  This was the first book I had come across that was not only written by a woman, but it was also based on her life as an OSS agent!  (The Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, began during World War II.   I quickly checked out the book and read it.  I loved it so much, I bought my own copy and subsequently purchased the next four books she wrote.  The Spy Wore Red, The Spy Wore Silk, and The Spy Went Dancing are labeled as memoirs; while The Well-Mannered Assassin, although based on Aline’s life, is a novel.  Aline’s last book, published in 2015, The End of an Epoch, is an autobiography of entire life, not just her years involved in espionage. 

My collection of books by Aline, Countess of Romanones

On February 9, 2021, a new book was released by Larry Loftis, The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones (New York: Atria Books, ISBN: 978-1-9821-4386-2).    Loftis compares excerpts from Aline’s books with interviews he conducted, and documents he was able to access from the National Archives and personal manuscripts and papers of other OSS agents.  Loftis found that even though labeled as memoirs, Aline’s tales were highly embellished.  Regardless, she led a fascinating life.  Aline was born in 1923 in Pearl River, New York.  The United States had already entered World War II when she graduated from college.  It was during a dinner party in 1943 that Aline was introduced to Frank Ryan, with whom she discussed her desire to serve her country as her brothers and most males her age were doing.  She didn’t realize it at the time, but Ryan was a member of the OSS, and later became her boss.  She was assigned to work in Madrid, Spain, where she met her future husband, Luis de Figueroa y Perez de Guzman, Count of Quintanilla (and later of Velayos, Romanones).  I won’t tell you everything about her – you’ll have to read these books!  I will tell you that Aline resigned from her work for the U.S. government in 1947.  She continued to live in Spain throughout her life and died in Madrid in 2017 at the age of 94.

For more information about Larry Loftis and his books, please click here: HOME | larry-loftis

If you’d like to read about other women who were involved in espionage during WWII, I recommend the following:

  • Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth P. McIntosh, May 1998, U.S. Naval Institute Press, ISBN 9781557505989.
  • Code Girls: The True Story of the American Women Who Secretly Broke Codes in WWII, by Liza Mundy, October 2017, Hachette Books, ISBN 9780316352536.
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of an American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, March 2019, Viking Press, ISBN 9780349010182.
  • A Guest of the Reich: The Story of an American Heiress and Her Dramatic Captivity and Daring Escape from Nazi Germany by Peter Finn, September 2019, Pantheon Books, ISBN 9781524747336.
  • The Secret Stealers by Jane Healey, coming March 2021 from Lake Union Publishing, ISBN 9781542023559.