WPSU's BookMark

Biweekly at 5:45pm on Thursdays and at 9pm on Sundays.

Find out about the books our listeners couldn't put down and submit your own review proposal. BookMark focuses on new releases and books by Pennsylvania authors. But sometimes you'll hear a new take on a classic. BookMark features book reviews submitted by anyone who lives within the WPSU-FM listening area.

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BookMark: "Looking For Alaska" By John Green

Oct 18, 2018

When I was a senior in high school, a girl I dated introduced me to the work of John Green. But it wasn’t a book that she gave me. I was studying for AP European History, and she sent me a link to a Youtube video where John talked about the French Revolution. John Green and his brother, Hank, each post a video every week to a Youtube channel called vlogbrothers. I don’t know how much I realized it when I first started watching the channel, but I really needed something like vlogbrothers.

BookMark: "My Favorite Thing Is Monsters" By Emil Ferris

Oct 4, 2018

Emil Ferris’s 2017 graphic novel “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” is at turns beautiful, haunting and heart wrenching––and it took the comics world by storm. It won 3 Eisner awards in 2018 for best writer/artist, best new graphic album and best coloring. It was also nominated for 3 Ignatz awards in 2017 and a Hugo Award for “Best Graphic Story” in 2018. It may come as no surprise, then, that the Pennsylvania Center for the Book unanimously selected this book for the 2018 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.

BookMark: "The Handmaid's Tale" By Margaret Atwood

Sep 20, 2018

I’m not sure I can really explain how much “The Handmaid’s Tale” means to me. (To clarify: I mean the book. Always the book.) I certainly wasn’t able to explain its significance a few years ago, when I met Margaret Atwood during her visit to Penn State. All I was able to get out was “Thank you. This is my favorite book,” and I knew that was inadequate.

BookMark: "Moby Dick" By Herman Melville

Sep 6, 2018

In my first teaching interview, I was asked what book I’d most like to teach. Without hesitation, I replied, “Moby Dick.” The interviewer probably thought I was trying to impress him, but it was true. I began teaching “Moby Dick” four years ago, and I hope I’ll be able to continue to teach it for the rest of my career.

I wasn’t the best reader in grades K-7. Most years I was invited to a special class in the summer where we cut out pictures of a C-A-T or an H-O-U-S-E from “Ladies Home Journal” and pasted them on construction paper. Between grades 7 and 8 I discovered a box of comics stashed by my brother when he entered the service. Somehow the text and the pictures magically connected, finally leading to my comprehension of what these strung together letters meant.

When I first saw PBS’s list of 100 books vying for the title “Great American Read,” I wasn’t sure which one I would vote for. There were so many books I loved on that list; I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pick just one. Little did I know I’d end up voting for a book I hadn’t read yet.

BookMark: "The Grapes Of Wrath" By John Steinbeck

Jul 26, 2018

When the list for PBS’ Great American Read program was released, I was pleased to see that among several favorites, John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” made the cut. Steinbeck has long been in my universe of preferred books. Over the course of a few years while I was a teenager, I made my way through several of his works, including “Of Mice and Men,” “East of Eden,” and the lesser known but deeply comic work “Tortilla Flat.” But of those books, it’s only been “The Grapes of Wrath” that I’ve returned to repeatedly. Since I rarely re-read anything, that says a lot.

BookMark: "Where The Red Fern Grows" By Wilson Rawls

Jul 12, 2018

I first read "Where the Red Fern Grows" 36 years ago. It’s a coming of age novel about a young pioneer boy of strong character. I remember the night well. I was telling my then 13-year-old son good night when he told me about the great book he was reading for school, and then mentioned the book report was due the next day. I asked, “Have you finished reading the book?” He shook his head with a worried expression. “Well, how far are you?” He showed me—page 69. One-hundred and eighty pages to go, and it was already 9 o’clock on a school night.

BookMark: "The Deepest Well" By Nadine Burke Harris

Jun 28, 2018

I heard an interview with Nadine Burke Harris and immediately bought her book “The Deepest Well.”

Nadine Burke Harris is a doctor in a clinic that serves children from low-income families in San Francisco. She was disturbed when she noticed kids from tough backgrounds had persistent medical problems that were hard to treat. She suspected there was a link between the health problems and traumatic experiences such as losing a parent or becoming homeless.

Essayist Jackie Esposito reviews "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes.
WPSU

Dear Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,

Tomi Adeyemi has been hailed the next J.K. Rowling. She’s the author of the best-selling young adult fantasy “Children of Blood and Bone.” I’m all for the comparison if it encourages people to read the 24-year-old’s gripping debut novel, but I actually think it deserves to stand on its own. I devoured this book.

BookMark: "Rise of the Necrofauna" By Britt Wray

May 17, 2018

The past few years have seen a veritable flurry of renewed interest in the idea of bringing extinct species back to life. Multiple books, articles and even a few TED talks have each approached the topic from different angles, or focused on different species. A new book on the topic caught my attention, not only for its approach, but also for the almost haunting art that graces its cover: the skull of a woolly mammoth and the head of a wooly mammoth facing each other across a dark background.

BookMark: "Strange Practice" By Vivian Shaw

May 3, 2018

Vivian Shaw’s “Strange Practice” introduces a marvelous new character: Dr. Greta Helsing. Physician to the undead--or differently alive, as Dr. Helsing thinks of her patients--Greta is the most recent iteration of the famous van Helsing family. The family quietly dropped the “van” several generations ago to avoid unnecessary attention from those less inclined to view the undead as good neighbors. 

 

There are some books I read and don’t think about much afterwards. They just don’t leave a lasting impact.

But “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid stayed with me.

The novel “Spoonbenders” by Daryl Gregory tells the story of a family of psychics… who aren’t doing very well. You’d think a bunch of people with supernatural talents could use them to get ahead in life, but the three adult siblings in the Telemachus family are instead constantly stymied by their powers.

BookMark: "The Rebounders" By Amanda Ottaway

Mar 22, 2018

Just in time for March Madness, the University of Nebraska Press has published “The Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey.” The cover shows author Amanda Ottaway at 4 years old shooting a basketball toward the hoop in her Hollidaysburg backyard. Ottaway, in sweats and sneakers, arms and legs flailing as the ball leaves her hands, is determined to sink the shot. How that passion has shaped her life is at the heart of this beautifully written memoir. 

                                                                  

BookMark: "Ice Mountain" By Dave Bonta

Mar 8, 2018

“Ice Mountain,” Dave Bonta’s most recent poetry collection, consists of short poems etched in an immediate present. Each poem is nine lines long, and carries a date as its title. The collection begins with a poem entitled “22 January, 2014”:

in the owl’s flight
as in the conifers it left
that late morning silence

and at the woods edge
the frozen carcass of a cow
pecked at by chickadees

bare trees like forks
the sky too is a dish
best served cold

Sunil Yapa’s debut novel “Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist” breaks the mold of our current polarized political climate and examines a controversial moment in American history from multiple angles. In doing so, the author, who is a State College native, reminds readers of the value that comes from trying to understand one another.

BookMark: "Maureen" By Mary Trimble

Feb 8, 2018

The novel “Maureen” is named after its main character. The disenchanted city girl answers an ad in the Seattle Times, and two weeks later moves to Eastern Washington to work as a nanny, housekeeper and cook on a large cattle ranch. With no experience, only great instincts and resilience, she flourishes on the ranch. Maureen’s two sisters and brother are shocked at her decision to leave the city, but she proves that you can take a girl out of the city and transform her into a country girl.

BookMark: "Fire And Fury" By Michael Wolff

Jan 25, 2018

Since the week before it was published, Michael Wolff's “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” has been, by far, the most-talked about book in the country. The furor, prompted by an angry denunciation-by-tweet from the President, a cease and desist letter from his lawyers and salacious details from the book making their way into the press, immediately catapulted it to bestseller status. Being a political junkie, of course I couldn't resist giving it a read. I rushed through it in just a few days.

Sarah Paez reviews "The Woman Who Smashed Codes" by Jason Fagone.
Min Xian / WPSU

Jason Fagone’s new nonfiction nail-biter about the life and work of codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman takes readers on a tour of a world once written in code.

In “The Woman Who Smashed Codes,” Fagone shows how Elizebeth, a sharp college graduate itching to leave rural Indiana, ends up trailblazing the very new industry of codebreaking.

I tend to gravitate toward books by authors I’ve read before. But after seeing Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” hailed a must-read multiple times, I decided to go out on a limb.

I’m so glad I did.

BookMark: "Weird Dinosaurs" By John Pickrell

Dec 14, 2017

Anyone who knows me for more than ten minutes knows of my deep and abiding fondness for dinosaurs. It’s a holdover from that phase most children go through, re-ignited for me during a summer class on the extinct beasts during college. Yet the drawback of being an adult who loves dinosaurs is readily apparent when you visit the shelves of your local library or bookstore. Most dinosaur books are aimed at a far younger audience than myself, and the books for adults are often more technical works.

“Shame, Shame, I Know Your Name” is the second thriller in the Marina Konyeshna series by Heather Harlen. Human trafficking remains the driving force behind the plot in this book as well. Its fast-paced dialogue and action kept me turning the pages. Marina’s irrepressible personality makes her a highly likable protagonist. Her fresh inner dialogue, utilizing her innate wit and intelligence, provides readers with suspense, danger and drama in Moscow’s soup kitchens to its night clubs.

BookMark: "Picturing Prince" By Steve Parke

Nov 16, 2017

I’m a child of the ’80s. The musician Prince was this fascinating, mysterious man I could not get enough of growing up. “Purple Rain” played loudly in my room. Now, as a singer and a photographer myself, “Picturing Prince” by Steve Parke seemed like a natural fit for my bookshelf.

Celeste Ng’s latest novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” revolves around a central question: what makes a person a mother?

BookMark: "New American Best Friend" By Olivia Gatwood

Oct 19, 2017

This past March, slam poet Olivia Gatwood released her first collection of printed poems. “New American Best Friend,” which focuses on the struggles of girlhood and the common situations young women face, is affirming and moving.

BookMark: "Fierce Kingdom" By Gin Phillips

Oct 5, 2017

In Gin Phillips’ latest novel, “Fierce Kingdom,” a visit to a city zoo becomes a nightmare as Joan tries to protect her four-year-old son, Lincoln. Leaving the zoo at closing time, Joan realizes that the sounds she hears are gunshots, and that people and animals are being killed at random. 

BookMark: "Rolling Blackouts" By Sarah Glidden

Sep 21, 2017

“Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq” by Sarah Glidden is a graphic novel that asks, “What is journalism?” This book, recipient of the 2017 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, follows the author as she accompanies two reporter friends and an Iraq war veteran into a highly complex political region. Throughout the trip, the reader sees how refugees, government administrators and military personnel react to journalists and tell their personal stories.

BookMark: "Beren and Lúthien" By J.R.R. Tolkien

Sep 7, 2017

One of the joys of being a Middle Earth enthusiast is that, over forty years after the death of J.R.R. Tolkien, new works from his papers continue to be published - a remarkable feat for any author. No matter how regularly this happens, news of a new Tolkien book still manages to surprise as well as delight. My own joy at hearing of the forthcoming publication of “Beren and Lúthien,” edited by Tolkien’s son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien, left me quite literally jumping up and down with excitement, to the mild bemusement and possible chagrin of my co-workers.

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