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: "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 towards 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.

BookMark: "Shanghai Faithful" By Jennifer Lin

Aug 24, 2017

“Shanghai Faithful” by Jennifer Lin is a memoir that takes us through three generations of the author’s Chinese family. Their fate is heavily intertwined with the spread of Christianity in China.

The author is an investigative journalist who reported for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 30 years. As a journalist myself, I appreciate the writing style and story structure as well as the details Lin pulled together from interviews with her relatives.

I have been a fan of Sherman Alexie’s since I saw his 1998 movie “Smoke Signals.” His new memoir, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” gives a heartbreaking look at how kids who are different are treated. It also happens to be set in a small town on the Spokane Indian reservation, giving a complex and not always flattering picture of tribal life.

Throughout the book, Sherman Alexie describes how he suffered at the hands of reservation bullies, kids — and sometimes adults — who did not like the bipolar egghead who was too smart for reservation schools.

BookMark: "Mom, Mania, and Me" By Diane Dweller

Jul 13, 2017

Diane Dweller’s “Mom, Mania, and Me: Surviving and Changing a Volatile Relationship” is a powerful memoir. Most of us realize life is hard for those who suffer with mental illness. This is a much needed book to help us understand the effects mental illness has on families. The author illustrates the devastating effect of her mother’s bipolar episodes on her family.  Dweller’s first person account is written like a fast paced novel, starting with the riveting prologue. She shows us how she becomes the scapegoat for her mother’s many frustrations.

BookMark: "Les Fauves" By Barbara Crooker

Jun 29, 2017

Barbara Crooker’s newest book of poetry, Les Fauves, begins and ends in the colorful world of Paris with the “wild beast” painters of the Fauvist movement. In the book’s opening epigraph, Crooker quotes the artist Matisse. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”

In the same way, Crooker throws herself into these often passionate, sometimes humorous, always thought-provoking poems. She takes us with her.

BookMark: "Dark Money" By Jane Mayer

Jun 15, 2017

This is probably the most important book I’ve read this year. Jane Mayer’s book, "Dark Money," makes the argument that we now have three major political parties: Republican, Democratic and Dark Money.  

Jane Mayer is an investigative reporter and staff writer for The New Yorker. She has written three bestselling nonfiction books and has received numerous awards for her political reporting. As described on the book’s cover, "Dark Money" tells the hidden history of the billionaires behind the radical right and how they are shaping our government.

“Time to Heal” is the latest in a time travel series of historical novels for middle schoolers. The author, Todd McClimans, is also an elementary school principal in York, Pennsylvania. In this third book of his American Epochs series, Kristi travels back through time to the battle fields and make-shift hospitals of the Civil War to find her friend Ty.  

BookMark: "What She Was Saying" By Marjorie Maddox

May 18, 2017

There are over 7 billion people on the planet right now and every single one of them is the protagonist of their own story. That’s the premise of Marjorie Maddox’s new short story collection, titled “What She Was Saying.” Each of the 35 stories peers into the fractured lives of the people we pass every day. Some narratives drip nostalgia, others are sharp and bitter. But all of them are meant to reveal the experiences that make us unique.

In her debut novel, “To the Stars Through Difficulties,” Romalyn Tilghman weaves parallel stories into a suspenseful novel. The historical part delves into the building of the Carnegie Libraries in Kansas. The fund-raising efforts of the Kansas frontier women are well-researched and poignant. The present day part of the novel follows the struggles of three women from totally different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds. Fate seems to bring Traci from New York City, Angelina from Philadelphia, and Gayle from nearby Prairie Hill - together in New Hope, Kansas.

BookMark: "American Ambassadors" By Dennis C. Jett

Apr 21, 2017

Right now American embassies around the world are awaiting their next leaders. Traditionally, when a new president is elected every American ambassador submits a resignation letter. The president will refuse the resignations of most career ambassadors, but the political appointees placed by the previous president will return to their lives in the private sector. President Trump will soon have to fill all those open positions.

BookMark: "Windthrow" By K. A. Hays

Apr 6, 2017

A new poetry book by K. A. Hays is all about weather—both the noun and verb forms. The book’s title, “Windthrow,” is a forestry term for the way wind uproots trees. It speaks also to how we weather this life of breeze and tsunami. Filled with wind, sea, forest, and bees, the poems move between light and shadow, negotiating happiness and grief.

BookMark: "Under A Painted Sky" By Stacey Lee

Mar 23, 2017
Bailey Young and the book cover for "Under a Painted Sky."
Emily Reddy / WPSU

In Stacey Lee’s young adult novel "Under a Painted Sky," two fugitives from the law travel west on a journey to find freedom from their pasts. Samantha is wanted as a murderer and Annamae is a runaway slave. The women disguise themselves as men and learn the true meaning of survival in the dangerous West. Along the way, they encounter and befriend three boys, whom they begin to view as their family. They work together to protect each other at all costs on their journey.

BookMark: "Moonglow" by Michael Chabon

Mar 9, 2017

I don’t just read a book.  I develop a relationship with the author.  If I love the book, I fall in love with its writer.  From that point on this author is a part of my life, and I wait impatiently for his next book.  I take it personally if the book is not up to the standards I set for that author.  I celebrate if the author rewards my wait by taking his craft to the next level.  He is my family now. 

It’s always a gamble to read a favorite author writing in a genre that’s not one of your favorites. But I had waited so long for Neil Gaiman to write another novel after 2013’s “Ocean at the End of the Lane” that I was willing to give his brand new book of Norse mythology a try.

BookMark: "Wonder" By R.J. Palacio

Feb 9, 2017
Wonder book cover and essayist Laura Sarge
Emily Reddy / WPSU

The idea behind Bellefonte READS! is to bring our community together, to start conversations, learn together, and strengthen our community through communication and reading. We achieve this by selecting a book that sparks conversation. In past years we have chosen books with more global themes, but this year we chose a book that will resonate with families on a local level, a book that deals with issues that we see every day in our own community. 

BookMark: "Twenty-Six Seconds" by Alexandra Zapruder

Jan 26, 2017
"Twenty-Six Seconds book cover and picture of Kevin Hagopian
Emily Reddy / WPSU

Some time ago, I was doing research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  I found myself on an elevator in the stacks with a white-coated staffer He was pushing a cart loaded with archival material. Casually, I read the labels on the boxes— and suddenly found myself unable to take a breath. They were the original tapes of Lee Harvey Oswald’s jailhouse interrogations, recorded in the two days after he was arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

BookMark: "Worst. President. Ever." by Robert Strauss

Jan 12, 2017

I've long been fascinated by the occupants of the White House, and with the history of slavery in the United States. Given that, a book like Robert Strauss' new biography of James Buchanan, “Worst. President. Ever.,” was going to be a must-read regardless, even if it hadn't been given such a catchy title.

BookMark: "Zero K" By Don DeLillo

Dec 15, 2016

This essay originally aired on August 11, 2016.

Here is the guiding question to Don DeLillo’s newest book, Zero K: “We were born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner?” This futuristic novel is not so much a whirlwind as it is a gradual, reflective sweep of humanity and mortality through metaphysics, bioethics, language and technology.

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