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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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.

From T.S. Eliot to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson to Flannery O’Connor, faith and poetry have long been companions. Each is a guide, in its own way, to grace. In True, False, None of the Above, poet Marjorie Maddox tracks her own relationship with faith and doubt, and the repeated ways in which literature, faith, and students challenge and resurrect her beliefs.

BookMark: "Heat & Light" By Jennifer Haigh

Nov 17, 2016

This essay originally aired on July 28, 2016.

Heat & Light is Jennifer Haigh’s third novel about the fictional town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. It’s a place that has lost its mining industry and is trying to find other ways to restore the economy. Not much is possible. As Haigh’s narrator says of Bakerton, “every worthwhile thing has already happened. The town is all aftermath.”

BookMark: "Beautiful Secret" By Dana Faletti

Nov 3, 2016

I came across author Dana Faletti’s self-published young adult trilogy “The Whisper Series,” when my two teenage daughters rapidly read them during one snowy weekend. Her new novel, “Beautiful Secret,” was released in October. It’s a sweeping Italian romance that follows two characters during different time periods.  The first storyline focuses on Tate Domani in present day Pittsburgh. The other is Tate's grandmother, Maria, in 1920's Italy.

BookMark: "Hope You Guess My Name" By Heather Harlen

Oct 20, 2016

Heather Harlen’s debut novel, Hope You Guess My Name, is a thriller that will make readers wonder what’s behind the veneers of their own communities. Marina Konyeshna, the book’s main character, is threatened after she discovers a human trafficking ring in her hometown in Eastern Pennsylvania.

I picked up Paula Hawkin’s “The Girl on the Train” after I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie. I’m a sucker for film adaptations – I love reading and seeing how the story translates to film. Though, like most people, I usually think the book is far superior. But that doesn’t stop me. I downloaded the book and found myself finishing it in a few days.

If you are familiar with science writer Mary Roach, you know she is never one to shy away from parts of science that verge on the absurd. I read two of her previous books, and was enchanted by Roach's unique combination of endless curiosity and a wry sense of humor. So I rushed to lay my hands on her newest book, “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.” It will not fail to live up to her fans’ expectations. Even those who have never read her before will be hard-pressed to put down a book that I finished in a few short days.

  This essay originally aired on April 7, 2016.

“When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything…makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?” This quote from George Bernard Shaw can go two ways. Humanity’s natural adaptability is usually held as a shining example of how we can grow and progress. But it also works in other ways. We can normalize the most insidious injustices around us, from global sweatshops that create our shirts to the police brutality in our own country.

Tipping Point is a page turner. It is the fifteenth novel in David Poyer’s acclaimed series of naval adventures featuring Captain Dan Lenson. But don’t worry if you don’t know anything about the modern Navy or haven’t read any of the first fourteen novels. This was my first of Lenson’s books, but I found it easy to follow the story. Tipping Point gives me renewed respect for our military personnel. The risks they take daily would be unnerving to most civilians.

BookMark: "Winterkill" By Todd Davis

Jul 14, 2016

Todd Davis, a professor at Penn State Altoona, teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature. In his newest book of poems, Winterkill, he draws on all of these experiences.

Winterkill is Davis’ fifth full-length collection. It portrays not only our seasons, but also the complex intersections of natural and spiritual. The opening epigraph by William Butler Yeats says much: “There is another world, but it is in this one.”

BookMark: "All Waiting Is Long" By Barbara J. Taylor

Jun 30, 2016

Barbara J. Taylor has created another suspenseful page-turner. We first met the Morgan sisters two years ago in Taylor’s debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night.  All Waiting Is Long tells us their captivating story twenty years later in the 1930s. It is a historical novel that begins when 25-year-old Violet and her pregnant sister, 16-year-old Lily, leave Scranton, Pennsylvania, by train. They are moving to Philadelphia to live at the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum until after the birth of Lily’s baby.

Left: the cover of "Before the Fall." Right: Erin Cassidy Hendrick
Right: Emily Reddy/WPSU

If you’re looking for a book to read on the beach this summer, look no further than the newest release from Noah Hawley. He’s not just an author – he’s also a TV writer and producer. He’s even won Emmy awards for writing and it shows in his newest book, “Before the Fall.” It’s a mystery novel, weaving between past and present, innocence and guilt and life and death.

BookMark: "Secrets Are Forever" By Frank Rocco

Jun 2, 2016

  This essay originally aired on November 5, 2016.

If you remember Frank Rocco as an assistant coach with Joe Paterno in the 80’s, you’ll be surprised to rediscover him as the author of “Secrets are Forever.” 

I've always been interested in history, but in high school I found American history to be incredibly boring. It was often presented as a black and white affair, completely scrubbed of any nuance. It was only after discovering the true complexity of our history that I began to find it fascinating. And there are few who portray this complexity as well as historian Joseph Ellis. This meant that his newest book, “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution,” was an immediate must-read. Ellis, the author of numerous books on U.S.

The cover of "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" and reviewer Adison Godfrey.
Right: Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

In her latest work of historical nonfiction, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott examines the role of four women during the Civil War who risk their lives for their beliefs. Each chapter shifts in focus, alternating between Union and Confederate sympathizers. The book cycles through the stories of Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O’Neal Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew. Drawing from original source material, Abbott makes these women and their histories come alive, illuminating the women’s war and how these unsung heroines influenced the course of history.

BookMark: "The Abbey" By James Martin

Jan 28, 2016

This essay originally aired January 28, 2016.  

When Stephen Colbert was hosting his satirical news program on Comedy Central, he christened Father James Martin the “official chaplain of Colbert Nation.”

At the beginning of the book “These Shallow Graves,” Jo Montfort’s father is found dead. As a member of the Old Money, upper-class New York social scene, his sudden, unexplained death is uncommon. - Especially since Jo’s father was a successful businessman who, Jo believes, didn’t have any secrets to hide. But Jo quickly finds out that isn’t true.

I was intrigued to hear about a new book that seeks to reconcile the seemingly contradictory legacies of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Greg Grandin, author of well-received books like “Fordlandia” and “Empire of Necessity,” tackles the thorny issue of one of the United States' most notorious diplomats in the book “Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman.”

BookMark: "The Hollow Ground" By Natalie Harnett

Oct 22, 2015

Natalie Harnett’s The Hollow Ground is part family saga, part historical novel, part literary mystery, and all parts good reading. Set in the early sixties, the novel is inspired by actual events in Carbondale and Centralia, Pennsylvania, where mine fires rage underground.

Harnett wastes no time developing suspense. In the first chapter, the book’s narrator, 11-year-old Brigid Howley, loses her beloved aunt to a firey sinkhole. She is one of the few people in Brigid’s life who gives her hope. Within the novel, this loss is both ordinary and cataclysmic.

As a coal miner’s granddaughter, the title of Marilyn Nesbit Wood’s memoir, The Day the Whistle Blew intrigued me. The subtitle is The Life and Death of the Stansbury Coal Camp, which is clear foreshadowing. Marilyn Nesbit Wood opens her soul and digs deep to write about her family’s experience with coal mining. The Day the Whistle Blew deals with family dynamics on almost every level. It also encompasses  poverty, work ethics, public education, the tight control of coal company towns, and the disparity of wealth between blue collar and white collar workers.

There is a new essential read for anyone interested in human evolution. An important question in this debate has always been why did modern humans survive and the Neanderthals did not? Personally, I find the topic fascinating. That’s why I picked up the recently published book “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction.” Written by anthropologist and retired Penn State professor Pat Shipman, it makes some interesting arguments.

  Full disclosure first - I am a devout John Green fan. I’ve read all his books. I follow him on Twitter just to see when the next one is coming out (hurry up, John!). I even follow his books on Twitter (yep, “The Fault in Our Stars” does have its own Twitter account).

And “Paper Towns” is my favorite of the John Green novels.  I truly loved this book!  Yes, it’s about teenagers, but adults will enjoy this book as well.  Green gives us lots of laughs, but always within an important and moving story.

BookMark: "Mr. West" by Sarah Blake

Jun 18, 2015

Many listeners are familiar with the rapper and celebrity icon Kanye West. He’s made headlines for eleven years not just with his music, but his antics and his romantic relationships. So a book of poetry dedicated to him isn’t conventional, but it is understandable. Local author Sarah Blake released a book of poetry simply named “Mr. West” in his honor. Blake calls it “an unauthorized lyric biography.” I consider myself a diehard fan of West and his music, so I was happy to dive into this book.

BookMark: "Afterparty" by Daryl Gregory

Jun 4, 2015
Reviewer Gabby Barone and the cover of Afterparty
Left: Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

  Taking place in Canada during the distant future, Afterparty is action-packed, humorous and bitterly wry. The book’s main character, Dr. Lyda Rose, was once a doctor who helped create a drug to cure schizophrenia. But now, she is a schizophrenic patient with godly hallucinations, locked away in a psychiatric hospital.

BookMark: "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

May 21, 2015

I’ve read World War II fiction, but never a story like “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.  The book follows two teenagers from their childhoods in the thirties, through 1945 and beyond.  The first is Marie Laurie LeBlanc. She’s blind and lives with her locksmith father in Paris. The second, Werner Pfennig, grows up in a German orphanage. Their stories begin to intertwine in the book’s opening scene. In a coastal French town towards the end of World War II, Marie Laurie crouches in her great-uncle’s secret attic during an American attack.

BookMark: "As the Wolf Loves Winter" by David Poyer

May 7, 2015

David Poyer’s As The Wolf Loves Winter is a thriller that reflects the author’s respect for the wilds of Pennsylvania. It’s set in the hills of western Pennsylvania, first plundered by trappers, then for timber, oil and gas. Wolves became extinct in this scarred natural habitat. Or did they?

When mangled frozen bodies are found in the woods, fear spreads through the small villages surrounded by the dark hills of Hemlock County. What terrible secret lies hidden in those woods? Would someone kill to keep it?

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