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: "Rolling Blackouts" by Sarah Glidden

21 hours ago

“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.

BookMark: "True, False, None Of The Above" By Marjorie Maddox

Dec 1, 2016

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.

BookMark: "Tipping Point" By David Poyer

Aug 25, 2016

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.

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