WPSU's BookMark

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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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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 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.

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