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: "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?

The cover of "Climate Changed" and reviewer Peter Buckland
Right: Peter Buckland

Graphic novels depict heroes descending into darkness, fighting insidious forces, and coming out transformed—think The Walking Dead or Maus. That is exactly what readers get in Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science. It is a scientific, moral, and personal exploration of human-caused climate change. Deftly using graphic novel form, it entertains, informs, and invites us to reflective action.

 Mush:  From Sled Dogs to Celiac, the Scenic Detour of my Life is the debut memoir by local author Tara Caimi. It’s a coming of age story, but not a first blush, adolescent identity crisis type of tale. Rather, in Caimi’s case, it is a deeper-hued variety that knocks her off balance long after the successful milestones of adulthood.

Cover of "George Marshall: A Biography" and reviewer Brady Clemens
for right: Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

When I came across “George Marshall: A Biography” by Debi and Irwin Unger, I knew I needed to read it. Marshall, General of the Army during the Second World War, is perhaps best remembered as the creator of the “Marshall Plan,” for which he later won a Nobel Prize.

Reviewer Erin Cassidy Hendrick and the cover of "Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town"
Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

The tagline of Gregory Miller’s “The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” is simple and succinct: “Thirty-three tales. Thirty-three tellers. One lost town.”

BookMark: "Little Humans" by Brandon Stanton

Dec 18, 2014
Little Humans book cover, Kate Lao Shaffner and her daughter Anna
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

I’m a huge fan of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton’s photography project featuring portraits of random New Yorkers. If you haven’t heard of it, here’s the premise: Stanton walks around New York streets and asks strangers if he can take their picture. While he’s at it, he asks them personal questions—and gets some really poignant responses. Once recent shot features a woman who has a sad smile on her face. The caption goes like this: "I constantly worry if I'm doing OK with my boys.

“Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography” by Fred Schruers is an obvious read for diehard Billy Joel fans. The painstakingly researched biography details Joel’s persona and describes the inspiration behind his music - from heartbreak, to career troubles, to the Cold War.  

It was originally meant to be an autobiography, with Schruers ghost writing, but just before publication Joel announced he wasn’t interested. So the project became a biography created from hundreds of hours of interviews with family, friends, band members and the musician himself.

BookMark: 'Haunted Rock 'n Roll' by Matthew Swayne

Oct 23, 2014

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I love ghost stories. I also love rock and roll. In “Haunted Rock & Roll” by Matt Swayne, I get both.

BookMark: 'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Oct 9, 2014
Americanah Book Cover and Reviewer Photo
Knopf Books/Erin Cassidy Hendrick

A typical school reading list consists of classic novels written mostly by European men. The books convey themes of “coming of age” or “corruption within a high-class society.” This old-fashioned perspective means few African-American writers, let alone African writers, are widely read in high schools and universities.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie breaks into the ranks of the “elite” authors assigned to students and provides a new perspective on race in America in her novel Americanah.

BookMark: 'The Border is Burning' by Ito Romo

Sep 11, 2014

Ito Romo’s collection of short stories, The Border is Burning is a superb and painful read. But it is the kind of pain that is necessary and compelling in a book set in a landscape fraught with peril. The stories are set along and across the border between the United States and Mexico. The border is real and omnipresent throughout the book—characters cross back and forth to score cheap booze, prescription drugs, and to ferry cocaine in belts and shoes. No character on either side of the border is spared Romo’s tough but honest treatment.

I just made an up close and personal visit to Pennsylvania’s coal country. I did it through reading Tawni O’Dell’s brand new novel, One of Us.

The book is set in Lost Creek, Pennsylvania, a coal mining company town. I assumed the town was fictional, so I was surprised to Google it and find it right there on a Pennsylvania map next to Frackville and Shenandoah and with it - you guessed it – Lost Creek running through the middle.

BookMark: Time Traitors by Todd McClimans

Aug 14, 2014
Time Traitor book cover and reviewer
Kate Lao Shaffner

Time Traitor is a historical novel written for middle schoolers, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing this exciting, well-researched story. It’s an adventure that moves back and forth from the present day to colonial times.

We meet the main characters right away. Kristi and Ty are misfit students at George Washington Prep, a fictitious exclusive boarding school in southwest Pennsylvania.


BookMark: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Jul 30, 2014
Flash Boys cover photo and reviewer
Emily Reddy

Are the American financial markets rigged?  That's the position of Michael Lewis, the author of the book, “Flash Boys.” 

Barbara Taylor’s, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, is one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read. It’s a novel set in a Scranton, Pennsylvania coal mining community in 1913. As a coal miner’s granddaughter, this story resonated with me. I gained insight into what my grandfather’s life must have been like.  He died of lung cancer, the scourge of the mines, at age 52.

BookMark: Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts

Jul 3, 2014

I teach social studies to future teachers at Penn State’s College of Education.  Most of the time, I’m filled with hope for the future of education because of my students’ intelligence, energy, ingenuity and creativity. Yet, there’s one thing that saddens me at the start of every semester--how few famous women my students recall from their schooling.

Antiques to Die For by P.L. Hartman

Jun 19, 2014
Snyder BookMark
Emily Reddy / WPSU

When Peggy Hartman told me she had just published a book about the antiques business, I thought it would be some sort of reference work. She’s one of the dealers at Apple Hill Antiques, the antiques shop my husband and I own. But we were in for a wonderful surprise! Peggy wove her experiences at Apple Hill into a murder mystery. Not only that, she made it a big novel you can really get into, with full, rich characters, lots of humor, a foray into local history and some passionate goings-on.

The Fault in Our Stars and Emily Reddy
Kelly Tunney / WPSU

I just finished reading the young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars. This puts me only a couple of years behind hundreds of thousands of teenaged girls and boys. Since the book was released in 2012, it has spent 132 weeks on the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list. 132 weeks! It’s so popular, it’s pulled 3 of John Green’s older novels onto the list along with it. Tomorrow it will be released in movie form. If you go, look for familiar sights. The movie was filmed in Pittsburgh.

Commercial Fiction by Dave Housley

May 22, 2014

I read a novel several years ago where the author referenced brand names in every scene.  His characters wouldn’t simply sit down in a restaurant and order.  No, they would climb out of their Ford Rangers, hitch up their dark blue Levi’s jeans, glance impatiently at their Casio watches, and then order a Sprite.

I suppose the author was trying to add a level of realistic detail.  But it was a pretty miserable read; I don’t know anyone who actually thinks this way, who is so deeply connected to name brands that they become anchor points for navigating through the world.

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

May 8, 2014

It’s time for BookMark, the book review show on WPSU. One Book Bradford is a community-wide reading initiative.  This year’s pick is The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. It’s a work of historical fiction about Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s complicated marriage. Pat Donahue reviews.

The Artemas Poems by Jerry Wemple

Apr 24, 2014
Maddox BookMark
Marjorie Maddox

For National Poetry Month, poet and frequent BookMark contributor Marjorie Maddox reviews Jerry Wemple’s newest poetry collection, The Artemas Poems. The linked poems about a man named Artemas are set in small-town Pennsylvania.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Apr 10, 2014
Burks BookMark
Hannah Burks

Centre County Reads is an organization that encourages county residents of all ages to read and discuss the same book. This year’s pick is Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. Our reviewer, Hannah Burks, is the undergraduate intern for the Center for American Literary Studies at Penn State.