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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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 Reformation" by Katherine Bode-Lang

Feb 11, 2016

“To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes tells us. Katherine Bode-Lang, local poet and national winner of the Honickman First Book Prize, understands this deeply. In her award-winning collection, The Reformation, she gets her hands dirty with what matters: resistance and acceptance, regret and impenitence. “All day, my hands smell of remembrance,” she tells us. With fierce, lyrical poems, she digs up questions and plants experiences. She weathers through our physical and spiritual seasons. At year’s end, she arrives at love.

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.

BookMark: "Kissinger's Shadow" by Greg Grandin

Dec 3, 2015

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?

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.”

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.