Biweekly at 5:45 p.m. on Thursdays and at 6:00 p.m. 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.

Submit your review proposal.

Subscribe to the BookMark podcast.

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, where it was almost obligatory to take a junior high class trip to Fallingwater. I remember very little about my visit, other than enjoying the woods around the house and wondering why all the beds seemed so small. I knew nothing about the famed architect behind the house. It was an ignorance that I decided to finally remedy with Paul Hendrickson’s new biography, “Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright.”

BookMark: "The Shadow King" By Maaza Mengiste

Feb 4, 2021

“The Shadow King” begins and ends in a train station in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa in 1974. In the streets, the uprising that would lead to the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie brews. In the station, an Ethiopian woman named Hirut waits for a Jewish-Italian photographer named Ettore. They plan to meet so she can give him back a box of photographs that document Italy’s invasion and occupation of Ethiopia under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in 1935.

BookMark: "Lamb" By Christopher Moore

Jan 7, 2021

In an irreverent, but sensitive way, Christopher Moore gives us his ideas about what occurred during the “lost” years of Christ's life in his novel “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.”

I’m proud to announce that this year’s Great Reads from Great Places title is “Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson” written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Cannaday Chapman. The picture book biography is a perfect selection to represent Pennsylvania. Bryant is a Chester County resident. Her subject, August Wilson, grew up in Pittsburgh, which is the setting for many of his plays.

BookMark: "Teachable Moments" By Sandra Miller

Nov 13, 2020

Sandra Miller's "Teachable Moments: A Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery" is a memoir that is also a love letter from the author to her mother, Barbara Hauck. Kara Rose's whimsical drawings provide a welcome touch. Sandra tells her story from childhood to the present in a series of vignettes divided into five sections. They're titled: "Growing Up Years," "School Years," "Taking Big Risks," "Mountain Adventures," and "Appreciating Life." I recently met Sandra and found her to be a delightful and talented raconteur.

BookMark: "King Of King Court" By Travis Dandro

Oct 30, 2020

To what extent are we destined to become trapped in the cycles sparked by our parents’ shortcomings? This is one of the central questions explored in “King of King Court,” a graphic memoir by Travis Dandro and winner of the 2020 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. On its surface, “King of King Court” is a coming-of-age story showcasing the complex ways that drug abuse and domestic violence challenge a child’s development and complicate family dynamics.

It’s that time of the year when the Pennsylvania Center for the Book celebrates the winner of its Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for Children.

This year’s winner is “How to Read a Book” by Kwame Alexander with art by Melissa Sweet. Alexander also won a Hopkins Poetry Award and a Newberry Medal for “The Crossover” in 2015. Sweet is a Caldecott Honoree.

William Keith and Robert Danisch’s book, “Beyond Civility,” describes the dire condition of contemporary civic life in the United States as a problem of communication ethics. At first blush, the controversy they tackle might sound straightforward. Afterall, their answer to whether we should strive to be more civil when we talk politics with each other is a hearty, “Yes!” But, ideas about what it means to be civil in the United States bear the marks of the unequal history in which they were forged.

I might be able to count on one hand the number of books I’ve read that took my breath away. “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is one of those books. It moved me to my core. I was shaken, I was touched and, in spite of the tragedies in the book, I was inspired.

BookMark: "How Humans Learn" By Joshua R. Eyler

Sep 3, 2020

Through my own experience as a college instructor, I’ve learned that even on the best days, teaching can be quite challenging. One way to make teaching easier though, is to learn more about how students learn. In “How Humans Learn,” Joshua Eyler tries to do exactly that by providing insight into the science of learning. He takes a deep dive into the latest research offered by a range of fields, including anthropology, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience.

BookMark: "American Dirt" By Jeanine Cummins

Aug 20, 2020

“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins is the most engrossing book I’ve read in years.  Regardless of your political persuasion, I believe it is a must-read for those of us who were lucky enough to be born in the United States. Personally, it opened my eyes to the struggles of immigrants and the many sacrifices they make to pursue safer lives in America, which led me to re-think some of my hardline attitudes about immigration.

BookMark: "The End Is Always Near" By Dan Carlin

Aug 6, 2020

Normally, a book recounting the long history of disaster, collapse, and near misses wouldn’t rank highly on the list of things to read during a pandemic. Yet the new book from history podcast host, Dan Carlin, covers a tough topic with insight and a bit of humor that makes it a far more interesting and less grim work than it could have been! "The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses" takes us from the very beginnings of civilization up through the 20th Century.

BookMark: "Inside Out" By Marjorie Maddox

Jul 23, 2020
Nicole Miyashiro reviewed "Inside Out" by Marjorie Maddox.
Pennsylvania Center for the Book

“Pick a poem you’d like to get to know,” dares Marjorie Maddox in her latest educational collection titled “Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises.” 

Along with being an accomplished short story writer, essayist, anthology editor, and children’s book author, Maddox brings her skills as a poet and professor of English and creative writing to the pages of “Inside Out.” She entices readers with an approachable guide to poetry by modeling techniques and inviting experimentation.

BookMark: "Hear Me Ohio" By Jen Hirt

Jun 25, 2020

“Hear Me Ohio” begins with horseradish and ends with unicorns. This far-ranging collection of essays by Jen Hirt provides access into a curious mind exploring not only the natural world, but also the quirky, surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking world of humankind. Like the first essay, which takes the reader on a quest for an antique bottle that once held her great-grandfather's "celebrated horseradish,” most essays involve seeking, not only for physical objects, but also for meaning.

BookMark: "Big Summer" By Jennifer Weiner

May 28, 2020

“Big Summer” is the big summer novel you’ve been waiting for. Okay, I get it, you’re not on the beach, you’re still working from home, but if you want a great novel to sink into—a novel with a central mystery and a relatable protagonist, this one is for you.

BookMark: "The Five" By Hallie Rubenhold

May 14, 2020

Few crime sprees have captured readers’ imaginations as much as Jack the Ripper’s murders in Victorian-era London. And rarely has one murderer’s identity been more scrutinized. But how much ink has been spent understanding the five women he murdered? Who were they? What were their lives like? What led them to be in Whitechapel in 1888? Were the murder victims targeted or crimes of convenience? Hallie Rubenhold, a British historian and author who specializes in 18th and 19th century social and women’s history, addresses this crime narrative from a previously unapproached angle.

BookMark: "Charming Billy" By Alice McDermott

Apr 30, 2020

What makes a book relevant more than twenty years after it was first published? In order to persist, books tell tales that go beyond the experiences of the main character and become relatable to broad audiences across time. “Charming Billy” by Alice McDermott does exactly this while questioning the nature of relevance through an exploration of the titular character.

BookMark: "The Nickel Boys" By Colson Whitehead

Apr 16, 2020
Savita Iyer reviews "The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead.

There is a point in Colson Whitehead’s novel, “The Nickel Boys,” when you think—when you hope—that things will turn out for the better for his protagonist, Elwood Curtis. Elwood is living in New York, he has a job, an apartment, and a girlfriend. He has developed plans to start his own moving company. At that point, you begin to have hope that all the atrocities and injustices Elwood endured—including the years he spent being abused at the Nickel Academy, a reform school in Florida, were not his undoing, even as you know that probably isn’t the case.  

BookMark: "Edison" By Edmund Morris

Apr 2, 2020
Brady Clemens reviews "Edison" by Edmund Morris.

Nearly 90 years after his death, the name Thomas Edison still stands as a synonym for invention and technical wizardry. Yet aside from a short list of his inventions, I couldn’t say that I knew all that much about him. So, when I saw that Edmund Morris had written a new biography—titled simply “Edison”—I couldn’t resist learning more. Morris is perhaps best known as the author of the magisterial three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, of which “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” won the Pulitzer Prize.

BookMark: "iGen" by Dr. Jean M. Twenge

Mar 25, 2020
Kirsten Tekavec reviews "iGen" by Dr. Jean M. Twenge.

The title of the book I am recommending is a mouthful: “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood*: *and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” This book by Dr. Jean M. Twenge serves as a deep, yet accessible analysis of the attitudes, values, and behaviors of America’s newest generation of young adults: iGen. I am a doctoral student studying higher education at Penn State.

Abby Minor reviews "Pennsylvania Furnace" by Julie Swarstad Johnson.

How do we love the land, even as we participate in doing damage to it? How do we honor those who have come before us, even as we acknowledge the destruction they advanced? These are the questions that came to me as I read “Pennsylvania Furnace” a new book of poems by Julie Swarstad Johnson. In poems that weave effortlessly, sometimes magically, between past and present, Johnson considers the significance of resource extraction in relation to American lives.

"The Swerve: How the World Became Modern" by Stephen Greenblatt is the biography of a man named Poggio Bracciolini, and the history of a poem titled "On the Nature of Things."

BookMark: "The Good Neighbor" By Maxwell King

Feb 6, 2020

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, it was almost a given that young children watched at least a few episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And I’m pretty sure I watched more than just a few! I remember well the episode where we saw how crayons were made, as well as the episode where Mister Rogers visited a lighthouse. The Land of Make Believe was a familiar place – both on the show, and the ride at Idlewild Park, which my family and I visited several summers in a row.

BookMark: "Lucretia Mott's Heresy" By Carol Faulkner

Jan 23, 2020

“Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in 19th Century America” is a delicious history. The book draws heavily from the letters of Lucretia Mott, which gives the reader the voice of this fiery opponent of slavery and promoter of women’s rights.

BookMark: "Hidden Tapestry" By Debra Dean

Jan 9, 2020

Recognizing the author’s name led me to “Hidden Tapestry” by Debra Dean. Her debut historical novel, “The Madonnas of Leningrad,” is one of my favorite WW II novels.

“Hidden Tapestry: Jan Yoors, His Two Wives, and the War That Made Them One” was like no other book I’ve ever read. It’s a historical biography, but it reads like an unbelievable novel. It’s the biography of Flemish-American artist Jan Yoors, who was known for his giant tapestries.

Jeanne Huffman reviews The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life.

“The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life” offers those who usually read novels a chance to enjoy ‘creative non-fiction.’ This book is a well-told narrative about the molecular building blocks of life and how they evolved. David Quammen accepts the challenge of documenting the advancement of evolutionary life science while revealing its significance to all of our lives. Quammen also gives us insight into the vibrant communities of scientists carrying out similar work.

Karla Schmit reviews "A Crossing of Zebras."

I work at the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and a new book of poetry by local author Marjorie Maddox came across my desk recently. The title immediately caught my attention: “A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry.” I thought, collective nouns and poetry? What a great idea!

BookMark: "Native Species" By Todd Davis

Nov 14, 2019
Talley Kayser reviews "Native Species."

“What does a landscape dream of in its unsettled dreams?”

Todd Davis’s newest collection of poems, titled “Native Species,” opens with this question. The question is gentle and idle. It’s the kind of thing you ask yourself while half-asleep on a streambank on a hot day. But then there’s that word “unsettled.” The landscape may be “settled.” It may be cultivated into farm and town… but its dreams are unsettled, uneasy, perhaps even wild.

Brady Clemens reviews "Our Man" by George Packer.

A few years ago, I read George Packer’s “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.” It was a haunting portrayal of the slow unraveling of the United States through the life stories of many individuals. Like so many others, I found the book to be fascinating. So, it was with great interest that I saw Packer had published a new book, this time focused on the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke. I recalled the name Holbrooke, but couldn’t say I knew a lot about him. Given how much I had enjoyed “The Unwinding,” I thought this book too would surely be worth a read.

BookMark: “Max's Box" By Brian Wray

Oct 17, 2019
Kirsten Tekavec reviews "Max's Box."

Talking about mental health issues is daunting. Often just starting the conversation is the hardest part. With his latest book, “Max’s Box,” Brian Wray offers children and grown-ups a way to begin these important discussions. Through simple story-telling and cartoonish illustrations, Wray gives his readers a glimpse into what can happen when emotions are suppressed. He also demonstrates how with the help of people who care, we can learn to express, and then let go of the things that hold us back.