WPSU's BookMark

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.

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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: "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.

David Bross reviews "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia De Luce Mystery."


“It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm.” So begins “Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie,” the first book in the “Flavia de Luce” murder mystery series by Alan Bradley.

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.

BookMark: "The Good Neighbor" By Maxwell King

Oct 3, 2019

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.

Cindy Simmons reviews "How to Change Your Mind."
Cindy Simmons / WPSU

I got Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your Mind” because I am interested in how hallucinogenic drug use influenced the counter-culture of the 1960s.

From the full title of Pollan’s book, you know it's an ambitious work. “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” barely fits on the front of the soft cover edition released in May. And even that doesn’t fully describe what’s inside.

As the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, one of my favorite tasks is choosing a children’s or young adult title to represent Pennsylvania at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. I consult with colleagues and search for information about children’s and young adult books by Pennsylvania authors or illustrators. I look for titles with topics that have some connection to the Commonwealth. 

History makes a great story when it’s told well. And who can resist a good story? I certainly can’t. Having been a history major in undergrad, I may be particularly susceptible. So when I came across Matthew Kneale’s new book, “Rome: A History In Seven Sackings” in the leisure reading collection at Pattee Library, I had to check it out.

BookMark: "Sophia Of Silicon Valley" By Anna Yen

Jul 25, 2019

At first, all Sophia Young wanted was to find a job until she could find a husband. Instead, she finds herself working for Scott Kraft, a notoriously unpredictable and demanding tech mogul. She soon becomes more interested in her work in investor relations than in getting married, which she never planned on. She is quickly promoted and becomes an asset at Kraft’s new business, an animation company called Treehouse that’s set to disrupt the movie industry.

The book of poetry “Martin Rising: Requiem for a King” beautifully illustrates events in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s written with a middle school audience in mind, but this collection can be enjoyed by everyone. Each of poet Andrea Davis Pinkney’s poems is accompanied by a beautiful watercolor, gouache, and india ink illustration by Brian Pinkney. 

The poems about King’s life are labeled with the date of each event’s occurrence and in some cases the time. The book is divided into three sections: Daylight, Darkness and Dawn. 

I’ve been waiting anxiously to get my hands on a copy of the graphic memoir “Good Talk” by Mira Jacob. After reading a preview of the book, I was hooked—and when it finally arrived at my door, I read it in less than 24 hours.

The book centers around questions Jacob’s son, Z, asks about his biracial identity. Jacob is east Indian, and her husband is Jewish. “Good Talk” opens with conversations Jacob had with 6-year-old Z after he became obsessed with Michael Jackson.

“Was Michael Jackson brown or was he white?”

BookMark: "Fallen Mountains" By Kimi Cunningham Grant

Jun 13, 2019

“Fallen Mountains” is Kimi Cunningham Grant’s first novel, but hopefully not her last. The book details life in the fictional town of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania. Grant grew up in Huntingdon, which lends to the small-town Central Pennsylvania feel when she describes the residents of this close-knit community. In fact, Grant lives here now and teaches in a local school district.

BookMark: "Naamah" By Sarah Blake

May 30, 2019
Camille-Yvette Welsch reviews "Naamah" by Sarah Blake.
Paul Ruby

One of the best-known stories in the Judeo-Christian tradition is that of Noah, father of nations, who built the ark, saved the animals and repopulated the world. Little is said of his wife Naamah, and it is to this forgotten figure that Penn State MFA alumna Sarah Blake turns. She imagines her way into Naamah’s life—the constant care, cleaning and feeding of the animals; the coordination of packing and meals; and the emotional and mental labor that figures into so many women’s daily lives. All of this is magnified by 11 months on an ark inhabited only by family and hungry animals.

BookMark: "Normal People" By Sally Rooney

May 16, 2019

Older people often talk about young love with misty-eyed fondness, as if they wish they could experience it anew. But Sally Rooney reminds us of the dark side of first love in her latest novel, “Normal People.”


In an interview, Ingrid Rojas Contreras said of her debut novel, “I hope to complicate our understanding of the inheritance of violence and how this affects women and girls living in it or surrounded by it.” If that was the goal, Rojas Contreras surpassed it.

Her book, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree,” begins with a photograph 15-year-old Chula Santiago receives in the mail that troubles her. The photo is of Petrona, a young woman who had been a maid in her family’s household before they were forced to flee Colombia.

BookMark: "A Higher Loyalty" By James Comey

Apr 18, 2019

I have a hardback copy of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” and I have a Kindle copy of Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House.” But while I started them both, I haven’t finished reading them. When I picked up James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” on the other hand, I had a hard time putting it down. While it is a historically important book, Comey’s down-to-earth style and willingness to convey emotions as well as hard facts also made me feel like I was getting to know the author personally.

BookMark: "A Stranger Here Below" By Charles Fergus

Apr 4, 2019

If you’ve grown tired of formulaic mysteries and thrillers, then you’re in for a treat with the new book “A Stranger Here Below,” Charles Fergus’s 19th published book and the first in his new series of mysteries. The main character, Gideon Stoltz, is a man living on the outskirts—not just geographically in the small fictional town of Adamant, PA, but also emotionally. The town’s insular characters, including his wife’s family, often mock him for his German heritage, calling him “Dutchy.”