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.

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: "Zero K" By Don DeLillo

Dec 15, 2016

This essay originally aired on August 11, 2016.

Here is the guiding question to Don DeLillo’s newest book, Zero K: “We were born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner?” This futuristic novel is not so much a whirlwind as it is a gradual, reflective sweep of humanity and mortality through metaphysics, bioethics, language and technology.

BookMark: "True, False, None Of The Above" By Marjorie Maddox

Dec 1, 2016

From T.S. Eliot to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson to Flannery O’Connor, faith and poetry have long been companions. Each is a guide, in its own way, to grace. In True, False, None of the Above, poet Marjorie Maddox tracks her own relationship with faith and doubt, and the repeated ways in which literature, faith, and students challenge and resurrect her beliefs.

BookMark: "Heat & Light" By Jennifer Haigh

Nov 17, 2016

This essay originally aired on July 28, 2016.

Heat & Light is Jennifer Haigh’s third novel about the fictional town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. It’s a place that has lost its mining industry and is trying to find other ways to restore the economy. Not much is possible. As Haigh’s narrator says of Bakerton, “every worthwhile thing has already happened. The town is all aftermath.”

BookMark: "Beautiful Secret" By Dana Faletti

Nov 3, 2016

I came across author Dana Faletti’s self-published young adult trilogy “The Whisper Series,” when my two teenage daughters rapidly read them during one snowy weekend. Her new novel, “Beautiful Secret,” was released in October. It’s a sweeping Italian romance that follows two characters during different time periods.  The first storyline focuses on Tate Domani in present day Pittsburgh. The other is Tate's grandmother, Maria, in 1920's Italy.

BookMark: "Winterkill" By Todd Davis

Jul 14, 2016

Todd Davis, a professor at Penn State Altoona, teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature. In his newest book of poems, Winterkill, he draws on all of these experiences.

Winterkill is Davis’ fifth full-length collection. It portrays not only our seasons, but also the complex intersections of natural and spiritual. The opening epigraph by William Butler Yeats says much: “There is another world, but it is in this one.”

BookMark: "Secrets Are Forever" By Frank Rocco

Jun 2, 2016

  This essay originally aired on November 5, 2016.

If you remember Frank Rocco as an assistant coach with Joe Paterno in the 80’s, you’ll be surprised to rediscover him as the author of “Secrets are Forever.” 

I've always been interested in history, but in high school I found American history to be incredibly boring. It was often presented as a black and white affair, completely scrubbed of any nuance. It was only after discovering the true complexity of our history that I began to find it fascinating. And there are few who portray this complexity as well as historian Joseph Ellis. This meant that his newest book, “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution,” was an immediate must-read. Ellis, the author of numerous books on U.S.

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: "Time Underground" By Todd McClimans

Dec 17, 2015
The cover of "Time Underground" and reviewer Cheryl Bazzoui
Overdue Books/Cheryl Bazzoui

Time Underground by Todd McClimans is an 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 present day to 1782.

Many towns in central and western Pennsylvania have at least one house still standing from the Underground Railroad. Ask any lifelong local historian and be prepared to listen. It happened 135 years ago. Some of our parents heard from their great grandparents about how desperate runaway slaves struggled to make their way to Canada.

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.

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: "Midnight in Siberia" by David Greene

Feb 26, 2015
Reviewer Linda Ivanits and the cover of "Midnight in Siberia"
Linda Ivanits / WPSU

 David Greene served as NPR’s Bureau Chief in Moscow from 2009 to 2011.  For much of his stint he interacted with an elite minority of westernized, educated Russians.

BookMark: "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

Feb 12, 2015
Reviewer Carter Clabaugh and the cover of "Beautiful Ruins"
Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

 Jess Walter’s sixth novel , Beautiful Ruins, might seem like a pure homage to Classic Hollywood Cinema. However, the book proves to be so much more. It’s a braided tale with chapters jumping forward fifty years, hopscotching across America and Europe, and introducing characters seemingly unrelated to main characters in the 60’s, Dee and Pasquale, until their lives intersect in the present.

“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: 'Stone Mattress' by Margaret Atwood

Nov 6, 2014
Reviewer Kate Hoffman holding the book "Stone Mattress."
Kate Hoffman

I’m not sure if Margaret Atwood’s writing improves as she ages, or my appreciation for her writing improves as I age.  I’ve been a loyal fan of Atwood since I read The Handmaid’s Tale over twenty years ago--and her latest work solidifies my belief in her genius.