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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Books to read this summer

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jun 2, 2014 1:44 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Tuesday, June 3, 2014:

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Have you made your vacation plans for this summer?  Whether you're traveling to the beach or mountains or just lounging by the pool or staying cool in an air conditioned house, a good book is probably an essential part of your efforts to relax.

On Tuesday's Smart Talk, we've assembled a panel to discuss what they're reading and suggest a few books you may enjoy too.

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Catherine Lawrence, Todd Dickinson, Jon Walker

Joining us on the program are Catherine Lawrence, a writer and owner of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Todd Dickinson, an owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz, and Jon Walker, who blogs at

We'd also like to hear about a few of the books you've read lately.  Call the program at 1-800-729-7532 or email us at 

All literary genres are welcome including novels, short story collections, mystery thrillers, historical non-fiction, or romance.  Our panel will even offer ideas on books of poetry.  Current best-sellers, classics, or paperbacks -- we're open to all suggestions with a brief synopsis as well.

Todd Dickinson" picks:

Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown

Our hardback nonfiction bestseller of the past year, this fascinating history is now out in paperback. It follows a group of determined young men from Washington State who become America's rowing team in the 1936 Olympics. Carefully researched and beautifully written, it's perfect for fans of Unbroken and Chariots of Fire.

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

Authors include: Melanie Benjamin; Jenna Blum; Amanda Hodgkinson; Pam Jenoff; Sarah Jio; Sarah McCoy; Kristina McMorris; Alyson Richman; Erika Robuck; Karen White

This collection of short stories captures the homecoming of soldiers and the recovery of Americans of all walks of life following World War II. It comes out on July 1.


Watership Down

by Richard Adams

This is one of my favorite books, and one I can return to visit with like an old friend. It's a story of adventure, friendship, community, and love. Adams uses a group of rabbits to create an entire new world that is also set in our own. My favorite part is the collection of rabbit myths and folktales that he adds throughout the story.



by Saskia Hamilton

This beautiful and haunting collection of poems came out in April and is well worth a visit. The poems explore the line between growth and decay. Many are inspired by long-abandoned buildings that are being reclaimed by nature. Hamilton creates a mood and a sense of place with just a few carefully chosen words.


The Great Greene Heist

- Varian Johnson

This middle grade book is in the tradition of the great spy novels. Jackson Greene learns of a plot to steal the election of student president of his middle school. He's a reformed troublemaker, but he decides to assemble his talented team of friends to ensure the election goes smoothly without his former girlfriend finding out that he's involved. This incredibly clever book reminds young readers of Gordon Korman's Swindle and adults of the Ocean's Eleven movies. This book is also at the center of a national effort called #WeNeedDiverseBooks to demonstrate that bookstores can sell, and kids will appreciate, books with diverse characters.

Summer Reads – from Catherine Lawrence at Harrisburg’s Midtown Scholar Bookstore




Maya Angelou


Rick Kearns, Harrisburg’s current Poet Laureate: Rufino's Secret


Nathaniel Gadsden, a past Poet Laureate of Harrisburg: By Any Words Necessary


Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (collection published by Penn State Press, 2005)


Marjorie Maddox, Director of Creative Writing & English Prof. at Lock Haven University: Local News from Someplace Else (2013) and – for children – A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (2008)


Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Penn State Prof: Poetry in America (2011) and The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life (2009)


Poet, film-maker, professor & hip-hop artist M. K. Asante's raw and lyrical autobiography, Buck (2013 - a witf Pick of the Month last fall). Prof. Asante was the keynote speaker at our book festival earlier this year and his story of how writing poetry helped him survive the urban jungle of Philadelphia is incredibly inspiring.                  



In honor of "Juneteenth" – an annual celebration of the end of slavery, and African American freedom and education, on June 19th:

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James H Cone (Orbis Books, 2011). June's Pick of the Month – also a selection of Lebanon Valley College’s summer book talk series.



One of the best books of the year:

Love and Treasure, by Ayelet Waldman (Knopf, 2014)


Historical & contemporary stories interwoven (2009 discovery of an 1849 pre-Raphaelite painting):

Lauren Willig's That Summer: A Novel             


Pennsylvania authors of women’s fiction:

Kathryn Craft, The Art of Falling (Sourcebooks/ Landmark, 2014)

Meredith Mileti, Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses (Kensington, 2011)


For fans of Sherlock:

C. S. Harris's series featuring early 19th-century amateur detective, Sebastian St. Cyr, has another installment, Why Kings Confess (NAL, 2014)


The latest in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, inspired by 18th-century Scotland:

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (to be published this month) – with dual story lines, partly set in Philadelphia and Valley Forge during the American Revolution, and partly in 20th century Scotland. The first season of the television series airs on Starz in August.


Young Adult Picks:

Contemporary teen life: Send Me a Sign and Bright before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

Sci fi / fantasy / speculative fiction: Fair Coin and Quantum Coin by E. C. Myers

Paranormal sisters: The Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood (3rd book coming in August)


Middle Grade:

The Dumbest Idea Ever! – A graphic-novel memoir by Central PA’s own Jimmy Gownley, an award-winning graphic novelist and author of the best-selling series Amelia Rules.


Looking ahead to July’s Pick of the Month:

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by the Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte. – Part of WITF’s Transforming Health project, in conjunction with Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) and Pennsylvania libraries. Meet the author on September 29th at York College. –Schulte explores how our lives have become overly complicated and gives practical tips for paring down to essentials.

Jon Walker's suggestions (see Jon's full reviews at

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tart

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:08

    Brenda writes:

    Good Morning,

    I saw your tweet about the Smart Talk show today. I wanted to share with you my memoir for your segment on 'Books to Read this Summer'. It is titled Ebb from the Shoreline-Finding Cancer and Courage and is a memoir drawn from my life from 2005-2008. Here is the book description:

    I had an idea of what a good husband and a good relationship should be; as I entered adulthood, I imagined a husband who would support me in my career, have similar interest and tastes, and be cute to boot. Kevin encompassed all of those things, and our relationship was passionate and intense from the first moment we spoke. I expected to have occasional arguments and financial concerns as we started off. What I didn’t expect was only having a year and a half of marriage to a man who would fall ill to cancer in his 30s. I didn’t expect it to be one of the rarest cancers in the world. I didn’t expect him to die four months after his diagnosis. These were things I never expected as a newlywed.
    Ebb from the Shoreline is the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband online and the challenges of our long distance relationship and battle with the United States immigration process so that we could be wed. Each story is reflected against the blog entries I wrote during Kevin’s fight against a rare Angiosarcoma tumor that threatened his young life.
    My book is for sale both at Midtown Scholar Bookstore and Aaron's Books in Lititz and I will be signing my book at Midtown Scholar on 6/28 from 2-4 p.m. More information can be found at my website, I would love to share more with your listeners. Please let me know how we can work together.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:23

    Susan says:

    I LOVE the two book clubs I attend…one in Manheim Library and the other in Mount Joy and we read formidable books during the year. But in the summer I LOVE to change over to MYSTERIES! And one of the most intelligent series I have read is by John Dunning and THE BOOKMAN series. If you are an avid reader, books are your thing and these mysteries take place in world of books…collectors, procurors, archivists, historians etc. They are very interesting and satisfying reads.

    WATERSHIP DOWN!! I just heard you mention that…a book I read in the 70’s in college…NEVER FORGOT IT…Great Book! And I;m looking forward to reading it again this year 40 years later!!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:29

    Cynthia writes:

    I just read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. This is an excellent choice to read for the Summer.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:30

    Manuel says:

    Every summer, I read one book, and have read it every year since it was published.

    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:43

    Joel writes:

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a good book to read; it's a mix of science and sociology and very readable and accessible. It has been chosen for the One Book One Campus program at Millersville University for next academic year and has been used at many campuses since it was published.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:45

    Cynthia says:

    My son has to read Beowulf over the summer. I read this in high school, and it was so good that I may read this again along with him.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:47

    Adriana writes:

    I, as well, am a fan of going back to the classics. This summer, I plan on re-reading the masterpiece, War and Peace. The summer sun is a nice contrast to the bleak Russian winter. I also plan on re-reading One Hundred Years Of Solutide, one of my favorite books in the entire world. Garcia Marquez will absolutely be missed.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:48

    Emily posts:

    For horror fans I suggest the Books of Blood by Clive Barker. Its a collection of short stories that are gruesome and imaginative, with a hint of humor in some. (The story titled The Yattering and Jack is quite silly)
    Also The Long Walk written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
    Also also The Strain.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-06-03 08:53

    Bob says:

    Has anyone mentioned the many, many books of the British/American humorist, P. G. Wodehouse? For the uninitiated, I would recommend starting with The Code of the Woosters.

  • Scott LaMar img 2014-06-03 09:08

    Gwen suggest...
    The "All Creatures Great and Small" series of books by James Herriot is always wonderfully humorous, enlightening, and wholesome reading for summer. Besides the absolutely hilarious stories he tells about his various veterinary patients, it is always amazing to read how absolutely horrible animal diseases were before the invention of modern drugs (and of course, the same applies to humans). We take so much for granted about our health these days, but the dark days of being a daily smorgasbord for bacteria, viruses, and parasites are not even 100 years behind us. These books will really make you appreciate living in the era of vaccines.