“Chris Picks” for July: Recent Favorites

Here are this month’s great recommendations from staff member Christopher Jennings Penders! Click on a title to place a hold. To find previous Chris Picks click on the “What to read” link at the bottom of this page or type “Chris Picks” into the search bar on our homepage.

No theme for my July books. Just a collection of a few of my favs over the past several years. Enjoy:

The 37th Parallel
We are NOT alone! In the vastness of the Universe, how can anyone believe that humanity is the only living thing to have taken hold? For a number of people, that is the only thought that is relevant, that we ARE alone. It is a particularly egotistical belief.

Ben Mezrich, author of many books, Bringing Down the House probably the one that put him on the map, has written an engaging new book called The 37th Parallel. The story bounces back and forth between a UFO-obsessed husband (and father, ostensibly) and his family. Mezrich begins his latest story centered on Chuck Zukowski as he travels to an animal mutilation case. From there we learn that Chuck has been chasing down UFO leads for most of his adult life. He flirted briefly with MUFON, a UFO group searching for answers to the phenomena as well. Zukowski didn’t initially join the group, citing differences of opinion about the way the group was managed.

In between the chapters about the Zukowskis are actual events that have occurred involving UFOs and animal mutilations. Mezrich does a fine job of not coming down on one side or the other. He lets his readers decide what they believe. Of course, I don’t think anyone without an interest in this topic will find the book compelling. An easy read, I believe this SHOULD be picked up and read. I didn’t learn anything new but that’s no reason not to read this engaging book.

Out of Captivity
In February 2003 three American contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes, and Keith Stansell were traveling to South America when their plane went down. They survived the plane crash only to be captured and held hostage for over five years, by FARC. At just under 500 pages, this book, written by Marc Gonsalves, held me in its spell from the first page. Out of Captivity is more than a story of these three people. What initially drew me to their story was the tale of their rescue: A team of rescuers had infiltrated FARC and spoken with FARC members who were holding 15 hostages including Marc, Tom, and Keith. The rescuers had made plans with FARC to meet and take the hostages to another location. Even the hostages were unaware of the plan and it wasn’t until everyone was in the air aboard helicopters that the infiltration team had taken off their masks and revealed that the hostages were now free and were being taken to a secure location.

I can’t imagine going through what any hostages go through, let alone the three people who crashed in the South American jungle: to not only survive the crash but also survive for over five years in captivity.  Even reading about the experience can’t hold a  candle to the ACTUAL experience of going through it.

There are several books about this story. And as with all books written about actual events, there are going to be people who disagree with the way the story is presented in each book.

Law of the Jungle by John Otis is another book written about the same subject. At some point, I want to pick that one up so I can do a compare and contrast.

Graham Joyce is another favorite slipsteam/magic realism/speculative writer I’ve read.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale
For twenty years, Tara Martin has been missing. Her family has given up all hope of ever seeing her again. Then on one Christmas day, she reappears, looking not a day older than the day she vanished.

Dark Sister
Maggie, a mother and housewife, discovers an herbalist’s journal while cleaning. The journal, it turns out, belonged to a powerful witch, and as Maggie delves deeper into the book she too begins to realize that she possesses the same power to heal and harm those around her.

Erik Larson
I’ve read most of Erik Larson’s books and Thunderstruck hooked me from the first page. About the invention of wireless, this book takes place primarily on the open water. Thunderstruck tells the story of Guglielmo Marconi, a man obsessed with finding a new way to communicate while away from all known communication devices.  As with Larson’s Devil in the White City, he uses murder as a side story here and he incorporates said murder in this story as well. Larson moves the story along at a rapid pace but never so quickly that you lose track of what’s happening. I like that Larson interweaves two disparate stories as he does with Thunderstruck as well as Devil in the White City. In another author’s hands, this device may seem unwieldy, but in Larson’s capable hands, it works flawlessly. If you enjoy Erik Larson’s style and you haven’t yet read Thunderstruck, I think it’s as good a place as any to start.

A Thousand Naked Strangers
This book by Kevin Hazzard is graphic, yet graphic is too light a word to use. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, though nothing that happens in this book is funny.  A Thousand Naked Strangers is a complex contradiction. The author, Kevin Hazzard, brings us inside the medic’s world and inside his head.  Sometimes what you see and hear makes you want to turn your head away in disgust. Sometimes those same images make you laugh out loud. It’s what I mean when I say the book is a contradiction. I know paramedics and one of the things that drew me to this book is the fact that I do know people in this field. After 9/11 happened, Kevin Hazzard decided he needed to shake up his world so he enrolled in EMS training. He had no idea what to expect as he was hired by his first ambulance company. Big surprises were in store. When he finally landed a job somewhere else he settled in and became more than competent. A Thousand Naked Strangers was fun, horrific, and graphic all rolled into one. Don’t miss the opportunity!

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