“Chris Picks” January Books: Baseball

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

If you consider the pitchers and catchers report in February, America’s pastime is right around the corner and spring can’t be far behind. With that in mind, baseball is my theme for January this year. Six books this month as opposed to my normal five. The first three are fiction and the second three are nonfiction and Red Sox-centric.


Shoeless Joe
By W.P. Kinsella
The book that’s the basis for Field of Dreams.

The Natural
By Bernard Malamud
Robert Redford starred in the movie adaptation.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Stephen King’s tale of a girl lost in the woods and pitcher Tom Gordon’s presence guiding her through the stress.


Feeding the Monster
By Seth Mnookin
This is the early 2000s story of how The Boston Red Sox came to win in 2004 and 2007 and remained contenders.

The Teammates
By David Halberstam
A last road trip made my old Red Sox players visit Ted Williams in Florida before he passed.

Bottom of the 33rd
By Dan Barry
The longest game in history.

“Chris Picks” December Books: Favorite Authors

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

Gary Braver
Gary Braver and I have been friends for several years now. He even wrote a glowing review of my book Arrivals and Departures.

I have read many of Gary’s books:
Skin Deep
Tunnel Vision

And his latest:
Rumor of Evil

Each one is a page-turner. For personal reasons, I resonate mostly with Tunnel Vision because it deals with a topic I intimately believe in.

Ben Mezrich
I discovered Mr. Mezrich upon reading Bringing Down the House about the college students who beat the odds at casinos. Another non-fiction book of his that I enjoyed was The 37th Parallel.

Jack Finney
Time travel fiction is another one of my favorite sub-genres. It can be wildly entertaining and obsessively read. Time and Again and From Time to Time are two of Finney’s books about time travel that are not to be missed!

Ben Bova
Ben Bova is one of my favorite “hard” science fiction writers. By hard science, I mean that he writes science-fact-based fiction. Bova has written books about every planet in our solar system. If pressed against a wall, I’d have to say that Mars is my favorite planet book. Everything he writes is worth reading, however.

Charles DeLint
I recall being introduced to Charles DeLint in the late 1980s and early 1990s through Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. DeLint always appeared in these year-end books.

DeLint writes about a fictional town in Canada called Newford. I’ve read several of his Newford books and each one is better than the last. DeLint has populated his town with a set of characters and in each book, a different set of characters takes precedence, yet all the townspeople show up in every book. The Newford titles (in chronological order) are:

The Dreaming Place
From a Whisper to a Scream
Dreams Underfoot
I’ll Be Watching You
Memory and Dream
The Ivory and the Horn
Someplace to Be Flying
Moonlight and Vines
The Newford Stories
Forests of the Heart
The Onion Girl
Seven Wild Sisters
Tapping the Dream Tree
Spirits in the Wires
A Circle of Cats
Medicine Road
The Blue Girl
The Hour Before Dawn
Promises to Keep
Old Man Crow
Muse and Reverie
Juniper Wiles
Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls

I haven’t read the whole series, but those I have read have kept me in rapt attention and I highly recommend them. Mr. DeLint also writes stand-alone books and I’ve read several of those as well.

“Chris Picks” for November: It’s Presidential!

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

Write it When I’m Gone
Thomas DeFrank

An excellent read for anyone who grew up during the Watergate era, as this book brings up some humorous memories of President Ford’s time in office, as well as some of the more serious tones of the era. One of my favorite things about reading history that happened when I was growing up is being able to say, “Yeah. I remember that.”

Write It When I’m Gone was just all-out fun because I was able to identify with the period being discussed in the book. It is also a valuable piece of literature for those who didn’t grow up during the time, as they can get a glimpse of what was happening during the Watergate era and beyond.

JFK and the Unspeakable
James W. Douglass

Fred R., one of Scranton Library’s regular members who also belongs to a library book club, recommended JFK and the Unspeakable to me. What a book! One of the reasons I connect with the book is that Thomas Merton, someone with whom I also have a deep connection, parallels the story here.

Another theory as to why JFK was assassinated:
During his short time in office, President Kennedy made a slow but determined shift toward seeking peace. This focus angered the military, his Joint Chiefs, and others in his administration. The anger finally boiled over into the planning and carrying out of JFK’s assassination.

Many facts in the book back up the author’s theory. This book is easy to read and was educational for me. Check it out.

The Last of the President’s Men
Bob Woodward

History is one of my favorite nonfiction genres, especially recent history that happened in my lifetime. One of my favorite eras to read about is President Nixon’s time in office: All the President’s Men. Now we come full circle with Bob Woodward’s (perhaps) final story about that time in the volatile 1970s: The Last of the President’s Men. Alexander Butterfield is the subject of Woodward’s latest book.  What’s fascinating about Butterfield is that he’s the man who installed the secret taping in the Nixon White House, the very system that helped bring down the Nixon Presidency.

Before Butterfield became a Nixon confidant, he was “stuck” in Australia. Wanting back in the game, he gambled on contacting an old friend in Washington, DC who was part of the new Nixon Administration.  Butterfield had known his friend Bob Haldeman for some time, and he contacted Haldeman to inquire about any openings on the Nixon team. Initially, there was nothing available until Haldeman created a position for Butterfield.

That first month in the Nixon White House was anything but smooth for Butterfield, as he came to realize how bizarre President Nixon behaved. But it didn’t take long for the two of them to develop a rapport. If you’re a Watergate aficionado, and you think you’ve seen it and read it all, this book will close the final chapter in that history. Worth the read.

Rawhide Down
Del Quentin Wilber

One of my favorite things about reading recent history books is knowing I lived through the time and can recognize the events. Rawhide Down is a case in point. Del Quentin Wilber does a fantastic job reconstructing the events leading up to and occurring after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Wilber goes into great detail about John Hinckley’s planned trip to DC. This is one finely written and meticulously researched book for anyone interested in knowing what happened during and immediately following the assassination attempt. 

“Chris Picks” for October: Thrillers

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

Changing things up a bit for October. Since October is Halloween month, I will suggest a few haunted house movies that I like, along with a few scary books.

Movies You Don’t Want to Miss

These are my top four haunted house movies of all time. Everything happens psychologically, which I find more frightening than the gratuitous films being produced today. It’s what you don’t see that’s more frightening.

The Changeling with George C. Scott
One of my four all-time favorite haunted house movies (the other three are below) tells the story of John Russell, a man who lost his wife and child in a horrific automobile accident. To recover from the tragedy, John moves to Washington State and purchases a house that is later found to have a ghostly presence.

The Uninvited
Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as a brother and sister who buy a house on the cliffs of Cornwall, only to discover they are not the only occupants. Another psychological ghost story along the same lines as “The Changeling.”

The Haunting (Robert Wise version)
As you can probably tell by now, I’m a fan of psychological horror. “The Haunting,” directed by Robert Wise (NOT the remake), is the movie to see.

The Innocents with Deborah Kerr
Kerr stars as a new governess who comes to watch over two orphans who may be haunted by ghostly spirits.


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostava

The Historian is an adventure and so much fun to read. The book opens with a series of mysterious letters and the search for the protagonist’s father. An exciting book and one I simply couldn’t put down. The length of this book may be intimidating to some, but PLEASE don’t let that prevent you from traveling down the path that leads you through this book.

There are not many books that have so enthralled me. When I came to the last hundred fifty pages of this book, I slowed WAY down because I didn’t want The Historian to end. As with many books I feel strongly about, I stopped reading for a while in order to digest the amazing nature of this piece of historical fantasy.

I cannot recommend this book more.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Many believe that Dracula marks the first appearance of the vampire in modern fiction. They’d be wrong.  Carmilla by LeFanu actually preceded Dracula by over twenty years.

I first read Carmilla many years ago, probably when I was in high school. The story left such a lasting impression on me because, like so many others, I wasn’t aware that there was another vampire book before Dracula.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw is the basis for the above movie, The Innocents.

The Haunting of Hill by House Shirley Jackson is also the premise for The Haunting.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Ebola outbreak in Reston, Virginia is documented in The Hot Zone. Exciting and distressing at the same time, this book definitely held my attention. In minute detail, Mr. Preston describes the horrifying effects of the Ebola virus on humanity. Even though Preston gets down and dirty, that didn’t prevent me from turning page after page. Reading the details may well have spurred me on.

Like slowing down at an accident scene, I couldn’t help gaping at the details Mr. Preston continued to build on. That is a testament to a well-written and well-researched manuscript.

Let me just warn you upfront that The Hot Zone does its job very well, sucking you in and at the same time creating an aversion effect.

I couldn’t stop reading while wanting to look away as well.

Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston
Picking up where The Hot Zone kind of left off, Demon in the Freezer is almost more engrossing and more terrifying. It tells the story of Smallpox and where the virus is kept at secret locations in freezers around the world. Thus, the title.

The virus disappeared from the world. However, it is kept hidden away and in fact, in some places, it is so well hidden that no one appears to know exactly where it is. That in itself is terrifying. Along with The Hot Zone, read Demon in the Freezer at your own peril. You won’t see the world the same way again. Another engrossing and thrilling read that I simply could not stop reading. I think you’ll feel the same way.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman wrote an unsettling short book in Coraline. It in no way means that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. It wasn’t a book I expected from Gaiman, having read most of his fiction prior to Coraline. Part haunted house story, this book is the first taste I had of Neil Gaiman going dark. Should you want something lighter after reading Coraline, I think Neil Gaiman’s best work to date is:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gaiman continues to pull off his magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a bit different from Gaiman’s other books in that the book can almost be read in one sitting. It is, I believe, the shortest book of his career. That doesn’t mean he skimped. Far from it. Gaiman made the book the perfect length. Infused with a child-like atmosphere, there is also just enough suspense to keep adults riveted as well. One thing Mr. Gaiman never has a challenge with is ending his books. This one is no exception. Pick up this quick little book and I guarantee you’ll be happier for it. This is my favorite book he has written, and that’s saying quite a bit.

“Chris Picks” for September: Classics

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

Getting ready for school in September seems to be a perfect time to discuss classic literature. Here are my favorite classic literature books in no particular order:

The Scarlet Letter
I wouldn’t say I liked The Scarlet Letter when I read it in high school. In fact, I don’t think I finished the book. I have since re-read it multiple times, and the book has become my favorite classic ever.

Wuthering Heights
I can’t say the same for Wuthering Heights. From the first page, I wanted to discover how the story would end.

Lost Horizon
I think I had help finding Lost Horizon as a book to read in the eighth grade. Like The Scarlet Letter, Lost Horizon has become a favorite.

The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway is a fantastic writer. Everyone regards The Old Man and the Sea as quintessential Hemingway. I have another favorite that doesn’t get the same attention. For me, The Sun Also Rises is my pick.

The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd who wants to travel. Through his voyages, he finds greater gifts, like finding one’s place in the world and following one’s dreams.

Though written years apart, both Siddhartha and The Alchemist tell parallel stories.
–Both tell of a quest to become men from boys.
–Both require journeying far from home.
–Both protagonists have fathers who are apprehensive about their sons leaving.

The two books diverge in surprising ways, however, and Siddhartha differs in a human way from the spiritual quest of The Alchemist. Both books are well-written, and I recommend reading them together, starting with The Alchemist and then moving on to Siddartha.

“Chris Picks” for June

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.

Since we are coming up on the height of summer tourist season, I thought June would be an excellent time to devote my book choices to area tourist locations. I hope you will excuse a bit of shameless self-promotion with this latest crop of books. Under “Block Island,” you will see one of the books I have written. Of all the places I have visited, Block Island remains my favorite place ever.


Philip Craig writes mysteries that take place on Martha’s Vineyard.

Alice Hoffman
llumination Night


Rose Connors
I have read all of Rose Connors’ books and having spent some time in Sandwich, Cape Cod, I can say that Ms. Connors describes the area perfectly, so much so that place and setting become a character itself.

Henry Beston
The Outermost House
Being a writer myself, I have often fantasized about going away by myself, cutting myself off from everyone and spending time writing all day. It’s one reason The Outermost House resonates so deeply with me.


As I mentioned above, Block Island is my favorite place to visit. I love reading and writing about it as well.

C. Jennings Penders
Arrivals and Departures: An Etheric Tribute to Block Island

Karen E. Olson

Teen Creative Writing Group

Begins Wednesday, December 1 at 5 p.m. @ the SML.

In this exciting new weekly program, teen writers will explore and foster their creative voice through writing prompts and exercises. Covering short stories, poetry, prose, non-fiction, and more, writers will be able to share their work and collaborate with others in a relaxed workshop environment. Ages 12-18 are welcome!