“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 August: Local Authors

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.

August will feature local and SOME independent authors:

Dana Buckmir
I discovered Dana two months ago when someone mentioned that Dana had been writing for some time. Her book Everything Will Be Okay is a tough book to read, but only because of the subject. Dana is a deft storyteller, and that shines through in her writing. Despite the topic of domestic abuse, I still found myself turning the pages, wanting to discover the outcome.

Christine Falcone
I’ve known Christine Falcone since September 1990 when we both started out in the same writing class in Madison. Ex’d Out is her first novel, and it looks to be a series with the same character, Melanie Bass, a visiting nurse who in this first book helps solve a murder.

Jason Marchi
Jason Marchi is a writer of many genres. His two books that are available are both children’s picture books. The legend of Hobbomock, the Sleeping Giant tells the story through a young Native American boy of how the Sleeping Giant in Hamden, Connecticut came to be.

The Growing Sweater is a humorous look at a sweater that grows with each cycle through the wash. For those of us who grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there is an ode to a beloved television series.

Juliana Gribbins
Juliana Gribbins is a columnist for Shore Publishing; a news company producing several newspapers throughout Connecticut. Date Expectations is a collection of sixty essays Ms. Gribbins wrote detailing her return to the dating scene after her divorce. As you may be able to tell from the title of the book, all the essays in the collection of wildly hilarious.

Lynn Sheft
The Deadly Game may be a case of mistaken identity. While Lauren and Michael Casey bike through Miami’s Coconut Grove, Michael races ahead with his wife preoccupied with changing gears. When she gets up to speed, Michael is out of sight. She anticipates he will surprise her by coming up from behind and tapping her on the shoulder. It doesn’t happen. After a fruitless search, she reports him missing. Later that evening, she is shocked to learn he was murdered.

Paige Classey
Everything You Left Me is a young adult book written in verse. Marybeth is alarmed when police knock at her door, wondering what they are there to inquire about. Told in poems, the story becomes clear that the police are not there to arrest anyone, but simply to ask about Marybeth’s father. This was compelling as a story in verse.

“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!

“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

“Chris Picks” for May

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.

Nathaniel Philbrick
I love history, having minored in it at Southern CT State University. Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick is another masterpiece by the same author of In the Heart of the Sea.

What Dreams May Come
Richard Matheson
I have said it many times over. What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson should be on the top of everyone’s reading list. The book may change how you look at life and death. It did so for me.

Saint Maybe
Anne Tyler
Saint Maybe is my favorite book by Anne Tyler and I have read most of her published books. Burdened by guilt from a tragedy, teenager Ian Bedloe finds peace and forgiveness at a storefront church. One of the reasons this book resonates so deeply with me is that I feel everyone deserves a second chance and that’s a theme running through this entire book.

Julian May

  1. Jack the Bodiless
  2. Diamond Mask
  3. Magnificat

I have read several of Julian May’s books and this science fiction trilogy is my favorite.

“Chris Picks” April: Fishing

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 just 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 April used to be the traditional month of open fishing, I have decided to do a fishing theme. Growing up from the time I was eight until a little after high school, you couldn’t pry a fishing pole out of my hands. I fished every day.

Here are five books with fishing as the central theme that I think will find some love for everyone:

A River Runs Through It
Though I have never gone fly-fishing, spin casting being my forte, I still loved this book. Fishing as a young boy and teen was my escape from reality. I spent every waking hour with a fishing pole in my hand. Reading this book brought me right back to my youth, which may be one of the reasons I cherish it.

Hungry Ocean
The Perfect Storm
Sword Fishing in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time as The Perfect Storm’s Andrea Gail went missing. I enjoyed reading Hungry Ocean more than The Perfect Storm though both kept me reading until the last page.

The Old Man and the Sea
You can’t go wrong with any Hemingway book. The Old Man and the Sea is vintage Hemingway.

Double Whammy
Carl Hiaasen is a Florida humor writer. Laugh out loud at times. Double Whammy is about a bass fishing tournament gone awry.

“Chris Picks” March: Can you guess the theme?

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 just click on the “what to read” link at the bottom of this page or type “Chris Picks” into the search bar on our home page.


American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the Whitehouse
Jon Meacham

I love history books and biographies. Jon Meacham has written several biographies I have enjoyed. This one about Andrew Jackson’s time in the White House is enlightening. Upon reading the book, I discovered that Jackson was the founder of the modern Democratic party and the presidency as we know it today. He was a man of contradictions who continued to be the best man he could be.

Born Free, A Lioness of Two Worlds
Joy Adamson

We of a certain age are familiar with Born Free from the repeated viewings of the TV movie in the 1970s. Joy Adamson rescued Elsa, the lioness, as an orphan and raised the cub until Joy realized she must set Elsa free. A deeply emotional book that still tugs at my heart even after so many years.

The Lion in the Living Room: How Cats Tamed Us
Abigail Tucker

Having cats and dogs growing up, each at separate times, I have become a “cat” person. While everyone may not see it, I have considered the cat to be the introvert’s pet of choice. Being introverted myself, I clearly see the similarities.

Abigail Tucker, the author of The Lion in the Living Room, attempts to discover the fascination with cats, who, according to the author, “offer no practical benefits to humans.” If that is the case, then why have cats become so popular? I think that is the question Ms. Tucker attempts to answer. I enjoyed reading this book.

She’s Come Undone
Wally Lamb

One of the reasons this book appealed to me is that Wally Lamb, a man, wrote a female protagonist so clearly that the book may as well have been written by a woman. As a writer, I have typically written from a woman’s point of view. Most of my early fiction has women as the protagonists of my stories. So, when I came across She’s Come Undone, naturally, I was intrigued. I found myself in awe of Mr. Lamb’s ability to understand the woman he created. This is a must-read. The other book he wrote that I read a couple of times is: Couldn’t Keep it to Myself: Testimonies From our Imprisoned Sisters.

The Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris

Everyone knows Hannibal Lecter from the movie Silence of the Lambs. It’s one of the few times in literary history where the movie and the book are on equal footing. Both take a disturbing look at the hunt for a serial killer on the loose and Hannibal Lecter agrees to help FBI recruit Clarice Starling track down the killer before he strikes again.

“Chris Picks” February: Heart Books

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 just click on the “what to read” link at the bottom of this page or type “Chris Picks” into the search bar on our home page.

Since February is Valentine’s Month, and I don’t typically read romance books, I thought of a twist on the “heart” motif. Here are five books with the word “heart” in the title. Each book is entirely different from the previous one.  Hope you <3 each one.

The Tell-Tale Heart
Edgar Allan Poe
“The Tell-Tale Heart” is in this collection. Poe is one of my favorite deceased writers.

Cornelia Funke
As with January’s children’s list where I mentioned The Great Good Thing, Inkheart follows the same path where the characters in the book come to life.

Forests of the Heart
Charles DeLint
As you can see, I’m a huge fan of Charles DeLint. I love that he has created a fictional town in Canada and every character appears in every book. It’s like getting to see your old friends again.

In the Heart of the Sea
Nathaniel Philbrick’s masterpiece in my opinion. In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the vessel Whaleship Essex, which was the inspiration for Melville’s Moby Dick. Don’t miss Philbrick’s book.

An Open Heart
Dalai Lama XIV
I’ve always searched for spiritual meanings behind life and books have been one vehicle I have used to find my way. Finding joy has been a guiding principle of my life as well. The Dalai Lama is also on this journey and reading An Open Heart gives everyone a chance to practice joy and compassion.