“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.


Seeing as 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.

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

Inkheart
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

Moonheart
Forests of the Heart
Charles DeLint
As you can clearly 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 Whaleship Essex and is the inspiration for Moby Dick. Don’t miss this 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.

“Chris Picks” January: Children’s 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.

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As I looked back over the last year of giving book suggestions, I realized one area I have neglected — Children’s Books! Here are some of my favorites:

Encyclopedia Brown
Donald J. Sobol
Wow! Talk about childhood memories. I was living in Branford, Connecticut, and attending Branford Intermediate School at the time. Now the school is named after the principal in charge when I was going there (Francis Walsh Intermediate School). It seems so odd to call it that after attending the school when he was principal.

I think I read every Encyclopedia Brown book while going to intermediate school. Leroy Brown is a ten-year-old trivia buff. With his encyclopedic sense of knowledge (hence his name) he solves mysteries in his hometown with the help of his friends.

I loved this series growing up in middle school and I recommend it to any middle school student. Pick one up and I bet you’ll be hooked.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
Dr. Seuss
This book and Hop on Pop are dear to my heart as my maternal grandfather used to read them to me all the time. I vividly recall seeing these two books in my grandparents’ living room sitting on the top of a headrest of a white chair, waiting to be read. One Fish… was returned through the book drop last week and I was flooded with memories of sitting in that white chair while my grandfather read from the book.

I loved the rhyming when these books were read to me and every time these two books cross my view I must set aside the time to read them again. Because these books were read to me by my grandfather, they have become my favorite Seuss books.

My Side of the Mountain
Jean Craighead George
I remember reading this when I turned ten or eleven. Even at that age, I was a voracious reader. My Side of the Mountain held me in rapture as I cheered for Sam to survive after he ran away to the Catskill Mountains.

Harris and Me
Gary Paulsen
During his tenth year, a young boy is sent to his aunt and uncle’s farm where he meets their son, his cousin, Harris. The two boys have humorous and wild adventures together that only boys can have. I laughed out loud while reading this book.

The Great Good Thing
Roderick Townley
I will again reference being a writer and being the writer that I am The Great Good Thing stood out for me for a specific reason. One aspect of writing, especially when I was writing fiction, was what happens to my characters when I leave something unfinished. Where do my characters go? Do they stay in limbo? Are they knocking on a proverbial door, begging me to return so they can complete their life, their story? What happens to them once the story is complete?

The Legend of Hobbomock
Jason J. Marchi
My longtime friend and fellow writer, Jason Marchi, published a book a few years ago about the origins of Sleeping Giant mountain in Hamden, Connecticut. Based on the legend of Sleeping Giant, Jason has re-imagined the story. The book is getting rave reviews from children everywhere.

“Chris Picks” December: Christmas/Winter

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.

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To celebrate the Christmas season and winter, I’ve selected Christmas and winter-related books as a theme for December. Seeing as we are in a busy time of year, I’m only choosing 4 books in December. Enjoy the holiday!

The Last Noel
by Michael Malone
This one is about two friends from divergent backgrounds growing up in the south. Noni Tilden and Kaye King grow up and become close as their lives are drawn together through many challenging times. I loved this book. The Last Noel can be a bit sappy. However, I can be such a sap sometimes and I’ll be honest here, I choked up a bit when I read the last few pages.  This is the PERFECT time to read this as the Christmas season is upon us.

Kringle
by Tony Abbott
Kris Kringle, the legendary Santa Claus is brought to life in Tony Abbott’s imagining of the Santa Claus story. Though this book is written for children, it should not go unread by adults. (I’m putting on my writer’s hat now.) We should all read everything, not just as writers but as people who like to read. Don’t turn your nose up at any genre. For those of us who are avid fantasy readers, you will be happy to hear that there are goblins and elves throughout Kringle.

The Christmas Train
by David Baldacc
Tom Langdon travels from Washington DC to California. He starts out as no fan of train traveling but slowly warms to it as he crosses the country. I don’t normally read Baldacci, but this landed on my lap a few years ago, and I liked it.

Winterkill
by C.J. Box
I’ve read several Joe Pickett books by C.J. Box and Winterkill is a favorite. Joe’s foster daughter is kidnapped during a winter storm. He has to battle the elements to find her amid other criminal activity. This kept me on edge throughout. The Joe Pickett series is well-written all around.

“Chris Picks” November: Veterans & Native Americans as protagonists

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.

To celebrate both Veterans Day and Thanksgiving this month my picks will feature Veterans and Native Americans in primary roles. Each of the first three authors has multiple books in their respective series and I have listed the first two books under each author.

Native American Fiction

Thomas Perry
Jane Whitefield Series (Nine in the series)
Vanishing Act
Dance for the Dead

Margaret Coel
Wind River Reservation Series (Twenty in series)
The Eagle Catcher
The Ghost Walker

W. Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear
North America’s Forgotten Past (Twenty-seven in the series)
People of the Wolf
People of the Fire

US Veterans Fiction & Non-Fiction

Stephen Crane
The Red Badge of Courage

Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried
In the Lake of the Woods

Stephen Ambrose
Citizen Soldiers

“Chris Picks” October: Hauntings

Here are this month’s five 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.

To celebrate October being Halloween month, I’ve chosen five of my favorite fright writers. Ghosts, vampires, aliens, and ghouls abound in this latest selection of books. Open the pages of these books with caution (LOL).

Henry James
Turn of the Screw

Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House

Tanya Huff
Blood Price
Blood Trail
Blood Lines

Stephen King
Salem’s Lot
The Shining
From a Buick 8
Needful Things

Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes
From the Dust Returned
Dandelion Wine
The Martian Chronicles

Clive Barker
A slight warning about Clive Barker’s Weaveworld: the book is graphic in some of the language Mr. Barker Uses. However, Weaveworld is one of the books I have read multiple times. I love the story that much. Sacrament is the book Mr. Barker HAD to write. If you decide to read it, you will understand why.
Weaveworld
Sacrament
The Thief of Always
Cabal

“Chris Picks” September: Slipstream

Here are this month’s five 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.

Graham Joyce
Graham Joyce is a speculative fiction author I’ve read many times. He is well worth a look. Sadly, Graham Joyce passed in 2014. His legacy lives on through the many books he has written. I’ve read quite a few of his books and have enjoyed each one.

  • 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 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.
  • The Silent Land
    Caught in a blinding snowstorm and avalanche while skiing in Switzerland, married couple Jake and Zoe dig themselves out and look for help. What they find is a deserted town. No one is left. They go into a hotel expecting to see some sign of life, but just like the town itself, the hotel is completely devoid of guests as well as workers.
  • Indigo is another book I thoroughly enjoyed.

Jonathan Carroll
Jonathan Carroll is my favorite author and if I’ve mentioned him here before I apologize. If anyone has read Alice Hoffman, another favorite of mine, I’ve concluded that the best way to describe Mr. Carroll is that he’s Alice Hoffman on LSD. Carroll has written a sort of trilogy with White Apples being the first and Glass Soup the conclusion. In Bathing the Lion, one of the main entities in the first two books appears for a final time. I have yet to find a Carroll book that I haven’t adored. Teaching the Dog to Read and The Ghost in Love are two more standouts.

Charles DeLint
What I like about Charles DeLint is that he has created a fictional town in Canada called Newford and he populates the town with the same characters that show up in each of his books. This way, the reader becomes familiar with everyone in the town. Sometimes one or two characters play a leading role. In another book, someone else may play the lead, but every book DeLint has written takes place in Newford so there is continuity throughout his series.

Suzanne Palmieri
I first heard of Suzanne Palmieri when I read The Witch of Little Italy. So much of what Suzanne wrote in that book aligns with my worldview. After reading The Witch of Little Italy, I shared my thoughts on the book online and Suzanne responded:

“I know we have not met. I know I was thrilled that you were interested in reading my book. But now? I know we have met…And out of all the amazing (and truly unexpected) reactions of people connecting with this novel…Yours has moved me the most. I am so honored. Really.”

Suzanne and I have continued to correspond, and we’ve become friends now as well.

Alice Hoffman
As mentioned above, Alice Hoffman is another slipstream writer I enjoy.  Even after all these years and the many books I’ve read, River King remains my favorite. Ms. Hoffman, like Jonathan Carroll, has yet to disappoint me. She has an entire catalog of books to choose from and I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you choose to read.

“Chris Picks” August: Retellings

Here are this month’s five 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.

Orson Scott Card is a favorite writer. Enchantment is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and is perhaps my favorite book on this list. Taking place in old Russia, Card brings in the old Russian folk tale of Baba Yaga. The way Card introduces Baba Yaga fits perfectly into the context of Enchantment. It’s almost as though Baba Yaga was created with Enchantment in mind. Read both stories and you’ll understand.

Ash by Malinda Lo is a retelling of Cinderella and in the right hands, retellings can be amazing, just as Ash was. I LOVED the twist that the author made to give this enduring fairy tale a modern take.

One of the huge advantages of working in a public library is the constant flow of books coming in and out. I get to see so much reading material, much more than I would if I didn’t work in the book industry. I often joke that I get paid to read. That isn’t far from the truth either. I couldn’t be happier working where I work because I’m such a voracious reader. 

All the traits of the Cinderella tale are here:
The stepsisters
The stepmother
And of course, Cinderella herself.

This tale, though, veers off into uncharted territory. I love the concept, as I said earlier. I certainly don’t want to give away the twist if you aren’t aware or haven’t read Ash.

Don’t let the fact that this book is written for a teen audience, or that it is not a traditional fairy tale stop you from reading it.  Another trait about this book I enjoyed is that stylistically it is written in such a way that it almost appears to have been written during the time the original Cinderella was written.  This retelling maintains enough of the same language and atmosphere as the original while including many modern touches to make Ash something you shouldn’t pass up simply because you don’t read a particular genre or style.

Gregory Maguire might be the most well-known re-teller on this list thanks to his book Wicked. If you have gathered anything from these last few months of reading my book columns, I hope it is this:
That I usually stay away from big popular books. Anyone can go into their library and find those. I’d rather point out books that get lost in the stacks. With that in mind, my favorite book by Maguire is another Cinderella story called Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.

While not exactly a retelling, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue retains some elements of The Pied Piper story with a stolen child being the subject of Donohue’s book. Be warned, however, that this is a dark tale. It did wind up being one of my favorite books I read the year it was released.

Ridley Pearson’s The Pied Piper is the first crime novel featuring Lou Boldt and Daphne Mathews. Like The Stolen Child, The Pied Piper deals with kidnappings. The character in the book called Pied Piper got his name because he leaves a penny flute in the crib of the children with which he absconds.

U.S. History

Here are this month’s five 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.


In celebration of July 4th, I have gathered five American History books to honor the day and month.

1776
David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose are my favorite American History writers. They do more than simply reveal facts; they make you care about the story they are telling. I think I have read just about everything McCullough has written. 1776 is a standout, though not my favorite. Path Between the Seas, about the building of the Panama Canal, ranks higher for me. Both amazing books show how much detail McCullough puts into each book he writes.

Undaunted Courage
In addition to McCullough’s works, I have read many Stephen Ambrose books. Undaunted Courage is about Lewis and Clark’s trip to map the west. Another one to read is Nothing Like It in the World, which details the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill Harry Truman
What I found completely fascinating about American Gunfight is the fact that I had no clue this happened. A gunfight on the streets of Washington DC? Crazy, right? Even crazier is who planned the assassination attempt.

Isaac’s Storm
Isaac’s Storm is the first book published by Erik Larson and it is still my favorite. About the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, the book held me in its grip.

46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to American Independence
I remember when Scott Liell wrote 46 Pages. He lived in Madison and spent many days here at the Scranton Library working on the book. Thomas Paine and his original pamphlet called Common Sense was only 46 pages, hence Liell’s title. I checked recently to see if Scott had written anything else and much to my shock discovered that he passed away in 2016. But he left a legacy with this book.

“Chris Picks” June: Crime Writers

Here are this month’s five 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.

Thomas Perry
(Jane Whitefield Series)
Jane Whitefield: “I’m a guide . . . I show people how to go from places where somebody is trying to kill them to other places where nobody is.”

I’ve only read the Whitefield series. Thomas Perry has written many other stand-alone books, but I’m particularly enamored by series characters because I like to follow characters as they develop. When returning for a new adventure it’s like reconnecting with an old friend.

Jane Whitefield is a Native American woman living in Upstate New York who helps people who are running from something disappear. One of my compatriots with whom I work here at the library recommended Thomas Perry and I went through every Jane Whitefield book in a matter of about two months. Check the series out. I think you’ll find these novels captivating

James Grippando
(Jack Swyteck Series)
Jack Swyteck is a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. His best friend Theo Knight was on death row after being wrongly convicted of murder. Jack’s father, the former governor of Florida, signed Knight’s death warrant. Theo was eventually freed when Swyteck discovered DNA evidence that exonerated his friend.

Now Theo helps Swyteck with his defense cases. There is sporadic humor laced throughout the series.  Some of the humor reminds me just a bit of Carl Hiaasen. That shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Florida Fiction, as most Florida mystery writers can trace their good fortune back to Hiaasen.

Michael McGarrity
(Kevin Kearny Series)
McGarrity writes about the Southwest in the same vein as Tony Hillerman. McGarrity’s character is Kevin Kerney, a police detective in New Mexico. I’ve read just about all the Kerney novels that have been published and they are fun little reads with enough action and suspense to keep most readers on edge and continuing to turn the pages.

This is another series that helps if you read the books in order.

Margaret Coel
(Wind River Reservation Series)
Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden are characters I’ve followed for a while now. The Wind River Reservation stories take place in Wyoming. Tight storytelling. The place itself is a character.

Tom Corcoran
(Alex Rutledge Series)
Having visited Key West in 2006 and fallen in love with the island, I wanted to return, at least in my mind.  I began searching in our library’s catalog for Key West fiction. I came across a name I wasn’t familiar with and the brief description of Corcoran’s recurring character resonated deeply with me: Alex Rutledge, a photographer who gets caught up in crime scenes in Key West.

I’ve read the entire series now and upon reading the first book after returning (not the first in the series) Air Dance Iguana, I was transported back to that island. It was amazing. As I read each line I was right there with Alex as he spent time in The Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street. (I passed the bar every morning as I walked to town.) I loved reading Corcoran as he knows Key West so well and it was nice being mentally transported back to a place that quickly became like home for me.

Bob Morris
(Zack Chasteen Series)
Zack Chasteen is a former Miami Dolphins football player who became a part-time detective after he retired from football. His partner Boggy claims to be the last living Taino Indian. There are five books in the Chasteen series; someone looking for a new author should have no problem getting caught up before a new book appears.

“Chris Picks” May: Adventure/Danger

Here are this month’s five 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.

From the first page, I was hooked. Kurson tells the story of two obsessed men, John Mattera and John Chatterton as they search for the unfindable, a pirate ship that is unmistakably identified. In all the years of searching, just one ship has been conclusively discovered. And it isn’t the ship Chatterton and Mattera are searching for.

The personal stories of the two protagonists move this story forward. John Mattera’s life could have gone in a completely different direction as he became involved in the New York crime scene. I won’t say any more for fear of giving away spoilers.

This book is unputdownable and you’ll be reading every chance you get. Find this book and you’ll become obsessed with reading it. I did!

Juliane Koepcke’s parents were scientists in the South American jungle. Juliane grew up knowing the forest intimately and this served her well when she was just seventeen. While traveling with her mother back to her home in South America, their plane flew into a massive thunderstorm and everyone on board died. Juliane was the only survivor, but it is how she survived that’s the story. She fell two miles while still strapped into her plane seat and crashed into the leafy canopy of the very forest she grew up in.

Having lived in that forest helped her survive the days she was lost. The early segment of this book details her growing up and the life she led with her parents prior to the ill-fated trip she took. Juliane’s story is an amazing tale of survival. For those who love adventure and adrenaline-spiked tales, this is one book you won’t be able to put down.

What I found fascinating about Into the Abyss is the story of what happens after a crash and the rescue of four survivors. The crash was only part of the story. What happened to each of the survivors afterward is what gave the book its meat.

In Shaben’s book, I recognized just a bit of Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer’s book about the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy. Into Thin Air is another nonfiction tragic adventure that anyone interested in reading this kind of book should definitely track down.

Into the Abyss is more than a plane crash story. It’s a story about the friendship that develops among the survivors. Each survivor carries both physical and psychological scars from the crash, and it’s the psychological scars that hurt one survivor more than any of the others. I’m not going to tell you which one, however. You’ll have to read the book to discover that secret.

And trust me. Once you pick this book up, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down until you’ve finished it.

January 8, 2005. South Africa.
David Shaw, a thrill-seeker and pilot living in Asia with his wife, always sought new adventures. His newest escapade was cave diving, and not just any cave diving, but extreme diving. One of the things I look for in books I read is whether there is sufficient backstory. As with The Bureau and the Mole about the FBI agent turned spy, Diving into Darkness turned on its backstory as well. You learn enough about David Shaw and what made him tick. I also enjoyed becoming familiar with his diving friends as well.

After his U.S. Presidential defeat in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t about to sit still. For the next phase of his life, he opted to travel down a tributary of The Amazon River, one that was uncharted. Facing danger and imminent death at every turn, Roosevelt attained a goal that many thought he would never accomplish. This is quite a rousing tale, one that is a definite page-turner. Every page left me breathless, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Cinematic in scope, this would surely transfer well to the big screen.

Another tale of The Amazon. This one does not take place on the river, however, but in the jungles of the dense forest. British Explorer Percy Fawcett traveled deep into the jungle searching for the fabled El Dorado. Fawcett never returned. Author David Gann attempts to follow in Fawcett’s footsteps, traveling the most likely path that Fawcett himself took.

Fawcett brought his son Jack on the expedition. When Fawcett didn’t return, the search for his group became almost as legendary as the search for the Lost City.  Another unputdownable book.