“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.
The Thief of Always

“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.

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.

“Chris Picks” April: Classics

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.

Wuthering Heights

If you didn’t already know it, I’m a sap when it comes to romance. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorites. I love the writing style of this book. One of the features of classic fiction I enjoy is that you must pay close attention to each word as it is written. Unlike many books today, you can skip whole paragraphs and not lose the meaning of the book. With the classics, you do so at your own peril. Reading about the moors harkens back to another favorite book by Sherlock Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles also spends some of its setting on the English moors.

The Scarlet Letter

There have been times when I have read books that were required and disliked every minute and every page. The first time I read The Scarlet Letter in high school, I didn’t understand its meaning and found the style arcane. I re-read the book several years later and as with Wuthering Heights, it has become a must-read at least once a year. I love this book now.

Lost Horizon

I still remember the first time I read Lost Horizon in eighth-grade literature class. We had to pick a classic to read. Unlike other times when we read classics, I couldn’t put this book down. I’ve re-read it several times since and I still find I’m unable to stop reading. I’ve never been able to understand why this one classic holds such sway over me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Being a writer myself, Hemingway has always intrigued me. So many of his books line my shelves. If someone pinned me to a wall and asked me my favorite, I’d have to say The Sun Also Rises. A Farewell To Arms is a REAL close second. You can’t go wrong with anything Hemingway, however.

And one children’s classic that is likely my favorite children’s book of all time is Charlotte’s Web.

“Chris Picks” March: Irish Theme

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.

Erin Hart has a four-book series starting with Haunted Ground about several perfectly preserved bodies that are discovered in peat bogs around the Irish countryside. Nora Gavin, the protagonist of the series, must decide whether the bodies are ancient or recent.

I discovered John Banville in the late 1980s when I read The Book of Evidence, a first-person narrative about a prisoner accused of murder. I have since gone on to read other books by Banville and have yet to be disappointed. The Sea and Eclipse are two others I have enjoyed.

I read Patrick McGrath’s Asylum several years ago, at the behest of an old friend. Like Banville above, Patrick McGrath strikes me as very literate. I love his style of writing even though he touches on dark themes.

William Trevor is another Irish writer I’ve read multiple times. The Story of Lucy Gault and Felicia’s Journey are standouts. Both have dark elements running through the books but as with McGrath, the literate style of Trevor makes these books page-turners.

And one for the kid in all of us: Eoin Colfer. I read The Wish List and it was very amusing.  Laughed out loud several times throughout the book. Then of course Artemis Fowl.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Month!

See you in April.