What Christopher is reading
"A man who does not think for himself does not think at all."
Colorado's own Peter Heller returns with his third novel. Fans of The Dog Stars and The Painter will find the same beautiful language, rounded and unique characters, and passages dripping with the ambiance of the modern West. Celine is the story of an aging private eye (based on Heller's own mother) who just can't seem to retire. She's made reuniting families her life's work and when the beautiful and tragic Gabriela contacts her out of the blue, she can't resist taking the case. The story interlaces the mystery of the disappearance of Gabriela's father with scenes from Celine's childhood. Celine is a story of how inconvenient people can still simply disappear into the woods. It's a story of loss, acceptance, and family.
Norse Mythology is, as the name implies, a modern interpretation on classic tales of Odin, Thor, and the gang. Don't know what Ragnarok is? Find out. Is Fenrir about to eat the moon? Maybe. When the gods are about to have a party and need a bottomless cauldron of beer, can they make that happen? Not without hijinks. Gaiman uses traditional source material (the Eddas) while writing with firmly modern sensibilities and humor. More a collection of short stories than a continuous narrative, it moves quite quickly and remains entertaining to the very end.
History, art, and of course religion all aim to place humanity in context. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? How do we live in this world? Can we live beyond this world? The Meaning of Human Existence proposes that the existing models to analyze ourselves are lacking. For Wilson, our species is a product of our evolution. We are as we are because the natural world, pressures, and shear chance molded us. As humanity takes ever greater control of our biological destiny by changing our environment, changing the pressures to which we are subject, and even changing our genetic code, Wilson believes it is imperative that we understand the humans we are creating. An engaging and though provoking set of essays poised at a tipping point in human history.
What if Van Gogh's death wasn't a suicide? Friends of Van Gogh and Impressionist painters Lucien Lessard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec take on the role of amateur detectives unravelling the mystery connecting the deaths of several painters, a mysterious woman who may have been a model for all of them, a pushy paint salesman, and the color blue. Hysterical and historical, Moore layers his humor with an incredible attention to detail and exhaustive research. A must-read for art fans who need a laugh.
Dark Eden is like no other science fiction I have read. Although it takes place in the future after 5 humans crash land on a distant planet lit only by bioluminescent plants and animals, the action is 5 generations removed from them and follows their descendants who live a hunter-gatherer existence while waiting for rescue and return to Earth. They have an oral tradition to keep the stories and values of Earth alive. Their chief commandment is to stay in the valley of the original crash. However, food is getting scarce. One young man dares to question the wisdom of their deepest held beliefs, insisting that their ancestors would want them to survive and spread beyond the mountain known only as the Snowy Dark. Dark Eden explores the foundations of society, the strength and pitfall of deeply held beliefs, and what it takes to break free from them. Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and well-deserved.
Pocket the Fool is back. This time Moore has stitched together Othello, Merchant of Venice and thrown in a dash of Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, creating a Renaissance Italian backdrop for Pocket to navigate and in short order to get himself in trouble. Lamenting the loss of his beloved Cordelia, Pocket has his eyes set on revenge and not even a frisky sea monster can keep him from his goal. But, the incompetence of his companions might. As always, Moore’s research and care in weaving his poached source material along with real history ultimately creates a wholly fresh and funny read. Shakespeare purists steer clear. But, I think the Bard would approve.
Christopher says: Pop-culture has gone zombie crazy! What do zombies and addicts have in common? An irrepressible need to satisfy a hunger. Stenson hops on the zombie bandwagon with a cast of characters who are very much off the wagon, heroin addicts. Chase and his buddy Typewriter wake up after a bender to a world of zombies. You get all the running, screaming, zombie-killing action mixed with the pressure to get that next hit. Maybe the apocalypse is the pressure Chase needs to get clean or maybe he’ll climb further down the rabbit hole. The world of drugs is as foreign to me as Neptune, yet I enjoyed this book as a glimpse into the world of addiction and the altered sense of reality, priorities, and ethics … all rolled into an action-packed nail-biter.
Christopher says: Wow! I don’t use exclamations lightly. But, this book deserves it. Jansma has taken patches of vignettes and pieced them together into a beautiful quilt. Imagine being told the same story over and over, but with an ever-changing set of circumstances, details, and even characters. Yet, the ultimate truth of the story is revealed as much by the differences as by the similarities. It very nearly defies explanation, much better experienced. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is an exploration of the mania of writing, friendship, love, the lies we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves and the greater truths hidden in our lies.
Staycey Williams returns to the family farm on the Eastern Plains to bury his cat. But, his quick trip from Denver turns into an unexpected move when he discovers his father is sliding deeper into senility. The small-town life Stacey had escaped comes rushing back as he reconnects with high school chums, battles the crooked banker, and realizes just how little he knows about farming. Poignant and funny, Hill’s debut is perfect for every father, every son, and anyone who has lived through the role reversals that can happen in a family as child becomes care-giver.
Christopher says: Jaqueline has lost everything, absolutely everything. She’s lost her family, her home, even her country. A Liberian refugee turned homeless drifter on the island of Santorini, she must try to eke out the most basic existence, while haunted by a past which is slowly revealed to the reader. The books is a glimpse into a wholly unfamiliar world on so many levels, yet stripped down to the basics connecting each and every one of us.
Christopher says: Smythe has streamlined his science fiction to the barest of elements. No aliens, no war, no impending ecological disaster. Society is plugging along as functionally (or not) as it is today. Instead, the story follows a group of astronauts selected for the first mission into deep space, exploration for exploration’s sake. But things go horribly wrong and the crew begins dying off one by one. The last survivor is Cormac, the journalist selected to record the mission. It becomes the story of his unraveling as he faces his own demise. Smythe also adds a new twist to the idea that your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. Putting the “science” in science fiction, it explores causality, destiny versus self-determination, and asks what sacrifices we are willing to make to keep science moving forward.
Christopher says: I picked it up for the provocative cover. I stayed for the story of a woman I desperately wanted to like, but whose life is a train-wreck of bad choices. Anna is an intelligent, accomplished, forty-something woman and doting mother haunted by a disastrous marriage, a divorce that propelled her to another hemisphere, and a history of alcoholism that she only seems to have under control. But, a party at her friend and neighbor’s leads to meeting Jack, the boy, a 20-year-old college drop-out and eldest son of her neighbor. Jack pursues Anna relentlessly, despite her objections, and the egg-shell of control Anna has cracks. Not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can put her life back together again.
Christopher says: In a world of privilege, Jaguars, Renoirs, and competitive sailing, Jason Prosper has already lost what money can’t buy; a best friend and lover. At Bellingham Academy, a last shot boarding school for those on their third strike, Jason must learn to rebuild his life and navigate the stormy seas of friendship and love. But, the Eastern upper crust is a small community, by turns fiercely loyal and hopelessly unforgiving, where escape from the past is a near impossibility. Dermont recreates the pain and promise of youth with beautiful clarity. She peoples her world with young adults doing their level best to assume the adult roles their world demands, complete with flaws, fears, and insecurities masked by false bravado.
Christopher says: Neill comes to grips with bachelorhood and tries to understand what keeps going wrong in all of his relationships, all while having conversations with his deceased father in the form of a computer A.I. he’s developing. A strange and humorous look at love, how it works, and how it falls apart.
If Dan Brown married a librarian, this would be their child. Clay Jannon needs a job, any job. He finds one in a most unusual bookstore. Oh sure, this store carries a few classics, even a few popular books. But, the bulk of the store is devoted to the “Waybacklist,” a strange collection that nobody buys, only borrows. The customers for the Waybacklist are also a very different breed, mostly older, usually frantic, definitely quirky, and definitely a part of something outside the box. A centuries-old and irresistible mystery begins to unfold and Clay finds himself front and center in the plot to unravel it. Once upon a time, books were the height of technology, as revolutionary as Facebook and Twitter. But, in an age when you can Google almost anything, how do you Google information only contained in a 500 year old book? How can you interface the old with the new? Unlike the protagonist of a Dan Brown novel, Clay Jannon understands the absurdity of his quest. A fun and creative debut and a must for bibliophiles and technophiles alike.
Christopher says: I came to this book expecting something much more in the vein of Christopher Moore’s Lamb, with bawdy, slapstick humor and playful irreverence on every page. What I found was a much more sincere what-if story … with just a touch of dark sarcasm. Little is written about the three wise men of the nativity. Grahame-Smith poses a very unusual what-if. What if the wise men were not kings, but thieves on the run who get themselves tangled up in bigger events than they ever imagined possible? Graphic violence is tempered by heroism in unlikely characters. An engaging read from a best-selling author.
Christopher says: Collins continues in his fine tradition of taking the simplest of daily occurrences and packing them with profound meaning. The narrator of the title poem uses the act of reading horoscopes as way to imagine things that the departed are unable to do. Accessible and engaging, Collins is perfect for the casual reader and the serious student of poetry.
Christopher says: Mindfulness, a core concept in Buddhism, is a deliberate and acute awareness. Moore examines this concept through a collection of quotations from writers, artists, and philosophers on the writer’s process, life, and mental approach to the world. Written in short entries, it’s less a cover-to-cover read and more a collection of daily meditations. Although it’s written from a Buddhist framework, it is accessible and relevant to anyone who has ever faced the terror of looking at a blank page and knowing you have to fill it.
Christopher says: At first glance, Strange Flesh would seem to be a novel with finite niche appeal. It is an erotic, techno-thriller set in the near future, drawing on the works of the Marquis de Sade for inspiration. Lines are blurred as online worlds become frighteningly real. Perhaps the most important question it asks is whether technology frees us to try and experience things we would otherwise never dare or does it create an increasingly inauthentic simulation. Strange Flesh is well-paced and provoking.
Christopher says: It’s been more than 30 years since publication of The Official Preppy Handbook. But, with upturned collars coming back, the preppy way is still going strong and True Prep gives us a modern guide to that domestically foreign way of life. From family to manners, from clothes to where we summer, and even a section on what we don’t talk about, True Prep provides the essential tongue-in-cheek truth.
Christopher says: In Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer traces the development of a religion from founding to ideological splintering and carrying forward into modern times, showing how in short order people using the same underpinnings arrive at very different expressions of faith. While the book centers on the Mormon faith and its various incarnations, it has much broader implications for the nature of faith, its uses and abuses, and how by minor twists of logic one justifies radical and even anti-social behavior.
Christopher says: People who don’t like fantasy should try Outlander. In reality, it’s a “fish out of water” story when a woman from the 1950’s finds herself transported for unknown reasons to 1700’s Scotland. Rich in historical detail and at times intensely erotic, Outlander will have you riveted and begging for more.
Christopher says: School is war for “Ender,” literally, training children to fight alien invaders. The more promise Ender shows as a leader, the more difficult the challenges become. How much can a child take before breaking? Thought provoking and emotional, a must-read for adolescents on the verge of adulthood.
Christopher says: Before The Hunger Games, there was Lord of the Flies. A plane crash leaves a group of school boys stranded on an island with no adults. Golding explores humanity’s true nature through the absolutism of childhood. Are humans basically good or basically evil? Does “might make right”?
Christopher says: A thoroughly engrossing character study, Lolita has stood the test of time as one of the most important treatises on the nature of obsession. Nobokov puts the reader squarely and uncomfortably in the head of a grown man obsessed with a teenage girl.