Grown up
Alias Hook: A Novel by Lisa Jensen (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99).
Lisa Jensen’s second novel is a re-imagining of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, told from the perspective of the villain. In our post-Wicked world, this might seem like more of the same; good news is that, when well done, such a reimagining only adds to the texture and resonance of the narrative that already exists.

Or the short form: If retelling in a new way was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Captain James Benjamin Hookbridge, a pirate who pissed off the wrong voodoo queen, and his original crew were trapped in the magical Neverland as foils for Peter Pan’s games. But Hook’s not a mustache-twirling, pompous ass; condemned to never die and have his crew replenished by Lost Boys who’ve grown up, he’s frustrated and bitter, but understandably so. 
Then, against Peter’s express wishes, an adult woman—a former “Wendy”—arrives, and Neverland’s order is upset. 
While Jenson isn’t exactly Shakespeare, in this case returning to a well-known story allows her to explore its themes in a new way.  The question of what, exactly, adulthood entails and whether or not it’s even desirable, is worthy and well-done here.

Grown up

Alias Hook: A Novel by Lisa Jensen (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99).

Lisa Jensen’s second novel is a re-imagining of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, told from the perspective of the villain. In our post-Wicked world, this might seem like more of the same; good news is that, when well done, such a reimagining only adds to the texture and resonance of the narrative that already exists.

Or the short form: If retelling in a new way was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Captain James Benjamin Hookbridge, a pirate who pissed off the wrong voodoo queen, and his original crew were trapped in the magical Neverland as foils for Peter Pan’s games. But Hook’s not a mustache-twirling, pompous ass; condemned to never die and have his crew replenished by Lost Boys who’ve grown up, he’s frustrated and bitter, but understandably so.

Then, against Peter’s express wishes, an adult woman—a former “Wendy”—arrives, and Neverland’s order is upset.

While Jenson isn’t exactly Shakespeare, in this case returning to a well-known story allows her to explore its themes in a new way.  The question of what, exactly, adulthood entails and whether or not it’s even desirable, is worthy and well-done here.

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She’s not done yet
The Confessions of Frances Godwin: A Novel by Robert Hellenga (Bloomsbury USA, $26). 
 The narrator of Robert Hellenga’s seventh novel, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, is a retired Latin teacher and translator. Her husband of three decades is dying painfully of lung cancer and her daughter is married to nasty, abusive man. 
The book is, she tells us, her “spiritual autobiography,” as her Roman Catholic faith pushes her to confess her failings and wrongs. In the course of grief, she goes to Italy, where she makes a confession to a less-than-helpful priest, but she begins to have unusual experiences—a vision of her dead husband; conversations with God, some of which are rather more mundane than one would expect. 
Frances Godwin is seeking her bearings and a new direction for a life that’s not over yet and may not remain as contemplative as it has been. Hellenga writes a compassionate portrait of a woman just past mid-life and in the middle of big change.

She’s not done yet

The Confessions of Frances Godwin: A Novel by Robert Hellenga (Bloomsbury USA, $26). 

 The narrator of Robert Hellenga’s seventh novel, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, is a retired Latin teacher and translator. Her husband of three decades is dying painfully of lung cancer and her daughter is married to nasty, abusive man.

The book is, she tells us, her “spiritual autobiography,” as her Roman Catholic faith pushes her to confess her failings and wrongs. In the course of grief, she goes to Italy, where she makes a confession to a less-than-helpful priest, but she begins to have unusual experiences—a vision of her dead husband; conversations with God, some of which are rather more mundane than one would expect.

Frances Godwin is seeking her bearings and a new direction for a life that’s not over yet and may not remain as contemplative as it has been. Hellenga writes a compassionate portrait of a woman just past mid-life and in the middle of big change.

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People, get ready
The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Columbia University Press, $9.95)
The authors of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, now turn their attention to the consequences of ignoring the science surrounding climate change. 
Writing from 2393, a Chinese historian living in the Second People’s Republic of China examines the West in the 21st century to determine where it all went wrong. 
The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future puts the “Great Collapse” in 2093, the result of continued reliance on fossil fuels, false belief that fracking would serve as a “bridge” to renewals, and the so-called “Western values” (a constantly-growing economy, individual rights) which are the hallmarks of the West will also lead to its destruction. It doesn’t succeed as science fiction, but then it’s not supposed to; it’s a pretty decent polemic, though, especially given the paucity of long-term thinking in regards to the future of our culture.
And frankly, given the way that we now know everyone from the Pentagon to the insurance companies is preparing for climate-fueled collapse, they may not be too far off the mark.

People, get ready

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Columbia University Press, $9.95)

The authors of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, now turn their attention to the consequences of ignoring the science surrounding climate change.

Writing from 2393, a Chinese historian living in the Second People’s Republic of China examines the West in the 21st century to determine where it all went wrong.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future puts the “Great Collapse” in 2093, the result of continued reliance on fossil fuels, false belief that fracking would serve as a “bridge” to renewals, and the so-called “Western values” (a constantly-growing economy, individual rights) which are the hallmarks of the West will also lead to its destruction. It doesn’t succeed as science fiction, but then it’s not supposed to; it’s a pretty decent polemic, though, especially given the paucity of long-term thinking in regards to the future of our culture.

And frankly, given the way that we now know everyone from the Pentagon to the insurance companies is preparing for climate-fueled collapse, they may not be too far off the mark.


Forty Acres: A Thriller by Dwayne Alexander Smith (Atria Books, $25).
Dwayne Alexander Smith’s debut thriller finds Martin Grey, an up-and-coming African American lawyer, riding the high after winning his first big civil rights case. As a result, he’s courted by a shadowy group of prominent African American men, a secret group that is extracting revenge for the violence of slavery by kidnapping and enslaving whites to enact their brand of justice.
This premise’s fantasticality is rooted in the fantasy of getting even, which makes it attractive, terrifying, and highly unlikely.
 
And of course, once Grey knows about it, his life is in danger. The premise is really out there—and guaranteed to terrify people who fear something as nonviolent as Ta-Nahisi Coates’ case for reparations—and the character development isn’t terribly strong. 
Where Smith has some chops, though—and this comes from his background as a screenwriter, no doubt—is in pacing and tension. Forty Acres won’t hold up to close scrutiny, but it will be a high-octane beach diversion.

Forty Acres: A Thriller by Dwayne Alexander Smith (Atria Books, $25).

Dwayne Alexander Smith’s debut thriller finds Martin Grey, an up-and-coming African American lawyer, riding the high after winning his first big civil rights case. As a result, he’s courted by a shadowy group of prominent African American men, a secret group that is extracting revenge for the violence of slavery by kidnapping and enslaving whites to enact their brand of justice.

This premise’s fantasticality is rooted in the fantasy of getting even, which makes it attractive, terrifying, and highly unlikely.

And of course, once Grey knows about it, his life is in danger. The premise is really out there—and guaranteed to terrify people who fear something as nonviolent as Ta-Nahisi Coates’ case for reparations—and the character development isn’t terribly strong.

Where Smith has some chops, though—and this comes from his background as a screenwriter, no doubt—is in pacing and tension. Forty Acres won’t hold up to close scrutiny, but it will be a high-octane beach diversion.


All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park (Tor Books, $25.99).
Paul Park’s been busy with fantasy—the four-volume A Princess of Roumania series—but now turns to a metafiction-slash-family history-slash experimental novel. 
Set in four alternate universes which take the Battle of the Crater, fought near Petersburg, Va., in 1864, as a major element, All Those Vanished Engines has multiple narrators and points of view. 
There’s the girl living in a steampunk-y Reconstruction era in which the Civil War was ended by treaty between the Queen of the North and the Union of Confederate Daughters; a boy and girl facing an early-1960s Martian invasion; an academic—named Paul Park—investigating a WWII-era top-secret installation intended to develop industrial-strength sound; and finally, there’s a post-apocalyptic near-future in which plague has depopulated the U.S. and survivors live in gate communities. 
This is not your typical science fiction novel; it’s got much more in common with some of Thomas Pynchon’s or Robert Cooley’s work and will fascinate readers so inclined. In fact, this falls more clearly into the speculative fiction genre, since despite all these typical science fiction elements (alternate universes/timelines, steampunkishness), it’s mostly concerned with the power of narrative in our lives—and that makes it literary fiction.

All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park (Tor Books, $25.99).

Paul Park’s been busy with fantasy—the four-volume A Princess of Roumania series—but now turns to a metafiction-slash-family history-slash experimental novel.

Set in four alternate universes which take the Battle of the Crater, fought near Petersburg, Va., in 1864, as a major element, All Those Vanished Engines has multiple narrators and points of view.

There’s the girl living in a steampunk-y Reconstruction era in which the Civil War was ended by treaty between the Queen of the North and the Union of Confederate Daughters; a boy and girl facing an early-1960s Martian invasion; an academic—named Paul Park—investigating a WWII-era top-secret installation intended to develop industrial-strength sound; and finally, there’s a post-apocalyptic near-future in which plague has depopulated the U.S. and survivors live in gate communities.

This is not your typical science fiction novel; it’s got much more in common with some of Thomas Pynchon’s or Robert Cooley’s work and will fascinate readers so inclined. In fact, this falls more clearly into the speculative fiction genre, since despite all these typical science fiction elements (alternate universes/timelines, steampunkishness), it’s mostly concerned with the power of narrative in our lives—and that makes it literary fiction.

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Call your bannermen!
Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, edited by James Lowder (Smart Pop, $14.95).
For those of us who were re-introduced to Martin’s fantasy novels by way of the HBO series—and for newbies, who are readng the books to keep up with the series and catch missing nuances—this collection of essays by smart people will crack open a few ideas and trains of thought.
These are much more oriented toward the books than the series, though, so beware: spoilers within and ahead.
First, each of the authors included have varied areas of expertise. For example, Caroline Spector takes a feminist approach (and yes, given the setting, violence against women is rampant; by the same token, resisting and powerful women wear many faces). 
Brent Hartinger, the well-respected author of the YA novel The Geography Club, weighs in on the position of the outsider in the books (“A Different Kind of Other: The Role of Freaks and Outcasts in A Song of Ice and Fire”) and Matt Staggs looks at the outright sociopathy of Petyr Baelish (“Petyr Baelish and the Mask of Sanity”).
There are also a couple of really good essays on magic, religion and ethics as they work in Martin’s built world (“A Sword Without a Hilt: The Dangers of Magic in (and to) Westeros” by Jesse Scoble and “The Brutal Cost of Redemption in Westeros, or, What Moral Ambiguity?” by Susan Vaught).
And there’s also an interesting essay on romanticism that addresses the pernicious discussions of the Lyanna-Rhaegar hypothesis (“The Palace of Love, the Palace of Sorrow: Romanticism in A Song of Ice and Fire” by Linda Antonsson and Elio M. Garcia, Jr.).
For readers who are fans of the novels or world-building in general, this is a wonderful collection that will enrich one’s enjoyment. For those who are simply enjoying the TV version, it won’t likely add or subtract much either way.

Call your bannermen!

Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fireedited by James Lowder (Smart Pop, $14.95).

For those of us who were re-introduced to Martin’s fantasy novels by way of the HBO series—and for newbies, who are readng the books to keep up with the series and catch missing nuances—this collection of essays by smart people will crack open a few ideas and trains of thought.

These are much more oriented toward the books than the series, though, so beware: spoilers within and ahead.

First, each of the authors included have varied areas of expertise. For example, Caroline Spector takes a feminist approach (and yes, given the setting, violence against women is rampant; by the same token, resisting and powerful women wear many faces). 

Brent Hartinger, the well-respected author of the YA novel The Geography Club, weighs in on the position of the outsider in the books (“A Different Kind of Other: The Role of Freaks and Outcasts in A Song of Ice and Fire”) and Matt Staggs looks at the outright sociopathy of Petyr Baelish (“Petyr Baelish and the Mask of Sanity”).

There are also a couple of really good essays on magic, religion and ethics as they work in Martin’s built world (“A Sword Without a Hilt: The Dangers of Magic in (and to) Westeros” by Jesse Scoble and “The Brutal Cost of Redemption in Westeros, or, What Moral Ambiguity?” by Susan Vaught).

And there’s also an interesting essay on romanticism that addresses the pernicious discussions of the Lyanna-Rhaegar hypothesis (“The Palace of Love, the Palace of Sorrow: Romanticism in A Song of Ice and Fire” by Linda Antonsson and Elio M. Garcia, Jr.).

For readers who are fans of the novels or world-building in general, this is a wonderful collection that will enrich one’s enjoyment. For those who are simply enjoying the TV version, it won’t likely add or subtract much either way.

Friday graphic novel round-up

Lazarus, Vol. 2: Lift by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Image Comics, 14.99).

Letter 44, Vol. 1: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (Oni Press, $19.99).

Rocket Girl, Vol. 1: Times Squared by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (Image Comics, $9.99).

The Wraith by by Joe Hill and Charles Paul Wilson III (IDW Publishing, $29.99).

In the post-apocalyptic U.S. that is the setting for the Lazarus series, extremely wealthy families—the one percent of the one percent—hold all the property, goods and necessities. The rest of the population? They’re either serfs, working for the members of the corporate families, or they’re waste, in which case, they’re on their own.

Forever Carlyle—who goes by Eve—is the Carlyle family Lazarus; their modified, almost indestructible family guardian. And she’s on the trail of her turncoat “brother,” Jonah, as well as looking for an explanation for who—and what—she really is.

In this second volume, we continue to learn through flashback how Eve was trained, but the big narrative arc concerns her mission to find—and stop—a terrorist who plans to detonate a bomb at the Carlyle family “lift” in Denver.

A “lift” is an opportunity for people to rise from “waste” to “serf” through careful testing for skills and potential, and the one in Denver is crowded. Among the attendees are the Barret family, “waste” who have struggled to farm independently, only to fail. Now, they’re en route from their washed-out farm in Montana over 500 miles of dangerous terrain to make the lift with their son and daughter and a neighbor’s grand-daughter.

Once again, we have enough really intriguing conflict—combined with some action and fairly realistic art—to make for a compelling read. The further in to Eve Carlyle’s story we go, the more intriguing it becomes.

(Lazarus, Vol. 1: Family review.)

In the first volume of Letter 44, we have the beginning of a potentially great science fiction series. Immediately before the inauguration of President Stephen Blades, he discovers that his predecessor—#43—has left a letter for him, #44, and bailed out of the White House without attending the inaguration. 

That letter tells the new president that years before, activity was detected in the asteroid belt. A ship has already been sent to investigate, and in the meantime, they know next to nothing about who is doing what in our solar system backyard.

The art is close enough to realism that we recognize these guys are not “our” #43 and #44, but there are a great many similarities. And the science fiction element is really, really well done. The story line that involves the president is much less interesting, though it appears to be picking up action near the end of this volume.

Letter 44 is definitely worth following now, at least until we can see if the political thriller aspect of the story measures up to the quality of the science fiction element.

The first volume of Rocket Girl introduces Dayoung Johansson, a 15-year-old cop from the future, and she’s come back in time to save the world.

Back in time means 1986, which is our past, but, hey, what’s a detail like that when you’ve got a teenage girl superhero? Oh, and the future she’s come from? 2013.

Turns out, tech start-up Quintum Mechanics has created a time engine and created a future high-tech 2013 that never should have existed. Now, Dayoung’s on a quest to put things right, and if she’s successful, her “present”—the wrong future—will cease to exist.

It’s the sort of weird feedback time-travel loop that can easily give you a headache (if you’re Captain Kathryn Janeway), but in this case, an action-packed and hilarious story, coupled with big, bright art, makes for a fun origin story. It’ll be interesting to see where Rocket Girl goes from here.

And finally, The Wraith provides backstory on Charlie Manx, the bad guy from NOS4A2. We know, from the Locke & Key series, that Joe Hill is more than capable of writing a great graphic novel. 

In this case, we have a couple of stories that fill in the blanks in Charlie Manx’s background. ”Portis & McMurtry’s Inn and Mortuary,” we meet young Charlie Manx, working for the owners of a combined saloon and funeral home in Cripple Creek, Colo. We later see how Charlie meets his wife, and what a bad end she comes to once Charlie gets his paws on that cursed Rolls Royce Wraith, that beautiful, terrible, magical vehicle from Hell.

These tales have the quality of the best of the old EC horror comics, meaning that they are essentially morality plays, and they add texture to a novel that was already well-done, but simply didn’t have room for every story.

The verdict on all: these are buys, especially if you’re a reader who appreciates good story-telling and powerful female protagonists.