Elizabeth Hand is a critic and the author of many short story collection and novels, including Winterlong, Waking the Moon, Glimmering, Mortal Love, and Hard Light. Her fiction has received the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopeoic, Tiptree, and International Horror Guild Awards, and her novels have been chose as New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. She has also been awarded a Maine Arts Commission Fellowship. She has been a regular contributor to the Washington Post Book World, The Los Angeles Times, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Find Elizabeth on Twitter @Liz_Hand
RaveThe Washington Post... a surprisingly sunlit tale of grief and rebirth, drawing on history and folklore to create an indelible portrait of a family and community forged in crisis ... Hegi performs a kind of alchemical cartography, transporting readers to a place so vividly rendered they may undergo culture shock upon reentering our own damaged world ... At times, the sweetness overwhelms the book’s grittier, more compelling story lines. Childlike Heike doesn’t just marry a beekeeper, she plays the cello like a dream. Kalle, a toymaker, leaves the circus to visit Lotte, arriving on a zebra. Still, even the most fanciful scenes feel deeply embedded in grief ... Hegi’s deeply compassionate novel charts the shadowlands where grief makes its home.
RaveThe Washington Post... a fascinating, gorgeously illustrated and thought-provoking examination of the landscapes, cities and architecture that inspired Tolkien during his lifelong creation of Middle-earth ... Garth, a journalist as well as a Tolkien scholar, proves an exceptional guide to Middle-earth ... Garth’s masterful book ends with a reminder that a profound concern for the environment and its despoliation imbues Tolkien’s work.
PositiveThe Washington Post... wonderful ... a riveting depiction of hard-won female empowerment that weaves together meticulous research, unsolved murder — and an unforgettable young heroine ... Campisi employs deft plotting and an impressive gift for evoking the lives of women in this reimagined Elizabethan era, when being born female was often a death sentence, by dint of sexual assault, starvation, domestic abuse, illness or lack of education ... Occasionally, the novel’s milieu grows confusing. The array of names, especially May’s nicknames for those in court — Country Mouse, Painted Pig, the Willow Tree, Mush Face, Black Fingers — can leave a reader as momentarily befuddled as the sin eater who is trying to make sense of it all. And the mystery, while carefully plotted, is never quite as compelling as the characters and vibrant, Bruegelesque setting where it all unfolds ... But the dark world of Sin Eater exists only slightly sideways from our own, especially in the midst of a pandemic that reminds us of earlier eras when disease, mistrust of the government and fear held sway. And while Campisi doesn’t flinch from depicting its horrors, the ultimate effect is far more exhilarating and hopeful than grim. There is no Hogwarts-style magic here, other than the alchemy of great storytelling, which results in a book reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale or Russell Hoban’s great, sui generis sci-fi novel Riddley Walker.
N. K. Jemisin
PositiveThe Washington PostLike Victor LaValle’s brilliant 2016 novella The Ballad of Black Tom, The City We Became subverts the work of the repellent H.P. Lovecraft, in whose stories evil is embodied as swarthy and foreign. If Jemisin’s novel lacks some of the deep strangeness of Lavalle’s tale, it makes up for it in sheer moxie and sly humor ... The City We Became ends on a high note, but it makes no concession that the fight for a more equitable world is over. In both fiction and reality, it’s barely started.
MixedThe Washington PostThe cynical, steadfast, streetwise Celia does much of the novel’s heavy lifting ... Denfeld reminds us that storytelling remains one of the most powerful means we have of confronting our darkest human impulses, and sometimes overcoming them. It’s unfortunate that this time, while her pacing is swift, her prose, unfortunately, is often workmanlike, lacking the sheer bravura strangeness of the previous novel ... Naomi, intent on both her missing sister and the increasingly vulnerable Celia, too often seems merely diligent than indefatigable. The tale’s resolution relies heavily on coincidences, a few of which strain even a seasoned suspense reader’s credulity. Still, few people write as well about childhood sexual trauma as Denfeld does — its origins, the legacy that can extend for generations for both victim and perpetrator and especially the coping strategies that victims develop to survive.
PositiveThe Washington Post...[a] stirring new historical novel ... There’s a pleasingly old-fashioned feel to Mosse’s storytelling, with its chaste lovers, purloined letters, breathless escapes, plotting aristos, plucky youngsters and gruff but lovable soldiers ... If Mosse’s prose can be workmanlike, her plotting and pacing are impeccable. So is her ability to bring to life an extraordinarily complex conflict and era, as well as a vast cast of both fictional and historical figures ... Mosse doesn’t overstate the parallels between the 16th century’s Wars of Religion and our own. She doesn\'t need to ...[a] deeply satisfying, richly imagined novel...
Niklas Natt Och Dag
RaveThe Washington Post\"It’s early to be pegging the year’s best books, but The Wolf and the Watchman,”Niklas Natt och Dag’s stunning debut, is sure to be one of them ... Natt och Dag brings a reporter’s eye for detail to this feverishly dark historical thriller ... The Wolf and the Watchman is exceedingly grim and often grisly, but, in the elegant translation by Ebba Segerberg, it’s never lurid ... The Wolf and the Watchman is a cerebral, immersive page-turner whose detective is a rationalist trapped in a world ruled by superstition, fear, and men whose humanity has been debased and erased as surely as Karl Johan’s ... The last 50 pages provide plenty of twists to satisfy thrill-starved readers, but it’s the final haunting sentence that raises gooseflesh and leaves one reaching to turn up the light.\
MixedThe Washington PostReading Eve’s Hollywood is like going on a bender with your smartest, sexiest friend and listening to her dish nonstop until you both collapse into glittering, gleeful exhaustion ... But readers looking for new revelations about Babitz’s famously fractious life will have to wait ... too much of the [book] is padding, some of it written in a style that embarrassingly apes Babitz’s. Anolik skims over Babitz’s post-9/11 turn to conservatism and seems oddly uncritical of the ’70s groupie culture that normalized relationships between older men and teenage girls. Babitz’s rape as an 18-year-old gets only a fleeting mention. Yet the sections on Babitz’s younger sister, Mirandi, are surprisingly compelling, with Mirandi—prettier and sweeter-natured than Eve but also prone to her addictive demons—providing a different, often darker, perspective on her older sister. But ultimately, the only writer who could do justice to this brilliant, unruly life story is Babitz herself.
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"Weinman sets out to correct this erasure and honor Sally Horner...It’s a noble goal, yet Sally remains the cipher at the book’s center, most alive in the photos that show a smiling child and, even more poignant, the young teenager who never had the chance to grow into a woman. Too many questions remain unanswered and maybe unanswerable ... Weinman has more success underscoring how \'Any speculation that ‘Lolita’ could be inspired by a real-life case went against the single-minded Nabokovian belief that art supersedes influence, and so influence must be brushed off\' ... Nearly 70 years after Sally Horner’s death, Weinman’s dark and compulsively readable book will make readers aware of the absence of a nearly forgotten girl’s voice in discussions of one of the great works of American literature.\
Raymond A. Villareal
PositiveThe Washington PostVillareal’s cheeky blend of political satire and gothic thriller is enhanced by his background as an attorney and his deft use of convincing details: the science behind the NOBI virus; the Gloamings’ legal defense in their efforts to be recognized under the ADA; minutes from congressional hearings; copious footnotes; and three brief appendixes ... Aside from its ironic allusion to Howard Zinn’s classic, A People’s History of the United States, Villareal’s novel is somewhat reminiscent of Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathaniel Cade series, though Farnsworth is a better prose stylist ... With its doggedly unglamorous investigators pitted against a cabal of narcissistic, wealth-obsessed bloodsuckers, this wild ride of a novel proves that each era gets the vampires it deserves.
PositiveThe Washington PostDolnick excels at creating a subtle, growing sense of unease. His narrative shuttles skillfully between Nick’s point of view, pages from Wright’s work, Hannah’s curatorial observations, the case notes of the psychiatrist who treated Hannah’s depression and a series of fragmentary visions of everyday life, disturbing in their very mundanity. Dolnick also doesn’t shy away from evoking unbearable grief and loss, far more frightening emotions than those encountered in less ambitious supernatural tales ... the greater mystery unveiled in this powerful novel lies not in spooky atmospherics, but our own failure to connect with those closest to us.
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesCharlie Jane Anders' brilliant, cross-genre novel All the Birds in the Sky has the hallmarks of an instant classic. It's a beautifully written, funny, tremendously moving tale that explodes the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy, YA and ‘mainstream’ fiction … Anders' humor elevates this marvelous book above the morass of dystopian novels that have flooded the literary landscape. So does her ability to portray a realistic yet original vision of the near-future … Anders weaves a thrilling, seat-of-the-pants narrative with a compelling subtext. Through Laurence and Patricia, she explores the tension between those who would exploit our world's increasingly limited natural resources to save humanity and those who believe that humanity isn't just part of the problem, it is the problem.
RaveThe Washington PostHill's subject matter is steeped in the pop culture and tabloid detritus of the last 50 years: serial killers, abducted children, families living on the fault lines between divorce and poverty, horror movies and supernatural fiction. Yet his real focus is an almost obsessively nuanced exploration of the nature of American manhood. The presiding spirits of 20th Century Ghosts are lost boys and damaged men, running for their lives across a blighted, often surreal modern landscape … Hill's best stories veer away from the well-trodden creep shows and back alleys of genre writing into more dangerous territory: suburban basements, ball fields and schoolyards. These are where his protagonists, all male, vie with brothers, fathers, friends (but only occasionally wives or lovers) to stake some small claim to a deceptively mundane prize, what the narrator of the wrenching ‘Voluntary Committal’ calls ‘a strong sense of self.’
John Crowley, Illustrated by Melody Newcomb
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesKa is a beautiful, often dreamlike late masterpiece ... The novel expands upon ideas and themes Crowley has examined in nearly all his fiction; it feels at once valedictory and celebratory ... Elegiacal and exhilarating, Ka is both consoling and unflinching in its examination of what it means to be human, in life and death. If, as Robert Graves wrote, 'There is one story and one story only,' we are very lucky that John Crowley is here to tell it to us.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn fiction and film, horror can be cautionary (Don’t go in the basement!) and even oddly comforting (Bad as things are, they’re even worse on Elm Street). But in times like these, when real-world terrors outstrip our night terrors, how can a novelist possibly compete? Joe Hill rises to this challenge in Strange Weather, a striking if sometimes uneven collection ... Like our own national reports, Strange Weather leaves readers with a scant chance of hope on the horizon.
G. Willow Wilson
RaveThe Washington PostWilson has said that her novel grew out of a ‘wonderfully clarifying kind of rage,’ fed by her frustration with the failure of many Americans, including some in the publishing industry, to grasp the significance of social media as a medium for social change, especially in the Middle East. Yet she is far too canny a writer to let earnest or angry didactics hijack her tale. Instead, she seduces readers with a narrative that integrates the all-too-familiar terrors of contemporary political repression with supernatural figures from The Thousand and One Nights: jinn, marids, sila, demons … Alif the Unseen confronts some of the most pressing concerns of our young century, but it’s also hugely entertaining. Wilson has a Dickensian gift for summoning a city and peopling it with memorable characters, and she doesn’t shy away from showing us the terrible price Alif pays, first for his ignorance, then for his courage.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHer literary depictions of domestic life, manners, architecture, class structure, the weight of war and the volatility of love all appear as effortless as they are beautifully executed … The Paying Guests unfolds in a deceptively languid fashion, but its meticulous descriptions and period details are neither arbitrary nor superfluous. Instead, they subtly illustrate how horribly constrained women's lives could be, in an era many associate with flappers and Bright Young Things whizzing from one country house weekend to the next … Waters sets her narrative trap carefully, and when she springs it, more than 300 pages in, The Paying Guests shifts into high gear as smoothly and relentlessly as a Vauxhall touring car overtaking a horse and carriage. As in Rebecca, there's a crime of passion, but instead of a low-key inquest conducted by a sympathetic magistrate, there's a court case with all the tabloid furor of the Amanda Knox trial.
RaveThe Washington Post...delicious fun ... Add a legendary food activist (think Alice Waters), runaway microbes and a robotic arm, and you get a novel as oddly delectable as its namesake. My only mild disappointment was that I couldn’t eat my copy.
MixedThe Village VoiceGaiman returns to the fertile killing ground that nourished The Sandman: that peculiarly American crossroads where pop culture intersects with religion, violence, and death … The new gods in Gaiman’s pantheon are folks like the ur-anchorwoman Media, the ultra-geek Technical Boy, a few tired Men in Black. They aren’t original or scary enough to generate much tension … The novel’s pacing is leisurely, its narrative propulsion interrupted by a series of set pieces that, diverting as they are, sabotage the story’s bid for page-turner status … With American Gods, Neil Gaiman doesn’t join the literary pantheon of his heroes but he does burnish his credentials as a culture hero.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesBorne, Jeff Vandermeer’s lyrical and harrowing new novel, may be the most beautifully written, and believable, post-apocalyptic tale in recent memory ... Vandermeer outdoes himself in this visionary novel shimmering with as much inventiveness and deliriously unlikely, post-human optimism as Borne himself ... Rachel wonders of Borne. 'Are you a person or a weapon?' In Borne, Jeff Vandermeer has created a world where questions like this are asked. In doing so, he reminds us that our own world may soon be providing us with answers we don’t want to hear.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...with a few exceptions, punk’s gold-sequined older sibling, glam rock, has mostly been ignored by the critical establishment. Simon Reynolds’ Shock and Awe goes a long way to fill that void. If David Bowie’s death inspired more writers to tackle the subject, they’ll be hard-pressed to surpass Reynolds’ work ... David Bowie, whose career runs through Shock and Awe like real gold thread among all the rhinestones and Lurex.
RaveThe Washington Post...a beautifully written and thrillingly ambitious alternate history ... It’s a tribute to Shawl’s powerful writing that her intricate, politically and racially charged imaginary world seems as believable — sometimes more believable — than the one we inhabit.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesWhile there are some fine and even heartbreaking chapters in Scream, the books is surprisingly scattershot in its depiction of Janowitz’s life ... Most of Janowitz’s fish-out-of-water anecdotes about rural life backfire: one sympathizes with the so-called hicks she’s lambasting, rather than the poor little 'it' girl ... Still, Scream's final chapters, dealing with her beloved mother’s death, are harrowing and heartrending.
PositiveThe Washington PostSo much for the page-turning aspects of End of Watch, which are many, complex, and grimly entertaining. More intriguing is the novel’s emotional heart, which resides in Hodges. As the book opens, the aging detective learns he has pancreatic cancer. He refuses treatment and tells no one, though the loyal Holly quickly figures out the truth. King sends Hodges, and the reader, on a death march in pursuit of Brady...One finishes this novel feeling great empathy for its resolute protagonist, and even greater trepidation about that next round of Candy Crush.
RaveThe Washington Post\"Despite its dark subject, Man Lies Dreaming can be very funny, as in a scene where Wolf runs into Leni Riefenstahl, who is starring in an unlikely sequel to The Great Gatsby. It is also remarkably poignant ... Set during the election of a demagogue who battens on the fears of an underemployed populace threatened by thousands of foreign-born refugees, A Man Lies Dreaming feels disturbingly prescient. Tidhar holds up a mirror not just to Wolf, but to ourselves.\
RaveThe Washington PostReaders who share in Smith’s transcendent pilgrimage may find themselves reborn within the pages of this exquisite memoir.
RaveChicago TribuneHer accomplishment is all the more remarkable because there are no records of the court sessions — Schiff sifted through archival material as well as historical accounts written by witnesses years after the epidemic.