New books on Salem’s trials and modern pagans offer bewitching reading this Halloween season

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

In “The Witches: Salem, 1692,” a masterful account of the epidemic of paranoia and religious fervor that overcame residents of Essex County in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff takes on “America’s tiny reign of terror,” the Salem witch trials. Most Americans know of the trials only through fictional accounts like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “House of the Seven … Read More

Close encounters with feminist science fiction in ‘Sisters of the Revolution’

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

Sisters of the Revolution

Mary Shelley usually gets mad props as the progenitor of feminist science fiction for her 1818 “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.” But pride of place arguably goes to Mary Cavendish, who in 1668 penned a feminist utopian novel, “The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World,” in response to Robert Hooke’s “Micrographia,” which in 1665 put microscopes on the … Read More

In Austin Grossman’s supernatural novel, ‘Crooked,’ Richard Nixon meets H.P. Lovecraft

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

As if American voters didn’t have enough to worry about, in the last few years, the undead and the uncanny have infiltrated the ranks of U.S. politicians in novels like Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “The Last American Vampire” and Christopher Farnsworth’s wonderful Nathaniel Cade books, which star a vampire Secret Service agent bound by blood to protect … Read More

J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and ‘The Fellowship’ of fantasy writers

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Haywood Magee / Getty Images)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Haywood Magee / Getty Images) In a pub in Oxford there lived some writers. Not nasty, dirty decadent writers, whose books were filled with intimations of sex and an oozy smell, nor yet dry, bare Modernists with a horror of heroics or fantastical things: These Oxford writers were Inklings, and that means heterosexual white male Christians … Read More

Laura van den Berg’s ‘Find Me’ captures a memorable apocalypse

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

Author Laura Van den Berg (Paul Yoon, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux)

Author Laura Van den Berg (Paul Yoon, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux) Ninety-five years ago T.S. Eliot published “The Wasteland,” one of the first and bleakest visions of a shattered modern world. Nearly a century later, we’re awash in fictional dystopias. Science fiction writers tilled this stony ground for decades before the current vogue for grim variants of the Way We Live … Read More

‘American Grotesque’ resurrects William Mortensen’s photos

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

It’s hard to imagine two 20th century American photographers more diametrically opposed than the macabre visionary William Mortensen and Ansel Adams, poster boy for so-called straight photography. Google Ansel Adams and you get a Sierra Club Calendar-ready black-and-white photo of the Grand Tetons. Do the same for William Mortensen and you get what appears to be an etching of a … Read More

Sarah Waters mixes crime and romantic strangers in ‘Paying Guests’

Elizabeth HandArticles, Los Angeles Times

“The Paying Guests,” by Sarah Waters, is among the finalists for the Kirkus Prize for fiction. (Charlie Hopkinson / Riverhead) Sarah Waters seems to revel in 19th and 20th century British history as a dolphin does in water: Her literary depictions of domestic life, manners, architecture, class structure, the weight of war and the volatility of love all appear as … Read More