Kat Hooper

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

Strange Practice: Great premise, bland plot

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing, a 34 year old doctor, has a discreet medical practice in modern London. Her life’s mission is to study, help, and heal all of the supernatural creatures that most of the world is unaware of and would view as monsters if they did learn about them. As you might expect, this gets her into all sorts of weird situations that have been documented in Vivian Shaw’s DR GRETA HELSING series.

In this opening volume, we meet a couple of Greta’s best friends: Lord Ruthven, an ancient vampire who lives in a large gracious mansion in London, and Fastitocalon, a math-loving accountant’s assistant with COPD who can read minds and happens to be a demon.

When a brooding guilt-ridden vampyre named Sir Francis Varney (of the penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampyre) s... Read More

A Little Hatred: Everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

You have never heard me gush over a novel by Joe Abercrombie, but times have changed and gushing will now commence. A Little Hatred (2019) is fabulous. It’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel.

A Little Hatred is the first book in Abercrombie’s new fantasy series, THE AGE OF MADNESS. It’s set in the same world as his FIRST LAW series (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings... Read More

The October Man: A good introduction to RIVERS OF LONDON

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

My friends here at FanLit love Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series. I haven’t read any of the novels yet, so when The October Man (2019), a related stand-alone novella, was recently released, I thought it might be the perfect place to jump in.

I was right. Though familiarity with the novels might have made things a little easier, I found The October Man to be both perfectly understandable and enjoyable.

The story stars Tobias Winter, a secondary character from the RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series (as I understand it). Tobias, an investigator, is called to the quaint town of Trier in one of Germany’s famous wine regions. He is there to investigate a murder that look... Read More

A Song for a New Day: Celebrates the thrill of live rock music

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

Luce Cannon was a rising rock star, traveling with a new band and doing live shows all over the country, until a rash of deadly terrorist attacks, and the threat of more to come, caused the American government to criminalize large public gatherings.

Now, instead of live concerts, musicians and their fans meet virtually, with the fans wearing hoodies equipped with technology that allows them to safely experience the perception of being with others at a show. But Luce and like-minded artists never bought into this concept and aren’t willing to sell their souls to StageHoloLive, the big corporation that produces these events in “Hoodspace.”

Working out of her parents’ home, Rosemary Laws provides customer service for Superwally, an internet superstore that sells StageHoloLive (SHL) merchandise. Rosemary’s job isn’t bad — it’s secure and appealingly gamified — but ... Read More

SHORTS: Larson, Carroll, St. George, Yang

SHORTS: The annual Halloween edition. Our horror-themed column this week, reviewing some recent online short fiction works, features demon babies, slasher film heroines, ghosts and more.

“Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

Ignacio and Hector are on their way home after a night of drinking when they find a baby crying in the middle of the road. Ignacio decides to bring it home for the night so he can take it to the hospital in the morning. But on the way home, the friends begin to realize that something about this abandoned baby is not quite right…

“Growing and Growing” is a very short (12 minute) creepy tale that works great in the audio format performed by Stefan Rudnicki, one of my f... Read More

Wanderers: A suspenseful and emotional end-of-the-world story

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

A nightmarish disease has attacked a small but growing group of people in rural America. They are walking, zombie-like, across the country together. Nobody knows where they’re going or why. They can’t be communicated with and they can’t be stopped. Some of their family and friends follow behind, trying to keep them safe.

The CDC is investigating, trying to track down the origins of this strange outbreak. Homeland Security is worried that it’s a biological weapon. POTUS can’t decide whether or not she should send in the military. The uncertainty is causing panic across the country.

The stress brings out the best in some people, but the worst in others.

Some of these characters are:

the sister of the first sleepwalker, who has struggled with her relationship with their father after her mother left home
the good-hearted science-fiction loving ... Read More

The Red Magician: A moving story about the Holocaust

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

Winner of the National Book Award, Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician (1982) is such an unusual fantasy novel. I read it because Tantor Audio has just released the first audio edition of the book.

As the story begins, a young girl named Kisci is growing up in a small, isolated Jewish community in Eastern Europe. Her family’s rabbi is visiting Kisci’s home and expressing his displeasure at the way Kisci’s school is teaching Hebrew as if it were a common language. When Kisci’s father refuses to obey the rabbi’s command to remove his children from the school, the rabbi, who has some magical abilities, sets a curse on the school and its students’ families.

Soon after, a visitor named Voros appears in the village and Kisci’s family extends their hospital... Read More

The Queen’s Advantage: Another jaunty space opera

The Queen's Advantage by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen's Advantage (2019) is the second story in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. These are short and entertaining science fiction novellas. I enjoyed the first one, The Queen's Gambit, because it’s fast-paced, has a strong female protagonist, an appealing love interest, and a nice sense of humor. You’ll want to read it before picking up The Queen's Advantage.

I listened to Tantor Audio’s edition which is narrated by Rachel Dulude. The cover art of the audiobook is horrendous, and Dulude could use a bit of coaching for her prosody, but don’t let this scare you away. It’s a good format for this story.

... Read More

Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

The Queen’s Gambit: Short, fast, fun, and sexy

The Queen's Gambit by Jessie Mihalik

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit (2017), the first novella in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. It’s about Samara, the queen of a nation that stayed independent in a war between two powerful galactic empires. But, without allies to trade with, the people of Queen Samara’s Rogue Coalition are practically starving.

To earn some money for her country, Samara decides to attempt to rescue emperor Valentin Kos from the Quint mercenaries who are holding him captive, and then to collect a reward from the Kos Empire for his safe return. Things are going as planned until Samara is sold out by her partner. Now she’s in just as much trouble as the emperor is…


The Queen's Gambit
is short,... Read More

Bid My Soul Farewell: The story gets even darker…

Bid My Soul Farewell by Beth Revis

Bid My Soul Farewell (2019) is the sequel to Beth Revis’ novel Give the Dark My Love. You need to read Give the Dark My Love first. There will be some spoilers for that novel here.

When we left Nedra and Grey in Give the Dark My Love, they had uncovered the treachery in their government and exterminated the culprit. Now Grey is working for the emperor as a diplomat. Nedra, meanwhile, has become a necromancer, which is illegal and punishable by death. She has created an army of zombies (one is her sister) and she refuses to give them up.

As Grey is sent on a mission for the emperor, Nedra agree... Read More

Give the Dark My Love: A dark story for young adults

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

Nedra Brysstain is a new scholarship student at the Yugen academy in her country’s capital city. She comes from one of the rural villages in the north that have been suffering from the plague. She plans to study medicinal alchemy so she can learn how to heal people who’ve been infected with the plague.

Though most of the school’s wealthy students either ignore or attempt to ostracize Nedra, her talents and kind heart win her two important allies. One is the professor who takes her under his wing after he recognizes her potential. The other is a rich handsome student named Grey who is willing to look past Nedra’s low status.

As the plague continues to sweep the country, Nedra trains hard while she worries for her hometown, especially her parents and twin sister. As Nedra starts to become aware of her country’s political situation, and as the plague gets closer and closer ... Read More

The Nobody People: Interesting concept, but not a page-turner

The Nobody People by Bob Proehl

Avi Hirsch is an investigative journalist whose specialty is reporting on bombings. He’s obsessed with bombs and the people who make them. This preoccupation has led to the loss of a leg, but that doesn’t slow Avi down too much.

Avi’s latest obsession is with a video recording of a church bomber. There’s a couple of things that seem strange about it. One is that Avi has seen this same guy on two videotaped bombings and he should have died in each. The other weird thing is that matter seems to act strangely when this bomber is present. It’s almost as if the guy can nullify matter.

As Avi is on the bomber’s trail, some people come to visit him and tell him they’ve caught the bomber. These odd folks are faculty members at a school for kids with supernatural abilities. They call themselves Resonants and they want Avi to visit the school and write a news art... Read More

Steel Crow Saga: A big old basket of wild, zany fun

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Paul Krueger’s first book, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, was a quirky, fun urban fantasy in which magical bartenders saved Chicago from primordial evil. Based on that, I was eager to read his 2019 novel Steel Crow Saga. After I pre-ordered it, I began to read, on Twitter and other places (I follow Krueger on Twitter) that it drew heavily from the tradition of Japanese animation and the series/game Pokémon. Since I’m one of the six people in the continental USA who knows nearly nothing about either of those topics, I began to wonder if I would be the right reviewer for this book. I didn’t need to worry. This 512-page book does draw from Pokémon, gloriously celebrates ani... Read More

Knight: This series is not recommended

Knight by Timothy Zahn

Knight (2019) is the second book in Timothy Zahn’s SYBIL’S WAR series. You need to read the first book, Pawn, before starting Knight. However, I really don’t recommend either one of these books.

When we left Nicole, Bungie, and Sam in the last book, Nicole had been named Protector of the Fyrantha. Why anyone would want Nicole in charge of that ship is anyone’s guess. She isn’t particularly smart, capable, motivated, or savvy. In fact, she’s the one who may have doomed all of mankind to a life of harsh servitude to an alien race by her actions in the last book, Pawn. (Though this was really the fault of Jeff, who didn... Read More

SHORTS: Carroll, Newitz, Clark, Andrews, VanderMeer

SHORTS is a column exploring some of the free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (2019, free at Tor.com, 99c on Kindle)

This short story, told entirely from a cat’s point of view, is a must-read for feline fans! Jeoffry the cat belongs to a mad poet who is confined to an insane asylum in 18th century Great Britain. Jeoffry regularly battles the imps and demons who torment the inmates at the asylum. But when Satan himself enters the picture, planning to use the poet’s abilities to bring about the end of the world, Jeoffry just might be overmatched.

Siobhan Carroll drew me in with this whimsical and insightful tale. She tells this story from Jeoffry’s point of view, capturing the ... Read More

The Wicked King: An exciting middle book!

The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Wicked King (2019) is the second book in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series. The first book, The Cruel Prince, and a supplementary novella, The Lost Sisters, introduced us to Jude and Taryn, mortal twin sisters who were brought to faerie after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a former general in the Court of Elfhame who is now raising the twins as his own daughters. You need to read The Cruel Prince and, if you’d like some additional background, The Lost Sisters, before reading The Wicked King. This review will have some spoilers for the story up to this point. Read More

Pawn: Not much to like

Pawn by Timothy Zahn

Nicole has been running with the wrong crowd. One day she wakes up, hungover as usual, in some guy’s apartment. A street thug named Bungie is kicking her, demanding that she drive him to the hospital because he’s about to bleed out. In the hospital’s parking lot, Bungie and Nicole attempt to kidnap a young doctor named Sam when two wispy creatures with butterfly wings approach and take all three of the humans to a huge spaceship called the Fyrantha.

On the ship, Nicole is told that she is a sybil, someone who can listen to the Fyrantha and direct the maintenance crews to make needed repairs. All she has to do is inhale a drug that gives her access to the ship’s mind. After Nicole adjusts to the routine she begins to appreciate being safe and well-fed, having an important job to do, being relied upon, having a purpose in life, and maybe even making some real friends. It’s a lot bette... Read More

The Testaments: A worthy return to Gilead

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, deservedly earning its accolades as a masterpiece and a contemporary classic as it brilliantly weds her substantial gifts as both a poet and a prose writer in the service of one of the most potentially powerful genres, dystopian literature. Her sequel, The Testaments (2019), is not a great book. But it is a good one (and really, Atwood has more than one great book to her credit, let’s not get greedy). Fair warning, spoilers ahead for those who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale and one kinda-sorta spoiler (explained below) for The Testaments.

The Testa... Read More

The Lost Sisters: Answers questions, provides depth

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

Twin sisters Jude and Taryn were taken to live in the Court of Elfhame after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a general in the land of faerie who is now their step-father and guardian. We witnessed how these mortal girls struggled as they came of age in the land of faerie in the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series, The Cruel Prince, which was written from Jude’s perspective. Jude tells us how she was bullied, all the ways she fought back, and how her twin sister Taryn eventually betrayed her.

Now we get to hear Taryn’s side of the story.

The novella The Lost Sisters (2018) re-tells the most important events of The... Read More

Cheshire Crossing: Works better in print than audio

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir

Before Andy Weir became famous by writing The Martian, he used to post fanfiction and webcomics on his website. After he was famous, publishers got interested in his pre-Martian work.

One of his webcomics has now been published by Ten Speed Press under the title Cheshire Crossing (2019). It’s a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wi... Read More

Salvation Day: Multiple issues, some bright spots

Salvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, S... Read More

Priest of Lies: Is Tomas going down the wrong path?

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies (2019) is the second book in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE. You’ll need to read the first book, Priest of Bones, first. This review will have some spoilers for that first novel.

It’s been six months since the events that happened at the end of Priest of Bones. Tomas is now married to Elsa, the Queen’s Man who has been (unbeknownst to the rest of the Pious Men) directing his behavior in service of the crown. The marriage is a sham and Tomas has soured on Elsa after the explosion that she orchestrated killed hundreds of people in his city. He isn’t sure (and neither am I) that it was necessary or wise. He also does... Read More

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter: A Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Captain John Wyndham has returned to Khelathra-Ven after being away with the army for several years. Rents are high, so he decides to answer an ad for a housemate. When he moves in, he discovers that his new companion is Shaharazad Haas, a renowned and powerful sorceress who’s addicted to opium. When Ms. Haas is asked to find out who is blackmailing her ex-girlfriend, Captain Wyndham tags along and starts getting involved in a case which turns into a weird and wacky adventure.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019) is a gender-bending Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Shaharazad Haas is Sherlock Holmes and Captain Wyndham, who was female when he was young, is Watson. The plot, which is quirky... Read More

Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

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