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.

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

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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 j... Read More

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe: A wacky MG SF story

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Readers who enjoyed Carlos Hernandez’s Nebula-nominated Sal and Gabi Break the Universe are likely to also enjoy the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (2020). The story picks up where the previous one left off. Sal’s “magical” abilities have left holes in the universe and his father (Papi) is building a machine (in the living room) that he hopes will fix the holes. But Sal notices that the machine makes him feel sad when he’s around it… and it might be developing consciousness.

Other weird things are happening, too. Sal meets a Gabby from another universe who has come to warn him about Papi’s machine. The new toilet at school wants ... Read More

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City: My kind of war story

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

Anything written by K.J. Parker is a must-read for me. I love his work and recommend it to anyone looking for exciting stories with unique, intelligent, and often unreliable, heroes. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (2019) is no exception.

Orhan is a master bridge builder who’s slightly corrupt (you have to be if you want to get anything done on time and within budget in this city). He arrived in the city when he was a child after his parents were killed and the enemy enslaved him. Now those enemies are his neighbors, colleagues, employers, and employees. While Orhan acknowledges that he is living among people he should hate, he is also thankful for the opportunities he’s been given in the city he now calls home.

Now that city is besieged by an... Read More

Blood of the Heroes: Exciting, educational, slightly sexist

Blood of the Heroes by Steve White

Tantor Audio is publishing Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series in audiobook format, so I tried the first book, Blood of the Heroes, originally published in 2006. It’s not great literature, but it’s diverting and even educational (which I can appreciate).

Jason Thanou is a retired agent of the Temporal Regulatory Authority (TRA), an organization that, among other things, monitors and protects academics who use time travel in their studies. He’s been called back to the service for the agency’s most ambitious project yet. He is asked to accompany a couple of scholars to 1628 BC where they will watch the Minoan eruption and its aftermath. Jason’s tired of shepherding pompous academics through time, but when he finds out that... Read More

Strange Love: Light-hearted alien romance

Strange Love by Ann Aguirre

“This whole alien abduction thing isn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”

Ann Aguirre’s Strange Love (2019) isn’t the type of book I normally read, so keep that in mind. I picked it up because the publisher of the audiobook, Tantor Media, offered me a review copy of their recently released edition (April 2020) and I thought it would be nice to try something different.

The story is about an alien named Zylar who wants to marry but has been unsuccessful in the marriage challenges and is about to be relegated to a life of bachelorhood doing a menial job for his tribe if he doesn’t succeed in the next annual Choosing.

Zylar thinks he’s found a suitable mate from another planet (and species) but, on his way to meet her family and ... Read More

Bloom: A scary plant pandemic that now seems possible

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

Three kids battle an invasive plant in Kenneth Oppel’s latest middle grade fantasy. Bloom (2020) is mysterious and thrilling all the way through. Our heroes are:

Anaya, who’s allergic to almost everything.

Petra, who’s allergic to water. She used to be Anaya’s best friend until Anaya betrayed her.

Seth, the new kid in town who’s being fostered by farmers.

When black weeds appear suddenly and grow tall overnight, nobody knows what they are, even Anaya’s botanist father. The townsfolk pull out and chop down the weeds but they just come back the next day. Nothing kills them.

It’s soon discovered that these weeds are growing all over the planet and causing severe allergic reactions. People are wearing face masks to protect... Read More

Providence: Feels meaningless and hopeless

Providence by Max Barry

Seven years ago, previously unknown aliens attacked and destroyed the crew of a human spaceship. The brutal event was recorded, so all of humanity has seen it. Ever since, Earth has been at war with these “Salamanders.”

The latest war ship to be developed and deployed against the salamanders is the Providence. It’s equipped with artificial intelligence that takes care of most of the shipboard tasks but is crewed by four humans who’ve been appointed after an arduous selection process. To keep the public support, the crew maintains active social media profiles. This is an important part of their jobs. The crew members of the Providence are:

Gilly, the computer programmer, is the youngest of the crew and the only one with no military background.
Talia, the Life Officer, is responsible for the mental health of the crew. She is constantly role-playing and branding herse... Read More

The City We Became: Hail the champions of New York City

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Note: N.K. Jemisin’s short story “The City Born Great,” free at Tor.com, is the opening chapter of this novel.

New York City is in danger from eldritch horrors. We’ve seen these things before, originally, and most notably, in stories by H.P. Lovecraft. These beings come from outside our universe. They are ancient, powerful, and merciless, and there is no negotiating with them. They want our planet and they’re looking for a way into our world to destroy us. They’re even using some of our fellow humans as minions to try to get a tentacle in the door.

They like to attack human cities when they are most vulnerable -- right at the moment... Read More

The Last Human: I want to read Zack Jordan’s next book

The Last Human by Zack Jordan

This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s almost soul-crushing. I adored the first 25% of Zack Jordan’s The Last Human. It was on its way to being my favorite book so far this year. It was imaginative, clever, exciting, funny, and warm. I loved it. Then, it took a turn, and I struggled to finish it.

The Last Human (2020) is about a girl named Sarya who is being raised by a huge sentient black widow spider. Sarya is a human, but she and her mother hide this fact from others. This is easy to do because nobody knows what a human looks like anymore. The race is supposedly extinct, which is a good thing. The rest of the universe (over 1.4 million different species in more than 1 billion star systems) is afraid of humans — they’re immature, uncivilized, and not very smart. If they knew Sarya was one, she’d be in a ... Read More

The Kingdom of Back: Nannerl Mozart will not be forgotten

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Marie Lu’s The Kingdom of Back (2020) is a historical fantasy based on the lives of Wolfgang Mozart and his beloved sister Marie Anna whose pet name was Nannerl. Nannerl was four years older than Wolfgang and a musical prodigy when she was a child. Tutored by her father, Leopold, she was much admired and praised as “the rare woman with a good ear” according to one of the characters in Lu’s novel.

As a child, Nannerl was sought after as a performer, even playing for royalty. Nannerl began teaching Wolfgang’s to play before her father realized he was ready. Wolfgang was obviously gifted — a musical genius — and soon he joined his sister’s concert tours.

Unfortunately for Nannerl, however, music composition was a man’s world and she was discouraged and even ... Read More

A Blight of Blackwings: Deploy the tactical moths

A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

A Blight of Blackwings is the second novel in Kevin Hearne’s SEVEN KENNINGS series, following A Plague of Giants which you’ll need to read first because this novel jumps in right where the first one left off. Hearne uses the same structure and frame story, with Fintan the bard using a magical device to turn himself into the image of each point-of-view character.

At the end of A Plague of Giants, the bard dropped a bombshell on the crowd listening to his story, informing them that there’s a traitor in their midst -- someone working with the invading Bone Giants. The crowd is angry at the unknown traitor, and they also realize that their ruler must... Read More

A Plague of Giants: Epic fantasy with a modern sensibility

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Displaying his versatility, Kevin Hearne turns his pen to epic fantasy in A Plague of Giants (2017), the first novel in his SEVEN KENNINGS series. It follows a large cast of characters who live in different kingdoms on a continent that has just been invaded by a race of strange-looking people who are tall, thin and white-skinned. These Bone Giants, as they come to be called, came from across the water in ships and landed in several seaside towns. Except for the one place where they were mostly destroyed by a woman whose “kenning” allowed her to control the river and prevent the landing, the Bone Giants have sacked the towns and killed all the people who lived there. They speak a different language and seem uninterested in peaceful coexistence. Why have they come and what do they want?
... Read More

Stars Beyond: A better sequel

Stars Beyond by S.K. Dunstall

Stars Beyond (2020) is the sequel to sisterly writing duo S.K. Dunstall’s novel Stars Uncharted which Tadiana and I reviewed last year. We agreed that it was a Firefly-type story that was accessible and pleasant, but lacked originality. The good news, though, is that book two, Stars Beyond, is better.

Stars Beyond picks up where Stars Uncharted left off. The crew of The Road has a new spaceship (called Another Road) decked out with weapons. They’re still on the run from the corporate entities who are pursuing them for various reasons and have tea... Read More

Riverland: A sad but sweet tale of resilience

Riverland by Fran Wilde

Sisters Eleanor and Mike have come to rely on each other for comfort and love. The space beneath Eleanor’s bed is a favorite hiding place where they can retreat from real life when their parents begin to fight almost every night.

One night, after their abusive father breaks the family heirloom they call the “witch ball,” the girls find a river running under Eleanor’s bed. After falling in, they discover that the river leads to a land of dreams and nightmares and that, according to strange creatures who live there, Eleanor and Mike’s mother’s family members are the gatekeepers of this world. They are supposed to maintain the boundary that keeps the worlds separate, but they haven’t been doing the job and now the nightmare world is starting to leak into the real world. This means that people will experience more nightmares, but the leaking is also literal — the houses in their neighborhood are... Read More

Come the Revolution: Sasha makes a great protagonist

Come the Revolution by Frank Chadwick

Come the Revolution (2015) is the sequel to Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes (which you’ll want to read first).

Sasha Naradnyo survived the events of the previous book, but just barely. One of our favorite characters, however, did not survive. Now it’s a few years later. Sasha is the head of security for Tweezaa, the Varoki girl he was protecting in How Dark the World Becomes. Sasha and his wife, who is Tweezaa’s top advisor, are expecting their first child.

The story begins with a bang when Tweezaa’s shuttle is shot down with a missile. She has many enemies which include political rivals, her own relatives who are after the vast fortune she inherited, and Varoki citizens who are ... Read More

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe: A warm-hearted Cuban-inspired tale

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Sal Vidon has just started at a new middle school and he’s already been to the principal’s office three times. That’s because Sal is a magician, or so he says, and, indeed, very strange things happen around him. For example, he made a dead chicken suddenly appear in a bully’s locker, and he made his dead mother appear in his kitchen to cook up a feast of Cuban food one day before his father and stepmom got home from work.

Soon Sal attracts the attention of school council president Gabi Real, a smart industrious middle-schooler who notices Sal’s special skills and sets out to discover his secret. Eventually Sal explains: he can create holes in space-time and retrieve objects or people from parallel universes. There’s a price, though. As Sal’s physicist father explains, each time Sal brings something from another universe, some calamatrons come with it, and the build-... Read More

Catfishing on CatNet: Tense, exciting, and delightful

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

In this worthy Nebula (Andre Norton Award) finalist by Naomi Kritzer we meet Steph, a girl who has spent most of her life on the run with her mother. According to her mom, Steph’s abusive father is extremely dangerous and, after spending a couple of years in jail for arson, he’s stalking them. Steph and her mom keep fleeing to small towns, trying to get lost, but eventually her mom gets nervous again and wants to move on. This means that Steph keeps starting at new schools and never has time to settle in and make friends. Her mom, anxious and paranoid, is not a good source of comfort or companionship.

Steph’s only source of stability is CatNet, a social media site where users are assigned by the site’s administrators to chat rooms called Clowders. At CatNet, Steph is known as LittleBat and she ... Read More

How Dark the World Becomes: Who doesn’t love a good-hearted gangster?

How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Sasha Naradnyo is a mid-level gangster in “Crack City,” a city literally inside a large canyon on the surface of a planet called Peezgtaan that’s mostly inhabited by the Varoki, a sentient lizard-like species. The smaller population of humans, second-class citizens on Peezgtaan, have been ghettoized to Crack City, the only place on the planet where they can breathe the air. They came to Peezgtaan to work for a pharmaceutical company that later went bust, and now they’re stuck on the hostile planet.

Sasha’s got a good heart, so he doesn’t like being a gangster, but he’s pretty talented at it. He’s smart, tough, and resourceful. But after his girlfriend betrays him and his boss tries to assassinate him, Sasha needs to get off-planet fast.

He takes a job as a bodyguard for three people who are also fleeing Peezgtaan. One is a human economist who was visiting ... Read More

Spindle’s End: A light, sweet, unhurried fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's review.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End (2000) is Robin McKinley’s delightful and very loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) fairy tale.

On the princess’s naming day, a bad fairy declares a curse, stating that, on her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. In an attempt to thwart the curse, a good fairy named Katriona takes the princess to live with her aunt in a swampy region called Foggy Bottom. There, without any knowledge of her true heritage, Rosie grows up happily with human and animal companions while her mother, the Queen, pines for her lost daughter.

After the opening scenes in which the princess is cursed, Spindles’ End Read More

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen: Miracle or hoax?

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer has been one of my must-read authors since I read Version Control. It was my favorite book of 2016 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting his next novel.

Here it is. It’s called Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen (2019) and it’s based on the real Mary Toft, an early 18th century English woman who claimed to keep giving birth to rabbits. Flummoxed, her small town’s doctor, John Howard, wrote to colleagues in London asking for insight. One London doctor, a gullible and self-aggrandizing man named Nathaniel St Andre, visited the woman and was similarly perplexed. He planned to use Mary’s case to promote himself.

Eventually, King George I asks for Mary Toft to be brou... Read More

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions: Try the audio version

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

A surprise for me last year was how much I enjoyed Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. I would never have picked up that book if it hadn’t been nominated for the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. It’s about a girl named Peasprout Chen who, along with her little brother Cricket, is sent from her rural province to her country’s capital city to attend an elite school for students who practice the art of wu liu, which is basically martial arts on ice skates.

When they arrive, Peasprout and Cricket face many of the same challenges that all fantasy readers know that poor rural kids face when sent to magi... Read More

The Deep: A haunting story about memories

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

Readers who pay attention to the Hugo Award category called “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” may recall that one of the 2018 finalists for the award was a hip hop song called “The Deep” by the band clipping which is fronted by Grammy- and Tony-Award winner Daveed Diggs who played Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton... Read More

A Heart of Blood and Ashes: A bodice-ripper

A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane

A Heart of Blood and Ashes (2020) is the first book in Milla Vane’s A GATHERING OF DRAGONS, a supposedly romantic fantasy about a barbarian warlord named Maddek who is searching for a princess named Yvenne who appears to be responsible for his parents’ death. Maddek’s council has instructed him to stay out of the matter because they value the alliance between their country and the princess’s, but Maddek wants revenge, so he ignores his council.

After Maddek finds Yvenne, she willingly allows herself to be captured and she even proposes that they get married and have a baby so they can each get what they want to fulfill their ambitions and protect their respective countries. Maddek hates her for what she did to his parents, but he’s willing to listen to her reasoning. As they travel together on the very long trip back to M... Read More

Children of Ruin: Scary biological science fiction

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Ruin (2019) is the second book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, following Children of Time, which you’ll want to read first.

Children of time, which I called “an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity,” was fascinating. In it we watched the evolution of a species of spider that was uplifted by a man-made virus. The scientist who brought it to the terraformed but uninhabited planet had planned to uplift monkeys, but an accident resulted in spiders being uplifted instead. At the end of the long novel, humans finally arrived and befriended the spiders.
Read More

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats: Uplifted dogs and cats

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats by James Patrick Kelly

In James Patrick Kelly’s novella, King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, we visit a backwater planet called Boon where humans live with uplifted dogs and cats.

Our protagonist, Gio Barbaro, is the clone of the man who created the government, called The Supremacy, generations before. Gio’s job is to maintain the family’s position and power in the senate.

The Supremacy, though, is losing control as dogs are walking off the job and cats are forming unions. The cats and dogs are just as intelligent as humans, but they’ve been relegated to boring and/or dirty menial jobs. They want more out of life, but the conservative Supremacy won’t recognize them as equal.

Another problem for the Supremacy is the looming clone cris... Read More

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