Kat Hooper

On FanLit’s staff since June 2007

KAT HOOPER is a professor at a university in Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing fantasy is much more fun. Kat has five young children and no time (or desire) to read inferior literature, so after being frustrated about the lack of a free, reliable source for information about excellent fantasy fiction, she started this website.

Kat’s first criterion for the novels she reads is that they be excellently written. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for grammatical errors, bad sentence construction, dull prose, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Dark elements are fine, but not horror. And it helps if there’s a tall good-looking man wielding a sword (Joscelin Verreuil is HOT, Thomas Covenant is NOT).

Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Robin Hobb, Robert Holdstock, Roger Zelazny, and William Gibson.

The Spider: A prequel to the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series

The Spider by Jennifer Estep

The Spider, the tenth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series is actually a prequel in which we learn about Gin’s life and training before she became the infamous assassin, The Spider. Readers who haven’t been following the series could read The Spider with no problem, but they’d be missing a lot of the Easter Eggs that Estep leaves for her fans.

The story starts when adult Gin (the one we know and maybe love) is talking to her boyfriend Owen at The Pork Pit. (Gin and Owen are back together, a reunion I missed since I haven’t yet read book nine because I don’t own an audio copy, my library doesn’t have it, and I’m not willing to buy it.) A box of blue roses arrives at The Pork Pit without a card, but Gin knows exactly who they’re from. The memory induces Gin to tell Owen about her trainin... Read More

Deadly Sting: A museum heist is a nice change of scenery and pace

Deadly Sting by Jennifer Estep

Deadly Sting is the eighth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. Anyone who has made it to this point in the series probably doesn’t care what I have to say about it, so I’ll make this short.

Gin and Owen are taking a break from each other after the events of the last book, Widow’s Web, so Gin accompanies Finn to a fancy party at an art museum on an island where Mab Monroe’s stuff will be on display for all the wealthy folks in Ashland to see. Soon after she arrives, she encounters two big problems. One is that she discovers Mab had a couple of Gin’s family’s runes in her possession! Gin wants them back. The other problem is that Owen is at the party with another woman. How distressing!

While Gin’s sulking in the bathroom, a group of giants murders a woman who looks like Gin and takes all... Read More

Widow’s Web: This formula seems to be working for Estep

Widow’s Web by Jennifer Estep

Widow’s Web is book seven in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. I wasn’t too impressed with book six, By a Thread, but I continue to read the series because I’ve already purchased most of the books at Audible and, even though I recognize the problems with the plot and the writing, the truth is that I like Estep’s setting and characters well enough that I don’t mind reading the books in order to get them reviewed for FanLit. Based on the high marks the series gets at GoodReads and Amazon, I’m guessing that many readers are perfectly happy to overlook the little “issues” I’ve mentioned in previous reviews. Clearly, the formula is working for Estep.

In this seventh installment, Gin and her friends are back in Ashland Tennessee after a disastrous vacation during which Gin saved another damsel in distress, s... Read More

By A Thread: Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

By a Thread by Jennifer Estep

Stop here if you’re planning to read Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series and haven’t read books one through five yet. This review is for book six, By a Thread, and will contain spoilers for the earlier books.

In the previous book, Spider’s Revenge, Gin Blanco (as the title implies) took care of Mab Monroe, her nemesis and the crime boss of Ashland Tennessee. At this point, Estep’s fans have got to be wondering “now what’s Gin gonna do?” It seems like her life is set; she’s got an awesome boyfriend, she’s reunited with her sister, business is booming, and her enemy is dead. But life still isn’t easy for Gin. With Mab gone, all sorts of bad people have been trying to take Gin out and she just can’t get a break. So Gin, Bria, Owen, and Finn pack up and go on vacation to the town were Bria grew up in a fost... Read More

Spider’s Revenge: Somebody, just shoot Mab now!

Spider’s Revenge by Jennifer Estep

Spider’s Revenge is the fifth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. You probably shouldn’t be coming to this book without reading the previous four books, so I’ll assume you’ve done that already if you’re reading my review. If not, beware of spoilers for the previous books.

In Spider’s Revenge, Gin Blanco finally decides it’s time to kill Mab Monroe, the evil Fire Elemental who destroyed Gin’s family decades ago and is now the crime boss of Ashland Tennessee. I’ve been complaining for a while now that Estep is dragging the plot out by making Gin have to deal with one of Mab’s cronies or minions in each book rather than just taking the shortcut of going after Mab herself. It seems to me that there have been two main plots going on: the first (ostensibly) is Gin’s desire to get reve... Read More

Wisp of a Thing: A lovely haunting fairy tale

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Wisp of a Thing is Alex Bledsoe’s second stand-alone novel about the Tufa, an ancient race of magically gifted swarthy rural folk who live in the Smoky Mountains of Cloud County, Tennessee and may have descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. You don’t need to read the first book, The Hum and the Shiver, though it’s worth your while and you’ll get a little more out of Wisp of a Thing if you recognize a couple of characters who make cameo appearances in this second book.

This story focuses on Rob Quillen, a musician who became popular after the country watched him experience a personal tragedy on a national TV reality show. Rob has come to Cloud County because a mysterious man told him that’s where he can find a song of healing. He knows it’s a long-shot, but Rob has nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.
... Read More

Tangled Threads: Big changes in Gin’s personal life

Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep

In Tangled Threads, the fourth volume of Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, the plot advances satisfactorily. Since you’re reading this review, I’ll assume you’ve read the first three books, Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, and Venom. I’ll also assume you still like the series if you’re interested in a review of book four.

So, as I said, the plot advances, mostly with Gin’s relationships with both her new boyfriend, Owen Grayson, and her sister Bria Coolidge, the new top cop in town who doesn’t realize that Gin is her sister or that she’s Ashland’s vigilante assassin with stone and ice magic. Of course, fans of the series can’t wait to find out how Bria will react when she eventually discovers the truth. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you ... Read More

Venom: Fun plot if you don’t think about it too much

Venom by Jennifer Estep

Venom is the third book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series about Gin Blanco, an assassin who runs The Pork Pit, a barbecue restaurant in Ashland, Tennessee. My review will contain spoilers for the previous books, so you might not want to read it if you haven’t yet read Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies.

Gin has been trying to retire from her assassin’s trade, but as long as the Fire Elemental Mab Monroe runs Ashland as if she’s a crime boss, there will always be people in distress who need Gin’s help. Gin is all too happy to help them because her eventual goal is to take Mab down because Mab killed Gin’s mother and big sister about 15 years ago.

This time the damsel in distress is a vampire named Roslyn who is being stalked by Elliot Slater, the giant who’s Mab’s to... Read More

The Sweet Far Thing: A messy ending

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.

As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a worse fate — she is to be the governess for a... Read More

Rebel Angels: Better than first book

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

Rebel Angels is the second volume in Libba Bray’s trilogy about Gemma Doyle, a teenage girl who attends a finishing school in Victorian England. The magic she inherited from her mother, a member of the secretive Order, allows her to enter the Realms, a beautiful fantasy world where she is able to control her surroundings. In the first volume, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma arrives at school after her mother’s death and deals with all the usual things you’d expect to find in a YA novel about a boarding school. At first she is shunned by Felicity and Pippa, the two most beautiful and popular girls in the school, from whom she must bravely and nobly defend her roommate Ann, the overweight unpopular scholarship student. (These characters are present in just about every YA boarding school novel I’ve ever read.) When Felicity and Pippa find out that Gemma can ta... Read More

The Doubt Factory: A socially-conscious YA thriller

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s most recent stand-alone novel is a modern day young adult thriller. It’s about a rich girl named Alix who attends an elite highschool (uh oh, it’s already starting off wrong for me) who meets a mysterious sexy bad boy (oh gosh) who leads a diverse gang of socially conscious teenage vandals (ugh) who hope to change the world by taking down a public relations company that works for industries like Big Pharma. They hope to do this by stalking Alix and showing her how bad her father, one of the owners of the company, is.

At first Alix, after she finally figures out what the mystery stalker is all about, isn’t willing to believe that her father, a man who takes such good care of his family, could be so cold-hearted toward the rest of the world. Ah, but Alix has the hots for the sexy bad boy stalker (it wouldn’t be a YA novel otherwise), so she begins to investigate his ... Read More

Deadly Shores: Book nine and there’s no end in sight

Deadly Shores by Taylor Anderson

I love Taylor Anderson’s characters and the world he has built in his DESTROYERMEN series, and the audio editions of these books are wonderfully performed by William Dufris. But Deadly Shores is the ninth book in the series and the war, which is pretty much the focus of the entire plot, seems like it’s still winding up. There’s just no end in sight.

There are a couple of personal changes for Captain Reddy’s crew and alliances, including the death of an important character, alliances are starting to shift, a possible new enemy is discovered, we meet a few strange new creatures (including flying saber-toothed squids), Courtenay makes a suggestion about how the world works, Silva plays a few pranks, and there are a couple of exciting battles. But mostly Deadly Shores is more of the same, even with the same jokes about the Cok... Read More

Storm Surge: The war continues…

Storm Surge by Taylor Anderson

Storm Surge, the eighth book in Taylor Anderson’s DESTROYERMEN series, is exactly what I was expecting, which means that while I enjoyed checking in on Captain Reddy and his crew and alliances in the alternate earth they found themselves in during WWII, I continued to wonder how long Anderson can draw out this war. Sure, world wars take years, so it’s not that I find the plot unrealistic (excepting the part about the parallel universe), but it’s just that I don’t really want to read about the same war for 154 hours (which is how long the series, so far, takes when reading it in audio format).

Well, it’s not all war, of course. Storm Surge starts at a baseball game in Manila — the Americans have taught their national sport to the Lemurians, the cat-like creatures they’ve allied with against the dinosaur-like Gr... Read More

The Deaths of Tao: Not quite as fun as the first book

The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Deaths of Tao is the second book in Wesley Chu’s TAO series. In the first book, The Lives of Tao, we met Roen Tan, an overweight lazy guy who, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was possessed by an alien named Tao. There are two factions of aliens on Earth — the Prophus and the Genjix. They crash-landed on our planet thousands of years ago and they’re trying to get back to their own planet. They exist only as spirits and must inhabit human bodies if they want to get anything done.

Both the Prophus and the Genjix have been guiding humanity’s technological and cultural development for millennia — all with the goal of eventually developing spacecraft to take them back to their planet — but the two factions have different methodologies. Tao is one of the Prophus, the nice aliens who care about what hap... Read More

Legacies: A pleasant but not brilliant epic fantasy, now on audio

Legacies by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Alucius lives in the land of Corus which used to be ruled by a great civilization until some sort of cataclysm occurred. Now the continent is divided into several countries that are on the verge of war. Alucius, who we see grow from a young boy to a young man, just wants to get married to a nice girl and live as a peaceful herder on his family’s stead. But war comes and Alucius is drafted into the army where he rises rapidly in the ranks.

As a herder, Alucius has inherited the “Talent” which allows him to sense the presence of others and underlies some of his uncanny battle skills. But he must hide the Talent and try to make his successes seem natural because most people who aren’t herders either fear or would like to exploit him. This becomes especially true when he gets captured by the army of the Matrial, an evil woman who rules over an empire that enslaves men. Alucius knows he must escape ... Read More

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