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.

Dark Piper: Intense and memorable for young readers

Dark Piper by Andre Norton

A decade-long war is finally over and the people who live on the planet of Beltane are relieved. During the war, Beltane, where many scientists lived, was recruited for the war effort and served, unwillingly, as an experimental lab. After the war, most of the scientists left the planet, creating a brain drain, and the people who remained were pacifists who looked forward to starting a new way of life without interference from the Confederation.

When a disfigured veteran named Griss Lugard is brought back home to Beltane, he warns the citizens that because the Confederacy has fallen, there is no law, and they shouldn’t trust people who want to come to Beltane because they might have bad intentions. While the citizens of Beltane are eager to accept and shelter refugees fleeing war-ravaged worlds, Lugard vehemently objects, arguing that some of the refugees could be pirates looking for government and mili... Read More

Paper & Blood: Al and Buck go Down Under

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

Paper & Blood is the second novel in Kevin Hearne’s INK & SIGIL series which is a spin-off of his very popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. In the first INK & SIGIL novel, Ink & Sigil, which you’ll want to read first (though Hearne thankfully gives us a “The Story So Far” summary – thank you!), we met Al MacBharrais, a sigil agent who uses ink and paper to create magic spells. We watched Al and some of his colorful colleagues solve a mystery and stop the trafficking of, and unethical experimentation on, fae creatures such as pixies.

In Paper & Blood, Al gets some bad news: some of his fellow sigil agents are ... Read More

The Tower at the End of the World: A weak sequel

The Tower at the End of the World by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In The Tower at the End of the World (2001), the ninth novel in  John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Strickland once again pays tribute to the late Bellairs by returning to, and expanding the plot of the first novel in the series, The House with a Clock in its Walls.

At this point, Lewis is 13 years old and has just finished reading Sax Rohmer’s FU MANCHU series. (I ... Read More

The Original: A short SF thriller

The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal

Holly wakes up in the hospital. Her last memory is being at a party with Jonathan, her husband. The party was for a potter and she remembers being thrilled to actually be able to touch the clay – something real to feel and even deconstruct. She has no idea how she ended up in the hospital, and it takes a while to get some answers, but finally she learns that she has been cloned as a Provisional Replica because her real self (her Original) murdered her husband. She has four days to find her Original and bring it to justice.

Holly is confused because not only does she not remember killing her husband, but she loves him, they get along great, and the goriness of the murder doesn’t sound like her style. Yet, there is plenty of evidence that she is the culprit. As a provisional clone, Holly’s genes have been edited to give her the kinds of skills she needs to hunt down ... Read More

The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge: Lewis learns about H.P. Lovecraft

The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge (2000) is the eighth novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT series for middle graders which was started by John Bellairs in 1973 and finished up by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death in 1991. I’m listening, with my daughter, to the excellent audio editions by Recorded Books which are narrated by George Guidall.

Remember that scary car chase scene, I think it was in the first book The House with a Clock in its Walls, where Lewis, Rose Rita, Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman, were saved when they crossed a bridge tha... Read More

The Specter from the Magician’s Museum: Might be the scariest story yet

The Specter from the Magician's Museum by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Specter from the Magician's Museum (1998) is the seventh novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT horror series for middle graders. The first novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls, was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. There was a 17-year hiatus after the third book, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, was published in 1976 while Bellairs was focused on his JOHNNY DIXON series. Bellairs died in 1991, leaving both series to be finished by author Brad Strickland. I haven’t read the JO... Read More

The Doom of the Haunted Opera: The kids encounter a necromancer

The Doom of the Haunted Opera by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995), the sixth book in John Bellairs’ and Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series for middle grade readers, has best friends Lewis and Rose Rita back together again after having separate adventures in the previous two novels, The Ghost in the Mirror (Rose Rita) and The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (Lewis).

The adults are away — Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman have gone to Florida to execute the will of a frien... Read More

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder: Strickland respectfully continues this series

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

Thanks to author Brad Strickland, who picked up John Bellairs’ children’s series after Bellairs’ death, the LEWIS BARNAVELT adventures continue with the fifth installment, The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (1993). Surprisingly, I can detect no difference between the writing styles of the two authors. Strickland continues this series with the utmost respect for Bellairs’ vision and characters.

In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder we learn what Lewis and his uncle Jonathan were doing while Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman were having their own adventure in Read More

Star Gate: An innovative concept

Star Gate by Andre Norton

Kincar’s grandfather, the warlord of their Gorthian clan, is on his deathbed. Kincar assumes that he and his half-brother will soon be forced to contend for leadership of the clan but, before he dies, his grandfather informs Kincar that Kincar’s father was a Star Lord, one of the mighty (human) race who can travel to other worlds. Encouraged by his grandfather, accompanied by his trusty animal companion (a bird of prey), and armed with a handy magical amulet, Kincar leaves his Gorthian family to join his father’s people.

When he meets the Star Lords, they explain that they have had too much influence on Gorth, causing it to develop faster than it naturally would have. They will now use a gate to travel to a parallel Gorth which they hope will be uninhabited by humanoid species.

But things go awry and they end up in an alternate Gorth where, Kincar is surprised to discover, people are ... Read More

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring: Rose Rita in the spotlight

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976) is the third novel in John BellairsLEWIS BARNAVELT series for kids. Each is a stand-alone horror mystery. It’s not necessary to read them in order but it’d be ideal, if you can, to start with the first book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, because that’s the one in which we watch Lewis, recently orphaned, come to live in the house of his uncle, a jovial man who’s a bit of a magician. In the second book, The Figure in the Shadows, you’ll meet Rose Rita, a tomboy who’s Lewis’... Read More

The Figure In The Shadows: Exciting, scary, and sweet

The Figure In The Shadows by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt, 11 years old and recently orphaned, has been settling in at his uncle’s house. It's 1949, about a year since we saw him last (in The House With a Clock in Its Walls) and he has made a new friend – a tomboy named Rose Rita.

When Uncle Jonathan opens a trunk owned by his father (Lewis’s grandfather), Lewis, a lover of history, is bequeathed with his grandfather’s lucky coin. When he begins wearing the coin around his neck, weird things start happening to Lewis. He gets strange postcards in the middle of the night. He suddenly overcomes his cowardice and punches a bully. He fights with Rose Rita and becomes suspicious of her. He gets the feeling that someone is following him.

Lewis is coming undone but, thankfully, he has a few people w... Read More

Sea Siege: An unusual story for Norton

Sea Siege by Andre Norton

In the mid-20th century, Griffith lives in the West Indies with his father, a famous scientist who studies marine biology. Griffith, who helps his father with his research, thinks the work is pretty boring. He hopes to go back to America soon to attend the Air Force Academy.

Griff suddenly becomes more interested in his father’s work when something in the sea starts attacking ships near the island he lives on. Some people think it’s a dupee, others think it’s a Russian submarine. When a large radioactive sea creature washes up on shore, the octopi begin acting weird, and the American Navy arrives to build a facility they aren’t allowed to talk about, the islanders become worried. Not only are they concerned about the environmental effects on the reef, but they are also nervous about their island being caught in the middle of a Cold War that seems t... Read More

The House with a Clock in Its Walls: Lewis is an appealing hero

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt is a chubby middle schooler whose parents recently died in a car accident. He has just arrived in a new town at the house (mansion, actually) of an uncle he hardly knows. Uncle Jonathan is eccentric, as is his neighbor and best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, a middle-aged widow who loves the color purple.

As Lewis begins to adjust to a new living situation, new school, and new neighborhood kids, he gradually becomes aware that there’s something weird about Uncle Jonathan and his house. It turns out that Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman aren’t just eccentric – they are magicians. Uncle Jonathan’s main skill is to create benign entertaining illusions. Mrs. Zimmerman might be more powerful, but it’s not yet clear what exactly these powers might be.

The mansion used to be inhabited by an evil magician. That guy’s now dead, but he left a clock tic... Read More

Star Born: One of Norton’s more exciting adventures

Star Born by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s Star Born was originally published in 1957. In 2013 it was combined with the related prequel The Stars are Ours and released as Baen’s Star Flight omnibus. Now Tantor Media has published Star Flight in audio format with excellent narration by Ryan Burke. You don’t need to read The Stars are Ours before reading Star Born, but it adds some nice context and, if you purchase the cost-effective omnibus edition (I recommend the audio version!), it kind of makes sense to do so.

In the prequel Read More

Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most ... Read More

Star Guard: Exciting and emotional

Star Guard by Andre Norton

Star Soldiers (2001 Baen Books, 2021 Tantor Media) contains the two related stand-alone stories Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953) which together are known as the CENTRAL CONTROL novels. I’m reviewing them separately since that’s how they were originally published. I’ve read more than 20 Andre Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most by teenagers, especially those new to science fiction.

In Star Guard we discover that the galaxy is policed by an organization called Central Control. Earth is part of the galactic league, but humans, who are uncivilized barbarians, are thought to be fit only for military service. Thus, they’re... Read More

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg: Full of madcap entertainment

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg by Phil & Kaja Foglio

The GIRL GENIUS novels are so much fun! When I picked up the first of these (Agatha H. and the Airship City), I assumed that a novelization of a web comic wouldn’t work very well. Boy, was I wrong! Though the Foglios’ artwork is fabulous, and I urge you with all the force of my will to take a look at it online, I find that I enjoy the story just as much with the novels. The Foglios have a wonderful sense of humor that really comes out in this expanded format, especially with the funny footnotes that allow them to fill in details, remind us of events that happened previously, and provide little jokes just to make us laugh.

Read More

Synchronized Sorcery: This delightful series continues

Synchronized Sorcery by Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHRAFT MYSTERIES series has been delighting readers of paranormal cozy mysteries since 2009. At this point, it seems unnecessary to keep reviewing the individual installments, but since Tantor Media graciously sends me review copies (something I look forward to every summer!), I will continue to say something about them. But if you’re a fan of this series, all you need to know is that book 11, Synchronized Sorcery (2021), is just as good as its predecessors, so stop reading this review and go pick it up.

Wait, one more thing: if you haven’t been listening to the audio versions narrated by Xe Sands, you are missing out. Sands does such a wonderful job with these books (as well as the Read More

The Stars are Ours: A fine SF adventure

The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has been publishing the omnibus editions of Andre Norton’s science-fiction adventures in audiobook format. The omnibus (originally published by Baen) called Star Flight contains the novels The Stars are Ours and Star Born (the PAX/ASTRA duology). Both novels are set in the same universe (ours, actually) but they stand alone.

The prologue of The Stars are Ours, originally published in 1954, is a big infodump which details a frightening future history of the world in which we basically destroy ourselves with extreme nationalism, a nuclear war, a Cold War, terrorism, a propaganda-spewing anti-science demagogue, and racism. This leads to the destruction of... Read More

The Queen’s Triumph: A satisfying conclusion to this romantic space opera

The Queen’s Triumph by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen’s Triumph (2020) is the third and final volume of Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN trilogy. I’ve enjoyed this series and recommend it to anyone looking for a short, fun, and sexy space opera with a strong female lead. Tantor Audio’s editions, narrated by Rachel Dulude, are pleasant and worth a try.

It’s been two weeks since the events of the last book, The Queen’s Advantage. Samara Rani, the young and inexperienced queen of her small country, has been growing into her role and has brought food and peace to her starving citizens. She’s quite capable on her own, and she’s got competent people around her, but it also really helps that she’s romantically involved with Valentin, the emperor of Kos.

When Samara agre... Read More

Machine: Should have been more exciting

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Dr. Jens and her alien colleagues rescue spaceships that are in trouble. After answering a distress call, they discover an old ship in which all of the human crewmembers are in cryogenic storage. Their only caretaker is an oddly sexy robot who was given instructions to build the cryogenic storage containers for the crew long ago.

When Dr. Jens and her colleagues get back to their own ship and get ready to thaw out some of the frozen humans, they discover that their own trusty shipmind, Sally, is starting to forget things. They begin to suspect a rogue artificial intelligence might be responsible for what’s been happening on both of the ships.

When Dr. Jens is asked to figure out what’s going on, she begins to unravel a strange mystery and discovers that the benevolent organization she works with, and some of her beloved colleagues, may not be quite as wonderful as she thought. As we tag... Read More

Victory on Janus: A weak ending

Victory on Janus by Andre Norton

Victory on Janus (1966) is the sequel to Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus (1963). The two novels make up the JANUS duology (Baen, 2002) which has recently been published by Tantor Media as an audiobook (2021). Gabriel Vaughan, the narrator, gives an excellent performance.

In Judgment on Janus, we met Naill Renfro, who was an indentured servant on the frontier planet of Janus. After touching a forbidden “treasure,” he turned into one of the green-skinned people who used to live and thrive on Janus. This ancient race no longer exists, it seems, but humans who find the treasures become changelings who, like Naill, are equipped with some he... Read More

Judgment on Janus: A good introduction to classic SF for an MG or YA audience

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton

Naill Renfro lives in The Dipple, a ghetto on the pleasure planet of Korwar (same setting as in Catseye). He and his mother arrived there years ago as refugees when their home was destroyed by a space war. Now his mother is dying and she’s in a lot of pain and anguish. To purchase a final gift and a peaceful death for his mother, Naill sells himself into indentured servitude on a frontier planet called Janus.

When Naill arrives on Janus, he is put to work in the fields where the citizens seem to be battling the forest. They are chopping down trees as fast as they can.

Naill and the other servants are warned not to touch any artifacts they find as they work. These items are called “treasures” and they’re destroyed as soon as they’re found because they’re cursed. According to the ove... Read More

Quest Crosstime: A slightly sloppy story with some prescient ideas

Quest Crosstime by Andre Norton

Quest Crosstime (1965) is Andre Norton’s second and final story about Blake Walker, a man who has the precognitive ability to sense when he’s in danger. Quest Crosstime is combined with The Crossroads of Time (1956), the first novel about Blake Walker, in the Crosstime omnibus which was published by Baen books in 2008 and has recently been released in an audiobook edition by Tantor Media. Graham Rowat gives a nice retro-sounding performance in Tantor’s audiobook edition which is 12 hours long (for both books).

At the beginning of Quest Crosstime we meet Marfy, a young woman who has just landed on a... Read More

This Virtual Night: An entertaining SF thriller

This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman’s This Virtual Night (2020) is billed as book two in her OUTWORLDS/ALIEN SHORES series but these novels are, so far, stand-alone stories set in the same universe. Thus, you don’t need to have read the first book, This Alien Shore (1998), though I’d recommend doing so anyway because it was fabulous. All you need to know about Friedman’s world is that, long ago, the humans who left Earth to colonize other galaxies evolved in ways that their fellow humans who remained on Earth find repulsive. There is little communication or cooperation between Earth and the outworld “Variants,” though some people on earth are trying to reconcile the two groups.

... Read More

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