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.

Scarlet: A totally fresh take on Red Riding Hood

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (2013) is the second novel in Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES. You’ll want to read Cinder first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.

In Cinder we met the titular cyborg, an orphan who lives with her hateful stepmother and two stepsisters in New Beijing. Cinder is the best mechanic in town, which is how she meets the young and handsome Prince Kai. He needs his personal robot fixed because, unbeknownst to Cinder, it may contain information about the whereabouts of Princess Selene, the rightful ruler of Luna, the human colony on the moon. Nobody knows if Princess Selene is alive but, if she is, Kai may be able to avoid a marria... Read More

Last Dragon Standing: The epic finale

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing (2018) is the epic finale of Rachel Aaron’s self-published HEARTSTRIKERS series. I’ve been listening to the audio edition of the HEARTSTRIKERS novels and can recommend them without reservation to readers interested in this fun and heart-warming saga. I listened to them with my 19-year-old daughter and we loved the narration by Vikas Adam. If you haven’t read the previous four books, Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, Read More

A Dragon of a Different Color: Not the best, but an essential, installment

A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series continues with the fourth novel, A Dragon of a Different Color (2017). It’s really no use to start this story here – you should first read Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. At this point in the story, it’s hard to avoid a few spoilers for the previous books, but I’ll do my best.

In the prologue of A Dragon of a Different Color, we finally learn the history of the Detroit Free Zone (t... Read More

Dare to Go A-Hunting: You can safely skip it

Dare to Go A-Hunting by Andre Norton

The final novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER series is Dare to Go A-Hunting (1989), which is packaged with the previous novel, Flight in Yiktor, in the Baen omnibus edition called Moonsinger’s Quest (2013). I’ve been listening to the excellent audiobook editions narrated by Chris Abernathy and published in 2021 by Tantor Media. Dare to Go A-Hunting is a direct sequel to Flight in Yiktor, so you’ll want to read it first (there will be some spoilers for that novel in this review).

At the end of Flight in Yiktor, Farree learned that he (and here’s the spo... Read More

Flight in Yiktor: Introduces a compelling new protagonist

Flight in Yiktor by Andre Norton

Flight in Yiktor (1986) is the third novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER series. It’s bundled with the fourth novel, Dare to Go A-Hunting, in an omnibus edition titled Moonsinger’s Quest which was published by Baen in 2013 and, in audio format, by Tantor Media in 2021. It’s not necessary to read the first two novels, Moon of Three Rings and Exiles of the Stars, which you can find in the Moonsinger omnibus, also published by Baen and Tantor, but it would be helpful. I’m enjoying Tantor’s audio... Read More

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished: Another fun Heartstriker story

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (2016) is another fun installment in Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series about a race of shapeshifters who can take on both human and dragon forms. The main character, Julius, is the youngest member of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan, which is led by his ruthless mother. Unlike the rest of his family, Julius is a nice guy who, for most of his life, has felt like he doesn’t fit in. His mother, his siblings, and the members of the other dragon clans think Julius is a weakling. He gets absolutely no respect… until recently, when everything has turned around for Julius.

If you haven’t read the first two books, Nice Dragons Finish Last Read More

One Good Dragon Deserves Another: Nice dragon saves the day again

One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron

One Good Dragon Deserves Another (2015) is the second book in Rachel Aaron’s self-published HEARTSTRIKERS series. I listened to Audible Studio’s editions of these books with my 19-year-old daughter. We love the story and the performance of Vikas Adam, the narrator. This review will have some spoilers for the previous book, Nice Dragons Finish Last. If you haven’t read it, you should probably stop here and go do that first. Make sure to choose the audio edition!

Julius and Marcy are now business partners in the Detroit Free Zone where, thanks to one of Julius’ siblings, they’ve got a house to live in. They spend their time ridding the city of magical pests.

But the dragon clan drama never stops and soon enough Julius... Read More

Nice Dragons Finish Last: Great setting and characters, impressive plotting

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Julius Heartstriker is the youngest son of Bethesda Heartstriker, the ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless matriarch of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan. Bethesda is disappointed in her youngest son. He’s small, weak, nonthreatening and, worst of all, he actually likes humans. He’s just too nice.

To express her displeasure, and to put a fire in Julius’s belly, Bethesda banishes him to the Detroit Free Zone, a place ruled by an ancient spirit named Algonquin. Pretty much anything goes in the DFZ, but one thing that Algonquin won’t tolerate in her realm is dragons. For that reason, Julius is forced to remain in his human form, which is exactly how his mother intends to punish him. She’s giving him one month to prove his worth to his clan. The task he’s been given is to find the missing daughter of a rival dragon clan. If he doesn’t succeed, Bethesda will probably ea... Read More

Exiles of the Stars: Krip and Maelen meet some body snatchers

Exiles of the Stars by Andre Norton

Exiles of the Stars (1971) is the second novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER or MOON MAGIC series and a direct sequel to the first book, Moon of Three Rings (1966). These two novels have been combined into an omnibus edition called Moonsinger which was published in print in 2013 by Baen books and in audio format this year by Tantor Audio. The narrators of the audio edition, Chris Abernathy and Chelsea Stephens, are well-cast. They give an excellent performance. I recommend this edition but, in whatever format you read them, make sure to read Moon of Three Rings first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.... Read More

Moon of Three Rings: A promising start to the MOONSINGER saga

Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton

Krip Vorlund, an assistant cargo master on a trade ship, is visiting a beast show with some of his crewmates on a frontier planet called Yiktor. There he meets a woman named Maelen who takes care of the little furry creatures that perform in the show. It’s obvious that she controls them, yet they seem more like children than slaves. In fact, when a messenger arrives and tells her that a man is abusing a creature somewhere in the town, she gets angry and goes to intervene.

Krip, concerned about the beautiful young woman’s safety, accompanies Maelen and promptly gets in trouble when he uses an illegal weapon to protect her. Then he finds out that he had actually been unknowingly lured to the beast show by a political faction on Yiktor that wants to get their hands on his off-world weapons. They were forcing Maelen to entice Krip, threatening to out her as a moonsinger if she doesn’t comply. ... Read More

The Girl and the Mountain:

The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Mountain (2021) is the second installment in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It follows The Girl and the Stars, which you need to read first. There will be a few spoilers for that book in this review.

The Girl and the Stars introduced an icy world inhabited by tribes that follow a spiritual leader who, every few years, chooses each tribes’ weakest children and throws them into a hole in the ice where they, presumably, die. But when our hero, Yaz, jumps in after her brother, she discovers a new world below the ice where the children who’ve been disposed of have built their own civilization. When she realizes that ... Read More

A Tale of Two Castles: Charming but not completely satisfying

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

12-year-old Elodie is leaving her rural home and traveling to the city of Two Castles where her family expects her to be apprenticed to a weaver for ten years. But there are two things Elodie’s family doesn’t know. One is that Elodie has no intention of being apprenticed to a weaver. Instead, she wants to be a mansioner, which is basically an actor. (Her parents wouldn’t approve of this career.) The second thing that Elodie and her parents don’t know is that there are no more ten-year apprenticeships offered in the city of Two Castles. Instead, apprentices must pay to be trained. So, Elodie, who has no way to contact her parents, has landed in the big city with no job, no place to stay, and no prospects.

At first, Two Castles is overwhelming with all its fascinating new sights. As soon as she steps off the boat, Elodie meets a dragon, an ogre, and a cat that steals her m... Read More

The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer: Strickland phones it in

The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer appears to be the final book in the LEWIS BARNAVELT series of horror novels for middle graders. The series was started in 1973 by John Bellairs but most of the novels were actually written by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death. There’s nothing in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer which indicates that it’s the last book but, since it’s been 13 years, I’m just assuming.

Despite all of Lewis’s heroic experiences in the past 11 novels, he is still full of anxiety and lacks self-confidence. This time, Lewis becomes superstitious, believing that bad things come in threes. Since a couple of bad thin... Read More

Book of a Thousand Days: Two girls trapped in a tower

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

With Book of a Thousand Days (2007), Shannon Hale offers a delightful retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen.

Dashti is a mucker, a low-born girl who was born on the steppes. When her mother dies, she goes to the city to take a job as a maid to Lady Saren. Right away she is locked into a tower with her lady because, in defiance of her father’s wishes, Saren has refused to marry Lord Khasar. She says she plans to marry Lord Tegan instead. Dashti and Saren must stay in the tower until either Saren repents and agrees to marry Lord Khasar, or seven years have passed.

For Dashti, who narrates the story via diary entries, things aren’t so bad at first. There’s plenty of food, she gets to sleep by the fire, and she h... Read More

Night of Masks: A simple story on an infrared planet

Night of Masks by Andre Norton

Nik Colherne lives in the Dipple, a planet-side slum that serves as the opening setting for a few of Andre Norton’s novels. Nik survived a fiery crash that left him orphaned and with a disfigured face that others find abhorrent. Rejected and friendless, Nik is targeted by the Thieves’ Guild who promise him a new (and handsome) face if he’ll impersonate the hero of a young boy that they are trying to find. The boy, Vandy, is the son of a powerful warlord and the thinking is that if Nik poses as the boy’s hero, Vandy will trust him enough to come along with him. Nik is a little suspicious of the mission, but the guild makes everything sound legit, and cooperation is Nik’s only hope for a new face and a new life.

When Nik eventually finds the boy, the two of them end up imprisoned on a planet with a sun that emits only ... Read More

The Two Princesses of Bamarre: An entertaining magical adventure

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Addie, the 12-year-old Princess of the kingdom of Bamarre, is a sweet but cowardly girl. She comes by it honestly – her father, the king, is also a coward. Addie’s sister Meryl, however, is adventurous and courageous and she wants to save their kingdom from evil magical beasts and a plague they call the Grey Death. Addie adores and admires Meryl and she knows she’ll never be brave like her sister.

When Meryl gets sick, Addie is desperate to save her but, because her father’s efforts are timid and ineffective, eventually she realizes that her only hope is to do it herself. Armed with several fabulous magical gifts, such as a tablecloth that always presents a delicious feast when unfolded, and a pair of boots that lets her cover seven leagues in one step, Addie sets out to save her sister and her kingdom.

During her quest to find a cure, she’ll have to batt... Read More

Dread Companion: Try the audio edition of this one

Dread Companion by Andre Norton

In the far future, a young woman named Kilda thinks it’s unfortunate that she was born as a woman because she’s expected to do what every woman on her planet does – get married and have children. Kilda wants to travel and learn, so she appeals to her teacher, a mixed-race handicapped person who also lacks opportunity on this world. Her teacher suggests that Kilda take a job as a governess for a woman who is going off planet with her two children. Kilda takes that advice and travels with her employer and the kids, a boy and a girl, to an Earth-like planet called Dylan.

Almost immediately Kilda realizes that her employer’s daughter, Bartare, is strange. She knows about things before others do, she doesn’t act very childlike, she doesn’t seem emotionally attached to her family, she talks as if she’s being guided by someone that Kilda can’t see, and she seems relentlessly driven to some ... Read More

Night of the Living Dummy: Very scary

Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS is a series of stand-alone short horror novels for children. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions with my teenage daughter who loves to read scary stories in the couple of months before Halloween.

The seventh GOOSEBUMPS novel, Night of the Living Dummy (1993), is especially terrifying, but that may be because I’m one of those people who gets a bit freaked out by circus clowns, Chucky dolls, and, in this case, ventriloquists’ dummies. I’m not sure if it’s the Uncanny Valley effect or some repressed traumatic memory from my childhood but, whatever, I don’t like them.

12-year-old twin sisters Kris and Lindy ar... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Horror for kids

With few exceptions (e.g., Invasion of the Body Snatchers), I do not enjoy horror novels or films. When I was a freshman in college in the late '80s, my friends decided to go see Witchboard, a horror movie that was playing at a local theater. I tried to bow out, saying I really couldn't handle it, but they insisted I just needed more exposure. I reluctantly let them (pretty much literally) drag me along, but it wasn't long before I was out of my seat and cowering in the lobby for an hour while they finished the movie. As far as I can recall, that was the last horror movie I ever (partially) watched.

My daughter Tali, who is now the same age I was when I saw Witchboard, recently had a similar experience. (It would not be at all surprising if, like many of our preferences and tastes, an aversion to horror is hereditary -- it likely has something to do with the biological ... Read More

Monster Blood: Choose the audiobook for this one

Monster Blood by R.L. Stine

Monster Blood (1992) is the third short children’s horror novel in R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS series. It’s a stand-alone, so no need to read the previous books.

While his parents are out of town, Evan has to go live with Aunt Katherine. She’s a scary one — a large hulking deaf woman with a deep voice who is often seen carrying her meat cleaver. Evan hates living at Aunt Katherine’s house, especially because she insists that his elderly dog stay chained up outside and there are bullies in Aunt Katherine’s neighborhood.

Things get a little better when Evan meets a girl named Andrea who likes to do the kinds of things that he likes. One day Evan and Andrea are shopping in a shabby toy store where they purchase a can of a slimy substance called Monster Blood. It provide... Read More

Stay Out of the Basement: Creepy but annoying

Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stine

One of my kids loves Halloween – she starts celebrating in September – and, since she wanted to read some horror for children during October, we listened to a few of R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS books together. Each is a standalone short novel with a pretty hefty scare factor.

Stay Out of the Basement (1992) is the second novel in the series (which contains dozens of stories) and there’s no reason to read the first one first. It’s 144 pages long in print format and just over 2 ½ hours long in the scholastic audio version we listened to which is narrated by Elizabeth Morton.

Margaret and Casey’s father is a botanist who’s been fired from his university for some reason the kids don’t know. But that has not stopped his research program. Though, now that he ... Read More

The House Where Nobody Lived: The kids learn some Hawaiian mythology

The House Where Nobody Lived by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The House Where Nobody Lived is the eleventh (and penultimate) novel in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series. These are stand-alone horror mysteries for kids. I’ve been listening to Recorded Books’ audio versions with my daughter. We love George Guidall’s performance.

This story starts with a flashback to the beginning of the series when Lewis is 11 years old and it’s been just over a year since his parents died and he moved in with Uncle Jonathan. Lewis and his best friend, Rose Rita, are exploring New Zebedee, their hometown which is still new to Lewis, when they discover an odd-looking house that nobody lives in. They get scared off w... Read More

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost: Very scary but too similar to previous books

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In the tenth installment in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Lewis is camping with his fellow Scouts (who are bullying him, of course) when he finds an old whistle near a grave and puts it in his pocket. The whistle has a Latin encryption on it and, when he asks the priest at his church to help him with the translation, the priest (who Lewis isn’t particularly fond of), becomes suspicious and strangely interested in the whistle.

Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita is also interested, of course, so the two kids hit the library for some research. Their investigation takes them to the ghost stories of Read More

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

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