Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October Wrap-Up and Plans for November

I've been having a thematically fall month: baking, reading horror novels, waking up in the dead of night by a spider crawling across my face...I wish that last one was a joke. It's not.


I've finished eight books if you count the two I finished at the very beginning of the month, Catherine the Great and The Arrangement. After I finished those, I really wanted to read some horror because it's October and that feels like I thing I should do. I went with Slade House by David Mitchell, which was already on my To Read list, and was excellent. So creepy! Then I impulsively grabbed The Girl With All the Gifts which has been on my radar for a while, though I didn't realize it was going to be about zombies. Still, it was pretty good.

Shoutout to the new novel by John Green's brother Hank which I enjoyed a lot. I also finished the Wayfarers trilogy finally. I wanted to finish that before starting on the Broken Earth series, and I needed to do that soon since The Fifth Season is on my TBR Pile Challenge for this year. The Fifth Season has taken me a bit to get into - it was hard to even orient myself - but the world-building is pretty stellar and I'm really liking it now. I grabbed the second one from the library because I was warned that I'll want to have it on hand when I finish the first.


I only listened to one audiobook this month, Can't Nothing Bring Me Down, though I did just start The Kiss Quotient at the very end of the month and like it so far.

I'm still chugging along with all of my usual podcasts, which is partly why I didn't listen to many audiobooks. I was sad to hear that Panoply is no longer producing podcasts which means that By the Book is looking for a new home. I'm confident they'll find it though because they've gotten a lot of attention and seem pretty popular.


Pretty sky over my neighborhood.
I watched Pride and Prejudice when I was home for Columbus Day (which is actually called Indigenous Peoples' Day in my city and I'm a fan of the change, but old habits die hard.)

One Saturday I was sick and watched To All the Boys I've Loved Before on Netflix, which was good but I don't love it as much as many people apparently do. Honestly, I couldn't get over the wealth of everyone in the movie. The lacrosse, the ski trips, the gigantic house the main family lives in. That same day I also began the newest season of Call the Midwife.

I think I've mentioned listening to the Slow Russian podcast, but this month I started watching some of their YouTube videos, which I like a lot, especially since they're very short. It's fun to actually see things in Russia, like a typical apartment and also the host Daria's grandmother's dacha (country house.)


I can't believe how much I baked this month. I made two more bundt cakes: the lemon version of the America's Test Kitchen Classic Bundt Cake (I made the regular version last month) for a work party, and the Marble Bundt Cake from Smitten Kitchen Every Day for Cookbook Club at work. I divided the batter SO unevenly on the marble cake that it was mostly chocolate, but you know, not one person who ate it complained about that. Also, it came out of the pan beautifully, as you can see, but then you melt chocolate and creme and pour it over the top and it looks rather messy (yet delicious.) But I think it would also be delicious without the extra chocolate.

I also made the Moosewood Fudge Brownies from Moosewood Cooks at Home (twice, I think), Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies from a recipe on the package of baking chocolate, and Blondies from Smitten Kitchen. I used only chocolate chips as add-ins in the blondies and I swear there were more chips than batter. They came out very well, I think - gooey and butterscotchy and I may have to make them again sometime soon. In less sweet baking, I made the Whole Wheat Quinoa Bread from America's Test Kitchen Bread Illustrated. I love this bread, though it's kind of a pain to make since you have to cook the quinoa first.

Smitten Kitchen Blondies
I cooked some actual food too! After the Beef Stroganoff Disaster of last March I wanted to try this dish again. The recipe has you add sour cream to a hot bubbling pot and didn't mention tempering it first so it didn't separate, so it ended up looking rather ugly (though it tasted fine.) This time I was more careful but, alas, the results were similar. This led to an obsessive search for different Beef Stroganoff recipes and I'm very surprised to see how wildly they differ. It was overwhelming. I may just let it go for now.

Years ago when I had a book group that met for brunch, I often made Strata from a recipe I found online somewhere. I think I got tired of it, but recently decided to try it again one weekend when I had a lot going on. It was delicious! I need to get that back in my meal rotation. (But not too often or I'll get tired of it again.)


I don't think I had many social plans this month. The aforementioned Beef Stroganoff was a dinner I cooked with a friend at my house. I also went to another friend's house to watch a Red Sox game and have drinks and snacks. It was that game that lasted about 17 hours, but I had left by 10 anyhow since I had to work the next morning.

I think all I've been doing at work is training new people, and at home the dog has been misbehaving a lot, which I think is due to the sudden drop in temperature. Plus I was sick one weekend, which is always a bummer (why can't it be a work day?) So it's been rather a mixed bag, I guess.

Oh! My sweater - the one I began knitting back when Obama was president? I finished it. I finished it! I just need to wash and block it and get some good photos. I'll share more soon but here's a little preview on the right, taken right after I sewed in the first sleeve.

Plans for November

My plans primarily involve drinking tea and reading books while snuggled up under an afghan and I hope to continue this until approximately April. And the mid-term elections are something to look forward to, at least I certainly hope they go the way I want them to. I'm getting together with friends and it will hopefully be more fun than the last time we got together on an election night, which actually was fun until the results started coming in. Also Thanksgiving, I guess. I'm heading to Maine for what I call Fake Thanksgiving since we often do it on a different weekend, like this year, depending on when everyone has to work.

How was your October?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers (2018)

This third and final book from the Wayfarers series is set among the Exodus Fleet: the last humans on a dying Earth who left to seek a better life elsewhere in the universe. It's hundreds of years later, they've made contact with other planets, and many Exodans have left the Fleet to make lives for themselves on planets, as planned. But many remain aboard the huge self-sustaining ships, continuing the only way of life they've ever known.

We meet the Fleet's Archivist, Isabel, who is happy aboard the fleet with her wife Tamsin, both of whom are getting older now. Eyas is a Caretaker, the Exodan equivalent of a funeral director, devoted to her work but also thinking about what more she wants from her life. Kip is still a teenager and longs to leave the Fleet. Sawyer, on the other hand, grew up on the planet of Mushtello but comes to the Fleet seeking a change. Tessa has two young kids, and the novel opens with a prologue, set five years earlier, when her youngest is witness to the largest tragedy ever to befall the Fleet. One of the ships has an accident resulting in its destruction and, along with it, the death of more than 43,000 people.

I was about halfway into this book and really struck by the lack of plot. It was more slice-of-life than anything, and it took me a while to get to know the characters since it moved back and forth between them. When all was said and done, some things did happen and lives were changed and huge decisions made, but it was definitely not an action-packed story. This may be why I didn't love it as much as the other books in the trilogy. Don't get me wrong, it was still 4 stars on Goodreads, just not 5.

Becky Chambers really has a knack for building worlds and characters, and it's pleasurable just getting to know them. The Exodans are in such an interesting position: they no longer have a home planet, as we are currently many generations beyond those who first boarded the Fleet, yet the Fleet wasn't planned to be a permanent home for humans. There is so much hesitation and disquiet among the Exodans because of the tension surrounding those who have left the Fleet and want to leave and those who want to stay. For instance, Tessa has had no plans to leave, but her daughter Aya really wants to go to a planet. And then there are those like Sawyer who grew up human on a non-human planet and then move to the Fleet but don't know how to fit in. The Fleet is dwindling in numbers and they need to plan for their future. They've also depended a lot on technology from other species, and they are well aware of ways they've benefitted from the Galactic Commons and the fact that they haven't given back. It's still a pretty insular community too - Tessa has an alien visitor come stay with her to observe how their community works, and it's very novel for a non-human to be aboard. It's all really very interesting to think about.

If you haven't read any Becky Chambers yet, I highly suggest giving this series a try! I'm very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Mercies in Disguise

Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them by Gina Kolata (2017)

Well, I was not expecting this book to be such a page-turner. I heard about it pretty recently - I don't remember where, but the premise sounded interesting. It's about a family with a genetic disease and a young woman in the family who decides to get a test to learn what her fate will be. It's also about the research behind this whole group of diseases of a previously-undiscovered type, known as prion diseases. I thought it would be interesting, but I was surprised to find that I couldn't put it down.

It wasn't very long, and the story moved between the scientists trying to understand what caused a condition called kuru that affected a particular village in New Guinea, and the Baxley family who was dealing with another disease on a very personal level. It turns out that kuru is a prion disease, as is Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD), as is Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease (GSS), which is what the Baxley family suffered from. It was a whole new type of disease caused by misfolded proteins (I think?) and this was a pretty major scientific discovery.

For the Baxley family, it was a very scary family inheritance. Tim Baxley's father Bill developed a degenerative condition that was never adequately diagnosed and which killed him within several years of first showing symptoms. At the funeral a woman off-handedly remarked to Tim that she remembered his grandfather stumbling through the factory where he worked. It was only then that Tim realized the disease might be hereditary and this began the family's earnest search for answers. Then it began to affect Tim's generation of the family. Amanda is of the next generation and she is the one who decides to get genetic testing.

Many members of the Baxley family are pretty religious and there are some interesting discussions where their faith intersects with science. This especially comes to the fore when two sisters feel the opposite about being genetically tested to find out if they'd pass it on to their kids. Amanda is determined not to pass such a horrible disease on to her future kids, but her sister Holly decides to let nature take it's course (or God, I guess. She is probably the most devout person in the family.) After reading about both of these sisters, decisions to get tested or not, and how those decisions affect their lives, it's honestly hard to fault either of them for their approach. The fact is, there are many things that can kill us (or our kids) and at some point you have to just enjoy your life and do the best you can without feeling a pressure to make the right decisions all the time. Sometimes it's not a matter of right or wrong.

I was just so absorbed by this story. Reading about all the different members of this family and the different ways in which they dealt with this disease and their fear of getting it offered fascinating insights into human nature. This is not a case where testing positive for a gene means you have a chance of getting a disease - it means you will get it. Being tested for GSS means knowing your future, knowing that you will die a slow, painful death when you are likely only in your forties. How do you decide whether to find out? It's heartbreaking.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I don't recall where I heard about this. But the topic really caught my eye, as did the author. She wrote a book called Flu which is all about the 1918 flu epidemic which I read many years ago. I don't remember anything about it, but I do remember liking it a lot. This was exactly the kind of nonfiction I like - not too long, with a compelling story, and interesting people. If you like narrative nonfiction, especially about medical or scientific topics, I'd suggest trying this one.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (2018)

Late one evening, April May finds a weird art installation in the middle of New York. It looks like some sort of futuristic robot. She immediately calls her friend Andy and gets him out of bed so he can come make a video with her and the statue, which they call Carl. It goes viral. Turns out there are many Carls, in cities all over the world, and they all appeared mysteriously at the exact same time. No surveillance footage caught how they arrived - where there were cameras, they cut out for a bit. In the static, though, a song could be detected: "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. As one mystery leads to another, April and Andy become famous for getting the scoop and are propelled to stardom.

Of course it comes with a price. April is 23 and lives with a roommate, Maya, who is also kind of her girlfriend. April is a terrible relationship partner and the distraction of fame only makes it worse. She becomes obsessed with social media and creating her brand. Soon she has an agent and an assistant, as well as the help of a scientist named Miranda who had emailed her out of the blue with some interesting insights regarding New York Carl, and now she's running around with all of these people and ignoring Maya at home.

Although April makes terrible life decisions and often doesn't treat people well, she's not a bad person. She recognizes her mistakes and owns them. There are lessons here about being addicted to fame and how that can ruin your life. But through it all, her message is for everyone to come together. That's what she thinks the Carls want. But her message isn't the only one out there. A guy named Peter Petrawicki has a very different message, and that is one of caution. He thinks April is being reckless by trying to figure out what the Carls want and giving it to them without question. His followers are known as the Defenders and they are pretty extremely opposed to April. They are extreme in general - angry, hateful, and some of them violent.

There are several compelling themes in this story. One is about fame, particularly internet fame, and how it changes you. It's also about polarization and how we let fear of the unknown divide us and pit us against each other. There's a lot to think about and it would be a great book for discussion. It's so relevant to life today.

I found this book fast-paced and conversational, and although bad things happen it all felt pretty light and fun and uplifting. Mostly. This is Hank Green's debut, and unlike his brother John Green's books, this is considered an adult book. However, the writing style and content would totally appeal to teens. I found it a breeze to get through and would totally read another book by Hank Green if he writes one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (2014)

After reading a book about a haunted house (sort of) I moved right on to zombies. I didn't know it was zombies actually, or I probably wouldn't have picked it. But I got sucked in right away and by the time I figured out what it was about, I was too invested in these characters.

At any rate, the story begins with a girl named Melanie. She lives in a cell, and when she is taken out to go to class, it is with a gun pointed at her head while she is strapped into a wheelchair. She remains restrained while in class with other children who are also highly restrained. After class she goes back to her cell. Once a week she's fed a bowl of grubs. She doesn't seem especially upset at her circumstances, as this life is all she's known. She loves one of her teachers a lot, Miss Justineau. The only dark spots are when on occasion another child disappears and is never seen or spoken of again.

But this life is disrupted, and the story changes. I liked the beginning a lot - it reminded me of the early part of A Closed and Common Orbit. Then it became an "on the run" kind of book. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not my kind of thing. I used to watch The Walking Dead and the constant running and state of high alert just made me exhausted. So this book also made me a little exhausted. Still, I had to keep going to find out how it all ended.

I was intrigued by the author's idea of there being different kinds of zombies. Melanie is a special kind: she has the blood thirst and whatnot, but she's also smart and empathetic. She also has a great deal of strength and speed, which come in handy. She's a pretty powerful character all around.

I don't want to say too much about what happens in the story, but I will say that Melanie is on the run with several other characters that include her teacher, Miss Justineau, a research scientists, and a couple of military men. It's an interesting assortment, and one of the strengths of this novel was the way their interests all competed with one another, but that they had to work together as a team to survive.

It was only after I finished that I realized this is the first in a series. My heart sunk a little because, ugh, another series. But the ending was satisfying enough that I don't feel like I need to continue. At the same time, I'm intrigued enough about what happens next that I like knowing I can find out if I want to.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Can't Nothing Bring Me Down

Can't Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race Against Time by Ida Keeling (2018), narrated by Lisa Renee Pitts

When Ida Keeling was in her early 60s, both of her sons were murdered within a couple of years of each other. She plunged into depression. One day one of her daughters came to her and explained that she was taking Ida to run a 5k. She didn't know what else to do, but she couldn't let her mother continue to just sit at home in despair. Ida became a successful athlete and still runs today at the age of 103.

As it turns out, the book didn't actually talk a ton about the running. I expected her to really focus on that part of her life and how it helped her deal with grief, but that was really just a couple of chapters at the end. Mostly, though, it was just the story of her long and fascinating life. (Which is just as well since running is kind of boring.)

She was born in New York in 1915, and I really liked hearing about what it was like for a black woman growing up at that time. Interestingly, she had her two sons with a man she wasn't married to, which is something we seem to think was a huge scandal back then, but not the way she tells it. It turns out the reason this guy was dragging his feet on getting married is because he already was. Ouch. She talks about all the jobs she had in factories and what it was like to try and get by as a single mom. She lived through the depression, World War II, and civil rights. She went to hear black leaders like Malcolm X speak often, and was even present when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech.

Ida Keeling has lived a long time, experienced many things, and learned a lot from her experiences and observations. In many ways, she's pretty old school: she's a religious woman and thinks you should always listen to your parents, who apparently can't possibly ever be wrong. But she's far from stupid. She talks at one point about how men's heads are filled with "crap" that leads to the "good old boys" way of thinking. She also states the importance of not letting people aggravate you. She says, "Like President Barack Obama, I absolutely refuse to tolerate drama." She loves Obama.

This book isn't going to win any literary awards. Keeling is an athlete, not a writer. It wasn't terribly written, but she often used vague phrases like "or something" and "things like that" and listed the specific addresses of all the places she lived and worked. It was just a bit unpolished. Likewise, the narration wasn't of the quality that I'm used to. Again, not terrible, and none of this was enough to turn me off.

In the end, I came away with a great deal of respect for this lady who has learned and experienced a lot in her 103 years. She's smart and tough, has lived through a lot, and proves you're never too old to change your life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell (2015)

When I finished Catherine the Great, I wanted nothing more than to move on to a quick page-turning piece of fiction, and now that it's October I'm in the mood for horror.  A quick scroll through my To Read shelf on Goodreads reminded me of Slade House, which just happened to be available at the library. It was the perfect choice!

The story begins with a boy and his mum, Nathan and Rita Bishop, making their way to a party hosted by a Lady Grayer. They have a hard time finding Slade Alley, but finally they do and eventually locate a small iron door that lets them into the garden of the grand Slade House. They're greeted by Norah and her son Jonah. Nathan stays outside with Jonah, while his mother goes inside with the adults, but things in the yard start turning strange and, terrified, Jonah runs inside and as he goes upstairs he passes a series of portraits and sees that one of them is of him. In exactly the clothes he's wearing today. Things get stranger and stranger, and....well, the Bishops are never seen again. Nine years later, yet another person is lured in, and the cycle continues.

I won't say much else about the story, as that's something you should discover for yourself, except to note that there was a witness to the Bishops' disappearance which led to some speculation about what was going on there. But it takes place in the contemporary world so of course people are skeptical about anything supernatural and I kind of love that about stories like this. It makes it all the more realistic and creepy to me.

The book was so atmospheric - perfect for a gray fall day - and the characters are well developed so that you really feel for them and don't want a terrible fate to befall them. (It will though. Sorry.) This is a very short book, and each chapter focuses on a different character so I was impressed at how well we got to know each of them. What they experienced was creepy and scary, and they would finally realize what was happening only when it was too late to stop it. It was just what I was looking for.

I've read only one other book by David Mitchell - Black Swan Green, which I read way back in 2007 and didn't post about here. I remember liking it a lot, but it was a very different kind of book. I'd definitely read this author again!

Do you have any good creepy fall stories to recommend?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (2011)

When she was just 14, Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst was summoned to Russia to become the wife of the Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne. They were married, and Sophia converted to Russian Orthodox Church and her name was changed to Catherine. The marriage was unhappy, but Catherine took advantage of every opportunity to educate herself in hopes of someday becoming Empress.

Peter was the one destined for the throne, of course, and although he was interested in power, he wasn't a skilled leader. Obsessed with toy soldiers into adulthood, he wore a Prussian uniform as he always stayed loyal to his native country rather than to Russia. He was immature, short-sighted, and had a terrible temper. His reign was brief.

Catherine was well suited to being a ruler. Intelligent and even-tempered, she had gained admirers, slowly building support until she needed it to take the throne. She admired Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, with whom she enjoyed a long-distance friendship, and used these ideas to move Russia towards a more European model that embraced the arts and culture. She cultivated relationships in a way her hot-headed husband never would have been able to.

She had many lovers over the years, who helped her produce the heirs she needed. Her marriage to Peter remained unconsummated for nine years, though the book honestly doesn't make it clear if and when it was ever consummated. Whether or not her son Paul was Peter's son has not been determined, but Massie posits that she took her first lover in order to produce a needed heir and that Paul was a result of this liaison.

I found so much to admire in this woman, and was foremost struck by how readily she was accepted as a ruler in the 18th century. Obviously there have been female rulers going far back in history, but I've always gotten the impression they were anomalies. Catherine directly followed Elizabeth, who came not long after Anne, and there was no mention of anyone taking exception to women ruling Russia (though late in the book I learned that after her reign, the rules of succession were changed and the Emperor or Empress could no longer name their own successor; the throne was automatically passed to a male heir.) It just made me think a lot about the way we view female leadership as something new and untried.

Some of Catherine's views would be unpopular today, such as her firm belief in the autocracy and hesitation in abolishing serfdom. As much as she admired certain progressive reforms in Europe, she remained fully committed to a benevolent autocracy. And while she tried some reforms to ameliorate conditions of the many serfs in Russia, she balked at the idea of doing away with the whole system. To some extent she knew what would and would not be possible in the the political climate of the day, but she also remained steadfast in some of her beliefs. She did at one point bring together a large body of representatives from all classes in all parts of Russia in an ambitious attempt to rewrite the entire code of laws, but with limited success. From this experience she learned how much more efficient decision-making is when there's just one person doing it.

During her reign she faced and overcame some major challenges. In one instance, that became known as Pugachev's Rebellion, a man claimed to be Catherine's deceased husband, rightful heir to the throne, and despite the fact that he was obviously not Peter, gained enough support that Catherine had to devote energy and resources to quashing the movement. She also had to contend with a deadly outbreak of smallpox, which she faced with the then-bold solution of vaccinations. And of course there were the various wars she had to oversee and contend with, and these were the parts I most struggled with. I always have a tough time reading about political situations, because it's all names and dates and abstract concepts that are difficult to picture. Luckily most of the descriptions were detailed enough that I could grasp what was happening.

Most of it, though, was surprisingly easy to read and understand. This is a dense book - almost 600 pages of rather small print that took me close to a month to read - but it never felt like a chore. Massie brought Catherine and her contemporaries to life in his prose, and provided enough context to really understand why everyone believed and acted as they did. It's a compelling story, written in a beautiful and engaging style. I honestly can't believe it hasn't been made into a mini-series. I only touched on the story here, but it's chock full of drama and twists and the setting alone would really lend itself to television. I will absolutely check out more of Massie's writing, probably starting with Nicholas and Alexandra, when I'm ready to take on another huge book.

I read this for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, bringing my total to twelve completed. This includes my two alternates, but I still have two unread on my main list. Will I finish them in the last three months of the year? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Arrangement

The Arrangement (The Survivor's Club #2) by Mary Balogh (2013)

Sophia Fry is a young woman who lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin and is mostly ignored by them. She thinks of herself as the Mouse, and draws herself that way, in a corner just observing what goes on around her. But one day she takes it upon herself to dress up and go to a ball. Everyone in town is attending but her family doesn't invite her and are surprised when they see her there. Her cousin Henrietta is trying to throw herself in the path of Viscount Darleigh a wealthy man she wants to marry, despite the fact that he is blind. But Sophia sees what is going on and rescues the Viscount, consequently getting thrown out of her house. The Viscount, Vincent, is incredibly grateful and proposes a marriage of convenience: his family will stop harassing him to get married, she won't be living on the streets, and after producing an heir they can live independently, which is what they both want.

Predictably, they fall for each other. Less predictably....there's not much else to it, really. I expected some sort of conflict, but there isn't really one. Technically, the thing getting in their way is their arrangement because they've agreed to part ways and then both realize they don't actually want to. Well, just go ahead and say so.

Don't get me wrong - it's a pleasant enough story and I liked both of the characters. I liked reading about Sophia and the reasons why she has been more of an observer than a participator, and I liked reading about Vincent and how he was blinded in the war and the horrible time he had getting used to it afterward. Together, they work to make the grounds of his estate more conducive to his independence so he doesn't always have to rely on another person helping him around.

The only thing I actually didn't like was near the end when Vincent confronts a guy who damaged Sophie's self-esteem when she was very young. Vincent takes it upon himself to beat the guy up, which is a stupid display of manliness that doesn't to anything to remedy the situation (the damage was done long ago.) But he does this without Sophie's permission, which I think is shitty. Especially since during the confrontation he tells the guy how much his words and actions had hurt Sophie. So, okay, you're revealing her innermost hurt to someone she dislikes and mistrusts in order to justify beating him up so you'll feel better. Got it. I really, really can't stand when men feel a need to defend women as though we are weak and need defending, and without being asked, or even consulting us. However, Sophie wasn't terribly upset and in fact I think she was touched that Vincent cared enough about her to face this guy. So I guess I'm okay with it on her behalf even though I personally find it icky.

I liked the first book in this series much better, though the writing and characters were just as compelling. It was just the plot (and that one annoying bit that got my feminist hackles up) that I wasn't terribly impressed by. And I do really like the whole conception of this series - a group of close-knit friends who all survived a war but with disabilities - so I may revisit it someday and try out the next book.