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Yes, that’s right – even more book recommendations! Your TBR might not be able to handle them at this point, but I’m giving them anyway because I’m evil like that and want everyone to have huge TBR piles like mine. Muahahaha!

There are so many wonderful science fiction and fantasy books written by women that I could mention here. Since there have been so many great recommendations already this month, I’m going to try not to repeat the ones that have already been talked about. This is why authors such as Jacqueline Carey, Catherynne M. Valente, Lois McMaster Bujold, or any of the author guests for this event will not appear on this list in spite of also being some I would highly recommend. I’ve decided to focus on books and authors that I don’t really see talked about that much (which is why Robin Hobb, one of my favorite fantasy authors, will also be absent from this list).

Here’s some authors and books I really liked – or even loved!

Wraeththu by Storm Constantine The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure by Storm Constantine The Shades of Time and Memory by Storm Constantine

Storm Constantine

Her Wraeththu trilogy and the first two Wraeththu Histories books are among my favorites ever (I have not yet read the third Histories book since then it will be ALL OVER and I will be SAD). These are character-driven books about a race of hermaphrodites created by the blood of a mutant human. They are full of character drama and relationships, but I also thought they challenged some assumptions about gender. There is some beautiful prose as well. After I was about three pages into the Wraeththu omnibus, I was riveted. I just couldn’t stop reading.

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due

I like to see authors take risks, and that’s exactly what Tananarive Due does in her first African Immortals book, My Soul to Keep. It’s really dark and she makes some choices that may be too dark for some readers, but I liked seeing the unexpected and found this one really difficult to put down. (Sadly, this is another one where I need to get caught up on the rest of the series.)

In Conquest Born by C. S. Friedman Feast of Souls by C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy is pretty well known, but I don’t think the two books I’ve read by her are talked about quite as much. Friedman’s debut, In Conquest Born, is a space opera complete with warring peoples, intelligent characters, politics, and scheming. Feast of Souls, the first book in the recently completed Magister trilogy, is a dark fantasy in which magic requires a sacrifice. Both are books I very much enjoyed.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly

Dragonsbane, written in the 80s, is one of those books that does wondrous things with fantasy tropes. The dragon-slayer is scholarly, and the mage is in her mid-thirties and not all that powerful. It has a brilliant bittersweet ending, and I loved the sympathetic problems Jenny had – mainly, the struggle she had with dedicating herself to her work or the one she loves and feeling that by compromising the two she’s not giving enough time to either.

Melusine by Sarah Monette The Virtu by Sarah Monette The Mirador by Sarah Monette

Sarah Monette

The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, beginning with Melusine, is another one of my favorites ever due to the way it captured the main characters. Felix and Mildmay each have such a unique voice and they’re both so different yet so much alike. Like the aforementioned Wraeththu, I recommend these more to fans of character development and writing than those looking for a plot-driven, fast-paced story.

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

Lyda Morehouse

Archangel Protocol is one cyberpunk book that had a little bit of everything – adventure, mystery, romance, and a terrifying future scenario where there was no barrier between politics and religion at all. In fact, it’s a crime not to belong to an organized religion in this world. It was fast-paced and interesting, and now I’m wondering why I still haven’t read the rest of the AngelLINK series (although I know why – too many books, too little time).

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian

Vera Nazarian

Lords of Rainbow is epic fantasy set in a world without color. It also features a great woman warrior and has beautifully poetic prose. I’ve been meaning to read more by Vera Nazarian ever since reading this. (This list is making me realize how many authors I need to read MORE by.)

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Ekaterina Sedia

The Alchemy of Stone is a steampunk book about an intelligent automaton named Mattie, who wants to be free from her creator but can’t quite manage it since he’s the only one who can keep her functioning. I rather liked both the prose style and the story.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor

With last year’s hype over Daughter of Smoke and Bone, perhaps it may seem strange to include Laini Taylor on a list of authors who haven’t been talked about as much as I believe they deserve. However, she is my favorite young adult fantasy author and all of her books are wonderful. I think Lips Touch: Three Times especially deserves more readers. It’s a collection of three beautifully written stories, and the last one “Hatchling” is one of my favorite stories with it’s gorgeous prose and creepy premise. I mean, really, it starts with a girl who wakes up one morning and finds one of her eyes completely changed color. She soon realizes, “These weren’t her memories. This wasn’t her eye.” (Page 145, hardcover edition) Freaky.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Joan D. Vinge

Sadly, this re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” set on a planet called Tiamat is now out of print. This was one I finished with the realization that I had a new favorite, a keeper book. The culture and characters fascinated me. In spite of that, I have yet to read the direct sequel The Summer Queen (it’s massive meaning I’ll need a vacation to read it unless I want the blog to be quiet for a month while I do).

Elfland by Freda Warrington Midsummer Night by Freda Warrington

Freda Warrington

Elfland was another one I loved for the characters and drama. Rosie, the main character, was someone I felt was easy to relate to because she was someone who had flaws. She made mistakes, but I also understood exactly why she was making the mistakes she did. The elegant prose style also captured my attention and made me want to read more from this author.

Are there any women writing science fiction and/or fantasy that weren’t mentioned this month that you want to recommend? Feel free to tell us authors and their books along with why we should read them in the comments!

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All the Women in SF&F Month guest posts have now gone up. There’s still a couple of posts I want to write related to this before this is officially over, but this will be the last week in review post. For now, here’s what happened last week in case you missed any of the guest posts.

Week In Review

Here’s last week’s guests:

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Even though the month is over now and the main event ended with the guest posts, there are a few things I wanted to post before it’s officially over and I go back to writing book reviews (and getting caught up with some of the books I didn’t have time to read while the event was going on!).

The first of these is resources where you can find more science fiction and fantasy books written by women. Most of these have been mentioned at some point throughout the month, but I did want to have one post that had a collection of these links. If you know of any other sites that you think should be this list, let me know in the comments!

Chris Moriarty: Chickpunk
Definition of and essay on chickpunk by hard science fiction writer Chris Moriarty with a list of women who write it at the end.

Daughters of Prometheus
A fairly new site dedicated to reviews of science fiction books written by women in the twenty-first century. Reviews can be found here and you can also contribute by submitting your own reviews.

Fantasy Mistressworks
A fairly new site dedicated to reviews of fantasy books written by women before the end of the twentieth century. It’s recent enough that there are not reviews yet, but you can also contribute by submitting your own reviews and adding to the book list.

Performative Utterance: 150+ Women SF Writers
A list of over 150 women who have written science fiction.

Recommendations: Non-European Fantasy by Women
A growing list begun by Martha Wells containing fantasy books written by women set in non-European settings. (At Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Review.)

Sci-Fi Fan Letter: Female Science Fiction Reading List
List of books and authors who write science fiction broken down by subgenre.

SF Mistressworks
Dedicated to reviews of science fiction books written by women before the end of the twentieth century. Reviews can be found here and you can also contribute by submitting your own reviews.


Here’s a couple that do not exclusively have female-authored books but have a lot of books written by women and are definitely ones I feel are relevant.

Feminist Fantasy
A site for feminist-friendly fantasy fiction. This is open to submissions for books fitting this criteria. You can read more about it here, but basically the founder of the site wants to create a list of fantasy books that have well-developed female characters.

The Galaxy Express – SFR Authors
List of authors who write science fiction romance with links to more information on each. It’s broken down by decade starting with the 1930s.

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Today marks the last day of the Women in SF&F guest posts, and I can’t think of a better way to end it than with this post by Catherine Asaro about science fiction as an inspiration for young girls!

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro is THE book that really got me interested in reading more science fiction. Although I read science fiction on occasion and enjoyed it, I’d never read a science fiction book that drew me in quite the way that Primary Inversion did with its mix of hard science, adventure, and focus on character relationships. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in only two days, which is something I rarely manage to do these days. After that, I went on a science fiction reading binge for a while and read everything from classics like Dune and Childhood’s End to newer SF like Cordelia’s Honor and Grimspace. Since I’ve discovered so many science fiction books I enjoyed because I read Primary Inversion (including more books in the Saga of the Skolian Empire series), I’m very excited to introduce Catherine Asaro!

Catherine Asaro
Catherine Asaro: Photo by David Bartell

Science Fiction for Our Daughters

My first published story was a novelette called “Dance in Blue.” It originally came out in a hardcover anthology of science fiction stories titled Christmas Forever and edited by David Hartwell at Tor. So one evening many years ago, I was playing with my then three year-old daughter. My husband came in with the mail, including a package the size of the proverbial breadbox. Well, okay, not really a breadbox; I don’t actually know what a breadbox looks like and it is probably bigger than this package. What my husband handed me was about the size of a large book.

Intrigued, wondering who had sent me this mystery mail, I opened it up. Inside was a lovely edition of Christmas Forever, my author’s copy. I was astounded. In fact, I was so amazed that at first I couldn’t react. My story in print! It took several moments for me to absorb the incredible event. Finally it sunk in to my brain. With great dignity, as befitting the occasion, I ran around the apartment in my nightgown waving the book and crying, “Look, look, my story! I can’t believe it!”

My daughter watched this exhibition with some bemusement and asked to see the cause of the excitement. I dropped next to her on the floor, amid a sea of Legos and stuffed animals, and handed her the book, enthusing about what it meant. She sat there cross-legged, yellow curls falling into her angel’s face as she peered at this esteemed tome, studying the cover, which was a tasteful drawing of a Christmas wreath with science fictional ornaments. Then she carefully opened up the book and leafed through stories. I pointed out the page where mine started, and she studied that as well, her gaze intent. Finally she looked up at me with sympathy in her big, beautiful blue eyes. She spoke with the infinite kindness that a three year-old can muster when faced with the suffering of those she loves.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” she said. “Someday you’ll get to be in a book with pictures.”

That beautiful, sweet-natured girl grew up into a beautiful, sweet-natured, and formidably brilliant young woman who danced with a professional ballet company as a teen and is now finishing her undergraduate/master’s degrees in maths at Cambridge University in England. She still enjoys books with pictures in them, though now the pictures are of abstract mathematical constructs that even her theoretical physicist of a mother struggles to understand. She read science fiction and fantasy all through her youth, a pursuit her father and I encouraged, not only because her oddball mother wrote within those genres, but also because they are genres of ideas, imagination, creativity, works that encourage readers to imagine a universe beyond the mundane. To dream.

Catherine Asaro's Daughter Cathy
Cathy Cannizzo (Catherine Asaro’s Daughter)
Photo by Stephen Baranovics

For most of its history, until only recent years, science fiction was considered a male genre. And yet many of us girls enjoyed the stories. I found SF almost as soon as I started reading, stories about cats and their humans going into space, visiting the Moon, Mars, or anywhere else our imagination could take them. I loved the way those tales let me into universes beyond my ordinary life. It is an important part of why I became a scientist, earning a B.S. in (physical) chemistry from UCLA and both a masters in physics and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard. Such books—both the SF and fantasy—helped engender my love of science. Although in the “real” world we separate SF and fantasy into many diverse subgenres, they all include the key element I sought as a child, that inspiration to imagine universes beyond what now exists.

Scholars have said, “The golden age of science fiction is twelve” because that is the age when many readers discover the genre. Traditionally, such readers were boys who dreamed of space and adventures, perhaps becoming the captain of a ship that explored the unknown or discovering exciting new ideas. That idea of such a golden age is still true today, but the young adult (YA) market has expanded, reaching a huge audience of young women. Such readers were always there, but for many decades we were ignored or passed over in SF and fantasy. That has all changed. From urban fantasy with kick-butt heroines to romantic paranormals to dystopian sagas such as The Hunger Games, the YA genres of speculative literature have brought in strong female characters and storylines that appeal to a much wider audience, not only both young women and men, but adults as well.

With science fiction in the more classic sense, however, we’ve haven’t made as many gains. By classic, I mean SF with an emphasis on science and the extrapolation of its ideas into adventure fiction. The seeds of a love of science, technology, or math can grow from those stories. Reaching out to today’s YA audience with yesterday’s tropes won’t work; modern youth are a sophisticated audience, and such readers often don’t relate to the subtexts, prose styles, or stereotypes implicit in classic science fiction.

I stopped reading SF when I was twelve. I hit puberty and become acutely aware that boys were far more interesting than I had appreciated in my “Ooh, aren’t they gross” innocence. Before then, I had always made up my own subplots for the books I was reading, extra storylines that involved female characters having adventures in the universe created by the writer. However, along with my brilliant new insight about boys came the realization that the books I was devouring were targeted at them—not me. What few female characters I found were marginalized in the plot, turned out to be villains, or else got knocked off in some dramatic, heart-rending fashion that left the stalwart hero grieving. It’s true a romantic streak has always run through SF, but the female characters in those roles were often one-dimensional, their presence only peripheral to the plot. Window dressing for the hero. Such stories went like this: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy saves universe, boy gets girl back. I wanted to read girl meets boy, girl saves universe, and girl and boy and their friends have dramatic, daring exploits.

Quantum Cat
Photo from Science-fact on Facebook

I made up such stories as a child, with girls going into space with their cats to have adventures. When I hit puberty, the cats were replaced by handsome fellows who helped the heroine save the universe, or at least the local cat planet. When I became an author, those were the type of stories I wrote (well okay, my characters haven’t saved any cat worlds yet). For me, both the female and male characters were important, and my audience is about half female and half male. Although my books are considered adult, I have a substantial YA following, and many of those readers are young women. The “common knowledge” nowadays is that girls read books and boys play computer/video games. I don’t know how true that is; in my experience, common knowledge is often born from what marketers expect and so create through their expectation. However, this much seems obvious and likely to continue: more girls are reading within the genres of science fiction and fantasy than ever before.

I started reading SF again in graduate school, and I found the field much more diverse than I remembered. Among the many authors whose works brought me back were Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Joan D. Vinge, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert Silverberg, and Ursula K. LeGuin. I would love to see more science-based SF written for today’s YA market, with a twenty-first century sensibility, works that might inspire more young women to consider careers in science, math, or engineering. It is what I enjoy writing. Despite the awards I’ve won and the lists I’ve placed on, however, I must admit that I have yet to achieve the pinnacle of having one of my stories appear in a picture book. But I haven’t given up hope yet!

About Catherine Asaro:
Catherine Asaro’s stories blend hard science fiction, romance, and exciting space adventure. A two-time winner of the Nebula Award from SFWA, she has also earned recognition from the romance community as a finalist in the RITA contest and three-time winner of the Romantic Times Book Club Award. She has published over twenty novels, many of which belong to her acclaimed saga of the Skolian Empire. Her Lost Continent fantasy series helped launch Harlequin imprint Luna Books. In 2009, her career entered a new phase when she added a musical soundtrack to her book Diamond Star. When not writing, recording or touring, the Harvard-trained physicist teaches university level math and physics courses.

Website | Twitter

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro Alpha by Catherine Asaro

Today I am very excited to reveal the cover for The Assassin’s Curse, a new young adult fantasy book coming in October! Plus I am giving away one ARC to a lucky person who will get to read the book long before its release date!

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Isn’t that gorgeous?! It’s one of those covers that makes me really want to read the book within. It sounds wonderful as well, and I’m very much looking forward to this book!

About The Assassin’s Curse:

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together. To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks—all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.

About the Author:

Cassandra Rose Clarke

Cassandra Clarke is a speculative fiction writer and occasional teacher living amongst the beige stucco of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.

During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, where she enjoyed sixty-degree summer days. Having been born and raised in Texas, this was something of a big deal. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.


Courtesy of Strange Chemistry, I have one ARC of The Assassin’s Curse to give away! The finished book won’t be available until October, but the winner’s ARC will be sent out in the next couple of weeks.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below. One entry per person and the winner will be randomly selected. This giveaway is only open to US residents. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, May 9. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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Today’s guests are Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers! These two probably need no introduction from me, but I’ll give you three reasons why you should read their wonderful blog anyway:

  1. They post at least once a day so there is always something new and interesting to read on their site.
  2. Not only do they have a great quantity of posts, but they maintain great quality with their intelligent, funny reviews and articles.
  3. They have excellent taste in books and have introduced me to a great number of authors and books that I now love (including several of the ones they are talking about today).

I really respect and admire both Ana and Thea, and I am thrilled they took the time to be here today. I’m also happy they chose both to discuss the issue of female agency in SFF and recommend SFF books containing female characters with agency. Please welcome Ana and Thea!

The Book Smugglers Header

We’ve been thinking a lot about agency lately. Although this is a topic that has always been important to us as readers and reviewers, the subject has become increasingly present in our reviews as we read more Historical Fiction and YA (please bear with us, we will segue into SFF in a moment). The former, because more often than not, female characters are written to fit certain prescribed historical molds; the latter, because much of the YA we read is of the dystopian variety and character agency is hugely important in these types of worlds.

Perhaps we should rewind and start with a basic question: what is “agency”? How do we prescribe agency to characters in fiction? Basically, for a character to have agency, he or she must have the ability to act. Mind you: acting doesn’t necessarily mean doing huge, larger-than-life deeds. Merely being able to think is a form of action. And, needless to say, the concept of “choice” is intrinsically connected with agency, too.

In recent articles and discussion, we’ve noticed that many people appear to be under the impression that a character’s agency is inherently connected with their strength. This is usually based on a certain idea of “strength” that is connected with power and physical abilities – or more to the point, much of the time, a strong character is immediately thought to be “kick-ass”.

This is a fallacy. There are many different kinds of strength (Ana is particularly fond of the quiet type of strength), and a character’s strength is not necessarily tied to physical prowess. Rather, strength of a character is integrally tied to how well a character is written by his or her creator.

For a character to be written well, he or she has to have some form of agency.

Which brings us to the point of this post.

Female agency in SFF, or the lack of it, is a huge deal, and it has been so for years. Very recently – and prompted by this very celebratory month – blogger Justin at Staffer’s Musings has started a series of posts about character agency. Justin has invited authors from across the SF/F world to chime in, answer questions, and write posts on this very provocative topic.

The posts have been both fascinating and illuminating – particularly this post from author Michael Sullivan, who writes epic fantasy in a world that resembles Medieval Europe. In this post, Sullivan explains that in order to keep a sense of authenticity he has followed the social conventions of that age. He goes on to say:

In that context, women do indeed have fewer opportunities than men. Does this mean that I think women shouldn’t have agency? Not at all, and in fact I have a six book series where women break the bonds of convention and become as strong and independent as any of their male counterparts. It’s true that early in the series some women are portrayed as locked in established roles, but I did so to provide a contrast to what they develop into.

We don’t mean to pick on Mr Sullivan but his words are unfortunately representative of the frame of mind that usually accompanies female characters without agency in SFF, based on a dual fallacy. The first refers to the issue of authenticity in SFF and the other to the very notion of what exactly defines a true-to-life representation of said authenticity.

In our opinion, to call for authenticity in SFF when it comes to female character agency is completely bogus. If you have a made-up Fantasy world with dragons, with magic, and other fantastical elements, why in the world the ONLY thing that needs to be “authentic” is the lack of agency of women?

Not to mention, we completely disagree with the assumption that in lands like Medieval Europe women were not able to exert any kind of agency or power because of their restrictive environment. To assume this is to ignore the very human capacity for adaptability and strategy – not to mention the factual evidence that while medieval women certainly were far less empowered than modern women, these females were active, even leaders, in the commercial and political spheres. Author Kate Elliot wrote a post about this very topic a few days ago, and this excerpt below part is of particular interest:

Even in patriarchal societies of the past (and present!), women who might otherwise have been banned by custom or law from partaking in the public life of politics, power, learning, work and so on still had personalities. I can’t emphasize this enough. People–even women!–have personalities regardless of how much or how little political power they have. People can live a quiet life of daily work out of the public eye, and still have personalities. Really! They can still matter to those around them, they can matter to themselves, and they can influence events in orthogonal ways that any self respecting writer can easily dream up.

SO! All of this said, where can you turn for science fiction and fantasy that features female characters with agency? We call your attention to the following list as a starting point:

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy/Naamah’s Blessing Series

Jacqueline Carey writes female characters that are chock full of agency, that embody different kinds of power, that embrace different roles and explore issues of gender, sexuality, and politics. These books are AMAZING.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Series

If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier yet, please, please rectify this huge gaping hole in your SFF reading. Marillier’s heroines are all so very different – some are curious and brash with power, some are quieter, subversive characters. They all, however, are brilliant.

Feed by Mira Grant

Mira Grant’s Feed

This first book, starring the cutting, exposition-laden (in a good way!) narration of a female character named George (for George A. Romero) is an unexpected mix of medical procedural, political thriller, and zombie awesomeness.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

The Incredible Assorted Works of Catherynne M. Valente (see: The Orphan’s Tales duology, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, A Dirge for Prester John)

No one can write effortless, lyrical tone as well as Cat Valente – add to this her beautifully complex, matryoshka-style of stories within stories within stories, and you have one of the best fantasy writers of our generation.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson & Alpha & Omega series

Patty Briggs writes two very different types of heroines in these spinoff Urban Fantasy series’ – Mercy is capable, independent, no nonsense, and a refreshingly under-powered character in a sea of UF stereotypes that tend towards wearing black leather, trash talking and are immensely over-powered. Conversely, heroine Anna (of the A&O books) has lived through some terrible things and derives her power not from brute strength or badass attitude, but from her ability to calm those around her.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott’s Spirit Walker Trilogy

We love Kate Elliott’s heroines, Cat and Bea, and admire how different these characters are while still maintaining their own separate power. A fantastic fantasy series that we highly recommend.

Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor and Barrayar collected together now in one ominbus called Cordelia’s Honor

While Miles Vorkosigan may be the star of her Vorkosigan saga, the books all began with one very memorable heroine in Cordelia. (And plenty of empowered female characters abound in this series, too.)

Thanks Kristen, for allowing us to blab about such a fascinating topic!