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The Horror Read: The Silence of the Lambs

Posted December 17, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in a series of posts where I read my way through the winners of the Bram Stoker Award for a horror novel, in an attempt to not just read more horror fiction, but also gain a better understanding of what a horror novel is in the 21st century. 

The second winner was a sequel, of sorts: Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.

The second official Bram Stoker winner for best horror novel, The Silence of the Lambs has clearly gone on to forge an ever-evolving legacy as a classic of the horror genre. Throw a pillow and you’re bound to hit somebody mentioning fava beans and chianti, discussing lotion-rubbing in the third person, or just idly wondering when the lambs will stop screaming.

Hannibal Lecter has become so iconic that the character has entered into that white noise of cultural references, whereby we are never really sure if the constant humour invoked at imitating or channelling Lecter – by way of Anthony Hopkins – is merely an attempt at staving off the nightmares of Lecter the cannibal.

In fact, so dominant was Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of Harris’s novel, that it’s easy to forget the character’s establishment in the earlier novel Red Dragon, which in turn was adapted by Michael Mann in his 1986 film Manhunter, where Lecter was played by Brian Cox, in an underrated yet highly chilling performance.

And there is more of Cox’s Lecter in the most recent incarnation of Harris’s character in the TV series Hannibal, with Mads Mikkelsen’s performance of the lead character far closer to Cox’s than Hopkins’s portrayal, both in wit and humour and engagement with the other characters.

So, has Hannibal Lecter become the Hamlet of horror? What is it about the character that seems to encapsulate so much about the genre that storytellers and actors are repeatedly drawn back to it? And, as always, where is the horror?

The fascinating thing about Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is that he is not, at least initially, the most horrific feature of the story. This is consistent with Red Dragon, where Lecter is an advisor to the horror that the nominal protagonist – here, Clarice Starling – witnesses and attempts to overcome.

Starling’s investigation into Buffalo Bill’s serial murders is the stuff of Law & Order and CSI, with a little dose of X-Files and Millennium thrown in for good measure. In short, it’s a police procedural into a horrific crime. This is not the mystery with the horrific reveal, like so many gothic horrors from the 19th century. Starling is our guide into the horror, our Virgil guiding us by the hand through Purgatory and into the pits of Hell, but we see everything as we’re going. There’s no surprise here. The dread, the dreaded horror, is that we must walk with her. And she keeps going.

Everything about the reader wants her to stop, but at the same point we are compelled to go. Just as she keeps returning to Lecter for more advice, for more of his company, so we want to see the horror more closely for ourselves.

Horror is a car crash. We can’t help but look. This insatiable desire to look at something that we know is going to terrify us.

Harris has, in effect, envisaged and established much of the late 20th century’s and early 21st century’s obsession with police procedurals, crime scene minutiae, tabloid horrors and the cultural currency of shocking images. It is hard to imagine the glut of tepid crime shows on TV without The Silence of the Lambs. It is shocking to realise that we have turned the horrific fascination with real-life serial killers in the 20th century into ever-present fictional serial killers on TV in the 21st century.

Has Harris made us love serial killers so much that we need them as entertainment?

This is decidedly new horror, in contrast with Swan Song which just seemed to capitalise on already established tropes. Harris is suggesting a hell of a lot about modern culpability, when it comes to our readiness to accept and include the disturbing in the everyday, which goes some way to explaining the traction of his characters. It is interesting, in the latest incarnation on TV, that Harris’s characters are returning to our screens to remind us that if we just watch murders and murderers constantly on TV, then we are no better than they. But if we watch them to understand, to empathise, then perhaps we might learn how human behaviour can get us to such horrific horizons.

There is an interesting aspect to Harris’s writing in The Silence of the Lambs, where it is for the most part written in the past tense. However, At the beginning of certain chapters, Harris allows the reader to experience scenes in the present tense – such as when we first see Lecter’s cell – as if suggesting to the reader that whilst this is a story, the story is still here, still happening. It allows the horror to extend beyond the pages.

Next, it’s Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons, which won the Bram Stoker in 1989.

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One week ’til Lick: NSFW Edition

Posted June 24, 2013 by Anne

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With exactly one week to wait until the release of Lick, the first instalment in Kylie Scott‘s Stage Dive series, it’s time for another sneak peek. This one is a little bit NSFW, so be warned.

Evelyn Thomas’s plans for celebrating her twenty-first birthday in Vegas were big. Huge. But she sure as hell never meant to wake up on the bathroom floor with a hang-over to rival the black plague, a very attractive half-naked tattooed man beside her, and a diamond on her finger large enough to scare King Kong. Now if she could just remember how it all happened. 

I felt all lit up inside. Like a potent mix of hormones was racing through me at light speed. His other hand curled around the back of my neck, bringing my mouth to his. Kissing David threw kerosene on the mix within me. He slid his tongue into my mouth to stroke against my own, before teasing over my teeth and lips. I’d never felt anything so fine. Fingers caressed my breast, doing wonderful things and making me gasp. God, the heat of his bare skin. I shuffled forward, seeking more, needing it. His hand left my breast to splay across my back, pressing me against him. He was hard. I could feel him through both layers of denim. The pressure that provided between my legs was heavenly. Amazing.

“That’s it,” he murmured as I rocked against him, seeking more.

The Up All Night book blog has an excellent interview with Kylie up today, as well as a review (and some visual inspiration that is very much appreciated, above). Here’s an excerpt from the interview;

Up All Night: We loved David and Evelyn’s story! Can you share any details on what’s next for the Stage Dive band? And whose story are you most excited to tell?

Kylie: Everyone loves Mal! The reaction to him has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s brilliant to see. You know, I had plans to do Jimmy next because he really needs a good smack upside the head from love. But people are so into Mal. I haven’t decided yet.

Up All Night: Well, we vote for Mal!

So, you have several others books in publication. Can you tell us a bit about them? How are they different or similar to Lick?

Kylie: The Flesh series, Flesh and Skin, is an erotic romance set Post-Zombie Apocalypse. Flesh is a bit darker than Lick. It’s been described as The Walking Dead with much more sexy times and romance. I really wanted to do a book about survivors. And after the downfall of society, all bets are off. The setting lends itself to some extreme situations which makes for a hell of a lot of fun. Colonist’s Wife is another erotic romance. This one is a novella size sci-fi tale of a mail order bride sent to a gritty mining colony on one of the moons orbiting Jupiter.

To read more of the interview, and for the reviews of Lick head over to the Up All Night blog. For more about Lick, or to pre-order your copy, the book page is here.

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Glamour, Humour and Charm: Skyfall review

Posted November 28, 2012 by Chris Allen

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If, like me, you’re an Ian Fleming fan first and a Bond movie fan second, mark my words: you will love SKYFALL.  If however, you prefer the vodka martinis, the cheesy one-liners, or the gadgets and gimmicks of earlier Bond films – the exploding pens, invisible cars and so on– don’t despair. The essential ingredients of the 007 franchise  – glamour, humour, charm -  are still front and centre in the long-awaited 50th anniversary 23rd film directed by Sam Mendes, but they’re present in a way that is much more a reflection of our times and tastes.  The requirement to suspend your disbelief still holds strong and there’s just enough of the old tricks & gadgets to remind you of the rich history behind any Bond film. Besides, I’d be a hypocrite if I decried any story that presents such a perfect balance of gritty realism with a liberal dose of escapism!

I was more engaged by Daniel Craig this time around than I was in his last outing, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, in which I found his Bond surly and arrogant.  For the record, he was incredible in CASINO ROYALE - I saw that film half a dozen times at the cinema.  Back then, Craig convincingly portrayed the raw material that would become the secret agent – the wet-behind-the-ears new boy under immense pressure to prove himself worthy of Double-0 status. A nice parallel given that Craig’s appointment as the new 007 met with a fierce backlash from diehard fans.  Craig had as much to prove as Bond himself. His hunger to prove the detractors wrong was palpable in CASINO ROYALE and in SKYFALL he has very successfully channelled that hunger again.

In his performance, the core elements that drive the man to act so selflessly and under any circumstances on behalf of his country – loyalty, integrity, devotion to duty – are not affected, they’re just there. The relationship between Bond and his boss, M, once again played with such conviction by the inimitable Judi Dench, is an obvious metaphor for everything we have come to expect of the character – the quintessentially tenacious British Bulldog. In his devotion and loyalty to M, the lofty ideal of serving Queen & Country as courageously and unreservedly as 007 does, is presented perfectly in a very intimate and familial way which makes the entire premise utterly believable.  This is underpinned by the majestic yet understated performance of Javier Bardem in the guise of agent-gone-bad, Silva. In fact, Bardem’s opening scene involves an extremely challenging sexually charged situation involving Bond. It was unexpected but brilliantly done and the confidence, reality and humour conveyed by both actors is priceless.

Unlike many of his predecessors, Silva is no megalomaniac.  His motivations and objectives are significantly more clinical, more personal than the Blofeld-Stromberg-Drax variety of the old days and this is what is so engaging. He has been personally wronged, he has suffered intolerably as a result and he is hell bent on revenge at any cost. We’ve all been there, right? More than anything Silva is flawed (obviously), vulnerable (disturbingly so) and damaged (beyond repair). But what makes this film so great is that these traits are equally true of Bond and M. The history and volatility that connects this unlikely threesome – 007, M & Silva – is the centrepiece of the entire narrative and its strength and plausibility is achieved by the outstanding performances of all three.

If you haven’t guessed already, I absolutely loved this movie. This is not the Bond of Connery, or Lazenby, or Moore, Dalton or Brosnan. Daniel Craig has indisputably captured the Bond who clung protectively to Gala Brand under a shower while the tiles blistered and boiling water rained down upon their bodies, as an atom bomb launched just metres away through a blast wall in MOONRAKER, 1955. His Bond is the guy you can imagine, swimming through Caribbean coral at midnight to rescue Solitaire, with spear gun in hand and a limpet mine strapped to his chest, running the gauntlet of sharks and barracuda in pitch darkness only to be dragged down to the edge of death by a murderous octopus in LIVE AND LET DIE, 1954.

As a fan who first discovered Ian Fleming & James Bond as a teenager back in 1977, I feel as though the franchise has finally gone full circle. The earliest films – DR NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER & THUNDERBALL – all remained reasonably true to the original novels. After that it was pretty much a free-for-all in terms of outlandish plots and spectacular stunts. With Daniel Craig’s entry to the series, CASINO ROYALE began the process of returning us to the raw material, QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a bit try hard, but now SKYFALL has absolutely hit the mark.

In SKYFALL Daniel Craig returns 007 to the world imagined by his creator, his family seat, his history and his heritage.

It is unequivocally the Bond of Ian Fleming.

If you’re a fan of the Bond films or Fleming books, you’ll love the INTREPID series. Click on the book jackets to find out more.

 

 

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Podmentum: the one where we discover “bathetic” is a word

Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne

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Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.    

Topic  1 - What we read: Genre v Lit

Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.

Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.

Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.

Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell? 

*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.

Topic 2 - Devices: how we read

Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.

Amazon Paperwhite

 iPad Mini 

Recommendations

Joel’s Recommendation The Silent History – Eli Horowitz The Victory Lab – Sasha Issenberg

Anne’s Recommendations January First – Michael Schofield Life in Publishing Tumblr

Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded Universe

This episode of Podmentum was brought to you by Stalin’s Hammer: Rome by  John Birmingham, and Drive Me To Distraction by Caitlyn Nicholas 

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Don’t be a sock puppet, be a helping hand

Posted September 18, 2012 by Anne

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Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the book world about reviews and criticism. There have been warnings about an epidemic of niceness on social media, articles on unfavourable reviews, the outing of sock puppet reviews on Amazon, and revelations of authors buying reviews in bulk.

Discoverability (drink) has been overtaken by sockpuppeting (drink) as the buzzword of the moment in publishing circles (so says FutureBook maven Sam Missingham), but it’s still the central concern of most ebook publishers. Readers can’t just go into a bookstore and pick up one of their books – they need to stumble across it in the wilds of the online jungle, so reviews and web chatter are increasingly important. Little wonder some authors are driven to fake their own book reviews.

If you’re concerned about how technology and web culture is affecting books, reading and writing, there are several things you can do. There are so many authors and books out there that for the truly excellent to come to the fore they need a bit of help from devoted readers.

I’ve put together a handy list of things you can do to support your favourite authors, and help fellow book lovers.

1. Buy books. I know right, easy

2. Read books. Bizarre, yes, but proven effective

3. Review books. Review widely, review often. You don’t have to be a professional reviewer anymore for your opinion to count  (thanks Internet!). All you need is an account with your friendly (internet) neighbourhood retailer.  Amazon is likely to be the most effective, but there is also Apple’s iBookstore and Goodreads. Or you could even set up a blog and become one of those people that publishing publicity departments adore, a book blogger. But let’s not get too crazy

4. Social media mention it up. Post your thoughts about the latest book you’re reading on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – hell, even Google+. Do it as you’re thinking about reading the book. Do it when you buy the book – post a photo of the cover. Do it mid-read, if you are inspired by a particularly interesting plot twist, or a beautiful sentence. Triumphantly announce your completion upon finishing the book, or mourn the end of a particularly brilliant book. The more you talk about reading, the more you will motivate others to read

5. Give ebooks as gifts. Okay sure, ebook gifts aren’t quite as impressive as a gift-wrapped print tome, but they are usually far less expensive and far more portable. Just enter in the email address of the lucky recipient, and bam, you’ve made someone’s day. Unless you give them a diet book or something. Don’t do that. Ebooks aren’t just for Christmas guys. They’re an everyday gift. Give one today.

May I suggest one of these?

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My Recovery: Eating Disorder Survivors and Experts weigh in

Posted August 28, 2012 by Anne

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Testimonials are coming in thick and fast for Julie Parker‘s forthcoming My Recovery: Inspiring Stories, Recovery Tips And Messages Of Hope From Eating Disorder Survivors.

“Recovery from an eating disorder can seem confusing and distant. My Recovery brings you closer. Through the hopeful and from-the-heart stories of individuals who’ve been there, My Recovery reveals what recovery looks like. It features valuable insights and tools for recovering from eating disorders and leading a healthy and fulfilling life. This beautiful book has a powerful message that everyone needs to hear: Eating disorders are devastating, serious illnesses. But recovery, while personal, difficult and far from linear, is absolutely possible for everyone. I highly recommend reading My Recovery. It’s one of those books you’ll keep turning to and want to share with others. ”

- Margarita Tartakovsky, Weightless

“My Recovery is brilliant. It’s beautifully written and clearly articulates how different everyone’s journey through illness and wellness is. Treatment cannot be a one-size approach because just like the illness, recovery comes in all shapes and sizes and what works for one person may not work for someone else. All patients, families and treating professionals should read My Recovery.  It’s emotional, hopeful and most importantly, inspiring. For those of us in the thick of the illness, it shed a little light and some hope that there is an end in sight.”

- Ella (in recovery)

“My Recovery will be wonderful resource for people with eating disorders and their loved ones. Hopeful and positive, yet realistic, the powerful message that “Recovery from an eating disorder is possible” comes through in each survivor’s story.”

- Jane Cawley, Maudsley Parents

“As always, Julie’s words are given with kindness, care and compassion. The gift in this book is that it will gently accompany the reader on their own journey of transformation and blossoming. I am sure this book will be of great comfort and empower the many who read it.”

- Grace McClure

To read more about My Recovery, or to pre-order the book, click here.

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Aurealis Review: The Last City by Nina D’Aleo

Posted August 20, 2012 by Mark

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In case you’re not subscribed to Aurealis, here’s a review from their newsletter of Nina D’Aleo’s The Last City.

 

The Last City, by Nina D’Aleo

Momentum

Review by Crisetta MacLeod

 

Here is something really new and different! You’ll stumble at first, coming to grips with the many mongrel races, not all of them human, but persevere, it’s so worth it.

I think you might fall in love, as I did, with the inept but ultimately heroic elf, Eli, and his pet otter Nelly. He is clumsy and has a speech impediment, but he is an inventive genius.You’ll sympathise with Silho Brabel, the new recruit to the elite Trackers protecting the city of Scorpia–she gets everything wrong on her first day, and struggles to suppress strange powers. You’ll take a while to get used to the cold commander, Copernicus.

Who are the goodies, who the baddies? The underworld criminals might not be all bad. The militia are obviously not all good. The servant class of Androts are getting murdered and abducted, and are behaving in uncharacteristic ways. Ev’r Keets, the ultimate baddy awaiting the death penalty, forms an unlikely alliance with little Eli, who persists in seeing good in her.

There are witches and demons, ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Strange, different, in constant turmoil, I loved this curiously gripping story.

 

 

Click here to purchase a copy of The Last City

 

 

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Aurealis Review – Ms Cellophane’s glorious revenge

Posted July 17, 2012 by Anne

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In case you’re not subscribed to Aurealis, here’s a review from their newsletter of Gillian Polack‘s Ms Cellophane by Crisetta McLeod.

“This is such an endearing and funny book. Ever been stung to death by a queen bee boss at work? You’ll love this humorous fantasy tale which culminates in glorious revenge.

The protagonist, Liz Smith, is satisfyingly true-to-life, as a middle-aged woman with no family whose life has centred around her job. She is suddenly ‘let go’ and throughout the book ponders the meaning of her middle-aged, disconnected new self.

The magical element of the story centres around a second-hand mirror, which is prone to populating its sometimes-visible internal world with captured people. Liz is seduced by its charms at first but, along with her adopted house-mates, comes to realise just how dangerous it can be.

She experiments with a bit of romance, with cooking, with interior decorating, and with nurturing younger folk who flagrantly take advantage of her. All the time she is reinventing herself, exploring who she might become, while relishing her new-found freedom.

There are lots of Lizs about, and although they may not have magic mirrors, they will recognise themselves here, laugh a lot, and rejoice. And so will all their friends and acquaintances. Read, learn and inwardly digest­­–and giggle.”

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Laughter and Cruelty: Book Review

Posted June 6, 2012 by Anne

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Excerpt from a review by Kim Bartlett.

Until I started to cry the Sikh driver, Mr. Singh didn’t believe me when I said we wanted them to take us to an animal shelter on the outskirts of the ancient Indian city of Jaipur, instead of shopping for rugs.

Earlier that morning we had refused to ride an elephant to the top of the Amer Fort, and they reluctantly arranged for a jeep. At the temple atop the fort, we were deeply upset to learn that a goat was being sacrificed inside, and refused to enter. At the temple where pilgrims fed pigeons for good luck, we were pursued by a legless beggar on a roller cart. The only experience we had enjoyed that day was when a languor monkey jumped down from a parapet in front of my son Wolf, who was only seven then, in 1997, ripped a garland of marigolds off Wolf’s neck, and quickly climbed back to the top of a parapet to eat the flowers. It was over in half a minute. First we shrieked, startled, and then began to laugh. The driver was convinced we were crazy.

Even with directions, the Help in Suffering sanctuary wasn’t easy to find. We drove through the old walled “pink city” to a highway that cut through the typical urban sprawl of a populous Indian city, where temporary huts made of garbage bags sheltered street people on sidewalks that surrounded the walled yards of new middle class dwellings. Mr. Singh stopped several times to ask again for directions. The farther out of town we got, the more likely were the people to know of the animal shelter.

Finally we made a turn off the highway onto a smaller road, and quickly saw a sign for the sanctuary. The car was surrounded by a pack of barking dogs and people who seemed to like them. At once I felt at home. Through the happy chaos emerged Christine Townend, the Australian managing trustee of Help in Suffering, and her husband Jeremy.

Thus began my friendship with Christine – poet, artist, and animal activist – whose life story is told by biographer John Little in Christine’s Ark: the extraordinary story of Christine Townend and an Indian animal shelter. Little binds Christine’s multi-faceted history into a coherent whole.

John Little writes of Christine’s first trip to an Indian slaughterhouse in 1989:

“In Australia she had seen pigs slaughtered by sticking a knife in the heart; she had seen frightened cattle rolling their eyes as they were carried along a conveyor belt toward their destruction; she had seen sheep electrocuted between the ears in order to render them insensible to slaughter; she had visited ships where Australian sheep were packed three to a square metre to endure the three-week journey to the Middle East; she had seen hens crowded into battery cages, and pigs kept most of their lives behind iron bars.

But now she began to understand the massive hidden killing which was happening all over the world. She had not thought until then about the significance to humanity of this calculated, callous war between two kingdoms of nature, with one the permanent victim and the other the eternal aggressor. The cattle, especially, touched her heart. The whipping, the shouting, the pulling and pushing toward the noise and smell of blood, the moans and grunts of dying, bleeding, shattered, ripped creatures–all this they meekly endured with their great, confused, helpless, staring eyes. If they had fought or argued it might have been easier, but their trust and their misery at human betrayal seemed to render them immobile. They raised no protest, no questioning voice. And they almost seemed to redeem whatever was done to them by their soft meditative eyes that were the gentle eyes of herbivores who had never killed, never warred, never tortured; who had worked and served patiently and unquestioningly under the yoke that galled and marred. They were driven and whipped, always hungry, usually thirsty, always tired.

Yet at the end of all this they were killed, without having been thanked once, without even one touch of love. She wondered if perhaps somewhere in a field, secretly, a peasant farmer had embraced those sweet-smelling necks for one last time. Perhaps once they had been loved, had been thanked, had known compassion. ‘If I could have asked one thing it would have been that someone somewhere had loved them, that my own love could assuage a lifetime of human indifference. I loved them as deeply as it was possible for any person to love. They were my creatures, of me, my beloved animals, my God.’”

In describing her anguish, Christine spoke for all who suffer because of their empathy for animals.

Many of the stories in Christine’s Ark include mention of other people who are prominent in the animal welfare cause. However, some of the most touching tales are about unknowns and poor people whose poignant struggles to save their own animals make Christine’s Ark a story of compassion for people as well as animals. Case after case underscores the bond of interdependence that exists between humans and animals, whose ultimate natural expression is love.

While portions of Christine’s Ark might bring the sensitive reader to tears, most of the stories are inspirational and uplifting and some are quite funny.

Far from accepting retirement, Christine recently emailed, “I know I have more work yet to do of a more demanding nature.” One can only marvel at her spirit, and hope for a sequel to Christine’s Ark.

Originally published in full at Amazon.com, here.

Find more information about Christine’s Ark here.

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