Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Iguana Tree: Review and Giveaway

"The truck slowed, then stopped, but this time was different. The engine cut, and the silence now frightened Héctor as much as had the deafening roar.  Instinctively the men fell silent, their prayers ceased to be voiced though surely each prayed his hardest now, in silence."
~The Iguana Tree, Michel Stone


I live in a city that's about fifty percent Mexican, so I was drawn to The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone, a novel about a young family who emigrates from a seaside village in Mexico to America with the dream of a more prosperous life.  Published in 2012, this book features chapters which alternate between the points of view of Héctor and Lilia, a young married couple with an infant, Alejandra.  Héctor leaves Puerto Isadore first, with the help of coyotes, and although the journey is long and difficult, he arrives in the United States, and finds work and a home in Edisto Island, South Carolina.  It seems idyllic to him, although he ardently misses his wife and child. His plan is to work hard and save money for a year to bring them to the United States. But Lilia's world and tranquility implode soon after Héctor's departure, and she's impatient to join her husband in America. When she's offered a chance to leave sooner rather than later, Lilia decides to leave Mexico with her infant daughter, against the wishes of her husband. As Lilia's situation turns ugly and violent, she experiences extreme uncertainty and sacrifices too much in exchange for a chance at a better life in America.

Whatever your beliefs are about illegal immigration, The Iguana Tree will demand your full attention, and break your heart.  I don't want to say too much about the plot and spoil it for potential readers, because this book should be read, not merely read about.  It's incredibly gripping, gritty, frightening, emotional, and powerful. The characters in this book, especially Héctor, Lilia, Alejandra, Crucita, Miguel, Lucas, and Elizabeth, will remain in your mind, and in your heart.  It depicts illegal immigration as a very dangerous undertaking. (I knew it was difficult but I did not imagine that it could be so risky and horrific, a brutal battle for survival.)  As I read this short novel, the author made me care deeply about the plight of this family, who only wish for a better life in America, like countless immigrants coming here, armed only with hope.  It's a riveting book, which I cannot praise enough.  The writing is lucid and beautiful.  I've just finished reading The Iguana Tree, and I want to read it again, already.  This novel has the makings of a classic.  Michel Stone is a brilliant contemporary writer, and I truly look forward to reading her next book.

Wonderful news!  Hub City Press is generously offering a copy of The Iguana Tree as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, May 14. One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, May 15. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For additional reviews, please visit the other stops on TLC's The Iguana Tree book blog tour.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cat Thursday: Reading Cats

Mugsy, nose in a book

Mandy, reading a chapter book






Cat Thursday, hosted by Michelle from The True Book Addict,  is a meme I've had my eye on for a while, but have never before attempted.  I've often noticed the intrinsic connection between reading and cats. What a great pleasure it is to read with a cat at your side (or in your lap, if you can manage to hold your book without disturbing that purring lump), or to catch your cats in the act of reading. ;)

This post is dedicated to Sara, in loving memory
(1994 - 2012)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Desert Intrigue: Review and Giveaway

Desert Intrigue: The Adventures of John and Julia Evans, published in 2012,  is the fourth and newest book in this mystery series by author Linda Weaver Clarke, which includes Anasazi Intrigue, Mayan Intrigue, and Montezuma Intrigue.  In this book, the action and mystery center around Julia's brother's dude ranch in Mesa, Arizona.  Kelly, Julia's brother, has inherited this land from his father, which includes a ranch, farm, and fruit orchard. The cast of characters in this book also features John and Julia Evans and their daughters, April, who's preparing for her upcoming wedding, and the irrepressible twins, Sharlene and Faith, as well as several young, "eligible bachelors", some of whom work at the ranch. The  twins visit Uncle Kelly in Arizona to cheer him up and help him out at the ranch, which seems to be haunted.  They are having a wonderful time,  but one too many reported sightings of the (mythological?) Thunder God undermine their security and make them feel uneasy.

"The girls hesitated and then shook their heads. The whole thing was unnerving.  What bothered them the most was how fast the ghost seemed to disappear after being sighted!  Whenever someone saw it, Uncle Kelly quickly hopped on his horse to check it out.  Each time he found nothing.  How did he disappear so quickly if he was a real person?"
~Desert Intrigue, Linda Weaver Clarke

As in other books in this series, Julia continues to have strange dreams, and a sense of foreboding.   Her intuition tells her that something is not quite right, and she's worried about her brother, because his dude ranch, which was flourishing, has seen a dramatic drop in business.  She's not sure what's going on (and neither is the reader), but she suspects that someone wants to sabotage his business.  Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate, and she and John join their twin daughters at Kelly's Arizona ranch in an effort to figure out what's happening.

Desert Intrigue is an entertaining and joyful book, my favorite in this mystery series by Linda Weaver Clarke, which I think would make an excellent TV mini series.  I love the sparks of romance in this adventure--they spice things up and add much interest to the story.  The book has a handful of surprises that I did not anticipate, and the mystery fuels much of the action.  The author includes some of the delicious-sounding recipes mentioned in the story at the end of this book, including chicken salad wraps (made with red grapes and pineapple!),  and Hal's prize winning chili.

Linda Weaver Clarke is generously offering a copy of Desert Intrigue as a giveaway (U.S., paperback, or ebook, everywhere else) to a lucky reader.  Although this book is part of a series, it can be easily enjoyed without having read the preceding books.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, May 7. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 8.  Good luck!

Special thanks to Linda Weaver Clarke for sending me her new book, Desert Intrigue.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Stinging Fly: Sweet Pea

Published in Dublin, Ireland three times a year, The Stinging Fly showcases the work of emerging writers, and features new Irish and international literary short fiction and poetry.  I won the spring 2012  edition of this literary magazine, edited by Declan Meade, on Mel's blog, The Reading Life, compliments of writer Ethel Rohan. Yesterday I received my copy in the mail, and last night I had a lovely time reading it in bed (with my ginger-hued Persian cat nestled at my side--sublime).  In this cozy manner, I read a good portion of the short stories in this publication, but have not read much of the poetry yet.



One of the stories I read was Sweet Pea, written by Ethel Rohan, who was born and raised in Dublin, but now resides in San Francisco.  In this story, which is set in Ireland, the main (unnamed) character, a married woman raising a family, has an odd bit of anatomy, a white wing in place of her right shoulder blade.  It's a very unusual and fascinating story, written in the first person, about this woman and her best friend, Betty, whose face glistens when she talks about her Sweet Pea plants, and who's building a dollhouse for her daughter, Melba.  Like many close friends, the women have zany little adventures together, and take a trip at the suggestion of their husbands, to an IRA training camp in the forest, where they feel free enough to do handstands. 

I was touched by this short story, which is about friendship, the passing of time, and loss. Since the author and I had been emailing back and forth, I asked her to tell me how she came up with the idea of the character's chicken-like wing.  Ethel took my query a step further, and graciously elaborated on the inspiration behind Sweet Pea.

ER: The story was triggered by something my dad told me while I was in Ireland last summer. He's an avid gardener and has the most amazing Sweet Pea plant in the back garden. The bright green and baby pink Sweet Pea climbs right up the back wall of his house. Dad described how the Sweet Pea grows tall and straight, and that it's only if and when the plant comes in contact with another flower or plant that it curls round and round that other object. That was the kernel that kicked off the story. Then, shortly after our return from Ireland, my husband built the most amazing wooden dollhouse for our daughter, so that was the second trigger for the story. As for the rest, the characters and ideas flowed right out.

Interestingly, I read the story a few months ago when I was in New York and afterwards one of the audience members said, "You got that white wing idea from Nights of the Circus!" I HAD read and loved Angela Carter's novel, Nights of the Circus, years ago while in college and had entirely forgotten that book and the white wing. So who knows what influences and stays at the subconscious level. There's also of course Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, that I also love and that no doubt helped fuel this story. There are so many books I've read but have largely forgotten. It's heartening to think that we never really forget these stories we read and that the works continue to nourish us long after (we think!) we've left them behind.

That is a heartening thought! Ethel, thank you for taking the time to give us this background information, and for sending me The Stinging Fly, a wonderful literary magazine.  Thanks also to The Reading Life for hosting Irish Short Story Week (now extended through July 1), which has helped me to discover both modern and contemporary Irish authors.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Song Remains the Same: Review and Giveaway

We all have occasional lapses in memory. We may forget to do something important, forget to pick up a needed item from the store, or forget someone's name or birthday. That's pretty normal.  But what if, suddenly, all memories of the past were completely extinguished? Kaput! What if you couldn't remember anything about yourself: what type of personality you had, which schools you attended, what your job was, where you lived, who your family and friends were, as well as the myriad of little details that are also essential? You'd feel rather lost, because we define ourselves on what has been, even though every day is new. That would be a very difficult and incomparable situation, not one I'd like to be in, even though in some ways the idea of a clean slate or fresh start is nice (that's the appeal of a new place, relationship, or book, even).

This is the premise of the novel that I've just read, The Song Remains the Same, by Allison Winn Scotch, published in 2012, my first book involving a character afflicted by amnesia.  In this case, the amnesia was brought on by a devastating plane crash in which there are only two survivors, Nell Slattery, the protagonist, and Anderson Carroll, a handsome and charming actor (sought by Spielberg).  In this book, Nell (named after the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby) tries to regain her memory through pictures, both photos and paintings, with the help of friends, family, and professionals, and also through music.  Her younger sister, Rory, attempts to help Nell by giving her an iPod with hundreds of songs on it, to see if music will jog her memory, help her recover the past.  However, Nell learns from a colleague that when it comes to her marriage, it may be better to forget, because her husband, Peter, has slept with another woman.  Her mother wants her to forgive Peter, while Rory seems adamantly opposed to any sort of reunion with him.

"I wouldn't say that I was raised on romance. Let's not get stuck in the past."
~Elvis Costello, Pay It Back  

As Nell sincerely tries to remember the past she has lost in the crash, she soon realizes that reconstructing it is no easy task, and that the truth is hard to uncover.  She tries wholeheartedly to remember, she tries to be a good person, and she also tries to rebuild her marriage and trust her husband.  Inspired by the TV show, Friends, she also attempts to adopt a more dynamic personality.  I give her an "A" for all of her effort.  I rooted for her and wanted her to regain her memory, or at least enough of it so that she wouldn't feel completely disoriented, without an identity and frames of reference.  Nell focuses intently on her artist-father,  Francis, who disappeared when she was a young teenager.  She believes that her father is an important key to her past, and to regaining her memory.  Nell feels that solving the mysteries surrounding her father, who's supremely talented artistically (but also very selfish), will help her in the present.

Photo of Led Zeppelin, courtesy of Wikipedia
While I appreciated the incisive writing and this story, I was left wanting just a bit more, musically speaking. The title of this book is the name of an album, film, and song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, and some of the chapters have titles which are the names of popular rock songs, so I waited for the "meat and potatoes" to arrive--but I'm not sure that they ever did.  Songs do eventually help to spark Nell's memory, but I wanted music to be even more central and defined in the story, and I wanted to learn more about her musical talent, which was on a major hiatus.  Her musical talent seemed diluted and secondary to the painting talent she also had, an inheritance from her father (although that was probably intentional, a sign that Nell had chosen her absent father over her present, "musical" mother).  I'm a huge fan of music--it's one of the greatest pleasures of my own life--so perhaps my expectations in this regard were too high.  But, I felt as if the musical aspects of this novel could have been explored more deeply, instead of being alluded to.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book.  I'd definitely like to read Allison Winn Scotch's NY Times bestseller, Time of My Life. The Song Remains the Same does make you think about what you'd do in similar circumstances, without memories of the past to guide you. Would you rely on your gut feelings or intuition?  On others?  How would you (although I dislike this overused term, it truly fits here) "reinvent" yourself?  And practically, how would you piece together the past, and live in the present?  The premise of  The Song Remains the Same was unique to me, and the book is humorous, well-written, and thought-provoking.

The Penguin Group is generously offering a copy of The Song Remains the Same as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter. 

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, April 30. One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, May 1. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advance copy of this book. For more reviews, please visit the other stops on TLC'sThe Song Remains the Same book blog tour.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Magpie Tales #112: Virtual Shell

                                                                                                       


The only way there is to take a shell and float over.
Oh, really.
Yes, you must pass through, not disturb any of the good eggs in your path.
Okay.
Be careful please.
Yes, I will be. How long is the trip?
That depends, it may seem like a long time; take it one day at a time.
I am in a hurry.
Did you have breakfast?
Yes, I had some eggs.
Excellent. (Aren't you glad I didn't say egg-cellent?)
Yes, thank you.
You're welcome, now be on your way.
But my shell, it's. . .
Broken? Cracked?
Yes.
That doesn't matter.
Are you sure?
A virtual shell will never fail you, just GO!
Okay, good-bye! 
 Bon voyage!


Picture and writing prompt from Magpie Tales. Your comments and feedback are welcomed as always.

Friday, April 13, 2012

GoneReading Giveaway

I'm positively thrilled to host this fabulous giveaway from GoneReading, a company that specializes in reading-related products, such as bookish t-shirts, scented candles and diffusers (inspired by great authors), book lights for printed books and eReaders, book club and library-themed gifts, and a lot more.  On a philanthropic mission, GoneReading very generously donates 100% of after-tax profits to fund libraries and reading-related charities  around the world! 

One lucky person will win an item (or items) of his or her choice with a value of up to $20 from GoneReading!  Here are a few examples of the wonderful wares they offer to book lovers.  

Fun t-shirts

Lovely note cards

Simply charming!


There are many ways to earn extra entries in this giveaway, which is open to readers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

  • To enter this giveaway, visit GoneReading, look around, and choose which item (or items) you'd like to win, valued at up to $20 (shipping will be gratis as well).  Mention what you chose in your comment here. 
  • For another chance at winning, follow GoneReading on Facebook.
  • For an additional chance, leave a comment naming your favorite product on GoneReading.com
  • For another entry, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Please be sure to let me know which entries you've earned in your comments here.  Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, April 30.  One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 1.  Good luck!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tell Me A Story

How do I describe this book, Tell Me a Story: Stories From a Childhood in Old New York by author and artist Bea Gold?  More aptly, how can I do this book justice? It's a striking collection of thirty-six one-page stories accompanied by vividly-colored, impressionistic paintings that illustrate her writing. The paintings are large enough to really see, and the stories are many things--amusing, surprising, touching, believable--but never boring or dull. This lively book is a blend of dazzling paintings and stories, a picture book to savor alone in free moments, or to read out loud, story by story, with a child. The stories are based on the author's memories as the only child of Jewish immigrants growing up in "old" New York,  Brooklyn, in the 1930s and 1940s.


The Seashore

The War at Home
Click on photos to enlarge


I grew up in NY, and although I'm not Jewish, I had many Jewish childhood friends (some of whom I'm still in contact with), so I slipped into this book with ease.  I know many of the places mentioned in the book, and have even taken classes at the Art Students League in NY,  like Bea Gold.  (Unfortunately, I've also had the same experience the author and her friend had on the subway more than once, as mentioned in her story, The First Stop.)  There was a lot in this book that I could relate to and understand. The paintings in the book, along with the stories, were exhibited in art shows in Los Angeles, CA (where the author lives),  in 2008 and 2009.  (I'd love to see her art in person.) This is a sumptuous graphic memoir, a coffee table book of the highest caliber, even if you're not familiar with Jewish customs or NY.  It's just beautiful!

Special thanks to Bea Gold and Bostick Communications for sending me this book.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday: More Words with Friends

I'll admit that I spend too much time playing Words with Friends on my iPhone (though I'll willingly turn off my cell phone on airplanes).  One of the pleasures of playing is making up words that sometimes turn out to be actual words, by trying various combinations of letters to form plausible words.



Yesterday I played zorils and scored 54 points. It wasn't a mega-word (100 or more points), but it was substantial enough to give me a nice lead.  I then looked up zoril. 


1. zoril:  a weaselike African animal, resembling a skunk in coloration and habits, also called an African polecat, zorille, or zorilla

Our night safari tour guide told us to beware of the zoril; The Guinness Book of Animal Records states that a zoril once kept nine lions at bay while it was scavenging their kill, due to its strong, putrid smell.  (I smell a . . . zoril?)



Zoril


I also "made up" the word jato.  It was accepted as a word by Words with Friends. What on earth does jato mean?

2. jato: an acronym for jet-fuel assisted take off; an aircraft takeoff aided by an auxiliary jet or rocket; an auxiliary jet-producing unit providing additional thrust for a takeoff

Some of you probably already know that jato is a term used in engineering and aeronautics. 


America's first "rocket-assisted" take-off,
performed at March Field, California, in 1941.


Apparently, jota is also a word. I could have played jota, but went with jato instead.

3. jota: a genre of music and the associated popular dance known throughout Spain, most likely originating in Aragon; the music to which the dance is set, normally of 3/4 or 6/8 time

The jota dancers wore colorful costumes and were quite energetic.

Aragonese Jota Dancers


Photos courtesy of Wonderful Wikipedia



Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog. What new words have you made up discovered recently?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Really Random Tuesday #44: Edna O'Brien, Ebooks and Quotes

It's been ages since I posted a Really Random Tuesday post! Since I have some book-related news, I thought it was time for a new one.

Open Road, a digital publisher and multimedia content company based in NY, contacted me about the ebook publication of two titles by award-winning Irish author Edna O’Brien, August is a Wicked Month, a novel, and The Love Object, her first collection of short fiction.  Her work revolves around the innermost thoughts and feelings of women,  and their difficulties with men and with society as a whole.  Last year, I reviewed Edna O'Brien's short story, A Journey, for Irish Short Story Week (hosted by Mel from The Reading Life) so I've sampled her short fiction.  I'm eager to read her novel,  August is a Wicked Month, which The New York Times called  “a serious and moving piece of work.”



A few quotes from Edna O'Brien:
“Writers are always anxious, always on the run--from the telephone, from responsibilities, from the distractions of the world.”

“When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.” 
"They used to ban my books, but now when I go there, people are courteous to my face, though rather slanderous behind my back. Then again, Ireland has changed. There are a lot of young people who are irreligious, or less religious. Ironically, they wouldn't be interested in my early books - they would think them gauche. They are aping English and American mores. If I went to a dance hall in Dublin now I would feel as alien as in a disco in Oklahoma."
~ Edna O'Brien, Writers at Work, ed. George Plimpton, 1986

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I don't have any book winners to announce, and I'm not hosting any new book giveaways right now, but I have some links to exciting giveaways hosted by other book bloggers on the right side of my blog, so please take a look if you're interested.  To enter these giveaways, simply click on the book covers.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog.  For other Really Random Tuesday posts, please visit Naida's blog, the bookworm, and Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews.  Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 2, 2012

We Bury the Landscape: The Art of Flash Fiction

Sometimes, more times than I'd like to admit these days, I feel sort of "old school".  I grew up typing papers on typewriters, and using correction fluid or tape for errors. The switch to a personal computer was pretty easy for me (I'm a huge fan of Apple computers), and I'm tech savvy enough to have a blog, but in some respects, I'm rather "old school".  In my mind, I still picture writers hunched over typewriters,  cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. (Not the healthiest image, thanks to Hollywood!) And flash fiction, also called microfiction, is a relatively new concept to me. I've heard of flash fiction (and have tried my own hand at some writing prompts, like Tess Kincaid's Magpie Tales),  and I enjoy reading short stories, very much, but what constitutes the essence of  short, short stories, called flash fiction?  What is flash fiction? Additionally, I noticed the word 'ekphrastic' used in reviews of We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection, a new collection of flash fiction by Kristine Ong Muslim; I needed to look up this word.  Before I could attempt to write something about this author's work,  I had to do a bit of research.

What is flash fiction? Wikipedia to the rescue! Flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity.  Although there are no hard and fast rules or requirements for this genre, many pieces of flash fiction range from three hundred to one thousand words, although to Steve Moss, editor of the New Times, the requirement is exactly fifty-five words. The title of a piece of flash fiction is often short as well, seven words or less.  As for the term ekphrastic, it means a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art. 

We Bury the Landscape, published in 2012,  is a collection of one hundred flash fiction stories based on various pieces of art (mostly paintings), by writer Kristine Ong Muslim, whose short fiction and poetry has been featured in numerous publications around the world.  Her short, descriptive, intelligent flash fiction is ekphrastic; each is based on a work of modern or contemporary art, by artists like Salvador Dali, René Magritte, and Joan Miró.  Although the artworks were not pictured in my copy of the book, I did not miss them; it was easy to read and savor the power of her pieces, which are bold and evocative, sometimes humorous, and always to the point, in a way that must be unique to flash fiction. Because of the brevity involved, each word must be exactly right.  Her pieces are impactful, expressive,  and profound.  Here are a few lines from her piece, Colored Pencils, inspired by Paulo Rosa's coloured abynthesis--coloured pencils:

"Our eyes bleed a thousand colors as you push us against paper.  Funny how you think these strokes are yours.  They are our pain, you see, our stories." 

As I read We Bury the Landscape, I had a couple of questions for the author, which she graciously answered for me.  Fittingly, here is the micro-interview.



1) Why did you choose to write flash fiction?  How were you introduced to this genre?

KOM: I chose flash fiction because of its aesthetic quality – it can be forced to appear as a single block of prose. When I planned to write We Bury the Landscape, I imagined the artwork on the left page and the block of prose on the right. I also believe that there is no way I can make longer stories out of paintings. The story is already sort of pre-written for me. I am a big reader of clever, entertaining, pithy stories. Rhys Hughes is one of my favorites; he has clearly mastered the art of the flash fiction. The writers who introduced me to flash fiction were Bruce Boston and Bruce Holland Rogers.


2) What additional work of art, if any,  do you wish you'd also written about in this book, and why?

KOM: A Michael Whelan art! Michael Whelan did many of the covers of the books on my bookshelf. I should have done, at least, one mini-tale for one of his paintings. But alas, I already reached the 100-story mark when I realized the oversight. If I did a Whelan story, then I would probably choose this particular minimalist image. It’s called Passage Avatar. And it would probably be about a sentient gate wondering where everybody had gone.

Kristine, thank you for answering my questions, and for sharing this stunning collection with me. You, too, have mastered the art of flash fiction!

Your comments are appreciated as always.

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