The Rag Literary Magazine June issue 6

The Rag Literary Magazine Issue 6

Seth Porter , Daniel Reilly , Justin Duerr (illustrator)

Genre: Anthology, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Poetry, Magazine

Five stars

Personal failure, self-examination, and the tyranny of entropy fill the pages of the Rag Lit Mag in June. Staying true to the monthly anthology’s gritty theme, the tales range from base to darkly whimsical on a tour through the self. My favorites for this issue were Best Work and On Bread Alone with their forays into the whimsical and departure from grim reality into both symbolic and spiritual regions. One or two tales, I felt ended too soon.

Best Work shocked and charmed with the artist’s self-destructive (literally) artistic process and the near-prophetic nature of his meeting with the homeless girl and her voracious drawing.

Bread Alone spun a bittersweet tale of a man who lived multiple lives through different bodies, jumping haphazardly from one to the next, yet knowing every thought and experience of the new self. The narrator’s profound love and ensuing spiritual journey was both ridiculous and beautiful.

The featured artwork was fascinating, and made me want to zoom in and examine closely the active, colorful, joyful, images tinged with terror and darkness.

The poetry in this issue fit well with the theme, illuminating scenes in sharp detail and drawing me into their emotion.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Dancing in the Shadows of Love by Judy Croome

Dancing in the Shadows of Love

By Judy Croome

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction

Five stars

The tales and perspectives of three women intertwine in a story through time. The child Lulu is an abandoned and shunned albino living in a society that considers her cursed. Zahra overcomes her shattered past of abuse, suppressing her victimized inner child to become a proper “Templeton wife” for a rich son of a pharmaceutical empire. But she lives on a precipice of self-control, and always in the shadow of her beloved, charismatic mother-in-law, Grace. Jamila grows up in poverty and shame because of her gambling father. Once she reaches adulthood she flees to Old Sea City to find a better life. There she meets Zahra’s grandson and they fall in love.

After a betrayal by her first love and a prison sentence for the crime of another, the adult Lulu meets the young woman Jamila and her grandmother-in-law-to-be, Zahra. The three women’s lives intertwine through their loves and their beliefs. Can the mysterious Enoch help them to release their pain and revive their hearts, or will the betrayals of others throw them into a hell of despair?

Judy weaves Dancing in the Shadows of Love into a tapestry of words. She uses past, present, and future; first person and third person, and different perspectives through different eyes to show the complexity and heart-wrenching sorrow of life. Though her characters know what is right, they can’t always find it, follow it, or surrender to it. Through their successes and failings she displays the many facets of faith and sin.

Her scenery feels like a strange mix of another world and this one, fluctuating between the two in a fascinating mix. Some scenes feel like an ancient barbaric past, and others feel like modern times. I enjoyed her interesting symbolism, and though I didn’t always feel I understood each nuance, they created a mystical and emotional feel for the scenes.

This story deserves more than one read just to soak in all the meaning. Bravo to Judy for a beautiful tale! I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Heat Lightning by Ruth Coe Chambers

Heat Lightning

By Ruth Coe Chambers

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

3half

The town of Bay Harbor waits for the return of their fathers, sons, brothers, and fiancés from World War II. While they begin to enjoy the return of freedoms lost through rationing and the war effort, they gradually welcome the men and face the aftermath of battle with them. Some return unable to face the lives they once led, while others come home to build lives they never started.  Through tragedy and renewal readers can join in the dynamics of the people of the town and their relationships. Will the town ever be the same again?

I enjoyed this story and the multifaceted characters Ruth created. Her portrayal of the small town with all the uncomfortable transparency of living really drew me in. The characters’ dramas tantalized and made me want to hear more. Their motivations and transgressions pulled me through the tale wondering what would come of it and who would win out in the end.

The structure of the story and the tragedy of the ending confused me a little after the tense but quiet life of the town before everything came unraveled. The author took on a brave task with the myriad characters and their personal dramas, mostly succeeding at separating their individual threads of the tapestry. Throughout, I wondered if Anna Lee really was the main character. Sometimes it seemed as if the book had no main character, though the ending focused on Anna Lee and her impressions. I also felt a little bit of a rush toward the ending to cram in the remainder of Anna Lee’s life before her return to the town. Her experiences in Tallahassee and beyond could have made their own book, but I think a time jump would have made more sense.  Sporadic passive writing also added some discontinuity to the narrative.

Whether you love small-town life or hate it, Ruth’s tale of a changing society in the confines of a sleepy Florida town will pull you in and  make you feel part of their life and dramas.

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Aunt Nellie B by Dixiane Hallaj

Aunt Nellie B

by Dixiane Hallaj

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Five stars

 

Aunt Nellie B plunges us into the life of Charli as a girl, a young woman, and an old woman. Through the latticework of time Dixanne weaves Charli’s tale of discovery, adventure, trial, and family. As a child, Charli watches her mother and aunts battle a mysterious curse that destroys their marriages. Through her creative eavesdropping, the girl tries to discover how to break the curse for herself and ensure her happily ever after, chronicling her discoveries in her journal. As a young woman, Charli has failed to escape the curse for the first time. We watch her frightening flight from her prince and the inner and outer struggle to break free. Through these times she finds comfort in her childhood journals. As an old woman, she strives to hold together her connections to her family through her daily efforts and attachment to the journals of her childhood. She now strives to rescue her child and other family members from the curse. Is the curse real or a child’s imaginings? Does it matter?

Dixanne took on a very challenging method of storytelling for Aunt Nellie B and triumphed. This story could have so easily become lost in the confusion of when an event happened or how it fit in with other events, but Dixanne handled the complexities with mastery. Her separation of child voice, young woman voice, and old woman voice continued to be both separate and unified in the character speaking them. I could believe that young Charli wrote the diary and the voice of old Charli came out just as distinct as her older self. Instead of confusing me, the style increased my anticipation of what came next and in what timeline.

I loved the personal dynamics and relationship of the all of the characters in Dixanne’s story. She crossed social and cultural boundaries with fluid ease. Charli’s family felt like real, dynamic people, and the main character’s insights into their personalities gave them a lot of depth. When the author introduced a fantastic element of her story, the characters all expressed their doubts and disbeliefs. I found that delightful! Their little quirks such as switching to Spanish when discussing secrets, or fears that divided them, made them feel like a real family.

Dixanne has written a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable story of personal tragedy, courage, and redemption.  I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Restoration by Elaine D. Walsh

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Restoration

by Elaine D. Walsh

Genre: Women, Contemporary Fiction, Drama

Convicted serial killer Randall Wright’s crimes included more than murder. He also destroyed a family. But death by lethal injection is the worst punishment the state of Florida can give him, so Tess Olsen, one of the “other victims” can exact no retribution. Randall Wright didn’t kill Tess in the traditional sense, but he did kill her dreams, wreck her ability to connect to others, and destroy her family.  Why did her mother, Alish, fall in love with a murderer when she had a stable, happy family? Why did she leave them all for this monster? And why did she not see the evil he wrought on her daughter? How could he deceive Alish so, and how could she be so blind?

Tess, now an adult, still struggles with the pain of her broken family and smothered artistic spark. She lives a hollow life of temporary flings with men and a career of restoring artwork instead of creating her own. Will Randal Wright’s execution set her free from the fear that still strangles her? Can she find a real relationship with the chivalrous art critic, Ben, who pursues her heart and not her body? Will she ever be restored?

Elaine writes a gripping story of the far-reaching destruction that an evil person can wreak whether they live in freedom or not. She also explores the terrible layers of wrong in divorce and the different ways it affects the survivors. Tess’ sensitive nature is prostrated by the betrayal of her mother, plunging her into an existence of helplessness and misery. No other family member is tortured so much as Tess, but Randall Wright didn’t return their kindness with horrors either.

Though dark and brooding, the tale also zings with the energy of Tess’ hope for release and thirst for justice. She hopes for Randall’s death and for her mother’s eyes to be opened. Ben gives her hope for a bright future of love, though she wrestles with her confidence that she deserves such a life. The characters around her also begin to open her up and relieve her of some of her icy suffering as they show her kindness and care about her.

Restoration is a deep and varied tale that highlights the best of people and the worst. I thoroughly enjoyed Tess’ journey through her psyche and her wrestle with herself.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Demon’s Grip by Tahlia Newland

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Demon’s Grip

by Tahlia Newland

Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary, Fantasy, New Adult, Metaphysical

Four Stars

Ariel has reached the city of Sheldra safely after defeating a second demon master. She enters the safety of Sheldra to train for her greatest challenge yet. With many difficulties, she battles the demon Emot, the demon of desire. A new twist on her weakness harasses Ariel in the form of Nick and her imagination regarding him. Can she sort out her feelings before they become an addiction?

Deep in the caves inside the mountain, her mother Nadima struggles against her own weakness. Will her Warrior training be enough to free her and the other prisoners from slavery to demons?

Get ready for another vivid tale of inner adventure made manifest. Tahlia’s spectacular descriptions bring her characters’ thoughts out into their physical world once again. She has added significantly more description of character, location, and action without losing her active writing style.

Tahlia has given us some resolution to Nick and Ariel’s frustrating relationship ambiguity in this volume, though their resolution gives birth to its own new troubles and a shocking new problem. I like the way Tahlia has made the couple into both each other’s strength and weakness.

Sometimes their interpersonal melodrama irritated me, but I’m also cranky and old with no patience for tumultuous romance. I admit their frustrating childishness brought out the big sister/mom in me and I wanted to give them a time out until they stopped with the melodrama. I felt like it drew away somewhat from the force of the story and the continuity. Once I realized where all the yearning and frustration led, I did understand a bit more why Tahlia wrote that way. I felt a bit like I missed the steps in a formula on the  progression of addiction through the story, with actions occurring that should mean something but I didn’t know what.

I appreciated Tahlia’s focus on addiction. She seems to tackle all the tough issues. The agony of that affliction and the beauty of victory over it touch most lives whether people admit it or not. She captured beautifully the shame, illogic, emotion, and power of addiction. Though I would write the story of overcoming differently as a Christian, I applaud any victory an addict can find. Salvation from oblivion and destruction should be appreciated no matter what the philosophy behind it.

Demon’s grip is yet another action-packed part of a series full of imagination and fantastic adventure.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

Although this can be read as a stand-alone novel, aspects of the story will be clearer if you have read the previous books in this series; Lethal Inheritance & Stalking Shadows.

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Deep Blood by Phillip Thompson

Deep Blood

by Phillip Thompson

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction

Four Stars

This story is a gritty, manly murder mystery tale, written about a time and place when men don’t cry and folks don’t take a picture of their dinner with Instagram. Everything fits to make messed-up characters, crazy backstories, and wonderful life to everyone in the story. Every character has character from Colt to Mr. Wofford, the kooky witness who looked like a “bloated version of Raggedy Andy”. “Just a little bit on the country side”, they called it. The main character’s description of spitting his chewing tobacco, the pleasure it gives him, and the satisfying irritation it causes in his father is a great example of the little, relevant details of the story. Somehow Phillip has made even the little things like this enrich the atmosphere .

Under the colorful atmosphere lie deep themes of shame, abuse, racism, family sins, and blame. Colt keeps his wounds to himself, but they follow him wherever he goes and color all his actions. Most characters are the same and it feels like a special treat when each one opens up. No character escapes the pain and scarring of a life in a poor town where racism and poverty have affected everyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to adults (some language, sensitive themes, and sex). I read the whole thing on a Saturday and every time my kids or the dog interrupted me, I couldn’t wait to get back to Deep Blood. I wanted to read more about Colt at the end. I hope Phillip decides to write more books about this character!

After reading Deep Blood, I realized how meaningful the title is. No, I’m not going to explain. Read the book! I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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March by Sunni Overend

March

by Sunni Overend

Genre: Contemporary, Women

Apple March has fallen short of her dreams. Instead of designing clothes, she manages a boutique. Her reasons for leaving the Emmeline Gray Academy of Design are shrouded in mystery. Her friends and family urge her to rekindle her passion for design, but the Academy’s influence reaches deep into the design world of Melbourne. Apple’s friend Charlie Beauchamp seems to have some important connections. She met him when he discovered her broken down on the side of the road, and he fixed her car by clunking her engine with his croquet mallet. He seems like magic. He draws the fatherless girl into the cream of Melbourne society with his friendly open nature and seemingly miraculous ability to fix the broken. Will Apple find romance with Charlie, or anyone else? Will she overcome the secret tragedy of Emmeline Gray Academy and design once again?

Sunni has crafted an engaging tale of fashion and romance in Melbourne and beyond. Apple is a lovable character, if a bit timid, with plenty of supportive friends to help her. Sunni makes us feel for her and want her to succeed even though we can’t be completely certain if she did the horrible thing that got her ejected from Emmeline Gray Academy or not. The sense of mystery about the event made it feel more important and scandalous when it was revealed in the end.

All the men surrounding Apple (and hitting on her) were handsome but not all good. The romantic situations thrilled and the betrayals stung me just as they did Apple. Sunni’s descriptions of places and fashion made me love them too.  Once or twice the action flagged enough for me to wonder how things would pick up and go, but overall I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Apple and all her friends. March was an ideal read for a summer afternoon. (Go Northern Hemisphere!) I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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Book extract: http://www.sunnioverend.com/files/extract.pdf

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17973433-march

Love and Other Subjects by Kathleen Shoop

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Love and Other Subjects

by Kathleen Shoop

Genre: Contemporary, Women’s

Five stars

Carolyn Jenkins is a new teacher, brimming with optimism and ready to save the world. Well, she’s at least ready to save her class full of kids from a life doomed to illiteracy and menial jobs. Life, however, turns out to be more complicated and dismal than her idealistic vision. The reality of an inner-city school and a broken system threatens to ruin her dreams. Her personal life isn’t doing so hot either. After breaking up with her long-time boyfriend, Alex, her BFF roommates Laura and Nina aren’t necessarily supportive. When she meets a mysterious older man named Jeep, Carolyn gains the courage to move forward with her life-changing plan. Over the school year, Carolyn learns the dirty truth about the school where she works, Klein the sadistic principal who is also her boss, and about Jeep’s crazy family. Can Carolyn push past all this imperfection to grasp happiness or will she lose everything she hoped for?

Carolyn was a character of radical highs and lows. Her optimism and quirky courage warred with her negativity and over-analasys of the faults in her life, others, and herself. It was kind of annoying at first and showed her extreme immaturity. Kathleen uses all the awful setbacks in Carolyn’s life to expose her immaturity, aggravate her moodiness, but also to bring out her strength and mature her. I liked Carolyn more and more through the book as I left behind her spoiled whininess and sympathized with her.

The other characters served well to help Carolyn suffer more, but they were also her strength. I liked the juxtaposition of the different personalities of Nina and Laura, who Carolyn also worked with, and their different perspectives on life. Jeep, the love interest, was a great elusive temptation and ideal in Carolyn’s life. I don’t think I could have thought of a crazier name for him, and pairing him with a brother-in-law named Ford was just hilarious.

This book entertained me and drew me through the story without boredom. The pacing was great and I loved all the subtle details of conversation and background. Thanks for the great read, Kathleen!

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Lethal Inheritance by Tahlia Newland

Lethal Inheritance

(Book one of the Diamond Peak Series)

Author: Tahlia Newland

Publisher: Catapult Press

Genre: Young adult contemporary fantasy

Four Stars

One dark and terrible night, Ariel’s mother is dragged away from their home and abducted by horrible demons. Helpless and clueless as to what has just happened to her, Ariel hopes it’s all a bad dream. In the light of morning the truth is clear. Her mother, Nadima, is gone. An old woman named Maya appears and seems to know exactly what’s happening. Trusting in her council, Ariel leaves her home and embarks on a journey into a hidden land alongside our own.

Overwhelmed with unbelievable supernatural phenomena, Ariel must act on faith and find a mysterious guide who will lead her to the evil that has abducted her mother.  Joining her guide, Walnut, and his intriguing young assistant, Nick, she will endeavor to train to reach the Serpentine’s lair and defeat her mother’s captors. Will she rescue her mother? Can she overcome these terrible obstacles and survive?

 

Tahlia weaves another fantastic tale of supernatural  amazement and peril. This story was filled with symbolism and allegory. Dealing with the very real problem of evil,  this is no lighthearted, meaningless read. Throughout the story I felt the keen awareness and grief over evil. Ariel is trapped by the Serpentine weed that pervades and cripples society, only to re-grow after defeat. It both feeds itself with evil, suffering, and negativity, and re-creates more of its nourishment with feeding.

Unique to any other fantasy book I’ve read, Ariel’s weapons to defeat these horrors are focus, clarity, and spiritual power. Tahlia has created a unique and notable new approach to magical powers. It was very interesting comparing and contrasting my own world view with the one Tahlia presented. I noticed and appreciated the references to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy! Love!

As with some of Tahlia’s other books, I found that I wished for more description or introduction in certain scenes or with certain characters. For example, I was unable to recall any physical description of the character Tynan. (I was surprised to see this unique name used here, as I also used it in Don’t Judge a Book By Its Magic. I didn’t copy, I promise!) However, the lack of description didn’t detract from the story in any way, and many of them were deferred to later on in the narrative.

Lethal Inheritance was a fantastic and fun read with lots of action and truly spectacular imagery. The emotional lives of the main characters were honest and tumultuous, drawing the reader into their points of view. Kudos, Tahlia, on another entertaining book release!

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