Category Archives: fiction review

The Secret Games of Words by Karen Stefano

Secret games of wordPaperback: 126 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 24, 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 150254413X

ISBN-13: 978-1502544131

Review by Robert Hambling Davis

I met Karen Stefano at the 2008 Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, where we were in the same critique group with nine other fiction writers. For her critique, Karen chose a story she calls “Undone” in her debut collection, The Secret Games of Words, which was published by 1 Glimpse Press in March 2015. “Undone” might have had another title when I first read it, but I remember being impressed with the format of the story, in which the attorney narrator, who works in the L.A. Public Defender’s Office, has to answer a personality inventory as part of her mental health evaluation, after a courtroom hearing which could result in her being committed to a California psychiatric hospital for a year. She must answer true or false to each of the nineteen questions on the inventory, which she does. She then justifies each answer for the reader, and these justifications are the meat of this tragicomedy about a woman who is coming undone in her love life and her professional life, and whose terminally ill father wants her to kill him.

The title story of The Secret Games of Words is written in the form of an email from the narrator, missusjack1, to her husband, JackLabRat, after he’s dumped her for his lab assistant. On a downward spiral, the narrator has been fired from her job as the mayor’s communications director, for making a typo in a press release, omitting the “f” in “Shifts,” so that the printed headline reads: “City Council Shits on Mayor’s New Policy.” She blames the typo on her stress over her dying father (a recurrent theme in Stefano’s stories), and as she drinks vodka to dull her pain, she entertains the following thought, which begins her “Period of Decline”:

“I realized then how consonants change lives. A shift turns to shit, friends turn to fiends, Native Americans with their proud heritage become naïve Americans, an epidemic. My mind flew in an endless loop, listing all the better mistakes I could have made.”

Later, when her husband comes home for the last time (he’s already shacking up with his assistant), the narrator tries to talk to him about the secret games of words, calling them “little pranksters wreaking havoc in our lives.” Then, attempting to make a joke over her misfortune, she tells him: “You got laid. I got laid off. One’s good, the other’s bad. Get it?” In the course of the story she loses her job, her husband, and her father, but the way Stefano has missusjack1 tell the story makes it comical, and this is a trait of most of the stories in this first yet accomplished collection: the main characters are haunted by bad luck, often forced into high-catastrophe-living mode, on the brink of madness, yet at the same time they have the ability to laugh at themselves. They don’t laugh at themselves, though. They’re in too much pain. Yet the way they tell their stories tells the reader that they are still able to see life as a comedy.

You can find the book here:

rhdavis-1-Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has been published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.


After the Gazebo by Jen Knox

after_the_gazeboPaperback: 185 pages

Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (May 31, 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1495106128

ISBN-13: 978-1495106125

Review by g emil reutter



There are many sides to life, Jen Knox, an observer, brings to our attention the stories of people we may not normally see. There is the lady on the bus who speaks to everyone on her way to visit her recovering daughter, not sure if the clean and drug free daughter will be there or the other daughter. Her nervousness results in speaking to people on the bus. She gets to know the regulars, speaks to new folks if they like it or not. She brings gifts to those she gets to know on the regular route of this bus. The character knows people who takes buses don’t have cars. The tension builds in the story, as in all stories in this collection, with an unpredictable conclusion. She writes of the perfect couple with the perfect small wedding with just a hint that something isn’t right. There is the wandering daughter who has left home many times only to return but never when she says she will arrive. Her mother makes excuses, her ill father knows why.

Knox is a master at character development in these very short stories, she brings us into their lives, we get to know them and then just as quickly she throws us out as we look for more. There is an electricity that flows through this collection, not a sedentary moment.

After the Gazebo is a collection of stories of people you may be familiar with in your own lives. Many of whom you don’t pay attention even though they live right in front of you, neighbors, may be in your family, or those you see every day on the way to work.  Knox writes of them, sometimes gentle, sometimes brutal, always in a forthright manner. After the Gazebo is a must read.

You can check out the book here:


g emil reutter '15-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. He can be found at

Love Highway by Stephanie Dickinson

lovehighwayPaperback: 230 pages

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil Publishing (September 5, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1941550169

ISBN-13: 978-1941550168



Review by Lillian Ann Slugocki


This is Feminist Noir

Love Highway by Stephanie Dickinson is a duet for two voices. It is a Rashomon-like narrative; two voices, two points of view, one story. A girl, Nylah, disappears after a night of clubbing in Manhattan. She is found in a trash heap, in New Jersey, strangled. A slight wisp of a girl, and a true story.  The first voice we hear is hers –the girl who is dead.  We walk with her on the last night of her life. The second voice we hear is Trinity, the girl who was there, who saw the whole story unfold, right before her eyes, and did nothing to stop it.

Dickinson has mastered the art of character; each voice is chillingly authentic. I recognized my 18 year old self, and the stupid choices I made. Hitchhiking on a highway at four in the morning comes to mind. A  miracle I made it home alive, and inevitable that Nylah does not. Interspersed in her narrative is a back story, a love story– one that reveals her naivete and her innocence, her privileged background which is a counterpoint or perhaps counter weight to the second voice– Trinity, a prostitute, paralyzed by love, bound to her pimp.

Dickinson is at her best when the story turns on the tiniest of details– how something smells, how something feels, what is sounds like, what it tastes like. I will forever see the overturned carton of Chinese noodles on the floor of the Weehawken Motel, and I will always know how hot it was the day the pimp and prostitute hauled her body to a dumpster in an abandoned lot. I will always know the color of the sky, and the weight of the gym bag that cradled her body, and the geography of the empty Manhattan apartment where Trinity hid out after the murder, the shower she took hoping to wash away the stain of her life.

Pacing and dramatic tension work best in the second half of the book. Without knowing this was based on a true story, I still understood Nylah wasn’t going to get out of this alive.  I knew that a girl walking alone on the West Side Highway, in a white mini-skirt, would come to no good. However, the fate of  Trinity was always in question. Her pimp could kill her, too.  Her foster parents could rescue her. Or, she could jump on a Greyhound bus and disappear. I wanted to see what happened to her. The epilogue is especially graceful  as Dickinson circles back to Nylah in the morgue; confused, but not especially afraid of the cold room and the smell of formaldehyde.

The book is dark, but this is redeemed by the humanity, and again, the authenticity of each voice. We might be frustrated and even angry by Nylah’s choice to strike off on her own at the impound lot, or Epiphany’s stubborn refusal to leave her boyfriend/pimp, but we do understand them. They are human, they are flawed, they are real to us, and Dickison renders each of them with language and imagery that is both lyrical and damned:

“When they reached Cooper Union the club girls were clustered in bunches. The fish girls in their slippery hair and mini skirts stood smoking cigarettes, their shoulders draped by fringed shawls. Like silken fins. Silken was the word for them.”

This was not an easy book to read, I had to put it down several times; especially when Nylah’s narrative takes us to the trash heap where her body comes to rest, or when Trinity smokes crack to ease the horror show of the hotel room, just as the sun is coming up. But Love Highway grabbed me, hooked me, and wouldn’t let go.  As a woman and as a writer, I recognize the need to tell these stories. I am happy that, in the hands of Stephanie Dickinson, they are authentic, even though as a reader, I am uneasy, discomfitted. This is not happily ever after. This is feminist noir, a real cold light shining on a real, cold story.


You can find the book here:


Lillian Ann SlugockiLillian Ann Slugocki  has been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Newtown Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, THE FEM Literary Magazine, HerKind/Vida, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown,  The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Non Binary Review. Her novella How to Travel with Your Demons will be published by Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015. She has an MA from NYU in literary theory, and has produced and written for Off-Broadway and National Public Radio. Follow her on twitter

No Ghosts In this City by Uddipana Goswami

cover page (1)Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Zubaan Books (October 27, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 9383074078

ISBN-13: 978-9383074075

Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches

Review by Ananya S Guha

Uddipana Goswami’s  collection of  short stories entitled : ” No Ghosts In This City” are a remarkable collection for their sociological imagination, a dip into Assam’s diverse culture, compassion and pathos. These stories turn fact to fiction: facts about society caught in web of changes, facts about the common man caught in the vicious cycle of militarism and militancy. The stories show the trauma of individuals, the complex currents of ethnicity, inter community hiatus and most of all the need to understand- empathy. What happens when an Assamese girl falls in love with an impoverished tribal boy, who changes, but not before he has actually witnessed his mother killed by armed people? His ‘change ‘ arises out of anger as he accuses the ‘others’ of  treating his community with contempt. Again and again the stories reflect on this- unleashing of a painful divisiveness, which is the brutalization of society. The pain and the brunt is borne by a young mentally debilitated girl, or an educated lady coming back to her village in search of her roots.The girl had seen her father brutally killed by army men. Perhaps this was the cause of her silence and trauma. The story ” The Swing” ends on a tragic note with the girl dead.

These stories take you to a dark world, a world experienced by many. They speak of ghosts and stories. They take one  to an ethos of rural life, where suffering is silenced or hushed. They are beautifully but simply crafted and the last two stories : ” The Hills Of Haflong ” and ” The Rains Come From Behind The Curtain ” take us into the world of poetry and abstraction. ” This Is How We Lived” is an example of living with the times, getting so used to brutalization, and desperately trying to forge peace. Somewhere deep within these stories is an yearning for peace and nostalgia is evoked, as for example in the story ” Andolan ”.

Also, in these stories is the question of the fateful why. Why cannot a Hindu get married to a Muslim? Perhaps there is no answer. The stories also give a glimpse of the wave of immigration in Assam since the British hey days.All these including the migration of tea workers, mainly from Central India are part of historical processes, leaving unfortunately sharp cleavages in society.The stories recur with historical migration and communities once at peace with one another, now divided.Yet this is Assam’s vibrant and colourful culture. The hills and the plains must co-exist, must fraternize. ” Melki Buri” is an exquisite story of an old lady known for her loquacity who suddenly dies. The villagers who avoid her like a plague, feel that veritable and proverbial lump in their throats when she dies. This story is a vivid portrayal with mythic and religious  elements.

The stories are cognizant of historical processes which have shaped Assam. They are a coloration of folk culture, history and social realities. They are marked by pathos and compassion, and  use the language of prose and poetry. In fact the  stories talk of the prose and poetry of life. Goswamí’s fictional world is the town of Barbari. What happens there can happen anywhere in Assam, India and by extension the world.

This is a collection of deeply moving stories etched in shades of darkness, grey and light. They do not portray violence, but characters who are a product of it. At the base of them lie a finely tuned moral question. The protagonist in at least two of the stories, feels that he/ she has been responsible for killings in the wake of ethnic clashes. The individual conscious  or conscience  becomes inseparable from the collective.


You can check out the book here:




ananya-Ananya S Guha works at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) as a Senior Academic. His poems in English have been published in International / National Journals and e zines. He also writes for newspapers, does book reviews and writes on matters related to education. His recent works appeared in the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry edited by Sudeep Sen. He also writes book reviews, articles for newspapers and articles on education, distance education and vocational education.




Pre-Winter 2014 Editions of the Fox Chase Review


For those looking for The Fox Chase Review pre 2014, Sandra Davidson is currently working on converting the files into a web friendly pdf file .You will be able to access  the file at www.thefoxchasereview  by clicking  the archives link when she completes the transfer.

The Spirit Bird by Kent Nelson

spiritSeries: Pitt Drue Heinz Lit Prize

Hardcover: 336 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (September 19, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822944367

ISBN-13: 978-0822944362


Review by Robert Hambling Davis

Like Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Kent Nelson’s collection, The Spirit Bird, features birds, or at least one bird, in every story. Each story is set in a different location, including Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, and California. Many of the characters are avid birders, but the stories themselves explore the lives of lonely men and women trying to resolve their cultural and racial differences, or to overcome the isolating effects of past traumas by seeking a connection with the human community, or the natural world, or both.

In “Alba,” Último Vargas runs his own door-to-door movie business in the New Mexico desert, where he is forced to live and to compete with Netflix. “The Hotel Glitter” portrays a single Hispanic mother who commutes three hours a day to work at a hotel spa near Telluride, and must choose where her loyalties lie when her childhood friend shows up unexpectedly and creates a scene at the spa. “Who is Danny Pendergast?” features a man who can turn into a donkey, and Hakim, the Middle Eastern protagonist in “Race,” is a glassblower and runner who alters his priorities after surviving a clinical death in a marathon.

The fourteen stories are character-based, and most of them have open-ended conclusions, as if stand-alone first chapters of novels, leaving the reader to speculate over possible sequels. The metaphoric “spirit bird,” which thematically ties these stories together, shows what its different characters have lost, usually through emotional trauma, and what they must struggle to overcome to rectify their impoverished lives and feel a sense of community.

An avid birder, Nelson has identified more than 757 North American species. Birding, he says, has made him more “aware of looking,” and this practice “has meshed nicely with [his] writing.” He is a world traveler, with a doctoral degree in Environmental Law from Harvard, and one of the pleasures of reading The Spirit Bird is its detailed descriptions of wildlife. Nelson is also a mountain runner, a sport he’s trained in since 1996, and he’s run the Pikes Peak Marathon twice. Several of the characters in The Spirit Bird search their inner selves in ways reminiscent of the willpower and endurance of long-distance runners. Nelson’s short fiction has appeared The Best American Short Stories, The Best of the West, the O. Henry and Pushcart anthologies, and The Best American Mystery Stories. He has also published two novels, Language in the Blood and Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still.

His prose is well-crafted, and the collection won the 2014 Drue Heiz Literature Prize, which offers a cash award of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. David Guterson, who wrote Snow Falling on Cedars, was the judge.

The Spirit Bird will appeal to readers who like stories featuring complex characters who seek new personal horizons amid natural landscapes.


You can check out the book here:


rhdavis-1– Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.

Triple Time by Anne Sanow

tripleSeries: Pitt Drue Heinz Lit Prize

Hardcover: 168 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (August 28, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822943808

ISBN-13: 978-0822943808

Review by g emil reutter

Through the winds and heat Saudi Arabia comes alive in the words of Anne Sanow. Triple Time is a collection of stories about expats and Saudi’s interacting cultures. It is in fact the clash of cultures that provides the tension and drives the movement of the book. The author who lived for two years in Saudi Arabia, brings forth an honest set of stories. There are the Americans, Mexicans and Yemenis. The lonesome desert farms, dreams to make a big buck and the rip off. Sanow gives us a view of Saudi Arabia only and insider could provide. In great detail she writes of those thrown together on weekends for sex and parties for there is nowhere else to go. The parties of the expats fueled by alcohol and drugs and the loneliness of existing in rules, just not for the rich.

There is no feeling sorry for the characters in these stories, no empathy either. They exist in this land by choice and willingly call Saudi Arabia home. Yet Sanow communicates the hope and desires of these people who live in a land and for people who have no respect for them.

There is the story of the two wives of a Saudi, one native the other American. The conflicts for the grandmother of the children, the divided heart of the American wife who desires to return home, to a home she never actually had.

Sanow meets the cultural conflict head on using the exotic landscapes, high rises and market places of this strange and mystical nation. Her characters pulse with the heartbeat of reality, a reality she has converted into fiction as only a person who has been there can do.

You can check the book out here:


g emil reutter 2-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA)