Tag Archives: short story collection

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: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Games-Words-Stories/dp/150254413X/ref=la_B00U4YT9MW_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431957697&sr=1-1

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.

Congratulations to Russell Reece

Russell Reece

FCR’s fiction editor, Russell Reece who is a writer of short stories and poetry was recently honored by the Delaware Press Association Annual Communications Contest placing first. The poem, Spring at Dames Quarter, was published here in The Fox Chase Review: http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/w14rreece.html

mud lake

Russ’s collection, Mud Lake Trilogy, was also honored with a 2nd place award.  http://www.amazon.com/Mud-Lake-Trilogy-Russell-Reece/dp/0692025472/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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.




Einstein’s Beach House – Stories by Jacob M. Appel

einsteinPaperback: 188 pages

Publisher: Pressgang (December 5, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0984940588

ISBN-13: 978-0984940585

Review by g emil reutter


In Einstein’s Beach House, Jacob Appel, tackles family relationships, love affairs intermingled with hedgehogs, turtles and mental illness. Of Rabbis and conductors, child advocates and child molesters. These eight stories flow nicely in a matter of fact voice of the author, who no matter what the topic is, makes sense of it all, or does he?

The title story is set at the Jersey shore when a couple finds out that their home, which has been the home of the family for generations, was once Einstein’s beach house. The father, who is out of work, begins to give tours of the house at twenty five bucks a head. His wife is not approving but accepts the cash until a knock comes to the door and it is Einstein’s niece who has come a knocking. Appel is a master at character interaction, defining the family relationship between parents and children in short order.

Appel writes quirky stories, humor pops up in unexpected places and the stories flow with great energy. It is in these dysfunctional stories Appel tells us it is ok to be who you are, no matter who you are. He leaves us sometimes with joy, sometimes with broken hearts but always writes stories that keep moving even when death is just around the corner.


You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Einsteins-Beach-House-Jacob-Appel/dp/0984940588/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417220259&sr=1-1&keywords=einsteins%27s+beach+house+by+jacob+m+appel


g emil reutter at Chop Suey Books-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA). https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/


Thugs, Con-Men, Pigs and More by g emil reutter


g emil reutter’s first fiction release since 2008, Thugs, Con-Men, Pigs and More, has been released by Red Dashboard Press and is now available for purchase at Amazon.

Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Haywire said of this collection:

“Reading these short, muscular stories by g emil reutter is like walking into the lives of good people who experience bad things. When trouble comes, these people do the best they can, but often it isn’t enough. Violence and heartbreak are just around the corner, and most of the stories end with a twist—perhaps the twist of a knife. As you keep reading, though, you find the humanity, community and even love in each difficult situation.”

Poet and critic Stephen Page said:

“These are stories that knock you back with short powerful jabs of empathy.”

To check out the book simply click this link: http://www.amazon.com/Thugs-Con-Men–Pigs-More-Reutter/dp/1502434873/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414853825&sr=8-1&keywords=thugs%2C+con+men%2C+pigs+and+more

Celebrity Chekhov By Ben Greenman

chekcoverPaperback: 205 pages

Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 5, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0061990493

ISBN-13: 978-0061990496



Reviewed by Stephen Page.

The first thing a reader may think when he picks up this book and begins reading it is “why?”  I say “why not?”  In Celebrity Chekov Ben Greenman updates a selection of Anton Chekhov’s short stories and replaces the characters in the stories with contemporary celebrities. Is this satirical? Yes. Funny? Hilarious.  Greenman and Chekhov’s talents as writers can account for all this. Greenman doesn’t just update the stories and replace this character for that character—Greenman rewrites the stories, re-establishes them, revives them.  Why not bring to the present great short stories from the past?  People have been updating Shakespeare on stage and on film, quite successfully I might add, for decades, if not longer. And Shakespeare is supposed to be, quote, “timeless” and “immortal,” as is Chekhov.  Yes, some great writing does wear longer than other writing, due to the ability of the author to create recognizable characters drawn from inherited human behavior, and some writing stays popular due to the writer’s ability to create empathic situations created by said characters, but I say nothing is immortal or timeless.  Consider just how many years ago Shakespeare lived, or even how many ago Chekhov lived, and compare those numbers with how long ago modern Homo sapiens first appeared on earth, and compare that amount of time with how long the earth has been around, and compare that amount of time with how long the universe has been around, and compare that to.  .  .  well, you get it. Right?   Finally has anyone reading this taught high school or had a teenager in his or her home?  How many of those teenagers love to see a Shakespearean play set in Shakespearean settings? Not many, and of course it depends on their socialization, and, well, furthermore . . . getting back to my main point, “why not?”


You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Celebrity-Chekhov-Stories-Anton-P-S/dp/B005DI9VUE


stephen-in-the-countryStephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan.  There he worked in factories, gasoline stations, and steel-cutting shops.  He always longed for a vocation associated with nature.  He now lives in Argentina, teaches literature, ranches, and spends time with his family. http://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/


A New Fiction Release from Russell Reece

We are pleased to announce a new fiction release from our fiction editor, Russell Reece. The Mud Lake Trilogy was released by Shell Bridge Books on May 8th.



“Russell Reece excels at writing stories about creepy guys in cars. Here are three good ones.” – Elise Juska

You can check out the book here:


The State of Kansas by Julianna Spallholz

Review by: Nancy Jainchill

The demarcation between fact and fiction has become increasingly blurry, which although controversial, is largely welcome. In Julianna Spallholz’ debut collection, not only are the boundaries between fiction and poetry sometimes nebulous, her images and experiences and voices are so concretemany of these short vignettes could easily “pass” as nonfiction. A number of the pieces sound real and feel real. One could characterize the writing as nuanced observations, the elaboration of particulars, whether thoughts or actions and, in a number of the stories, sequenced events.

Many of these vignettes are disturbing. I was unsettled by events in the stories that are close enough to ordinary to be hauntingly believable. The thoughts the narrator shares are thoughts that any reader might have had at some time in her life. For example, “The Boyfriend” fringes fantasy and reality. Although the writer’s boyfriend is not literally a vampire, the piece is grounded in a psychological reality of destruction and immortality.

Spallholz is effective in creating suspense. “Men” starts out slowly, almost boring. The tension builds with the suggestion of threat, and the threat becomes more dangerous, and then with a theoretical “flick of the wrist,” the threat is removed, and the story ends. This is similar to the vignette, “Dog.” The reader is left with no sense of resolution, although the narrator escapes.

A number of the vignettes capture an element of the absurd and slightly macabre. In the “Village.,” a tale that is less than half a page, the protagonist hits and kills a deer, and then straddles the dead deer, which is warm and soft, to reach the village, “a slow effort” for both of them.

One of the longer stories, “Thanksgiving,” deftly portrays  a stereotypical Thanksgiving meal. Spallholz shades the tale with humor, the narrator laughing at herself. She also offers wonderful detail about eating behavior: “The others at the table fed themselves well, with energy, with concentration, with stamina. …the busy sound of breath through the nostrils, the satisfied grunts and burps and mm sounds, the juicy sounds of spit mixing with food mixing with tongues…”  And further on, a sensuous description of cutting into a pie, juices, “angel babies…and the bright, promising, perfect future” bursting forth.Throughout, there is a twisted sense of the macabre—a mixture of the sinister and the absurd. The title piece, “The State of Kansas,” also a longer piece about memorizing the states, has wonderful humor, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a connection to The Wizard of Oz,” “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” How can anyone forget the state of Kansas?

Spallholz’ writing is parsimonious and efficient. She uses a minimum of words to convey a feeling, a message, even a story arc, sometimes in only half a page. The focusing on the minutiae of daily life, as she does in the piece, “The Bug”—the individual’s actions, thoughts and ruminations—are  familiar to the reader. There is a stream of consciousness quality to these vignettes that reflectthoughts that we all have but generally keep to ourselves. In “Jump,” Spallholz writes about night fears that includedetails about how she will rescue her cat in case of fire. These stories, which reflect our common realities, our inner, mental perambulations, I found most effective. “Who Will Take the Cat” is another example of this kind of writing. The humor and accuracy about how decisions are made of who gets what, in relationship breakups is wonderful. And the story ends with a larger question, the heart of the matter.

Not all stories can “work” in a collection such as this one. For those that don’t carry themselves, the purpose of telling the story is less apparent. There are also several instances of short writing—the pit bull, its teeth clenched to the limb of a tree cannot also be screaming. It’s important when reading such an imaginative book not to be too literal.

Mostly, though, Spallholz makes you stop, take a deep breath, and sometimes laugh, while at other times, feel a deep discomfort in the pit of your stomach—a lot to achieve in any work and proof again that the best art almost makes the best read.

     Nancy Jainchill is a psychologist practicing in Woodstock, NY and New York City. She has edited the volume, Understanding and Treating Adolescent Substance Use Disorders, forthcoming August 2012. She is currently a MFA candidate at Bennington College focusing on creative nonfiction.