Review Issue 1

Day of All Saints

Written by Patricia Grace King

Miami University Press, 2017, 96 pp., 9781881163626

"King’s novella is tightly and brightly written."

Hallowed Days

Review by MariJean Wegert

           Martin Silva de Choc is haunted. Sure, it’s around Halloween and there are costumed ghosts everywhere, but he’s haunted by other things. For one, his fiancée is missing on the wedding day. If he doesn’t find her in time for the wedding, his work visa will expire, and he will be sent back to Guatemala. To add injury to insult, Martin cuts his hand on a glass fishbowl, and his frantic search for his love takes a comic, bizarre turn as he weaves through hordes of trick-or-treaters looking like a partially swaddled mummy.

          Patricia Grace King has published two poetry chapbooks, several short stories, and is currently working on a novel and short story collection. Her first novella, Day of All Saints, follows Martin, a teacher in Guatemala City, through the agonizing reckoning with his survival of the Guatemalan civil war. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader joins Martin when he takes his girlfriend to meet his family for a simple dinner in the gulley town of El Incienso. Instead of being a charming meet cute, Martin runs face to face with a past he’d forgotten.  

          The entire novella is an unveiling of this past. Martin’s future hangs in the balance, but ghosts of his past need to be revealed to be expelled. Most of this addition is uncovered by the feisty and truth-telling grandmother, who is never named in the book, but whose personality and insistence that Martin not ignore his past becomes the impetus for the metaphorical exorcism at the heart of Martin’s story.  

          Due to King’s slow addition of details, told mostly through flashbacks and his grandmother’s supper table narratives, we start to put the puzzle pieces together for what at first seems like bizarre behavior: Martin disposing his fiancée's nonperishables; his anger and frustration at a full pizza box; Martin’s fear though he is safe. 

          King’s novella is tightly and brightly written. The third-person and present tense narrative mirrors the vivid yet choked imagination of the main character as he tries to make sense of his world through the heavy lens of buried trauma. King doesn’t use psychoanalytic language, but we come to understand the weightiness and life-altering, perception-altering nature of the violence that the character witnessed and endured.  


          This novel is a must-read for anyone interested in widening their historical perspectives, whether it be in Latinx heritage like this book, or others. The strength of the storytelling suggests fulfillment for those who listen with a poetic ear.


Among Us

Written by Darrin Doyle

Tortoise Books, 2018, 290 pp., 978-0998632599

"Each of Doyle’s stories will change the way you see something in the real world, whether that be your image of some friend or acquaintance who resembles one of Doyle’s characters, or the whole world’s inner workings."

Experimental Humor

Review by Cassandra Felten

          Darrin Doyle’s collection of short stories Scoundrels Among Us is his fourth book of fiction. Doyle is a born-and-raised Michigander, so many of his stories are located either in Michigan or nearby in the Midwest. Earlier books include two novels, The Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet (LSU Press 2009) and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s 2010), and the story collection, The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books 2015). This new collection should come with a warning: do not expect light reading, as each story will leave you thinking. 
          Scoundrels Among Us features a variety of styles and genres. Some belong to distinct genre fiction categories, including horror (“The Search for Boyle”), science fiction (“Second Home”), and social parable (“Dangling Joe”). Some stories, such as “Second Home,” “Three Men on a Boat,” and “A Four-Letter Word for Exchange,” are traditional narratives. Many others are experimental in their form. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a more traditional storytelling style and there are plenty of great traditional stories, my taste has always been for the weirder styles; they’re always fresh. I love to see an author’s creativity—their fun experiment ending with good results. I believe a unique story form can force its readers to think about the story more by prompting them to ask, “Why was it written this way?” 
          One memorable experimental piece in this collection, “D.T. Myse’s Cold Blood from a Scorched Cat: Sweet Whiskers in the Grip of Death,” is written in the form of a book review by a fictional character, Olsen Giles White. This story starts out with some good laughs from the narrator’s quips about the horrible book he’s reviewing. By the end, a subtle horror takes over the mind of the reviewer. Doyle creates a commentary on how anything can completely consume us, even something we thought we hated and complained about incessantly. They have a way of drawing us in because we like to feel hatred, and eventually after so much exposure, we might end up changing our opinion to something closer to love. 
          “Insert Name,” the opening story, is told from a first-person plural point of view. “We” is used because the story follows a set of nine identical nonuplets living in a grocery store, passing themselves off as one person. It explores an idea that “all people are in prisons,” that these nine brothers are isolated from the rest of the world, and they can never escape one another—a point emphasized by the strange unanimous voice they use. 
          Doyle’s stories are surreal, unnerving, and amusing, too. He creates deeply complex characters and makes a commentary about human existence. Doyle mixes darkness and humor, but humor is never the focal point of his stories; instead, it is one vehicle for creating sympathy towards Doyle’s characters. Doyle’s writing thrives on the flaws of human beings, whether individually or societally, such as our overwhelming desire to connect with others or our tendency to put total faith in something we deem powerful. Whatever their poison, Doyle’s characters are unmistakably human. None are all bad: they either ruminate or question their own moral decisions, and the story asks the reader to do the same for them. 
          Each of Doyle’s stories will change the way you see something in the real world, whether that be your image of some friend or acquaintance who resembles one of Doyle’s characters, or the whole world’s inner workings. I will leave you with a passage from “Session 1” that describes this feeling: “This guy gets out of prison. He’s been locked away for forty-seven years…. He stares up at the sky, at the gathering white clouds, the breeze hitting his face. It’s the same air, the same sky that he stood under when he was out in the prison yard, but now it hurts him, like a dull ache deep inside his bones… he steps off the bus and looks around. He’s shocked. The details he used to know, those vivid snapshots of memory that carried him through day after day and night after night … it all looks different.” 

Monster Portraits

Written by Sofia Samatar

Illustrated by Del Samatar

Rose Metal Press, 2018, 84 pp., 978-194162810

"This collection of short stories provides readers with a dreamy world in which to get lost, and each story feels like music."

The Monsters We Hide

Review by Abby Hill

          Monster Portraits offers a glimpse into the breathtaking, mysterious, and uncanny world of all-too familiar monsters that surround us, as well as the ones that live inside us. The use of intense and vivid language, coupled with the gorgeous and highly unique illustrations, allows readers to explore both the light and dark parts of the human psyche. These condensed, thoughtful short stories and fables show us the hidden beauty that can flourish within an oppressive environment, much like a wildflower in a field of strangling weeds.

          Sofia Samatar and her brother, Del Samatar, the illustrator of this work, are Somali-American siblings from Indiana. Sofia Samatar is the author of two novels, A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013) and The Winged Histories (Small Beer Press, 2017), alongside a collection of short stories, a memoir, and a collaborative study. Del Samatar is a talented tattoo artist working in New Jersey. He is also active on social media, where he shares his artwork and tattoo designs.  

          This collection serves as a type of memoir. The narrator and her brother are searching the world for a variety of monsters. These monsters represent the obstacles that people of color face daily, such as racism and microaggressions. Sometimes, the monster is the touchy white woman who disregards personal space. Sometimes, the monster is a former self. Some monsters have a place in everyday life. “The Sexy Zebra” shows us the monster that comes from our own insecurities: “I just saw a recent picture of myself and it’s so ugly.” 

          While Del Samatar’s intricate and stunning artwork shows us the monsters that we can see, Sofia Samatar’s writing unravels the monsters inside us that control our lives. The siblings play off each other’s work. Del Samatar’s influence represents the brutal and disorienting reality of daytime, and Sofia Samatar’s strikingly and wonderfully terrifying storytelling represents the secret world of the night.  

          All the stories are remarkably strange, but at the same time they all feel familiar—much like a recurring dream or the feeling of déja vu. The setting is often fluid, as the narrator explores inner and outer worlds at the same time, and it feels as though each short story dances at the very edge of reality. The secrets must be teased out, and readers will find something new every time they re-read a story.  

          Young adults, especially those who enjoy reading fantasy and horror, will be captivated by the strange world that Sofia and Del Samatar create. These stories rely on many different binaries: for example, night and day, good and evil, black and white, boy and girl, brother and sister. They also discuss social issues surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. Those passionate about these issues may greatly enjoy this collection. “Knight of the Beak” reveals the racism the siblings faced during adolescence: “We inhabit a speaking world until we go to school, where they ask ‘Are you black or white?’ and we realize that our shields are blank.” 

          This collection of short stories provides readers with a dreamy world in which to get lost, and each story feels like music. Sometimes they are frantic and panicked; other times, they are slow and passionate. The Samatars are true masters of their craft, and the deeper we dive into the stories, the more beauty we find.  

          While Sofia Samatar touches on the obstacles people of color face every day, this collection also explores the relationship we develop with ourselves. Often society determines what and who is beautiful, deciding how we interact with each other. Sofia Samatar’s writing in Monster Portraits violently breaks social norms and expectations, and Del Samatar uses these broken pieces to create a more brutal representation of who we truly are. Sofia encourages us to closely explore our own world and find the monsters that live there, and Del encourages us to face these monsters and record them.

Thank Your

Lucky Stars

Written by Sherrie Flick

Autumn House Press, 2018, 200 pp., 978-1938769351

"Whether the main character is buying corn, throwing a dinner party, or being stood up on a first date, an authenticity and under-your-skin realness lingers after each narrative."

Constellation of Authenticity

Review by Jenna Sule

          Sherrie Flick’s newest book, Thank Your Lucky Stars, is a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Earlier books include Reconsidering Happiness (University of Nebraska Press), and her award-winning short story collection Whiskey, Etc. (Autumn House Press). Thank Your Lucky Stars includes stories of an interesting mix in length. Some are only two paragraphs while the longest is 20 pages. Many of the stories have similar themes related to complicated daily life, revealing the beauty, humor, and pain of domesticity. Whether the main character is buying corn, throwing a dinner party, or being stood up on a first date, an authenticity and under-your-skin realness lingers after each narrative. The book’s title hints at the overarching theme: how you should be thankful for what you have, and for the little experiences and observations that bring you happiness. 
          Flick’s writing can leave the reader feeling as if their lives were the inspiration to create this collection. She sees the domestic as something worthwhile rather than only a mundane part of existence. For instance, in “Baby,” Flick, in only eight short sentences, tells the story of Susan’s camping trip with her husband. She describes “[t]he smell of coffee” and how it “creeped through the campground.” Or how she saw that the “tent was stretched taut against the poles” when she woke up. Flick shows us how normal experiences are remarkable. We might normally ignore how the coffee smelled, but in this collection, it is something to be cherished. These commonly dismissed observations are given value. 
          With each story, Flick changes the mode of narration. One story can be from the first-person point of view, while the next can be from second- or third-person. For example, in “7:23 pm” Flick writes in the second-person: “Look at yourself in the mirror. Suck in your stomach. Stick it out as far as it will go. Get dressed.” This mode of narration makes me feel more connected to the story. I even see myself in the mirror. The writing feels personal and made for the reader. In contrast, “Conduit” is in the third-person: “Alex didn’t mind his work. He enjoyed the idea of stringing something nearly alive between walls. He liked sitting in his cold truck drinking early morning coffee from a paper cup.” By using third-person here, Flick offers a wider perspective into the character. She chooses the narrative style that is best for each story, and the collection becomes more impactful. 
          One of the best aspects of this book is its poetic and elegant language. For instance, one of my favorite stories, “The Garden: Late August,” is written in one paragraph. Flick personifies the garden vegetables poetically and humorously: “The tomatoes have wiggled their way up the stakes, corseted here and there with stretches of last year’s tights.” Or in “Looking for a Sign,” the author says, “Maria’s heart aches as she sips her morning coffee, the mug a burden. The tidy houseplants on the windowsill stare her down just like the old ladies on the bus.” Flick beautifully describes shared experiences that will engulf each reader in their own life and make them see its ordinary features in a new way. It’s interesting to personify plants staring her down; it adds life and personality to the otherwise ordinary daily task of drinking morning coffee. 
          This collection speaks to those with life experience in the mundane. There’s maturity in understanding the beauty in sitting on the back porch, drunk, with a smidge of doubt in the back of your head saying, “Can I do this again?” (“Back Porch”). It’s also good for those who enjoy poetically enticing stories. These aren’t stories easily forgotten. The reader will ponder them for hours. I found myself, even days later, still thinking about them. I would often go back to the book and reread a story just to experience it again. 
          This collection is an extraordinary experience worth the time of any reader willing to explore an unexpected new view on life while chuckling at “the polyester and plastic” Las Vegas women. Flick has an amazing ability to give the ordinary the recognition it deserves. 

Night Shadows

Written by Barbara DaCosta

Illustrated by Ed Young

Seven Stories Press (Triangle Square), 2021, 32 pp., 978-1644210246

"The story is tied to common personal problems, such as loneliness and not fitting in."

A Light in the Dark

Review by Kylie Weist

          Night Shadows is a work of juvenile fiction written by Barbara DaCosta and illustrated by Ed Young. Told in the third-person in the form of a picture book with only a few lines per page, the book is nevertheless directed at older kids. It’s a tale of two lonely people, Mrs. Lucy and Tasha, who form a bond over a negative experience.

          Tasha is a neighborhood girl ostracized by a group of boys with whom she wants to play baseball. Consequently, Tasha is a bit lonely, but she makes an unlikely friend. We are immediately placed within the action. The setting is the alley by Mrs. Lucy’s garage, which keeps getting vandalized by neighborhood boys. In the middle of the night, Mrs. Lucy hears noises in the alley and scares off a group of boys who are spray-painting her garage wall. The next day, a young girl named Tasha attempts to join in with the neighborhood boys in their game of baseball, but they refuse her. Upset, Tasha leaves and finds herself by Mrs. Lucy’s alley. She stops to help Mrs. Lucy cover the spray paint. The garage wall is vandalized again over the next few nights, and each day Tasha stops by to help Mrs. Lucy paint over it. Finally, Mrs. Lucy plans to catch the vandals to put an end to the problem, but she ends up capturing Tasha. It turns out that Tasha was spray-painting the garage every night so that she could spend time with Mrs. Lucy. 
          The title Night Shadows is appropriate given Ed Young's illustration style. The images are mostly very dark, only ever showing Mrs. Lucy and Tasha in the light. This general darkness feels melancholy, but the bright, expressive colors and patterns we see on the pair while they are near each other highlight the joy of companionship. The beautiful illustrations appear to be created from layers of colored paper cut into forms. The artwork is different from what we would normally expect from a children’s book; it does not strive to be cutesy or colorful for the sake of grabbing attention. This book’s art is simple and dark, not unlike the raw displays of emotion. 
          The story is the tale of an unlikely friendship and a reminder that things are not always what they seem. We learn that Tasha was the one lurking in the shadows and causing the nuisance, but once Mrs. Lucy understands that Tasha’s motive was to have an excuse to spend time together, Mrs. Lucy forgives her. The story is tied to common personal problems, such as loneliness and not fitting in. Anyone who has been made to feel like an outsider would enjoy this book. 

The Royal Abduls

Written by Ramiza Shamoun Koya

Forest Avenue Press, 2020, 304 pp., 978-1942436416 

"Humans are ever-evolving creatures, much like species in nature."

Between Two Worlds

Review by Madi Bandera

          In remembrance of Ramiza Shamoun Koya, Wolfson Review is revisiting her debut novel, The Royal Abduls, a work of fiction that illustrates the brutal reality of anti-Muslim sentiment in a post-9/11 world. The story takes place in Washington, D.C. in the immediate years after 9/11 as well as briefly in the mountains of India. Told from a third person point of view, the novel alternates between two perspectives, that of an aunt and her nephew as they navigate their own lives and identities through an exploration of their Indian culture. While the aunt’s perspective is the primary focus of the novel, her nephew’s journey and the impact of the changing world upon him is no less poignant. These two perspectives offer both an emotive and analytical response to the prejudices Muslim and Indian Americans face daily and how prior events shape the modern world, for better or worse. 

          The novel follows Amina Abdul, an Indian-American woman, whose career as an evolutionary biologist takes her from sunny California to the cold ambiance of Washington, D.C., where her brother, sister-in-law, and nephew live amid political upheaval following the collapse of the World Trade Center. Amina’s quiet urban life on the West Coast is replaced with a dynamic city at the center of political action. Her life in Washington forces her to recognize the value of developing meaningful relationships, but this gain comes at the cost of her own solitude. Amina’s relationship with her nephew, Omar, is at the heart of the story, as Omar’s parents begin to rely on Amina to keep their son company. Amina provides Omar with the recognition and honesty he so desperately craves. Amina helps Omar explore his cultural roots, while he opens her eyes to the positive effects of having an open heart. 

          As a brown child, Omar struggles to find himself while living in post-9/11 tension. One instance that highlights this struggle and tension is an exchange between Amina and Omar’s principal when Omar gets in trouble for bringing a decorative knife to school and Amina comes to his aid. Omar’s principal relays to Amina that he must report the incident to the police due to Omar being “a Muslim child.” Amina is outraged at the misunderstanding and the blatant demonstration of racism and prejudice against an eleven-year-old brown child. 

          Amina’s study of hybrid species, or the offspring of two different species, as an evolutionary biologist also contributes to the story’s themes of prejudice and acceptance in society. The idea of what makes a hybrid and how hybrids interact with other species in nature can translate into human relationships within society. There is a discordance felt among the second generation, between wanting to immerse themselves in the culture of their parents and the necessity to assimilate to survive and avoid reproach in American society. Anyone who views themselves as a “hybrid” in society, or anyone who struggles with self-identity in America as a child of an immigrant parent or parents will relate strongly to this book. 

          Koya leaves readers with a warning against repeating the mistakes of the past, like exhibiting bias and prejudice against people who appear different. This joins a plea to consider how past events shape the future of the world and how possibilities bring change. Humans are ever-evolving creatures, much like species in nature. Therefore, it would serve us well to be both introspective and retrospective in considering how our actions, thoughts, and words influence the world and those around us, as well as understanding how love, empathy, and acceptance are paramount social qualities for a better world. 

Personnel for Issue 1


Josiah "Jo" Hackett

Josie Polizzotto

Contributing Editor

Cassandra Felten

Advising Editor

Dr. Joseph Chaney


Madi Bandera, Between Two Worlds

Cassandra Felten, Experimental Humor

Abby Hill, The Monsters We Hide

Jenna Sule, Constellation of Authenticity

MariJean Wegert, Hallowed Days

Kylie Weist, A Light in the Dark