Wascana Lake Through 4 Seasons

Wascana Lake Through 4 Seasons by Sheena Simonson Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $34.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-40-9 When I learned I was reviewing the hardcover photography book Wascana Lake Through 4 Seasons, I thought: Cool, after I’m done, it will make an excellent gift for someone. I’m a born-and-raised Saskatchewanian who now lives on Vancouver Island, and let me tell you, folks, Sheena Simonson’s wonderful publication is so evocative of my home province, this book’s not leaving home. Simonson’s compendium tells the story of a province – historically, socially, seasonally, recreationally, and flora and fauna-wise – not just the story of how Wascana Lake came to be, and how that urban body of water delights visitors year-round. In her afterword to this beautifully-designed and easy-to-read book, the author-photographer explains that some “328 kilometres of trail were covered in order to come up with the final 325 images”. The vibrant photos – some full page spreads, others collages – document Simonson’s “oasis,” and were shot in Wascana Centre between the Albert Memorial Bridge and the Broad Street Bridge. There are myriad photos of the behemoth Legislative Building – particularly impressive in the hoarfrosted winter scenes and…

Conditional
JackPine Press / 21 August 2015

Conditional Written by Andrew McEwan Published by Jackpine Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $15.00 ISBN 978-1-927035-17-7 Vancouverite Andrew McEwan’s Conditional, a saddle-stitched chapbook, contains two alternately playful and serious poems, or meditations. The first, “Spreading Sheets,” takes inspiration from a quote about stratus clouds, derived from an 1803 text called Essay on the Modification of Clouds (by Luke Howard). In the resulting text-which alternatingly appears on symbolically transparent vellum pages in a free verse style and on gray cotton pages in prose poem blocks-the poet asks “what is this fog?” Fog, here, is up for interpretation. The author alludes to Vancouver’s “visibility issues,” and hovering mainland\mists,” to condensation from the bathroom mirror,” and perhaps also to the fog of human thought as we wait in queues, “cannot see the object of our mourning,” and listen to financial and real estate market forecasts. Or perhaps it is none of these. McEwan keeps us entertained and guessing with disparate thoughts. “Of the animals seen today only the blanket of crows migrating past reads as symbolic,” he writes. And in the next two lines: “A rezoning is in progress. Everything is on sale except for the waterproof outerwear.” This first poem registers…

Year at River Mountain, A
Thistledown Press / 21 August 2015

A Year at River Mountain by Michael Kenyon Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-04-5 Sometimes a book is a river, drawing us in. Such is A Year at River Mountain, by heralded BC writer Michael Kenyon. The enigmatic 68-year-old narrator of Kenyon’s introspective novel is, like most of us, trying to make sense of his life. The former stage and screen actor’s removed himself from the manic “engine,” “blue-green anger” and “loneliness” of the western world to seek harmony and practice acupressure in a Chinese monastery. He writes: “I am at River Mountain because I have turned my back on my family, history, country.” His former world included an estranged wife and son and his professional roles; stark contrast to the valley, mountains, temples, plum trees, bamboo forest and fellow monks that surround him now. It sounds pacific, but there are memories to wrestle with, and desire, and near the river beneath the monastery, nomadic tribes spar over boundaries and hungry children go missing. The nameless monk’s past and present converge; he has traded “monks for players, master for director” as he goes about his daily routines of prayers, meditation, chores (ie: sweeping leaves…

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
Coteau Books / 21 August 2015

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star by Catherine Egan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 9-781550-505931 Imagine a world in which “every stone and every tree has secrets to tell.” Where dragons, Faeries and great birds called “gryphons” are commonplace, and one has to be granted a permit to have a child. In this fantastical universe some have the ability to create protection “barriers” when trouble arises. Invisibility is possible, as is shapeshifting, and the manipulation of the elements. Potions are made from “the spinal juice of a Tian Xia invisible eel,” and the Thanatosi—strange, faceless, acrobatic beings called upon by Great Magic to serve as assassins—are a very real threat. As a writer who deals in realistic fiction, I have often wondered about my literary cousins who pen fantasy and science fiction. For me it would be intensely arduous to fabricate mythical geographies, beings, creatures, and names, thus I appreciate those writers who have the ability to stretch their imaginations in such far-flung directions and create these otherworldly novels. What a gift. Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is the third book in Catherine Egan’s trilogy The Last Days of Tian Di. The star of the…

Homage to Happiness
Hagios Press / 21 August 2015

Homage to Happiness by Judith Krause Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-926710-29-7 In her fifth collection, Homage to Happiness, Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Judith Krause integrates a multitude of subjects and voices to create a savoury feast of poems. The Regina poet throws her pen’s light on insomnia, family, horses, Regina (a long poem, “Cathedral Village,” is dedicated to that enviable neighbourhood), travel, love, poets, science projects, news items, the hourglass, the number 13, food (poems include “Gingerbread” and “Chili Tomatoes”), and much more. Discovering the surprise of where she’ll go next is half the pleasure of this book, which features a cover painting by William Perehudoff against a “happy” yellow background. The Acknowledgements reveal that the life story of SK-born abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin inspired some of the work; I admire those writers like Krause who can take on another’s persona and get so deeply “inside” that they make readers believe they’re engaging directly with the subject. In the long title poem, Krause gives us both a literal and interior portrayal of the artist, Martin. She writes: “my large hands\at ease, hanging over\the ends of the armrests, as exotic\as two bunches of bananas”…

What Do You Do All Day? Women’s Stories of Retirement

What Do You Do All Day? by Miriam Hoffer Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-25-6 Before reviewing Miriam Hoffer’s book What Do You Do All Day?: Women’s Stories of Retirement, I considered perceptions of retirement, then realized, through reading, how different perceptions often are from the realities. Do you view retirement as a desert of time? A period of loneliness, failing health, and disconnection from social and intellectual life? If you believe retirement is ”the last sad chapter” in one’s life, prepare to have your perceptions shaken up, for Hoffer-and the 25 women she interviewed about the “retirement journey”-paint a rosy picture of post-employment life. Common to all in this engaging nonfiction book is the sentiment that they “have no trouble figuring out what to do with [their] time.” They volunteer, work out, take classes, travel, provide childcare for family members, and engage in activities ranging from meditation to piano lessons, from clowning to seeing the world. Hoffer, a retired dietitian, says her own launch into retirement was one of “delirious enjoyment”. She viewed it as “a never-ending vacation from obligation.” Several in the book express a dislike of the word “retirement.”…

Leaving Mr. Humphries

Leaving Mr. Humphries by Alison Lohans Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-07-2 There are some writers you can always depend on to turn out a good book, regardless of the genre. I first knew Regina author Alison Lohans as a short story writer for young adults. She’s also impressed me with her novels and children’s books. The ability to genre-hop and keep the literary standards at high-bar are Lohans’ trademarks, so I’m not surprised that Leaving Mr. Humphries, her tender story about a child reluctant to let go of his stuffed blue teddy bear, Mr. Humphries, also delivers a read that simultaneously entertains and plucks at the heart-strings. This book is the result of a familial collaboration: it’s illustrated by Gretchen Ehrsam, Lohans’ American cousin, who-like the author-enjoyed childhood vacations at the family’s cottage in Dorset ON. What first impressed was how quickly I was engaged. With kids’ books, writers don’t have the luxury to slowly beguile readers, and Lohans instantly gets us into the main character’s head and heart-space. Josh is the protagonist. His mother is off to “a conference in the city,” and he’ll have to stay with Grandpa and…