Been In the Storm So Long
Coteau Books / 18 January 2017

Been in the Storm So Long by Terry Jordan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-781550-506877 I’ve long considered Terry Jordan to be a masterful writer, but if there’s any justice in the literary universe, his latest novel – the epic and historical Been in the Storm So Long – should earn him national award nominations. This captivating story centres on the sometimes discordant rhythms of family and community, the restless and hungry Atlantic, and the music that scores and changes lives. The mesmerizing tale moves with lyricism and grace, transporting readers from a small Nova Scotia fishing village to New Orleans. Protagonist John Healy is “just another sickly Irish infant begun in Sligo,” whose father moves the family to Canada for a brighter future. Jordan’s characters are imaginative storytellers and dreamers, some with peculiar gifts (ie: John has “the ability to listen to clouds”), and they’ve brought their superstitions across the pond. “There was sorcery everywhere on the water; be wary,” a young John is warned, “and it was left at that.” When a whale beaches on a shoal and the curious come to inspect (and slaughter) it, John’s mother claims that “Pure grief’d…

Convictions
Coteau Books / 19 October 2016

Convictions by Judith Silverthorne Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506525 I’ve now read enough of Judith Silverthorne’s numerous books to know that anything she writes will be a worthy read, and my belief was confirmed again with her latest, the historical novel Convictions. This time the multi-award-winning Regina writer (and Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild) has penned an action-packed, fact-based tale about 14-year-old Jennie, a British lass sentenced to serve seven years in a penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania, Australia) after she was ungenerously convicted of theft. First however, Jennie must survive the four or five months of sailing on a convict ship with 234 other women and children, and a crew that includes more than a few letches. It’s cramped, filthy, and there’s precious little food or medical aid. Before long Jennie finds herself stitching up a fellow convict, Lizzie, a “doxie” who’s been flogged almost to death by the evil guard Red Bull. I’m in awe of how Silverthorne pulls it all together: the historical and sailing details, the adventures (including fistfights, a hurricane, and a shipwreck of Titanic proportions), and even the first sparks of a romance…

Ceremony of Touching
Coteau Books / 5 October 2016

Ceremony of Touching by Karen Shklanka Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506679 It’s gratifying to possess some knowledge of where, both literally and metaphorically, a poet is writing from. The first piece in BC poet/doctor/dancer Karen Shklanka’s second book of poetry – which originated as her master’s thesis – is a touchstone. It introduces us to “the wounded soul of a doctor” who finds repose on Salt Spring Island among the “scent of salted forest, wrap of humidity/from logs returning to earth, and reassurance/from thickets of salal flowers cupped in prayer.” It’s a strong, unique, and elemental premise. In many ways I feel this seven-sectioned book is not unlike one long prayer, or at least a meditation: upon one’s profession, personal relationships, nature and human nature, how “everything is connected,” and upon the atrocity of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The section that recounts the historical event (from a fictional tailgunner’s perspective; I’m thankful for the poet’s extensive notes on the poems) is titled “Flight Log,” and it’s no small deal that it was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. More interesting to me, however, are the numerous poems in which one can almost…

Burning In This Midnight Dream
Coteau Books / 19 August 2016

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 9781550506655 Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe is a book of poetry contrasted by photographs, centered around the Truth and Reconciliation process. In her preamble, Halfe states that the book is intended to “share more of that truth. Think of all the children, and weep. Children fed to pedophile priests and nuns. Children whipped and starved. Families and communities destroyed […] courtesy of the Canadian government. Courtesy of the Canadian public.” Halfe bravely records her memories, of being at residential school, the effect it had on herself and others, and how those experiences have stained life afterward. She struggles between reluctance and desire to share her knowledge. In the acknowledgements, she writes, “I would not have written this story if it wasn’t for the interest of my children […] and my need to describe a history that remains present.” The poems recoil through time and space, comprising a glimpse as opposed to a complete narrative. “I know this landslide / is hard to bear. I’ve pulled the stink weeds for you / to ingest.” Halfe includes her own trepidations,…

Small Displays of Chaos
Coteau Books / 4 August 2016

Small Displays of Chaos by Breanna Fischer Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $12.95 9781550506617 Breanna Fischer’s book Small Displays of Chaos is about a girl from Saskatoon SK who develops an eating disorder during her last two years of high school. The main character, Rayanne Timko, assigns herself a fitness goal as part of a grade ten gym class project. She likes this because tracking calories appeals to her. In the beginning, her goal is “eat healthier, exercise more.” She earns the highest score for the assignment, but when it is over, she doesn’t want to stop. Fischer really gets inside the head of her character, juxtaposing action with stark, confessional journal entries. “Today I will count. Today I will starve. I will turn into myself like an imploding star. Just like yesterday.” As her obsession turns into addiction, she becomes her eating disorder. Without it, she doesn’t know who she is. The main focus of the book is what happens in Rayanne’s mind as she starves herself, developing visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations of Edie (this could be a pun on ED, or eating disorder), taunting, pushing, and demanding that she lose more weight. When her…

A Round for Fifty Years
Coteau Books / 6 April 2016

A Round for Fifty Years: A History of Regina’s Globe Theatre by Gerald Hill Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $34.95 ISBN 9-781550-506389 In his Foreword, commissioned writer Gerald Hill claims “no objectivity for [his version of the theatre’s history], no nose for the dirt (if any exists, other than bat or pigeon dung), no investigative-reporter zeal,” and affirms that what follows is his rendering of the story. To that I say: Hurray! Hill’s got a SK-sized mountain of excellent publications (mostly poetry) behind him, and the longtime professor at Regina’s Luther College also has personal ties to the Globe. I can’t name a more suitable writer to pen a close-up retrospective that celebrates the folks – on both sides of the Globe’s curtain – who’ve made Saskatchewan’s first professional theatre company such a long-standing success. This book’s a classy package. The cover’s appropriately dramatic: a front-lit photo of the historic Globe theatre building contrasted against the night sky and skyscrapers. The generously-spaced text assures easy reading; the book’s saturated with photographs (mostly from performances); and it’s smartly organized into three Acts, with a comprehensive Appendices that includes selected show posters. Its presentation is coffee table-ish; you’d…

Legacy of Worship
Coteau Books / 30 March 2016

Legacy of Worship: Sacred Places in Rural Saskatchewan by Margaret Hryniuk and Frank Korvemaker Photography by Larry Easton Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $39.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-597-9 It was the happiest of times; it was the saddest of times. It was a time for weddings, and a time for funerals. Whether celebrating the best days of their lives, or enduring the worst, people in rural Saskatchewan gathered at their churches to share their joy or to find solace from their sorrows. With these thoughts in mind, Margaret Hryniuk and Frank Korvemaker bring flesh and blood to their stories in Legacy of Worship: Sacred Places in Rural Saskatchewan, a book they co-researched and co-authored. With limited space in this 251-page book, churches selected were restricted to rural areas, not cities or towns. Even at that, many worthy structures had to be left out. The churches chosen were those of historical and/or architectural importance, with many recorded as national historic sites. Church structures come in all shapes, sizes, and denominations. Some are not buildings at all. Indigenous sacred places, for instance, consisted of medicine wheels, effigies, rock carvings, and pictographs. This book features some of Saskatchewan’s most prominent and well…

Through Flood and Fire
Coteau Books / 17 March 2016

Through Flood & Fire by Anne Patton Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $9.95 ISBN 9781550506402 As a relative newcomer to Canada, my knowledge of the history of my home province is primarily gleaned from helping my daughters’ with their homework. So I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to lose myself in a “first-hand” account of Saskatchewan’s history, as told through the eyes of ten-year-old Dorothy, the protagonist of Through Flood & Fire by Anne Patton. Dorothy and her family leave England en route to the Barr Colony in Saskatchewan in 1903. That story is told in the first book in Anne Patton’s, Barr Colony adventure series, Full Speed to Canada. Through Flood & Fire picks up the family’s story in the little village of Saskatoon. Dorothy and her family are headed out across the prairies to establish a new settlement. After numerous adventures they eventually settle in the area surrounding the town of present-day Lloydminster, named after the man leading their community, The Reverend Mr Lloyd. I loved the fact that the book is loosely based on an actual story of a young girl called Dorothy, who was “plucked from her familiar urban life in…

Lake in the Clouds
Coteau Books / 21 January 2016

Lake in the Clouds: Shards of Excalibur Book 3 by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $14.95 ISBN 9781550506167 Lake in the Clouds is the third installment in the Shards of Excalibur series. If you haven’t read the first two books, beware of spoilers. You’ll want to read the entire series for continuity. When we last left Ariane and Wally, they had just been separated by the evil Merlin-turned-computer-tycoon, Rex. Wally has been taken in by Rex’s smooth talk and lies about Ariane and her ever-growing power. Wally is about to discover that Rex isn’t as nice as he pretends to be. What does Rex have planned for Wally? Ariane is busy sorting through her anger with Wally for betraying her and giving the second shard to Rex. She doesn’t have a clear direction without Wally but she’s determined to find the third shard anyways. Rex finds that he is at a standstill when it comes to finding the third shard and is left with no other option but to reach out to Ariane. However, that doesn’t stop him from threatening her family along the way. Will Ariane be able to find the third shard and…

Let Us Be True
Coteau Books / 4 November 2015

Let Us Be True by Erna Buffie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781550-506358 The unceasing mystery of “family” is at the heart of many a novel, and in Let Us Be True, Manitoba-based Erna Buffie employs a variety of characters to explore this complex subject across generations. When one considers how we often hurt those closest to us-including our kin-it’s easy to question whether blood is indeed thicker than water. Buffie kicks this novel off on a WW2 battlefield. Henry’s a young soldier who doesn’t regret the death of his hometown comrade, as it frees up that soldier’s girl. He knows that Pearl “won’t be an easy woman to love, but he can’t think of anything else he would rather do.” In the chapters that follow-and through the voices of her two adult daughters and others-we learn that Henry pegged it: foul-mouthed, sour, and seemingly heartless, Pearl’s a difficult woman to like, let alone love. In chapter two we meet the force that is Pearl Calder. Now seventy-four, she’s clearing out anything extraneous after Henry’s death, including items others might keep for sentimental reasons. Good details here help us understand these characters, ie: Henry…